Don’t let the acronyms and technical terminology fool you – there’s nothing confusing about printing. Designers, printers and agencies are naturally predisposed to try and make it sound like they have mastery over a dark art that nobody else would understand, but once you strip out the acronyms, jargon and industry-specific terminology, it’s a relatively simple process.

So if you don’t know the difference between CYMK and RGB and you’re worried about dealing with any non-medic who talks about checking your bleed, then this explanation should set your mind at ease.

As with so many things, the fact that you can go direct to printers and manage the process online means that you can have complete control over the options and the costs to make your project work for you. It is also easier than ever to understand the fundamentals:

  • Paper
  • Binding
  • Print File Setup


The choice of paper can seem overwhelming if you encounter a printer who wants to hold forth about the hundreds of options that there are if you really delve into the world of paper. However, there are only four paper types that you actually need to know about:

  • Silk/Satin – This is one of the most commonly used types with a smooth, silky finish
  • Gloss – This paper has a really shiny finish and is usually used for photo albums
  • Uncoated – This has a rough finish and colours are duller with a more vintage look
  • Recycled – This is much rougher with a more noticeable texture and even duller colours

Silk/satin paper is usually the default option for all but the most specialist print jobs. Other paper types are generally chosen to convey a particular artistic idea in order to add a specific feel to your material.

For example, if you are promoting your street food van and hoping to attract a hipster clientèle, using recycled paper will convey an authenticity that might appeal to your target demographic. Similarly, a firm of lawyers will use silk/satin paper and a photographer is likely to use gloss paper to showcase their skills with a high-quality print.

These papers all come in a range of thicknesses which are measured in gsm in Europe and lbs in the US.


If you are considering printing a booklet, whether that is a magazine, catalogue or brochure, you should add a proper cover. This will usually be four sides of thicker paper at the front and back which not only makes your booklet look sleek and ‘put together’ but also prevents the thinner inner pages from damage.


Laminating protects your printed materials, so its ideal for everything from business cards to posters and we always recommend lamination for the covers of booklets. It contributes to the professional look and feel and makes your printed materials more durable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are lots of options for finishes, but knowing the difference between the two main ones will usually be enough for most jobs.

  • Matt lamination – this is a smooth protective coating
  • Gloss lamination – this is a smooth protective coating with a glossy shine

These effects of these finishes are similar to the difference between silk/satin and gloss paper and also offer additional protection for the paper they are applied to.

So, if you choose a gloss paper cover finished with a gloss lamination, the end result will be incredibly shiny and the contrast between colours will be striking.

If you go for a silk/satin cover and matt lamination, your end product will have a standard matt finish.

For those who still aren’t sure what they want, a silk/satin paper with a matt lamination is a default option which will give you great results.


When you’re planning your magazine, booklet, brochure or catalogue, you will need to think about  what kind of binding you will have and there are three main types:

  • Staple bound – this is often called saddle stitch, but it is basically staples through the middle of the pages holding them together.
  • Perfect bound – this is a square edged spine which can only be achieved with a booklet that has enough pages.
  • Wiro bound – your booklet will be held together with looped wire rings.

There is a fourth option – case bound – which effectively produces a hardback book, but it is an expensive and complex process which isn’t normally necessary except for very specific marketing materials.

Your choice of binding will be affected by the purpose of your materials, but price will also be a consideration. A 20-page comic book will usually be staple bound, whereas a 200-page glossy magazine will be perfect bound. If you’re producing a substantial technical booklet, wiro binding combined with thick paper is the most durable and practical option.

The type of binding you choose will make a difference to the way your pages are laid out, which you will need to consider during your print file set up. You will need to make space for the binding you have opted for, but as long as you are aware of that, it is simple to do.

Print File Setup

Your print file, sometimes known as your artwork file, is the digital design for your booklet, flyer, magazine or whatever marketing material you want to print.

The first thing to consider is the size of your finished product and how you want it to be bound (if it will need binding) because that will determine the basic area you are working with. Once you have that sorted out, you can add your bleed area and your quiet area easily.

This guide will talk you through the process of setting up your print file, including all the print marks you will need to include. There are also a number of free templates you can download if you want to.


You will probably have some idea what size would be most appropriate for the materials you have planned. In the UK, A4 and A5 are the most common throughout the UK and Europe, whereas the US favours 8.5” x 11” and 5.5” x 8.5”. Unsurprisingly, your design will need to fit into your chosen size.

