2023 Art Preparation Guide

In a nutshell, we need the following:

High resolution CMYK PDF files with text outlined and images embedded. Retain cropmarks and panel names, but remove all template lines inside the blue dotted (bleed) line. Extend background artwork to the blue dotted (bleed) line. Keep text and essential images inside the green dotted (safety) line.

If you've created files for offset print before, then that quick summary may be enough

But if you're new to Replicat templates and/or haven't used your design app for print PDF creation before, then this guide should help.

We cover tips and techniques in the popular Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Corel Draw suites. We've also taken a close look at popular new apps like Canva, Gimp, and Affinity. 

We'll update our advice and recommendations here whenever technical requirements change (and they do, year by year). If you spot an error, or have a useful tip we haven't covered here, we will always welcome any feedback.

Pre-output stage:

[ ] Convert all text to outlines

Design software pros and cons:

[ ] InDesign
[ ] GIMP

Design stage:

[1] Creating a template layer with Replicat templates

Every album stock manufacturer has slightly different artwork templates - even for items as standard as vinyl AB labels and CD face printing.

We attach Replicat templates to every quote we email out. They're also available on each product page on our website.

If you are designing for one of our clients and they haven't sent you Replicat templates - please contact our team on 1300 727 685 or sales@replicat.com.au and we'll email out what you need.

Once you have our templates, drop them onto the working space of your design software and save them as a TEMPLATE layer. Keep your design on a separate ARTWORK layer.

  • Illustrator - Open document and create new layer for artwork. Our templates should open as CMYK
  • InDesign - Create new Print document. File > Place template. Create new layer for artwork. 
  • Corel Draw - coming soon!
  • Photoshop - Import PDF. In page options box check Resolution: 300 Pixels/Inch or higher, and Mode: CMYK.
  • CANVA  - Upload our template – Please note that CANVA works in RGB, and colours will look different when converted to CMYK.
  • AFFINITY - Open PDF template and configure to 300dpi, CMYK
  • GIMP - Open PDF template and configure to 300dpi. 

[2] Bleed, safety and cut/fold lines

Extend background artwork to the blue dotted (BLEED) line.

Keep any essential text and logos within the green dotted (SAFETY) line.

We cut / fold on the SOLID line.

If in doubt - extend background artwork 3mm past any solid cut line. Keep any text / logos inside 3mm of any cut line and within 1mm of any internal fold line (like spines).




[3] Ensure all images are at least 300 dpi

While there are now tools available to enhance resolution of low-res images, it's beyond the scope of our preflight service. Please ensure that all images are at least 300 dpi at the intended print size

Note: If you're designing vinyl jacket artwork, remember that stretching an image to that large canvas may reduce resolution to less than 300 dpi.


[4] Convert any RGB Images to CMYK

RGB colours may look more vibrant on the screen, but they will automatically be converted to CMYK when the printer rips the file for CMYK offset print. This will result in darker and duller colours than you were expecting.

To avoid unexpected results, convert any RGB images to CMYK either individually, or when you output the PDF file - but we suggest converting any RGB images to CMYK as soon as you place them in the file.

Here's how to check image resolution (300 dpi) and colour (RGB or CMYK) at the same time.

  • Illustrator - Open Windows > Attributes tab to check all files

  • InDesign - Click image and check info: Windows > Info

  • Corel Draw - coming soon!

  • Photoshop -  Image > Mode > CMYK, then Image > Image Size

  • AFFINITY - Convert images to CMYK using Document > Color Format > CMYK.
  • CANVA - output final file as CMYK (see below)

  • GIMP - not available


[5] Make sure the text isn't too small

While this does depend on the type of font used, we recommend no smaller than 6pt text for standard text and 7pt text for reversed text.

There are exceptions though. If you're using reversed text, make sure you select a thicker strokeweight. Very thin text can fill in during offset print - especially if the background is rich black.

[6] Special notes: creating CD or DVD disc face artwork

As a quick guide, your disc face artwork should look something like this:


We've provided a grey background on the template that is the exact shape of the final artwork we'd like to receive. We've also provided four (4) crosshairs that must appear on the final artwork file.

Offset print is great for reproducing colour designs with lots of detail like photos and textures. This is our recommended approach for disc face design.

Solid colours aren't quite as easy for our offset disc printer to reproduce - they can vary in shade across the disc face and through the batch. Single solid colour designs are best screen printed as solid Pantone colours - but note there's a screen creation charge of $75+gst per colour.


Also see the rich black section below for a tip on offset printing CMYK solid black.


[7] Special notes: creating vinyl AB label artwork

As a quick guide, your AB label artwork should look something like this:

Important items:

  • The blue dotted line should be retained on your file (but all template lines inside it removed). This allows us to accurately position your artwork.
  • The green dotted safety line on the template is very important. There's considerable variation (over 1mm) in label position on a vinyl press. Keep text and essential images inside the green line.
  • Given the 1mm+ variation in position, we also recommend that you do not place text or line artwork around the outer curve of the label. Keep text in blocks. Avoid circles or images that will look wildly out of place if the label is a little off-centre.



