RGB and CMYK, Graphic Terms Every Meeting or Event Planner Should Know

Meeting and Event Planners are a rare breed, we are forced to know a little about a lot of things.

We really do not have to be the master of everything that we learn, but we do need to speak intelligently so that we are able to communicate wants, needs and concerns.  I do not need to know how to drive a bus, but I need to know what a flat tire is going to do to said bus; I do not need to know how to make a perfect bed, but I need to know what one looks like and I do not need to know how to hook up the Audio Visual, but I know most of the components that go into the system and what each one does.

The same can be said of graphic images, I may not know how to use Photoshop or that huge printer, but I know what goes into that image. There are a million and one things that graphics are used for when planning an event. There is the conference website, the sponsor banners and the printed program and it continues to bus wraps, napkins, lanyards, badges, key cards and more. There are only two things that stop what a meeting and event planner can print on; common sense and budget.

I would say that it is not only important to understand some of that important sounding lingo that graphic and web designers like to throw around, it is mission critical so that you may sound like an authority that should be taken seriously when making suggestions or demands.

Over the next few of weeks, I am going to just throw out a couple of terms that might be confusing if you are not familiar with them and give a super fast, whiz bang explanation so that the next time you run across them, you may not be able to teach the class, but at least you will be able to follow along.

Today I am giving the 10 second explanation of RGB and CMYK Color:


RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue. This is the way that the human eye sees color and this is the way that your computer screen displays color. Basically, the computer describes the color using light.

The weird thing about RGB is that you add more color to get white, think of it like this.. if you shine a blue light on a wall it is blue, keep making the light brighter and eventually it will turn white (hard to fathom, but it works). Take away the color and you get black….and a really dark room.

If you are working on a website, video or producing something that will be seen on a screen, the color format you will use is RGB.

RGB is color for anything that will be shown on a screen



The total flip side of RGB is the (evil) twin, CMYK which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (it is not CMYB because people would confuse the b with blue).  This the color format you are going to use when you are producing printed material like banners, programs, etc.  You may have sometimes heard the printing process referred to as 4-color printing.

Cyan, Magenta and Yellow can be combined to make all colors except pure black (which is why you have a black cartridge on your home photo printer).  Unlike RGB where you add more color to get white, CMYK is the opposite, you subtract color to make white (or add all of the colors to make black).

CMYK is for color when producing printed materials

The number of colors that you can produce using CMYK is limited when comparing them to the number of colors you can create using RGB so there is a solution.

Spot Colors:

Another term you may have heard when producing graphic images is “spot colors” or Pantone colors. You will find that this comes into play when you are dealing with a brand identity or something where the image has to be a perfect color match. The Coca Cola Red and McDonalds Yellow have to be exact, there is no way around it and the colors produced by the CMYK process are not perfect. Colors that are not perfect might be a little off and this is unacceptable.  Enter spot colors.

Spot colors are specially produced inks that are the exact color that you are trying to reproduce. The biggest and baddest company producing spot colors is Pantone… so like Kleenex, spot colors are often called Pantone Colors……..

Spot colors produce the most perfect color representation in printing and that comes with a price and as you may expect, that price is not small.

Spot Color is for use when colors must be exact and your budget will allow.
There you have it, my 10 second explanation. This is not meant to be a dictionary definition and may not 100% perfect. It is meant to get the idea across. If you want a more detailed description, you can check out CMYK here and RGB here (the Wikipedia article has a create image that shows how to create white by adding more light).

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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