How to set up your projects for print

In order to print your project, make sure what you designed on screen is accurately reproduced, with our beginners guide 'How to set up your projects for print'.

'How to set up your projects for print' - I would strongly advise using an Adobe product such as Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop for your projects. Microsoft products, such as 'Word' can be used but 9 times out of 10 the end user will supply a poor design due to the restrictions of the programme or supply the file in an incorrect format for print.

Time and time again I see professional designers make pre-press set-up mistakes or simply do not know how to prep work for print. The following guide will aid you to set up your files for print and achieve the results you need for that next project.

Document size

UK paper sizes

Choose the size of your document and set up the artwork file accordingly. This is the first and most basic task to perform but you would be surprised how many designers get this wrong. For example, we often receive files intended for A0 print in A5 format. Yes A5 will scale up to A0 proportionally, however, are the graphics and images in your design intended to be blown up to this size? I have seen some lovely artwork ruined by blurred images when files have been scaled up.

Ok you have chosen the correct dimensions for your document, now lets pick the resolution for the document. I will touch on resolution a little deeper later on, but for now, if using Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop choose 300dpi. InDesign will automatically pick the correct DPI (Dots Per Inch) by default if you choose 'Print' in the drop down menu when setting up a new document.



It's essential to know when to use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and RGB (red, green, blue) colours on projects. As a rule of thumb, an RGB colour profile is used when designing anything to be viewed on screen (i.e. websites, television graphics, PowerPoint presentations). Use CMYK for any printed material you are creating. There are other colour profiles such as Spot colours, but for simplicity, lets stick with CMYK.

One of the most common mistakes by designers, both professional and amateur, is supplying files riddled with RGB elements. Please also note that everything you view on screen is in RGB and will not be a representative of the final printed job.

It is good practice to start all your project in the correct colour format. When opening a new document in any of Adobe products options will be given to start either a 'Web' or 'Print' project or choose 'RGB' or 'CMYK'.

Check your imported files colour format

Another common mistake made by designers is importing images found or purchased on the internet into your project but forgetting to convert the image to CMYK. Most image sites sell their pictures in RGB format regardless of the intended use. Have a look at this guide for details on changing an RBG document to CMYK in Photoshop.

Check your imported images resolution

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DPI (Dots Per Inch) is used to describe the resolution number of dots per inch in an image. Simply put the more dots to make up the image the higher the resolution. More printed dots in an inch means higher quality reproduction.

Time and time again, people will locate images from the internet that were only intended for web use. These will usually be of poor resolution when printed and in RGB format. All projects under A1 in dimension should include images with 300dpi when at 100% size. Most web images are 72dpi when at 100% size and will appear pixelated when printed.

iStockphoto or Getty Images are a great source for images or have a look at our article '15 free image resources' to source high resolution images for your next project.

Add Bleed


Bleed is a printing term that refers to printing that goes beyond the edge of the sheet before trimming. In other words, the bleed is the area to be trimmed off. 3mm bleed is required on all designs if you intend the image to extend to the very edge of your design.

Set up your artwork so any image or object overlaps your artboard (the dimension of the final sheet of paper) by 3mm all the way around the document.

Add trim marks


Trim marks (see diagram above), also known as crop marks should also be included. These are lines printed in the corners of your projects sheet to show the printer where to trim the paper. Have a look at this article for more information and instructions on creating these in InDesign, Photoshop and Microsoft Word.

Include a Safe Area


Make sure your main content or copy is not too close to the edge of the paper. A minimum of 3mm space is required if you intend the content to have white space around the document. This will eliminate your main copy or image to appear off centre or too close to the edge of the paper when trimmed.

Use vectors where possible if printing in large format


If designing large format graphics, try to design as much as possible in a vector based program such as Adobe Illustrator. Not only will it reduce your file size, but it will ensure that you get the crispest print result. Vector graphics are scalable, so when resized, they do not lose image quality.

How to supply your files


Save and send your files in PDF format for printing. Make sure you embed fonts when creating a PDF file (see how here). If using InDesign It is a good idea to supply your printers with the fonts used in your artwork. This can be handy for pre-press artworkers should any minor alterations be required. If using Illustrator, either supply the fonts or turn the fonts to outlines (Type>Create Outlines).

Always run a pre-print check. In InDesign this is known as a “Pre-flight” This will bring up any issues such as RGB files being used or fonts used which aren’t embedded. InDesign can package up all your print files and links (File> package) into one folder which will spare you any missing font nightmares.

Choose the right printer


Things to look for in a good printer. Deadlines are always high up on the list of importance so pick a printer that offers fast turn around times, without compromising on the quality of the final product. I believe a personal service is a must as there will always be technical questions that need answers. The quality of equipment and people operating them is essential. Your design will be only as good as the quality of the printers used. Paper weights and finish is another acpect to consider. A quick chat with your printer will establish the best options if you are not sure what to use. Shamless plug: V3 Print are a good example of all the above traits and offer both digital and litho print if required.

Digital or Lithographic Print

Digital and Lithographic print are the main two options when going to print. There are other options depending on the type of finish you are looking for such as letterpress or silkscreen printing.

Digital print has evolved considerably in the past 15 years with quality and speed helping high quality print to be sold to suit everyone’s budget. There was a time where digital struggled when printing large areas of solid colours, but this is not the case these days. Products such as the Xerox Digital Colour press produce great results, although the print quality is not quite on a par with litho, the results are perfectly acceptable for many people and for many purposes.

Lithographic (or litho) print is often used on larger print runs and in my opinion produces the best results. Heidelberg printers remains the industry best you can get. You can't beat litho when matching colours if Pantones are required.

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