Artwork Requirements: Full-Color Digital Printing

To qualify for our order discount you must use the artwork template corresponding to the item number you are ordering, and follow the requirements below.

Basic requirements

  • Process-color bitmap files must be placed within our vector art template. You can create your graphics and lettering partially or entirely in Photoshop or other similar applications if you like, but such artwork needs to then be imported, positioned, and cropped on our template as it is intended to print. All common placed bitmaps files are fine — JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF, BMP, PSD, etc.

    Do not embed any bitmap files in the document. Place them as linked files instead, and send them to us as separate companion files along with the .ai or .eps layout file. (This is in case we need to adjust anything for successful output, which is not unusual.)
  • Vector artwork should be drawn cleanly enough to color-separate and trap properly. We will do any trapping of artwork required on this end, but vector paths must be executed professionally enough that they do not complicate color separation or trapping. This means properly closed paths, without stray points or other litter in the form of unnecessary or leftover non-printing “junk” paths, and so forth. If artwork is autotraced, take a certain amount of care when setting up the parameters for the automated trace to ensure a decent result, or else redraw the artwork manually. Autotraced artwork done as a quick-and-dirty “shortcut” may be more trouble than it is worth if the file needs trapped. If we need to rebuild or rework poorly built or poorly autotraced files or otherwise haphazardly constructed pathwork, it is unlikely we will be able to give you the discount. (Though sometimes partial credit may be given, depending on the time saved.)
  • Reproducible tint range is a 2% highlight dot and 98% shadow dot. This is the same as commercial offset printing, so there are essentially no artwork limitations, technically. (But see practical considerations about visibility of details at a distance, further below.) This range applies individually to each process-color plate (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).
  • Convert all fonts to outlines or pixels. The former applies to fonts used in Illustrator or other vector art programs, the latter to fonts typeset with Photoshop. It’s much better to create type as vectors for printing purposes. If lettering has been submitted as “live” fonts that aren’t available in our own library, we may need to re-typeset or redraw the lettering as vector art, with a reduction or elimination of the order discount.
  • Mounting holes should not punch through critical lettering or artwork. Or if they do and it doesn’t matter to you, you must notify us in advance, so we don’t spend time attempting to contact you about the issue or need to fix any problems on our end. Mounting holes are shown in our .eps file templates to aid in laying out artwork.
  • Save/export final file in Adobe Illustrator .ai or .eps format, any version through CC (Creative Cloud). Windows or Macintosh does not matter, since Adobe graphic formats are cross-platform-compatible. Most other vector artwork applications, such as CorelDraw, can save/ export files to either Adobe .ai or .eps format.
  • Discount may be reduced or pro-rated for anything other than minor adjustments that we need to make to your file. That said, we do welcome any work you can do on your end to help. Even if you do not qualify for the full discount, we will extend partial credit depending on the amount of time saved. If you don’t understand one of the guidelines above, don’t hesitate to contact us — we’re glad to answer questions, since that makes things easier for everyone.
  • Don’t worry about trapping the file. We’ll handle any trapping required on our end. There can be more than one way to trap artwork depending on the situation, and different production lines may require different amounts of trapping. Our work is easier if we get an untrapped file from you that doesn’t contain pre-trapped objects we might need to rework or “undo.” (Trapping is not something usually taught as a design skill anyway, and most designers dislike doing it even if they know how, so this should be a “win/win” on both sides.)

Guidelines for non-white backgrounds
and metallic-finish bla nks

  • Achieving expected full-color output on metallic bla nks. Obtaining successful and expected reproduction of color hues depends on printing on a white or light-colored background. When printing full-color on non-white backgrounds such as natural aluminum, gold, or silver bla nks, a white undercoat may be required, depending on the situation. This carries an extra charge for the additional ink color — we will inform you ahead of time should this be necessary.
  • Creating custom background colors using ink. Background colors other than white can be created by printing a flood of colored ink on top of white bla nks. If bleeds are not permitted (depends on the specific product), there is an outer white margin requirement (needed for tag gripper edge) of 3/16” to 1/4”, depending on the item. For black backgrounds or other wide expanses of black, use a “rich black.” We recommend a value of CMYK 40 30 30 100 for the most neutral black, but the C, M, and Y values can be varied some if you want to shift the hue of the black slightly, as long as you target total ink coverage of 200%.

Guidelines for best reproduction
and for visibility at a distance

  • To ensure successful reproduction, keep details to at least 0.5 to 0.75-point in thickness. This applies to both printed ink and to any small unprinted interstices between inked areas (often called “negative space”). Details slightly smaller will usually print okay, say 0.25 to 0.5-point, but smaller than that risks dropouts in the case of inked areas, or else filling in of negative space. Digital industrial-inkjet printing can hold finer detail than screen-printing, but not quite to the same degree as commercial offset printing. Keep this in mind when you are repurposing artwork originally desiged for printing on paper or any artwork that is highly detailed.
  • For best visibility at a distance, target 1-point thickness or above. While digital printing is very good at reproducing detail compared to previous outdoor-grade process-color technologies, this does not mean you want very many features of your artwork and lettering to be less than 1-point, just because they can be reproduced as such. Details such as outlines and drop shadows around lettering, for instance (a very common example), that can be easily perceived when holding the product in your hand may be imperceptible once beyond 10 feet away, unless thickened up.

    Anything you want to be perceivable at any distance should be at least 1-point thick, and that minimum applies mainly to details in graphic elements, rather than lettering. With lettering, any "extras" such as outlines or drop shadows should be a bare minimum of 2 to 3 points thick on the smallest lettering, on up to 4, 5, or 6 points, even 8 or 10 points on the largest lettering. If the counters (inside spaces) of lettering get filled up completely by drop shadows of such size, they will cause more problems than they are worth in terms of reduced legibility, and would be better eliminated. Either that or find a typeface with more open, spacious counters to accommodate thicker drop shadows without interfering with legibility.
  • If you are not sure about how well something will work when viewed on a license plate from some distance, ask and we’ll be happy to advise you based on our experience. A happy customer makes doing business more fun and is our best advertisement too.
  • Placed bitmap files should be 300dpi or higher at actual output size. For non-photographic images that should have clean/hard edges, 600dpi is strongly recommended. We are not responsible for poorly appearing printed output due to low-resolution images, such as those intended originally for use on websites at 72dpi, or other similar images.
  • Use color swatches consistently. While not critical with process-color like it is with spot-color art, when color swatches are defined it’s a good idea and always helpful to apply them consistently. Don’t, for example, use a defined color swatch for some red objects but apply an undefined red color to other red objects. Although we vet submitted files to catch oversights like this that could otherwise sometimes result in a mismatch between slightly different colors that should instead match, our job is easier if you prep files properly on your end.