Chapter 3

Print Colors

Color Space Print on Demand

The printing color range is more limited than what you will see on your computer screen. Vivid print colors won’t typically come through, so be careful about making this a central part of your design or idea.

We accept files with various color spaces, but our system does all operations in RGB. If you upload a CMYK file, be aware that our system will convert it to RGB and the colors might shift significantly.

This chart shows the approximate printable color range for DTG printing

Our print providers convert the design files to the appropriate color space and profile depending on their process. Please be aware that physical printing limitations cannot produce the full range of RGB spectrum.

The red area is the approximate safe color range.

If you go outside that area, please be aware that the print colors you see on your screen will not match the final printed product. If you want to know specific safe color values, please see this 216 safe, non-dithering colors list.

Here is an example of a common issue in the way a computer will display your design, and how the garment will look once printed.

If you have created your design in RGB, you can preview how your design might look printed if you convert it to CMYK. This will give you an approximate idea of the color shift. In the future, we will have this functionality built into our product generator, but for now, this is an easy way to check how the final result might look.

This is super important for those who prefer using more exotic, flashy, or stand-out print colors – those bright bits may have the exact same color on a product as it does on a screen.

Print color combinations and most frequent errors

  • Different print providers have different workflows for creating their products.
  • White designs can not be printed on Natural/Vintage Tote Bags, the process won’t allow this.

Colors – human eye vs computers

When it comes to color (and especially print colors), people, computers, and printers view things differently. If these three perspectives don’t line up correctly, an end product’s print colors will look different from that same item on a computer screen.

The human eye can comprehend a clearly defined range of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum – known as ‘visible light’. This essentially equates to the colors of the rainbow.

When it comes to physics, both white and black are not considered to be legitimate colors; white is the presence of all visible wavelengths, while black is their complete absence/absorption by a particular surface.

Computers, on the other hand, are programmed to recognize various shades and tints relative to individual print color compositions of red, green, and blue (RGB). Finally, printers use yet another identification system: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK).

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) is the nomenclature used by scientists when referring to all light that exists. The spectrum is composed of fluctuating waves of magnetic and electric fields that have the capacity to transfer energy over locations – this transference effect can be experienced as heat, a sunburn, turning into the hulk (gamma decay), etc.

The whole range of the EMS is divided into various sections (radio waves, microwaves, infrared (IR), visible light, ultraviolet (UV), and gamma rays), depending on a wave’s wavelength: the distance between the crests of two waves – measured in nanometers.

An easy way to conceptualize the entire phenomenon is picturing a rainbow. Instead of the dispersion of light stretching from violet to red in the normal (visible light) spectrum, there are additional (invisible) rainbows stretching beyond in both directions that correlate to both larger and smaller wavelengths.

A computer’s colors (RGB):

Computers don’t interpret the entire range of ‘visible’ light. While this is theoretically possible, certain technological limitations prohibit a computer from having the same scope as the human eye. So, while a person might see a certain shade of color, a computer will have a slightly downgraded visualization of the same.

This can be explained by understanding that computers use an ‘additive’ system which combines red, green, and blue (RGB) together to form the desired print color. Even while the computer itself holds an inferior version, the perfect print colors are still emitted from the screen in the shade our eyes are familiar with.


rgb vs cmyk

Print colors (CMYK):

When someone creates a design, or uploads a piece of artwork with various print colors, that picture is stored in computer software as RGB. However, that RGB format must be translated into CMYK before the design in question can be printed. This is because, instead of a screen projecting various print colors, the tints we perceive on a garment are only the reflected wavelengths of visible light.

Fantastic job learning about print colors. Level up to the next section about DPI!

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