Do linked smart objects need to be the same colour profile as the master document?

A bit more info:

I have spot illustrations that I've created in CMYK which are linked smart objects. The client wants the final file in RGB. Is it OK to leave each CMYK spot as is, and just send the main file in RGB colour profile, or is it better that each spot is converted to match the colour profile if the master doc?

Thank you

  • Hi. Welcome to GDSE. I'm a bit confused by your question. There's no such thing as a CMYK spot. A colour can either be CMYK, or a spot colour. Not both.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 4, 2021 at 13:08
  • @BillyKerr, I agree there must be some misunderstanding talking about "CMYK spot" (see my answer). But it is actually possible have a spot defined as CMYK. From InDesign.
    – Wolff
    Apr 4, 2021 at 13:34
  • @Wolff Yeah, I see where you're coming from. But technically "spot" colours aren't CMYK. They're an individual Ink. In Photoshop spot colours require an additional channel in addition to the CMYK channels. So if you have set a spot colour in say InDesign or Illustrator, and imported it into Photoshop as a linked smart object, it's not going to work as a spot colour, which requires an additional channel in Photoshop. Photoshop is just going to ignore it, and try to render it in whatever colour mode the PSD happens to be in.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 4, 2021 at 14:01
  • @BillyKerr, you are right. I'm just thinking it might be adding to the confusion that you can make a spot channel defined as CMYK.
    – Wolff
    Apr 4, 2021 at 14:07
  • @Wolff - yeah agree. I think that's it's more of an Adobe software/UI specific issue. The interfaces are confusing and may lead people to think that a spot colour can somehow be defined as CMYK and printed in CMYK, when it can't. You can even set a spot colour using RGB as the mode (to adjust the RGB sliders). It's really confusing.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 4, 2021 at 14:12

1 Answer 1


There is no general rule saying that smart objects need to have the same color profile as the master document. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

A smart object with a different color profile than the master document will automatically be converted as if it was merged and converted to the color profile of the master document. And everything you do with the smart objects (blend modes, filters, opacity etc.) will happen in the color mode of the master document.

So two CMYK images as separate smart objects within an RGB document will look different when layered with blend modes than they would in a CMYK document.

I sometimes deliberately have different color profiles on my master document and the smart objects within it. For example if I convert an RGB image to grayscale or CMYK it can be nice to have the original RGB color image in a smart object within a grayscale or CMYK document. That way I can go back to edit the colors of the RGB image to affect how it's converted, and also add adjustments to the resulting image.

There are some things in your question that puzzle me:

  • What do you mean by "spot illustrations" and "CMYK spot"? Have you made your illustrations with spot channels? Pantone colors or defined as CMYK? As far as I know, spot channels does not work with smart objects at all. You can't create a new smart object containing spot channels, you can't embed or link an image with spot channels and keep the colors. So you perhaps mean something else when you say "spot"?

  • Since you've created your linked files in CMYK, you must have had some plans for the image to be printed? Be aware that converting CMYK to RGB and then back to CMYK for print will alter the CMYK numbers you have chosen. In many cases it doesn't matter, but for the special case of pure black and tints of black it might be a problem that the conversion will add color in all four inks. If the image is just for screen, you can ignore this problem.

  • It sounds like you are going to send the client the layered master document with linked images? In that case you have to also send the linked images and it can all become a little complicated. Normally I would say that a client should just receive a merged or flattened copy of the document. It's probably more user friendly for them and unless you have agreed to giving them your working files and allowed them to make changes if they need to, it's not really something they are entitled to. Also eats a lot of your time tidying up the documents for others to use.

  • Hi, thank you so so much for getting back to me. That is extremely helpful to know that a smart object will convert to the colour profile of the master doc. Apologies, I think the way I worded my question was confusing- the spots I was referring to was 'spot illustrations' rather than spot channels (I should have just called them smart objects!) Also really helpful to consider how I send this. I think I will send a flat version. The files are for a huge mural, so having linked spots just makes everything more manageable and spots things freezing up. Thank you again.
    – Clair
    Apr 5, 2021 at 11:30
  • OK, so by "spot" you just mean "small area"? If you have a document with very large physical dimensions with only small images here and there and lots of white space, you really should consider doing this by placing the small images in a layout program like InDesign or Illustrator and export the final file as PDF. A PDF with small separate images on a large area will be A LOT smaller and more manageable since only the small images will be saved as pixels, not all the empty space in between. (Please consider accepting this answer if you believe it answers your question. 😀)
    – Wolff
    Apr 5, 2021 at 11:40

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