Have you ever wondered what is the difference between using rich black versus pure black is? If you answered “yes” don’t feel bad because this is a very common question (out of many) designers have. I must admit that I used to think that 100% CMYK was the same thing as #00000. On a computer screen, the only one way to display black is when there is no light coming in from the monitor, however in print there are multiple ways to show the color black. There is the standard default black, also known as pure black and there is rich black, which is also known as jet/super black. Although these look very similar at a glance, there are many differences all good designers should know.

Rich Black vs Pure Black

It may vary case to case but most all CMYK programs will use pure black as the default black color, which is traditionally composed of 100% black and no other inks used. Then we have rich black. Rich black is often regarded as a color that is “blacker than black”. Although it varies between printers, rich black  is an ink combination of the following ink percents: 50% Cyan, 50% Magenta, 25% Yellow, and 100% Black. However, there are many different possible ink combinations that create colors such as “Cool Black” (60% Cyan, 0% Magenta, 0% Yellow, 100% Black) and “Warm Black” (0% Cyan, 60% Magenta, 30% Cyan, 100% Black). So now that you know what they are,  you will need to know when and when not to use them.

When to use rich black:

When you have a large area of black to be printed, the ink can sometimes have an unwanted brownish or gray tint making it lack depth and a striking appearance.  So in order to avoid this use a rich black get the desired shade of black you want. For example, a pocket folder of a brochure cover that has a mainly black background.

When print areas overlap – If you have a light-colored background and want a large black area to print on top, use rich black. For example, if you have a yellow background and want black stripes to appear on top. By doing this, the black on top of the yellow won’t show through so you don’t end up with brown stripes.

When large type is used – If your type is a thick sans-serif type (such as Impact) and 40 points or larger in size, try using a rich black.

When not to use rich black:

Newspaper – Though you can use rich black in newspaper ads, I wouldn’t recommend it. Using rich black in one area generally yields ink bleeds and can cause paper wrinkling. So it would be best to just stick with plain old black in that case.

When using small black areas on white or dark backgrounds. Rich black won’t register on very thin or undefined areas of size.

When using small type – Just like using small areas of black, registering rich black on your 8-point type is just not going to get you good results. Even the best of printers would struggle with that. So if you are ever unsure, have your local printer or a graphic designer take a look before you go to print.