All print designers are familiar with deadlines and the havoc they can often wreak on your life! It is incredibly frustrating to spend hours and hours designing your work in Photoshop, only to send it to the printers and get back something far from what you had envisioned. These last-minute problems do more than increase your stress levels and blood pressure, they’re actually hugely damaging to your productivity. Especially if you’re a self-employed freelancer, you know that can spell very real problems for your bottom line.

So in order to smoothly transition from the design stage to printing, what processes should you put in place to avoid expensive (both in terms of finances and sanity) mistakes? It’s essential that you thoroughly proof your documents before going to the printers. Everything needs to be perfect, saving you time, money, and reputation. Here are some simple guidelines to follow:

Timing is critical

Discover your printer’s turnaround times before starting your project and plan your project milestones accordingly so that you can get your work into the printer’s hands on schedule. Missing your deadline could mean that your run can’t go ahead until your printer has freed up enough free time, which could be anything from days to weeks.

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You should also plan to allow enough time for the printer to run your job twice, in case there are any errors in printing, machine failures, and any other unexpected delays. Planning guards against panic around the deadline and is essential to getting your product printed and delivered to the client on time and according to specifications.

Embed your fonts for accurate reproduction

You shouldn’t expect your printer to have a huge collection of fonts, especially the more eccentric ones in your library. In order to maintain your design’s integrity, embed your fonts directly into the document that you are printing. This will prevent font substitutions which can occur when the printer does not have your exact font. As any designer will know, there is a distinct difference between Garamond and Bookman, Courier and Times, so it’s well worth taking the time to include your font files with the document!

Print size matters

One of the most common mistakes made when printing is sending a document that is too small, which, if not corrected before the final run, can result in a printout that is fuzzy and lacking in clarity due to a lack of resolution. It’s imperative that you create your document the same size as it will be printed in order to avoid this embarrassing end result. Designing at actual size reduces the margin for error with graphics, fonts and layout once printed. Without taking adequate precaution, you’ll soon find that something that looks great on your screen soon turns into a design disaster when printed in the large format for which it was intended.

Proof your document thoroughly

Most designers have been there. You’ve sent your final piece of work off and had it printed up, only for the client to call you a couple of days later to tell you that their telephone number or web address was incorrect. What a nightmare! And one that often costs you a lot of money, or worse – a damaged reputation. It is essential that you allow yourself plenty of time to thoroughly proof your document for any typographical, punctuation and grammatical errors. Remember that a misplaced comma can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence, or a missing period or hyphen in an email address can make it impossible for customers to contact your client. One of the best ways to proof your copy is to read it backwards at least once. It may sound illogical, but it makes it much easier to spot any glaring errors.

Check your image proportions, dimensions and resolution

Your images should fit the size of the document, but even if you get the actual size of the image correct, don’t forget to check your resolution is high enough. Discrepancies like bitmapping and quality degradation can occur in images which are dramatically enlarged from their original size, a costly mistake resulting in a thoroughly amateur finished product. In order to get the best results in terms of finished product, make the resolution of your images 300DPI, the highest print resolution used at most print shops.

Consistency is key

One of the things that separates a highly successful brand from the rest is consistency in their presentation and style. With this in mind, make your margins consistent throughout your work, especially on multi-page documents. For booklets, page margins need to be equal on both the inside and outside. When you change something on one page, make sure that change is repeated on every other page, as anything else will look awkward and unprofessional. Look for consistency as part of your final proofing.


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Convert your graphic to CMYK

As you would have learned very early on in life, every color in the rainbow is created with a mixture of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. To avoid costly color correction, convert your document from RGB to CMYK. Despite seeing no differences on screen, the printing difference is dramatic. It’s a small tip like this that can literally make or break your design, and save you a pretty penny at the same time!

Print out a proof

One of the easiest ways to ensure a quality finished item is to print out a proof of your design and give it to your printer so that they can clearly see the copy quality, colors, and finishing options which you wish for your document. You could also provide some notes to add extra clarity and eliminate any questions which may arise during the printing process. An added bonus is that when you provide a proof, it becomes the printer’s responsibility to live up to your expectations.


A document has bleeds when it is printed to the edges of the paper. This is a commonly seen practice in flyers and business cards. The standard bleed for your document should be 3mm to allow for any variations in printing and cutting.


Printers can accept many document formats, including the usual culprits like Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, PDF, and Microsoft Word. However, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that your documents are in a format which is native to the printer’s machine – failing to do so could result in a lengthy, costly delay. Converting non-native files into readable formats usually results in layout errors, so if this is something you have to do then you’ll need to proof it all over again.

What else?

There are many factors which must be considered before sending your documents to the printer. Make a list of pre-flight guidelines to keep near your computer. Printing perfection can be achieved with pre-flight care. What other tips wouldyou add to list? Have you had any experience with any of these common issues?