Using Rich Black where there is text & fine detail

Ok, so I have this “issue” per se. I’ve designed a “postcard” where the front is a photo that uses a lot of rich black. I want to match the back of that postcard with the same black because I know flat black will be not match the front. The card will be printed matte on both sides using VistaPrint.

So while I know this as a designer, I am trying to find the best way to get that rich color to be the same on both sides. There is plenty of thin and small text along with some fine lines. I’m worried about rich black bleeding into those details even though VistaPrint customer service assured me that using 60/60/60/100 percentage will be fine and that they do it all the time.

They won’t give me a physical proof or even a photo of one. Does anyone have any suggestions? I can’t show the exact file due to the privacy of my client here. But I can mock up something similar if need be.

Rich black is excellent for larger areas of flat black, but for text and hairlines, um, no, as in never do it.

The CMY can be trapped into the black by a point or two for larger areas, but that isn’t practical for text or thin lines. As a result, you’ll run the distinct risk of having some of the CMY ink showing around the edges of the text.

In addition, it’s just not necessary. A 100%K for text will look pretty much the same as if it were a perfectly registered rich black.

As for VistaPrint, they’re an online gang printer that probably thinks that kind of attention to detail doesn’t matter. They print whatever comes in, and their standards aren’t high.


You could edit the color in the image for under color removal.

Setting the black in the photo to be 50 percent cyan and 100 percent black.

Then make your rich black the same.

Should be ok.

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100 percent agree.

I’d much rather deal with a local print shop

Ok…yah…I was thinking that as well. I can visualize what’s going to happen. It’s a lot of white text on the back and some fine lines. I’ve seen print jobs before where those lines start to get muddy. So, as per your advice I will convert the back to 0/0/0/100.

Do you really feel that flat black is not much different than rich black in terms of color? I notice a difference immediately and it always stands out like an eyesore. But the bigger problem, I felt, was that people will also notice since they will have the front to compare to. I want to make sure it feels like all part of the same project.

You also bring up another point for me – Am I wrong to think that photos will always print rich black? The front is a photo, specifically a movie poster as this is for a movie premiere. The movie poster has white text (small text) over some of the darker parts of the photo. I wasn’t going to worry about the front. It’s the back that I really was unsure about. Should I worry about the front, now? :grimacing:

So, I’ve never actually done that…huh

Although I am a designer, it’s not my full time job and now I wish I knew more about this. I vaguely remember teaching myself something along these lines when learning InDesign a decade or so ago. But then a scenario never came up where it was really necessary to implement. Is this something I would do in only Illustrator (all text and elements were added in Illustrator but the photo/poster image on the front was edited in Photoshop)?

I am just now googling UCR but might resort to the flat black on the back.

On larger solid areas, it’s noticeable, for text and thin lines, no it shouldn’t be noticeable. I’ll sometimes use a rich black for headlines, but for any type smaller than that, I don’t. There’s also the technique that Smurf2 mentioned about skipping the four-color black in favor of only adding 40–60% cyan. This will provide a pretty dense black and do so without the risk of any yellow or magenta registration issues. Even then, though, I wouldn’t do it on paragraphs of text — it’s just not needed.

Are you asking if 4-color process photos always contain black? If so, yes, they do, but that’s not what rich black means. Rich black is a dense solid black made by using 100% K and surprinting the remaining three process colors with it as tints. If you leave out the black, the shadows look weak.

That’s always an iffy thing to do because the ink colors can be bit out of register and you can end up with a rainbow edge on the letters. However, if you must do it, use bolder text (which helps compensate for dot gain) and larger, sans-serif text. There’s also the issue of halftone dots (in offset printing) forming the edges of the text, which effectively brings down the resolution to the screen frequency of the dot pattern, which is typically 150 lpi as opposed to the two- or three- thousand dots per inch you’ll get with solid black text.

Printing has gotten lots better over the past few years, though, so I wouldn’t rule out reversing type out of a photo, but I still tend to avoid it — especially with a gang printer.

Personally - when doing this - this is exactly what I do.

Oh, I see you are mentioning rich black for text - which I agree would not make a difference to the naked eye. I should have clarified that I am using it for the background. So I attached two small screenshots (one that shows the back with text and one that shows the image in the front). Sorry, these are are tiny little boxes of reference but all I can show at the moment.

I’m not familiar with Undercolor Removal like Smurf mentioned. I am a little intimidated to try a new setting for this project in the case that I make a mistake and have even less control over the print job. This client does prefer quality over cost. But I don’t have any existing relationships with local printers that I could suggest and we are on a time crunch. They were pretty excited about the cost effectiveness of VistaPrint vs Moo which was the deciding factor.

