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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 Lynda.com are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at 63p.com.
David Blatner

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Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue

Claudia McCue is the author of Real World Print Production with Adobe Creative Cloud, and a LinkedIn Learning. instructor. After more than 30 years in real-world print production and 20 years of software training, she’s now retired, but still occasionally teaches software classes and writes about printing topics. Find out more at her website claudiamccue.com and @claudiamccue on Twitter.
Claudia McCue

Latest posts by Claudia McCue (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
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75 Comments on “Why You Should Import RGB Images Into InDesign and Convert to CMYK On Export

  1. It sounds great and thank you very much for the article!

    Although what really is frightening is that I then get this Indesign (CS5) Warning on Export:

    “The preset specifies source profiles that dont match the current color settings file. Profiles by the color settings file will be used”

    I only get this Warning when I use “Preserve numbers” like you strongly recommend. I checked, rechecked and adjusted the Indesign settings under Color settings, Assign profile and convert to profile in the EDIT Menu but can’t find a mistake and get this warning away.

    Thats why I unfortunatly still go back to photoshop and do the color conversion to CMYK there (an extra day of work usually).

    Any advice is warmly welcome

    Thanky you!
    Wern

    • Werner: That is very strange. Can you email me a very small document that has this problem and explain the steps you are taking (what PDF preset, etc)? I’m at david [at] indesignsecrets.com

  2. Hi David,

    You mentioned that this is great because you could then use the same image for a web and printing job, but shouldn’t one image be 72ppi while the other 300 of resolution?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Bill: I think we said “web press,” which is a type of printing press. But in general, the idea is the same: using RGB means you can export the same document for print or on-screen viewing (such as an on-screen PDF). But yes, the images would then have to be downsampled if you were creating HTML.

  3. When I follow your instructions for converting an Indesign file to PDF (maintain cmyk image format) it doesn’t work. At least, I THINK it doesn’t work. If it is not a stupid question, could you tell me please how I can check the resulting PDF – I mean, check the format of images which are in the PDF to make sure they are still cmyk and have not reverted to rgb? Many thanks.

    • In Acrobat, open the Print Production Tools. Choose Output Preview and, next to “Show,” choose “CMYK.” If nothing disappears, you’re good. Or, you could choose “RGB” and hope everything goes away. Keep in mind that Spot color content will remain spot — it will NOT be converted to CMYK.

  4. This works except for one issue.
    If my document contains incorrectly profiled cmyk images and rgb images, and I want to convert all to a new destination profile while preserving native cmyk objects. I cannot. If I use the correct “Convert to destination (preserve numbers)” option it still wont work despite the description stating “colours will be converted to the destination space only if they have embedded profiles that differ from the destination profile” which it does.

    I’ve run multiple tests bringing pdfs back in to indesign and it simply will not cover this situation. However I can runa convert colours option through acrobat that does. I’d love to cut out this extra step and do the whole thing in indesign.

    Am I missing something? :D

    Cheers

  5. We print many small newspapers from publishers who have limited understanding with printing processes, little understanding of InDesign features and not much understanding of CMYK vs RGB. We routinely get files with RGB graphics AND text. Though this process seems to work OK for graphics, in my tests with text that is spec’ed as RGB, it does not seem to work. We often get four-color text — which on a cold-set web press — does not work well. We want blacks to be 100% K, 0%C, 0%Y and 0%M. We regularly need to go in using PitStop and convert the Blacks to K only. And, yes, I have tried to educate our customers but our instructions never seem to stick. They are back the next month with the same issues.

    • Andy, I think what you are looking for is “rich black”, which is darker than 100%K
      Hope that helps, it is not too difficult to Google Rich black. Your press will have a preferred mix but you could start with a standard formulation

      • But you don’t want rich black in text: you want text that is only 100K. Andy’s complaint is that RGB “black” text becomes a 4-color mix when converted to CMYK (this can happen with some imported Word text, or images with text content, such as a screen shot). Rich black should be used only in larger color areas, such as an all-black back cover on a magazine printed on an offset press.

      • Angus, Rich Black is exactly what we DON”T want. We want 100% black with no additional colors mixed in. It makes it more difficult for our press operators to hold color on the press. We are printing on a web press and we have enough to keep us busy holding the colors on graphics without worrying about the text. We also need black to overprint when on background colors. Black that knock-out invariably pose registration issues as well particularly when serif fonts are used.

