Rich Black Explained: Choosing The Right Black Ink for Printing

O'Douds labels with black background.

Color accuracy is key to achieving the best look for your brand. Surprisingly, the most critical color to get right in printing is often the most overlooked: black. That’s right! Not all black inks are created equal. How your black colors will look when printed depends on how you build the black colors in your packaging artwork files. In this article, we explain Rich Black and how it differs from 100% Black (or K). We’ll also give you tips on when to use rich black or 100% black for printing your custom labels or folding carton packaging.

Rich Black

Rich black is a blend of solid black with one or more other colors in the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key(black)) spectrum and gives you the deepest black color when printed. This blending of colors results in a deeper and richer black than 100% or standard black. When filling large areas with black ink, like backgrounds, rich black is your ideal choice. Rich black can help your custom labels and packaging boxes pop on the shelf when used effectively.

Common Rich Black Color Builds

Here are a couple of the common rich black color builds:

C: 60%
M: 40%
Y: 40%
K: 100%

C: 40%
M: 40%
Y: 40%
K: 100%

At Sttark, we recommend using the C60, M40, Y40, and K100 ink build when trying to achieve rich black for label printing. This will result in the deepest black on your final printed product.

Pro Tip! Avoid the temptation to max out all four CMYK colors to 100% when preparing your file to print. The total ink limit of CMYK printing is 240%. At press, anything over this ink limit can result in too much ink on your material, oversaturating it. Stick with one of the color builds above, or ask your printer for other rich black options.

100% Black or True Black

On the other side of the black ink spectrum is 100% black, sometimes referred to as true black or standard black in printing. This variant of black is made up of 100% black ink only without any other colors, resulting in a black that appears somewhat gray when printed.

A 100% or True Black Color Build

A 100% black or true black color build is represented as:

C: 0%
M: 0%
Y: 0%
K: 100%

Pro Tip! Adobe Illustrator and InDesign automatically use a 100% Black default in all text boxes. Photoshop, however, is not quite so printer-friendly. Take it from us– Always check your black color builds in Photoshop.

rich black versus 100% black custom label

Choosing the Right Black for Your Packaging and Label Printing Needs

When choosing a black color build for printing, the thing to remember is how and where you’re using it. While the boldness of rich black is tempting, it’s not the best choice for everything and could lead to undesirable results if used incorrectly.

Here’s an easy guideline to follow when you need to choose between rich black and 100% black:

  • Use 100% Black for: All text, barcodes, and fine details. This way, you don’t risk having blurry lines or seeing cyan, magenta, or yellow dots around your black ink due to shifting during printing. The 100% black color build ensures crisp, clear lines and readable text on your packaging.
  • Use Rich Black for: Large background areas or bold artwork you want to stand out. This is especially effective in areas where a deep black color can enhance the overall design of your product labels or folding cartons.

Learn more about CMYK process colors in our complete guide: Sttark’s Guide to Printing: Process Color vs. Spot Color

Design a Stunning Product Label or Folding Carton

Designing and printing your product packaging should be an enjoyable process. That’s why at Sttark we’re here to collaborate with you throughout the entire process so your packaging looks amazing. Our graphic designers can help you with any of your artwork needs.

If you have any questions about which black color builds will work best for your label or folding carton artwork, contact our Customer Care Team. We’re happy to help with any of your packaging artwork questions!

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