Autumn is my favorite time of year.  This may be in part to celebrating my birthday in September, but I really think it is more about the beginning of the school year.  As a child growing up in New England, I eagerly anticipated shopping for assorted school supplies and a new themed lunch box (with matching thermos!).  If Labor Day Weekend had a smell for me it would be a mixture of freshly sharpened pencils, shiny patent leather shoes and a mint box of crayons.  I have to admit that I am a crayon snob – only Crayola crayons for me – none of those poor waxy substitutes would do.  I loved to open the lid of the box and appreciate the neatly sharpened heads of color standing at attention.  Only reluctantly would I pull the first one out to use, because that perfect box represented the artist I wanted to be and not the little girl I was, who struggled to color within the lines.  For all those artistically challenged, navigating the modern world of graphics and art-speak can be intimidating.  While prides ourselves on our exceptional art services, our customers still provide us with material to incorporate in their vehicle wrap design.  The following are some tips to sharing art files and understanding some of the “lingo” in the process:

Graphic File Formats has found that art created with the programs Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop (vector files) provide the best quality images to work with.  We print all graphics using Adobe Illustrator CS5. Illustrator is our program of choice because it works very well with our printing production program (Onyx) and it also has a very large layout area (227.5″ wide x 227.5″ high), which allows most layouts to be created at 100% scale.  We cannot print with files from PageMaker, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, QuarkXPress, or CorelDraw, as these files are not suitable for large format printing or are not compatible with the programs we use.

Vector and Raster Files

A vector file is digital image that is created using geometrical primitives, such as points, lines, curves, and polygons, which are all based upon mathematical equations to represent an image.

This type of file, as it is not based on a finite number of pixels like a raster image, is resolution independent and is therefore scalable to any size without loss of clarity. Common file extensions are .eps and .ai. Common design programs for working with vector files are Adobe Illustrator, Freehand and CorelDraw.

A raster file is a digital image created from a generally rectangular grid of pixels. Common file extensions are .tif, .psd, and .jpeg. There are many attributes that may define a raster graphic, such as color mode and bit depth; however the most important for our purposes are the relationship between the actual size of the image in inches and the resolution in dots per inch (dpi).  On average, our optimal printing resolution is 100 dpi. So, for your 24″ wide x 36″ high graphic to print with optimal clarity, your raster image should be 24″ wide x 36″ high at 100 dpi.  Example:  If you have an image that is 8″ wide x 12″ high at 300 dpi, will it work for printing a 24″ wide x 36″ high graphic? Sure, because the file resolution or dpi is 3 times larger than our printing resolution. This will allow us to use these extra pixels to scale the image up to 3 times its size, which will in turn resample the images resolution to our recommend printing resolution of 100 dpi.

Layout Scale, Resolution and Layers

All layouts should be 100% scale if possible. 50% scale is fine if your layout exceeds 227.5″ wide or high, but please be sure to notate this scale in the Illustrator file.

All raster artwork should have a minimum resolution of 90 dpi and a maximum resolution of 150 dpi at 100% scale. When raster images are placed in to an Illustrator layout, images should be linked and never embedded.  Linked raster images should also be included with the artwork submission.  This way, if we need to color correct or cleanup the image in any way, we will have the necessary linked file to work with.

Note:  Do not try to add dpi or resolution to an image, which is too low in resolution, by adding pixels to the image size in Photoshop; this is called interpolation, and will only result in degradation of clarity and a blurry, low quality print.

Tip:  If your finished graphics are to be viewed from 6-10 feet away, image resolution clarity may not be as important as the clarity of your text. To test your graphic at a distance, size your graphic to actual print size and 100 dpi then view at 100% on your monitor. Stand a distance away that you feel may be similar to how your display may be commonly viewed at an event.

If submitting Photoshop files, it is strongly recommended that you provide both a layered .psd or .tif file as well as a flattened version saved as a .psd or .tif file. The layered file will make any necessary changes, cleanup or color matching possible if required. LZW compression of .tif files is encouraged.

Effects, Gradients and Fonts

Using effects and filters on vector elements in Illustrator, such as Drop Shadows and Transparency, is discouraged because it vastly increases the complexity and size of the file, making the file very difficult to manipulate and save. This type of work should be done in Photoshop and then placed into Illustrator as a linked file.

Gradients, which are created in Photoshop and then placed in an Illustrator layout, will produce much smoother transition of color when printed in large format than a gradient created within a vector program. Vector gradients may look fine when printed at 8.5″ x 11″ but will band and segment when printed at large format sizes.

Convert all font type to outlines if submitting Illustrator file. Rasterize the type if submitting a Photoshop file.

Color Space

CMYK is preferred because our printers are all CMYK printers (the acronym stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black).  RGB (i.e., Red, Green, and Blue) is the color system used for photography, television and computer monitors because these devices are based on emission of light. CMYK is used for printing because it is based upon reflection of light.  We can print RGB files, but when printed on a CMYK printer, the print color may differ from what was initially viewed on your computer monitor during the layout stages, as some RGB colors are not attainable in CMYK.  When your files are all created in CMYK you will get the best on-screen indication of how your files will actually look when printed. Duotones should be converted to CMYK. Our working color space in Illustrator and Photoshop is U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2.

Pantone/PMS Color Matching

A PMS color is part of the Pantone Matching System. The Pantone System is a series of color swatch books, printed on one side with a series of related color swatches.  For instance, a particular “page” might contain a number of yellows varying in luminance from light to dark.  The idea behind the PMS is to allow designers to “color match” specific colors when a design enters production stage regardless of the equipment used to produce the color. This system has been widely adopted by Graphic Designers, Reproduction and Printing Houses.  Please keep in mind that some Pantone colors are simply impossible to achieve in CMYK, but we will match it as closely as possible. If you have a Solid Color to Process Color Pantone swatch book, this may be helpful in determining how closely we may be able to match specific PMS color.  At this time, we cannot print true metallic colors.

Digital and Print Proofs

The Art Department at will prepare proofs in the form of .pdf or .jpeg files that will be emailed to you for your review and approval before we print anything. This digital service is free of charge and helps us assure that placement, sizes and quantities are accurate. This type of proof cannot be used for an indication of clarity or color because they are fairly low in resolution and will be viewed in the RGB color space.  If you have special concerns regarding color or image clarity, you may want to purchase Print Proofs when your order is placed. This type of proofing consists of a 10%-25% scale version of your artwork printed on the same printer that your full size version will be printed on. This will provide and overall indication of color accuracy.

The talented artists at can create your graphics from concept to finish, make requested changes, or adjust and rework an existing graphic to suit your large-scale product.  Regardless of your level of artistic know-how (or know-not!), we stand ready to make sure your wrap graphics are everything you need them to be – bold, creative and (most importantly) memorable. Come get a free wraps quote today!

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