Sometimes we are supplied print-ready artwork from a client.
Sometimes it is great.
Sometimes there is a lot to be desired.
We are different to many print shops.
We offer free help and advice when it comes to providing print-ready artwork.
And if you order online printing we even provide print-ready artwork at a fixed cost of just £40.
However sometimes it is worth investing in graphic design because it can create competitive advantage for your business.
Print-Ready Artwork for Digital Printing
There is a slight subtle difference between digital printing and full colour process printing.
The great thing about digital printing is you can get a printed proof that will be the same as the finished print job.
If you follow our Guidelines – you won’t go far wrong.
Print-Ready Artwork for Litho Printing
When we get to full colour process printing things get that much harder.
The guidelines are similar in most aspects.
However, colours are now converted to a four colour CMYK format – and this often varies to the three colour RGB format you see on a computer screen.
Colours and photographs tend to print a duller or darker colour which often is the cause of disappointment.
And commercial printers usually demand print-ready artwork – literally everything ready for the press!
Printing Digital Images
Printing digital images can be frustrating if you don’t have an understanding of print quality versus screen quality.
A screen quality image, which looks fine on your monitor, will often look ragged or pixelated when you print it.
There are two types of digital images: vector images and raster images.
Vector images are usually logos or line art graphics and can be enlarged or reduced in size without affecting the quality of the printed result.
Most commonly used images, including digital photographs (Jpeg being the most common file format), are raster images, which means that they are made up of a finite number of dots or pixels.
The quality of this type of image when it is printed varies depending on the size it is printed out at.
For example, you might have a picture file which is 600 pixels by 300 pixels in size – and this will not change, no matter how much you enlarge or reduce the size of the picture on the page.
So if you make the picture 2 inches wide by 1 inch high, it’s resolution will be 300 dots per inch (dpi).
As a rule of thumb, this is the maximum size you can make this particular picture without starting to compromise its quality when it is printed.
If you enlarge the picture to 4 inches wide by 2 inches high, its resolution will drop to 150 dpi, because you’ve got the same number of pixels spread over a greater area.
This will impair the output quality when you print it.
For the purposes of printed publications, all your graphics should be a minimum of 300 dpi to print cleanly.
For large format printing (e.g. posters) a minimum of 150 dpi is usually acceptable.
Web graphics are usually only 72 dpi, which is screen quality and looks fine on a monitor, but terrible when you print out.
Summary Check List for Print-Ready Artwork
1. Select the correct paper size.
Getting the paper size correct is a good starting point.
You would be surprised how often this error is made.
This is why we have found having templates available to download can act as useful help when sending print-ready artwork.
2. Use CMYK rather than RGB
RGB colour is based on properties of light, and is suitable when images are to be viewed on screen, not for printing with ink or toner on paper.
CMYK colour is based on properties of ink and should always be used when a colour image is to be printed.
The colour mode of your graphics files can be set to CMYK from within your graphics program; the colour mode of your document text can be set from within your DTP program.
Solid blacks should be made of 30% cyan, 30% magenta, 30% yellow and 100% black – 100% black can appear dull over large areas.
And avoid using ink coverage above 240% (total of CMYK). This may result in the surface print buckling or curling.
In addition to RGB and CMYK colour, you may also need to work with a Pantone colour.
3. Check the image resolution
Images should be a minimum of 300 dpi at the size they are to be printed. An image which is 300 dpi at A6 (postcard) size will effectively drop to 150 dpi if you decide to fill an A4 page with it.
4. Remember to allow for bleeds
If you want the printing to go right to the edge of the page you need to add bleed.
If you’re working on a document that has bleeds you need to make the object that bleeds off the page overlap the edge of the page by at least 3mm.
We print the document on a larger sheet size than the document size, and then trim off the excess at the edges.
The extra 3mm bleed gives a bit of extra print to crop into, ensuring that the image does, indeed, bleed off the page, without leaving any visible white border.
If bleeds are not included, then to preserve the appearance of the bleed, we can cut into the edge of the document – reducing the finished size.
If you’ve got some text very close to the edge of the page (page numbers, for example), these might be partially or completely cropped off.
5. Make sure you supply all the right files
In order to conserve memory (picture files often being very memory-hungry), most DTP programs will not automatically embed all the graphics and fonts you have used in the DTP document.
Instead, the program creates links between the document and the graphics files you have used.
When the file is re-opened, the program looks for the linked files and can only print the document correctly if the links are intact and the program can find them.
Similarly, we can only print the fonts you have used correctly if we have those fonts installed on our computer.
So it’s important that you provide all the fonts you have used too, in case we don’t have them.
Fortunately, most DTP programs have a handy utility which ensures that you supply all the necessary files every time.
In Quark XPress it’s called “collect for output”; in InDesign it’s called “package”.
This utility will gather together all the elements required to correctly print the document (document, graphics and fonts) and put them in an output folder along with a report detailing the contents.
It is highly recommended that you use this tool when sending DTP files for printing.
It can be done manually, but it is very easy to inadvertently miss something out, which will cause either printing errors or delays.
6. Flatten layers and save as a print-ready PDF
PDF is now the industry standard method for submitting print-ready artwork.
A PDF ensures that all graphics and fonts are properly embedded and generally reduces the overall file size.
Fonts could also be converted to outlines so no fonts are needed.
Sometimes after uploading your PDF, you may notice lines or shadows on your images.
Text might be a little blurry when zooming in, or certain things may be the wrong colour.
This sort of issue can be caused by overlapping text and image layers in the PDF causing the converter to become confused, what we refer to as a “transparency” problem.
It is important to merge or flatten layers for faster and more accurate printing.
Flattening documents also makes them smaller and therefore easier to email or post on your website.
Most PDF writers will give you some kind of choice as to what level of quality you want your PDF to be.
This will either be in the form of a description (e.g. “low quality”,“standard”, “press quality”), or output resolution (e.g. 72dpi, 300dpi, 1200dpi), or both.
Choose the highest available quality setting, as it’s safest to make your PDF better quality than you need.
Look for “print quality”, “press quality” or “high quality” and 300dpi resolution or more.
And remember to call and ask for any free help and assistance in preparing your print-ready artwork files.