Designing Art for Print: Common Mistakes to Avoid

Supplying art in RGB not CMYK

RGB and CMYK are two distinct colour models intended for different purposes. RGB uses red, green and blue light to display color on electronic systems, such as computer monitors and television screens. CMYK combines different percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink to represent many of the colours we see in a printed format. An important distinction between these two colour models is the use of light, which obviously does not translate into printed media. Any file supplied in RGB for printing purposes will need to be converted to CMYK, which can change the tone, saturation, brightness, vibrancy and general appearance of the graphic’s colour. There will always be variance in colour output from you see on your computer monitor to what is printed, but if you design in CMYK you will mitigate the severity of that difference.


Not providing bleed

In printing, a “bleed” is when the ink extends past the cutline, for example a border or background graphic that goes all the way to the edge of the label. The bleed will be trimmed off, but it is necessary to include because slight registration shift is unavoidable during printing. Supplying art files with a bleed is only an issue when working with raster graphics, like Photoshop files or jpegs, because these files are comprised of pixels which make them fixed images. Vector graphics can be easily adjusted to accommodate bleed. The print industry’s standard requirement for a bleed is an 0.125”, so if you require a label that is 1” x 3” with a bleed, the art file should be supplied at 1.125” x 3.125” so the cutline can be situated at 1” x 3” without any concern that when printed the ink may stop just short of the edge.


Not accounting for print margins

Art files that are designed without accounting for print margins are also problematic in a similar manner to bleed. If art or text is situated too close within the cutline, it will have to be adjusted so it doesn’t get cut off during print. Printers like to see about 0.125” – 0.0625” clearance between text and the edge of the label to ensure that if shift happens, it doesn’t take off the end of the logo or the last letters in a text box.


Multiple clipping masks

A clipping mask can be a very useful tool in graphic design, however using multiple ones in an art file intended for print can be troublesome for the printer. A clipping mask “is an object whose shape masks other artwork so that only areas that lie within the shape are visible – in effect, clipping the artwork to the shape of the mask.” (Adobe Help) The problem is the printer can still see and read the layers that are concealed behind the clipping mask, which can confuse layout software and interfere with registration marks. Prepress will have to open the file, release the clipping mask, make sure the layers don’t shift and remove the design beyond the shape of the mask. If an art file contains multiple clipping masks, it can cause objects and layers to move or even disappear when released so prepress won’t touch them. It will have to go back to the designer to recreate the file and remove the tricky clipping masks.

photo: Adobe Illustrator website

Not using grids or rulers to center design

Design software programs contain guides, rulers and grids to help you align text and graphic objects (Adobe Help) because as good as our eyeballs can be, they don’t beat the accuracy of a computer. It’s also very easy to accidentally move something ever so slightly with the selection tool if it’s not locked and then arrange other elements based on a slightly off-center object. It may be difficult to detect when viewing on a monitor, but it certainly can be noticeable once printed and situated on its application. So, use rulers and check them often!


Rasterizing barcodes

Barcodes play an important role in many industries: retail, shipping, warehousing, healthcare, to name a few. Barcodes are read by scanners that interpret the thin black lines or patterns of squares and translate the encoded information for human use. The ease of scan-ability is in direct proportion to the quality of print, and the quality of print is in direct proportion to the quality of the supplied art file. Rasterizing or flattening barcodes can lose clarity, proportion and crispness, resulting in fragmented or squished lines. This can interfere with a scanner’s ability to read the barcode, which pretty much negates the barcode’s usefulness. Make sure barcodes are created in a vector program and meet the standardized guidelines established by the GS1 System of Standards.

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