Print Advice
September 26, 2010 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm designing my sister's album cover for her, and I would like some tips from people with experience in print design. I've used photoshop for quite a few years, and I'm OK at using it, but have never had to print anything professionally. What I am doing for her is going to take some time and I don't want to finish and then find I have done some small thing wrong and have to start again! Advice for doing this? What to do? What not to do? Thanks...
posted by halcorp to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Who is printing it? Get their file specs and follow them carefully.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:02 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm an amateur print designer (so other user correct me if I'm wrong), and if at all possible I'd advise doing the artwork in Photoshop, but using a print design program like Quark or InDesign to do the layout.

You'll find moving text and images around easier, and you can add printer's marks and margins much more easily.

On that note, if you haven't already, find out at which dimensions it will be printed (usually multiples per page which are then cut up), if you'll need to use a bleed and if so how much (overlap of images on margins so you don't get whitespace when the print is trimmed) and any other layup preferences from the printer, plus what format they'd prefer to receive it in.

Good luck!
posted by girlwonder at 7:05 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure all of your images are in CMYK mode!
posted by Aquaman at 7:07 AM on September 26, 2010

Who is printing it? Get their file specs and follow them carefully.

This, a thousand times, this!

At an absolute bare minimum, make sure the image is at 300dpi when you start.
posted by nomadicink at 7:16 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

use a high dpi! don't even consider using less than 300. Your printer will give you specs, as MegoSteve suggested, and follow them carefully. They want you to be happy with the output, so it's in their interest to help you with the input.

I've done plenty of design for print in photoshop, and it's worked fine for me. Illustrator seems to be best for tweaking. but i'm a chef not a graphic designer.

probably goes without saying, but save each version as you go, save OFTEN, and save to external media.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2010

I don't know what you've used PS for for the past few years but I just want to point out that print is not like, say, web. In terms of pointers for the actual design (rather than pointers for the mechanics of print) things that look cool / have impact / work well online often do not work for print. My general, inept, hacky "I am not a print designer" rule for print design is that if it looks good in b/w coming out of your printer it will work when printed in full color on an actual thing.

Obviously if you're doing something like black matt with a black gloss title overprint this will not apply but I'm generally assuming anyone doing that is an actual print designer (which I am so not) not someone blindly groping their way through a print job (which I so am).
posted by DarlingBri at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2010

- Definitely don't use Photoshop, use InDesign.
- See above re: 300 dpi, print specs from printer, CMYK, etc.

A general note: a lot of people tend to over-design, especially early on. By that I mean throw everything and the kitchen sink in -- lots of detail, 3 different fonts, a huge range of color. Print design, in my opinion, is most effective when it is simple. Do your layout and then think about how it would look if you subtracted a couple of elements.

Another helpful tip is to try to find album covers you like, and then try to emulate them. I don't mean copy the layout. I mean take a look, and think seriously about what you like about the cover. Is it the use of color? The fonts? The photography treatment? Begin looking at print materials with a critical eye. What DON'T you like about some design? Once you begin to figure that out you'll be on your way.

And finally-- find someone you respect, who hopefully has some experience in the industry, and ask him or her about how effective your design is.

Good luck.
posted by miss tea at 7:38 AM on September 26, 2010

Remember bleed, the design must have pixels for the paper that is cut away ofter printing: cutting is often sloppy, so there must be plenty of inner and outer margin. This is why InDesign is better as end format as it support printing with cut marks. Just high dpi for material, but avoid small details: if you scale it down to 140 dpi all details should still be fully readable.
posted by flif at 7:50 AM on September 26, 2010

Make a mockup. Print out the design and actually put it in the type of CD case that it will appear in to see if the design really works.
posted by nomadicink at 8:06 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your design uses large areas of black, particularly black type over an image, then be sure to use a rich black (100% black plus around 40% or 50% each of cyan, magenta and yellow) rather than just plain black. This is one of those things that won't be apparent until you actually go to press, but it'll prevent the colors in the picture underneath from causing a noticeable difference in the black. You don't want to do this for small lines or body copy because registration will be a pain; only for larger display type.

