InDesign RGB to CMYK Conversion: No Photoshop Required

converting RGB to CMYK

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This VIDEO tutorial will show you how to automatically convert RGB to CMYK in InDesign, without the use of Photoshop.

Running a color managed workflow has it’s benefits. One of which is having InDesign RGB to CMYK conversions. It’s not necessary to have multiple files for the same image.

Imagine the time savings and hard disk space!

The important part to remember is to have tagged RGB images to start with. Color management works on the principle of ‘input’ to ‘output’ ICC profiles. If an image does not have a profile attached, the ACE (Adobe Color Engine) will not understand how to re-map the color conversion from RGB to CMYK.

These settings will ensure print-ready PDFs for faster turnaround times and no output errors in prepress. Compression settings will ensure for quick upload times to your printer.

Note: Use this FREE Photoshop Hi-Def Color Action Script and automate your color processing with breath-taking Hi-Def images!

How much time will this save you? Please leave your comment below…

Video Transcript:
Hi. This is Rick Rys from

00:04 Today’s tutorial Never Convert to CMYK is a cool little export option out of Indesign CS that will eliminate the need to ever convert RGB to CMYK.

00:15 This cool little RGB workflow will eliminate a lot of disk space and save you a lot of time along with a lot of confusion regarding having two files of the same image.

00:27 You can see we have an image here that’s created in Indesign CS it consists of an RGB bitmap image, you can see the color space is RGB, and it is tagged with the Adobe RGB color profile.

00:42 We also have a CMYK Adobe Illustrator image which is a vector graphic.

00:50 It’s important to note that the image is created with different values of gray. This is important because these color values of gray are built with black only and we want to make sure we do not re-separate this into a four color gray.

01:06 We also have a series of color swatches that are placed as Pantone colors. Also, take note that we are using the LAB values of these colors.

01:21 So, once we are ready to go to press, we’re going to do a simple export option out of Indesign CS.

01:30 We’re going to utilize the Adobe PDF X-4 standard. Once we select PDF X-4, we’re going to save our file and we’ll go into the export Adobe PDF presets and select X-4; change the compatibility to PDF 1.7 standard; select our page and then go through the individual tabs here.

02:00 Under compression, we want to keep these values the same. We’re going to downsample to 300 pixels per inch when our image is greater than 450 pixels per inch. This will allow for a much faster upload to the color server at

02:18 Under marks and bleeds, two things – select our crop marks and change our bleed to .125″ top and bottom, inside and outside

02:29 The output tab is the most critical. This is where color conversion is going to take place and convert RGB to CMYK.

02:39 We want to focus on the color conversion pull-down menu. We want to select “Convert to Destination” and “preserve numbers”. The preserve numbers will maintain any native CMYK data within the document.

02:53 This is important for our placed Adobe Illustrator image where we want to maintain our gray values with just black ink only. Select “preserve numbers” and our destination this is where we’re going to convert to CMYK.

03:08 We want to make sure that we select coated GRAcOL 2006 color profile. The GRAcOL profile is the largest CMYK color gamut for sheetfed printing.

03:21 Under profile inclusion policy we want to make sure we include the destination profile in case we have to repurpose this or convert this to another press.

03:33 Under ink manager you’ll notice that we have our CMYK information here and also all of our placed Pantone color swatches. What we want to do to make sure is that we check the all spots to process. You’ll notice that it converted these into CMYK and more importantly, make sure that we select the use standard LAB values for spots.

04:00 This is important because this will use the LAB color data value for each
of those Pantone colors for a much more accurate conversion into CMYK.

04:13 Once we select OK, then we simply export the file. Once we export our file, we’re going to open it up into Acrobat and you’ll notice that our file is here and we’re going to do a quick little preflight. We’re going to go into the advanced tab, Print Production and select Output Preview.

04:40 You’ll notice a little output preview window will open up. Notice that all are images have now been converted to CMYK! So we could simply go through the process and deselect our individual colors and build our document: black, yellow, magenta, cyan for our CMYK values.

04:59 As we mouse over, you’ll notice that we are now in the CMYK color space and all of our Pantone colors have been converted to CMYK. More importantly, when we get down to our placed Illustrator graphic, you’ll notice here that the gray is made up of black ink only. You’ll notice that up here, once I thumbed over the sixty percent screen of black, this was maintained by using the preserve numbers value for the convert to destination. This did not re-separate it into four colors.

