Playing Keepaway with Logos and Small Type

This tutorial will demonstrate how to print very small white text, lines or logos onto a rich-black background. It sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but the trick is to do this whilst retaining the sharpness of the graphic or text. When knocking white out of a 4-colour process, blurring may occur.

I will use my personal logomark in the following examples to show how attaining sharpness can be achieved. I am using a designer-black base with a % distribution as follows: C70 M50 Y30 K100 : This black is made up to a TAC equating to 250%.

cmyk black with white text

↑ Imagine that the logomark above is only 1cm (10mm) in height. This is the desired effect: with a sharp white logo appearing on (well, knocked out of) a rich/designer black background with no TAC.

cyan plate image

↑ This image represents the cyan channel, with coverage set at 70%
magenta plate image

↑ This image represents the magenta channel, with coverage set at 40%

yellow plate image

↑ This image represents the yellow channel, with coverage set at 30%

black plate image

↑ …and finally, this image represents the black (key) channel, with coverage set at 100%

flat black outer stroke image

↑ The “trick” to making the logo appear sharp is to use an expanded line width filled with flat back (C0 M0 Y0 K100). As can be seen in this example, the rich black doesn’t extend to the edge of the white. This can be done using a variety of methods using Adobe Photoshop® or Illustrator®.

effect of cyan plate in CMYK image

↑ This example shows how the cyan channel would look. Notice how thick the lines of the logomark are (the yellow and magenta channels would look similar).

white text flat rich black CMYK image

↑ The end result is a line that is crisp and sharp. The width of the expanded line only needs to be enough to counteract any reasonable misregistration on a printing press. Even if misregistration was wasn’t an issue (such as in digital print), blurring can still occur due to the type of paper stock used and fuzzy-edges produced by the toner or ink used.

white blurry text black image

↑ This is a “mock closeup” of the CMYK misregistration. Notice how the edges are slightly misaligned on all four colours.

Image of flat black stroke with no blur

↑ This image shows a comparison on how using a flat black around the white logomark would result in clean, crisp line edges.

This method isn’t just confined to use with black. It can be used in a variety of situations where white or light text is used. For example, white text could be used on top of a texture, whereby the dominant colour of the texture image is used as a stroke. Another method is to, say, create a stoke in the cyan and magenta channels, but leave the yellow. The possibilities are endless.

Pros and Cons of this method

Okay, is this logo so sharp it could slice bread? Well, maybe not, but using this technique can greatly increase the clarity of printed material. There are other methods of knocking white text of of a designer-style rich black by using a double hit of Pantone® Black, but misregistration can still be an issue, as only 2 printing plates would be used. However, if small white text or graphics on a CMYK background is what is required, this method should work fine.

The edges will be sharper, but the clarity will still depend on the paper stock used. Fine glossy paper will produce better results than a thick textured one. Also, depending on the size of the white lines and the thickness of the flat-black, the differential density of the 2 blacks may be noticeable on close inspection.

If you’d like to read more about printing black, may I recommend my popular article The Professional Designers Guide to using Black.

Any questions? Please leave your comments below…

11 thoughts on “Playing Keepaway with Logos and Small Type”

  1. Kaishin

    While the title is kind of misleading, the article is uber-awesome! More of this please, as I am growing tired of all the garbage that ends up in my RSS and Twitter feeds everyday 🙂

  2. Mark.S.

    Great article. Can’t believe I haven’t used this before. Thanks for posting.

  3. Andrew Kelsall

    @Kaishin → There’s a fine line between misleading and a creative blog post title. What would you suggest instead?

    I’m glad my blog does your RSS feed justice 🙂

    @Mark → No worries. Thanks for commenting…

  4. Jerry Bernard

    A better and more descriptive title could have been “playing keepaway with logos and small type”

    That being said, a very good article that discusses finer points of trapping that most people don’t think about.

  5. Andrew Kelsall

    @Jerry → Hay, know what? I like your suggestion! Cheers 🙂

  6. wajahath ali

    Great article Andrew ! You should publish more of these. I enjoy reading it and use of different images at different levels are engaging.