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Treadsteel Prints
DigitalThe Complete Guide to Creating Press Ready Print Files

The Complete Guide to Creating Press Ready Print Files


With deadlines looming and a print campaign raring to go, making sure your design available as a print-ready file is essential for efficiency. Without it, you risk back and forth with your print provider.
Even the best designers break out in a cold sweat when it comes time to send a project to a printer. There are a ton of moving parts, checklists, and details to keep in mind when it comes to getting your project ready for commercial printing. This guide will cover the technical do’s and don’ts, give you tips, best practices, and walk you through how to take a project from your computer to the printing press.

Print-ready artwork is defined as a file that can be used, as submitted, by a commercial printer to create the desired print materials. These types of files have to be the correct file type, resolution, and dimensions for the final product. Use these simple guidelines to ensure that your artwork is 100% print-ready before you submit it.

Use The Correct File Type

Check with your print partner to see what file type they would prefer. Most printers support:

  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • InDesign
  • Acrobat

Perfect Color Printing

One of the most common issues with professional printing is sending your printer graphics files that are in the wrong color space. Here’s what you need to remember about color before you send your file to your printer.

Use the Correct Color Build

All colors need to be CMYK defined (do not use RGB colors). All printers use CMYK, so if you’re building your artwork in RGB the colors will likely change when they’re converted into CYMK. The color conversation process can have an effect on the color itself as CMYK and RGB are two separate builds of colors and do not necessarily correlate with one another.

Here’s how you change your color space in InDesign:

When you create a new document, the color space changes based on your intent.
InDesign document settings
You can also change the color space in the Color Panel.
InDesign color panel CMYK setting

Artwork Preparation

Prepare artwork to the correct size, including all embedded graphics and outlined text. Keep all critical text and logos inside the Safe Design Area (1/8″ inside the die line on all templates). Dimensions for each card type are also shown online in our templates.

Learn how to convert your text to outlines by watching this quick tutorial:


Planning Image Quality for Professional Printing

Low quality and low-resolution images produce terrible, ugly, hideous printing but many people don’t understand the relationship between quality and resolution. You must plan for your final output at the beginning of your design, otherwise, you’ll be left with an unusable final product.
The print will always look better with higher resolution images. Let’s get clear on what we mean by resolution.
Image resolution is how much data is in a digital image, it is directly related to how many pixels are in the image. When you print an image, you must transfer that data into dots per inch (DPI) which determines the image quality of a printed piece. Usually, 300 DPI is what you’ll need. Most images on your computer are not at 300 DPI, but 72 DPI. This is because 72 DPI looks good on most computers and the files are much easier for the computer to store and display. Be sure to check your images for print quality and ensure that they are 300 DPI or higher.

How to Resample Images for Printing

Resizing images can lead to problems when they are printed because the resolution can be unintentionally changed.
When you resample an image, you are changing the amount of data in the image. Down sampling removes data and up sampling adds data. When you make an image smaller than its original size, you are down sampling it, when you make it larger you are up sampling.
You should always avoid up sampling your images. Adding data to an image will usually result in a very poor printed image.
How to Resample Images in InDesign
Sometimes you may want to resample an image to change the size that it will print. If you are down sampling, for example, resampling can make the image take up less space. In InDesign, make sure the Resample Image option is checked when you change the size of an image. It is checked by default. When Resample is checked, you change the data in the image when you up or down sample the image.
Changing pixel dimensions changes the physical size but not the resolution.
Changing resolution affects the pixel density but not the physical size.
Changing the physical size changes the pixel density but not resolution.

Changing an Image Without Resampling

When you uncheck the Resample Image box, the amount of data in the image is unchanged even when you change the size of the image. This has the effect of changing the pixels per inch (PPI) of your image. For commercial printing, you want a rather high PPI value.
For printing purposes, you want 300 PPI or greater.

Which Image Formats Are Best For Printing?

When sending press-ready design files to a printer you should send your images in the highest quality (not fastest) image format possible. Different image formats compress image data differently. PNG and TIFF images work the best for most print projects. JPG images work  at 100% quality, but every time the JPG is saved it is recompressed, so the quality can drop quickly if it is saved often at less than maximum quality.


Sending Your Fonts and Images

You can send your fonts and images in three different ways:

  • Package your artwork and send the entire packaged file
  • Send the fonts and images with your artwork
  • Convert your text to outlines

We do not recommend sending any images that you have embedded within an email because they will lose their resolution. Always attach the artwork to the email or upload the artwork using your printer partner’s system.

