The ease with which we print things in colour now seems normal but black and white printers used to be the only thing on the market. Have a look at the how coloured printers work and how they differ from black and white printers below.

The Three Primary Colours

When printing in colour, an image is dissected into the three primary colours: yellow, cyan and magenta. Unlike the traditional primary colours, red and blue appear only as ‘secondary’ colours, alongside green.

Cyan can be thought of as minus-red, whilst magenta is minus-green, and yellow minus-blue.

Process Printing

The CMYK model refers to these colours (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Key, which mean black). When CMY combine at full strength they create the secondary colours. Combining all three completely gives an imperfect black. Unequal mixtures result in all of the other colours in between, which are known as ‘tertiary’ colours.

In the home as well as large printing presses it is common to use this technique. It allows for the reproduction of thousands of impressions so that magazines, brochures and cards for example can be mass produced.

Large printing presses would obviously use different industrial equipment compared to your home printer, in order to cope with the sheer volume of items needing to be printed.

Creating Black

It is cheaper to use a separate black ink rather than choosing to combine CMY. Black inks will also produce a deeper black tone. Unsaturated and darker colours are created when using black ink which makes for a better quality than CMY.


Also referred to as ‘screening’, this allows for a less than full saturation of the primary colours. The process leaves tiny dots of each primary colour in a pattern small enough that, to the human eye, a solid colour is perceived. Half-toning is how the tertiary colours are produced and does not limit a whole spectrum of colours.

Printers cannot vary the amount of ink they apply to a picture which is where screening comes in. Screening is like mixing white paint to make a lighter colour: the paper is the ‘white paint’ which breaks up a solid block of ink, giving an illusion of a lighter shade.

If you are looking to buy a printer for your office, have a look at our wide range of coloured and black printers today.