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Creating Print-Ready Files

 An in-house design team is often the most efficient way for a business to advertise. However, if your design team is emerging or hasn’t worked in print design before, it takes some practice before perfecting the art of the print-ready file. Creating files that are as print-ready as possible will save time and prevent frustration. It also helps ensure that your final product comes off the press as intended.Consider the following when designing for your next print project.

 Bleeds and crop lines
A bleed is an area of artwork that extends beyond the finished size. These are intentionally created so that small imperfections during the cutting process aren’t noticeable. The typical size is 1/8”. Without bleeds it is easy for important parts of a picture to be cut off or for there to be unintended white space. Crop marks exist on the bleed, and they are a guide for bindery to cut. Having the image extend outside of the cutting lines means that your material will be full of color without appearing crooked or with strips of white at the edges.

Raster image vs vector image
Raster images are comprised of a series of pixels that combine to form an image. A vector image, by contrast, is formed by mathematical paths. The main difference is that when zoomed in on a computer screen, a raster image becomes blurry while a vector image stays just as clear.

When working with banners or other text-based images, it may not be necessary to use raster images at all. Images that require more detail, however, (such as photographs and art reproductions) will work best with raster images.  However, it is in your favor to work with vector graphics as much as possible while designing and to always use high-resolution photographs.

Color considerations
Your document must be set in the CMYK color scale (as opposed to the RGB color scales) before printing. It is usually best to work in CMYK during the entire design process, as the conversion process can create unintended color variations.

If you are working with branding colors, define it using the Pantone Matching System. This system allows printers to reproduce the exact color you seek.

Also consider the number of colors you need print. When printing digitally, the number of colors doesn’t dramatically affect cost. Offset printing, however, requires additional plates and a more involved printing process for each color added.

High resolution photos
Print files must be at 300 dpi (dots per inch) for best print quality. If you have a better resolution file than that, all the better. There is not much your print service provider can due to improve a low-resolution file.

Rich vs plain black
If you want certain areas to appear as dark as possible, mixing in cyan, magenta, and yellow in with black creates a richer, darker looking color than black alone. However, you don’t want to set a color as 100% of all four colors, as this leads to ink saturation which can damage your substrate. The standard is to set C to 50%, M and Y to 40%, and K to 100%.

Dot gain in design programs
Dot gain is the ink that seeps into the paper beyond its intended “dot.” It has the effect of making an image appear darker than intended. With a few settings adjustments, programs like Photoshop and InDesign can account for this issue. For example, the program may lower the resolution in certain areas to account for the darkening caused from dot gain. Click here for a detailed tutorial.

Different substrates (surfaces to be printed on) absorb ink differently. Uncoated paper absorbs more ink than coated paper. Vinyl, PVC, dibond, and other large format substrates all have vastly different properties. The best way to account for these differences is to contact your print service provider for advice and specs before the design process.

Size Considerations
Offset presses use large sheets that later cut down into the final product size. If printing a postcard, for example, one sheet of paper may contain eight postcards. While a print service provider’s prepress team will take care of formatting for these sheets, it is worth considering during the design process. An unusually-sized design, depending on the sheet size, may be inefficient and uneconomical.

After rolling out sugar cookie dough, you want to be able to stamp out as many cookies as possible. It’s the same with printing. Sticking to a standard size will save resources, energy, and money.

Legal considerations
For food products, make sure that a nutrition label is legible and correctly formatted. For any mailings, ensure that your design adheres to USPS guidelines.

Auxiliary files
Depending on your project, you may need to include several files besides the design itself. A file package will include all photos, fonts, and any other elements used to create a design. In either an email or in a reference file, define the final product size, safe zone, and bleed dimensions.

Always include files for uncommon fonts. If you use a font that isn’t as common as Courier or Times New Roman and fail to include the font file, you run the risk of having your desired font replaced.

If you plan on any diecutting, embossing, spot coating, or other postpress work, include a “FOR REFERENCE ONLY” file that delineates the areas to be treated.

Taking the time to make your files print-ready will help your products come out as intended. It will also make working with your print service provider a breeze! Keep these ideas in mind during your next print project.

- Sarah Barker, ,

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