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my question is what kind of black should I use when printing. At the moment I use this black (split into CMYK) :

C:0% M:0% Y:0% K:100%

It looks fine in InDesign or Illustrator but if I save a PDF file(for printing purposes) the "color" black appears more like a dark grey on screen.

My question is, if I send this file to print, the color black,on paper, will be black or something like dark grey ?

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8 Answers 8

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It's one of the Big Things You Must Know about printing that Black (0,0,0,100) is not black; it is a dark gray. I mean really important, as in "If you don't know this, you're going to get in expensive trouble sooner or later." The reason it's gray, rather than black, is that the ink is partially absorbed by the paper and is in any case a very thin coating, so some of the white shows through.

To get actual black on press, you must create what is called a "built black" or "rich black." This is usually something like 60/60/40/100, or 40/30/30/100 as Matt mentioned. You can make a warmer black by using less cyan and more yellow, or a cooler black with more cyan and less yellow. That's a subtlety you want to get some practice with if you ever need to use it, because it can be tricky.

In InDesign and Illustrator there is a preference setting called "Appearance of Black" which can be set to display blacks "as black" or "accurately." For print work, you should always set these to display and print blacks accurately so you don't make an embarrassing error.

The main thing to remember with rich blacks is that your mix should always add up to less than 300% coverage (or whatever your printer specifies as their maximum ink coverage for the particular paper your job will be printed on). Too much ink results in "bronzing" -- a bronze sheen created by a layer of ink that can't be absorbed by the substrate, so it just sits on top. It's also almost impossible to dry completely, so you'll add time to the job.

This is why you must never use the [Registration] swatch in a layout. [Registration] is 100% everything: CMYK plus any spot color plates. Registration marks are the only place [Registration] swatch is used, but they are in the slug, not in your artwork. Your layout program does this for you automatically when you export to PDF and select the option to include registration marks.

Here's an instance where this subject can get very important: if you have a photograph with a black background and you place it on a 0/0/0/100 background, thinking they will merge invisibly, you are actually placing RGB black (which is a rich black when converted to CMYK -- check it out in Photoshop) on top of dark gray. On your screen it might look okay, but in a newspaper or magazine ad it will look pretty bad.

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"The reason it's gray, rather than black, is that the ink is partially absorbed by the paper …" and therefore the grayness of the key-black is relative to the properties of the paper: newspaper sucks a lot while glossy coated paper might not. Also good to remember is that key-black alone is foolproof to register (well, there's nothing to register after all), while rich black is not—therefore in places where accuracy is paramount (such as body text, for readability), one should use key-black. –  koiyu Jul 22 '11 at 9:02
Quite true. I decided to avoid that issue completely here, since the question was about blackness and the text worms are in a different can I wasn't wanting to open. :-) I can't think of an instance off-hand of anyone using a built black for copy. It's sometimes necessary for large display text, but in that case registration isn't an issue unless the pressman is roaring drunk. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 22 '11 at 9:59
oh, gack, I DID that "black photo on 'black' background" thing at my first job, at a newspaper. It looked so awful the client demanded (and got) a refund. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 22 '11 at 11:31
Ouch, ouch, ouch. Owee. ... Ouch. -- That's the kind of lesson one never forgets, isn't it? I was luckier. The Truth in Blackness people got to me before it went to press. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 22 '11 at 17:16
I realize this can be a new question but if you flip things around, speaking about White color (and Registration White), can you please in summary tell if there's anything equally important to remember there (which warrants me to post a new question about that, if not existing)? –  Henrik Oct 3 '13 at 9:23

On spot blacks

Many of the other posters have discussed parameters for rich blacks in process colour. It's also worth noting that you can mix spot blacks (and other spot colours in fact) with process colour in documents. For example, it is common practice to print text in a spot black ink on a process colour document.

Process black ink is intentionally designed to be translucent so it can be used to darken other colours. Spot black inks are much more saturated and often used to print black text in process colour documents for reasons discussed below. You will get black if you use this type of ink.

Many commercial printers have presses with more than four colours (i.e. capable of taking more than four plates at one time) and it is possible to mix spot and process colours in the same document.

Printing text in spot blacks is a common application for this technique as spot black inks are much more saturated than process black. Text printed in process black looks washed out and rich blacks are sensitive to even slight misregistration on fine detail such as text type. Usually it is better to print the text in a fifth spot black colour and this is common practice on publications such as glossy magazines.

Other applications for mixed spot/process colour printing

4 colour process has a limited colour gamut and can't match all colours - many PMS colours can't be matched by a four colour process, and specialised effects such as flourescent or metallic colours can't be done with any process colour system at all. Spot colours are often used to match specific colours - perhaps dictated by corporate standards requiring specific PMS matches - or when a specialised ink such as magnetic ink or varnish is needed.

Most print compostion applications (that I am aware of anyway) will support this - you can define colours as being process or spot and the application will make the appropriate separations.

