How To Prepare Camera-Ready Art!

R.L Coomer

Camera-ready artwork – commonly called a paste-up – isn’t terribly complicated stuff . . . as long as you know the basics. But it’s often hard to find the “basics” written down in one place.

This month, we’ll discuss some of the fundamentals of any good paste-up: that separates the good from the bad, what’s not usable, and what you might set as a “standard.”

What is a Paste-up?

“Paste-up” is the term used to describe any material which has been assembled for printing. It can be anything from a piece of art on a white sheet of paper to a complex mechanical drawing . . . depending on your needs, and the quality desired. Despite the varying levels of complexity, the paste-up must meet this basic requirement: It must be able to be “shot” on a printer’s camera.

Let’s start with an example of a basic paste-up, and assume that the job in question is a company letterhead.

In order for material to be “shot,” it should be black if possible. However, other colors can also be easily photographed by the lithographic camera: Red and orange, for example, do not provide many camera problems.

But – as you may already know – certain colors will not be easily recognized by the printing process. Blue is basically invisible to the camera. (Although a very dark blue can be photographed, a light blue is almost impossible to reproduce with any success.) Yellows can occasionally be shot, but results vary: a successful reproduction will depend on whether the yellow was more “gold,” or more “sunshiny.”

Crispness of Material

That’s not to say that simply because something is “black” it will look good. The art or type which you have shot must also be very crisp. To demonstrate this point, use a magnifying glass and look at the material
printed in a newspaper . . . and then look at material printed in a “slick” magazine. The newspaper material will appear quite coarse under the magnifying glass, while the type or art in the magazine will be fairly sharp.

So although both samples were black-on-white, one printed better than the other.

The problem of “crispness” often pops up when customers ask to have an old piece of material reprinted. If the original is missing, a previously printed sample is often substituted. The result is an unavoidable shift in the crispness of the work: Such printed pieces are slightly less crisp than their originals, and to re-print a printed piece degrades quality further.

So whenever possible, try to use the material which is the sharpest. It will produce the best job.

Cornermarks: What they Do

The next essential for a good paste-up is to make sure the printer will know where the type or art should appear on the page. This is achieved by putting “cornermarks” on the paste-up. A cornermark is composed of simple black lines which appear close to – but not within – the page to be printed. This means the paste-up must be larger than the piece to be printed (see example).

The printer uses cornermarks in two ways. First, they tell him or her in which position on the paper to print the work. But later – if the job happened to be printed on an oversize sheet – they also tell where to cut
the job up before delivery.

As an example of how important cornermarks can be, consider this situation. Company “X” had spent a good deal of time and money in developing a very specific, graphic image for their corporation. They used “white space” (merely, open areas of white paper) generously. The concept – for which they dearly paid an advertising agency – was to instill a feeling of isolation, independence, uniqueness.

They followed most of the printing rules to the letter. But when they had their artwork prepared for thousands of business cards, they simply pasted up their company name, logotype, and names of division managers on a board. Somebody forgot to include cornermarks.

When the printer received the job, no mention was made of the fact that the information on the business cards was to appear well below the middle-point on the card. That is to say, the top half of the card was to be blank.

The printer, of course, had no idea that the cards were desired to be blank at the top.

The result? Thousands of cards in the trash bin. The president of the company – who had signed the check, which paid the art studio, which designed the cards – was furious. All for the lack of cornermarks.

The point is, if you have a very specific idea of exactly where an image is to appear on a printed product, you must transmit that information to the printer.

What Prints?

If you are unfamiliar with the “rules” of printing, keep in mind that the camera “sees” everything: A fingerprint – if dark enough – is the same as the president’s signature.

As mentioned earlier, certain colors print better than others. But in some cases, no color can print quite well. Sound silly? It’s not. If you allow enough microscopic dust and dirt to settle on a paste-up, it will
eventually collect on the edges of the material you’ve assembled.

That brings up the next pointer: Keep the paste-up clean. Better yet, keep it perfect. The easiest way to do this is [1] Make sure that anyone who handles the material you intend to reproduce is aware that everything which appears on your original art will print, and [2] Protect your paste-up with a sheet of tissue. This specialized tissue (often called parchment) can be purchased at most office supply stores, and at all art supply stores.

