How To Create A File for Print
It can be difficult to know exactly how to properly create a file to be printed. Unfortunately it isn’t always as easy as just taking an image and printing it out. There are a lot of factors which play into creating the ideal artwork and assuring it comes out properly once it leaves the screen. Here we’ll go into some of the most important ones.
One of the most important and yet most frequently overlooked parts of designing something for print is the resolution. Most printing is done at 300dpi (dots per inch) which is generally what is considered a “print-ready” resolution. If you go below 300dpi you start running into the risk of reduced quality for your print. While smaller artwork can be stretched to fit a larger size that stretching comes with a corresponding loss in quality unless your artwork is a vector image.
Most files you can find online are at 72dpi which is the common resolution for web browsing. Even if an image looks good on a computer screen that does not mean they will look good when printed. This is also something to be cautious about when using Canva or other free design tools built around web graphics. Something designed for the web isn’t inherently going to print the same as you see.
CMYK vs RGB
Our printing is done using a Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black color mix, which is industry standard. These colors can be used to create most other colors in an subtractive process. The ‘natural’ color of the print is the paper color (usually white) and the combination of all the inks is a pure black, so various combinations are used with the natural color of the paper to create the image you see.
The other common color format is RGB which stands for Red/Green/Blue. This is a format based around light and is what is most commonly used for computer screens. Red, Green and Blue light combine to form different colors and when fully combined form white, not black. It’s the opposite of CMYK.
More importantly since it is designed for light there are RGB colors which do not print using standard CMYK printing. This usually involves extremely bright neon colors. While there are specialized inks that can print these colors they are usually extremely expensive.
When designing your file for print you should make sure the color format is CMYK. If it isn’t then the process of converting from RGB to CMYK has the potential to cause color shifting as printers attempt to match the closest possible color.
Even after creating your file you want to make sure you save it in a file format that best minimizes risk of compression or color shifting. We usually recommend PDF, PNG and TIFF. These formats have the best compatibility. Please keep in mind, especially when you’re looking to print something on transparent material, that some formats (like JPG) will replace transparency with pure white.
Unflattened print files are usually not recommended. These includes .psd or .ai files which contained unflattened open layers and text. The reason why is that if an image is not flattened that means it may be drawing fonts, images or links from the original computer it was created on. If any of those things are missing it can lead to changes in the artwork.
A flattened file is a file that has had all layers and open text converted to a single uneditable image. This assures that the file that is sent is the file that is printed.
Bleed refers to an extra area of the image that is designed to be cut into/cut off. This is usually an 1/8th of an inch (.125) but can be larger for certain items. Proper bleed is required for artwork to go to the edge as that extra space is needed for a machine to properly trim down the art without leaving white space.
Standard printing actually causes the final product to end up 1/8th of an inch smaller after cutting, with that extra 1/8th being cut off. If you need an image to be the exact size then you would need to design your file at the size needed and then include an extra .125 inches on both sides.
(For example a 4x6 would need to be designed at a 4.125x6.125). This is known as “Exact Trim Size.”
All important text and images must be kept outside of this bleed area. If anything is past the line then it is at serious risk of either being cut off or trimmed so close to the edge that it is aesthetically displeasing. Printing can be delayed by the inclusion of improper bleed so for time sensitive projects it is best to make sure it is correct before submitting the artwork to minimize the chance of delays.
When designing a file please keep in mind that different materials will result in different colors. Our standard 14pt card stock is generally reliable for any CMYK printing, but specialized cardstocks and coatings may change the art.
For example linen cards tend to absorb slightly more ink which can shift certain colors. A UV coating can increase the glossy texture of a card but also will make the entire image slightly darker. It’s important to consider the kind of material you want to print on. We recommend 14pt printing for most common items to minimize the chance of material and color interacting in unexpected ways.
There are specialized kinds of coatings or material that only are applied to certain parts of a print project. For example foiling or spot UV. In order to make sure that this localized coating is applied properly a mask file is needed.
The final file should include 2 separate parts:
The completed print file, a file showing only the areas needed to be coated or foiled, with the areas portrayed in a pure 100% Black color. This assures the smooth application of the specialized coating to make sure it comes out correct.