Artwork Help

General information

This help section covers all of the "general" topics so that we don't have to repeat them in every single artwork preparation guide. However, reading this is not a substitute for reading the artwork preparation guide for the product that you want to order. Please make sure that you read the artwork preparation guide first. Where necessary, each artwork preparation guide will provide a link to the relevant general advice on this page. The artwork preparation guides explain what format we can accept your artwork in.

Artwork Preparation Guides

There are extensive artwork preparation guides for all products. When you are on a product page (a page where you generate a quote) look on the right hand side, near the top. You will see a link to the relevant Artwork Preparation Guide. If you are on a smartphone or small tablet, you will need to click the big blue "i" (for information) button to display this link. Click on the link to view the artwork preparation guide for that product. If you need help finding the guide or you have any questions at all after reading the guide, just ask the helpdesk.

What are Bleeds?

One of the topics that we get asked about most frequently is Bleeds. A bleed is an "extra" bit of artwork that extends past the edge of your design and is usually expressed in millimetres, i.e. "2mm bleed". The bleed area normally contains a part of your background image or colour. As this area is going to get trimmed off, of course you don't put anything vital here! The example below shows one of our templates overlaid onto a leaflet so that you can see the bleed area (as well as the trim, safe zone and crop marks). The bleed area is the bit of artwork between the black trim line (which shows you where the guillotine will cut) and the red edge of bleed line. The bottom left picture shows the leaflet when it has been finished. Note that the bleed area has been trimmed off.

bleed diagram

Why are bleeds necessary?

We print on large sheets of paper with multiple sets of artwork "imposed" on each sheet. These are then cut up on a large guillotine before going on to further finishing. Very slight variations in the positioning of your job on a sheet will creep in during the printing and finishing processes. For instance, differences in the moisture content of the paper may cause the sheet to vary in size by a tiny amount after printing.

Consider what would happen if the artwork page pictured above (child with binoculars) was printed without bleeds. Without bleeds, you could end up with a tiny white "line" at the edge of the green grass, as in the bottom right example. Your eye will be drawn to that thin white line, even noticing fractions of a millimetre! A bleed area ensures that there is enough extra "wiggle" room to prevent any white lines at the edge of the page.

How much Bleed should you allow?

We recommend that you supply artwork to us with at least 2mm bleed all the way around. More doesn't matter, less does.

How do I Create Bleeds?

This depends on which application you are using to create the artwork. If the application understands about bleeds, then there will be a write up in the manual or or a section of the help facility. If you are using an application that was never designed to be printed from, i.e. Microsoft Word, then you will need to "cheat"! A trick that works for most word processors, i.e. LibreOffice Writer and Microsoft Word is to create a page size that equals the desired page size PLUS bleeds.

Here's an example of how to do this in LibreOffice Writer. We are going to make the page size 2mm wider all round than the finished size in order to make the bleeds.

Go to Format > Page Style. Select the Page tab. Now override the height and width sizes. For example, if I want an A5 (finished size 210x148mm) I input sizes of 21.40cm and 15.20cm. 2mm bleed top and bottom means the height is 21.00cm + 0.40cm, i.e. 21.40cm. 2mm bleed left and right is 14.80cm + 0.40cm, i.e. 15.20cm. If you want your margins to be accurate to the trimmed edge of the sheet, don't forget to add 2mm to those as well.

That's pretty much it as far as LibreOffice is concerned, when you create your PDF, it's smart enough to use the same page size as you've created for your document. Older versions were not that smart and YMMV with other applications like Microsoft Word. In other words, when you create your PDF, double check that the resulting PDF page size is the right page size including bleeds. If it isn't, you may need to create a custom page size when you save your document as a PDF.

Can Inky Add Bleeds for me?

This is normally no problem, just ask and we're happy to help. It's worth knowing how we do this though.

Method 1: Enlarge the Artwork. This is the most straightforward and reliable way. We simply enlarge your artwork to create enough bleed area. This means that around 2mm of the edge of your artwork will be cut off. That's no problem in the majority of cases.

Method 2: Mirror Bleeds. What about if you think enlarging the artwork will push something too close to the edge of the page? This is where mirror bleeds come in. We create bleeds at the edge of your page by mirroring the edges. Usually this is not noticeable, but sometimes you get caught out and the edge of your artwork does not look how you wish it to be. That's why it's always vital to check your proof!

You can tell us which method you want us to use, otherwise we'll use whichever seems most suitable to us.

Combining (Merging) PDFs

If your artwork is split over multiple PDFs, but the artwork preparation guide says to submit only one file, what should you do? One simple solution is to merge the PDFs. If you have the full version of Acrobat (not Reader), then use that to merge the files. Otherwise there are umpteen free utilities on the internet that allow you to merge PDF files, just google it. One of the best that we have seen is PDFsam (PDF Split And Merge) from: open link in new window (opens in a new window)

We've used it, it's very easy and takes seconds to merge your PDF files.

