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  • Writer's pictureEsta-Jane Middling

Getting your artwork print ready

You've created your artwork and sent it to your chosen printer - but they've come back and said the artwork isn't "print ready". Now what?

Whether you've created your own artwork because you can't afford a Graphic Designer, or purely because you enjoy doing these things yourself, if your artwork needs to be printed, there are a few things that most people don't realise have to be in place in order for your artwork to be printed professionally. Let's delve into these below, and we will talk about the why and how, to help you understand and hopefully help you get your own designs ready for a hassle free print!


In this blog, we will talk about:


IMAGE DPI

DPI stands for "Dots Per Inch", and indicates the density of dots in a printed image (or pixels in a digital image) per inch.

Why is this important? The more dots per inch your image has, the more detail and higher quality your image will be. The standard for professional print is 300DPI or higher. This ensures your printed items look their best, photos show with the highest detail and everything looks sharp.

How do I achieve this? There are two points to consider with DPI:

Design. First off, in the design phase, you need to ensure any images and photos you use are at least 300 DPI in the size you want to use them. If you don't have access to a professional design related software (such as Adobe InDesign or Affinity Designer), you can check an images DPI from your Windows computer, by right clicking on the image in Windows Explorer, select 'Properties', Go to the 'Details' tab, and look for "Horizontal resolution" and "Vertical resolution". These values represent the DPI. On a Mac, open the image in Preview, then go to Tools > Show Inspector or press Command + I. Sometimes the information won't show, so there are various online tools where you can upload an image and it will check for you: Just Google "online image DPI Checker". Remember: Just because a photo or design looks good on your phone, tablet or computer screen, doesn't mean it will print well! It's also prudent to remember that DPI changes with the size of an image - when you make it larger, the DPI decreases, and smaller, the DPI increases. That means that your image might not be suitable for your 6x8 foot banner, but it could still be used on an A5 leaflet, in a smaller size!

Print. Now, this is where we need to ensure your design is ready for your printer! Having now designed a document using high quality imagery and graphics, it's time to make sure your document is saved at 300DPI, ready for your printer. In most professional design softwares, this is a simple case of ensuring your options for DPI, which will show when you export your document, are set at 300DPI or more. However, if you are designing on Canva, things are a little different! In Canva, go to 'Share', then 'Download', now select 'PDF Print' and here you can also select from a tick box 'Crop marks and bleed', and choose from the colour profile 'CMYK'. You will note that this final option is a premium option. If you don't pay for Canva you cannot choose this, find out why CMYK is important for printing below.


BLEED

Bleed is the term used to describe the area of printed artwork that extends past the trim line. Why is this important? It ensures that there are no unprinted edges in the final trimmed document and that the ink coverage reaches the edge of the print. Printing and cutting processes can have slight variations, and bleed ensures that these variations do not affect the appearance of the final product.

How do I achieve this? When using a professional design tool, it is easy to set up your bleed when you are initially setting up your design canvas - there will be an option to add a bleed, and to choose the size of this bleed, and it will be applied to your canvas with visible 'trim lines' so you can see which area is the bleed. Typically, bleed is set at 3mm beyond the trim lines of your design, but always double check with your printer as sometimes they may want a higher (or even lower) bleed. In Canva, it's a quick process to add bleed: simply go to 'File', 'Settings', then 'Show Print bleed'. The great news is, it looks like Canva uses the industry standard of 3mm, which means you won't have to remember that magic number - but it might be something to think about if your printer has asked for a bigger bleed!


PRINT AND CROP MARKS

Print and crop marks help printers manage and execute print jobs accurately and efficiently, reducing waste and errors.

Why is this important? These marks ensure the final product is cut to the correct size, preventing misaligned or uneven edges. You won't see these marks during the design process, but they will appear once exported - provided you select the correct settings!

What am I looking for?

The image below shows what Crop Marks look like - they are the lines at each corner, that help the printer know where to trim. You can also see the Bleed in this image - see how the artwork extends past the crop marks? This ensures that when it is trimmed, the artwork goes right to the edge of the design!

