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Why You Should Import RGB Images Into InDesign and Convert to CMYK On Export

Yes, we know you probably learned to convert images to CMYK in Photoshop before placing them in InDesign. And yes, we know that you’ve been doing this since 1989 with PageMaker 2. But you know what? This is the 21st century now and it’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and change your ways for the better.

So, even though we’ve been saying this for 15 years, maybe you haven’t heard it… so we’re going to say it one more time, with emotion:

You can leave your images in RGB. You don’t need to convert them to CMYK. And in fact, you probably should not convert them to CMYK (at least not in Photoshop).

As we have traveled around the world giving presentations about InDesign, Photoshop, and publishing, we’ve been constantly amazed at the number of people who are still using the old, 20th-century “convert to CMYK” workflow. And we feel a bit like someone walking into a jail announcing, “Hey, the doors aren’t locked! You don’t have to stay in here!” Some people immediately jump up and taste freedom; some wake up to the new realization slowly; and others refuse to believe it, knowing that staying behind bars is more comfortable than facing the unknown.

True, in Ye Olden Days, the RIPs (Raster Image Processors) used by commercial printers to translate PostScript from graphics programs did a lousy job of converting RGB to CMYK, resulting in muddy, inaccurate color rendering. Thus it was that, in all the land, a decree went out, ordering that Thou Shalt Convert Thy RGB Images To CMYK Before Sending Thy Job To The Printer.

Fast forward to Modern times: Current print workflows perform excellent conversions of RGB to CMYK, and some printing processes — such as digital presses and large-format inkjet output — actually provide better and more vibrant output when fed with RGB content.

You’ll still encounter print providers who insist on the submission of CMYK content, partly because “that’s how we’ve always done it” (and partly because some very small shops might still be using antiquated equipment).

Of course, you should always consult the printer to determine how your job should be submitted — never assume!

But here’s the truth: InDesign can convert your images to CMYK as well as Photoshop can. It uses the same color engine, so you can get exactly the same results. (There are a few, relatively rare exceptions to this rule, which we’ll cover below.)

So now, in the 21st century, here’s the new rule: Keep your images in RGB as long as you can, place them, as RGB, into InDesign… and then, only if you have to, convert to CMYK inside InDesign when you make your PDF files.

We’re Talking Pixels Here

We want to be clear that we’re talking about pixel-based images here — bitmapped images, such as those from Photoshop. We’re not talking about vector artwork. InDesign can convert RGB vector artwork, too, but it won’t necessarily end up the way you’d expect. If you’re using Illustrator or a similar vector-drawing tool to make logos or illustrations that will likely be printed, we generally recommend using CMYK or spot colors, not RGB.

Similarly, when you’re applying solid colors to objects in InDesign—and those documents are headed for print—you should use CMYK or spot color swatches, not RGB, in the interest of predictable conversion. For example, if you apply a solid RGB color 0/255/255 (which is bright cyan) to a frame and then print it, you’re not going to see a perfect 100% cyan in print. Instead, you’ll get something like 52% cyan and 13% yellow. That’s just par for the course when it comes to converting solid RGB colors to CMYK. So if you want 100% cyan, you should spec it in InDesign as 100% cyan.

Tip: In the Swatch Options dialog box, InDesign and Illustrator both warn you if an RGB color falls outside what CMYK printing inks can reproduce (called the CMYK “gamut”). Click the yellow alert triangle to convert to the closest in-gamut RGB value, so you won’t be shocked when the color is converted to CMYK.

Swatch Options

Note that we’re emphasizing “for print.” If you’re creating documents that are primarily for on-screen viewing, then solid RGB colors are great, even in vector artwork!

Why Placing RGB Images is (better than) OK

What’s so wonderful about Red-Green-Blue? RGB is the native language of digital cameras and scanners, and it can faithfully portray a wide range (gamut) of colors, from vibrant oranges to brilliant greens, from bright white to dramatic black. Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) printing inks can render a smaller range of colors, resulting in disappointing approximations of those oranges and greens, as well as other commonly desired colors, such as navy blue.

When you convert RGB images to CMYK, you lose those out-of-gamut colors, and they won’t come return if you convert back to RGB.

But here’s the important part: Just because you place RGB images into InDesign doesn’t mean you’re sending RGB images to your printer! InDesign can convert those RGB images to CMYK when you export your PDF file. (It changes them in the PDF file without modifying your originals on disk.) So by placing RGB images, you have a choice: send RGB or CMYK—and if you choose CMYK, then you have to decide which CMYK.

The “which CMYK” is a new question for a lot of people, because they think there’s just one CMYK. But there are thousands of different CMYKs! So when you convert an RGB image to CMYK in Photoshop you’re targeting (optimizing for) just one of those.  And, unless you use the correct target printing profile to perform the conversion, you may have stripped out RGB colors that could have printed successfully. For example, if you used a profile for uncoated paper when preparing images that will print on coated stock, your conversion is way off. Plus, printers who have implemented a full color-managed workflow want your images as RGB because they can convert to CMYK at the last stage before printing, optimizing output for the final printing platform.

Even better, sticking with RGB means you can use the same images for different jobs: the same document could be printed on Web press coated paper one day and then sheetfed uncoated paper the next. Or you can use the same image assets in multiple ways— for example, a brochure printed on a sheetfed offset press, and a companion banner printed on a grand format inkjet device. The results might be very slightly different, but you will be able to get the best quality from each, rather than target just one printing condition and then leave the other one to chance.

Keep in mind that most modern printers can handle RGB content. Converting to CMYK early won’t necessarily ruin the outcome, but might result in the loss of some color gamut, especially if the job is going on a digital press such as the HP Indigo or a wide-gamut device such as a large format inkjet printer.

So talk with your printer: If they say they can accept a PDF/X3 or PDF/X4 file, that means they can handle the conversion from RGB to CMYK themselves (and, again, they’ll probably do a better job of it than you can). If they say they need all your images converted to CMYK, then use InDesign to do the conversion when you make your PDF.

(Some of you are saying, “But I don’t make a PDF, I send my native InDesign files to the printer.” Well, um, that’s nice. We find sending PDF files to be far more reliable, assuming the file is created correctly. If you aren’t sure how to make a great PDF file, see the links to our video courses and books at the end of this article.)

Of course, your printer may request that you send an InDesign package with the PDF so that any necessary changes can be made more easily. Printers often have to modify otherwise perfect files to accommodate the final printing process. But if the file and the PDF is made correctly, they shouldn’t need to touch your original files.

How to Convert to CMYK When Exporting a PDF

When your printer tells you they do prefer CMYK images, here’s how to export your PDF files from InDesign:

  1. Choose File > Export.
  2. Choose PDF (Print) from the Format pop-up menu.
  3. Choose a PDF Preset (such as PDF/X-1a if you want to flatten all your transparency, or PDF/X-4 if you want to maintain your transparency).
  4. Set up all the other options in the Export PDF dialog box (compression, marks and bleeds, etc.)
  5. Finally (here’s the important part), in the Output pane of the Export PDF dialog box, choose Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) from the Color Conversion pop-up menu. Do not choose “Convert to Destination” (without the “preserve numbers”) part, unless you really seriously know what you’re doing. Preserve Numbers means “if I have a CMYK image or CMYK colors in my file, then leave those alone.” You want that.
  6. Then, in the Destination pop-up menu, choose which CMYK you are targeting. Again, in the best case scenario, your printer will give you a color “profile” you should choose. But if they insist on CMYK, and for some reason can’t provide a custom profile, ask if they’re running the job on a web press or on a sheetfed press; then you can at least use canned profiles. For example, for uncoated stock on a sheetfed press, you might want to use Uncoated FOGRA29.
  7. Click Export.