  6. While working on a brochure with CMYK vector logo elements and a CMYK rich black top and bottom border, layered over an RGB photograph, I have deep concerns about the photo not matching the depth of the surrounding colors if I do not convert first. I love the idea that I will not have to convert the photo, but are modern presses really clever enough to print in multiple color formats? Too many bad experiences with RGB looking like hell on CMYK presses. Advice?

  7. If you have an image with a black background (or any other consistent flat color), placed on top of a frame colored a matching tint, there’s a good chance those components won’t match; some RIPs color-manage raster and vector content differently, even if both are the same colorspace. What I’ve done in those cases is either silhouette the subject and place it on the uniform color background in InDesign, or this:
    -In Photoshop, make sure the edges of the image are a uniform color by painting it around the edges. Note the color value (whether it’s RGB or CMYK doesn’t matter).
    -In Photoshop, make a small image (1 inch by 1 inch would work), and fill it with the same color value, in the same color space as the image described above.
    -In InDesign, rather than making the background frame a tint of that value, place the small image in it and scale up. Doesn’t matter how much — 1000% even. This will work because there is no inherent grain in the flat color.

    As to your bad experience with RGB “looking like hell on CMYK presses,” some vibrant colors (such as bright greens, navy blues, bright purples) simply can’t be rendered in CMYK– there’s no getting around it. It’s a good idea to do a CMYK preview in Photoshop to get a more realistic idea of final print. In InDesign, choose View > Proof Colors to do the same.

    Hope this makes sense.

  8. Such an interesting article – thank you. I had a issue today. Bringing RGB photos into Indesign 6 and exporting the entire file to be printed RGB. The colours weren’t as vibrant as the original RGB photo. Thanks for your help in advance.

    • This could be because the images are converted from sRGB to Adobe RGB. Most screens can only display the sRGB color space. Distorted color display can occur when images in the Adobe RGB color space are displayed on such screens. Try exporting to sRGB and check if the vibrance comes back.

  9. Hi Claudia and/or David,

    Here’s my situation. (As a technical writer who has had to learn the Adobe Suite on the fly, any advice is much appreciated.)

    I use InDesign to create product documentation (datasheets, installation instructions, flyers, etc.) that is mostly posted to a company website for download/printing by the user. On occasion, some of these items are printed for trade shows or a document bundle is created and sent to a translation agency.

    The images used in this documentation consist of:
    1. Clean, straight-forward product photos (products are mostly grey, metallic, black, occasionally some color) that are CMYK/300dpi/.tif. Sometimes a .psd is used if it is available/background transparency is needed).
    2. Simple graphics (circuit diagrams, performance curves, dimensional drawings and the like) that are .eps mostly; however, I have to use a lot of legacy .tif files.

    In short, these are not high-end docs so I don’t need to deal with all the fascinating color, paper, printer, etc., considerations that many of the other folks here need to do.

    Here are my questions:

    1. Does the switch to RGB I’ve been reading about here affect both the photo and graphics formats?
    2. Would you please provide me with the parameters I would need to properly save any eligible files for placement into InDesign?
    3. Would you please tell me which option under “File/Adobe PDF Presets” I should choose to make the best. pdf for online viewing? Or, if a new option needs to be set up, provide the parameters I will need to do so?

    Many thanks,

    Kathryn

    • Wow… People pay me for all such advice. How about a course Colour Management at a training centre? Or follow a Lynda.com video course…?

      • Hmmm…Snarkiness, if there is such a word, I don’t need.

        This is not a color management issue. I have already done a good bit of research and was hoping a forum of experts could provide some time-proven, useful advice for a particular situation.

        I envisioned simple answers such as the following:

        1. Yes or no.
        2. Use 300dpi RGB .tif files (an RGB .tif file looks strange to me so I was hoping for confirmation), or something similar.
        3. Choose the fourth option on the list, or something similar.

      • The question was addressed to David and Claudia, but since we are piling in . . . .

        @Kathryn

        1. RGB workflow is specific to raster-based images, eg. images primarily in tiff, jpeg, psd format. If the graphics are vector-based, and you can edit them, put them in the profile colour space of the containing InDesign file.
        2. If you are receiving images in CMYK, it is best to just leave them in CMYK unless you are going to improve them in some way. They are already “cooked” you won’t gain anything by converting them to RGB, unless you are going to enhance the colour. If anyone will be comparing a printed version with your web pdf, enhancement might be introducing colour skews.
        3. The profile I use for web based pdfs is Smallest Size. This will downsample images and convert to sRGB which is a very conservative RGB colourspace. It does create small files. If you think there will be people getting them printed on indigo or high end presses, then align your CMYK colour space with whatever colourspace the images are coming to you in.

