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A Few Things to Know When Printing in Full Color

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

It's Not All Black and White

By Michael Heath /

printing books in full color or black & white

Printing in color is a complex process that requires much more ink than when printing a book in black and white. Usually, children's picture books print in color, but occasionally the author of a novel, memoir, recipe book, or a coffee table book will explore the options of printing in full color. These authors soon learn about things like ink color models, options for images, and book printing costs.


CMYK is the color model used in printing. This initialism stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK (technically, “Key”). If you have a color printer you likely notice this arrangement when cartridges are replaced. These basic colors are blended to create new colors. It is no different than our kindergarten years when we mixed red and blue paint to create purple, or blue and yellow paint to create green. Cyan (blue) combined with magenta (red) at different levels produces a new color at different shades. This is true of all the color combinations. Black is needed to get a rich black, as using a combination on the three other colors only produces a muddy black. It is also more economical to use black ink instead of trying to achieve a black with a combination of the other three colors.

RGB is another color model with which you may have some familiarity. The initialism here stands for Red, Green and Blue. It is rarely used in printing but is common with computer graphics. We often receive author files where the color images are in RGB and we must convert them to CMYK so they can print. PDF files that are ready to print in CMYK will still be viewed on a computer in RGB. This is also true for eBooks. We can convert a CMYK print-ready PDF into an EPUB file to be read on an e-reader. But the file will always be viewed in RGB.

Ways that Color Can Be Affected

Files viewed on a computer can give an author a particularly good look at their book, but the coloring will not be exact to the printed book’s appearance. Because a computer screen has light behind it, the color will look more vibrant and intense. Coated papers and cover finishing can have a similar effect. Glossy paper will liven up colors more than matte paper will. The same can be said about a book cover that has a glossy, laminated finish as opposed to a matte finish.

Image Options: To Color or Not to Color, or Insert

If someone has a book project where images are needed, the author does have options. One option is to have no color pictures in the book. Novels do not have images; the words paint the picture. Sometimes I get a request for one full-color image to be added to a novel. One example that comes to mind is an author who wanted a red rose picture at the beginning of the book. It is possible, and is called a tip in. It is expensive to do and will require a print minimum of 1500 books. Such an addition is usually gratuitous and therefore one reason why you rarely see this.

It is quite understandable that someone who wrote a memoir, biography or autobiography may want pictures. In these situations, black and white images can be scattered throughout the book without adding to the black and white printing costs. Black and white images look surprisingly good, which make for a very viable option.

An author could also consider an insert, which is a group of several glossy pages of images inserted into the middle of the book. This allows for full color images to be included in an otherwise black and white book, i.e., black ink on white or off-white stock. That contrasts with a book that has full color images mixed in throughout the book, among black and white text on coated paper, which is much more expensive to print.

Full Color Raises the Printing Costs

As you can see, printing in color is a more complex process and normally requires more ink coverage than a black and white page. This makes the printing more expensive. For example, children’s book pages require a lot of ink. Fortunately, those books are normally twenty-four to forty pages long. Most full-length books are not in full color because of the costs. When full color images are placed throughout a book, the entire book prints as a full-color book, regardless of the many or majority of pages in black ink on the same white paper stock. Coffee table books or textbooks that contain color images throughout and run a couple of hundred pages or more tend to be quite pricey. In a book project where images are needed, the author does have options.

Weighing the Book Printing Options

If you plan to include images in your book you will have to decide whether the extra cost of color makes sense to you. Then you can weigh your options as to going all full color, adding an insert or even tipping in a full-color image. Sometimes the answer is not all black and white.

For more information about full color and ink usage go to Adjusting Ink Density.

Contact us if you want to discuss printing your book.

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