One of the main differences in designing a web page and designing for print is that errors on a web page can be corrected for little or no cost but a colour issue or a spelling mistake on a printed page will mean a complete reprint. Without proper precaution, your design may look right on your monitor but the result on the printed material can be a different story.

There are many considerations when designing for offset printing. These considerations are there to help you get an error free finished product that aligns with you and or your client’s expectations. If you haven’t worked with a print shop before you’ll need to know how to best setup your design files so they print right every time.


For best results keep your software up date with the printer’s pre-press departments. Most printers carry the latest software programs from Adobe like InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Make an effort to give your printer a call ahead of time to make sure that you will be creating your design in the correct format so that the file can be worked on should there be a need to do minor pre-press alterations. Sending a word document or the much dreaded microsoft publisher file can really slow things down for the print company and possibly cost you more to have your files converted.


A printed and finished job can take anywhere from 1 day to a couple of weeks depending on the type, quantity, formats, and finishes. This means that you have to know your printers turnaround times so that you can plan your project accordingly. Printers generally run on a tight and precise schedule. If you miss out on a deadline, your print shop most likely won’t be able to “put your job on next” or run the job any faster once an initial design deadline has been passed. Depending on your specific print requirements its best to allow 5-10 working days from sent artwork before your job will be passed through to the production line.

Press Checks

When complex print jobs are sent to the print shop its best to allocate a premium press check run to match colours, test paper and confirm your print design selections work. The Press Check is generally a full run of some 500+ sheets to produce only a few sample sheets that can be used as prototypes or for colour matching. Managing a press check into your print schedule will add considerable time and cost. Depending on the press check requirements you’d be looking at a minimum of 1hr press time at $500+ / hr. This investment may save you thousands if your designs weren’t right or your expectations for a result is not met.


Always design using CMYK. This translate better during the print process since all offset printers use this four colour system. If you have designed your layout using RGB (usually a stock image is in RGB), convert the file to CMYK before submitting to your printer. They may look the same on your monitor but they are very different on a printed material.

When using a black background or when filling spaces with black, you might consider a rich black. This may not be necessary for toner-based digital presses. For offset printing make sure to confirm this with your printer for best results. Black that is seen on a monitor may be a different tone when printed on paper. To create a warm black use the formula of C-30% M- 70% Y- 50% and K-100% (more of a red black). Then for a cool black use C-70% M-30%, 50% Y, 100% K (more of blue black) . There are literally many different rich black possibilities. A mix of about 250% is considered a heavy coverage, so keep that in mind if you have other colours in the design.

Spot Colour (PMS) or CMYK

PMS or Pantone Matching System is a spot colour printing process that is identified by a number system for colours. When printing with PMS colour options prints are consistently kept the same for colour on every print run. If you’re attempting to create the same logo colour from one job to the next then PMS while adding cost will come out right every time. PMS colours can be found in Pantone books and include white ink and metallic inks.

CMYK or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black is a four colour dot pattern print system that can attempt to replicate a spot colour, while it can’t actually replicate a PMS colour due to the process it can come fairly close to the naked eye. When printing with traditional sheet fed presses for large print quantities the inks are pressed down on the paper The inks are set down from lightest to dark with Yellow first, Magenta next, then Cyan and K (key) or Black last. Process printing allows you to create brilliant printed pages for books, magazines, posters, brochures and every other printed product that runs on an offset press. Some industrial print machines have as many as 12 colour units, while a 6 colour press is more common which allows you to expand your colour options in one run.

Print size

To determine the print size that will work best for your next printed piece consider these 4 principles: your budget, the content, the quantity and the final finish. Creating an 8 page brochure that folds on top of itself can be a lot easier to both print and finish, than creating a book with 8 pages and then possibly a cover with staples or saddle stitches. You can fold the paper to almost any style you want allowing you the choice to create prints that are different. For more advanced designs you’ll want to consider the sheet size that a printer uses so you can plan several pieces to print at one time on the same stock of choice. Mailing Cards, Tent Cards, Pocket Folders, With Compliments Slips and heavier stock items can all work well on the same stock. Take a trip to a local print shop and ask for a quote on your next print job. Talk to the pressman about sheet sizes and how to work with different finished sizes for your print jobs.

Bleeds for printing in Australia

A good rule of thumb is to keep your text and any imagery that you don’t want cut off about 5mm from the edge of the printed piece. For colour to bleed off the page use a 3-5mm area outside of the cut line to allow for any slight movement in the sheet and to ensure the colours bleed off the page.

Convert fonts to Outlines

Converting your fonts into an outline can help ensure the success of your printed piece. Some fonts are not carried by your print factory and may be altered or set to a default font by accident. To remedy this, your font can be treated as a graphic by converting them into outlines or paths. This way you will always end up with the font selections you choose.

Print a copy and make notes

To communicate your expectations to your printer, make a printed version of your document to show your preferred copy quality, finishing options and colours. Make notes to answer any possible questions that may come up during the early stages of the printing process. Keeping the lines of communication open with your printer is one of the best ways to prevent error and make sure your design comes out better in print then it does on your desktop printer.

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