How to Convert RGB to CMYK in Photoshop CC Without Flattening Image

Working in RGB but need to switch to CMYK for print? Don’t worry, here’s how to convert RGB to CMYK in Photoshop CC without flattening the image.

This technique can be done in a matter of seconds, and you can use it to switch between many color profiles. It won’t provide you with an exact color match (that’s a tutorial for another day), but it will do its best to get you as close as possible to your original colors.

Video Tutorial

Want to watch along as I demonstrate this conversion technique? My super quick video tutorial above is at your service!


Step-by-Step Tutorial

Step 0 – Do not use image > mode to switch your document. In older versions of Photoshop, this will flatten your image, and even in newer, it will apply a default color profile, which may not be the one you are looking for.

Step 0 - Do not use image > mode to switch your document. In older versions of Photoshop this will flatten your image, and even in newer it will apply a default color profile, which may not be the one you are looking for.

Step 1 – With your RGB document open, go to edit > convert to profile.

Step 1 - With your RGB document open, go to edit > convert to profile.

Step 2 – The following dialogue box will appear. Below the screenshot I will go through the different options you can choose from.

Step 2 - The following dialogue box will appear.

Convert to Profile Options

Destination Space – Profile: In this dropdown, you will be presented with a huge range of both RGB and CMYK color profiles to choose from. For your information, I’m working in Photoshop CC 2023, in case some of your options are different.

As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t have a specific print color profile in mind, you can select ‘Working CMYK – U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2’ which should give you a fairly accurate level of conversion. It won’t be flawless, but it is a good default option.

Engine: The standard Adobe (ACE) conversion is more than capable to run the color conversion, so keep this option as it is.

Input: You have four options to choose from here, and all have their merits and specific purposes where they should be used:

  • Perceptual: The best choice for photography, as it tones down brighter colors and creates much better results for transitioning colors and gradients.
  • Relative colorimetric: Aims to precisely match colors, so colors that can’t be replicated will be banded with other colors. This makes it a good choice for digital photography and scanned images.
  • Saturation: Prioritises color saturation over accuracy, meaning colors can be accurate. Hence is a great choice for bright charts, infographics, and vectors.
  • Absolute colorimetric: Ideal for when you are working with brands that have specific colors that should not be altered, hence should be your choice for graphics and logos, or anything that works with brand colors.

Black point compensation: Always keep this on, as it will try to match the darkest colors in the image and make them softer and taper, rather than look harsh.

Dither: Dither will help your colors blend seamlessly together, and stop harsh rings from appearing between colors. Especially with photographs, keep this on.

Flatten Image: Naturally, if you want to keep working in the photoshop file and preserve all the editing capabilities, uncheck this. However, be warned that this may affect color conversion.

Once you are happy with your selections, click ok.

Step 3 – If you have any smart objects in your document, a warning box will appear asking you to rasterize them or not.

As above, if you want to preserve these layers, don’t rasterize them. However, be warned that, again, this might affect color conversion.

Step 3 - If you have any smart objects in your document, a warning box will appear asking you to rasterize them or not.

Step 4 – Your file should now be converted to CMYK, with all your editable layers and smart objects still intact.

Step 4 - Your file should now be converted to CMYK, with all your editable layers and smart objects still in tact.

Be mindful of the fact that this will not produce a flawless color conversion. Naturally, switching between RGB and CMYK is always a challenge, because there are millions of web colors and not an exact print match for many of them.

However, using the convert to profile feature with some of these options will at least get you a working CMYK file that is very close to your original.


I hope you found this tutorial helpful. Switching between print and web modes is never easy, and if you need very specific color matching, you will have to delve deeper into some of these options and consult with your printer to get the best possible profile.

However, if you aren’t as precious about the exact colors, you can use this technique to switch between web and print color profiles in a matter of seconds, while still having plenty of options at your disposal.

Featured Image: Licensed by Freepik

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