        The point of an RGB workflow is to maintain a large colourspace and allow the printer to tailor the conversion to fit the strength and weakness of a particular printing environment. I am seeing some UV ink CMYK offset printing on uncoated paper that is amazing. If images are profiled to look good on a piece of newsprint in 1980, then the artwork is sold short by converting too early.

        Kathryn If you are being supplied with images converted upstream to CMYK and you want to move to an RGB workflow, reread this article, take out a subscription to Lynda.com and watch David’s course, reread this article and get ready to plead your case to the powers-that-be. Old habits die hard.

      • Kathryn,

        FWIW, I thought your query was well-thought-out, cogent, and straightforward, without even a hint of “demanding.” You were respectful, gave pertinent information, and asked the questions in such a way that they could, in fact, be answered in a 1-2-3 format, as you suggested, and as Mr. Yocum was kind enough to do.

        In short, you formatted your query exactly as the experts on, and moderators of, most forums request. Good job!

        Much success,
        Ken
        ~~~~~~~
        Kindness is a commodity that pays you back in ways that you can never foresee, but it ALWAYS pays you back many times over.

  10. Perhaps not the right place to post this, but I just want to let InDesign Secrets know that I am continually amazed by how much I DON’T know. I figure the better trained I am, the more money I save for my clients, so I sometimes allow myself 15 minutes “on the clock” learning my craft. The problem is that I ALWAYS go over that allotted time (and have to go “off the clock”) whenever I begin perusing your site.
    Thank you SO MUCH for the site and all of the wonderful, helpful and useful information!

    • I agree Ken, I’ve been using Indesign a long time and there is so much I still don’t know! I’ve only just stumbled across this great sight and will be visiting often and yes kindness is free!

  11. Great stuff and right on point. All these CMYKs are intimidating, and preprint is full of dire warnings, so it’s good to hear that there are some warnings we can actually ignore now that the world is catching up to our needs.

  12. Excellent article, thank you! I’m adding Illustrations for a children’s book to my InDesign document. Is it best to place these as RGB (like they currently are) or convert to CMYK first? I look forward to your answer :)

    • Thanks, Claudia. I wasn’t sure as the article mentioned to think twice about illustrations. I appreciate your help ;)

      • … And if you carefully read the rest of the thread, you will also see that modern day PDF print publishing workflows call for color conversion (along with transparency blending) at the RIP/DFE, regardless of whether it is a digital press / wide format printer or a traditional offset / flexo / etc. process. Virtually every RIP/DFE from the last decade handles color conversion correctly; whether the prepress operators know that or not is a separate question. Welcome to the 21st century!

  13. After Export Preflight of Adobe Acrobat gives me a warning that CMYK goes beyond the 300% Color* (*Farbauftrag in german). How can that be solved? If I convert an Image in Photoshop it will take care of it. But how can I make shure in Indesign that the convertion stays below 300%.

    • Rudi, it will depend on the ink limit and possibly rendering intent that is built into the profile used for conversion when exporting to PDF. Are you using a PDF/X format and if so which? What are your colour conversion settings when exporting to PDF? What CMYK profile are you using to export to in the PDF export?

  14. This is good to know. I guess I am stuck in the dark age. I am working on a manual and there are about 50 png files that use RGB. I don’t know if png was the right format, but anyway, my real question is, why does InDesign alert you as if you are doing something wrong in saying “ahhh you have files that are in RGB” before you package a file?
    I’m going to go back to fixing these embedded png files!

    • InDesign doesn’t flag RGB as an error, but rather does provide a “warning” so that the Luddites amongst us can chill out. This feature of InDesign dates back to the earliest days of the product going back over 18 years. I am sure that if we took out those warnings (as opposed to errors), there would be some set of our users who would cry bloody wolf!

      With regards to PNG files, although not normally associated with high quality raster images since they can only be in RGB, in fact they aren’t all that much different than RGB TIFF files with an ICC profile. Don’t waste your time changing them.