The PDF you get will be all CMYK and your printer will be happy.

When It Makes Sense To Convert to CMYK Before Placing an Image

There are a few times when we convert images to CMYK in Photoshop before saving and placing into InDesign:

  • First, if an image includes a color that must show up with a specific CMYK value. For example, let’s say you have an image of a banner with a giant corporate logo on it, and that logo has to be a particular CMYK value. Or if you have an image that contains an area of solid magenta that really is supposed to be solid, 100% magenta.
  • Second, there are some image retouching situations where you really need to adjust just one plate. The classic example is when you have an image of a model’s face and you want to adjust just the black plate.

In those cases, we would convert to CMYK in Photoshop and then adjust the color on individual channels/plates to match the required color. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

And, for goodness sake, if you are going to use Photoshop to convert from RGB to CMYK, choose Edit > Convert to Profile (instead of just choosing Image > Mode > CMYK). If you just change the image mode, Photoshop uses the values dictated by your current color setup (Edit > Color Settings). That’s fine if your current color settings match your ultimate printing process. But choosing Edit > Convert to Profile helps ensure that you’re choosing the correct target (“which CMYK”) each time.

For More Information

Want to learn more about preparing images for print, exporting documents to PDF, and managing your color? Check out:

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue incorporates more than 20 years of traditional and digital prepress production experience in her current incarnation as a consultant, trainer, and author devoted to the graphic arts industry. Claudia's company, Practicalia LLC, provides custom onsite training for a national client base of design firms, printing companies and marketing professionals. She is the author of Real World Print Production With Adobe Creative Cloud (Peachpit Press, 2013), and a frequent presenter at industry conferences. She is also the presenter for several titles, including "Acrobat X: Creating Forms," "Print Production Fundamentals," and "Up & Running With Acrobat XI Pro." When not chained to the computer, she can be found riding her motorcycle on country roads. She swears it’s the cure for writer’s block.
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265 Comments on “Why You Should Import RGB Images Into InDesign and Convert to CMYK On Export

  1. David,

    I really don’t think that you will find that placing PDF into InDesign and using its separation preview will give you CMYK values that are any more accurate than those displayed in Acrobat, especially since placing PDF/X into an InDesign document does not currently respect any output intent profiles!!!

    • @Dov: My point (and the point of the person I was replying to) is that when you open a PDF in Acrobat then open Acrobat’s Output Preview panel, it sometimes shows CMYK cross-rendered to a different profile! I think this has to do with the setting in the Simulation Profile pop-up menu. I can’t recall exactly what steps I’ve taken that causes this conniptions, but it happens.

      But if you place the PDF into InDesign and use Sep Preview, it shows you the CMYK values no matter what… specifically because ID doesn’t respect the intent profiles by default!

      • Dov, two suggested feature requests that would probably help users a lot:

        1. InDesign PDF Export: Incorporate the “Preserve” colour conversion options from InDesign convert colour (Blacks, Primaries)

        2. Acrobat Pro Output Preview: Incorporate a “preserve CMYK numbers” checkbox so that users can elect to preview how their content would be handled if there was *no conversion* from an ICC tagged CMYK source to a different ICC tagged CMYK destination. A “safe CMYK workflow” option in the preview, so that users can “trust” what they see!

        Yes, I know that the Object Inspector option is there (and I love it) to show current/actual values and not latent/potential converted values, however Object Inspector has usage issues for many people.

      • Apologies, that should have read:

        1. InDesign PDF Export: Incorporate the “Preserve” colour conversion options from *Acrobat Pro* convert colour (Blacks, Primaries)

        Not from *InDesign*

  2. Nice idea, but images coming from client’s digital camera are 72dpi. Still need Photoshop to get them into 300dpi space.

    • But at what size in 72ppi? That is what matters! If you scale them down, resolution ppi increases. In most cases 72 ppi images from clients are shot with at least 6 megapixels and are huge! (Oh, and it is ppi, not dpi by the way, dpi are dots, is for print devices…)

    • Linda: Oh yes! You still need Photoshop. You should use photoshop to resample the image to an appropriate resolution, crop, do color adjustments, retouch… nothing wrong with that. This article is simply arguing that you not convert to CMYK in Photoshop most of the time.

      • Sorry, i’m a little late to the party. so is it best to Image > image size and change from 72 to 300ppi there. I’ve always just scaled it to size and left it at that?

      • John: If you open a high-res image in Photoshop and it says 72 ppi, then you probably do want to change it to 225 ppi or above (for print). People say 300, but that’s often higher than you need except for inkjet printing or high end art books (or if you need to enlarge it in InDesign, which drops the effective resolution).

        But if the resolution is 72 and the pixel dimensions are small (like a low-resolution image from a web site), then increasing the resolution isn’t going to help very much.

        More on resolution here:

      • In reply to John’s question about resolution:
        –If you go to Image > Image Size, and the resolution is 72ppi, but the *dimensions* are large (e.g., 35 in. by 27 in), it has plenty of information in it. To change it to 300ppi, UNcheck “Resample,” then change the resolution to 300ppi. This maintains the same information, without change, but distributes it over a smaller area. This is a perfectly fine thing to do!

        –If you have a small image that’s 72ppi, it doesn’t have much information to begin with. CHECKING “Resample” and changing the resolution to 300ppi is asking Photoshop to invent pixels by interpolation (guessing). This results in a soft image, nowhere near as good as an image that had been the correct size and resolution to begin with. You may have to do this in desperation, but it’s not ideal. Better to start with a healthy image, but sometimes your client gives you junk ;-)

        Hope this helps.

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for this good article. One question though: should I use sRGB or AdobeRGB in Photoshop and should I save the profile with the image when saving? Thank in advance!

    • The simple answer first. You should ALWAYS save the profile with the image when saving a color image.

      In terms of color space, AdobeRGB is a wider gamut color space than sRGB, but if you have existing content in one or the other (or even another RGB color space such as ProPhoto), simply leave the image in that RGB color space!

      If you are starting new imagery, if your target is graphic arts, AdobeRGB is a fairly safe choice. If the imagery will primarily be used in Microsoft Office applications or web pages, sRGB might be safer.

  4. Thanks for the article. I knew I was right and my printers were wrong! One of the biggest finnish newspapers… But a little question. How about PROFILE INCLUSION POLICY, does it matter what to choose, INCLUDE DESTINATION PROFILE or not?

      • Not only is it a “good idea” but it is required for modern PDF/X standards such as PDF/X-4 (even if the printer ultimately uses a different print condition and uses device link profiles to move your CMYK to theirs).

