The basics of professional printing

Have you created a document that you’d like to get professionally printed, but don’t known how to go about it?  Maybe you’ve always printed your company newsletter on your desktop printer but love the idea of having it printed on thicker paper stock and coated with a touchy-feely velvet lamination to grab your customers attention?

Here is my quick run-down on printing basics to help you on your way.
(I’m keeping this list short and sweet because there are so many print options out there. If you want spot varnishes, fancy folds or die-cuts, you’re best off employing a professional graphic designer.)

STeph compares a printed menu with the digital artwork on-screen
Document creation

Firstly, it’s worth noting that not all software is set up for professional printing.
Microsoft Word, Publisher or PowerPoint documents may print out ok on your desktop printer, but they’re not really compatible for commercial printing. Files created with Adobe products such as InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop are preferable.

This is not nearly as scary as it sounds!
If your artwork includes a block of colour, photo or whatever that you would like to go right up to the edge of the page (with no white border) you need to include a ‘bleed’, which is where your artwork runs over the edge of the page. This is because the page is printed on a large sheet and then trimmed down to the required size. The trimming process is not always 100% accurate, so if you don’t allow for a bleed your artwork might end up with a white gap.
Printers usually ask for 3mm on each edge.

Crop marks
These are little lines on the edge of your print-ready artwork which indicate where you would like the page to be trimmed. You can add these on when you export your artwork to PDF.

Print files require a higher resolution (dots per inch, or dpi) than screen files.
Print quality is 300dpi, whereas screens require only 72dpi. What appears on your computer screen will not necessarily look the same as what will be printed. If you print a screen-quality file it is likely to look pixelated and poor quality.
Make sure that your document is set up for print quality, and, very importantly, that all of the images you include in your document are 300 dpi at the size that they will be printed.
You can check the image resolution of an image in Photoshop by selecting Image > Image Size.

Printing machine
Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

Professional printers use a mix of just 4 basic colours to reproduce all colours* – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). On screen we use Red, Green and Blue (RGB).
Make sure your document is set up as CMYK and all of the images you include are in CMYK format, or you may have unexpected results.

*there are alternative production techniques, but we’re keeping things simple here!

Save or export your artwork as a PDF
Professional printers don’t print from your original file, it needs to be saved to a format which is easily compatible, most commonly a PDF.

When saving your artwork to create a print-ready PDF you need to:
• select CMYK colour formatting,
• include crop marks,
• 3mm bleed, and
• specify 300dpi resolution.

You may see options for ‘Press Quality’ or ‘high quality print,’ in the options Menu. Choose ‘Press Quality’. High quality is ok for your desktop printer, but not for the pros.
Alternatively you can choose ‘PDF/X-1a’ if it gives you the option.

I hope this whistle-stop guide has enabled you to create error-free print? If you are still bamboozled by it all and feel you need professional help, just drop me a line and I will happily design and create your documents plus get them printed and delivered for you, stress-free!

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