Maximizing the Print-Output Quality of Your Designs


Understanding and utilizing today's technology is vital in any business, especially in our industry of graphics. Being able to cope with the constant technological advances and changes as a graphic designer, can put you a leg up on the competition.

The printing business is no stranger to complex technology either. Now that printing in full color is common, it is important for graphic designers to understand the importance and advantages of this advanced technology.

Full color is a vital advancement in the printing industry as it increases the attractiveness of any designer's work. Full color has the remarkable ability to capture an audience and maintain viewers and readers. After all, can you imagine a rainbow as just black and white stripes across the sky or the NBC peacock without its array of bright colors? According to, using color in printing increases readership and information retention. Additionally, consumer studies have proven that advertisements running with at least one color generated a whopping 43% more merchandise sold on average, and increased in-depth reading of advertisements by more than 60% (NAA 2003).

In order to maximize the effectiveness of color in your print jobs, it is important to understand the way color is transformed from your monitor to the paper it is printed on. When designing your graphics on the computer, the colors appear in RGB format. Red, green and blue are known as "additive colors" as the combination of these three lights yields white light. This is how your T.V. set and the monitor you are staring at right now generates images.

When viewing the printed product on paper, it appears in CMYK format which consists of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This group of colors is known as subtractive colors since they come from light which is directly reflected off of an object from a light source. To the contrary, additive colors come directly from the light source. Subsequently, they can form a purer image and represent a greater amount of colors than subtractive colors can.

RGB Picture
(What you see on screen)

CMYK Picture
(Printing inks will do this)


If your project is color critical, and colors must be as close as possible to your initial intended color, it is vital to understand the effects that the aforementioned change in the color format has on your design. There are three different colors that you need to keep in mind when designing your image; the target color, the onscreen color and the printed color. In order for your target color to match the printed color, be sure to set up your file in CMYK format as printing companies such as will print directly from the file without comparing it to the onscreen image. The only information available to the printer is the CMYK values of the file and there is no reference to the way it appears onscreen.

A useful tool for maintaining your desired color image is the Pantone process color guide. This guide contains CMYK values for more than 3,000 colors which allow you to see the printing color that most accurately matches your desired color. Additionally, the guide shows how the color is affected by the different types of paper your image might be printed on.

Understanding the difference between the various color formats, and learning to use tools other than your eyes to define colors will allow you to avoid common file conversion mistakes which can be a graphic designer's worst nightmare.

Tips for preparing files
Here are a few tips you should have in mind when preparing files in full color (CMYK) for printing. Using this checklist will help you maximize the print-output quality of your designs:

• Make sure the resolution is at least 300 dpi.

• Set up your file in CMYK instead of later converting it to CMYK

• Check the CMYK % values against a Pantone book.

• Choose to convert the files yourself instead of letting the printer do it for you.

• Try using a calibrated monitor and colors within the CMYK color space.


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