A note about Open Source software. The people who develop this are volunteers who do it for the love of writing code and sharing it for free. If you want to support them and help cover their costs, a small donation is usually welcome (but not required). There is a donate link on the PDFsam web site.

wikipedia - Open-source software open link in new window (opens in a new window)

Update #1: a few customers have reported problems to us with PDFsam. Things like the program asking them to purchase it and placing watermarks on the first page until they do this. Here's what's going on: this is NOT PDFsam! What has happened is that a company called Essex Software, LLC has purchased some paid for google advertising which is being displayed on the the PDFsam web site ( on the left, near the top. This has a big Download Now button, which takes you OFF of the PDFsam web site and on to a different web site called This is NOT PDFsam. To download PDFsam, click on the green Download link towards the top left of the page. The advertisers paid-for software may be perfectly fine, but the advert is easy to mistake for the PDFsam download link. In the immortal words of Gomez Adams: Dirty pool, old man!

Update #2: The nice people at PDFsam say that they will wrap the google adverts with a banner saying Sponsored links or similar, so hats off to them for making that clearer.

Update #3: People are still getting confused, so we've altered the link so that it lands you directly on the right download page.

Update #4: We've been asked if there is a version for Mac. There is, but we haven't tried it. If you look at the download page, you should see a heading: "Other platforms or versions". Under this heading is a link to another download page and the Mac DMG file can be found there.

Update #5: There are now several versions of PDFsam on the download page and some are paid-for rather than free. At the time of writing, the free version is PDFsam Basic

Creating a PDF

Why create a PDF?. When you create your artwork, you are most likely using a modern application which lets you visually lay out and preview your book (or any other artwork) in a relatively straightforward way. Like a graceful swan gliding over a tranquil lake, there is, in reality, a lot of energetic paddling happening below the surface. So when you send the fruits of your labour to us, you need to convert all of that work into an "open" standard that can be processed by the equipment used by commercial printers and result in a printed item which closely matches your screen preview. This is where the venerable PDF comes in. Without a PDF, it would be much more complex and expensive for us to match your printed product to the preview that you see on your computer screen.

How do I Create a PDF? Nowadays, every application that creates documents also has the ability to create PDFs from those documents. If you haven't chosen an application yet, you might find our guide: What Software Should you use to Create your Artwork? helpful. We also have a number of tutorials that take you through step by step in creating your book or other printed product. Find links to them in the relevant artwork preparation guide.

Tips for Creating PDFs. If you want your job to go smoothly, here are some TOP TIPS:

  • Always Check Your PDF before you upload it. You would not believe the number of files that fail the proofing process because the client has forgotten this simple step. Is the page size right? Does it have the right number of pages? If you wanted bleeds, does it have them? All common sense checks, but a simple check here will save you much time and frustration.
  • Presets or Profiles. Adobe calls them presets, so that's the habit we've fallen into at Inky, but other software applications may call them different names. Essentially a preset is a set of predefined values that you can use when you are creating your PDF. You don't have to use the preset that we recommend, but it does make life easier for you. The preset that you want to choose will be called something like "PDF-X1a", AKA the Commercial Print Preset.
  • Should I add Printer's Marks? There are lots of these, crop marks, bleed marks, colour bars, etc. etc. They all have one thing in common, they are Printers Marks, i.e. they are added and used by the printer. Pretty please do not add these to your artwork. They interfere with preparing artwork and can cause major problems with your final product. Think of printers marks as instructions which follow your job through our factory. If our finisher follows your instructions (which by definition will ALWAYS be wrong) they will process your job incorrectly and you will be unhappy. Just the 2mm bleed please (if you need bleeds).
  • Always Embed Fonts. If you have used the commercial print preset, this will automatically be taken care of for you (see, I told you it was helpful!). This means that if you use a font which we don't have installed on our computers here, it will still print properly. We will always check this and tell you if the fonts are not embedded and also warn you if we have substituted a font of the same name. An alternative to embedding your fonts is to convert all text in your book to outlines. This option is not available in all software applications.

Converting Black & White Pages

You don't usually need to know this information. It's here for you to read if you've been told that the number of black & white pages in your PDF artwork does not match your order.

When you send us your PDF you may get back a report that indicates the number of black & white pages in your PDF does not match your order. However, when you examine your PDF, you can see that you have correctly ordered the right number of colour and black & white pages. So why are the Inky Proofing Team telling you that this needs to be fixed? To head off any confusion, we've prepared this quick guide.

When is Black & White not so Black & White?

What you see on your computer monitor may look like B&W, but sometimes it isn't. There are three main reasons for this.

