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Graphic design for print: get the best out of it

get the best out of printing

There are some differences between graphic design for print and for the web you need to know. Sometimes, even with the benefits of a high quality commercial printing service, what you see on the screen isn’t quite what you get when you have your design printed.

Getting that design from your screen to the paper in this digital day and age is not as easy as it first appears. You may be a wonderful designer and be a whizz kid on the computer but, when it comes down to taking it to the print shop to have a physical copy, you could be let down.

So, how can you be sure of great results? We’ll tell you:


cmyk vs rgb

Should you have your project designed in CMYK or RGB? Well, if your intent is to have it printed then the golden rule is: always work in CMYK. For those who may not know what that refers to: it is the four inks used in the printing process Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. Why is black the letter K? Because it stands for Key (as in Key colour). RGB refers to Red, Green, Blue and is the palette used on the computer/web/screen.

If for some reason you have been working in RGB in Photoshop, you can switch modes via the Image/Mode/CMYK Colour menu command – in that way you will have a much better depiction of how that design is going to look once it is printed.


One of the biggest mistakes people make is to set their resolution too low. You have to remember that print files are large, VERY large! Printers are forever having to send files back to the customer because they have set the resolution at the wrong DPI. DPI stands for Dots Per Inch. Basically the more Dots Per Inch you have on your image then the sharper and better quality will be the outcome.

The standard setting for anything being printed would be 300dpi and this can be set when creating a new document in Photoshop.

Physical size

a sizes for printing

There is a simple rule for most print. As the number goes up, the size goes down. For instance A1 is double the size of A2; A2 is double the size of A3, and so on.

There are also many different weights and types of paper that can be used. You may want Matte (uncoated), Gloss or Silk paper and you may want the paper to be lightweight at 100gsm or a heavyweight at 300gsm or over. GSM is Grams Per Square Metre and that governs just how heavy the paper stock is: the higher the number, the heavier the paper.

Working out weights

There is a simple formula to work out the weight of paper (unprinted):

Take the actual size, eg. A4 = 297mm x 210mm. Move the decimal point back 3 places, multiply by the number of sheets then multiple by the gsm. So a 4 page A4 on 150gsm would be equivalent to 2 sheets of A4 (A3 folded in half). So... 0.297 x 0.210 x 2 x 150 =18.711g unprinted.

Very useful when working out delivery costs!

Format of files

The majority of printers prefer to be supplied with PDF files with a resolution of 300dpi.

Litho or digital

This will depend on your needs and also your budget.

Firstly, litho printing is where the printer makes up a set of plates which are then used to press the image on to the paper. As you can imagine, this does not have the urgency of a digital print, as these plates take time to make up.

Litho printing is also much cheaper when dealing in large quantities. If you are going for anything larger than an A3, you should really be looking at litho printing. It will be sharper (although digital print has vastly improved in quality over the past few years) and it will probably take longer to produce.

However, if it is a quick, short run of good quality print you require, then digital is the way to go.

Bleed and trim

Put simply:

Bleed is the area around the edges when the item is cut to size. Usually it is an area of between 3 and 5mm. In that area you would take any colour, etc in order that you aren’t left with an ugly white line after cutting. Your printer will tell you what bleed size they require.

Trim is the edge of the final print. Any text or photo, etc could be chopped off if placed too close to this area – always leave some space and go no closer to the trim than 5mm on a standard A5 or 3mm on a business card .

bleed trim safety

Crisp and correct

To get the crispest results in your finished print, try and use a vector based program such as Adobe’s InDesign.

Always check your fonts to make sure they are embedded. If they are missing when it goes to print then usually the font will default to something like Arial rather than your fancy font you have taken ages to pick.

Check, check, double-check, quadruple check your spelling! There is nothing demeans a good design straight away than a stupid spelling error. All that work designing to be destroyed by one little word out of place. The most common spelling mistakes are those in plain site that are missed in proof reading, such as headers or titles.

If you need help with your design and print, get in touch with our team of experts who can advise you on the best solution for your requirement.

A version of this article also appears on the Culture Hive website, managed by the AMA (Arts Marketing Association).

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