        – Dov

  5. Whenever you should or not using RGB images in InDesign is mostly based on the following points :
    – Do you need to have a precise color in your image? For example, a CMYK version of a Pantone in your document?
    – Is you image hovering above any forms, vector images or colors that is managed by InDesign and in which you find 2 media of the same color touching each other?
    – Do you want InDesign to correctly manage the overprint values of any text which is hovering above the image?
    – If it’s printed on printing presses, is there any thin white/pale text on black in which there’s a risk of a slight but visible offset from one of the 4 process color?
    – Is the printing company you’ll send the files to unable to manage web-based color profiles automatically?

    If you answer “yes” to any single questions I mentioned, you have to keep the color profile to CMYK for the images involved.

    You might think that the old RIP system were inaccurate and it’s not the case anymore, but you’re wrong to think that all the system are upgraded. You know how much it cost to upgrade such system? Between 2 and 10 MILLION dollars. And you know that the printing field is getting hit in their kidney (money) constantly. Since 2007, more than 50% of every printing companies in the World have been either fused or closed!

    You can buy a near-new printing press + all the 90’s software as well as a plate burner required to print for around 200K in $US. You can buy a automatic plate burning RGB press for around 1-2 Million PER 4 colors on 40 inches of print. (Want to print up to 80 inches wides? Around 3-4 million $US and so on.)

    Yes, there are software that does the job, but those software are not always compatible with with hardware in place. Have you ever see what software are used to produce press plates (for high quantity prints) or even those so called “Web-Press”? Makes me think about software build for Windows 95.

    Are you ready to pay 1.5 or even 3 times to amount of money for your job to be print just because you’re using RGB images as the most cheaper priced prints can’t uses your files without working over them adding a fee of 100$-200$ per hours with high risks of color variations? You might be. but your customers are not.(Those customers that might be willing mostly have their own print assets to print their stuff.)

    The problem we have got nothing to do with the fact that the software we use in graphic design can’t do the job, but that the next step in the process is evolving 4x slower due to how big the difference of costs is.

    To give you an idea, I’m currently working on a 300 page booklet project. I got 25 free page updates during the blueprint approbation, but if we exceed those 25 pages, I pay 25$ per page (for the first 50 pages) and then 20$ per additional pages and I’m the one who does the fixes (so add the time I’m working to fix things). 70% of the pages includes pixel images. If I was to risk it with RGB image which might not end up well, I’m risking having to pay 3950$ (not counting time) just because I risked it while I got a higher chance of success and a LOT less risks of colors errors if I used the fixed CMYK color values.

    Think about it that way.

  6. Hi David, great read, i don’t normally ask questions but I feel are full of knowledge so I thought id share my predicament. I recently took charge of labels (boxes and tubs) at a company, from a design agency. They used complexed images for backgrounds (placed .psd) and only ever spot colours for logos and solid colours when applicable .

    I’m considering using placed RGB placed .PSD files in my print design as my latest four colour process prints are becoming duller than on screen, also new jobs done didn’t match previous labels. After this searched old pervious artwork from the agency, and I saw indesign is linked with RGB files instead of CMYK (like you suggest).

    This backs up your statement that RGB linked files allow for more vibrant colour Four Colour Process prints.

    My question is do I just link the RGB .PSD background files to indesign and then add the text, spot colour vector objects, and then export as PDF. and also how do you stop colour levels going over 300% ink and black being a rich black. I dot want the colour to become muddy or brown. Thanks for you help

  7. @Mike,

    Placing ICC profile-tagged RGB PSD (or for that matter TIFF, JPEG, or whatever-based imagery) will NOT likely get you more vibrant color than an image properly converted to the exact CMYK color space used by your printing process.

    On the other hand, if you don’t know exactly what that CMYK color space is (and most designer don’t know that), you are better off letting that conversion be delayed to later in the workflow and possibly all the way down at the RIP. This gives you the most flexibility in terms of ability to change printing process and/or color spaces without having to generate new PDF assets.

    That is why we at Adobe recommend use of exported PDF/X-4 with no color conversions.

  8. Thank you for a nice article. It left me with a question though. Does the same go for .eps files or vector files in general. Does Indesign also convert them to CMYK?

      • There is only one good reason why one would continue to use EPS and that is that only of “legacy content” where there is no longer access to the original artwork and that the EPS was of uncertain origin. (Contrary to popular belief, Adobe Illustrator is neither a general purpose EPS or PDF editor. In the case of EPS, Illustrator can only safely open and edit EPS files created by the same or earlier Illustrator versions. Anything else is a real crapshoot!)

        For new content, I would agree! EPS is a legacy format that doesn’t support color management, transparency, and other features of modern PDF workflows.

        – Dov

  9. The same is true for whatever content you place into an InDesign document. Note that .EPS files are not necessarily vector (they can be any combination of text, vector, and raster content). By other vector files, you may be referring to .WMF, EMF, .CGM, etc. Likewise, those RGB formats get converted to CMYK assuming you do choose such a conversion to occur.

    Again, remember that a more flexible workflow using PDF/X-4 has you keeping content in its original color space all the way to the RIP itself.

    – Dov

  10. We have been having an issue with a client who is placing RGB ads into InDesign files that are then converted to Grayscale. The converted ads are ending up way too dark. We are then printing on a web-press on newsprint and in the end the ads are way too dark. In the case of RGB>grayscale conversion do you still advocate having InDesign do the conversion? We tell our clients to pre-convert . . . or better yet create ads as B&W.

    • The idea of automatically “converting” any color content to grayscale, regardless of whether done in Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat, or at the RIP is very problematic at least!

      Content that is originally prepared for black and white printing needs to much more seriously account for contrast and tone values. With color, part of the contrast is the contrast between the colorants themselves which is totally lost in most automatic color to grayscale conversions.

      Raster images / photos really need to be individually converted in Photoshop using appropriate filters and/or curves in each image yields sufficient and pleasing contrast in the final grayscale result.

      I’m basically for the solution of “create the ads in B&W” if you are printing them as B&W!!!

      – Dov

      • Yeo, nothing is quite as sweet as when the art is prepared correctly at the start.

        For photos, Results are usually pretty good if you use Photoshop’s Black & White filter and adjust the reg, greens, yellows and blues etc. until the contrast looks acceptable. (or use curves if you’re good at curves)

        I like to then make it into a smart object, then convert to grayscale so smart object will be RGB inside.
        That also seems to minimize shifts in tone that sometimes happen when you convert to Grayscale.

        For InDesign files, you could define some gray swatches, in swatch panel-“Add Unnamed Colors” and then delete swatches and replace with a suitable gray or change them all to spot colors and use ink manager to do that.

        Dov will not like this idea – because Illustrator is not a PDF editor – but you might also be able to open the PDF in Illustrator and use it’s convert to grayscale feature.

      • Yeah, right. You like suicide? Unless the PDF was created in Illustrator with the “Illustrator editing compatibility” option, you are likely to do significant damage to the PDF file by opening and saving in Illustrator, especially in terms of text (Illustrator does not use any fonts embedded in the PDF file and thus, if you don’t have the fonts installed on your system, you get font substitution that persists when saving) and color spaces.

        That having been said, Illustrator’s color conversion is good old simple ICC color managed-based conversion from one color space to another without content-aware adjustments. You might as well let the RIP do it! You really don’t gain anything via that method … assuming you don’t end up with a bigger mess per my first comments!

