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CMYK vs RGB: Taking Traditional Design into Digital Marketing
Feb. 28, 2023
CMYK vs RGB: Taking Traditional Design into Digital Marketing

CMYK vs RGB: Taking Traditional Design into Digital Marketing

Odds are, your business has boxes full of printed promotional content that’s just sitting around. Even though it was never intended to be displayed on a screen, there’s no reason to let it go to waste.

You can use that content in digital format on your digital signage. If you still have the original design files, all you have to do is tweak them to be displayed properly on your digital screens—namely, the colors they use.

If you don’t have the original files used to print them, you can scan your materials first and then make the adjustments.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the difference between CMYK and RGB, and the difference between content for print versus content for digital screens.

What is CMYK?

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black). It’s a color space that’s intended for printed content. That’s because it starts by using a white canvas such as a sheet of paper, and uses a combination of colors while incorporating the tone of the canvas to create the desired color.

Each layer of ink creates a darker tone, giving areas of the design with lighter tones less ink, and areas of the design with darker tones more ink. To create black, all colors are mixed together. This technique is called ‘subtractive mixing’.

Your printed materials that you need to scan will be in this color system by default. So if you intend to print them again, save the files in either PDF, EPS, or AI to properly harness that rich CMYK color scheme. Otherwise, you’ll need to convert them to RGB.

What is RGB?

You have probably heard of RGB since it's been used for screens going back to tube televisions. This technology uses a combination or lack thereof of red, green, and blue to produce any other color. In this case, all of the colors together produce white instead of black. This referred to as additive mixing.

The screen illuminates as opposed to being colors painted against a canvas, so the way it works is different. And that’s why RGB and CMYK are so different and need to be taken note of.

JPG, PNG, PSD, and GIF are all fine for RGB images. These are widely compatible and should work for any digital signage software you need to use them with.

Convert CMYK to RGB

Since CMYK values won’t display properly on digital screens, you must convert your content if you want it to look the way it’s supposed to. Depending on what it is, sometimes there won’t be a noticeable difference if you don’t bother to convert your files. But in other cases, colors will come out muted and won’t be represented well or won’t even match the original.

With tools like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, you can easily convert a CMYK image to RGB. Then, check over your converted files to ensure that any brand colors came out right.

Even when printed materials converted to digital come out the best that they can, print and digital can still look a bit different, so keep this in mind. The type, quality, and resolution of the screen the content is being displayed on, the type of paper and ink that was used for the printed materials, and screen calibration for color accuracy all factor into this as well.

Although a perfect reproduction would be the best result, it could be best to settle for some minor differences. That could ultimately save you a lot of time and effort.