      – Dov

  15. Just asking about color profile while exporting, if there is a PMS on our file and RGB photos. How can I set up my Colour Conversion, If I want to my output was CMYK and PMS color. Thanks in advance.

  16. Spot color will remain spot during output as long as you have not converted spot swatches to process using Ink Manager. The color profile governs the RGB-to-CMYK conversion, but preserves spot.
    Hope that helps.

  17. Question about grayscale…if I have a file with grayscale images, does it do any damage to export a PDF out of InDesign that converts to CMYK? For example, if I set the settings to PDF X/1A, the output is set to “convert to profile…cmyk etc.” I haven’t had a problem with this and grayscale images before, but now I’m wondering if I’ve been somehow damaging them. What do you think? The reason I’m wondering is: I recently exported a file with “no color conversion” out of InDesign, and the grayscale images looked darker than the previous file (which has the CMYK conversion going on in the InDesign export). The file looked darker on my client’s screen, but did not look any darker on my screen (which is calibrated for print). Which screen do I trust (hopefully mine!?) and will the file actually print darker? I’m confused. Help is appreciated!!

  18. Elena,
    Open the PDFs in Acrobat and launch the Print Production toolset. Choose Output Preview and sample the same area on both PDFs. Even though they may not look the same in Acrobat, the values should be the same.

  19. InDesign does not support direct grayscale output in PDF unless your output intent (for PDF/X-4, for example) is a grayscale profile in which case everything is rendered in that color space.

    In reality, what happens is that G=(g) is converted to the equivalent CMYK=(0,0,0,1-g). Note that G=0 is black as is CMYK=(0,0,0,1). What you might need to be concerned about are any grayscale ICC profiles on placed grayscale images and compatibility of such with the default CMYK ICC profile.

    – Dov

    • Thank you Claudia and Dov for your quick replies. I really appreciate this!

      Claudia, I did check the values in both PDFs, and you are right, they were the same! Interestingly, the files look exactly the same on my screen, but looked different on my client’s screen. Knowing that the values are the same is very reassuring.

      Dov, your comment clarifies this issue a lot. Thank you. Yes, my images did have grayscale ICC profiles, and when exporting with “no color conversion” from InDesign, I’m guessing that these ICC profiles were causing the difference in display.

      Thank you for this extremely helpful article!

    • @Dov

      Would you recommend only placing untagged grayscale images in InDesign when outputting to printready pdfs?

      > What you might need to be concerned about are any grayscale ICC profiles on placed grayscale images and compatibility of such with the default CMYK ICC profile.

  20. Based on the last two comments, I did a bit of detailed testing, creating a grayscale TIFF file in Photoshop (with segments at 10% intervals ranging from 0% to 100%). I save both a version tagged and with an embedded ISO 20% profile and one untagged (and obviously without a profile). I also saved PDF versions of same.

    I then placed those four files into InDesign, letting InDesign “inherit” whatever was in the file. I exported both with the “high quality print” and “PDF/X-4” settings. In neither case did the resultant PDF from InDesign show a tagged image. All the images, contrary to what I thought, actually ended up as Device Gray images in the final PDF files. Note that in general conversions from ICC Gray to some ICC CMYK color space will result in something that is NOT CMYK=(0,0,0,1), but apparently, current InDesign places grayscale images and exports same without whatever ICC profiles were in the images to start with, unlike ICC profile-tagged RGB and CMYK images.

    This is unexpected but quite frankly, is a hell of a lot safer than getting unexpected rich blacks.

    – Dov

    • I’ve done one further set of experiments. I tried turning OFF the color preference to ignore incoming CMYK profiles. That seemed to make no difference in terms of InDesign ignoring incoming Grayscale ICC profiles.

      Note that if you really need to deal with color-managed Grayscale for InDesign, you really need to create CMYK images with CMYK=(0,0,0,g-1) from G=(g). You can do this by copying a grayscale image into the black channel of a new similarly-sized color-managed CMYK image of the same resolution.

      – Dov

  21. Not a good idea if you need pure black text (CMYK = 0,0,0,100). Your print job should definitely be in CMYK. Otherwise, you won’t know your colors are out of range until you create your PDF. Keeping your assets in RGB would also mean that you’re risking that some of the colors are out of range and will change.

  22. Aaron, unless you have black text in an *image*, this should be fine. If you have black text in an image, that’s unfortunate, but you could use a Max Black separation profile to fix that, invoked either in Photoshop or during PDF export.