(1) Sometimes you've just missed it. It can be hard to spot (and hard to accept sometimes), that just one word, or an underline or a tiny graphic in colour is still colour and means that the whole page has to be treated as colour. It's a bit like being pregnant, you either are or you aren't. The good news is that if you don't need these bits of colour, we can convert the whole page to black & white for you and save you money. However, we can't do this without making sure that's what you want us to do.

(2) Black & white pictures, graphics and diagrams CAN BE COLOUR. The easiest case to understand is sepia tinted photographs that you've scanned. Either originally created as tinted photographs, or simply faded with time, these are tints of a colour, not black & white. If we convert them to grayscale (B&W) they will look different. More difficult to understand are images that LOOK black & white, but aren't. This can be for a number of reasons. For example, B&W photographs are often scanned in as RGB not grayscale. Sometimes accidentally, but often on purpose as you can achieve a scan that looks closer to the original image and it may be possible to manipulate it better in photo editing software. We can convert these images to grayscale for you, but we need to make sure that's what you want us to do. Incidentally, this is another good reason why you must check your soft proof carefully. Any time we are converting between colour spaces (i.e. RGB to grayscale, or more commonly RGB to CMYK) the colour gamuts are different and we try to make this as apparent as technically possible in our soft proofs. Other examples include diagrams that have been saved as JPEGs. They may look B&W, but often they are not. There are very many other variations on this theme, so please don't shoot the messenger. We can't tell you HOW your image ended up as it is, but we can flag it to you and offer to fix the problem for you.

(3) Black & white text CAN BE COLOUR. Again, difficult to get your head around. An awful lot of this we fix automatically in our file preparation process. If it's definately going to look black, we convert it to black. Sometimes we can't because we might get it wrong. Did you really want very, very dark navy text, or black? We don't know and can't decide for you, so it is flagged as colour. Once again, don't shoot the messenger. Just tell us what you'd like us to do.

How does Inky Fix this?

If we detect that the number of B&W pages doesn't match your order we will send you a message as part of your report offering to convert to true black & white any pages that you'd like us to convert. You know which pages should be B&W, so just tell us and we'll do that for you free of charge because we're nice like that. Please do follow the instructions, we need the list of pages in a specific format.

Once we have your list we'll convert the relevant pages for you and generate a soft proof. If you've read all of the information above, you'll realise just how important it is to check your soft proof carefully and make sure that the results are what you want to print!

This should be fine 99%+ of the time. However, if you do need more information before proceeding (for example if you want to check and potentially "fix" the colour components yourself), please contact the helpdesk and ask them to send you the full preflight report. We don't send this as standard as it is very technical and full of jargon. The only thing of relevance that it will tell you is WHICH pages are in colour and which are in B&W.

Colour Management

This sounds like a harmless little fluffy bunny of a topic, doesn't it? If you're not a fully paid up colour management expert, this is in fact the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on. Run away! Design your artwork in RGB and let the nice people at Inky convert it to CMYK for you.

Still here? Then you must be an expert. For all work printed on a colour digital press (colour or a mix of colour and B&W) Inky emulates FOGRA39. Wait, what weasel words are these? Emulates you say? Yes, FOGRA39 is a data set used for sheet fed lithographic printing using matt and gloss coated paper under ISO12647. At the time of writing this guide, there is still no clear ISO standard for digital printing that we can adhere to. Hence, we emulate FOGRA39 for all paper types. B&W books are printed on a Canon Titan book press. We do not recommend that you turn on colour management for B&W printing.

And the Golden Rule is: if your job is colour critical, always order a hard copy proof.

Proofs and Preflights

Please always read the artwork preparation guide for the product that you are going to order. This will give you the detailed information you need and save you time and frustration.

Useful Terms

Artwork. This is a generic term, meaning the files that you send to us to print. These are normally PDF files in the format specified in the relevant artwork preparation guide. In this context, this term doesn't refer to photographs or drawings, it simply means your finished work, which may incorporate text, drawings and photographs. It does not mean the file that we send back to you to check, that is the proof.

Proof. This is the file we send back to you to check. You always get a soft (electronic) proof and you can order an optional hard copy proof. It's really important that you check your proof before approving it.

What is Proofing?

Once you have uploaded your artwork to us, we do the following. Firstly we check to make sure your artwork matches your order, for example: are there the right number of pages, are they the right size? Then we Run a "preflight" check on your artwork. This does a series of automated checks and fixups. If it's possible to create a soft proof for you, we then format your proof to match your order. For example: if this is a Punch Bound book, we'll overlay a series of marks that show you where the punching holes will extend to, so that you can check whether they are in the way of your artwork. If you read the artwork preparation guide for the product you're ordering, we'll normally tell you more product specific details. Finally we create a report for you, which tells you about any errors or warnings. Once all of this work is complete, we email you with your report and instructions about how to download and view your proof.