Types of Adhesives

The term “paste-up” implies you are literally “pasting” something in position. That is certainly the historical case. But over the years, many different adhesives have been developed for the graphic arts.

Glue comes in a variety of configurations. The most professional glues are (1) rubber cement, and (2) spray adhesive. The former can be just a bit tricky to work with, but provides the most durability. The latter can be hard on the lungs. In any case, the point is to be sure that you leave no glue “unattended.” If a spot of glue finds its way to the camera, it might pick up dust, hair, or lint. These imperfections will photograph, just as clearly as if they were the president’s signature.

Wax has become a very popular adhesive with those who do a good deal of paste-up. Waxing machines can be the hand-application type (about $40 for a unit), or elaborate ($500 desk-top devices). When using wax, the paste-up person applies a coating to the piece to be affixed, places it in position, and then “burnishes” the piece (using an intermediate sheet of slippery paper). The main disadvantage in using wax is that it more or less mellows with age and loses its tackiness. It may take several years for this to happen. Another disadvantage is that the equipment can be expensive.

Finally, for a quickie paste-up, many people use simple tape . . . the kind purchased in a drugstore. There is nothing wrong with this, if you follow one rule: Don’t tape over material which is supposed to be photographed. The tape can alter the appearance of the job. For example, if you want the word “THE” to print clearly, don’t put tape over part of it. Although it looks clear to your eye, the camera might pick up the edges of the tape – which attract dust and can optically distort the image to be photographed.

Getting it Straight

In order for a paste-up to be perfectly straight – for everything to “look right” – professionals rely on squares and triangles. These are the tools of the pasteup artist, and can be purchased rather inexpensively at any art supply store.

If you are very critical about doing paste-ups, you should purchase this fundamental equipment.

But what about the “quickie” paste-up . . . the one you want to do right now without the help of specialized tools?

An easy optical trick you can use is this: Hold the pasted-up job at eye level. Make it nearly perpendicular to your line of sight . . and then look at it closely. By visually condensing the area you observe, you will be
able to see any noticeable errors in alignment of copy or artwork.

The Paste-up Board

One cannot discuss paste-ups without giving mention to what you paste-up on.

Some professionals stick with 1/8″ thick “boards,” which are expensive sheets of smooth-finished cardboard. Others use sheets which have the approximate thickness of a telephone book cover. And a few use sheets of paper.

If you need any kind of durability, and want your paste-up to stay clean, use a sheet of “board” which is of the telephone-book-cover thickness . . . at least. Paper will wrinkle.

The Copier Test

Now that you have a fresh paste-up in front of you, how do you know what the camera will see . . . and what the printed piece will look like?

Most offices have a copy machine. These machines work on a principle very similar to that used by a camera: They see either black or white, and no grays. Make a copy of the job. If your copy is full of hairlines, dust, grit, and other assorted “don’t-wants,” you know you have a dirty paste-up. Just clean it up, and give it another pass through the copier.

And when you finally have what you have been working towards, give it to us. We’ll print it, clean as a whisker.

Tricks & Tips

Teach your Ruler Tricks

Quick: How much is 11 divided by 3?

Sorry, you took too much time But if you’ve ever been frustrated with trying to divide an odd dimension by an even odder number, here’s a handy trick to help you out next time.

Although rulers were designed to perform the rather simple task of measuring inches, they’re smart little critters. They can divide virtually any dimension by any number, and give you a near-perfect answer.

The trick is to lay the ruler on an angle, as shown in the accompanying illustration, and mentally divide a nice, easy number by some other simple number.

In the illustration, an 11″ piece of paper is being divided by three. As you can see, what is really being divided is twelve. But because the ruler is angled, each “third” will be in precisely the right spot.

If you wanted to draw rules dividing the sheet into three equal columns, you would simply [1] draw a tiny dot at the division points, and then [2] draw vertical lines – perpendicular to the edge of the sheet of paper (not perpendicular to the angled ruler).

