I am in the process of colouring a series of hand-drawn illustrations in Photoshop using a graphics tablet. The colouring process takes place mostly using Photoshop's native drawing tools - the pencil, airbrush, etc.

The final goal for these illustrations is printing on a digital offset printing machine.

My plan was to work in RGB colour space to have all of Photoshop's functions available, and worry about CMYK conversion at a very late point - or even sending RGB data to the printer's, letting them take care of the conversion and then fine-tune during the proof printing process.

Are there arguments from the world of professional print production that speak against this? Should I be taking CMYK into consideration much earlier so I don't use areas of the colour space that can never be reproduced on paper?

3 Answers 3


You don't need to work in CMYK directly. Stay in RGB as long as you want. When you're ready to send to the printer, save your original, then Save As PDF/X-1a using [filename]_CMYK.pdf or something similar, which will convert to CMYK on the fly. Use as your output color profile in the PDF dialog the one that your printer recommends. (ALWAYS ask your printer.)

You can also use Edit > Convert to Profile and select a CMYK profile. The end result will be exactly the same.

  • Isnt this why it is better to directly in CMYK? Your colors will look different once you convert to CMYK from RGB. This is why i prefer to work in CMYK, so i know exactly what the output will be while editing
    – Luuk
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 11:59
  • 1
    As the OP points out, there are many filters, including the entire "Filter Gallery" and Pixelbender sets, that aren't available in CMYK. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 19:16

You'll probably lose some color contrast once you convert from RGB to CYMK. Some colors shift slightly depending on the rendering intent & the cmyk color profile you pick. That's why pre-press production (from RGB to CMYK) is a good skill to have. Someone like Cartier-Bresson was an excellent photographer but he had nothing to do with the final quality of his images on film/paper. That quality was created by pre-press operators/lithographers who understood that printing is an art in itself.

So, illustrate/design in RGB. From there decide on the output and convert appropriately. Know how to get the best conversion for those hard to reach - out of gamut - colors. In my experience the printer will just do a quick'and'easy approximation and is not that interested to get the optimal result out of your image. If you want to nail it, you should send a printed color-proof with your digital work. Just don't be disappointed if they have a hard time getting those greys neutral. Some slight changes in humidity might change ink color balance.

If things like UCR, ink coverage, sharpening the cyan channel, paper profiles (coated vs. uncoated), banding, best sharpening method, duotone profiles... don't mean anything to you, here are some resources to get informed; https://www.amazon.com/Photoshop-Color-Correction-Michael-Kieran/dp/0321124014

Also found some good stuff from Dan Margulis.

  • Upvoted and would upvote a second time if I could for the mention of Dan Margulis. Could also display Gamut Warning while working to help mitigate how frequently you use the Impossible Colors.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:54

You can set your document space as RGB (so you have access to all the filters) but set the preview as CMYK (so you get an idea of how it will look once printed).

To set the preview as CMYK, select "Menu->View->Proof Setup" and select "Working CMYK".

This way, you would be drawing in the RGB space but you will be shown a soft (approximate) proof of how it would translate to CMYK.

Notice that there are other options on Proof Setup. If you select Internet Standard RGB (sRGB), for example, you will see how your art looks in RGB. If you switch back and forth between CMYK and RGB you will get a better idea of what are the parts of your art that will change more once translated to CMYK.

Take a look at this green square, for example, which is one of the colours that suffers more in the translation (thanks to the weakness of C ink).

enter image description here

The accuracy of the preview, of course, will depend on how accurately calibrated your screen is.

After you are done, you can convert your art to CMYK the way Alan Gilbertson suggested.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.