Depending on what we find when we prepare your artwork, you'll have one of these results:

(1) Soft Proofing Failure. Sometimes it's not possible for us to generate a soft proof for you. You may have supplied the artwork at the wrong size, or the wrong number of pages, or there may be a technical fault with the file such as very low resolution images, or missing fonts which we don't have. In this case, we will send you a report explaining what the problems are, plus any warnings that are generated. Your job will be taken off of the proofing queue so that you can upload new artwork once you have fixed the problems.

(2) Soft Proof with Warning(s). Sometimes we can technically print your job, but there may be warnings you need to look at. We will generate your soft proof and a Preflight Report for you to check. For example, you may not have embedded your fonts in your Artwork PDF. We have found a font with a matching name and embedded that instead. Does that mean all is good and you don't need to check your proof? NO! you must always thoroughly check your proof. Most of the time, the warnings will be "judgement" calls. For instance, if you include very fine lines (think fractions of a human hair) then we will generate a warning. However, in our experience, the majority of times, this is just caused by artefacts left in by the designer and the job will print just fine. It's your call, that's why it's a warning. Your job will be marked as waiting for artwork approval. Use your Admin area to approve or reject your proof. If you reject your proof, you will be able to upload new artwork.

(3) Soft Proof with No Problems Found. All good right? No need to bother checking the proof? Wrong! It may look like the Artwork PDF that you uploaded but we've always done major work to it to ensure it will print correctly. You always need to check the proof for problems. Use your Admin area to approve or reject your proof. If you reject your proof, you will be able to upload new artwork.

You will always get one of 1-3 (above), but if you've ordered a Hard copy proof. then you will also get a physical proof copy. You can choose a hardcopy proof as an optional extra with all products. This is highly recommended, but it's your judgement call whether it's necessary. It is important to note that it will take several days to create your hard copy proof, depending on the type of product. Do not approve your job until after you have received and checked your hardcopy proof!

Why do we Need to Proof Your Job?

It starts with your artwork. When you create your artwork, you are most likely using a modern application which lets you visually lay out and preview your book (or any other artwork) in a relatively straightforward way. Like a graceful swan gliding over a tranquil lake, there is, in reality, a lot of energetic paddling happening below the surface. So when you send the fruits of your labour to us, you need to convert all of that work into an "open" standard that can be processed by the equipment used by commercial printers and result in a printed item which closely matches your screen preview. This is where the venerable PDF comes in. Without a PDF, it would be much more complex and expensive for us to match your printed product to the preview that you see on your computer screen. Your application (written by humans) creates a PDF which is meant to adhere to the PDF standard. The PDF is then processed by our RIPs (Raster Image Processors), which are the machines which convert your PDF into the actual physical patterns that we print. These RIPs also are designed and written by humans. So what could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately the answer is, "a lot". To avoid potential problems, your friendly commercial printer will put your Artwork PDF through a step called a "Preflight" before it gets anywhere near a RIP. A preflight is the major part of our proofing process and is largely automated. One of the most important steps of a preflight is normalising your file. This means that (based on industry wide experience) some very clever software will convert much of your PDF into something which is unambigious and relatively simple for a RIP to process. So, for example, if your PDF includes RGB bitmaps (images), graphics or text, the preflight software will convert these to CMYK (actual printing colours) using specialised profiles which match our printing presses. RGB colour gamut is wider than CMYK, so this allows you to see where colours will vary. Another example is transparencies. These will be flattened when your book is ripped, but that can introduce errors. Therefore our preflights are set to do a high resolution flattening which should show any issues BEFORE your book is physically printed. These are just 2 examples of the many checks and fixups used in preflight.

Checking your proof. Did we mention that you must always check your proof? It may be salutory to know why we try so hard to drum this into new customers. At the time of writing, Inky has significantly less than 1 complaint for every 100 orders. Over 70% of these are due to issues that were clearly displayed during the proofing process! In other words, these customers did not check their proof for whatever reason. Don't be disappointed, always thoroughly check your proof!

Viewing Your Proof

Follow the instructions sent to you when we send you notification that your proof is ready. Make sure that you read the report and check the proof thoroughly. This is your responsibility.

How should you View Your Proof? This seems obvious right? Just click away and it automagically happens! No, not always, and not consistently. Remember that the idea behind a soft proof is that what you see on your screen matches as closely as possible to the final printed product. For that we need consistency. If you click on a link to a PDF in your browser, your browser will load up whatever app is currently configured to read PDFs. We don't know what that is. We don't even know what browser you are using. So, best practice is to download your proof onto the device you are working on. Preferably not your phone, but that could work if you set it up correctly. Once it's downloaded then resist the temptation to click on it. We still don't know what app will load up. Instead, open it with Adobe Acrobat. If you don't have the full fat version of Acrobat (and it is expensive), then fear not! Adobe has a version of their FREE Acrobat Reader for (nearly?) every possible computer, tablet or phone. OK, that's better, now we know how you are viewing it and we stand a fighting chance of being able to explain how to view your proof.

