Computer monitors emit their colour as RGB (Red, Green and Blue) light. Although all colours of the visable spectrum (colours that we see) can be produced by merging these three colours, monitors can only display a limited range of the visable spectrum.

However, when printing this cannot be applied as inked paper absorbs or reflects specific wavelengths. In printing we use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). Cyan, Magenta and Yellow pigments serve as filters, reducing different amounts of red, green and blue from white light to produce a selective range of spectral colours. Similarly to monitors, inks also produce a colour range that is only a subset of the visable spectrum, although the range is not the same for both.

What does all this mean, is basic terms it means that artwork displayed on a computer monitor may not match that in a print.

Why is this an issue for Graphic Designers?

When designing for print it is a lot easier to then transfer the artwork to screen as you have that colour in front of you and the colour does not change (ignoring variations in light). However, on screen there are several factors that affect what the colour produced is, factors to take into account are the brightness of the screen, how well the screen colour is collaborated as well as the quality of the screen, an LCD screen will have a much richer colour output than an old CRT screen.

We, as Graphic Designers, have to match these as best as possible to create great end results. Useful tools that aid in this are colour books, the main manufacturer being Pantone, who also provide color codes in both CMYK and RGB where available as not all colours can be matched in both CMYK and RGB.

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