higashi's picture

Hi everyone,

Black. Not the weight but the colour.
We (my colleagues and I) were discussing what each one of us used as a CMYK value for when printing a solid panel of black (just the colour, no text). A 100% K black lacks depth without percentages of C, M or Y, and as such we each had differing values for the C, M and Y added. Is there an accepted standard?

With regards to typography, what would be used as the CMYK value for black, when printing white text on black? If CMY values are added, this could cause a fringing effect if misaligned when printing (yes?), so on smaller point sizes would a standard 100% K be recommeded?

Cheers for any thoughts!

oldnick's picture

In the print shops I have worked in, we often employ a color called "Rich Black," which is 100%K+40%C. It punches up the black considerably without laying too much ink on the paper.

You can, of course, add equal amounts of C, M and Y to "balance" the spectrum, but in no event should the combine percentages exceed 280% (out of a possible 400%), again because excess ink delays drying time and creates offsetting problems (transfer of ink between printed sheets).

When reversing out type--especially smaller point sizes--try to keep the complicating factors to a minimum--that is, use Rich Black or another K+one other color combo, and include some spread in the trap so that hairline registration is not necessary.

Norbert Florendo's picture

Joan Wilking and Russ Bannon had thoroughly examined the effect of ink, paper and printing methods on both the readability and reproduction fidelity of typefaces.

I'm not sure if it was published anywhere else, but an article written for Step-by-Step magazine offered valuable suggestions:

Producing Consistently Readable and Beautifully Printed Type.
Joan Wilking and Russ Bannon.
InDesigner’s Guide to Typography, edited by N. Aldrich-Ruenzel and John Fennell. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1991

I used their techniques as the guidline for printing type specimen books and posters for Agfa and Compugraphic. We took densitometer readings of the black ink (standard CYMK) only after the presses ran for awhile after makeready, and would not sign off until the readings were consistently between 160 -- 180.

When you mean "black colour" I assume you are interested in producing a certain richness and depth of "black." That could mean several things in the eye of the beholder.

Occasionally we would hit the black with matte varnish for that "black hole" look. Conversely we would hit the black with a gloss varnish for the sleek, shinny look.

But we would NEVER run another color ink on top of the black type for the very reason you mentioned, registration.

Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

Guerella's picture

The best thing to do is to talk to your printer and ask what they recommend. At the printer that I work for we print a rich black that is 90C 80M 80Y 100K.

Most printers that you talk to will have different answers.

Paul Cutler's picture

- Most printers that you talk to will have different answers -

No doubt. But most of them I've conversed with say that using the least amount of ink to achieve the color you're looking for is the way to go.

- 90C 80M 80Y 100K -

That seems like a lot of ink to me. You're probably getting the results you want from it so let the presses RIP. I would be afraid to put white text or logos on top of that. Any misregistration and you're dead. My baseline mix for backgrounds is 30 20 20 100. For text 0 0 0 100. In Photoshop if you look to the left of K in the CMYK sliders, you can see the undercoating color.


higashi's picture

Yes, we work on different projects using different printers. That's why I was wondering if there was a standard 'given'.

A recent project invlolved a packaging design where the box was to be black and all text (News Gothic) reversed out, some in lime green. It was to be printed in China at minimal cost, and the first sample box came back with a less than impressive black. Someone suggested adding another ink on top, but I pointed out that the registration could be an issue, and something I had never done when type was involved.

crossgrove's picture

Re: typography, white type reversed from black (or rich black):

Note the pitfalls of using delicate or light typefaces in this situation. I gave up trying to read the lyrics to a favorite CD recently, because the "designer" set them in ITC Garamond at 7.5 point in yellow, reversed out of rich black. This is one of the most punishing environments for type, and the face you choose has to be able to stand up to it.

charmagad's picture

I use the formula of C60, M50, Y10 and K100

Works pretty well.

dezcom's picture


Were you considering the rich black for reversed type only? That would make sense but not for black type on white paper. With reversed type (if not too small) you can trap with the black solid leaving a dot and a half trap before you use other CMY colors. I prefer just 30% red and 30% blue to bulk up the black. As everyone else says, there are many formulae prefered by different printers. You can also double-hit the black but you still need a trap.


Dan Weaver's picture

Rich black can work on many levels but if you had a 350,000 web press run like I've had you don't nee to create production problems by knocking out type from rich black. I reversed the idea by making the background a 20% cyan and printing the type in 100%K overprinting the cyan.

dberlow's picture

"Is there an accepted standard?"

Yes. The blackest black is the cover of "Smell the Glove", the last Spinal Tap album, or at least that's what I've used since the 80's.

Si_Daniels's picture


Nigel Tufnel: "It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black."