05:33 The important part about this it saves a lot of time as far as balancing color on press and also eliminating any registration issues on press having to line up four colors for just one color gray.

05:47 Well, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Look back for more tutorials in the future.

Have a good day!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (44 votes, average: 4.95 out of 5)
  1. Hi Rick, I have just stumbled onto your site, I have found it very informative. I have been in design since 1980, I have done my own drum scanning outputting my own 4 colour films in the past, oconverted to macs and the digital process in 2000. I no longer do films we have now a Roland large format printer, my business is doing well, However we are having problems printing jobs that have digital photographs in them. The problem is in shadow areas, they appear to have under colour removal and gir applied, which on the screen they look fine but when printed look un natural, the darkest areas, wher you would expect, full colour saturation with in reason, print lighter thus creating strange effect. I have tried everything to get over the problem, is it a print profile issue or is it a rob to cmyk conversion issue. How can I send you a photo of my problem? Thanking you in anticipation Rod

  2. 2 of 6 people found the foloiwlng review helpful Poor quality, February 24, 2012Bya0 This review is from: Considering this is a book for designers and illustrators the quality of the images is terrible. All images are pixelated and painful to look at.Help other customers find the most helpful reviewsa0Was this review helpful to you?a0 | a0

  3. You’re absolutely right. People who don’t udtnrseand that what they see on a computer screen (RGB red, bule and green mixed to try to emulate all colors) isn’t the same as the CMYK that gets printed.

  4. What version of Adobe Acrobat should have?
    I have the Acrobat Pro and doesn’t have the same menu on the top, I don’t have the “Advance” option to check the details about the pdf, such as conversion RGB to CMYK.

    Please advise,

  5. This is great – thanks for making it such an easy and clear tutorial. I’ve just come across your site and will definitely need to do some exploring now!! Thanks again.

  6. I created an InDesign document (4 pages) that has various shapes that are different colors (yellow, green, etc.). The shapes are InDesign shapes (not imported graphics). We originally created the document to be exported as a PDF and shared online. The green shape color we used (a neon green) looks fine in RGB. However, when we try to export the document to CMYK (we decided that we need to be able to print the document on a CMYK printer also) the neon green color turns into a dark, forest green color. I’m pretty new to InDesign and I’m not sure how to replicate the neon RGB green to look the same in CMYK. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.

  7. THANKS so much! I am putting together a kids’ book in InDesign and most of the images were done in RGB on my Mac.

    This will help a lot ss I move toward the set up for publishing stage 🙂

    Very informative and clearly explained!


    1. This is really useful, but I’m unsure on one point. Do RGB tifs placed in InDesign need to be embedded to undergo conversion to CMYK at pdf export? If the images are linked only when placed (as is normal), do the linked files also undergo conversion to CMYK when the pdf is exported? Obviously, I’m worried that they stay in RGB when my printing press wants CMYK files.


  8. hi there how can i tell if my rgb JPG is tagged or not (sorry excuse my stupidity!)when i go into info im not quite sure what should show up? can is end an example pic maybe?

    it says ‘no properties’ in properties and rgb 8 bit, cmyk 8 bit

    many thanks this conversion technique would be just great!

  9. Hey Rick, thank you for the great tutorial. I’ve been a bit confused about the CMYK printing process for the last few months. I used to make posters at my friends studio and our colors always turned out great and now I’m trying to figure out why the color is washed out in my latest prints. I like to create in RGB since it seems like the colors are way more vivid and accurate. Question 1: If I’m proofing on a PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II Printer, do I need to install a color profile from the commercial printer I am using. Question 2: If I am printing on the PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II, can I just leave it in RGB? Any other suggestions appreciated, thanks.

    1. Hi Eric!

      Ah, the challenge that most people have. I will simplify this as best I can for you and other creatives with the same challenge.

      The colors will never be exact as we are dealing with light directed at our eyes (additive color theory), versus light reflecting off a substrate (subtractive color theory). With that being said, there are limitations. However, using sound color management processes, we can get a close visual match with good science.

