Designing For Print

Avoid common problems when designing for printWhether you are new to print design, or simply have more experience in digital design, there are some common areas of concern to be aware of when designing for print. The design process for print and digital are quite different and understanding these differences can result in a better finished product, less frustration through the process, and happier clients in the end.


Use CMYK not RGB

One of the most important differences in designing for print, over digital, is the use CMYK instead of RGB. RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is used to create digital images because digital images are created using light. Red, green, and blue light are added on a screen, and the overlapping colors become CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). When you add all three colours of light, they create white.

However, when using ink, rather than light, to create colors, the subtractive colour theory is used. When looking at paint, or ink, light waves are being absorbed into the colours, leaving our eyes to see the light waves that remain. When you absorb Red, Green, and Blue light waves, you get Black. The colours of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are overlapped to absorb different amounts of light waves, to create accurate colours. The use of CMYK, rather than RGB, results in cleaner, clearer colours in print.

The most common problem with designing for print in RGB, rather than CMYK, will be a print result where the blues look too purple. However, all of your greens, blues, and purples will experience some degradation in clarity if you use a direct conversion between the RDB color and the printing process that uses CMYK. So, using CMYK when designing for print will ensure that things come out exactly as you expect.

Converting your colors from RGB to CMYK in Adobe Illustrator:

  • First Click ‘File’
  • Select ‘Document Color Mode’
  • Select ‘CMYK Color’

And that’s it!

Converting your colours from RGB to CMYK in Photoshop:

  • Go To Edit
  • Select ‘Colour Settings”
  • Select Your Region And Use
  • Press ‘OK’
  • Next, Select ‘Image’
  • Hold Your Mouse Over ‘Mode’
  • Select ‘CMYK Colour’ – If you don’t see the option to select CMYK Colour, you may have to select ‘Show All Menu Items’ from the drop down menu.

Now you’re done!

Adjust Your Colour Percentages

Keep your colour percentages accurate and refined, for better quality print.

Bluer Blues

Increasing your cyan percentages to 30% more than your magenta value will keep your blues more clear and free of purple.

Blacker Blacks

You cannot use straight black as a background black. It will come out a dark grey. And, using a mix of all four colors transfers too much ink onto the paper. The perfect solution for a rich, background black, is to use C30 and K100.

Also, it is important to take into consideration the stock of the paper you’ll be printing on. If you print on a cream coloured stock, lighter colours will sink in and become much darker. Take this into consideration when discussing stocks with your client, before you start to design.

Use Quality Images

Using images that are as close their original quality, unaltered and uncompromised, are preferred. Images that are pulled from the internet, or off of other printed documents, will have a lower quality that will show up in the final printed product. A resolution of between 300 and 400dpi is the correct quality for printing. DPI is the output resolution of a printer, higher DPI will help improve how crisp and clear your image is.

Avoid Banding Problems

Avoid banding problems when designing for printBanding is the presence of extraneous lines on a page and occurs when colours are passed over multiple times.

Prevent banding by avoiding gradients with small ranges. Instead, add blur or soft noise effects and don’t use JPEG compression.

Overprinting to Ensure Proper Artistic Rendering

Overprinting stops colours from mixing when they are printed on top of each other. Having colours “knock each other out” is a common frustration. Overprinting will stop this from happening. You can find instructions for designing overprinting in Adobe here. But, the best way to know if your artwork will require overprinting is to talk to your printer. Having a good relationship with a printer that can help you answer questions about design issues like overprinting is an invaluable resource in the design-for-print process.

Designing Fonts for Print

The printing press controls how much ink is placed on a paper by using a lower density of dots in areas which don’t need much coverage. But, this means that really small text can become faint and blurred. Avoid using fonts smaller than 6pt so that your text stays sharp and clear when printed. Fonts with very fine, delicate lines, will need to have thicker strokes added to boost their visibility.

Also, converting your text to outlined during the design process will help avoid blurring and ensure that text will keep its shape during printing. This is especially important when designing large format items such as Roller Banners and signs.

Finally, always embed the fonts in the design PDF. This way, even if the person on the printing end doesn’t have your particular font, they can still make edits, when processing and proofing the file in the final stages. This is a simple thing that can save loads of time during the final phases.

Know your folds!

Too much ink in the folds can ruin the finished design. Large volumes of ink can be absorbed by the stock and then crack when folding. To avoid this, design lighter colours over areas that will be folded.

Check for Mistakes when Designing for Print, Then Check Again.

Then have someone else check it, as well. In digital design, a typo can be fixed in an instant. But with printed products, a missed letter or misplaced comma, or poor image, can result in an unusable product. Use your PDF to check for unwanted spot colours with the (Advanced>Print Production).

Have a Good Relationship With Your Printer

If you’re often moving between digital design and designing for print, you’ll get better at spotting problem areas. But, having a good relationship, with a printer you can trust, will help you avoid many mistakes. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their specific printing processes. That will help you develop better designs for print. Your success is their success. They want your print project to be a success, and they’ll help you achieve your goals if you’ll let them.

GD Print & Management is a family owned and operated print company in New Milton. They are experts at business print and can give you the hands-on, helpful customer service you’d expect from a family business, with all of the technological advantages of a large print company. They have cutting edge print technology capable of handling the most complicated printing project. And, they can help walk you through the design process in a way that will ensure you have the high-quality print products you need for your clients, every single time.

Call them on 01425 621590, for help in designing your next print project, large or small.

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