    As always, it’s all about what your print service provider wants/allows.

  23. I have recently been working with a large client where I am updating existing artwork which I suspect was produced by an in-house designer who has since left them. All of the artwork I have been tasked to update has the colour that a set in RGB. Gradients, flat colours, text, the lot. I have asked the writers and editors I am working with why this is the case and have got back . . . silence. I think this may be caused by them not knowing the answer.

    Would there ever be any good reason to specify all colour in print-destined artwork in rgb? The print work I am working on may be printed on a digital press. But to my knowledge, most digital presses also presume a print-related working space, some flavour CMYK or Pantone.

    • Hello Frederick! Funny you should mention it, as I’m editing a terrific article by Steve Laskevitch on how he created a book that worked for both print and online publishing (single InDesign doc)… he argues that RGB can be a reasonable color space to work in — even with document color swatches! That said, it takes work to ensure that the RGB convert to CMYK properly.

      Are you coming to CreativePro Week this year? Steve will be speaking on color management issues!

      • I look forward to reading the article! Will it be up in the InDesign Secrets magazine? I would love to come to CreativePro Week, but the twin occupations of working for a non-profit and doing freelance don’t yield a large enough profit center. Maybe someday!

      • David, I look forward to reading the article! Will it be up in the InDesign Secrets magazine?

        I would love to come to CreativePro Week, but the twin edeavours of working for a non-profit and doing freelance don’t yield a large enough profit centre at this point. Maybe someday!

    • The original intent of this article was regarding RGB raster (photographic) image files.

      It is not “safe” to blindly pass on RGB r0g0b0 text, however this is generally covered by most high end prepress systems such as Kodak Prinergy which will cleanly convert such content to 0cmy100k. Enfocus PitStop Pro or PitStop Server also has options for converting as well. Acrobat Pro can do so too:

      http://prepression.blogspot.com/2014/06/acrobat-pro-convert-rgb-black-to-cmyk.html

      This is also a feature of some of the built-in preflight profiles/fixes that ship with Acrobat Pro.

      • Absolutely. Even the direct printing feature for Acrobat provides options for this (at least to PostScript printers). Actually, I was personally involved in spec’ing this out for the product since there was so much content coming from Office applications where black and grayscale was coming through as R=G=B and that users were “surprised” when they were paying “click charges” for what they thought was “black and white” printing.

        Bottom line is that there are a number of switches and options throughout many PDF print publishing workflows to “fix” R=G=B, but one would be prudent where possible to avoid those particular situations.

        – Dov

  24. There are good reasons for use of ICC color managed RGB in workflows that include print, not for all content but for some, yes.

    Fairly obviously, specifying “black text” that is supposed to be unconditionally printed with CMYK=(0,0,0,1) is clearly looking for trouble. On the other hand, when you get into content that is other than black or grayscale there are two factor to consider:

    (1) You often don’t know what the actual process CMYK print condition will be and very often content may be printed on different presses with different CMYK color spaces. Converting RGB raster images to CMYK assumes you know what CMYK you need. Experience has shown us that many if not most graphic artists have no idea of what this issue is even about. Thus, it is best practice to leave conversion of ICC color-managed content, especially raster image graphics but also RGB-based vector graphics to the RIP. And you should create PDF/X-4 files with source profiles for the RBG content. (This is supported by InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat and is endorsed by virtually every non-Luddite standards group and print association!)

    Often content is printed with additional colorants (including such colorants as bright green, orange, light yellow, light cyan, light magenta, etc.) such that you get an expanded gamut. This is typically handled at the RIP when converting ICC color-managed RGB to the device colors and in this case more than just process CMYK. It you prematurely convert you ICC color-manged RGB content to CMYK, you thwart the possibility of taking advantage of the extra gamut available on these presses. Again, in this case PDF/X-4 is your friend.

    – Dov

    • Dov, Thanks for your expertise. Using an all RGB workflow is not as odd as I thought. I know the organisation has an in-house print department and I was supplied a variant of the PDF/X-4 preset, so perhaps the print department is protecting designers from themselves. There is very little text, none in fact on the piece I am working on, that is specified as ”black”. It is all coloured tints defined in RGB. If the print department knows everything is going to a digital press with a wider gamut, then having the designer specify in RGB would lead to less disappointment?

