Is working in CMYK worth it?

Over the years it has been an unspoken rule to choose CMYK right at the start when creating new documents for artworks that are going to be printed. Many old-timers may remember working in CMYK from start to finish carefully choosing colors and keeping an eye on the out of gamut warnings while color picking. Despite the effort of these people it would often lead to unsatisfactory results.

In the Free Software side of the world, many users demand the CMYK support in apps and tell the developers that it is the single most reason they don’t want to switch. So the question here is - Is working in CMYK from start to finish worth it? Are Free Software tools capable of CMYK workflow?

I would say no for choosing CMYK as default workspace for working and also that Free software tools nowadays are more than capable to handle CMYK in your workflow.

You lose many things just to chase down an unpredictable result. The first and foremost is that you lose a great number of color choices. You lose the ability to add filters, you get only a few blend modes to choose from and above all you limit your artwork to be in a color profile which is slowly losing its foothold. Nowadays Many people consume media on screen rather than paper. So it is very silly to target only one section of the audience.

If you work in RGB you are not restricted with the number of colors, filters or blend modes, etc. You can also convert your artwork later for print consumption.

Now let us see how CMYK is unpredictable. Getting your artwork printed exactly as you see on the screen is an uphill battle. You need to have color corrected and calibrated monitor, You have to know exactly on which paper your artwork is going to be printed. And the most important of all, you would need to have the color profile of the printer that you are going to use. Each printer has a different color profile, then the printer needs to be calibrated too.

If you haven’t ever asked for the color profile from your print shop then you have been doing it wrong all the time. From what I have seen many artists even those working in big agencies and companies just use the default SWOP profile and move on with their work. Their work gets printed in a sheetfed printer and they don’t even know that they are using a profile meant for the web press. And even if they use the SWOP profile the guys at the print shop do the conversion to the final color profile anyway. So in the end, I find the effort of these people wasted.

What is my workflow?

I do all my work in RGB and later based on the requirement I convert my artworks to CMYK. When I am working with a client, I ask them to provide a color profile from the print shop. And besides most print shops are now advanced enough to accept RGB images. The color profile I get from the print shop is created taking into consideration various factors such as the performance of the printer, the type of paper which is going to be used, type of printing method, quality of inks, etc. The people at the print shop know about the printer better than I do so the color profile that they provide is going to be the best.

Then I import this color profile in Krita or Scribus and then I check if my colors are beyond the printer’s color gamut. This is called soft proofing. Contrary to the naysayers, both Krita and Scribus (Free Software tools) have this capability. So even if I do my artwork in GIMP or Inkscape I can always import my artwork in Krita or Scribus to proof the colors. Krita and Scribus will warn you about any color that is out of range and you can correct those colors. Since my monitor is calibrated I don’t have to worry about the truthfulness of what I see on my screen. When I am satisfied I save a copy of the artwork which is flattened and then converted to the target color profile with correct rendering intent. This file is sent for Hard proofing i.e. getting an actual sample print. This clears any remaining discrepancies that may come in later due to the factors such as quality and texture of paper type of inks etc.

I have been using this workflow for many years and I have seldom got any muddy prints. So in my opinion working in only CMYK is not worth it, you should work in RGB and then convert it to printers CMYK profile for the final print. Besides, you can choose to work with some other print shop in the future which will have a different color profile, so it doesn’t make sense to keep your open files in one obscure CMYK color profile.

What is your opinion and what is your workflow? I would be glad to hear them.


Thanks for thorough explanation! I saved it to my list of help links :slight_smile:

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I agree with your explanation.

I also think that to work with digital formats, we must use RGB color spaces, and only if you need to make a physical copy, convert your finished work to CMYK.

To work on CMYK from start to finish, definitively is not the best way to achieve a good result. Maybe in the past it worked, but those times has be gone.

I work soley in RGB , the specialist printer I use supplied me with the colour profile for his printer so I can match it my end when creating the print ready files. The work I have digitally printed as Giclee prints are all in RGB and are almost a perfect colour match. With the exception of the deep blacks and contrast not being quite so strong looking when printed but this is due to when you view images on a screen they are back lit.

If you do prints with an offset print process they will more than likely require CMYK format but converting RGB files these days is straight forward.


And nowadays CMYK is not even that mandatory for printing anymore. Sure, if we are talking about old school print shops they probably insist (and they probably use 20 years old machines).

But for example the giclé print shop I get my art printed at in museum quality specifically asks for RGB files, because they use modern printers that are specifically designed to replicate the color gamut of RGB closely. They use 6-9 ink colors (as opposed to CMYK’s 4) to achieve this and they work best when you give the printer RGB files and it converts it internally.


Any quality print provider using offset printers will make plates directly from the digital files supplied by their clients using a system like Prinergy and a Trendsetter. Most clients haven’t got a clue and the CTP software and a skilled operator does a really good job of optimising colour conversion and guessing what the client wants. If you are worried about colour always ask for a calibrated hard proof for approval and use this to match with the final run. There is absolutely no need to work with CMYK any more. If you are serious about colour, then buy the best monitor you can afford and buy and learn to use a colorimeter, it pays off in the long run as you can prove the veracity of your colour issues with your often truculent print providers…


The giclé printer I work with also publishes the profile of their printers on their site, so if you know how you can download and soft-proof against them.

They also always print me a proof with small prints of all the art on one piece of paper. Some advice though: DON’T just look at the proof at the print studio! They have a perfect calibrated lighting setup there, which is likely way better than the conditions your art will be looked at. Take the proof home, look at it under your living room light, if it’s going to be displayed in a gallery take the proof to the gallery, etc.

Lighting has a great impact on how printed art looks. What looks great under a perfect studio lighting may look way too dark and ugly under a more common lighting - I learned this the hard way and had to re-print more than half of a run list minute because I was about to travel to another country with them. It wasn’t fun, and the printer wasn’t happy with the rush order either.


I’ve been working with illustration for printed media for years, and I learned from the beginning that working in RGB is best. If you work thoroughly with color profiles in both the illustration and later in the printing process, then that’s best.

I haven’t worked directly with CMYK since then. But it’s good to understand what RGB and CMYK is, how they are used and what happens when converting between the two.