sRGB vs CMYK vs Adobe RGB in Film Production

28 Jan 2020

4 Min Read

Color is a crucial element of visual storytelling. Whether it’s photography or filmmaking, paying attention to the colors and using them as a way to set the tone of the end product is what professionals do. So knowing how colors work, how they can be represented and what do colors mean is what all creators should be good at. The world of colors is a big one that can not be investigated in a single blog so today I want to talk about the ways colors are being captured and represented in our digital world.

How We Define Color

Like any other phenomenon in the world, colors have an essence, something that has created all the colors we can see around us today. Well, it’s Red, Green, and Blue -known as RGB- that can create all the colors. Combining these colors in millions of ways gives us the possibility of experiencing this magnitude in the world of colors. To know colors more accurately, the best way that mathematicians suggest is to know a color not only by its name but also by the percentage of the RGB color space that creates it. So this assures creatives that they’re creating the exact color that they want as they deal with numbers, not they’re own perception of colors.

different color spaces
Different Color Spaces
Going back to our topic, each camera’s capability to reproduce colors is different and that’s why we have a definition called Color Space. The brief explanation of Color Space is that it defines the range of colors a camera can capture. But capturing is not the only thing about colors as we should also take care of the platform in which the photo or the video is going to be presented and published. By platforms, I mean TVs, projectors, different types of monitors and screens and also printed versions for photographs. Each of these displays has different settings for colors that determine the number of colors they can recreate which is called the color gamut. Now we know that there should be a logical relationship between the camera color space and the color gamut of the displaying platform. So let’s dig into the main Color spaces and learn about their use cases and differences.
rgb color perception percentage chart
RGB Color Perception Percentage Chart

sRGB

Standard RGB is the color space of the internet and different displays and it’s the most important thing you must know. Because whatever RGB setting you use, it’s going to change to sRGB when you upload it to the internet. In terms of color gamut and the amount of coverage, sRGB is considered normal as other color spaces like Adobe RGB can perceive more colors. But the reason you should mostly set your camera to sRGB is to avoid color changes when uploading online or displaying on monitors. sRGB is also a good option for video color space because it’s matched with Rec.709 -which is the color space of the HDTV display technology- and has the same color gamut.

Adobe RGB

Adobe RGB is the wider, more vibrant color space that works better than sRGB, BUT it depends on your purpose of production and the devices you use in every stage. In comparison with sRGB, Adobe RGB represents about 35% more colors but as sRGB came first and many devices are working with this color space, Adobe RGB might have some exclusivity in use. The best case to use Adobe RGB is when you want to print your work because it’s based on CMYK pattern of colors which is specified for printers. Again, keep in mind that if you shoot in Adobe RGB and post it online, you’ll see a difference in colors which is the result of being changed to sRGB automatically.
adobe rgb and srgb gamut
Adobe RGB and sRGB Gamut
adobe rgb vs srgb
Adobe RGB vs sRGB

CMYK

CMYK is a color space that is based on Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (which is literally black) and is created for printers. A printer combines CMYK colors on different levels to create the exact color and translate it into the physical ink. The strategy of combination that is used in printers using CMYK is called Subtractive which means starting from blank white and reducing the brightness to create the color, instead of Additive mixing that starts from black and adds colors later on. We use subtractive coloring in print because the base which is the paper is white, and Additive coloring for monitors because its origin is a black screen. 

So if you use Adobe RGB you will have more range of colors on your printed picture that you couldn’t have on your monitor and that’s why we recommend Adobe RGB for printing. You can also use sRGB for printing and that’s gonna be ok but generally, It’s better to look for the technical details of the printer you use before all that, as there are differences between them and there might be some printers that work better with sRGB.

rgb vs cmyk
RGB vs CMYK

All in all, taking colors strictly into consideration gets your work into another dimension and gives you more options to have your own style to create and publish. Try to get the hang of the color spaces and their differences and always think of the range of colors you need alongside your device limitations and the purpose of the production which is for showing online in displays or it’s for printing purposes like magazines and posters. So, get colorful!!

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