CMYK – 4 Letters That Have a Big Effect on Your Printing Projects

When it comes to professional printing, you don’t need to know your ABC’s.  Instead, you need to know all about 4 other letters – CMYK.

CMYK stands for the colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. 

But what do those 4 colors have to do with printing?

Because the colors in CMYK are so broad, they can be used to create virtually any color in the rainbow.  After all, professional printers do not have ink cartridges in every single color; instead, they used different combinations of CMYK to create the colors they need. 

For example, a green image comes from a mixture of Yellow and Cyan ink.  Red comes from a combination of Yellow and Magenta.  And blue comes from mixing Magenta with Cyan.  And, of course, you can make any of those colors lighter or darker just by adding a little more CMYK ink.

How does it work?

When it comes time to print something in color, the 4 inks are placed on the piece of paper in layers.  Each layer that goes down changes the color – and each of the inks is laid down in the order of CMYK. 

So, if you needed to create a green image, the Cyan ink would be laid down first, with a layer of Yellow ink on top of it.  If black ever needs to be used, it is always the last color laid down.  That’s why Black is represented by the letter K; it is considered the “key” that locks the image together.

In web offset printing, each color is put onto its own printing plate – meaning that 4 different printing plates will be used for each colored project.

But, when it comes to using CMYK, you also have to pay attention to some tiny details.

Computers screens do not use CMYK to create their colors.  Instead, they use an RGB system (Red, Green, Blue).  That means that the colors you see on your computer screen may come out of the printer looking a little bit different.

So, how do you combat that problem?

Good professional printers will give you a proof before they start printing.  A proof is a smaller representation of your project that needs your approval before anything else is printed. 

By looking carefully at a proof, you can see exactly how the colors are going to come out of the printer.  If they are different than what you saw on your computer screen, you can make some adjustments before it’s too late.