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General Overview of Printing Requirements


Commercial printing can be confusing and often intimidating with all the technical requirements for artwork. Meeting those protocols for commercial printing can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. We will go over a general overview of printing requirements.

This is the first in a series from our PRINTING BASICS blog. Follow us for in depth articles on how to set up art for printers. Part 1 is a general overview covering all the basics of print setup. In Part 2 of the series, we’ll cover “bleeds” in detail.

There may be times when a professional designer who is proficient in the intricacies of commercial printing are needed for those notably technical jobs, but for the most part, many of the popular products such as business cards, flyers, brochures, or announcement cards are relatively easy to setup if you follow a few basic rules.

The greatest obstacle is having access to the proper tools. While not completely necessary, having access to design programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or Indesign, can be extremely helpful. More importantly, utilizing specifically engineered software for print work can greatly improve print quality. If you do not have access to professional design programs, we offer a simple browser based online design application at ULTRA™ absolutely FREE.

I must note that as much as Microsoft Publisher brandishes itself as a “publication” software, the irony is that it is one of the worst programs to use for print work. Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint are even worse. Let’s just lay that out there before we move on. They simply do not have the correct formatting abilities. We’ll cover more on this later in the series.

So let’s dive right in.

Important Notice:

Please keep in mind that color accuracy of what you see on your monitor versus what is printed can be different. Primarily because commercial printing is typically produced in CMYK color space while what you are looking at right now is being projected in RGB color. There are other reasons why color can be tricky because every monitor brand and manufacturer displays differently. Also personal preferences in monitor settings can affect the color accuracy to cause display anomalies.

Print Ready Checklist:

  1. Artwork submitted for print must be in CMYK color mode.
  2. All images must be minimum 300 DPI resolution.
  3. Minimum 1/16 inch bleeds on all sides.
  4. Keep 1/8 inch safety margin from cut lines.
  5. All Pantone®, or Spot colors converted to CMYK
  6. Flatten transparencies, layers, and convert text to outlines for final print file.
  7. Save/Export your file as a print ready PDF for best printing results.

Artwork submitted for print must be in CMYK color mode –

What you are seeing now as you read this on your computer monitor, tablet or phone, is being projected in RGB color format (Red, Green, Blue). However, in commercial printing, we use a 4 color process called CMYK (Cyan, Magenta,Yellow, Black). Chances are, if you have no experience configuring color for commercial printing, you may have RGB drafted artwork.

To make the change to CMYK, you have to go back to your native design file, be it Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, etc., and set the document color mode to CMYK. Be sure to save the file to finalize the conversion. I would save the converted file as a new document just in case.

If you do not have access to the native file to make any changes, you still need to convert your artwork to CMYK. There are many free online RGB to CMYK converting tools available. Google “RGB to CMYK Converter” and use the one you like. It’s important to carefully review the generated CMYK file to ensure all the colors and graphics are ok with you. There will always be a color shift when converting. CMYK cannot reproduce the bright tones that RGB can produce. Remember, RGB is emitted using light. You may or may not see a major change. 

Some conversions show no difference to the naked eye while other times, the change is dramatically different. This review process after conversion is critical and only you can determine if the conversion is satisfactory. We cannot review files for you because it’s your color schemes and you alone knows what will work or not.

Important to note that RGB to CMYK conversion, regardless of how you do it, always converts RGB black into a CMYK black that uses a mixture of all CMYK colors. Why is this important? Because most text is printed in black. Using 4 colors to layer 4 separate colors to create black causes blurry text. This is the main reason why it’s so important to always start and end your design for print in CMYK mode with black set to only 100% K (black) for all design jobs for print work. This way you will be working within a color palette in tune with commercial printing process to avoid confusion as you work on the project. I cannot emphasize this enough.

More on this in our Printer Series “Correct Color Format For Printing“. 

All images must be minimum 300 DPI resolution –

Simply put…higher the resolution of an image, the better it will print with more definition and clarity. While we encourage vector based artwork for anything print, a good high resolution image can print with beautiful results. 300 DPI is the minimum resolution but we recommend 600 DPI if you can keep it under 20mb.

Understanding bleeds and how to set up –

A bleed is essentially expendable artwork purposely extended beyond the trim line, or cut line. This small extended section allows the printer to trim off the edges to the finished size creating a clean flush edge of ink.

Think of this bleed space as painters tape to create straight lines on an edge or where 2 color meet on that straight line. You place this tape along the edge of your painted section so you can paint over it, then peel off the tape to create a clean edge. A “bleed” is basically the same thing. Think of this 1/16 inch added space as the strip of tape you will remove.

1/16 inch (0.0625) bleed to all sides is the minimum and 1/4 inch is the maximum recommended.

1/8 inch safety margin from edges –

Keep anything you do not want intentionally trimmed off 1/8 inch away from the edges (trim line). This is a general practice to allow for minor variations of the cuts.

Detailed instructions on how to setup bleed for printing can be found HERE.

All Pantone® colors and Spot color must be converted to CMYK –

If you used any Pantone® or Spot colors, they need to be converted to CMYK before submitting to a 4 color press printer. You can find the CMYK values on Pantone® swatches. We highly suggest working with a hard copy of a certified Pantone swatch book for the most accurate color end results.

Flatten transparencies and layers before saving as the final copy –

Vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator must have all transparencies flattened before saving or exporting to final print ready file. When flattening, make sure to “Check Mark” the CONVERT FONTS TO OUTLINES option.

For Photoshop, we recommend flattening all layers before saving or exporting to final print ready file ensuring all images used in file are 300dpi or higher, and the final dimensions and image size match that of the physical product including bleed margins.

Save/Export your file as a print ready PDF for best printing results –

A properly configured vector PDF has proven to print with the greatest results for commercial printing time and time again. In any platform you have designed your artwork, you will most likely find either a “Save” or “Export” feature where you can output as a PDF file.

Follow 2 basic rules for the PDF output setting when saving. 1- Use the Adobe PDF preset “High Quality Print” from the dropdown. 2 – Set “Compatibility” to ACROBAT 7 or lowest version available.

Lastly, remember to always review your PDF files to check if everything looks ok. PDF’s can be sensitive and output a corrupt image.

Tips For Good Printing Results:

  1. Vector based artwork has proven to print with best results for commercial printing over a high resolution Photoshop JPG image. For crisp clean text vector outshines every other format. If vector is not a solution for you, just remember to save your artwork in the highest resolution possible without exceeding 50mb in size. A good high quality 300 DPI letter size flyer should not exceed 10-15 mb.
  2. Always do a print test on your home or office Inkjet or Laser printer to check legibility, sizing, balance, and anything else out of the ordinary. Print tests are a great way to determine how folding works and how to setup the panels so that your folds work with the correct positioning.
  3. As general practice, do not use fonts smaller than 7 pts for key text information.
  4. Use “empty space” wisely and spaciously. Think balance.
  5. Stick to no more than maximum 3 different font styles working within a design. 2 styles is better but 1 style is best.


How to Set up Bleeds for Photoshop and Illustrator

ULTRA™ is an experienced online printing and design company serving thousands of clients across the U.S. and Canada. For all of your print marketing needs please visit our website for complete catalog of products and services.


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