How CMYK Works

The acronym CMYK means cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (or black). CMYK is a color model used for most color printing. The term is also used to refer to the actual process of printing itself. While the variety of printing color models vary depending on the print house or press manufacturer’s standards, the inks used basically follow the order of abbreviation.

Before the introduction of laser or inkjet printers, offset printing used CMYK colors. Offset printing is the conventional method of printing the hard copies of images. The three colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow) serve to represent the primary colors. Black is used to mix with each color to cover the entire spectrum of colors.

Basics of CMYK Printing

A colored picture is divided into four separate constituents for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The image then is turned into a plate to determine the right concentration of colored ink to apply. As soon as the printing starts, a combination of colors will eventually form the image.

While the CMYK model does not represent all colors available, it can produce millions of colors with different shades and combinations. Even though it may not exactly replicate the color of certain objects, the use of ink ratios and concentration will enable the picture to closely resemble its real color.

Other elements that contribute to achieving the exact color include hue, tone, and intensity.

The Use of Black Ink

Black ink is used in this color model for the following reasons:

  • Texts are basically printed in black and consist of fine details. Hence, it is easy to accentuate fine details in an image without blurring it.
  • It is inexpensive to use black as an alternative instead of using colored inks to produce the same color.

Subtractive and Additive Colors

Subtractive colors are those produced by the mixture natural colorants which absorb light wavelengths and reflects others. This color system starts with white light or reflection. Colorants (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key [CMYK]) that are added to the white object subtract wavelengths of light from it, thus, the term “subtractive”.

There are also additive colors which are produced by the combination of red, green, and blue, or RGB. In contrast to the subtractive colors, these start with the lack of light, or a black object. Colorants or light sources add light wavelengths to the black object, thus this color system is termed “additive”.

It is difficult to compare the RGB and the CMYK color models since the processes involved are different. However, with the technologies available today, it is now possible to convert CMYK to RGB and vice versa. Yet, since these systems of color are not related, it is still impossible to replace one color with the other.