The Ultimate Guide To Creating Print Ready Artwork


Creating the right print ready artwork is key to the eventual quality of your print job. CMYK artwork, vector files, bleed and high resolution are all important considerations for print readiness.

What do we mean by print ready artwork?

Print Ready Artwork is the term used for a file designed for producing high-quality printed materials. Produced correctly, it will meet all the specifications required by a commercial printer like Smart Printing Company to produce a printed end result that matches the brief and results in a perfect end product.

Why is it important to follow guidelines?

Following the guidelines will help you with your own artwork, because it will ensure the consistency and quality of the end result. Importantly, it will enable us to keep to the quote supplied because we won’t need to carry out additional checks and work to improve the relevancy of the materials supplied to us.

Guidelines for preparing artwork for printing

These are the important issues you should consider when preparing artwork which is print ready and supplying a printable file.

1# Provide CYMK artwork

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key) are the colours used in the print process. Therefore all artwork should be submitted in CMYK rather than RGB (Red, Green and Blue) colour format. Printing presses make up images by using dots of ink in these four colours. Key is in fact black, and is called key because it’s the main colour.

To optimise results, the artwork you submit to your printer as print ready should contain the exact number of colours quoted for, without any colour conversions. This will help us to produce the best print result on your behalf.

2# Vector files only

Vector or raster file formats? A vector file is an image built by a mathematical formula to points on a grid. A raster file is composed of pixels (colour blocks). To achieve the best quality end result, at Smart Printing Company we recommend you export files as PDFs (portable document format) from vector-based software like Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.

We also request that you don’t use bitmap-based image manipulation software like Adobe Photoshop. This can result in a pixelated effect on the final printed item.

3# What you send needs to be what we’ve quoted for

We often receive artwork for individual jobs that doesn’t resemble what we were originally requested to quote for. As an example, if we’ve quoted for a 32 page job yet the artwork arrives with 48 pages, or a spot colour has been added. If this happens there will obviously be cost implications in terms of set up, materials and time.

Talk to us if the specification changes, and we can requote based on the alterations. Communicating with us will help ensure we get your job to you on time and within budget!

4# Single pages only

Don’t supply your print ready artwork as spreads (across one or more pages). Each page in your PDF file should be a single page. There are some rare exceptions to this rule, but the Smart Printing Company team will advise you if anything other than single pages is required for the print process.

5# Don’t forget to add bleed

If you don’t add bleed to your print ready artwork, there is a chance it may result in an unsightly white line around the edges when the job is cut to size. Although modern cutting technology is very accurate, ensuring that the colours and images extend to the bleed line in your artwork will ensure there is no margin for error. Use your trim marks – we always recommend having a 3mm allowance over cut lines for bleed images on all types of materials.  

6# Flatten artwork

If your artwork includes transparent objects such as images, then it’s important to ensure you flatten the PDF. Smart Printing Company guidelines advise on flattened PDFs for artwork files. This maintains file integrity and security, reduces file size and gives us a format we can easily interpret.

7# High resolution – Utilising Dots Per Inch (DPI) Correctly

The imagery incorporated in the print ready artwork you supply should always be high resolution, set to a minimum of 300 DPI, which is considered photographic quality. As an example, a 300 dpi image file has a clarity of 90,000 pixels per square inch when printed. The higher the pixel density, the better the quality of the printed image. It will be sharper, clearer and appear with less pixelation. A poor quality image will detract from your final print.

8# Send only 1 job per file

This avoids any level of confusion. Please submit separate PDFs for each job or each individual project, in the correct format. We may be printing a number of different projects for you, or even multiple jobs, but if they are all contained in separate files it helps us to ensure optimum clarity and efficiency.

9# Set black text as 100% black

What does this mean? Black is the key colour in CMYK. Make sure any black text contained in your artwork is set to 100% black, not a colour mix of the CMYK colours. It’s worth making sure you do this – it means your text will appear crisp and sharp for optimum design and print quality.

10# Discard white overprint

Beware – white text over a coloured background, even when it’s clearly visible on the artwork, can disappear when the job is printed. Make absolutely sure that the overprint fill is not turned on. When white text is not set to overprint, the unprintable white will not be visible in the final printed document.

11# Embed fonts

This is an important one. Please ensure that all the fonts you are using in your print ready file are either packaged and embedded, or converted to outlines. If you avoid using external font files, it is possible to prevent any issues with incompatibility that might alter the appearance of the final product during the printing process and impact print quality.

12# Check for typos and grammar

The written word is a really important consideration. Well produced and well researched content will play a key role in getting the required message across to your audience through your marketing materials. However, no matter how good the content, grammatical errors and typos will let you down and detract from the impact and professional tone of the piece.

Double and triple-check copy. It’s a good idea to make sure more than one person has the opportunity to do this. Two heads and two pairs of eyes work better than one! Also, when you’re familiar with the copy, it’s easier to miss an error. Always double check your headlines and titles too!

Please remember that printers are not liable for any errors in typography or grammar that may occur in your print ready artwork!

Receiving your proof

When your proof arrives, it’s your final opportunity to double check everything and avoid print mistakes. So what should you be looking for?

A few tips – is it the correct size, is the final trim size right? What about the page count? Are all the pages numbered in the correct order? Are you happy with the colours? Make sure every page bleeds and nothing is missing. For more complex print jobs, you might be checking the position of any die-cut or other additional elements.

Make sure you proof read the copy again. Also, check that all the images look as they should and are placed where they should be. The next step is the final printed file, so it’s worth taking time with your proof to ensure you’re completely happy.

A perfect print job every time

We hope that’s been helpful! If you follow these print ready artwork guidelines, then you should be assured of a perfect print job every time. Need any more advice, or do you have a print job you’d like the Smart Printing Company team to quote on? Just give us a call or drop us an email!

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