The Ultimate Rich CMYK Black Exposed!

A few days ago, I took at look at some print work I did for one of my regular clients, Next Plc, a leading word-wide clothing giant. The prints were for some of their notice-boards in the Dearne Valley Distribution Warehouse, England. The designs were nothing ground-breaking design-wise, but what this article is about is an amazingly dark CMYK Black that was achieved through the use of professional digital print. I have tried to do the black justice in the above photo — which shows a dark, almost-sparkly silk finish (although, I haven’t fully exposed its density in a mere photo).

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This black was achieved using a Xeikon 5000 Digital Press (shown above), aftr sending the files to RCS Printers, located in Retford (UK). Now, there’s a lot of contention in the print-design world about the perfect values to attain a Rich Black. I’ve used Cool Black myself on a variety of occasions using 40% Cyan and 100% Black (key), but for this design, I wanted to achieve the ultimate black.

Normally, I wouldn’t use all four printing inks if there’s small type in the design, but in this case, I was sending the prints off to be printed digital, so registration wasn’t an issue, plus all the text was large.

For the sake of completeness, I have included the source image for the print below. I wanted a very rich, dark black to compliment the orange and blue colours on the design.

I suppose before I go on, I’d better explain what the print is for. As can be seen below, an A4 plastic adhesive sleeve (from 3L) is stuck on the middle of the A3 print (on 350gsm Silk stock). The design, along with another 23 in the set, can display weekly information and target data through the week in the Next Dearne Valley Distribution Warehouse.

To get the rich black colour, so it wouldn’t look all washed out, I used the following TAC (total area coverage):

60% Cyan | 40% Magenta | 40% Yellow | 100% Black (key)

The total ink coverage equated to 240%, which would be near the upper TAC limit if I was printing on some thinner coated stocks on an offset-press. Although these were digital prints, I suppose I could have used meaner percentages — maybe even registration black (!!), yet I chose this TAC percentage mix to see how well it would look…and it looked stunning.

I thought that using a higher percentage may make the black look ‘muddy’. Although next time I do something like this, I’m going to upscale the percentages to see if it looks even darker, but for this occasion, I wasn’t going to do personal experiments with a paying clients’ work.

At the moment, I’m compiling an article coving every conceivable way of printing black on both digital and off-set printers. So I’ll be covering the varied mixes of blacks, including Cool Black, Rich Black, Flat Black and Earth Black (oh yes), as well as CMYK, Hexachrome and even Metal FX® black inks. Why not to Subscribe to my blog as not to miss this upcoming resource?

So far, this set of prints have produced my ultimate CMYK Black. Have you got any experience with differnet CMYK ink mixes? What’s is your chosen persentage, and on what paper? Have you ever used the full 400% TAC on a digital print? I’d like to hear your opinion…

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10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Rich CMYK Black Exposed!”

  1. Tom Humes

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. Richard, Peacock Carter

    Nice, will be trying that on the next print work we do – hope it needs black!

  3. Andrew Kelsall

    @ Tom, thanks…
    @ Richard, I couldn’t recommend the Xeikon 5000 Digital Press enough…wish I had one in the garage 😉

  4. Richard

    I wish we did too, especially with trouble with printers we’ve had recently!

    Might look at RCS for future work – I assume (since they’re linked) you’d recommend them?

  5. Andrew Kelsall

    Hi Richard. I replied to your comment yesterday, but my blog was felled today by an upgrade of the Cforms ll plugin! Luckily, I had a backup of my database, minus one comment to you…

    What trouble have you had at your printers may I ask?

  6. Dan

    Design for print is such a headache. The problem is that all printers are different. The darkest black I ever used was using

    C 30% M 30% Y 30% K 100%

    Was fine even of small text. Very rich and creamy. I have just compared it to a business card I got through the post and it’s no way near as dark as the black on that. I’m researching into this atm.

  7. Mike W. Taylor

    And for printers, working with designers is an even bigger headache.
    I work in a prepress department, most of our jobs this year are annual reports (for public companies) and the like. Most are simple, but some have a very glossy high end wrap that goes around the actual financial document. For some reason this year, every design company is sending files with rich black type. And not large type mind you, but 8pt serif type. And with the densities so high we could not lay down that much ink if we tried (primarily running on Heidelberg speedmasters, sheetfed offset, 80# gloss cover). These are medium run jobs, with very short turn times needed. Pretty down and dirty. To avoid registration issues, we usually just lay down flat black rather than deal with the registration (unless we can trap it to another color).

    I would like to blame you Andrew, and say that all your articles about rich black, pms black, flat black, etc. are root cause. Yes, I read the longer article you did about black, very thorough. You do write some convincing arguments for rich black 🙂
    I guess what I am getting at is, be sure to talk to your printer/prepress about your job, perhaps even when you are doing some concept stuff. We can suggest alternatives (trapping to other colors, spot colors) or percentages that the designers may not have thought of themselves. Some printers can be tough to work with, but the good ones do want to come out with a beautiful product just as much as the designers do.

    On a related note, I used this Xeikon digital press at a university press. Its a great little machine. I do not recall what sort of densities we printed at, but I do remember being stunned that a digital press could look so good.

  8. Andrew Kelsall

    @ Mike

    Thanks for you detailed comment. Sorry I’m replying so late, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of comments in WordPress when they’re coming left, right and center for different posts 🙂

    It worries me that someone would send 8pt serif type in rich black, was it April the 1st? This is one of my aims, especially in the Designers guide to black article:

    …So users can be educated, and not making your day any worse 😉

    Yeah, the Xeikon digital press is a great machine. I have stuff printed by one on a regular basis…