InDesign Black Output on PDF Export

circehouse's picture

So I've been trying to solve this problem for awhile now. I've searched through various forms, and everyone has the same few tips to offer, and of course none of them work.

Does anyone here have that problem? When outputing .pdf files black appears as a grey. It's driving me crazy. No matter how I adjust appearance of black settings or my rich black portions It still screws me every time. My recent hack has been to simply set all my blacks to "registration" but obviously that's not the right solution.

Am I missing something obvious? From what i've found from others, this is a big problem. I hope cs3 will fix this.

Conor's picture

If you’re outputting it for print (CMYK) it will appear dark grey (which shouldn’t matter too much as it will print as a true black). If you’re outputting it for screen (RGB) it will appear as a rich black.

Paul Cutler's picture

I don't have this problem at all. What PDF format are you using and are your CS color settings synced up? What color settings are you using and what is your desired output?

I hope these aren't for print because if you send in registration black you are asking for a very angry printer.


ben_archer's picture

...simply set all my blacks to “registration”

Tyler, I know I shouldn't but hahahahahahahahaha. That's funny. RTFM, as they say. You fail to mention exactly how or where this grey-that-should-be-black is appearing, or which tips don't work or rather why you think they don't work.

Something like the Adobe Print Publishing Guide should sort you out.

circehouse's picture

I often find myself designing .pdf files intended to be downloaded and printed on laser printers—nothing demanding of pre-press workers. It's not often that a printer needs a .pdf anyhow. So up until now, that absurd registration trick hasn't been an issue.

anyhow, i've solved my problem. sometimes you just need to say things out loud to find the answers. Thanks for slapping me in the face.

k.l.'s picture

> anyhow, i’ve solved my problem.


noftus's picture

yes, how did you solve it?

i often have this problem as well...

ralf h.'s picture

In Acrobat Pro you may turn on the overprint preview to see how it will look like in print. But as Conor already said: It's just the way how 100% black in a CMYK document looks like on screen. Nothing to worry about.


filip blazek's picture

When exporting PDF to be printed on black & white printer, switch off color management in InDesign. Then the black will be black in PDF.

k.l.'s picture

But as Conor already said: It’s just the way how 100% black in a CMYK document looks like on screen. Nothing to worry about.

No, it affects printing on (some) laser printers too.

When exporting PDF to be printed on black & white printer, switch off color management in InDesign. Then the black will be black in PDF.

Yes, this is what I did. But since CM is regarded as a must today, and on certain forums turning CM off is almost regarded as a bad "hack", I wonder if there's an official solution to this.  :)

ralf h.'s picture

Are we talking about PDFs for screen, offset or laser/inkjet printing?
And are we talking about black text or something like a big black rectangle. For large areas of black you may wan't to add some cyan to your black to get a richer black in offset/laser printing. But don't use this black for text.


warren schultheis's picture

I have this same problem and have been unable to figure it out with the suggestions above? Any ideas?


Kristine Hamilton's picture

Alrighty. I understand the PDF will appear greyish on screen, but the overprint preview also doesn't look right. I guess I want someone to tell me that it TRULY will print as black, and if there's any way to preview a print-ready file as black, on screen.

timd's picture

Check your InDesign (and Illustrator) preferences > Appearance of Black and amend them to display and output all blacks accurately, they will look grey (compared to the rich black). To preview a print-ready file you could print separations as a pdf and then open it in Photoshop or Illustrator and check the setting in the colour palette.


ralf h.'s picture

I guess I want someone to tell me that it TRULY will print as black,

Never trust the screen, trust the numbers. If it says 100% black it will print black.

Quincunx's picture

Then again, black offset-ink on white stock isn't really all that black, either. ;)

dcastillo's picture

When you have a value of 0,0,0,100% (C,M,Y,K) as your black, it won't show up as the deepest black in print (though it's not bad). Acrobat reveals this fact, as it tends to be a print previewer of sorts (don't quote me on that, but I do use the program to double-check if I missed a black value here and there). The printers I deal with usually would add 65% to the cyan values to make it deeper (when printing full color). If you want the deepest of the deep, just set all CMYK values to 100%, it's just much more difficult to register, especially say, if you have type set in 6pt, light, in white, on top, of that.

Quincunx's picture

Even if you add like 30 and/or 40 % of CMY to your black, it will look much better. That's what I do if I really want something to be deep black.

marcox's picture

As a previous poster mentioned, DON'T set your blacks to be 100c100m100y100k. Most printers have maximum density (dmax) value -- the sum of all the percentages of the 4 process colors -- somewhere in the low 300s.

