The best print or web related tip

25 Mar 2011

My school days a long gone. I'm talking pre-internet times here, and actually also pre Photoshop and Illustrator times. A lot of things were done the old-fashion way, and desktop publishing was still in its very early stages. Even though a lot has changed today, there are many things I learned that still have their value today. Basic principles that stay the same, whether it's digitally or analogue…

light bulb

What's your print or web design related tip that you've learned at school, and are still using today?

Here are my 2 basic print tips

Check bleeding

This one is really pretty basic, so if you are a little bit into print design, you should be familiar with the term bleeding. In every design that goes to the printer, you have to make sure there is enough bleeding. I always stick to at least 3 mm of bleeding. It's what I learned at school, and as far as I'm aware it's still being commonly used. Could be that some printers have another specific number, but as far as I can remember I never used another number. Sometimes you get a detailed specification from the printer on the placement (offset) and thickness of the crop marks as well. It's one of the rules to keep in mind with each design that goes to the printer.

PDF Marks and Bleeds export options window
Bleeding set to 3 mm when exporting to PDF

Check overprint

Another important item to keep in mind is that black is always set to overprint. Overprint means, it will be printed on top of the other colors instead of having it separated with the colors underneath. Having (100%) black in overprint will avoid possible small mismatches as shown in the simplified image below. On the left I have reproduced such mismatch, though, with a certain amount of exaggeration, just for demo purpose. On the right, the black part will be printed on top of the cyan, magenta and yellow colors that make up these 2 circles. Because 100% black will cover the other colors, it is possible to do that. However, this is not the case if you use only a percentage of black, unless if explicitly made it so. In Illustrator (or InDesign) you can select an object and have it set in overprint fill or stroke. For instance if you have a red filling and a black stroke, you can set the stroke in overprint.

Possible missmatches when 100% black is not set to overprint

In both Illustrator and InDesign, the overprint option is located in the Attribute panel (Window > Output > Attributes). However, when exporting your Illustrator or InDesign file to a PDF, all elements where 100% black is used will automatically by default be set to overprint. In Acrobat Professional, you can always check the overprint and color separations. Go to Advanced > Print Production > Output Preview… There you'll see Color Separations where you can check each color separation. When you select Color Warnings, you can check the 'Show Overprinting' option. There you'll see that all elements that use 100% black will change into the color that is set to that option (see image below).

Acrobat Professional: Print Production, Output Preview options

Any web or print related tips you want to share?

Now that I shared 2 of my basic print design tips, are there any valuable tips you've learned during school that you want to share with us? You are welcome to share any print design or web design related tips as well. If the sum of the tips is so great, I'll put them in a separate post for future (easy) reference


  1. 1 Hollie 25 Mar 2011

    Tip: Always use printers black.
    Everyone assumes that if they just use black out of the swatches in illustrator, indesign it will print as black but really, it’ll only print as a slight dark grey. Printers black in cmyk is 40, 40, 40, 100. You’ll see a difference as soon as you change the cmyk values to this.

  2. 2 Tom Hermans 25 Mar 2011

    I have a Web Sharpen action, (which can be used for print as well), that can be made very easily by
    1. copy layer
    2. Filter > Other > Highlight High Pass > Radius: 1pixel
    3. Set layer to ‘overlay’ blend mode
    4. Decrease opacity to around 40-70% (see for yourself what works, 100% is too harsh imho)

    This allows for sharpening really crisp, without really sharpening. In effect you’re adding more contrast to the edges in the picture.

    By making an action out of this, this is a single-click edit, and you can use it in batch processing as well.


  3. 3 Toby 25 Mar 2011

    RE: bleeds - I’ve always been taught to use 3mm bleed on smaller print sizes (A4, A5) but on bigger print sizes (A3+) to use 5mm so the printer has a little more to play with.

    Most of the time we only put crop marks on either as the printers we deal with have their own imposition software including registration marks etc etc, but better to play it safe!

    Just a question on the Overprinting - I’ve experienced a problem where I’m printing a black over a colour but the colour still shows through the black when we don’t want that. Unticked overprint in InDesign but it doesn’t resolve it!

