What Is CMYK?

In the printing world, CMYK is an acronym for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. You may also see this combination referred to as four-color process. These four ink colors are used to produce nearly every mass produced color printed piece you see in the world today.

CMYK is also known as “Subtractive color”, which means that when applied to a white sheet of paper (white is the presences of all color), you start to subtract the colors from the white paper. We could get into a whole new discussion regarding CMYK the subtractive colors vs RGB the additive colors but let's save that for another time, as it stands, this can get a bit overwhelming.

These CMYK inks, when printed in various percentages on a white sheet of paper, make up the millions of colors needed to produce a color image. Each one of these inks can be applied in various percentages ranging from 1% to 100%. If you took the CMY alone and calculated all the different combinations that can possibly be achieved, that calculation would look something like this:

 100 x 100 x 100 = 1,000,000 colors

At this point, you are probably wondering where is the K (Black) in this calculation, combinations of CMY alone will create black but because of the impurities in the inks, black is added to block out even more of the white color of the paper. Therefore by adding the K (Black) component to this calculation the number of colors that can be achieved increases tremendously.

Here are a few tips regarding the CMYK color spectrum.

1. When designing for print, whether you are designing in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, or any other program, I recommend designing in the CMYK color spectrum. CMYK is used on an overwhelming majority of the world’s printing presses.

2. When creating a dark black, never use 100% of each of the CMYK colors, this will create more of what we call a muddy color. There is far too much ink going down when all four colors are applied at 100% each. Instead, contact your printer and ask what their recommendation is for a nice rich black. Here at folderprinters we recommend a combination of 60% cyan, 40% Magenta, 40% Yellow and 100% black. This combination creates a nice rich black. Something to consider when creating this four color black is the feel you are trying to achieve. You may want a warmer black, where the Magenta runs a bit higher than the Cyan or you may want to increase the Cyan to give your black a cooler tonality.

3. If you are using Black in a large area, never use just 100% black, this will inevitably create a dark grey, not a nice solid black. You need what is known as under color to give you a nice solid black. An under color can be a bit of one if not all of the other three colors printed along with the 100% black

4. When designing small black type, you should always use 100% K (Black) only. If you try to create small type using a four color black, you will inevitably see some of the other CMY colors peeking out from behind the black. It is very difficult to register four colors on very small type

I hope that I have shed some light on the question, "What is CMYK". If you have any questions regarding printing and would like to see them answered here on our folderprinters blog, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

You can find more helpful tips in our blog post titled “The Top 5 Most Common Mistakes Made That Can Delay or Hold Up Your Print Job”.