This is a bit technical question, but might be frequent enough in this community.

My PI and I disagree on which color space to use for figures and manuscripts.

I like CMYK, because I care about how it prints out. Even for online-only publications, a lot of people still print them out to read them. (I also care about black & white printing and color blind friendly colors, but that's another story). My main tool for editing figures is Adobe Illustrator with CMYK default (of course I can change it).

My PI likes vibrant red and blue colors which are in RGB space and not in CMYK. I agree that it has better visibility on screen or presentations. It would also be more flexible for switching for different requirements since RGB space is in general larger.

What is the best practice for preparing manuscripts with color figures (and possibly color text)? Do you make the figures in RGB which has a larger color space, and only adjust to CMYK when sending the accepted version to the publisher? Or let the publisher figure it out? (What about self-archived preprint versions?)

(I don't want to worry about color space consistencies and do more research!)

  • 6
    My PI likes vibrant red and blue colors — My eyes! My eyes! (I always use CMYK.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 14:24
  • If you have the tools and the time, try to deduce from a few of your publisher’s PDFs, whether they are not going to mess with such things anyway – before you waste your time.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 18:41
  • 1
    Use whatever the journal requires, or if they don't mandate a colour space then use what you usually use. Just don't use overly bright colours (which you can't really do in CMYK anyway). Relevant: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/13616/…
    – Moriarty
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 20:35
  • 2
    I used switches for TikZ styles (I did all graphics with TikZ) and some parameters of xcolor and hyperred in my Master's thesis. I was thus able to easily produce all combinations of screen vs printer friendly and color vs b/w. This included using RGB for the screen and CMYK for for the print version, iirc.
    – Raphael
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 11:58

1 Answer 1


You follow the publisher's instructions.

If your target journal asks for CMYK, you give them that.

If they ask for RGB, you give them that.

If they (are one of the few IME that) express no preference, then have a think about whether the charts will be viewed more on screen (use RGB) or printed on 4-colour printers (use CMYK).

  • 12
    +1. Just please (with my Copy Editor hat on), don't care about such a detail as RGB or CMYK. Remember that 99% of scientists have no idea what do you speak about. More care about making the article well.
    – yo'
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 14:35
  • +1, although from what I have seen, the strategy "If they ask for RGB, you give them whatever your graphics applications output (probably RGB) and If they ask for CMYK, you give them whatever your graphics applications output (probably RGB)" is the single most frequently used and generally successful strategy, and it is even a bit easier to achieve than the one outlined in your answer. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 14:47
  • @yo' 1% of scientists is a lot! Bakeries serve much smaller amount of people and still take care to make bread taste good. If one strives to be excellent in some field, let not discourage.
    – yarchik
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 13:26
  • As a matter of practicality, one may prefer sRGB simply because software bugs tend to be more common in CMYK or other less commonly used color spaces.
    – Rufflewind
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 4:50

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