How to get RICH (rich black)

Pick one of the following:

  1. You’ve never heard of Rich Black.
  2. You’ve heard of Rich Black, but don’t know what it is.
  3. You know “Rich Black” and you know when to use it.

This article is for those in groups one or two.

So, what is black?

We all know black is a color. Really it’s the absence of light. But, when something is black on your computer screen, what you really see is “no light” coming from the pixels on your monitor. (A pixel as a little red, green or blue light bulb within your screen… and there are millions of them on your monitor.) Yes, that’s where RGB comes from (Red, Green, Blue). When all three lights are on at the same time (at 100%) you get white. When they are all off, you get black. That’s how it goes for your computer screen or television. But that kind of black is different than the black ink printed on paper.

Using Black in Printing

The color on paper comes from tangible ink, not pixels or light. Technically, the colors you see are the light waves reflected by (not absorbed by) the object you are looking at. When you design something that is to be printed (like a poster, booklet, business card, etc.) chances are it will be printed professionally on a 4-color press, like what we use at TBC. It’s called a 4-color press because traditionally there are four ink colors on the press: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. In the industry, that is known as CMYK. Cyan is like blue. Magenta is like red. Yellow is, um, like yellow. Etc. We can make pretty much any color by combining those four colors of ink.

If your design has elements that are black, you might want to handle them in specific ways, so that they will look their best. See the black box below? The top half is black, and the bottom is a recreation of rich black. In printing, you get rich black by printing not just 100% black, but ALSO 40% cyan, 40% magenta, and 30% yellow… at the same time! That’s right… when you print black all by itself, you get, well, black, but it’s not a deep, true, rich black. But when you add the other colors in the right combination, it comes out great!

NOTE: Accurate printing requires accurate registration. Registration is where the different colors line up correctly on the press. Because fine print is already so small, you generally do NOT want to use Rich Black for fine text. Rule of thumb: under 36pt text, use only black. Larger than 36pt, or larger blocks of black area, use rich black.