I was talking to a group of photographers and the topic of professional printing came up. A surprising number seemed unfamiliar or uncomfortable with CMYK color. Let’s quickly review a few core concepts to help you feel more confident in your printing of photos.

The Process

The CMYK process uses four colors to simulate the full range of color that can be perceived by the human eye. The four inks are cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K, for key). Many inkjet printers and most professional printing options use this color mode.

CMYK mode uses the subtractive color model to re-create color. Subtractive color explains the theory of how ink or dye absorbs specific wavelengths of light and reflects others. The color you see is based on which colors of light are not absorbed.

Who Uses CMYK?

Print designers use CMYK Color mode for professional printing, they will work in RGB mode throughout the design stage. CMYK Color mode has a smaller color gamut, so CMYK conversion is saved until the last stage of image preparation. Photographers are often asked to give design clients CMYK files.

Here’s how to make them.