[8] Special notes: branded merch designs

Please check with us before creating artwork for branded merch like t-shirts, headwear, drinkware, USB flash drives, custom shaped pins, or any of the other thousands of merch items we produce.

As a general guide we prefer vector files (e.g. AI, EPS) for line illustrations, text or logos - especially when we need to scale the artwork to the printable area of the merch. 

However, there are many other CMYK designs that can be reproduced in full colour (e.g. ColourFlex t-shirt printing) - in which case we'd prefer a PDF file with text outlined and images embedded. 

We'll provide instructions when each order is placed, or feel free to contact our team during the design stage for product & decoration specific advice.



Pre-output stage

[1] Convert all text to outlines

This step ensures that your text stays in the right place and prints as clearly as possible.

How? Select all text in the document then do the following:

  • Illustrator - Right click on text and select Create Outlines

  • InDesign - select text then Type > Create Outlines

  • Corel Draw - coming soon!

  • Photoshop - Layers > Flatten Image

  • CANVA - See output section for how to create a flat CMYK PDF, but note that text is likely to become pixellated when converted to an image.

  • AFFINITY - Convert all text to curves by highlighting text, Right click > Convert to Curves
  • GIMP - Not available


Note: Embedding fonts was once a good option, but we've found that text with embedded fonts can move during preflight. Converting text to vector is a safer option all round.



[2] Convert any large CMYK solid black backgrounds to Replicat rich black

If there are small areas of black in images or text, then that's fine. You don't need to change anything.

But if you've created a design that has a solid black background, then there are tried and tested CMYK formulae to achieve the best consistent rich black.

Paper/card print solid black backgrounds: (C)yan 30% (M)agenta 20% (Y)ellow 0% Blac(K) 100%
CD/DVD disc face solid black backgrounds: (C)yan 40% (M)agenta 20% (Y)ellow 20% Blac(K) 100%

We can also screenprint CD/DVD disc faces with solid Pantone colours - however a $75+gst cost per Pantone colour applies

Note: While other CMYK formulae for sollid rich black do exist, we strongly recommend the above. CMYK % with higher values will add to ink drying time, and may be altered by an automated filter at print rip stage to reduce the total C+M+Y+K value to under 300 - which might lead to unexpected print colours. 


[3] Remove any template lines / shading that lie inside the print area

Here's an example based on the CD face and REP201 templates. 

It's fine to leave the blue dotted line on the artwork, but make sure any template lines inside the blue dotted line are removed before output.

Also - if you're creating disc face artwork, make sure to delete the grey shaded disc-shaped area underneath the disc, otherwise that grey base will form part of your artwork and even appear on the printed disc.



[4] Retain cropmarks and panel names

This is important with all artwork files, but particularly important for booklets. The printer needs to see the exact page order.

Here's an example of what we'd like to see, based on a 4 page booklet design.




[5] Embed all images

We'll need all images embedded in the PDF:

  • Illustrator - click on image and select Embed from toolbar

  • InDesign - Click on image: Windows > Properties > Embed

  • Corel Draw coming soon!

  • Photoshop - Layers > Flatten Image

  • CANVA See output section for how to create a flat CMYK PDF

  • AFFINITY - All images must be embedded. Set embedding policy in File>Document Setup From the dialog, choose an Image Placement Policy. Select Prefer Embedded option.
  • GIMP - not available



[6] Rasterise transparencies

This one is important. Printer rips will usually convert transparent objects accurately, but it's not uncommon for transparencies to appear as solid blocks or other unwanted shapes on the final printed sheet. The safe option is to rasterise any layers containing transparent objects before saving as a PDF.

  • Illustrator - select all effected layers Object > Rasterize

  • InDesign - best handled at output stage, in the advanced panel of Print, Export Adobe PDF dialog box, choose High Resolution

  • Corel Draw coming soon!

  • Photoshop - Layers > Flatten Image

  • CANVA - See output section for how to create a flat CMYK PDF

  • AFFINITY - Rasterise all transparency layers by highlighting selection, Layer > Rasterize.

  • GIMP - Rasterise all transparency layers by highlighting selection, Layer > Rasterize.


PDF File Output Stage:


[1] Output as a high resolution CMYK PDF file

Can I use PDFx1a to output the file? Sadly no, not any more. This was our favourite trick to solve vector text and RGB conversion, but these days we end up with thin white lines and other issues almost every time. It's also creating files that are a beast to tweak in preflight if we need to nudge.

Can we use PDFx3 or PDFx4 to output the file? Yes, but only if you convert all images to CMYK and ensure that any transparencies are rasterised. Each of these file formats support RGB images and active transparencies, and we can end up with very unexpected results when such files pass through an offset print rip. This is an important point for AFFINITY users in particular.

