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Stepping from digital to print

February 26, 2012

My boss recently asked me to design some hanging banners for The Business Octopus office, he wanted them to go above each team to clearly show who was who.

Now, I am and always have been a web designer, I can use Photoshop effectively to mock-up webpages and design creative for banners and user interfaces. Usually this involves making things small both in dimensions and file size. I’m not used to going big.

So my response was: “I don’t do print.” He thought I was joking. I wasn’t. To a non-designer all forms of design be they digital or print are the same, so there I was stuck with the task of designing six 100cm x 50cm banners.

After the initial panic I tried to remember the bits and pieces I’d picked up about print work over the years. Here’s what you need to consider as a digital expert asked to do print:

1. Go big or go home

In the print world bigger is most definitely better, any image you create needs a bit of leeway for the uncertainty of physical printing. It’s not possible to be pixel perfect with your edges and outlines. Get the measurements of the printing material and start with a digital canvas at least that big.

2. Use the right tools for the job

Ideally you should use software such as Adobe Indesign as it is designed for print. However like me you may not have access to such software or be unwilling to learn something new for a one-off project. In which case stick to your favoured tool for designing websites. I stuck with Photoshop.

3. The EPS file format is your best friend

Chances are you are going to want to include the business logo somewhere on your design. If you use the one on the website, or even a high-res jpeg version, you are going to end up with a rather blurred image when you blow it up to the size you need for print.

What you need is a scalable vector image or EPS version of the logo. These can be transformed up to any size in Photoshop without losing the quality of your image. If you don’t have them ask whoever designed your logo to begin with to provide them.

The same applies to any other images or icons you plan to use, you need them big or scalable. Text isn’t a problem, if you are using a good font it will go up to any size without complaint.

4. Crop circles and bleeding what?

In the print world the people who actually do the printing need some guidance on where to position your design on their printer. This guidance comes in the form of bleed marks and crop marks.

These show where your design bleeds over the edge of the page and where a printer needs to line up their machinery to get the size right. If you don’t have space for this (about a quarter of an inch at least) then your canvas isn’t big enough.

5. On closer inspection…

Zoom into your work as far as you can and check that the quality remains. Take a step back from the screen and imagine how this is going to look for real. Big huh?

When you are happy save it in PDF format and send on over to the printer, then cross your fingers and pray you got everything right.

And finally, after a few days wait, the banners came back from the printers and to my immense relief, they looked great:

The finished article

The banners fresh from the printers, awaiting hanging

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