Print 101

Why do the color images look different on my monitor than it appears when printed

CMYK Printing
Understanding why your book's printed color can look different on your monitor

Why do the color images look different on my monitor than in my printed book?

This is by far, one of the most common questions printing companies are asked by their clients.

To help you understand why this happens, it is important to explain two terms that create the process: RBG vs CMYK

RGB (Red, Green, Blue)

All digital devices (monitors, iPads, phones, etc.) use a process called RGB (Red, Green, Blue) to display color. These screens can display millions of colors, producing a much wider gamut of color than that of it counterpart CMYK.

Perhaps more importantly, all screens use a backlit light source allowing your eyes to interpret the color you are seeing. This means that adjusting your screen’s brightness will actually alter the colors of what you are looking at.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)

Printing, on the other hand, uses a process called CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) to produce the illusion of RGB color on paper but only uses 4 colors. This process is also known as “4 Color Printing”. CMYK does not have the same color gamut of RGB. Some colors (like neon) are very challenging to convert to CMYK and replicate with digital printing.

Certain paper stocks (like Cream Stocks or Recycled) can influence the color. Furthermore, since paper doesn’t not have a backlit light source, the perceived richness and depth of color may seem muted.

As a printing company, we are taking the files that our customers create on an RGB monitor and reproducing them in CMYK. Because of this transition, slight color variances may occur. It is important to remember that each device will render color differently; the colors displayed on your monitor are not consistent. You can view the same file on two different machines and see the color shift from screen to screen.

Because of the color technology differences between RGB and CMYK, if you are printing a job that is “color-critical”, it is always recommended to request a Hard Copy (printed) Proof to ensure we meet your expectations before running the entire job.

What can I do to make my color as accurate as possible before I have it printed?

Here are a couple of options available to help get your screen’s color closer to the printed output.

  • Use professional software to create your work and configure the default color profile settings to be in CMYK (look for the “US Web Coated (SWOP) v2.icc” color profile).For example, your artwork should be created using Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator, you should layout your files using Adobe InDesign. Export your final product in Adobe Acrobat.
  • If you have a relatively new and mid-to-high quality monitor, you can color calibrate your monitor for printing. Color calibrating tests validate and eventually emulates your screen to display as if it was paper. There are many professional services that offer this service. You can also buy a product like this to do it yourself.


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