Life in colour

At ICON Printing we’re always fielding queries from clients that want to make sure their design will look as good printed as on the screen. It’s a valid concern: sometimes it can seem that colours within your printed t-shirt haven’t come out as vibrant as you were perhaps expecting. This is not usually down to a fault with the printing, but down to what colour mode the artwork was created in. There are two different colour modes – RGB and CMYK. In short, you can see a larger range of colours (these are RGB colours) through a computer monitor than can be printed. Colours always print in CMYK.

RGB vs CMYK colour - how to decide

What does it stand for?

The name of the RGB colour model stands for Red, Green, and Blue. RGB is what your monitor uses to send colour to your eye. It combines red, green, and blue to create a whole range of different colours.

The name of the CMYK colour model stands for Cyan (a vivid blue) Magenta (a hot pink), Yellow, and Key (which is a black).

What’s the difference?

RGB offers a much wider range of colours than CMYK does, and RGB colours tend to be more vivid than CMYK.
Many RGB colours cannot be duplicated using the CMYK process.

You will need to work in CMYK when producing artwork for direct to garment t-shirt printing and t-shirt screen printing. This will mean you will not be disappointed if the colours don’t come out how you were expecting, especially with bright greens and oranges.

Setting up a CMYK colour profile in Photoshop or Illustrator stops your computer from showing you colours that aren’t achievable in print.

Important note: If you are saving your artwork as a .png file (which is required for direct to garment printing), first create your file in CMYK, and then change it RGB in order to save it as a .png – otherwise it won’t save!

Want to learn more about the t-shirt printing process?

If you’ve found this guide useful and want to learn more about the t-shirt printing process and how to get the most out a printing job, have a read through some of our expert guides, covering everything from screen-printing to branding, from in-depth features to quick tips and tricks. Here’s a selection of some our favourites: