You can never be too rich – or can you?
When to Use Rich Black vs. Flat Black
In the print world, black can be printed as flat black (just black ink), rich black (using a mixture of CMYK) or registration black (100% each of CMYK).
While all three are options in design software, registration black should never be used in design as it makes the ink coverage too heavy and causes drying problems. (Imagine what four layers of wet paint – in four different colors – on top of each other would look like.)
Flat black is good for keeping text sharp at small point sizes. It is also cost-effective when running a one- or two-color print job. Rich black produces a deeper black tone that is especially good for large, solid areas of black and is used for matching photo backgrounds. But rich black is only cost effective when you’re already printing four-color process and there is no reversed-out type or small logos. The type tends to plug up since all four colors must line up perfectly when printed. Each black has its own unique purpose.
- Ask your printer what mix they prefer for rich black, but a typical mix is 40% cyan, 30% magenta, 20% yellow, and 100% black.
- Use rich black on four-color pieces so the blacks have more depth. It looks amazing, when applicable.
- Use the eye dropper tool in your design software to determine the CMYK percentages when matching a graphic or type to a four-color image to match your rich black.
- Use flat black when you are printing a one- or two-color job.
- Don’t use registration black. It is 100% each of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black and should never be used in design/printing. Ink will take too long to dry and will likely smear.
- Rich black should not be used on small type and fine rules – especially for type that reverses out. It will cause the type to plug up and lose fine detail.
- If you are printing a job that just uses black and a Pantone color, keep in mind that rich black will add four more colors to the job. In this case, it is more cost-effective to use flat black.
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Flat Black vs. Rich Black is part of a series of tips to help enhance all your print projects.
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