        – Dov

  11. I just finished converting my photos to CMYK and placed them in InDesign. I wish I had seen your article before doing that. I am making a book using Blurb’s InDesign CS6 template, and when I press W to make the rulers vanish, some of the photos vanish, too! I can get them back using layers, but this has never happened when using RGB.

    Any thoughts????

  12. This conversion did not work well for me at all. The book printer I used pretty much insisted on converting my files as suggested here and the result was…blurred images and faded color…on the hardback version of my book. The softcover printer did no such conversion and the result was brilliant. For the hardback printer, I’m not using any printer but a nationally known well reviewed firm…that’s responsible for printing most of the better known children’s books in this country.

  13. As someone who has been working in printing cmyk for 40 years-
    Designers who work in RGB which covers all the colors your eyes see (they sense Red, green, and blue),
    will design images with colors that WILL NOT REPRODUCE with CMYK.
    Certain colors, pinks, blues and greens just will not match saturation or hue that RGB can reproduce.
    – another problem is consistency, having the same image look the same off a screen press, sheetfed, or UV inkjet-
    If you convert just for one process yes you can achieve a larger gamut, however most print buyers require
    images to look the same across the differing print methods.

  14. Good article, but I’d take the argument for RGB a step further and suggest you’re making a false distinction between vector and raster. RGB vector art is fine (and quite often preferable, especially when it comes to using some of Illustrator’s effects) unless you need to control individual separations. The important distinction is whether or not you need to control individual separations (most obviously keeping black text on the black plate), not vector or raster.

  15. Hey everybody,

    what do you do when you use a combination of greyscale images with RGB images?
    There doesn’t seem a way to prevent InDesign from converting the greyscale ones to CMYK (if coloured in InDesign for example).

    • If you need a CMYK result export as PDF/X-1a and convert to destination but keep values, that will keep the greyscale in K and convert RGB to CMYK.
      If you color a greyscale image in InDesign it takes the swatch if CMYK or converts it according the color management settings if it is RGB or Lab.

  16. I am sure this is a dumb question but I am a beginner and I have no idea. I am creating a portfolio to submit to graphic design programs and one of the programs wants our work in a PDF format, with RGB colors. I had already created several of my documents (in InDesign) and selected “print” in the Intent drop down menu when creating a new document. So now I need to convert the colors to RGB from CMYK. What is the best/easiest way to do this?

  17. Hi David

    I really hope you can help me with an combined InDesign/Illustrator issue.

    Where I work, we always place pixel-based RGB images into InDesign, and when exporting the pdf we do a CMYK colour conversion. We use the icc profile our printhouse recommend. And always Convert to destination (Preserve numbers).

    The preset varies from PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-4, again depending on what our printhouse recommends to the specific case.

    However, sometimes we place CMYK Illustrator files into our InDesign doc. And I see a tendency that people import pixel-based RGB images into these Illustrator files.

    So when I export an InDesign doc which include an Illustrator file with an RGB image, will it convert the RGB image to the CMYK profile I choose?

    I hope my question is clear, english is not my native language. Sorry.

    Best regards,

    • Troels,

      I am not David, but I think I can answer your query.

      If you place Illustrator content into InDesign (preferably via PDF exported either as High Quality Print or PDF/X-4; never use PDF/X-1a for this purpose), any RGB in the placed content will either be passed through or converted to the exported PDF from InDesign in the same manner as native content.

      – Dov

      • Hello Dov,

        It’s good to see you in places where quality graphic arts/CMS discussion is in place. For your reply to Troels, I thought the issue is about how adobe handles netted or chained content with icc profile tagged… and what about source profile, destination profile, rendering intent, preserve number…etc.

        Logically, if everything is well tagged and late binding approach is honoured across the adobe softwares…the final color space conversion seems to be key in terms of the outcome.

        Thus, for illustrator file w/ multi color space images imported, or multi color vectors/gradients…etc should be exported in what format and with what setting?

        For intermediate authorizing software like Indesign, how it integrate such different import from Illustrator or PDF, and how it export the file.

        Finally, is there any normalization of PDF that needs to be done in order to pass the PDF to printer? PDFX/4 is most late binding, but can printer as the final gate keeper able to handle these chains of content netting?


      • Hi George,

        To specifically answer your question…

        Content saved as PDF from either Illustrator or Photoshop or exported from InDesign placed into an InDesign document maintains whatever source profiles were in the placed PDF file.

        For example, if you place (via link) a JPEG raster image tagged with an sRGB ICC profile into a SWOP CMYK Illustrator document and then save that as a PDF/X-4 file with no color conversion and with the source profiles preserved, placing that PDF/X-4 file into an InDesign document preserves the sRGB color space and profile of the image in that placed Illustrator-exported PDF file, even if the default RGB color space of the InDesign document is Adobe RGB, for example. If you subsequently export PDF/X-4 from InDesign, again without any color conversions, that object with sRGB and its profile will end up in the final exported PDF file.

        There is only one got’cha area that you should be aware of in this scenario and ironically, it has nothing to do with placed, color-managed RGB or LAB, but rather, with incompatible CMYK color spaces.

        If in the previous example, the Illustrator document was created with SWOP CMYK, the PDF/X-4 PDF export will have a Output Intent and profile for SWOP CMYK, as would be expected. HOWEVER, if our hypothetical InDesign document is setup for FOGRA37, at the time the Illustrator PDF/X-4 file is placed, this mismatch is not detected. Effectively as currently implemented, when placing PDF/X-4 in either Illustrator (by link) or in InDesign, the Output Intent profile is totally ignored!! For critical CMYK-based work, this could be a real problem. In this care, ironically, the fidelity of RGB is better-preserved than CMYK!!! :-(

        Yes, we are aware of this issue at Adobe and hopefully in our next major revision of PDF export we can address this issue (although quite frankly, choices will effectively need to be to either ignore the mismatch or do an immediate CMYK=>C’M’Y’K’ conversion with the possible option of maintaining pure colorants).

        All this having been said, our recommendation at Adobe is to export/save PDF as PDF/X-4 with no color conversions at PDF creation time. A secondary option would be the High Quality Print conversion options with absolutely all profiles embedded and no color conversion at PDF creation time.

        Hopefully this gives you a bit more insight and either comfort or discomfort as to the processes in place.

        – Dov

      • Hello Dov, It’s very clearly explained and I both learnt and inpired, I can see that you are a true technical veteran who has a fair view in discussion and knowledge sharing. I am continually strive for learning an optimized RGB workflow, however in the other “~planet” forum I had sour response, had a feeling that those CMYK guru fundamentally is not that much accepting RGB workflow, neither contributing comments nor solid input is made….only generalized comments is a sidetrack and not so focused way. May be it’s my bad to use an inappropriate title, maybe I’m overacting…I don’t know, but seeing your participation in various places sets a very positive impression to me on forum, but some others is just using others title to promote, steer or influence others towards it’s personal interest or benefit…and this makes me feel not that much of comfort for sure. Anyway maybe I have to learn this unspoken rules in forum of the internet world. I’m really interested in striving the RGB workflow to optimize for RGB-capable device capability.

