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CMYK, RGB, and Pantone

Hi all! It’s Jillian again, and for this Design Talk I want to go over in more detail the differences in color usage for web vs print, and what we mean between CMYK, RGB, and Pantone colors. 

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (which is just a fancy way of saying Black)

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. 

What exactly is the difference between these two groups of colors and when do we use them? 

RGB is what is called additive, meaning the mixing of these light, primary colors produces secondary colors (like the ones that make up CMYK). These colors start out as black, and as light gets added to it they produce the colors within the RGB spectrum. RGB is typically used for the web. 

CMYK, on the other hand, is subtractive. This means that they begin as white, and as darker tones or filters are absorbed/reflected off of them, they become the colors within the CMYK spectrum. 

So, where does Pantone fit into this? Designers know that the colors displayed on the computer screen are almost never the “true” colors that will be printed. Computer screens display colors differently, plain and simple. 

In Adobe Illustrator, there are pre-made swatches in the Properties panel. These Pantone colors that are displayed on screen are the same colors that will be produced when printed. In addition, there is a booklet of Pantone colors that you can sift through in order to find the matching Pantone color on the screen (a series of letters and numbers called a hex code are designated for each Pantone color). 

If you want to go into more detail about the different color types, this source breaks it down really well: 

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