  4. 4 Kisan 25 Mar 2011

    PrtScn screen shot can be converted from 72dpi to 300dpi by
    1. Capture the screen
    2. Paste it in Photoshop
    3. Change the color mode to Index color with default settings
    4. Scale the image size and the settings are:
      a. Have Constrain Proportions checked, and Resample Image: Bicubic checked
      b. Resolution in multiples of 72 dpi, so 288 and then again scale the image and enter 300, 600 dpi.
    5.Change the color mode back to jpg.
    Print it and see the crispness of the image.

  5. 5 Dwight Zahringer 25 Mar 2011

    Always, always label your layers and group them as you build, not after you’ve completed. I have spoken this mantra many, many a times to designers at my company in the last 10 years.

  6. 6 Anna 25 Mar 2011

    @Tom Hermans Wow that is an awesome tip, thank you!

  7. 7 Michael Hastrich 25 Mar 2011

    In Indesign always put character spacing on optical for headers and single lines of text. This will result in much better looking character spacing, although some combinations of characters might still need some specific adjusting. Paragraphs can remain to metric.

  8. 8 Jackie 26 Mar 2011

    In my website development job, I learned to use the Fixed Aspect Ratio in Photoshop to crop photos proportionally, without having to change their resolution. You do this by selecting the rectangular marquee tool the with dotted lines, and it will open up one of the top horizontal toolbars in Photoshop, where you can select the Fixed Aspect Ratio from the Style drop-down menu. Then enter the exact width and height in those other two fields, that you would like your image to be - (keeping in mind the image itself should be sized to begin with to work at those dimensions). You then have a marquee tool that will crop your image to those exact dimensions, proportionally. Once you select the marquee, hold down the shift key (on the PC) and drag the rectangle around the area of the image you want to focus on. It will proportionally create a selection to the size you specified in the width and height. Once the image is cropped, you can then adjust the actual dimensions to the exact width and height you chose, and the image will resize itself automatically from there, and to the correct size, without ever having to change resolution, or scale the image up or down to a smaller size, using the scale tool, for example.  This is a great way to crop photographs to fit into headers for websites, or anyplace else you need an exact size. It doesn’t matter if the photo has a resolution of 300 dpi, or 100, what matters is how it is cropped using the Fixed Aspect Ratio.  Hope others find this info useful, if you have never tried it!

  9. 9 Anoop Goyal 26 Mar 2011

    I haven’t yet tried what you have mentioned so I may be wrong in what am gonna say further on.
    Now doing what you have mentioned, isn’t it so that increasing the pixels would simply increase the interpolation between the neighbouring pixels but wouldn’t add anything to the colour depth because the pixels weren’t there from the start, hence I wonder what the reasoning is behind the image turning crisp if upsampled to a higher resolution?

  10. 10 Kisan 26 Mar 2011

    @Anoop Goyal
    This tip is meant for grabbing screen shots of your software product, where one needs it for the documentation or software manual.

  11. 11 Zeth 28 Mar 2011

    Nice!! I was looking for a blog like this. I have this printing job and I need info on what to do and what not to do!

    Good blog!

  12. 12 Benedikte 28 Mar 2011

    Hi Veerle,
    A tip i want to share is done in Adobe Acrobat Pro. After exporting a Photoshop or Illustrator file to PDF in color, sometimes you wish to convert the file to grayscale without altering the original file.
    You can do this by:

    1. Opening the pdf in Adobe Acrobat Pro
    2. Menu > Advanced > Print production > Preflight > PDF fixups > Convert to grayscale
    3. you can edit the settings by clicking on “edit”
    4. click Analyze and fix
    5. Save the grayscale version of the original pdf file.

    I find this helpful when designing wireframes or mock ups.

  13. 13 Tom Hermans 29 Mar 2011


    Thanks. Well, it is one of my most-used, top tips. Because I learned so much from the tips Veerle gave (and gives), I’m willing to share some of mine ;)

  14. 14 Stuart 04 Apr 2011

    So many great tips on here, thanks.

  15. 15 Mylar 04 Apr 2011

    Very good tip! But be careful, some printers may have issues with too much ink layed down in one area. Another, safer, version of this is 100K-50C-20M-20Y. (sometimes only a cyan bump is needed) Also, this effect is not recommended for small type or thin lines, as it could cause registration issues.

