I have to make a label for an olive oil brand and the background of the label consists of an olive trunk that fades to black.

What are the cmyk values which are appropriate for printing a true black color on a metal tin? When importing the image to Illustrator from Photoshop are there any rules to follow?

Thank you very much for your time and hospitality!

  • Will the art be printed directly on metal or instead on a label that will be applied to a metal surface? Is there full CMYK color in the rest of the label or is it spot colors or just black?
    – JohnB
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 18:36
  • 1
    Always best to ask this question of your printer. They will help you.
    – DA01
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 18:43
  • The art will be printed directly on metal, apart from black there will be only white for the info and gold or yellow for the brand logo. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:15
  • 2
    This sounds like 3-color, non-CMYK.
    – Yorik
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:28
  • 1
    Also bear in mind that if they drop ink on the tin, it looks one way, and if they back it with, say white ink (overprint), it could look another way.
    – Yorik
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 22:37

2 Answers 2


I hate to say this but you will need to at least mention the printing process that will be used.

For short runs, sometimes it can be printed in CMYK and for long runs it's another process similar to screen printing.

In the first case, you can refer to this question. The kind of black you'll choose will depend a lot on what's around it and the size of the white text you mentioned. Plus, you might want to use a "light" recipe for your rich black since metal isn't very porous (e.g. don't use a lot of CMY in your recipe). In your case, you'll probably want a black that doesn't have more magenta than everything else; only you can judge what tint your black should have to make your design look great and it's not true there's a "one black fits all". Some printers also have their favorite recipe but that doesn't stop you from using your own, as long the total of ink is within the print requirements of your printer (in general, it's maximum 300 density when adding the CMYK values together).

And if you need to print using a limited amount of inks, you'll probably simply select a nice Pantone black and use it as a separation color with your other Pantones. Sometimes you need to add a white background as a base to make sure your design won't appear semi-transparent once printed. If you work with Photoshop, here's an example and another one that can help you get started on how you'll need to use channels to create your file. With vectors that's easier, you'll simply need to make sure your colors are spot colors.

The rules to follow are usually the same as with any other Spot printing; you need to make sure you use the same spot names everywhere in your swatches and verify your color separations to be certain no element is left in CMYK, otherwise they won't be printed. You can use different type of trapping sometimes (e.g. overprint) to create new colors by mixing your Pantones but for that too, it's something you should ask about to your printer first. It's possible you won't be able to use any transparency or tint; only 100% densities for your Pantones. That's another thing you'll know by asking what's the print process and checking the printer's requirements.

different black Pantones

Finally, it's also possible a transparent vinyl will be used and usually the technique is the same as the second one mentioned above.

But before you truly get started, the wise and smart thing to do is to ask what printing process will be used and check with your printer what are the file requirements. Some printers don't use Pantones, they limit you to certain colors of ink. That's why it's better to get that information first. Be reassured: it may look complicated but it's a challenging project too and it's very technical!

  • Thank you my friend for all this enlightening info, reading it i have to admit that it is for sure complicated and challenging at least for me. For the rich black i used 40-40-40-100, but perhaps the values are big for printing in a non so much porous material. I am using illustrator and all the elements are vector. I suppose it might be better to use spot colors but i don't know much about them. I have to contact the printer as you advise me and then i will see..Thank you so much! Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 21:47
  • @dukesofspace If you end up printing in Pantone or 3-clors, you don't need to worry about this (eg. about the cmyk recipe!) You'll, simply choose a Pantone black. The fact you work in Illustrator will already make it way easier for you!
    – go-junta
    Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 22:53
  • Thank you again, i will try to learn more on Pantone and 3-clors. I will all let you know how this work will go. Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 16:02

As DA01 said, it is best to ask these questions of the printer that will be executing the job.

The answer will probably depend on the equipment they use, the exact material of the metal tins (and any coatings on them) and perhaps even the composition of the ink being used.

In short: The printer will need to be consulted to know the best answer to your question.

  • Yes Jorry i am going to ask for sure but wanted any available help prior cause this is my first work and have some stress about it. Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:41
  • I've been teaching students for a while now and it is common to be afraid to look dumb in front of the printer on the first job. Do some research first but always double-check with the printer. If they make you feel dumb, change printers :-) I don't expect my students should know how to pick a black for tin and there is a lot more learning to be done on the job after school. It is all in your honor that you are looking for the best way to go about this!
    – curious
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 0:32
  • Sometimes the printer will have samples of how different colors come out on the material that they can show you, or may be able to provide you with a proof if you supply them with a file using different types of black.
    – curious
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 0:35

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