How to Design for Print

15. September 2016 Print 0
How to Design for Print

Designing for print can be a confusing process for anyone, even more so if you’re new to the task. Not only do you have to create a design that works well on paper but you also have the added pressure of ensuring your design is properly set up to print. To ensure you execute the task well you’ll need think about colour profiles, resolutions, sizing, which type of black you’re going to use, your application choice (e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator etc.), and of course, bleed and trim. It all sounds pretty intimidating right? Don’t be discouraged, Designbury is here to help.

Understanding RGB and CMYK colour spectrums


If you usually design things for digital use such as websites, infographics, etc., you’ll most likely be used to using the RGB colour spectrum. RGB is the default setting for most graphic design applications (Photoshop etc.) so even if you think you’ve never heard of RGB chances are you would’ve simply been using it without realising! Unlike digital, when you’re designing for print you’ll need to use the CMYK colour spectrum as using RGB can potentially lead to untrue colour reproduction during the printing process.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue)

RGB is an additive colour system where all colours are created from various combinations of Red, Green and Blue. Light is used to mix colours; as you add more light, the colour will get lighter, brighter and more vibrant. RGB allows detailed control over the colour you use. In total, there are around 17 million possible RGB colour variations… That’s an awful lot of colours!

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black)

CMYK is a subtractive colour spectrum where all colours combinations are created from mixing Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (Key). It works by adding various combinations of the inks together to create different hues. The more ink you use, the darker the colour gets. CMYK doesn’t create as many colour combinations as RGB, but by making sure you design in CMYK for print you can make sure that your design is limited only to colours that are reproducible during the professional print process.

CMYK in Professional Printing

All professional printing companies use the CMYK process, so you need to ensure that you set the colour mode to CMYK in whichever design application you’re using. Designing in RGB mode instead of CMYK is perhaps the most common mistake that anyone new to design print makes.

Understanding Resolutions (DPI + PPI)

If you’ve ever seen a pixelated photo or image on your computer screen, you’re already part way to understanding how resolutions work and why it’s so important to get them right when designing for print.


Low Resolutions

PPI (Pixels Per Inch)

PPI (Pixels Per Inch) refers how many dots (pixels) make up an image on a computer screen. The higher the PPI, the higher quality of the image. The more dots (pixels) used to create one inch of an image, the more detail can be squeezed into that image. This is the whole concept behind high-definition TV.

DPI (Dots Per Inch)

DPI is pretty much the same as PPI, only in printing terms opposed to digitally on your screen. When your digital design it printed every pixel is printed as a tiny dot. Due to this, it is important to ensure that the PPI of your design is aligned with the DPI when printing.

It is most common to print at 300 DPI. In a nutshell, this means that 300 dots will make up each square inch of the printed design. Printing at a lower resolution would create a low-quality product.

Understanding Bleed, Trim and Safe Area

Bleed and trim may sound like a complicated technical term, but the reality is they’re extremely easy to understand. It is vital that, when designing for print, you account for bleed and trim.


The outer edge of the trim does exactly what it suggests. It acts as the line in which your product will be cut (trimmed) when it comes out of the printer. Anything that is outside of the trim line will be cut off, however it is important to remember that things aren’t always 100% accurate down to the millimetre. This is why you leave a trim area to account for any small anomalies.


In the same way it’s possible for there to be small anomalies in the trimming process, it is also possible for the same to happen, but the other way; for example the trim line is outside the area, not inside. In these instances, without a bleed you would be left with white lines around your finished product making the print look unprofessional and ugly. The bleed area acts as insurance to prevent your design no matter what happens. It is important to note that bleed can vary but it is typically around 3mm.

Safe Area

The safe area is where all the important information and design elements should be located. It is known as the safe area because it doesn’t matter what happens; everything designed in this space is always safe and will be included in the final printed product. No important part of the design (excluding any backgrounds) should spread outside the safe area.

How to Set Up Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign

You can use almost any programme you like to design for print (Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign). Even though you may be familiar with these, it is vital that you understand that the setup process when designing for print. This is because the set up when designing for print varies slightly compared to the setup process when designing for a digital medium.

You need to make sure that your file is setup as per the below:

  • CMYK Colour Spectrum
  • 300 DPI
  • Don’t forget to account for bleed and trim

Use the Templates Provided

The easiest way to set things up is to make use of the templates on offer. This is because they will usually be set-up with the correct resolution, sizing, CMYK, as well as bleed and trim areas. If you don’t wish to use a template, don’t feel as though you have to. You can just as easily set it up yourself. Just make sure you’ve calculated the space you need correctly allowing space for bleed and trim.

Don’t Forget to Check Spelling

Finally, and yes it sounds obvious, but don’t forget to check your spelling before sending it off to print. You’d be amazed how costly it is to make a spelling mistake.

Need help setting up artwork for print, get in touch we are always more than happy to help.

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