Getting Illustrator files print ready

Here is a quick check list I do for myself when I am getting a file ready for print. There are actually a lot more things designers can do before print process, but these are my personal “must” for checking if the file is ready for press:

Bleed Settings

There has been times where I totally typed in the wrong bleed measurement and was about to send it off. It is VITAL that you have ATLEAST 1/8 of an inch around your document if you have ANY elements that are bleeding off the edge. For example, if your business card you are designing someone has a color background, you have a colored box for the background of the card. You need to bleed the colored box outside the standard size of the business card. For instance, in business cards these would be the total measurements INCLUDING bleeds.

3.759 × 2.25 in (95.25 × 57.15 mm) (1/8 in bleeds)*
*3.5 x 2 inches is the U.S standard size for business cards

Setting up bleeds in Illustrator: (2 methods)


One method is to create a shape tool of a box. Select the shape tool and click anywhere on the document. This will bring up the size dialog box. Input your size settings there like I did on the above image.


Then what I do is duplicate that box on top of the existing box by selecting the box, hitting “S” on the keyboard for scale, put 100% on the scale percentage and hit COPY. This will copy the box on top of the existing box without changing the size.


Now what you want to do is right click on the box you just created, go to MAKE GUIDE. This will change the box from a shape to a guide. This is to permanently implement the size of the business card into the document.


The next step is to drag the upper left hand corner of the ruler and reset the measurement to the top left corner of your business card to 0. We are going to begin the process of adding guides for bleeds.


Manually I add 1/8th of an inch all the way around my box with guides. You can add 1/4th of an inch. This won’t really do much but its a method of playing it even safer. (1/8th of an inch is .125 in decimal count. 1/4 = .25) Now bleed your existing business card box all the way to the guides.



One quick note, after you’re done with your design process, you need to re-size the artboard along the bleed size. DO NOT re-size it along the original design size. So for a business card, your artboard should be 3.759 × 2.25 in. height. Re-sizing the artboard is done through the PAGE SETUP under file.

The best method of setting up bleeds is through the bleed settings in the program. The BEST approach for this is using Indesign CS3 or 4 to set the bleed settings. You want to design your elements in Illustrator, save it as an EPS or PDF and import it into Indesign. But since the release of CS4, setting up bleeds in Illustrator has gotten much much easier. On the screenshot above, the easiest way is to click the TEMPLATE button in the FILE > NEW dialog box. Most of the time templates are notorious for it being cheesy and lame to use. But we’re just using the size dimension here. Not existing designs. Steal the dimension and we’re up and running. Adobe created templates for certain projects and business card is one of the templates available to you under the “general” folder. If you’re not doing a business card, you can just set your page setup as the dimensions of your project.


In Illustrator CS4, you can set the bleed settings in the page setup dialog box. Now it will be a long while till printers actually use CS4 so this is a very advanced method that won’t be used in printers for a while. The problem that I see is the fact that most printers will still use CS3, if not CS2, and artboards end up being guides if you were to save a CS4 file as a legacy CS2 or CS3 format. This “might” confuse the printers as the design will sit outside of the artboard. View the “Artboard Tool Tutorial” at the Illustrator tutorial page for details. (Please note that at the time of this writing, I have not printed anything from a printer that used CS4, and have always prepared my documents using CS3 using guides and adjusting the artboard after the initial design. If anyone has any experience with CS4 and printers, please let me know.)


This is a screenshot in Illustrator CS4. The bleed guide is shown in red. The way it handles bleeds in Illustrator CS4 works the way Indesign CS3 sets up bleeds. It is very useful as the printer doesn’t just print the objects in the artboard but in the bleeds as well.


This is a sample image of how business cards should be set up in CS4. I bled the design all the way to the bleed line. There is no reason to set up bleeds if your business cards don’t have any element of design that bleeds off the edge. But it might be a good practice to just make it a habit to set up bleeds if you have it or not.


When you print in CS4, it is important to check the option “Use document bleed settings”. It is also a good idea to set up crop marks for yourself and for the printer. (I like using the JAPANESE CROP MARK setting due to the fact that it shows the crop/trim mark and the bleed mark.)

Converting black and white images the right way in Photoshop:


Have a colored photo you converted as black and white in Photoshop you are importing to Illustrator? The best way to convert images to monochrome (black and white) is to use the Channel Mixer tool. Many designers use the DESATURATE option under IMAGE > ADJUST > DESATURATE. But the best way is to use the channel mixer tool under IMAGE > ADJUST > CHANNEL MIXER. Make sure you hit the MONOCHROME check box like you see above. The difference is set below. RIGHT is the CHANNEL MIXER B&W. The LEFT is DASATURATED B&W.


