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There are a number of good, vector-based design programs on the market and they all have their own peculiar idiosyncrasies regardless of price. The market leaders are Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress, but Scribus and Serif PagePlus are also good. Drawing programs like CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator are also OK, though you have to set your own trapping. You can see all the page layout programs we support by looking back on our main Print Templates page.

The huge popularity of modern DTP programs has rather opened up a can of worms. Major advances in affordable layout applications mean that it is now quite easy for inexperienced users to get apparently good results quickly; but we frequently find artwork supplied to us with the sort of mistakes that professionals generally don't make. If you are designing for our in-house printing (duplication rather than manufacturing) then some of the instructions here can be ignored, at a pinch, because we work to wider tolerances than do litho or screen printers.

It is one thing to design artwork and print it out well on a laser printer, but commercial printing is another thing entirely. We have therefore added a number of pages of guidelines and specifications for preparing artwork. Although a crash course in reprographics and printing is beyond the scope of these articles, we are dedicated to making design easily available to small clients as well as to our larger and more experienced customers; these documents should help you avoid most common pitfalls, and we welcome any suggestions you may have for inclusion. 

Designers: please don't try to reinvent the wheel. Download our print templates and design into them. We have templates for most designs in many file formats, but if you can't find the ones you want, just telephone us. When submitting artwork please use the file names we supply: calling the inlay tray card Mary's CD Outside Back Page, for example, is confusing and could mean you end up with incorrect print. Avoid the word "final" in all your file, folder and disc names! 

The catalogue number is essential because it is used by everyone in the production chain. Clients can make up your own catalogue numbers and they should be alphanumeric, no more than ten characters long, and ideally should be unique to avoid confusion with other people's orders, (so it's obviously no good just calling the job CD1 for example.)  For audio products, the catalogue number must absolutely definitely be exactly the same as on the MCPS documentation: having one as WXYZ001CD and the other WXYZCD001 will cause a delay at best, and you could easily get part of someone else's job mixed up with yours. You have been warned!

Acrobat Professional's Output preview lets you see the separations and is excellent. Remember to include crop marks and bleed in all artwork if bleed exists, and try to get the crop box correct in your PDF. If you really must send us printouts,they have to accurately match the electronic documents: this is really obvious, but you'd be appalled at some of the stuff we get sent! Please write on the prints to let us know if they are meant to be colour-accurate or not.



Keep the bleed setting sufficient large to allow the fold marks and page number boxes etc to print. In QuarkXPress set the printers marks offset to 9pt, and in all programs set the bleed to 7mm if they will let you. (Obviously you should not actually have the artwork bleeding by more than 3mm on your artwork, but this extra lets the printers marks print properly). Check your PDFs to make sure the printers marks appear before submitting the job to us.

Be aware of your trapping. Bad trapping can result in text and other objects having white outlines, or even vanish altogether. Again, if you check your separations before submitting the work you can catch errors like this, though butt-fitted colour problems may not show up until the product is printed - and by then it's too late.

Don't butt-fit: images and coloured boxes placed next to each other should be overlapped by a tiny amount - even just 0.1mm - rather than be snapped to guides or to each other. If you zoom in to the edges of the images, with your guidelines temporarily hidden from view, you should be able to see how they will end up, but (as ever) there's no substitute for carefully checking your PDFs


Accurate colour matching can be very difficult indeed: it's no use just shoving the job at us and expecting us to produce perfection. Unless you take time and care before submitting it, you will probably be disappointed with the end product. Colours look different when viewed on different monitors, and when output on different printers. Sometimes they even vary in different applications, and please never underestimate the degrading effect of the rip: even at 150lpi you can sometimes see the screen dots if you look closely. Remember that RGB has a wider colour gamut than CMYK, so after converting to CMYK you will probably have to correct the colours manually if you want to achieve a good result: CMYK does not easily produce rich blues or greens, as magenta is desperately hard to control on a press. Use a sensible colour profile in your work (FOGRA 37, Euroscale, or US SWOP): it's safer not to use any colour management or embed any colour profiles unless you are confident that you know what you're doing. 

The only colours you should be using are CMYK, black (including greyscale), and the coated series of the Pantone Matching System. Never use RGB, LAB, Pantone Process, Euroscale colours, or anything else for that matter. Remember that any spot colours or metal effects on your paper parts will incur additional charges.

Black isn't really black: it's dark grey, because process inks are a bit translucent. So if your page has a mixture of black and rich black, they will look different when printed. Remember to match up your blacks, but keep the total ink density to less than 320% to avoid the print setting off onto the next sheet as they all come off the press.

If you are importing images containing Pantone colours from a drawing application like Illustrator into a page layout program like QuarkXPress and then adding text in the same Pantone colour, be aware that many of these applications will give the colours different endings (like cv or cvc rather than just c). Whilst you, me, and the civilised world realize that they are actually the same colour, the page layout program will see them as separate colours because of the different name endings: unless you edit the colour names in one of the applications, extra plates will be generated which may incur extra charges if we don't spot them first. If you check separations before submitting your work, you will catch this kind of error. This problem applies not only to Quark but also to many programs where you name spot colours yourself.

Be careful with white text and white objects: check that they are not set to overprint. Most page layout programs will automatically set them to knockout properly but they may become confused if you change the colour from black to white. Unfortunately this common mistake may not show up when you look at a composite screen display or printout, so do remember to check it yourself in the program and in the separations, or they'll disappear when the job is colour separated for printing. 


