When creating logos and designs, choosing a color mode is an important first step. Often, deciding whether to go with CMYK or RGB for a logo can be a complicated decision. While practicing my own logo design, I decided to look further into the issue.
Should logos be in CMYK or RGB? Ideally, logos should be provided in both color modes. CMYK color mode is best used for any logo that will be printed, and RGB color mode is best for screens.
While both are useful and should be provided in any professional setting, it is best to explore the differences between the two so you can make your own informed decision.
The Difference Between CMYK and RGB
CMYK and RGB are both color modes. Essentially, color modes are how image software determines color channels, or how many are available.
There is a wide variety of color modes, but CMYK and RGB are the two most popular and best for most logos.
CMYK and RGB are abbreviations that represent the aspects of the color modes. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key, respectively. RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, respectively.
What is CMYK?
CMYK is a color space that was specifically designed for logos and other designs to be printed. Most printers take cartridges of these colors as well, making the transition from design program to print as smooth as possible.
The “K” letter in CMYK can be confusing for new designers. It stands for key and is the only letter abbreviation that is not directly related to a color. Put simply, key really just means black.
It has a separate name of key because of its unique property. When the rest of the colors are mixed together, they create the pure black represented as the final letter in the abbreviation.
When logos are printed, CMYK colors are combined to produce a range of colors. This is done using a process called subtractive mixing, where all colors start off as white. Each time ink is printed, it simply reduces the initial brightness until the required pigment can be seen.
What is RGB?
RGB is also a color space, designed for use on digital screens. The range of colors within the RGB color mode is more than what CMYK can achieve during printing.
Where CMYK uses subtractive mixing, the RGB color mode uses additive mixing. Starting with the color black, red, green and blue light is added and mixed to create the desired color. When all three colors are mixed at the same ratio, it creates white.
RGB covers millions of colors and has the largest amount of color options. Because of that, designers can tweak and change many aspects of color such as vibrancy and contrast to get exactly what they are looking for across any digital screen.
Switching Between Color Modes
Often, logos may be seen both online and physically. Choosing a color mode is trickier in situations like this, and often it may be simpler to stick to colors visible on both spectrums.
Transitioning from RGB to CMYK is harder than doing the opposite due to the extra range in pigment RGB has. If a program is making this switch automatically, colors will often end up muted or saturated incorrectly and ruin the logo.
Due to this, it is often recommended that designers start their logo in the CMYK color mode and transition it to RGB when necessary.
When To Use CMYK
The CMYK color mode should be used for any logo that will be seen printed on physical things more than on a screen. In addition, if a logo will be recreated in other mediums such as painting, CMYK is also better.
There is a large variety of places where logos could pop up where CMYK is the best option. Below, I’ve outlined a few common ones within large categories. It is always best to check how a logo is planned to be used before choosing a color mode!
Many brands have logos that need to be displayed in a physical space. Situations that require a printed brand logo require the CMYK color mode to be used. Some examples are:
- Storefront signs
- Printed business cards
- Emblemized stationery
If the designed logo is expected to be sold on buyable goods, it is especially important to design in the CMYK color mode. Customers will not want to buy any merchandise with the logo if colors don’t match their web look.
Examples of merchandise where a logo is visible could include:
Truly, the sky is the limit in terms of merchandise. Using CMYK ensures that whatever the logo is printed on, it will look true to form.
Physical products and packaging are often where a brand’s logo is seen most. Any business which sells products for people to buy should have their logo made in CMYK so the package design can display the logo properly.
Logos show up constantly in physical advertising. Some examples include:
Especially in advertising, where a logo may only be viewed for a second before the consumer moves on, having a consistent color mode is essential.
When To Use RGB
RGB should be used anytime the logo will be displayed most on a digital screen. More and more, digital marketplaces are becoming the norm, and RGB is growing in popularity. Common places where a digital logo could show up include:
- Online shops
- Business websites
- Social media accounts
- Official statements
- Watermarks on photography or artwork
It is important to consider where logos may end up in the future, too. While a company may exclusively be online for now, they may want to expand into physical branding in the future. If there is any possibility a logo will be printed, RGB should not be used.
Printers simply cannot reproduce all of the millions of colors available in RGB mode. If a logo designed here goes to print, colors will often lose saturation or look simply wrong.
How To Save Files In The Correct Color Mode
Saving and delivering logos in the correct file format is essential to preserve the work done on them. Different color modes operate best using different file extensions.
It is always a good practice to follow any file specifications laid out before saving your logo. However, if you have a client who has not provided any specifics or you are doing personal work, here are some tips.
Formatting For CMYK
For CMYK files, there are a few industry standards.
PDF files are great for logos made in the CMYK color mode. This is because of how ubiquitous they are. Anyone has a piece of software for opening PDFs, and they are easily printable. This is standard for sending out finished logos to clients.
AI files are standard for CMYK files as well, especially between designers. AI is an Adobe Illustrator file type, which saves all the layers and work put into a logo. This means it is easily editable by others with the program. It also saves the color mode, which is vital. This file type should be provided for any commissioned logo work as well.
EPS files are a fine alternative to AI files. They save much of the same information but are available to open and edit in a larger variety of programs, in case further changes to the logo must be made elsewhere.
SVG files are a vector image format perfect for logos. They tend to be large, but that is rarely an issue for logos that are to be printed. SVG files are the industry standard for providing logos.