Set Up Acrobat Reader to View your Soft Proof. Software application developers keep on fiddling with the user interface, they just can't help themselves. So, that means that we can only explain in general terms what you need to change and how to change it on the version of Acrobat Reader that we're testing on at the time of writing. By the time you read this, Adobe will probably have fiddled with it again and moved it somewhere else. Google is your friend here, if you know WHAT you need to set up and you can't find it, just Google for the current location. Currently the only option that it is vital you check and set is the "Use Overprint Preview". Currently you will find this in the Page Display category in Preferences (on a Mac, that's Acrobat Reader > Preferences > Page Display). We recommend changing this to Always.

bleed diagram

What about Acrobat? If you have the full version of Acrobat, rather than Acrobat Reader, then there are significantly more options available to you for Print Production. These are outside the scope of our little guide, please refer to the Adobe documentation.

Proofing FAQs

Q. When do I see a proof?

A. A soft proof will normally be processed within 4 working hours. During our busy periods, this may take longer. You will get an email from us once the artwork has been processed that contains your report. If we were able to create a proof for you, the email will give you instructions about how to download and view your proof. If you have requested a hard copy proof, you will still get a report and a soft proof, but please do not approve this until you have received and examined your hard copy proof. Your hardcopy proof can take up to 5 working days to manufacture and we will normally send it via first class post. If you are in a hurry to get your hard copy proof, have a chat with the helpdesks and we may be able to speed the process up by skipping some of the finishing steps.

Q. What if I spot a problem with my proof or need to alter something?

A. Just use your admin area to reject your proof. You can then upload new artwork through your admin > uploads area. That applies before you approve your proof. If you spot a problem after you have approved your proof, please contact the helpdesk as quickly as possible so that we can help you sort the problem out.

Q. Is there a charge if I need to resubmit my artwork and get another proof?

A. For each extra manually processed soft proof we make a small charge (your first proof is included in the price you were quoted). This charge depends on the product, please read the specific help for that product for the exact amount. Extra hard copy proofs are charged at the same rate as the original hard copy proof. You'll need to contact the helpdesk to arrange payment for this, at this time you can't do that through your admin area.

Q. Do you check the content or layout of my artwork for me?

A. Proofing should not be confused with proof reading. We make a series of technical checks and corrections to make sure that is suitable to print for the product that you have ordered. We don't look at the content, the layout or anything else.

Q. How can you possibly manually process a soft proof for such a low price, are you cutting corners?

A. We work very hard to make the proofing process as efficient as possible and use an advanced automated workflow. One of the reasons that we have the artwork preparation guides is so that customers supply properly formatted files in a consistent manner. We figure the more work we put into that, the better artwork we get, the more efficiently we can process files. We don't cut corners, every file is run through a series of checks and conversions.

Safe Zones

AKA the Safe Area. This is a general rule of thumb that is widely used by Graphic Designers when creating artwork in Desk Top Publishing and it's a really good habit to get in to.

Most of the time when you are designing your artwork, you will have set up a margin all round each page. The Safe Zone is very similar to this and is essemtially the area into which you put your text and main graphical elements. A rule of thumb is that the Safe Zone should be at least 4-6mm inside the page (trim). It has 2 main purposes:

  • Style: except for background images, your page will look better if content isn't crammed right up to the edge.
  • Function: With commercial printing, the tolerance for where the printed content ends up on the physical sheet is not precise down to fractions of a millimeter. Rather the worst case is plus or minus 1-2mm. That's why we have bleeds (see previous topic). If you have the start of your text 0.5mm from the edge of the page and the content is 1mm out, some of your text is going to be chopped off. Take another example: you have a business card (or any other very small printed item) and you have a line of text centered at the bottom, 2mm from the sides and 2mm from the bottom. In this example, take the case where the content is out by 1mm in both directions (this is well within normal tolerances). The net effect is that the text ends up 1mm from the left, 1mm from the bottom and 3mm from the right. What experienced designers know is that the human eye is immediately drawn to this level of imprecision. However, if the designer observes a Safe Zone of 5mm, the text would end up 4mm from the left, 6mm from the right and 4mm from the bottom and this looks much better.

If you have designed your artwork with bleeds (see the previous topic), then it's perfectly normal (and in fact necessary) to have your background colour or images outside of the safe zone.

We sometimes don't show a Safe Zone in our templates as it can over complicate them, but it's well worth remembering and following this simple rule of thumb.

You can see an example of a Safe Zone in the picture shown for the BLEEDS section above.