A screenshot of a business card that shows what bleed and crop marks look like
Crop Marks and Bleed Example

How do I achieve this? In a professional design software, this is easily executed in the Export process. Select PDF and you will be met with various options, such as whether you want to include Bleed, show Print and Crop Marks, and what DPI you wish. In applications such as Canva, simply go to 'Download', select 'PDF for Print' and you can add your crop and printers marks by selecting the correct checkbox!


CMYK

CMYK is the colour model used in printing. Without getting too techy, there are two ways of seeing colour when we design and print. The first is RGB (Red, Green, Blue): This is the type of colour we see when we are using digital screens; what you see when you are designing on the computer. It is an 'additive' colour model, where colours are created by adding light, and when combined at full intensity, they produce white. All electronic displays use RGB (TVs, Phones, Computer Monitors etc). CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) however, is a 'Subtractive' colour model - it works by subtracting light, and when all colours are combined, it produces Black! In reality, the black produced this way is more of a very, very, dark brown, so K (which stands for Key), works as a black, and is used to enhance the contrast and depth of your design. It also improves detail and sharpness, enhancing text and line art.

This is why you will often find when printing at home that what you see on the screen can sometimes be wildy different (colour wise) when you pop it through your printer!

Why is this important? By converting to CYMK before you print, you are ensuring more accurate colour reproduction - this isn't an entirely foolproof model however, and for really accurate representation we need to delve into Pantone colours, but that's a blog for another day!

How do I achieve this?

Again, when using a professional software such as Adobe or Affinity, this is an easy process, by selecting CMYK when you follow your Export process. If you use Canva, things are a bit more difficult - Canva do allow you to export in CMYK - but only if you upgrade! Now, chances are you are using Canva because you can't afford a Graphic Designer, so you probably aren't subscribed to their service either. If you choose not to upgrade and export instead as RGB, here are some important points to consider:

  • Colour Inaccuracy: Colours in the printed output may not match the colours seen on the screen. RGB colours often appear more vibrant on screens due to the additive colour model and the backlit nature of digital displays.

  • Dull or Washed-Out Colours: Some colours in the RGB spectrum cannot be replicated exactly in CMYK. These out-of-gamut colours may appear dull or significantly different when printed.

  • Unexpected Colour Changes: Bright blues, greens, and other saturated colours may print differently than expected. For instance, a bright neon green might turn into a more muted green.

  • Inconsistent Printing: Colours might vary between prints, especially if the printer's colour management settings are not correctly configured to handle RGB inputs.

HELPFUL TERMS AND OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
  • Trim Line: The final size of the document after it is cut.

  • Bleed Area: The extra area that extends beyond the trim line, ensuring that the printed image or color extends to the edge of the page. Usually 3mm.

  • Safe Zone: An area inside the trim line where important content (text, logos, critical images) should be placed to avoid being cut off during trimming. Typically, this zone is set to 3mm inside the trim line.

  • DPI: DPI stands for "Dots Per Inch"


FINAL THOUGHTS

As a Graphic Designer, of course I am more biased in encouraging my clients to hire me (or another professional!) to do their artwork. In the long run, it makes my (and your) life much easier, because there are no setbacks, and we can run through the design and print process fairly quickly. Having to vet and send back artwork is a waste of my time, and a frustration for you, so if you do decide to design your own artwork, hopefully this blog will be of some help to you to ensure you provide your printer with artwork that is ready to go!

Now, Canva is not for me, but I have to say it can be a great tool for non-professionals! It offers you the ability to design your own artwork (and save some pennies) whilst offering a suite of options that now enables you to provide a printer with a print ready document. I would always recommend that, if you are determined not to use a Graphic Designer, you use Canva over Microsoft Word or Publisher, due to the easy print ready options you will have available when it comes to getting your design printed.

Please let me know below if you've found this helpful, or ask a question if there is something else you would like to know about!


Esta-jane. Graphic Designer, Star Creative Studio.

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