What is a Rich Black & How to Use It

If you’re a graphic designer, you know that when it comes to color, the rules aren’t always black and white. And when you’re printing the color black, there are more options than you might think.

It all has to do with how colors are composed. You probably know that CMYK colors are made up of percentages of cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), and black (K).

If you want to print black with another color as an undertone, or want to be sure your blacks really stand out (for example, if it is the dominant color in your print piece), you can use what is called “rich black.”

richblack_comparisonThere is no set color profile that defines rich black. At Oregon, years of experience have led us to use the percentages 20C, 20M, 20Y, 100K. This is what we recommend designers use for both offset and digital jobs.

No matter what you do, avoid Adobe Photoshop’s “registration black” setting. This setting is applied under the Edit > Fill command when you select “Fill with Black.”

It gives blacks a profile of 100C, 100M, 100Y, 100K. This might seem like a great way to get the deepest black possible, but can actually cause problems when it comes time to print. Applying that much ink can make it difficult for ink to adhere to the page and dry—often requiring printers to start over with a lighter touch.

Rich black, in contrast, gives coverage of 160%—the right amount to fully coat the paper without overdoing it.

This ratio works in most situations requiring rich black, and should help your printer avoid rework and extra costs. As with all things, the best way to make projects using rich blacks timely and affordable is to simply get it right the first time.