The Creative's Guide to Printing

Something that can be intimidating for creatives, even for some new or seasoned designers, is sending files to print.

Trust me, I know the feeling. Even though I know I can design things I used to always feel intimidated like I didn’t know what I was doing.

Once I got the hang of the basics, I definitely felt more competent. So today I would love to share the basics so you can feel confident when you go to print.


Print Basics:

• Modes & Colors

There are 2 color modes to choose from. The RGB color mode is for web and is made up of 3 colors: red, green and blue. The other color mode is CMYK and it's for print. When you print an image it is made up of tiny little dots, referred to as DPI (dots per inch). When you take a magnifying glass up to a printed image you will be able to see the dots clearly. An image printed with 300 dpi or more will be a solid, beautiful image and you won't be able to see separation. For 150 or 75 dpi, it's sacrificing clarity and there won't be enough dots per inch to cover the space. 


As I said earlier, when you print it prints dots in 4 colors, CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). There is an exception though, spot colors. Spot colors are the exact tint or shade you want, no combining different colored dots to get your perfect color. Spot colors will add money and time to a print project but may be worth the investment because the color, say, for your brand's logo will be exactly the build you want.  

When I talk about printing, I'm not talking digital printing which doesn't require spot colors or inks. Digital printing goes off of toner cartridges (still using the same build, CMYK) but the use for digital printing is that you can get much smaller quantities for a way more cost effective rate.

The printing where you can do spot colors and where you still use plates are the old school offset printers. These can be high end printing projects but compared to digital printing, it's above and beyond in preciseness and quality. They can also cost a pretty penny. Some would say the benefits are worth it. Established companies will use offset to print year-end reviews, etc. and very high quality materials for their company or brand. The reason offset is so costly is that for each job plates need to be made. Meaning, you have your image, you need to make a plate for each color (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) of that image. Plates are expensive. And if you add in a couple spot colors, that's more plates and ink and time and... you guessed it, money. All that to say, offset is a beautiful way to print a project but is commonly used for long runs (over 500 copies) and/or for quality materials.


When you send files to print:

• Create outlines.

Rather than package and link your fonts, create outlines for text. 

• A word about JPEG and PDF

JPEG files are typically for photos and can compress files so it’s not good for enlarging after a file has been compressed. PDF files are acceptable across many platforms and are the preferred file for print. PDFs can also be altered or adjusted if you have certain programs like Adobe Acrobat.

• Printing with Bleed

If you’re printing area goes to the very edge of the page, use a bleed, which is typically 1/8”. The bleed size can vary but standard bleed areas are 1/8". If your image is only in the center of the page, I wouldn't worry about adding a bleed. 

• Crop Marks & Trim Marks

The crop marks is for the cutter to know where to cut so the image is the exact size it should be. You can add crop marks in Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign or some printers can add the crop marks in for you if they need to. The same goes for trim marks. You can add them in if your image goes to the end of the page but if not I wouldn't add them. Again, a printer might be able to put these in for you if you don't.

I hope this post was beneficial to you and will give you confidence for when you go to print!

Let me know what you think, was anything new or helpful? 

Do you have any questions? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.