File Preparation FAQs & Tips2023-04-05T15:10:25-08:00

File Preparation FAQs and Tips

Below are the file submission requirements and design tips to review before sending your job to Clear Print. When in doubt, please call us at 818-709-1220.

If you’re not sure about how to prepare a file, ask us. A short conversation with our experienced staff before you get too far along in your design will save you a lot of time. Call us at 818-709-1220 or Contact Us here.

Can dot gain be eliminated?2023-02-28T18:20:25-08:00

There is always some degree of dot gain, but it can be minimized by our experienced prepress staff and our press operators.

When a print job goes into production, we use sophisticated software, calibration tools and production processes.

Our trained staff account for dot gain when designing for clients. Of course, if you are employing someone else to design your pieces it is their responsibility to compensate for dot gain.

Can I use smartphone pictures for a print project?2023-02-28T18:20:55-08:00

Yes. As long as the image resolution is at 300 dots per inch with the image at 100% in your design file, it will print perfectly. See our other questions on this page about resolution.

Graphic Illustration of Bleed Before and After Trimming2023-02-28T18:20:27-08:00

bleed before and after trimmingThe left side of the graphic shows a document designed with bleed (finished size plus an extra .125″ on each side). Minor variations in position can occur throughout the printing process. That’s why design elements should stay .125″ away from the trim edge and inside the “safety zone”.

The right side shows what can happen when design elements are outside the safety zone. Note the last “e” in “Example” has been partially cut off.

Graphic Illustration of Bleed vs No Bleed2023-02-28T18:20:28-08:00

example of bleed vs no bleedThe left side of the illustration above shows a page printed with bleed, before trimming. After trimming, indicated by the dotted lines, the page will have color or graphic content extending to the finished, cut edge on all four sides.

The graphic on the right shows a page designed without bleed. The finished document has an unprinted border on all four sides.

How do I create bleed in my design?2023-02-28T18:20:27-08:00

To add bleed in a design, extend the background color, graphic, or image beyond the final trim edge of the page by .125″ (3mm).

Depending on the application used to create the design, this means your document height and width dimensions will be .25″ (6mm) larger than your final trim size. For instance, if the finished size is 8.5″ x 11″ then your document needs to be 8.75″ x11.25″. When setting up the document, you can create trim guides (trim marks) that show where the finished document will be cut.

Position all your bleed elements so they extended past your guides, all the way to the outside edge of the document. Remember, the extra .125″ will be cut off during the print finishing process.

How do I get printed borders to look even and consistent on the finished print piece?2023-02-28T18:20:55-08:00

During the printing and print finishing process, variations in position and trimming will occur. It is wise to allow for a tolerance of +/- 1/16″ (.063”) in your design.

Because of these tolerances, it is a good practice to avoid borders whenever possible. But if they are required, a wider border will minimize the visual impact of variations. A rule of thumb: use borders at least .25” wide plus .125” bleed.

How do I handle fonts for printing?2023-02-28T18:20:53-08:00

When using the recommended vector-based software such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, there are two ways to handle fonts.

First, you can convert all text to outlines before exporting the file to PDF. This will ensure that all fonts appear exactly as intended.

The second way is to package your Illustrator or InDesign files. Go to File > Package. This will collect all document links and objects in a folder and re-link those objects to the document. It also lets you copy fonts into the packaged file.

How do I handle grayscale images in CMYK?2023-02-28T18:20:54-08:00

When you convert a document to CMYK, grayscale images might be given values other than K in the converted file. This can add an undesired tint to the grayscale. Be sure to check all grayscale images after converting.

To prevent this, use Photoshop’s adjustment layer to set the images to “Monochrome.”

How do I measure dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:24-08:00

Dot gain is expressed as the difference between the actual value and the intended value. What’s measured is called a “flat tint” and is expressed as a percentage. For example: if the flat tint of the piece is measured at 60%, while the intended flat tint was 50%, the printed piece would have a dot gain of 10% (60%-50%=10%). Note the use of “%” is treated like a unit of measure such as inches, kilograms, etc. rather than a real percentage. A spectro-densitometer is used for accurately measuring dot areas. A densitometer can also be used but it is less accurate.

How do I set up a Spot UV job for print?2023-02-28T18:20:53-08:00

UV coating file preparationSimply include a file using 100% K indicate where the UV coating is to be applied. In the graphic shown, UV will be applied in all black areas. White means no UV.

