A print job is only ever as good as the original artwork. There’s a term we use in printing relating to artwork that is ready and proper to use for printing from. We call it ‘print-ready’ artwork.
There are some industry standard things that a piece of artwork should have to make sure it prints nicely.
Let’s start with what ISN’T ‘print-ready’ art. JPEG’s, TIF’s, Publisher files, Word files, photoshop files, powerpoint files and excel files are definitely not suitable for printing from.
Sure, you could technically print from any of these file types, but you won’t get a good result.
Some people are surprised when we say Photoshop files aren’t suitable for printing from – Photoshop is definitely not the right place to start with making print-ready art – even if you save your file as a pdf. Any pdf made in Photoshop is not suitable for printing from – again, technically you can make it print, but it’s highly likely the result won’t be great. Photoshop is a photographic tool for manipulating images. It’s not a tool for laying out pages.
So where do you start with producing ‘print-ready’ art – INDESIGN, it’s the industry standard. There are other pieces of software, but most design studios throughout the world use Indesign as their standard, so we won’t confuse things by talking about some of the lesser known software.
But if you do use Indesign, you can’t simply send us (or any printer) your Indesign file – you must first export your design as a pdf. (Portable document format – as the name implies, this format has been designed to make your artwork file ‘portable’ so it can be shared and so that the result is consistent wherever it’s printed).
If we tried to open your Indesign file, there’s a high risk that something might change when we open it on our system – so that’s why you export it at as a pdf – it’s simply the right way to do it.
Now, your pdf should have all fonts embedded, it should have 3mm bleed and it should have crop marks.
Some designers don’t put trim marks on their files, but this is dangerous – they are expecting us to guess how much bleed they applied and trim back from the bleed – but how will we know if they applied 3mm bleed, or 5mm bleed. Trim marks remove the guess work and make sure that everyone knows the finished size of the job.
Most jobs we do are cmyk, but if you have a particular colour that you want to match to, you should set your file up with a pantone spot colour – we get more accurate colour matching if we allow our pre-press to do the maths behind converting the spot colour to cmyk.
If there’s a dieline in your file, make the dieline a single, continuous stroke and specify it as a spot colour called ‘dieline’ with a representative colour of magenta. If there are creases, specify it as a spot colour called ‘creaseline’ and give it a representative colour of cyan.
Don’t make a creaseline a dotted line, unless you actually want the creases to start-stop-start-stop. The diemaker will make whatever shape you specify, so if you make a dotted line you may end up with a perforation rather than a crease.
Now, the most important thing that so many designers forget – make sure your dieline and creaseline are ‘set to overprint’. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a white keyline around the edge of the cut if the dieline goes over a coloured background.
Next we come to bleed. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve explained what bleed is. Here we go… when there is a block of colour on a page, and when that colour extends all the way to the edge of the page, that block of colour is said to ‘bleed’ off the edge of the page.
When you see a finished printed page (finished page), you are seeing a page that has been trimmed down to size from a larger sheet (that we call a press sheet). Behind the scenes, we trimmed that press sheet down to the size you see it at. Before we started to trim it, there were trim marks on the press sheet that showed us where we were going to trim, and if, on the finished page there was background colour that bleeds off the page, on the press sheet the colour extends beyond the trim marks by 3mm. That way, when we trim the press sheet, we are actually trimming away 3mm of colour.
Let me explain why – if we didn’t have 3mm of bleed, when we trimmed the press sheet, our blade would run right along the edge of the coloured background. If we were out by even a fraction of a millimetre, you would see on your finished page a fine slither of white paper on the edge of the page – not attractive.