CYMK vs sRGB: What's the difference?

I messed up big time recently!

It has been long enough since I submitted work to be printed, that I forgot the crucial step of verifying my color modes before uploading files to be printed on demand. Thankfully, nothing was purchased before I caught the mistake, and I have made all sorts of corrections since then. Namely, I took down my Society6 store since it just wasn't worth the aggravation to get everything set up yet again, and I updated all of my files on Redbubble and my fine art print shop to include removing any previous designs that just wouldn't print correctly.

So what was all this fuss really about and is the extra work really worth it? I think so! Because check out this print sample or my work, "Take One," I recently received from my shop. Those colors are so bold and bright, and they look identical, if not better than the digital file!


Correct color profiles are absolutely a crucial element to ensure your art prints correctly. Two commonly used color systems in the industry are CMYK and sRGB. CMYK is used primarily for printing, while sRGB is used for digital displays such as computer monitors and mobile devices. Let’s take a closer look at these two color systems and their differences.

CMYK is an acronym for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black; this may seem familiar if you've ever changed out the ink cartridges on your home printer. These four colors are used in combination to create a wide range of colors and when printed on paper, they create a color space known as subtractive color. In other words, the ink absorbs light and subtracts color from the white paper. CMYK is used primarily in printing because it can produce a large number of colors and shades with high accuracy, which is ideal for a fine art print.

On the other hand, sRGB is an RGB (red, green, blue) color space used for digital displays used by most computer monitors, televisions, and other digital displays like tablets and phones. The sRGB color space is considered an “additive” color model, which means the colors are added together to create the final color. The key difference between the two color systems is their color gamut. A color gamut refers to the range of colors that can be produced within a particular color space. CMYK has a more limited color gamut compared to sRGB which is why when converting from RGB to CYMK, you may notice some color loss in your art that you didn't intend for. This is because the inks used in printing cannot reproduce the same range of colors as a digital display, so when designing for print, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of the CMYK color space.

So how do you get around the color loss issue? If you're creating digital work, change your color profile to CYMK for your working color palette while working on your designs. This ensures bright, crisp colors when you print without the loss of the vivid hues you originally chose. When scanning traditional artwork, you should have the option in your scanner's software to choose a CYMK mode. I personally use a lot of .png files which means my CYMK files are typically saved to sRGB automatically for display and is the preferred file format for most of the print-on-demand services I use.

I hope this helps with any color profile woes you may have! Let me know if you have any questions, and I will do my best to assist.

Much love,

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