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How to use RGB and CMYK in Photoshop or Illustrator


Black puppy with cmyk color palette background and a chromatic magnifying glass

CMYK and RGB are two different color systems used for printing and screen display, respectively. The main difference between them is the way they represent color.


Pantone color palette in CMYK

CMYK colors are a color system used in color printing, and are made up of four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (key). The CMYK color model is based on the absorption of light instead of its emission, as in the RGB model. In this system, each of the four colors is applied in different amounts to create a full range of colors.




The CMYK color system is especially useful for printing high-quality photographs, images, and other graphics because it is capable of reproducing a wide range of colors and subtle details. However, it is important to note that some colors may not be completely accurate in CMYK printing, and may need to be adjusted to obtain optimal appearance in print.


photography of laptop with colors of the logos of social networks

In the RGB color model, each color is represented on a scale from 0 to 255, where 0 represents the absence of the color and 255 represents the maximum intensity of the color. Combining different values of the three primary colors allows for the creation of millions of different colors.


The RGB color model is also used on the web and in graphic design, where colors are represented in hexadecimal values for use in programming and creating digital graphics.



01 Creating Files


When you create an Illustrator or Photoshop file, you can choose the color system you want to use. As marked in the image.

screenshot of adobe illustrator and adobe photoshop programs showing the color mode

To create a new file in Photoshop based on a specific color system, follow these steps:

  1. Open Photoshop and select "New" from the "File" menu or press Ctrl + N (Windows) or Command + N (Mac).

  2. The "New File" dialog will open. In the "Settings" section, choose the size and resolution you want for your file.

  3. In the "Color Mode" section, choose the color system you want to use. You can choose from RGB, CMYK, Grayscale, Bitmap, and others.

  4. If you have chosen CMYK, you can also choose a specific color profile. Color profiles are presets that define the range of colors that can be used in the image.

  5. Click "OK" to create your file with the settings you have selected.


To create a new file in Adobe Illustrator based on a specific color system, follow these steps:

  1. Open Adobe Illustrator and select "New" from the "File" menu or press Ctrl + N (Windows) or Command + N (Mac).

  2. The "New Document" dialog will open. In the "Profiles" section, choose the color profile you want to use. You can choose from RGB, CMYK, Grayscale, and others.

  3. If you have chosen CMYK, you can also choose a specific color profile. Color profiles are presets that define the range of colors that can be used in the image.

  4. In the "Advanced Settings" section, you can specify the resolution, number of artboards, and other options.

  5. Click "Create" to create your file with the settings you have selected.


It's important to note that the color system you choose can affect how colors appear in your file, whether on screen or when printed. Therefore, it is important to choose the correct color system for the intended use of your file. If you are not sure which color system to use, consult a design or printing professional.


If you forget to pick the right one and notice it while you're designing, no problem...you can still change it!


To change the color mode in an Illustrator file, follow these steps:

screenshot of adobe illustrator programs showing the color mode

Illustrator - File > Document Color Mode


  1. Open the Illustrator file you want to edit.

  2. Select "Document Color Mode" from the "File" menu.

  3. A submenu will be displayed with RGB or CMYK color mode options. Select the color mode you want to apply to the ready file.


screenshot of adobe photoshop programs showing the color mode

Photoshop - Image > Mode

To change the color mode in a Photoshop file, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Photoshop file you want to edit.

  2. Select "Color Mode" from the "Image" menu.

  3. A submenu will be displayed with different color mode options such as RGB, CMYK, Grayscale, etc. Select the color mode you want to apply to the file.

  4. Select the color mode you want to apply to the ready file.


02 Panel de color


When you're working on a CMYK file, you should also use CMYK in the Color panel. If you use RGB, it will automatically convert the colors to CMYK.


When you work with a CMYK file, the color panel in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop allows you to select and apply colors to objects and elements in a document.

The color panel is usually located on the right hand side of the Illustrator user interface, and can be accessed through the "Window" menu in the main menu bar. Once open, you can see several options to choose and adjust the colors. And for Photoshop the color panel is usually on the right hand side of the Photoshop user interface, and can be accessed through the "Window" menu in the main menu bar. Once open, you can see several options to choose and adjust the colors.

The color picker allows you to interactively select a specific color based on a wide range of options in value from 0 to 100% for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black in CMYK mode. Just like in Photoshop, the color picker allows you to select a specific color based on the wide range of colors in CMYK.


screenshot from adobe photoshop program showing the color mode section and a dog in the center

The same goes for RGB when you're working on an RGB file, you should also use RGB in the Color panel. This offers a wide range of options in value from 0 to 255 for Red, Green and Blue.


You can change modes in the panel menu with the 3 lines icon and choose the color mode you want to set, if you are using CMYK and choose RGB, it will automatically convert to RGB.


03 ¿Por qué no debería usar colores RBG en archivos CMYK y viceversa?


RGB is the color of light and CMYK is the color of ink. Some colors exist in one model and do not exist in the other. It will always convert colors to the closest match (although it will always look very different).


Using RGB colors in CMYK files and vice versa can lead to unpredictable and unexpected results, especially if they are to be printed or reproduced on different devices. RGB and CMYK are different color systems that use different mixtures of colors to create images. RGB is an additive color system, which means that three colors (red, green, and blue) are used to create the full range of colors. On the other hand, CMYK is a subtractive color system, which means that four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) are used to create the full range of colors.


When a CMYK file is used on an RGB device, the device must convert the colors in the file to RGB before they can be displayed correctly on the screen. This conversion can result in a loss of quality and color accuracy, which can adversely affect image quality.


On the other hand, when an RGB file is used on a CMYK device, the device must convert the colors in the file to CMYK before they can be printed correctly. This conversion may result in a loss of brightness and saturation in colors, and some colors may not be possible to print using the CMYK printing system.


Therefore, to obtain optimal quality results, it is important to use the correct color system for the type of file being created and for the output device that will be used. For example, if a file is to be printed, the CMYK color system must be used to ensure that the colors are accurate and print correctly. If a file is going to be used for the web or for displays, the RGB color system should be used.


puppy lying down looking up as a jet passes through the blue sky and two blue squares

This is the same RGB color code of a sky blue R=0 G=255 B=255


"Remember in every color choice you make, don't just use the eyes."


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