Designing for print can be one of the most satisfying projects a designer can take on. Seeing your artwork come to life in physical form is amazing… but receiving print with unwelcome changes or alterations is a common frustration. Understanding how the print process affects the way you design can really enhance your artwork and opens up new ways you can use the form to create stunning work.

1. Understand the Print Process

If there is one rule designers are told about designing for print, it’s that you should use CMYK instead of RGB. That’s a standard. Yet why you must use CMYK is often overlooked. Actually understanding the printing process will help you design better, especially if you often switch between digital and print.

Large runs of print are produced with an offset lithographic printing press, which lays down a coverage of ink from plates in the four colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black on the stock, mixing like a traditional artist to overlay and change the colours. Of course, the more colours that are mixed, the darker the colours will become. Colours with a high percentage (over 280%) of cyan, magenta, yellow and black in your design programme will become oversaturated. This results in dark, muddy colours as the ink doesn’t dry and transfers from one sheet to another.
This also means you shouldn’t mix too many colours when dealing with fine artwork and fonts. Keep colours simple to avoid a “fuzzy” look as the ink saturates the paper stock, blurring lines and making it difficult to read.

2. Re-evaluate your Colour Percentages

The more accurate and refined your colour percentages are, the better quality your print will be. It can be a case of trial and error if you’re struggling to achieve a certain hue, but there are quick fixes you can use straight away.

Are your blues being printed with too much purple running through? Increasing your cyan to 30% more than your magenta value will help cancel out the pesky purple for a clearer blue.
0,0,0,100 would logically make a clear black. Yet when applied to print as a background colour, it will appear a dark grey. Then if you press D on Photoshop and reset the foreground, the automatic black is more of a 75, 68, 67 and 90 mix. This makes up to an almost 300% coverage which is a lot of ink to transfer to paper! The perfect solution for a rich black that can be spread across as a solid background colour use C30 K100. Believe us, you’ll notice the difference.

The actual stock of your paper will also affect the way your colours are printed. If you use a cream stock, a light colour will sink in and become much darker so take this into consideration and discuss stocks with your client before you start to design.

3. Use the Best Quality Images You Can Get Your Hands On

DPI is the output resolution of a printer and needs to be considered even more when designing for print than for web. The correct print quality will really only be achieved from images with a resolution between 300-400dpi (but never go above 400dpi in greyscale).

The leap between how a bad picture looks on screen to how it looks on paper is huge. Every dot you can fit into each inch will help improve how crisp and clear your image is. Vector illustrations are always recommended, followed closely by original digital images that haven’t had their quality or size compromised. Images you take from the web or from printed documents are usually lower in resolution which reflect onto the final printed product.

4. How to Avoid Banding

Banding is a universal annoyance for many a designer. Prevent headaches with banding by avoiding gradients with small ranges. Instead, add blur or soft noise effects and don’t use JPEG compression.

Banding is the presence of extraneous lines on a page and occurs when the colours are passed over multiple times. Cull banding at the design phase by avoiding gradients with small ranges. Blurring and soft noise effects should be used instead to keep colours uniform and avoid using JPEG compressions of files.

5. Does your artwork need overprinting?

Overprinting stops colour mixing when they are printed on top of each other. Colours “knocking out each other” are a common frustration for designers and results in weird results from what you see on your screen! Overprinting will stop this from happening by ensuring nothing is unwantedly overlapped. Unsure whether your artwork needs overprinting? Just check with your printer to make sure.

6. Fonts Work Differently with Print

The printing presses control how much ink is placed on the paper by using a lower density of dots in those areas which don’t actually need much coverage. This does mean that really tiny text can become faint and blurred. To avoid this, use fonts no smaller than 6pt so your design is sharp and clear when printed. If your chosen font uses very fine, delicate lines, it’s vital to add thicker strokes just to boost visibility.

Take into consideration font formatting as well as your sizing. Converting your text to outlined during the process will help avoid blurring and help the text to keep its shape. This is especially important with large format items such as Roller Banners and signs!

Lastly, always embed your fonts when you create a PDF. This means even if the person opening your file doesn’t have that font, they are able to process and proof the file correctly. It’s a simple trick that saves heaps of time further down the line.

7. Check the Preview for Mistakes

Fixing an issue on the web is easy. A typo can be changed in a split second, a misplaced box moved in moments. Any designer who has opened a box of 5000 booklets which they’ve ordered for their client, only to spot a missing letter or a wonky shape would not wish the sinking feeling on their worst enemy.

Print preview should be taken seriously. You can use your PDF to check for any unwanted spot colours with (Advanced > Print Production) and always check for typos! Letters can be missed when pasting into Photoshop and even if you spot one that wasn’t your fault, you client will appreciate you picking up on it!

8. Folded Items Can be Tricky

Heavy ink coverage over a folded line can cause cracking. A high-density colour means a large volume of ink is absorbed by the stock that can crack and cause unwelcome breaks in your design! Always use light colours that aren’t mixed too heavily for a faultless finish.