How to Send your Artwork to Inky

Before you can send us your artwork, you need to register on the web site and place an order. Registration is straightforward and there is a tutorial to help you if you need it in the HELP section of this website. You will normally upload your artwork as part of the order process using the Inky Uploader. If you miss this step for any reason, or you need to upload new artwork, log on to the web site and go to ADMIN > UPLOADS and use the uploader there. Please do not email us artwork. There's also a getting started link on every product page (look for the blue question mark button on the right hand side page).

If you have any problems uploading artwork, please call the helpdesk as we can usually help you sort this out, or offer alternative ways to send artwork to us. Please do not send your artwork on a disk, via email or through any kind of internet file transfer without discussing and agreeing this with the helpdesk first.

Once you have uploaded artwork, we will prepare a proof for you (see the proof section on this page for more details).

If you need help placing an order, please read the HELP section about placing an order.

Storage of Your Artwork

We do not keep your artwork indefinitely!

If we create artwork for you using our Graphic Design service then we will store it for a minimum of 12 months (this storage does not apply with our low cost Cover Layout Service). We keep artwork on a RAID server array with local real time backup to another local RAID server array. Your files are then backed up to another RAID server array at remote location (offsite backup). Although we take good care of the artwork we create for you, we cannot absolutely guarantee its' safe storage. For this reason, Inky will always give you a copy of your artwork on request. If you pay for it, it's yours and we recommend that you store it safely.

If you upload your own artwork for a job then we do not guarantee to store your artwork at all once a job has been printed. If you request a reprint of a previous job, we will use previously submitted artwork if this is still available, otherwise you will have to send us the artwork again. To give you some guidance, we will generally keep your print ready artwork (the final file that we print from) for at least 12 months before it's deleted.

The Bluffers Guide to CMYK and RGB

RGB (Red, Green, Blue) are the basic components of the colours emitted by your monitor. All the colours that you can see on your monitor are made up from RGB in different proportions.

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK) are the ink pigments used to reflect light back to you from the printed sheet. The full colour images that you see on the printed sheet are actually made up from complex patterns of CMYK.

RGB colours must be converted to CMYK so that they can be printed. This conversion is usually hidden from you when you are using a desk top printer. Because RGB has a wider gamut (Gamut = the range of possible colours) compared to CMYK, not all RGB colours can be printed accurately in CMYK. For this reason, professional designers will usually design their artwork in CMYK and preview it on screen in simulated CMYK. When we create a proof for you, we do a high quality RGB to CMYK conversion. This is so that you can assess whether your RGB colours will print satisfactorily in CMYK. If not, you then have the opportunity to alter them!

Do you have to supply my PDF with the images all in CMYK? No you don't have to supply your file in CMYK. If you supply your file in RGB we will convert it to CMYK as part of the proofing process.

Will converting from RGB to CMYK alter colours? Generally the colour conversion is very accurate. Bear in mind though that RGB and CMYK have different colour gamuts (Gamut = the range of possible colours). You must always check your proof very carefully before approving it.

What about Colour Management? There is a seperate section on Colour Management for your reading pleasure.

What App (Software) should you use to Create Your Artwork?

You may already have your favourite application, in which case you should probably stick with it if it does everything you want.

Professionals will use a Desk Top Publishing (DTP) application. Most of the time that means Adobe InDesign and that's what we use here at Inky.

Word Processors

For simple things that don't require a precise layout, you can generally use a Word Processor. Microsoft Word is the best known of these, but if you don't have a recent version you could also take a look at one of the free Open Source applications. LibreOffice Writer (part of the LibreOffice Suite) is very good and will of course allow you to save your artwork as a PDF. open link in new window

In general, people will often use a word processor to lay out the book block (all of the inner pages) of their book. It is possible to use a word processor to create the cover as well (and we have a video tutorial showing you how), but given the choice, a DTP application allows you to set out your cover with more precision.

DTP Apps We Recommend

InDesign is extremely good, but expensive! Here are some alternatives well worth considering.

  • Scribus. This is Open Source software, so you can use it absolutely free (although a donation is very welcome and helps to keep the project going). Scribus is a very competent DTP app and has all of the features that most designers are ever likely to need. Are there any downsides? There is a learning curve to Scribus. Although it's pretty straightforward, you will need to set aside some time to learn how to use it. If you want precisely laid out newsletters, brochures, covers and so on, it's well worth investing the time. We have several tutorials on using Scribus, which are linked through the relevant Artwork Preparation Guides. open link in new window

  • Canva. Canva is another Free option that's well worth your consideration. Canva is an online app, not software that you download onto your computer. Although it doesn't have all of the features of a DTP app, it's easy to use with little or no training and you can create great results with it. We do have several tutorials on using it, which are linked through the relevant Artwork Preparation Guides. Bear in mind that Canva is not Open Source software. You can use some functionality for free, but the developers (quite understandably) wish to monetise their product and there are paid for options and they will wish to offer you their own paid-for services. open link in new window

