four colour process

A Beginner’s Guide to Prepping for Print

The Studioblr Collective | September 23rd, 2016

One of the most intimidating aspects of graphic design I was introduced to in school was preparing and sending my work to print. Before university I was used to just printing things as is on my tiny home printer or the closest photo studio, but in just the first month alone we were introduced to the so much new info on how to make sure our designs actually look like how we want them to.

Your graphics, typography, layouts etc may be amazing but they will all be rather ruined if the printed product comes out looking nothing like you want and there’s sadly no undo option for a bad print job.

CMYK not RGB:  A lot of the colours one creates in RGB are not achievable using standard four-colour process printing. In Photoshop you can easily switch to this mode via the Image>mode>CMYK color menu command to give you a more accurate representation of how your colours will print; but, it is always best to create your document from the start in CMYK colour mode to ensure you have a better idea of how your colours are going to print.

Resolution: Make sure all graphics in your print layout are sufficient quality for printing. 300 DPI is the preferred minimum resolution for print graphics. When working with low resolution images that cannot be avoided, lowering the scale of the image improves the quality slightly.

Print Layout: Used extensively in programs like InDesign:

  1. Trim Line: The finished size of the piece.
  2. Live Area: The area that is considered safe to keep any important information within ( if a graphics trim size in 8.25” x 10.25”, the live area might be 7.27” x 9.75”, this takes into consideration binding if the page is placed on the left or right of a spread, since you don’t want the graphic to be cut-off)
  3. Bleed Area: While the minimum bleed areas for a printed piece is 0.125” (⅛ of an inch), you may sometimes be required to use more than that. The bleed allows for elements at the edge of the live area to be extended out so as to ensure there is no space between where the graphic ends and where the paper is cut.
  4. Crop Marks: Indicates where to cut the paper.

File Formats: While most printers will accept multiple formats like TIFF and PDF, save all your files as PDF when handing them over to compress file sizes.

Rich Black vs 100K Black: When printing in colour, there are two different shades of black you can use:

  • Black – 100 K: Can be used for body copy and barcodes (looks a bit washed out in large blocks of print)
  • Rich Black – 40 C 40 M 40 Y 100 K: Should be used when using blocks of black

Ensure all instances of the colour black that is used, are accurate especially when printing large areas of the colour; whether using rich black or grey scale black, ensure objects are correct. For Adobe products, change the preferences to always display and always output blacks accurately.  (This is hard to see on your monitor as RGB screens show colours more vibrantly, test prints are always important for things like this.)


  • In general, Photoshop usually only requires you to ensure the document is the proper resolution and the color profile is correct.
  • For high resolution prints, 600 PPI is ideal while 300-350 PPI should be the minimum.
  • If using filters or items which require RGB mode, then work in RGB and convert to CMYK as the final step before outputting the image. This step is dependent upon proper color settings.


  • Ensure your preferences are set to display and output blacks correctly.
  • Ensure you have proper bleeds for your document.
  • Try not to do any major adjustments to placed raster images (images that are not vector), they should be 100% and should not be rotated within InDesign. A minor adjustment may not cause issues, however large rotations and scaling of placed raster images can affect the output of those images.
  • Preflight! Preflight is the industry-standard term for quality checking your document before exporting and handing it off to your printer. InDesign’s Preflight panel helps by warning the user of problems that can prevent a book or document from printing or outputting as desired. Make sure to run this before exporting a files to check for missing fonts or files, RGB issues, over set text, low-resolution images and other various conditions. You can find Preflight in Window > Output > Preflight.


  • Create File in CMYK colour mode.
  • Ensure you have proper bleeds for your document.
  • Add Guides to show trim area or crop marks.
  • Rasterize all type.

Written by @herttz

Designed by @herttz