File setup for printing is easier than you think. And if you are working with a designer, it’s even easier, as they will do the work for you.
The first question I ask my clients is how they will be printing: Home, Copy Shop, or professional Online Printer. This makes a difference in how the file should be setup. 

Where you print determines the best file setup for printing 

Home Printing

For home printing, the goal is to maximize the paper use. With that in mind, I typically will setup a file, say 5×7 birth announcement, as two to a page. This allows you to use one piece of paper and get two announcements out of it. For smaller cards, like 3.5×5 you can fit 4 to a page.
file setup for printing with two on a page

Copy Shop

Some copy shops, like Staples, will have you upload your design to their online ordering website. There you can see how your image will fit in a “safe area”. All text and design that you want printed needs to appear in this area or it could be cut off, as trimming isn’t always precise. You’ll see in the examples below, that this requires a slightly different file setup. 
While it prints out fine at home in my 5×7 example; when I upload the standard 5×7 file to Staples, some of my text appears outside of this safety zone.
File setup for printing online at Staples
Here’s what you need to do. Most designers will add a .125″ bleed when the design extends to the very edge of the page. The bleed allows the printer to print a little extra of the design and then trim down to the correct size, cutting off some of the design. I exported my jpeg to use the “Document Bleed Settings,” which is setup with a .125″ bleed.

File setup for printing by export image with bleed
When I upload the file to Staples with the bleed, making my file 5.25 x 7.25″, it works! All of my text and design that I want to make sure prints is within the safety zone. 
Staples Ordering with Bleed

Online Printer

Most online printers allow you to price out your piece with an online quote tool. You can choose your paper, color usage, quantity, and any extras (rounded corners, perforation, scoring, folds, etc).
Online Printer Ordering Screen
Once you choose your selections, you’ll upload your file and pay. Typically you’ll receive an online proof back from the printer that will confirm the color settings (though note that monitors can skew the actual colors), and where the file will be trimmed. Once you approve the proof, production of your order starts. 
For the best quality print job, and a variety of paper choices, an online printer is your best bet. For these types of printers I recommend using a “Press Quality” pdf with Marks and Bleed settings checked. This will export the pdf at the highest quality possible, will add in the .125″ bleed, making it possible to print more of the design and then trim down, as well as additional professional print settings within the file.
Your file will look something like this:
File setup for printing at online printer with crop and bleed marks
Most online printers that I have worked with are very helpful when it comes to responding to questions about file setup and if they think something will print accurately. Have a question? Send them an email or comment with your order! 

Other considerations for printing:

  • For all of these methods of printing, it’s important to set the color settings to CMYK
  • Export at the highest possible file type: Press Quality PDF or High Quality JPEG at 300dpi. To check if your file is high resolution, you can enlarge it to 400% in a file viewer like Adobe Reader. A 300dpi high resolution file will be clear even at 400%.
  • Make sure fonts are embedded into the file. Some fonts have licensing restrictions that may prevent embedding.
 Do you have any questions or file setup for printing tips to add? Comment below. 

Hi, I’m Meghan, party lover and designer at Elva M Design Studio. I’m a mom of three young boys and so passionate about celebrating all life has to offer. I love party planning and bringing people together, whether it’s for Champagne Friday, celebrating a new baby, a birthday, or just because! I hope you'll find some unique party ideas and printables to assist in planning your own celebrations.

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