VIDEO: Choosing CMYK Color Profile/Gamut Explained

Which CMYK color profile should i use

Last Updated on by

There is no such thing as a universal CMYK.

The fact that an image is in CMYK does not mean the color will be correct for a printing press.

CMYK is a ‘device dependent’ color space, meaning that the CMYK data will print differently from one CMYK device to another. Every CMYK device has it’s own color profile. Knowing which CMYK color profile to convert to from RGB is very important to the success of color quality.

A CMYK printer profile is the characteristic or behavior of a printing condition or process.

Today we will demonstrate the differences between the GRACoL (general requirements for applications in commercial offset lithography) and SWOP (specification for web offset printing) CMYK color gamuts, or CMYK printer profiles. The GRACoL printing specification has a larger CMYK color gamut than the SWOP printing specification.

This VIDEO demonstration shows the GRACoL and SWOP CMYK color gamuts in a three-dimensional wireframe. The color wireframes are plotted in the LAB color space. Create an even larger CMYK color gamut by printing with FM/stochastic screening!

The LAB color space is ‘device indepedent’, meaning that LAB color data is absolute. LAB is a universal color space and is the best way to communicate the appearance of color.

Which color profile looks better to you? Please leave your comments below…

Video Transcript:
Hi. This is Rick Rys from

00:04 Today we’re going to talk about the CMYK color space and the two most common CMYK color printer profiles. It’s important to note that a color printer profile is the behavior or the characteristics of a printing condition. It’s important to note that when dealing with your commercial printer to ask them which color printer profile or which color specification they print to and use that profile. Here at, we support the GRACoL color specification.

00:40 The important thing to note is we’re going to be – you’re actually looking at CMYK color model is plotted in the LAB color space. The LAB color space is a three axis determination of what a color is going to be, so it’s absolute.

01:00 The first axis is the L channel or the lightness which goes from white to black. Now that is going from top to bottom and it’s also important to note that along this axis is where your grays are going to be; your gray balance here, fifty percent gray, seventy five, twenty five and so-on are going to be down the center of that axis.

01:22 The second axis, the A axis goes from a cyan/green over to magenta/red color and the B axis goes from blue to yellow. So within this area here is where we’re going to plot all of our colors.

01:38 We’re going to go from our lightest colors up here, to our darker colors down here. So in the center is where all your neutral colors are going to be. We’ll start with our first color printer profile, that will be the SWOP color printer profile.

01:51 When we turn that on, you can see we’ve generated a three-dimensional wire frame of that color model. You go from our paper-white, down to our shadows, and then across from our primary colors our reds, our blues, greens, to our subtractive primaries our yellow, cyan and magenta. And from the top down – looking straight down – you can see that we plotted the outside circumference of our color space, so you can see our color a little better, along with our three-dimensional wireframe.

02:27 The second option is the GRACoL color printer profile. Now, i’m going to bring that in. You will notice that when i click this on, that the GRACoL color printer profile completely engulfs the SWOP color printer profile.

02:41 Looking down here at the bottom – follow the cursor – you’ll notice from the top down the shadow, or the circumference, is much larger than the SWOP color gamut, meaning that you have more color that’s accessible when you convert from RGB to CMYK. You’re going to get a larger color gamut and this is displaying graphically what the larger color gamut is with the GRACoL color profile.

03:04 It’s important to note that you can’t just choose a profile. You have to understand what profile or what specifications your printer is running to. So if you convert to a SWOP profile and you’re printing GRACoL, there’s going to different results.

03:19 So again, what I want to do here is i’m going to change the opacity of the GRACoL so you can see better how much more color is available resulting in a larger color gamut.

03:31 We’ll get this spinning here so you can look around the different colors and look at the top down and also look at the wireframe to see how much more color. There’s more volume of color for you to work with to get a better reproduction in CMYK when you convert from RGB.[/learn_more]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (12 votes, average: 4.92 out of 5)
  1. How exactly does the gamut extend past SWOP CMYK with GRACoL? What accounts for the greater range of color space?

    1. The answer is ink/paper combination. GRACoL uses a thicker ink film density and is specified on a grade 1 coated paper. The combination of higher ink densities and brighter stock will create a larger CMYK color gamut. Think of the paper as being the ‘white-point’ of your images.

      1. Well this seems to be a bit missleading does it? Why can’t SWOP also recommend a brighter stock and the same ink density? It is using a different process than SWOP? like FM Screening. I just find the claim of wider gamut confusing if it is both using the same inks.

        1. Yes, it sure is. I’m saddened that a lot of printers don’t really understand the color management process and just print to SWOP standards. SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Printing) was developed in the early seventies to aid in printing magazines with ads placed in different parts of the signature to help match color. Think of it as the lowest common denominator in terms of color reproduction. Heatset web prints on lessor grade coated stocks so it’s the method to use in proofing before a long, expensive press run. Sheetfed printing has much more control of dot integrity and is able to handle the thicker ink film. Granted presses have gotten much better, the industry still has not adopted a better print specification. Printers also don’t want to run thicker densities as ink costs will go up. A general rule-of-thumb is to use SWOP profile for web printing and GRACoL for sheetfed printing. Ask your printer first and if they don’t have their own profile, RUN!

          We print to the GRACoL spec and G7 certified for our consistency across multiple printing processes.

      2. I’ve been a graphic designer for almost 50 years. Am I correct that before the computer came into use and before presses were computer-operated, the issue of color profiles was non-existent? We know that different paper stocks are whiter or off-whiter and have varying levels of absorption, which affect the printed color result. Have started long before computers I got used to the idea that generally, there is a standard for how 100% Cyan and Magenta inks, for example, should look. Except for Toyo inks and so forth, CMYK are still basically the same colors. When I put a 30%C/40%M tint in a job, I expect it to print as this combo always has. But now comes “profiles,” which I think are ridiculous. Admittedly someone’s uncalibrated monitor will show colors differently than my calibrated or uncalibrated monitor. Still, based on the idea that magenta is magenta, I want the printed result to reflect that. Why do we need profiles? Is it only so amateurs can get what they see on their uncalibrated monitors. I wish I could understand this. When Photoshop wants to say a photo of mine in some SWOP profile I always tell it not to. I never specify any profiles and I’ve been printing through computers for 25 years and I always get in print what I perceive on my calibrated monitor. Your patience and help with my questions are much appreciated!

  2. it,s funy to know that with painting,color green is made of yellow and blue,whereas with light color yellow is made of red and green.
    sometimes i wonder why with paint and light ,the only 2 identicle basic colors are red and blue? whereas yellow and green are the opposite basic color of eachother.
    also with rgb combined you get white ,will cmy combined you get black.
    also i readed that you can create cmy from rgb and rgb from cmy,just mind blowing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Just a sec