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FORMATTING. DOCUMENT SETUP: It is vital that your document is set up correctly before you even think about designing. Some simple things like boarders, gutters, bleed etc are all aspects that need seeing to in the first window of document set up. Bleed is important so that when the document is printed it prints past the artwork/ cropping area there will always be ink right to the edges. Usually a 3mm bleed works perfectly. Gutters and columns are important for editorial and layout work. These can always be added in later, but before you design you should have an idea of the general layout anyway. Make sure your paper size is set correctly and you have the right number of artboards. Paper size is not so easily transferable once you have finished your design, so get it right first time. You can always add new art boards in as and when you need to. And lastly, colour mode.


The only colour mode to think about when printing CMYK, (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) the four process colours.


To convert to CMYK simply click on file, document colour mode and then click onto CMYK colour mode.


TONES AND TINTS: To create tones and tins locate the colour guide on thje right hand side of the artboard. This then comes up with shades and tints. Do not mistake opacity for tones- this means that less ink will be printed onto the paper, which in turn means that the colour of the stock will show through more and ruin the colour scheme. If you plan on using the shades or tints make sure to save them to your swatches so you don’t have to create it again.

DOT GAIN: ‘Dot gain (also known as Tonal Value Increase) is a phenomenon in offset lithography and some other forms of printing which causes printed material to look darker than intended. It is caused by halftone dots growing in area between the original printing film and the final printed result. In practice, this means that an image that has not been adjusted to account for dot gain will appear too dark when it is printed. Dot gain calculations are often an important part.’ Dot gain can also be effected by the moisture within the stock used. Refer to ‘Stock.’ later on in the guide.


SEPARATIONS: During the commercial print process some of the settings are changes: Click on output. Then click on separations and the separate links will be shown. This will lead to the swatches separation view. Alternatively you can just view CMYK. This enables you to see whether all the inks shown are being used. This allows you to see the number of printing plates needed, if the spot colour isn’t being printed in CMYK and if all the colours are working properly in the right places.

TO CHECK OVERPRINTING INKS: If you do not check for overprinting, there is a change that too much ink will be printed over one surface. To check/ manage your ink levels: Click on window, then output, then onto attributes. When the separations preview shows view the ink limit and it will tell you the percentage of ink on a certain area.

PANTONE. Designs on screen are always different to the physical print, even in CMYK colour mode. This is because no screen can replicate a physical print of CMYK. This means that a colour reference system needs to be used. This reference system is PANTONE. By selecting specific pantone colours you know that what is going to be printed will be the colour you want. To get to Pantone swatches in Illustrator:

STOCK. ‘The paper density of a type of paper or cardboard is the mass of the product per unit of area. The term density here is not used in its traditional sense of mass per unit volume. "Paper density", rather, is a measure of the area density. Paper products that let little or no light pass through (e.g. poster board) are considered dense or heavy. Paper products that allow some light to pass through (e.g. tissue paper) are considered lightweight. Two ways of expressing paper density are commonly used: Expressed in grams per square metre (g/m²), paper density is also known as grammage.[1] This is the measure used in most parts of the world. Expressed in terms of the mass (expressed as weight) per number of sheets, it is known as basis weight. The convention used in the United States and a few other countries using US paper sizes is pounds of a ream of 500 (or in some cases 1000) sheets of a given (raw, still uncut) basis size. Japanese paper is expressed as the weight in kg of 1000 sheets.’ *Remember that inks will print out differently on different stocks. This is because of moisture within the paper, weight of the stock and its coating.

FINISHES. Here are just a few selections of special print finishes that improve the quality of designs for print:

SPOT COLOURS: Remember that for colours out of Gamut for process colours, spot colours can be made. Spot colours have their own printing plate like each of the process colours. It could be as simple as a bright orange unnatainable through CMYK, or it can be fluorescent or even glow in the dark ink.

VINYL: Something to think about when visualising designs in other contexts than just posters or mailshots. This is a more complex preparation to print. A new layer has to be created with a path of where the sticker will be cut, the other layer has the initial design on it.

FOIL BLOCKING: This finish can have a striking effect, though sometimes this can not work so well. It is important to think about how this process relates to the brief and if it will heighten the concept. Foil blocking works through pressure and heat. Either with glue binder through a screen or printer ink you have to add a high level of heat with the foil layed over the design, the heat will then act as a glue. Peel off the foil and it will have stuck to the areas with ink. SPOT VARNISH: I perosnally favour spot varnish as a special finish for design for print. It always gives a professional edge, with a difference in textures. Spot varnishing can be achieved through screenprinting or at a professional printers. You have to specify before sending to print whether a certain colour is for spot varnish.

COLOUR EDGING: This can give a professional look that still looks styled. This specific process generally uses a heavier gsm stock to give more impact .


UNUSED SPOT COLOURS: If spot colours have been used throughout the design process, make sure you check that all of them are in use before you send to print. It could end up costing more if they aren’t. This is because an entirely new printing plate needs to be made up, along with the rest, and if it is not going to be used it is entirely redundant. To do this, simply: Check the separations menu on output and test each colour to see if there would be any ink printed there. If nothing comes up, delete the swatch. Printers may look for this before hand, however, this may cost extra and also be very annoying- don’t annoy your printer.



Not such an easy mistake to make, but check everytime you set up your document for print.

If you want jet black, click on ‘Registration’ on swatches. Do not click on black.


Costing is a serious thing to take into account when setting up for print. If a document is set up correctly a lot of money can be saved postdesign. IMPORTANT: Be sure to get a quote for the job from at least two to three different printers. It is all about making the work as cheap as it can be.