I'm working in several CMYK .PSD documents. Whenever I save them as .PDF, the first PDF generated always appears as a more rich RGB-looking black (on-screen at least). Changing maybe a few non-color-space/mode items and re-saving always results in a PDF with lighter looking blacks on screen. Why is this? It's driving me mad!

  • Wow. Now I literally changed nothing and simply re-saved as a PDF with a new name and it is back to the dark blacks! Is there some adobe troll that randomly decides who may cross the rich-black bridge? Jun 17, 2011 at 6:02
  • Beginning to sense a toggle pattern here. Changed nothing and did a save-as again and now it's back to light black! Jun 17, 2011 at 6:06
  • so you got your answer???
    – Jack
    Jun 17, 2011 at 6:16

2 Answers 2


Photoshop won't change settings invisibly unless something is corrupted, so first make very sure that you are looking at these PDFs in Adobe Reader or Acrobat, not some other viewer.

Be sure you are not changing any settings in the PDF export dialog, nor any color settings in the Photoshop document when you open it. All your settings should be "Preserve Embedded Profile" for safety.

If all those points are okay, and you still see different blacks on consecutive saves, Photoshop may have a corrupted preferences file. Reset the preferences (hold down Ctl-Alt-Shift or Cmd--Option-Shift while the program is starting, and answer yes when it asks if you want to erase your settings).

It may just be (and this is what I think is happening) that you are running into a problem of CMYK colors in the PDF not being correctly displayed. The good news is that's not a problem with Photoshop, but with whatever you are using to view the PDF. One of the two common error situations where black "looks gray" is when CMYK values are being incorrectly translated to RGB for viewing on a monitor -- which I think may be happening in your situation.

Here's how to check:

  1. Save a new PDF (keep the first one), choosing "[PDF/X-1a:2001]" as your PDF setting. "Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities" will be turned off, and grayed out. Leave everything at the defaults. This is a standard CMYK press-ready file. It holds color information in four channels: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

  2. Now save another one using the "[High Quality Print]" setting, TURN OFF "Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities," leaving the rest of the defaults unchanged. This is an RGB file for printing on a desktop printer. It holds color information in three RGB channels, and you'll notice it is a smaller file than its four channel cousin.

  3. Compare the two PDFs side by side in Adobe Reader or Acrobat. They should look identical.

  4. Look at their thumbnails in Bridge. You'll see that the (CMYK) PDF/X looks a bit washed out and its blacks look gray. The High Quality Print version will look richer. This difference in appearance is because of the way Bridge interprets the 4 CMYK channels in the embedded thumbnail. Like many 3rd party PDF viewers it doesn't show them correctly. The High Quality Print PDF, being RGB, shows correct colors. Both are correct, and if you open them in Adobe Reader or Acrobat, which can correctly interpret CMYK values and covert them for on-screen viewing, they will look the same. Other readers, or previews you see in Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder, won't necessary show the CMYK file correctly.

There is quite a lot to know about saving Photoshop files (or any files) to the PDF format. In the professional world of print production, it becomes very important to know what you're doing.

[Side Note: A "Photoshop PDF" is just a PDF with a Photoshop file hidden inside. A PDF viewer or other PDF-aware program "sees" only the PDF information, but Photoshop recognizes the embedded Photoshop document and opens that part for editing. An "Illustrator PDF" works the same way. Inside the PDF is a complete native Illustrator document, hidden from view until you open the file in Illustrator.]

  • Oh, wow. I only thought the "Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities" was for saving photoshop-specific data and had nothing to do with color. This does seem in line with my experience. Jun 17, 2011 at 16:10
  • Followup question: With it unchecked, can I still send to print without fear of the CMYK being interpreted as RGB on their end? (I'm sending to an off-site printer handling manufacturing.) Jun 17, 2011 at 16:12
  • Save the file as [PDF/X-1a:2001] and you'll have no problems. PDF/X is an international standard that specifies exactly what should be in a PDF intended for press. When it creates a PDF/X-1a, Photoshop embeds the fonts, flattens any transparency and converts everything to whatever flavor of CMYK (plus spot colors, if any) you have specified in your color settings. A printer who won't accept PDF/X-1a, which is the safest standard there is, is one you should avoid. Jun 17, 2011 at 17:46

Photoshop PDF documents store two copies of the image they contain. The first copy is stored according to the PDF standard and uses the compression filter specified during saving, and this compression filter may be lossy such as JPEG. The second copy is stored in the additional private Photoshop data and is compressed with the lossless ZIP compression.....

as much as you'll resave the document it will reduce in color quality

  • Jack, I took a look at that site. Much of the information in it is very inaccurate, some is just invented. The author has misunderstood the Adobe documentation and the purpose and nature of PDF. Jun 17, 2011 at 9:27
  • alan it could be i dont know exactly what happens with PDF,should i remove this?
    – Jack
    Jun 17, 2011 at 9:35
  • 1st link or second?
    – Jack
    Jun 17, 2011 at 9:38
  • Sorry -- I was writing a long answer and didn't see your questions. Both links are not good, unfortunately. If you want to pull your answer off, why not ask a "What's the deal with PDFs and Photoshop?" question (well, a bit more specific :-)), and I'll expand on it. Didn't want to get into it here because I think it's not the problem. Jun 17, 2011 at 10:33
  • i removed first link according to your view,second link is sort of guidance how to make a pdf from photoshop...
    – Jack
    Jun 17, 2011 at 10:39

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