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TOP TEN Printing Tips

Document set up Firstly, when setting up a document you must remember to set it to print mode, this will change it to CMYK so that what you are viewing on screen is as close a match to what will be printed as possible. Setting up a bleed is also very important, this will insure that when it comes to trimming down your prints no white edges are left around your artwork. The standard bleed size is 3mm, so when designing you must remember to extend your artwork off of the art board and right up to the bleed lines.

Also make sure to set the right document size. A formats are pre-set on most software that you are likely to use. Design for print is always set as 300 dots per inch. Any more than this will have no increase on quality for your print and will just make your file size too big and hard to manage.


Colour Systems

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta and Yellow which are “subtractive colors”.

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue, they are “additive colors”.

The printing world operates in subtractive color, or CMYK mode.

If we combine red, green and blue light you will get white light. This is the principal behind the T.V. set in your living room and the monitor you are staring at now.

In practice, printing subtractive inks may contain impurities that prevent them from absorbing light perfectly. They do a pretty good job with light colors, but when we add them all together, they produce a murky brown rather than black. In order to get decent dark colors, black ink is added in increasing proportions, as the color gets darker and darker. This is the “K” component in CMYK printing. “K” is used to indicate black instead of a “B” to avoid possible confusion over Blue ink.

Additive color, or RGB mode, is optimized for display on computer monitors and peripherals, most notably scanning devices. It is extremely important to work in CMYK mode if you are intending to print as the colours change dramatically when being converted from screen to paper.


Monochrome, Duotone and Tints Monochrome

Monochromatic colours are all the colours of a single hue derived from one colour and extended using the shades,tones and tints of that colour.



Duotone is a half tone reproduction of an image using one contrasting colour halftone over another. Now, due to advances in technology duotones, tritones and quadtones can also be created.

A tint is a hue produced by the addition of white to a colour to make it lighter. Tints can be used to create effects and save on print costings.



PANTONE™ is known for its matching system (PMS). By standardizing the colours, different manufacturers and designers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone matching system to make sure the colours match without direct contact with one another. This system can be used for when you use spot colours within your artwork, but also when using CMYK. There is a special subset of Pantone colours that can be reproduced using CMYK. The Pantone system also allows for many ‘special’ colours to be produced such as metallics and fluorescents. The Pantone matching system is a great way to keep you artwork consistent, particularly in branding. It also insures that you get what you ask for when communicating to the printers.


Dealing with Clients Being good to your clients is absolutely vital. You want them to come back to you with more work, and remember people talk. You don’t want to build yourself a bad reputation. Some clients may be difficult to deal with, but remember you are a professional and it is your job to deliver a service. It is handy to take a Pantone swatch book with you to any client meetings, so that you can both agree on a particular colour. Also make sure you produce a lot of designs. This will give them more choice and keep them happy. Keep the client informed early on about the costing, you don’t want any disagreements after you’ve gone to the printers. Make sure you get the client to sign the proof before you send off to print.


Stock Options The stock used in a print is very vital. You need to consider a number of things, is it what the clients wants? Does it keep well within the budget? Does it compliment your design? Does it need any special properties, for example does it need to be waterproof? Your main aim as a designer is to produce a quality design that stays within your given budget. Stock options are a key factor in this. Choice of stock can also effect the way different inks look when printed. To help with this Pantone™ produce various different swatch books. The main two that you will use is coated and uncoated. As the name suggests, coated stock has a coating and this is usually of china clay, this gives the paper/card a smooth surface which can be gloss or silk in finish (gloss being shiny and silk offering more of a matt finish). Coated stock is used for projects that require a high quality finish such as presentation folders, leaflets, flyers and brochures. Uncoated stock is typically used for letterheads and compliment slips as they can be printed on at home and written on without problems. A single side coated stock is also available and ideal for postcards and greetings cards, as the name suggests single side coated stock has a coating to one side only, this leaves the other side uncoated and perfect to write on. Many printers offer a silk stock for postcards and greetings cards, in the majority of cases this will suffice, however, if you need to hand write on your product then choose a single side coated stock.


Special Finishes Spot Varnish

A Varnish is a liquid coating that is applied to a printed document. The varnish can be Glossy, Matt or Satin giving a variety of different finishes. A varnish is an additional process and costs due to the fact it is not normally applied on the same printing press as the original document.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is the application of pigment or metallic foil- often gold or silver, but can also be what is known as pastel foil which is a flat opaque color or white special film-backed material, to paper where a heated die is stamped onto the foil, making it adhere to the surface leaving the design of the die on the paper.



Embossing is the process of creating a three-dimensional image or design in paper and other materials. Debossing is similar to embossing, but recesses the design rather than raising it. Most types of paper can be embossed, and size is not normally a consideration. Embossing can be used with or without ink or in combination with foil stamping.

Printing Methods Rotary Printing

A printing process where the printing plates are wrapped around a cylinder. There are three different types of rotary printing, these are offset lithography, retrogravure and flexography.

Screen Printing

A woven mesh to support an ink blocking stencil. It is more versatile than more traditional printing methods, the surface does not have to be printed under pressure unlike lithography. Different inks can be used to work with a variety of different materials such as textiles, ceramics, wood, paper, glass and metal.

Pad Printing

A printing process that allows you to transfer a 2-D image onto a 3-D object. Pad printing is used for printing on otherwise impossible products in many industries including medical, automotive, promotional, apparel, and electronic objects, as well as appliances, sports equipment and toys.

Digital Printing

Suited for short run print jobs and able to print on a range of medias from paper to metal. Digital printing has a higher cost than traditional offset printing methods, but usually cheaper in the long run by the saving of the making of the printing plates.


Costing Printing costs vary depending on factors such as paper quality, the colours you use and the size of your print run. The best thing to do is to consult with your commercial printer before and during the design process to save time and money later. Before you start your project, describe your project and goals, and find out your printer’s requirements. Tell the printer about your project’s printing needs, such as quantity, quality, paper stock, paper size, recommended colour model, binding, folding, trimming, budget, file size limitations, and deadlines. Always ask if the printer has the items that you want in stock. Always try to get an estimation from the printer before sending off the job. Your client will want to know prices, and you will need to know whether it is kept within your budget. Always ask for a proof from your printer before going ahead with all of your prints. There’s nothing worse than printing hundreds of designs, only to find out after that some of the colours aren’t quite right. It’s worth your while to be thourough with your designs because any editing after the proof has been OK’d will be charged extra and will waste time getting the final prints to the client. Build up a good relationship with your printer, remember you need each other and these are the guys who are taking care of your designs- and the costing. Ask for any recommendations that can save you money, if you keep the printer happy he will keep you happy.


Spell Check The worst feeling you will get as a graphic designer is getting back a massive print job, only to realise its full of typos. Spell check your work.

Top Ten Printing Tips  

Top ten tips for graphic designers when going to a commercial printers.

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