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5 Essential Tips to Help Prepare Your Files for Printing

Designing the perfect business card, brochure, or other printed collateral requires preparation before you send your files to AlphaGraphics.

Due to the nature of commercial printers, there are a few ways you can prepare to help ensure the final product looks exactly as you originally intended. We want to share with you five tips on how you can prepare your design files so that we will know exactly how you want it printed. The most common files that we receive from customers are from Illustrator or InDesign. However, we do occasionally receive a Photoshop file.  While a print-ready .pdf is ideal—as it leaves no room for interpretation—we can work with any of the above formats.

Resolution and File Size Preparation

Before you begin your fantastic design, you’ll first need to set up your document. You should set the width and length to the exact size that you’re looking for. If you want a 9” high by 5” wide card printed, then set your dimensions to 9” in height and 5” in length. The resolution of the file is also critical. Make sure that you set it to at least 300 dpi for print. Most designs intended for the internet come in around 72 dpi, but this will result in a very blurry image for print. If you’re adding photos or raster images, set the dpi to 300 before you put them in the file.

Image Formats

In addition to setting your image resolution to at least 300 dpi, you should keep in mind that the file format that you use can affect its quality as well. For example, JPG and GIF formats compress the images as they’re mainly for the web. They also lose quality, as every time they’re saved to a computer, it automatically recompresses them. The ideal file format to use for the printed image is either TIFF or PNG.

Print Layout

layoutPay close attention to the bleed, as it will help ensure that the final product is printed all the way to the edge—without cutting off anything important to your design. The bleed is the area outside of the final printed area. It helps allow for a margin of error so that the final product will look exactly as intended after it’s cut to your specified size. The minimum bleed required for print is 0.125 inches (1/8th of an inch). However, your specs may require a greater one due to the nature of your product. For example, if you’re printing on heavy card stock or intend to frame it, you might need to add a larger bleed area. If you’re in doubt, give AlphaGraphics of Raleigh a call to speak to one of our printing experts. The Trim Line is the actual finished size of your printed piece. The Live Area is the safe spot where you place important information. If the trim size is 6.25 in x 8.25 in, then your live area is 5.25 in x 7.25 in. If you plan on having it bound, keep in mind that the Live Area could be unreadable if it’s too close to the binding or spine.


Color formatThe colors on your computer can differ significantly from the final printed product. Your monitor uses a color scheme called RGB—which is excellent for viewing on a computer but is not an accurate representation of what it will look like in print. This is why you should start your design in CMYK color mode. Modern printers use four inks to reproduce similar colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, or CMYK. If you’re adding any images to the file, make sure that they’re set to CMYK as well. Asking for a final proof before approving the job to go to print is the best way to ensure that you get the exact color scheme that you originally intended. 

Raster vs. Vector

One of the more common print errors that we come across is when a customer uses the raster format for a printed piece that requires the vector format. Raster is a bitmap that’s comprised of pixels, and they’re dependent upon resolution to look good. The file types can include png, jpg, gif, tiff, PSD, and BMP. The Vector file type uses mathematical calculations to form specific shapes. As such, they do not require a certain resolution. You can scale them up or down to any size, and the quality will stay the same. If you’re designing a logo, be sure to format it as a vector, not a raster. Otherwise, the final output won’t look right. 

Print Help in Raleigh

Following the above five tips can help ensure that your final printed product will look as you originally intended. If you’re ready to start your next project, or you have a question about preparing your files for print, reach out to us, and one of our friendly print experts will be more than happy to help you out. At AlphaGraphics of Downtown Raleigh, we’re much more than a print shop. We’re also marketing experts who you can count on to help you when it comes time to market your business. To learn more about how AlphaGraphics of Downtown Raleigh can help with your content marketing needs, you may email us, request a quote or call us at (919) 832-2828.

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