Currently we receive CMYK TIF/TIFF images of photographs from our design agency (who get them from the photographer). Our in-house designers then place them in InDesign for posters and magazines, or convert them to RGB to be used on the website or in newsletters or presentations.

I'm wondering what's the point of taking a photograph, then converting it to a CMYK TIF/TIFF (with HUGE filesize) before placing it in InDesign, and maybe converting it back to RGB for screen-use? I mean, the photograph is RGB anyway, and InDesign can use colour profiles too. So, if InDesign is assigned the correct profile (from the printing press) why convert the images to CMYK beforehand? Wouldn't it be a much wiser choice to save the retouched images as PNG (which is lossless)? The print designer would then place the image in InDesign and then, when the document is done, export to CMYK using the correct profile. Whereas the web designer would take the image, resize it into the correct format and save it as a JPG.


  • Immensely reduced file sizes
  • One conversion less
  • On-screen viewing can be done by anyone without them getting off colours because their viewer doesn't support CMYK
  • 8-bit transparency

Also, I'm not entirely sure if our design agency actually uses the press profile our printers use because the agency is in a completely different country.

Am I missing something crucial here?

  • Just slightly off topic, I'd like to ask how you are physically creating and storing your images. Are you using some sort of digital asset management system that will create different renditions of your files dependent on their end use? There are digital asset management systems out there that will take the RAW file from a Nikon, Canon, etc. and create 72 dpi thumbnails, grayscale tiffs, 24 bit RGB, etc. Are any of you using such a system?
    – user12116
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 22:33

5 Answers 5


No, you aren't missing something. There is no point at all in converting images to CMYK, and several good reasons NOT to. Converting images to flattened CMYK tiff is an old QuarkXpress workflow that is a complete waste of time today, especially with InDesign.

What is a good idea is to size images in Photoshop before final output, to reduce file size and for maximum control.

If you are placing CMYK images, be certain that InDesign preferences are set so embedded color profiles are retained, otherwise you can get undesirable color shifts on PDF export. Indesign handles conversion to the destination color space at export.

  • 1
    This isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. A particular printer may require all art be converted to CMYK for printing, particularly large SWOP presses. In my line of work, an RGB image invariably results in the job being flagged and rejected. Commented May 31, 2011 at 13:10
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    Note also that it has nothing to do with Quark, it has to do with the RIP that the printer uses.
    – horatio
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 13:57
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    @horatio: Flattening images and converting to CMYK tiffs was required by Quark, and lots of people were trained that way. It is entirely inapplicable to an InDesign workflow. In cases where a print shop is stuck with older technology, which manifests as wanting separate layout files and images, rather than PDF, they ask for CMYK images to avoid liability for color shifts, but that is really a 20th Century workflow and it's dying out. Commented May 31, 2011 at 16:20
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    @Alan: As for your comment to @360path about antiquated print shops out there who haven't woken up to PDF, my company works with presses that require both PDFs and CMYK art. Commented May 31, 2011 at 16:37
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    @Alan: My comments were really directed towards your implication that converting art from RGB to CMYK is unnecessary, not the fact that PDFs should be required. Your comments offer a completely different answer to what you originally wrote, so I'm a bit confused as to what your "real" answer might be. That being said, I agree that PDFs are better, but in the case of printing complicated books, we have had to ship application files to the printer along with the PDFs as a just-in-case measure so they can make fixes themselves to avoid any needless back forth. It's rare, but it does happen. Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 20:40

You are ahead of the curve here. There is a lot of confusion about when a designer should change color modes. It is simple: Never (or as late as possible) is the best choice. Printers who want it done for them are working in bad-faith.

To put it bluntly, those who advise "view the art in the same mode in which it will be printed" are wrong for at least two (I think obvious) reasons.

  1. A designer may never really know what the output device profile will be.
  2. It is still impossible to preview on-screen, real cmyk.

Color is confusing. Everything is a simulation until it comes off the press. It is a crude thing to presume the final ink values needed to match color ideals for changing substrates and devices. Design experts generally have little technical understanding (so adages support their generally outdated beliefs.)

  • Thanks for your input! Yes, I'm with you that colout changes should be done as late as possible, if at all necessary.
    – 360path
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 11:46

Yes, CMYK results in a larger image size (it is one more channel for the file to contain), but it makes perfect sense to view the art in the same mode in which it will be printed. Adobe applications have the special "Print Preview" setting for documents for a reason. You need to speak with your printer about this. A lot of printers require CMYK to pass prepress standards for their press with 4/c color (CMYK) printing. Always check with your printer to be sure you are submitting files to the proper specs.

A color profile is a different tool than a color mode, and since RGB has a wider color gamut than CMYK, it is best to convert to CMYK to gain a better sense of what is actually going to print. Any company worth their salt will have branding guidelines that dictate the official colors in both RGB and CMYK, and there is no guarantee that it is a simple conversion. Colors will shift when moving from RGB to CMYK and the last thing anyone wants is surprises in the final product, most of all the client.

