Ultimate guide to create the blackest black in print

When working in graphic design, it seems like there can be no mistake when it comes to black colour. Black is black, right? Well – it is not so easy. In this article you will learn basic rules of using black in graphic design and print from a graphic designer. 

Black in CMYK

Preparing a document to print in CMYK, “black” is usually used as C:0/M:0/Y:0/K:100. But when you print out a document with these values, the black will not be black at all — it will be dark grey. The K:100 is not the blackest black you can get!

Working with black in graphic design: tips

When preparing a document to print, instead of K:100, a designer should mix C/M/Y/K values, to achieve rich, “real” black.

“Well, I will just pick the blackest black from the colour palette in Photoshop then!”

It seems a good solution — however, randomly choosing black from a palette when working in a multipaged, complex documents or many projects at a time can lead to really bad colour management.

Differences in “the blackest black” in Photoshop and Illustrator

Graphic design. Black in Photoshop. See the CMYK values.
Black in Photoshop. See the CMYK values.

As visible above, Photoshop’s “the blackest black” is CMYK 75/68/67/90. However, InDesign and Illustrator use the swatch of 0/0/0/100. Combining two files from Illustrator or InDesign and Photoshop with large black coverage will result in a black-next-to-gray.
Graphic design tip:  Always input correct swatch — like “Photoshop Black”: 75/68/67/90. When choosing colour in Illustrator or InDesign just use the same swatch instead of picking it manually from the palette. It is especially important when you convert a project from RGB to CMYK!

Mind the Total Area Coverage

Another tip: the maximum ink coverage (Total Area Coverage, TAC) should be no higher than 300/310 for most types of paper, less for uncoated.
Even if you want to make your black blacker, never use values such as 100/100/100/100. Values such as C70 M50 Y30 K100 (gives TAC 250) will do. You can also use composite black, made just from CMY.

So you really want to use the blackest black?

Well, working with small texts and other small areas — lines or dots — needs another method. In print process, cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key) prints are being used separately, so even the smallest mis-registration between printing plates in offset printing can cause this:


Print mistakes when printing in black: avoid these!

when you need this:

Print mistakes when printing in black: avoid these!


In the next  part of my guide, I will give some tips on working with text or small lines and how to avoid the effect above.

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