Making sure that your artwork is print-ready before submitting it is setting up your project for success. Talk to your print partner if you have any questions on what correct file type and size for your project. We are always here to ensure that your cards turn out exactly the way you have been imagining!

Spot Colors

Most of the colors produced in color printing are created by blending just 4 colors of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. But sometimes you need a very specific color. Despite all of the advanced techniques and technology at a professional printer, matching the exact color from printer to printer and even from one order to the next can be a challenge. Consistent color-matching is what separates good printers from great ones.
When you need a very exact color, such as Coca-Cola’s trademarked red or John Deere’s famous green, you’ll need to use spot color. A spot color is not created by mixing other types of ink, but rather it is made to order for the project at hand. This also means the printer must make an additional plate for the spot color, which usually makes using a spot color more expensive.
If you have to use a spot color, you’re likely using a color from the Pantone Matching System. It is a commonly used system of spot colors that helps press operators achieve the same shade, every time.
Spot colors can be expensive for short-run orders, but become more economical if you’re doing larger quantities using offset printing.
Viewing spot colors that are blended with other colors, or are somewhat transparent, can be a problem in your page layout program. Make use of Overprint Preview when you’re working with spot colors.


When Are Vector Images Important for Printing?

Most images are created using a bitmap, or series of dots, and are called raster images. Vector images are not made of dots, but a shape plotted by points along a mathematically generated path. Vector images can change to any size without losing quality. Popular vector image formats are AI, SVG, and EPS formats. When you are printing commercially, vector images are very important.
Your text should always be in a vector format.
Line drawings, such as plans or blueprints, should always be in vector format.
Logos work best in a vector format.
Anything that isn’t a photograph will work better as a vector.


Tips for Designing Great Images for Print

When possible, do the following:
Do not up sample your images.
Make sure your images are at least 300 PPI (or 300-600 DPI).
Use vector formats for text, line art, and logos.
Use image formats with less compression-like PNG, TIFF, and maximum quality JPG.

How to Plan Your Bleed

A bleed is needed when printing extends to the edge of the paper, so when the piece is trimmed or cut to the final size, the artwork goes all the way to the edge. A full bleed describes a print project that has artwork that touches every edge. When in doubt, include bleed in your document.
Create a bleed that is 0.125″ on all sides.
If you’re making multi-page InDesign documents add the bleed-in document settings.
press-ready bleed layout

treadsteelprints bleed diagram

Diagram from :

How to Plan Margins or Safe Zones

A margin is a space between the print and the edge of the page, sometimes called the Safe Zone. The margin should be a minimum of 1/16 or .0625″, preferably 0.125″. You just want to make sure your critical artwork or text has a bit of room so it isn’t in danger of being chopped off in the cutting process.
Margins become complicated when you print a bound piece like a catalog or booklet. The size of the margin changes on each page because of the wrap of the sheets of paper around the spine. Check with our printer to make sure you get the correct specs for this before laying it out.
Diagram from:

Planning for Custom Effects

Embossing and Debossing

Embossing graphics, text, and artwork are pressed upward, giving a 3D texture to a printed piece. Debossing is the opposite, where text or artwork is pushed down into the paper creating an indentation. Both of these custom effects can be created in single-level, multi-level or they can be sculpted. When you get a sculpted emboss/deboss, an artist sculpts your artwork out of clay and that is used to make a mold for the project. Sculpted embossing/debossing is more expensive, but can achieve a much higher level of detail.
If you’re using standard (single-level or multi-level) embossing/debossing, be aware that super fine details may not be visible. The thickness (weight) of the paper has an impact too. The thicker the paper, the less fine detail you can achieve.
The thinnest detail should be twice the thickness of the paper.
Work with your printer to pick the right type of paper and embossing/debossing style to make your project look perfect. Learn more about embossing here.

