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Top ten things that graphic designers need to know, to design for print

When it comes to designing for print, there are some basic things that you need to know, and if you do, your printer will love you for it. Here are our top ten.

1. True Black.

When you’re designing, and you pick black, even when working in CMYK, it reverts to *almost* black, (#000000 or 75/68/67/90 in CMYK) a default in the colour picker. When this almost black goes to print it comes out looking grey, which means unhappy clients.

Here’s the solution. Go to the colour picker, and change the CMYK values to C50 M40 Y40 K100. True black for print, every time.


2. Bleed.

When you design for print, remember that when finishing the project, the printers will be cutting the edges off of whatever you are designing. The standard for the ‘bleed’, the edge around the document that will be trimmed, will be 3mm. This means that every side of your document needs an extra 3mm added on to it. If designing in Illustrator, this is easy peasy.

Illustrator, open a new document and you will see that there is a space for ‘bleed’. Make sure that this is set to 3mm for each the Top, Bottom, Left and Right, or that the link button is pressed.


3. DPI.

Better known as Dots Per Inch, it is the measure of the resolution for printers. When sending something to print, you want to make sure that your dpi is set to 300. In Illustrator, this can be found on the New Document settings page.


4. PDF Formats. 

Most printers will want you to send the final as vector PDF document. Using a JPG or PNG, will make it so that your text is fuzzy and your images less sharp. If you are using a combination of photos and art, then ensure that the photos were 300 dpi when you brought them in.

Printers have diferent requirements for formats (moo.com for example states in their preparing artwork section: ‘Make sure you pre-flight your PDFs using the 'Adobe PDF/X-1a' preset. This option can be found in Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign and more recent versions of Adobe Photoshop.’) Make sure you ask your printer before sending the artwork what they prefer. Below you can see the selection for PDF/X-1a.


5. Exporting PDF With Marks & Bleeds.

Your art should have been started with the 3mm bleed on each edge. To make sure that all of the appropriate crop, and printers marks are on the final PDF here is what you do. 

  1. go to File > Save As, and make sure that PDF is selected in the bottom drop down box. 
  2. Name your file, and hit Save. This will bring up the PDF dialogue box. 
  3. On the left hand side, hit the tab for ‘Marks & Bleeds’ Make sure the boxes are ticked for ‘All Printers Marks’, and under Bleed, ‘Use Document Bleed Settings’ Hit Save PDF and you’re done.
  4. Wah-lah! Now you should have a pretty exported PDF that has all of the pretty printers marks like this one.


6. Approve Final Copy

There's nothing worse than sending a project to print and having it come back with a spelling mistake, especially when this can be avoided with a little proofreading. Make sure you get final copy approval at various stages through the design process. It's such an easy mistake to make, but one that can cost a company hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. If you're unsure send it to several people directly involved with the project so it doesn't fall back on you.


7. Colour Profiles

Sometimes when you're sending something to print, you'll need to attach a colour profile to ensure colours come out the way they should. When sending magazines adverts, this is usually the case and they will specify which colour profile you need to attach. Often, they will have a PDF with all the export options you need to follow for correct printing.

Colour Profiles

8. Overprint

Not used for all projects, but something to bear in mind is using something called 'overprint'. An example of overprint is when you print on top of a surface that already bears print (such as a stamp). Printing opaque colours that overlap usually knocks out the area underneath, but with overprint it will print the topmost colour as a transparent overlaying colour. This is very useful in 3D printing, for instance. Select the object(s) you want to overprint and, in the Attributes panel, select Overprint Fill/Overprint Stroke.


9. Pantone and Special Inks

Occasionally you may be asked to design a project that contains special inks (such as spot UV) or even industry specific colours for brands. CMYK printing is a mixture of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black but Pantone colours are largely colours that can't be created using this system. The company Orange uses Pantone 151, for instance and makes it so the colour is standard even when using different manufacturers in different locations. Very handy when you need just the right colour to stay on brand!


10. Font Anti-Aliasing

Although not strictly necessary for the printed product, font anti-aliasing can ensure that your designs are similarly accurate on screen to on paper. The best way to ensure you have correct anti-aliasing is to use the Character menu in an application like Illustrator, and set the anti-aliasing method to either Sharp, Crisp or Strong.

Font Anti Aliasing

Happy designing!
Love, Artisan Print Solutions