Printing Artwork 101: 7 things to remember

In the life of every artist or designer one day comes a time when they want to print something. You start reading what needs to be done, try to figure out how to prepare your files and, often, fail – why have the colours shifted so much? Why is the print so dark? Why did everything move like this?

If you’re looking for a short and comprehensive beginner’s guide on what you need to know to avoid the most common mistakes and problems, and some advice on where to look for more detailed info, search no longer and read this article – you’ll find everything you need below.



Each image you create digitally has its own colour space. If you’re planning on publishing your work only digitally, then RGB is perfect, but if you want to print, you need to start learning about CMYK.

Basically, CMYK is the colour space used for commercial printing, and to avoid a strange and ugly colour shift, you’re going to have to convert your file to it. How does it work, exactly?

CMYK creates colors by blending four colors of ink: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK (also known as Key).

It is used to print in full color on items that reflect light but do not generate it, such as paper and fabric. – from

There are several different ways to convert. The simplest one is, in Photoshop, to go into Image -> Mode -> CMYK. However, I do not recommend it – it usually gives pretty bad results. The better one, which will cause a much smoother transition, is to use Edit -> Convert to Profile.



Now, the menu that you’ll see may seem scary at first, but that’s because there are many different kinds of both RGB and CMYK spaces – many different colour profiles, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The basic thing to remember is to check whether you converted your image to CMYK before printing. At the same time, I’d advise against working in CMYK from the beginning – is simply has a much smaller colour range and you’re likely to get less saturated and vibrant colour than if you start working in RGB and THEN convert to CMYK.

Tip: If you want to see how your image would look in a different colour space without actually converting it, you can use View -> Proof Setup -> Working CMYK and check the View -> Proof Colors option below or just hit Ctrl/Cmd + Y.

Important: Like mentioned above, CMYK is the colour space used for commercial printing. So if you’re planning to print your work yourself at your home printer, it’s very likely that you don’t need to convert the colours, and that RGB will actually give you much better results. To get the best ones, you’re going to have to know the printer’s colour profile, which I explain below. RedRiverPaper has a pretty good and useful guide on how to use ICC profiles for inkjet printers (Canon, Epson, HP) while printing directly from Photoshop:


ICC Colour profiles

Profiles are simply look-up tables that describe the properties of a color space. They define the most saturated colors available in a color space; i.e. the bluest blue or deepest black your printer can produce. – from

A profile is a small file that describes the characteristics of the device it corresponds to. For example, a printer profile describes all the color characteristics of the printer/paper/ink combination it was created from. (…)

The workflow, in basic terms, is to convert the colors of an image from the color space of the monitor to the color space of the output device. – from

I hope the above to quotes explained at least a little bit what colour profiles are to you, but don’t worry if you still feel a little lost – it’s a complicated subject. The basic thing you need to know is that if you don’t have a colour profile of the printer that’s going to be used to print your artwork, there’s a big chance that the colours are going to be different from what you see on your computer screen.

If you’re printing your work independently, it’s best to send an e-mail to your printers and ask them to send you the profile, or look at their website – it’s possible they have a pre-press section from which you can download the file. If you’re printing through some sort of a bigger platform, like DeviantART or Curioos, Inprint etc., look on the web – you never know what you can find, but in general, there are several profiles that are pretty standard in the industry and should give good results:

  • For US/North American printing: US Web Coated (SWOP) v2.
  • For Europe: Coated FOGRA 27 or 39.

I never had problems using the above, but like I wrote earlier, if you have the possibility to ask the printer directly, do it.

If you want to read a longer and more in-depth explanation on what the colour profiles actually are, check out this article on the PermaJet Photography Blog:



Another term you’re likely to come across is DPI or PPI. Now, what’s that?

DPI: Dot’s per inch. The number of dots in a printed inch. The more dot’s the higher the quality of the print (more sharpness and detail).

