Creating Files For Your Print Work

Files For Your Print WorkWhen placing an order with a trade printer, the job doesn’t begin until you have submitted your work in print-ready files. This ensures that your copy is compatible with the print process and reduces the possibility of mistakes.

If your files are not up to standard, they will be returned to you, which extends turnaround time and may compromise your deadline. Here’s a checklist outlining the necessary steps to properly prepare┬áthe files for your print work.

File formats

Most printers prefer to receive PDF files, which preserve formatting regardless of the program in which they were created. PDF files are also more compact and easier to email. Avoid using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Publisher, which are challenging to reproduce faithfully.

Vector graphics, indicated by an EPS or AI extension, are created with mathematical equations so they can be scaled without any loss of quality. Raster graphics, including JPEG, TIFF, PNG and GIF, are composed of pixels, which can lose definition when the file is altered or saved. These types of files should have a resolution of 300 dpi, or dots per inch, for maximum clarity.

Color mode

Files should use CMYK or four-color mode. Any files in RGB or Pantone mode will be converted prior to printing, which could result in shifting or inaccurate color tones.

Bleeds, cutlines and borders

After your job is printed, it will be trimmed down to the correct size, which can interfere with your artwork unless you take some precautions.

  • If artwork is designed to extend to the edge of your product, bleeds will ensure that you’re not left with an unattractive white strip along the sides. Standard bleed is 1/8″.
  • In addition to the bleed, include a minimum allowance of 1/4″ if you are using a border.
  • Text should extend no further than 1/8″ inside the cutline to ensure that it remains intact. The exception is if you have text that extends to the edge, in which case the text should be extended into the bleed.


Your design may include a font that your printer doesn’t normally use. If fonts are not embedded in the PDF, make sure they are included in your files along with corresponding links.


Any transparencies in your artwork may need to be flattened before saving. The flattening process separates transparent artwork by turning the intersection of the images into a distinct object.

Black vs. rich black

Two types of black can be used in printing. Standard black, derived completely from key, the “K” in CMYK, is best for text and elements such as barcodes. Rich black includes elements of cyan, magenta and blue and is used for blocks of black.

If you have questions while preparing your files, don’t take any chances by guessing or making assumptions. Consult your commercial printer for advice on the specs he prefers to work with.


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