How to Make a Design File Print Ready, Print Shop Checklist

Screens represent art files differently than actual printing does. So its common for files to arrive at the printer without the correct formatting or proper design for press ready print.

Being print ready means the file has been saved, sized, designed and formatted properly for the printing process. Looks can be deceiving and many files that look great on screen are actually unfit for the printing process as they currently exist.

Ultimately to avoid time delays or the back and forth frustration, it's best to familiarize yourself with this checklist. The following terms and guidelines will demonstrate how to properly prepare artwork for print.

Basic Print Terminology Curative Printing Cincinnati



Full bleeds (pictured above) ensure that print documents don't end up with empty paper-colored borders. Bleeds are simply an additional 1/8" added to all sides of your file. This small space accounts for natural movement of the paper during the final trim and for any design inconsistencies that may potentially occur.

If your file contains artwork with color that flows to the edge of the paper, you need bleeds.

To add bleed settings to your artwork, simply add 1/8" to all sides of your document size. The size of the bleed stays consistent regardless of the files dimensions. If your final print size is to be 5" x 7", adding bleeds will increase the file size to 5.25" x 7.25" when sending it to print.

Width: 5" + .125" left side + .125" right side = 5.25"

Height: 7" + .125" top + .125" bottom = 7.25"

After increasing the document size, pull the color that sits along the original edge of the file across the additional 1/8" empty space on each side. Your artwork and background colors should consistently flow across the bleed area.

To set up Bleeds:

  • Adobe Illustrator > File > Document Setup > Bleeds
  • Adobe Photoshop > Image > Canvas Size > Increase Height & Width each 6 mm
  • Adobe Indesign > File > Document Setup > Bleed & Slug

Crop Marks

Crop marks (pictured above), commonly referred to as trim marks, are short, thin, solid, horizontal and vertical lines placed just outside of the trim area at the corner of each page. These small lines when properly added to your artwork will print and act as a guide indicating to the printer precisely where to trim the paper.

To set up Crop Marks:

  • Adobe Illustrator > Print > Marks and Bleeds > Trim Marks
  • Adobe Photoshop > File > Print > Printing Marks > Corner Crop Marks
  • Adobe Indesign > Export PDF > Marks and Bleeds > Marks > Crop Marks

Safety Area

The safety area (pictured above) of a file is the 1/8" inside the trim edge. Ideally, there should be no important text or images inside the safety area to ensure that nothing of importance is lost during the printing and trimming process.


Print resolution is measured by DPI or dots per inch. This is the number of dots of ink applied per inch onto stock during printing.

To avoid pixelated, blurry or distorted prints, the standard DPI for images and art is 300 DPI. This means 300 tiny dots of ink will be deposited to fill every inch of print. Typical presses cannot accurately reproduce resolutions above 300 DPI, which is why this has become the industry standard.

Print Resolution 72 DPI vs 300 DPI Curative Printing Cincinnati


Helpful guidelines to follow when considering print resolution:

  • Don't enlarge the original image size, this lowers the resolution and will result in poor print.
  • Don't rely on web based imagery, avoid google search images, saving images from websites, social media, etc. Anything on the web is 72 DPI.
  • If you no choice but to use a web image, know that the ONLY way to increase the DPI of an image is to make the image smaller. Look for a web image with large dimensions to increase the odds that it can be made print worthy.
  • A 72 DPI image will have to decrease in size by 76% to achieve 300 DPI. Becoming less than 1/4 of it's original size makes finding a web image worthy of print incredibly difficult. For example, if you need to print a 5" x 7" image, you'll need to find a web image of 21.5" x 29.1" to convert it to 300 DPI print quality.

Color Modes

Setting aside spot colors (for another day), there are two main modes for mixing color in design, RGB and CMYK.

CMYK vs RGB Uses Curative Printing Cincinnati


RGB (Red Green Blue) color mode is actually light mixed to create and display digital images - namely screens, web and anything digital. RGB colors can display vibrantly, but are incapable of reproducing CMYK inks. If you print files that were meant to be viewed digitally, the outcome will look much different than what appears on screen.

CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow Black) color mode is actually varying amounts of four primary ink colors mixed to create all print. It's vital that your design files are set in CMYK to print properly.

To set up CMYK color:

  • Adobe Illustrator > File > Document Color Mode > CMYK Color
  • Adobe Photoshop > Image > Mode > CMYK Color
  • Adobe Indesign > File > Document Setup > Intent: Print


It's best practice to outline any fonts in your design before they go to print. Outlining fonts means the text no longer reads and edits as text, but instead identifies as shapes. This allows a printer to successfully print your project even if they don't have your chosen fonts on hand.

Outline Fonts Print Ready Curative Printing Cincinnati


The outlining step becomes particularly crucial, if you've chosen purchased or licensed fonts. If you forget to outline fonts, chances are your file will be returned to you to resolve.

File Types

The preferred file type for print is typically PDF files, widely preferred because of their preservation features of fonts, layouts, etc. Other acceptable file types may include EPS, JPG, TIF, PSD.

It's important to save files in one of the approved formats for your printer, keeping in mind that different print shops may accept different file types so it's best to ask. For additional information on file types, read here.


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.