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What colors print well in black and white?

When designing documents intended for black and white printing, choosing the right colors can make a big difference in how well your design conveys information. Certain colors translate better to grayscale than others, so being strategic with color choices is important.

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about using color in black and white printed materials:

  • Dark colors like black, dark blue, dark purple generally print well and look darker.
  • Light colors like yellow, light blue, light purple generally print lighter and can look washed out.
  • Saturated colors translate better than pale tints.
  • Avoid using different shades of similar colors next to each other as they may look indistinguishable.
  • High contrast designs with dark colors on light backgrounds work best.

How Colors Are Converted to Black and White

To understand which colors print well, it helps to know how colors are converted to black and white. When a color document prints on a black and white printer, the printer relies on grayscale. Grayscale assigns various shades of gray to represent the different colors in the original design.

Darker colors translate to darker gray shades, while lighter colors become lighter grays. Saturated vivid colors usually convert to richer, darker grays. On the other hand, pale tints of colors often get washed out, resulting in very light shades of gray.

Colors That Print Well in Black and White

Here are some colors that generally translate well when printed in black and white:

  • Black: Printed in 100% solid black, for bold elements and high contrast.
  • Dark blue: Translates to a darker shade of gray.
  • Dark purple: Provides high enough saturation to convert well.
  • Dark green: Darker greens translate better than lighter ones.
  • Dark red: As long as saturation is sufficiently high.
  • Dark neutrals: Darker shades of gray, brown, etc.

Saturated medium to darker shades of most colors can work as long as there is sufficient contrast against the background.

Colors to Avoid

Here are some colors that do not translate well to black and white:

  • Light yellow: Will look very washed out and light.
  • Light blue: Will also print very light and fade into the background.
  • Light purple or pink: Lacks enough saturation to reproduce well.
  • Light neutrals: Light gray, tan, light brown lack contrast.
  • Bright colors: Neon and fluorescent colors provide high vibration on screen but print muddy.

In general, pale tints of any color should be avoided as they lack saturation and contrast.

Improving Contrast

To optimize designs for black and white printing, focus on maximizing contrast. Here are some tips:

  • Use dark colors against light background colors.
  • Emphasize contrast between text and background colors.
  • Separate elements with thick borders or divider lines.
  • Avoid using colors close in value next to each other.
  • Use shades of similar colors sparingly.

Building contrast into your design will help elements stand out crisply in black and white.

Choosing Shades of Colors

When picking between shades of a particular color, darker shades generally print better than lighter ones. Here are some examples:

Color Better Shade for B&W Weaker Shade for B&W
Blue Navy blue Light blue
Purple Dark purple Lavender
Green Dark green Mint green
Red Maroon Pink
Orange Dark orange Peach
Yellow Gold Lemon yellow

As a rule of thumb, for any color, choose the richest, darkest shade you can for black and white printing.

Using Color in Black and White Documents

Color can still serve useful purposes in a black and white printed piece:

  • Use color strategically to draw attention to key elements.
  • Establish visual hierarchy through color – headlines in one color, body text in another.
  • Use color coding to differentiate parts of a document.

Just be sure to preview the design in grayscale to ensure colors translate as intended. Also avoid relying solely on color to convey meaning.

Previewing in Grayscale

When designing for black and white output, continually preview your document in grayscale to see how the colors convert. This will give you a good idea of contrast levels and help you adjust colors appropriately.

Every design software from Adobe InDesign to Microsoft Word has grayscale preview options. Use them frequently to optimize the translation.

Choosing Colors for Accessibility

Along with translating well to black and white, choose colors that are accessible for people with visual impairments:

  • Avoid using only color to convey information.
  • Make sure text and backgrounds have sufficient contrast.
  • Do not rely solely on color-coded elements.
  • Use multiple visual cues like shapes and patterns along with color.

With the right color choices and contrasts, you can create documents that print well in black and white while remaining accessible.


When designing for black and white output, optimize your color choices to maximize contrast and translation to grayscale. Darker, richer colors generally print well, while light tints lose vibrancy. Use high contrast between elements, preview in grayscale, and ensure accessibility for optimal results printing your design in black and white. With some strategic color decisions, you can produce visually engaging designs across print and digital mediums.