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What Are Color Modes?
August 4, 2020


Welcome to the colorful world of print. We’ve got RGB, CMYK, PMS, and Spot Colors – each with its own superpower. RGB is for screens, making them pop with light. CMYK is for ink on paper, giving colors their printed form. PMS is the perfectionist, ensuring exact shades, and Spot Colors? They’re the special guests, adding pizzazz to the party.

These color modes each have a role in making your designs look great in print, and we’re here to unravel their secrets.


Display devices generally use a color model called RGB, which stands for RedGreen-Blue. RGB color space is used for screens because screens emit light. It is an additive color space, meaning that you start with a black screen and add variations of red, green and blue light to create colors; when all are combined, the result is white. RGB color space includes more vibrant colors and a much greater color gamut than CMYK because you’re working with light.


CMYK works the opposite way. Since CMYK is used while working with ink, it has a much smaller color gamut. Short for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black, CMYK is a color model in which all colors are described as a mixture of these four process colors.

CMYK is a subtractive color space, meaning that you start with a white sheet and by adding variations of cyan, magenta and yellow ink or toner to absorb light, you’re subtracting the types of light waves being reflected back to your eye. CMYK is the standard for digital and offset printing and is often called four-color printing. You may see 4/4 or 4/0 on your orders, referring to the number of colors used on each side.


PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. Pantone colors are a result of special mixtures of ink. Because printers tend to have shifts in color due to slight differences in calibration, businesses often use Pantone colors for things that are color critical. Usually, Pantone colors are used in logos and company materials to maintain consistency across the brand.

There are 4-color builds for PMS colors, but since PMS colors are mixed with a specific recipe of pigments, attempting to recreate PMS colors with CMYK typically results in a shift in color. Our presses, although using 4-color builds, have built-in color control software to match a PMS color to it’s CMYK values with astounding accuracy

Spot Colors

A spot color in printing is a special premixed ink that is used instead of, or in addition to, process inks. These premixed inks are typically PMS colors and are most often utilized with offset printing. However, we use spot colors for any of our specialty inks, such as White, Clear, Silver, or Gold. They can also be used to designate die lines, foils, spot UV, or any unique color you want to separate digitally from CMYK.

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