Are you making artwork mistakes that doom your printing project from the start? Making them could result in printed images that are blurry, faded, or otherwise unusable. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid that sad outcome by watching out for these unforced artwork mistakes.
Before you get started, it’s helpful to understand these basic artwork concepts and terms.
- Resolution: The clarity of your image depends on the resolution of the original artwork. Resolution refers to the number of pixels in the display, which is usually measured in width x height. For instance, if you’re working on a standard 1920 x 1080 monitor, you’re working with an image that is 1920 pixels across and 1080 pixels down.
- Dots per inch (DPI): The number of dots in a printed inch make up the DPI. The higher the number, the sharper and clearer the image appears. For the best images, we recommend using 300 DPI.
- Actual size: If you change the size of your artwork, you will disrupt the number of DPI. For instance, doubling the size of an image means you’ll cut the number of DPI in half because the DPI don’t change. It’s important to work with images that are the actual size or larger of the image you want printed. The one exception to this rule is when you use vector files, which we’ll explain in more detail below.
Now that you know these basics, let’s find out more about the major artwork mistakes you can avoid in future print jobs.
1. Artwork Mistakes: No Bleed Areas
Bleeds are important in any printing project.
What is a bleed in printing? It’s an additional amount of space that you include around an image. It is the area that will be trimmed during the printing process. An improper bleed will result in a white border around your printed piece that is the sure sign of an unprofessional job.
How much of a bleed do you need? For most print jobs, you should use a standard bleed measurement of .125 to .25 inches. For instance, if you’re printing an 8.5 x 11 document, add .125 inches to each side, so the file is 8.75 x 11.25. The actual size for all the bleed areas added up is .25 inches.
Another way to think of the bleed zone is to consider it a “safe zone” for copy or images.
If you want your text or artwork to extend all the way across a page or document, simply extend it into the bleed area.
To make sure you’re getting the bleed size right, talk to your printing company. They will let you know what bleed size they prefer to work with.
2. Incorrect File Formats
This is one of the most common artwork mistakes. If you’re using PNG and GIF file formats, you may think they can translate easily to a printed job. However, these formats are only usable on a computer screen. They don’t have the resolution you want in a printed product. For final printing, you must convert them to a PDF format that includes DPI measurements.
3. Artwork Mistakes: Using Raster Files Instead of Vectors
Are you unsure about rasters and vectors? These terms are familiar to illustrators, but they may not be to the average person who’s trying to get a good-looking print job ready.
Here’s a quick rundown. Raster files are images made up from millions of the tiny dots known as pixels. Because of their high DPI and clear resolution, they are ideal for full-color printing. You’ll know you have raster files because they end in the suffixes jpeg, .tiff, and .png.
Vectors are not images themselves but are mathematical formulas. They store information about the lines, colors, and other elements that create a single image. These files frequently have the suffixes .ai, eps, and .pdf. Vector graphics are also found in fonts.
Because they rely on formulas, vectors can be scaled to any size without losing detail or clarity. This is important when you’re trying to resize something like your logo that you want to fit on a variety of products.
Using a raster image means the picture gets bigger, but the number of DPI does not. While raster files are excellent for most uses, vector files are better for images that you frequently resize. They’re also better for single-color graphics.
4. Artwork Mistakes: Not Using the Right Software
If you’re going to produce lots of printed material, it’s smart to invest in the right tools. You may not have the budget for a fully equipped setup with design software right now, but there are low-cost and even free alternatives.
Using a high-powered illustration program makes it easy to produce a huge variety of materials. Templates, image drop-ins, automatic bleeds, standardized margins, and other great features make quick work of complicated printing layouts. They also help avoid many artwork mistakes.
The best-known design programs are Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. However, there are some free alternatives that may work just as well as one of those expensive packages.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation program) is a free, open-source program that is known as the alternative to PhotoShop. It has many of the same features, and in some areas, it even outshines its more expensive competitor. Here’s a comprehensive review of GIMP with a link to some tutorials to get you started.
5. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes
In 2009, the Washington Nationals baseball team became briefly infamous when two of its players strode onto the field wearing jerseys that read “Natinals.” Somehow, the jerseys made it all the way through the manufacturing process and into the locker room before the missing letter O’s were noticed.
If it can happen to a professional baseball team, it can happen to you. Overlooking your spelling and grammar can lead to embarrassing artwork mistakes. To avoid them, double check every word that’s part of an image or a caption.
6. Artwork Mistakes: Not Installing Your Fonts
When you prepare a document for printing, you probably spend some time choosing just the right fonts for it. All that work could end up being wasted time if you don’t install those fonts into the document that you’re printing.
Sometimes, people rely on their printer to have all the fonts they need. While it’s true that most printing companies have a large selection of fonts, they may not have the exact ones you used. This is especially true if you’ve used an uncommon or custom font.
If your printer doesn’t have the font you used, they’ll use a substitution text. You may not like the way this text looks, but this is one of those artwork mistakes that is easily avoided with a simple step. Install your fonts, and don’t forget to install the text styles—including bold and italic—that you’ve used.
7. Getting the Color Code Wrong
The color code or color program you choose matters. When you work with online design, you typically work with the RGB (red, green, blue) color code. This color code makes images look great on a computer screen, but those clear, sharp colors won’t translate into print.
Most professional printers use the CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black) color code. This produces rich colors and true black when printed.
If you’ve been working with RGB images, avoid artwork mistakes by transferring them to CYMK codes before you print. Most design software can do this for you easily. To be sure you’re using the right code, ask your printing company which color code it prefers.
Avoid Artwork Mistakes with Our Help
At Dazzle Printing, we work with many first-time printers and publishers. If you have questions about your artwork, we can help. We offer full-color printing and personalized customer service to ensure you always look your best in print. Check out our printing guide for helpful tips on submitting your files for printing.