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How do I change from RGB and CMYK in InDesign?

When working with graphics and images in InDesign, it’s important to understand the difference between RGB and CMYK color modes. RGB stands for red, green, and blue and is an additive color model used for digital displays. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black and is a subtractive color model used for print production. Knowing when and how to convert between the two color modes is essential for high quality print output.

What is the Difference Between RGB and CMYK?

RGB and CMYK differ in the following key ways:

  • RGB is an additive color model that uses light to display color. Combining red, green, and blue light creates a wide range of colors we see on digital displays. CMYK uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks or dyes to absorb and subtract light, creating a range of colors we see in print.
  • RGB color is device-dependent, meaning it can vary based on the display it is viewed on. CMYK is device-independent and produces consistent colors across different presses and inks.
  • RGB has a wider gamut and can produce more vivid, saturated colors. CMYK has a smaller gamut and struggles to recreate some vibrant RGB colors.
  • RGB is the standard for anything displayed digitally like websites, apps, and monitors. CMYK is used for printing presses, magazines, brochures, and other printed materials.

In summary, RGB is additive and controls lights while CMYK is subtractive and controls inks. When designing for print in InDesign, using the CMYK color mode is essential.

Why Convert RGB to CMYK in InDesign?

Here are some key reasons you need to convert RGB colors to CMYK when working on print projects in InDesign:

  • CMYK has a smaller gamut so some RGB colors may not convert accurately. Converting early prevents unwanted color shifts.
  • Printers require files to use CMYK colors to match their ink sets and printing process.
  • The CMYK color separation process prepares your artwork for commercial printing.
  • Viewing proofs or press checks in CMYK provides a realistic preview of final print colors.
  • Rich blacks print better in CMYK using all ink colors rather than just black ink.

In summary, RGB to CMYK conversion ensures your print project displays the colors you intend and aligns with commercial printing requirements.

How to Convert RGB to CMYK in InDesign

Here are the steps to convert RGB colors to CMYK in InDesign:

  1. Open the InDesign document and select Edit > Assign Profiles. Assign the intended CMYK profile you want to convert into, often a printer or paper-specific profile.
  2. Go to Edit > Convert to Profile and select the CMYK profile again to convert the document colors.
  3. Open the Swatches panel and change the color mode drop-down to CMYK. This will convert any RGB swatches.
  4. For placed images, use the Links panel to select images and assign the intended CMYK profile to convert them.
  5. Use the Ink Manager in the Separations Preview to convert any remaining RGB elements.
  6. Preview separations and do a press check to ensure accurate CMYK conversion.

Converting all colors early in the design process is best to avoid rework and ensure high print quality. Adjustments can be made in CMYK using calibration bars and press checks.

How to Convert CMYK to RGB in InDesign

Occasionally you may need to go the opposite direction and convert CMYK colors to RGB. Here are the steps:

  1. Open the document and assign an RGB color profile like Adobe RGB or sRGB under Edit > Assign Profiles.
  2. Go Edit > Convert to Profile and select the new RGB profile.
  3. Open swatches and change the mode to RGB to covert swatches.
  4. Select images in the Links panel and assign the new RGB profile.
  5. Use the Ink Manager to convert any remaining CMYK elements.
  6. Proof colors and make any adjustments in RGB mode for digital accuracy.

Some colors can shift or be inaccurate when going from the smaller CMYK gamut to the wider RGB gamut. Previewing the conversion helps spot any unwanted color changes.

Tips for Accurate RGB to CMYK Conversion

Here are some tips for converting RGB to CMYK while maintaining accuracy:

  • Assign CMYK profiles early like right after creating the document.
  • Use profiles that match your specific printer and paper stock.
  • Adjust colors visually after converting to minimize shifts.
  • Reduce saturation of RGB colors before conversion.
  • Avoid using vibrant neon RGB colors that don’t convert well.
  • Blacks can stay black in both color spaces for flexibility.
  • Use a calibrated monitor if possible to preview conversion.
  • Print color proofs like Matchprints to preview on actual paper.

Testing and tweaking after conversion ensures your CMYK colors match your original RGB vision as closely as possible.

Benefits of Working Natively in CMYK vs. Converting RGB

While you can convert RGB files to CMYK, working natively in CMYK mode offers some advantages:

  • Avoids multiple conversion steps which can shift colors.
  • Makes it easier to design for print with accurate CMYK preview.
  • Gives direct control over separations and press plates.
  • Better optimized for printing standards and requirements.
  • Makes press checks and proofs more representative of final print.
  • Easier to adjust makeup and specify special inks like metallics.

The best print workflows start projects in CMYK from the beginning. But working in RGB is often more common and converting works fine in most cases.

Using Spot Colors in CMYK Documents

Most CMYK print documents use process colors only, made from combinations of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. But spot colors can also be used which involve special premixed inks. Here are some tips for using spot colors:

  • Spot colors need to be defined in swatches for accurate application.
  • Special channels are added for each spot color used.
  • Create a spot color swatch even if RGB value is specified.
  • Use the Ink Manager to properly separate and define spot colors.
  • Order special inks from printer and specify application details.
  • Choose spot colors wisely as each adds print costs.

Popular spot colors include Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors, metallic inks, and custom brand colors. Just take care when specifying spot inks and separations.

How Design Intent Changes Between RGB and CMYK

Since RGB and CMYK gamuts differ, some design adjustments may be needed when converting to preserve intent:

  • Boost shadows which gain density on press.
  • Increase vibrancy and saturation subtly.
  • Avoid large areas of intense cyan, magenta, or yellow.
  • Use only one to two spot colors with lots of process colors.
  • Adjust transparencies which interact differently.
  • Watch small text as thickness may increase.
  • Add stroke and hairline rules to avoid fill-in.

Take the difference in color, contrast, density, and transparencies into account. Preserving design integrity from digital to print is an art that improves with experience.

Choosing Between Coated and Uncoated CMYK Profiles

When converting to CMYK, you’ll choose between selecting a coated or uncoated color profile. Here’s an overview of their differences:

Coated Profiles Uncoated Profiles
More glossy, saturated colors Flatter, muted colors
Deeper solid blacks Blacks have more of a grayish cast
High ink density capability Ink saturation must be lower
Smooth gradients and tints Tints are more textured

Common coated stocks are gloss, satin, and silk finishes. Uncoated includes newsprint, book paper, and other absorbent surfaces. Pick profiles that match your paper selection.


Converting colors between RGB and CMYK will be a regular part of your InDesign workflow for print projects. Take the time to properly assign and convert profiles, swatches, and images to avoid unwanted color shifts or surprises. While the colors spaces have key differences, with care and some testing you can effectively design and print from RGB to CMYK.