Setting Up Your Design Document for Print | McNeil Printing in Orem Utah

Setting Up Your Design Document for Print

One of the best things about being a commercial printer is seeing all of the incredible artwork that runs through our presses. We want your final product to look just the way you imagined it. Below are some tips for setting up your design files so that your printer will know exactly the way you intend your creation to be printed and finished.

We usually receive artwork files created in InDesign, Illustrator, or occasionally Photoshop. Eventually we want you to send us a finalized, print-ready pdf, but the first step is to create a new document in your favorite design software.

File Size and Resolution

When you create your document, it is very important that you set it to the exact dimensions of your final printed piece. In the example below, the final document will be 8 inches wide and 4 inches tall.

Make sure that the resolution of your artwork is at least 300 dpi when you intend to print your project. Designs for use on the web are typically created at 72 dpi, but such a low resolution file will appear blurry when printed.

Document Set Up for Print Design

Color Profile

Artwork intended for print should be created in the CMYK color mode. RGB is ideal for web design, but colors do not always convert perfectly for printers which require CMYK.


Including bleed in your artwork ensures that the ink will print all the way to the edge of the page without trimming off anything essential in your design. Bleed refers to a space around the artwork that falls outside of the final printed area. Bleed allows for a margin of error—to ensure that your document will look professional after it is cut to size.

The size of the bleed you use depends on its purpose. A document intended for print on standard paper or cover weight stock that bleeds off the edge of the printed sheet should have a bleed of at least 1/8″ (0.125 inches or 9 points) on each side of the document which requires bleed.

If your document will be printed on heavier material or will be framed, you may need to include a larger bleed or even no bleed at all. It’s best to ask your print specialist for a recommendation for your specific project.

Bleed and Trim Marks

Safe Zone or Margins

While you are creating your design, make sure to keep in mind that you should keep all of your important content within a safe zone. Some programs, like InDesign, refer to this as margins. This area will not be cut off, but due to tiny variations in cutting machinery, it is safest to keep text and other essential elements inside the margins or “safe zone.”

Using at least .25″ as a safety margin on each side of your document, will help your printer to preserve the integrity of your original design.

InDesign Margins and Gutters


When your document has multiple columns or facing pages, you will need to set the gutter width. The gutter is a little extra space used to accommodate the binding in books and magazines. The amount of gutter required will vary depending on the binding method you choose. Gutter is also used to refer to the space between columns of text in a page layout, although the official term for that is the “alley.”

Using Photoshop for Print Design

It’s important to note that Photoshop is a program designed for editing photos and images or designing graphics for the web. Since designing for print is not the primary purpose of Photoshop, some projects will be a lot easier to design in another program like InDesign or Illustrator.

If you choose to create your artwork in Photoshop instead of Illustrator or InDesign, there are some important differences in setting up your document. Visit our page about Using Photoshop for Print Design for detailed instructions on creating bleed and trim marks in a Photoshop document.

Preparing Your Files to Send to the Printer

Once you’ve properly set up your document and created your artwork, you are ready to save or package your design to send to the printer. Visit our Design File Preparation page for step-by-step instructions on preparing your design for print.