      To answer both questions with one answer, you need two profiles. One for your printer (PIXMA) using the ink/substrate combination you want to proof on. The second profile would be from your commercial printer with their ink/substrate combination.

      Make sure you are tagging your images with an RGB profile so the software understands what the ‘source’ color should be.

      Your tagged RGB file will convert to PIXMA profile and then convert to printer (CMYK) profile for your final printed proof, essentially jumping in and out of two color profiles. LAB color space makes this possible. This is of course is if your printer has a CMYK profile and they replicate it everyday. I haven’t scene this practice done well.

      You may want to read this post for more info:

      We now offer our printing available online. You can view posters here:

      Let me know if this helps you out and if you want me to go in-depth further.

      Btw, thanks for the kind words!


  10. Hey rick so I am going to convert about 100 pages from pdf-cmyk, but need to crop them down t0 5×5, so do I need to mess with the compression settings?

    I noticed you altered them but do I do exactly as you did for those compression settings even with a CROP?

  11. Hi Rick,

    I’ve followed all the steps till 4:11. But my checkbox All Spots to Process is grayed out. I cannot check it. You know what might be the problem?

  12. Thanks for your input/comment. The Adobe Color Engine is still responsible for the color conversion. If the settings are done correctly, there should be no difference in the conversion from InDesign to manually converting in Photoshop. I would love to hear/see your results and discuss further…

  13. Just because you can convert colors in InDesign doesn’t mean you should. I find it best to change ID color settings to “Emulate Adobe InDesign 2.0 CMS OFF” and manually convert all RGB to CMYK links in Photoshop.
    I’ve done extensive testing and this is really the only way to get an accurate RGB to CMYK conversion. The method described in the video provides too much of a loss in accuracy.

    Try it yourself. Export both methods and see the color difference between files.

  14. Images that have been assigned with RGB profiles. The two most common are sRGB and Adobe RGB. RGB is a device dependent color space, meaning that RGB images will look different from monitor-to-monitor. By ‘tagging’ the image with a profile, you are communicating to the next device how the image should appear onscreen. This also communicates to the PDF Color Engine how to convert the image to CMYK. This is the basis of how color management works effectively.

  15. I always used tagged RGB files and do my conversion to CMYK when exporting the PDF file for printing on press. You can use this workflow, this Video, as the export for PDF is the same interface in Illustrator. Make sure that you use the correct CMYK profile according to your output device. The printing that I do for clients is based on the GRACoL CMYK color specification.

    Does this answer your question?

  16. keepitgoing123

    hi, i am making printing designs in illustrator cs5, and i use RGB photos in that, so what is the better way to have the best results in the output printing regarding the photos? do i have to keep them in the same format(RGB) or convert them before using them in the illustrator file?

  17. hi. I designed something in photoshop..i would like to convert it to cmyk without losing the color intensity. Is this possible for a psd file?

  18. Yes Holly. Inside your InDesign document, make sure your Pantone colors are specified as Spot under Color Type menu bar in Swatch Options. Also make sure All Spots to Process button is de-selected in Ink Manager while exporting to PDF. You can view this at 3:40 in the video…Your Pantone colors inside Ink Manager will display with the ‘Spot’ icon next to the Pantone color.

    Let me know if you have other concerns…

  19. Holly Torgersen

    Thanks so much for this great video! I have a brochure document with rgb coloured images and the brochure also uses Pantone colours throughout. I want to convert to CMYK for print, but I need to make sure that the Pantone colours do not change to CMYK (needs to keep with corporate branding). Do you know how to do this?

  20. That is a great question! The answer is this will work perfectly for that. The kicker is that the RGB images need to have a profile assigned to them so the ACE (adobe color engine) will understand how to convert the color to your designated CMYK profile you selected in Color Conversion @ 2:30. Make sure you have Preserve Numbers selected as this will not effect the images already in CMYK. Does this make sense? Let me know how this works for you; life’s too short to print poor color…

  21. angelica portilla

    I have a product catalog I worked on and when I packaged the file I noticed that some of the placed images (tiffs) use RGB and some use CMYK, would this work in this instance? Or would I have to go into photoshop and convert each image individually?

  22. Although the video is demonstrating a ‘placed’ Illustrator vector image, the ‘Preserve Numbers’ function applies also to native InDesign elements built in CMYK, including Black type/copy.

