This section will help ensure that your finished document prints perfectly by helping you prepare your files for printing. We will cover:

  • Bleeds and Safety Zones
  • Color — CMYK vs. RGB
  • File Format
  • Image Resolution
  • Margins
  • Spines for Perfect Binding

Prepare Your Files: Bleeds and Safety Zones

To ensure that your file prints correctly, you need to set bleeds up correctly. When you want colors or graphics to print to the edge of your page, you have to design the page larger than the size of the document. Printing presses cannot print exactly to the edge of the page, so documents are printed larger and then cut down to size. Your pages should be set up 1/8 inch larger all the way around the page. So, if you have an 8 1/2 x 11 inch document, you should design the piece as 8 3/4 x 11 1/4 .

Also be aware of the safety area on your document. Since most finished pieces are printed on larger paper and cut, you have to make sure that you do not have any text or critical graphics too close to the edge of the page. You should make sure that you allow 1/8 inch between critical text and the edge of your page when you prepare your files for printing.

Colors — CMYK vs. RGB

All graphics and colors used in your document should be converted to CMYK. If you design in RBG or Pantone, be sure to convert everything to CMYK before submitting your file. Converting by us can cause unexpected color shifts, so it is better if you do the conversion. Color changes are less noticeable in photos and more noticeable in background colors. Please note that we cannot match Pantone or PMS colors. One of the reasons our prices are so low is because we print all files in CMYK with digital presses, using a pleasing color standard for printing.

Keep in mind two special issues when working with colors:

Blues — It is not unusual for a color that looks very blue on your screen to print with a purple tint to it. To avoid this issue, make sure that there is at least a 30% difference in your cyan and magenta values.

Black – If you are using large patches of black in backgrounds or images, it is best to use a rich black. Rich black is comprised of some portion of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. If you use just 100% black for large black backgrounds, they will tend to print a muddy gray color. We recommend the following values:

  • Cyan 60, Magenta 40, Yellow 40, Black 100

When using a rich black, be sure to use the same values for all graphics, backgrounds, and text. While you will not see a difference on your computer screen, the blacks will print differently so it is important to consider this when you prepare your files for printing.

File Format

When you prepare your files for printing, it must be submitted as a PDF file. A high-resolution PDF file will embed all fonts and graphics. That way, you are assured that fonts and graphics will print as you see them on your computer. Macintosh users can save documents as PDF files from within most programs. PC users should go to our article, Create a PDF File, for information on how to create PDF files.

Image Resolution

All graphics should be 300 dpi (dots per inch). Images on computer screens look great at 72 dpi (that is the maximum resolution of a computer screen), but will look very jagged and fuzzy when printed at that resolution. Enlarging graphics can reduce resolution and print quality. If you double the size of a 300 dpi image, the resolution will be reduced to 150 dpi. On the other hand, you can increase the resolution of an image by reducing the size. A 72 dpi image reduced to 25% of its original size will have a 288 dpi resolution.

Most images on websites are 72 dpi to allow for fast transmission over the Internet and look fine on your computer screen. However, the low resolution will look grainy when printed, so be sure to consider this when you prepare your files for printing.


When you prepare your files for printing, be sure to allow adequate margins all the way around your document, but especially on the bound edge. Perfect binding, wire-o binding, and plastic coil binding will use approximately 1/8 of an inch on the bound edge. You also want to make sure that there is sufficient room on perfect bound books so that they are easy to read and do not require the reader to break the spine to read the book. We recommend at least 3/4 of an inch on the bound side.

Prepare Your Files: Spines for Perfect Binding

When you prepare your files for printing, we recommend that you submit covers for perfect bound documents as three files — the front cover, the back cover, and the spine. The size of your front and back cover should equal the size of your document plus 1/8 inch bleed on all four sides.

To calculate the size of your spine, use this formula:

For 60# uncoated text, 70# matte and gloss text stock, and 80# matte and gloss text stock:

Number of pages divided by 440 = spine in inches

For 70# uncoated text and 100# matte and gloss text stock:

Number of pages divided by 370 = spine in inches

Count the pages like pages in a book, not sheets of paper. Include the cover in the number of pages.

For example, if your book is 100 pages and you are using 80# matte stock, your spine would be 100 pages divided by 440, or .23 inches. If you were using 70# uncoated stock, the spine would be 100 pages divided by 370, or .27 inches.

When preparing your spine, be sure to add 1/8 inch bleed on all four sides.

Make sure that any text on the spine is not the exact size of the spine. Leave a little blank room on the top and bottom of the text.

When you prepare your files for printing, following these tips will help ensure that you are amazed with your printed document. We will check your files for some things, like proper bleeds, proper safety zones, and image resolution. We will notify you if there are problems, but that will likely delay your printing project while you correct your files. Other items we can’t check, such as whether you used the color you intended.

Want to learn more about how to prepare your files for printing?

Publishing Xpress can answer any questions you may have about how to prepare your files for printing.

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