Stock image of shredded paper with printer's marks.

Graphic design is a broad term. When you say “I’m a graphic designer,” you could be talking about hundreds of duties or responsibilities. For instance, are you designing visuals for magazines, t-shirts and apparel, or something else? And do you ever wonder what you should know about printing your graphic design?

All these visual types are mostly designed and created in the same way. You use software or design tools to build the visuals and transfer them to another format for printing. There are some limitations, however, when working with certain types.

Vector graphics, for example, use points, lines and curves and are much better for printing on apparel. Raster graphics use pixels, which are hundreds or thousands of small dots and or squares. All of those pixels form the greater picture. These are better for traditional print type projects like on paper or card stock.

But it begs the question — to transition smoothly from the creation and design stage to actual printing, what are some elements to consider? What processes should you follow, and what mistakes are you likely to encounter?

You see, any printer is simply going to take your document, design or file and print it as-is. Printers don’t edit, clean up or even doctor an image or file — that’s your job. So before you send the design off to the printer, you need to make sure to proof it so it turns out the way you want.

Be Absolutely Sure

If you have to, clarify with your printer or client to be sure the design is going to come out the way you want. Make sure you cover the image formats, colors and strokes. The reason vector is more beneficial for apparel is because it’s conducive to embroidery and line- or curve-based movements. This makes it easier on the printing and sewing equipment to get the design right. Case in point, make sure the design style and formats you choose match up with the type of printing project you’re having done.

That also means putting your design or visuals through extensive vetting sessions, including several drafts. Before sending anything off to the printer, double-check it’s what you mean to print and it’s going to turn out how you want. Reprints are going to be costly, especially in bulk. That’s why it’s also a good practice to have it printed once or twice and going through a review process before doing the mass production cycle.

Embed Your Fonts

Even if your printer has an incredibly vast selection of fonts — including the one you want — there’s no guarantee the size, spacing or detail is going to come out the same as your internal designs. The lesson, then, is to embed your fonts or text in all designs you’re going to print. This will prevent font substitutions and mistakes further down the line. Not to mention, you can check the text for grammar and spelling issues before nailing down the final print.

Triple Check Your Size/Resolution

Most often, it happens that you send a photo or visual file to the printer that looks remarkably big on your own screen. However, once the design is printed onto apparel, paper or another material, either the entire thing is too small or certain elements are — such as a font or lettering.

This size issue can be even worse with rasterized images, which can look pixelated and grainy after being blown up too much. If you take a much lower resolution image and stretch it, that’s where the pixelation occurs.

It’s always a good idea to discern dimensions before putting together a design and then working with real-life sizes even via digital editing or photo manipulation software. You can always change the resolution parameters to follow total pixels or real-life size including in inches.

If you’re not sure what size you need, always design using larger sizes and canvases. A large image trimmed down to be smaller will always look better than the opposite scenario. If you’re printing based on actual sizes or an area, such as designing floor graphics, it’s critical that you deliver a file that fits the space you want it seen. In other words, if something measures a foot by foot area, make sure it’s larger than that in case you need to parse it a little.

Use CMYK Color Palettes For Printing

You should know by now that printers can create all colors of the rainbow through a mixture of several base colors including cyan, magenta, yellow and black. When you’re printing, especially using traditional ink-based machines, CMYK color palettes offer the best and most realistic details and shades. That’s because you’ve essentially given the printer the format it needs to get the work done.

Convert your images from RGB — which is another common design palette — to CMYK when possible. Doing it early can also improve your design during the creation and editing process.

Get Your Bleeds Right

When you print a document on the edge of a paper, card stock or canvas, it has bleeds — blank edges that are used to create some white space. It happens most often when producing flyers and business cards. It’s even more prevalent when you have designs printed on larger pieces of printed material that need to be trimmed or cut to size.

A standard bleed for your document should be 3-4mm from the edge. This will allow for the appropriate printing variations, seams and cuts.

Choose the Right Software

Choosing the appropriate editing or manipulation software is crucial to finding or exporting in the right format. There’s a vast difference between creating a design in InDesign, Illustrator, Microsoft Word or something else. There’s also a vast difference in the file format you’ve used to save the final doc.

Check with your printer beforehand and make sure everything is aligned correctly. Ask about the best formats to send and what software they would recommend. If you’re already using a platform or tool, then find a way to convert accurately to the format they shared.

In the end, it’s all about choosing the right software to work with or the best conversion tools to swap the image format.

Always Check Your Work

While all of these tips are different, you will notice an underlying theme or concept: Check your work.

Before sending a design to the printer, check your grammar, lines and colors. Also, be sure to print a sample or two before the mass production process. That way it will be sure to come out the way you want. Choose the appropriate formats your printer works with, and make sure you double-check with them before sending any documents. Finally, remember to embed fonts along with any logos or visual images. Then the printer doesn’t have to bother finding a substitute and it looks exactly the way you want.

About the Author of This Post

Lexie Lu is a graphic designer and blogger with a passion for the digital world. She spends most of her time working on logo mockups and creating websites for her clients. She also manages Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.