I’ve been learning more lately about editing my photos, both for personal pics and project images. I recently learned something new that I found really useful in understanding color. It’s the difference between color values that are defined by RGB or CMYK. If you are trying to design something in Silhouette Studio, you want to know how to get as accurate a representation of the colors as possible depending on your project. Let’s go over what each model means and why you need to understand the difference. (HINT: it makes a BIG difference in printing).
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RGB color model
RGB stands for Red Green Blue and is an additive color model. This type of color model is used digitally, meaning on things like computers, tablets, TVs and cell phones. They are transmitting light. You start with no light, so it’s complete darkness. Then you add light along the spectrum in red, green and blue in varying amounts to brighten it up. Adding the color makes the blackness brighter.
If you mix all 3 at equal intensity, you get white. Once you have the color, you can further alter it by adjusting the saturation, vibrancy, shading, etc.
CMYK color model
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black. You might recognize those names from inks you put in your printer. CMYK starts with a white substrate (such as paper) and then the different pigments of cyan, magenta and yellow are added to it. By varying the amount of and overlapping each, you get different colors. If you add all 3 in equal amounts, you get a very dark color that’s almost black but not quite. Printers often add black to the color mix to make the colors richer. That’s the K, which stands for key or black, depending on who you ask.
It may sound counterintuitive, but CMYK is actually a subtractive color model. We said that RGB starts with black and adds colors, and if they are all at max level you get white. CMYK starts with white and then different pigments are added to it, which makes it darker. It’s subtracting the light that’s reflecting off of white. By using and mixing the different pigments, our eyes perceive different colors along the light spectrum.
As with RGB, once you have the initial colors you can tweak them by adjusting things like brightness, contrast, tint, etc.
What difference does it make in Silhouette?
Okay, so while all that might be interesting, the question you may be asking me is why you need to know if for Silhouette projects. Let’s think through it.
Say you take a photo with your phone or a digital camera. Those are going to save in RGB mode because they are digital devices. If you look at it on your computer, including in Silhouette Studio, it will look primarily as it did on your camera. Or say you create a design in Silhouette Studio for a print and cut. When you then print that photo or design, your printer is going to use CMYK colors. Do you see the potential problem? Because your camera and computer are using a different color model than your printer, THE COLORS WILL NOT PRINT OUT THE SAME AS WHAT YOU SEE ON YOUR SCREEN.
This explains why your design looks great on your computer screen in Silhouette Studio, but then much more dull when you print it out. RGB colors always look brighter than CMYK colors. CMYK has a smaller range of possible colors and it doesn’t have digital light. If you are editing photos or printable patterns, understanding RGB vs. CMYK helps you know why you may need to adjust your colors.
How to get a more accurate color
There are a couple of things you can do if you are planning to print out a project you’re working on in Silhouette Studio and want to get an accurate color preview.
- If you plan to print your project and have a program that gives you the option, use the CMYK color model. Programs like Photoshop or Lightroom have a feature to view in CMYK so you get a better preview of how the colors will print. Those are programs that cost, but if you make your living off of things you print from Silhouette Studio it’s probably worth it.
- If you have a Windows computer, you can do a bit of a workaround in the Office programs (Word, Publisher, PowerPoint, etc.)–
- Create a series of small rectangles.
- Use the eyedropper to select different colors from your image/pattern/design to fill those rectangles.
- Make a copy of your rectangles.
- Click on each rectangle and select Format Shape.
- In the Fill Color, go to More Colors.
- Scroll down and select CMYK for the color model. You’ll see the color change slightly and become less vibrant.Here, I’ve got the original RGB colors from my photo in the top row of rectangles and the CMYK ones in the bottom row. You can tell the difference the most on the red and navy (unless you and I see colors differently, which is completely possible).
- Print a small sample of the colors in your design so that you can see exactly how they will print.
- It is possible to adjust your computer monitor’s colors manually or with programs if you REALLY want to have a more semi-permanent change. I haven’t done this, so can’t give you any advice there. Just Google it.
Stay tuned for my upcoming post on how to use the Image Effects panel in Silhouette Studio. I’ll show you how to tweak your images and colors based on the samples you print out.