We often work on creating logo identities and websites for our clients. At some point, it seems to be inevitable that our clients come to us wondering why the color of their logo on their business cards doesn’t match their website perfectly. Although it seems to them that there must have been some sort of mistake in the printing or in the development of their website to produce this discrepancy, the real reason for the difference is that the ways colors are created on printed collateral and the way they are produced on websites are each done in very different ways.
When having items printed onto paper, the colors are produced in a color space called CMYK (also called 4-color process). When a website is created, the colors used are produced in a color space called RGB. There are also additional color spaces outside CMYK and RGB, but these are the most commonly used.
CMYK Color Space
As mentioned above, the CMYK color space is used primarily for print. The acronym CMYK stands for Cyan (a bright shade of blue), Magenta (a bright pink color), Yellow and Black, which are the four colors of ink used in 4-color process printing. During the printing process, these colors are printed over one another at varying opacities in order to produce a broad spectrum of colors. When the inks are printed onto paper, they are absorbed into the paper. Because the color is absorbed, the CMYK color spectrum is not as broad as the RGB color spectrum. The calibration of the press that your printed piece will be printed on can easily vary from press to press, so if you want to try to keep a color consistent across multiple printed pieces you will want to be sure to stick with one print vendor, and if possible, have the pieces printed on the same printing press. If you are especially particular about having a certain color printed consistently, you may wish to look into printing that color with a spot color.
RBG Color Space
The RGB color space is used primarily on screen, and you probably encounter it the most when viewing websites. The acronym RGB stands for Red, Blue, and Green, which are the colors of light that are combined to render an even broader spectrum of colors. The RGB color space can produce a broader spectrum of colors since they are created from light sources combining to create the colors. Brighter colors can also often be produced using RGB. Similar to CMYK printing, a color produced in RGB can be rendered differently based on the screen that it is displayed on. However, unlike CMYK printing, it is impossible to control the calibration on the many, many screens and growers across the world that may be displaying your website. Like all things web-related, we need to simply accept that when working with the web there will be slight differences in color across different screens and browsers.
As you can see, producing a color in CMYK and in RGB entail completely different methods. Understanding this will help you understand how there will be slight differences in the color of your printed items versus those viewed on-screen. I compare it to trying to stain a solid wood piece of furniture so that it matches a laminate piece of furniture—these two materials are completely different, and although you can probably mix a shade of stain that comes close to the color of the laminate, like CMYK and RGB colors, they’ll never match perfectly because they are just different kinds of media.