Free Shipping on Every In-Stock Order in the USA!

What is CMYK? Defined

What is CMYK? CMYK is an abbreviation for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Key. These four colors are the four inks that most color printers use to replicate the full range of the color spectrum. CMYK is a 4-color process used to combine these four primary pigments to create printed color materials.

Cyan is an aqua or blue, Magenta is pink, Yellow is… yellow, and Key is black.

“Now wait a second,” the astute reader might say. “There aren’t four primary pigments and they certainly aren’t Cyan, Magenta, Yellow or Key – the primary colors are red, yellow and blue!”

Well you’re somewhat correct and I’m glad you pointed that out. The primary colors are indeed Red, Yellow and Blue. Pigments, however, are kind of the opposite of colors.

Colors are perceived by radiating wavelengths of energy primarily in the spectrum of the color that we perceive. E.g. something that is yellow in color emits wavelengths in the yellow spectrum of color.

Pigments, on the other hand, absorb other wavelengths, except the one that is perceived. Magenta pigment absorbs wavelengths except for magenta, allowing the pink color to be radiated more strongly than the other colors.

What Is CMYK in Printing

CMYK is the primary printing method used in color printing. It’s important to create any artwork intended for print in CMYK color, as converting from RGB can cause conversion issues and distortions.

So how do printers get these four colors to produce a full spectrum of colors?

Print operators use four unique images for each of the colors, using different screens to control the level at which they are applied. These images are transferred to printing plates and when all the plates have been rolled onto and applied to the paper, the pigments combine to produce secondary colors.

It’s a delicate science that printers have perfected over the years. There are both manual processes in flexographic printing that produce these screens and printing plates, as well as digital processes that digitally create the correct mixtures.

Either way, CMYK printing is a very neat process that is quite amazing to watch create complex color schemes and designs.

Are you looking for a color printer and label manufacturer for your custom labels? has over a decade of experience creating stunning custom labels for our clients. Learn more here.