"Rich" black recipes vary by printer -- be sure to ask yours. Our magazine printers prefer a 40c20m20y100k blend.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Colourmanaged output will vary according to the outputprofile. Eg in newsprint dot gain (the amount that inkt will spread when printed on that specific substrate) can be up to 20% or more. That means that the original values of tints etcetera will have to be corrected to account for this. Outputting with a newsprint profile could lead to a full black being output as an 80% blacktint.

The same principle applies to other substrates and press techniques.

Re printing standards: In Europe offsetprinting has been standardized according to an ISO-norm, set by the European Color Initiative. More info here:
Put simply: working with ISO-certified printers and the standard profiles from ECI guarantees satisfying results, irrespective of press profiles and such (those are used in house by the printers).

I don’t know what the situation in the US is nowadays, but a couple of years ago standardisation was strictly something done by the major printing companies (and publishers that use different printers).

Bert Vanderveen BNO

Danny Yee's picture

Circehouse - For the benefit of the forum, can you tell us your solution? I'm also having this problem! Thanks!

Quincunx's picture

Why is everyone calling it a 'problem'? :)

It is not a problem; it is just the way CMYK or K black looks on screen.

If you chose black (K), it will print as black. If you don't trust it will, check color separations in Acrobat (or photoshop). If your PDF is for screen only, you could make the black RGB.

And if you want a true, rich black in print; add some color to K, e.g. 0C 60M 30Y 100K (I think this will also look more black on screen. And is obviously only suitable for full color print jobs).

pattyfab's picture

Why is everyone calling it a ’problem’? :)

Because it is a problem. If I need a client to sign off on a pdf, I need it to look on screen as close as possible to how it will actually print. Saying don't worry it will print black requires a leap of faith in my clients and I don't feel comfortable with that. I don't understand why Adobe can't fix this bug.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

@Quincunx: The original question had nothing to do with Rich Black. The problem lies in the way pdf's get generated with colormanagement on. Maybe my 14 Sept. post wasn't very clear… : )

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

ralf h.'s picture

>>>If I need a client to sign off on a pdf, I need it to look on screen as close as possible to how it will actually print.

Then you should send them a PDF in an RGB color space.
Again, it's not a bug, and there is nothing for Adobe to fix.


pattyfab's picture

I create my files in CMYK because I work in print. I don't understand why black doesn't look black. That seems like a bug to me. And I am clearly not the only one bothered by it, as evidenced by this thread.

I did change my preferences in InDesign for Appearance of Black to Rich Black, and am hopeful this will solve the problem but I haven't tested it out.

Quincunx's picture

> I create my files in CMYK because I work in print. I don’t understand why black doesn’t look black. That seems like a bug to me. And I am clearly not the only one bothered by it, as evidenced by this thread.

I did change my preferences in InDesign for Appearance of Black to Rich Black, and am hopeful this will solve the problem but I haven’t tested it out.

If you are going to let a client sign off on a pdf on screen, making it an RGB PDF is not even that strange? (since screens are RGB). If you want it CMYK, add some color to your blacks, and it will look better. I don't think that's such a big problem? ;)

> @Quincunx: The original question had nothing to do with Rich Black. The problem lies in the way pdf’s get generated with colormanagement on. Maybe my 14 Sept. post wasn’t very clear… : )

I know the original question was not about rich black, I was commenting on everyone calling K showing up as grey in PDF 'a problem'.

My point was, if you want a good black on screen: use rich black (or RGB). It will make black look more black in PDF. If you are working with black on full color jobs, in most cases it's wise you use rich black anyway (all non-text objects). If you use only K, the grey in Acrobat isn't even that far off from the way it will look in print (e.g. crappy greyish black).

Miguelzinho's picture

if your running InDesign CS2 then go to >Prefenrences > The Appearance of Black.

It will give you options for the appreance of black on gray scale and RGB devices. Or have you already tried that?

pattyfab's picture

Miguelzinho, yes I have changed that preference.

Quincunx, it still just seems odd to me that 100%K will not render as black in a pdf. I do use rich black for printing, but that's beside the point. 100%K ought to look black, period. It does when you make a pdf from Quark.

timd's picture

I'm with Patty, one of the major uses of Acrobat is for client approval and if it doesn't represent the project accurately it isn't doing the job. An RGB hack, while it might improve the appearance black, doesn't necessarily represent spot colours and images well.


