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Printing Terminology: What is “Artwork” in Printing?

A male graphic designer using computer software to lay out artwork

What is "Artwork" in Printing?

There are many Printing and Graphic Design terms whose meaning is not immediately clear to people outside these fields. The term "Artwork" is a good example.

When a Printer or Graphic Designer refers to the artwork for a printing project, they are referring to the digital layout file that will be used to produce physical versions of the layout on a printing press. The file will contain all the components that need to appear on the printed sheet, including all the graphical elements such as photographs, illustrations, logos, designs, borders, and backgrounds.

The artwork file will also contain textual elements, such as all the written body content, headings, sub-headings, and captions that will print as part of the final product.

A female graphic designer starting an artwork layout
A graphic designer starting to create an artwork layout

Wait, Text is Artwork??

The inclusion of text is what often trips up people outside the industry. All their lives, they have witnessed the term "Artwork" being used to describe creative visuals, such as illustrations and drawings. But text? Text was never considered to be artwork.

However, when the term "Artwork" is used in the context of commercial printing and graphic design, text is considered to be part of the artwork. In fact, text is often the sole component of certain documents, such as an instruction sheet that consists only of text. Even though the layout file for the instruction sheet would contain 100% text, it would still be referred to as "Artwork."

It might help to think of "Artwork" as an umbrella term for the entire layout file...it covers everything in the file. So if your printing company asks you to submit your artwork (which they might simply refer to as "Art") they aren't just asking for the images or photos, they are referring to the entire layout.

So at this point, everyone should now know that the artwork created for a print project will contain ALL the design elements that are to be reproduced in the form of ink on paper. This includes graphics AND text.

But wait, there's more…

Because the Artwork serves as the blueprint for the final printed product, it must also contain all the formatting and layout directives necessary to accurately reproduce the file in printed form.

This includes the spatial relationships of the design elements, as well as the color mode, image resolution settings, font styles, and other important information.

So let's go over some of the key aspects of Artwork in printing:

Graphic Elements - as previously mentioned, artwork includes photographic images, illustrations, logos, shapes, borders and other visuals that are part of the design. These elements are often created or modified using graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.

Text - also as previously mentioned, artwork contains all the text elements that will appear in the printed piece, including body text, headings, sub-headings, captions, and any other written content. Text is formatted using a specific typeface, size, color, and style to complement the aesthetics of the overall design.

Layout - the layout of the artwork determines how the graphics and text elements will appear when printed on paper. The layout provides important information about positioning, such as margins, spacing, alignment, and overall composition. These factors all work together to create visual balance and improve readability.

Color Specifications - the artwork file specifies the colors to be used in the printed piece, whether it is full-color (CMYK), PMS Spot colors (Pantone), Black Ink only, Grayscale, or a combination of these. By the way, the RGB color mode should not be used for commercial printing because it will be converted to CMYK and may result in hues you weren't expecting.

Printed output from an offset press
High-quality artwork produces High-quality printing

Resolution and Image Quality - artwork must be high-resolution to ensure sharp and clear images. Typically, images should have a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch (DPI) at the final printed size to avoid blurriness or pixelation.

Bleed and Crop Marks - if applicable, artwork should include bleed areas and crop marks to ensure accurate trimming and finishing of the printed piece. Bleed extends the design 1/8" beyond the final trim size to ensure the ink covers all the way to the edge of the sheet after trimming, thus preventing any of the underlying paper color from showing along the trimmed edge. Crop marks, also known as trim marks, are thin lines that indicate where the pieces should be trimmed.

File Format - artwork has to be saved in file formats that are suitable for printing. That said, most printers prefer to receive artwork as a PDF (Portable Document Format). Other file formats accepted by most printers include Adobe InDesign (INDD), Adobe Illustrator (AI), and Adobe Photoshop (PSD). Additional file types that are commonly accepted include TIF, EPS, and sometimes high-quality JPEG.

Needless to say, Artwork is a crucial component of the printing process because it provides ALL the design elements and information needed for a smooth production process and high-quality output.

Have Questions? Color Vision Printing is here to help!

If you have any questions about Artwork files, or want to discuss an upcoming print project, be sure to get in touch with Color Vision Printing. Our professional and experienced staff is always ready to serve you. Plus, you'll be pleased with our affordable pricing on digital printing, offset printing, finishing, and binding.

We are always happy to discuss your projects, so give us a call at 800-543-6299. Or, use our Quote Request form to submit your specifications and we will email you a quote.

As always, we look forward to assisting with your custom printing needs!

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