Color Strategies for Print on Demand

CMYK vs RGB Color Guide for Print on Demand

by Gooten Editorial Team on Mar. 3, 2022

Take just a moment to think about your favorite color. It could be anything: A vibrant yellow, a verdant green, a soothing shade of blue. You may even see that color somewhere nearby, on a piece of wall art or an item of clothing. But whether you can see it or not, you should have no trouble envisioning that color in your head.

Something that print on demand entrepreneurs learn early on is that the colors they see in their head may not perfectly translate to the screen. Likewise, the colors you see on the screen may not look the same when they are printed on a T-shirt or a tote bag.

Naturally, it’s important to be aware of these color distinctions, particularly when you’re involved with print on demand apparel. In this post, we’ll provide print on demand companies with a few important details regarding color theory.

Color Basics for Print on Demand Companies

To begin with, let’s reiterate some basics.

All of the colors that we can see are part of what’s called the visible color spectrum.

What you might not know is that, due to technological limitations, our computer, phone, tablet, and TV screens actually can’t display all of the colors that we can see with our eyes. Instead, screens can only show us colors from the RGB space.

What is RGB?

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. When we talk about the RGB space, we’re talking about a spectrum that uses these three basic colors to make new ones.

Your digital device has tons of pixels, and at any given moment each one of them displays one of these RGB colors. However, they are displayed in ways that trick the eye into thinking it’s seeing something more, for example, purple, orange, or brown.

If all of the pixels shine at full intensity, you’ll just see a white screen. And if all of them are dialed down to the lowest intensity, you’ll be left with black.

The RGB color space is used basically just for digital purposes. Again, any image that’s displayed on a digital device will be cast in RGB. However, when designing images for your print on demand clothing, there’s another color space that you should know about, and that’s CMYK.

What is CMYK?

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key. (In this instance, key just means black.) In a lot of ways, CMYK is the exact opposite of RGB. CMYK uses colored inks to mask colors on a white (or very light) background. Because the white background reflects light, each layer of ink that you apply subtracts from the white light, thus creating the appearance of new colors.

If RGB is associated with digital media, CMYK is associated with print. Indeed, this is the color space that’s used when you’re making print on demand apparel, mugs, totes, etc.

Translating RGB to CMYK: A Must for Print on Demand Companies

Simply by knowing the basic distinctions between RGB and CMYK, you can probably understand why the colors we see on a screen don’t always translate exactly to print on demand clothing.

However, the main takeaway for print on demand designers is that while your graphic design and photo editing software suites are likely set to RGB by default, there are usually options to change your settings to CMYK, or else to translate RGB work to the CMYK space.

This is something we recommend doing for a couple of reasons. One, it ensures that the final print on demand product more closely matches what you envision on your screen. And two, CMYK actually captures a wider, more vibrant, and more precise field of color. So, by making this conversion, you actually wind up with better-looking products.

Get More Tips About Print on Demand Design

Understanding these basic points about color is vital for print on demand companies, as it will help you ensure the best possible results on behalf of your customers.

Do you have additional questions about optimizing your print on demand designs, particularly for print on demand clothing? We’d love to help! Reach out to our team to learn more.