You’ve finished designing your document and all that’s left to do is get the flyer, business card, brochure, magazine professionally printed. But before you send your work to the printers, there are 5 things you should check.

1. CMYK, not RGB

Accurate colour in printing is a large and complex field as the colours you see on your screen are never the same as those printed with inks. This is because the range of colours available from a print press is considerably smaller than that on screen (and they can also be duller).

The solution to this issue depends on how intent you are on getting perfect colours in print. You could enable colour management in your desktop publishing software and calibrate your monitor to get the closest match possible.

Or you could contact your printer to choose from their print samples before you finish your design. Similarly, you could use Pantone® colours from the printer’s Pantone swatch. This method of choosing colours from swatches is the easiest and most inexpensive way to get expected results.

However, if you accept that on-screen and printed colours will differ, you can minimise how different they are by ensuring that all of your designing, images included, is done in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key [Black]), rather than RGB (Red, Green, Blue).

As long as you output for print press-compatibility, which most DTP packages support, then colours should be converted to CMYK for you. Check your output before sending and ask for a proof if achieving specific colours is important.

2. Crop marks, bleed and safety margins

Crop (or trim) marks tell the printer where to trim and a good desktop publishing package will insert them in the right place for you. However, the printer’s cutting machines have a margin of error, so they might trim a couple of millimetres inside or outside your document’s edge. Bleed and safety margins prevent this from causing problems.

Bleed is a border around your document into which background colours or images (that you want to run to the edges) extend. Safety margins inside your document prevent important content being trimmed.

For example, adding six millimetres to your document’s width and height (or adding a bleed area in the page setup) will create a three millimetre bleed around the edges. Background colours or images should run into this bleed area. For safety margins, adding a similar-sized border inside will keep graphics or text safe from the chop.

3. Proofing a printed copy

Reprinting due to typos or errors will be costly, so avoid this by proofing – print the design yourself and go through this physical copy with a fine-toothed comb.

Check spelling and grammar and see how point size, leading, kerning, tracking etc. will look on the finished product. Plus, you can get an idea of how colours and fonts are working together, and if your images’ quality is good enough for print.

Read as though you’ve never seen the document before. You will instinctively skim over pages, so make sure you read every word and instance of punctuation – even small mistakes can make a world of difference.

4. File type

Finding out which file formats your printer accepts before sending work can save a lot of time. PDFs are accepted as standard due to versatility – they remain consistent across many systems and printers. Plus, when you export as a print press-compatible PDF, e.g. a PDF/X file, any RGB colours and images are automatically converted to CMYK, saving you and the printer time.

Designs may also be accepted in the format of the software you’ve used. This enables the printer to see to last-minute changes or errors (preventing a time-consuming back-and-forth exchange between you and them). This is possible as long as you’ve sent the relevant font and image files with your work.

5. Embedding, sending fonts and creating outlines

When exporting work as a PDF, embedding or subsetting your fonts will be required. A full font package can be embedded into your file, increasing its size, whereas only characters used within your document are subset, which reduces file size. However, embedding equips the printer with full use of the font package – helpful if they need to make amends.

If you’ve sent your work in the format of your software, the printer may not have the fonts you’ve used installed, so they will have to substitute them, altering your design’s complexion. Avoid this by supplying the printer with the relevant font file, which they can install to print your work as you intended. Copyright may be an issue here, so contact the printer first.

A final option is to create outlines of your text. The latter depends on software capabilities, but doesn’t require sending fonts because text is converted into shapes. However, after converting, text is no longer editable, so it’s best to go with either of the previous two options if possible.

Printing is just as important as designing

You need to pay as much attention to the printing of your work as you do the designing and it’s best to prepare documents for printing from the start. To avoid any hiccups along the way, it’s also advisable to speak to the printer and find out exactly what they need – the five things mentioned here will be high on their list.