by Louise

October 13, 2016

Why you should always work with cmyk colors when designing stickers

Why you should always work with cmyk colors when designing stickers

When I first starting designing in illustrator, over 5 years ago, I had no idea why the color options would be one of my most important discoveries in my designing process.

Now I know why to choose CMYK, what it is, and I wanted to create this post, to let you get in on the knowledge as well.

When you are first starting out with your sticker business, there are so many things that you need to know and it can easily become overwhelming, especially if you also are taking on a new program, like illustrator, and need to learn that, before you can actually design anything.

I hear you! That was me when I first started out with my first business. So let me help you a little today. The color workspace is not just nice to know – it is need to know, when you are printing stickers, or selling them as printables(!!!). Β 

You probably know that there are two different options you can choose from, when starting a new sticker design and choosing the color – The RGB or the CMYK. Let me introduce you to the two and explain why CMYK is a much better solution, than RGB for sticker making.

As a rule of thumb RGB is used for the web and CMYK is used for printing. So by now you know that you need CMYK and here is why..

But first, what are they and how are they different?


RGB is made for screens and monitors. The term stands for RED, GREEN, BLUE and simply is a way of displaying colors on a screen, like your computer. The colors are monitor dependent, which is why the same color, can look different from your screen to another – like looking at a color on your phone, sending the picture to your computer and it looks completely different – I know that has happened to me before! Β 

In the picture below you can see how the colors mix, when they interact. RGB is an additive color model, which simply means that you add colored light to generate different colors. there are more than 16 million different colors combinations in the RGB color mode.

rgb how the colors mix

Ex: If all the colors are set to 0 – you will get black. And if they are all set to 255 you will get white = adding more of each color will get you a brighter end color.


cmyk colors are made for printing and consists of the four colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (black). Most printers print with this color mode. Β 

The colors work in the opposite way than the RGB color mode and are subtractive. This means that by adding color, you are basicly subtracting the white, which is the paper, when working in CMYK.

CMYK works from the principle that you start with a white surface, like white paper, and then by adding colors you get darker and darker. The CMYK color palette is much more limited than the RGB, which you should consider too. What this means is that you might pick a bright neon pink in your color picker, but when you hit ok – the color changes into a darker color. This happens when you pick a color that doesn’t exist in the CMYK color spectrum.Β 

CMYK how the colors mix

So why should you work in CMYK?

Now, the obvious answer is that your printer is using that palette (CMYK), and therefore your colors will be so much more true, from screen to when you print at home, when you work in CMYK. This will limit the color changes you sometimes see from your screen. Most of the time, the colors are more muted on paper, than on your computer. If you work in the CMYK colors from the beginning, you know your color scheme is working for your kit – and the colors are what you want them to be.

I cannot tell you how nice it is, to know that the color you see on your screen is actually the one that your printer will print too. However, heads up! Your computer will show you its best conversion from RGB to CMYK – remember that your computer works in RGB?

This means that colors might still vary (annoying??!) yes.. What I did, and you should too, is to print some colors on your printer and compare with the ones you see on your screen (do this in daylight, natural light). Then go to calibrate the colors on your computer, to get a next to true match. It will make your designing so much easier – I promise!

Another thing about working with CMYK is that your printables will be more true to color, and you customers will know what they are getting. I often see mockups on etsy, where the colors are much brighter, than I know the CMYK is capable of making – and it makes me sad. Mostly because the customers, getting those stickers not will be able to print them how they imagined and saw on the listing when they bought the product.

ok, so that was a lot. I hope you got something from this post. let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments below πŸ™‚

About the author

Louise is a graphic designer, a creative planner and a business owner. In her spare time, she likes to make all sorts of crafts and draw digitally. She likes to travel the world and spend time with family. She lives a wonderful life in the country of Denmark with her husband and their one-year-old little girl.

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  1. Hi Louise

    Thank you for the post. OK, so what your saying is that there must be some setting somewhere to adjust? I am going to go back and read that a few times I think because there is no way in this world that I read the one time a got what you said. I apologize, \I am just trying to wrap my head around this.

    Thank you

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