  18. What are your suggestions for output to digital presses? I have seen nothing but problems and inconsistent color and procedures to get the output acceptable.

    • For digital presses, I definitely recommend placing RGB images. If you’re printing directly from InDesign, you’ll likely want to ensure you’re specifying the right ICC color profile for that printer, or use a profile that reflects how the printer has been calibrated (e.g. Gracol).

      • David,

        FWIW, I would personally NEVER recommend printing directly from InDesign (or for that matter Illustrator). Export PDF (or in the case of Illustrator) save PDF/X-4 and print that, even if to a conventional printer from Acrobat. Acrobat’s printing capabilities significantly eclipse those of InDesign (and Illustrator).

        – Dov

    • For optimizing your digital devices color gamut ability through proper RGB workflow, here’s what I upto:
      1. make sure the digital image capture is properly icc tagged, bit depth setup and working color space; likely when you finish save as a 16bit tiff and properly tagged (for e.g. Adobe RGB will likely fit for late binding approach)
      2. a properly tagged image, and correctly setup INDD which respected the profile, format, bit-depth, transparency etc (u need some work and test on that, Dov is a good commentor);
      3. Dov suggest to export as PDF/X-4 as a late binding format;
      4. stability of your output device, and it’s maintainence and daily calibration is important, compare heat/toner/liquid type of digital devices with printhead/ink/paper devices, compare how stable they are in delta-E, how repeatable they are thru daily check. Device or use proper wedge and spectro for checking & read deviation/tolerance.
      5. building your custom digital devices is a lot of work and expertise, which you need a dedicated person or hire a professional…u need the knowledge tools of hardware/software device vendor support to really get the true device gamut available for specific substrate at specific resolution and other parameters; I think a good profile is highly specific and exact condition has to be met.
      6. I”m in research and compilation of such, it seems kind of scattered in the market right now.
      7 you also need a guidebook : for your client (how to create, edit and handover the content); for your prepress (what needs to be preflight, normalize, and comply); for your output operator, a particular job that states very clearly the job specifications to the very detail…and the gatekeeper to makesure things are right….the wedge verification.

      • Hi Dov/George/David

        Thanks for all the replies. You guys clearly know what you are talking about.

        I have a very specific case I would like to describe.

        I have a Adobe RGB image I link into an untagged CMYK Illustrator document. I save the Illustrator file as an .ai file and do not put a check mark into “Embed ICC Profiles”.

        After that I link the .ai file (with the Adobe RGB image) into a InDesign document. I export the InDesign doc using preset PDF/X-4 and make a colour conversion to ISO Coated v2, preserve numbers.

        So what you are saying, in that pdf I would still have a Adobe RGB image, because it is linked into the Illustrator file? Or am I mistaken?

      • Dov is the right person to answer you.

        from what I understand from your description is that you have these done not so right:
        (i) the RGB image should have source icc profile specified and saved in the file;
        (ii) when you export the AI (with placed RGB image), it’s better export in PDF/X-4 with profile embeded, no color conversion, preserve CMYK numbers.

        placing the AI (export as PDF/X-4) to INDD and convert to ISO-coated-V2 preserve number seems fine.

      • George,

        For editing digital images that originated as RAW images from a digital camera, I certainly would endorse maintaining a losslessly-compressed 16bpp TIFF or JPEG2000 file tagged with an appropriate wide-gamut RGB ICC profile such as AdobeRGB.

        However, you should be aware that once you place such an image in InDesign (or import either by link or directly into Illustrator), the eight low-order bits are discarded. The rest of the workflow within InDesign (or Illustrator) and exporting (or saving) PDF contains only 8bpp images!

        The only Adobe application which can save 16bpp images is Photoshop. Although Acrobat can open PDF files with 16bpp images (and use watermarks and such with 16bpp images), printing from Acrobat such as to a PostScript printer will again truncate the eight low-order bits.

        Bottom line is that maintaining 16bpp imagery is appropriate for archives of images that you may want and/or need to “adjust” in the future OR if you are directly sending PDF files saved from such images to a wide gamut PDF-direct printer, but it is effectively useless later in any other workflow.

        – Dov

      • Troels,

        WRT Illustrator — if you place an AdobeRGB image into Illustrator via a link, the color space is preserved complete with its ICC profile. If you don’t do the link, the image is converted from AdobeRGB to whatever the default CMYK color space is at the time you are running Illustrator. YOU DON’T WANT TO DO THIS! Place via a link!!

        Export as PDF/X-4 with the default option of NOT converting any colors.

        Placing the resultant PDF/X-4 into an InDesign document preserves the color spaces of the RGB images and profiles placed by link into Illustrator.

        From InDesign, unless you have tagged CMYK content in the InDesign document (you won’t from the placed PDF/X-4 from Illustrator), export PDF/X-4 from InDesign WITHOUT any color conversion. That is the only way you will preserve the RGB with profiles in the resultant, final PDF/X-4 file!

        – Dov

  19. Thanks for the article. So when preflighting the indesign file, are we to look past the errors generated? Found in preflight panel as well as when packaging there is a flag on images using RGB color space. Thanks in advance.

  20. Alicia, you’re right: just ignore the RGB warnings. Those are sort of left over from ancient times, and InDesign still feels compelled to mention RGB content.

  21. It would be better to take some time and tweak your preflight profiles. This is easily done, you can specify then what colour spaces are acceptable. You could even turn on warnings for CMYK content, I know David B. would like that:-)

    Ignoring preflight warnings makes it easy to skip over warnings you really do want to do something about.

  22. Hi,
    any change to preserve number with indd linked files ?

    I have indd file with text only (100K) and when i export PDF for newspaper (240% coverage max) Indesign convert my text to all 4 plates…why ?

  23. Hi, I used the Indesign conversion to CMYK BUT the printer replied the text was CMYK also. They want the text in K. At least in case of offset. And I couldn’t find such an option in Indesign. In Acrobat such an option seems to exist, but not in Indesign. This is of importance for offset printing. Digital printing doesn’t seem to give problems.

    • Gunter, the author’s were very clear that this workflow was not intended for vectors/text:

      “We want to be clear that we’re talking about pixel-based images here — bitmapped images, such as those from Photoshop. We’re not talking about vector artwork.”

    • Gunter: Yes, the important question is where is the text? Is the text in an Illustrator or PDF file, or is it in the InDesign file? If you have an RGB Illustrator file that contains black text, then the text will become 4-color black. So you would want to change the Illustrator file to CMYK.

      But if the text is in InDesign and it is converting to 4-color, then there is something else going wrong.

  24. What great news! But phooey, page 10 of Ingram’s guide for authors before uploading to IngramSpark or Lightning Source stipulates CMYK – can we disregard that?

    Also — does the procedure you describe help with export to EPUB? I’ve got a book full of CMYK images that are HUMONGOUS for print, and when I do the InDesign export to EPUB I get mayhem with pixelated images and of course doc size.

    Would replacing them with print-quality RGB 300dpi images make the InDesign file more friendly to both print and ebook creation?


