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CMYK vs RGB colors | Feather Flags 101

Feather Flags 101: CMYK vs RGB Colors

A question asked often: “Please explain CMYK vs RGB to me, I don’t understand.  Why can’t you make the color match my computer screen!”

Knowing the difference between the color modes in Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Corel Draw, or any other design software is very important.   Your final product will not match what you see in your design file, if you submit RGB files.

Weve had many clients send us RGB files and request that we match those colors to our custom flag prints.  Unfortunately, RGB colors cannot be translated to CMYK.  An RGB color will lose its bright neon like color when it is converted to CMYK color mode.

If you visit the RGB and CMYK wikipedia page, you can easily see the difference between the two colors by viewing the images at the top right.  CMYK looks like paint colors, while RGB look like very bright neon colors.

How do RGB colors differ from CMYK

RGB stands for red, green, and blue.   Your computer monitors and other RGB displays (televisions) will display your colors with a combination of red, green, and blue light.   These “lights” create bright and vibrant colors with a neon “glow” .

CMYK colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.   To make a color in CMYK, you will take different amounts of C, M, Y, and K ink and mix it to create your desired color.    Imagine having 4 buckets of paint and mixing them together to create a color.  It is very similar to painting.  Unlike mixing ink, your monitor will be using R, G, and B lights to create colors, while commercial printing machines will be using actual ink.

RGB Color Samples

Below you will see a small sample of RGB colors.   These colors are some of the most requested RGB shades for our custom feather flags and air dancers.   Weve received thousands of requests of having our custom flags match these colors.   Ill try to quickly explain why we cannot match them.

RGB Colors
Figure 1: RGB Colors in Adobe Illustrator

Youll notice that each of the colors below are very bright.   Computer screens display colors in RGB, so when you see these colors on any monitor, they will be very bright and vibrant.   These colors would be awesome to have on flags or banners, but unfortunately, we cannot match any of these colors in CMYK.    All textile machines print in CMYK colors only (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, & Black)  

CMYK Color Samples

Now, before you look at the image below, be ready to be shocked.   Figure 2 displays the bright RGB colors from figure 1 converted to CMYK.   They look nothing alike, right?   This is because the CMYK color spectrum cannot achieve those bright neon colors.   The colors in figure 2 look actually look great, if you don’t compare them to figre 1.   In short, what you should take from this is that RGB colors look very different from CMYK.

CMYK Colors
Figure 2: CMYK Colors in Adobe Illustrator

How to Match RGB Colors to CMYK

RGB colors cannot be matched to CMYK.   They just differ way too much to have them match.   What you can do is convert your RGB colors to CMYK by using rapid tables website, or google “RGB to CMYK.”   A much easier way is to change your design file to CMYK color mode.

Following the instructions below to do this in our preferred designing software:

Adobe Illustrator:

File ➡ Document Color Mode ➡ CMYK Color

Adobe Illustrator CMYK color mode
Figure 3:  Setting Adobe Illustrator in CMYK color mode

Adobe Photoshop:

Image  ➡   Mode   ➡  CMYK Color

Adobe Photoshop CMYK color mode instructions
Adobe Photoshop CMYK color mode instructions

Can any signs be printed in RGB colors?

Unfortunately, the signs that we have to offer do not support RGB colors.   Our custom air dancers, custom feather flags, rectangle banner flags, teardrop flags, vinyl banners, retractable banners, or any other items that we have available must use CMYK colors.   If possible, we recommend trying to use pantone colors when creating your artwork.   Pantone colors tend to match the best from computer screen to real life prints.   Please note that your flag colors will be lighter than what you see on your screen.   The RGB colors on your monitor will make the colors brighter than they actually are.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you now know what to tell your client when they want you to explain CMYK vs RGB.  Be sure to always send a design proof to your clients for approval, if they provide you files in RGB.  Otherwise, you will be receiving an angry phone call.

TLDR: (too long didn’t read)

CMYK vs RGB :  RGB colors are made up of RGB lights, which is what you see on your computer screen or television.  CMYK is made up of ink, which mixes to create colors, similarly to when creating paint colors.  Because of this, RGB colors cannot be achieved in CMYK spectrum.  All signs that we produce are in CMYK, therefore you must always design in CMYK color modes.

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