RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone – Which Color Standard Should You Use?

Wednesday 11 May 2011 | Keith J. Hamilton

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RGB CMYK Pantone RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone – Which Color Standard Should You Use?

RGB? CMYK? The average Joe will probably get overwhelmed by this onslaught of initials. A good graphic designer however, should know what they are, how they work, what are their limitations and more importantly, which one should they use for a particular design project. In today’s post, I will try to answer these questions so that designers can be better equipped for future design projects and undertake them with confidence.

The very first and basic thing that every logo designer should know about RGB and CMYK is that these are essentially color standards used in creating logos, banners and images. Each has its own strengths as well as limitations, which should be kept in mind when working on a design project.

RGB colors RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone – Which Color Standard Should You Use?

RGB Color Standard – Ideal for Digital Display

RGB refers to three primary colors, Red, Green and Blue, also referred to as additive colors. Logo designers use them in mixed variations to create a magnitude of different shades for their design drafts. These colors are sharp, appealing and stand out more. Hence they are very popular in the design community. RGB colors excel in displaying images and graphics on monitors, TV’s and scanning devices. This makes them a great choice for images that are displayed online such as a company website or an online brochure.

CMYK colors RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone – Which Color Standard Should You Use?

CMYK Color Standard – Industry Standard for Print Media

In direct contrast to RGB, the CMYK colors are known as subtractive colors and represent Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black respectively. Notice that the CMYK abbreviation uses the letter ‘K’ to denote Black instead of the letter ‘B’. This is done to prevent people from confusing it with the color Blue which also uses the letter ‘B’.

CMYK is the de facto standard in the print world. Companies interested in printing their logo on different materials such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, caps and business cards, prefer their designs in CMYK. They are perfect for stationery, garments and other forms of marketing collateral.

color standard question RGB vs CMYK vs Pantone – Which Color Standard Should You Use?

So Which Color Standard Should You Use?

At first glance, it would seem that RGB would be the way to go and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want a nifty crispy logo for their website? We see hundreds of RGB drafts submitted on MycroBurst.com everyday. However there is a problem with this approach. Designers are assuming that companies will be using their logo for online purposes only and not for off line print media – Wrong assumption.

The Limitations of RGB and CMYK

One word – Interchangeability.

Most companies prefer having the flexibility of using their logo for both online and offline marketing mediums. However due to the bright nature of RGB colors, RGB images do not convert smoothly and hence do not come out well in printed form making the image look noticeably blurred. Similarly, CMYK colors lack the sharp look of RGB images online. In many cases it is close to impossible to convert a CMYK file to RGB color standard and vice versa.

This would conclude that RGB should be used for digital purposes while CMYK should be implemented for printing mediums. However, if clients are undecided on the utilization of their logo or prefer having both options open, there is a better solution that offers designers more freedom and saves them time and money – Pantone.

Pantone Color Pallet – Setting the Tone

Pantone colors provide logo designers with the flexibility to convert their design files to RGB or CMYK as they see fit without sacrificing image quality, color depth and detail. Creating designs in Pantone saves them precious time, money and resources. This is a color pallet that MycroBurst.com designers should implement in their designs, preferably Pantone Solid Coated.

Remember guys, a good graphic designer works harder and smarter at the same time. Devote yourself to every project you are involved with, but keep your design options flexible and versatile. Be Smart. Choose Pantone!

    J. Hendrix

    Thanks for making this clear!

    Unit B

    StationEry. Other than that, good breakdown of the essentials.


    LoL Unit B!!!

    One of the problems with a computer monitor is that it does not show the correct colors for Pantones and try explaining that to a client who loves their new RGB Logo. The Pantone Matching System book has plenty of bright colors but the Illustrator/Corel Pantone Swatch Library does not portray a lot of these colors correctly AT ALL! For instance, Pantone 375 is a very bright, beautiful green in the book but in Illustrator it’s dull and lifeless and off a few shades.
    Maybe soon this can be corrected. I do know that sometimes I don’t think about the final outcome when I design and if I win, trying to match the CMYK/Pantone colors can be a real pain.

    Anyway, great article!

    MD. Abdul Barik

    I used CMYK color


    Don’t forget a great logo works in black and white first and at very small sizes.


    Thank you.. How about the software? among Ilustrator and CorelDraw? or FreeHand? or 3D Max? … I’m waiting this article..

    Dana Lee

    AND try explaining to your client that the printing price has doubled because using the 2 PMS colors in the logo has turned that 4 color brochure printing into a 6 color job. Or that the price of 1000 business cards has gone from $65 for 1000 to $195 for the same reason. I love PMC colors, but in the real world designing in PMS or RGB open yourself up for lots of problems. Its safer to design in CMYK, then all the printed materials will be standard 4 color jobs and be consistent. As far as matching CMYK to RGB, no two monitors ever display colors the same, and 99% of people have never calibrated their monitors.


    Really very good Article, It’s make me clear what to use for what. specially Choosing color for Logo… It was a big problem to me before i read this.

    thank you.


    I am glad that I have this information. I had my logo designed and teh designer gave me RGB colors. I now need Pantone for coverting to print.

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