  • Affinity Publisher. This is a paid for DTP app that has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years. It's developed by a company called Serif, who's pedigree in DTP goes back to PagePlus, first released in the early 90s. So, it's safe to say that they know a thing or two about DTP software! The pricing model for Affinity Publisher is much more budget friendly compared with the Adobe InDesign (the 900lb Gorilla of the DTP world). At the time of writing, you can purchase a perpetual licence for £68. To put that in context, that's about what we pay per MONTH per seat for our Adobe Creative Cloud license. They are very different products of course, but if you want a decent DTP app on your computer, Affinity are well worth a look. Also worth noting is that Canva have very recently (at the time of writing) bought Serif, the creators of the Affinity suite. We don't yet have any tutorials on using Affinity Publisher.

Apps We Don't Recommend

These are Apps that are intended to be used for creating artwork to print. In our opinion, they are not really suited to creating artwork for Commercial Print, they are more suited to creating items that you are going to print on your Desktop Printer at home.

  • Apple Pages. Pages is a template based application for creating simple items. At the time of writing it is bundled free of charge with MAC OS computers and some IOS devices. It is not capable of working with bleeds and during our testing we couldn't find any way of creating a custom page size. This means that it will not be possible to create a document with bleeds (see the help section on bleeds for an explanation of what this means). It should be fine for simple documents that have a clear white border all around each page, but we do not recommend it for more complex products, such as books.

  • Microsoft Publisher. At the time of writing this guide, Microsoft have announced the End of Life for Publisher. We have experienced some problems with PDFs created by Publisher that cause processing delays and in rare cases mean that we cannot process your PDF. We have not found this to be a popular option with our customers and we do not recommend it.

Which Apps Should I Avoid?

In general, spreadsheet applications (for example Microsoft Excel and LibreOffice Spreadsheet) and Presentation applications (for example Apple Keynote and Microsoft PowerPoint) are not suitable for creating print-ready artwork. Bitmap editing apps such as Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo are not suitable for creating multi-page complex documents and neither are Vector Graphic Drawing apps like Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Designer.

What is Overprinting?

...and why do I get Warnings about it?

You may be here because you're reading up on preparing your artwork before sending it to print, or more likely you've got a preflight warning that you don't understand. Either way, it's important to understand overprinting and the effect it has on your print job.

The detail about when, how and why you would want to turn ON Overprinting is outside of the scope of our little guide. We're going to explain what happens when Overprinting is turned ON and why the default is normally OFF. If you've already Googled this yourself, you may have come across another piece of jargon: Trapping. The two are very closely associated and quite often a discussion of Overprinting also involves explaining Trapping. We're going to try keep this simple, so as you don't know what Overprinting is yet, we're going to completely ignore Trapping for now. You do not need to understand it to understand the basic concept of Overprinting.

Printing is a complex physical process. We use CMYK inks to reflect a colour back at you. If you don't know what RGB and CMYK are, have a read of The Bluffers Guide to CMYK and RGB. For the purposes of this explanation, Ink and Toner are synonymous. CMYK inks are translucent and are laid down onto paper using microscopic screen patterns. In this way, we can take the primary colours of printing (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) and fool the human eye into thinking it can see thousands of colours in a continuous range.

Desk Top Publishing (DTP) is just a jargon phrase which means an application that allows you to combine Text, Images and Graphics and arrange them into a document with a complex layout. For example: Magazines, Books, Flyers, Posters. In DTP terms, these chunks of Text, Images or Graphics are called objects. Your application may call these objects something different, frames perhaps. They are still just objects.

Now we come to an example. I'm designing a simple book cover. The background colour is going to be yellow. I create a rectangle with a solid yellow fill and make it the size and position of my cover. This rectangle is a graphic object. I now want to place my book's Title on the cover. I create a Text object, with the words Hello World in Blue. That is to say, I've chosen a Blue fill for my text. I'm working in InDesign and there is an option called Output > Attributes > Overprint Fill and I turn this on. It's important to note here that we know how to turn on Overprinting in InDesign. We do not know how you turned it on in the application that you're using. We only know that you have turned it on.

Now I print this cover and expect blue text on a yellow background. That's not what I get, I get green text on a yellow background. Let's unpick this. Remember that the inks are translucent and we just printed blue on top of yellow. Mix yellow and blue together and you get? That's right, green.

We have a grasp of why Overprinting is generally a bad thing. It's also instructive to understand two more things. What SHOULD have happened to achieve what I really wanted? And why do people ever turn ON overprinting?

