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Color of ink, CMYK. Four ink splats in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black colors.

What is CMYK?

Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (or Key) are the four colors of ink used in four-color printing.

CMYK is a subtractive model.  Black (no light) is achieved by the presence of all inks.

CMYK, subtractive model. Ink splats overlaying each other to create black in the center. Ink absorbs light.

Cyan, magenta, and yellow are the primary colors used in color printing.

  1. Cyan: Cyan pigment absorbs red light while reflecting blue and green wavelengths. When cyan pigments are applied or mixed, they subtract red light from the incident white light, resulting in the perception of cyan color.
  2. Magenta: Magenta pigment absorbs green light while reflecting blue and red wavelengths. When magenta pigments are used, they subtract green light, leading to the perception of magenta color.
  3. Yellow: Yellow pigment absorbs blue light and reflects red and green wavelengths. When yellow pigments are employed, they subtract blue light, resulting in the perception of yellow color.
  4. Mixing Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow: By combining different amounts of cyan, magenta, and yellow pigments, a wide spectrum of colors can be achieved. For example, mixing cyan and magenta pigments subtracts red and green light, resulting in blue color perception. Mixing cyan and yellow pigments subtracts red and blue light, creating green color perception. And combining magenta and yellow pigments subtracts green and blue light, leading to red color perception.
  5. Black: Black pigment is added to produce a full color gamut because full amounts of cyan, magenta, and yellow added together create a muddy brown, not dense black.


four-color process
offset printing
subtractive model