      • I don’t think it is so much the “wider gamut of a digital press” in general (in fact, not all CMYK digital presses have a wider gamut than typical CMYK offset), but that (1) different digital presses yield different results for content that is specified in DeviceCMYK and (2) for any device that supports extra colorants to increase gamut, that capability relies on the content remaining in a high gamut color space, which is certainly not DeviceCMYK.

        – Dov

  25. This whole article has broadened my understanding for colour conversion, thank you so much! I will be reading more articles from this website! You guys are better than my Print Production lecturer who are one of those people who strictly tells us to convert to CMYK mode in Photoshop (oh no) and now that I have read this article – I can say my lecturer is ancient.

  26. Hello, thanks for this precious article.
    But i have a question about a document that embed colors and b&w images, should i export everything with the appropriate cmjn profil, even the b&w pictures ?

    Thanks for your help !

    Nico

  27. Hi, thanks for this informative article!

    I have a question about how I should export edited photo’s in Photoshop for use in Indesign. In Photoshop if you Export –> Export as, you have a section called “Color space” with the options “Convert to sRGB” and “Embed color profile”. PS automatically checks the “Convert to sRGB” option, but should either one of these options be selected or not? Also, what do you recommend as export file to use in Indesign; PNG, JPG, TIFF? For TIFF obviously I cannot use the Export option. I’ve been looking on the internet for days for how to save photo’s for PRINT and WEB, but there are so many different opinions as how to save your files to use for PRINT or WEB.

    That brings me to my second question: how should I save photo’s for WEB? For now (with the information that I read on the internet), I should Export –> Export as –> png (as jpg loses data every time it’s been used or edited as I read and png doesn’t), set the “Scale” of the “Image Size” to 50%, and uncheck the “Convert to sRGB” in the “Embed color profile”. I also read that for WEB use, you should put the photo to a 16Bits/Channel in “Image” –> “Mode”. Do you also recommend this? For print, should you just keep it on 8Bits/Channel?

    I hope you can help me out with some of these questions, I have a hard time really understanding all this because there are so many opinions on this on the internet and tutorials on Youtube.

    Thanks for your help!

    Lianne

    • Lianne: Great question. The Export > Export As feature is designed for web graphics, not print! For print images, you usually want to use Save As and choose PSD or TIFF.

      When you say you want to save images for the Web, are you still placing them in InDesign first? Or are you talking about regular web pages (which is outside the scope of this particular article, of course).

  28. Thanks for your response David,

    Yesterday evening I have been doing further research. For now I open my photo in 16/Bit at the bottom of the screen when you open the RAW photo to edit. Then it opens in 16/Bit in Photoshop. The resolution is already set on 300 PPI, so I keep it that way. I “Export” the photo’s “Save for Web (Legacy). There I put it on Preset: PNG-24, Transparency. I have the Convert to sRGB checked and the “Image Size” set to 50% to reduce the size of the file.

    As for print, I have to sent pictures in high resolution. The person that receives the photo’s will import them in Indesign to make a folder which he wants to print. Would I still have to save the pictures in PSD or TIFF, or would you recommend sending them differently for him to import them in Indesign?

    Thanks so much for helping!

  29. So what if I learned from someone who used the “old way” and I now have a finished print product with all CMYK pictures but need RGB pictures to publish on my website for the people who chose to “go green”, is there a way to export it from CMYK to RGB?

    • Allie,
      Keep in mind that you won’t be able to reclaim any vibrant colors you lost converting to CMYK, but all you have to do is open a CMYK image in Photoshop and choose Image > Mode > RGB Color. You can also automate this by creating an action and batch-processing a whole bunch of them.

      Hope this helps!

  30. Hello! Thank you for this article.

    I was wondering about vector graphics made in Illustrator.
    Should I link RGB vector graphics to my inDesign brochure and let the printer do the conversion or should I design the illustrations in CMYK beforehand? Illustrations need to match the brochure colors.

    Thanks for your help !

    • Deya,
      When you say “brochure colors” are you referring to color frames and text created in InDesign? If so, just specify your color builds in Illustrator for vector graphics the same way you do in InDesign; I’d recommend CMYK. Now, as for your IMAGES, you can keep those as RGB if you like and let the printer do the conversion.
      Make sense?

      • Claudia,
        Yes it makes sense. Sometimes I create illustrations that will be both used in our website and in printed material (like flyers and brochures).
        So I wondered if I needed to create the illustrations in RGB and then leave them in RGB in the inDesign document.

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