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I need to produce a document that has a flat rich-black (C60, M50, Y40, K100) background and text that is white on top. The text is set at 7pt in a monospaced font (PT Mono Regular 400).

What can I do to ensure the text is crisp?

I'm using Illustrator, and my current strategy is to add a duplicate of the layer with the text on underneath the layer with the text, then to apply a very fine stroke to the copy of the text (0.05pt) with a regular black (C0, Y0, M0, K100), with the stroke set to be centered on the outline.

Layer order

  • Text
  • Copy of Text (with 0.05pt stroke)
  • Rich black background

Is this a good strategy, and if not, what should I do instead?

I should also add that this is being printed by someone I will have no contact with, and although I can try and pass instructions along, there is no guarantee these will make it to the printer, so I'm looking for a foolproof solution (as far as is possible).

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    Printed how? On what? There's going to be a huge difference between laser-printed on photopaper vs offset litho on toilet roll ;) – Tetsujin Oct 31 at 9:39
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You don't mention which printing method you are going to use, so I'll assume you mean ordinary offset print. The type of paper and the size of the sheets also matter. I've had luck with small white text on rich black background on a record cover which was printed on small sheets, but if I were to make a book which I knew would printed on larger sheets, I would be more worried.

Fonts can have very different sizes so it's hard to tell if 7 pt is just small or very tiny. Depends on the font. Furthermore it also matters how bold the font is. If small negative text can't be avoided it's best to make it a little bolder than you want the physical result to be.

The idea to make some custom trapping is good enough, but 0.05 pt is probably way too little (it's less than 2 px at 2400 ppi). Where I work we use 0.2 pt trapping for offset print.

I don't understand why you would set the stroke to be centered on the outline. That way it eats away a little of the text. It's better to have the stroke on the outside so the white hole still has the same shape as the original text. This example shows a 7 pt. font with 0.2 pt strokes.

Remember not to overprint the stroke or it will just disappear on the rich black background. Check it with the Separations Preview panel.

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  • Thanks for your reply. I set the stroke centered because it is on a separate (duplicated) layer, so it doesn't effect the letterforms of the layer in front of it, however simply stroking the copy (and aligning to the outside makes a lot more sense (and avoids a duplicated layer). Fwiw the font is PT Mono Regular and I've added a link in the question. Out of interest, what advice would you give if printing digitally? – Undistraction Oct 31 at 10:38
  • @Undistraction, you're welcome. Fortunately PT Mono Regular doesn't look that thin and small. To feel safer you could consider trying the bold version. It's available on Adobe Fonts. – Wolff Oct 31 at 10:57
  • I use this method all the time, set the black stroke centered and as .75pt weight. You can use this on any white or colored object that is on a super black background. Actually, you should use it on anything that is on a super black. – Alith7 Oct 31 at 11:43
  • @Alith7, 0.75 pt is a lot isn't it? Isn't that more than the standard trapping added by your rip? – Wolff Oct 31 at 11:48
  • @Alith7 Thanks. It's a real shame you can't stroke on the outside of live text in Illustrator. No idea why. Seems like a massive omission. – Undistraction Oct 31 at 14:07

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