Ever printed your InDesign document only for the ‘black’ colour to come out looking a little washed-out? Get familiar with ‘true’ black in InDesign and feel confident in creating dark and dramatic black tones for your print designs.

Here, we’ll give you an overview of:

  • What ‘Rich Black’ is and why you should use it for your print designs

  • How to create a ‘Rich Black’ and adjust it for warmer or cooler tones


level time


1. Why Does My ‘Black’ Look Washed Out?


You’ll notice that InDesign provides you with a default [Black] swatch in the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) when you create any new print document.

rich black true black print indesign swatches

You’ll also notice that when you colour text or other elements in your InDesign document with this [Black] CMYK swatch and send the document to print, that the result can come out looking…well…a little more grey than black.

This is because the default [Black] swatch provided in the Swatches panel isn’t actually a true black at all – it’s just 100% of the Key (Black) pigment from the CMYK spectrum, and O% of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow.

rich black true black print indesign swatches

Nobody wants their blacks to look less than dark, dramatic and high-contrast! Sorry, grey cat…

rich black true black print indesign

To remedy your washed-out black, you need to create a New CMYK Swatch, something printers and industry-insiders know as a ‘Rich Black’.

A Rich Black is a much darker, truer black that looks like the depths of space, the dead of night, or indeed this very black cat…

rich black true black print indesign cat


2. How Do I Create a ‘Rich Black’?


To create a Rich Black, you simply need to increase the levels of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow when you create a new CMYK swatch, and keep the level of Key (Black) at a level of 100%.

To create a new CMYK Swatch, open up the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and click to select one of the existing color swatches (any will do). Click on the New Swatch icon at the bottom of the panel, or select New Color Swatch… from the panel’s drop-down menu.

rich black true black print indesign swatches

In the Create New Swatch window, first up the level of K to 100%.

rich black true black print indesign swatches

Now you have to decide what kind of Rich Black you want to create. That’s right – there’s no single set value for a Rich Black swatch. You can create a warmer or cooler Rich Black depending on the levels you set for Yellow (warmer) and Cyan (cooler).

Try out these different Rich Black settings to create different subtle tones in your printed result:

  • Cool Rich Black: C=60 M=50 Y=40 K=100
  • Warm Rich Black: C=40 M=60 Y=60 K=100

rich black true black print indesign swatches

Different printers will often have different preferences for processing Rich Black. So if you’re still unsure what to use, just get in touch with your printer and ask after their recommendation for CMYK levels of Rich Black.


3. OK…That’s simple enough. Anything else I should know?


Yes! You should never use the [Registration] swatch provided in the InDesign Swatches panel as a substitute for black.

Why? Because [Registration] is 100% of everything – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key – and will cause a lot of problems for printing if you use it on your finished document.

The [Registration] swatch is only used on Registration Marks, which are visible when you export your InDesign document as a print-ready PDF file.

Stick with a Rich Black, and you’ll be sure to create darkly dramatic, high-contrast print results every time! Look how happy this cat is now that he knows you’ll be able to print text and graphics in a lovely true black color…

rich black true black print indesign cat

Find out more about understanding and working with colour in InDesign and how to prepare your documents for print by adding a Bleed to your print designs

To discover more handy InDesign tips and tutorials head over to our beginner InDesign tutorials page.


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