Designing for Commercial Printing
The vocabulary lesson is over—now it’s time to figure out how to get the best possible results from whichever printer you choose for your wedding stationery. Maybe you’re going with a local commerc...
Designing for Commercial Printing
The vocabulary lesson is over—now it’s time to figure out how to get the best possible results from whichever printer you choose for your wedding stationery. Maybe you’re going with a local commercial shop, the nearest FedEx/Kinko’s, or maybe you’re getting ready to upload your files to one of the many online print-on-demand services out there. Regardless of who you choose to print your stuff, there’s one rule that is universal:
Garbage In = Garbage Out
If you give your printer 72 dpi clip art you yanked off the web (or paid the minimum on a stock image site for the smallest file size), it’s going to look like pixelated crap when it comes off that press, and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it. If you don’t allow for a bleed in your design, you’re going to either end up with a white border around your image or some of the printed area cut off—and that might include the words if you’re not careful! And if you give them files of the wrong color mode, the colors you so carefully picked on your computer monitor are very likely to look very, very different.
To avoid those unfortunate situations (and a whole host of others like them), here’s some tips on setting up your files correctly for commercial printing.
Just to give you an idea of how close you can cut it—any more than one insert, though, and you’d need to make your invitation smaller.
1. Start with your envelope and work your way backward from there.
While it’s true you can make your own envelopes, it’s a lot easier to buy them and they come in so many wonderful colors these days it’s a shame to let all of that go to waste. That said, they only make envelopes in certain sizes, and if your invitation, save the date, or RSVP is slightly too big for the target envelope, you’re going to have to buy the next size up. This can mean anything from your card swimming in an over-sized envelope to paying more postage than you need to.
So if your printed piece needs an envelope, make sure you find out the size of the envelope available in your color, and design around that. A single insert needs to be at least an eighth of an inch smaller than the envelope (though a quarter inch is better—it’ll certainly make it easier to stuff later), and the more pieces you want to include the smaller the overall size needs to be to for the envelope accommodate the thickness.
Another thing worth thinking about: If you have any intention of lining your envelopes, do yourself a favor and look for A-style envelopes as they feature a rectangular flap instead of the pointed flap of the Baronial-style envelopes. That flap style means a lot less in the way of fiddly cuts.
CMYK (left) vs RGB (right)
2. If it’s color, it needs to be CMYK.
Anything you see on a screen or monitor is in RGB and uses light to adjust the colors blended from the red, green, and blue values present. This visible light spectrum is amazing and can give you over 16 million distinct color variations. Gorgeous, right? And most of the time your home printer prints those exact same colors, even if you have separate tanks for each of the four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).
Commercial presses, on the other hand, work in CMYK, and CMYK is limited to a measly one million colors, give or take, and that’s where problems set in. There’s no foolproof method (though there are plenty of strategies) to convert an RGB file to print in CMYK and retain the same brilliance of color you see on your RGB monitor. Yes, it’s frustrating, but them’s the breaks. (Now, I will say, some online printers prefer RGB because of the equipment they use. It’s easier to convert from CMYK to RGB, though, so I still stand by designing in CMYK to give you the best possible options.)
In a program (like Photoshop, for instance) that supports CMYK, it’s as simple as choosing Image > Mode > CMYK when you begin your document. Unfortunately, the more consumer-level a product is (meant for home use and not