Pretty much all magazines, catalogues and brochures are produced using the CMYK process.

So what is this?

Quite simply, CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (aka black). These are the four-primary printing colours and commonly seen in home inkjet printers.

In commercial printing, these 4 colours are mixed together in different quantities to print a vast array of various colours. CMYK printing requires four colour plates, one for each colour and is known as four colour process (4CP).  However, some printing presses have 5 or 6 colour processes, which means that additional metallic spot colour or a vanish can be added alongside the CMYK.

You may also see CMYK being referred to as the subtractive method of colour printing.  As each of the 4 colours are layered down to cover the white paper, the less light reflects through; hence subtraction of the white.

CYMK is a cost effective option for printing. Only four ink colours are required and mixed specifically to each project’s colour requirements.

This 4-colour process also lends itself to small and large print projects as well as managing multiple print projects on one printing press. There can be issues with replicating the exact colour hue again. This is because colours are not standardised across all printing presses which means colours can vary slightly.

PMS: Pantone Matching System

PMS stands for Pantone Matching System and is a standardised spot colour categorisation system. Pantone colours are pre-mixed, so a specified Pantone colour code is always the same regardless of where and how it is printed.

Pantone lends itself to projects where colour consistency and accuracy is important; for example with branding and catalogue printing. As pantone colours are pre-mixed, the range of colours needed is specific to each print project. In turn this can make it a more costlier option.

So using a Pantone becomes more cost effective for large print projects where colour accuracy and consistency is important.


RGB is very simply red, green and blue which is used on computer screens but not used in printing. Although RGB can be converted to CMYK, it cannot convert to Pantone. And due to the difference in the way colours are constructed in RGB and CMYK, any conversion is likely to result in colour changes. For thie reason never create print ready artwork using RGB images.

OK, so which should you use?

In summary, CMYK is good for any size of print projects and when accurate colour matching isn’t a priority.  Pantone colours are best for larger print projects when colour consistency is critical. Never use RGB!

We’ve put this guide together as a ‘rule of thumb’, but it’s always best to have a chat with us! So call us on 01323 419701 to discuss your project requirements or email and we can advise you on what options will provide the quality and pricing you require.

Feel free to look at our other blog posts on Brochure Printing, Fulfilment, Direct Mailing, Paper, Printing and News