Common Artwork Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Common Artwork Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

At Southside Print we can either accept artwork files from customers, or produce artwork for them. Obviously, clients can save some money if they choose the former option and do their own design and artwork. However, if they’re not used to generating their own professional-grade artwork, common mistakes are easy to miss. These could lead to digital artwork files not working at all, unexpected printing results or, even worse, paid-for printing being totally unusable. For these reasons, we thought we’d highlight the most common artwork mistakes that we see, in the hope that they can be avoided by customers who supply their own artwork files to us.

1: Incorrect Colour Mode

Colour photos and graphics should be saved in CMYK mode not RGB.Most mobile phones and digital cameras save images in RGB mode. This mode is meant for screen viewing rather than commercial printing. If digital artwork is supplied with images in RGB mode, there’s a significant chance that they will not look as expected – potentially terrible – on the final printed results.

Solution: Before putting full colour images into artwork files, they should first be opened in an application like Photoshop and re-saved in CMYK mode. For the same reason, the final artwork file (usually saved as a print-ready PDF) should also be saved in CMYK mode when printing full colour images.

2: Inadequate Image Resolution

Have you ever looked at something printed, perhaps in a brochure, and spotted one or more images that look a bit fuzzy or, worse still, pixelated? Both are almost certain to be due to the images having inadequate resolution within the artwork files supplied. With resolution too low, images can appear ‘soft’ and lacking detail at best, or broken up into visible squares (the pixels) at worst.

Solution: Ensure that photographic images are at least 300 dots per inch (‘dpi’, also known as ‘pixels per inch’ or ‘ppi’) at the size they are going to be shown in the final printing. This can also be checked in professional image editing applications like Photoshop. It’s important to ensure that the final digital artwork file (again, usually provided as a print-ready PDF) is also saved with images set to 300dpi or, for particularly fine screen rulings, 350dpi minimum. If they’re well above that resolution, most applications can save the print-ready PDF in such a way that images with resolutions above, say, 450dpi are ‘downsampled’ to 300 or 350dpi. If downsampling is used, the Image Quality setting should be set to Maximum.

Related note: ‘Line artwork’ type images should either be saved as vectors (e.g. Illustrator ‘EPS’ format) or, if they’re ‘rasterised’ (pixel-based) images, save them at a minimum of 1200dpi to avoid jagged edges showing on areas like curves.

3: Using the Wrong Application for Professional Artwork

Applications like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and even Corel Draw are fine for office use and for outputting to standard desktop printers. However, they’re not really seen as professional applications for use within the commercial printing industry. Attempting to use them as such may well simply not work, give unprofessional, substandard results, cause glitches in the case of Corel Draw, or require your commercial printer to re-make your artwork again from scratch (at significant cost in all likelihood).

Solution: Don’t attempt to use desktop applications like Word and PowerPoint nor, in our view, Corel Draw for use with high-end commercial printing. Instead, you should be using a professionally-recognised design and artwork application like Adobe InDesign. It is the de-facto design, page make-up and artwork application used in the design and print industry, having pretty much replaced older applications like Quark Express and PageMaker. It is usually used in tandem with images and graphics brought in from Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator, which are also both the de-facto professional applications for each of their respective fields.

4: Missing Out Bleed

Add 3mm bleed to elements extending to the paper's edgeIf your design and artwork has colours or images going right to the edge of the printed item, you shouldn’t just stop your artwork there because guillotining of the final printing is not usually accurate to tenths of a millimetre. Therefore, you could end up with white edges showing rather than your background colour or image going right up to and off the edge of the cut sheet.

Solution: Remember to add an extra 3mm of ‘bleed’ (an area that prints further than the edge of the sheet) to all artwork elements that you want to print to the edge. That way, if guillotining is not quite accurate, your colour or image will still print to the edge because you built in a 3mm margin of possible error.

5: Sitting Artwork in the Middle of a Larger Sheet

When producing finished artwork for, say, a business card, it might be tempting to produce it in the middle of an A4 sheet, because that’s the size of paper you might usually deal with on your computer. However, saving smaller artworks on larger paper sizes within digital artwork can end up costing you money and causing problems at printing stage. That’s because it’s terribly difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of the surrounding margin. That’s important when we want to use several duplicates of the business card on the uncut printing sheets, so as to get economies of scale and reduce paper/card waste.

Solution: Within your design and artwork application, ensure that your document size is set to the correct, final size that you want your printed piece to be, and no larger (apart from the additional 3mm of bleed if needed — see above). Also discuss whether you need to add ‘trim marks’ with your commercial printer as that requirement can vary from printer to printer.

6: Supplying Readers’ Spreads instead of Printers’ Spreads

Let’s take the example of an 8-page brochure for illustrative purposes. In that example, although page 2 will be next to page 3 from a reader’s point of view on the final brochure, that’s not how they’re actually printed. If you supply your artwork with double-page spreads set up in that way, pages will end up on the wrong order in the final printing.

