CMYK is ideal for prints with lots of colour, like illustrations and paintings. Your design is separated into four colours and a screen is made for each. Similar to your printer, the combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black can create a rainbow of colours.
Fabric: No restrictions
Heat sensitivity:
Cotton – Low
Blends – high
Polyester – high
Recommended: high quantity orders with lots of colour
Keep in mind: Cannot be used on dark fabrics. Low colour accuracy. Low detailed prints.
CMYK is known as a subtractive process, meaning that for each additional colour used, more light is removed to achieve that colour. When using 100% values for each colour in CMYK, the result is black. By its nature the colour profile for CMYK is limited in comparison to the RGB colour profile (what you see on computer screens).  RGB results in a more vibrant and diverse colour profile than CMYK.
CMYK can be used in screen printing to create a full colour design, although there are more considerations and complexities when screen printing CMYK on fabric than printing CMYK on paper, which will be outlined below.

Considerations with CMYK

  • CMYK is designed to be printed on white. If printing on a dark shirt, the CMYK colors are printed on top of a white ink underbase, which results in a thicker print than on a white shirt. Even though this method on a dark shirt can be done, we would not recommend it for every design.
  • Slight variations of print color across garments is unavoidable.
  • Exact color match is not a guarantee. PMS match is not possible.
  • Digital mockups can only approximate the finished CMYK product, as the colors on a monitor are using RGB rather than the more limited CMYK.

Why is CMYK so hard to match?

The way CMYK inks are layered to achieve the full colour spectrum on the fabric is more art than science, and often requires trial and error to produce the correct shades. Rather than mixing the inks ahead of time to achieve an exact colour match like with the Spot Colour method, the inks are “mixed” as dot percentages of each colour as separate layers on the shirt.  There are also additives in the ink to help achieve fine detail and photo realism, and that may interact with the fabric and affect the colour outcome.