I'm working on a full color piece in Illustrator which has a few large black and grey areas.

I'd like the black to be a rich black. I was thinking c30 m30 y30 k100. What is the best ways to match my gray areas?

  • 4
    "50 Shades of rich grey" = spin off romance novel that takes place in the prepress room.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 16:15
  • Closely related: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/2984/…
    – e100
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 12:00
  • Values for rich black usually means wearing a white suit
    – SaturnsEye
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 16:28

4 Answers 4


Talk to the production house and ask them what rich black they prefer. There is no single rich black every print provider uses. Each print provider has their own formula for a rich black. And, in many cases, the print provider may want simply 100% K and they will adjust the black to match their own environment. Therefore, the best option is to ask the print provider how they like rich blacks handled.

There are a couple ways to handle tints of the rich black.

  • The easiest .... make it a Global color. Double click the swatch in the Swatches Panel and tick the "Global" option.

  • More cumbersome.... hold down the Command/Ctrl key when you adjust color sliders. This will cause all 4 sliders to move in unison.


Choice of rich black recipe

When doing rich black you need to keep in mind it will have a tint when used as gray or as a gradient.

You might want to use this to your advantage either by using a mix of rich black that will look neutral in its gray shade or by using one that has more Cyan, Magenta or Yellow if you actually want to create a colored gray.

A "safe" way to mix your black is by keeping the yellow and magenta a bit lower than the cyan; this way your black will look more gray metallic than brown when used with transparency, gradients or grays.

For example:

Cyan = 30 Magenta = 20 Yellow = 20 Black = 100

Examples of different rich black and their gradient/gray:

Rich black and gradients

What about asking the printer?

Yes, that's an idea, when it's possible to contact the printer. Sometimes it's not an option. But if you can contact the printer, he will SUGGEST you a black that prints well but that's in NO WAY the only rich black you can use. The one they usually suggest is one that prints with consistency on large areas (see second point.) There's even some cases where you should use a C1-M1-Y1-K100 for example and even though it's barely a rich black, it still accomplishes what it supposed to do. You can freely create any kind of rich black as long they have an acceptable density and give you the effect on gray/gradient you want. That's why it's good to understand how colors work.

Matching the right rich black with your design's colors

Another point is you should choose your black recipe carefully. If your layout contains a lot of blue for example, you should try to use a rich black that is very neutral or uses more cyan than magenta and yellow; otherwise that black will look brownish or warm compared to the rest of your design.

Example of warm rich black on blue tone picture

In all case, your ink density should not be above 300; that means when you add the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black values together, the total should be kept below 300 ideally.

Careful with rich black and small/thin texts

If you're doing a project for offset printing, you need to be very careful in your choice of fonts.

Sometimes the registration of the press is not perfect; this happens when the 4 plates of CYMK separations are not well aligned.

Not well aligned registration plates

When this happens, using a white text on a black background could show the other separations within the white part of your letters.

For this reason, you might want to use a font that isn't too thin; the thinner the font, the more fuzzy the text will look. A normal/roman or bold font will already help save a bit of your design if that happens. At least the text will still be white and readable.

Very bad example of bad registration

For the same reason, you need to also be careful with small text on white; when it's not necessary to use the rich black, simply use the normal 100% black only for small texts or very small graphics.

Example of bad registration with rich black on white

Use the same recipe of rich black

Simply create your swatches of colors when you start your design and use the same black color everywhere on your layouts. You don't need to make these swatches "spot", you can simply use them as "global" color.

Before you send your PDF files to the printer, verify if you did a good job. You can use the separation preview in Adobe Acrobat Pro and verify if all your black are 1) using the same rich black recipe and 2) that you don't have any big areas using a 100% black only.

You can do this by unchecking one by one each separation and adding them back in the preview. Usually it's easy to spot what needs to be fixed!

Separation process colors in Acrobat pro

Extra resources

More details on rich black already answered here:

What kind of black should I use when designing for CMYK print?

Trick to use a rich black instead of 100% black with overprint trapping or another way to choose your rich black to match a background color:

InDesign – Overprinting white at a Guangzhou printshop

Contrast of different black in design

How to achieve contrast in a black-on-black design

Avoiding issue with the difference in rich black when placing rasterized images in Illustrator or InDesign with vectors

Different shades of black in Photoshop and InDesign

Rich black used with gradients VS RGB black

Gradient tool in Photoshop not even blend?

Resource from the web






If you know what ink coverage means in printing, then you would analyze the formula. There is a minimum to a maximum ink coverage:

Maximum Ink Coverage is based on a 240-260 % ink Coverage. If you take the rich black that is generated automatically in Photoshop, which is C=75 M=68 Y=67 K=89 = 299% ink coverage. Your saturation is way pass the 240-260% ratio. Most print houses utilize a formula C=60 M=40 Y=40 K=100 (240% ink Coverage) or C=40 M=30 Y=30 K=100 (a bit less than average).

These formulas are best for rich black. Remember that the term RGB is not utilized in Litho Printing. Therefore you cannot use CMYK formulation on an RGB mode.


  • The "rich black generated automatically in Photoshop" is entirely dependent upon your color profile settings. So it's not always the numbers you cite.
    – Scott
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 15:57

Coming from a print background I can tell you that the CMYK for a rich black is

C=75 M=68 Y=67 K=89

This will give you the best black. If you are sending to an RGB printer like any desktop

(yes they print CMYK and have all those cool mid tone cartridges but they take RGB images and have there own internal rip that converts it)

I would use R=0 G=0 B=0 If you use process black or C=100 M=100 Y=100 K=100 you will end up with a muddy brown on a CMYK printer.

Also on grey the printer will always use all of the colors to print grey, it will never use only black ink. This is to retain detail in the grey areas. I would make sure that you are adding a little more cyan or magenta to make the greys cooler or warmer depending on the look you are after.

  • 5
    there is no 'one' rich black. It's all dependent on the inks, the press, the paper, and the printer.
    – DA01
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 1:22
  • Yep, sometimes RichBlack is 320, sometimes not ..
    – Kromster
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 7:17
  • 5
    please note that 100/100/100/100 should never, ever be used as a rich black. It is equivalent to 'registration black', and it's bound to stain your print because it's way too wet with all that ink not having time to dry properly.
    – Vincent
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 8:11

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