When you first start creating artwork in Procreate you might imagine that when you print it out on paper or other products it will look just like it does on the screen. Then you get your first print in the mail and have to make your yuckiest scrunched up face to show how disgusted you are with the colors.
The problem is, it’s not as easy as just sending off your images to any printer and getting back a perfect print. Each printer and product require their own set of settings and considerations in order to get that “perfect print”. In this blog post I want to cover all the variables so you don’t have to wonder how to prepare your artwork for print anymore!
Every Printer is Different
The sad truth is that every printing machine, every product, and every company are all working with a different set of inks and printing processes, so there is no way to make one image work with all printers.
For this reason it is helpful if you know how your artwork will be printed BEFORE you create it, so that you know important file info like:
- image size
- trim/bleed area (1/4”, 1/2 ” etc.)
- file type (JPEG, PNG, PSD, etc.)
- color mode (RGB, CMYK, etc.)
Did someone say "color mode"?
You can think of color mode (like RGB, CMYK, etc.) like a “color language” that the printer speaks. If you don’t give it the right language, it won’t know what to do.
Imagine walking up to the counter at a cafe in the French countryside and speaking English. No matter how loudly you yell at them, you ain’t gettin’ your croissant.
It’s the same idea with color modes. If you send an RGB file to a CMYK printer, you aren’t going to get the same colors you saw on your screen.
This is why it’s so important to ask the printer (before starting your file) about the preferred color mode. Note that you can always convert files manually (yep, one layer at a time if necessary), but it saves a lot of time to get it right the first time.
“But”, you say, “someone told me that CMYK is better.” It is true that a lot of large scale, industrial printers use CMYK, so it has been known as an “industry standard” for decades. However with print-on-demand and digital printing on the rise, RGB is becoming more of a commonly used color mode. In the end, just ask your printer and don’t worry about which is “best”!
If you have no idea how your work will be printed, don’t let that stop you from drawing! Here is a good rule: if you are preparing work for print-on-demand, use RGB. If you think you’ll work with large fabric companies and clothing printers, use CMYK. That should get you started!
Size (and DPI) Matters Folks
Just like color mode tells the printer what inks to use to produce colors as close as possible to what you see on your screen, image size tells the printer how many pixels to lay down (i.e. how clear or blurry your artwork looks).
As you may have heard, you can’t upsize a digital image unless it’s a vector (read more about vectors here), so starting with a large size is your best bet for ending up with a high quality (non-blurry) image.
While this seems quite obvious to most of us, it’s at least once a week that I walk into a business and see blurry printing on menus, signs, business cards, and photos. Bonus homework points for anyone who snaps a photo of a blurry print and tags me on Instagram so we can print-nerd out together.
In short, it’s easiest to just work big and size down later. For example, for the cards above, I followed the printer’s guidelines of making my cards 4.33 x 5.99 inches with a 1/4 inch trim area. Then I set the DPI (dots per inch) to 600 before doing any drawing so that if I ever need the cards at say, 5 x 7 inches, I can resize to 5 x 7 at 300 dpi without losing any quality.
Speaking of DPI, what is it?
DPI (dots per inch) refers to the number of pixels in each inch of a document. The standard dpi for most printers (I say most, because no rule applies to all printers!) is 300.
For example, if I have a 1 inch document, my document should be at least 300 pixels wide and 300 pixels tall. So for 10 x 10 inches, we’re working with 3000 x 3000 pixels.
Some well-known companies use a different dpi, like 150 in Spoonflower’s case, and they usually have a good reason for doing that. Spoonflower prints onto fabric which inevitably has a bit of bleed when the color hits it, so 300 dpi just puts down too much ink whereas 150 puts down the right amount.
What makes Spoonflower even more confusing for some newbies is that even if you upload a 600 dpi image, it still prints at 150 dpi and gets resized when you upload, so you have to keep an eye on size shifts when you use a dpi that is different from what is recommended by a printer!
Screen Vibrancy vs Print Vibrancy
One thing you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever printed your artwork on a home printer is that the screen looks much more vibrant than the print on paper (especially with home-use printers). For that reason, unless you want to buy an expensive printer, it’s better to let the professionals print your work while you do what you do best: make more art.
Professional printing machines have software that increases the vibrancy of your artwork just enough to make it look just like it did on screen, and then professional technicians watch your art come out of the printers and check it for quality. Unless you want to do that yourself, it’s much easier to just order prints!
If you do want to print at home though, you should probably increase the contrast/saturation of your artwork before printing to compensate for the dullness that usually comes from home printers.
What about buying a printer?
If you have considered buying a printer before, you’ve probably searched for printers on Amazon and then quickly closed out the window after realizing how overwhelming the choices are! I’ve selected a few printers here that are known to be great for art prints because of their screen to print accuracy and vibrant inks.
Warning — good quality printers are expensive! You can certainly find cheap printers, but the prints won’t be high quality, so unless you’re just doing hobby projects, don’t be fooled by cheap printer deals. For hobbyists though, standard home printers are a fine choice, especially if you’re not concerned about the paper and ink lasting for years.
The great thing about more expensive printers is that you can order archival ink and thick archival paper, which means the prints will stand the test of time. If you use inks and papers that aren’t archival, the ink will fade with exposure to light and the natural moisture in the air. So if you don’t want to get a lot of bad Etsy reviews in a year, be sure to invest in archival inks and archival paper!
Here are a few printers that work well for professional artists/designers because they create high quality prints and can be used with archival materials: