5 things graphic designers are supposed to know when it comes to print

In the past decade, I’ve had a few hundred ‘just out of university’ graphic design interns through our door. Some with extremely portfolios of work, some with potential. Each time they have started, I have been astounded as to their almost ignorance of designing for print. They knew fundamentals of typography, white space, colour scheming, etc, however, they are ignorant about basic pre and post design stages.

We have created a list of the top 5 things that 80% of our new designers did not know when it comes to design for print.

1. True Black Color.

When you’re creating the artwork, 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 color picker. When this almost black goes to print, it comes out looking grey, which means unhappy clients.

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

true black color CMYK value

2. Bleed and Crops.

Bleed is the area of artwork that is extended beyond the actual dimensions of the document. It is used to avoid strips of white paper showing on the edges of your print. That is, a background colour or image should spread to cover the entire bleed area. 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 japanesey.

bleed and crops

In the 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.

set bleed in illustrator

Learn more here, http://blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/tutorials/designing-for-print-setting-up-crops-and-bleed

3. DPI and PPI.

PPI stands for pixels per inch. PPI is a measurement of image resolution that defines the size an image will print. An image that is 1600 by 1200 pixels at 300ppi will print at a size of 5.3 by 4 inches. Or it could be printed at 180 ppi for a printed size of 8.89 by 6.67 inches. The higher the ppi value, the better quality print you will get–but only up to a point. 300ppi is generally considered the point of diminishing returns when it comes to ink jet printing of digital photos.

DPI is better known as Pixels Per Inch, it is the measure of the resolution for printers. And it is often used interchangably with PPI, causing a lot of confusion, however, DPI refers to the resolution of a printing device.

When sending the artwork 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.

bleed and marks set

Wah-lah! Now you should have an exported PDF that has all of the pretty printers marks like this one.

marks pdf print