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In applications like inDesign and Photoshop, you get to chose which color model you want to use, RGB or CMYK for instance. But why does this matter?

Both RGB and CMYK can be used to describe several millions of colors, so there's no shortage in the possibilities of either of them. And I do know that the origins of e.g. the CMYK color model lies within the color composition technique used in printing; and of course black is described either by 100% Key in CMYK or 000000 in RGB, but this doesn't seem to matter anymore. Even if I use RGB Colors in inDesign and print the document, I will still get the right colors on the printout (due to internal color handling in either inDesign or the printer, I assume).

So given all of that, why does it still matter whether I use RGB, CMYK or something entirely different in inDesign, Photoshop and the likes?

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Even if I use RGB Colors in inDesign and print the document, I will still get the right colors on the printout

Nope.

There are 2 primary reasons as to why there is no guarantee that your chosen RGB colors will print the way you want them to.

  1. You can't reproduce all of the CMYK colors in RGB space
  2. Converting RGB to CMYK isn't an exact process and different software may do it in different ways.

The color range that can be reproduced via RGB and CMYK are not the same. They overlap significantly, but they can't reproduce all the same colors that the other can.

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So if you're building a web site, you don't want to work with CMYK as you're simply limiting yourself only to the overlap section in the middle there.

And if you are a print designer, while gamut is certainly part of it, the bigger reason to stick with CMYK is consistency. By using something like a process color swatch book, you can choose a specific CMYK and no matter how it looks on screen as RGB, you can be relatively assured that it will turn out as intended based on the swatch book.

If you do everything in RGB, you are leaving it up to the software to make the choice for you as to how to translate that into CMYK. That adds ambiguity to the process.

  • Yup. You can't just think of gamuts in black and white. There's a whole lot more to it than that. – fie Sep 17 '14 at 11:48
  • In addition, some color blending effects work differently for CMYK (subtractive) and RGB (additive). – usr2564301 Sep 20 '14 at 12:53

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