Does CMYK Print Darker Than It Looks on Screen?

There are some things that just do not get explained well unless someone has been through the class or through the training. Despite the fact that printers are everywhere, there are still some things that don’t get included into common knowledge. Namely, questions surrounding RGB and CMYK, and whether or not the finished product will actually look like it does on screen.

CMYK does print darker than it looks like on screen. This is due to the fact that the colors on screen are additive and made by light, whereas printing is subtractive made by mixing ink to get the color.

Thankfully, most programs or services such as will make it so what appears on screen will be significantly closer to what the final product will look like. Keep reading for more information about CMYK and how it prints.

What is CMYK?

CMYK is an acronym for Cyan Magenta Yellow and Key. These are the colors used in print to make every other color, with Key nine times out of ten being Black. Once in awhile there are more specialized colors used in high-end printers which can help make richer colors, but it is not common.

It does need to be noted that there is no such thing as white ink when it comes to printing. CMYK is subtractive, which in short means that white is the absence of color whereas black is all of them mixed. Any white is just where the printer doesn’t print and will obviously just be the color of the paper. In order to get white, glow-in-the-dark, or even neons in print, highly specialized machines with different materials have to be used.

Does CMYK Print Darker?

CMYK does in fact print darker than it looks like on screen. A screen shows colors by emitting light which is then perceived as the respective color. Due to how wavelengths work and how light is additive, meaning that it adds colors together to the point white is all colors and black is the absence, it will always have more color options than CMYK.

CMYK on the other hand is subtractive, meaning that white is the absence of color whereas things get darker as more colors are added until it becomes black. It ends up having only a fraction of the colors that screens, which use the RGB color mode, are capable of producing.

Does the Type of Printer Make a Difference in Print?

There are two types of printers: inkjet and laser. Typically, an inkjet printer will be able to produce brighter, smoother colors than that of a laser. Lasers are great for large quantities of print needing to be done rapidly, which often makes it prime choice for offices and print shops. However, they typically are going to be even duller than their inkjet counterparts which can lead to some frustrations in unsuspecting customers at the shop.

Therefore, to get as close as possible to the colors seen on screen, it’s best to go with an inkjet printer. They won’t be exact, but it will be much closer to the intended product. This is especially true if the file was designed in a CMYK mode.

What is the Difference Between CMYK and RGB?

RGB stands for Red Green and Blue, the colors of light that combine to make every color a screen can make. Due to how light combines, RGB is capable of making a much greater number of colors than that of CMYK. That does mean that if trying to print something that is in RGB, it’s going to lose a lot of vibrancy at print as the printer is trying to compensate for what it cannot do. It is additive, so the more colors it adds together, the brighter it gets.

On the other hand, CMYK is subtractive. The more color it adds, the darker it gets. It either reflects or absorbs light rather than emitting it which is just a limitation of print. Therefore, it’s best to design something for print in CMYK while designing in RGB for things meant to remain digital.


CMYK unfortunately is going to print darker than it looks like on screen due to the fact it is not made out of light. It has to mix tangible substances, either a liquid or a powdered ink, in order to make colors happen. RGB, due to being additive and thus getting brighter the more colors it adds, has far more colors possible than that of its print counterpart CMYK.