I'm working on a book and there are some screenshots I'd like to use as figures. However, due to the topic of the book (retrocomputing), the screenshots are mostly black, with a small handful of bright-colored small things on it. Here's an example of Space Invaders:

enter image description here

and here's another one showing the boot-up screen of a home computer:

enter image description here

I'm worried that these will look horrible in print, so I've been thinking of using a (light) gray background color, and making everything else darker, like in these examples:

enter image description here

enter image description here

My questions are:

  • Is it even a valid worry that these pictures wouldn't look good in print?
  • If yes, is this inverted color scheme a good idea in principle?
  • If yes, any tips on improving the result?
  • Well a black image uses more consumables. Also you need to pecify rich black or black ink only.
    – joojaa
    Jul 23, 2021 at 13:16
  • @joojaa I have no idea what you mean by "rich black" vs "black ink". The book will be printed by a POD service so I won't have close control over the printing process.
    – Cactus
    Jul 23, 2021 at 13:17
  • 1
    These are really vivid RGB colours against the black, so yeah, probably won't look as good in print. I think your grey background solution looks good. What joojaa is talking about is using like 100%K ink only, rather than a rich black which is a mixture of CMYK colours to achieve black. Rich blacks look darker and blacker than 100%K only.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 24, 2021 at 10:16
  • I would propose extending the question in the other direction: is it a good idea to invert mostly-white graphics for screen usage, in order to avoid eye-burning #FFFFFF background? — Ah, I forgot, most people don't actually mind white background... Jul 24, 2021 at 11:00

3 Answers 3


My first thought is No. Leave the color as it is. A book is a document, in this case, to explain accurately how graphics were.

Imagine the same case of an astronomy photo. You do not want light gray as a night sky.

The only exception I can think of is if the pages are meant to be printed on a home printer, a student for example. In this case, the savings in the ink usage would be appreciated.

Modern printing systems are pretty competent in reproducing color graphics, including these.

The print system depends on one thing. Budget and amount of units to be printed.

Any discussion on black vs rich black, direct ink, CMYK, spot ink, digital print, Pantone, etc depends on those two variables, and it is out of the scope of this answer.

My recommendation is that you need to talk with a designer to guide you on the specifics of the project.

  • 9
    Your point about astronomy photos is interesting, because astronomy photos use false color very frequently to improve visual style and illustrate things that would not otherwise be apparent. I think the purpose of the image should be considered - if it's supposed to be a faithful representation of what something actually looks like, false color should be avoided, but if the purpose is to highlight some other aspect like resolution or the UI, faithful representation of color may be less important than having an image that prints well or is more visually appealing. Jul 23, 2021 at 16:15

My first thought is to show it to your print vendor if you have one chosen - he'll know what his equipment is capable of and what changes you might make. If you go with a solid black, it might be suggested that a black tint be placed underneath the solid to avoid "ghosting" of the knocked out images. That can be done on the vendor side. Although this uses a 2nd printing black plate, it will keep the black consistent. If you're printing in 4/C process (CMYK), then the suggestion of "rich" black might work as well. This is where the black is not just black but made up of all process colors.This may fit your needs. But again, your print vendor will be the best source of direction. And ultimately, the final design (black or gray) is really up to you.

  • 4
    One "trick" (read: common practice) is to place all your "questions" aka questionable output images on one or two pages and have the printer pull a proof for you so you can evaluate them in the wild. There is no reason to wait until the whole book is put together. Offset presses, the proof is a print or proofing medium calibrated to their equipment but with different substrate, but POD is probably straight off the equipment the book will come off of. Might cost 20$ but then you will know
    – Yorik
    Jul 23, 2021 at 14:12
  • I agree, print in CYMK (K=Key=Black ink) and do a proof print first. I would use the black background if it comes out nicely because it really captures the atmosphere of the game. (I am old enough to know).
    – Emile
    Jul 23, 2021 at 14:18

I suggest not modifying the original content.

It is a valid worry that such dark images usually don't look good in print. Even if an image has a background that is slightly off-black, then the printer may use three primary colours to produce black, and may result in blue and yellow edges due to misalignment. Your pixelated white letters will look coloured (and bad.). Some low weight paper types cannot handle too much ink volume and get warped, blotted or lose ink to nearby pages.

Since you've mentioned that you'll be modifying each such image individually, it seems that you don't have a lot of such problematic images or illustrations. So I have this suggestion for you:

Label the images, group them together on single pages meant for image printing, and inform the publisher to have those pages printed in one of the coated paper types (the ones you see in magazines). Rest of the book may be printed in the cheaper uncoated paper. This will ensure that your images are true to the historical feel, while they look sharp and pop out on the glossy paper!

Note: For this to work, you may need to change the layout and add references to the images from the text. You may put the images at the end of a sub-section.

Some common paper types in publishing are mentioned here: https://www.diggypod.com/book-printing/paper-types/

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