I am creating a rather big photoshop document 3000x3000 which i want to print. I thought i took all the precautions: CMYK color mode 300ppi save as pdf and so on

Still when i save the picture as pdf or jpg, SOME, not all, of the blacks turns out to be dark gray instead. I really don't know what to do since I need the picture printed tomorrow.

Please help me out, if it helps I have the full .psd


The different blacks originates from a "linear burn" blend mode on top of a black layer! which has no different black output in photoshop

FIXED - Solution:

I fixed the screen output by putting a black layer with the hex value #000000 on top of the other layers and setting it's blending mode to lighter color - which only doesn't allow the gray'ish black to shine through, but preserves the rest of the colors!

Again - thanks a lot for the quick response, even though your comprehensive answer did not fix my problem, I am sure that it will help a lot of other people...

  • Linear burn, eh? I'm no expert on that blend mode, but blend modes in CMYK always gives different results to blend modes in RGB, sometimes dramatically different. It sounds like you might be saving CMYK output files from an RGB photoshop file? If so you should do a conversion in PS (after saving a copy!) first so you can see the lay of the land quicker. One quick other suggestion would be to flatten the blend before creating output files (if merging the layers doesn't work I find hiding all other layers, then copy merged to be an easy workaround). Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 23:54
  • No the file was created with CMYK color mode :) I have tried to flatten image but also out of luck.. I fixed it as described as an edit to the question. Thanks for your help anyways :) Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 23:58
  • Re. second edit - Hex value #000000 is an RGB colour code, (00 red 00 green 00 blue) so what you're actually inputting is, the default conversion from an RGB black, which in CMYK will be the default rich black. Glad it works, it's always useful to understand why things work though :) Commented Oct 8, 2012 at 0:01
  • Some precious info about how to use black when doing layout for printing and how to prevent issues: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/2984/…
    – go-junta
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 3:10

2 Answers 2


Welcome to what is probably the Number 1 'gotcha' for people new to print design :-) and yes, people who encounter it for the first time not pre-warned almost always run into just before a deadline...

RGB black is simple. It's just no light coming from the screen.

CMYK black isn't simple. There's black ink (the 'K' in CMYK), but even with 100% black ink, it doesn't create a magic black hole that absorbs all light. There are a whole range of shades of printed CMYK colours that look black, but with a very slightly different edge or character to them because of slight differences in precisely what light the stacks of ink absorb:

  • 100% K, 0% everything else, when printed in large areas, looks a bit dull and uninspired. But it's great for text and fine lines, because there's no risk of indistinct edges if the print plates are very very slightly mis-aligned
  • There's "Rich black", which is a mix of inks intended to create a more vibrant black. There are as many rich blacks as there are print configurations - see here for more info.
  • Some designers will sometimes create their own rich black for a project. If you want a slightly cooler black, more cyan. A slightly warmer black, add magenta. And so on. (beware total ink - if you don't know what that is, google it, because that's maybe the second biggest print design gotcha and you don't want to learn what it is after asking the question "Help why do the dark colours in my print keep smudging?"... you probably don't have total ink problems, but you might create total ink problems if trying to fix rich black problems clumsily, I did once...). If doing this, always check proofs and work with the printer on this, they know their setup better than you can, never make assumptions.

Rich black's colour balance typically looks like this (the Adobe default mix, from this related question):

enter image description here

The washed-out greys you're seeing are the software trying to simulate the range of possible blacks on a screen. That's near impossible to do well, but it's valuable because it shows you where two blacks have a different mix and would look different on the printed page. So, it doesn't look good on the screen, but that's fine, because if the document is CMYK, you're not designing for a screen.

Be very careful not to accidentally have two mixes of black up against each other unintentionally... It's a really common newbie error.

How to fix it? Depends on the file. Different black mixes in one file is not usually desirable, but can be okay so long as there aren't any sharp edges where one meets the other. Don't panic too much about how things look on the screen for the aforementioned reasons - assuming it's actually black, it shouldn't look as washed out or grey when printed. Get print proofs.

Try to track down where the differences came from. You might have picked different black swatches without realising it, or got black from the colour wheel somewhere and a swatch/dropdown somewhere else... If you can identify the different blacks you can go some of the way towards equalising them with careful use of Select > Color range. Or if you converted from RGB, you can look at the conversion settings.

One more related question on top of the two linked to above: How do I make screenshots look good when printed in CMYK? has some related material.

  • Thanks a lot for the quick answer. But the problem is that I have to go to a company tomorrow and get this printed, so I have no clue how to check if it will look good on paper! There is definately a sharp edge to my picture, which I cannot see in photoshop, I already put around 10 hours of work into this picture and now I'm just plain frustrated since it's supposed to be a present for my girl which I have not seen since her birthday. Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 23:44
  • 1
    I editted in a few general suggestions that might help in figuring out how to fix it. The most important thing is not panicking - spend some time with the colour picker figuring out where issues are. It might be as simple as Select > Color range for the black you don't want, with carefully controlled fuzziness, and Fill with the mix you do want. I know the frustration, been there myself... Good luck! Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 23:48
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    This is why I love stack*! Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 22:29
  • This is a great answer to what I just realized - the point that RGB black isn't 100% K. I'm using Illustrator/Photoshop to print on shirts using digital direct to garment (DTG) and since I haven't seen any samples yet it will be interesting to see what happens ;) They say DTG is "like an inkjet for fabric" so do I design in CMYK? (rhetorical). Anyway great answer. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:56

I’ve had the same problem with text.

My situation is awkward because the document is in Microsoft Word (don’t snort—I already know, a bad early decision, but with 200+ internal bookmarks, 700 images and 3k index entries am stuck).

So I print to PostScript, which Word populates with RGB black. Thanks, Bill. Then I prepend some PostScript re-definitions, such that ‘0 0 0 setrgbcolor’ automatically becomes ‘0 0 0 1 setcmykcolor’, and distill to PDF. Voilà: printers’ black.

Those PostScript re-definitions are in
(and I’m posting link not code because there might yet be further improvements to the re-definitions).

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