A band stole the name -


Bert Vanderveen's picture

Just don't use cmyk-black. That's way too transparent. In book printing black inks are available and used that have a far higher density and hues that can be very pleasant (I mean color casts that give a warmer or cooler impression).
Ask your printer.

oystein's picture

«… include some spread in the trap so that hairline registration is not necessary.»

Could someone explain what spread in the trap means?

higashi's picture

So, at the end of the day, I guess it all comes down to personal experience. It's interesting that there seems to be a 50/50 split on whether or not to include CMY in a black in certain situations (rich black). Again, I guess it depends on the job and final output. Has anyone ever double hit a black with reversed type? I can't see when I would do that.

News Gothic is set at 10pt (at its smallest) on the box, although the main bulk is 12pt. Legibility isn't a problem. Any suggestions for an alternative typeface that can handle the smothering effect of black at sub 9pt settings?

higashi's picture

(Oystein, I'm guessing you already know the definiton of trapping. Spread is when an object overlaps the background, compared to choke which is when the background overlaps the object. Having some spread in the trap, as oldnick suggests, would mean that if the CMYK plates aren't aligned when printing, there would be less chance that the CMY colours would overlap the non-printed white areas.)

Duckworth's picture

Higashi, I've always been taught to use C40 M0 Y0 K100 to give a rich black and it works just fine.

I know this is going off a a bit of a tangent, but having scrolled down all the print queries, is there a definitive online resource (or book) that lays all this stuff out easily?

I'm trying to get my head around doing a 2 colour job, using a silver (Pantone 877) and 1 other colour, but sometime in the job using the silver as a base colour and overprinting the other colour onto it to gain an extra metallic (i.e. a metallic version of the coloured ink). I'd like to know if this is possible... has anyone out there tried it, does it work well?

dberlow's picture

"Nigel Tufnel: “It’s like, how much more black could this be?"

Is this from an interview of the band?

TBiddy's picture

Wouldn't these values be different based on the type of stock it is being printed on. Wouldn't coated or glossy stock be different than a more porous stock?

Si_Daniels's picture

>Is this from an interview of the band?

From the movie. The bit where the band tries to look on the bright side of the album's cover redesign. The black cover was the third design. The second one featured a glove, and in the original design it "wasn't a glove."


Rene Verkaart's picture

I guess it also depends a bit on the tints you want to use from the black. Should it be a warm or a cold gray.
For an average black I'd use: C:50 M:40 Y:50 K:100. This gives quit nutral graytones.
For a warm gray I'd use: C:50 M:40 Y:75+ K:100.
For a cold gray I'd use: C:60+ M:40 Y:50 K:100.
If you don't want to use tints, I'd go for the first option.


Also tired of Helvetica? Get an Insider with more personality

*** { Typography to express yourself } ***

Joe Pemberton's picture

Dome printing in Sacramento (who are currently drying and binding issue 004 of Font Magazine) recommends:

Rich black: c=60; m=40; y=40; k=100 (aka "super black")
Black text: c=0; m=0; y=0; k=100

hrant's picture

> I’m guessing you already know the definiton of trapping.

Goddam typesetters invading type design terminology. ;-)


oldnick's picture

Goddam typesetters invading type design terminology. ;-)

Almost as bad as police invading trapping terminology...choke and spread.

Chris G's picture

"I know this is going off a a bit of a tangent, but having scrolled down all the print queries, is there a definitive online resource (or book) that lays all this stuff out easily?"

One book I've found incredibly helpful for these kind of things is Getting it right in print - Digital pre-press for graphic designers by Mark Gatter (published by Lawrence King, London). It covers a whole range of common and not so common issues like the rich black problem in a concise way.

It recommends that the combined ink densities of a rich black do not exceed 250% to avoid 'picking' on the press, and that reversed out type is correctly trapped.

InDesign CS must surely have some kind of trickery up its sleeve to make trapping pain free?

dberlow's picture

"From the movie."
What Movie?
I only have the albums,
and only 4 of the 13 at that.
So very rare. special even...

Si_Daniels's picture

I have a signed copy of Shark Sandwich I'd be happy to give you.

But this thread has gone italic - so I'm off


grod's picture

stupid italic, people, close your tags :-)

Joe Pemberton's picture

My bad, grod.

skirklan's picture

I just had a brochure kicked back to me because I used 100%k +50%C to create rich black. The printer said he wanted 100%k + 30%c + 30%m +30%y. Just irritating, but the age old rule applies especially in digital--when in doubt, ask the person doing the printing.

Susan Kirkland
SDKirkland Master Designer
Author of
Start & Run a Creative Services Business
ISBN 155180607X
View my work and excerpts from the book (click the book icon) at

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