CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black

CMYK is how printed pieces are produced. Every color in the “full color” printed world is derived from the four color process (mixing of cyan, magenta, yellow, and/or black). By adding different percentages of each color (0-100%), a large variety of colors are achievable. However, the CMYK color range is less than that of the RGB color space. CMYK colors can be consistent in numeric value but can vary slightly in color based on the device printing the mixture. In order to limit the color variances (but not completely remove them) it is important to have each printing device calibrated to the color profiles

RGB: Red, Green, Blue

RGB is how electronic displays present color. All electronic displays use a mix of red, green, and blue lights to combine into all the colors options. As more of each color is added to the combination (0-256), the display color will change. If all three colors are added together in equal portions, the resulting color is white. If all three colors are completely removed (R=0, G=0, B=0), the resulting color is black. This is best remembered by “black is the absence of light” and “light is a blinding white.” The brightness of a display is based on how much of each RGB lights are added to the area. Although RGB has the largest amount of color options, it also has the largest variance in how the colors look from one device to another. The only way to compensate for the majority of the differences, is to keep all devices calibrated to the same display settings.

PMS: Pantone Matching System

PMS colors are specially mixed colors generated by the Pantone company. These are design standard colors and will be print the exact same color no matter what printing press is used anywhere in the world. PMS colors are used for consistency purposes and a great way to keep a brand easily recognized. The only thing which will change the color (slightly) is the paper on which the color is printed. A PMS color will look slightly different when printed on a gloss surface compared to a matte surface compared to an uncoated surface.

An example of this is Coke. “Coke Red” (PMS 185) will be printed the same on the can whether it is printed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or Beijing, China or Sydney, Australia. However, if you look at the red on an aluminum can and compare it to the red on a plastic label wrapped around bottle, there will be a very slight difference in the color as well as the brightness. The brighter a surface, the more vibrant the PMS color will be; the duller the surface, the more dense the PMS color will be.

For a side by side comparison, design departments will have both an uncoated and coated PMS swatch book readily available. This will allow colors to be chosen accurately and there will be no doubt what color it will resemble on screen or printed.

Inverted / Knock Out Color

Inverted or knock out color will refer to the image, logo, or text being displayed as a white element on a color background. If the paper (printed) is white, then the image will remain white. If the paper (printed) is a color, then the inverted or knock out color will be the color of the paper. When an element is inverted or a knock out and displayed on screen, it will be white.