RGB vs. CMYK: A Quick Color Code Guide to Color Formats

Color plays a crucial part in label design, but identifying the right hues involves more than just picking out your preferred shades or red and blue. Both RGB and CMYK color formats allow you to identify the colors you want to use in your design. However, RGB and CMYK are not interchangeable. As such, it’s important to know how both color formats work, and which one is best for your design needs in this CMYK and RGB color guide.

The Differences Between RGB and CMYK

What is RGB?

RGB is an additive system that uses varying intensities of red, green, and blue to create color on a digital screen. Essentially, RGB colors begin as a true shade of black. Users can then use a process called additive mixing – adding degrees of red, green, and blue light on top of that black – to create a specific pigment.

Different colors are made by playing with the intensity levels of each base color. For example, cerulean blue is comprised of 16.5 percent red, 32.2 percent green, and 74.5 percent blue. When combined, they produce the specific color for your screen. However, if you were to combine equal intensities of red, green, and blue it would create a pure shade of white.

Label printing experts reviewing color options for a product.

What is CMYK?

While RGB is an additive system, CYMK utilizes subtractive mixing to create color with physical ink. With CMYK, the absence of ink is essentially “white,” although the surface you use can be white, black, clear, or any other color. As you add layers of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (also known as key) to that surface, the less white it gets. In opposition to RGB, all four colors in equal proportion create a pure shade of black.

Like RGB, CMYK also has color information for design programs. For example, that same shade of cerulean blue comprises of 77.9 percent cyan, 56.8 percent magenta, 0 percent yellow, and 25.5 percent black. However, it’s important to note that these colors are meant for physical printing and not digital screens, so what you see on screen may not be the same shade after your product is printed.

With either CMYK or RGB, it’s crucial to use color codes to guarantee results since colors can vary from screen to screen.

Label printing experts reviewing RGB vs CMYK color results.

RGB or CMYK: Which Should You Use?

The color format that’s best for your needs is dependent on a single question: what do you plan to do with your design? If your design will end up on digital screens like computer monitors or TVs, you should use RGB. If you need to physically print anything like product labels, brochures, or more, you should use CMYK.

Using the wrong format can lead to inaccurate color representations. This is particularly bad if you need to match your branding or if your heart is simply set on a specific color. Formats can be changed in design programs like Adobe Photoshop, which allows you to plug in the appropriate color code for your design’s end purpose.

Another reason it’s important to use the correct color format is to avoid art file issues when you’re sending your design to a vendor. For example, if you’re sending your art file to a printer and they have to convert your file from RBG to CMYK, your printed design may appear faded as compared to the original RGB image. There’s also a chance that the printer may not be able to exactly match your color. Fortunately, there is way to call out your colors to help ensure an exact match: The Pantone Matching System.

While RGB and CMYK colors give you rough approximations of colors, Pantone has physical color swatches that allow you to visually confirm which color is right and provides you with the proper formula. This system allows printers to identify exact colors, including if that hue should be coated or uncoated, to see if they can provide an exact match with their existing printing technology. This can help ensure consistent, vibrant colors while adding some reassurance that both parties are on the same page.

Work with a Printing Company That Help Your Colors Pop

Need to find the right label printing company for your product labels? At Blue Label, our experts work with you to guide you through the printing process, from ensuring your colors are correct to identifying ways to provide the best label for both your performance needs and budget. Contact Blue Label today to talk to one of our experts about full-color label printing for your next project.

Common Label Mistakes to Avoid: Art File Issues

Before a label is made, it starts off as art file. Label printing companies need these files to turn your design into a physical product, so it’s important to have everything in place to set your label project up for success.

An art file contains much more than just your design. Each file needs to include important details and meet certain guidelines so your finished labels look just like your design. As a result, one overlooked file standard can lead to potential problems with your label. Here’s a rundown of the most common issues that can affect your art files.

