A refresher course

A guide to print-ready artwork

We’ve previously posted information on various technical matters and guides to producing artwork, etc.  A quick reminder has been requested, so here is our guide to producing print-ready artwork, including a link at the end to a downloadable PDF guide…

You’ve designed your artwork and it looks perfect.  Congratulations, you’re halfway there!  The other half of the battle is ensuring that your masterpiece will more or less look on paper the way it looks on your screen. Actually, this needs to begin before you even start designing. This article will cover some of the issues involved.


Some things needs to be considered from the very start, as they can’t be changed later on. An example is the document resolution in Photoshop, which should be at least 300dpi (dots per inch). Changing this later on may result in reduced quality. Remember, though, that Photoshop is NOT a design programme! In Illustrator, this applies to the ‘document raster effects’ setting.

Create your document will 3mm of ‘bleed’. This allows the printer to print your document on an oversized sheet and cut it down, so there’s no white border round your design if you have images which bleed off the edge. In Photoshop, create your document 6mm larger in width and height and drag ruler guides in 3mm off each edge to represent the bleed for the printer. Don’t worry about adding bleed to posters (A2 or larger).

Illustration of document bleed

Another thing to get right first time is the colour space. Your screen represents colours using light, split into RGB (red, green and blue), whereas it will be printed in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Adjusting this mid-design may alter the appearance of the colours in unexpected ways. Set the document colour space to CMYK, using the Coated FOGRA39 setting, the specification we use at Firstpoint Print.

Illustration for colours-pace conversion

If you’re designing a brochure or other book-like document, by all means design it in spreads if necessary, but supply it as single pages. Printers have impositioning software to take care of the page order. People often get the order wrong and if the document is then supplied as spreads, not much can be done with it.

Illustration for pagination requirement


  • Resolution at least 300dpi
  • 3mm of bleed
  • Colour space CMYK, preferably FOGRA39
  • Supply as single pages



Once the document is set up correctly, the result is down to your skills in design. However, there are a few potholes to avoid…

If you are using specific Pantone spot colours, be aware that each one requires its own plate and processing for print, so keep the number down. For example, if your design includes a photograph and a two-colour spot logo, the printer will have to produce six plates, each incurring a charge. To avoid this, unless your design absolutely requires specific spot colours (perhaps a neon or metallic), you should ‘convert spots to process’ to create a CMYK-only file when you finish.

Illustration for converting spots to process

Discuss the intended output method with your printer. Digital printing does not use spot colours, so they’ll need to be converted to CMYK anyway. If you do this yourself, you can check that the colour is as you intend.

Don’t try to use transparency with Pantone spot colours, because it won’t work. This includes drop-shadows, opacity adjustment, blends, etc.

Put text ON TOP of other layers to avoid strange results and rough text. Avoid putting transparency effects on top of text, unless you ‘outline fonts’. This should be done anyway in Illustrator (‘create outlines’) and Photoshop (‘rasterize text’).


  • Avoid multiple spot colours unless intended
  • Convert spots to process for digital printing
  • Avoid mixing transparency and spot colours
  • Move text to the top layer
  • Outline fonts in Illustrator and Photoshop



The best way to supply your files for print is the PDF (Portable Document Format). However, not all PDFs are created equal. There are multiple versions for multiple uses. The best specification for print is called PDF/X. Use PDF/X-1a for litho printing (it supports spot colours) and PDF/X-3 for digital. PDF/X ensures that all fonts are embedded, the correct colour space is used and transparency is properly implemented. If your software doesn’t give you this option, use ‘Press Quality’ and convert spots to CMYK if necessary.

The PDF creation dialogue should give you options to flatten transparency. Use the ‘medium resolution’ preset, which should iron out any problems. You should also find the option to ‘convert spots to process’ and apply it if applicable.

Sometimes it’s best to supply the original file in case corrections or adjustments need to be made by the printer. If file-size is an issue, use our FTP upload at www.firstpointprint.co.uk. If you intend to provide an InDesign or Quark file, you MUST ‘package’ the document, which includes the images and fonts used. Other file types embed the images within the file itself, but you should still outline the fonts in case the printer does not have the same font in their system.

Occasionally it’s safest to supply a high-res JPEG or TIFF file if you are having problems with PDFs not looking as expected.


  • Supply artwork in PDF format
  • Use PDF/X1a for litho, PDF/X-3 for digital, Press Quality if nothing else
  • Flatten transparency to ‘medium resolution’
  • Package InDesign and Quark files


Please feel free to download this PDF guide and keep is as a reminder for future projects:

Guide to Print-Ready Artwork