Illustrator design file tips.2023-02-28T18:20:57-08:00

Be sure to supply all fonts if text is not outlined.

Package your Illustrator file which will automatically collect all fonts and links used.

InDesign design file tips.2023-02-28T18:20:57-08:00

Package your InDesign file which will automatically collect all fonts and links used.

PDF design file tips.2023-02-28T18:20:57-08:00

All PDF files must be saved as “press-ready” high-resolution files. Please include bleeds, if any.

Also, if your job is printing 4 color process, be sure that all spot colors in the design file are converted to CMYK before exporting. If you are printing spot colors for certain elements of your design, there is no need to convert them to CMYK.

Photoshop design tips.2023-02-28T18:20:56-08:00

Use Photoshop only for creating and editing your high-res images to be included in Illustrator or InDesign.

NO text, etc. should be supplied in Photoshop; please use Illustrator or InDesign.

Save high-res images (4 color process or grayscale b/w) in CMYK, not RGB mode. Embed or place file in Illustrator or InDesign.

Save CMYK images no lower than 300 dpi at 100% size.

What color mode is best for printing?2023-02-28T18:20:58-08:00

Files should always be prepared in CMYK color mode, not RGB. If you are using RGB images in the design process, be sure to convert them to CMYK before exporting your final design file.

Be aware that RGB files that are converted to CMYK will have a slight color shift on screen and in print.

Be sure all grayscale images maintain their grayscale (monochrome) value, and that no other color values are added.

If your file is printing strictly black and white, be sure all artwork and images are in grayscale mode.

What contributes to mechanical dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:26-08:00

Several things can contribute to dot gain:

  • Paper
  • Ink
  • Ink color
  • Printing press
  • Roller pressure
  • Press speed

For example, uncoated papers like newsprint have a higher dot gain than coated papers. In color printing, the dot gain for cyan, magenta, yellow and black are all different. This means the dot gain for each  ink used must be measured to accurately portray the dot gain for the piece. Web presses normally produce a higher dot gain than sheet-fed presses.

What contributes to optical dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:25-08:00

A scanned image that looks fine on screen may be too dark for printing and my need to have its contrast curves adjusted. Optical dot gain (or loss) can be caused by the laser beam in certain equipment such as film image setters (recorder gain) and computer to plate systems. Depending on whether the process is positive or negative, a slight dot gain or a dot loss may occur. The type of material used for the plate or film may affect dot gain. In general, more dot gain will result from higher screen rulings.

What files are acceptable for printing?2023-02-28T18:20:58-08:00

We accept Illustrator, press-ready PDF, and InDesign files. Corel Draw, PageMaker and Publisher file formats and other program formats are not recommended.

Adobe Photoshop should only be used for creating and editing high-res images within Illustrator or InDesign. It should NOT be used to create the final artwork. Please use Illustrator or InDesign for copy, spot color creations, vector art, etc. and for the final files.

For all files:

  1. Please supply file with 1/8” bleeds, if artwork has bleeds.
  2. Please verify file is complete, correct, and ready to print before submitting.
  3. Please supply hardcopy or low-res PDF proof for verification of the original file’s correctness.
  4. Please spec file size, colors used and any comments or concerns regarding file supplied.
  5. All files should be prepared in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color mode, not RGB.
What is bleed?2023-02-28T18:20:28-08:00

Bleed refers to a background color, graphic, or image that prints to the edge of the finished paper.

Printing presses can’t apply ink all the way to the paper’s edge. So an extra .125″ (3mm) margin is added anywhere a design needs to print to the edge. This lets the background color, graphic, or image extend or “bleed” past the paper’s final trim edge. All bleed areas are then trimmed off the printed sheet at some point in the finishing phase. For example, a letterhead sheet that uses bleed in its design will be 8.75″ x 11.25″ and is then cut to its final size of 8.5″ x 11″.

In comparison, a piece with no bleed keeps all the printed elements a minimum of .125″ away from the edge of the paper on all four sides. Nothing is printed to the finished edge of the paper, as shown in the illustration.

What is dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:26-08:00

dot gain illustrationDot gain is a measure of the difference between the actual ink dot size when printed on a sheet of paper, and the ink dot size specified by the source file. Dot gain happens the print dots appear larger on the sheet due to either mechanical reasons or an optical effect.

Dot gain is neither good or bad, but is a normal result of the printing process. Dot gain should be considered during the creation of the source file, the choice of papers, printing process, inks, etc. If dot gain is ignored, the result can be a printed image that looks darker than intended.

