10 Tips for preparing artwork for print
Preparing artwork for your print jobs
With the advancement of printing technology today the majority of anything being printed incorporates most of its content with images. This was not always true years ago when only specialized jobs where graphic intensive and most everything else were text, graphs and pie charts.
Nowadays you can print beautiful images on documents using your home or office printer. Part of the reason for this is because we have access to a wide array of graphics and images to source from.
One of the biggest sources is through the web and with the cameras on our own personal devices. Here are some useful steps to follow when incorporating images into your print jobs. Properly preparing your files for print is essential in making sure the transition between you and your printer goes as smoothly as possible.
It's also important to make sure you or your team of designers are consistent with how you collaborate together when working on a print job. This also includes working with freelancers or contract designers.
1. Start with the best artwork possible
If you’re sourcing from a service bureau make sure to get the highest image resolution possible. That way you should not have resolution problems with your output at almost any size.
Try as much as possible to have the original design files to work with. Also try to get the original digital version of a photograph instead of a scan.
What looks good on the screen may not look as good printed. Request hard proofs if possible, it’s better to see what your output may look like while still in the design phase.
2. Know the difference between vector and bitmap images and how to use them
Bitmap images are comprised of many bits of colored dots or pixels. Photographs and scanned images are perfect examples of bitmaps. Because bitmaps are resolution dependent, it's difficult to increase or decrease their size without affecting the image quality.
The most common bitmap file formats are BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and PSD.
Anytime you’re in need of an image as a background or as a graphic component of a page layout then you’ll certainly be dealing with bitmaps.
Although you can incorporate text into your bitmap images it's not recommended unless you do it properly, otherwise your text could come out looking blurry.
Adobe Photoshop is probably the most popular program when working with bitmap files.
Vector images are different from bitmaps in that they’re made mostly of lines and connected shapes. Therefore they are scalable or they can be enlarged and reduced in size without losing clarity. Some examples of using vector images are cartoon graphics, drawings or symbols. Vector graphics can also be transparent.
The most common vector file formats are AI, CDR, SVG, and WMF.
Adobe illustrator and CorelDraw are two of the most popular programs when working with vector files.
Text fonts can also be converted to use as a vectored image you can manipulate as lines and shapes. The only drawback however is once you convert a font into a vector you can no longer change the text.
3. Work with the right software
An image or graphic editor allows you to manipulate images in many different ways. Its main goal is to work directly with the graphics that you will use in your print job. It’s not the ideal choice when working with text or page layouts.
Unlike document layout software, you cannot work with multiple pages, instead you work with a canvas and are limited to a single canvas at a time.
Adobe Photoshop is probably the most popular paid image editing sofware used today. Other image editing programs though not as powerful include the simple paint software that comes included with Windows or Macs.
GIMP is an example of a free image editing program that is very feature rich and may provide a good alternative to Photoshop.
Illustration editing software is primarily used to create and edit vector based graphics and also text. Like image editing software you only have the ability to work with a single canvas as opposed to multiple pages.
You can however, add images to your canvas as a layer, which will not affect your vector or text objects like graphic editors will. Because of this you can do simple page layouts like business cards for example.
Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw are probably the two most popular paid image editing programs.
Document layout software allows you to work on multiple page layouts at any time. Not only is it great at designing pages and organizing your print job, but it also allows you to incorporate images, vector graphics and text all within the same page.
Adobe InDesign and QuarkExpress are very popular document layout programs. You can also include Microsoft Word and even Microsoft Powerpoint to some degree for simple jobs that you can print at the home or office. Although you probably want to work with the first two if you are sending your job out to print.
4. When possible make changes to your artwork in the original program
When placing your images into your page layout it’s good practice to try and have your image as close to the exact size that you have designed for.
Although your page layout software would allow you to adjust the sizing of the image, its best that you leave that up to the source program that created it.
Graphics programs have better control over scaling, rotation, color and resolution. Once you change any aspect of your image in your document layout program, you may experience unexpected output issues as a result.
It’s also good practice to link your images into your document as opposed to pasting them in your design. This allows you to easily edit images in the original design program and update your document just by updating the links.
If you have multiple links pointing to the same image then you can update them all at once. This makes managing your artwork easier and that all your images stay consistent across your print job.
5. Maintain image quality.
It’s better to start with the best resolution possible even if you will use a smaller scaled image size.
The optimal image resolution is at least 300 dots per inch anything larger will create an unnecessary large file.
Scaling up will always cause some loss of image quality
Understand the relationship between image size and pixel density and how it affects resolution, Resolution and image size are inversely proportional to each other. Enlarge an image, the resolution decreases; reduce an image, the resolution increases.
Example: a 2 x 2" image at 300 dpi (acceptable) enlarged to 4 x 4" has a new resolution of 150 dpi (unacceptable).
