CMYK And RGB? What’s That Willis?


Here’s how a fully coloured image breaks down in CMYK mode. Click on image for larger view. Notice that on each color, the other colors are switched off except black (K)? These are the four layers the printer will print all on top of each other to create the image.

It’s Orc Mischief, that’s what it is! This is often a very confusing question for those who are preparing their work for the printers and even more so if they have designed their artworks in RGB mode. Read on and you’ll see why.

CMYK mode stands for Cyan (bluish-green), Magenta (purplish-red), Yellow and Key (Black), the four printer ink colours found in printers, both in home and in professional print houses. Blue, red and yellow being primary colours of course make up every other colour you can think of and for the most part we can see that Cyan and Magenta are close to blue and red respectively. So these three colours along with black make up all the colours you see in magazines, cereal boxes, computer game packaging, Tarot cards, in fact anything you see out there in the printed world. You guessed it, CMYK mode is the mode of choice if you want to eventually print your artwork professionally.

Often you can see CMYK test strips on the backs of newspapers, magazines and on the underside of drinks cartons.

RGB mode, on the other hand, stands for Red Green Blue, as these are the colours that make up the imagery you see on television screens, computer screens and so on. Remember when you were a kid and sat so close to the tv that the “black” areas on screen were actually dark hues of blues, red etc? In this case the blacks are made up of colour. As you may have guessed, RGB is more suitable for web design, web banners etc because those are designed with the internet in mind only and therefore actual printing is not nessesary.


RGB mode is mainly used for screens. Remember sitting too close to the TV as a kid and seeing this? Everything on TV is comprised of red, green and blue.

The real reason that it is important to know the difference between CMYK and RGB is to avoid dissappointment. Printed colors on a piece of paper or card are naturally going to appear more dull than computer screen colors because screen colors are illuminated by light. Paper, of course, is not and i guess that is the real main difference. If you printed out an image created in RGB mode you’re likely to find that the image is coming out a lot more dull than it looks on screen. To avoid dissappointment then you’ll want to create your images in CMYK mode first. The colour choice is a bit more limited. Some find it more limiting than others but i’ve been creating all of my images in CMYK mode for years so it doesn’t bother me. If you really must,  you can create your images in RGB mode but keep in mind that what you see on screen may not exactly be what you get. Also, it’s possible you may be asked to convert them to CMYK depending on what type of printer you plan on using.

My general rule of thumb is to create artworks as TIFF* CMYK files at 300 PPI and A3 in size. If printing Tarot cards is all you plan on doing, A3 size isn’t nessesary and would be a bit overkill. I create A3 sized work for two reasons; i’m used to doing detailed work at that size and the other reason is that i may at some point release poster sized prints. Saving your work as an A4 size may well be enough for your needs.

From my mid teens up until now i’ve read all sorts of articles explaining the importance of creating your artworks in a CMYK *TIFF format with a 300 *PPI. While initially my interest was in preparing images for comic book printing, the same rule applies to all printed media. This rule, however was set up with big print runs in mind, say for example an order of 5000 pieces. If i remember correctly, when Schiffer published our Simply Deep Tarot they initially printed off a few thousand copies or more. I sent off the images as CMYK TIFF files at 300 PPI on a keydrive, dropped it into Fedex in Belfast and it was sent on it’s merry way to the U.S. I have no idea what the print run is generally among Tarot publishers but i’m pretty sure these publishers will be happy accepting your files in the way i have described. It is always best to ask ahead of time though if possible.

Your main artwork should be saved as a CMYK but if you need to, copy that file but this time save it as RGB,



RGB mode has one less channel. Black is made up of a combination of Red, Green and Blue.

POD printers seem to be another thing entirely. POD printers (Print on Demand) seem to always require RGB mode files in a jpg format, the same kind of format that social media sites like Facebook, Twitter etc seem to accept. The reason behind this i am not sure about but i can only guess that since a lot of POD sites are hooked up to Facebook and various photo sharing sites to encourage you to put your personal home photos and family memories onto personalized items, that their machines are set up around that idea. POD sites seem to mainly deal with digital photograph uploads, and since digital photos are already formatted nowadays as high resolution RGB mode jpgs, it only serves to complicates matters if you expect your main customer base (those uploading family photos etc) to convert their images to a CMYK mode tiff file.

So what you would do is copy your original CMYK version image and convert the copied version to RGB mode, and when you are about to save it, rather than save as tiff you will save your file in a jpg format. You always want to keep your original file because your original tiff is in a lossless format. The file format known as jpg is not, and over time loses it’s crispness i suppose. I’ve never noticed that to be the case all that much but i guess this is over a period of years possibly. In any case, POD printers seem to require something different from your files.

The following is an explanation of some of the jargon I’ve used in this blog.


There is some confusion to this day, often promulgated by accident, that when creating files we should make sure they are 300 DPI (dots per inch). Dots Per Inch actually applies to the final print process and has nothing to do with the creation of the file itself. Instead what we need to make sure of is that the file is detailed enough to make it worth printing at 300 DPI (whether you or another printer plan on printing it). Everything i’ve read states that the professional print standard is 300ppi. This is used by professional photographers and any time a photo is printed in a magazine or other print publication. That’s what we need.

