5 tips to avoid common print and finishing design mistakes

Preparing artwork for print can be a little daunting, even for design pros out there. We’ve put together some simple steps to help you overcome some of the most common print designing and finishing mistakes, so you’ll achieve print perfection in no time!


1. Use CMYK 

Choosing the wrong colour mode is a classic print design error. However, just always remember to stick to CMYK colour mode (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Print documents need to contain primary colours (cyan, magenta, yellow), and black is used to mix darker shades of those colours.

Additive colour is created by mixing different light colours, with shades of red, green and blue (RGB) being the primary colours. Computer screens display this colour. But everyday colour, including print is subtractive colour (CMYK). The RGB colour spectrum is much larger than CMYK, so when printed the colour may differ from what you wanted; appearing duller is a common problem. So, when designing in Illustrator, Photoshop, whatever your design weapon of choice, make sure you swap to CMYK colour mode to have a true indication of what your design will look like printed.


We’d recommend creating a ‘rich’ black for larger, solid areas of print because printers lay colour down in, you guessed it, layers, so adding extra colour creates a deeper, richer colour. To achieve a richer black, we recommend using the formula of 40% cyan, 20% magenta, 20% yellow and 100% black. However, keep your black text sharp by sticking to using 100% black – the mix of colours don’t align well for text and will affect its sharpness.


2. Include a bleed 

Bleed is the area of print at the edge of your design that gets trimmed off after printing. Therefore, you have to make your artwork slightly bigger. When print is cut to size, the cut isn’t always 100% accurate. So if you don’t add the bleed, you risk having a white line around the edge of your print where the artwork ends. For, a bleed of 3mm is required. Some programs allow you to apply a bleed when saving artwork as a PDF. Programs that don’t have this capacity, such as PowerPoint, you’ll need to set up the page size slightly larger to accommodate a bleed. Visit for tutorial information on doing this.


3. Embed fonts 

If you don’t embed fonts, and your document is opened on a computer that doesn’t have access to the original fonts, then they will be substituted. This isn’t exactly ideal as you don’t want them to change when printed.

You can embed/outline your fonts in Illustrator or InDesign by opening your document and highlighting the text, then select 'Type' in the top menu and choose 'Create Outlines'. Your text is now grouped together in outline form - just resave your files and you're done.

To embed fonts in Microsoft Word, you can open your document and select 'Options' from the drop down menu. Once you have 'Options' open switch over to the 'Save' tab. Select 'Embed Fonts in the File' and click ok - then resave your file.


4. Include crop marks 

Crop marks help us to understand the document size desired, and shouldn’t be added manually. Most design applications that allow PDF exports have an option to include crop marks.


5. Have a safe area 

Ideally, please do not place text or important information on your artwork in the safe area, which is the area close to the trim marks. There is always a little movement during print finishing and keeping artwork items away from this area ensures there’s no accidental trimming of crucial information.


Tell us your print tips and tricks, or ask a question by commenting below! 


Bryony Bishop
30 Jun 2017 09:02
Great tips, easy to fall down on if you have no experience in designing for print!
03 Jul 2017 18:53
This is really useful, thanks
05 Jul 2017 12:19
great advice - I find the templates you provide are really helpful too for understanding bleed, cropping and safe areas for individual products.
09 Jul 2017 16:35
always helpful to be reminded of potential pitfalls - thanks!
Su Mwamba
24 Jul 2017 11:38
Some helpful tips - thanks for the reminders!
Keziah Herbert
24 Jul 2017 15:35
Again fantastic information. I'll be sharing it with friends I know who really dont get the CMYK vs RGB issue :)
08 Nov 2017 21:39
I prefer to work in RGB and turn on 'view proof colours' in Photoshop when I want to see how it will look when printed. However, I'm finding that the CMYK proof (using 'working CMYK' to set up) is not accurate at all. The printed colours are much brighter. I wonder if you have printer profiles you could provide for more accurate CMYK proofing?
David Brookes-Lennon
08 Nov 2017 23:06
Great tips on the Black
09 Nov 2017 09:23
This really helped us when making our save the dates. Thanks.
09 Nov 2017 10:42
Also, always check exported pdfs. I made that mistake on one order, for some reason part of the design was transparent but I didn't bother to check the export before submitting.
13 Nov 2017 10:28
Excellent advice, a useful article to send to clients who wonder why we set things up the way we do.
13 Nov 2017 22:38
Very useful. I knew about the text black but not the other
16 Nov 2017 07:52
really useful information, thanks
20 Nov 2017 14:12
Really helpful advice, thanks!
Flourish & Luxe`
25 Jan 2018 17:05
Something i'm always having to repeat myself on. Great article, i'll be pointing clients in the direction of this when it next crops up!!

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