Based on your feedback and Smurf’s, I’m going to set the back to Flat Black for now. But do a little more research on Undercolor Removal and reach out to a friend who works at a print shop.

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Can I ask you one of two things?

  • If you can briefly walk me through the UCR process on how exactly I can do that in Illustrator.
  • recommend any great resources where I can learn more about it.

I plugged it into Google and started looking at the color settings as per the blog. But the Custom CMYK that they instructed me to choose wasn’t even an option. I came across a YouTube video on overprinting rich black but am not sure that is the same as UCR.

You do the ucr in photoshop

Can you share the image and text? As a file?

Vista Print is a digital printer. There is no plate registration to worry about.
While I wouldn’t do 60/60/60/100, as a digital printer we do 25/25/25/100 all the time on all kinds of machines on all kinds of media.

If you are worried about dot gain on a matte paper, all I can say is “Get a proof.”
I’d be more worried about small text resolution in photoshop.

Taking the time to worry about this is costing you more than you will be saving by going to an online gang printer.

What’s the minimum order? Do that as a test run. If it’s satisfactory, place a reorder for the quantity you actually need.

The last I checked (which wasn’t recently), VistaPrint still used offset for larger runs, but didn’t bother to mention which they used and didn’t give the customer the option of choosing. If they’ve converted to all digital now, it wouldn’t surprise me. If they are all-digital now, I wonder how they handle large-run jobs of 10,000-plus.

If it were me, I wouldn’t do what you’ve done in your two examples. I wouldn’t reverse text — especially thin text — out of a photo. Doing so will likely be OK, but I wouldn’t take the chance.

As for reversing it out of a solid rich black, if it were me, I’d work with a local printer to tell them you’re concerned and to make sure it’s trapped properly. When in doubt, I’ve sometimes manually trapped reversed text myself for offset work.

Much depends on the printer you use, the printing technique, and the paper stock. If you’re printing a couple of thousand or more, offset printing might be more economical. Where that threshold between what’s most cost-effective between digital and offset printing can be a bit fuzzy.

Honestly, though, I’m carrying over habits and concerns from 20 years ago. Even today, I use offset more often than digital because most of my work involves large-run jobs. As I mentioned, printing, in general, has gotten better and more accurate during that time. Digital printing has improved greatly, and issues, such as dot gain and registration, can be less between it and offset. In other words, you’ll probably be OK (even with VistaPrint), but I’d steer away from it out of caution.

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I can share privately for feedback if that’s what you mean. I just don’t think they’d want the file on a public forum considering if it being used for a world premiere movie premiere.

I have to provide the final file today. So, I’m going to make a decision one way or another - play it safe and stick to flat black or try one of the suggestions here.

So the entire postcard is created in Illustrator with minimal colors. Only the front photo/poster image is imported from photoshop. I’m not worried about the front especially since we just removed some of the small white text. So I think the front is good to go. Now, it’s just a matter of what black to use for the background of the back of the card.

Not enough time as the client wants the file today. I do normally do that when I have time if I am worried. I also print on my printer ahead of time as well (though it’s more of a photography printer with 8 cartridges - Epson P600).

Ok…so this makes me feel a little bit better. Cost isn’t really the issue; time is at this point. They would 100% take my advice as a designer but I don’t have any personal recommendations for a local printer, and I don’t want to be experimenting this late in the game. I think the quality at VistaPrint is sufficient for their needs, personally. But yes, difficult grey areas like this can make the choice of using VistaPrint a little unpredictable or unreliable vs working with a local printing company.

I already requested a physical proof which they were pretty useless about so don’t think I’ll get that (just a photo of a printed proof). So…for a 4.2" x 5.5" postcard, printed in matte, with the back being a couple small lines of white text (about 10pt in size) and some sponsor logos at the bottom in which there are fine lines, are you saying going ahead with 25/25/25/100 for the black background should be ok?

We started out with a white background but the client preferred a black background and we switched over. I forget the reasoning as she normally prefers lighter backgrounds. I could have and probably should have advised her against it as a designer. But it’s been a long time since I’ve had to really stress over how the final product would print as I don’t design full time and the design jobs I usually do are smaller and more forgiving in the final product.

The total quantity will be 500, by the way. I believe it is just to hand out to the attendees of the movie premiere.

This forum has been super helpful. Moving forward I am going to start building relationships with local printers so that I have better recommendations. My client asks and values my advice for every job I’ve done thus far for her, which I love. I just didn’t have a better recommendation for a supplier in this particular case. I made the text a bit bolder to play it safe and changed the background to 25/25/25/100. I think I’ll be ok with those values for the back. It’s only 2 small spots of the entire card that concerned. Thanks again for your advice.