The RGB and CMYK difference

Anyone dealing with colour or design in any capacity will have come across these acronyms at some stage.

They are used to describe colour palettes, usually in the printing industry, but are important for paint colour and design too.

The difference between them lies in the fact that what might appear as a deep pine green colour on your computer screen might look like an almost black green when you have a physical representation of the colour. Basically, it means that there can be slight differences when transferring from the digital version of a colour to the physical product. This is because each uses a different way to display colour.

Resene uses sophisticated colour scanning equipment to identify the RGB values of a colour. This RGB master data is then converted into our colour values.

The Resene Find-A-Colour tool will let you pick colours with RGB or CMYK values, so with a bit of experimentation, you'll be able to see the occasional slight differences in hue.


RGB colour schemes are the ones you will see on electronic displays such as your computer or laptop, cellphone, digital camera or scanner. It is what is known as an additive type of colour scheme, as it mixes red, green and blue in various degrees to create other colours.

If all three of the red, green and blue ingredients are mixed to their full extent, you will see white – this is in fact how the background colour of this page is created. The black words here are created by combining these three colours to the lowest degree.


CMYK uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black for physical printed colours that you see on paper and walls. It is a subtractive colour palette, which means that these colours absorb some light and reflect others, so that yellow only looks that way because it absorbs all other light colours except for yellow, which it reflects.

If you are planning to move from one colourspace to another, be aware that colours can and do change.  It’s always best to have a physical sample of the colour you are trying to achieve to ensure the onscreen or printed version you are getting is a good match to your desired colour.  If you are planning to print a colour, supply the printing company with a sample of the colour so they can match their work to it.

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