Printing. It’s a huge subject. No matter what, the very first question you should ask yourself before starting, is how is this going to be produced? Asking yourself that, along with a few other questions will save you a ton of time and help your client recognize the work and expertise you bring to the project.

If you or your client isn’t sure how you’re going to produce it, follow this general rule of thumb:

Set your document color mode to CMYK and then define the size of your project, making sure to add a 0.125″ bleed.

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Color Modes: What They Are & How to Decide



RGB and CMYK are different color modes and you’ll need to decide which works best for the project. Consider the following when picking the color mode for your next project:

RGB stands for Red, Green & Blue. It refers to the way light on your monitor or screen displays color. It includes a larger gamut of colors and is primarily for screen-based projects including web design & mobile apps.  Most home printers & photo labs process RGB rather than CMYK.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black. It refers to the way these colors combine to form an end color on paper. Large printing presses and copy shops like Staples, Alphagraphics, FedEx Office and OfficeMax read CMYK better.

What is Bleed? 

It’s a printing term used by the pressmen and designer to designate how close the print colors go to the edge of the piece. You’ll notice that magazines, postcards, and photos usually have color going all the way to the edge. Print pieces of all kinds are printed on large sheets and then cut down to a final size. (i.e. Your Christmas card design’s finished size is 5″x7″, but the file will include a standard bleed of 0.125″ on each side. So your file size will be 5.25″ x 7.25″. This allows for the ink to be all the way to edge as the pressman will trim off the additional color and white paper that might extend beyond the finished size.) Note: A best practice for designer’s is to confirm bleeds and file specs with your chosen print source prior to designing your file. This will provide you with a chance to provide the most accurate files going to press,  and result in the best end product.  

TIP: No printer actually lays color all the way to the edge of the paper. When you’re acting as the pressman and printing on your home computer make sure to give yourself a .25″ gutter on all 4 sides of your print sheet. Then you can maximize the printable space by rotating your design (like multiple invites) to fit your printable space. You’ll be design savvy and cost efficient!

Home or Copy Shop

If you’re printing on your home printer or at a local copy shop (like Office Max or Staples) you’re probably printing on a standard size paper. 8.5″ x 11″ for your home computer, unless you have a fancy printer than can handle custom sizes or 8.5″ x 11″ (standard letter)  or 11″ x 17″ (tabloid) at the copy shop.

Online Printers

There are lots of great online printers out there. I’ve used a few and love them for different reasons. does a lot of custom sizing and prints varieties (meaning you can have a different picture on every business card if you want). I usually use Moo for clients that have picked a high-end print option. offers a lot of industry standard options at a very reasonable price. I always find their print quality on my projects to be well within the range of decent and I’ve never had any issues with my pieces being damaged. They’re a great moderate-price option. is an awesome low-cost printer. I’ve had a few pieces show up that were dinged or smudged (posters), but the business cards and postcards I’ve gotten there have always been awesome.

Always, always, always, visit the website of  the online printer and download the template for whatever item you’re designing. 

Each printer does things slightly different. Even though the end size may be the same, you’ll want to work off their specs for a project rather than your own so you’re sure to get the best print product possible.

Professional Printing Press

For jobs that I’m sending to a proper printing press I always give them a call. Believe me, you’re not bothering them to call and ask for specs and explain your project. They’ll thank you because your files will be easy to work with and you’ll be happy because you’ll cut out all that extra work and hassle of fixing files. All printers know the industry standard of CMYK and the finished plus a 0.125′ bleed on all sides, but they may have a few extras tips or specs that you wouldn’t know about unless you called.

Photo Lab

I’ve had a client or two take print files to a photo lab. (They needed just a few extra 11″ x 14″ posters…) The result was terrible. The reason for this is that the specs for photo printers are quite different. Often they require large resolution sizes (a 4×6 print is often 3 times that size in the design file) and the color mode is usually RGB. If you’re designing printables that you give away online – offering a file to be printed at a photo lab isn’t a bad option (I do it here on my site – for projects where a client may be printing multiples for an organization, etc.) Just make sure you adhere to the specs for photo labs and that you make your client aware that these files are ONLY FOR PHOTO LABS.


What questions do you have about printing? Any favorite places to print you’d like to share?


None of the links in this article are affiliate links. My reviews and opinions of each business are completely my own and are based on my own personal experience working with them on print projects for my clients.