From RGB to CMYK – Print Talk

The most important thing a designer should remember is what mode he is in. Trust me, you don’t want to print out all of your business cards while in RGB mode. It will look terrible and the colors will be off. So the first thing you should be doing in your workflow when setting up a blank document is picking the mode right then and there.

In the above image I am setting up a new document for a business card design a client hired me to do. With the help of google, I know that a standard business card is 3.5 x 2 inches. I left my resolution at 300 since I want high quality in the printing. I don’t like being tricked by the color white, so I always put my background to start off transparent. The next step would be to press create, and start designing right? Wrong. Maybe you caught it maybe you didn’t, but this document is in RGB mode. Since my out goal is to print these business cards I should be in CMYK. Let’s continue on though as if I made an honest mistake, so we can see how to fix this later on.

So I’ve sat down and I created something i’m proud of and i’m ready to send this off. Countless versions have been made and then deleted, and now i’m satisfied. Before you ever send a design to the next stage, either print or web, make it a habit to check the file’s components. If you look closer to the top left corner of your Photoshop file you’ll see a tab which holds your document’s name and even the mode. As you can see in the image below, it reads : “business_card.psd @ 100% (RGB/8)”. This reads my file’s name, the zoom percentage I am at, the mode and the bits/channel. This is where you’ll realize “Crap! I’ve been in RGB mode this whole time”. At lease hopefully you’ll catch that if it happens. But don’t freak out, this is literally the easiest thing to do in Photoshop.

I need to change this file to a CMYK color mode because I plan on sending this to print. Changing a file’s color mode is super easy, and it won’t effect your current work in any way shape or form. First go to Image > Mode > CMYK Color.

Now when you press CMYK color to change your file, a message will appear similar to the following:

If you click merge, it means what it says …. it will merge all of your layers and create a flat image. I do not want to flatten my file because I have multiple versions in this file. So I will click “Don’t merge”. The next pop up you’ll see is the following:

I also don’t want to Rasterize my file because I have smart objects. So I clicked “Don’t Rasterize”. Now my file is a CMYK file and we can double check that by looking at the upper left corner like how we did a few moments ago. In the image below you will see that now it says “business_card.psd @ 100% (CMYK/8)”. Perfect, we’ve transformed our design from RGB to CMYK.

In case you’re still a little confused on why I had to change my file from RGB to CMYK, I’ll explain myself now. RGB is a color mode used for web. The first thing I always do before starting something is to ask myself “where am I taking this?”. There’s really only two answers to that : Print or web. If you print a file that was created in a RGB mode, you’ll see that the colors are totally different than what showed on your monitor. Now I can understand why some might get confused, because when a file is RGB or CMYK it still looks the same on a monitor. A CMYK file will look the same as a RGB file on a monitor screen. If you have your own printer – try it. Create a design and print two different times with the different color modes, just to get a glimpse of the outcome. Hopefully you never do that to a client because you’ll instantly be seen as a newbie designer and who wants that. So next time you go to design something or what not, remember the out goal! And if your answer is both, just create two different files for each.


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