Note that there are also 6, 7 or 8 colour processes which use subtractive colour schemes employing more base colours. This type of colour model also frequently supported in high fidelity inkjet printers. It is not the same thing as mixing spot and process colour, although you can mix spot colours with any process colour model if your budget and printer's capabilities run to it.

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+1 for "intentionally translucent". –  Alex Feinman Sep 21 '11 at 19:59

If you're printing CMYK, add some CMY to your K and you get a rich black. It's darker and comes across are a more 'true' black when printed. It also helps with trapping and as you're less likely to see white gaps if your registration is slightly offset. As for how much of each to add, that can depend on a number of things, but Lauren is pretty much correct: ask your printer. Then it's their problem if something goes wrong. ;)

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Passing the buck! The classic technique. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 22 '11 at 0:14
Does the type of paper play any part in it? –  Virtuosi Media Jul 22 '11 at 1:53
Yes, paper can play a part in it. –  DA01 Jul 22 '11 at 2:50
@Virtuosi Media: Some papers are more absorbent than others, and some are brighter than others. In either case, the substrate will tend to reflect more light through the ink, giving it a lighter gray appearance than on a less absorbent or less bright paper stock. –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 22 '11 at 8:13

Ask your printer what to use. Your printer may recommend Rich Black, which is actually a combination of layered CMYK inks.

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I agree with Alan Gilbertson answer to a degree and ConcernedOfTunbridgeWe is correct in regards to screen printing and old fashioned press printing. It depends on the printer and what you are sending to have printed which I feel this answer is best. UV digital printing for black is normally ran at 100/100/100/100, and digital printing, as mentioned typically is 60/60/40/100, have two different results when it comes to black. A 60/60/40/100 produces a washed out flat black when printing UV. In the end the printer should always be asked. –  Darth_Vader Mar 27 '13 at 18:55

In pre-press, we usually add a BOOSTER to black. The best way is to use:

100 BLACK 40 CYAN This combination will result in a rich black required by the press.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry working in the press running your files will love you if you make your heavy coverage black in your document. That 4o% of Cyan is what we call a "booster".

However, if you want black in your text, just use 100% black. Always remember also that Black "always" overprint. It's like the "grass" in that poem: "I am the grass".

"Cover the bodies high in Ypre and Verdun Cover them under and let me work I am the grass, I cover all."

I'm sure you get my drift :)

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I have often used 40/30/30/100 which produces great results.

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I don't usually use an Absolute Black unless it is background. Usually I use a 60-80% black (charcoal color) for type. Not only does a charcoal look great and polished, it also saves printer ink by not using the toner too much (?)

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The question is reference to offset printing, where using a screen of black would be a bad thing (the text would be rendered with a line screen). –  DA01 Oct 11 '11 at 21:47
i wasn't saying the screen would be black. i was just saying i'd never use absolute black for type, personally. However, it may be apparent I misunderstood the question. –  Andrew Davis Oct 11 '11 at 22:36
Standard four-color offset printing means you pretty much use black. If you want to print gray, the black ink gets screened back (using dots to give the impression of gray) which would make for hard-to-read type on paper. You could print in true gray by using a spot color, though. –  DA01 Oct 11 '11 at 22:56
@Andrew Davis when I asked the question I was refering to what kind of black should be used if you want black as a background on a large area(in my case it was an A4 page all black with white text on it and pictures) and if you dont use something like C:10% M:10% Y:20% K:100% it looks grey instead of black, and for me it was very important that it is full black, not gray. Interesting to know that you use a dark grey for type? why is that ? is it easyer to read? looks better ? –  Flavius Frantz Oct 11 '11 at 23:42
Yes. It looks better, and it is easy to read. The dark grey is really about a K: 70-85% or something. I'd have to check my palettes... –  Andrew Davis Oct 13 '11 at 17:21

It will print black. Both of the leading DTP packages I have specify "black" and "registration" as 0;0;0;100. As to why your software is showing it as gray: you have a monitor profile which is being used to adjust the displayed color to simulate the desired color.

Note that CMYK is a reflective or subtractive color model and your monitor has to simulate this using an additive color model. There are always colors which cannot be simulated.

Rich black is black often with a hint of yellow added. It looks less flat on the page, but Lauren Ipsum is right: ask the printer. There are technical reasons why you might not want to flood large amounts of all the colors on the page.

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This is incorrect. Registration is 100,100,100,100 (by definition -- it is used in those little registration targets to ensure that all of the plates print exactly in register) and is one of those things you have to warn people against using accidentally. (The fact that it's so close to [Black] in InDesign leads to errors. The best practice is to drag it well away from the regular [Black] swatch, to avoid very embarrassing mistakes.) –  Alan Gilbertson Jul 22 '11 at 7:34

protected by Darth_Vader Aug 13 '14 at 1:55

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