  23. It appears you did not use the ‘Preserve Numbers’ setting under ‘Color Conversion’ drop-down menu shown at 2:38

    The result of using ‘Preserve Numbers’ is demonstrated at 5:09 with single color black values.

    Please let me know if this does not work for you and what your system configuration is…

  24. It appears you did not use the ‘Preserve Numbers’ setting under ‘Color Conversion’ drop-down menu shown at 2:38

    The result of using ‘Preserve Numbers’ is demonstrated at 5:09 with single color black values.

    Please let me know if this does not work for you and what your system configuration is…

  25. This setting will convert your 100% k from indesign into cmyk black in the resulting PDF file – not good

  26. WOW! Great information. Thank You for sharing your knowledge, you wouldn’t happen to have a PDF print out on this would you?

  27. Great info. Thank you for sharing.
    However, after trying 3 times, making sure “convert to destination”
    and “preserve numbers” are selected, on the pdf Output preview,
    all the black copy in indd and black logos from ai convert to CMYK
    instead of staying only black. I do not know what to do…
    Please advise me on a solution.

  28. shayherstyler

    thank u for sharing this information. it is a realy important issue and most people are not aware to that.

  29. i hope they didn’t use the term ‘dpi’! yes, i can help you. please email me directly rick(at)hidefcolor(dot)com with complete specs for your book. are you looking for hardcover smyth-sewn book?

  30. … My (US)printer does not have a CMYK profile, they said to check the dpi after conversion then if over 300 send them a few pics and they will review them. Any reasonably priced printers you can recommend? photography book 150 pages hardcover 500-1000 copies? My mom has connections in China so I am getting a quote from a reliable source there as well, but as you can imagine there is a bit of guesswork with translation and the middleman is not a printer…

  31. ‘convert to profile’ is near the bottom of the ‘edit’ menu in Photoshop. consult with your printer on what CMYK color profile they print to. if they do not have their own CMYK profile, you might want to reconsider them. most printers will print to the SWOP CMYK color profile. however, SWOP is a small gamut compared to other profiles. it can be quite tricky dealing with profiles, but it is a science and good science is repeatable and expectations are met. does this help you?

  32. – Where can I find “convert to profile”? I followed this video and my pics looks a bit blurry and dull, so I’m planning to print on my home computer which uses 4 inks to see if it looks dull if so.. I need to convert 200 images to CMYK and attempt to keep the quality. The printer who will be making the book is sheet fed. Any advice? should I just leave it in RGB to the printer rather than send crap CMYK and hope their printer fixes it? I will be getting a sample before final

  33. yes. keep in mind that the conversion to CMYK will occur when you export your indesign document to PDF. this will preserve your indesign document, with RGB images, for other forms of media such as digital magazines and other interactive apps. the CMYK images will be inside your PDF that is ready for prepress. does this answer your concern?

  34. My photos are in RGB, should I finish everything in indesign (100 pages) then go back and do this at the end? thank you.. Converting to cmyk in photoshot loses a bit of color so I look forward to trying this

  35. Depending on your print job specs, your printer will either use SWOP or GRACoL print specifications. If you’re printing on a sheetfed press, hopefully your printer will print to the GRACoL specification as SWOP is geared toward heatset web printing.
    Let me know if you need further information….

  36. Never use ‘Mode’ change to convert your images to CMYK. You will obtain the best color re-mapping by using ‘Convert to Profile’. There is no generic CMYK color space and CMYK is a device dependent color space – meaning each paper/ink/device will have its own unique CMYK color gamut. Your printer is converting to CMYK based on their profiles that they have built using a specific paper/ink/press configuration. It is best practice to work in RGB and convert to the proper CMYK profile last.

  37. If any one can answer this please do: I do a lot of artwork and printing in CS4 and I do all my work in RGB for vividness… here is my question: When I mode shift to CMYK in Adobe it always looks like crap and prints like crap… BUT when I leave it in RGB and take it to the printing company, (and it is obviously a CMYK printer) the PRINTED result looks very close to my RGB!!! So they obviously have a more sophisticated converter…where can I find this because adobe’s is obviously inferior!

