Color in PDF

The PDF file format support a wide range of color spaces. Below is a list of all the different possibilities as well as different reasons why you aren’t always allowed to use those color spaces.

Supported color spaces

Device dependent color spaces

  • DeviceGray
  • DeviceRGB
  • DeviceCMYK

Device independent color spaces

  • CalGray
  • CalRGB
  • Lab
  • ICCBased


  • Indexed
  • Pattern
  • Separation
  • DeviceN – used for defining spot colors. DeviceN was added to PDF in the PDF 1.4 specifications. NChannel is an backwards compatible extension of the DeviceN mechanism that was introduced in the PDF 1.6 specifications. It enables more accurate handling of color blending by including additional dot gain and color mixing information.

Allowed color spaces

Some of the PDF subsets, such as PDF/X-1a, do not allow the use of all of the above color spaces.