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Prepress Checklist: Prepare Your Custom Label File for Print

Custom Label Graphic Design

Designing the perfect custom label is one thing, but it’s quite another to have it printed. Examining your digital files from a prepress standpoint is a crucial step in the label creation process, and should always be conducted by you and your designer first because you possess the vision of your final product. Though prepress designers possess the technical knowledge of setting up files for press, they don’t share your unique vision.

We’ve compiled a prepress checklist to save you time and headaches down the road when you’re ready to print. Looking over these steps ensures your designs will move quickly through the prepress process, easily through the printing process, and yield the final product swiftly into your hands.

1. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Mistakes happen all the time, we get it. In fact, it took me three tries to type this sentence! Even though everyone makes typos, nobody wants to see them on a product they want to buy. A misspelled ingredient or bungled slogan can make all the difference in whether or not someone will purchase your product.

Proofreading the copy on your label should be done again and again, and by several pairs of eyes. Double-check those polysyllabic ingredients in the supplement facts panel, scan the product name for swapped letters, triple check the barcode and price, heck, make sure your website is listed correctly (it’s happened–trust us). 

While proofreading, also take the time to review how the text appears visually. Print your design on an office printer to make sure all text is legible (5pt font is the minimum size recommended for legible print). Look for things like words split due to line breaks, text spacing, and paragraph size. Is there one lonely word hanging out on a line all by itself, throwing off the whole look of the design? Get all those finer details ironed out before sending files off to the printer.

2. Artwork Size and Resolution

One of the most important things to take care of when preparing a file for print is the artwork size. If you want to print a 2.00” x 4.00” label, submitting your artwork at 1.00” x 8.00” definitely won’t yield the results you’re looking for.

When communicating with your graphic designer or building the file yourself, have your final printed label size in mind. Design your artwork with this final label size established so that everything prints as expected. The artboard or canvas size should be the final label size with bleed added.

For example, if you need a 2.00” x 4.00” label, you’ll want to make sure your artboard or canvas size is 2.125” x 4.125”. 

Prepress checklist: Measuring label with ruler.

Bleed

In addition to sizing your label correctly, you’ll also need to include bleed in your design. Bleed is the background color, pattern, or design that extends 0.0625″ on each side of your label (or 0.125” on the width and length). Bleed ensures that your entire background is printed and does not get cut off during the converting process, where labels are cut out from the printed material.

With the 2.00” x 4.00” label example, you’ll want to make sure your background pattern or color extends all the way to 2.125” x 4.125”. 

Safe Zone

Text and design elements must remain within the safe zone to prevent this information from being cut off during the converting process. All your important text and design elements should stay within 0.0625″ on each side of your label (or 0.125” on the width and length).

Following our example of a 2.00” x 4.00” label, the safe zone would be 1.875” x 3.875”.

Resolution

The minimum resolution recommended for print is 300 dpi. When importing images into your design, or working in Photoshop, be sure these elements are at least 300 dpi or you may see pixelation and blurriness in the final printed label. However, if your label is an image or contains lots of text, especially small text, we recommend saving the file at 800 dpi for maximum clarity.

Prepress checklist: CMYK color spectrum.

3. Color

We print all labels using a CMYK process, so it’s for the best that you create your design in CMYK color mode. Conversion of files from RGB to CMYK is as easy as pushing a button, but color and format-shifting are common when switching between color modes. To avoid surprises, design your label in CMYK color mode from the start.

4. No Overprinting

Never apply overprinting to any elements in artwork intended for digital print, as digital employs knockout printing methods. If overprinting is built into the file, the overall design will appear correctly on your screen, but will not print the same way. Avoid any mishaps by checking that overprinting is turned off on all elements.

5. File Types

We accept many file types for print, but certain file types far and away yield superior print results compared to others. We prefer working with designs created in Adobe Illustrator because it is a vector-based program. In design terms, vector refers to elements that have been created with straight lines, such as text and shapes. Vector designs generally print much clearer than flattened images (like .JPGs). Files saved as .AI, .PDF, or .EPS from Adobe Illustrator are perfect to submit for print.

Designs created in Photoshop are acceptable as well! Photoshop uses pixels to create images and designs, so finer details can get lost in translation, but as long as the resolution is high everything should be fine. We will happily print .PSD, .PDF, or .JPG files if they meet the resolution requirements.

Prepress checklist: Showing how to outline fonts in Adobe Illustrator

6. Outline Fonts

Typography is an integral part of custom label design. That being said, fonts need something like a virtual passport to get from one place to the next. All text needs to be converted to outlines–otherwise there’s a risk the text will appear in a different font, or change in formatting when we open the file. When you outline your fonts, it locks them down or flattens them, so that they are safe for transport and will display correctly when printed.

Outlining your fonts is not a necessary step if you’re working in Photoshop, but you will need to make sure you follow this step if you’re working in Illustrator. Fortunately, outlining fonts is super easy! To outline your fonts in Illustrator, select all of the text in your designs, then go to the Type menu and select “Create Outlines.”

7. Embed Images

Images also need that virtual passport. If you’re working in Illustrator, any images in your design may not show up when we open the file unless you Embed them (again, this is only a necessary step in Illustrator). 

Embedding images is just as easy as outlining your fonts. To embed your images in Illustrator, simply select each one on your artboard and click Embed on your top toolbar. Save the file and you are ready to go!

Advanced Options

Spotwhite

If you choose to print on a clear or metallic material, you’ll need to include a spotwhite layer in your artwork file. The spotwhite layer communicates to us what areas you want to be opaque or white, and which areas you want to be transparent or metallic. 

We’ve compiled step-by-step spotwhite layer creation guides for both Illustrator and Photoshop to make this step quite simple. We’ve also created instructional videos you can follow along with if you’re more of a visual learner (see below for our Illustrator guide). Check out both videos on our YouTube channel.

Conclusion

If you have any questions about the prepress checklist above, or about design features not listed here, feel free to reach out to our helpful Experience Team for assistance. We’ll walk you through how to get your label files set up flawlessly. And as always, a failsafe way to make sure your files are perfect is order an electronic or printed proof. Happy designing!

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