What if you wanted to divide a 9″ sheet of paper into seven columns? The easy way is to purchase (or borrow) a ruler which has other divisions. Most printer’s rulers are divided into inches and picas. A pica (a unit of measurement, roughly equal to a sixth of an inch) is a much smaller unit of measure. There are about 72 picas to a foot . . . so you’d just lay the “zero” on one end of the sheet, and align the ruler on an angle . . . so that the 63rd pica met the other edge. Every nine picas, you’d place a little tick mark . , . and presto! Instead of fighting with columns of 1.2857142 inches wide, you’d have the columns precisely drawn to that measurement . . . with no mathematics at all.

Now, if we can just teach some tricks to an old dog . . .


A Bit About Halftones

I’m new to the business of buying printing. Please tell me exactly what is meant by a halftone, how they are made, and why. -J.R.M.

“Halftone” is the term used to describe a subject which is to be printed… but a subject which requires “gray” areas. A black-and-white photograph is a good example.

Photographs must display a gradual change from white to black. But when printing one color (black), a typical offset printing press cannot print gray. There is merely black ink in the press . . . and the paper will be either black or white.

Yet, we appear to see shades of gray when we look at a photograph in a magazine. Why?

It’s an optical trick. What you really see is pure black ink. But you being you see gray because a halftone is the result of breaking a photograph into fine dots. In the shadows (or “dark”) areas of the photographs, the press is actually printing relatively large dots of black ink. In the highlight (or “white”) areas of the photo, the press prints tiny dots.

The human eye is easily fooled when there are more than 120 such dots in a linear inch. In other words, if you look at a halftone which was printed with a 120-line “screen” (a screen which contains 120 dots per inch of width), your eye must absorb 14,400 bits of information per square inch.

Our eyes are incapable of doing that, and can just barely see the dots at all. So the brain compromises: Instead of seeing thousands of bits of information, the brain “averages” the information. Instead of seeing 14,400 dots, we see a blend of black and white . . . gray!

The 65-line halftone is the bottom limit of screening for most purposes. On the high end of the scale, some presses can produce a 300-line screen halftone. Such presses are not the norm. The average halftone (in
magazines) has 133 dots per inch; the average newspaper has 65 dots per inch, and a 100-line halftone is used for moderate quality printing jobs.

The secret to creating a halftone is the halftone “screen.” This is a piece of glass or plastic which holds the screen itself. When the photographic image is passed through the screen, it is broken into the dots which will eventually appear on the printed piece. Most often, the screen which provides the dot pattern is composed of varying shades of gray. In other words, if enough light is bounced off the original photo, through the lens, and onto the screen, the film (or plate) will receive the proper amount of exposure to create suitable dots.

Put together a quarter-million or so dots . . . and there you have it: A halftone!




Do use black ink.

Do use nonphotographic blue or yellow pencil for any notes that you don’t want reproduced.

Do use a very white paper not easily seen through.

Do keep the density (darkness) of your copy consistent.

Do use carbon ribbon if typing & black India ink if doing artwork.

Do use a liquid cover-up correction fluid (white-out).

Do allow as much blank margin around the edges, top & bottom (3/8 – 1/2″ is preferable.)

Do use rubber cement, glue stick or a waxer for paste-ups.

Do remove excess rubber cement. Any excess will collect dirt like a magnet.

Do keep your layout or design clean& neat as possible.

Do keep your original if you want future copies.

Do check copyrights. We cannot accept legal responsibility for reproducing copyrighted material.


Don’t use pencil or blue ball-point pen.

Don’t use pastel colored inks especially blue or green. A dark red ink is acceptable.

Don’t shade areas with pencil, crayon or paint.

Don’t use large black areas on your layout or design since printing ink dries slowly.

Don’t use tracing paper, erasable bond, onion skin or colored paper.

Don’t use typewriters that type uneven, broken or filled-in letters.

Don’t type over corrections so that they’re darker than the rest of the typing.

Don’t run your copy to the edges – top, bottom, or sides.

Don’t use transparent (“scotch”) tape or masking tape to hold items on your layout.

Don’t use staples. Staple holes will show as black dots on printed material.

Don’t allow rubber cement under the paste-up to bleed to the edges where it will collect dirt.

Don’t use pictures from newspapers, if possible. They will reproduce poorly.

Don’t use photographs that have not been screened.

Don’t allow dirt to get onto your original. Keep your original in a envelope or cover with paper.

Don’t use a copy as an original. Quality is lost from each generation of copy.


Christian Information Network