Graphic Design and Printing go hand in hand. But a lot of times, as a small business owner, you find yourself taking on the role of a graphic designer in order to save some money, or you might be a new graphic designer starting out on your own and getting ready to send your first files to a printer. There are a lot of things people overlook when prepping a file for print, and this is our guide to help you with sending your artwork into us or any printer to make the process go smooth.

What program should I use?

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign are the default go to programs. They each have their own strong point, and no project can really be done using just one. A combination of all three is the best way to go in order to get the fullest design for the project you’re working on. If you don’t have access or don’t want to spend the money, there are free alternatives but the quality of your work may not be as good as those who are using professional software, so keep this in mind when thinking about setting out to do the work on your own and not hire a designer.

Using Photoshop for Graphic Design and PrintingPhotoshop: is a great tool for working with photos, it is strong for editing and manipulating them to be exactly what you want them to be in final product. It also allows you to craft eye-catching backgrounds to use in the project. It is often the first stop for many people when they start looking at a graphic design and printing project. The big thing you must keep in mind when doing a whole piece, or just developing a portion of a project in Photoshop, is that you need to set your document up to 300ppi and put it into cmyk color mode.

Illustrator for Graphic Design and PrintingIllustrator: is great for creating objects and things that will be used across multiple projects and sizes. Vector based artwork re-sizes much better and allows for a logo or item to be used on billboards and business cards alike, without any loss in visual quality.

Indesign for Graphic Design and PrintingInDesign: is the way to go for keeping a multiple page project organized. It does not have the same visual abilities as the other two do, but it allows you to easily import your work from them and keep a multi-page project organized and easy to work with.

What size should my document be?

Printing Sizes for Graphic Design and Printing

Size is tricky, as there is no one size fits all type of answer. Postcards, business cards, and flyers can all come in different sizes. Items, such as, banners and yard signs can be done to custom created dimensions. Before you start, if you’re unsure of the size you want, call the printer you’re thinking of working with and talk over the options, costs, and sizes they offer, for what you’re wanting to do. Many will also have free templates they would be willing to send you to help you out and give you a good idea of the space you have to work with.

Don’t forget the bleed!

You have no idea how many times a month that printers hang their heads and sigh when they are told they will be getting a ‘print-ready’ file, and then find out there is no bleed built into it.

Be an awesome client and build your file with bleed and export the bleed with the file for the printer to be able to do the job, quick and easily, and not have to kick your artwork back to you to be fixed!

If you’re not sure what a bleed is, it is an extra space around the perimeter of your layout that extends past the edge of the page. You should always include a bleed if any elements on your layout will cross the edge of the page (the trim edge). Once the layout is printed and trimmed, a bleed will minimize the visibility of any slight errors in trimming. This allows your graphic work to look awesome, and keeps you from being unhappy with the final outcome of the print.

What color system should you use?

Use CMYK for Graphic Design and Printing

Make sure you’re working in CMYK. Print has a much smaller color spectrum to work from than a computer monitor does, so if you do not preset your document for the colors that can be printed, you might find that your blue looks more purple, or your pink is too red. You don’t want a mistake by having your color palette set wrong.

Pantone colors are the other choice you have for most print jobs. Pantone inks are premade and mixed so they always look the same where CMYK can vary slightly from printer to printer, based on there set up and how they are mixing their colors. Keep in mind your printer may charge you extra for the use of the Pantone colors on some smaller jobs as it now becomes a custom job, printed differently then they are set up to normally run your job.

If you really want to stand out, there are all kinds of custom inks you can add to a project. You can also choose crazy fluorescent colors, metallic and metal foils to take the artwork to the next level. If you want to do this, be sure to talk with the printer first as there will be an added cost, and there will be special work that will be needed to be done to the files before they are printed. Any custom job, like these, should be talked out with a printer in advance so you don’t need to redo artwork you already made, in case parts of it just won’t work how you had in mind.

A handy checklist

  1. Set up your documents for print on the computer
  2. Optimize color for print
  3. Maximize image resolution
  4. Make your typography legible
  5. Check the width of margins
  6. Choose the best paper for your project
  7. Export your designs as print-ready files
  8. Send to print

If you use the above list as a checklist for your print projects, you’re going to create professional-standard, error-free print documents that will make your printer very happy! If you have any questions or need advice please leave a comment or give us a call to discuss any of your graphic design and printing needs! Our friendly and helpful staff can be reached at 866-614-9533 or by using the contact forms on our website.

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About Gary Cooke

I am a social media strategist and graphic designer with over 10 years of experience in the digital world, including web and user experience design. I have worked with and advised a wide range of clients on social media strategies, and how to present their brand in both the digital and printed worlds.

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