Bridging the Gap Between Design and Print

Bridging the Gap Between Design and Print

Lack of communication between designers and print shops is one of the most pressing problems in the print industry. As both a designer and a print shop employee, I have encountered countless time-eating complications that could have been solved through quick and simple communication. Hopefully, I can use my experience in both fields to shed some light on the production that goes into print with some handy information every designer should know. This can save both designers and print shops from wasting valuable time. This will lead to the designer, the print shop and the client each having a great looking final product in a shorter amount of time with fewer road bumps.

Understanding Bleed

The biggest and most common issue I witness between designers and print shops is “bleed.” Bleed refers to printing that goes beyond the edge of the final piece. It can be extremely confusing to a designer when a piece is meant to bleed but does not have any extra space around the edge. Often times, a shop has to teach a designer about bleed, frustrating both parties and sometimes even adding days onto a project’s deadline. Here are some simple tips to avoid such delays:

After printing, the bleed is trimmed away, so the final printed piece has full ink coverage that runs all the way to the edge. For designers, the bleed should be thought of as the background for pieces that require having full coverage of ink (or photograph.) Most printshops require each edge to have 1/8 of an inch added to all four sides, so add ¼ of an inch to both the width and height when creating a new document. Then, once the file is set up, draw guides delineating the edges, or bleed,  which will get cut off in production. Respect the 1/8” border on all edges, then push all text and important elements slightly closer to the middle. When a printer is producing large quantities, the image will sometimes slightly shift around on the page. The variation is usually very minimal, but it is safest not to design a piece that is too close to any of the four edges.

Stepping an Image: Multiple Up and Cut Marks

Another common miscommunication I encounter concerns multiple images and designer-provided cut marks. Often times I have seen designers provide, for instance, a business card repeated four times on a sheet with cut marks. It is best to provide all print shops with a single image because they will fit the image on the largest sheet of paper possible. Some will use an 8.5” x 11” sheet, but most will use  11” x 17” and beyond. This minimizes paper waste and keeps prices low because fewer sheets run through the equipment.

Also, the print shop’s software will generate cut marks, using a determinate amount of space between each image, so they can easily, precisely, and quickly cut the product down to its final size. As a general rule, keep it simple and avoid assumptions. Providing a single image, free of cut marks is the best policy.

Designing Brochures and accounting for folding space

Differences between designing and printing brochures can also be tricky. Designers must be careful to account for folds in the paper. For example, consider an 8.5” x 11” tri-fold brochure.  When unfolded, the right panel should be the largest at 3.816″, the middle is 3.669″ and the left panel is the smallest at 3.604″. When the brochure is folded, only the cover should be visible. The middle and last panel should fold neatly into each other,with no hangover beyond the cover.  Remember that you want enough space built in between all the panels so the text doesn’t fall into the fold.

Booklets: Printers Spread versus Readers Spread

It is very important for designers to understand the difference between “printers spread” and”readers spread.”  A whole article could be written on this subject alone.  I know that a quick google search will yield some very helpful information.  If the pages in the proof for a booklet are numbered, that will flush out any confusion when assembling a booklet. But, if a designer is confused about the different spread styles, It’s best to do a bit of research or even stop into the print shop to have them show you a physical copy of a booklet that has been folded and saddle stitched.

Asking for a Proof

A must for any designer dealing with a printer is to ask for a “proof,” aka a single sample from an order. If the proof is correct, the entire order should look the same. It keeps the printer accountable for delivering an identical product.  The larger the job, all the more important the proof is to the job being correct and your reputation as an organized designer.  Also, as I mentioned above, avoid assumptions and stick to the rule of keeping it simple. Remember, the print shop usually has expensive and sophisticated software which will set up your file for their own printing needs and preferences.

Of course, the most important thing to keep in mind is communication. If there is ever any confusion, avoid elaborate and time-consuming frustrations by communicating with the print shop.  Frequent communication between clients, designers, and printers can save days worth of time and a lot of money.  I hope you find this helpful and have fun designing!

eric fosterEric Foster attended school and graduated from Buffalo State College in 2005. For four years, he worked in a print shop doing everything from Design, to driving the delivery van, and everything in between.  Most recently he has gotten into the world of Freelance Design.   He enjoys riding a bicycle and writing songs on his electric guitar.  He draws inspiration from film, music, art and his fantastic, loving and creative friends and family members.

discuss this post

(11) responses


June 16, 2012

I guess you learn something new every day! When designing a tri-fold brochure, I tend to make each panel equal but leave enough margin in each panel. Since you’ve worked at a print shop, I’m going to take your word for it and do as you say. Thanks!

Great work samples on your website!


Eric Foster

June 18, 2012

Marcy, I’m not sure if every print shop prefers brochures to be designed that way. That’s how the print shop I worked at preferred to produce Brochures. Since, I stopped working at that print shop, any of the Designs I have submitted for clients to be printed at other print shops, I attach a text file to the entire order. The Text file explaining to them how and why I designed the Brochure the way I did, so they can fold it accordingly. I believe its just a very neat a precise way to Design/Produce a sharp looking product.

Like any process of printing from the printing, to the cutting, to the folding, the more wiggle room you have, the easier the print shop will have producing said product. You mentioned this in your comment above, regarding the margins. So by designing each panel slightly smaller than the one preceding it, the folder operator will have an easier time running the sheets through the folding machine if by chance the fold moves slightly from sheet to sheet.

In the next week, I will ask some of the Print Shops I have worked with over the past year and find out if they produce Brochures in the same manner and I will leave another comment.


p.s. Thanks for the positive feedback regarding my work samples!



June 19, 2012

This was an eye opener for me, especially for the brochure project. Very good advice for us designers



June 21, 2012

Thanks for sharing useful info it is very good for working


Kim jones

June 22, 2012

This article is awesome. I have a heavy print background from selling plates and film for 10 years at Kodak, but I went to
RIT for Graphic Design. I now own my own graphic design firm and the most frustrating thing for me is to work with designers that no nothing about print!! Thanks for your info. Next time could you explain to designers what programs work for print??? Photoshop is not one of them!


Useful Print Set Up Notes | Bronco Design Blog

June 23, 2012

[…] can get a little detached from the printing process if they don’t have hands on exposure. This Article from the Deep End hits on a lot of things that may seem obvious to the seasoned designer, but are […]


Eric Foster

June 25, 2012

Thanks for all the great feedback everyone.

Kim, I am originally from Rochester and I’ve had several family members work at Kodak. You are very right, Photoshop is not really a Design program. Just a digital dark room, that should only be used for editing a photo, but never to Design an entire piece.


Sharon Kleinberg

June 26, 2012

I am a printer also and this is great information you shared. I agree with all points you made and will add that if you aren’t sure the best thing to do is get in touch with your printer before you set up the files. We are always happy to help you along.
Also, we are in the midst of putting together a brochure on “Tips for Mailing”, which is another tricky area in printing. If you are interested in receiving it please click this link and we will s end you our mailer.


Kate Male

June 28, 2012

Excellent artical! I agree that the relationship between a graphic designer and printers, goes underestimated. I always work very closely with my printers, as they are the key to the finished product, especially if you are a print designer.


Eric Foster

July 19, 2012

Sharon, yes, mailing usually adds a lot of complexity to a jobs success. I just sent away for the brochure. thanks


Galvin Chong

July 26, 2012

Eric, I have totally agreed with you as we have been dealing with the printers for years and it’s always the best to get their printing specs and proof before the print is going on wild.


add to the conversation!

Thank you. Your video is being is emailed to you now!