To all Adobe Illustrator users: RGB and CMYK Modes

6 min read

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Hello Everyone!

We've encountered a persistent issue with colors within our submissions, specifically regarding those using Adobe Illustrator.

The prevalent cause for this is having the 'Color Mode' for the document set as CMYK instead of RGB. This converts all RGB colors to CMYK formats - including imported Color Guides!

CMYK Color Formats are usually used for Prints, whereas RGB Color Formats are used for Digital Images.

To change the Color Mode, go to:

File --> Document Color Mode --> RGB Color Mode.

Once you've done that, make sure to re-import the Color Guide(s) and apply the new colors for your Strokes and Fills. Don't forget to update the Swatches (if you've made them previously in the CMYK Mode).

Here is a comparison between the Color Modes:

(Hover the cursor over the image to fullsize it.)

(If you'll pay close attention, you'll notice that Twilight's coat color is duller in CMYK).

(Hover the cursor over the image to fullsize it.)

(Lyra has a more extreme change between the Color Modes).

So make sure you've set the Color Mode before working on your Vector and Importing Images to avoid any issues. ;)

What's the difference?

CMYK colors are created with printed work in mind. Vector art is very useful for printing because of it's ability to be scaled infinitely, which is why Illustrator often uses CMYK color mode.

CMYK is more limited than RGB because CMYK is made from ink, whereas RGB is made from light. CMYK is made of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink, much like your printer at home probably uses. Printing presses use these same colors to make full color printed work. Though you can make a lot of colors with those four, it's difficult to get brighter colors like those used in most of the ponies.

RGB is what your computer uses to create colors. It creates images from red, green, and blue light. Most monitors and TVs work this way. RGB colors will often be much brighter than CMYK colors because they are less limited, and it is also what the show itself uses (because it's made for looking at on a TV). If you are creating vectors to be displayed on the web (such as say, here on dA), then you will want to use the less limited RGB spectrum.

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MaybeNoDR's avatar
Thank you, I use mostly inkscape but when I do use AI, I'll keep this in mind, really really helpful!
hamtod's avatar
thanks, helped me out alot. 
Exerionz's avatar
i i know the wonder that i can't upload my artwork in CMYK mode into deviantart.. :(
mewtwo-EX's avatar
Hmm...well, there's nothing stopping you from doing so, except that we won't accept CMYK vector artwork.  Plenty of images on dA are in CMYK, since they're designed for printing.
Luchocas's avatar
Even after changing from CMYK to RGB, I still have the problem :/ The colours are still more darks than they you should be
Yanoda's avatar
Hello Luchoras,

did you re-import the color guide(s) and saved the colors after changing the color mode? If you don't re-import the guide and apply the new colors, there will be no change.

I hope this addressed your issue. =)
Luchocas's avatar
Thanks for answering. I did that and it works.
Rubez2525's avatar
Lol, if someone can't grasp the simple concept of CMYK and RGB colors. Then maybe they shouldn't be using something as advanced as Illustrator. Not to sound offensive, but cmon! :hmm:
SilverRainclouds's avatar
Since most art programs are set up for RBG by default, many users do not think that Illustrator would be any different.
Rokushou's avatar
I have been using Illustrator since I started vectoring and have known the difference between RGB and CMYK since way before then. Why is this post directed only at Illustrator users? Don't other programs have CMYK too?
RainbowRage12's avatar
In Inkscape you need to go out of your way and make a conscious decision to use CMYK over RGB so the average user who does not care will end up in RGB which is what the program likes to be in.
Rokushou's avatar
Thanks for the insight. Honestly RGB/CMYK is so basic that the average user should care enough to pick the right one.
RainbowRage12's avatar
and yet they don't, you would be surprised as to how many people remain ignorant of the most basic elements of what they are doing
kittyhawk-contrail's avatar
>Don't other programs have CMYK too?
In short: no.
GIMP and Inkscape don't. Photoshop does, but it's hard to set yourself into CMYK.
Rokushou's avatar
It's pretty easy to set CMYK in PS. I use cs6 and every time I start a new document, there's an option to use RGB/CMYK/grayscale/lab/bitmap.

It seems like a bad thing not to include CMYK in a program, considering many professional vectors go to print.
kittyhawk-contrail's avatar
Well, GIMP is OSS, so they don't have the funds for printer profiles. They may have added a CMYK option at some point, but without calibration, what doo is it?

I think AI has a lot of CMYK because it has that pantone library and the old kefkaloyde color guides were done in reference to pantone colors. But I'm dating myself with that.
ZuTheSkunk's avatar
Because so far, we have encountered the problem of people using the wrong colour mode only for Adobe Illustrator.

Also, I just checked if the same thing can be done in Inkscape and I couldn't find a similar option, while AI has it directly in the File menu.
Rokushou's avatar
Well that makes this yet another reason for the Inkscape users to hate the Illustrator users. xD
sniper6vs7rocket's avatar
Honestly its just a matter of preference. Unless there is a law against using CMYK, all "Professionally and legitimately made" vectors should be accepted, but its your decision so what ever floats your boat.
kittyhawk-contrail's avatar
In this case, the "professional" vectors are RGB. MLP was never designed with ink in mind. It was always an RGB colorspace work. Anyone using CMYK is as "wrong" as people using gradients to shading.
adamlhumphreys's avatar
Ironically enough, even for print, my instructor said to always use RGB, for everything. The printer driver or firmware likely does a better job converting than software that doesn't know enough about the printer.
Icaron's avatar
I switch it up as the mood suits me, each one has it's own look and use. For a brighter, more show style picture, definitely use RGB, or for a more toned down picture use CYMK. ^^

There's no right or wrong, it's just a matter of preference.
bipole's avatar
My left brain is saying "that's not what it's meant for at all!," while my right brain is saying "that's pretty clever."
Danton-Damnark's avatar
I always use RGB. Never knew what the other did.
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