Tips and Advice

Digital printing: how to avoid five most common design mistakes

Preparing artwork for print can be a little daunting (even for experienced designers), but hope is not lost; there are simple steps you can follow to ensure your print will come out trumps. If you’re a rookie and want to get results like a pro, make sure you avoid these common design mistakes…

Wrong document size, duh!
Whether you’re printing business cards or banners, it’s vital that your artwork is the right size. Trying to print an Instagram photo on a banner stand isn’t going to look very good, so set your size and units when you make your document, and check your dimensions. Oh, and don’t forget to add bleed. If you’re stuck, we have a huge set of templates created for almost every document type – just download and follow the instructions inside.

Working in the wrong resolution
Less of a problem in Illustrator, more of a problem in Photoshop; working in the wrong resolution can cause problems when going to print. Most documents are printed at 300dpi, unless you move up to large format printing, which is sometimes set at 150dpi. For everyday documents like flyers, business cards and stickers, stick with 300dpi. Printers produce colour by combining thousands of dots, like pointillist art. If you have 300 of those dots in a square inch it is considered the standard for good quality print. A resolution above 300dpi is unnecessary for your print — you won’t spot the difference unless you’re looking through a magnifying glass.

Forgetting to add ‘Bleed’

Common Design Mistakes

Bleed is an area of print at the edge of the document that gets trimmed off after printing. That means you need to make your artwork slightly bigger, so it can be trimmed down to the right size. When print is cut to size, the cut isn’t always 100% accurate. If you don’t add bleed, you risk having a white line at the edge of your print where the artwork ends. Luckily, adding bleed is pretty straight-forward. The videos at the end of this post will show you how to add bleed to your artwork.

Working in the wrong colour mode

Common Design Mistakes

Oops! Choosing the wrong colour mode is a classic print design error that’s been known to stump rookies and well seasoned designers alike. If you’re wondering how to prepare a design for print at a professional printers, always remember to stick to CMYK colour mode (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Here’s why:

Documents for print need to contain information for all four colours in the print head; cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The first three are primary colours and the black is used to mix darker versions (shades) of those colours.

Colour that comes from illuminated light-sources (computer screens, let’s say) is described as ‘additive’ (RGB) colour: red, green and blue. Everyday colour, including print, is known as ‘subtractive’ (CYMK) colour. Before you knuckle down in Illustrator, Photoshop, whatever your weapon of choice, make sure you switch to CMYK colour mode.

Common Design Mistakes

Using the wrong values for black colour

When printing large areas of black, it’s better to include more than just black in your CMYK value. Printers lay colour down in layers, and adding extra colour helps stop the paper from showing through, creating a richer black. ‘Rich’ black is great for large areas, but for text it’s better to use a simple 100% black. This is because if the colours aren’t perfectly aligned, your text won’t be so sharp (see imaginary example below).

Common Design Mistakes

Think you’re ready to print? Not so fast, bucko! First make sure you’ve avoided the classic errors:

  • Correct document size
  • Correct resolution (300dpi for
  • Bleed added (3mm for
  • CMYK colour mode
  • Black areas have the right colour values (text black and ‘rich’ black)
  • Save in the right format (PDF for

Still confused? Don’t be! Here are some videos we made earlier. 

Got any print blunders to confess? Spill the beans in a comment below!

A common print mistake is pixelation – read all about it (and how to avoid it!) here. 


About the author

Bex is our Creative Content Manager and lover of all things community. When she's not glued to her phone you can find her out cycling in the Chiltern Hills or braving the London commute on her Brompton.

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17 comments on “Digital printing: how to avoid five most common design mistakes

  1. Alex Wilkie on

    terrific advice
    the bleed area caused me issues elsewhere where a rival just printed regardless. At least with yourselves if there is a sizing issue i am contacted and asked to correct.

  2. Sam Miller on

    Thanks for the handy print guide Dan!

    Sometimes my clients ask me to recommend a printer, I always suggest of course. And then they come back and ask me “how do I set up the artwork?” (“Just let me do it” I want to say!)

    Now here is a nice and handy print guide to share.

    : )

  3. Paul Newman on

    Great advice Dan….
    But shouldn’t designers use a proper program for the actual page layup such as Indesign or Quark.
    Photoshop – photos and manipulation
    Illustrator – logo design and vector creation
    Indesign – for assembling the objects and required text on the page.

    Yes yes yes we all know you can use Photoshop and Illustrator but surely wouldn’t Adobe have created a singular application that does it it all properly?

    From my past experience (17 years print production & pre-press) some (not all) artists that use Photoshop are very good at creating lovely images in photoshop but not great at presenting the final printable item.

  4. Daniel Olivier-Argyle on

    @Paul Newman – I totally agree, and we do just that in the team here – we use illustrator for shapes/vectors, photoshop for web/image manipulation and indesign for print prep. Creative suite is brilliant if you take advantage of dynamic linking and jump between packages.

    Luckily InDesign doesn’t present a problem with colour modes. It’s also a program that rookies tend not to purchase until they realise the benefits. Most people tend to have more knowledge in photoshop or illustrator, like you say, and expect to have to export from there.

    Thanks for bringing this up, I hope some designers see your comment and give InDesign a go. Perhaps this will make a good blog post in future…

  5. Elise on

    I’m a Quark fan for typesetting, vectors and more elaborate type in Illustrator, and image edits in Photoshop, I will never use text in PS – gahhh.

    I also use indesign, at clients request – i.e if they want the original file, but I personally refer Quark.

    I made my first mistake in 10 years today – busy week I set my margin/guides to 4mm and not 5mm, so my file got returned!!

    So thank you printed for picking this up for me, I believe elsewhere would of chanced it, after all my fault…

  6. David Brookes on

    Great tips,

    Life would be boring if we all did things the same way though. Mix it up and keep it interesting 🙂

  7. Su Mwamba on

    There are some really helpful tips here, especially re. bleed & re. black colour values. I’ve had some issues with text in black previously, and this may be why… Thanks!

  8. Pascal Smits on

    Great guide, even for an experienced designer there are very useful tips in this. Thanks for providing the screenshots on RGB vs CMYK color! that’s really helpful.



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