RGB and CMYK design when printing packaging – Creation : Creation

15 Aug 2019
Colour-blog image

Colour plays a big role in every facet of our lives and packaging is certainly no exception. It is critical to brand iconography and therefore makes consistent colour reproduction a key indicator of quality. As a leading packaging reprographics specialist, Creation understands the unique elements that constitute outstanding design. We thrive on using our experience and market understanding to bring packaging to life and truly engage customers. We use cutting edge software in our colour management processes to ensure that colour is converted accurately from initial design to the finished product.

As the art and science of translating great design into stunning physical products, reprographics relies on flexibility married to accuracy. In the growing era of digitalisation, computer aided design (CAD) capability has made stunning packaging design not only achievable, but the new benchmark. At Creation, we are equally at home helping brands develop outstanding packaging design from the ground up or turning their existing design models into a reality. Our packaging reprographics experts specialise in the translation of CAD design into eye-catching end products.

The first thing to note is that when creating packaging artwork, Adobe Illustrator® provides the best platform for setting. A number of designs in the packaging sphere are composed in Adobe InDesign® software, due to its structuring and layout system, but the software is predominantly used with literature layout in mind and can complicate the translation process later on if not used carefully.

As any retailer will tell you, today’s commercial environment is as competitive as it has ever been, and packaging can be a serious edge for businesses that want to stand out in a saturated commercial space. A deeper understanding of colour models, their limitations and advantages will help to develop packaging from the outset that is impactful, remains faithful to the original design with high degrees of fidelity and captures the eye and the imagination of buyers, turning packaging from a passive medium into a real competitive asset.

For brands creating their own packaging designs, when designing for print there is a wide array of variables that need to be considered. The design itself is of course very important, as well as the substrate – they are the building blocks for great packaging design. However, before elaborate branding visuals and impactful graphics can be established and developed, the correct colour model needs to be selected. In packaging design, there are two common colour models that must be selected long before any design reaches the production stage – RGB and CMYK. But what are the differences, and which model is best for consistent packaging print?


RGB creates colours using various intensities of red, blue and green – the primary colours. Known as an additive colour system due to the way the colours are ‘added’ together in combinations that unlock a much wider gamut of colours. By superimposing red, green and blue in various combinations, almost every colour on the spectrum can be achieved, as well as black and white depending on chosen intensity.

The RGB colour model is almost exclusively used in on-screen applications, which makes it useful for initial design, as RGB is the colour format that computer monitors, LCD and mobile device screens use to make up their colour spectrum. It can also form the basis of design, so long as it is converted into another colour model format before printing, most commonly CMYK. The difficulty lies in the fact that conversion from RGB to CMYK will often create disparity due to the wider colour gamut that RGB possesses, which is why designs created using this format are not always faithfully created when going to print and can present unexpected discrepancies if not carefully managed.

What makes RGB a useful colour model for design is that it offers the widest native spectrum of colours with high degrees of accuracy. Because of this and its popularity in design, RGB is often the default colour model in standalone design software. Ultimately, RGB is fine for pulling together initial design elements, but is most useful for designs that remain online only. Selecting a specialist reprographic house such as Creation can simplify the process – our team of design translation experts can identify the ideal colour model and processes from the very start of the process, enabling packaging and label design that leaves a lasting impression with consumers.


The colour model more commonly associated with end-stage print is CMYK, comprising cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black). Black is referred to as key because it is used in the key plate, which ultimately adds in detail and contrast. CMYK is usually the most common format for printing using traditional ink technologies.

Where RGB is noted as an additive format –  wherein adding all colours together in high intensity creates white – CMYK is subtractive, taking brightness away from white. Adding greater intensities of cyan, magenta, yellow and black has the effect of darkening, beginning with lighter colours and becoming deeper.

Think of it like painting – adding every colour together will go through a wide spectrum of shades but ultimately will continue to darken as a wider array of light frequencies is absorbed and removed. Where RGB can actively create white, the CMYK colour model must rely on the white of the substrate to provide this.

Why is CMYK preferred?

Colour produced on an RGB colour model in a digital space will not create an accurate, identical output on physical print. This means there will be disparity between how the design appears on-screen and how it appears in your hand at the end of the production line.

Whether printing corrugated boxes, labels or folding cartons, or any material requiring three or more colours, CMYK is the ideal colour model as the end result will be faithful to the on-screen appearance. It has been noted previously to have a narrower colour gamut than RGB but can be bolstered with additional base inks. Cyan, magenta and yellow between them will recreate most lighter shades with ease but rely on the black key elements to deliver darker shades.

In the wider spectrum of colours, the colours comprising RGB print are already dark to begin with, which can make it more challenging to create lighter colours consistently during print runs, and as an additive colour model, adding more of red, green and blue will only darken the shade further. CMYK by comparison can create replicable lighter shades more easily, with key to provide darker tones.

What happens if you are designing for print, but also need digital assets? The most efficient way to tackle this challenge is to design initially in CMYK colour models before switching to RGB for the web assets. Working this way round presents a closer colour match due to the wider colour gamut that RGB has on-screen – completing this the other way round may ‘wash out’ some of the richer colours.

Looking to add further colour management expertise into your packaging design workflows? At Creation, our team of reprographic experts specialise in turning stunning design into stand-out packaging with shelf appeal.

Whether you’re looking for a reliable colour management partner, or seeking to digitalise your packaging design processes, we have the experience and technology to make it a reality. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.

Contact us on +44 (0) 1327 312444  or info@creation-repro.com
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