Avoiding the pitfalls of artwork

Using a colour swatch book for artwork

Paul Brand

Creative Artworker

Posted on August 15, 2016

So your creative has been signed off. It’s all systems go to get the whole thing out the door and over to the printer.

But, wait. Do you know what’s going to happen next? Has it been decided what weight and paper stock to use? Have you got to produce the die-cut guide or are you being supplied one? What finishing is required? And how is all this going to affect the artwork?

In an ideal world, these details would have been established right at the beginning of the project, but all too often, artwork teams don’t get included until later, and crucial questions don’t get asked.

That’s why it’s so important to stop and check again at the artwork stage. Have all those important questions been asked, and do you know the answers?

Here, at Talisman, we have a number of procedures and checklists in place to make sure that when artwork is sent out to printers and finishers, we can be completely confident that everything will come back as expected.

Here are some of the areas we check through. If you can incorporate these checks into your artwork stage too, you’re much more likely to avoid costly mistakes.

1. Overprinting/Knock-out

In case you don’t know, overprinting is a process of selecting an object or colour to print directly on top of another. The alternative is knock-out. Here, overprinting won’t occur and instead the object will cancel out or ‘knock out’ the printing of any colour underneath. In InDesign, all swatches are set by default to knock-out, but all elements made of 100% black are set to overprint by default to reduce potential complications in the printing process.

The problem is that overprinting is sometimes ideal, and sometimes not. This makes overprinting errors a common mistake in print production. They’re easy to avoid but even easier to miss. Good artworkers carefully assign attributes to all objects and colours used in a design, especially to the black-coloured objects and text, so your printer knows exactly what should be overprinted and what should not.

Let’s take a look at two examples.

In this first one, the black has been set to overprint the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, but as you can see, you can still see the three colours underneath the black. Unless this is the effect you’re looking for, it would be better to select the black to knock-out to remove the colours below it.

To do this, you’d need to create your own CMYK colour swatch, called ‘Knock Out Black’ (or something similar), made up of C0 M0 Y0 K100. It’s exactly the same as black, but because you created the swatch yourself, it won’t overprint by default.

CMYK colours

However, if you were printing a job that has a die-cut, you WOULD want to overprint. To make sure that the cutter lines overprint correctly on the objects below it, you’ll need to set the die-cut lines in your chosen spot colour, then select the lines that are required to overprint.

Go to your Attributes window and select the overprint stroke box as shown below:

Illustrator attributes menu

It might sound fiddly, but if you didn’t overprint these lines, the spot colour would knock-out the colour below it, and you’d be left with a white line.

InDesign attributes menu

Still not sure you’ve got it right?
Adobe Acrobat Pro offers a helpful way to check. First, make a high-resolution pdf from your artwork application. Now open this pdf in Acrobat Pro, navigate to your tools window, select Print Production, and finally the Output Preview. You should now see the window as below:

Output preview screenshot

The Output Preview will show if all your colours have been set up correctly, including any spot colours. You’ll also be able to simulate overprinting by selecting the tick box option.

If you find any mistakes, go back to your original artwork file, make the changes and repeat the above process until you’re happy. It should only be a matter of changing a few settings, and it’s well worth getting it right now.

2. Bleed, Trim and Type Area

It may feel like I’m overstressing the basics here, but all too often it’s the really obvious things that get overlooked. Make sure you remember these three fundamental area allowances when positioning your artwork:

This is the size that the final document will be trimmed to. Because sheets are cut by finishers in bulk using a guillotine, you can expect that some of the sheets will move slightly. We always add a bleed area to our artwork to allow for this movement.

Whenever we have an image, type or solid area of colour running beyond the trimmed edge of our designed page layout, we always add at least a 3mm bleed to that page. The last thing you want to see on your finished document is a white line or gap next to your trimmed image or solid colour because there wasn’t any or enough bleed added.

Type area
The type area is set on the publication specification sheet as a safe area for any text. It’s worth making sure your text has stayed within these safe areas before you send it off to print.

Trim and Bleed diagram


3. Finishing – Creep, Perfect bound, Saddle-stitched and Stapled

Your brochure could be finished in a number of different ways, depending on how many pages it contains. Each finishing style has Implications for your artwork, so check what finishing is planned before it goes to the printers and make any changes now.

When multiple sheets of paper are folded, the inside pages will get progressively pushed out of alignment. This is what we refer to as creep. When it comes to cutting the brochure, the creep area gets lopped off to even out the size. Creep makes elements positioned near the edges of pages, like page numbers and lines, especially vulnerable to the cutting room floor.

Example of page creep

The amount of creeping you’ll experience will depend on the paper weight and the number of sides, and your printer will help sort it out for you when creating imposition laydown sheets. However, it is still helpful to add some safe distances to your artwork to avoid elements getting cut off. The following guide should help:

Page creep data table

The above information is more of a guide for you, when it comes to setting up and printing your document this is an issue that your printer will sort out for you when creating the imposition laydown sheets. Always check with your printer if you are producing a large brochure regarding this matter.

Perfect bound
When your document is too thick to be saddle-stitched or stapled, then perfect bound book printing is usually the answer. This is the finish you’ll often see on magazines, brochures and thicker reports when the document is bound with adhesive along the spine to give a smooth, professional look. It’s a cost-effective finish, even for short print runs, and a good choice for documents that have between 40 and 700 printed pages.

Perfect bound diagram

All nice and straightforward but just make sure you consider the spine glue area. For a perfect bound brochure, you’ll need to produce two separate artwork files: one for the single inner pages, and the other for the bigger wrap-around cover.


Of course, there is another way, and that’s to work with a specialist agency from the beginning. We discussed some of the drawbacks of producing financial literature yourself on our blog recently and highlighted some of the benefits a specialist agency with a good artworker team would bring to the table. If you’re not getting the results you want from your publications, maybe it’s simply time to try another way.

If you need some help finding and choosing the right agency to work with, our free white paper ‘How to choose a financial services marketing agency’ will help.