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Learn before you print.

An Incredible Spectrum

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. In printing, CMYK refers to a specific set of inks that can reproduce the full color spectrum. This is accomplished through a halftone pattern of small dots at different sizes and different colors printed next to each other, so that from a distance the eye perceives the simulated colors and doesn't recognize the individual dots.

Why CMYK?

So what does this all mean in real life? CMYK gives us a full color range and great contrast with an incredibly soft feel. The inks we use for this process are very thin, so the finished product feels even softer than a normal Plastisol print. It also means that by paying for 4 colors, you get a full spectrum of colors from a print.

We usually recommend CMYK for high color-detail prints, but sometimes there might not be any other option. If your art contains more than 10 strong colors or if your budget is limited, CMYK is the only way to achieve the look you want.

Limitations

Paper printers use CMYK almost exclusively. But garment printers don’t use CMYK nearly as often because there are several limitations that make it difficult to work with. The biggest limitation is that CMYK prints MUST go on white or very light shirts. CMYK inks are very thin, so the shirt color shows through the print. Colored shirts will skew the colors of the print, and a dark shirt will make the print almost invisible.

The other limitation is in the ink itself. CMYK ink will simulate the information shown on your computer screen, but the colors aren't exact. When you look at a picture on a screen, you’re seeing RGB colors, the opposite of CMYK. While the transition from RGB to CMYK is close, there will be some slight changes. The print will look great, but a specific blue in a print may not match the blue on your screen exactly.

Mad Decent. MDBP 2013. CMYK print with a spot blue, red, and purple.