How to Export PDF with RGB colors, but K=100%?

I’m sure this has been discussed plenty, but I need help creating PDF’s with a few important pre-defined RGB colors, but with 100% black text.

I am getting more confused by the hour, right now I can’t even create a PDF with RGB color and mixed black.

We are trying to create an RGB workflow because our new colors are very RGB-vivid and we need to keep the documents vivid for web use, and then let the printer’s deal with conversion for print. Without ruining black text.

Any tips?

Any tips?

Why are you making my head explode so early in the morning.

Sorry to be ornery but this is happening far too often lately. I’ve had a handful of jobs in the past few months where the final prints did not come out as the designers intended and RGB workflows were involved in two of them. They paid for new prints on rush overtime.

“let the printers deal with the conversions for print”?
Your vivid RGB colors will convert to garbage and I’m pretty sure you won’t be pleased with the result.

If you are going to rely on the printer for that conversion, tell em the black should be straight up 0-0-0-100 black. If that’s what you want. Apply it as a spot color so they can grab it by mucking with your PDF, as the [Black] in the color palette is not editable. It’ll be a grayish black rather than a rich black. Depending on the source software there are options for printing all black as rich black but I’m not sure there is a way to tell it to be just K black in an RGB PDF for handoff…

Maybe Smurf2 has an answer for you, I don’t deal with conventional printing often enough to advise and my industry doesn’t take PDF handoffs on purpose. We’ll take em, but you get what you get if you don’t want to pay for heroics…

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Mechanically, assuming your source is an Adobe app, what you want is easy: Export to Adobe (Print) PDF and choose the PDF/X-4:2008 preset. That will preserve both your RGB colors and your black of 100%K.

That sounds like “corporate” colors; ill-chosen ones, perhaps.

Best make sure your printer is on the same page with you there. If your corporate colors are outside of the CMYK gamut, it would be better to specify them as spot inks. RGB-to-CMYK conversion at output is doable of course, but if those vivid corporate colors are important to the brand, there will be disappointment, and likely extra time and $ getting satisfactory results.

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You just need to have your images as RGB.

PDFs are not colour dependent.

Your file will still be 4 colour RGB + K

Just make sure all your images - and any vector images etc - any vector shapes etc are done with RGB colour.

Then make sure the Black is is 100% black.

Then export the PDF without a colour conversion - you won’t need it.

I’ve never had to do this before - but that would be my first effort.

There’s no reason why you cannot have RGB, CMYK, Pantone, and other colour within the same PDF.

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What software applications are you using? Are you referring to RGB in photos that you imported into a layout application, or are you referring to RGB colors created in the layout application? Will you be sending the PDFs to digital or offset printers?

There are way too many variables in what you’ve described to give you a good answer without knowing more about what you’re doing and how you’re currently trying to do it.

Personally, I’d avoid doing what you’re wanting to do, but hey, that’s just me.

I lie

Typically now that I think of it, leave all colours as per supplied by the customer.
So you can go ahead and place all your images in any colour space provided.
And add black text.

Images are typically converted at the printers anyway - or at least they are best positioned.

The PDFX4a settings touched on by @HotButton is correct.

B, the OP states:

We are trying to create an RGB workflow because our new colors are very RGB-vivid

Sounds like they have some new corporate colors that are gonna be vividly out of CMYK gamut.


That’s what I assumed too, but I wanted them to confirm it before tearing into the boneheadedness of it and, then, suggesting a way to deal with it.

The vividity of the RGB colours will be monitor dependent.
I have my monitor set to a cool - I don’t have vivid colours on my screen due to tendency to get migraines, so my monitor colours are turned right down.

I can manage as I have a knowledge of colour that allows me to see beyond the monitor so to speak.
I never trust the monitors colour anyway.

Anyway, just to say, RGB-vivid images, will be different for everyone.

[quote=“PrintDriver, post:7, topic:21959”]
Sounds like they have some new corporate colors that are gonna be vividly out of CMYK gamut.
[/quote] :rofl:

Yes, they will look like garbage and there’s just no way around that, whether we define a cmyk variant or not. The colors are way off the gamut and spot colors will only rarely be an option.

See this is what I am trying to do, but it is not working. Throw in an .ai or .eps, and I just can’t get the black 100%K from the .ai to make it through to the PDF.

You are absolutely right on the “corporate” and I have no further comment, it’s not my choice :sweat_smile:

A lot is being printed inhouse, so spot colors are rarely an option!


Based on your clarifications, here’s what I might do (without giving it a ton of thought).

Assuming we’re discussing 2–4 corporate colors, I wouldn’t resort to a 100% RGB workflow for all the reasons (and more) that you’re running into. No matter what you do (short of a Herculean effort) everything in all your documents sent to printer will be converted from RGB to CMYK. This will cause, to a lesser extent, the same problem you see with the text — RGB colors converted to some approximation of those colors in CMYK.

