What Happens to Artwork When Converting Colors

When submitting your own artwork to be printed as custom transfers, it is important to know which “color mode” your artwork file is saved as.

There are a variety of color mode options. The most popular are CMYK and RGB. You may have heard this before, but didn’t know what they are or mean. Perhaps you didn’t know when to use each of the color modes, or what happens when you use the wrong mode.

Each color mode has its time and place. Each one is used for specific purposes.

Let’s break down what each color mode is for, and then what happens when the wrong color mode is used.


What is the CMYK Color Mode?

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (or black).

cmyk color

Just like you were taught in elementary school art class about primary colors (blue, red, and yellow), these colors are the foundation to make other colors.

Cyan is a blue color, magenta is a red, and yellow is yellow.

Therefore, CMYK is the color mode used for full color printing. Generally speaking, these colors can be used to create almost any other color to print. (There are some limitations which we will cover in a bit.)

Your desktop ink jet and laser printers use this method of printing. You can pop open your printer right now and look at the toner and ink cartridges and you will find these colors.


What is the RGB Color Mode?

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue. This color mode is used for digital screens, such as your computer monitor, phone, and tv.

rgb color

All of the colors you see on your screen are made up of these 3 colors.

This is the color mode used for images that are not printed. All images that you get off of the internet are in the RGB color mode.

Because of the different colors that this mode is created with, RGB has its own spectrum of colors available, which differs from the spectrum of colors that can be printed using CMYK.


What is Spot color?

Another option that you can save your artwork as is spot colors. Spot colors are individual pigments of colors.

These are the colors that are referred to in the Pantone® Matching System (PMS). You may have heard of these before.

Pantone color swatches

The easiest way to explain this is to think of it as the crayons you used to color in your coloring book as a kid. If you wanted to color the grass green, you chose the green crayon. To color the sky blue, you chose the blue crayon.

Without blending and shading with the colors, you were limited to the colors you had in your box and that’s how many colors you had in your drawing.

Spot colors are used for various types of printing, not for full color. Screen printing is one example where spot colors can be used.


What happens when my art is in the wrong color mode?

When you save your art file, you need to know what the end use is for your art. For example, will it be printed as a brochure or will the image be used on your website?

Depending on how you want to use the image, you will need to save the file as that color mode. Again, CMYK is for printing, while RGB is for on-screen devices.

If you want to use it for both, you will need to save a different file for each purpose in that particular color mode.

If you use the incorrect color mode for your intended purpose, the colors may seem to appear different than you created it to be.

That is because the way the colors are generated for each purpose differs. If you created an image using RGB on your computer, but then try to print it, your printer uses CMYK, which will render the colors differently.

Each color mode has limitations on which colors it can actually render as well. It has its own spectrum of colors.

Depending on the colors you are using in your artwork, you may not notice too much of a shift in colors, while other times the colors will look completely different.

There is a possibility of colors turning neon or colors becoming so dull. It’s hard to know ahead of time.

It’s also worth noting here, that just because you are creating your art in CMYK for print, be careful when you are viewing the artwork on your computer screen. Again, your computer screen is rendering your CMYK colors using RGB, which may be different.

In this situation, your best bet is to actually print out your artwork to get a better idea of what it will look like when it is printed.

On the other hand, you may be viewing RGB artwork on your computer. Unless your computer screen is calibrated for exact color (which most screens are not), your colors may look different on another screen.

When you have your file saved as the wrong color mode, you will need to convert your colors to the correct mode. This is usually just a simple setting in your document settings in your artwork application.


In Photoshop, the color mode can be switched in the Image menu.

However, as mentioned above, your colors will most likely have a shift in how they render and appear after you switch to the correct mode. This is normal, since the different color modes have a different spectrum of the colors that can be produced.

rgb vs cmyk

This is a necessary procedure and you can’t skip it. If you do not convert your colors beforehand, they will not appear how you intended to see them in the end.


What color mode should I use for my heat applied transfers?

Screen Printed Transfers

For screen printed transfers, we use spot colors. That is because we are using the exact ink color just like you would choose a crayon in the example above.

We have our stock ink colors that are readily available for any order, or we can match an ink color to a PMS number that you provide to us.

Note: we offer our Color Selector which contains swatches of our actual stock inks printed and heat pressed so you know exactly what it will look like when you order your screen printed transfers.

CAD-PRINTZ® Digital Transfers and Stretch Litho™ Transfers

Our CAD-PRINTZ digital transfers and our Stretch Litho transfers are printed in full color. Therefore, these are printed in CMYK.

When providing artwork for these transfer types, the artwork needs to be submitted as CMYK to ensure that your colors will not shift when converted.

If your customer provides you with artwork in RGB, make sure to ask them to provide it in CMYK and let them know that the colors will most likely be different if printed from the artwork that is in RGB.


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