True Black in CMYK: How to Get Rich Black for Printing

How to Get True Black in CMYK
Photo via Envato Elements

When you're designing for print, it's important to make sure that your file uses the CMYK color space so the colors will print accurately. But one of the challenges you may be facing is getting a true black in CMYK. You might end up with something that's more like a dark gray than a pure black, and that could ruin your design.

But don't worry, getting rich black in CMYK is easy, and I'll show you how to do it. With these simple tips, you'll be able to create beautiful blacks that make your designs pop, regardless of whether you're using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or another program.

What Is CMYK?

Before we get into how to get rich black in CMYK, it's important to understand a little bit about color spaces.

A color space is a range of colors that can be represented by a particular system. The most common color spaces are RGB and CMYK.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is the color space used by your computer screen. It's an additive color space, which means that all the colors are created by adding together different combinations of red, green, and blue light.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK and is the color space used for printing. It's a subtractive color space, which means that each color is created by absorbing certain wavelengths of light and reflecting others.

Cyan absorbs red, magenta absorbs green, and yellow absorbs blue. The “K” in CMYK represents black or “key”. Black is the key color or key plate used in printing, and using “K” instead of a “B” to represent black also avoids confusion with other colors, like blue.

Printing a Design
Photo via Envato Elements

Why Is CMYK Used for Printing?

So why not just use RGB all the time?

It's true that you can design using only the RGB color space, but there are certain limitations. Most notably, colors will look different onscreen than they do when printed. This is because monitors emit light, while printers reflect it.

When you're designing for print, it's important to use the CMYK color space because that's what printers use. If you design in RGB, the colors will be converted to CMYK when you go to print, and the results may not be what you expect.

For example, let's say you have a bright red background in your design. It looks great on your screen, but when you print it out, the red turns out to be more like a dark pink. That's because the conversion from RGB to CMYK can change the way colors look.

Some colors can't be reproduced at all in CMYK. Bright oranges, greens, and pinks can be especially challenging to print. When you're designing for print, it's important to keep this in mind and choose colors that will look good in CMYK.

How to Get True Black in CMYK

Now that we've gone over the basics of color spaces, let's talk about how to get true black in CMYK. The common assumption is that you would use 100% black values to create a deep rich black in CMYK. However, that's not true.

Dark Grey in CMYK

As you can see in the image above, when K is set to 100% and the others are at 0%, the color is actually a dark gray and not a rich black.

To achieve the darkest black on the paper, you have to make some customizations that allow it to print in the same way as it appears to be on the screen.

If you use 100% black (K), you'll end up with a deep gray, not a true black (see the CMYK values in the image below). To get rich black, you need to add the right amount of all four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

How to Get True Black in CMYK

The blackest black you can get when printing in CMYK is C-75 M-68 Y-67 K-90. Yes, you can accomplish this by simply dragging the color picker all the way to the bottom left, but when dealing with complex documents, and one of the blacks don't print right, it's good to know where the problem is (especially documents delivered from clients).

Settings to use for rich black in CMYK

Of course, you can also tweak the settings slightly and see how you like the adjustments.

You can see from the images above how a change can make CMYK black richer and deeper. You may be confused with a lot of different colors available to be chosen in the picker and you may not be able to identify the true black color that's suitable to be used in different works. The picker contains colors of all different kinds, concentrations, and volumes so you have to be really precise and accurate while picking the perfect color for your own task. Thankfully, getting true black is easy with the right settings, no need to rely on the picker.

Be Sure to Use Matching Blacks in Your Design

When you're creating a design that will be printed in CMYK, it's important to use the same black throughout the design.

If you use different blacks in your design, they may not match perfectly when they're printed. For example, if you use 100% K for some text and then use the CMYK values C-75 M-68 Y-67 K-90 for other text, the two will look different when they're printed.

It's best to pick one black and stick with it throughout the design. This will help ensure that everything prints consistently.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the blackest black in CMYK?

The blackest black is C-75 M-68 Y-67 K-90. This can be accomplished by simply dragging the color picker all the way to the bottom left, but you can also enter the values manually to ensure that you're using a true black.

Why is CMYK black not black?

If you use 100% K to create a black in CMYK color mode, you'll end up with a deep gray, not a true black. To get rich black, you need to add the right amount of all four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

When should I use CMYK?

CMYK is best used for designs that will be printed. If you're sending the design to a printer, be sure to check their recommended specs as they may vary.

Why does my design look different when I print it?

The conversion from RGB to CMYK can change the way colors look. Some colors can't be reproduced at all in CMYK. Bright oranges, greens, and pinks can be especially challenging to print. When you're designing for print, it's important to work in the CMYK color mode.

Final Thoughts on Rich Black in CMYK

Getting true black in CMYK is easy with the right settings. If you've been frustrated with blacks that look more like muddy grays when printed, try the settings provided in this article and it should fix your issues so you'll wind up with a rich black. We also recommend getting a sample printed before doing a large run to avoid any unexpected issues.