Working at a print shop, I too often I get files that aren’t ready for print. It’s mind boggling to me that the files aren’t prepared for print. I know we all make mistakes, but some things are just inexcusable for professionals in print design.

I see Logos with type not outlined, files that need a bleed that don’t have one, pixelated images… the list goes on and on and on and on….

So without further ranting, here’s my ever-evolving list of best practices for print design:

Use the Correct Tool.

Photoshop is great for editing images. Illustrator is great for creating logos, artwork and illustrations. While InDesign is great for print layout.


Create margins for all important content and use them. A general rule of thumb, use at least .125 or 1/8 of inch for your margins on smaller print pieces such as business cards, note cards, envelopes, etc. I personally like to increase my margins the larger the print piece. Letterhead I’ll go up to a quarter inch (.25) and up to 2 inches or more for large format.

What happens when you don’t use proper margins? Well, first your bindery guy or gal will be mad at you for making their cuts more difficult, but more importantly your graphics may get cut-off and you’ll end up with an inconsistent final product.
Good Margins:


Best practices for print design – good margins

Bad Margins:


Best practices for print design – bad margins


Create bleeds for all images that “bleed” off the edge of the page. Learn how to use a bleed for the love of all that is holy and good! In no print shop on this earth are people cutting paper stock right to the edge of the image accurately without a bleed! Again, 1/8 for a bleed is generally enough. However, with bleeds, you don’t often need to give much more than 1/8 of an inch except maybe with large format pieces.
Good Bleed:


Best practices for print design – good bleed

No Bleed:


Best practices for print design – no bleed

Outline Your Fonts.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been setting up a layout for a client and go to edit the logo and the fonts aren’t outlined and it’s some crazy font that we don’t carry. A font we’d have to download from a shady website or fork over $500. Outlining your fonts saves everyone that will ever deal with a logo a lot of headaches.

Design Logos in Spot Color.

You may have asked on the last practice, “why would he be editing their logo anyways?” Well, when printing on an offset press, I receive logos with spot colors about 25% of the time. The other 75% of the time, I have to go in and edit the logos to have spot colors. You don’t necessarily have to design logos in spot color but after you outline your fonts, go ahead and create a spot color version. Your client will need those spot colors in the future anyways!

Click here to learn more about spot colors!

Design with Final Output in Mind.

If you know the print piece will be printed digitally, have a good time, get crazy! But if you know the print piece will be printed offset with limited colors, be mindful of the colors you’re using as they will be pre-determined prior to printing.

Design for Print in CMYK:

Frequently, I receive files that are in RGB and after converting to CMYK, the colors are off a little. This happens a lot especially with bright greens and blues when designers design a complex print piece in Photoshop. Save yourself the trouble. Design in CMYK from the get go to avoid the surprisingly dull greens and blues. (Note: feel free to edit photos in RGB and convert to CMYK, but that’s a whole other topic)

Learn more about RGB and CMYK.

Use the Correct Tool (Part Dos):

I get a lot of files where everything is designed in Photoshop, and they look fantastic, but they don’t reach the potential they could. Why not use all the tools you’re afforded? You could design a complex background in Photoshop, design the typography in InDesign or Illustrator and link the artwork to InDesign for your layout and body copy and use the best features of each software to create something exceptional!

Use High Resolution Images:

In my experience as a print designer, I rarely get the creative freedom to find and purchase stock photography for the design. 90% of the time, photos are provided. 60% of the time they’re provided, they are low resolution images downloaded from the internet (which is another no-no subject in itself. Learn more about using images from the internet).

Here’s an example of why you should use high resolution images:


Difference between a print design with low resolution and high resolution images.

Notice how unappetizing the pizza looks with a low resolution image? If I hadn’t design it, I wouldn’t even know it’s a pizza! Bottom line, print looks better when high resolution images are used in your print design.

Learn more about image resolution.

Don’t Use Shades/Tints of Spot Colors for Small Text:

A 35% shade of a Pantone color for text on a business card printed on an offset press will not look as nice as choosing a 100% solid Pantone that is similar to the shade. When you print shades of spot colors, it prints using dots. The lower the shade, the less dots, the lower the quality of print. I suggest all text should be 100% tint or no less than 85% tint if you absolutely have to. Additionally, I try to avoid using tints for text no matter the size but it’s especially important to remember not use tints of spot colors on small text, 10pt and below or fonts with a skinny weight.

Thank you for reading my article on print design best practices!

Hopefully you learned something new! Please let me know your thoughts and opinions about print design below, I’d love to learn something new!


Originally written for Allegra of Tucson on February 19th, 2016