CMYK, RGB, and Pantone 101

Being from the video/animation field, I often live the in the RGB (red, green, blue) world. However, because of the nature of my job, I get to dive into the realms of the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color space more often than not. For those not in the know, screens (TVs, Monitors, phones, ipads, etc) all use RGB color space. These three values, Red, Green, and Blue tell the screen to use a certain brightness of red, green, and blue. This allows the screen, which is based off of light to achieve around 16.7 million colors (more than you can really perceive or detect). However, sometimes issues arise when you need to print a design, animation, or frame from a video. So, what do you do?

Some programs will automatically transfer those RGB values for you when they are printed. However, this will not give you the best, or most accurate results. Printing, which uses ink, can not achieve a large enough color spectrum in the RGB color space. Much rather, it must use CMYK color space. The Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black combination of ink allows print products to be printed in the correct color space. To know what your RGB designed color is in CMYK, the process is quite simple in Adobe Photoshop. All you have to do is click on your foreground color and read the CMYK percentages on the right.

Sometimes a design needs to be taken one step further. Pantone ( has set out to create a universal accurate palette of colors for which swatches and print jobs can be created from. Most print shops will take your design, RGB or CMYK and convert it to Pantone for you if you haven’t already picked those colors out. Just like switching RGB to CMYK, finding the Pantone color is just as easy. In the color picker in Photoshop, click on the box that says Color Libraries. Photoshop will automatically pick the Pantone color closest to your chosen color.

Just a tip. If you know you are going to end up using Pantones, or if you know that you are going to end up printing a design piece or logo, it’s a good idea to think through Pantone colors from the beginning. You do not want to find yourself after the design project has finished having to change your colors based on the need for Pantone colors. So for print, think Pantones from square one.

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