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This is an abbreviation for ‘Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black’.
It is also know as ‘Full Colour’ or ‘Four Colour’ and even ‘Process Colours’. The ‘K’ stands for ‘Key’, as the cyan, magenta and yellow printing plates are aligned with the key of the black ‘key plate’.
When CMY inks are combined at full strength, the resulting colours are red, green, and blue... as shown below.
The ‘CMYK’ process is mainly used when pictures are to be printed, as these cannot be produced using ‘spot colours’.
These days, lithographic printers use ‘CMYK’ to print most jobs, as many jobs can be printed together on one large sheet using just four printing plates to produce all the colours necessary. The jobs are then cut down once dry.
Problems can occur when printing certain ‘Pantone’ colours, as not all ‘Pantone’ colours can be produced accurately.
Such an example is ‘Pantone Orange. (021). When printed in ‘CMYK’ format, it looks slightly brown. This is not a problem if all your printed material is ‘CMYK’ format, but will look different if part of your printed material is spot colour.
This process requires an individual printing plate for each spot colour chosen from the ‘Pantone’ colour swatch. Each colour is mixed to produce the perfect colour match. ‘Pantone’ is the standard reference guide for spot colour work in the UK.
It is a good method to use where colour accuracy is essential, but can prove expensive as it can be labour intensive.
The printing press will require a wash up for a particular ‘Pantone’ colour and then a wash up after printing, where the ‘CMYK’ inks can be used again for the next print run.
RGB colour format is used on computer monitors. All RGB colours will need to be converted to CMYK for printing purposes including digital. The printed colours may vary slightly when compared to the screen RGB format.