What’s the Difference Between RGB, CMYK and PMS Colors?

When you’re decorating apparel for a brand, it’s important to keep the colors you’re printing consistent and correct. Sometimes you’re given artwork sent to you from an image from a website, or from a brochure file that was created for the company.

You might even experience working with one the company’s many designers or printers to come up with a t-shirt design. These designers work hard to keep their branding and colors consistent across their different marketing efforts like brochures, catalogs, website, mobile apps, TV ads etc.

You will hear the terms RGB, HEX, CMYK and Pantone (PMS) thrown around quite often as a garment decorator.

When it comes to printing t-shirts, having the knowlegdge of which type of color range is right for the graphics you’re heat printing with will make your life much less stressful.

The easiest way to break it down is into 2 categories of color ranges, Print and On-Screen.

Without getting into color theory and an in-depth conversation on how each of these color ranges are comprised, let’s explain what we’re here to know, which type of colors are best for screen printed and digital heat transfers?

CMYK and PMS are for Print.

RGB and HEX are for On-screen.

CMYK refers to the colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (Key). These colors are the primary colors for print and are printed separately and blended together by a digital printer to create your image.

CMYK is best for digitally printed heat transfers like CAD-PRINTZ® and Stretch Litho. These transfers are printed using a printer similar to a home ink-jet printer. When supplying your artwork, it’s best to be created using the CMYK color model.

PMS stands for Pantone® Matching System. Where there is much color variation from different printers using the CMYK color model, Pantone created a standardized system of color which us screen printers love! It makes communicating the exact color needed by referencing a PMS number and it doesn’t change from printer to printer.

Pantone Colors are the preferred color model for screen printers like us. When ordering screen printed transfers like Goof Proof®, Hot Split, Elasti Prints® or Aqua Tru™, providing a PMS Number with your artwork will ensure you’re getting the exact color you’re expecting.

The screen print inks can be premixed, like our 50+ stock ink color options. Or they can be custom mixed by providing us with your exact PMS Number.

Since we are talking about printed transfers, we will spare you the discussion about RGB and HEX. Just know, these color modes are best on the computer screen, not for printing.

You’ll likely come across a customer who copied their logo from their website and sent it to you to recreate. Or they screen grabbed an image from an internet search. If this happens, pass on the knowledge. Let them know since the artwork was provided from a computer screen, the colors might not convert to the exact same color when it’s printed.

Learn More on how to Prep Your Artwork for Digital Printing with CMYK and RGB



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