How to Set Up Your Artwork for Digital Printing?

So you have paid a designer or a design agency to create the perfect design, or you yourself have spent copious amounts of your time creating the artwork, now it is finally time to print!

But wait… it’s not as simple as just handing over the file and the printers clicking on print, if you were to do that, you might encounter all sorts of problems such as the colours not coming out right, cutting out essential parts of your design or the print not being the right size etc. So, in order to avoid that fiasco, we have created a rough guideline for what you should be checking before your artwork goes for professional print.

RGB/CMYK & 100% Black/Rich Black

Before you even set up your files for print, one of the first things that you want to check is the actual colour format that you are set to print your files.

When using colours for print, it is essential that all your files are created in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) format. This is because most printers that are used in the industry as well as home printers run with CMYK, rather than RGB (Red, Green, Blue). CMYK colours tend to be less vivid than RGB, they don’t have the same vibrancy as they are geared to printing rather than being viewed on screen. The value of CMYK are rated in percentages 0-100%, the higher the percentage the more prominent that colour will appear in print.

One of the most common printed colours is black, but the types of black you will see in print may differ. For example, 100% k Black is as it suggests: 100% K (Black) and doesn’t use the other 3 colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow). You might think that 100% Black is as black as you can get, although it can actually appear grey if printed on large areas. 100% Black is suited for printing small text as it helps to keep the text looking sharp as the printer only has to line up one colour, rather than all four colours.

If you are looking to get your black looking more rich and denser, then you might want to create Rich Black. Rich Black consists of 30% Cyan, 30% Magenta, 20% Yellow and 100% Black. The added colours make the black look darker and will better suit larger areas than 100% Black. Although if you are printing any thin lines or fonts smaller than 30pt, then you would be better off going with 100% Black as you might risk blurring the text/lines in your artwork.     

Printing Images in the Correct Resolution

Most images that are used for websites are usually in 72dpi (dots per inch) resolution, which is the standard screen resolution and is perfect for websites which need to be small in size so that they are loaded faster yet still look crisp on screen. Although if you were to print out your own artwork in 72dpi, it would end up looking blurry or fuzzy. If you want your artwork to appear clean and sharp, 300dpi is an industry standard for press print quality.

Printing a 300dpi image will ensure your artwork will look as close to what you expect. The only down side to files using 300dpi images is that they can end up being quite large files. If the files end up being too big we recommend that you set the files up in Adobe Illustrator, then save them as an EPS, then use Adobe Distiller to distil that file into a PDF that will end up much smaller in size and be ready to print.

Bleed, Trim and Text Areas

Before you press that ‘Print’ button, you have to make sure that the artwork you are about to print will print without the important parts of your design being cut out. To ensure this, you have to set up bleed, trim and text areas to work out which parts of your work will be printed safely and which might be cut off.

This is important, as the material is subject to heat and moisture and can differ in shape and size whilst printing. When the material goes through the printer, it can expand or contract and offset the registration and risk parts of your artwork being cut-off in undesirable places. This is why the bleed, trim and text areas are so essential.

Bleed: The bleed is there to ensure that when you print your work the artwork reaches the edges of your document when it is printed, so that when it is cut, you are not left with white lines, but instead you are left with the print in full. The bleed lines are usually a red line which extends on the outside of your document. It is usual practice to have a bleed gap size of at least 1.5mm. Also notice that when you are setting up a new Adobe Illustrator file, the bleed is an optional setting alongside the document size.

Trim: The trim is the dieline of the label (cutting area) where your artwork is going to be cut, the bleed line should be 1.5mm from the trim line and in Adobe Illustrator, the trim line would be the actual document size.

Text Area: The text area is an additional 1.5mm inside the trim line. This is to ensure that your text and the important parts of your artwork are not cut off and stays within a reasonable and safe position. So that no matter if there are some small inaccuracies during the cutting process your main content will not be cut off.   

As a final note, it is also equally important that you print in the right file format, make sure your work is saved or exported as a ‘Press Quality’ PDF which is the universal file format for print. Also, every printer and printing process from every company may be different, so before setting up your files please speak to the company or person you are dealing with, but this general guide should be useful for a variety of printed jobs.

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