The color mode or image mode determines how colors combine based on the number of channels in a color model. Different color modes result in different levels of color detail and file size. For instance, use CMYK color mode for images in a full-color print brochure, and use RGB color mode for images in web or e-mail to reduce file size while maintaining color integrity.
RGB Color mode
Photoshop RGB Color mode uses the RGB model, assigning an intensity value to each pixel. In 8‑bits-per-channel images, the intensity values range from 0 (black) to 255 (white) for each of the RGB (red, green, blue) components in a color image. For example, a bright red color has an R value of 246, a G value of 20, and a B value of 50. When the values of all three components are equal, the result is a shade of neutral gray. When the values of all components are 255, the result is pure white; when the values are 0, pure black.
RGB images use three colors, or channels, to reproduce colors on screen. In 8‑bits-per-channel images, the three channels translate to 24 (8 bits x 3 channels) bits of color information per pixel. With 24‑bit images, the three channels can reproduce up to 16.7 million colors per pixel. With 48‑bit (16‑bits-per-channel) and 96‑bit (32‑bits-per-channel) images, even more colors can be reproduced per pixel. In addition to being the default mode for new Photoshop images, the RGB model is used by computer monitors to display colors. This means that when working in color modes other than RGB, such as CMYK, Photoshop converts the CMYK image to RGB for display on screen.
Although RGB is a standard color model, the exact range of colors represented can vary, depending on the application or display device. The RGB Color mode in Photoshop varies according to the working space setting that you specify in the Color Settings dialog box.
CMYK Color mode
In the CMYK mode, each pixel is assigned a percentage value for each of the process inks. The lightest (highlight) colors are assigned small percentages of process ink colors; the darker (shadow) colors higher percentages. For example, a bright red might contain 2% cyan, 93% magenta, 90% yellow, and 0% black. In CMYK images, pure white is generated when all four components have values of 0%.
Use the CMYK mode when preparing an image to be printed using process colors. Converting an RGB image into CMYK creates a color separation. If you start with an RGB image, it’s best to edit first in RGB and then convert to CMYK at the end of your editing process. In RGB mode, you can use the Proof Setup commands to simulate the effects of a CMYK conversion without changing the actual image data. You can also use CMYK mode to work directly with CMYK images scanned or imported from high-end systems.
Although CMYK is a standard color model, the exact range of colors represented can vary, depending on the press and printing conditions. The CMYK Color mode in Photoshop varies according to the working space setting that you specify in the Color Settings dialog box.
Lab Color mode
The CIE L*a*b* color model (Lab) is based on the human perception of color. The numeric values in Lab describe all the colors that a person with normal vision sees. Because Lab describes how a color looks rather than how much of a particular colorant is needed for a device (such as a monitor, desktop printer, or digital camera) to produce colors, Lab is considered to be a device-independent color model. Color management systems use Lab as a color reference to predictably transform a color from one color space to another color space.
The Lab Color mode has a lightness component (L) that can range from 0 to 100. In the Adobe Color Picker and Color panel, the a component (green-red axis) and the b component (blue-yellow axis) can range from +127 to –128.
Lab images can be saved in Photoshop, Photoshop EPS, Large Document Format (PSB), Photoshop PDF, Photoshop Raw, TIFF, Photoshop DCS 1.0, or Photoshop DCS 2.0 formats. You can save 48‑bit (16‑bits-per-channel) Lab images in Photoshop, Large Document Format (PSB), Photoshop PDF, Photoshop Raw, or TIFF formats.
The DCS 1.0 and DCS 2.0 formats convert the file to CMYK when opened.
Grayscale mode uses different shades of gray in an image. In 8‑bit images, there can be up to 256 shades of gray. Every pixel of a grayscale image has a brightness value ranging from 0 (black) to 255 (white). In 16-and 32‑bit images, the number of shades in an image is much greater than in 8‑bit images.
Grayscale values can also be measured as percentages of black ink coverage (0% is equal to white, 100% to black).
Grayscale mode uses the range defined by the working space setting that you specify in the Color Settings dialog box.
Bitmap mode uses one of two color values (black or white) to represent the pixels in an image. Images in Bitmap mode are called bitmapped 1‑bit images because they have a bit depth of 1.
Duotone mode creates monotone, duotone (two-color), tritone (three-color), and quadtone (four-color) grayscale images using one to four custom inks.
Indexed Color mode
Indexed Color mode produces 8‑bit image files with up to 256 colors. When converting to indexed color, Photoshop builds a color lookup table (CLUT), which stores and indexes the colors in the image. If a color in the original image does not appear in the table, the program chooses the closest one or uses dithering to simulate the color using available colors.
Although its palette of colors is limited, indexed color can reduce file size yet maintain the visual quality needed for multimedia presentations, web pages, and the like. Limited editing is available in this mode. For extensive editing, you should convert temporarily to RGB mode. Indexed color files can be saved in Photoshop, BMP, DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine), GIF, Photoshop EPS, Large Document Format (PSB), PCX, Photoshop PDF, Photoshop Raw, Photoshop 2.0, PICT, PNG, Targa®, or TIFF formats.
Multichannel mode images contain 256 levels of gray in each channel and are useful for specialized printing. Multichannel mode images can be saved in Photoshop, Large Document Format (PSB), Photoshop 2.0, Photoshop Raw, or Photoshop DCS 2.0 formats.
These guidelines apply when converting images to Multichannel mode:
Layers are unsupported and therefore flattened.
Color channels in the original image become spot color channels in the converted image.
Converting a CMYK image to Multichannel mode creates cyan, magenta, yellow, and black spot channels.
Converting an RGB image to Multichannel mode creates cyan, magenta, and yellow spot channels.
Deleting a channel from an RGB, CMYK, or Lab image automatically converts the image to Multichannel mode, flattening layers.
To export a multichannel image, save it in Photoshop DCS 2.0 format.
Indexed Color and 32-bit images cannot be converted to Multichannel mode.