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Colors for Print and Web: Explaining CMYK, RGB, PMS, and Hex

When creating a design for your website or print materials, you might encounter a few terms about colors. But what are these words, why are they different, and why do you need to know? A lot of business owners don’t know these answers, so here is your guide to navigating the color world for print and web design.

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. This is the coloring process used in commercial printing and in inkjet and laser printers you use at work. CMYK developed because of the way printers used to work (and still do, somewhat). A printer has four plates, one for each color. The color combinations are what gives you the color you want in the final image. In CMYK, colors start with white, the paper, and the different color inks are added. Your CMYK is a series of four numbers, each indicating how much of a particular color is needed.

RGB stands for red, green, and blue. This is the color model we use on monitors and screens. With this approach, all colors start with black, or darkness, and then different lights — colors — are added to show the color. Like with CMYK, RGB codes are numbers, each displaying the amount of the color shown.

Printing and Design
Graphic designers use monitors and software to create an image in RGB, but it will print a little differently because it prints in CMYK. Your graphic designer should understand the difference and convert digital files to CMYK before sending them to the printer.

When you plan to print something such as your business logo, it’s important to keep your colors consistent. The color you see on the screen may not print exactly the same way. Plus, your designer’s monitor and yours may differ as well as the printer’s. By using a specific CMYK code, you know what color to expect on your brochure or letterhead, and you can use that code to print it anywhere far into the future to attain the same consistency.

PMS stands for Pantone® Matching System. This is a way of using swatches to confirm you’re all on the same page about color, and it’s often used for printing fabrics or other textiles. CMYK may not be able to produce exactly the unique colors seen in RGB, so you might use PMS to bridge the two, accurately matching colors.

What about Hex?
Meanwhile, your website designer might ask you about your hex color codes. This is a set of six letters and numbers that indicate precisely what color will display. The code starts with a hashtag or pound sign (#). The different letters and numbers correspond to specific shades of the various colors. Knowing your hex code will ensure consistency in your brand coloring across websites. Once your graphic designer creates a logo for you, he or she can convert that into hex code for the website designer to use.

Questions about your colors? Ask us about it for your next print or web design project.

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