October 25, 2021

Designers checklist for a flawless artwork finish

Let me set the scene….you’ve spent months working on a brochure, from the initial client meeting, concepts, artworking and amends back and forth to sign off….your finger is poised, ready to send to print 500,000 copies, are you confident you haven’t missed anything? 

Having worked in the industry for over 20 years, starting out as a junior artworker, I’ve seen thousands (possibly millions I’m that old) of projects through to completion. Early in my career, I made a checklist so I wouldn’t make any of the same mistakes again, and after all this time it still keeps me safe.

As Adam Osborne said, “The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect.”

Below are the main areas we consider when checking our clients’ artwork:

1. Images

  • Images should be 300dpi and CMYK (nb this decreases if printing in large format, for example, a billboard can print from as little as 30dpi, we work closely with printers on large format to ensure the correct specs are followed)
  • Make sure the images are large enough for the layout, images should sit within the layout at a maximum of 130% and a minimum of 30% (ever wondered why your document is slow or taking a while to pdf? Check your image sizes)
  • Check the colour of your image backgrounds, sometimes a white background on an image can have a dot of black in which can leave a grubby mark around your images
  • Check any images with text haven’t been flipped, for example, shop signs or car number plates
  • Check the crops of your images are OK, a page split down a person’s face is never a good look
  • Check the image’s bounding box doesn’t crop out any of the image
  • If using diagrams, make sure the strokes (the width of the line) is thick enough to register, we stick to a minimum of 0.25pt
  • The image background with InDesign (or Quark if you’re still into that) should be white
  • Do your images need any retouching in Photoshop? Brightness or saturation etc
  • If using Adobe illustrator images ensure the transparency flattener is set to high resolution

2. Layout

  • Check your page sizes are correct, if you have any flaps or inserts ensure they are the correct sizes
  • Check your alignments to ensure margins, text, images etc are lined up
  • Check your bullet points and tables are lined up nicely
  • Pages need 3mm bleed for print
  • Check your colours, is it printed CMYK or are there any Pantone colours?
  • Black should be set as ‘rich black’ with 30% of cyan, magenta and yellow mixed with 100% black
  • Any fold or perforation marks should be set as spot colours
  • If the brochure or catalogue has colour coding, check its correct throughout
  • Check the contents and any other pager markers
  • Make or request a mock-up of any folders or boxes, these can be expensive items to print so it’s better to be safe
  • For exhibition units check the text splits nicely over panels
  • At exhibitions check the maximum height at the venue (yes this happened to a client of mine and we had to get a knife out and slice a chunk off the top at the venue)

3. Text

  • Spell check! So simple, so important, so often forgotten
  • Text within images needs checking too, for example, illustrator files
  • Check for double spaces
  • Look for widows in the copy
  • Ensure all copy is a suitable distance from the edge
  • Check all contact details, telephones, emails, QR codes etc are correct
  • Make sure dashes are consistent – or –
  • Are all the dates correct? Mistakes often happen after the new year when your mind’s stuck in a previous year

4. Take your time and check check check

  • This is by far the most important point for me, if you rush your checks it can end up costing you money
  • Get some other team members to proof the job before print too, a pair of fresh eyes is a must
  • If you make a mistake, admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it

I started this checklist 20 years ago and it’s my gift to you! Download it here

If you have anything to add to the checklist please let us know!