Using Rich Black in Adobe Illustrator

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Rich Black, Poor Black:  A Graphic Design Quick Tip

New designers have it tough. They are expected to be experts in colour theory, layout, typography, design trends and much more. Here is some information on working with rich blacks that was really useful when I first started designing. By creating ‘work smart’ habits in Illustrator, you will create efficiencies that will save you time and help positively impact your bottom line. This is my first Illustrator Quick Tip but I will be adding more so be sure and check back to see what’s new.

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What is rich black?

“Rich black” is a term used to describe a black that made up of laying standalone black over one or more of the other CMYK (C=Cyan, M=Magenta, Y=Yellow, K=Black) colours. The result of added colour/s is that the black will have a darker or richer tone than if it were made up of simply K. Depending on the effect you are trying to achieve, CMY can be added in different percentages to create rich blacks that appear cooler or warmer.

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How do I know if I’m using rich black?

If you are working on designs and regular black looks rich then you need to check the black appearance settings in your Illustrator program. It is important to see things as true as possible in order to anticipate how your designs will output to printers, save to pdf or export to an RGB graphic. To view blacks accurately on your screen, follow this path – Edit > Preferences > Appearance of Black, and choose “Display All Blacks Accurately” from the On Screen drop down menu.

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What combination of CMYK makes rich black?

There are differing opinions on what percentage of the CMYK should be used to create rich black. I currently use C=75 M=68 Y=67 K=90 as my default but it is important to remember that every print bureau will have their own preferences for rich black. Check with the individual printers of your clients so that you can set up their files correctly. Also remember that adjusting the percentage of Cyan or Magenta will affect the coolness or warmth of your black.

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Important things to remember:

1. Rich black should not be used for all design elements, only those that will cover larger areas. Type and thin lines should be left at 100% K only as changing them to rich black will result in print blur due to registration issues.

2. Depending on the design, you might want to use trapping on the CMY. Where you have rich black, choke these colours back as per the printer’s direction so that they will not bleed past the edge of the K.

3. Every printer has their own way of producing rich black and it is best to check with them in advance in order to set up the rich black in your designs to their specifications. Some printers even prefer that you only use 100% K and they will adjust it to rich black themselves.

4. Rich black will cost more when printing because it is considered a colour print even though it appears as black only. In order to get a rich black, the colours CMY are being used although they are not seen.

5. Do not use 100% of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black to make rich black. This approach results in too much ink during printing which can result in quite a mess.

6. Some designers use a different name for “rich black”, such as “boosted black”.

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February 26, 2014

1 comment

Hi mate, been creating a box for a board game as a project for my Product Design class, and up until now, I’ve been really confused why the black doesn’t look black. Thank God I’ve stumbled across this article, you’re a lifesaver.

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