Printers speak a strange language full of letters and acronyms that might not make a lot of sense to many people. But to us, these letters mean a lot. In fact, they could mean the difference between a job well done and an inferior print job.
We’ll explain the difference between RGB, CMYK and PMS color systems below, to clear up the confusion in this “Alphabet Soup” of the printing world.
What is 'RGB?'
RGB is a reference to the primary colors Red, Green, and Blue. Printers use the RGB color model because these colors are normal for the human eye to process easily.
This color model is used primarily for electronic systems, such as televisions and computers. Photographers used the RGB model as early as the 19th century and were the first professionals to develop a sophisticated color theory based on the RGB model. It is now often used in web page design. The advantages to using the RGB color model include:
RGB is an older color management system and therefore renders colors more accurately. Printers who understand color theory have no problem managing the RGB color model.
What is 'CMYK?'
CMYK represents the four colors used in print inks:
Since secondary colors are produced by mixing primary colors, these two color models are used in both digital and print jobs.
CMYK printing works by masking colors on a white background. The ink reduces the light that would ordinarily be reflected off of the paper, therefore it is termed a subtractive process due to the inks subtracting brightness from the white background.
Black came to be called the ‘key’ (hence the K) plate in printing because the CM and Y plates were aligned with the black plate in four-color printing. Black became a necessary color component because newspapers and magazines relied a great deal on black print, but combining cyan, magenta, and yellow was too expensive, caused the ink to take too long to dry, and produced a color that didn't quite appear black due to the subtractive nature of the print methods.
Since black is the absence of color, RGB is an additive process that adds each primary color to the visible spectrum during the printing process.
What is 'PMS?'
PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. It is a color matching system used in the printing industry to manage spot colors.
Printers can choose a number that represents the color they want to use for a print job. They can then preview their print job on a computer screen before printing it, but because the color won't look the same on the computer monitor as it will on the actual paper, printers can be confident the job will turn out as planned based on confidence in the print number. That's why PMS has become an important part of the printing industry lexicon.
If you hear your printer using these terms, don't get confused. It's a part of the printing language, and it helps to know how these terms are used so that you can communicate more effectively with your printer and ensure that, regardless of which Minnesota commercial printing company you choose, your project turns out the way you planned.