    • Carla,

      If you keep your images as 300PPI RGB, you can have best of both worlds. Notice that Ingram suggests PDF/X-1a as one of the acceptable formats. When you export to PDF/X-1a, all RGB content is converted to CMYK in the outgoing PDF. Your original images aren’t changed. I can’t offer any advice on EPUB, though; I suspect David can.

      Hope this helps.

  25. Okay, I get it — they won’t even know I disobeyed them because they just get the PDF. Thank you!

    I look forward to any advice that can help me streamline the EPUB – I have a full-color travel book that with a gazillion photos and I need to know what to do with all these CMYK versions.

    It’s too late for the print version.

    Praying for somebody on Fiverr to do this very cheaply.

    Thanks again.

  26. What is the best way to prep files if you want to place photos as RGB and export as a CMYK PDF, but also still need to provide a packaged file of the photos for the printer?

    • Well, the best way is to find a printer that won’t balk if you give them RGB files in the package.

      But the 2nd best way would probably be to convert them in Photoshop (you can batch convert them if need be), resave with the same name, but in a different folder, and then use Relink to Folder to update them all to the new folder. Or, package everything, run the batch conversion on the packaged images (so that you don’t mess up your original ones), then just open the InDesign file and update all the modified images and save.

      • So if I am starting from the beginning with a book that I want in both print and epub, should I resize all the photos (some of them are huuuuuuge) first and save them in RGB only (at 300 dpi).

        Goal to get one image that serves both books.

        What size would be optimal? Some of the images are full-page spreads with bleed, and others are small.

        I am producing a cookbook (11.8.5) and a travel book (6×9).

        Is there a one-size-fits-all sizing rule?

        Thank you!

    • Stephen,
      Spot inks will remain spot in all Print PDF exports, but you can use Ink Manager in the export dialog to convert spots to process.

      If you export to Interactive PDF, *all* colors (including spot colors) will be converted to RGB, though.

      • Oh I have a follow-up question! When you use ink manager to convert specific pantone colors to cmyk will there be any variance in the converted cmyk colors compared to the original pantone color?

        We deal with a 2 color press and print 5 colors on it, but we have many pantone colors as a supporting palette to our pantone logo color. The only color I really need is the logo pantone color. I convert the supporting pantone colors to cmyk in the ink manager. However, this last print job came out unsaturated on the photos AND the pantone colors used on shapes from indesign.

        Trying to figure out if it’s my fault, if indesign doesn’t truly convert properly or if it’s my printers fault. Lets just say I now have all the supporting pantone colors switched to cmyk, so I shouldn’t be using the ink manager again for awhile. I would like to though since that is suppose to be the goal!

      • Kelsey: There are many Pantone colors that look different when converted to CMYK, sometimes darker or lighter or not as saturated, etc. InDesign does a pretty good job of converting Pantone to CMYK (especially if you turn on the Use Lab Values for Spots checkbox in the Ink Manager), but it’ll rarely be perfect.

        You can learn more about how and why colors change in our Color Management issue of InDesign Magazine:

      • Kelsey,

        I can’t reply directly to your comment, so doing it in previous comment…
        Pantone Spot colors almost never match their CMYK “equivalents” exactly.
        That is the point of PMS Spot colors, to allow you to print colors that 4-color process (CMYK) can’t reproduce.

        Whether you use the swatches pallet or the Ink Manger, the results will be the same, usually duller colors than a PMS Spot color would be. (How well and what the conversion looks like will depend on the actual swatch and it’s color-space – new LAB or old CMYK)

        Similarly, RGB photos will “de-saturate” because CMYK cannot reproduce all the colors that RGB can.

        These are limitations of the CMYK 4-color process, not you or the printer per se, assuming they did their job correctly.

        If you view your InDesign document with View>Overprint Preview and have set your View>Proof setup to the corret profile (from your printer if you ask or SWOP for general 4-color work), and check View>Proof Colors, you will get a pretty good approximation of how it will actually print.

        Converting the RGB or PMS to 4-color yourself will allow you to have more control, but 4-color process cannot match true RGB or PMS Spot colors.

      • Thanks Bret and Dave for the extra info! I knew I wouldn’t achieve an exact match to my Pantone colors if converting to RGB or CMYK no matter what, that is just how it is, but I thought it would be in the realm of no one noticing….except a graphic designer lol.

        I had a massive loss of saturation this time around and all of the colors are lighter as well (except the logo pantone of course), so I’m going to chalk it up to our in-house pressman (or our negative producers, they have been known to give us incorrect lines screens and have little hickups when shooting the negatives sometimes.) I didn’t know the swatch panel would function exactly the same as the ink manager though. Very nice to know that I can continue doing what I was doing.

        And a big thank you for info on the print preview Bret. I always neglect that step because our company recently converted from Quark to Indesign. I had my Quark color settings perfect to keep consistent color, but I’m loving InDesign so much more. I was just worried it was converting something really, really far off. Which I don’t think is the case now.

  27. I have assigned max 260% custome profile ink coverage in Photoshop color settings and all my images are RGB, but when I export from Indesign to pdf I get 300% ink coverage when I check it in Acrobat… am I doing something wrong in the export settings? This is driving me crazy!

  28. Regarding printing Pantone colours using CMYK. If you have to do this on a regular basis it might be a good idea to invest in the Pantone Color Bridge swatch books which display a Pantone solid colour swatch next to a swatch printed in CMYK with their recommended ink values. This is ensures you have a physical copy of what is possible to help with planning and carry along to any press check. Get the coated and uncoated version because there is usually a significant difference between the two. Depending on the paper you are printing on, your printer may not be able to exactly what is in the swatch book but it will be a lot closer than a soft proof.

    • Fredrick, just grabbed ours out and I just realized that the reason we are having such an issue is that the branding company we hired to rebrand our company gave us INCORRECT pantone to cmyk conversions. They obviously didn’t use the book. No wonder we are having such an issue! (I still think we had a press error this time, but I have to do this all the time now.)

      For a six-figure branding escapade, I just assumed the branding agency gave us the correct conversion. Big THANK YOU for helping me notice that since I didn’t think to even look until now.

      • Kelsey, unless one knows the CMYK reference condition, it is really hard to make a conversion. The CMYK values supplied by Pantone in their Colour Bridge are only “appropriate” to the printing condition of their colour books, which is generally quite different to what a given end user may be printing. Another way of looking at this is the only correct CMYK recipe is the one that works! :]

      • @Stephen While it would be foolish to ask a press operator to exactly match a ColorBridge swatch, it does, in my experience, give you an achievable baseline. It is quite possible that the designer specified the wrong Pantone swatch. InDesigns has lots of options and young designers may not know the difference between them. The ColorBridge uncoated CMYK breakdowns are significantly different for some colours. The spot Pantone looked correct because it was ink on paper. Unfortunately, that probably made the rest of the project look worse. There are times it is better to be uniformly off, peoples eyes will accommodate.

  29. I’m a complete novice to print design and am very much used to the world of web and digital design. I need to put together an InDesign print file in CMYK, Coated FOGRA39 and supplied as a print ready pdf. My design file is made up of text, block colours, a qr code, large vector graphic/cartoon, apple app store and google play badges (sourced from their sites as .eps files), and a .psd image file of an iPhone.

