Convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator

How to Easily Convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator

How to Easily Convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator 800 470 Nick Saporito

In this tutorial I’ll be demonstrating how to convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator. This only requires a few clicks, but some manual adjustments will need to be made after the conversion. You’ll see what I mean moving forward.

Why Convert to CMYK?

If you’ve ever designed something to be printed, your print shop will likely require a document in CMYK color format, even though most design software uses RGB format by default.

In short, RGB is a color format that is intended for use on screens and digital displays. RGB colors are generated using light. CMYK is a color format intended for print. CMYK colors are generated using ink.

Ink cannot generate as many colors as light can, so it’s common for RGB documents to be using colors that are not within the range of what can actually be printed. This is why your print shop will decline to print your document if it’s in RGB format. This is a common problem for us Inkscape users.

When designing for print, you should always start out in CMYK mode. If you’ve already created your design then you’ll need to switch it from RGB to CMYK.

Convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator

To convert your RGB document to CMYK using Adobe Illustrator, simply navigate to File -> Document Color Mode and select CMYK Color. This will change the color format of your document and restrict it to shades that are exclusively within the CMYK gamut.

The following is just a written overview. Please watch the video tutorial below if these instructions are unclear and/or you want more step-by-step instructions.

To demonstrate this process I’ll be using the following design as an example. It’s just a depiction of some standard colors.

Example document

You can confirm that this document is indeed using the RGB color format as indicated in the thumbnail title…

Color mode indicator

To change the color mode, simply navigate to File -> Document Color Mode and choose CMYK Color. You’ll notice the thumbnail title update, and you’ll also notice the colors of your document change as well.

Change color mode

Depending on the colors in your document, you’re going to notice that some of them change. The colors will appear dull and muddy. This is common when converting RGB to CMYK. Here’s a before and after to illustrate what I mean…

RGB to CMYK before and after

The top colors were the original RGB. The bottom colors are how they look once converted to CMYK.

The colors on the bottom look noticeably worse because the original colors were out of the CMYK range (or “out of gamut” as it’s called.) Therefore it defaulted to its nearest counterpart.

To correct this you can click on each individual object and manually adjust the color so that it’s more in-line with how you intended it to look. What I like to do is open the color menu and drag the color selector to the top-right. This will bring some life back into the color, but it can also bring it out of gamut as indicated by the warning icon in the color menu…

Out of gamut warning

Simply click on that warning icon so that it defaults to the nearest color that is within the CMYK range and click OK.

Here’s how my CMYK colors look after adjusting all of them…

Adjusted colors

As you can see, they don’t quite match up with the original RGB colors, but I was able to bring them back to life.

Once you’re finished go ahead and save/export your document and you’re done! That is how you can easily convert RGB to CMYK with Illustrator! If you have any questions leave a comment below. As always, thanks for watching!

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Nick Saporito

Hi, I'm Nick— a Philadelphia-based graphic designer with over 10 years of experience. Each year millions of users learn how to use design software to express their creativity using my tutorials here and on YouTube.

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  • Nick Sloan

    Hi Nick, can you explain why RGB to CMYK conversion in Illustrator does not automatically give the closest visual match available within the CMYK gamut. Is there a way of configuring color settings to achieve this? It seems crazy if AI cannot give the most desirable outcome by default.

  • Rachel

    HI Nick! I have a question. I am currently designing a brand book for one of my clients and I’ve mostly been designing in RGB format, however in some file formats they prefer CMYK as they have a lot of print. Should I individually edit and select these colour for a brighter CMYK variation, or should I just use the current brand colour used in the brand colour picker in illustrator which shows us both RGB and CMYK?

  • Pink

    I have a question: Is it okay to convert RGB file to CMYK by simply drag the RGB file to CMYK template?
    The reason I’m asking because my designer already made a template for me in CMYK file. If I convert the RGB file and drag it to that I will work twice.

    • Nick

      If I remember correctly, yes, that can be done. Anything you paste into your CMYK document will automatically be converted to CMYK, even if it’s an RGB object that you’ve copied.

  • Nicole

    Thanks for all your help. Question, I originally designed my logo in RGB and once I transfer it to CMYK the colors look dull and washed out. What is the simplest and safest way to adjust the colors to appear a bit more brighter and hopefully get it to look as close to the original RGB as possible??

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