Illustrator Rich Black, Poor Black

I have been working with Illustrator for some time and I have had a lot of people ask about problems with the color black. There are several problems that can crop up when using black in Illustrator, understanding how to use the “Appearance of Black” settings should help clear this up. As a note, this setting also shows up in Adobe InDesign and is imporant.

What do the “Appearance of Black” settings mean in human terms?

Appearance of black is a setting in Adobe Illustrator that allows you to change how the color black is shown on your screen and how it is output to your printer and exported RGB images.

What is “Rich Black”? Rich black is a deep black that is very dark. Regular black is a very dark grey. The difference mainly matters in printing. A typical rich black mixture might be 100% black ink, and 50% of each of the other three inks (Cyan, Yellow and Magenta).

When you use the “Black” swatch in Illustrator, you get regular black (100% Black and 0% CMY).

Illustrator 100K Black and Rich Black

Setting these preferences in Illustrator

Choose Edit > Preferences > Appearance Of Black (Windows) or [ application name ] > Preferences > Appearance Of Black (Mac OS).


1. Choose an option for On Screen:

Display All Blacks Accurately: This setting will show all blacks acurately seen in the image below.

Rich black next to Regular black

Display All Blacks As Rich Black: This setting will show all blacks as rich black, even if they are not rich black.

different blacks displaying the same

2. Choose an option for Printing/Exporting using the above reference:

Output All Blacks Acurately:
When printing to a non-PostScript desktop printer or exporting to an RGB file format, outputs black colors as seen above. This setting allows you to see the difference between pure black and rich black.

Output all blacks acurately

Output All Blacks As Rich Black:
When printing to a non-PostScript desktop printer or exporting to an RGB file format, outputs pure CMYK black as jet black (RGB=000). This setting makes pure black and rich black appear the same.

Output al blacks as Rich Black

Other Issues with black in Illustrator:

Placed Photoshop files with black backgrounds when placed over vector black can sometimes create a problem. If you are having a problem where the black in your Photoshop file doesn’t match the black in your illustrator file, try the steps below. Additionally illustrator images not being pure black in Photoshop can relate to this information.

Use the Eyedropper tool in Illustrator to make the vector black the same color as the Photoshop black. To do this, select the black vector shape and then select the Eyedropper tool, click the Eyedropper tool on the black from the placed Photoshop file.

That should clear up the problem.

As a final note regarding colors when printing: Always consult the printer for each type of printing you are doing. Rich black and other color settings will most likely be different for each printer and print provider.

Preventing printer anomalies and banding



Level: Intermediate (useful for advanced users)


This is a tutorial on how to minimize printing anomalies like banding and odd color variations. Incidentaly, this tutorial covers some photo correction technique which can be very usefull for adding detail back to images.

Photoshop Version: CS2 (Can apply to Earlier versions up to Photoshop 7)


I have come upon a technique for reducing printer anomalies (Banding, color patches and ghosting) that is really quite simple.

When I say “banding” I mean where you visibly see color changes in a gradient or image as you can see here:

When I say “ghosting” I mean areas of light color around dark color areas which shows up when printing but not on screen. An example is shown here:

The main technique is to add enough noise. Adding noise to a gradient will reduce printer banding. This is also true for areas of solid color — adding a bit of noise can make the color print very even.

When it comes to photos, this technique can be used to give the appearance of detail. I use this after I have resized and color corrected a photo. It is amazing how effective it is in making the print a much nicer print.

Realize when I am talking about printing here, I am specifically referring to large format printers. The technique can be used successfully with other printers as well.

When you add noise, you want to add just enough to where it is just past visible. I will show you some examples here:

Noise added to a gradient:

Noise added to a patch of color:

Noise added to an image:

Additionally you can reduce ghosting by adding noise. Ghosting is where you can see lighter areas around dark patches. An example of adding noise to an image that might ghost when printed is here:

Experiment with your printer and different noise settings to see what comes out the best.

I have found this technique to be very helpful on my job as a designer. Hopefully this tutorial will help you as well.