What is mechanical dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:26-08:00

Mechanical dot gain occurs when paper fibers wick away the liquid ink, increasing the ink dot size. Dot gain can also be the result of the ink dot being pressed and flattened by rollers during the printing process. This increases the size of the dot and affects image appearance.

What is optical dot gain?2023-02-28T18:20:25-08:00

Optical dot gain happens when light is trapped under the edge of ink dots. This makes the image appear darker to the measuring device as well as your eye.

What is overprint, and should I use it?2023-02-28T18:20:53-08:00

Overprint is the printing of inks on top of one another. This can have unintended results. For example, an object that is yellow on screen, when overprinted on a blue background, could have a greenish tint, as if the colors were mixed together.

Overprint should be turned off unless there is an intentional reason to use it.

What is resolution and what is the best resolution for a printed piece?2023-02-28T18:20:55-08:00

Resolution is the level of detail in an image. Resolution is defined in printing according to the number of dots per inch (dpi). In digital graphics for the web and on computer screens, it’s defined by the number of pixels per inch (ppi).

In printing, 300 dots per inch, with the image at 100%, will always give you a high quality print job. You can print at lower resolutions, but the image quality declines with lower resolutions. Images at lower resolutions become rough, blurry, or jagged.

Graphics that are prepared for the web and screens are often output at low resolutions of 72 dpi. They look fine on screen but will not print well.

What is rich black and how do I get it to print?2023-02-28T18:20:54-08:00

100% black (K) in a design file may not appear as dark as it does on the screen. To ensure a dark, solid black, add Cyan, Magenta and Yellow to your 100% K.

A typical ratio is C 60, M 40, Y 40, and K 100, but other values may be needed depending on the substrate and printing process.

What is the “safety zone?”2023-02-28T18:20:29-08:00

This a buffer area in the design file to ensure that no critical design elements get cut off during print finishing. Generally, you don’t want to put anything important closer than .125” to the trimmed edge. See the other articles on this page about bleed for examples and more details.

What is the difference between dot gain and TVI?2023-02-28T18:20:24-08:00

TVI is the abbreviation for Tone Value Increase. TVI is a more general measure of the difference in value between the value specified in the source file and the value of the printed piece. Dot gain and TVI are sometimes used interchangeably.

Instead of measuring an increase in dot size, TVI measures changes in tone. It is used when individual ink dots are not used in the printing process. A tone reproduction curve provides a relationship between tonal value increase and dot gain.

What is the safety zone?2023-02-28T18:20:27-08:00

Text and other important design elements must stay within a “safety zone” that is at least .125″ from the trim edge. Design elements that get too close to the trim edge (beyond the safety zone) risk being cut off during finishing. For example, the safety zone for an 8.5″ x 11″ letterhead is .125″ smaller on each side, or 8.25″ x 10.75″.

What is the thinnest line I can print?2023-02-28T18:20:52-08:00

All lines in your design file should be at least .25 points thick so that they are printable. Thinner lines will probably display on your screen but will not print successfully.

What is the trim edge?2023-02-28T18:20:28-08:00

A sheet with bleed is larger than its finished size. The “trim edge” refers to any part of the sheet that is cut to its finished size. Design elements that extend beyond the trim edge will be cut off during finishing.

What is transparency and how can I avoid problems?2023-02-28T18:20:29-08:00

Transparency is the artistic effect that lets the viewer see through an object in an image. It’s also used to create shadow and glow effects.

To avoid problems, don’t use transparency over a spot color. Converting the spot color to CMYK and flattening the image will prevent issues when the image is printed.

The image below shows one type of transparency issue that can show up in printing. In this case, a white box appears when it’s not supposed to.

transparency issues printing

Image source: InDesign Secrets

Where do I send my print-ready files?2023-02-28T18:20:56-08:00

E-mail us, upload to our Dropbox, or place on a flash drive for files over 2 gigs.

Dropbox Name: clearprint

Dropbox URL:

You can place multiple files up to 2 gigs.

Why are pictures pixelated when I print out my design file?2023-02-28T18:20:56-08:00

File resolution and image resolution must be appropriate for the actual size of the printed piece.

Pixelated pictures indicate the resolution of the images is too low for the size you want to print. For best results, print resolution should be 300 dots per inch with the image at 100%. See more on this page in our other question about resolution.

Geoffrey Pick


Please call now to discuss your project.