Formatting for RGB
Saving logos made with the RGB color mode is also a fairly standardized process. Because logos made in the RGB color mode are to be used on the web, it is important to consider file size. Websites can get bogged down by large files quickly, and logo images rarely need to be huge for web use.
With that in mind, here are common file types to save RGB logos in.
PNG (.png) files are generally regarded as the best practice if providing a rasterized file. They support transparency, so any logo can easily be put onto any background, and are easily opened in any image software. They are also easily uploaded to websites to be used wherever needed.
PSD (.psd) or AI (.ai) files are both exclusive to Adobe products. PSD correlates to Adobe Photoshop and is best used for logos created in that program. AI is made for Adobe Illustrator and best for that. These files are great for sharing logos between designers or editing the logo further.
JPEG (.jpeg) files will occasionally be requested by clients. These are nice because they strike a perfect balance between file size and quality, and are also widely supported. It is important to note that JPEGs do not support transparency, so logos will have to be cut out before use.
Occasionally, digital logos may be made with movement or animation. In cases like this, GIF (.gif) files are best. GIFs tend to be large but are perfect for capturing motion and are widely supported on the web.
Other Color Modes
While CMYK and RGB are the common color modes, other options for logos do exist. Changing the color mode of an image will inherently change the way colors look and blend together, and occasionally a client will request a more uncommon option. Here are a few more common color modes.
- Pantone Color
- Grayscale mode
- Bitmap mode
- Multichannel mode
While some of these are more specialized, each of them can be used effectively to create great logos. Learning them will help your designs as well!
Pantone Color Mode
The Pantone color mode is another style that is best for printing. Rather than being an acronym, Pantone is actually the name of a company that created a color matching system.
The Pantone colors are especially great for logos due to their incredible color accuracy. A logo created in the Pantone colors will look exactly the same whether in print or on a screen.
Logos that have multiple colors could become muddled, and printing with multiple Pantone colors can get expensive. Another downside is that converting from Pantone to CMYK can often make colors have dramatic differences.
Overall, the Pantone color mode is a fairly specialized one but it is worth checking out.
Grayscale Color Mode
Logos will almost never be delivered or finished in a grayscale color mode, but it can be an essential tool during development.
The grayscale color mode uses different shades of gray to create an image. These shades of gray are calculated by brightness level. At level 0, the gray is black. At the highest level on the scale, which changes, the color is white.
The grayscale color mode can also be measured as percentages of black cover over a white background.
While logos are rarely made in grayscale, it can be an essential tool for getting the values of an image correct. Being able to switch between color modes to test this will help create a great logo at the end.
Bitmap Color Mode
The bitmap color mode is binary, utilizing only black or white to represent color. The name comes from the bitmapped 1-bit images the mode creates.
The bitmap image mode can be great for testing contrast in a logo, and when space is a concern, the file size tends to be very small.
Once again, a logo will rarely be delivered in this format.
The multichannel image mode is highly specialized for printing and required conversion from other modes to even work. Multichannel means that, rather than working through a color wheel or picker, each color channel is manipulated individually.
For instance, if the multichannel image was converted from RGB, the color channels of the image will change to CMY – cyan, magenta, and yellow, respectively. This is because multichannel mode is only for printing. Colors will get diluted and highly changed when converting to this mode.
Converting from CMYK to multichannel will yield much better results, though it still will not be perfect.
Multichannel mode is great for high contrast logos, or where one color channel is meant to be most seen. The tweaks available in the color channels means that exact control can be had and can ensure the image matches exactly when printed.
Printing out multichannel images tends to require special equipment, so it is rare to create logos in this mode unless specified.
Best Practices For Making And Providing Logos
With the wide variety of color mode options available for making logos, logo designers can get bogged down in the details. When this starts to happen, it is best to take a step back and focus on some best practices for designing and shipping out logos – a simple return to basics.
Regardless of what color mode you choose for your logo (and remember: CMYK for print, RGB for digital!), there are standards for uploading or providing the logo to clients.
What Files to Provide When Giving a Logo
There are four essential file types to provide to a client who asked for a logo. These are:
- An editable file – Normally, this will be an Adobe Illustrator file. This will allow the logo to be edited as needed in the future.
- A PDF file – This is great for clients and others to be able to view the final logo.
- A PNG file – It is essential this comes with a transparent background as well.
While it may seem like a lot, providing the logo in all four of these forms can help to ensure that they receive exactly what they want out of the logo.
Black and White Variations
When providing a logo, it can also be extremely useful to provide the logo in black and white variations.
If the logo is going to be used on single color documents, merchandise, or a host of other things, it is often best to use it in black.
A white variation of the logo is another single color version, operating similarly to the black variant. This is best when the logo is going to be used on colored or dark backgrounds and can really help highlight the contrast and values of the logo.
It is also important to note that these variations should be provided as their own files if the logo is being handed off to a client or business. That way, they can easily use whichever one they need the most and don’t have to search through a document.
Confidence In Your Color Mode
Armed with the knowledge of different color modes and what they are best suited for, you are now able to go and create the best logos you can! When in doubt, use the CMYK mode. It will work great both in print and digitally.
Remember, the mark of a great logo is rarely in its color mode. Putting the focus on contrast and values will take your logo a lot further than worrying too much about color. Once you have confirmed the use for the logos, design freely!
For all other design needs, we highly recommend trying Placeit. It offers a large library of templates for every design project.