I was reading about different color models, when this question hit my mind.

Can the CMYK color model generate white color?

Printers use CMYK color mode. What will happen if I try to print a white colored image (rabbit) on a black paper with my printer? Will I get any image on the paper?

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    No...that's all, just no. Actually I suppose you might be able to find some specialty printer that some mad scientist made, but for any CMYK printer, the asnwer will always be no. – EBGreen Oct 21 '13 at 19:23
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    So what to do if someone wants to print on a black paper ? – curious_kid Oct 21 '13 at 19:26
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    Buy a non-CMYK printer. – EBGreen Oct 21 '13 at 19:28
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    Here is one example. okidata.com/procolor/711wt Google rocks. – EBGreen Oct 21 '13 at 19:30
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    @EBGreen Nice! And its only $3,395.00 USD. – CharlieRB Oct 21 '13 at 19:33

You will not get anything on the paper with a basic CMYK inkjet or laser printer. The CMYK color mixing is subtractive, meaning that it requires the base that is being colored to have all colors (i.e., White) So that it can create color variation through subtraction:

White - Cyan - Yellow = Green
White - Yellow - Magenta = Red
White - Cyan - Magenta = Blue

White is represented as 0 cyan, 0 yellow, 0 magenta, and 0 black - effectively, 0 ink for a printer that simply has those four cartridges. This works great when you have white media, as "printing no ink" simply leaves the white exposed, but as you can imagine, this doesn't work for non-white media.

If you don't have a base color to subtract from (i.e., Black), then it doesn't matter what you subtract from it, you still have the color Black.

As others are pointing out, there are special printers which can operate in the CMYW color space, or otherwise have a white ink or toner. These can be used to print light colors on top of dark or otherwise non-white media.

You might also find my answer to a different question about color spaces helpful or informative.

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    But, of course, just because a CMYK color coding is used does not mean that the printer can't print white, since printers can do math. It's more the lack of need, since most paper is white. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 22 '13 at 3:32

It depends on the printer. If it's an inkjet printer, the mixture of these colors will just soak into the black paper. It will be much like using a dark colored marker pen on black paper.

With a laser printer, it's different, because it works by depositing a plastic powder on top of the paper, and melting it on, like the toppings of a pizza.

This property of the laser printer method makes it possible to do toner transfers: to print something onto transfer paper, and then transfer the toner from the paper onto an object. I have etched circuit boards this way, by transferring toner to copper, that toner being thick enough to resist the etching solution.

Colored toner baked onto dark paper should therefore be visible, but no combination of the toner colors will produce white.

The Japanese company ALPS produced a printing technology which could render unusual colors, like white.

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    Apparently a lot of T-shirt and decal makers use those ALPS printers for that reason – Journeyman Geek Oct 22 '13 at 0:43
  • Yeah it's pretty common on shirts and such to put down white and then put color on top of it actually. – nhinkle Oct 22 '13 at 1:44
  • If you need to print white on a colored material other than a shirt you might have luck asking around at specialty shops that do art prints. You'll pay for the privilege; but to match the colors produced by painting they use printers with many more colors of ink than conventional models. To offer the ability to print on canvas (similar to the painting type), AIUI they'd need to include white among the colors of ink used. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Oct 22 '13 at 15:11
  • I had one of those ALPS printers. Was fantastic at what it was designed for, but kind of crazy-expensive to operate, and hard to find supplies for. – Mark Bessey Oct 23 '13 at 1:31

To get white ink you will need a white ink cartridge, unlike black ink which can be mixed from the other three colours if needed. If you also take into account that majority of people want to print black and/or colour on white paper, you can understand why white is not a common colour.

Ink/Paint is inverse to light when it comes to white and black.

With light if we mix prime colours we get white light and if we remove all colours we get black, with ink/paint if we mix all colours we get black and if we take it all away we get white.

So if you look at print cartridge the only way it can generate white is not to spray any ink. Otherwise all other colours are made by mixing the standard colours in various degrees

This is obviously a very simple explanation, but feel free to read up more on the internet about how inks and light work :-)

INK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CMYK_color_model

LIGHT: http://sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Light-and-Sight/Science-Ideas-and-Concepts/Colours-of-light

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Micro Dry technology will allow you to print white. It does not use the CMYK model for printing.

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Sorry to bring up an old thread, but just a theory I had:

If you could find white inkjet refill ink, and a virgin black cartridge (an empty one that has never been filled before) for your CMYK printer, could you then fill that black cartridge with the white ink and in your printer settings, set your image to grayscale and only print from the black cartridge?

Obviously, this would only show up on dark colored paper, but I think this could be a possibility. I just don't know where to find the white refill ink, or if they even make it.

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  • As good an answer as any. Better than all the above tutorials on CMYK anyway! – Greg Woods Feb 3 '15 at 14:50

I noticed this is an older thread, but technology is really changing and the ability to Print White is now an option. A few companies offer printers with white toner, and some seem to be quite expensive. However you might want to check out OKI Data and look at their C942 printer. It is geared more toward the production side vs. end-user, but its pretty awesome.

See the link below: http://www.okidata.com/printers/multimedia-production-platform/c900

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  • on 22 Oct 2013 I did say - To get white ink you will need a white ink cartridge, :) Those have been around just RARE and expensive – AquaAlex Apr 13 '16 at 6:05

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