CMYK vs RGB vs PMS - How they differ?

As a design and sticker printing company, often, designers request clients for logos, images or other artworks to be used in their custom stickers or product labels. Clients especially those that don’t have design technical know-how normally don’t know nor understand the application process, but the very reason a designer asks about the correct type of file, including color type is dependent on the application. Below are basic explanations of the different color systems.

Note that when designing for things on a screen, such as a website, TV commercial, or PowerPoint, RGB must be used. However, when designing something that is to be printed, the use of CMYK and PMS colors are advised.


This is often referred to as a four-color process. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black) make up the color palette for CYMK. Our printers at home use this color profile. Since CMYK is used while working with ink, the goal here is not to emit the light that is to be seen, but rather use ink that will absorb light reflected from a white piece of paper. Variations of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink are added to absorb light and to also subtract the type of light waves being reflected back to your eye. When all three colors are combined, all light is absorbed and will appear black. Does that give you the hint why black is referred to as “key”? Primarily, black is the color used on the key plate thus supplies the contrast and detail on the final image.

Black is used so much here, although CMY together creates black, a separate black ink is included to provide more density, and save ink too. CMYK colors are usually less vibrant than RBG colors because rather than using light, you’re using ink to create colors.

CMYK Setup for Stickers

If the files that you have submitted to us are not set to CYMK, we will promptly ask you to convert your sticker art to the proper color mode because the file is not print ready. Take note also that conversion from one color standard to another result to another color shift.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue)

RGB is an additive color space that is used for screens because screens emit light, which means that you have to start with a black screen, add variations of red, green and blue light to create colors; when all are combined, the result is white. As mentioned, RGB color space is more vibrant than CMYK because RGB works with light while CMYK, works with ink. Essentially, the way RGB works is that, light filters through these colors to make different hues or tones. 100% light density creates white. On the contrary, 0?nsity creates black (which is the color of your screen). Using a light density from 1 – 99% with different variations of these three colors will create any of the other colors you see on your screen. There is typically some variation in RGB colors from screen to screen as monitors are each calibrated a bit differently.


PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. PMS is a universal color matching system used primarily for printing. Pantone colors are a result of special mixtures of ink. Each color is represented by a numbered code. Unlike CMYK, PMS colors are pre-mixed with a specific formula of inks prior to printing. Similar to picking out your favorite paint at the hardware store before painting. Having these specific formulas creates the most consistent color possible across different applications or print locations. If you will be printing anything with a very specific color palette this is the best color profile to use.

Because printers tend to have shifted in color due to slight differences in calibration, businesses often use Pantone colors for things that absolutely have to be the exact color intended. Usually, Pantone colors are used in logos and company materials that are to match one another. There are 4-color builds for PMS colors, but since PMS colors are mixed with a specific recipe of pigments, attempting to recreate PMS colors with CMYK typically results in a shift in color.

Because cyan, magenta and yellow are combined to create a variety of colors, the inks are transparent. Since PMS colors are intended to stand alone, the inks are opaque. This creates problems when designers attempt to use transparencies with PMS colors. If you want to use transparency effects with a PMS color, you must use the CMYK equivalent of the color rather than the actual PMS color.


Do we accept artworks in Pantone Colors?

Yes, we do. We convert Pantone colors to their CMYK equivalent values before printing. We encourage you to specify your own CMYK values and include that in your artwork instructions when ordering. Moreover, we normally recommend using Pantone colors to clients who are very specific to the colors of their printed stickers to avoid issues in the future.

Hopefully, this helps you understand the differences between these color system.