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Mastering Print Design: A Guide to CMYK, RGB, and Print Specifications

by | Nov 15, 2023 | Graphic Design

In the dynamic realm of graphic design, understanding colour modes and print specifications is paramount for creating stunning and accurate print-ready artwork. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of CMYK colours for printing, comparing them to RGB, and exploring essential print specifications that every graphic designer should master.


CMYK vs. RGB: Why Do They Look Different?

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black):

CMYK (or 4-colour print) is the standard colour model for print design, using a combination of four ink colours to produce a spectrum of hues. Each colour is applied in layers, and when combined, they create a full range of colours suitable for printing on paper.

RGB (Red, Green, Blue):

RGB, on the other hand, is the colour model used for digital screens and electronic displays. It relies on the additive colour theory, where different intensities of red, green, and blue light are combined to produce a wide array of colours. The key reason why colours may appear different between CMYK and RGB lies in the fundamental difference in their colour gamuts. RGB has a broader spectrum of vibrant colours that are achievable with light, while CMYK is limited by the ink and substrate used in the printing process. Therefore, it’s crucial to design with the end medium in mind to ensure accurate colour reproduction. If you are printing, make sure you are working in a CYMK workspace to avoid colours being converted and displaying incorrectly once printed.

Print Specifications: Creating Print-Ready Artwork

Once you (or your graphic designer) have created artwork in CMYK, you will need to prepare the artwork file for print. Here are a few industry-standard tips to ensure a reliable print…

1. Bleed and Crop Marks:

Bleed: Extend your design elements beyond the final trim size to prevent any unwanted white borders. A standard bleed for flyers or posters is typically 3mm (1/8 inch in American terms) on each side. Larger banners on thicker materials may require larger bleeds so it is best to check with your print supplier.

Crop Marks: These are thin lines indicating where the printer should cut the final piece. Including crop marks ensures precision in the trimming process. Many printers no longer require crop marks, but it is best to supply them if you can.

2. Outlined Text:

To avoid font substitution or formatting issues, convert all text to outlines. This is basically making the text into shapes instead of live text. This ensures that the typography remains intact even if the recipient doesn’t have the exact font you used.
*Pro tip – After outlining your text, save your artwork file (ai/eps) as a separate version (I tend to also include ‘Outline’ in the file name), just in case you need to go back and edit the live text as once it’s outlined, you won’t be able to edit it.*

3. Spot Colors/Pantones:

Spot colours and pantones are pre-mixed inks, allowing for consistent reproduction of logos or brand colours. Normally, they are not required for day-to-day printing but can be useful for banners or signage.
*Pro tip – it is best practice to add all your used colours as a swatch in your design software. Here you will also see which colours are spots/pantones. If you are not requiring a spot colour, it is best to convert them back to a regular process colour.*

4. DPI in Images:

Images for print should have a resolution of 300 dots per inch (DPI) for flyers/posters to ensure high-quality and sharp reproduction. Lower resolutions may result in pixelation or blurry prints. Banners and other large format printing are normally lower at around 72pDPI. If your images are over the required DPI, you should reduce the file resolution to the required size so your images display as you want them.
*Pro tip – if your DPI is below the required resolution, you can upscale the image in Photoshop. While it won’t make it sharper, it will stop your images from being pixelated and just appear softer. Upscale with caution, there is only so far you can go.*  

By adhering to these print specifications, you not only enhance the accuracy and quality of your designs but also streamline the printing process, ensuring that your vision translates seamlessly from the digital realm to the tangible, printed medium. In conclusion, mastering the nuances of CMYK colours, understanding the differences between CMYK and RGB, and incorporating essential print specifications into your workflow are key steps toward becoming a proficient graphic designer. With this knowledge, you’ll not only create visually stunning designs but also ensure that they are ready for flawless reproduction in the exciting world of print.

If you would like assistance with your artwork, we offer graphic design services based in Essex and can provide high-quality print services with quick turnarounds. Speak with us today!


CMYK color model

The CMYK color model (also known as process color, or four color) is a subtractive color model, based on the CMY color model, used in color printing, and

David Jennings

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