Understanding Industry Lingo – Artwork Specifications

What exactly does it mean when a designer, printer or supplier asks you to “please supply to our artwork specifications”? Understanding the requirements behind artwork specifications will enable you to avoid disaster and make sure the finished product lives up to your expectations.

Whether you are a designer, or working with a designer, printer or other supplier, it never hurts to have an understanding of the terms you may hear when asked to provide your files to the correct artwork specifications.

Continuing on with the Understanding Industry Lingo blog series, listed below is a basic overview of some of the most common artwork specification terms that you will come across when working with a designer, printer, or other supplier.

*Click to jump straight to: Bleed | Crop Marks | Type Safe Area | Proof | Resolution | Print Quality

1. Bleed

When used in the context of setting up artwork for print, the term bleed refers to allowing colour or image to “bleed” past or over the boundaries of the finished size or trim lines (where it will be cut). This ensures that the colour will reach the edges of the printed document even if the trimming is slightly skewed or off-centre – very common when trimming by hand, with digital printing, or publications and books.

Depending on the printer’s requirements and the actual printed product, the most common request for bleed is 3 – 5mm on all edges. Some printers do not require bleed as their printer is able to print to the edge of the media. Other printers only require bleed on two of the four edges. Each printer and each print job is different so it is best to ask your printer of their artwork requirements and specifications prior to setting up your files.


2. Crop Marks / Crops

Crop marks indicate to the printer where you would like your document trimmed. Often they are only needed if your document has bleed or is a custom size. Some printers require your file to include crop marks regardless of bleed or size. Ask your printer for their artwork specifications prior to setting up your files to find out if you need to supply the file with crop marks included.


3. Type Safe Area

Most often used by magazines and printed publications, the term type safe area refers to the area inside the trim lines that is guaranteed to be safe from being trimmed off or obscured by the binding.

The pages of magazines and other printed publications are trimmed all in one go and there can be slight variations or movement when trimming. This means that anything too close to trim line may be cut off. Similarly, if your content is too close to a bound edge such as with wring binding or perfect binding, content may get lost or obscured. This is why each printer will have a specification of a type safe area that they can provide you with to ensure none of your important content gets chopped off or obscured.

*TIP: Whether designing for digital or print, it is good to include a margin of space around type and ensure it is not too close to the edge of your design as this makes it easier for the viewer’s mind to recognise it as type and easier for them to read.


4. Proof

A proof is essentially the artwork prior to approval, that is provided to the client in order for them to check and suggest any changes or corrections. The proof is evidence of how the final product will look. Its purpose is to enable the client to check the artwork carefully to ensure they are happy with it, before giving the final tick of approval.

A proof can be either a digital proof or a physical proof. Digital proofs are the artwork files a designer or supplier emails to you to check on your device screen. An example of a physical proof is where you might request a printer to provide you with a printed proof so you may check the colour output and image quality prior to approving the job.

The proof is an important part of the design process as it allows for adjustments, corrections and refinements of the artwork to ensure the best finished product is produced.

What Google Says:

“A proof is a trial impression of a page, taken from type or film and used for making corrections before final printing.”

Synonyms: page proof, galley proof, galley, pull, slip, trial print; revise

In context: “a desk strewn with the proofs of a book he was correcting”



5. High Resolution / Low Resolution

Resolution itself refers to the amount of information per inch on a screen or when printed. High resolution requires a large amount of information per inch while low resolution requires less information per inch.

Resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch) for printing, and PPI (pixels per inch) for on screen.

*Click here to read a great article on the difference between DPI and PPI.

With printing, supplying a high resolution file is generally accepted as the artwork being set up at 300ppi at full size. Depending on the finished size and purpose of the print, sometimes the ppi is acceptable at less than 300ppi. Large hanging banners and billboards for example are designed to be viewed from a distance and therefore do not require as much information per square inch to produce a clear image to the viewers.

Due to the larger amounts of information required for a high resolution file, the size of the file can sometimes be too large for emailing. This is where low resolution files come in handy. A designer or supplier will often send you a low resolution proof to keep file sizes down when emailing, (as well as to ensure they get paid for the final high res file!).

6. Print Quality

The term print quality (also called print ready or press quality), refers to supplying your file to the standards required for producing a good quality print.

As a minimum this most often means supplying the file in the correct colour format, 300ppi at full size, fonts outlined or embedded, with bleed and crop marks.

Again, each printer will have their own artwork specifications that are required for a file to be considered print quality. Some printers will check your file for you and let you know if it is print quality or if any changes are required for it to reach print quality.

It is good practice to ask your printer if they will check the file for you as some printers consider it your responsibility to supply a print ready file and will not check it prior to printing. This can lead to a disappointing result due to missing fonts, incorrect colour output, or bad quality images. Check with your printer for their artwork specification requirements and make sure you ask your printer if they can check the file for you.

*REMEMBER: Always ask your printer or supplier for their artwork specification requirements so you know how your files need to be set up to produce the best possible results.


There are many, many artwork specification terms out there, the above will give you a guide to understanding some of the most common. As with understanding colour formats and digital vs offset printing methods, making the effort to understand the different terms used when referring to artwork specifications will not only help prevent misunderstandings but also give you a clearer idea of how processes work and why things are the way they are. It will also enable you to know your finished product is going to be produced to the quality you desire.

Now I would love to hear from you. Did you find this article helpful? Have you come across any other artwork specification terms not mentioned above? Or have you ever had a funny misunderstanding due to industry lingo? Share your stories, tips and resources in the comments below!

Happy Learning!


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