It’s time to brush up on your color theory! Red, Yellow and Blue are primary colors, right? The answer is not as simple as you might think.  If you’re mixing up paints then the answer is yes. If you are doing graphic design though, the answer is no. Let’s talk a little about CMYK and RGB.


CMYK refers to cyan, magenta, yellow and key (or black); the primary colors used in printing. Before digital printing, full-color printing was created with four separate printing plates, one for each color, C, M, Y, and K. Here is the color wheel for four color printing:


CMYK color wheel.
CMYK color wheel.

Each plate was printed separately, creating a series of very small dots that your eye would mix together to make the variety of colors in the image. Here is an image of this process at resolution that allows you to how small dots created out of four process printing make up an image:

This images shows an up close view of how four color printing works.
This images shows an up close view of how four color printing works.

This four color process of printing small dots is still the bones of the printing process. It begins with a white page, and the four color process inks are mixed to get a full spectrum of colors. Images or designs set up for print purposes should always be in CMYK mode.


RGB refers to red, green and blue the primary colors of light and of your computer screen. The colors on a screen are made with an additive process that begins with a dark screen where all three colors added together make white light.

RGB color wheel
An RGB color wheel.

In an RGB image, each pixel of the image is a different color. Pixels are small enough, that your eye can blend them together to create a realistic looking image. Here is an image that shows how individual pixels make up an image:


All designs created to be viewed on screens should be created in RGB mode.

The more you can familiarize yourself with these different processes, the more you can get your product looking snazzy on the first go! When in doubt, remember:

Printing with ink = CMYK Mode.

Designs for screen viewing = RGB Mode.