For someone new to print, getting your head around what you should do to set your artwork up properly can be quite an overwhelming experience.
Take it from me, someone who worked as an apprentice for a short time at a local printers, with no experience dealing with print prior.
Imagine the horror on a 17-year-old Penna’s face once they realise they’ve made a fatal error of printing out a batch of business cards, only to realise that there’s 0 bleed, the artwork on the back is back to front, and to top it off, the paperweight is wrong.
Damn, that’s rough. Try and explain that one to your manager.
1) Bleed Explained
Bleed is a 3mm extension of your artwork needed for every print job that uses a variety of colour/imagery that sits close to the edge of a document.
To understand why bleed is crucial, you need to know exactly how your artwork gets printed. Your artwork is placed multiple times on a big sheet and then cut to size to create X number of materials. This sheet will contain cut lines, shown just before that 3mm mark.
If artwork without bleed is printed and cut, it’ll show. You’ll notice some horrendous white lines around most if not all edges of the print. For obvious reasons, this isn’t the desired outcome. You want the cleanest and crispest looking edges possible.
Before thinking about working on your artwork, make sure you have set up a 3mm bleed line around all edges. Set your canvas up with a 3mm bleed, and you’ll notice a guideline appear showing you exactly where your boundaries are. Make sure your artwork extends to this guideline.
2) Colour modes
There are two types of colour modes you need to be aware of when working on designing artwork for print.
CMYK: Made up of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Most commonly used, and what most of your clients will probably be using. Bright colours can appear dull, but its low cost makes it a popular option.
Pantone: Uses a spot colour system, which provides accurate, sharp, and consistent results. Pantone swatch books available to reference the range of available colours, and most professional printers will have access to one. The down-side to using Pantone is that it can be costly compared to CMYK.
RGB: NEVER use RGB, Red, Green, Blue. As an example, this is what your monitor uses to process colours. RGB colour modes are suitable to use for everything else, just never for print.
If your client doesn’t know what colour range they’ll be using, educate them on the pros and cons of CMYK and Pantone. Try to guide them in the right direction based on their desired outcome, giving them the best bang for their buck.
You can select a colour mode before or during work on artwork. So, if you aren’t currently working in CMYK, don’t worry. By default, you will more than likely be working in RGB – bear this in mind if you’ve already started designing, shifting to a CMYK colour palette will change your palette to something duller looking, as mentioned earlier.
3) DPI, does it matter?
As a rule of thumb, 300 DPI is usually a respectable figure to set your artwork at, and yes, DPI most definitely does matter. I’ll explain why.
DPI (dots per inch) is the number of printed dots used to make up an inch of printed material. Higher DPI = crystal clear results, so always keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how great things look when designing. If the DPI isn’t set right, the outcome won’t be either.
With that in mind, if the artwork is small, using a higher DPI isn’t all that necessary and would be a waste of ink. Using anything over 300 DPI for something like a business card, for example, wouldn’t do you any favours.
However, if you’re designing an advertisement, maybe something displayed as a banner, then a suitable measure would be to increase the DPI to ensure the quality is at its highest. A large advertisement might use something in the range of 1200 DPI due to its enormity.
Photography is also something that requires quite a high DPI, particularly if you’re trying to achieve a quality result. It would be a shame to have professionally produced photographs, only for the quality to be destroyed when printed.
Again, in most if not all software you’ll use to put print designs together, DPI is simple to configure. Always check your canvas settings to see what’s going on behind the scenes before working on any artwork.
4) Offering expertise to clients
When a client comes to you wanting to get designs for print, the likelihood is, they’ll have an idea in mind of what size they need, the sort of material aimed at getting your artwork printed to, and the printer they’ll be using to complete the job.
But, always have the proper knowledge stored to supply your clients with, in instances where they are either new to printing or don’t quite understand all the processes involved.
After you’ve consulted with a client and understood their project, you should be able to gauge what would be ideal. For example, if your client needs a pricing list created, what size paper would you recommend, and what paper weight would you recommend? Do you think their content would fit on one side, or would they need a double-sided print?
Ah, you don’t know about paperweights yet, do you? Not to worry, here’s a handy guide I found which should help you understand what each weight is and the thicknesses they produce!
Trust me. If you have this information stored in the back of that beautiful mind of yours, your clients will love you for it. Familiarise yourself with the print process in and out to understand how to design the perfect artwork and be a guiding light in the dark to your clients.
5) This should be pure black. Right?
One of the easiest mistakes to make when working on any print design is thinking that to achieve a solid black print, you must set your colour to pure black. I mean, that’s what you’d think, right?
Let’s use some examples of what I mean:
- Setting your K Value (Black) to 100% (known as 100k black) will give you a grey or charcoal result when printed. Not always a bad option to use, particularly if you want to apply black to small sections, such as text. It’d be a preferable option over rich black, for example, to avoid smudging of ink when printing such a small area (which can happen).
- Adding more colour (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) to your black will give you a rich/deep black. Different papers will handle the amount of ink differently, so ask your printer what the best value is to use to achieve a rich black, depending on the type of paper used. Always consult your printer.
If you’re working in Illustrator, keep this in mind:
Unless you have this option enabled, you will not see small differences in black. Problematic, if you’re trying to play around with different colour values to achieve a rich black.
To see if you have this option enabled, head over to Edit > Preferences > Appearance of Black… > On Screen: Display All Blacks Accurately > Printing / Exporting: Output All Blacks Accurately.
To test this, put a 100k black object and a rich black object side by side. You should be able to distinguish between the two.
- Always set a 3mm bleed
- Use the right colour modes (never RGB)
- Educate your clients on what would be the best materials to use for their print job
- Check your DPI settings
- Know the difference between 100k black and rich black, and make sure you can see them!