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Understanding Printer Language

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RGB and CMYK…a bunch of letters strung together? But what do they mean and how do they relate to your printer?

Have you ever printed a document but the colours haven’t matched what’s on the screen? Well this is all down to how the colour is set up.


Computer monitors, digital cameras, scanners and other electronic devices use the three primary colours: Red, Green and Blue (RGB). These three pixels are combined to make the different colours that you see on the screen.

When you save a colour image or photograph it will usually default to saving in RGB mode and if the image is going to stay in digital format it will not need any further changes. So in other words RGB is for online projects.


Now, CMYK or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (K), is perfect for print projects. Printers use the four colour process and layer these colours to create a varying array of different colours. Black is represented as K here as not not get confused with blue (B).

Sadly not all of the RGB spectrum colours can be replicated in CMYK, however you can get colours that are pretty close.

When designing something for print you will have to convert your RGB document to CMYK before sending it to print (altering the colours as you see fit). Or to make it easier make sure you set the preference to CMYK before you start designing.

However, when printing a CMYK document the colours will slightly differ from what is shown on your screen as your monitor still functions in RGB.

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