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rgb-vs-cmyk

This is a bit geeky but I want to share some of my lessons learned as a survivor of the indie publishing process.  This mistake cost me some money because I bought a handful of books to sell on consignment at a local bookstore before discovering this problem.  The issue was some of the text in my book was a lighter shade of black than the rest of the text.  I had two shades of black.  Turns out, there are maybe 1004 shades of black.

RGB represents the three primary colors of red, green and blue.  Computers, and TVs, essentially all monitors, output color in RGB because they are working with light.  Think the colors of the rainbow.  All the colors of the rainbow combined are white.  You see the white in the middle of the RGB Venn diagram above.  Conversely, when there is zero light, a monitor screen is black.  RGB is represented by 0 to 255 values for red, green and blue respectively.  Based on what I just said, 0,0,0 is black and 255,255,255 is white.  Microsoft Word outputs fonts in RGB because it assumes it is outputting to your computer screen.  Your printer converts RGB fonts to CMYK as you print.

Which brings us to CMYK or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key.  Key means black because the last letter in black is “k” and “b” might lead you to think blue. Your printer isn’t dealing in light like a monitor, it’s working with ink.  Think a box of crayons.  You were told in elementary school that all the colors of the rainbow make white, but you could never get all your colors to come out as white no matter how big your box of crayons.  CMYK is represented by values from 0 to 100.  Hence, the Venn diagram above yields black for the 0,0,0,100 combination of C, M, Y and K.  Black and White are on opposite ends of the spectrum for RGB vs CMYK.  And they use a different amount of pixels, 256 vs 101 per color setting.  Make sense?

When I had to use Adobe InDesign to layout my book and create print and ebook formats for my publisher, I didn’t know that this graphics package was preparing my fonts for a printer and converting MS Word fonts from RGB to CMYK.  This alone would not have been an issue had it converted everything to the same color mode.  For some reason my MS Word fonts had two different values for black.  Or at least they converted to two discrete values.  One was a default setting for black that InDesign calls Black, for which the CMYK values are 0,0,0,100.  Or maybe 100,100,100,100.  I forget but think both sets of values are equal.  The second default setting was called Registration.  Its CMYK values are various numbers for each of the four settings.  The result is a lighter shade of black.

My publisher, Ingram Spark, which is really a distributor as I have my own publishing firm, Lobo Media, returns an electronic proof to me to look for issues with my print uploads.  Had I actually printed it, I might have noticed the color disparity.  I only reviewed them online though, and guess what?  The CMYK values don’t contain nearly as many pixels as RGB, think 100 vs 255 as printing is at less resolution than display monitors, so I could not discern the disparity on my screen.  It shows up in ink on paper, but not on a monitor.

I think the lesson here is to print out at least part of your proof to look for printing errors.  I’m blogging this because it was a topic of discussion at my book signing Thursday night.  I signed and gave away my leftover copies that contained the misprint.  They are totally readable, but flawed.  While Karen was walking around assuring everyone that the kinky sexual preferences of the book’s protagonist were entirely fiction, I was having conversations on color mode.