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What color profile to use in Photoshop for CMYK?

When working with CMYK color mode in Photoshop, it is important to use the appropriate CMYK color profile to ensure accurate color representation and quality output. The CMYK color profile controls how color values are converted into the CMYK color space and defines the gamut or range of colors that can be reproduced. Choosing the right profile is essential for matching colors across different programs, devices, and printing conditions.

Why use a CMYK color profile?

RGB is the default color mode used for images in Photoshop and on screen. However, most commercial printing uses CMYK colors. So if you are preparing artwork for print, you need to convert the image to CMYK mode and assign a CMYK profile to define the color space. Without an assigned profile, the CMYK colors may shift or not match your intended colors for print.

A CMYK profile also allows Photoshop to compensate for the differences between RGB and CMYK gamuts. The RGB gamut encompasses a wider range of colors than CMYK. Assigning a profile maps RGB colors that fall outside the CMYK gamut to the closest possible CMYK equivalents. This prevents unwanted color shifts when converting to CMYK.

Factors in choosing a Photoshop CMYK profile

There are several things to consider when selecting a CMYK profile in Photoshop:

  • The print standard used in your region – U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 is popular for commercial offset printing in the U.S. while Euroscale Coated v2 is common in Europe.
  • The type of printing process – options like Sheetfed or Web Coated are designed for offset lithography. Uncoated and Gravure have profiles for uncoated and gravure printing respectively.
  • The paper stock used – Coated profiles like Coated FOGRA39 are for glossy and matte coated stocks. Uncoated profiles like SNAP 2007 work better for uncoated paper.
  • The printing press/condition – Some profiles are tailored for specific print conditions like ISO 12647-2:2004 (Fogra27).
  • The CMYK workspace you want to emulate – Profiles like U.S. Prepress Defaults match popular prepress workflows.

Consult your printer to find out which CMYK standard they follow. They can also provide color profiles tailored for their equipment and workflow. Using a profile not suitable for the printing conditions can result in incorrect color reproduction.

Commonly used CMYK profiles in Photoshop

Here are some of the most common CMYK profiles used in Photoshop:

U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2

This is the standard CMYK profile for commercial offset lithography in the United States. It has a fairly large gamut and works for publications printed on coated stock.

Euroscale Coated v2

The European color standard for coated stocks printed on offset presses. It has a slightly smaller gamut than U.S. SWOP.

U.S. Sheetfed Coated v2

Designed for sheetfed offset printing on coated paper stocks in the U.S. The gamut is slightly smaller than SWOP.

U.S. Uncoated v2 (SNAP 2007)

For uncoated printing stock in the U.S. The gamut is smaller than coated profiles.

Coated FOGRA39

Matches the FOGRA39 print condition based on the ISO 12647-2:2004 standard used in Europe. Made for coated stock.

ISO Coated v2 300% (ECI)

A standard CMYK profile for coated stock that aligns with ISO 12647-2 specifications. Used internationally.

GRACoL 2006 Coated1

Provides a small gamut designed for quality printing on coated stock following the GRACoL 2006 U.S. printing specification.


Another U.S. profile for coated stock with a gamut similar to SWOP v2. Follows the SWOP 2006 printing standard.

Japan Color 2001 Coated

The standard CMYK profile designed for coated paper in Japan.

U.S. Prepress Defaults

Models CMYK output from Adobe InDesign when using typical prepress settings for commercial print jobs in the U.S.

How to assign a CMYK profile in Photoshop

Applying a CMYK profile in Photoshop is straightforward:

  1. Convert the RGB image to CMYK Color mode (Image > Mode > CMYK Color).
  2. Go to Edit > Convert to Profile to bring up the Convert to Profile dialogue box.
  3. Under Destination Space, select the desired CMYK profile from the drop-down menu.
  4. Disable Black Point Compensation. Since you are converting from RGB to CMYK, BPC can cause unwanted color shifts.
  5. Click OK to convert the image to the CMYK profile.

You can also assign CMYK profiles when opening images in Photoshop. In the Open dialogue box, select the profile from the Color Profile menu.

Soft proofing with CMYK profiles

After assigning a profile, you can visually simulate the final CMYK print output through soft proofing:

  1. Go to View > Proof Setup > Custom to bring up the Customize Proof Condition dialogue box.
  2. Under Device to Simulate, select the CMYK profile applied to the image.
  3. For Rendering Intent, select Perceptual to maintain color relationships or Relative Colorimetric for closer color matching.
  4. Toggle the Preview option to enable/disable soft proofing.

Soft proofing preview the colors within the gamut of the CMYK profile and approximates the final print result. Disable soft proofing to view the original colors.


Using the correct Photoshop CMYK profile ensures accurate color conversion and reproduction for print projects. Common profiles like SWOP or FOGRA39 are reliable choices for coated stock print jobs in the U.S. and Europe respectively. Custom profiles tailored to the printer’s workflow yield optimal results. Consult the printing company to determine the right CMYK profile to use based on the printing specifications and conditions. Apply the profile when converting RGB images to CMYK in Photoshop. Soft proofing provides a preview of the final CMYK output.