Four Color Models You Need To Know - When To Use Them And Why

Have you ever wondered what the numbers representing colors mean?  It can be confusing.  Sometimes a color would be represented as #ffa500, the next RGB (255, 165, 0), and the next CMYK (0.00, 0.35, 1.00, 0.00) and all representing the same color.  This is because they are in different color models

Knowing when to use the right color model is essential in making sure your brands colors come off correctly in different formats.  Consistency is key in branding.  You wouldn’t want your logo to look one color on your website and then when printed it looks completely different because you did not use the right color model.

For new graphic designer and people with no graphic design experience, it can be confusing to know when and why to choose a color model.  

4 Color Models You Need To Know- When To Use Them And Why - RGB, CMYK, HEX, PMS - Nakia Jones Creative BY NAKIA JONES

So What Is a Color Model

There are several color models systems that are made up of a range of colors based on a mixture of primary colors. Basically a color model is a way to define a color.  You pick which color model to use based on which format your images will be viewed (i.e. website, printed, screens, etc.)

There are four main color models:

·        RGB (Red, Green, Blue)

·        CMYX (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)

·        HEX (Hexadecimal)

·        PMS (Pantone Matching System)

Additive Color Models vs Subtractive Color Models

Additive color is color created by mixing a number of different light colors, with red, green, and blue being the primary colors.  This is often used for displays and monitors. 

Subtractive color is color created by the mixing of colors such as paint or through the printing process.   


The RGB model stands for red, green, and blue.  It is represented in the format of RGB (47, 93, 12), each representing the percentage of each color used.  RGB codes range between any number between 0 and 255 for each red, green, and blue.  To get black, each number would have to be at 0.  To get white each number would have to be at 255.  RGB is used for screens and devices, Examples include: for input devices; TV and video cameras, image scanners, video games, and digital cameras.  And for output devices: TV sets, computer and mobile phone displays, video projectors, multicolor LED displays, and large screens such as Jumbo Tron.  RGB is an additive color model.


The CMYK model stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black.  It is represented in the format of CMYK (100, 98, 10, 11), each representing the percentage of each color used.  CMYK is used for print work.  Home printing systems use CMYK and professional services almost solely request for files to be submitted in CMYK format.  It is a subtractive color model using a combination of secondary colors to make up the code.


HEX stands for hexadecimal and is also known as web colors.  They are used in displaying colors in web pages.  HEX is used for websites and coding.  It is represented in the format of #CC9402.  HEX is a numerical representation of RGB to be easily utilized in coding.


PMS stands for Pantone Matching System.  It is the most widely used color matching system and the one that most printers understand.  PMS is used to make sure printed colors come out the same way.  It ensures that your color would look the same on different textures and coated papers.  This is important for brand consistency.  A majority of the printed material in the world is produced using the CMYK model, however, certain Pantone colors cannot be reproduced using CMYK, which separates Pantone from CMYK.

The Importance of Knowing When to Use Each Model

It is important to use the right color model so that your brand colors are consistent through all formats.  You should create a color guide for your business that lists the different codes for your brand colors in each mode to easily direct your business in making color decisions.

There are several other color models including; HSV, HSL, HSB, CIE, and Munsell but the above models and systems are the most widely used. 

The Bloom Theory

Do you currently use the right color models?  If not how has it affected the consistency of your branding?