Thomas Phinney's picture

Just a couple of notes:

Setting black elements to "registration" will print as a 400% rich black (full CMYK) on color PostScript devices. As this is well over the total ink limit, it's will look like crud (even on toner-based devices such as PS color laser printers).

I agree with the posters who are saying that the Acrobat PDF display is "not a bug." Have you ever studied color management at all? For pre-press purposes, the whole point is typically to maintain visual distinctions and map the entire gamut of one device to another. If Acrobat displays a 0C-0M-0Y-100K black as the darkest possible black, what it is it supposed to do with a 100-100-100-100 black? (Okay, maybe it's a 30-30-30-100 black, same idea - it needs to be darker than that previous black.) If you make the PDF in RGB, with the right settings, presumably you can get a 0-0-0 RGB black, and that's the darkest black, period. It will display great on screen. It will print on color devices as a maximum rich black, though, which may or may not be desirable.

You could also try in Acrobat going to Preferences > Color Management > Conversion Options turning off "Use black point compensation, and see what effect that has.

Note also: If you are having a problem with your black looking grey *in print*, in many workflows the best solution when making documents in InDesign is to go to Edit > Color Settings and under "Color Management Policies" set CMYK to "Preserve Numbers (Ignore Linked Profiles)". This essentially turns off color management for CMYK elements in the document, such as text.

With that configuration you can still place RGB photos and have them properly color managed (set RGB to "Preserve Embedded Profiles"), and Bob's yer uncle. Leastways, this has always worked well for me in InDesign.



kurtdurfey's picture

Going back to the original issue, I've working on a newly installed version of InDesign CS3, and my 100% black is exporting as dark grey. it's an issue with print because a black that's not completely black screens the type and it compromises the legibility of thin copy. Contrary to everybody's assumption that "if it says 100% black, it'll print 100% black", there's something going on in my InDesign color setting that's converting it, and I need to figure it out.

The oddest part is that, if I click on the color in my tool bar, the RGB samples at low numbers. If it were a TRUE black, those should all show up as zeros, right? If I convert it to 400% rich black, then it show RGB values at zero, but with CM&Y at zero, RGB is registering values, and that ain't black.

Personally, I couldn't care less how it looks on screen, but it has to print correctly. Converting it rich black is a good idea because this particular job is going on a copier, but it would be problematic if I were going to press and the Black plate showed up as a 90% screen.

I'll tool around in other forums to see if I can't figure it out. I wish I knew how that other fella fixed it.

kurtdurfey's picture

Well, upon closer examination, it looks like the .pdf will actually plate okay. We're running a short run on the copier, and 10,000 more in black ink on press, so we needed to make sure that the black exported at 100%. When we exported it and took to to the copier, though, we needed to print rich black (even though we weren't printing CMYK) to get a 100% value.

Something to note for production, I s'pose.

Quincunx's picture

You can also check the separations in either InDesign, Photoshop or Acrobat Pro. If everything in the rest of your workflow is right, you should see that 100K will plate just fine. If you have your apps set right, you should see 100% when you use the color picker in separations in Acrobat Pro for example (Advanced -> Print Production -> Output Preview with your desired color profile).

elliot100's picture


Looking at colour values in the RGB PDF is a distraction - you're specifying your colours in CMYK and printing them in CMYK (or just K).

CMYK and RGB colours aren't just different numerical ways of specifying a colour - c0 m0 y0 k100 does not equal r0 g0 b0, and you can't just convert to and from RGB and CMYK.

As Quincunx says, separations make it clearer what your end result is going to be, because they show what ink is actually going to get laid down.

So I always send a composite CMYK PDF to the printers, and if there's anything other than CMYK in the art, PDF separations as well.

Krab's picture

I have this same problem. PDFs created from InDesign print on a Laser Printer with a half-tone screen (though dark… somewhere on the order of 95% screen) even though the CMYK value is 0,0,0,100. When I print to the same printer directly from InDesign file, it’s solid. They also display as a dark grey as well in PDF, but like the poster above, I don’t really care how it looks on screen.

I know what it’s trying to do… it’s trying to emulate the way black by itself looks like when it is printed on an offset press—not so black. To do that on a digital laser printer, it screens the black ever so slightly so it looks grey.

I’ve done a lot of trouble-shooting with this too to make sure that the error is in InDesign. I’ve got PitStop and can select the shape in Acrobat that is printing as a screened half-tone to view its values and its values are 0,0,0,100 but it still prints as a screen. I’ve created a shape in Acrobat and gave it the same fill values of 0,0,0,100 and it prints solid. So, one created in Acrobat doesn’t simulate offset black-only black. So, something in the PDF made from InDesign tells it to simulate offset cmyk black only printing. Thanks Adobe!

