Paula Bailey

March 11, 2011

CMYK: The rainbow for geeks?

CMYK style

CMYK style by Mitra Mirshahidi

OK so it might not be a full rainbow, but it’s our rainbow and we love it.

As many of you will know, CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK (more properly known as Key) and these are the four colours used in the CMYK printing process.  You may have noticed them on the uncut edges of magazines or newspapers as a series of circles or squares.

On the other hand, the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colours are what happens on our computer screens. You can read more about all that here.

But who cares about all this? Well apart from printers, designers do. And these days that can extend to photographers and others interested in the visual arts.  Not because of the use of CMYK in the printing process, but because it’s cool.

You might be wondering what on earth could be cool about four colours that don’t seem to go together, that don’t flow from one to the other like a rainbow does, or that, on reflection are actually three colours and a tone (if we’re getting technical here).

This is where the print people sit

This is where the print people sit ... by vintagedept

It seems that CMYK has become a universal identifier for design and print geeks and their friends. Just take a look at some of the CMYK inspired logos that designers make for themselves, or the CMYK t-shirts that are out there to buy. It’s like a badge. It says “I am a designer” or “I work with print”. It’s a social signal for geek-to-geek coolness.

And then there’s the inevitable bandwagon. A couple of years ago, on the wave of renewed interest in lomography (essentially photography with cheap plastic film cameras) which extended, naturally, to the design world, the Diana F+ CMYK was launched. It was nicknamed the ‘Smeek’ because they thought CMYK was too cumbersome to say.  Basically it was another edition of the very popular Diana series but with extra cool. I still want one.


Unplanned coincidence - when we realised what we were all wearing, we just had to do a photo

I think the colours look great together. They don’t jar even though they are very bright. I’m not sure of the dynamics but my guess would be that they work together because between them, all colours can be made.   It’s not a rainbow but if you’re working in print, it’s where your rainbow comes from. Having said that, I wouldn’t want a room done out in CMYK, and if I wore it then I’d definitely restrict it to a small size (like many of the t-shirts shown in the link above).

What do you think? Do the CMYK colours all in one hit appeal to you? Or do you hate them? Feel free to share any links to CMYK images of your own when you comment.

And in case you were wondering what inspired today’s post, well it was my newly painted CMYK fingernails of course.


Are these the ultimate geek girl fingernails?

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  1. “OK so it might not be a full rainbow, but it’s our rainbow and we love it.”

    Thats the point you already know that you love the article, even though you have just started!

    Just brilliant.

    Comment by Panos — March 11, 2011 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

    • Ha ha! Thank you. You might be a geek yourself then? 🙂

      Comment by Paula Bailey — March 11, 2011 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

      • Haha by all means YES ! xD

        Comment by Panos — March 12, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  2. Oh my. Those nails are rad. Did you paint them yourself?
    I, personally, prefer a less wild tonal range. I like greens and blues together, or oranges, violets and reds.
    But your fingernails are rad.

    Comment by Gabi — March 11, 2011 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Gabi, yes I did paint them myself. The black is a special ‘crackle’ varnish that splits before your eyes. I’m probably with you on the colour ranges in general but CMYK as a collection always makes me smile.

      Comment by Paula Bailey — March 12, 2011 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for letting me know on Flickr you actually used my image. That’s exactly what CC license was invented for (imho). Anyway, if you want to take the whole colour perspective / colour geekyness just a tad further, try to get your hands – or at least your eyes – on a copy of ‘Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages’, which has a nice few chapter on the linguistics of colour, and on why Homer (and most other cultures), up to recently, didn’t bother to differentiate colour into anything but ‘black’, ‘white’ and ‘things kind off reddish’. (And, as far as I can tell, haven’t finished the book completely yet), leads to the conclusion that colour is most of all a ‘cultural’ invention.)

    The book is enteresting beyond the chapters on colour, but for those stressing about getting the exact colours for print, web, … and spending ages calibrating their monitors and setting up colour spaces, it is quite an interesting read, which puts the daily colour-managing stress into perspective? Because, imagining a world where the sea is like dark wine, honey is green, and nobody bothers to notice the sky is quite amusing.

    Comment by Ann — March 14, 2011 @ 10:20 am | Reply

    • Ann thank you for that book recommendation, it sounds fascinating. I’ve now got it on my Amazon wishlist! I’m also interested in the philosophy that we all perceive things differently and that we only agree that things are the same because we label them. All food for thought. Thanks again for the CC.

      Comment by Paula Bailey — March 14, 2011 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

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