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I have sent a PDF file to a printing company and they came back telling me that it is in RGB but should be in CMYK. It is strange as I really tried to make everything in CMYK (working with Adobe InDesign) and also run it through www.pdf2cmyk.com

Is there a way to check for sure if a PDF is in CMYK or RGB?

I am looking for a method which is not based on visual examination since then I believe something can be missed. I would like to have a method saying yes or no (yes, only CMYK colors were used). Is this possible? What method do you think the printing company is using?

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  • Unrelated to the question, but if you have InDesign there shouldn't be a need for converting using some website. It seems risky to do. You can control everything from InDesign yourself. – Wolff Nov 16 '20 at 19:47
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    Agree. Do not use a website. The main risk would be transforming, for example, black text to a CMYK black text. This would be a total mess. The process MUST be done correctly from start. – Rafael Nov 16 '20 at 23:05
  • Using a website is the reason you have RGB. Indesign would change any RGB file to desired CMYK profile. – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 17 '20 at 10:02
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@Wolff's answer is great and can be very useful.

Another way if you prefer to have the data determined without visually needing to verify anything is to use Preflight in Acrobat.

I'm using Acrobat Pro X here, merely because I prefer that version. Things should be very similar in newer versions of Acrobat.

With a PDF open, choose View > Tools > Print Production > Preflight from the menu.

You can use any of the options in the green box below to simply verify compliance with PDFX standards, which requires no RGB data to be compliant.

enter image description here

Once you run the compliance test, you can see easily if there is any RGB data and on what page of the PDF it is located. Below shows a non-compliant PDF containing RGB data on the left and a compliant PDF on the right.

enter image description here


If you don't have Acrobat Pro and are creating PDFs destined for commercial printing, you need Acrobat Pro. Similar to needing InDesign to create professional-level layouts, print production often needs Acrobat Pro for some professional-level tasks. This is one such use case.


Note: If you are using Adobe InDesign you can preflight with InDesign. This can be helpful to determine issues before you ever get to the PDF. Be aware though, even if you preflight in InDesign, the PDF Job Options used when exporting to a PDF can alter things. It's really best to preflight production PDFs using Acrobat, as opposed to preflighting layout files using InDesign.
I have no affiliation with the link above. It is merely posted for additional information.

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  • Great, this is what I was looking for, thanks! I used preflight with InDesign. However, the files the printing company claims are in RGB are not that according to preflight (checked that the checking works by checking a file containing RGB). Will try to ask the printing company if they can provide more info. – Bart Nov 17 '20 at 15:25
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A simple way is opening the PDF in Adobe Acrobat and checking out Overprint Preview.

The button looks like this:

It opens this window:

Under Show you can filter which color mode you want to see. Set it to CMYK to see all CMYK objects in your document and to RGB to see all RGB objects (white objects can be hard to spot this way).

(Whether or not it's the right CMYK profile is another story.)

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    I really appreciate your response and detailed instructions. However, to my understanding you need Adobe Acrobat Pro for this, is that right? Also, I am looking for a method which is not based on visual examination since then I believe something can be missed. I would like to have a method saying yes or no (yes, only CMYK colors were used). Is this possible? What method do you think the printing company is using? – Bart Nov 17 '20 at 10:53
  • @Bart printing companies use Acrobat and costly prepress software not for consumers. – Scott Nov 17 '20 at 11:37

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