How to set up files for print

How to set up files for print

When it comes to preparing files for print, there are many details to remember. Image formats. Resolution. Fonts. Crop marks. Safe zones. It’s hard to keep them all straight!

That’s why we created this helpful guide, so you can provide your printer with the proper files they will need to create high-quality printed pieces that meet your expectations. In the process, we’ll highlight some common problems and how to avoid them — presented in a helpful Q&A format.

So, let’s get started!

Image resolution

Can I use images from my company’s website in our printed literature?

No. PNG and GIF files downloaded from websites are usually only 72 dpi (dots per inch) — that’s too low for printing. Images will appear to be blurry or pixelated (jagged). Some JPG images may or may not work, depending upon their size and how much they are compressed.

Can I use stock images in my printed pieces?

Yes — but you MUST purchase the rights to use them, or you could be sued by the stock photo house or photographer who took them. Be sure to keep records of the images you’ve purchased and where you’ve used them. Why? Because you may need that documentation to prove that you own the right to use them where you used them.

Several years ago, a Heritage client purchased a stock image and used it in many of its literature pieces over five years. The stock photo house sent them a letter asking for proof of purchase of that stock photo. The client either needed to prove he purchased the image or risk a lawsuit. The client couldn’t locate his documentation and was forced to remove the image from all the literature where it appeared. That meant he also had to reprint all of those collateral pieces without that image.

What resolution should the images be in my printed pieces?

For best results, raster images (photographs) should be at least 300 dpi and 100% the size used in your project layout. Vector images (Adobe Illustrator or SVG files) are not dpi dependent and can be scaled up infinitely or down without any loss in quality. Keep in mind that a raster image embedded into an Adobe Illustrator file does not make it a vector image and is something to avoid.

Should I convert my images to CMYK or leave that up to the printer?

When preparing a file for print, all images should be converted from the RGB color palette to CMYK. Colors tend to shift during this conversion process. Reds and blues tend to take on different color casts. Black tones may not convert correctly. For that reason, you should do these conversions yourself and print out your designs on a laser printer. That will enable you to correct any color issues before you send them to your printer.

Page layouts

What is the difference between press- and web-quality PDFs?

Press-quality PDFs are 300 dpi resolution. They contain uncompressed data that is suitable for printing. Web-quality PDFs are only 72 dpi and any photos contained in them are saved in a lower resolution — not adequate for printing.

What are crop marks and why do I need to include them in my designs?

Crop marks are used to trim the printed pieces to size. Allow 1/8 in. for trim marks on the corners of your design; 1/4 in. for large-format pieces. Make sure no important information, such as a logo or return address, overlaps with the crop marks. It’s okay if photos bleed off the edge of the pages, as long as no important information is outside the crop marks.

It’s best if you include crop marks in your pieces before you send them to the printer. Otherwise, the printer will add them and you may not be happy with the results.

What are safe zones and why do I need to include them in my page layouts?

During printing, paper sheets may shift slightly. The same thing can happen when pages are being trimmed. Creating extra white space in the outside margins of the page will ensure that no important information is lost or cut off during the production process. We recommend a safe zone of 3/8 to 1/2 in. around the perimeter of the page. 

Should I spell-check my document before I send it to the printer?

Of course. For best results, have several people read through the piece, carefully and thoroughly. At least one person should be skilled in proofreading. Don’t just look for spelling and grammar errors. Sometimes factual errors may creep into printed pieces. Double-check prices, product data, addresses and other vital information.

If you do not complete your own spell-check, you may waste a lot of money reprinting pieces to correct errors. We frequently discover spelling, grammar and punctuation errors in the files our clients send to us. It takes extra time to send the files back to the client, have them correct the errors and send them back to us for printing. You can save time and budget by thoroughly proofing your pieces before sending them to the printer.


Can I use any fonts in my printed pieces?

Yes and no. First, it’s important to note that the fonts in each piece you send to your printer must be licensed. If the fonts you’re using aren’t common ones, you’ll need to send them along with the design files. We will delete them after we complete the print job.

If you have output your design in a format where the fonts are outlined (converted into graphics), then we don’t need separate font files. However, we will not be able to make any last-minute text changes to your pieces.

Folds and multi-page layouts

What if my printed piece requires folds?

Certain types of literature, such as tri-fold brochures, need to be printed and folded. Print out a mockup and fold it before you send your files to the printer. Look for a proper flow of information from one page to the next. Be sure that no vital information overlaps with a folded area of the piece. 

It’s always best to discover and fix these problems before you send your files to the printer.

What do I need to know about printing a multi-page piece?

This type of literature not only needs to be folded but it’s also printed in two-page “printer spreads” on both sides. When folded and stapled or bound, it forms a booklet. That means that the facing pages in your design program will be out of order, so when they’re printed and assembled as a book, they will appear in the right order as the reader turns the pages.


This is another situation where it’s best to print out the page spreads and assemble a mockup in your office before you send your design files to the printer. If the pages of your piece aren’t numbered, it’s often hard to tell if you’ve laid out your pages in the correct order for printer spreads. 

For best results, we recommend that you send a printed mockup along with the design files to the printer, so they can see what you have in mind.

Consistent branding

Why should I create a brand style sheet?

Printers love when clients supply brand style sheets because they make their lives easier. These documents contain:

  • Logos (along with dos and don’ts for their use) 
  • Brand colors (including a breakdown of their PMS, RGB, CMYK and hexadecimal equivalents)
  • Approved fonts (and their acceptable substitutes)

This doesn’t have to be a complex document. A single-page guide that is unambiguous often works best.

The biggest benefit of a brand style sheet is that it helps you maintain consistency no matter which printer you use to produce your collateral or direct mail pieces.

Contact Heritage with any questions about file setup for your next print project.

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