The chart below is a good guide to follow if you're not sure how well your image may look printed
Output Size Pixel Res. 2" x 3" 4" x 6" 5" x 7" 8" x 10" 11" x 14" 16" x 20" 20" x 30" 320 x 240 *** ** * * * * * 640 x 480 = 0.3 Megapixel ***** *** * * * * * 800 x 600 ****** **** ** * * * * 1024 x 768 ****** **** *** ** * * * 1280 x 960 = 1 Megapixel ****** ****** **** ** * * * 1536 x 1180 ****** ****** **** *** * * * 1600 x 1200 = 2 Megapixel ****** ****** ****** **** ** ** * 2048 x 1536 = 3 Megapixel ****** ****** ****** **** *** ** ** 2240 x 1680 = 4 Megapixel ****** ****** ****** ****** **** *** *** = Poor ** = Acceptable *** = Good **** = Very Good ***** = Excellent ****** = Photo Quality.
6. CMYK or RGB?
The are two basic color spaces, or modes, that you'll most often encounter with your digital images and they are RGB and CMYK. Each has a specific use as we will explain next.
RGB (Red-Green-Blue) is the color of the light emitted from your computer monitor, and from TV's and also captured by digital cameras. When you start working on an image in your graphics editor most likely it is in RGB.
CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) is the color of inks used in the offset and in digital printing devices. In order to be as consistent as possible with your printers devices you will need to convert your RGB files into CMYK.
Unfortunately there will be some color variance when changing modes. Therefore we always suggest that you get a hard proof of your job before going into production.
If you’re not sure how to convert your files properly then consult with your printer, they will guide you to the best possible outcome.
Be sure to set the color mode of your images to be all the same all across the board to avoid any inconsistencies.
7. Keep track of your colors
Pantone is a standardized color matching system, utilizing the Pantone numbering system for identifying specific colors. By standardizing the colors, any color can be referenced with a Pantone color number, making sure colors can match as close as possible whenever they are used. Whether it be used in the same document or in different jobs altogether even across different print devices.
A Pantone color swatch is a printed sample book of Pantone colors and their associated numbers. This swatch book will allow you to compare and match a specific Pantone color against an existing output.
If you are to use a special set of colors repeatedly such as the colors of your company logo you most certainly would want to standardize to Pantone colors so you can reference the same colors all the time.
Use color wisely, try not to overuse it. Also try to choose colors that are complimentary of each other. There are plenty of websites that will show you which colors look best paired with each other.
It's always a good idea to request print samples from your printer of only Pantone colors that you plan on using in your job. This way you can ensure that the output meets your expectations.
For images just remember that RGB is what you see on the screen and CMYK is what will be printed. Of course what matters most is your expectation and the printer meeting it. In some instances RGB may look better printed than CMYK.
8. Build your document to size
Make sure when working with a multi-page job you consult with your printer as how it should be setup before being submitted for print. This is especially important when dealing with the complex nature of layouts and document spreads.
It’s also important that you understand what the minimum and maximum print size is that your printer can accommodate for a specific job and whether it can be done in house or must be outsourced. This can greatly affect the overall cost of the job as well as the turnaround time.
For single page jobs especially postcards, ask your printer what is the most optimum size for the money. By adjusting the size of your job that is optimized to be printed on your printers equipment, you could realize additional savings that you would normally would not get. On the flip side you may be able to increase the size of your job without additional costs.
9. What file format do you intend to work with?
When working with file formats you have two different methods when submitting files to your printer. The first method and the most common is to submit the job packaged into a single print file. One of the most commonly used format is Adobe’s Portable Document File format or PDF for short.
This type of format is also called print ready because they require no additional processing to produce the desired output. One advantage of PDF files is that they can contain multiple pages while also handling images and text as separate layers. By doing so images can maintain their resolution while text still remains sharp and crisp.
However as great as it may sound PDF files have their downside. They can easily get bloated and too complex to the point where you can get unexpected results when printing. Another class of print ready files include what is referred to as image files such as Gif and Jpeg files. One other format similar to PDF files is EPS ( Encapsulated Postscript ) files which is a close relative of the PDF file.
The second commonly used method to submit your job to the printer is by sending the design or source files that need to be processed in order to create the printed output. The advantage of doing it this way is that the printer can make any adjustment to the job without having the client resubmit new files every time.
All the client has to do is instruct the printer with whatever what changes need to be done. In return the printer sends the client a digital proof with the desired changes. Doing it this way saves time for the client by eliminating costly delays.
Fortunately, many programs like Adobe InDesign make it easy to submit source files by packaging them all together as one compressed file that can be opened and extracted by the same program on the other end.
The down side of submitting source files is that both parties need to have the same software configurations so that there is no discrepancy between client and printer when processing files for output.
Some printers would rather work with PDF files instead of source files because more can go wrong processing source files rather than print ready files. This also can create additional liabilities that many printers just do not want to take on. Lastly, changes to the print job requested by the client and made by the printer may incur additional costs.
10. Name your files as clearly as you can.
Unusual characters in a name have been known to cause a printer’s computer to crash. Keep file names under 30 characters and use letters and numbers only. Make sure your files are labeled with the correct extension: .ai or .eps for Illustrator®; .tif or .eps for Photoshop®; .indd for InDe- sign®; .qxd for QuarkXPress®, and .pdf for PDF. Important: Indicate which software version you used in preparing the file because some printers may not have the latest versions.
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