InDesign Tutorial 04 of 20

Understanding RGB & CMYK

A free InDesign tutorial from the worlds best Adobe trainers!

Colour modes


Red, green and blue is how the computer displays colour on-screen. This mode should be used for any image that will be displayed on a screen e.g. Websites & Powerpoint documents. Use this colour mode also if you plan to print on your home ink jet as these types of printers are set up to accept RGB images.


Also know as ‘process colour’. This colour mode is used for commercial printing. Use this colour mode when creating images to be printed at a professional printers.


Pantone colours are known by many names; Pantone, spot colour, specials & PMS. They are all used to describe the same thing - a premixed colour. If you are printing a red and you are using CMYK colour (process colour) you’ll use a mixture of all 4 colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black). This can occasionally lead to slight variations in colour. Some businesses rely on very specific colours for instance - Coke’s red. They need premixed colours (Pantone) to guarantee consistency.

Video transcription

InDesign CC tutorial 04: Understanding color

My name is Pip Payne. I am a trainer here at Bring Your Own Laptop.

This tutorial is suitable if you are a complete beginner in InDesign or simply want to know more about using colour.

Open up InDesign and make sure that your environment is set to essentials. First let’s open up the colour mixer which is a floating palate pull out on the right hand side. It can display R G B, (Red, Green and Blue) or C M Y K (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black).

What is RGB in InDesign

Click the options icon, top right of the palate to switch between RGB and CMYK. Let’s start with RGB. RGB assigns an intensity value form 0 which is black to 255 which is white. CMYK assigns a percentage value to each of the process colours. Notice how the black and white sampler gives a different reading from RGB to CMYK. RGB is a subtractive colour where 0 RGB is black. And 255 RGB is white.

What is CMYK in InDesign

CMYK is an additive colour where 0 CMYK is white. An easy way to get your head around this is to imagine a dark night with no moon and that’s black. Paper with no ink on it is white. Notice how the black colour figure in CMYK reads 100 percent when clicked. The reason that black is labelled K is because it is the key colour. 100 percent CMYK will give you black. But words on the printed page use the key colour, simply black. Also, with colour mixing it is much easier to darken the colour without altering the hue by adding black.

What is a swatch in InDesign

Lets check out the swatches part next. It’s below the colour palate and comes with a number of presets. The ones in brackets cannot be edited. Notice that black is just 100K. Registration which is colour, mostly used for offset printing for crop marks and is 100percent for each. We can apply colour to a line which is called a stroke or fill, via the color or swatches palate. You can also access the stroke by the middle top of the context menu here or at the bottom of the tool palate here, or the top of the swatches palate, here. 3 places. It is worth noting that whichever icon (stroke or fill) is on top in the swatches palate or tools palate, is the one the colour you choose will apply to. Click either icon to bring it to the top.

Next up: best practice to set up some RGB, CMYK and Pantone colours.

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