To address some specific points in the question:

Currently we receive CMYK TIF/TIFF images of photographs from our design agency (who get them from the photographer).

That could be the archiving standards of the photographer or a standard set up long ago between the agency and the photographer to save on conversion time.

Our in-house designers then place them in InDesign for posters and magazines, or convert them to RGB to be used on the website or in newsletters or presentations.

That sounds pretty solid to me. That's how we handle it.

Wouldn't it be a much wiser choice to save the retouched images as PNG (which is lossless)?

Compression and color are two different issues. TIFFs can contain different types of compression, and Photoshop has the ability to save TIFFs with LZW compression, which is lossless. It doesn't offer the same level of compression as JPEG, but that's the balance between quality and size. As far as I know, the jury is still out on the use of PNG in print.

Also, I'm not entirely sure if our design agency actually uses the press profile our printers use because the agency is in a completely different country.

The respective countries of the agency and press have no bearing on whether or not your job will print. A press is a press is a press regardless of where it is. My company sends books to India, China, and Canada as well as domestically (US), but we still have to preflight our titles and get the occasional flag.

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    I think the key here is conversion AND color matching. if you are going to RGB for web, color matching is a study in futility and it doesn't matter, but if you are going for press, and that press and plate system is CMYK, you should commit as early as possible to the color system and go for a match: at the point in time where there is a decison maker present. People who suggest allowing RGB color conversion at plate time are gambling with 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars of other people's money.
    – horatio
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 14:01
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    In practice, there's no advantage to converting images to CMYK early in an InDesign workflow today, which was the original question. Soft proofing helps, hard proofing is much better, a printer's contract proof is best. I always recommend: 1) talk to the printer well ahead of time, 2) get their specs and .joboptions file, and 3) use them. Even so, color-critical work requires contract proofs and a press check no matter how carefully the workflow is color managed: every press is different; paper stock, pressroom humidity, the pressman's bad mood that day -- all affect quality and color. Commented May 31, 2011 at 23:09
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    @Alan: Since the art has to ultimately go CMYK anyway, that altering art after it has been paged results in it being updated in the layouts (thus creating unnecessary extra work), and conversions are typically trivial (if not scripted), I would argue to convert early in the process and just be done with it. Especially in the case of a shop having calibrated monitors and printers, they'll know from the first to last proofs that what they are seeing is reasonably close to the final product. Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 20:43
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    @Alan: That's an interesting article. It is, of course, not surprising to me that Adobe applications don't behave in a consistent manner. That would be far too logical for today's Adobe. But I don't think I've ever had that problem in my work, if only because our printers, especially now, put the printer files (be they PDF or otherwise) through a strict preflight process. If memory serves, the prep guide from the printer that we use for 4/c titles makes no mention of profiles or color management, and we've only ever used the default settings in Photoshop for all of our conversions. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 13:26
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    @360path: This all could be read as more a toe-may-to vs. toe-mah-to kind of thing, but I still disagree with the above commenters. In our workflow, the vast majority of our art is intended for print, with most re-use there as opposed to web. Even though we know the art is more than likely to be used for web, we still create art in CMYK if only because the press is far less forgiving then the web. As we see it, converting art after it has been placed in pages equates to back-tracking and therefore lost time, if not just simply creating a new opportunity for errors. To me, it makes no sense. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 16:54

I think you do miss one thing here. It's a marginal thing, but still. That thing is CMYKs != RGBs workspacewise. Some colors are unreachable for RGBs that are reproducible in CMYKs and vice-versa. Most of the time you can send your works in RGB and printer's in-house color management will do all right. But there are some cases (especially in dark areas) when printer's profiles will yield extremely poor results. That's when you want to take specific workspace, tons of your experience and cover the specific areas with exactly right ammount of paint. It's also good to not to be surprised when your “reds” will go… well… somewhere else ;). I agree that it's effectively “circumventing” color management, but sometimes it's a must. Sometimes it's useful to do traps manually – it's not said RIP will do them for raster images.

Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of having my images stored using one, solid color model (none of RGBs or CMYKs to make things clear), but up to some point in my workflow. I don't like the hype “hey, do your design once, use one color model, publish it everywhere”. That's just relying on “lowest common denominator” of what your output devices can do. In the area of color conversion, CMSs are mostly able to do their job right, but what if they don't? How much out of gamut colors have you used? What's your printer's rendering intent? It's good to know what are the potential culprits, what is “safe”, when “simplifications” are acceptable and why.


Of course it is possible and actually DESIRABLE to work in cmyk, and convert all images to CMYK for offset printing. Print your colour proofs through a RIP, and press check pages as they come off the press. It's proper colour management in CMYK. If anyone here produces top shelf coffee table books for International photographers, they'd understand this. You can push CMYK to it's limit to get better matches of fine art limited edition colour photographs.

  • Thanks for the contribution and welcome to GraphicDesign! Let us know if you have any questions Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 4:31

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