PPI: Pixels per inch. Most commonly used to describe the pixel density of a screen (computer monitor, smartphone, etc…) but can also refer to the pixel density of a digital image.

Resolution: Resolution is the measure of pixels in the display, usually expressed in measurements of width x height. For example a monitor that is 1920 x 1080 is 1920 pixels across and 1080 pixels down. – from

For printing, the standard DPI value is 300 (sometimes higher), and for web – 72. When it comes to resolution and printing – the bigger the better. You can have an image that is too small, but if you’re printing artwork, you probably can’t have an image that’s too big.

How to check your DPI in Photoshop? Go to Edit -> Image Size or simply press Alt -> Ctrl/Cmd -> I.


These are the basics, but if you want to know a bit more, read here:


Ink Density

One of the first thriller covers that I worked on was “Echo’s Shadow” by Trace Noir. The cover was quite dark, me – still a bit inexperienced, and so I received an e-mail from the author that the proof came back much darker than intented and can I please do something about it.


I started googling, and it quickly turned out that there’s quite a few people with the same problem, but it took me a while to actually find a working solution. And here’s where ink density comes in.

Total Ink Density, or TIC, as you’re also likely to see it mentioned, is, as the name suggests, the total amount of ink in one area. Each of the letters of CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) has its own numerical percentage value – for example, if the background of your piece is made up of 100C 80M 80Y 100K, the total ink density would be 360% for the background.

Now, too much ink in one place causes problems, especially if we’re talking about black – the colour spills to surrounding areas, often making them a lot darker than they are intended to be. The trick is to make sure that the Total Ink Density in your image doesn’t exceed 240%.


How to check it?

Firstly, make sure you converted your image to CMYK. Then make sure you have the Info Panel turned on. If you don’t, then go to Window -> Info or press F8. Then, use the Eyedropper Tool (I) and hover over the darker parts of your artwork. The right side of the Info Panel should show you the CMYK value percentages. If, combined, they exceed 240%, you’re in trouble.




How to fix it?

The best way I found so far is to use the Selective Colors adjustment layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Selective Color). By using it, you can adjust every color separately, inlcuding black or white, which means that you can easily manipulate the CMYK percentages while making sure that your colours remain looking like the should.


Bleed and printers’ marks

Bleeds allow you to run artwork to the edge of a page. On a press, the artwork is printed on a large sheet of paper and then trimmed down to size. If you do not allow for a 1/8 of an inch bleed, any misalignment while cutting will result with the artwork not running to the edge of the paper. Bleeds ensure you get the results you need. – from

The basic amount of bleed most places ask for is 1/8 inch or 3 mms. If you do not include bleed, you may end up with uneven white space on the edges of the image. Still, different places will often require different bleed amount, so it’s always best to ask your printer directly if you’re printing independently. If you’re printing through a bigger platform, like DeviantArt or Curioos, you will notice that they don’t usually offer full bleed prints, which is why adding bleed is most often not necessary.

Bleed is a part of a wider category called printers’ marks, and there are other elements that some places might ask you to include in your file, but that’s relatively rare. Here’s some more info if you’d like to read up just in case, though:


File format

The best formats for printing will be always predominantly PDF or in some cases TIFF. You can include layers in both of them if you need it.


Want to know more?

The best and most comprehensive resource on printing I’ve found on the net so far is Print Ninja’s Printing Academy: I wholeheartedly recommend reading everything they have if you want to deepen your knowledge – I use it often myself.



Want to Be a Book Designer? 7 Tips for Artists

If you’re a photomanipulator, a digital painter or a mixed-media artist you’ve probably thought about designing book covers, or already designed them – maybe you’ve worked for some indie authors, maybe you designed premades. If you’re only now thinking of getting into the bussiness, though, here’s a few tips that might make your life a lot easier, and the services you offer – a lot more successful.


1) Stop what you’re doing and learn typography

For some unimaginable reason, a lot of really fantastic artists, who are otherwise masters of their own medium, completely fail at choosing the right typefaces to go with their art.