Text moves around in page layout programs: it shouldn't, but it frequently does, even if you correctly supply all the fonts you have used, so always leave some room in your text boxes for the type to expand by a line. If you really want the text to completely fill a box, it is safer to set the justification to full: this will give the text in the box a degree of spring, and will help to avoid overflow and missing words. Never leave overset text: always remove any trailing carriage returns. Text in an alphabet other than Western Latin should always be converted to curves (some programs call this converting to outlines) or imported into the document as a graphic.

Do not make text bold or italic within an application unless you are sure you have all the font elements required for postscript output. InDesign and CorelDraw work sensibly in this regard and won't let you use font attributes if they aren't really present; Quark and Photoshop sometimes do not (they apply a faux bold or a faux italic, for example if the real bold or italic attibutes are not present in the font file, so be careful. Faux attributes can look dreadful, but you should be able to spot these in your press PDF


The following techniques will help to eliminate unprofessional-looking edges around graphics. Images should be tightly cropped, before you place them in your page layout program, to remove all white edges or backgrounds unless you specifically intend them to be visible; if you are placing images in frames, rather than having them loose on the page, it's a good idea to make them a touch larger than the frame. Remember not to butt-fit coloured objects, as explained earlier. 

Do not use any form of compression on pictures: this applies to all EPS, JPEG and TIFF files. Never use BMP or WMF files because the results can be quite unpredictable when they are imported. Compression on Press PDFs, though, is perfectly acceptable if done properly: we use 600dpi on our work here, as the improvement over the more common 300dpi is clearly visible.

It is unwise to resize images more than 70% in a page layout program, as you may end up with unusual colour shifts and related problems. It is far better to change the size in Photoshop instead, then make small final adjustments in the page layout program. These days there should be no need to rotate images in Photoshop, as you can just rotate them in modern layout programs.

Do not use mezzo tints on screen printing jobs like CD body artwork as the results can be dreadful when we come to make the screens, even though the films may seem okay.

With screen printing, avoid fine lines because the effect of the screen causes them to break up. The same is true of white text in a small size. Also, avoid large areas of a uniform process colour or smooth tint, as this can lead to blotches appearing on the print: use a 100% solid Pantone colour instead, give the area a textured fill, or convert to process and ask us to litho print instead.

Embedded images are often uneditable, though some applications are better at it than others. If you are submitting native files rather than Press PDFs, always include the graphics in a separate folder called links.  The folder should include all the EPSs and TIFFs you have created, as well as the layered Photoshop files from which they originated: this is so we can get at them if we need to. 


Corel Draw

CorelDraw has problems importing some psd files: white shadows and blooms disappear, and sometimes the file ends up in low resolution (especially if it's rotated in Draw.) You can often get better results if, before importing it, you flatten the file in Photoshop and save it as a tiff. Tiffs will generally give the image a rectangular white background:  you can avoid this by either saving it as a Photoshop eps, or you can open the psd file in Corel PhotoPaint and save it as a .cpt file instead.

Textures created within Draw are RGB (daft, isn't it)? Save the texture as a tiff, convert the colour to CMYK in PhotoPaint or Photoshop, then import the graphic back into Draw to replace the original texture. Remember that most Draw textures are low resolution, and simple gradient fills often show banding. Blended fills are also RGB by default but you should be able to manually choose CMYK colours, which avoids the export-import malarkey above. 

Text on a path can go wonky, with peculiar spacing and lost characters. This happens unpredictably and frequently, and the only way round the problem is for you to convert the text to curves as soon as you have positioned it and checked it. 

Remember to set your trapping carefully: a good way is to give black or coloured text a hairline overprinting outline if you think you might get trapping problems.

Quark XPress

Text on a curve can go wonky, though in a different way to CorelDraw: you may find that the curve isn't smooth, causing the letters sitting on it to tilt. If you can't smooth the curve, you may have to create the text in another application like Adobe Illustrator and import it into your Quark document as an EPS.

If your text is designed to reverse out through background colours, you should ideally set the colour of the text box to be the same as the underlying background colour: Quark will then set the trapping correctly. You cannot do this of course if the text reverses through a graphic, because the background is generally not a smooth colour.

Adobe PageMaker

PageMaker will not allow you to set guidelines outside the document, so we can't show you where the bleed should reach. Be careful to make sure that any bleed extends exactly 3mm beyond the trim.

Don't use the Paper system colour, because it can cause problems with Acrobat (which sometimes sees it as a spot colour, for Heaven's sake). Create a new CMYK colour called White instead.

Adobe InDesign

As with PageMaker, don't use the Paper system colour: create a new CMYK colour called White instead. The really important thing to remember about InDesign is that your text must be in front of your images, or you'll end up with strange effects whenever transparency is used.

Adobe FreeHand

FreeHand will not allow you to set guidelines outside the document, so we can't show you where the bleed should reach. Be careful to make sure that any bleed extends exactly 3mm beyond the trim.

Adobe Photoshop

Although we don't recommend it (in fact, we go out of our way to discourage it!) we will accept artwork made up entirely in Photoshop. We can't provide templates for you to download, because the file sizes are too large, but we can send you printed sizes so you can make up your own. Set up the file to 300dpi CMYK or greyscale (Photoshop will default to 72dpi RGB), and remember that we can only output vector text if you avoid faux attributes and supply the fonts you've used. Please supply the file layered rather than flattened, so we can get at its component parts to move them around as needed.  You will nearly always incur an extra graphics charge if you submit artwork entirely in Photoshop, as it's hardly ever laid out correctly when we receive it.


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