Here at Quintain, we help create and set up artwork for our clients’ promotional product needs. This can be anything from a simple one-color logo placement on a tote, to a more complex wrap for a Bluetooth speaker system. The design itself aside, there are a lot of factors that go into how promotional product artwork is set up on the backend. Overall this tends to include color, formatting, typography and graphics.

Whether it’s your job to oversee the creation of this kind of artwork, or if you are the actual designer, it’s important that you are familiar with all of these terms. In explaining them to you, I hope to also show you how each fits into any kind of printed artwork you might be creating.


The two biggest concerns regarding color are which color space you should be working in and whether there is a limit to how many colors you can use.

CMYK vs. Pantone

It’s important to start off your work knowing what color space you need to be working in. While colors can be changed later on, it’s much easier if you start off in the right place.

For printed promotional products, you will be working in either CMYK or the Pantone Matching System (PMS).

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (the final layer of black ink). These four colors are layered one atop another (cyan first, then magenta, yellow and black last) to create the wide range of colors you normally see when printing from any standard inkjet printer.

PMS colors are spot colors. They have a name or number assigned to them, and unlike the endless combination of CMYK colors, the PMS is limited in color choices. However, with the PMS you will be sure that the color you want to use will always come out exactly the way you expect.

We do this by having PMS swatch cards on hand which, much like getting a paint swatch card at Home Depot, will help us to compare the color on our screen with what we want it to look like when printed.


As you’ll notice in the example above, the CMYK, uncoated (U) and coated (C) PMS colors may look fairly different, but once printed (on uncoated or coated paper, accordingly) they will look much closer to the on-screen CMYK color.

In short, CMYK keeps things simple, and is cheaper; PMS is more costly, but helps brands to achieve color perfection across all their promotional materials.

Design Tip

You should never be using RGB colors for print work. RBG are colors for digital and website work only. Why does it matter? RGB can actually create a wider range of colors, some of which cannot be physically printed at the same vibrancy. These colors instead will come out looking dull and less appealing.

Color Limit

Is there a limit to the number of colors you can use?

For many products, vendors will request simplified one- or two-color logos or artwork. And if that one color is not black, it’s will be a PMS spot color.

Because CMYK is a four-color process, you’ll only be able to use CMYK artwork if your promotional product allows for four-color processing.

Design Tip

In a limited, one-, two- or three-color process, white still counts as a color, so make sure your design doesn’t have any unnecessary white outlines.


Normally vendors will provide a template for their promotional items, but you must always keep in mind how the artwork on your screen with translate to a printed product. This includes keeping track of the dimensions, any needed bleeds and how the printed artwork might fold and wrap on the final product.


Always make sure you are working with accurate measurements. If there is a template, stick to it closely!

It can be easy to create artwork that’s not actually to scale, or that looks fine on the screen but awkward when printed. To help with this, use the same measurement scale for the digital and printed designs. Create your artwork in inches if the final product is normally measured in inches.

Design terms all marketers need to know.

And honestly, the best way to always be sure you are creating a design that will translate well to print is to simply print it out and hold it in your own two hands. Sometimes the simplest strategies are the best one.


Bleeds are the added space created around a design that will be physically cropped off once the design is printed. This allows for some leeway in the printing process and results in more professional products.


Picture a normal business card. The standard size is 3.5 inches wide by 2 inches tall. If the background on a business card is entirely blue, but doesn’t have bleeds when printed, there is a good chance the final cards will end up with awkward white margins along the edges when it is cut down to size.


However, let’s say we make that blue background a little bigger, 3.75 inches wide by 2.25 inches tall – a .125 inch bleed on all sides. When the time comes to cut the printed cards down to 2 by 3.5 inches, we no longer have to worry about there being any weird white border, and everything comes out perfect.

Design Tip

Crop marks (shown above) will show the printer or vendor where the bleeds are versus where the actual design begins. Templates may include them, but if they aren’t included it can be a good idea to add them when saving out original design files.


If your artwork ends up wrapping around a box, don’t forget how the template aligns to the physical product.

It’s all too easy to forget that the design you are seeing on-screen might actually need to be flipped upside-down or rotated when it’s folded. This is also why printing out and creating a mock version of your work in progress is extremely helpful.


Typography can be complex, but my takeaway for this is simple: Make sure your type is legible!

Don’t make it so tiny that it’s impossible to read. Keep in mind who your audience is – older readers might need larger text. Also be sure the contrast between text and background is stark and helps with legibility.

Yet again, print out the design at 100 percent and read it yourself to check.

When it comes time to send over the final art file to be printed, make sure to outline all text. This prevents any issues with missing fonts, and it keeps the type looking perfect from one computer to the next.

Raster Images

I’ve talked about the differences between raster and vector graphics before, but I want to discuss how raster images – namely photographs – impact print work.

Make sure the resolution is 300dpi (dots per inch). Using images in a program like Adobe Illustrator can be tricky, and resizing photos will affect their DPI. Most vendors expect 300dpi exactly. No more, no less. They may even ask you to send them a file with an adjusted resolution if the first file doesn’t fit this requirement. This might not be an issue, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

What’s that I said before? Print it out! While an image on your screen might look perfect, printing it out at 100 percent can show if the image is actually too small or pixelated.

And when saving out the final design file, make sure to embed photos so that they will always show up when the vendor or printer opens the file. Missing images files can complicate orders and increase turnaround time.

design tip

I use Photoshop to set my image at exactly 300dpi. Once the placement and size of a particular image is finalized, I can save a new version of that image in Photoshop at both the correct size and resolution. I then replace the placeholder image with the perfectly sized one!


In most cases, the vendor will be able to provide you with a PDF that lays out the sizing and bleeds and all the guides and rules you need to make the perfect artwork for your product. Don’t ignore them! Often, the guides will be a PDF that can be opened and manipulated in a program like Adobe Illustrator, making the artwork process even easier.

The vendor has put them there for a reason, and using the document they provide you helps them to do their jobs better – and faster.

Don’t have guides to follow? Build them yourself. And as I wrote before, be sure to lay them out accurately, measuring everything carefully, and including bleeds and crop marks for the printer to use.

Take a Deep Breath

I know it may seem like a lot to keep track of, but please try not to be too overwhelmed! All of the above points are important to know and keep track of, but it doesn’t have to fall all on your shoulders. If you have any designers that you work with, they should be familiar with all of this information as well and can help you create the very best design for your next promotional product project.

Otherwise, it’s what teams are great for. You can print out your in-progress artwork and have some members of your team to give it a look and see how it impacts their own experiences with the product.

Now go forth and use your newfound design know-how. The world of promotional products awaits!

Read more: Pantone Names ‘Ultra Violet’ As 2018 Color of the Year