A Guide To Preparing Files For Print Correctly


Ever printed something out and have it not look anything like you wanted it to? Even worse, ever printed 100 copies of something to have only wasted your money because it didn't turn out how you imagined?

As a designer, there are a set of printing rules we should stick by in order to prepare our files for print correctly. Hopefully, some of these tips can help both designers and non-designers prevent these easily avoidable mistakes. Some are tips I've learnt at the beginning of my career, and some are what I've learnt along the way. 

So you have your file ready for printing... here is how to correctly prepare it for print:

1. Set your bleed/slug


A good amount to go by is 3mm bleed and 8mm slug. To do this on inDesign, select File > Document Setup > 'More Options'. Add these values for all sides of the document. All you have to do now is make sure you drag any images that touch the edge of the paper into the bleed area.

Bleed = The area where the image needs to run off from the edge of the paper before trimming. It allows for any movement or inconsistencies of the paper when printing. Slug = The area outside the page and bleed that contains printer instructions or job sign-off information (not entirely essential, but useful to include).

2. Convert to CMYK

All images should be converted from RGB to CMYK. To do this, open the image on Photoshop and select Image > Mode > CMYK Color. Then re-save the image. When working in Photoshop, it's always best to work in RBG for as long as possible and then convert to CMYK when you are ready to print. Tip: Keep a RGB copy of the file so that, if needed, you can modify the image with its maximum colour information. 

3. Outline your text

When printing or saving a PDF for print on Illustrator, make sure you 'outline' any live text. On Illustrator, simply select the text and use CMD + Shift + O, or select Object > Expand. Doing this avoids fonts to be replaced when sending the PDF to the printer if they do not have the font on their system. Alternatively, you could embed your fonts to the PDF. Tip: Be sure NOT to re-save outlined version of the file over your previous editable version! 

4. Image Resolution - 300dpi (dots-per-inch)

Always remember: 72dpi for web, and 300dpi for print. Even if you have to convert an image from the internet from 72dpi to 300dpi when printing, it will still look much better than not converting at all! To check/change dpi in Photoshop, select Image > Image Size. Then adjust the 'resolution' number (and make sure it's set to Pixels/Inch). 

5. Check image links

Ever noticed any images in your PDF or your print are low in resolution or completely blank? Make sure you check your 'links' on inDesign to see that none require updating or are missing. 

6. Avoid small text on black 

Small white text on a black background can print out blurred due to possible misalignment of printing plates. It is recommended that you use bold fonts for very small text sizes if need be. 

7. Check your blacks


There is a clear difference between black and rich black. However it may be hard to tell the difference on your monitor screen depending on your monitor type and calibration – this is due to richer colours being shown in RGB than on print in CMYK. Often when you print something out using 100% Black, it may still appear a bit dull/grey. To achieve a rich dense black, you have to add small percentages of the other colours in the full-colour set. Add some CMY to the K - in other words, try setting your values to C:70 M:20 Y:20 K:100. 

8. Save B&W Images in Grayscale

A common mistake is not saving any black & white images in Grayscale, rather than RGB or CMYK. Do this in Photoshop by selecting Image > Mode > Grayscale. This needs to be done otherwise b&w images will still print with some colour. 

9. Test print

It's good practise to test print as many times as needed before your final print. Colours appear much brighter on-screen so it's almost impossible to accurately predict how it will turn out when printed – it can also be very hard to spot little mistakes on the computer, so printing a proof can be a life-saver.

10. Find a good printers

Gaining a good relationship with a good printers will only bode well for you. I have tested many upon many printers before I found one that was of the quality I wished for. There needs to be a level of trust, from the handling of your files, to completing your project on time – once you hand your files over to your printer, you are at their mercy.  Being a loyal customer also has it's perks when things go wrong.

And there it is! Those are just some of my tips – I hope this post has helped you out a little.

Got more tips to share? It'd be great to hear your experiences.


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