Solution: In the 8-page brochure example, you have two choices. The first is to supply individual pages rather than spreads and then allow your printer to do what’s called ‘imposing’ them into the correct multi-page spreads from which to print. That’s the safest option if you’re not a professional designer or ‘finished artist’. For professionals, though, you can supply properly imposed ‘printer’s spreads’, for example with the front cover on the right next to the back cover on the left, page 2 printed opposite page 7, page 3 alongside page 5 and so on. Either way, once printed, trimmed and folded, the pages will end up in the correct order, so long as the imposing is done thoughtfully.

7: Using the Space Bar for Tabulated or Indented Content

If you hit the space bar multiple times to try to align indented content or columns of text or numbers, you will almost certainly end up with columns that don’t quite line up vertically in a straight line. That’s because most commercially printed fonts don’t use a ‘fixed width’ measurement for every character. So, one line of 30 characters (including spaces) will almost certainly end up a different length to another line of 30 different characters. Hence, columns will look misaligned and unprofessional.

Solution: Professional designers use properly set-up tabs to align their tabulated content, not the space bar. This ensures that tabulated content and indents line up perfectly. And what’s more, it’s easier than you think once you’ve tried it a few times — and saves time.

8: Ad-hoc Text Styles

Changing font styles, colours, sizes and weights on an ad-hoc basis as you work through your text content is more likely to end up with styling errors and inconsistencies. This can make a printed piece look amateurish.

Solution: Use your professional design and artwork package’s character and paragraph style palettes properly, i.e. pre-set a range of styles that you are likely to use and then apply one style to each title, sub-title, paragraph etc. as you work through your document. It’ll save you time and mean that styling is totally consistent throughout your final printed piece. What’s more, if you decide one particular type of content needs to be altered throughout the entire document, all you need to do is to change that particular pre-set style once in the palette — and the whole document will update itself.

9: Using Clip-Art

Clip-art from desktop applications is all very well for internally-produced ‘office’ type documents that are to be printed on desk-top printers. However, they often lead to unexpected printing results on commercial printers. That’s because clip-art formats like Windows Meta Files are not designed for such commercial use; they often cause glitches in the printing or crashes in commercial printing PostScript software. In essence, clip-art is simply not fit for commercial printing purposes.

Solution: There are 3 possible solutions. Firstly, you could avoid clip-art unless it’s professionally produced specifically for high-end commercial PostScript printing and comes in a file format like .ai or .eps (and is in CMYK mode). Secondly, you could consider generating the designed graphic yourself using a professional programme like Adobe Illustrator. Then export it to your InDesign document layout as an EPS file. Lastly, you could try to ‘rasterise’ any suitable image (for example, by opening it, or a PDF of it, in Photoshop) so that it essentially ends up as the equivalent of a photo, i.e. made up of pixels instead of clip-art vectors. N.B. don’t forget to check it’s in CMYK mode and at least 300dpi if going for a rasterised (non-vector) route.

10: Not Proof-Reading Thoroughly

Once printed, it’s too late to correct any errors that were missed in your design and artwork. And you’ll still have to pay for the original printing and any reprint needed.

Solution:It goes almost without saying that you should check, double-check and triple-check every job before sending it to your commercial printer. Maybe even get another person to check again for you. Spell checking and proof-reading are all part of the checking process, as are technical checks to ensure that images are in the correct mode, that resolution is sufficient, bleed has been added where required, and so on. Another recommended way to catch any errors is to get your commercial printer to supply a printed proof, which you should also carefully scrutinise for errors and technical issues before sanctioning the full print run.

11: Not Embedding or Outlining Fonts

Forgetting to either embed or outline (vectorise) fonts within your final artwork file can lead to unexpected font substitutions that could wreck the look of your final printed piece.

Solution: Save a version of your InDesign artwork file first with it’s ‘live’ (editable) text. Then select all text with the pointer tool and convert it to vectors (using the Create Outlines command under the Type menu) and re-save it with a new name. The reason for keeping two versions is in case you subsequently spot an error and need to go back to the original file version to correct the document. You can’t do that with outlined fonts as they’ve become vectors (shapes) rather than live letters, even though they look identical. One final tip is to then use the Type > Find Font command to ensure that you haven’t missed any fonts and that there are no live ones left. Then, once all other checks have been made and there are no longer any live fonts in the document, save your print-ready PDF.

Another option is to embed all fonts rather than outlining them. However, outlining them in the way described above is more reliable, particularly as some font licences occasionally stop you from being able to embed them.

Let us Produce Your Design & Artwork

Southside Print, printers in London Bridge & Borough, SE1One sure-fire way to avoid all the potential problems above is to let us do your design and artwork for you. It’ll save you many hours of work, if not days, and will look totally professional. In tandem with digital printing, large format printing, and eco-friendly printing, it’s what we do professionally, after all. We have our own in-house designers and finished artists, who know graphic design and printing services backwards, so it’s really no trouble. We’re competitively priced and printing quotations are free. So, if you are looking for professional, high quality design, artwork or printing in London Bridge and Borough in South East London (SE1), please get in touch here , ask for a free printing or design quotation here, or call 020 7378 6754. We’ll be happy to help.