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Graphic Design

Graphic design is defined as the arrangement of type and visual elements along with specifications for paper, ink colors, and printing processes that, when combined, convey a visual message. The graphic design stage includes concepting, page layout, typography, illustration, photography selection, color decisions, and producing final computer files.

Note: While it is tempting to hire a freelance graphic designer to create materials that can be sent directly to a low-cost printer, not all graphic designers know how to properly prepare files for printing. Once a design is approved, the files must be “packaged”. Unless the graphic designer is trained in production management, the odds increase substantially for a less than satisfactory print job. The reasons vary from missing fonts and/or images, to the use of incompatible software, for example. This generates delays, cost overruns, unanticipated proofing rounds, late-stage design changes, and sometimes disappointment over the finished job. Meticulous attention to detail at each step of the process is necessary to avoid these kinds of issues.

Creation of artwork – Important facts

Creating artwork requires taking multiple factors into account. Here are some of the most important elements to consider:

Proper design software

Art must be prepared in the software that is best suited for the particular task, and in a version that is compatible with the selected print shop. If the print shop uses a newer or older version than what the art file was created with, you can run into problems. Some of the industry’s standard applications include: Illustrator, a drawing program to create logos or illustration; Photoshop, a pixel-based program to manipulate photos; and InDesign, a page layout program to create a single or multi-page document.

Accurate layout

Usually, files need to be built at actual size and use bleed space when appropriate. (This eliminates room for errors with the printing estimate and final printed result). If a file is not built correctly, the printer will have to spend time (and therefore charge you a fee) to readjust files to fit the correct specifications of the job.

Approved fonts

The fonts should be consistent with your brand standard and must be included with the files sent to the printer. If the printer does not have the font used in the artwork, and it has not been included with the packaged files, the printer may simply choose to substitute the fonts, producing something that is probably similar but not what you actually approved.

Suitable image resolution

Images need to be high-resolution and large enough to fit within the assigned space. The resolution should be 300 dpi (dots per inch). Anything smaller than that might result in a loss of quality.

Precise color

As with the fonts, the colors and general tone of the piece should be consistent with your brand. That said, never trust the colors of a piece being designed on a computer as the actual colors that will turn out once printed! The reason is because a computer screen and paper printing use 2 different types of processes, RGB and CMYK, to create actual colors:

  • RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is an “additive coloration” mode. Think of a computer screen with a black background. In order to see the colors, some lights of red, green, and blue are “added” to the black background. RGB is typically used to render colors on monitors and computer screens.
  • CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) is a “subtractive coloration” mode. It is intended to be applied to print on white or colored paper, and calculates the correct hues by “subtracting” from the initial brightness of the paper. The CMYK coloration mode is intended for use in paper printing applications and printing specific, exact colors.

CMYK is also referred to as “process colors,” which is different than spot colors (also called PMS – Pantone Matching System). CMYK uses four different color inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) overlapping each other to achieve the full color spectrum. To print any multicolor image, the same four color inks are used. The press runs four imes to apply each ink individually.

Spot colors are pre-mixed inks that are applied only to the area assigned for each particular color. For example, to print a blue, brown, and red image, pre-mixed blue, brown, and red inks are used. In this case, the printing press runs only three times, which reduces printing costs. 

File naming

Files must be named to allow printers to work more efficiently. For example, make sure there are no unusual characters in the file’s name or it may cause a printer’s computer to crash. They should be labeled with the correct extension: .ai for Illustrator, .indd for InDesign, etc. Perhaps this sounds elementary to some, but we have learned that this simple step significantly expedites the process.

File preparation to release for print

Before the artwork can be sent to the printer, here are a few steps we use to ensure the files are prepared correctly:

  • Use of preflight software: Preflight software helps collect all the fonts and images, search for missing items, and avoid mistakes.
  • Verification of page size settings and bleeds : Incorrect page settings cannot be fixed by simply scaling up or down, so make sure the document size is the final trim size. Bleed photos and other graphics that extend to the edge of a page must be set up to overlap the trim margins by an 1/8th inch to avoid white along the edge.
  • File cleanup: Cluttered files not only confuse and frustrate printers, they compound the possibility of errors. Make sure to remove unnecessary artwork, delete unused colors, and verify that all the color names match exactly across all programs. An oversight such as not specifying whether a color is CMYK or PMS (or spot colors) might change the overall colors of a piece or even turn a four-color job into a more expensive five-color job by mistake.

The Quote Process – Communication with vendors is key

Here are some of the elements we take into consideration:

  • Size: dimensions of the piece (flat and final size)
  • Stock: weight, finish, grade name, and color of the paper
  • Inks: number and types of inks and varnishes (four-color process, PMS colors)
  • Bleed: an 1/8th inch extension to the edge of a page
  • Proofs: review of PDF and hard-copy versions
  • File format: this information is very important to make sure the print shop can support our software/application and can open the files
  • Finishing: type of trim, score, fold, assembly, and seal if applicable
  • Printing and mailing or shipping date: this step is very important to determine which vendor and what kind of budget best suits the project

Prepress and the proofing process

Prepress refers to all the print production functions that take place from the moment the files are sent to the printer to the actual printing. These functions might include some of the following: receiving media files, creating proofs for review and approval, making any final changes/edits, creating the plates for the offset press, etc.

Printing (offset vs. digital)

Printing is the mechanical process of applying ink to paper using an offset or digital press. The offset press is the most cost effective way of producing large volumes of printed materials, while the digital press is more commonly used for smaller volume and lower production cost. It is important to understand that the final product will look slightly different when printed digitally vs. offset, as well as from printer to printer. Proper and consistent paper selection is also a critical component of the process because color appears distinctively on different  paper stocks and with or without finishes (varnish, aqueous coating, etc.). So when you need to reprint, it is best to use the same methodology, on the same paper, with the same finishes, at the same printer to match the original run as closely as possible.


After a job is printed, the next stage includes one or many steps depending on the end product: cutting/trimming, folding, laminating, scoring, perforating, stitching, and binding. The last step in the bindery stage includes packaging for delivery.