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Application-Specific Tips for Converting RGB to CMYK
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By Mark Kolier

From the main story, we know what the overall issues are when it comes to matching online and offline colors. Now let's look more practically at what we can you do to ensure that your final printed piece looks as close to the material on your web site as possible.

Here are a few application-specific tips:

Photoshop: Leave your color files in RGB mode until the time you need to print separations, or until you need to know CMYK ink values, so you can match colors in another program. While you’re working, check how your files are going to look by turning on the “CMYK preview” mode. Don’t make repeated changes between RGB and CMYK mode, using the mode menu. Every time you switch, a little clarity is lost. One switch is no problem; 20 switches can make a big difference.

You might be wondering: Why not simply switch to CMYK mode as soon as possible? Well, RGB files are smaller, and are therefore faster to work with and easier to store. Plus, some filters only work in RGB mode. Also, the SWOP/CMYK gamut (the entirety of the color space) is pretty small compared to RGB. If you ever want to reproduce those files for a different medium (such as the Web), you’ll have thrown away some potentially useful information.

Illustrator: Avoid RGB mode. In fact, if you can build your artwork in Illustrator and import it into Photoshop for colors, avoid assigning colors in Illustrator altogether. You’ll find that most printers prefer not to use Illustrator colors. If you must assign colors in Illustrator, stick to CMYK and Grayscale color models. If you use Pantone Coated colors (specific, pre-mixed color inks), make sure that you convert these into CMYK mode also or leave them as spot colors if you plan to print spot color inks. Be prepared to spend more money to print those spot colors.

Quark Xpress: Familiarize yourself with the “Edit Colors” dialog box. Use only the CMYK model and Pantone Coated model ink definitions. Make sure that specify which colors should separate into CMYK and which should print as spot colors. Be aware that in Quark what you see may not be what you get!

Adobe InDesign: Keep in mind that RGB is mainly used for Web work and other specific applications. One trick is to use the option in the print dialog box under “Output” that gives you a choice of “Composite RGB” instead of “Composite CMYK.”




Mark Kolier is the President and Founder of CGSM.
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