Design For Print Check List

Lauren over at Creative Curio suggested a print checklist would be a good idea for a post, so here are my suggestions on setting up a graphic design job for print.

When you are designing a job that needs to be printed there are certain things that need to be remembered and checked.


print check list1. Make sure all images are 300dpi at actual size and saved as a tiff or eps
Note: if you blow a raster (Photoshop) image up in your layout programme (Quark/Indesign) you are in effect lowering the image resolution. Vector (Illustrator) files are resolution independent, which means they can be blown up without image quality deterioration.

2. Make sure images are set to CMYK
Note: CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the colours the printer will use to create the print. Small dots of these colours will make all the different colours in the printed document eg. small dots of yellow and cyan will look like green.

3. Allow Bleed on a document – usually 3mm unless otherwise stated
Note: Bleed is an amount of image/colour etc that reaches out past the trim lines. This allows for print movement and slight inaccuracies, so if the guillotine moves slightly you won’t have a white edge for instance where there should have been blue.

4. Convert illustrator eps text to outlines
Note: Before you send a job to print if you are using an illustrator eps with text within it convert the text to outline. This prevents any font issues from the embedded font. make sure you save yourself a copy of the files without the text turned to outline in case you ever need to amend it.

5. Check your document only contains only the 4 colours CMYK.
Note: Make sure if you do have any spot colours that they are specified to split into 4 colour process.

6. Add a percentage of a colour to large areas of solid black

Note: If you have a design that uses large areas of solid black it is a good idea to add a percentage of another of the process colours to it to give more density. For example if I am doing a job with a large area of black I would perhaps create a new colour called special black with 100% black and 50% cyan (make sure it is set to split to process colours). This is often known as a shiner. You do have to be careful using this technique if you are using small text on the black, as any slip in the colours could mean that your white out text, ends up cyan. If in doubt it’s best to take advice from your printer on this.


1. Make sure all images are 300dpi at actual size

2. Make sure images are set to duotones (or you can use monotones of one of the colours)
Note: If you are using duotones (images made up of two colours) make sure you have named your two colours the same in photoshop as you have in Quark or Indesign. Any slight differences will mean your document will output to more than one plate. For example if you have chosen pantone 144cvc as one of the colours in your duotone, but then choose pantone 144cv (no c at the end) you are in fact creating an extra plate.

3. Allow Bleed on a document – usually 3mm unless otherwise stated

4. Convert illustrator eps text to outlines
Note: As mentioned in point 2 also make sure you have named colours the same throughout your files.

5. Check your document only contains the 2 colours you need and they are set up as spot colours
Note: (you won’t be able to get rid of the CMYK colours but in Quark can remove the default RGB blue green and red)


1. Create your cutter guide in illustrator and colour the stroke a SPOT colour, I usually name this Cutter. in illustrator specify in WINDOW – ATTRIBUTES overprint stroke (checkbox).

2. If you are pulling your cutter guide (as above) into quark – go into EDIT COLOURS – EDIT TRAP and set your cutter colour to overprint. This makes sure the cutter doesn’t interfere (knock out) with any of the print work below it.


In general I leave quarks trapping to its defaults, except in the case of cutter guide as mentioned above or if I am working on a 2 colour job where I have text in one colour going over a pale tint of the other, when I will specify the text to overprint. Otherwise you get a spreading effect. If in doubt ask the printer to check the trapping for you.


Whenever I am designing a document – unless I am just a concept stage I will ensure my images are all CMYK and 300 dpi and I have include 3mm bleed as I go along. Once I get the go ahead to send the artwork I will however do a final check. I use Quark so I will double check:

  • I have include bleed wherever needed
  • That all my colours are set to 4 colour process (for a 4 colour job) and I remove the default RGB Red Blue and Green colours in the Quark palette.
  • Then I do a collect for output and open up all of my photoshop images to check they are CMYK and 300dpi and open up my illustrator images check them and convert any text to outlines
  • If possible send a printout or PDF to the printer so the files can be checked against it. If you are using any spot colours make sure these are specified to the printer.

There are programs such as Flightcheck that will check your print is set up correctly – in terms of colour splits and images, but this is quite expensive.

If you are looking for more information on setting up design for print has some good advice.

David Airey Graphic Design also has some good advice on on things you should consider before printing.

