Setting up your artwork for print

Not sure how you need to set up your artwork before sending it off to be printed? You’re not alone. There’s a lot to bear in mind when creating your artwork files, so we’ve put together this handy reference guide.

File type

PDF, ideally exported from a vector image or a high-resolution image.

… Why?

Vector images are infinitely scalable, meaning no matter how large you print them, they will always look sharp. Vector file extensions include .ai, .pdf, .eps and .svg. If this isn’t available, try for an image or photo that was created at 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher. Remember that the more you increase the size of a non-vector image (such as .jpg, .gif, .png), the fuzzier it looks – and it’s not possible to increase the resolution of a non-vector image.


All fonts should be converted to curves or outlines.

… Why?

This is a safeguard to prevent fonts from moving around or changing in appearance from one computer to another. It guarantees that what we see when we open the file is the same as what you saw before you sent it to us!

Fonts to Curves


Minimum 3 mm on each edge. (See illustration at the end of this article.)

… Why?

Almost no printer can print right to the edge of a page. If you have an image that does go right to the edges, it will be printed onto a larger sheet and then trimmed down to the final size. The ‘bleed’ is the bit of extra image that spills over the edges, outside the print area, that will ultimately be trimmed off. Industrial guillotines are not 100% accurate so the final cut may be a millimetre to one side or the other, and without bleed allowance, there is a risk of an ugly white band appearing if the cut is not made exactly in the right place. A millimetre doesn’t sound like much but it can be enough to ruin your poster!

Safe margin
5 mm on each edge. Any element of the design that you don’t want to bleed off the page (i.e. risk being cut off) should be within this safe margin. (See illustration at the end of this article.)

… Why?

As above, the final trim might be a tiny fraction off. It is very unlikely to be a full 5 mm off, but it is good practice nonetheless to avoid putting anything critical (this includes thin borders) that close to the edge of the layout. Note that the safe area doesn’t need to be indicated on your artwork – just bear it in mind when creating your layout.

Crop marks

Please include these in the final file.

… Why?

Crop marks tell us where to trim your print! Most design software includes the option of adding trim and crop marks quite easily. A quick search online will bring up instructions specific to your software.

Page size

Ensure that the artwork is set up to the correct page size. If you are supplying the artwork at a different size (e.g. 50%), please include that in the file name.

… Why?

If artwork is not set up to the correct size, we will need to adjust it to ensure that when it’s printed, it comes out at the size you specified.

Colour format

All colours must be CMYK (not RGB).

… Why?

Printer inks are in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/black), and the colour gamut is quite different from that of the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) system, which is more commonly used for web art and images to appear only on screen. The RGB colour gamut is much greater than that of CMYK, meaning that some RGB colours, especially the brightest colours, are simply impossible to duplicate in CMYK. Their nearest equivalent may look quite dull in comparison.

Spot colours

If used, spot colours should be supplied as Pantone PMS colours (not CMYK or RGB). Please include a list of the spot colours used in your artwork.

… Why?

Print software sometimes tries to automatically convert spot colours into CMYK, and it doesn’t always do the best job. Colour conversion is as much an art as a science. If we know there are spot colours in your image, we can ensure that they are printed correctly.

Recommended resolutions

Banners: 150+ dpi for best results

Posters and flyers: 300+ dpi for best results

Business cards: 450 dpi for best results.

NOTE: Using software to re-save low-resolution artwork at a higher resolution does not improve the existing image quality (though anything you add to the artwork after changing the specs will be at the new, increased resolution) – the artwork must be created at high resolution to begin with.

… Why?

The more dots per inch, the finer the detail and the sharper your print will look. For banners, you can afford a lower resolution as these are usually viewed from quite a distance away, so small imperfections will not be as noticeable – but for business cards, which are viewed close-up and scrutinised, a much higher level of image detail and sharpness is required.

All transparencies within art files should be flattened.

… Why?

Quite often, different software handles elements like transparencies differently. ‘Flattening’ a transparency turns the effect into a fixed part of your artwork, rather than leaving it as an overlaid effect that may be (incorrectly) re-interpreted by other software.

Page only

When exporting, be sure to include only the elements that are to appear on the page, and not the elements that are in the workspace but not in the visual area. This is often called ‘Page only’ (or similar) when exporting.

… Why?

This keeps the file size reasonable and reduces the chance of the print software getting ‘confused’ by elements outside the print area – when you work in software like Corel Draw or Illustrator, you will have bits and pieces that you move around while you’re working out the layout, and unused elements are often simply moved aside to the space outside the page area. If you ‘export all’, these additional bits and pieces end up in the final file, whether or not they can be seen.

Pull-up banners

Bleed on bottom edge: 200 mm

Safe margin on top edge: 30 mm.

… Why?

Pull-up banners are wrapped around a roller at the bottom edge, so will need up to 200 mm additional image (outside the main design area) to account for this. They also have a clamp at the top that may cover up to 30 mm of the top of the design.

Cutting profiles

If a cutting profile is required, please include it as a separate layer, 100% magenta, outline only.

… Why?

It’s just easier for us. 🙂


Want a copy for reference? Download the Artwork specifications summary here.


  • Red solid line is the page area.
  • Blue dotted line is the bleed – the ‘extra’ to be cut off.
  • Green dotted line is the safe margin. Notice that Bob’s pricing in particular is not only hard to read, but is also at risk of being cut out of the design altogether, along with part of his heading text and the stars along the top.

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