Getting your DPI confused with your RGB? Ensure your files are perfectly prepared for print with expert advice from Martin Southworth of Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s distributor for the UK and Ireland

Martin Southworth

Martin Southworth

Ensuring your digital artwork is correctly set up can be the difference between a print that wows your customer and one that loses your reputation in a flash. Delivering printed products that hit the mark every time relies on getting the groundwork right and the old adage that ‘it’s all in the preparation’ is certainly true when it comes to generating print files.

The following examples consider full-colour printing on a wide format printer such as a Mimaki TS100-1600 dye-sub model or a Tx300P-1800MkII direct-to-fabric solution, using design software such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw before putting the file through a RIP in order to send the design to the printer.

There are key elements to tie down in your artwork and it’s for this reason that busy design studios will have some form of checklist or ‘sign-off sheet’ that accompanies each job. During the artworking process, the designer will tick off key elements that collectively ensure best practice has been adhered to when preparing the file for print. These will include some or all of the following:

Images and linked files When constructing complex designs, it’s good working practice to link (rather than embed) image files in applications such as Adobe Illustrator. This allows the designer to edit the original image and for changes to take place in the final file automatically. If those links break, a low-res preview could be left, causing a loss of quality in the final result, so it’s important to ensure they’re present and correct when saving the final file.

Good quality, print-ready images The bigger the final result, the bigger and higher quality the artwork needs to be. It sounds simple, but when clients request a 10ft feather flag based on the logo on their business card, scanning it in won’t cut the mustard. Vectored logos, 300dpi images and CMYK colour images all give better results, with sharp edges, accurate colours and images that won’t pixelate when reproduced at size.

Artwork size With soft signage, flags and other large graphics that require finishing (trimming, eyeleting or welding), it’s important to factor in bleed and ‘safe’ areas that will be taken up with hardware or lost altogether as they’re trimmed or otherwise obscured. Using guides and crop marks in the original artwork will help to keep the main design message uninterrupted, but if you’re not designing at 100%, don’t forget to scale these areas too. For example, a 50mm hem area will be represented as 12.5mm bleed on the artwork if you’re working at 25% and upsizing in the RIP.

Alignment Does everything look right on the design? Not ‘about right’, but really right. Using inbuilt alignment tools to ensure key design elements are perfectly positioned to each other will ensure a sharp, professional result and it’s easy to miss these in the rush to finish a design. Check spacing around logos complies with corporate guides, check safe areas around the margins, and doublecheck everything is as you planned it in relation to other elements before saving the final file.

Colour management Whilst your RIP will be used for ensuring the correct profile is used when printing the file, preparing it properly at the outset is important too. Doublecheck any corporate colours and their CMYK breakdowns are correct and that photographic images have been created in CMYK too. This will lead to a reduced chance of any variation when printed, and help the RIP do its job too.

Spelling and typography Turn on spellcheck in your design software, but accompany this with a proper, focused look over any written copy. It’s easy to get buried in a job and not see mistakes hidden in plain sight, and a fresh pair of eyes from a colleague can make all the difference. If your copy incorporates body copy, check names are spelt correctly, any team kits are properly numbered up, and ensure important typographical aspects like kerning, hyphenations, widows and orphans have been attended to.

Carefully check any copy and numbers before pressing print

Carefully check any copy and numbers before pressing print

The time to change it is now, not when it’s been printed! Once the text is approved, outline it to ensure it scales correctly and isn’t substituted or lost in processing.

Cut paths If your design is to be printed and cut – such as decals or shaped transfer paper prints – denoting the path that the cutting plotter will use should be done at this time too. In Illustrator and CorelDraw (most manufacturers will provide a plugin to work with these programs, such as the Mimaki’s FineCut software) including a new layer in the artwork containing a vector path is all that’s required. The RIP software will allow the operator to choose which layer gets printed and which layer’s data is used to cut from, but packaging the two together allows the process to be automated and ensures elements of the job don’t get lost in transit.

Final file format Lastly, when you save your file, make certain it’s both high quality and in a format that’s compatible with the RIP software. Don’t use a format that compresses the file so much it compromises quality, or that’s going to throw up errors when it’s processed by the RIP – so it’ll likely be a high quality JPEG, EPS or PDF that’s in the necessary format for the RIP to accurately reproduce.

With the file ready to go, it’s time to bring it into the RIP. A RIP (raster image processor) translates the design information and communicates it to the printer in a format it can understand, whilst applying a profile that optimises the combination of ink, media and other print requirements.

When preparing the print file in the RIP, additional checks and processes can be carried out. If a design is being transfer printed, it’s at this point it should be mirrored, to allow it to flip again upon transferring to the garment in the heat press. Using the RIP to mirror the artwork is a simpler way to work than mirroring the original – it takes a special talent to proof text that’s been written backwards!

RIPs such as Mimaki RasterLink enable spot colours to be used – for example fluorescent inks in certain dye sublimation printers – so where a special colour has been used in the design process, it will tie in with a colour library in the RIP. If a job requires multiple prints, the RIP is the place to drive this requirement too, allowing the user to choose the number of copies and nest them on the media to save costs and time. Again, it’s good practice to use the RIP to create multiple copies, as a single original file will be smaller and easier to move around.

Last but not least, applying the correct profile for the inkset and media – as well as the print speed required – will result in a final job befitting of the hard work that’s gone in to get it this far. It’s often easy to forget how much effort goes into delivering a print that looks great, is right first time and delights the client, but following good practice and checking everything before you press ‘print’ is a very good place to start.