If there is are any suggestions or methods you use to check your design before it goes to print, please feel free to add them to the comments below.

Quick Tips for Design Mock-ups and Presentation

scalpelWhen I first started in design if someone said they needed a design mocking up I used to break out in a cold sweat. I always seem to end with a brochure page upside down and enough spraymount in my hair that I could be in a commercial for ultra hold hair gel.

Over the years I picked up a few tips from fellow designers who came to rescue me from under the piles of screwed up paper and failed attempts. Now although its not my favourite job, it’s one I can do.

Tip 1
To start its always good to know an easy way to work out pagination. All you need to do is take the number of pages in a booklet and add one. Each pair of pages will then add up to this number. For example on an 8 page brochure 8 + 1 = 9, so all spreads add up to 9, this means page 6 will sit next to page 3, page 4 next to page 5 etc. This is based on the cover being classed as page 1.

Tip 2
Before you cut brochure pages out, put a ruler down the middle of a spread (using the computer registration marks) and with a sharp scalpel push through two tiny holes top and bottom. Now when you turn the page over so you can score it for folding, you can just join up the two small holes with the ruler rather than having to measure.

Tip 3
If you are mocking up a brochure and you haven’t got a long armed stapler. fold your pages as you would normally, then flatten them out so you can see the crease. Open out a normal stapler, put an eraser (or bit of foam board) under the crease of your paper pages and shoot the staple through the paper into the eraser. Gently pull the paper and staple out of the erasre and bend the staple ends in.

Tip 4
I usually produce my printed visuals on A3 sheets and mount onto A2 boards. To save time I have created an L shaped piece of mount board the right height from the bottom and side of the A2 board. Instead of having to measure where to put my A3 visual each time, and rather than it ending up on the skew by eye, I put the L shape on my mount board which shows me where to position the A3 sheet. This is also useful for mocking up pages in a design portfolio if they are all the same size.

Tip 5
If at all possible get someone else to do it 🙂

What tips do you have for mocks ups and presentations?

Sketches and Grids Speed up the Design Process

sketchOne thing which nobody ever taught me about as a graphic design student was grids, how crazy is that? Grids must be one of the most fundamental elements of design and can help make sense from chaos. Immediately by using a grid it helps you find a sense of balance within a layout, that’s not to say you shouldn’t break out of the grid, but it is definitely a good starting point.

At the start of a design job instead of jumping straight on the computer take a short time to scribble some ideas on a paper – ideally a layout pad. A layout pad is ideal as you can process your ideas, if something doesn’t look quite right, then trace over the bits that do work and adapt the bits that don’t. By spending a short time sketching you can save yourself hours on the computer.

To illustrate my point I have created an example. I quite often have to produce promotional leaflets (single side A4) selling exhibition systems and equipment, so this fictitious example is based on that. The leaflet will require the following – sale flash (or the word Sale pulled out in some way), heading, intro text, logo, 5 products – consisting each of heading, photo, bullets and price point, call to action (phone number etc).


The first thing to consider is your 5 products, what sort of grid would be needed to show 5 products?

You could have:

  • a 4 column grid with one large product pulled out across all the columns and the other 4 across a column each below (sketch 1 and 4).
  • a 2 column grid with a flash balancing off one of the products at the top (sketch 2)
  • a 6 column grid with 2 larger products using 3 columns each and 3 products below using 2 columns each (sketch 3)

There are lots of other possibilities too.

I can then decide that maybe I would like one product to break out of the grid, maybe bleed off the page (sketch 1), where I would like to place my sale mark, logo and other elements so they balance with the products and other elements. Beyond this I sometimes ad notes on the type of heading – distressed, very bold and perhaps sketch in a rough idea of a graphic (stars sketch 4) (though I sometimes leave this until after I have input all the elements on the computer).

I spent about 30 minutes scribbling these sketches but in that time I can see the designs that work best and those that don’t, saving me time experimenting on the computer. I don’t like the balance of sketch 2 or the heading in the middle on sketch 4, Both 3 and 1 look ok but, but sketch 1 looks a bit more interesting so I would probably begin working it up to a rough layout in quark xpress. That doesn’t mean that what I sketched is fixed in stone, but it acts as a good starting point. The budget, for me for a leaflet like this is quite tight, so by spending a little time sketching at first, I save myself a lot of time in the long run.

