Basically, I've designed a booklet on Photoshop CC. It's an informational booklet so it's quite vibrant with lots of colours and pictures in it.

I've finished it and exported all the files into PDF format. Upon doing this, the PDF's are much "duller" for use of a better word. Now I'm not a designer and the whole thing was a learning process but now I'm reading about CMYK and RGB colour models and conversions etc. I designed the whole thing RGB (because CMYK looked duller obviously. The PDF's aren't disastrous, red is still red, black is still black but it's nowhere near as visually appealing anymore.

Is this just because of the monitor and the models each program uses or when I send my brochure to be printed, am I doomed for a much duller booklet? There's obviously a way around it otherwise all print would be dull.

  • Are you printing or creating PDF files? I read the question several times and cannot find a reference to print output. Are you not satisfied with the PDF quality which is a very different issue from the printer output?
    – user45605
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 1:32

2 Answers 2


They look "dull" only because you compare a luminous color with an ink. When you look at magazines and find the colors very bright, they're still in CMYK-only most of the time. Usually designers who prepared these layouts didn't do anything special besides using the right CMYK values!

To use your terms, yes you are "doomed". But the way you compare the 2 color modes (RGB vs CMYK) is a bit like comparing a TV cartoon with a printed comics. They're simply 2 different things. That's why it looks disappointing but it's a bit less obvious with pictures.

The other issue when you work in RGB is that some colors cannot be reproduced once printed and you also lose the control to fix them manually. When you work in RGB and then convert in CMYK, you often have to make some tweaking on some colors because the automatic conversion (like changing the color mode) sometimes makes the colors even more dull than they should be:


RGB colors

Same RGB converted to CMYK (automatic conversion)

Converted CMYK

Same CMYK Colors as above but tweaked to be a bit brighter

Brighter CMYK colors


1) You can manipulate your colors as I did above to make them as bright as possible within the CMYK limits. You'll never get the same colors as your RGB. That's the most common option designers choose since it's the one that doesn't affect the budget for printing.

2) If you have a big (very big) printing budget, you can print in CMYK + Spot Pantones colors that are more fluo/neon, or other 6 inks process.

You could always get colors that are as "fluo" a the RGB in printing but for this, you'll need to 1) Pay for that technology and the extra work it requires and 2) learn how to apply them in your pictures/artwork. This is rarely used for standard printing. You also need to find a printer who has the presses and technology for this.

3) Print in digital

Sometimes the colors are a bit brighter on digital printing but there's other huge disadvantages from using this method (eg. lack of precision, cost on big quantities, weird finish, limit in choice of medium, etc.)

Edit: Some quick easy tricks

An easy way to add some brightness to your images is to use the "vibrance" in Photoshop and play with the saturation and vibrance.

You can also use the "levels" and "curves" to remove some black that dulls your colors, and boost the CMY instead.

And you use the good old "brightness and contrast."

All these options can be found in the menu "images" and then "adjustment."

Be VERY careful with these though, if you oversaturate your images and colors, it won't look good either once printed and you might lose some details on your pictures. As a general rule, you shouldn't "manipulate" your images more than 20% of their original values. That's not a rule, it's just a tip to "play it safe."

Related question and more info on mixing colors in CMYK for brighter results:

How do I edit my CMYK greens to output as brightly as possible?

  • 1
    In addition, you might also look at the various paper qualities; a high-gloss fine art printing pater gives more brilliant results than a greyish high-fiber recycled paper.
    – Max Wyss
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:19
  • Hi, thanks for the response :) Well I won't be printing it myself, I've just designed the layout etc. the printing will be done on gloss paper by a big printing company. I'm not sure if they have the technology that you talked about to print RGB. Ah okay, I will nip on photoshop and see if I can spruce them up at all. Thank you!
    – George
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 12:33
  • This is getting pretty annoying now. Just cannot alter the green so it looks even remotely bright. Gave up on trying to get it close to RGB because I can't but for the life of me I can't get it close to what I want adjusting the colours. How do companies manage to print such vibrant greens if CMYK won't allow it? It's so frustrating.
    – George
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 15:40
  • @George Hahaha! Yes, it's terrible ;) The greens and blues are very hard to match with the RGB ones... As MaxWyss mentioned, the glossy paper also helps. It looks dull of screen but you'll be happy when you'll see it printed (you'll also get less frustrated with time as you see the results and slowly forget about the joys of RGB!) If you want a nice fluo blue close to cyan but paler, use cyan at 65%, it's awesome. For the lime color, maybe try something like 20% or 25% Cyan and 100% Yellow. For the blue RGB (royal) forget about it, the closest is probably the Pantone 072 or reflex Blue!
    – go-junta
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 15:50

When you exported to PDF, the PDF exporter probably converted the file to CMYK. This is a setting in the PDF export box. Change it to RGB and voila, you'll have an RGB PDF with vibrant colors.

BUT, you won't be able to print these vibrant colors. They are for screens only. Your hard print will be duller. How much duller? Depends on the printing process. Most printing processes are CMYK. A few use more than those four inks.

Bottom line: hard copies are never as vibrant as on-screen RGB.

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