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How To Setup Mask Files For Printing

What Are Mask Files?

Mask files are used to create special effects on print work such as Spot UV Gloss, Metallic Foil and Inline Foil (Liquid Foil/Aquafoil). Mask files are utilized in the production process to designate where special effects such as Spot UV Gloss are to be applied.

Spot UV Gloss Effect


Getting Started

Setting up mask files require some technical ability and experience to setup properly to achieve good results. One obstacle you may find when setting up mask files is having access to professional design software to be able to separate design elements into their own individual layers, then being able to export the various layers into separate files. For best results, you will want to utilize vector format design software. Ideal software to use for print work setup are Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, Quark Xpress and Coral Draw

Here are the key points we’ll be discussing in detail.

  1. Design must be setup in CMYK color mode
  2. All mask files must be setup in solid black using only 100% K from CMYK values
  3. Correct alignment is paramount
  4. Setup for transparent effects such as Spot UV Gloss and opaque effects such as Metallic Foils can be drastically different depending on the design
  5. Each effect requires it’s own mask file for each of the sides where applied (more on this below)
  6. Visualize your design and setup accordingly (more on this below)

CMYK color mode is a must:

Commercial printing is produced using a 4 color layering process known as CMYK. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K (black) colors are layered to create the full spectrum of colors in the design. Why CMYK color mode is so critical is because mask files must be setup exclusively in 100% K black with zero values for Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.

Avoid using RGB color mode for print work like the plague. The reasons are incredibly complex why you should never use RGB mode for print but please trust us on this. For an in dept look into color theory for printing, please see our “Correct Color Format For Printing” blog for a complete explanation.

Visualize before setup:

Spot UV Gloss or Metallic Foil effects are applied after the initial base color print. The color print can be a solid background, an image, text, a combination of all of the previous, or even blank white. The idea here is to visualize how the effect will look once applied. The other visualization you must process is how it will be applied.

This is where the art of “separation” techniques come into play. A separation in printing is literally separating different elements of the design into a new layer or document.

Once you visualize the look of your design with whichever effect of you choose, you must separate the effect parts from the original design into it’s own separate layer or document. This is where making sure these elements are perfectly aligned on each layer comes into play.

Understanding how mask files work:

Mask files act as a template relaying graphical data to the effect equipment to outline exactly where the effect should be applied. This particular effect machinery only reads this data in 100% K Black. This is why it is imperative that mask files be setup correctly in CMYK color mode.


Depending on your design and the type of mask effect, you should consider what will be printed beneath your mask.

Metallic Foil:
If you want to apply a metallic foil effect as your logo, you should remove the logo from the base color print file. Having a background underneath the foil mask creates a haloing effect because printing equipment, although very advanced and accurate, are not perfect. If you are trying to create a gold foil effect for your logo and you have the logo on the base color print, these elements will not align perfectly creating a shadow or a halo along the edges of the gold foil effect.

In another example, if you are applying Spot UV Gloss over your logo, you definitely need to have the logo printed underneath the on the base design since Spot Gloss is a clear transparent varnish.

Video example below shows you how to separate your artwork for various situations.


Up Next….PART 3 : Correct Color Format For Printing

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 a complete catalog of products and services.

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