If you can’t tell the difference, just pay attention to the girl’s body. You can see a distinct line separating the two desaturation method.

Deleting unused colors in Illustrator:


Using the example above, delete all unused colors after the project is done. This is avoid confusion or accidental color selection by you or the printer at the final process. Although if they screw up that way, they will correct it right away.

Using rich black and not 100% black:

Rich black


100% black (wrong way)


In print, when there is a large type or element that uses a lot of black, it is a good practice to use rich black instead of the 100% black you usually use in your design programs. I can tell you right now that yes there is a difference when you print it out. Rich black is achieved by mixing all CMYK colors in different percentages. 100% black is when CMY is all set to 0 but the black is 100%. This is not a good way to achieve the best black. In paragraphs, it is better to use 100% black instead of rich black, so it really depends on your project. It is a good habit to always set your blacks to rich blacks in logo designs and headlines.

Setting photo’s as CMYK:


This is actually a frequently made mistake. ALWAYS set any photo’s you are using in print as CMYK (in Photoshop of course) before using it.

Using PLACE command in Illustrator:


When you place images in Illustrator for a poster for example, we design certain elements in Photoshop or have photo’s in posters. It is very important that you PLACE your images using the FILE > PLACE command and not cut and paste. The problem is that Illustrator lets you cut and paste (i think still) from Photoshop to Illustrator. You can even open JPG’s in Illustrator and design over it. This causes the file size of the Illustrator document to be BIG, and sometimes printers will take a long time printing because of the pixel data and the vector data. Placing images is like placing images in Indesign if you’ve used it. Basically it is placing the image by reading data from the different file source. It is IMPORTANT that you supply the photo or any raster images you used to the printer. Set up a file system like this:

Project folder
Main Illustrator .AI file

Burn these files to disc with that exact hierarchy and supply it to the printer.

Always set up documents as 300ppi for print.


I want to state one thing before I explain the screenshot above. First of all, many people say “DPI” instead of “PPI” for the FILE itself. For example people state “print images should be 300DPI”. This is wrong. In Photoshop, there is no such a thing as “DPI”. DPI is strictly for the PRINTER HARDWARE itself and not the digital file. In digital file such as a photo, we use the term PPI (Pixels Per Inch). Even in the Photoshop resolution settings it is stated as “pixels/inch”. DPI stands for “Dots Per Inch”. During a print process, make sure your document is set to 300ppi before you start any print project. You will cry later when you have to convert a already finished project to 300ppi from a lower ppi resolution such as 72 (monitor resolution).

We are human and we make mistakes, especially when we are in a hurry or tired. I put this tutorial together only as a reminder to myself but to others. Again, every designer has their own checklist of things to remind themselves but these things are the most vital check list that I feel will help me have a successful print run.

41 Responses to “Getting Illustrator files print ready”

  1. Thanks To Spoon Graphics Blog for this sweet Crop & Bleeds Tutorial | Hairy Elbow Designs said:

    […] How to get Your Illustrator Files Print Ready! […]

  2. Frank Hughes said:

    When creating your box at the beginning… Instead of “S” on the keyboard, enter 100%, click copy. Try hitting command “C”, command “F”. Much quicker…pastes in front in the same position it was copied from. Give it a try super useful in a lot of different situations. BTW command “B” will paste in back.

  3. monjurulhoque said:

    this is great for my site thanks for sharing this tip to us.

  4. Reza said:

    This is really helpful for new designers like me. Thanks for using such a reminder that not only help you but also help us to step ahead.

  5. AnnA said:

    I am surprised you didn’t mention converting text to outlines..

    AB. (.

  6. Chris Takakura said:

    That is actually a good suggestion. Thanks.

  7. Carrie Riley Roth (@CarrieRileyRoth) said:

    Even getting files print-ready in Photoshop takes extra care. Perhaps applying your tutorial while exploring Illustrator will help a lot, with you pointing out the essentials. Will share this on my page. ^_^

  8. Chris Takakura said:

    @Carrie Riley Roth (@CarrieRileyRoth): Agree with you. Will update in the future. Massive updates are coming in the near future.

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  11. 35 Tutorials To Get Your Awesome Design Print-Ready said:

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  14. JeGo said:

    This was a great and helpful post. Thank you! I do have a couple of questions: what about color profiles? How does one tackle this whole area in Illustrator, and does it even matter? Also, what if the file is mostly CMYK, but there are spot colors being used? How does one go about preparing this sort of file so that everything goes smoothly during the printing process?

  15. 32 Tutorials to Make Your Designs Print-Ready | Hi Cydia said:

    […] 17. Getting Illustrator files print ready […]

  16. Morton Lennox said:

    Great post!

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