Bright orange will cost you extra: why you should design in CMYK.


Have you ever spent hours designing something on your computer, only to print it out and find muted colours? Did you wonder where your vibrancy was lost along the way?

Chances are you were designing in RGB (a colour model). Computer screens allow you to do this, because they use light to display your image. Light is made up of three values: Red, Green, and Blue. Gradually layering the light values up makes your image lighter and lighter, and eventually takes you to white. (Imagine shining three torches on a wall, one red, one green and one blue – the overlapping light beam would be pure white). RGB is therefore called ‘additive’.

CMYK, describes physical colour rather than light. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black), are the base inks, from which millions of colours can be produced and printed. Layering all these colours up will result in black, (imagine mixing these four coloured paints on a palette – your resulting colour definitely wouldn’t be white!). We call CMYK ‘subtractive’, as it subtracts/reflects light.


Subtractive colour (CMY) on the left, and Additive colour (RGB) on the right. The CMY mix results in a muddy brown, but with the addition of K (Key), we would get black.


CMYK has a smaller range of colour options than RGB; you can’t even make white ink from CMYK. The white ‘colour’ is assumed to be your paper, so is made by an absence of ink altogether. If you printed on blue paper the lightest shade available to you would be that shade of blue – your ‘white’ value.


So if you’re designing a logo to be printed, and you have chosen a very bright, neon orange colour, you may be disappointed to see it printed as a slightly duller orange. This is because fluorescent colours actually emit light, and CMYK ink reflects light. On a display screen, light can be emitted, but to achieve this in printing, you would need something beyond the CMYK spectrum…

What’s the solution?

Spot colours.

These are ‘extra’ colours; specially designed inks outside the CMYK spectrum, such as fluorescents, and even pure white. They cannot be achieved in digital printing, so if you want to print your fluorescent orange you would need to speak to a printer with lithographic capabilities. However these special inks will usually be more costly than standard full colour (CMYK) printing.

At Fulprint we have a five-colour lithography printer. This means that it can manage the cyan, magenta, yellow, black inks AND an additional spot colour, in one go. Each of these five inks goes in a separate cylinder of the press. (To learn how lithography printing works, check out this blog post).


Any questions? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. I appreciate your tip on using the CMYK colors instead of the RGB. I would not have thought that it made much of a difference when it came to printing. Rather, ever since elementary school I have been learning about Red, Yellow, and Blue as the primary colors. So, naturally I would think that the mixes of these colors would be more widely used, even if you do us green instead of yellow.

  2. Printing things can be tough. The vibrant colors take a lot more ink to print out. I did not know that vibrancy could be lost from the type of ink you print with.

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