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The Benefits to Working in RGB

Here's why RGB will finally win the day.

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By Stephen Beals

The digital controversy between whether it’s preferable to use RGB or CMYK images seems to be recurring, and not without good reason. For years, print providers have been rather insistent that files be furnished by designers in CMYK format. The rationale is that since print output devices use a CMYK color space, it’s best to begin with a CMYK file.

In commercial print, the resistance to RGB is still strong. Just last fall, I attended a meeting of printers where a half-dozen prepress managers unanimously requested CMYK-formatted files from their customers. Although wide-format print providers generally have been more willing to accept RGB files, many join with their commercial counterparts in saying CMYK is preferable.

Why RGB is better
In spite of this bias, however, RGB is really a better way to go for many reasons. Conversion from one color space to another can sometimes be problematic for companies that have a limited knowledge of color management. But in this time of automated color-managed workflows, the resistance to RGB makes little sense from a production point of view. And the pros of RGB generally are stronger than the cons.

The most compelling reason to adopt an RGB workflow is to increase the print provider’s ability to "match the original"-the RGB color space simply allows for a wider range of colors. While it’s true that no output device can match the color range of a transparency or digital camera, modern wide-format devices offer a much wider color gamut than traditional offset presses. In many cases, it makes perfect sense for each print job to try to get the maximum color space your device is capable of reproducing. Clearly, the more data you input to the device, the more you can output.

CMYK conversion, by definition, reduces the data contained in the original RGB image. And data that is thrown away can never be reclaimed-it’s gone for good. To retain as much data as possible, there is a growing trend toward performing color conversion only in the final rasterization process before printing. That way, all of the data in the image file is retained.