Amtech's Graphics Tips for Film Output and Print

Disclaimer: Graphic arts and prepress preparation are very complicated processes requiring a lot of knowledge and skill. We take no responsibility for any misunderstanding or errors you may make in trying to "do-it-yourself". We suggest hiring a competent graphic design firm to create your artwork. However we are easy to work with and we help a lot of independent DIY publishers get their art ready for printing. Our standard prices assume correct files are being supplied, so please allow us some compensation if we have to work on your files.

CD and DVD label films must be made exactly to the proper specification or else they may have to be redone. In practice we have taken care of the filmwork for every job since about the year 2000. You can supply your own films if you have the ability and want to take the chance.

Paper print is usually direct-to-plate with no film required, so we are the final proofing stage before your job hits the press and is assembled into the CD or DVD package. Rest assured we are very diligent in making sure your job will "rip" and print the way you envision it. It really helps if you send us some hardcopy prints of what the job is supposed to look like so we can catch errors in the files before they get to the ripping stage. Once files are ripped and you get the proofs back a lot of labour and printer ink has been used (even if you are only getting PDFs, we are making full-colour prints), so there is usually a minimum charge of $25 per resubmitted file.

Note that booklet files must always be supplied in "printer's spreads", not "reader's spreads". Some professional graphic artists are accustomed to designing in reader's spreads so it is important to tell them it has to be printer's spreads (ie page 1 beside 8, 2 beside 7, etc...

cd bookletpictured: 8 page booklet

For CD and DVD folders please consult our templates carefully with your sales rep to avoid rework. In some cases there are several variations with different folding patterns. For example here are 4 variations of 4-panel (8-page) folders:

4 panel
double parallel
Double Parallel

Panels or pages?

Booklets are referred to by the page count. An 8 page booklet has a staple to hold the 2 sheets of paper, and there are 8 pages as in a book.

For inserts and folders the trade practice is that each panel means 2 pages:

  • 1 panel = 2 pages
  • 2 panels = 4 pages
  • 3 panels = 6 pages
  • 4 panels = 8 pages
  • 5 panels = 10 pages.
  • etc!

Watch out for people trying to confuse about panels and pages so they can win the job and then upsell you to a more expensive package.


Colour Proofing

If color is critical you MUST supply or ask for calibrated proofs at extra cost. The proof will be given to the press operators to attempt matching. Please allow extra days of production time in this case. For best colour matching ordering a custom press run is recommended. Please ask for a quote on a custom press run.


Here are some basic points to help you avoid problems, save money, have your project look good... and get it done on time!

The Basics
The first thing to know if you are doing your own graphics is:

Most printing is done with the following colors: Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black. These colors are referred to as "process colors". They are abreviated CMYK. Photographs and artwork are "separated" into these colors. These process colors cannot reproduce all visible colors. Flourescents, pastels, oranges, greens, deep blues and reds can be troublesome or impossible to reproduce.

Another method is "spot color" printing. In this case printers and designers usually refer to their Pantone (tm) books when specifying colors. The printer looks up the color and mixes the appropriate inks to arrive close to the specified color. This method of printing is usually not used if photographs are being reproduced. Pantone colors are usually used on CD labels.

Computer monitors use red, green, and blue (RGB) to reproduce color. Desktop scanners scan into RGB. These scans must be converted into CMYK for printing on paper. There can be a dramatic color change and much uncertainty during this process. We can do the conversion for you for a small charge.

The maximum recommended CMYK ink density is 280%, out of a theoretical 400% (if all 4 colors were printing 100%). We can go a little higher in small areas, but if your art files are a heavy 320% or more in large areas, the job will be delayed until you redo the files. Use the eyedropper in your graphics program to spot-check the ink densities. If you print your file on an inkjet printer and it takes a long time to dry, you could have too much density.

Here is an example of an RGB picture which is printing 280-290% when converted to CMYK:

color sep

The eyedropper tool shows a total density of 287% in the water. By playing with the separation curves in Photoshop we can alter the final densities of the 4 colors. 280% isn't a brick-wall limit, just a guideline.

Unfortunately, this photo also has a lot of red, blue, and green colors that cannot be converted to CMYK. We call these areas "out of gamut". Here is a simulation of the paper print:

cmyk simulation


What is your budget? Graphics could be as important as the recording
  •  Think of your image and the theme of your album
  •  Create or obtain artwork or photos needed
  •  Keep an eye out for interesting textures or objects you can use
  •  Hire a good photographer who understands lighting
  •  Plan and write down exactly what info and credits you want to include
  •  Make mock-ups to figure out how things will be laid out on paper
  •  Figure out how many panels you'll need
  •  If you have time to spare, do the layout yourself in Quark, InDesign, or CorelDraw. It will take longer than you think.
  • Avoid using transparency effects, or flatten them before sending it to us.
  • For small duplication jobs please send a final RGB TIF image to print and send original files as backup in case we have to fix something.
  • Photo and Art Reproduction

  •  If you do scans for computer film output remember this: your scan should have a resolution of twice the linescreen to be printed. For example, for a CD cover photo of around 5 inches square, to be printed at 150 linescreen, your scan should have around 1500 pixels of resolution. How is that calculated? Simple: 150 * 2 * 5 (150 linescreen multiplied by 2 multiplied by 5 inches). The uncompressed file size will be around 9 MB (megabytes).
  •  Formula to calculate file size: (dpi_x * dpi_y * width * height * bits) / 8192
    Example: (300 dpi * 300 dpi * 5 inches * 5 inches * 32 bits) / 8192 = 8789 kilobytes
  •  If you want an accurate reproduction, get drum scans by a specialist color separation house. Your scan will already be in CMYK and ready to print.
  •  Don't leave the color sep house without a proof
  •  Look for good skin tone
  •  Don't worry, the above shouldn't cost more than $100 per CD-sized photo and you'll be glad you did it if you want a sharp, professional-looking photo reproduction from a good quality original.
  •  Don't make critical color judgements based on what your computer displays. It could be very inaccurate unless you have spent a lot of time researching and calibrating your system. If you don't know your white-point temperature and gamma, your screen probably isn't calibrated.
  • A photographer may or may not have experience converting his photos to CMYK format. .
  • Details

  •  Do not print small text in color needing tints of CMYK.
  •  Carefully set up your page dimensions
  •  Do not put text closer than 1/8" to the edge of the paper (safety margin)
  •  Bleed photos and background colors 1/8" off the edge of the paper
  •  Do not supply CorelDraw documents with lots of Corel special effects. They tend to take a long time to "rip". Convert your effects into bitmaps (carefully!).
  •  Positive slide transparencies (Ektachrome, etc) usually give the best results on a drum scanner. However now the photographer is usually supplying digital files.
  •  If you supply original color art on white-ish paper, specify whether to keep the background, or drop it out to pure white. Some fine detail may be lost if the paper is converted to pure white.

    This page was updated August 2007 October 2010.