If you’re an professional artist, an aspiring professional artist, or just a recreational artist, there will come a time when you want to print your artwork. Maybe it’ll be a business card, or an art print, or maybe you’re finally going to self publish that comic i’ve been telling you to make.  Regardless of what it is you want to print, there are some important things you need to know.  When I did my fan art contest last month, I was surprised on how many people had no idea how to format their art for printing, when I provided a template, only a hand full of submissions actually knew what they were looking at.  So I figure this will be a good tutorial for everyone.

At this point I should probably say, when I say “Printing” or “Printer.” I’m not talking about your home printer connected to your computer.  Though many printers now a days can produce beautiful photo style prints, I’m referring to a printing press or a place that mass prints materials like posters, art, books, etc.

So let’s get started.  How do we make sure our art looks the best possible when printed?

1. Know the printer you’re working with.

Every company uses different machines that have different settings, different computers, and different software all working together.  They know how to make the best prints, and they tell you what they need to make the best prints.  Every site whether it’s Ka-Blam.com or gotprint.com gives you the guidelines needed to produce the best prints possible.  Read them. Follow them.  If you don’t, your printed work will suck.

These guidelines include, but aren’t limited to: CMYK vs RGB, Resolution, Document size, Trim size, Live area (or safe area), and file format.

I’m going to assume this is all new to you (or else you wouldn’t have read this far in the tutorial.) So let me explain:

2. CMYK vs RGB

These are color formats. One is the primary colors for pigment, the other is the primary colors of light.

CMYK stands for Cyan (a type of blue) Magenta (a type of red) Yellow, and Black (K is for black, so it isn’t confused with blue.)  These four colors are the primary colors for printing in ink, and every printer uses these 4 colors.  So many Printers will ask for your art to be in a CMYK color format before you submit the art to them. If you don’t all your colors may not print the way they looked on your computer monitor.

RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue.  They’re the primary colors of light.  Anything you see on your computer monitor or tv screen is in RGB format.  Most of the time you will want to be digitally working in RGB format and then convert it to CMYK before you print.

But this is when checking the guidelines is important.  Some printers prefer that you submit the artwork in RGB format if that is how the artwork was created.  Sometimes it’s because they’ve calibrated their machines to properly make the conversion from RGB to CMYK without loosing color quality.  So check with the printer you are using. Do they want you to submit the art in CMYK, or RGB?

3. Resolution

Ever see something that was 72 DPI, or 300 PPI?  What the crap does that mean?  Well they mean the same thing DPI stands for Dots Per Inch. PPI stands for Pixels Per Inch and mean the same thing.  The more pixels or dots per inch you have, the larger and more detailed your image will be.  Everything you see on your computer screen is 72 DPI.  Where nearly everything printed is at at least 300 DPI.  That’s why when you try to print a small image from your computer screen it either looks super tiny, or is pixelated to all hell. If your going to print your artwork, make sure it’s at least 300 DPI.  But check with the printer you are using, some of them require resolutions slightly higher.

4. File Format

Ever notice that little extension at the end of your file? Of course you have, you know how computers work. I’m sure you know .jpg .gif .tiff .psd .pdf etc etc.  You want to make sure your artwork is in the file format the printer can accept.  If you send them a AI file, but they can’t open it with their software, you’re going to have lots of problems.  The most commonly accepted is .PDF  .TIF .JPG.  Other less commonly accepted files (but common enough) is .PSD.

Now Each file does something different to your art, and you can google it to see what the differences are as I’m not going to get into here.  The one thing I do recommend is that if you can avoid it, NEVER use jpg for printed art.  .JPG files do a weird compression thing to your art where it removes pixels to compress the file size.  Now this isn’t really an issue when you’re putting images on the web.  But it may cause problems in printing.  I recommend either a PDF file, or TIF file to preserve the quality of your art.

5. Document size, Trim size, Safe Area.

This is the most important thing when printing your art.  This makes sure that everything will print the way that you intend it to be.

For this example I’m going to use Ka-blam’s guidelines for printing comics.



Most printers provide you a guideline like this to ensure your art meets the requirements they need to make the print look great.

1. Document size: 

This is the total size of the document that you will send them.  Here it says 7″ x 10.5″.  This is important because if they tell you it has to be that big, yet you send artwork you drew on an 8.5″ x 11″ paper, then this:

Rufus example


Becomes this:

And you don’t want your art to be cut off like that.

Trim Area:

This is the size your artwork will actually be.  Even though the document size is 7 x 10.5 when you receive the print, it’s actually going to be 6.75 x 10.25.  The reason the document size is larger than the final size is because the printer needs what is called a bleed.  When printing machines are printing off 1000’s of copies of your comic, the paper shifts slightly from one side to another.  So they ask for your artwork to be bigger so when this shifting happens, you don’t loose any of the artwork, nor do you get weird spots on the paper where nothing is printed.  If you did not provide a bleed to your art, you run the risk of your artwork looking like this:

bad example

You don’t want weird white bars on the edge of your artwork prints.

Safe Area or Live Area:

This is the spot that’s safe.  Anything that is in that area is in no danger of being cut off in the printing process.  You want to make sure all your text, and important images are inside this area.  If you don’t, and you ignore the safe area, you run the risk of this happening to your art:

SoO #2 p5 bad

You worked really hard on your artwork. Don’t let the text get cut off in the printing process.

So there you go! All the basics you need to send your art to print!


Tomorrow I’ll be posting page 23 of Shadows of Oblivion #2.

In the mean time follow me around the web:

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And if you love my artwork don’t forget to pick up my comics!

And remember: Make Comics! Not Excuses!