Understand the Basics

With most print jobs, you should have specifications to adhere to. These specs work for preparing advertisements, brochures, business cards, and other printed mediums.


A lot of the colors you create in RGB mode are not achievable using standard four-color process printing. It is always best to create your document from the start in CMYK color mode to ensure that you have a better idea of how your colors are going to print. Some exceptions are tradeshow signs or large format prints, but the best way to know for sure is to check with the printer.

Four over Four (or 4/4)

If you’re printing a flyer, you might be printing 4/4, which essentially means you are printing four color on the front and four color on the back. If nothing’s on the back, then it would be 4/0. For postcards, you might print 4/1: four color on the front and 1 spot color on the back. For business cards, you might print 2/2: 2 spot colors on the front and back.

Print Layout

For example, if an ad’s trim size is 8.25 in × 10.25 in, the live area might be 7.75 in × 9.75 in. This takes into consideration the binding if the ad is placed on the left or right of a spread and you don’t want copy to be unreadable if it is too close to the spine. Bleed Area: The more bleed you can offer, the better.The minimum bleed you need for a printed piece is 0.125 in (1/8 in) but some specs require more than that.

So if you are working with an image in Photoshop and you’re placing it in InDesign for print preparation, keep in mind the area you might need to use for the bleed. Crop Marks: Indicates where to cut the paper.

Deciding to Use Black or Rich/Packed Black

- Black – 100 K: can be used for body copy and barcodes

- Rich Black – 40 C 40 M 40 Y 100 K: should be used when using blocks of black

Note: Rich/Packed black specifications may differ from printer to printer, so you should ask your printer what they recommend.

Preparing a File with UV Varnish/Coating

If you decide to use a UV varnish/UV coating on your printed piece, all you need to do is select the image or text you want the varnish on. To keep your work organized, I’d suggest creating a layer and a spot color named “varnish/spot” and then make sure this spot color you create is not already used in the file. Here is a piece without a UV varnish layer.

Extending Design Elements into the Bleed Area

If you haves a design that has type that’s flush with the trim, one suggestion is to rasterize the type and pull the paths out beyond the bleed. Here is some text that’s flush to the bleed line on the left.

Using Spot Color

If you need more vibrant colors or exact color matching (e.g. for consistent company branding) than what CMYK inks produce, spot colors/PMS colors is the way to go.


Check the font/s you used in the document in case you need to remove anything saved on the pasteboard..

Links and Images

In the Links and Images section, you can see the file type is a TIFF with CMYK value at 300 ppi. If you only want to see errors such as RBG linked files, check the Show Problems Only option. If everything looks good, hit the Package button.

Tutorial Summary

This tutorial outlined processes for preparing your artwork for traditional printing presses to ensure the best possible results. I’ve included the templates used as examples in this guide. We focused on InDesign, but the process is very similar amongst other Adobe Creative Suite applications.

You can see the similarities and overview of the process above in the summary table with the heading “Preparing Print Files in Adobe Creative Suite Applications: Summary.”