Case #MMM003 - Impersonating the Color Black - Radiant

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Monday Morning Misdemeanors is a series of weekly posts written by Graphic Designer, Derek Gyssels. In this series, Derek is going to hone in on a number of common problems that crop up in graphic designs and then give you the tools to avoid them which will give your designs a professional polish.

This case is a little obscure, but I know there are a handful of you out there that are going to appreciate me covering this. This topic is a bit of a nitty-gritty detail but it is also one that can cause quite a bit of grief if it is overlooked. It is a bit of a head scratcher, but the color black needs to be treated with some care in your design projects, especially print projects. Let's start by looking at a few fundamentals.

All design projects can reside in a number of color modes but the one we are concerned with is CMYK which stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. What you need to understand is that all printed materials, unless specified by pantone colors, are made by those four colors in various halftones and line screens. All four of those colors can have a value between 0 and 100 which is a range of intensity of application from least to greatest.

Impersonating the Color BlackNow through no fault of your own, if you were working in photoshop and wanted to fill the background of your design with black your natural compulsion would be to set the black value to 100 and all the other color values to zero, however this would be wrong. That result would give you a very dark grey. If your looking for a black as dark as the night sky it requires a color formula involving all four colors (as seen in the image provided).

There was a time that this was a huge problem in the printing world because the software would display black the same way regardless of the color formula involved. Then Adobe made an improvement in their software to account for this making sure that a black with a value of only K100 would appear grey in nature (again see the image provided). This leads me into the first of two points I want to leave you with.

It doesn't matter what the black looks like on your screen, the numbers making up the black are king. If you're not sure about the values involved in a color, use the 'eye dropper' tool in Photoshop to find out what the formula is. The numbers are going to be fed into a computer or printer and those numbers will be translated into ink coverage so always keep that in mind.

The last point is only use K100 for type. If your have a print piece and there is a lot of black text at 10 or 12 point you should never us a black made up of more than one color. On a press the four colors are printed separately and the registration will be to hard to line up accurately and you will end up with some ghosting around your copy. The only time you can use a true black formula on type is for a large headlines of more than 24 points or so.

At the end of the day if you have any questions talk to your service provider and have them help you out. You shouldn't be on your own with this, especially if you're unsure about what your doing. Just be careful with the color black because if you impersonate it with the wrong values you could be disappointed in your final printed work. As I have learned in my career, once ink is on paper there is no going back. Don't learn it the hard way.