  38. Each CMYK color profile is compiled with different values of gray component replacement (GCR). GCR will determine how much black is used in neutral/gray areas of your page, including type. Not seeing your PDF file it’s hard for me to determine what the problem is that you have. Make sure you look in color picker to determine what the ‘source’ color is of these objects that you can’t get onto the black plate by themselves. It seems as if these objects are in RGB possibly…

  39. Thanks for your quick reply but I did select “preserve numbers” and all your other steps. I then tried convert to destination without preserving numbers with US Web Coat and it succeeded in isolating most of the black on to one plate. I’m checking w/ the printer now to see if it worked. If it did this is one heck of a great solution.

    It’s for a newspaper if that makes a diff.

  40. You must not have selected “preserve numbers'” under color conversion menu. See 2:42 into video. Preserve numbers will not separate ‘native’ colors that were created in InDesign, such as black type. Write me back if you have any other challenges with this color workflow…

  41. i’m not exactly sure I understand your question. The takeaway is that if you run a color managed workflow (calibrated monitor, tagged RGB images) you can truly rely on a WYSIWYG workflow. Keep in mind that when setting ‘conversion’ tab in PDF, you are converting all color – placed RGB, spot colors, etc – into the printing condition that is selected by the output profile. Most designers I’ve spoken to do not care about how the images are converted to CMYK as long as color matches.

  42. Yes, with this method you can not have much control on how the RGB to CMYK conversion was made on a photo, (in this case, the ballon) I mean, may be you need the photo with no black at all, or less Cyan, or less magenta, etc, so how to handle with this situation? Thanks for any response

  43. Thanks for the nice comment on the RGB to CMYK video. Share it with your friends and save them some time! Are there any other topics you would like to see discussed? Thanks!

  44. Excelente, muy bien explicado, gracias por compartirlo
    Excellent, very well explained, thanks for sharing

  45. The magazine complain that my ad is in RGB collor. Then I found your video. It is very helpful but I can’t check the option “All Spots to Process” . It is in light gray. I just can check “Use Standard Lab Value for Spot” (Ink Manage option). Do you know why can’t I do it? Thank you so much!

  46. The magazine complain that my ad is in RGB collor. Then I found your video. It is very helpful but I can’t check the option “All Spots to Process” . It is in light gray. I just can check “Use Standard Lab Value for Spot” (Ink Manage option). Do you know why can’t I do it? Thank you so much!

  47. thanks for the comment. i’m very pleased i was happy to save you so much time in not having to convert your images to cmyk. let me know what types of video tutorials you would like to see in the future…thanks!

  48. This was a great saver. I had to output a 1000 image catalog and most images where RGB. doing them one by one in photoshop was my last option. you’ve saved me quite a few hours (or days)

  49. Just what I needed as I’m exporting a book to be printed. Question, my imahes are JPG and as I check the links it shows the ICC profile as Document RGB. Everything came out of Photoshop CS5, Should I resave them out of PS as AdomeRGB1998?

    Thanks for the great video.

    PS. I was previously exporting not as PDF X-4: 2008, but as Press Quality selection. Can you describe the difference?


    1. Hi Max,

      Thanks for the comments.

      You do not have to re-save your images out of Photoshop CS5. The profile ‘Document RGB’ means that the jpeg images have been assigned to your current working space that is specified in ‘Color Settings’ under the ‘Edit’ menu. Double check which working space you have selected in ‘Color Settings’ and the PDF output will use that RGB color space as it’s source profile and convert to CMYK with the specified profile you select in ‘Convert to’.

      PDF X-4 is a certification process that complies to a standard for prepress and will not give you issues when rasterizing in prep. There is not that much difference, but it is better to follow these guidelines. You will notice that if you select ‘Press Quality’, you can select PDF X-4 under ‘Standard’ menu. Notice also that you can embed the output profile you selected and there are fields to embed custom notes to the next chain in your print production.

      Let me know if you have more questions regarding which RGB working space to use!

  50. Hi Rick, Thank you for the helpful video: Never Convert RGB to CMYK Again. Could this method or something similar work for Adobe InDesign CS3? I’m creating a series of note cards w/ my photographs and would really like to eliminate converting all my images from the Adobe RGB 1998 color space to CMYK in Photoshop if possible because the colors are so different. My images are inherently vibrant & converting to CMYK in Photoshop makes them look very dull.