    From reading the article above and all your excellent comments am I right in thinking this is what I should do…
    – Set up my Indesign file as CMYK with ‘Preserve Embedded Profiles’ and ‘Coated FOGRA39’ selected and create my text and block colours directly in the CMYK format
    – convert the RGB vector graphic and app store badges to CMYK pdfs and then link it to my InDesign file
    – convert the QR code .eps file into a CMYK pdf before adding
    – leave the iPhone .psd image as an RGB file and link it directly into the InDesign doc in RGB
    – convert the app screen shot graphic (originally generated by Sketch) to a CMYK pdf and then link into the InDesign file – this one is currently losing a lot of colour quality during the RGB to CMYK conversion??
    Then convert the completed design into a CMYK pdf at the very end and pre-flight using ‘PDF/X-1a:2001’???

    I hope that makes sense and thanks in advance to anyone who could help me out and tell me the best solutions for maintaining the colour quality of my different design elements. You guys all sound like you completely know what you are doing and I don’t! The printer’s instructions say to use 300dpi .jpegs as the linked image files but I like the sound of using RGB images and vector pdfs better???

    • Hi Esther, you have the basic idea right, however I have some suggestions and questions. Unless I explicitly mention a key point, then I agree with your thinking:

      (1) I personally would have the colour management polices set to preserve RGB profiles but to have CMYK set to off (not to preserve). I expand on this in point 6 below, so it is not a firm requirement to use a “safe CMYK workflow”.

      (2) Where will you convert the vector RGB EPS files, Illustrator or Acrobat Pro?

      (3) QR codes should generally be 0cmy100K for the “black” areas. Is the QR code vector? If so it may possibly benefit from some “cleanup” work in Illustrator.

      (4) RGB iPhone image, ensure that it has an RGB ICC profile embedded/tagged in it that creates a visually pleasing preview or that if it is “untagged” with no colour profile that your InDesign RGB working space is acceptable for the image.

      (5) Screen Capture – if you are losing “colour quality” then this may just be as good as things go with a basic colour conversion and you will not gain “anything extra” in leaving it as RGB and letting InDesign convert it to CMYK when exporting the PDF (as the colour conversion will be the same). This could be a “special case” where carefully “crafting” the colour conversion in Photoshop by editing the CMYK values would provide a better result than an automated conversion. Above and beyond this point, screen captures of say computer interface elements that use blacks/neutrals in key areas are often best converted using an ICC profile that provides maximum GCR in Photoshop. You can then elect to not colour manage these special use files (assign profile, none) or to make a “white lie” and assign the exact same colour profile as you will be using in InDesign to stop InDesign converting the colour to your different document profile.

      (6) Export using a PDF/X-1a profile direct out of InDesign, it can’t hurt to preflight this in Acrobat Pro or Enfocus PitStop Pro to ensure that the export is correct, however if you exported with a PDF/X profile the result should conform anyway so the verification could be considered to be “busy work”.

      • I would recommend using vector graphics in CMYK, not RGB. RGB are only useful for raster images.
        Therefore I would also recommend preserving numbers, otherwise, you will encounter a CMYK-Lab-CMYL-conversion.
        Never use EPS! Use AI or PDF/X-4 instead.
        BareCodes should always be in CMYK as they make no sense on screen.
        An RGB image has always to have a color profile. It is not a question of like or dislike, it has to be the correct profile.
        PDF/X-1a is often a requirement if printers want to have cmyk files, so the conversion takes place upon PDF-export.
        If you want to place the PDF in InDesign again, never use PDF/X-1a or X-3, use only PDF/X-4 regardless what the final output will be.

      • Correction, I originally wrote:

        (1) I personally would have the colour management polices set to preserve RGB profiles but to have CMYK set to off (not to preserve). I expand on this in point 6 below, so it is not a firm requirement to use a “safe CMYK workflow”.

        I should have written:

        (1) I personally would have the colour management polices set to preserve RGB profiles but to have CMYK set to preserve numbers, (ignore linked profiles). I expand on this in point 6 below, so it is not a firm requirement to use a “safe CMYK workflow”.

    • Esther: I think you’re doing great with this! However, I wouldn’t worry too much about the Edit > Color Settings, especially because once you’ve created a document it’s extremely hard to change those settings in it. The default settings InDesign uses are generally safe.

      In general, vector artwork should be in CMYK, as Wilhelm pointed out, but there is an exception: vector artwork that is either fine-art or artistic or looks photorealistic should probably be RGB. Vector artwork that is a logo or flat areas of color, etc., is better as CMYK.

      The QR code is hard because it does depend on where it came from. I would suggest making the QR code using Object > QR Code in InDesign if you can (or using a tool that makes good CMYK vector QR codes).

      I go into great detail about saving PDF files in my courses, such as “Making Print PDFs” and “InDesign Color Management.” In general PDF/X-1a is safe, but I would suggest changing the CMYK target profile to something better than SWOP, so that your RGB images get converted to a better profile.

  30. – “It uses the same color engine, so you can get exactly the same results.”

    I could not find the info on which rendering intent is used when converting RGB images to CMYK. I would assume relative colorimetric. Can someone help.

    Thank you

  31. Hi there. Sorry so late. I convert RGB images to CMYK because I want a more accurate depiction of the end result when I send a client an electronic proof. If they are used to seeing their bright and shiny rgb images, they may be disappointed in the printed cmyk piece. Thoughts?

  32. I work at a print shop and we often get PDF or PhotoShop files that have the registration black, so all the text separates in to four parts. Trying all these different steps still has the same issue. Any solutions for this?

    • Laura, I have some posts at my blog regarding pure black values in PDF colour conversions (as mentioned by David):

      Text and vectors are usually easy enough to fix up with Acrobat preflight fixups, however gradients and images may not be affected, so it will depend on the object and PDF construction.

      AFAIK there is no “registration” colour in Photoshop as there is in layout and illustration software, however it is of course possible to incorrectly specify the black as rich black in Photoshop.

      Acrobat Pro also has fixups for converting registration colour to black, which may or may not work as intended depending on your version of Acrobat Pro.

      Then for everything else to do with fixing PDF files, there is of course Enfocus PitStop Pro.

  33. David, thank you SO much for this article. :) I finally finished my humongous project and submitted it to the printers, then found out they want all images in CMYK… Hundreds of pages, thousands of images. Your instructions were super easy to follow, and seemed to do the trick!
    Special thanks for making it humorous and informative, without bogging me down with technical language that makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. :)

  34. Good article.

    I’d advocate designing in RGB and convertin to CMYK. I am an animator and web designer, I need everything in RGB. With the majority of marketing being used on the web, your better off building with RGB and converting to CMYK for specific print output than the other way round. This is just for Raster images though, Retouched photos etc.

  35. Hi nice article, I started my carrier as a graphic designer in 1992, even in those days it was possible the send a RGB image inside Quark Express, but this method still has some risks. I worked with big clients such as Coca Cola, Gillette, Mitsubishi and so forth, these clients are picky, most of time you have to print an image that contains their colors in a flat shape, for example the red of Coca Cola is 100% magenta and 100% yellow, one time a client refused the job because the magenta was about 90%. Other times you have to create rich black inside the picture, or you might need a black is that just one color, if you send a comic book in RGB, the black will be converted into four colors.

