The intricacies of preparing for print

The intricacies of preparing for print

There are a lot of different things that you need to think about...

Despite the huge increase in online and digital marketing tactics these days, old-fashioned printed marketing techniques are still widely used around the world. Almost every business you come across (likely including your own) will use business cards at the very least and in some cases, will also make use of vinyl banners, stickers, flyers and other printed marketing materials.

Hiring a designer to produce artwork for these printed marketing materials is the easy part (so long as you know a good graphic designer) but unfortunately, actually preparing the files/designs for print can leave a lot of people stumped.

There are a lot of different things that you need to think about and often, the guidance from online/local printing companies can be minimal. So, I thought I’d create a post that highlights the most important things that you really must think about when preparing a design for print.

I’m going to try and lay them out as simply as possible and hopefully, it’ll be pretty easy to understand (even for the less experienced designers out there).

CMYK Colour Vs. RGB



When you open up a program like Photoshop or Illustrator, it’s likely that the design mode will automatically be set to something called RGB. RGB is basically a mode in which colours are obtained by utilising the three main colours, red green and blue. By mixing these colours together within the program, it’s possible to obtain just about any colour you might have in mind.

The problem here is that a lot of printers (and therefore printing companies) aren’t able to print designs that have used the RGB setting. Instead, they use something called CMYK. CMYK is actually a four colour printing process that includes the colours Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.

Now, this probably all sounds a bit complicated and unimportant but the basic thing to remember is that a lot of the colours which are obtained through an RGB process are not able to be printed using the CMYK printing technique that almost all printing companies use. You can actually see the differences between the colours created using a CMYK method and an RGB method in the image above.

Because of this, you need to make sure that you create your designs with the CMYK colour mode setup in your design program. In Photoshop and Illustrator, it’s a simple task of changing the colour setting when creating your project file.


Source: N/A

You can see in the screenshot above how you can change the colour setting in Photoshop. You simply select the colour mode to CMYK when you begin designing your project, rather than RGB.

You need to make sure that you set this up in the first instance. If your chosen printing company supplies PSD templates for design, it’s likely that they’ll have already created the file with the CMYK colour setting in place, so you won’t have to think about it. However, if you’re creating the template yourself, you’re going to need to remember to change it.

Print Layout (Bleed, Trim And Live Areas)



Another hugely important thing to consider when preparing a design for print is the actual layout of your design. A lot of printing companies will offer a downloadable template (usually InDesign or Photoshop) that you can use which will actually come preloaded with various markings in place. These will usually be the Live area, the Trim area and the Bleed area.

But what exactly do all of these things mean?

Let’s start with the live area. This is the area that is generally considered to be completely safe during the printing process and therefore, all important aspects of your design should be confined to this area. The live area is located within the trim and bleed areas and thus, will always be safe even if there are slight variations in the printing/trimming process.

Outside the live area, we have the trim area. This dotted line (as you can see in the image) is the line on which your printed product will be trimmed (or cut). So, if you were designing a business card, this is where it would be trimmed and cut out after the printing process. As you can see, this allows for a few extra millimetres outside the live area to ensure that none of your important content is ever cut off.

Lastly, we have the bleed area. Bleed areas vary but they are generally there for the design to “bleed” into. This area will likely be trimmed off during the trimming process so it won’t be part of the finished product, but it’s always a good idea to have some bleed as the trimming process isn’t always 100% accurate. You don’t want white edges on your design, do you?

Using Rich Black/Packed Black


Source: Adobe Forums

I know what you’re thinking; how can there be more than one type of black? Well, in the CMYK printing process, black can be made using two different methods, as highlighted below.

Rich Black: 75 Cyan, 68 Magenta, 67 Yellow and 90 Key (Black)

Packed Black: 100 Key (Black)

As you can hopefully see from the comparison image above, there is a slight variation in the overall appearance of each type of black. Packed Black is more of a true black, whereas Rich Black appears more “greyish”.

It can be quite difficult to see the difference on your monitor during the design process, as most monitors will show rich colours such as Black in RGB, so it might be wise to get a printed proof before committing to the printing process.


Unfortunately, things aren’t always as straightforward as you might have hoped when designing for print but usually, if you make sure to take these few points on board, you shouldn’t be presented with any unwanted surprises when it comes to receiving your finished product.

Remember, if you aren’t using a template provided by a printing company (one that includes a Live, Trim and Bleed area), you need to add these in yourself or ask your printing company to send a template for you.

Author Bio

Joshua currently works for the UK-based banner/sticker printing company, Discount Banner Printing. He also loves design and has a passion for print design too.

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Discount Banner Printing

1st July, 2013


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