For a graphic designer one of the most profitable aspects of a design job can be managing the printing or print brokering. This can also be one of the quickest ways to lose your ass on a design job. If anything goes wrong on the printing, the client tends to hold you (the designer) responsible. On a large print run this can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t know about you, but eating a job like that isn’t too desirable.

If you are a freelance designer or new in the design industry, it’s always good to have policies and even contracts in place to protect yourself against any worst case scenario. Unfortunately, these scenarios are all too common when it comes to print. Mistakes are easy to make when you’re trying to make a deadline and rush a job out the door. It’s worth a few extra hours or days to check your files and have the client sign off on them for responsibility. Trust me, a signature can save your bacon because no one wants to claim responsibility, especially the printer. My policy is “check it twice – pay once.” Following the simple guidelines below should eliminate the majority of stupid mistakes that can cost you more money at the printer.

Top Ten Problems that designers make while prepping files for print:

1) Did you forget to include your fonts?

I highly recommend saving a “press file” with fonts converted to outlines. This alone will eliminate pesky font problems at press and really save you some headaches if you’re sending files to overseas printers.

2) What? My linked files aren’t there?

Man, I hate it when that happens! If you are linking files – make sure that you’ve included all of them. Seems silly, but you’d be surprised.
To make things a little easier, master the obvious, create a folder named “Links” and put all linked files inside it.

3) Include bleed. White edges showing up around your finished piece look crappy.

• Usually 1/8″ will do for most flat items like business cards, and postcards.
• 1/4″ for brochures, booklets, catalogs.
• A 1/2″ for packaging
• And up to 1″ for gift bags and large wrap items.

4) Include crop marks, but offset them by 1/4 inch so that they do not bleed into your image.

Registration marks and other printers marks also don’t look so good showing up in the edges of your design.

5) Is My Image Resolution too low, too high or just right?

• Bitmap resolution = 600 dpi
• Photoshop or other image files = 300 dpi (CMYK)

It is a commonly accepted fact that the image DPI (dots per inch) should always be between 1.5 to 2.0 times the LPI (lines per inch.) For example, if the LPI is 150, the DPI should be between 225 and 300. Lower resolutions cause an undesirable printout due to the fact that a lesser amount of data will be “stretched” into a larger spatial area. Higher resolutions do not gain in quality due to the fact that the image will only be printed using a specified amount of lines per inch (LPI). If an image is scaled too high, it will print in “chunky” or “block” shapes. If scaled too low, then no additional quality is obtained beyond the threshold resolution of the output device. 

Effective Resolution : When an image is scaled, a new resolution (dots per inch) is calculated. This is called “effective resolution” and it is calculated by multiplying the image DPI times the Y% scale factor.

• Forget the math, just DON’T scale Photoshop images up. This will make your image blurry. Make sure embedded images are 100% set to scale or embed vector art files from illustrator into Photoshop.

6) RGB – Royal Graphics Blunder – Make Sure Your Files Are CMYK
Don’t forget to convert all RGB images to CMYK! This is a must for 4-color printing. Again, this seems silly, but you’d be surprised how many designers switch back and forth between web design and print design and accidentally leave a print file in RGB. This can create some pretty wild color variations if you actually get a printer that runs the job that way, or an upset client that wonders why his colors aren’t so vivid in print.

7) PMS Color – Don’t Let Your Spot Color Usage Get a Little Spotty.

• Double check your color palette to make sure you are using ONLY the colors you want specified to PRINT. Extra color means Extra Cost!

8) If you’re using InDesign on both PC or Mac.

• Make sure document size is the exact size of the finished piece, with bleeds extending 1/8” past page edge.
• Make sure all links are up to date. (Window/Links)
• Do a “Package for Printer” when completed and the program will put everything into one folder. (File/Package for Printer)
• Verify that all fonts were collected. InDesign is known for not packaging the correct fonts.
(For Exmple: Helvetica Bold will be collected when you need Helvetica Condensed Bold. This is also another good reason to save a secondary file and convert all fonts to outlines.)

9) Whoops, that bar code wasn’t supposed to print?

Again, I know it seems silly, but there are plenty of times designers throw in a place holder bar code and that bar code gets printed. That can be a costly little error. My company uses white boxes until the client has legit bar codes.

10) Oops I Did It Again. . . My Die Line’s Left In

Nothing makes your product packaging stand off the shelf better than the faint hint of die line around the edges and folds. Keep your die lines on their own layer and please, set the layer to “not print”.

Here are some bonus tips if you are a graphic designer new to freelancing or perhaps starting your own business. 

If you plan on handling your client’s print jobs or want to act as a print broker, make sure that you get payment in full for the print job first. That goes for online printing or local print houses. Print jobs can be a lot to leverage and you don’t want to get stuck holding the bag. It will only take one print job gone wrong to learn that lesson, but the sting may take a while to get over.
If you are handling a design job as a print broker, a better way to work is to use a printer you trust and negotiate terms with the printer before submitting the job. Mark up the project by 10-15% (industry standard) or a fixed dollar amount. Have your printer absorb this into their estimate and have your client pay the printer directly. Then when the job is complete the printer can cut you a check for your percentage.

 • Always have an approval proof signed by your client before submitting a print job. (You have to make sure that you’re butt’s covered!)

 • If you’re working with a local print house make sure that your client sees and approves a color proof before running the entire job.


Helpful printing tips by Pixel Productions Inc.