I made a design in a document with CMYK color mode and exported it to PNG with transparency to send to an online service that prints it on goodies (mugs and hats on Vistaprint, if that helps).

The PNG file is in RGB color space. I prefer transparency and PNG as I don't know if their service has specialty white ink. I suspect that the conversion from a CMYK document to an RGB file and back to CMYK on print will change the colors.

I am using Adobe Illustrator CS5, mac OS Mojave 10.14.6 (yes, really, I made it work). The color settings in Edit > Color settings for CMYK are U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 and Edit > Assign profile shows the same profile ticked: Working CMYK: U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.

When I export the artboards to PNG, I see no options of a color profile in either dialog:

first dialog of export

second dialog of export

How can I export designs in CMYK color mode with transparency to minimize color mismatch during printing?

  • 3
    The PNG format doesn't support CMYK. Output your work as a TIFF or just leave it as a PSD instead. There's no need to use transparency in CMYK printing. No white ink is used in the process. In CMYK printing, white = no ink = transparent.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 8:28
  • TIFF has the advantage that I can export artboards as separate files. TIFF doesn't deal with transparency, does it?
    – emonigma
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 8:33
  • 3
    yes TIFF supports transparency, but transparency is not required for CMYK printing.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 8:35
  • I'll try it next time and see if the transparency in TFF comes out in the same color as the background. Can you post an answer?
    – emonigma
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 8:38
  • 1
    Note that Tiff does not natively support transparency except via a clipping path. Adobe has added some proprietary code to the TIFF format in Photoshop so that in Photoshop a Tiff can have transparency, but it's non-standard. But Billy is 100% correct, transparency isn't necessary for printing in most instances... white = transparent.
    – Scott
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 18:34

1 Answer 1


A lot of confusion here :

  • PNG is a web format and always in RGB
  • PNG can never be in CMYK (CMYK is a print color model, and PNG was NOT invented for print)
  • PNG can never be assigned a color profile (yes, that is why you don't see the option)

Presumably, since you're working in AI, you should have vector artwork. Send a PDF to Vista Print: a PDF can be in CMYK and can be assigned profiles and it retains vector artwork, transparency included.

I have myself printed work with Vista Print and always using PDF format.

  • 2
    Yes! The list of vistaprint file formats includes AI, PDF, and PS. Unfortunately, I cannot save each artboard as a separate PDF on CS5 (it's possible in CC, see here), so I will use TIFF.
    – emonigma
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 8:30
  • 2
    And a PDF can have bleed!
    – Wolff
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 16:06
  • 2
    @miguelmorin you can export just not a one click solution
    – joojaa
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 6:01
  • @joojaa Are you referring to exporting each artboard as a separate PDF? I can save each artboard as a separate page in a PDF (File > Save As, click PDF in the format and check Use artboards), but I couldn't export as separate PDFs.
    – emonigma
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 14:28
  • @miguelmorin: How many artboards do you have?
    – Lucian
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 14:32

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