How To Print Your Color Photos: Difference Between RGB And CMYK

We often talk about how important it is to print your work, to appreciate your photos and see them come to life. We have discussed darkroom printing but what about printing color images? Printing your photos requires some skills. Let's look at some aspects of color reproduction that are crucial to a successful print.

There are two main printing techniques, color darkroom prints and modern inkjet and digital prints. Colors in our digital world read in two ways: One is RGB, which stands for Red, Green, and Blue, and the other one is CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key. RGB is an additive color model, and CMYK is a subtractive color model; the primary colors in traditional visual art. You will need to employ the correct system based on your working area.

Image 1: Color printing typically uses ink of four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Source. Image 2 A diagram demonstrating additive color with RGB Source


Printmaking is (mostly) done on white surfaces. Paper does not emit light; it reflects it. For the subtractive CMYK process, removing one of each color affects the visible light, translating into color mixing. Printing the same amount of primary colors gives you black. However, truthfully, you'll get a muddy brown. To achieve pure black, toner is added, but since the letter B could be confused with Blue, K is used instead.

RGB identifies primary colors differently as Red, Green, and Blue, and is employed primarily for electronic displays. Emitting white light through specific colored beam channels reflects different shades. It is therefore the illumination of red, green, and blue, which renders the color spectrum. If we emit no light, there is no color, and our screens are black.

Photo 1 RGB separation. Source Photo 2 CMYK separation – maximum black Source Image 3
Subtractive and additive gamut of YMC print inks (left) and halftoning (right). Source


Different profiles will have a different target gamut. A gamut is the amount of color information contained by the printing device which determines how it will read the image. If you have a high quality screen, you will see more colors than a low quality printer can reproduce.

Therefore, when you want an accurate color reproduction, you must match your photos color information with the printing provider. Check the available possibilities with your selected store or home device, to correctly set up your file before sending out a print.

This is a procedure to follow when you are printing a digital image or a scanned photo. In traditional photographic printing techniques, called C-Print, colors are controlled during test prints. Similarly to what you would do with a black and white photo, when adjusting a print, you dial the desired amount of cyan, magenta, or yellow needed to balance the color's outcome. This is an advanced printing technique, and it is advised to learn basic darkroom practices before attempting to print a photo.

What is your work flow when you want to print your photos? Share your experience in the comments below.

written by eparrino on 2024-04-30 #tutorials #cmyk #rgb #color-channel #printing-photos

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