Artwork Best Practices

This page is a comprehensive guide to setting up your artwork correctly. For best results please make sure you understand the following topics.


Bleed refers to artwork that extends beyond the document boundaries. This is necessary as the guillotines and die cutters that trim your documents out have limited accuracy. If your image or graphics extend all the way to the edge of the page, a thin white line might be visible on one or two of the edges if you don’t add the recommended amount of bleed.

To do so all you have to do is ensure that any artwork that touches the edge of the page is extended further than where it is trimmed. We ask all of our customers to set their artwork up with bleed on each side regardless of whether their artwork touches the sides. This helps us to set up the documents for print and avoids any issues when printing. Most documents can be set up with 3mm bleed, however, some products such as ring binders require a larger bleed.

Safe Zone and Quiet Zone

For the same reason as bleed, a safe zone is recommended when designing your artwork. This is the area where text and important elements should reside to avoid being trimmed off or sitting too close to the edge of the document. The quiet zone around the safe zone should be free important elements. We suggest a quite zone of 5mm minimum for best results. We recommend against adding text to the spine of a document if it cannot accommodate a 5mm quiet zone.

Image Resolution

Images are made up of lots of pixels which are essentially dots on a page. If an image is made up of too few pixels this will be apparent when printing and cause the image to look blocky or “pixellated”. To avoid this you should always make sure your images are 300dpi (dots per inch) at the required size, which is the resolution that most printing presses require to produce a crisp image.

A common problem occurs when an image from a website is used in a design for a printed document. Screen resolution is only 72dpi which looks great on websites but will be noticeably rough around the edges when printed.

Another pitfall to be aware of is that resizing an image from a lower resolution to a higher resolution will not necessarily increase the quality of the image.

For more information we’ve found a great article on image resolution. If you are unsure whether your images will print correctly or have a low resolution image that you need to resize we will be happy to take a look at them for you.

Image Compression

Sometimes an image can be compressed for storage purposes or data transfer. This can result in a loss in image quality. Jpeg files are great for printing but you must make sure that you save them at the highest quality setting to avoid any compression. Unfortunately, once an image is compressed it will lose vital information which means that you won’t be able to regain the original quality.

Monitor Colour Vs Print Colour

When designing your document it is really important to understand that what you see on screen will not necessarily look the same as what is printed.

At Showcase we print to the current ISO colour standards. This means, in theory, that the colour of something printed here should match very closely to something printed by another printer elsewhere in the UK. Each printing press needs to be calibrated regularly to make sure that the colour stays consistent.

Home or office monitors work a little differently in that they are not set up to a universal standard. This means that the colour may differ greatly from one monitor to another. Colour calibrated monitors are available but are very expensive and require the similar calibration process to a press.

The difference between a monitor screen and a press can be even more dramatic than the difference between two screens! This is because of the way that both systems produce colour. A monitor uses RGB, a combination of red, green and blue lights, which can make up a whole gamut of colours. The printing process uses the colour of the paper (usually white) and a combination of coloured inks. Cyan, magenta yellow and black also known as CMYK (K stands for Key) combine in a similar way to produce a wide spectrum of colours.

RGB can typically produce brighter colours than CMYK and sometimes what looks vibrant on screen can seem dull in comparison when printed.

It is important to do two things to help reduce this risk. Firstly, ensure that your document and all images is converted to CMYK. Secondly, ensure that your viewer is set to emulate CMYK so that what you see is on screen is an approximation of what will be printed.

In addition please note that office printers are not usually calibrated to the correct ISO colour standards and shouldn’t be used to proof colour.

Hopefully this will help to prevent some unexpected results however we always recommend a printed proof if your artwork is colour sensitive. We can provide one of these free of charge with your order.

Outlining or Embedding Fonts

You may have fonts installed on your computer that we don’t have here. This means that when we open your artwork our systems will substitute your font with a similar one. To avoid this it is always best to embed or outline your fonts.

Embedding the font means that all the information that our system needs to display the fonts will be contained within the PDF. This should eliminate the need for any fonts to be substituted and  is done automatically for you when you export using the PDF/X-1a pre-set.

Outlining your fonts, also known as convert to curves, changes the fonts into shapes that no longer contain font information. This means that there is no chance that the font will be substituted or manipulated in any way. What you send us will be what gets printed. If you go down this route the text will be un-editable should a typo be found at the last minute. Always make sure you save a backup of the artwork before you outline the fonts!

Spelling Mistakes and Typos

This goes without saying but is seen so often that we thought we would include it. Please make sure you check your artwork thoroughly for typos and always do a spell check. There is nothing worse than opening your box of newly delivered print and immediately noticing a spelling mistake. This is not included as part of our artwork checking process so we suggest that you ask at least one other person to look over it.