Also, this applies to colors specified in layout programs like Illustrator, InDesign or Quark. If you're only using Photoshop then rich black shouldn't be a issue (though you'll probably have other issues such as fuzzy typography).
posted by Jeff Howard at 8:19 AM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Hey, thanks for the replies...

I've been mainly using photoshop for web and animation, so it is the transfer to print that concerns me. I'll definitely try ask where it's getting printed, that makes sense, although that has not been decided yet so it could be a bit tricky.

I've made a start at 300dpi, should I go higher? Is higher better even if you end up lowering it later on?

Also, I changed the image mode to CMYK and it instantly lowered the intensity of the colour of my photograph, and increasing the saturation won't fix it without ruining the colour - any pointers for getting around that?
posted by halcorp at 8:48 AM on September 26, 2010

I can't help you from a designer pov but as someone who runs a record store, perhaps these can help:

- If this is a CD (as opposed to vinyl), use a standard Jewel cases. "Fancy" cases like those made by Jewel Boxing are loathed by many people in the retail end of the business. They break and aren't easily replaced, the booklets don't go in/out easily, the sizing can mess with our marketing, etc.

- if you're in North America, make sure that when the CD is slid onto a shelf with the spine exposed and the art work on the right, that the writing on the spine reads from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

- on the spine, always list the artist before the album title.

- if the artist name is vague (as opposed to an artist's given name), list it first on the front of the packaging as well. A band called Break Beats with an album called Umbrella will be stuck under U at the record store unless that staff is familiar with the artist or Break Beats appears first on the cover.

- Don't name the album something like "[Title], a collection of songs by [Artists]" or "[title] presented by [artist]" or some such nonsense. Fast moving record store staff will file this under [title].

- make sure the writing on the spine is *legible*.

- make sure the catalog number is on the spine and is legible without a magnifying glass.

- if the CD is self-released or released on a new label, do not make the catalog number 1 or 01. Stores trying to determine if they're going to carry something that they otherwise have no reason to carry (no track record) will often go by the label and if they're unfamiliar with the label, by the catalog number. As someone who's worked in the business for years, if someone brings me a CD that came out 3 years ago on a label I've never heard of and the catalog number is 1, I will not stock it. What that screams to me is self-released or failed label.

- if you insist on putting a myspace address or facebook url or really any url on the packaging, do not put it somewhere visible with the packaging closed. Nothing screams amateur or desperate more than a myspace address on the back of a cd package.

- if the cd is a double or a cd/dvd combo, choose a jewel case that flips from the hinged side of the packaging. Ones that open the opposite way are not standard, not easily replaced if they break, and often require two hands to flip, which is a pain in the ass.

- if you're using cardboard casing that does not have a tray--which is something I *strongly* advise against as your CD will get scratched--use a plastic "bag" liner like those found in Japanese cardboard packages or your customers will curse your name. When I hear customer say "I hate this packaging", it is almost always cardboard packaging that lacks a tray. I've actually had customers tell me they were not going to buy a CD because of that packaging and when an album is available in both and the customer has a choice, not once in my years selling CDs has anyone chose the cardboard over the jewel case.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:19 AM on September 26, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also, I changed the image mode to CMYK and it instantly lowered the intensity of the colour of my photograph, and increasing the saturation won't fix it without ruining the colour - any pointers for getting around that?

What you're seeing there is the difference between what can be displayed on screen and what can be printed on paper. CMYK has a more narrow range than RGB. That's just the physics of ink on paper. What you'll want to do is get a proof before you go to press. That is, have your production house run a print that approximates the final printed version. That's the only way you're really going to know what your photo will look like. Then tweak the photo and re-proof as necessary. The paper you print on will also make a difference. Uncoated paper will soak up the ink and make everything a little more muddy. Finally, you'll want to do a press check whereby you actually go to the printer and watch your final piece come off the press. Within limits you can have the press operator adjust the color even at that late stage.
posted by Jeff Howard at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2010

I'm assuming that you're working purely in Photoshop and not InDesign here. That said...