  16. 16 Greg 04 Apr 2011

    @Tom Hermans Is the filter not in CS5 I’m not seeing it.

  17. 17 Ben Carlson 06 Apr 2011

    @Greg It’s not in CS4 either, but I believe it might have been renamed to High Pass, which appears to do what Tom was referring to.

  18. 18 Binh 07 Apr 2011

    @Greg: It’s High Pass, not Highlight.

  19. 19 Justin 07 Apr 2011

    @Hollie This is generally a great tip when using images, you can great effects on them using a rich black, and there are many variations of it. But, as Mylar mentioned, any text that is small will be problematic. Unless you’re reversing text out of black, using a rich black of 40C/100K will give good results for that. I generally use a PMS or one process color on all text. You’ll have less headaches on press. Another great tip is to try and mix your colors in a project with only 3 process values when using a lot of color and images together, namely CM & Y. This way, when on press and you need to add black into the mix to maybe darken images, you don’t muddy up your other colors. Most colors can be matched pretty closely without using black.

  20. 20 CJ 07 Apr 2011

    @Hollie, @Mylar Both great tips, to go one step further, use this as effect. If you have a predominently blue or ‘cold’ image and want a great black, use just 50% Cyan and 100% Black to give you a cold black. Alternately if you are printing sunsets or wanting a ‘warm’ black, use 20%M, 20%Y and 100%K.

    Additionally, although you can set this in the colour pallet itself, sometimes it is best to separate the cyan underlay as a separate layer.

    To proof the acurate colours, in Acrobat Pro(9), go to Advanced->Print Production ->Output preview. Hover over your colours and you will see the appropriate values.

  21. 21 Jay Kapadia 07 Apr 2011

    @Hollie Another Option is “Super Black” with printer black and then a layer of Cyan underneath

  22. 22 Jay 07 Apr 2011

    1. use a minimum of 1/8 inch for bleeds
    2. ALWAYS be present during the press run to do a random pull to ensure quality
    3. Double check the delivery to make sure no ghost prints or ink smudges occur, usually not found on the first 10 samples, but look through a good 50 per box

    GCM at Ryerson Univ. how I miss you.

  23. 23 Michael Zrobok 07 Apr 2011

    When you need to get really powerful, vivid colours out of an image do the colour corrections in LAB colour mode. Simplest way to do it is using image>adjustments>curves use lightness to control how bright or dark you need to go then your A’s & B’s to experiment depending on what colour range you are truly after. Convert back to the colour mode you need to work in and you should get to keep a decent share of the new colour values!

  24. 24 Bryan 07 Apr 2011

    @Dwight Zahringer

    Likewise, for print, keep your color swatches organized. Remove unused swatches and identify specific color builds and/or spot colors. Even if your project will be printed CMYK use a Pantone color bridge book to identify the intended color. If you don’t have one you should definitely get one.

    If you are working with a die line simply create a custom spot color swatch and identify it on it’s own layer. Set all objects on this layer to overprint.

    Most of all understand that your design is more than just the image on screen, it should also include clear direction and intent by labeling layers, organizing links and identifying the color you intend to see in the final execution.

  25. 25 Gerry Straathof 07 Apr 2011

    one of the biggest tips I got was to always check my spelling when billing clients, lest I accidentally bile them too much.

  26. 26 Tom Hermans 07 Apr 2011

    The function is indeed called “High Pass”

    Sorry guys, had the dutch copy of PS3 on the machine I was working on when I posted this.. had to translate.

    Can’t edit the comment, maybe Veerle can..

    (Veerle: fixed)

  27. 27 Andy 08 Apr 2011

    Some great tips here.

    We’ve just produced a little handbook which includes printed examples of some of the things mentioned here, things like rich black examples.

    You might find it helpful.

  28. 28 Anoop Goyal 08 Apr 2011

    That is one awesome handy handbook.  @Andy

    Some great tips here.We’ve just produced a little handbook which includes printed examples of some of the things mentioned here, things like rich black examples.You might find it helpful.