How to Print Bright Colors Using CMYK [10 Tips]

The sad fact of the matter is that the colors that appear on screen will never transfer over to print perfectly. Digital colors are made using the RGB color mode, which is comprised of light. CMYK is how things print and involves using tangible substances, either liquid or powdered, in order to make the colors happen. RGB can make many more colors than CMYK ever will, meaning that they are going to end up turning dull from screen to print.

However, there are plenty of ways to get the brightest colors possible, even when printing. It might be frustrating to start with, but that’s what proofs are for. A proof will help ensure that the final project comes out to standard, so don’t forget to do one in order to limit any disappointment. Keep reading for some tips to make CMYK as vibrant as possible.

1. Work in CMYK Color Mode

The first thing to help ensure that colors aren’t being shifted too much is to ensure that the project intended for print is being worked on in the proper color mode. RGB will have a lot of colors that CMYK cannot accomplish, so don’t work on it if the goal is inevitably to print the project. While conversion can happen, it sometimes makes it more challenging to achieve the perfect color.

2. Use a Monitor with Excellent Resolution

Love them or hate them, but Apple products typically have a higher resolution and ability to showcase colors than other machines. When needing to get nitty-gritty with color selection, very little ever tops a Mac. If Apple is not on the table, be sure to use a computer monitor that has as high of a resolution as possible in order to get as close as possible to the desired colors.

3. The Printer Itself Matters

No two printers are alike. Inkjet printers come in so many different styles, brands, and with so many color capabilities due to using liquid dyes that chances are an inkjet is going to be able to make much brighter colors than a laser printer. Laser printers use a dry powder which it then bakes onto a surface to print, which in turn allows for greater efficiency and longevity but is rarely as vibrant as an inkjet.

4. Convert Through a RIP

A RIP in printing stands for Rastor Image Processor. A well-calibrated RIP can help ensure perfect color consistency between the computer and the printer by essentially telling the printer how to make exact color blends to get as close as possible to the original color. Any printer that says it can print with RGB is using a good RIP.

5. Make Sure the Print Quality is as High as It Can Go

It might seem like an obvious point, but it is something to remember. When trying to go for the brightest colors possible in print, it is absolutely critical that the settings are placed as high as possible. Efficiency is not the key when it comes to bold, beautiful colors. It’s going to take some time to force the printer to make them that good.

6. Ace Color Theory in the Design

One thing that is a not-so-secret design trick is being good at color theory. Knowing how to place colors around each other can help trick the eye into thinking things are brighter or duller. Making a design with strong color theory is going to make the brightest colors appear to pop much more than if they were by themselves.

7. Full Color Matters

The fewer blends that the printer is being told to make means that there are fewer colors to mix in order to try and achieve what it’s doing. Remember that printed color is made by mixing real substances, either liquid dye or a dry powder, in order to make the color happen. The more colors that are mixed, the darker and more muddied it’s going to end up.

8. CMYK has its Own Color Codes

There are entire codes for every color possible with current technology; however, most codes will appear in RGB or hexadecimal codes. CMYK has its own list of color codes which involve percentages for each color. Making sure to utilize this exact formula will ensure that the printer also knows what it’s doing by mixing that percentage when it prints.

9. Don’t Use Economy Anything

When it comes to printing, unfortunately, branding matters. Using economy paper, off-brand ink, or lower settings will result in poorer quality overall. When needing those colors to print bright and beautiful, using fresh ink from the same company as the printer, higher poundage on the paper, and the highest quality settings possible is essential to making things print beautifully.

10. Consider Using a Service

There are a lot of things that can be done alone, but there are also times when it’s best to outsource things. Printing is typically one of them, as there is so much that goes into making things look perfect that it’s not worth any one person’s time. Consider using a printing company in order to ensure the best possible print with the brightest, most beautiful colors.


The fact of the matter is that colors will never look exactly like they do on screen. Digital media uses RGB color modes which blend light together additively in order to make a massive range of colors. Print media uses CMYK, which uses subtractive color, blending physical dyes to make a darker, richer color until it inevitably becomes black. In turn, that makes CMYK end up duller than it can be on screen, but there are some tricks to help make that design print as bright and beautiful as possible.