Trim Line

As the name suggests, the trim line is the place where the print machine will trim the edge of the paper to create your item. Your trim lines will follow the dimensions of your chosen paper size, and although this should be the edge of your item, the printing process is subject to small discrepancies.

Bleed Area

Whatever size you choose, you will need to include a bleed area which will extend 3mm or 0.125” outside your trim lines on each side of your page.

Your design will need to extend into the bleed area but you should expect it to be cut off during the printing process. The cutting blades should fall somewhere between your trim lines and the edge of your bleed area and extending your design beyond the edge of the paper prevents your final piece from ending up with a white border around the edge.

Including a margin of error is one of the most important things about setting up your print file. Factoring in the minuscule discrepancies in the printing process ensures that the end result looks as you expect it to.

Quiet Area

The quiet area is the area 5mm or 0.2” inside the trim line. It fulfils two functions: to give the same leeway for the cutting blades as the bleed area when it comes to the potential for the pages to be cut slightly inside the trim lines; and to give some physical space between the edge of your artwork or text and the edge of the page.

If your text or important elements of your image go right to the edge of the page, your finished product will look cluttered and disorganised whereas leaving a proper quiet area will give a little space to your artwork.

If you have chosen perfect or wiro binding, then you will need an additional quiet area to account for the portion of each page that will be used to form the spine.

For perfect binding, the quiet area extends in for 12mm or 0.5” from the trim line on the spine side of the page. It is important to remember that this quiet area applies to the cover as well as that will also have a binding line.

If you have chosen wiro binding, your quiet area will need to extend 20mm or 0.8” from the trim line on the spine side as this room will be needed for the holes and ring binding.

Staple bound booklets only require the standard 0.5mm or 0.2” quiet area inside the trim lines because the binding method and positioning doesn’t encroach onto the page in the same way that the other options do.


Most printers will ask you to submit your artwork through an online system, there will be some technical requirements in order to ensure that your artwork looks the way you want it to.

You will get the best results from uploading PDF files exported from inDesign using the ‘high quality print’ setting. Your images will need to be at least 300 dpi, higher if you can, as otherwise, your images may look grainy and poor quality in print.

You should also ensure that your files use CMYK colour as any files with RGB colour will be converted to CMYK for the printing machines which could leave you with some discrepancies between the colours in the finished product. They may be close, but the chances are they won’t match exactly which could change the whole tone of your artwork.

We recommend that you use  ISO coated V2, U.S. Coated SWOP v2 and GraCOL2006 colour profiles, so ask your designer if you have no idea what that means, as they should understand.

Booklet Examples

To pull all your new-found information together, here are some examples of popular combinations of the various elements:

1. Staple Bound Booklet
  • A5 pages
  • 20 sides
  • Staple bound
  • Silk/Satin 100gsm paper
  • Silk/Satin 170gsm cover paper laminated with a matt finish
  • 5mm quiet area on all sides
  • These are the specifications for a typical booklet.
2. Perfect Bound Magazine
  • A4 pages
  • 40 sides
  • Perfect binding
  • Silk 100gsm paper
  • Gloss 170gsm cover paper laminated with a gloss finish
  • 3mm bleed area all round
  • 5mm quiet area all round
  • 12mm quiet area on the spine side of all pages and cover

Most people who choose to go for perfect binding also opt for a glossy cover laminated with a gloss finish and silk/satin pages.  The overall effect is of a high-quality product which looks and feels slick and upscale.

3.Recycled Engineering Manual
  • A5 pages
  • 24 sides
  • Wiro binding
  • Recycled 170gsm text paper
  • Recycled 200gsm cover paper
  • When using wiro binding, extra thick paper makes the end result more durable.

If you opt for uncoated paper or recycled paper, then it’s worth considering using thinner paper as this contributes to the rustic feel of your finished product. You cannot apply a lamination to recycled or any other uncoated paper, but this isn’t usually a problem as the nature of the paper means that it soaks up colour really well so they will not fade over time in the same way that silk or gloss papers do.


Brochures, catalogues, magazines and booklets are some of the more complicated marketing materials that you are likely to want to print. Now you know how to choose your materials and set up your print file for those, a flyer, postcard, poster or business card will be a simple task.

With your new-found knowledge, you can ensure that you are in full control of your marketing materials from now on. When you don’t have to rely on someone else to set up your printing, you can shop around for the best prices online and you might be surprised at what you can get for your money.

About the Author

Adam Smith is the Marketing Manager at Mixam. Having successfully launched in the US, the UK based company is rapidly expanding by disrupting the online market with fresh ideas, new innovations and a real passion for printing.