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Seven things you need to know when designing for print

Posted by Adrian Davis on

Seeing your artwork come to life in print can be a one of the most satisfying experiences as a designer. Receiving your job back from the printers and holding your artwork in physical form can be amazing… but spotting print with unwanted changes or alterations can be a common frustration for designers that are new to the print process. By understanding how the print process works, you can design your artwork in ways to create print that will truly impress.


1. Understand the print process

The one rule all designers know when designing for full colour printing is that you should use CMYK and not RGB (see our previous blog for more info about this: CMYK vs RGB???). What you may not know is how the printing press lays ink down. A coverage of ink from the four plates (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) is transferred on to the stock, mixing in different quantities to overlay and change the colours. The higher the density of ink mixed, the darker the colours that are created. Colours with a high percentage (over 280% total) of cyan, magenta, yellow and black in your design programme will become oversaturated. This will result in dark, murky colours, inks that can't dry effectively, and you can get set-off (unwanted ink transfer from one sheet to the back of another as they are stacked at the end of the press).

To combat this you can keep the coverage below 280% and if you have large areas of solid colours you may want to consider lamination as an option. This can reduce the risk of set-off problems during the finishing process. Alternatively, a longer drying time can also reduce set-off issues. This is why some print times are a little longer.


2. Re-evaluate your colour percentages

The more accurate your colour percentages are, the higher quality your print results. Sometimes it can be a case of trial and error to achieve a particular hue, but there are a few quick fixes that can be used straight away.

If you’re finding your blues are being printed with a purple hue, try increasing your cyan value to 30% higher than the magenta to avoid this happening.

Using 100% Black would logically make a solid black. Yet when applied to print as a solid background colour, it will appear as a dark grey. To solve this issue use rich black which is a mix of 40% cyan and 100% black. Whilst this will work with solid areas, don't use it with text as this can cause more problems than it will solve. See our previous blog for more info about this: Black is just black, right?

The colour of the stock will also affect the way your colours are printed. If using a cream stock, light colours will become darker and any white areas of photos will take on the colour of the stock. So remember to take this into consideration when discussing stocks with clients.


3. Always use the highest quality images you can

It seem obvious, but this is a mistake that is often made. The difference between how a bad picture looks on screen to how it looks when printed is huge. It may look good enough on screen but when printed can result in a blurred or pixelated image. For crisp and clear image we recommend using images with a resolution between 300-400dpi (but never go above 400dpi in greyscale). If you source images with a higher dpi you can always downsize them for the web, but you cannot up-size them for print. See our previous blog for more info about this: Bigger Really is Better!!


4. Does your artwork really need overprinting?

Overprinting can be a useful tool when designing, but make sure you have the correct elements of your design set to overprint. If you have a light colour (or worse a white text/element) set to overprint a darker colour, the darker colour will overpower the lighter colour.


5. Fonts work differently with print

Printing presses control how much ink is placed on the paper by using lower density of dots in areas which don’t actually need much coverage. This can result in small text becoming faint and blurred. Avoid this by using text no smaller than 6pt and your design will be sharp and clear when printed. If your chosen typeface / font uses very fine lines, it may be necessary to add thicker strokes.

Remember to always embed your fonts when creating a PDF. This means that even if the person opening your file at the other end doesn’t have that typeface / font on their system, they are able to process and print your file correctly.


6. Always Check your proofs for mistakes

Fixing an issue when published on the web is easy. A typo or a misplaced photo can be rectified in moments. We can sympathise with any designer who has opened a box of 10,000 flyers, only to spot a missing phone number or typo. 

Proofs should be taken seriously. You can use your PDF to check for any unwanted spot colours, or areas with a high ink coverage, and always always check for typos! Letters can be missed when cutting and pasting, even if you spot one that wasn’t your fault, your client really will appreciate you picking up on it! See our previous blog for more info about this: 10 Tips for Effective Proofreading


7. Folded Items can be tricky

If you're ordering an item such as a tri-fold, it's always a good idea to check with your printer where the folds will be. Try printing out a copy and fold it by hand to check that everything lines up as you thought.

High ink coverage over a folded line can cause cracking, resulting in unwelcome breaks in your design. Try using lighter colours for a faultless finish, or consider getting the job creased before folding to minimise cracking.



When starting out, designing for print can be a bit overwhelming. By building a good relationship with your printer,asking questions about any specific processes if you're unsure of, you can ensure that you'll get the best out of your designs.

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