    If not, can you please let me know the best workflow to follow to convert from RGB to CMYK so the colors end up being the most similar to the Adobe RGB 1998 color space.

    Thanks so much for your help.

    1. Gail, thanks for the nice comment.

      It’s important to understand the differences between RGB and CMYK, let alone all the different profiles for both color spaces.

      RGB (additive color) is made from combining red, green and blue light onto a dark surface. Since we are actually illuminating light, the color is inherently brighter than CMYK. CMYK (subtractive color) is created by reflecting light off a substrate and filtered by ink/pigment back to our eye. Depending on your CMYK output device, inks/pigments vary greatly, therefore each device should be profiled to obtain the color gamut of what each device is capable of producing. There is no universal CMYK. It is critical to have the correct output profile for the device you want to print to.

      The process of converting RGB to CMYK is known as tonal compression and that is done by re-mapping the colors from their respective color profiles. I have done a video on the science of converting RGB to CMYK, check it out. Notice how much color needs to be compromised and why having a good CMYK printer makes a big difference!

      This workflow should work fine in InDesign CS3. However, if you encounter an issue, you can convert to CMYK in Photoshop and keep those images in a separate folder labeled ‘CMYK’. Consult with your printer on what color profile they print to. If they tell you they don’t have one or just say ‘convert to cmyk’, run away; you will never get the color you are expecting. Most commercial printers print to GRACoL or SWOP specifications. Here’s a video showing the differences between GRACoL and SWOP CMYK color profiles.

      Let me know how things go for you and leave a comment if I can further assist you…

  51. Hi Rick,
    This is the best video I have found on the conversion. I have followed the instructions using ID to generate the pdf, and now I can look at my photographs on my calibrated monitor and read their CMYK values. The converted images look terrific! However: are these photographs appearing accurately on my monitor? Onscreen the gamut is wider than on paper, and in addition there is no way I can see to allow for the dimming that comes from paper white, the fifth color as you call it. The only way I know to proof paper white is to use photoshop for custom proofing. How can I see accurately the tonal compression in my photographs I have made using your method?
    And second, if I use GRACoL2006_CoatedLv2.icc, profile in the conversion, will the specific printing press at the plant be able to produce that gamut? Is a special press required? I am asking the company that same question, and requesting a profile.
    many thanks for explaining this complex process so clearly,

    1. Let’s simplify things a bit.

      First, what software/hardware did you use to calibrate your monitor? A good colorimeter will calibrate and build a color profile of your monitor. This profile will them be placed in your system library. Calibrate and profiling are different from each other. Good color profiling software will allow you to set the ‘white point’ and ‘luminance’ of your display. I prefer to set my ‘white point’ to 5500k – in the middle between the European standard (6500k) and the American standard of (5000k). The luminance setting I set at 120 candelas. The luminance setting of 120 will dimm down your monitor to reflect a bright number one coated sheet of paper.

      In regards to soft-proofing your images, you can open your newly created PDF in Adobe Acrobat X. Once your PDF is displayed, click on Tools/Print Production/Output Preview. Once the Output Preview window opens, select the GRACoL2006_CoatedLv2.icc color profile from the Simulation Profile drop down menu. This will provide you with a soft proof of the color you will get on press, depending on wether the printer you are using uses the GRACoL color gamut. This GRACoL color profile will also take into consideration the paper white that you were questioning. It’s important to note that the output color profile, in this case GRACoL, is a combination of the CMYK inks and the paper stock that will be used. It’s almost impossible to make profiles for every paper stock a printer may use. With that being said, there is a compromise on paper white.

      Make sure your printer has their own color profile (which they can provide to you) or that they print to GRACoL color standard/gamut. Otherwise you will be chasing your tail and very unhappy with color quality. In terms of a specific printing press, that is not necessary if you work with a G7 certified printer. G7 certified printers use calibration process that relies on neutral print density curves across multiple presses. The key with G7 is that gray balance is consistent across multiple presses. G stands for gray and 7 refers to red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow and black colors.

      Keep me up to date with how things go for you. You’re in a big boat with a lot of other creatives when it comes to managing great color output.

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