Color Shift (RGB to CMYK Conversion)

Color Shift Explained in 3 Ways

Color shift in print production refers to the unintended changes in the colors of a printed graphic, logo, or image when compared to the source or the intended colors. Many factors could lead to this outcome described below.

1. Graphic Color Shift: RGB to CMYK Color Mode

When graphic designs are initially set up in RGB color mode, they are tailored for on-screen presentation, such as computer monitors and digital devices. RGB, utilizing red, green, and blue light intensities, creates a wide array of colors through additive blending.

Some colors that can be used in the RGB color space are not possible to be reproduced on all CMYK printers and are outside of the color gamut. This conversion from RGB to CMYK may lead to variations in color due to the inherent distinctions in color gamuts between the two modes. Some highly saturated RGB colors might lack direct equivalents in the CMYK space, resulting in printed colors appearing somewhat different or less vibrant compared to the on-screen version.

Graphic Design Saved In RGB Color Mode
Color that was selected in RGB mode that is out of the print gamut for CMYK printing.
Graphic Design Converted to CMYK Color Mode
The same color to the left with RGB colors that was converted to CMYK mode causing a color shift.

While not all colors undergo such an extreme transformation during conversion, we opted for an exaggerated example to illustrate the concept of color shift. It highlights that the colors you see on your phone or computer screen may not always match the printed results accurately.

It’s a critical consideration in the print production process to achieve precise and consistent color reproduction across different color modes.

All graphics get converted to CMYK color mode when we send print files to our printer. We try to correct files for you in the prepress process, but it does not always convert. Be aware that if the design was not set up in CMYK mode for printing there may be some slight color shift.

It is recommended to convert your file to CMYK color mode when setting up your graphic print design, or starting a new design from scratch if it is specifically for print and web colors are not needed.

Indicator for colors out of CMYK color space
If you open the color panel you will see a warning if your color is out of the CMYK color mode.
CMYK Color Mode Editing in Adobe Illustrator
Toggling your graphic design document to CMYK Color Mode in Adobe Illustrator. Go to Menu > File > Document Color Mode. > CMYK Color. The process is very similar in Photoshop

2. Ink & Substrate Interaction

The type of printing substrate (vinyl, rigid, paper, or other materials) and the interaction with printing inks can affect how colors appear. The absorbency and texture of the substrate may influence how inks are absorbed and reflected.

3. Installation Surface Interaction

Color shifts can occur with thinner materials, especially those with a white adhesive side or clear vinyl, impacting the overall appearance when applied to specific surfaces. For instance, a light-colored print on thin semi-translucent material with a white adhesive side may appear darker when applied to a dark or windowed surface due to its semi-translucency.

While this is a rare concern for most projects, it’s essential to be aware of color shifts with semi-translucent films on darker surfaces.

We’ve selected materials to minimize color shifts, but we cannot guarantee this in all situations. Ratings for material opacity, thickness, and adhesive side color provide valuable information on potential shifts. Some materials have a grey adhesive side, often preventing color shifts. For more details, feel free to contact our team to assess whether your material and surface combination might pose any issues.

In certain cases, designers may use extreme RGB color values to achieve colors that have a neon effect. In most cases, these color values will not convert well to CMYK color mode. We currently print on white materials and do not offer any type of metallic/neon inks, reflective vinyl, or foil materials

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