Computer screens represent artwork far differently than your printer does.
Essentially, when your artwork goes from your screen to a printer that artwork is translated to a different language… the language of printers and paper.
Still, it’s not uncommon for design files to arrive at a print shop without being properly formatted and designed for print. To avoid delays and frustration, it’s best to familiarize yourself (or your designer) with the following guide on preparing your design files for the print shop.
What does print-ready mean?
If your print vendor asks you if your file is print-ready, that means they want to know that your file has been saved, sized, designed, and formatted in preparation for printing. As you’ll see in this article, just because a design file looks great on-screen doesn’t mean it’s print-ready.
Here’s what you need to do to get that file print-ready:
The Elements of a Print-Ready File
1. File Formatting
When we talk about format, we’re talking about the size, resolution, color mode, and the fonts in your design file. Here’s a breakdown of each component needed to ensure a print-ready design file format:
File Size: The file you’re sending to your print vendor should be sized based on the size at which you want that file printed. For example, if you’re printing a 24-inch by 60-inch banner, you’ll want your design file to be 24 inches by 60 inches. With bleeds included, that same banner design file should be ¼ inches longer and wider. That is, 24.25-inch by 60.25-inch.
(Not sure what a bleed is? More on that later.)
Resolution: Resolution is measured in pixels per inch (PPI) or dots per inch (DPI). On your screen, web graphics appear fine at 72 PPI. But in print, they’ll look pixelated and blurry. To avoid this, you must set your design file’s resolution to 300 PPI.
Color Mode: Your computer uses the RGB color model to interpret color while your printers use the CYMK color model. Make sure you convert your design files to the CYMK color model before printing. Otherwise, the colors on your physical print will not look the same as they do on-screen.
Outlined Fonts: Before you send your design file to the printer, you should outline any fonts that appear in your design. By doing so, you change your fonts into shapes so your printer can print the text even if they don’t have your chosen font in their system.
2. File Type
ARC accepts PDF, EPS, TIF, JPG, and PSD files. We can also accept native files from MS Office or Adobe CS6, but a PDF is preferable to preserve your layout.
Make sure your design files are saved in one of these formats before sending it to a printer. Keep in mind that other printers may require different file types so your best bet is to ask.
3. Print-specific Design Considerations
From a technical perspective, designing a graphic for print is not very different than designing for the web. There are just a few things you’ll want to keep in mind which include properly sized bleeds, cut lines, crop marks, safety zones, and different ink and paper types.
Again, we’ll breakdown each of these concepts:
Bleeds: You can think of the bleed on your design file as the overflow area. Your bleed should be ⅛ inch beyond the finished size of each side of your artwork. You should start your design with a properly sized bleed. This extra padding helps ensure that—even with the shifting during cutting—the finished product of your artwork still looks professional.
Crop Marks: You must include crop marks in your design file to ensure your printer cuts your print correctly. These marks are thin lines which indicate where your printer should trim the print.
Safety Zones: Any images or text that should not be cut must be placed at least ⅛ inch from the trim edge. That way, you can be absolutely sure that important images or text are not cut off.
Ink & Paper Types: The type of paper and/or ink you use will affect the appearance of your print job. For example, smooth uncoated paper mutes colors while gloss paper adds vibrancy. Similarly, special inks like clear dry ink add sheen to the page which impacts design decisions. In any case, it’s important to be cognizant that different materials result in a different look.
Don’t Forget the Spell Check
Of course, you’ll also want to do a final check of spelling and grammar on your illustration before you send it to the printer. Your print vendor might catch it, but it’s not their responsibility so it will likely go unnoticed.
Once all that’s done, your file should be ready to go to the printer.