I don’t know why that happens, but it turns out that there’s a lot of people out there whose feeling of estethics completely fails when it comes to type. A bad, clichéd typeface can completely destroy a great artwork and render all your efforts of giving your client a fantastic design useless. Fear not, though – knowing what sort of typeface to use, and why to use it, is a matter of practice and aquiring knowledge -which really isn’t that hard to get.


But… where to get fonts?

If you’ve worked with stock, then you probably know that the images you use need to have a commercial license for you to be able to use them for paid projects. I have bad news for you – it’s the same with typefaces. Here’s a few good sources to find commercialy licensed fonts, both free and paid:

  • Typekit – okay, that one is only free if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, but since you’re thinking of starting to work as a professional, I’m going to assume that it’s one of the most popular options. Typekit comes with hundreds of free fonts that you can get with on click. There’s a limit to how many typefaces you can have installed at the same time, but it’s actually a quite high number.

Price: Free with Adobe CC, otherwise from $24.99/month

  • Font Squirrel – completely free – a wide selection of fonts in various shapes, weights and styles.

Price: Free

  • MyFontsprobably one of the most popular font markets on the web. You can buy a font with all the weights, or just one that you need in particular.

Price: paid – all fonts have various prices

  • FontStanda place where you can rent fonts at 10% of their price. A font family with all styles and weights is about €7.50/month, and you get the full ownership after a 12-month rental period.

Price: €7.50/month for a full font family

  • comworks in a way similar to Typekit.

Price: $9.99/month

This is only a fraction on what’s available on the web – look around and see what you can find out!


How to learn?

Most importantly, read. Secondly: look at works of folks who know what they’re doing.

Here’s a few online resources that you can start with:

Obviously, there’s a ton of other resources out there, and to be honest I could write another article just recommedning places in which you can get some reading material. If you start with the ones above, though, then you’ll have a very good base to build on later.


alphabet, board game, box


2) Forget that you’re an artist

Art and design, while tied together closely, are not inherently the same. When you’re working with a client, your goal is to illustrate their story and their content. They may already have an idea of what they want to see on their cover, though you might also meet people who will just tell you “surprise me” (which is probably one of the most annoying things a designer can hear). The key is to retain all your creativity while accepting that you’re not the most important person in this relationship.

Ultimately, it’s your client’s decisions that are going to count. You will meet people who have absolutely no sense of esthetics, and you will simply be completely unable to convince them to choose a design that doesn’t look awful. You will also meet folks who actually know their stuff, and whose books you will be proud to display in your portfolio. Still, while you often have, of course, a lot of creative leeway, there are other things that you need to take into consideration while creating covers than just your sense of style. Your work is now supposed to hint at a story, be eye-catching at first glance, show the book’s genre and reach its target audience, motivate sales AND be appealing to your client. You’re not working just for yourself anymore – there’s a ton of other factors that you need to take into consideration for your work to be both stunning and effective.


3) Learn about publishing

At the beginning of your journey, you’re much more likely to work with indie authors than publishing houses. Both types of clients demand a slightly different approach, but with both, it’s equally important that you know more than just how to create fantastic cover art.

Some of the authors you’re going to be working with will be first timers – meaning, they will have no idea what sort of info do you need from them to create the cover, how to upload it to a self-publishing platform, what sort of thing works and what doesn’t. Here’s where you come in – your job is to know these things. Which means that you need to know where to find a lot of information, and how to guide your clients through the process.

A fantastic resource which I’ve linked my own clients to many times is The Book Designer blog. They have articles on basically all aspects of self-publishing, which is going to be incredibly beneficial for both you and the authors you’re going to work for. If you’d like to take a look at some other resources, then what I can recommend is Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide by Joel Friedlander and Betty Kelly Sargent, and Indie Publishing by Ellen Lupton.


