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Preparing documents for print

Posted on Posted in Design

Preparing a document for print before sending in your designs can save you a lot of money, time and work in the long run. So in this article we’ll take a look at what you have to do to prepare your artwork for professional print.

What software to use depends on what you want to print. That also determines how you set up your documents. I usually just use Adobe Illustrator and Indesign. Even if I have to print out raster graphics (like pictures) I open and edit them in Adobe Photoshop set them to CMYK and save them as .png or jpeg. Then I import that in to adobe illustrator. Illustrator offers a few options that photoshop doesn’t.

So… What do you have to consider when preparing for print:

Color mode

All printers (even your home printer) uses the CMYK color mode for printing. C=cyan, M=magenta, Y=yellow and K=key. Key is for black. I’m not really sure why it’s called key but it’s definitely the color black.

Before you start working you have to make sure your color mode is set to CMYK if you intend to print your work. Converting RGB to CMYK later on is a rather difficult task and it’s easier to start of in CMYK right away.

Some studios use the pantone standard. Pantones are ready mixed for printers that even allow fluorescent, metal foil and metallic inks. That makes the color reproduction absolute. Pantones are used for custom jobs (like logos and corporate identities) and are more expensive. To use pantones you have to open up the pantones library in whatever program you are using and set them up in your swatches library.

color-mode
Setting the color mode

Resolution

For more info on resolution, check out my blog post about differences between DPI and PPI. But to make things short most printers (even home printers) print in 300 dpi resolution. Some don’t so make sure that you check with your provider first. To get the most optimal print you need to set the resolution of the design to the same resolution the printer is capable of. Even if you set the design to 600 dpi, if the printer is only capable of printing in 300 dpi, that’s what you’re going to get.

Bleed and trim marks.

The bleed is an extended space around your design. The space compensates for mistakes made by printers when they trim down your design and it eliminates the risk of a white strip to run along the borders of your print.

Normally the standard for most printers is a 3mm bleed but the exact amount differs from printer to printer so make sure to contact your printer about it. The bleed can be set when you create a new document or later on when you export it to PDF but I recommend doing it beforehand.

bleed
Setting the bleed size

The trim marks are small crosshairs that allow the printer to align the trimming blade to your design.

This is why I don’t like using photoshop for print projects. It doesn’t allow for automated bleed when exporting your projects. You have to manually set the bleed and trim marks. That means you have to make the document bigger then it has to be then draw and align the trim marks yourself. It’s easier to import your work in to illustrator and automate the process. More on that in the last section.

bleeds_trims
Bleeds and trims

Color bars

The color bars are needed so the printer can adjust the color density. Small squares of color represent the CMYK colors and a scale of grey colors in 10% increments. They are placed in to the bleed section of your design and can be added automatically when exporting in illustrator or indesign but again have to be added manually in photoshop.

The fonts

Pdf files have the option to embed the fonts you used in to the file but I prefer to outline all the texts I used in my design, to avoid any hiccups the printer may encounter, if he is missing the fonts.

How to export

Illustrator

Go to file/save as and in the dropdown box choose pdf as the file type. In the left column choose the Marks and Bleeds tab. There under marks you’ll find all the options you need. For what we need you have to check the trim marks and color bars boxes. On the bottom of the window you can set or reset your bleed size.

marks-and-bleeds
Exposrting pdf in Adobe Illustrator

Indesign

Go to file/export and in the dropdown box choose pdf as the file type. In the left column choose the Marks and Bleeds tab. Now you’ll find all the options you need. For what we need you have to check the bleed marks, crop marks and color bars boxes. On the bottom of the window you can set or reset your bleed size.

marks-and-bleeds-indesign
Export pdf in Adobe Indesign

In the end your design should look something like the one bellow. Offcourse some printers demand other options like registration marks for plotters and printing presses. But usually that’s not necessary in most case. It’s best practice to ask the printer what he needs before you send him any finished work.

full_poster
Full exported poster
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