I have a CMYK document with a photo. I want to print it from a service bureau and saved it as PDF. The save dialog has no options for color management. The result in PDF has one photo with much darker colors compared to the original and to a PNG export:

PDF save with dark picture

PNG export with light image

The magenta background is also a bit darker, and the remaining colors seem OK.

The second time I saved as PDF, the background became black:

PDF file with missing magenta background

When I screenshoot the PDF file, the color in the picture becomes lighter inside the print screen selection.

I am running Illustrator CS5 and macOS Mojave 10.14.6.

Why does this happen?

1 Answer 1


It's difficult to say what's wrong. It could be one of many things. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Some consumer grade digital photo printing services (and desktop home/office inkjet printers) expect RGB image files, with an sRGB colour profile. They aren't set up for printing CMYK images at all. Professional grade digital printers should be able to handle them though. I don't know anything about your print provider - perhaps it would be better to ask them the question.

  2. PNG is not a print format. It only supports RGB and Indexed colour. Don't use PNGs for print. They are designed for on screen use. Consider using another format instead, such as PSD, TIFF or a high quality JPEG instead.

  3. On the other hand, normally, a PDF should print just fine digitally, whether it's CMYK or RGB, whether printed professionally or not. Adobe Reader can be used to print CMYK images even on a home inkjet printer. However, there's no guarantee your print provider is using Adboe Reader to print the file. There are many PDF viewers, and not all of them are good.

  4. If you have a CMYK document, but with an RGB image inside it, then that might explain the problem. Again this is just a hunch, not a fact. You might want to consider using a CMYK raster image such as a PSD/TIFF, and use a suitable colour profile. Your printer may be able to help you with this if you ask them.

  5. Alternatively, you might just be better to provide an RGB document with an RGB image embedded.

Obviously, I don't know which of these approaches will work best for you. Your print provider may be able to offer you better advice since only they know their own capabilities.

  • Changing the document to RGB was a good tip; unfortunately, the problem persists. Restarting Illustrator did not solve the problem, neither did restarting the computer. Exporting to a different format was the easiest.
    – emonigma
    Jan 20, 2020 at 21:06
  • The tip on different PDF viewers was also good. The black background was due to the Preview.app PDF reader; in Illustrator, the background is magenta. When I change the color mode to RGB, save as PDF, and open again in Illustrator, I am prompted with "This document contains objects using both CMYK and RGB color modes." The image is darker whether I choose CMYK or RGB. I could not find how to select which objects in the original AI file were still in CMYK color mode after changing the document's color mode.
    – emonigma
    Jan 20, 2020 at 21:06
  • 1
    Just changing the document type from CMYK to RGB won't convert the colours to RGB. To do that you will also have to select everything in your document and click Edit > Edit Colours > Convert to RGB.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jan 21, 2020 at 1:20
  • Yes! Changing the color mode of the document and all objects takes care of the black background in a PDF viewer like Preview.app. Illustrator still prompts me for the color mode of the PDF document (I tried twice and changed both the document's color mode, unhid and unlocked all layers, and converted all object to RGB). The raster image is still way darker than the original, both in Preview.app and Illustrator.
    – emonigma
    Jan 21, 2020 at 22:07

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