-You can work in RGB if you want and then change it to CMYK when you've got the design where you want it. Keep in mind, though, that this will cause most adjustment layers to be discarded unless you merge layers. In CMYK, the colors will indeed shift and likely won't be as lively. That's because CMYK has a much more limited gamut than RGB. When you get something printed, it gets printed in CMYK, so it doesn't matter how lively it looks in RGB.

-A quick primer on RGB vs. CMYK: RGB is additive color, while CMYK is subtractive. What that means is that the more color you add in RGB, the brighter it gets, while in CMYK, the more color you add, the darker it gets. In RGB, 0 Red/0 Green/ 0 Blue is black. In CMYK, 0 Cyan/ 0 Magenta/ 0 Yellow/ 0 Black is white. Conversely, in RGB, 255/255/255 is white, while in CMYK, 100/100/100/100 is pure black. (RGB goes to 255 and CMYK goes to 100.) This is why the colors don't translate "right" between RGB and CMYK.

- If you have black text smaller than 18 point, especially really small black text, place it last, and after you've changed it to CMYK. Then, make sure you don't use Photoshop's default black. The default uses all four color inks, which can lead to registration problems when printing. Instead, manually change the black to 0 C/ 0 M/ 0 Y/ 100 K. It will not be as dark as the default black, but it will be black ink only when it prints, which means the printer will not have to try to line up four inks straight. (Lining up the plates so that the each ink lands in the right spot is called registration.)

- Finally, work with your printer and find out exactly what they need. This is key for any printed project. They're used to working with people who don't do this for a living, and trust me, they'd rather help you up front than fix your files on the back end. (I do this quite a bit at work.) Most likely, they won't need you to arrange the artwork for printing as far as multiples per page are concerned. They'll likely need one good piece of artwork and then they can position it in their prepress department. This is especially true if they print it on a gang run, where they save costs by printing several clients' pieces on one sheet, and then cut it from there.

- As mentioned above, high resolution, preferably 300 dpi. On something the size of a CD cover, getting photos to that resolution shouldn't be a problem.

Good luck. The fact that you're trying to get this right in the first place instead of blindly submitting a file is a good sign.
posted by azpenguin at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something else that just occurred to me is that since your background is in web design you're probably used to saving files as JPEGs or GIFs. You won't want to use those or any other lossy types of file compression for print. Instead, save your layered files as PSDs but your final files as flattened TIFFs unless you're doing any complicated vector masks within Photoshop, in which case you should save as an EPS format. These formats are both lossless, that is they don't discard any data to reduce the file size.

You'll place the image file into your layout program and probably be asked to export the final file as a PDF for the printer. If you're just using Photoshop without a layout program, check with your printer for the best file format.
posted by Jeff Howard at 3:19 PM on September 26, 2010

I didn't see this anywhere above, but here's my suggestion:

Designing product packaging means you'll also be attracting an eye from "far away" -- either from across the room on a shelf, or in a thumbnail view on a site like Amazon. Your cover design needs to read well if you shrink it down to a 200x200 pixel thumbnail. If you reduce the image down and can't read the title or band name, or the cool imagery you used looks like a muddled mess, you should un-design a little bit.

Next: If you're matching or exceeding your printer's suggested DPI, turn off antialiasing on fonts and other things you expect to have crisp edges. If antialiasing is on, the printer will dither those smoothing grays and it will make your text look fuzzy.

Lastly: rich black is your friend, as others had suggested. It may look identical on your computer screen, but anything 000 black will be clearly not-black to the untrained eye when it comes back from the printers. One thing I've found is helpful, especially when I had to work with art from a 3rd party, is to turn up the contrast on a layer just to see what "comes out" in the mix where you thought there was a solid expanse of color.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:41 PM on September 26, 2010

YSStOG's advice is all great. I would add that most stores put sale price stickers in the upper left corner of the front of the packaging. If at all possible I'd try to avoid putting important design elements/text there.
posted by mintcake! at 5:30 PM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Absolute gold mine of information there people, thanks!
posted by halcorp at 1:12 AM on September 29, 2010

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