Here is our recommend output for each major software suite:

  • Illustrator - Save as pdf: select Illustrator Default pdf.

  • InDesign - in the advanced panel of Print, Export Adobe PDF dialog box, choose High Resolution, then Export as an Adobe PDF (Print): [Press Quality]

  • Corel Draw -  coming soon!

  • Photoshop - File > Save As > Adobe PDF: [Press Quality]

  • CANVA  - File > Download - Select PDF (PRINT) from File Type box -  Select CMYK from COLOUR PROFILE (requires Pro version of CANVA)

  • AFFINITY - Export the document as PDF (PDF/X-4) or PDF/X-3:2003

  • GIMP - Click Export. Apply Layer Masks Before Saving and Omit Hidden Layers With Zero Opacity.  



[2] Include our template code in the filename

Every Replicat template has a code - like REP403 or REP21D117. Please include this in the filename.



[3] Check the final position of spine text after you've output the PDF

Please check that any text and logos on spine artwork is centered and at least 1mm away from fold lines (or 0.5mm away from 3mm spine vinyl jacket spine edges) and at least 3mm away from any cut lines.

Also make sure the text is running in the correct direction. If the album is sitting upright on a shelf, then text should always read from top to bottom.

Checking the spine text is an easy way to verify that things have remained in alignment when you save or export the file to PDF. 



[4] Upload to our Dropbox or send us a link to download

 When you're done, please upload the files here:


We can also download files from your Google Drive link, WeTransfer or anything else that's convenient.





Design Software Notes:



Pros: The easiest of the Adobe suite to learn. It has powerful image editing, easy text creation, and is the last of the Adobe products to output PDFx1a correctly (at this point in time anyway). Photoshop has been the most popular tool for our artists doing DIY design work, and we expect it to continue to be a great option for creating print ready PDF files for years to come.

Cons: Adobe ongoing subscription costs





Pros: One of several tools of choice for professional designers, Illustrator combines seamlessly with Photoshop, and provides powerbank layout features to streamline design. We've accepted Illustrator source PDF files for many years.

Cons: With so many professional features, Illustrator has a steep learning curve and an ongoing subscription cost. The PDFx1a output from AI is also no longer recommended. Thin white lines appear often, and it's always a risk that these will print. A high resolution PDF output is now essential.





Pros: See Illustrator

Cons: See Illustrator





Pros: The industry alternative to Adobe for professional design. We know many Corel Draw experts that use the Corel suite as their default design software, even when Adobe is available. Corel tends to open other source files and PDFs very accurately, which is a huge time saver. It's a wonderfully feature packed and streamlined suite.

Cons: Ongoing subscription cost. Learning curve.




Pros: Cheap and easily accessible. Pro version required for CMYK PDF output but it's not expensive. Great for DIY mockups to reduce professional layout cost.

Cons: There are many...

We've included the best instructions we can for print ready PDF creation, but there are significant limitations compared to Adobe suite and Corel Draw.

CANVA converts your images to RGB and occasionally scales them to a lower resolution. So you could import a CMYK 300 ppi image and end up with RGB 223ppi in your design file.

There is also no way to outline text before output.

  • If you download a flat CMYK PDF file (requires Pro version) it will hold text in position and convert RGB to CMYK for print, but the text is often very pixellated when converted to an image by this process.
  • If you don't download as a flat PDF, this can lead to missing fonts and/or text moving on the page when we preflight for print.





Pros: Included in MS Office suite

Cons: MS Word, Publisher, and PowerPoint files (or PDF files created from these files), are generally considered unsuitable for offset print file output.

There are exceptions however - so if you've created all the artwork in Word or Publisher, we can check the file at no charge to see whether it's printable - running through all the elements we've listed above.

If it's not OK (due to resolution, text, colour or another reason), we can instead receive your original images and text, and use your MS suite design as a mockup to help speed up our layout service. We'll recreate the artwork in Illustrator and provide a source AI file at the end of the project for your safekeeping.




Pros: If you don't have Adobe suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) or Corel Draw available, then Affinity seems a clear choice as 'best of the rest'. Text can be converted to vector, files can be output as high res PDF, transparencies can be rasterised for accurate display in PDFx3 and PDFx4 modes. It's a nice option all around for creating print ready files. We've provided detailed instructions on exactly how to do this in the sections above. 

Cons: Not many. It's a great option for DIY designers with a reasonable learning curve. It's more expensive than CANVA but has a one-off rather than recurring subscription.





Pros: Cheap and easily accessible.

Cons: This app does not convert RGB to CMYK (we can do this at our end). Text cannot be converted to vector outlines and may appear fuzzy. There are a couple of recommended output options included above that will make a difference, so be sure to check before output. Similar print file result to CANVA overall, but with fewer features.