The more experienced you get the easier it is to “SEE” a layout. I get an idea what will work and what won’t with a layout far quicker now that when I first started out in design. I think the sketch and grid are a the key to speeding up the process.

What processes do you use the create layout based designs?

A Design Project from Concept to Completion

I have not yet shared any of my design projects with you so thought I would give it a try. This project is one I did about a year ago, for a Design Management Company whose Client was a Multiple Sclerosis Charity.

The Brief
To design an A5 informative booklet for young people (from kids to teens) who have a parent with Multiple Sclerosis. Initially to produce 3 possible style for the booklet, one of them being on the lines of a manual style they supplied, the other 2 options were open to my ideas.


1. The First Step – Mood Boards
I don’t have children and was not sure of the sort of thing that would appeal to them so I decided to create some mood boards. This consisted of finding child/teen related imagery online and buying a batch of magazines, comics, greetings cards and paper targeted at kids. I then cut these all out and stuck them on mountboards to try and give me an idea of the kind of look I should be creating.

2. Step Two Sketching
Once I had an idea of the type of “feel” I was looking for I began by sketching ideas. This is a way I usually work for creative projects as it allows you to think quickly and clarify your ideas. My first scribbles usually involve brainstorming spider diagrams as well as possible layouts. I then narrowed these down to three sketches – the manual option (requested) and two other options. For the other two options I decided to go an illustrative route for one and typographic/graphic route for the other. I emailed this sketches to my client who luckily has an ability to understand what I am trying to show (as you can see my sketches are not going to win awards)


2. Step Three
My client liked the sketches so I worked them up up using mainly quark and illustrator. The teen illustrations are a little rough but get across the general idea enough for the end client to decide if this is the route they want to go.


4. Step Four – Amend then Artwork
The chosen design was the text and graphic version. I made some slight amends as requested to the visuals and then artworked it using supplied text. The final booklet is shown below.


From Print to Web Design, Learning HTML and CSS


So as I mentioned I did a days training in HTML – yes I know its not enough, I need to put it into practice. Its pretty hard though when all your work is print based and you’ve had a massive influx of it. I am now back up to my ears in work again (forgive me blog if you become neglected for the next couple of weeks).

I had been searching round on the net to see if there were any good online courses – something I could do in my own time and dip in and out of. There are loads of them out there – lots of free ones too but what frustrated me about them all was there was no interaction. Ok so they told me something and then said try it yourself, but they didn’t make you think and the DVD videos were a great cure for insomnia (I have fallen asleep watching one for Strata 3D that I now use – seriously)

Finally I found an online (downloadable) course in HTML – which is cheap – $29 and does just that, makes it makes you interact. I have done a few sections so far. You read a bit about something, then it makes you insert tags etc into a window and then gives you the answer. Then after a few questions you get a quiz to test you on what you have learned so far – which it then marks for you. I have just got on to a section now which teaches you how to build a simple website which I will start as soon as time allows. If all goes well I will then do the CSS course.

Unleash the Illustrator in you

Illustration Tutorials
I used to do a lot of illustration work within my design work, if a character was needed I would draw it. Now with budgets and deadlines getting tighter and more cheap royalty free images available I am afraid I often go for the quick easy option, buy and use a ready made image. For the first time in ages I actually did a bit of illustration for a job myself – something simple for some mother and baby packaging. I scribbled the basic illustration in pencil scanned it in and used painter to colour it up in a quite naive looking style. I had bought painter on sale a few month ago and never actually used it, I actually quite enjoyed it.

doodleThen while browsing blogs on the net I came across Its very different to other sites I have seen most of which have tutorials which are computer based. The interesting thing about this site is that the illustrator sets you a series of tasks (its like being back at a foundation course at college). If you want to try and get creative (or are just bored) try a few of Von Glitscka’s illustration exercises such as his doodle sheets. Take his doodle sheets look at them in all directions (don’t take the first easy thing that comes in your head) then draw something a character, a thing, anything. This is one of Von’s Examples the black the original shape the red his drawing, I did try some myself but am too embarassed to share.

PicassoAnother illustration lesson is to draw three things he suggests in the style of a famous artist. Here I have shown his illustration of a dog in the style of Picasso. He includes downloads as PDFs and jpegs of all the files and his examples.

Whether you are an illustrator, designer or student is well worth checking out.Images shown with kind permission of Von Glitschka.