Printing on Black Paper

It isn’t just black that creates a problem, any dark colored printing paper presents challenges. The biggest hurdle is that printing inks are transparent. CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black) dots are meant to be seen through. Overlapping dots create the color variations, you know, blue + yellow = green or yellow + red = orange. So what happens when you print transparent ink on dark paper? Right, the stock overwhelms the ink and you either don’t see it or the image is so faint as to be useless.

“Why do the mills create printing papers that won’t work well on press?” you might ask. Ah, that is a good question. Those wily paper mills know what Graphic Designers want and bold colored paper is often the best choice for their project. Strong color adds drama that you just can’t get with pastel shades. Again, “Why use it if it won’t yield a good result?” Printers have more than one trick up their sleeves. There are other processes that can be employed to print on dark paper.

Reverse Image:

Reverse image and type

Reverse image and type

The simplest way to achieve a dark background with a light image is to print it. Print the background with solid black, plum, or forest green on a white stock. Leave a window for the images, and you can achieve almost any look you want. The difficulty here is that offset printing is done with dots, as we discussed in an earlier blog. Print the dots on a textured or soft paper surface and you’ll probably end up with streaky, or splotchy solids. The paper surface makes a big difference. Make sure you discuss these issues with your printing professional before you go to press. Streaky, splotchy surprises are not fun.

The  poster to the right for the Rhythm City Dance School is a good example of reversed images. The type is white, but the dancer is gray. White is the color of the stock and the gray was achieved by using a screen of black (separating the black dots).  The point is, that while this piece appears to be printed on black paper it is really printed on white paper with a lot of black ink.

Foil Stamp:

Most foils are made opaque on purpose. They will cover any background color. The problem is that foil stamping is more costly than offset printing because it requires a die, the foil, and equipment that runs slower. The good news is that foil is available in a wide spectrum of colors, and finishes. For example you can get gold foil in satin, flat, shiny, and really shiny. It also comes in many shades. Gold foils are available in yellowish tints, greenish tints, and nearly bronze. Other foils that work well are white, silver, or clear.

Blind Emboss:

An excellent treatment to employ using dark paper is the blind emboss. Blind embossing raises the surface of the paper creating an image that is perceived by its height. It’s like a white-on-white blouse. The color is the same, but the pattern is revealed anyway. Blind embossing will cost more also than offset printing. Dies can get very pricey depending on the number of levels in your image. Most blind embosses are one level, but I’ve seen sculptured dies with a face or animal that are very complex. Sculptured dies, as you might imagine, can get into the thousands of dollars.

Foil Emboss:

As you might expect foil embossing uses both techniques. The image is foil stamped and then raised via blind emboss. A combo die can be created for this effect. Combo dies, as you probably guessed, cost less than buying two separate dies.

Opaque Inks:

Most opaque inks are not as opaque as you would like them to be. Imagine painting a light color over a previously dark wall. If you’ve had this experience you know that one coat won’t be enough. You might have to do two, three, or four coats before the wall is right. It’s the same with opaque inks. To blot out a dark surface the printer may have to double-bump (hit the image twice with the same color) and that probably won’t be enough. Additional bumps should work, theoretically,  but with each pass through the press you risk slurring your image or ruining paper. Paper is not indestructible, you know.

Metallic inks usually work better for this purpose. Metallic inks are made with up to 70% heavy metals, but even with metallic ink you will probably have to double-bump the image. And, this technique is not recommended for large areas.Type works better than swaths  of color which may show up blotchy.

Black-on-Black:

I’ve seen some excellent results with combinations of  black. For example, black paper on the market is almost always uncoated, which means that the color is a little flatter. If you use a black foil stamp or clear foil you can create a striking look by contrasting the paper surface with the shiny image.

Spot UV Coating:

It used to be that UV coating on uncoated paper was a no,no. There are new formulas that will allow spot UV, but aren’t guaranteed. Much depends on the paper you select. If you want to try spot UV coating, be sure to get samples from your local paper merchant, and have the printer test it.

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7 Responses to “Printing on Black Paper”

  1. Harvey Halperin says:

    laydown a double hit of opaque white then dry tap process colors to it this will require two print runs, to allow the opaque white time to dry. We often do this with foils, or foil stamp and print on the foils theyare a few new press that do this in line
    feel free to contact me and i will forward the contact info sf some of these suppliers.

  2. Nadine says:

    Hello,
    Interesting, I`ll quote it on my site later.

    Thank you
    Nadine

  3. Carlo Toscano says:

    With respect I assume you are talking about pre-press applications since the issue of printing on black materials in the digital arena has been accomplished very easily.

    Almost all digital printing devices have a white ink option.
    This is not a new concept since screen printers having been using this technique for ages.

    As for the digital process it just took a little longer to incorporate this feature into the programming language of both the printer and the process.

    We sucessfully print white ink on dark substrates all the time, in fact all flatbed UV curable devices can laydown white ink and then overlay perfect colour.

    The Vutek Hybrid Q2000/3200 series printers can print and laydown white at the same time. Its quite an amazing thing to watch it work.

    I can’t comment on the press side but the digital process has this one figured out!!

    Cheers.
    Carlo Toscano

  4. Cindi Kirkman says:

    Besides the Spot UV option mentioned above, I have had good results with special effects done with varnish on black paper. In some cases a combination of gloss and dull varnishes achieved an even more spectacular effect.

  5. We have very good results with printing dark or even black substrates on digital press. We are making a double hit of white and then print process colors and/or some hexachrome spots. We are using HP Indigo to do this and it is made on one pass through the machine. So ot isn’t impossible but depends how much the creative customer is willing to pay.

  6. Printing dark gives good results. and also with varnish on black paper gave good results. Great article guideline.

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