Instead, I’d probably build the documents in CMYK and use spot colors for the out-of-gamut corporate colors. Even though you might not have the budget to print spot colors, as a last step in making the CMYK PDF for the printer, you could convert the spot colors to CMYK. This conversion would only affect the spot colors and leave the other colors, such as the black text, as they were in CMYK.

I’ve run into this problem for years in publications that accept advertising — some advertisers invariable send ads with spot colors, so every single time, it’s necessary to convert them to CMYK before sending them to a printer. Fortunately, it’s not a huge problem to identify those colors with InDesign’s ink manager and make the last-minute conversions in the packaged file while leaving the original InDesign file unchanged for use as, for example, a website PDF. Rather than explain it, here’s a link.

If you are sending work out to digital printers, they might be capable of a larger color gamut than the standard CMYK. You might want to talk it over with the digital printing company for suggestions in those instances. Their printing devices might be able to get closer to your corporate colors than standard CMYK. Those companies might ask you to convert the spot colors to LAB values in the ink manager rather than process. Or they might ask you just to let them handle it.

For what it’s worth, it was stupid of this company to select corporate colors way outside the CMYK gamut since it will complicate every printing job they ever do and result in their corporate colors not being unless they pay for spot-color inks. Of course, that’s not your fault.

Make sure your document is in CMYK before starting.

So you can see the colour mode of the RGB image
Screenshot 2022-03-30 at 15.58.01

Your colour settings should be something like this

Even if you think there is no RGB embeded profile there has to be something already there.

Your PDF will show as your Output Intent - mine is set to something and I don’t care about this for my purposes

But the black is 100%

You do get a CMYK breakdown - however, this is only due to the output intent (which you can talk to your printers about and you can get a better view on screen by choosing an output intent your printer might use).

But the image is 100% RGB

You go to the object inspector
Screenshot 2022-03-30 at 16.10.13

Click anywhere on the image

So you can build a better workflow with your printers by discussing output intents and how to view in Acrobat for results in CMYK on their printing presses -

But be warned, your monitor won’t be colour calibrated to their printing presses -
so what you see is NOT what you get - (the opposite of WYSIWYG)

But perhaps a better understanding of how the vibrancy is being reduced.

In the PDF you can switch between your output intents - whether it’s RGB or CMYK (profiles).

Hope that helps to explain it a bit better.

You can see clearly in Illustrator the image is RGB.

Screenshot 2022-03-30 at 16.13.48

Unfortunately - I don’t think there’s a way of mixing CMYK and RGB swatches in Illustrator (like you can do in InDesign)

I think it’s only CMYK or RGB.

If you need RGB swatches - then there is a way around what you want to do.

But it involves running preflight checks in Acrobat after processing your file to convert all rich blacks to 1 colour black.

Have to go now - hopefully I"ve not over/underexplained it.

Yes - i’d endorse an InDesign workflow in this case.

The ink manager is quite clever.

I had to setup a complex Pantone 021 vs CMYK scenario and I had cleverly built one file to accommodate whether it was going to printed spot or CMYK - that I could switch colours over in the Ink Manager by aliasing the colours.

It worked a treat.

I’m referring to RGB colors / swatches for vector elements in InDesign. But more specifically, I am referring to placed vector files from illustrator, in .eps or .ai. I am having trouble getting the 100% K + RGB swatch colors in Illustrator all the way through to the PDF created in InDesign – while retaining the black text and RGB colors in the InDesign document.

This should be easy IMO, just keep everything as is, no conversion. But I am missing something somewhere along the way. Am I perhaps missing some settings in the Illustrator file? Can Illustrator even handle RGB + CMYK in the same document?

PDF’s will be sent to all kinds of printers (big corporation), and also printed inhouse. Thus, a more automated workflow would be preferable. In certain instances, spot colors are used (merchandise and such), but that is off-topic.

As far as I know, it’s not doable. In Illustrator, you pick between two color modes: RGB or CMYK. Even if you color something 100% K in an RGB Illustrator document, Illustrator treats it as rich black RGB.

However, you can add spot color swatches (different from the process color swatches) that can move with the document to InDesign, which brings it back to the suggestion I made earlier.

There might be an awkward workaround that could somehow be adapted into a standard workflow, but I can’t think what it might be. My gut hunch is that, in the end, you’ll need to create separate RGB and CMYK documents — possibly doing everything in CMYK, then changing the relevant CMYK value to RGB when using those files for digital/web use.

What is perplexing is this was allowed to happen in the first place.

No, this is something I mentioned earlier.