To understand what SHOULD have happened, we need to introduce a new concept, called Knockout. Hidden away from view, your very clever DTP software is making decisions for you, based on what you intend to happen. When you selected Blue text, you did not want to print Green text. Your DTP software understands the physical printing process and decides to Knock out the top Object (your Blue text), from the bottom Object (your yellow background). If you could see the screens seperately, you would see that there is a "Hello World" shaped hole in the Yellow seperation. Yes, I have cheated with the colours to make this easier to understand! When your document prints, there is no Yellow to mix with the Blue of the text. That part of the Yellow Object has been knocked out and so you get Blue text, not Green. If you are interested, it's at this point that Trapping becomes relevant (but we're not going there).

Why do people turn on overprinting (which disables Knockout)? I'm going to give you a hard truth now, are you ready? 99.9% of the time it has been turned on by accident, or the Graphic Designer did not understand what they had turned on. Phew, I'm glad that's over, we will never mention it again. What about the other 0.01% you ask? It can be used for artistic effect. No, really, it can.

If you want to preview the effect of your Overprint setting, please read the section of this guide about Proofs, where we explain how to view your proof and set up Acrobat Reader to be able to see this.

You've read it this far, so I will reward you with an Overprinting related anecdote! You don't hear many of those these days. I once interviewed 14 people for a Graphic Designer position. All had actual Graphic Design Honours degrees from UK universities, most of them were fresh graduates. Not a single one of them understood what overprinting was. Not one. So, please don't feel bad that you had to read this little guide to understand your "Object is set to overprint" warning!

What are Annotations?

...and how do I handle Annotation Preflight Warnings?

Sometimes when you submit your artwork to Inky, you'll get a preflight warning, such as: ANNOTATION IS SET TO PRINT (n matches on n pages). What does this mean, and how should you respond?

(1) Annotations are generally comments added to a PDF. They are used by document collaborators who wish to make notes on a document, but without actually altering the document itself. Think of them like sticky notes. You could write a note like: Please add Dr Jane Doe's name to this list. Thank you, Fred F. The sticky can easily be removed after reviewing it, it's not intended to be in the final document. These types of Annotations are generally NOT intended to be printed.

(2) There is at least one other case where we see annotations and it can cause some confusion! This is where the author has inserted a hyperlink in their PDF. For example: you may have a web site link in your text. When your reader clicks on the link, that url can automatically be opened in a web browser. Hyperlinks are implemented as Annotations in PDFs and generally you DO want these to be printed. We don't know why these are implemented as Annotations. There may be other examples, but this is the instance we see frequently.

So, what should you do about the warning?

You should know that Inky has a couple of tricks up our sleeves that can help. Fixup #1: if you DON'T want your annotations to print, let the helpdesk know by email and we will delete annotations in your print ready file. Fixup #2: if you DO want the annotations in your PDF to print, let the helpdesk know by email and we will flatten the annotations for you. This means that they should print correctly, but it is vitally important that you check your proof, especially in the areas where you expect the annotations to be.

Let's run through the different scenarios:

(A) You were using annotations in the "normal" way (see (1) above) and somehow they have been set to print. Reject your proof and then either (a) make and submit a new PDF with them set NOT to print -or- (b) ask Inky to apply Fixup #1 (delete annotations).

(B) This is all news to you, you didn't add any annotations and were blissfully unaware of their existance up to now! You can take the blue pill, reject the proof and ask us to use Fixup #2, flatten all annotations. The Annotation warnings will then be gone and blissful ignorance can be reattained. Just remember to check your proof thoroughly! Alternatively, you can try to figure out where and what those pesky annotations are, and proceed accordingly. Yep, it's the blue pill isn't it?

(C) You know what the annotations are and you want them to print. You can just go ahead and approve your proof. One word of caution. Very, very rarely we have seen a customer's annotations NOT print, even though they set them to print. We don't know why, but suspect that the PDF editing software that some customers use is creating faulty PDFs. So, if you are feeling cautious, you can ask us to use Fixup #2, flatten all annotations.

What is a Spread?

...and what's a Printer's Spread?

A Spread is printing terminology. It means two or more adjacent pages where the artwork spreads out over both pages. For example a photograph over the two innermost pages of a magazine is a spread. Hence the origin of the word centrespread.

While designing a book, these adjacent pages are often viewed side by side and in some applications you can create your PDF with these spreads as one joined page. You must not submit a PDF with spreads, just the separate pages please.

Although spreads are often used in all types of books, you need to remember the limitations of the various binding methods. For example, softback (perfect bound) books do not lay completely flat when opened and therefore the centre of your spread will be obscured by the spine.

Where do Printer's Spreads fit in? You will hear this term when we are talking about Booklets (AKA Brochures, Catalogues, Pamphlets, etc). Whereas Books are physically page 1, page 2, page 3, etc., Booklets are bound in sections of 4 pages. In other words, each physical "leaf" of paper comprises 4 individual pages. Each side of the leaf is a printer's spread, i.e. the two pages which are physically printed next to each other. Clear as mud? Don't worry, we explain this in much more detail in the Artwork Preparation Guide for Booklets.

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V4 18-04-2024