Color management: basic models of color space

May 16th, 2018 / Graphics Basics

The subject of this post is extremely extensive, but calmly – the length of this entry will not make you dizzy. I will only try to introduce you to issues related to it and thoroughly but understandably explain everything.

Certainly the subject of color and theory related to it will be discussed yet, and meanwhile, let’s get a closer look at some of the most well-known color models.

CMYK and RGB differences
Designed by Freepik
  1. RGB – The abbreviation of this color space model comes from the first letters of its components: Red, Green and Blue. It is used everywhere where we deal with light, that is on all types of screens. It uses additive (summative) theory of colors (overlapping of light waves / light beams). The three primary colors, displayed together at the maximum intensity, give white color. Do you remember the school experiment of making “spinning tops” from a pencil and a basic circle of paper covered with primary colors, which, when turned very fast, became quite white? This is how the process can be presented in a simplified way. The colors are displayed on a black background. The black color is obtained without displaying the primary colors in the desired place. Zero values ​​mean black, maximum (255, 255, 255) white.
  2. CMYK – a model whose name is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black – we use the letter K not to confuse it with Blue. In the CMYK model we deal with a subtractive (subtracting) theory of colors, i.e. the maximum range and combination of all colors gives us black, no colors – white. Therefore, this model is used in printing. Compared to RGB, it has a smaller range and less vivid colors with less saturation. It seems logical to me that more colors are able to get mixed with light than 4 colors. You could even mix only 3 – C + M + Y, but the color of this combination in practice comes out more grizzly than black. Apart from this, it is more economical to simply add black paint rather than to use the other three for this purpose. Remember to make sure to change the CMYK color space when preparing a file for printing. If you do not do it, you may get an unwanted hue of one of the colors in print.
  3. HSB – the most intuitive approach, implicitly used in many graphic programs, including Adobe. It’s based on Hue (color) Saturation and Brightness or sometimes Value or Lightness. This is an alternative model for RGB sounds complicated, but the approach used in it is one of the most natural for a human being. Because it is much easier to light up the color by simply changing its brightness than the components: red, green and blue.
  4. Pantone – Pantone matching system. The color standardization system developed by the American company Pantone Inc., which produces patterns. The colors are marked with numbers in them, and they are created by mixing 18 pigments. Paints based on stencils are not created from CMYK colors but from pigments. The purpose of their creation was to obtain identical colors all over the world, to develop simply a standard. It is ideal for implementing Corporate Identity of large companies with branches in different parts of the globe. If such a corporation will want to print its logo on advertising materials, when it gives the color number from the Pantone template, it is sure that it will get the shade it wants and no other.
  5. HEX – colors in hexadecimal notation, otherwise a hexadecimal color description system. Put simply, it’s just a way of describing colors with a specific number. It is used mainly for the purpose of creating websites, but it is so comfortable that graphic designers also often use it.
A good display is a must

display calibration is a must

Monitor calibration – An important thing to mention in this topic is also the calibration of the display. Checking and improving the display of colors is crucial. For sure you noticed more than once that the colors look differently on the mobile phone, tablet, laptop, and even on external monitors. To avoid this, it is worth working on calibrated screens. You can buy a calibrator or order a calibration service from a specialist company. The minimum should be the use of a relatively new external monitor. Thanks to this, we will avoid strange effects by working on graphics on the laptop monitor, which is not very suitable for this.

Each model has a slightly different role and one should be very careful when operating on the border between two of them. Especially when we are preparing a job for printing. It may come as a surprise when we collect a large amount of leaflets or – what’s even worse – books in a totally unintentional color.