Artwork Colour Guide

Commercial printing presses print onto white paper using ‘CMYK’ colours. CMYK colours are made up from Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black and they are subtractive, meaning the starting canvas is white and colours are added to block out parts of the spectrum.

In order to get the best results, artwork files should be created in CMYK colours during the design process. Converting artwork into CMYK from another format after the design has been created may result in subtle colour changes.

Not all software is able to create files in CMYK colour mode. For example Microsoft Word and Powerpoint are only able to create documents in RGB colours, so these documents will need to be converted to CMYK before printing.

We recommend using one of the following desktop publishing software tools as they are capable of creating in CMYK and we have added screenshots to help.

Colour settings in Adobe Photoshop are determined when the document is created. The screenshot on the left below shows the settings available when creating a new document in Photoshop. You should select the CMYK option in the Colour Mode setting.
You can also check colour settings when a document is already open by clicking on ‘Image’ in the Photoshop main menu. A drop-down menu will appear, select the first option ‘Mode’ and a second drop-down menu will appear. Here you will be able to see and select the colour type.

When creating a document set to CMYK

Checking when document is open

In Adobe inDesign, colours are converted when a file is exported to pdf. Selecting pdf/x-1a:2001 preset will ensure that the document is CMYK.

When exporting select pdf/x-1a:2001 preset

In Adobe illustrator the colour mode is set when the document is created. When saving as a pdf select pdf/x-1a:2001 from the drop down presets list.

When creating the document select CMYK in the colour mode.

When saving the document as a pdf select pdf/x-1a2001 preset

When the document is open click file – info – commercial print settings – choose colour model. This will allow
you to set the colour mode that you would like the document to be set up in.

From the file menu select “choose colour model”

Select “Process colours (CMYK)”

Finally, some Dos and Don’ts when checking your artwork files before sending to us.

  • DO check proofs on screen using a colour calibrated monitor (if possible). Be aware that with uncalibrated screens colours will vary from monitor to monitor.
  • DO print samples using a commercial proof printer ensuring the target profile is set to Fogra 39.
  • DO use the Adobe Acrobat Pro Output Preview tool to check how the file will look when output to Fogra 39.
  • DO use printed CMYK colour swatches to check colours if unsure.
  • DO ask for a printed sample if you are unsure of your document’s colour setup. Samples cost £10 and can be ordered by calling us on 01273 917 939. Turnaround is one working day for production + one working day for delivery.
  • DON’T check colours against desktop printer samples as their profiles will generally try to emulate RGB colours as opposed to printing the true CMYK colours.

The four software tools above are the most common in use today. That said there are many other not so common design tools used to create artwork for printing. If you are using other software, key settings are as follows;

  • Colour mode CMYK (Sometimes called process colours)
  • Colour profile: Fogra 39 (ISO 12647-2:2004)
  • Where possible export as a PDF/x-1a:2001

We can convert Word or Powerpoint files into a CMYK pdf and send you a proof for checking. Again there is likely to be some colour changes during this conversion process and trying to match colours from one format to another can be very difficult if not impossible, hence why it is worth starting the design process using CMYK colours.

If you need any help, please call us on 01273 917 939 or email us at
If you want us to create your artwork for you, visit our Design Service page for more information.

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