Do-It-Yourself Printing: What You Need to Know

Never before have the tools for making business cards, brochures and newsletters been so readily available. What used to be a $2,500 software suite, the Adobe line of tools, including InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, can now be rented for about $50 a month. Most off-the-shelf computers these days can handle nearly all entry-level graphic design tasks. These are good things, as small business owners are now empowered to self-design a lot of things for which they had to pay hundreds of dollars before.

Design is one thing (and not the focus of this guide), but taking those designs and making print-ready files is where many novices waste a considerable amount of time and money. Here are a few pitfalls and how to avoid them.


There are two color spaces: RGB and CMYK. Red, green blue is primarily for web design and screens, and Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Registration/Black is for print. The first step before you begin designing is to make sure you are in the correct color space for print: CMYK.

Size matters a lot. One might think that a 3.5” x 2” business card should be set up for 3.5” x 2” inches. This is incorrect. Printers have three important measurements: cut/trim, safety and finish size. The finished size is 3.5” x 2”, whereas the file size (to allow for cutting) is likely to be 3.62” x 2.12”. The safety line, the space in which all essential text and graphics should be is likely to be 3.38” x 1.88”. At Kona Impact we have new clients that provide us with a 3.5” x 2” file with text to the edges, and they wonder why we won’t print them. The answer is simple: the output will have text and graphics that is cut off. The important thing is to get a template for the print provider you will use prior to setting up your workspace.

Quality matters, too. There are two numbers we see every day: 72dpi and 300dpi. Seventy-two dots per inch is the quality of most web graphics. Three hundred is what is required for high-quality printing for business cards, rack cards and so on. A very common mistake novice designers make is to take a graphic or photo from a website and use that for a print project. The problem is clear: website graphics are only going to be 25% of the quality necessary. When you see a grainy or pixelated image on a print product, the culprit is usually a low-quality image taken from the internet.

Theft is theft. Every graphic or photo you see online is the property of someone. Taking a photo or graphic for which you do not have a license or permission is theft … and very bad karma, too! Many printers will not accept files with obviously stolen images or graphics. If you are looking for a particular image, go to a stock art company and buy the rights to use it. Also, see the information about quality (above).

Save correctly. Printers are very particular about the files they use. You may design in Photoshop or Illustrator, but your printer will most certainly want an Adobe PDF file. At Kona Impact, we tell our clients the following steps to get a file ready for printing. First, make two copies of your file: “working” and print. On your print file, flatten all layers and create outlines of your fonts. Google how to do this if you don’t know. Then save your file as a PDF at the highest quality setting. A Microsoft Word, Publisher, native Photoshop file or a native Illustrator file is not print-ready and will require extra work and cost to get ready for print.

A few other things. Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Your print provider will most likely print what you give him without checking for quality issues. It is your responsibility to check for file sizes and quality. Spell check. Print a sample on your office printer.

Make your files to the print-ready sizes. If it’s a two-sided document, you need two files. Do not save your PDF with registration or crop marks. Those will make your file size incorrect.

Almost all large commercial printers will not mix colors just for your project. That is, if you have a specific Pantone number that you need, find a specialty printer. This will cost a lot more as they will be able to mix the ink for your project and run only your project on the press. Most printers these days approximate color, and they get very, very close, but since they are running thousands of items on one sheet at one time, you may experience slight color shifts. If you print the same thing a few weeks apart, you will see slight differences. Either get over it or be prepared to pay a lot more for your printing.

Does it make sense to design and print your print collateral? Here are few variables to consider:

  1. Design quality
  2. Cost of employee time to make design
  3. Cost of software, computers, and in-office printer
  4. Cost of stock art
  5. The risk of providing a printer incorrect and unusable files.
  6. The cost of failing to get a print job done correctly the first time.
  7. Cost differential of using a retail printer (like Vistaprint) and a trade printer (only available through a print provider)

At Kona Impact, we have designed and printed several hundred thousand business cards, brochure and rack cards. As such, we can usually offer the best opportunity to ensure quality, while reducing risk and overall costs.

Kona Impact | 329-6077