You’ve finished your fantastic piece of art or design and you’re ready to send it to a printer, or even ready to make the print yourself. If you’re here you’re already aware of something many others in our industry aren’t, printing your work at maximum quality is more than just hitting print

As someone who’s worked as an artworker and printmaker, I’m glad you’re here to find out some more. Lets get down to it: 

RGB vs CMYK 

You might not be surprised to know that as an artworker, I was sent print files set in RGB about as much as CMYK. This isn’t an issue for anyone with photoshop, you simply hit Edit > Mode > CMYK and move on, however as an artist or designer you want your colours to hit the mark in print. That means getting the purest blacks and the most accurate colours on your screen, because it’s no use expecting your printed work to match RGB on the screen. 

Photoshop screenshot showing pure black in RGB with CMYK equivalent that isnt pure black

If you want the purest blacks RGB won’t give that to you.  

The formula for default black isn’t the perfect black you can get. Take a look at photoshops colour picker; in RGB we can see 0, 0, 0. Obviously 0 = no light = the blackest black. 

Printing works the opposite way around, darker = more ink. So your 75% cyan, 68% magenta, 67% yellow and 90% black aren’t the maximum colours you can get. You’ll need to alter those values if you want a better black in print. 

Bump K up to 100% 

It’s a no brainer if you want the blackest black possible, everything afterwards is up for debate… 

In my experience black ink alone usually comes out with a blue hue to it (because unless you’re Anish Kapoor your black won’t be exact) so you need to add some other colours in there to create a deeper colour. Here are some blacks you could use and their results: 

Pure Black CMYK formulas: 

  • 100% K, 10% C, 10% Y, 10% M 
  • A good go to default, your blacks will have good depth without going overboard on inks. Good if you have to pay for your inks, 
  • If you just want a straight answer to what formula to use then this is it. 
  • 100% K, 0% C, 0% M, 0% Y 
  • Not a bad black, can print with a blue hue to it depending of course on the printer, you could use this formula without worries. 
  • 100% K, 0% C, 10% M, 0-10% Y 
  • Take out the blue for a warmer black, as this is so dark you could remove the yellow as well if you want to save your ink costs 
  • 100% K, 100% C, 100% M, 100% Y 
  • Screw it and slap all the ink down, make sure you use this for your pure black background to maximise the chances of pissing off your printer. This black is deeper than the guy that brings his acoustic guitar to a house party. 

It’s as easy as that folks, if you’ve skim read to the bottom then look slightly up for the correct formulas, and remember a few final points: 

  • Switching to other colour modes or profiles can change the colour values, 
  • .PNG images are forced as RGB, convert them to a JPEG or even a TIFF for CMYK, 

TL;DR – When printing, convert to CMYK and make sure your pure blacks have 100% K. 

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