In InDesign, I do have the preference "Appearance of Black" for both the “Screen” and “Printing / Exporting” set to Rich Black, but changing it to any combination doesn’t seem to effect the problem I am having. For some reason, when I export to a PDF, it seems to ignore that setting.

There are work-arounds that let me do what I need, but I’d like to learn why it’s doing what it is doing and how to tell it not to do that.


Thomas Phinney's picture

See the last couple of paragraphs of my post of 19 Nov 2007 (above, in this thread), which explain pretty clearly how to avoid this, when printing to a native CMYK device such as a PostScript color printer.



dkairis's picture

First off i have to say wow you are all uber colour spacialists. I on the other hand am not. but refering back to the original question about getting black to show up in PDF files looking like 100c 100m 100y 100k, i have a small solution.

I did however chagne my black to 100c 100m 100y 100k, using indesign (yes we know this is a no no for offset printing. printed to PDF again and the blacks looked great. except for the linked image from illustrator??? so i opened the original file changed it to CMYK and changed the black to 100c 100m 100y 100k. went back to indesign printed to PDF and ??? it still looked bad.

what i had to do was delete the PDF file and print again, maybe even using a new file name could help. well it did. all blacks look realy solid and sharp.

again this is just for PDF viewing, and printing on some laser printers who do tend to show a differnce between the balcks.

ralf h.'s picture

Again: There is NO need to change the colors in the original file! Just change the EXPORT settings according to your destination device. If you want black to appear as RGB 0/0/0 on a screen, just export it with export settings that convert the CMYK colors to RGB. The [Smallest file size] preset will do this, for example.
We usually send our clients low-res PDFs with this settings. CMYK black (0/0/0/100) will then automatically change to RGB 0/0/0. Without the color conversion the CMYK black would be displayed greyish as RGB 26/26/26 or something similar.

jayyy's picture

I have a similar issue.

I have a 2-page InDesign file. The front (page 1) uses a black box (0,0,0,100) drawn in InDesign. The back (page 2) used a CMYK Photoshop file (.psd) which serves as the black background (0,0,0,100).
InDesign displays page 1 as a rich black (as my preferences specify) but page 2 looks washed out, like a one-color black (as it should). No problems so far - until I export from InDesign to PDF. The on-screen difference remains the same.
I have tried turning the InDesign prefs to not change any appearance of blacks but this did not work.

My question is, how can an InDesign PDF export match these seemingly identical one-color blacks using a combination of InDesign elements and placed CMYK bitmaps or PSDs?

riccard0's picture

Have you checked if the PDF output is in RGB or CMYK?

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Has the proper colour profile been attached to the PSD-file?

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

Paul Cutler's picture

I don't understand why someone would not want to see on screen what is going to print. So I set my ID preferences to display and output all black accurately. I need to see the difference between a rich black and 0 0 0 100.

I guess that's kind of beside the point. Make sure your color settings are synched up.


Quincunx's picture

@jay: I think the difference in appearance between the placed content and the native InDesign rectangle is because of color profiles. Perhaps the right profile isn't attached to the .psd file, or InDesign is set to ignore it.

The .psd should have the same profile that the InDesign document uses, and InDesign should then be set to either preserve linked profiles (when the right one is attached) or replace it with the right working profile. The first option is best.

chesley's picture

Hey guys.. that trick for turning off color management also helped me get unscreened type on my 1200 dpi laser printer. Thanks!

Jeronimo's picture

I've had the same irritating problem. After long research there are some things I found. As some people mentioned before the only solution is to use rich black. Just 100%K is going to print 80%k.

In InDesign go to Preferences > Appearance of Black. The thing you find is some options: On Screen, Printing / Exporting and Overprinting of Black.
From the menu you can choose two options each time: "Display All Blacks as Rich Black or Display All Blacks Accurately" If you work with the first option, the 100% black is presented by InDesign as "Rich Black" (that is a mix of CMYK colors, presented for the eye as black, so not 100%K). When you choose the second option (accurately) you notice that the 100% black is actually darkgrey for the eye.
This has nothing to do with exporting with PDF/x standards or none. If exporting in RGB the pdf just fakes the 100% black to rich black on the screen. So exporting with PDF/x standard in CMYK is accurate. When printed it is still darkgrey, and when imported again in Photoshop or InDesign you can see the black is still +/- 80%K instead of 100%K.

