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What Does the K in CMYK Stand For?

Ryan Sias

CMYK Meaning

If you are unfamiliar with CMYK, before digging into this, check out our article explaining the difference between RGB and CMYK color modes!

If you are printing in CMYK, you probably already know the CMYK meaning - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. You have probably put together through your incredible powers of deduction that K refers to the black color.

But what does the K in CMYK stand for? Any ideas? You’re probably way off, although it’s no fault of your own!

CMYK - What is K?

Sometimes you will hear that black is referred to as K, using the last letter instead of the first, in order to avoid confusing it with blue in RGB. That is now known to not be the case. Especially considering that CMYK predates RGB as we know it.

The Key to CMYK

The K in CMYK actually refers to “key”, or “key plate” which is an old-school printing term, referring to the printing plate that would contain the most detail, which was most often the color black. This plate was then used to line up the color registration of the printing plates for the other colors, and was therefore referred to as the “key plate”. For modern purposes however, the K in CMYK will always refer to the black color. You heard it here!


If you are unsure how to make sure you are working in the CMYK color space, be sure to check out our article explaining How to Change Color Mode to CMYK!


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