Frontier Label

Which Black do Your Custom Labels Require?

Different Black Builds for CMYK Pritning.


Envisioning the final product of a print piece can be tough to manage, especially when the color black is involved.

This is a guide to help you pick the correct black for your custom labels and stickers, as well as help you have clear expectations of what will be produced.

There are two color modes for creating artwork: RGB and CMYK.

RGB color mode explained

When you think of the colors that you see on your computer screen, you probably don’t think of how they are made or presented to you. If you do, you have a great head start on this section.

There are 3 primary colors of light which when blended make up all visible light. Your computer monitor, phone screen, or any other surface which is lighted from behind to represent colors is based on the RGB spectrum of color options. This is a direct light reception in your eyes. Light being shined directly into your eyes at different wave lengths appears to be different colors. With RGB color build in your artwork, you are building colors based on a transmission of light to represent the colors you intend. Black in RGB is based on sending the least possible light in a given area directly to the eye. Because it is not absolute, it will never by completely black.

RGB is not intended for print use. It is a completely different expression of color.

CMYK color mode explained

When you think of colors that you see in a magazine, the paint on a car, or fingernail polish you may not think of how that color works. If you already know how CMYK works, feel free to skip this section. If you don’t, here goes.

CMYK is a physical representation of color using physical objects to reflect light into the eye. This is not a direct process like RGB color mode. When light bounces off of a newspaper, the whitish paper reflects most of the light to the eye, so that the spectrum reflected is close to white. When light bounces off of the black text of a newspaper, not much light is reflected at all because the black ink absorbs the light. That is why it appears black. We see black as the near absence of light reflecting from that surface. Black can appear much darker via CMYK print and reflection because there is no minimum light threshold like with RGB.

We will end the explanations of color perception here. Vision involves a lot of physics and biology, and hey, we aren’t doctors. Find out more about RGB color mode, or CYMK color mode via Wikipedia.

CMYK Black Builds vs RGB Black

The best build for a rich black on our printing press is to use CMYK color mode and set the values as 50,40,40,100. The way that rich black works is that the additional pigments in the CMY inks help absorb more light frequencies than 100%K alone. The less light reflected, the darker the black. Going to all 100% values is doable, but not necessary visually speaking. We call this build our “Rich Black.”

The darkest option is to ask us to print 2 hits of black ink at 100%. When we stack the inks, it simply deepens the layers of ink that the light must bounce off of to enter the eye. This can allow for less light to be reflected than a single hit of K. This is darker than the Rich Black build above.

Our standard black build is simply 100%K (0,0,0,100). It appears as a dark charcoal color on its own. It looks great for grayscale printing, or for sharp small text. If the look you want is deeper or richer, we suggest going for our Rich Black build or asking for two hits of black.

RGB black prints as a dark charcoal color as well. It appears darker than simply 100%K, but not as dark or rich as some people would like. It is not a true black.

Please refer to the image later in this post for a visual representation of several black build options.

Why does my RGB art look correct?

Your artwork looks correct for a couple of reasons. The first is that because the black possible on your computer screen is limited, your RGB representation of black is maxed out. Also, if your program for editing and creating artwork does not have a setting for “Show appearance of blacks accurately,” then it will show all black builds as the same rich RGB interpretation. If you look at an RGB black on an RGB screen, it will look correct. If you change your program to display appearance of black accurately, and change the document to CMYK mode, it will usually alter what you are seeing. Again, this is limited by the fact that RGB is never the same as CMYK.

Then why does my RGB art in the CMYK proof look correct?

It is like this: if you translate a phase from English to Chinese back to English, it will read very similarly in terms of word shape and length of phrase. But, the difference is when you interpret the phrase as a reflection of meaning, instead of appearance. This is like when you go from direct light to translation of reflected light back to direct light expression.

The phrase “We love to print beautiful labels!” is translated as “???????????!”

When you translate it back to English, it turns into “We love the fine print labels!” It looks like it has similar components, but when expressed as a reflection of meaning instead of appearance, it has a very different affect on the sentence.

Your proof is an RGB file that has been interpreted into CMYK, then displayed on an RGB screen. It will not look too much different from the original. However, the final interpretation will be quite different. The final printing of an RGB black will not be as rich as what it can be when set up properly with CMYK settings.

How can I get the best results?

If you want a good result, we recommend starting with a CMYK document for your artwork. You can choose color mode in most of the recent graphics programs. If you start in the correct “language” it is easier to end up with the correct interpretation.

What does that look like?

We’re glad you asked! Here is an image of 6 different black builds printed on our White Paper material with no lamination. This is an image which has only been lightened to make the white brighter, so the black colors have not been messed with.

Various black builds for custom labels.

The builds go as follows: 0,0,0,100 CMYK | 50,40,40,100 CMYK | 0,0,0 RGB for the top row; 0,0,0,100 CMYK x 2 | 70,35,40,100 CMYK | 35,60,60,100 CMYK for the bottom row.

We would love to help you figure out the best black build for your custom label or sticker. Having the right colors can be a big help in communicating the style, value and professionalism of your product or event.

If you have any questions about label printing, the proofing process or need help with a live quote, give us a call at 877-277-4682 or click the “Live Chat” link at the bottom of this page.

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