When you are designing a project, the first thing you should ask yourself is if the final artwork will be meant for web viewing or for print. If you are designing something for print, you must take into consideration a few things even before you start creating your layout. Setting up your document correctly and learning about the different elements that can affect the print quality of your artwork will help you save time and money.
Below are 5 things you should consider when preparing printer quality files for your design projects.
1. Set the Correct File Resolution
Before you even start designing your project, start by setting the correct resolution for the file. Anything that is meant to be printed needs to be at least 300 DPI (dots per inch). Some people will want to start off using a default resolution such as 72 DPI (meant for web), and then change it to 300 DPI when they are finished designing. Although most design programs allow you to do that, you really shouldn’t! Files that start out at a low resolution and are changed to a high one can make the graphics look fuzzy and pixilated.
You can always decrease the resolution of a file that is meant for print in order to use for web, but you should never increase the resolution of a file meant for web so you can use it for print.
There is always an exception to the rule. If you are working exclusively with vector graphics, then you may be able to get away with increasing the resolution of a file without affecting the image quality.
2. Check Image Resolution and Size
When incorporating images to a design, avoid copying and pasting images from online. Any image you take from online will be set to 72 DPI which is a low resolution for printing. Also, many people forget that not everything that is online is free to use. In fact, most graphics that you’ll find on the internet may be copyrighted or licensed, so just steer clear of the tempting “copy/paste” habit that most people have.
If you are taking your own images, check your camera settings before shooting the pictures. If you are not sure which file size setting to choose, be on the safe side and just select the highest quality.
When buying stock photography, you’ll find that most stock websites offer files in different sizes and resolutions. Make sure to choose a file that is at least 300 DPI.
Don’t try to increase the image size to anything larger than the original because this will have a similar effect as if you tried increasing the resolution of an image. It is ok to make an image smaller than its original size, however making an image larger than its original size will produce pixilated and blurry results. In addition to this, if you decide to resize an image to a smaller size, always check that you do it proportionately because stretched out or squished images never look quite right.
3. Setup Bleeds and Define a Safe Area
Most printers will ask you for bleeds when your design goes to the edge of the paper. Bleeds basically mean that your design must extend past the final size of the document, resulting in a slightly oversized file. The reason bleeds are necessary is because even the most accurate printers will have slight shifting when trimming your project. If the paper moves when being cut and you don’t have bleeds, you might end up with an ugly white line at the edge of your design.
You will usually be asked to add a 1/8 inch bleed all around your design, however it is always a good idea to ask your printer how much bleed they prefer.
The safe area goes hand in hand with the bleed. This area is the region within your file that will be safe from getting trimmed. If shifting does occur, you won’t end up with important text or images being cut off if they are within this area. I usually set a 1/2 inch margin all around my design and never place any important information past that margin. This may be too much for other designers, but I prefer to be on the safe side! The size of the safe area is something else you can ask your printer about.
4. Set the Correct Color Mode
The color mode of a document is very important. When designing for web, you should use RGB color mode (red, green and blue) which is meant for monitor viewing. When a document is intended for print, the color mode should be CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black).
When using digital printing there will always be some slight color variation, but if you print a document that is set in RGB you will most likely get significant color differences.
If you require an exact and accurate color when you print, you can decide to use Pantone colors. Your printer or designer will most likely have a Pantone guide book available from which to choose the colors you want. Pantone colors are direct inks that translate exactly the same when printed. Please take into consideration that printing in direct inks is usually more expensive and will require printer ready files that can be more complex to prepare.
5. Choose the Right File Format
When preparing your printer files you should always ask your printer for printer specs. These can include the need or size for bleed, safe area and file format. Most printers accept high resolution JPGs, PDFs and/or EPS files.
When saving your file as a JPG, choose the highest resolution output setting and the correct color mode.
If your printer requests a PDF or EPS file, make sure to convert your fonts to outline and embed the images used. These steps are frequently overlooked and can cause your design to look extremely different. Printers may not have the fonts you used, so if you did not convert the fonts to outline, their programs will replace them with a default one. Furthermore, if your images are not embedded in your file, they will not be available when it is opened at the print shop.
Hopefully you found this article helpful. If you have any more tips on printing, feel free to share them by leaving a comment!