Can You Save a PNG File in CMYK Color?

There are so many different file types out there that it can get confusing quickly. It gets even more confusing when programs invent their own types that cannot communicate with other programs. One of the most common file types out there is a PNG which stands for Portable Network Graphics.

PNGs are always RGB as they are meant for the web and not for print. If a file was designed in CMYK, it will convert itself to RGB once it is saved.

CMYK is the color mode used by printers whereas RGB is used for web. As such, a PNG file which was meant for web will only have capability to be RGB. If the file was designed in CMYK and needs to preserve that color mode, another format will need to be chosen rather than PNG. Keep reading to learn more.

Can You Save a PNG File in CMYK Color?

Unfortunately, a PNG cannot be CMYK as it was intended for web use rather than for print. Even if the file is designed in CMYK, saving it as a PNG will convert itself to RGB so that it is suitable for its intended purpose. While this likely won’t cause much in the means of quality degradation, it does come with that risk.

If the file absolutely must be in CMYK while also preserving such features as transparency, a better file type is a TIFF. However, the only files that need to be in CMYK are those intended for high-quality printing jobs rather than small web-based designs.

Why Do PNGs Convert to RGB?

A PNG is a highly compressed file type meant exclusively for use in a digital format. Digital media is shown through light mixed together in order to present what is seen on screen. It does this with three colors, Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) and is able to make far more colors than is possible via printed or tangible means. That’s also why colors on the screen always seem more vibrant than what is on the page.

Due to the fact that it is built for digital media and needs to be able to perform its best in a digital format, a PNG will always convert to RGB upon saving. It also compresses itself to leave a tiny digital footprint while retaining quality, which is ideal for use on the web.

How to Convert a PNG to CMYK

While a file can be built in a CMYK color mode, it will not retain this once it is saved as a PNG. Some printers are able to transfer RGB files to CMYK themselves, though this almost always results in a loss of quality and vibrancy. A PNG cannot retain CMYK at all, so if the intent is to print, the file should be saved as another format.

However, if the file was already saved as a PNG and it needs to be converted, there are a few methods such as:

  • Save it again as an appropriate file type
  • Use Edit>Convert to Profile in Adobe Photoshop
  • Save the file as a TIFF with Preserve Transparency ticked

Be wary of converting a file to CMYK if it wasn’t built in it. This could end up with a significant drop in quality as a result as the printer attempts to convert the colors from an additive color mode made of light to a subtractive color mode made of layering ink. If perfect colors do not matter much, then it’s not much to worry about to just resave the file.

What File Types Save in CMYK?

Building a file in CMYK is as simple as making sure that it is designed in the right color mode. Most design programs have it built right in or have plugins to make it compatible. For everything else, it’s good to consider the intent of the program. If it’s meant to make something for print, it’s likely already set up in CMYK. If it’s meant to be digital, it’s probably set up in RGB.

These are some file types that are compatible with CMYK:

  • PDF
  • JPEG
  • TIFF
  • AI
  • EPS

When all else fails, saving or exporting something as a PDF is a solid way to go. It saves everything as closely as possible, doesn’t require other computers to have the same fonts or programs installed, and communicates easily with printers. It is the ideal file type for sharing and printing and will save from so many headaches down the line.

Can I Print a PNG in CMYK?

If a PNG is printed, the printer is going to attempt to convert the RGB color data into something it can use, which is CMYK. RGB colors are made by blending light in an additive fashion, where more colors make it brighter. CMYK on the other hand is made darker as it adds more colors. There are no printers that can print in RGB, as they have to use some form of tangible ink to make the colors happen.

So, while a PNG technically can be printed, it’s not going to be able to be as vibrant and accurate to what is seen on screen. A printer can usually read a PNG, and it will do its best to match colors, but CMYK just cannot do nearly as much as RGB. If the colors being perfect doesn’t matter as much to the finished product, then it really doesn’t matter as long as the printer accepts the file.


A PNG is one of the most popular and widely used file types, and for good reason. It is extremely lightweight and supports transparency, which many other file formats lack. However, it is not the most perfect in the fact that it does not support CMYK. Due to this, it is completely unsuitable for printed works at all. While it might be the king of digital and web-based imagery, it literally cannot be used for print.

However, it is an extremely widespread file type that most programs are able to recognize without degradation of quality. It is a very good file type for things that have a lot of colors and/or transparency while also being so lightweight that they are likely to not cause issues wherever they are embedded.