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If you’ve looked into fine art printing you’ve probably seen the terms CMYK, RGB, and Pantone colour space. But what are they and what do they mean? The short answer is that colour space is a way of organizing available colours on a given system to render digital images. Different products, equipment and applications use different types of standardized colour spaces, and some colour spaces have a wider range of colours than others.  By specifying and using the correct colour model and space, a printer can ensure that the printed image’s colours are accurate and perfectly match the digital image

RGB Colours

RGB is the most common system used for digital display, such as your computer monitor, smartphone or tv screen. Named its use of red, green, and blue, it uses these as primaries as additives to make its spectrum of colours. This means that the colour on these devices is simulated with black to begin (no light) and red, green, and blue light are proportionally added to get the desired colours.

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Equal amounts of red, green, and blue at maximum intensity, will produce white. The RGB colour space provides a great model for designing mass-producible devices that either imitate the eye (such as scanners and digital cameras) or that trick the eye into believing it’s seeing many colours (as with digital screens and televisions).

CMYK Colours

If you’ve ever had a home printer, you may recognise CMYK colour space. It stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). CMYK is a subtractive colour space, so it works in the opposite way of RGB. Instead of starting with black and adding primary-coloured lights to create a whole colour gamut, CMYK removes different quantities of red, green, and blue from our original white.


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It does this by subtracting red wavelengths of light from the white of a piece of paper by using a filtering pigment (ink), that allows all colours to pass through it except for red. CMYK has multiple benefits for printing including using less ink than other methods and shortened drying time.

Pantone Colour Space

No two monitors will display RGB in exactly the same way, and the same goes for printing; no two printing presses will reproduce CMYK values exactly the same. Because of this, while RGB can serve as a starting point, neither can be used alone to define a colour accurately. It’s best to think of RGB and CMYK as recipes used to create your preferred colour.

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This recipe is needed to reproduce a given colour but can still vary from one device or process to another. By using Pantone colour standardised colour spaces, you can recreate vibrant colours and easily communicate your colour around the world. Make sure to include a Pantone Chip as a reference, to help ensure the printer achieves the intended colour intent on press.

For more information speak with one of our experts.

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