  36. Rachid,

    There’s an easy solution to the RGB black issue: just separate using a max black GCR setup.
    I suffered through the “Coke Red” issue a lot back in the day, too. In cases like that, yeah, you do need to prep the files as CMYK.

  37. I’ve used a very special technique for years now that has worked wonders when dealing with the CMYK and RGB profiles. To ensure the best color is coming through for both print and digital–simply go to the store and get a 1-gallon tub of yogurt (any flavor will do, but I prefer peach)… using two fingers and thumb, rotate your hand deliberately and scoop out a liberal amount of said yogurt.

    Now that you have a hand full of yogurt, wipe it across your computer monitor. Feel free to let it dry and reapply as needed.

    Now sit back and behold… there are no more issues with either CMYK, or RGB because your mother was watching you do this and just called the nearest rehab clinic for you!

  38. Hi David, thank you for this great article. I stumbled upon it in my despair because of some things going on in our office.
    Our R&D department is thinking about saving rendered product images in PNG instead of TIFF, because it saves them precious time and space on the server.
    From these TIFF files I make artwork for our printed media, convert to high resolution JPGs for print purposes as well, low resolution JPGs for our website and PNG files to be placed on backgrounds in online PDF product leaflets.
    My initial reaction was that PNG is merely suitable for online use. But on the other hand, Indesign converts al RGB items to CMYK when I export to PDF, which you confirmed in your article. That’s already a big relieve.

    But more questions come to mind:
    1. Are there specific requirements to the PNG they generate. I’d say I need at least PNG-24 in 300dpi and large enough for me to be able to still do scaling, distorting etcetera, am I correct? If so, I wonder how much time they will win over rendering in TIFF.
    2. We provide our customer low res JPGs for their website. I cannot think of any reason why they could not do with PNG instead, can you? Of course I would have to convert the 300dpi PNGs to smaller sizes to make them suitable for online use. Am I correct?

    Hope you can help and confirm I overlooked everything before I agree to change from TIFF to PNG. Thanks!

    • Sandra,

      On behalf of Adobe Systems Incorporated, a few comments on your posting:

      (1) In terms of server space, a ZIP-compressed TIFF image in RGB should not yield any significant difference in space requirements over a PNG file assuming that the TIFF file is also RGB-based! Obviously a CMYK TIFF file has an additional channel of data (and CMYK ICC color profiles are generally much larger than RGB ICC color profiles) and for the same image could be 30 to 40% larger. Also, LZW-compressed TIFF files are not as efficient in terms of compression as ZIP-compressed TIFF files. In terms of creation or rendering time, I don’t believe that you would see any significant difference between PNG and ZIP-compressed TIFF! (I don’t buy the line about “precious time and space on the server.” Sounds like a made up excuse!)

      (2) A properly-produced PNG file should yield the identical quality as a ZIP or LZW-compressed RGB-based TIFF file. Note that I said “properly-produced PNG file!” Not all PNG files include ICC color profiles. Thus, if you convert a photographic image processed with ICC Adobe RGB as PNG without including the Adobe RGB ICC profile embedded, many if not most clients will assume ICC sRGB which will distort your color! Current versions of Adobe Photoshop do include the ICC profile when saving as PNG. On the other hand, we cannot vouch for third party products or libraries. Be very careful here!!!

      (3) Hopefully you don’t convert CMYK-based JPEG or TIFF to PNG and expect to get the same CMYK colors back if subsequently converting RGB to CMYK. Such round-tripping is not an identity operation.

      (4) One advantage of PNG over JPEG is for images that otherwise would or should be represented by vectors (straight lines, grids, text, etc.). Since JPEG is lossy, such vector-like content often shows compression artifacts in solid areas adjoining straight lines.

      (5) On the other hand, JPEG files in the same color space are typically much smaller in size (and thus efficient in web display) than PNG or TIFF, especially for photographic images (as opposed to vector-like content per above).

      If you are careful, especially in terms of including ICC color profiles in the PNG files and other issues discussed above, you should be fine.

      – Dov

      • Dov, thank you so much for the extensive answer, I really appreciate it. Hope I may go over a few points mentioned
        1. Basically you confirm my thinking that PNGs should have the same quality as the TIFFs have now. Which also confirms to me that wanting to switch to PNG to save time could only mean that they do not intend to include color profiles and maybe create a PNG-8 file?
        2. I’m not that knowledgeable regarding compression. I checked some of our TIFF files and they are LZW compressed, 300dpi, sRGB… You mentioned sRGB distorting the colours. Does that mean that the TIFFs we are working with now already are saved the wrong way?
        3. We don’t ;-)
        4. Understood.
        5. Really? I was under the assumption that PNGs are smaller than JPGs. Will look further into that.

    • I agree with my highly-esteemed colleague, Dov, here: PNG should work as well as TIFF, as long as the color profile is saved with it. But these days I prefer a different format: PSD.

      PSD can save image layers, transparency, and remains highly editable. They’re probably editing the images in Photoshop, so why not just save them as PSD for you to place into InDesign? Then you can export as lower-res JPGs for web etc.

      • Hi David, thank you for your reply, much appreciated! My colleagues, product development engineers, design in CAD (software Creo) and render 3D product images in Keyshot. So no Photoshop and no PSDs I assume.

  39. Of course PSD has a terrible downside, at least in terms of the “space” problem that Sandra is (or at least her IT folks are) trying to resolve. Both ZIP-compressed TIFF and PNG have significantly better lossless compression than PSD which use RLE compression for its raster data. PSD files can be humongous.

    It also turns out that if you save an image in Photoshop as TIFF with the layers option, you save absolutely all the editing information that you have with PSD in a potentially much more compact file due to the significantly better compression of the raster image data! (PDF also allows such an option!)

    – Dov

    • Sandra,

      (1) Unfortunately, I’m not clairvoyant! Depending on the parameters they use to create PNG files and with whose library, your guess is as good as mine in terms of the quality of the PNG files and their efficacy for your needs.

      (2) sRGB in and of itself is not a problem. By default, it is the RGB color space of non-professional digital photography and the web. Web browsers for the most part are still in the 20th century when it comes to color management. They all assume sRGB and most ignore any profiles in images. If your original imagery was shot or created in sRGB, you’re fine. The problem is that if you have wider gamut RGB with some other color space, unless you explicitly convert it to sRGB for the web, your colors may be off and if you are going to print, you should keep the original RGB color space until the RIP does the conversion to whatever color space is supported by the print process in use.

      (3) & (4) :-)

      (5) PNG files are generally not smaller than JPEG unless you limit yourself to 8 bit color (i.e., 256 distinct RGB colors) in PNG and/or you have very vector like content on a constant background. JPEG gets size advantage by squeezing the living daylights out of photographic images and incurring lossiness that in such images, you might not notice if you don’t request the higher levels of compression (= lower quality) and/or repeatedly recompress the same image.

      Good luck in your quest. This stuff is clear as much, right?

      – Dov

      • Thanks so much Dov, all clear! I think you may unintentionally have answered an unsolicited question: the sRGB could have maybe caused greenish and blueish tinges in previous catalogues…will look into that further too!

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