Overprint and Knockout

This one causes the occasional issue and is difficult to detect until you have seen a printed proof. It is also quite difficult to explain!

Overprint means that the colour will be printed on top of the artwork that is behind it. For example: If a circle of blue is overprinted printed onto a background of yellow the circle will look green. A blue circle printed knock out onto a yellow background will remain blue. This is because the software will know not to print any yellow behind the blue circle which will distort the colour.

In modern printing there is little use for overprint and, unless you really know what you are doing, we would suggest that you always set your text and graphics to knock out.

The most common mistake is setting white text to overprint on a coloured background. This will display correctly in a standard PDF viewer but then it is printed the text will disappear because the blue underneath the text had not been knocked out.

If you are unsure it is best to view your document through acrobat with overprint preview switched on. Here is a good little video showing to switch on overprint preview in acrobat.

 Knockout Example

Image source Astute Graphics


Composite (Rich) Blacks and Greys

A composite black is usually a combination of black and a percentage of other colours. This can be used to make black areas rich and dark. Our software can detect blacks and percentage greys and automatically convert them to a composite colours in order to give you the best results. We would recommend supplying your files with true black values without any other colour included unless you are looking to achieve  a warm or cool grey.

For best results it is important to make sure text is set to a true black, as a heavy coverage of ink can reduce the crispness of the text.


A gradient is the term for an area of colour that transitions from either dark to light or from one colour to another. This can create some beautiful effects but sometimes a gradient that looks smooth on screen will result in distinct bands of colour when printed. The reason for this is that a printing press is limited to the number of shades or “gradations” that it can produce across a given distance. To reduce the appearance of banding it is best to keep it subtle. We recommend avoiding gradients that transition from very dark to very light or between two colours that are vastly different. It also helps to keep your gradient short because banding will be more apparent over a wider area.

A printed (wet) proof is by far the most reliable way to check whether your gradient will print as expected. A wet proof is printed on the same printing press on which the job will be completed. This is fairly easy to do with a digital press but can be more difficult, and expensive, with traditional lithography due to the setup time and costs involved.

Heavy Ink Coverage

Should the combination of CMYK, when making up a colour, be particularly high it can cause issues when printing. The ink or toner can clump together resulting in loss of definition in text and images.

An example of heavy ink coverage would be a purple made up of 100% cyan, 100% magenta, 40% yellow and 50% black. The total in coverage of this colour would be 290%.

We recommend, for best results, that the ink coverage in any area of your document should reach no more than 270%..

Removing Guides

This is a very common mistake that can be easily avoided. When designing using one of our templates it’s important to remember to delete or hide the guides before you save the document for print. If a cut or a crease line is left on and is not spotted by one of our studio members it will be printed on to the finished document.

We thoroughly check all artwork that we receive but there is always an element of human error and some things occasionally get missed. To avoid hand holding charges or reprints please ensure that you have checked that all guides are removed before sending us your artwork. Where appropriate, we will send a PDF proof with guides overlaid to show where the document will be trimmed and creased.

Crop Marks

Some printers require documents to be supplied with crop marks and other printers marks such as colour bars and registration marks. Our software automatically adds the appropriate marks to the documents before it is printed so there is no need to add these.

For best results we ask our customers to send artwork without crop marks.

Small Text

Small text can sometimes lose definition due to the size of the dots on the page compared to the font size. To ensure maximum readability a number of steps can be taken when using small type sizes: Avoid using a font size smaller than 7pt; When using black type avoid composites; If colour type is required use as few colours as possible.

PDF Settings

When saving your artwork as a PDF the settings that you choose are important as they determine how the press interprets the information contained within the file. There are lots of settings available when exporting your PDF, however the process is made easy for you with the use of industry standard PDF presets. These are groups of settings that control how the colour, transparencies, and fonts are handled, amongst other things.

The setting that we work with is PDF/X-1a. For best results please save your document with this setting before sending it to us.

Supported File Types

We use a PDF workflow which eliminates most of the common problems when sending files to print. For best results artwork should be submitted in PDF/X-1a format.

We can use other file formats however we will need to convert these to PDF files in order to print them. We offer a hand holding service which includes the conversion of non standard file formats to PDF.

For best results please use an industry standard design application such as Adobe Illustrator, Indesign,  Photoshop, CorelDRAW or Quarkxpress. We can accept high quality images such as JPG, or TIFF files. Try to avoid setting up your artwork in a Microsoft Office application as they are not designed for print production and can cause in unexpected results.

If you don’t have the necessary applications to produce your work we can offer some very cost effective Artwork Services.