It’s in the Wrong File Format

Before you get too far, make sure that you’re using the right file format for your printer. Print companies have preferred file formats so that they can take your file and turn it into labels. At Blue Label, we require Adobe Illustrator files or High-resolution PDFs from Photoshop, so make sure to ask your label printer what files they need (if they haven’t told you already). Companies can often accept PDFs made through other software, but it’s best to ask questions or send over art files beforehand to make sure they are compatible with the commercial printing presses used to produce your packaging.

The Images are Blurry

Blurry images are the bane of a good design’s existence. When possible, use vector images in your art file so that they can be resized without worry. Vector-based artwork uses mathematical calculations to create lines and shapes that allow these graphic to look the same even if you zoom in on the file. You can make vector images in Illustrator
If this isn’t an option, you should be fine with pixel-based images if they’re a high enough resolution. Whether you use vector or pixel-based images, they should be a minimum of 300 DPI, although 600 DPI or more is preferable if possible.

A digital printing expert reviewing an art file for a product label.

The File is Too Big

Art files tend to get rather big if you’re not careful. Large file sizes can make it difficult to transfer the file to the printing press. That means it’s best to try and manage file size before yours becomes too big.

Images are the main reason for a hefty art file. Pixel-based images, such as .jpg, .gif, and .png files, are larger than vector-based images in terms of file size, so too much pixel-based artwork will bog down your file. You should also embed or link pixel-based images in your file. Embedded images are kept in the art file, which can contribute more to the overall file size. Linked images are saved outside the file and can save space if you also share the original image files with your printer.

There are some other tricks to reduce image and file size in Illustrator, including playing with raster effects and file cleanup resources. You can learn more about these methods and the processes for linking and embedding images in our guide on managing file size.

The Colors are Wrong

It’s imperative that your art file uses the right color format. Digital printing requires CMYK, which is comprised of four colors – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (Key) – with additional hues that allow best-in-class printing presses to attain up to 98 percent of the Pantone spectrum. The RGB color model is designed for use on electronic displays like computer monitors and phone screens, but not for print. This means that you’ll want to use the CMYK model to make sure that your colors come through the way they should on your labels.

If you have a specific color in mind, it’s important to call it out using the Pantone Matching System. This will allow the printer to look up the exact color code and match the exact shade your brand requires. To learn more about using the Pantone Matching System and different color profiles, check out our digital printing color guide.

The Dieline Doesn’t Incorporate Bleed or a Safe Zone

Your art file not only needs to include your design, it also needs a dieline. As much as printing companies try to make exact cuts for every single label, there is a chance of some slight variation. The dieline should consist of three separate lines to prepare for this potential variation:

  • A main dieline that maps out the intended cut of the final design
  • A bleed area to ensure that there are no accidental white spaces
  • A safe zone to protect design elements

The purpose of the main dieline is simple: to show exactly where a die is supposed to cut a label. The bleed space is an extension of the background of the design to eliminate any off-putting white spaces if the cut isn’t exact. This bleed area should be at least 1/8” around all sides of your design.

The safe zone is also designed to provide wiggle room, this time creating a space in your design so that any essential elements – type, logos, etc. – aren’t too close to the dieline. The safe zone should allow for 1/16” of space between the dieline and any elements. You can see an example of a complete dieline with all three components below.

A sample dieline for a product label.

The Text isn’t Outlined

A good design is more than just images – even a minimalist label design is bound to include a few words. To ensure that these words print correctly, it’s important that you have the font outlined in your art file before you send it over to a printing company.

Outlining fonts is critical because it takes each letter and turns it into an image. This practice eliminates the need for font software and files. It also offers a few key benefits, such as making it easier to create custom type tailoring, adding color treatments to parts of characters, and making type heavier for production purposes. For guidance on how to convert font to outlines, check out our font preparation guide.

Find a Label Printing Company That Works with You

A good art file plays a big role in the production of your product labels, but it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what to do to make sure your art file is ready for its close-up. At Blue Label, we do more than just print your labels; we work with your company to guide you through the printing process and assist you from start to finish. Whether you have art file questions, need to identify the right label materials, or want to know more about our printing capabilities for your products, we put in the time to understand your needs and help along the way.

Ready to turn your design into the perfect labels for your products? Contact Blue Label today to talk to one of our experts about your project.