Colour 101

C17’s Quick Guide to Colour and Print


When it comes to colour, what our eyes see on a screen or monitor or print media can vary and differ depending on light, angle, settings, etc! The list goes on of variables that can impact how colour is presented to a target audience. Thankfully, there a few colour guidelines to follow to ensure accurate and consistent colouring across projects and platforms. Let’s quickly go over a few of the methods as they relate to print.

RGB 101

Comprised of Red, Green and Blue, RGB is an additive three colour model. With the additive colour model, the more that is added the brighter the image becomes. The RGB model is popular for use on computer monitors, television sets and other screens because they are emitting elements such as light so the logical conclusion is to use an additive colour model. Do keep in mind that RGB is device-dependent, meaning different devices detect the colours differently. The colour quality and shade varies from screen to screen unless the screens are specially calibrated.

CMYK 101

CMYK is a term used to describe the actual printing process. It is a subtractive four colour model comprised of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Although many theories exist on the topic, some say that “K” is used for black because it stands for “Key”, referring to the the key plate: the device that all the other colours must align with to give the image lines and contrast. CMYK creates colours by partially masking individual colours on a lighter background. In reducing light, the ink creates colour. In CMYK, white is the natural colour of the background, and black is a combination of all of the colours.


Pantone 101

Pantone is a colour model created by a corporation based out of the United States. By standardizing colours, Pantone created a system (PMS) where different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to their system to make sure the colours match without direct contact with one another. It uses the CMYK process to standardize colours, while offering a tonal range that CMYK cannot. To businesses where consistent branding is needed, this is key. It can also streamline the printing process and reduce time, since the pre-mixed ink saves the printer from having to mix the four inks manually.