On the other hand, for web images like banners etc, 72 PPI is generally recommended as web images, as mentioned earlier, are not intended for print. In their case the 72 PPI is just a rule of how detailed it will look for on screen purposes. 72 PPI is more than enough for onscreen viewing.


DPI means dots per inch and it dictates how detailed your print is going to be assuming you have followed the 300ppi rule as written about above. 300 DPI is recognised as the standard number of dots to fill a square inch of artwork, but the more dots per inch you have the more detailed your print is going to be. 300 DPI, it is generally agreed, is detailed enough to give a good print without going over board because at the end of the day anymore than that and it’s arguable if you are gaining that much more in print quality (especially for us in creating tarot sized cards)



A long list of files types you can save as.

Tiff is a file format that has always been recommended for saving artworks in. You have a choice when saving artworks to save them as anything from .png to jpg but you’ll want to save your image as a Tiff because this is a lossless format. If you’re wanting to store your artworks digitally and longterm, Tiff seems to be the best choice. It’ll take up more room on your harddrive compared to a small jpg but it is worth it. In my case i work in layers, so when i save my files as Tiff I choose the “unflattened” option. In other words my layers can be altered at a later date because I’ve decided to keep the layers seperate instead of merging them (flattening them)

Making Tarots – What is Bleed and Why Should You Care?

See how the Illustration runs off the borders? The reason is that when cut, there is no danger of any white showing

See how the Illustration runs off the borders? The reason is that when cut, there is no danger of any white showing

The first time I heard of the word Bleed when referring to artwork was in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. I was 13. I feel that 20 years and a few thousand illustrations later I can explain to you confidently what that’s all about.

When a printer refers to the bleed line, they are referring to the part where their guillotine is going to cut the printer paper or card, and the general rule of thumb is that you extend your image across the bleed line so that when the paper or card is cut, the colour runs right up to the edge and there is no white (or whatever under color you may happen to have, but it is generally white) showing.

The bleed line is usually an 1/8 of an inch in width and gives the printer a small amount of space to work with in case the paper moves during printing. Ideally the artwork will extend right through the bleed area so that when trimmed no un-printed edges occur in the final trimmed document. as you can see on the left my images extend way over the bleed line. It’s probably a bit overkill but notice that for the most part, nothing in the bleed area or beyond it is crucial to the artwork.

In the case of our Justice card for Twisted Tarot Tales on the left we see the jars with the frogs in them. The jar on the right cuts off. Items can be moved in further if you wish, but in this image I didn’t want to overcrowd the scene so most of the jar will be cut off. This is something to keep in mind when designing your illustrations. Even if you are planning on having borders on your Tarot cards, and therefore the actual illustration will not be connecting with the cut line itself, I still recommend keeping the bleed line in mind in your initial images in the event that you’d like to release a borderless version. It is possible to extend / expand your illustration at a later date to accommodate the bleed line but I recommend planning it out from the start.

Image trimmed to the correct size

Now look at the Image on the left. It shows our Justice card and what it would look like if it were measured to the correct size of the trim line but no more. At first this looks ok, it is the correct size, no more no less. What’s the problem right? Well, there would be no problem if every single printing of this image on the printing press was precise, but at the end of the day there is always the chance for error in printing, especially if you’re printing off thousands as it stands to reason that the more prints you have the higher number of slight errors you will have overall. The idea is to keep the errors minor, which is why you extend your artwork across the cut line.

Now, let us examine what happens if the print slides even a little. Below right we see again the what-is-bleed-3image. It is the same image as the one above, the exact measurements that cut off right beside the trim line. This example is going on the assumption that we feel we do not need to extend our image across the bleed line. Let’s say that after a few hundred prints of this particular card being printed, the printing plate decides to slide. If we’re talking millimetres we won’t fret too much but anything more and we can see the obvious problem. Can you see that not only part of your original image (that you wanted kept) is going to be trimmed off on the left, but you are left with an unflattering white area on the right and bottom (assuming of course that the plate slides a little to the top left, but it can go anywhere). This illustration is a bit on the extreme side as most printing machines, that i am aware of, won’t make such a jump, but we want to make sure that even if it did, there wouldn’t be much of a problem.

what-is-bleed-4And finally we see to the left what your finished card might look like if it were trimmed according to the bleed lines. I’ve put it on a black background so that you can see the white lines. Imagine this, along with the rest of your 77 other cards in the deck going out to your customers. Depending on whether you post your Tarots directly to your customers or whether you have them in hand first (we’ve now taken to having our printer post directly to our customers to cut down on customer costs), ideally you do not want any returns on your Tarots due to printing errors that could be avoided on your end. Some customers may overlook a slight error or two but naturally you’ll want to give them your very best.

Hopefully if you were not aware of the importance of creating a bleed in your artworks before you will be now. It involves some planning and understanding that everything drawn outside of the bleed area will be lost. With this in mind you’ll want to concentrate on the imagery inside the bleed area with some slight details of the image on the part that will be cut off. In other words, objects, for example book cabinets, skyscrapers, walls etc that will cut off at the trim line will only slightly be detailed. The important thing is the colour as a white background, as seen in our examples here, just throws the image off.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it has helped you.


An example of the bleed line in our Five of Swords card featuring ghostly pirates


Three of Swords bleed line