Here are some different settings for rich black:
63C, 52M, 51Y, 100K
30C, 20M, 20Y, 100K
60C, 40M, 40Y, 100K

This solved my problems.
If you want 100% K black to print on top of the CMYK colors uncheck "Overprint [Black] Swatch at 100%". Or else it will become transparant.

This website was helpful to me, check it out:

Jeronimo's picture

@ jayyy:
Photoshop (earlier versies I think) black is C75, M68, Y67, K90. At CS4 it is C88, M79, Y65, K93 that is the rich black Photoshop uses, not 100%K. So if you are using 100%K in InDesign that is the cause of the difference.
Try to stay within a total of 280%, or the ink won't dry that good. So in that case the Photoshop rich black is to much. According to some resources 300% is possible too.

If you make a good rich black swatch, with the same CMYK settings both in Photoshop and InDesign, your problem should be solved. Make sure that both the .indd and .psd file have the same CMYK profile.
Check the website link in my previous post, it helped me.

Hope this helps you to.

Quincunx's picture

> Just 100%K is going to print 80%k.

No, it will not. 100K will obviously print as 100K. However, optically it doesn't look pitch black, because offset inks aren't completely opaque, making the printing surface shine through a little.

In full color jobs you can indeed make the black more pitch black by using what has already been mentioned as 'rich black', which is a blend of all four colors (e.g. 30/40/40/100 or similar). This will make the ink-coverage nearly opaque, resulting in a dark black. Obviously you shouldn't do this when you are working on something that will be printed in black and white (i.e. one color, K only), because rich black will produce four printing plates instead of one. It's usually best if you only apply rich black to larger surfaces, because very fine details could in some cases cause registration problems.

As has been said before in this thread, if you use 100K, the PDF will show that as a very dark grey. This is not a bug, but intended behavior for prepress purposes, so please stop calling it a 'problem', because it isn't. If you want really dark blacks in your PDF's for screen purposes only, export it as RGB or temporarily make the black a rich black.

The blend you use for rich black determines what 'shade' of black you will get. I.e. more magenta and yellow will result in a warm black, while more cyan will make a cool black.

Paul Cutler's picture

Jeronimo - these mixtures you site are simply what different color profiles convert pure black from RGB into. They are not "recommended" at all. Do the math - c75 y68 m67 k90 simply adds up to 300% total ink, which is the ink limit if you are using SWOP V2 (the most popular magazine color space). It's been the same in PS for a long time and still is - do the math on your other mixture - c88 m79 y65 k93 = 325 total ink. You have changed your color profile, that is all.

Rich black is typically K=100 with undercoating, that is because ink is slightly transparent. If you want to know what "temperature" your undercoating is - look to the left of the color sliders in Photoshop and you can see it. If you want your undercoating completely neutral - make sure that CMY are equal. I have never seen a valid reason for anything more than 240% - that doesn't mean a reason doesn't exist.


Quack's picture

Well, you see, basically the problem is the following: Your pdf is perfecly good for offset separations but it still prints as approx. 80% gray on a laser.

The solution is extremely simple if you have Pitstop in Acrobat (you have a default action "Convert Color to Gray and keep Black text" :) additional steps and gray color profile [google translate to english, it's currently available only on serbian :)])

If you don't have Pitstop, there is an other solution: From Indesign (any version) print to .ps file with separations enabled, turn off CMY plates, leave just the black channel. Destill the ps file and voila... you are good to go, the pdf now prints 100% black.

One more solution: Open pdf in Acrobat, select file>save as>postscript(*.ps), click settings to the right, under Output->Color:separations, ink manager: turn off CMY, leave just Black on. Click OK, Save. Distill the file, and once more you are good to go.

Explanation: From the aspect of laser printers, there is a great difference between CMYK and gray colors. C0M0Y0K100 isn't black (its stupid, but thats the way it is), only Gray 100% prints as 100% black (RGB translates depending on printer color profiles etc. its not convenient color mode for solving this problem). Turning on separation when printing, automatically creates grayscale mode PDF, so it solves the problem above :))
One more thing, with the Touchup object tool select the text line, right click and select properties, if under the color tab the Color Space is Gray or DeviceGray it will print correctly. Just to don't waste more paper than you must :)

JamesT's picture

I've had this same issue
See here

The text on the left side is set against "black" and was done in indesign. the rest of the background (with the handwriting), was done in Photoshop.

When it printed, everything was the same, correct, black.

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