Die Cutting

Die-cutting slices your paper up so you have a knocked-out design. Think of it as using a cookie-cutter on your paper to make your text, artwork, and designs get cut out of the paper. A die-cut uses a metal die that looks a lot like a cookie-cutter. This is shaped by hand and because of the limitations of bending metal, standard die-cuts must keep at least 1/8th of an inch of space between designs. Sharp points may not work well and very small text can lose quality.
If you need a finer die cutting that is less than 1/8th” you should consider laser die-cutting.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping is a very popular way to make text, artwork, and logos pop. It is often used to make a seal or award burst off the paper with a golden sheen, but in the hands of a great designer, foil stamping can create true works of art.
There are two types of foil, metallic and matte. A metallic foil can achieve much more detail than matte foil because the surface is harder — it has metal flakes in it, giving it more strength. Even so, both types of foil can begin to bleed together and details are lost if you are doing very fine detail or tiny text.
When sending in artwork for foil stamping, try to use vector artwork, not bitmap files. For example, use an Adobe Illustrator EPS or AI file vs a JPG image. Using bitmap artwork can harm foil stamping, making it look blocky and of lower quality.

Planning for Trimming, Cutting, and Shaping Your Printed Piece

Your printed piece is going to be cut and trimmed. Your printing company should help you plan your printing properly.

Choosing Paper & Ink

You’ll need to work with your printer to choose the best substrate (paper) for your project. Paper comes in a variety of weights, finishes, and coatings.
The paper type and weight can sometimes affect how you prepare your press-ready files, especially related to folding and binding, so confirm your paper choice with your printer to make sure any considerations are accommodated.
Paper options can be daunting: here’s what you need to know to get started.

Choose Paper with the Right Weight

A paper’s weight is, more or less, a measure of its thickness. A higher weight will be sturdier, thicker, and firmer. Higher-weight papers are great for business cards, bottle-neckers, cards, tags, and catalog covers. Lighter-weight papers are ideal for brochures, envelopes, stationery, and interior pages of catalogs. Higher-weight paper is usually more expensive.
There are also premium papers that are made with a high-quality texture. They feel great to the touch and are used for some stationery, formal invitations, artwork, and important legal documents. Choosing a paperweight means thinking about how your piece will be used. Will it be held? Will it be abused in a wallet or purse? Will it be bound into a thick, hundred-page catalog? Is it going to be folded?

Choose the Paper Type

Papers also come coated or uncoated. Coated papers have a glossy or matte finish that resists smudges and stains and displays the ink brighter and crisper. This also makes writing on paper difficult. It’s best used for brochures, some business cards, and marketing pieces that need to look higher end and aren’t being used for writing.
Uncoated papers lack this solid surface and are more porous. They are easy to write on but can get smudged and stained more easily and the ink looks duller. There are also synthetic papers that are water and chemical-resistant and spill-proof. They are perfect for menus, industrial stickers, or anything that needs to withstand the elements or outdoor use
You can learn more about choosing the right paper here.

Additional Paper Coatings

There are also specialty coatings that can be added after a piece is printed. This helps protect the entire piece or is used to create eye-catching effects.
UV coating, Spot UV, Aqueous coating, and varnish provide a high-gloss or matte look and offer protection and improved visual appeal.

Packaging InDesign Files for a Professional Printer

If you’d prefer to supply the actual InDesign document to your printer – make sure you package the InDesign file. Zip the entire file and provide that to your printer. Your printer will need all of your images and fonts, so you’ll need to include the entire package, not just the Indd file. When packaging, check the boxes shown below.
InDesign Package For Print
Exporting a PDF from InDesign
When exporting a PDF from InDesign:
Include all pages
Export the document in pages, not spreads
Either choose “no compression” or choose Bicubic Downsampling on Color and Greyscale images to 300 pixels per inch for images above 450. For Monochrome images set bicubic downsampling to 1200 pixels per inch for images above 1800.
For marks and bleeds – don’t include any marks, but make sure you check “use document bleed settings” if you included the bleed in your settings. If not, you can specify the .125″ bleed here.
exporting a PDF from InDesign
Exporting a PDF for a Professional Printer
Exporting your press-ready file for the printing company is very easy in all modern page layout and design programs. Usually, you’d export everything into a PDF but sometimes you may export the entire project including images, fonts, and other elements. Here are some tips to keep in mind, many that have already been mentioned:
Make sure your images are the right DPI (300 or higher) for printing.
Use vector for text, drawings, and logos when possible.
Don’t export a PDF with security settings and password protection unless your printer is prepared for and can work with that security.
When in doubt, always choose the highest quality file possible.
If your project file is too big for email, consider using Dropbox or Google Drive to host the file or see if your printer has a solution for handling large files.
Following these tips will save you time and trouble and make your printer happy, ensuring the best possible outcome for your project.
Have questions or need help generating your print-ready files?
Call us now at +2348184523196

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