A consistent color scheme is critical for building a recognizable brand. But there’s more to it than just choosing the perfect shades. When you finalize your designs online, there’s another important decision to make sure what you see on screen translates in print: which color process to use.

Why Box Genie Recommends CMYK for Custom Box Artwork

You have invested many hours designing the perfect colors and styles to tell your brand's story. The last thing you want is to send your designs to a printer - then realize the end product doesn't look exactly the way you imagined. 

Understanding the different color models and how to leverage them in different scenarios creates a consistent brand presence in every medium you need - including packaging.

At Box Genie, we use CYMK for all our customer's printing needs, one of the three color models standard across printing and design industries.

The CYMK Color Model

CMYK Is a Subtractive Color

You may be asking yourself, what is a subtractive color? Well, there are two methods of producing color: additive and subtractive. The subtractive color model is when white light, such as sunlight, reflects off an object, and the additive color model (for example, RGB) is primarily when shades of light are used to create colors.

Photos, magazines, packaging, and any printed material commonly use subtractive colors to bring digital designs to life through printing.

What Does CYMK Stand For?

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and key and refers to a color model used in the printing process. "Key" is a holdover from the days of the physical printing press, which used a “key plate.” These days it represents the color black. 

How Does CYMK Work?

Today's printers have evolved from the standard printing presses for print design. Back in the day, printing presses made prints by pressing cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in individual layers. While today the process is a bit more sophisticated, the essential use of only these four colors remains the same.

When using CMYK in graphic design, you digitally assign a value for each C, M, Y, and K to produce the desired color. The printing process then mixes those exact values to create the color in print. You may also hear this process described as "process color" or "four-color" as the printers mix the exact four values of C, M, Y, and K to print - creating a repeatable and consistent product.

CMYK uses a process known as halftoning. Small dots of C, M, Y, and K are overlayed to produce what seems to the human eye like a solid tone. Rather than using 20 shades of ink, you can print those same colors with just the four CMYK values, making it a cost-effective solution for multi-colored designs.

Best Uses for CYMK

The best use for CYMK is transferring a graphic design to a physical print, including for:

  • Packaging
  • Flyers
  • Brochures
  • Signage
  • Collateral print
  • Home printing

The RBG Color Model

RBG Is an Additive Color

The opposite of the CMYK model is RGB. It’s an additive color model, which works by adding primary colors to create different shades, as the name suggests. For example, when all three primary colors combine at their maximum intensity, you see white.

What Does RGB Stand For?

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, i.e., the primary colors. These colors make up the entire color palette on digital screens (like TVs and digital cameras). As a result, RGB is the best choice for anything online, like your website, social ads, and logos. 

How Does RGB Work?

RGB generates colors through an additive method, and the three colors are combined to make white. RGB uses light to display color, resulting in vibrant colors compatible with screen viewing. In addition, RGB colors appear brighter because they are formatted with the brightness of a computer screen to enhance these colors. 

RBG Is Best for Digital Marketing

The RGB color model is best suited for digital marketing because:

  • Computer monitors emit light on the RBG spectrum.
  • Computers render color more accurately than paper.
  • CMYK colors for digital work produce more muted tones.
  • The paper absorbs or reflects specific wavelengths.

When RGB is best for printing, a lot of ink is required to reach the natural white color of the paper, resulting in costly ink usage and delivering unpredictable results in print. That’s why CMYK is much more commonly used in printing.

The Pantone Color Model

Pantone Uses a Standardized Color System

The PMS model stands for "Pantone Matching System" and refers to a very different model from CMYK and RGB. Instead of using a subtractive or additive method to mix different ink colors, one specific ink is used to achieve your particular shade. 

Pantone created this system back in 1963, ensuring that a brand can look up a color using the PMS and achieve an exact color match from different manufacturers and locations.

How Does Pantone Work?

More than 3,000 Pantone colors cover the entire spectrum, with each swatch assigned a unique number and name. These Pantone swatches should be used as spot colors, meaning you must specially set them up as individual swatches in digital design software. The Pantone system also allows for particular color types, such as metallics and fluorescents.

You can reproduce a particular subset of Pantone colors using CMYK printing, which can help bridge the gap for printers.

Best Uses for Pantone

There are some circumstances in which the PMS model may be preferable to CMYK: 

  • If you need exact colors for logos and other branding materials, PMS offers more consistency
  • If you're looking for neon or exceptionally bright colors that cannot be achieved using the CMYK model
  • If you don't mind paying more for your printing job as the PMS system is more specialized and involved than CMYK

Pantone Is Best for Consistency Across Print or Digital Modes

The beauty of Pantone is it will always look the same — no surprises. The standardized Pantone colors play a significant role throughout your business' design and manufacturing process. They create a common language for your designers to communicate exact colors to manufacturers, partners, and retailers. 

Why Color Matters

Color Affects the Cost of Materials

Two-color considerations can affect the cost of materials used for printing.

Spot colors vs. Process colors:

Designers believe that a common misconception is that they must use spot colors to produce a specific color, but that is not true. You can create your preferred effects for less with process colors like CMYK. 

Printers can create almost all colors by mixing the four inks on the press in varying ratios - reducing the cost of ink consumption and the need for specialized ink. Printers using CYMK can create entire books, magazines, and collateral with only CYMK.


Paper is, by far, the most common reason for higher costs. As a result, it can significantly impact how you design a project to produce desired visuals within budget.

Different papers absorb ink in different ways based on weight and surface treatment. The surface treatment is whether the printing paper is coated or uncoated. Coated paper has a glossy, smooth matte, or satin finish, while uncoated paper has a duller appearance and a more unfinished texture. So even if you choose a color from the Pantone book, it will look different depending on the type of paper you use for printing.

In the end, the most important effect on costs for your business is not understanding the way the different color models appear in print and on-screen - then being surprised by your designs and needing to reiterate.

Color Can Affect Your Campaign's Effectiveness

Studies show that the right color can increase brand recognition by 87%. Your brand's color is critical to its identity, conveying the quality, story, association, and expectation around your business. Additionally, research by the Henley Centre suggests that 73% of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Consequently, catching the shopper's eye and effectively conveying information is critical to successful sales.

A unique design makes your customers feel special, and if the packaging uses high-quality material, they'll associate your brand with high-quality products. The proper packaging can significantly boost your branding strategy and marketing efforts.

Final Thoughts

It's time to start matching your colors, creating a design, and printing it onto your packaging. These boxes aren’t just a vessel for your products but a critical part of building your brand.

Most importantly, you should work with your packaging provider to achieve your ideal color match. Your provider will have experience and insight to help you achieve the best possible color match. In addition, they will know precisely how their printing process works and how different ink will appear on their materials.

For example, Box Genie is a family-owned and operated packaging provider with decades of experience. Box Genie offers sustainable printing with cyan, magenta, yellow and black using the industry-standard GRACoL® 2013 settings, and we are a G7® certified printer.

Check out Box Genie's online design studio to design your ideal packaging if you're ready to go. Or, if you still have questions or concerns about your design, you can reach out to our experts for personalized assistance.


Color Theory: Additive and Subtractive Colors | The Paper Blog

What Is the Pantone Matching System (PMS)? | Techopedia

Pantone Adds 294 New and On-Trend Spot Colors to Its Lineup | Shutterstock

What is the Importance of Colour in Brand Recognition? | Reboot

New Developments in Press Colour & Waste Reduction: Advantages of Inline Colour Management

Systems Certification g7 System | Idea Alliance

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