I am very new at graphic design, and although I did search for this question already, I don't understand all of the terminology yet to know if it has already been answered... if this is a duplicate question, please direct me to where it has already been addressed :) and thanks!

I have created a graphic in Illustrator in CMYK (at least that's what the "color" tab and "edit color" is using) using the color 12-100-91-3. I plan to use this graphic in an InDesign document that will be exported as a PDF to be printed. I've tried two methods:

  1. Export the .ai to a .png, and then "place" that .png into InDesign
  2. Import the .ai file directly into InDesign using "place"

When I export the InDesign file to PDF, the colors looks like this on the screen (they match each other visually):

enter image description here

When I print that PDF, the colors come out like this (the .ai color is super dark compared to the .png color):

enter image description here

I don't really understand what is happening. The exported .png color looks like the right color both on the screen and when printed, but the imported .ai color is all wrong when printed.

So this brings up two questions that I desperately need answered:

1) Is there something I can do so that the directly placed .ai file comes out as the "right color" (the brighter red)? The .ai file results in a much cleaner image with the graphic, but the dark burgundy red is all wrong.

2) Is the "right color" even a concept I can grasp in the world of graphic design? I know that .png must have some color limitations, so is the "true color" for 12-100-91-3 the dark red or the bright red? I usually use .pngs for most of my materials, so the bright red is what I expected and associate with the color, but I do sometimes get materials from 3rd party printers that result in the dark red. So which of us is correct?

Colors are confusing... but I'm willing and wanting to learn.

1 Answer 1


A png is a RGB document. Now the printer/driver/sending application has to convert the color to its's own internal color model. Also display application has to simulate color. The conversion can happen in different ways depending on how your color conversion is handled.

In essence unless you have a well calibrated an/or profiled environment and use the right profiles you end up with random color. But even if you do it may be misconfigured, or you have a out of gamut/ gamut stretching.

For relative color accuracy it is best to convert both images to same colorspace. For absolute color get a calibrator and do a lot of preparing work.

  • Thank you so much for your answer! So that I can learn more on this topic, what would you recommend I look up? Color profiles, color management, color conversion? I've been getting a bit lost trying to learn about color...
    – MO Editor
    Aug 18, 2016 at 15:51

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