4) Be patient

Let’s make one thing clear: getting jobs isn’t easy. You’re going to struggle and you’re going to feel discouradged, but hey, don’t feel too bad – the beginning is always difficult. If you’re going to work through any of the popular freelance marketplaces – Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour etc. – then you’re going to have to learn how to apply to jobs, and you’re going to fail at it – many times. The art of writing proposals is difficult, but it is something that you can learn. Don’t give up if you don’t get an answer for the first 10 or 15 proposals you send – you have to be patient and persistent.

A few tips to maximize your chances:

– If you don’t have any book covers in your portfolio yet, make a few mock-ups with made up titles from your own artwork and show them to your prospective clients. It works.

– Start using 3D mock-ups. is a good source of high-quality free ones, but it’s something worth spending a few bucks on if you find an awesome set. It makes you look more professional.

– Don’t copy paste. Seriously – it shows. Write a brand new proposal for each job you apply to. Be personal – if you know the client’s name, use it. Sometimes the job description will be “I need a cover made” – and that’s it, but if there’s any more information, use it. Let the client know that you’re not a robot, you read their description and you’re excited to work with them. Also, don’t just write about your experience and skills – write about how you’re going to use this experience and these skills to their benefit.




5) Know your rights

The world is a harsh place, and you’re unavoidably going to bump into people who are not going to want to pay you for a job well done. Here’s a few tips on precautions you can take.

– If you’re working through freelance marketplaces, then you don’t really need to worry about contracts, but remember not to start working before the client put money in Escrow. What is Escrow?

An escrow is a financial arrangement where a third party holds and regulates payment of the funds required for two parties involved in a given transaction. It helps make transactions more secure by keeping the payment in a secure escrow account which is only released when all of the terms of an agreement are met as overseen by the escrow company. – from,

– If you’re not working through one of the freelance marketplaces, remember to never work without a contract. If you don’t have one, you’re vulnerable. Theoretically, e-mails exchanged with the client where you both agree on a certain set of terms count as a contract themselves, but personally I always feel better when I have a separate docuemtn signed both by me and the client. It gives you both a safety net in case things go wrong. A good source of a contract template, with all the legal jargon very well explained is AIGA – they have an extensive document about it. Click here: to find it. To make things easier, you can use one of the online signing services like Eversign – That way neither you nor your client need to even print the contract to make it legally binding.


6) Have a strong portfolio

If you’ve ever heard people saying that portfolio is everything, listen to them – they’re right.

If you don’t have a portfolio, then you’re making it incredibly difficult for your prospective clients to find your work. It’s best if it’s not a social website, too, like DeviantArt or Facebook – make a separate site. There’s a ton of great portfolio services out there, which are either free or cost a few bucks, and buying your own domain really isn’t expensive – and it’s a very good investment.

Your site needs to be polished and complete – don’t just throw in every work you have there. Choose the best ones. Make sure the navigation is not too complex – basically, anything that takes more than three clicks is too much work for a lot of people. Write interesting copy – take care of the “About Me” section and make it engaging. Include a call to action, and a way to contact you – it’s best if people can find your e-mail, if not a contact form, right away.

Also – make your site pretty. Everything works better well designed.


7) Never stop learning

If you ever get to a point where you feel like you know everything, stop and take a look at your life. Seriously. There is always a ton of things to learn – about design, about art, about marketing and bussiness. The most important thing is to never stop moving, and never stop trying to make yourself a better artist. A better designer. A more knowledgeable person.

Read books – there is a ton of stuff out there with fantastic advice. Watch online courses – use services like Skillshare, Pluralsight, Udemy, Lynda. Talk to people and ask for feedback – find a forum dedicated to critique, or organise even a critique group yourself, in a community you’re active in. Be active – it’s important to be seen out there. Collaborate with others – there’s thousands of things that other people know and you don’t. Be positive and friendly, and never, ever give up. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Keep at it. You never know when your moment’s going to come.


Marta Dec – a professional graphic designer & illustrator with a big passion for books and beautiful words.