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How Do You Achieve A True Rich Black Print?

Our Preferred Rich Black Formula: 60/40/40/100

When preparing artwork for print you want to make sure that your color values will give you the most impact when printed on the page. If you need to know how to print dark black, also called "rich black", this article is for you! We've tested a variety of rich black values and picked the purest formula of CMYK values which print a dark and deep black color without too much ink coverage.

Many designers who are new to preparing artwork for CMYK often make the mistake of setting the CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) values at 0%, and the K (black) value at 100%. This is not sufficient ink coverage to offer a true ‘Rich Black’.

For a dark, rich black formula, you must include amounts of CMY to build up a base layer of pigment for the black to appear ‘true’. Otherwise, with 100K black only, you get a sort of dark gray, or ‘milky’ black values.

Setting type and thin detailed black:

When setting small type in black on white, 100K black is preferred because the eye does not notice the lighter shade, and there are no other colors to present issues with slight registration misalignments.

Bold Graphics:

That being said, with large areas of black, and bold graphics, you must use a rich black to ensure solid dark print. We recommend a standard rich black value of 60/40/40/100. In other words: Cyan 60%, Magenta 40%, Yellow 40%, Black 100%. You will find other combinations suggested when searching rich black on the web, but almost anything more than 0/0/0/100 will provide better results than 100K.

Too Much Ink!!! Registration Black

If you use 100/100/100/100 you’re in for trouble, as this is too much ink coverage and you will more than definitely smear / lose detail. A good rule of thumb is that you do not exceed 240 when adding up all of your values. The default for photoshop #00000 black is actually 75 / 68 / 67 / 90, which adds up to 300, and is usually pretty reliable, but for tiny details in large blocks of black ,you may have some issues with clarity.


Below is an example of how the two kinds of black appear printed next to each other, even if you can’t tell it from the preview you see in photoshop / illustrator.

Rich Black Example

Make sure all your blacks match!

It can happen where you are designing something and don’t realize it but the black values of different pieces of your design do not match. This will be noticeable when you inspect the printed design closely, as the ‘richer’ values will appear darker, maybe not at first glance but upon closer inspection. Your computer monitor is not as reliable as the color picker tool. As a designer you must be aware that your black values should match unless you intentionally are setting different values for effect.

Due to the different amount of ink coverage, varying values of black may shine differently when printed. This will make it more obvious that they do not match and may give you undesired outcomes!

More Information:

For more information on rich black, check out the Wikipedia Article on the subject

Here is a quick video about Rich Black, 100K Black and Registration Black in CMYK:

Video Transcription

A lot of the time when setting up black in Adobe Illustrator or or Photoshop, designers will set it to what is called "100k Black". This is equated as 0s in all of the colors except for black 100%. You can also just grab the darkest color out of the color picker and you get something like this: 75/68/67/90. But what we like is something called "Rich Black" and this is a value that we have created based on tests with our printers to produce the darkest, most natural-looking black value. This is 60% Cyan, 40% Magenta and Yellow, and 100% Black. This produces a rich black color that is not milky or too heavy. Finally, we have what's called "Registration Black" which is seen as 100 all the way across the board. NEVER USE REGISTRATION BLACK. What this does is it puts too much ink or pigment on the page, it can create printing abnormalities, with liquid based inks there can be smearing due to increased dry time that has increased, and it can also create shiny patches in your design that are unwanted. Finally we must talk about how Illustrator handles black values. I'm going to leave this text here at Registration Black and then I'm going to draw a box behind it and set that to 100K Black. Now, you would think that since the text is at Registration Black, and the background is at 100K Black, the background would be lighter since there's less ink, but they look the same. So if I sent this file based on what it looks like to the printer I would get back a document that actually looks different. So we need to go to our Preferences and go to the Appearance of Black menu, and by default it says to Display All Blacks as Rich Black. You need to turn this to say Display All Blacks Accurately. And this is what we would get back from the printer. A HUGE surprise. It's very important to work in the same type of black across the entire project, and this would be unacceptable. When using very small text it's okay to get by with 100K Black. Because on a white or light background and very small black text, you're not going to notice if the text is not as dark as it could be. You'll also have better resolution because you don't have other layers of color that are microscopically misaligned causing blurring. You simply have a single layer of 100% Black. This is the only instance I would recommend using 100K Black. For everything else I would use Rich Black which again is a combination of 60/40/40/100.

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