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Printing Terminology: What is Rich Black?

Name tag that says Hello my name is Rich Black

Commercial CMYK printing presses use four different ink colors - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. These four ink colors are applied to the paper as tiny dots, with the dots varying in concentration from 0% to 100%. As the paper moves through the press, the four colors of ink dots get added in successive layers, gradually building the desired images on the paper.

Full color images are created using all four ink colors in various percentages. However, text is frequently printed using only the Black ink, which is set at the maximum concentration of 100% (with Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow all set to 0%). This combination of 0% Cyan, 0% Magenta, 0% Yellow and 100% Black is considered to be the Standard Black color.

Though the Standard Black color is recommended for bodies of text, it has some shortcomings when used for other design elements that print in solid black, such as backgrounds or bold headings. This is because Standard Black, although it offers good contrast, is not always suitable for applications that require an intense black. This is where "Rich Black" comes into play.

What is Rich Black?

Instead of using the Standard Black ink exclusively, Rich Black incorporates percentages of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow inks as well. By adding these additional ink colors, Rich Black is able to exhibit a deeper and darker tone than Standard Black.

Despite what you might think, the Rich Black color does not follow a universal formula. The recommended percentages of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow will actually vary from printer to printer. For example, one printer might recommend 60% Cyan, 40% Magenta, 40% Yellow, and 100% Black whereas another might recommend 20% Cyan, 20% Magenta, 20% Yellow, and 100% Black.

Because printers know which Rich Black formulation works best with their printing equipment and inks/toners, it is always recommended that you or your graphic designer check with your chosen printer to get their input on your project.

Even though Rich Black is a popular way to add a deep black color to printed pieces, it does require heavier ink coverage than Standard Black. This can sometimes result in a higher price for projects that print with heavy coverage over a sizeable area.

The Rich Black color isn't recommended for text copy or narrow lines

The Rich Black color is generally reserved for use on larger blocks of black, such as black backgrounds. It can also be used for headings that use a large and bold typeface. However, Standard Black should be used for general text copy and other narrow elements such as barcodes, fine lines, or thin borders.

Rich Black would be problematic for thinner elements because of the need for extremely tight registration. After all, Rich Black uses all four CMYK colors. So for the finer details like text or narrow lines, it would be a real challenge to maintain all four ink colors in perfect register.

This brings up another point. If you were to place an order for a piece that will be printed with Rich Black and one Pantone color, this would not be a 2-color project. It would actually be a 5-color project because Rich Black is created from the four CMYK colors.

Rich Black vs Registration Black

The darkest black that can be made from the four CMYK ink colors consists of 100% Cyan, 100% Magenta, 100% Yellow, and 100% Black. This is known as Registration Black.

Registration marks used to bring ink colors into register
Registration Black is used primarily for registration marks and trim marks

Even though it produces the darkest CMYK color mix, Registration Black is only used to add registration marks and trim marks to printed pieces. This is because it is impractical for creating printed output. Registration Black uses ink at 400% coverage, which is much too heavy and would saturate the paper.

Soaking the paper with ink can lead to a host of issues, such as smearing, images offsetting onto other sheets, and long drying times. For best results, total ink coverage should stay below 300%.

Also, the more liquid ink placed on a sheet, the further the ink might seep into the paper fibers. This can reduce the sharpness of images and also muddy up some finer details, especially when printing on uncoated paper stocks.

Color Vision is always ready to help!

If you have any questions about Rich Black or any other print-related questions, get in touch with Color Vision Printing.

Our professional and experienced staff is always ready to serve you. Plus, you'll be pleased with our affordable pricing on digital printing, offset printing, finishing, and binding.

We are always happy to discuss your projects, so give us a call at 800-543-6299. Or, if you already know your specs and would like a price quote, just fill out our Quote Request form and we will send you a quote by email.

As always, we look forward to assisting you!

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