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Feb 9 2012   4:04PM GMT

From the e(mailbox): The K in CMYK does not stand for black

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

We get letters! OK, mostly spam and overdue homework assignments, but we do get letters. And some of them are interesting and helpful.

Such was the case with the following note. Valerie Cox wrote us to explain a problem with our definition of CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black):

“On your page http://searchcio-midmarket.techtarget.com/definition/CMYK

‘CMYK is a scheme for combining primary pigments. The C stands for cyan (aqua), M stands for magenta (pink), Y is yellow, and K stands for black.’

This is incorrect.

The K does not stand for “black,”  it stands for “Key.”  The key color in today’s printing world is black, but it has not always been this way.   During the early days of printing, the colors used for Key have been brown, blue, or black, whichever was the cheapest ink to acquire for the times.”

Valerie Cox
Visual Design

We should have guessed there was more to that story… we’ve read our alphabet books and we do understand how initialisms work: A is for Apple, K is for… something that starts with K.

Read more about acronyms and initialisms. (It’s interesting. I promise.)

Thanks to Ms. Cox for making us look just that little bit smarter today than we did yesterday!

2  Comments on this Post

 
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  • milindsatam
    Nice article. You might find my article helpful too which explains the very same concept in more depth.

    https://basicdas.com/cmyk-k-doesnt-stand-black/
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  • ahyesiam
    Total BS. The K in CMYK does not stand for Key. Never in my 46 years of printing has it meant anything other than black. Not do we actually call the register color the key plate. The register color can be what every the printer is most comfortable with for any particular job. Usually the one that is the easiest to see. Farther more, if you are printing process color on a one or two color press it has to be Y or M because the lightest color go down first and the black last as an over print. This K for Key nonsense comes from these new age know it all graphic arts students that have never hung a printing plate in their life nor have their teachers.  Stop it! Just stop with K for Key nonsense.

    Danny C. Smith
    Master Printer
    Copy Cat Printing and Graphics LLC 
    & iSign Graphics


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