Printing in CMYK & Spot Colors

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If you’ve ever wanted to have your art exist outside your screen, this tutorial will help you achieve that by going through some basics, as well as more advanced techniques of exporting your files for print in Clip Studio Paint!

If you prefer watching tutorials over reading them, go check out the video version here:

Setting up Image Dimensions & Resolution

The most basic things you want to keep in mind when preparing a file for print are the image dimension & resolution values.

When you create a new file in Clip Studio Paint, you are met with this dialogue window:

Since we intend to print things, let’s switch over to the third button in the top row. This option is called “show all Comic settings”, but even if you just want to make an illustration rather than a comic, the more advanced settings that are available here will be helpful to optimize files for print!

Let’s go over all these options.

First off, the “Unit” (1) option in the top right corner. It makes sense to now either select the cm (centimeter), mm (millimeter) or in (inch) option. When preparing files for print, pixels or points aren’t going to be super helpful.

In the “Canvas” section we can decide Canvas Width and Height (2), but these options are okay to ignore for now, as the more detailed settings below will actually decide them for us!

The one thing we need to pay attention to is the “Resolution” option (3). If you want to print something in good quality, you need to have this set to 300 (dpi / dots per inch) at least. 600 will be even better depending on the printing quality and technique. If your computer can handle a large file size well, I would recommend going with the higher value.

The “Basic expression color” option (4) determines whether your image will be in color, grayscale or monochrome. This tutorial will only focus on the color option.

The “Binding (finish) size” option (5) is going to be the actual final size of your artwork. Clip Studio Paint already includes a few common image size templates (currently selected: “A4 size”), which you can pick from. These will change the Canvas Width and Height values.


Below these values, you’ll find an important option called “Bleed width” (6). If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to extra artwork being printed beyond the final artwork size. Do we need this?

Well, it depends. If you want to print something like an art print that’s going to be framed and will have a white border around it, you won’t need it. If you want to print something like a poster that’s gonna have your artwork take up the entire paper, you will need it.

The reason for that is that you won’t be able to print on the very edge of a paper. So to have artwork extend all the way to the edge, you actually need to print something in a larger format, and then crop it to the smaller format. Now, if there is no bleed, the cropping process might not be exact and result in white edges on the paper. Bleed helps ensure that even if things aren’t cropped precisely, we will have artwork perfectly fill out a paper.

What should we set “Bleed width” to? You will need to check with your printer. Different services have different standards. Some say 2mm, some may say 5mm. It can also depend on what you are printing or in what size. So just head to your printing service’s website and look for that information in the print specifications section.

The “Default border (inner) size” option (7) is a bit less relevant if you are creating an illustration. If you are creating comics, this would usually be used to determine the area of the page where panels are visible, with only page spreads or certain artwork that extends beyond panels going beyond that area. You can switch between determining the border size (“set size”) or the border itself (“set margin”).

I won’t go into the “Safety margin” option (8) here, as its use is explained well by the official Clip Studio Paint article. In my example, we won’t be using it.

We can now press “OK” to create the file.

Changing Image Dimensions Retroactively

Some of you might have already created artwork without setting your file up as described in the previous section. However, if you want to prepare your file for print now, you can still access these options.

If you want to check that your image resolution meets the 300 dpi quality requirement, go to “Edit” > “Change image resolution”.

At the bottom, you can see the “Unit” and “Resolution” options. If you set your file up in a pixel format, it should still show as pixels, at 72 dpi.

First, select 300 dpi in the “Resolution” menu (or whatever other option you want to aim for). You will now see the “Width”, “Height” and “Scale“ options adjust. If the “Scale” value is higher than 1.00 (such as in this example), this means you will need to size up your image to reach the higher resolution. However, this might not always be necessary.

Select the “Unit” option, then select cm/mm/in and define the image width and height you want. In this example, we might only want to print an image at 15x15cm. The scale value adjusts back down to 1.77. This means that we’re gonna have to almost double the image size we have now. If we do this, our artwork might become blurry, unless you have used vector layers for your drawings. For more information on vector layers, go check out my previous tutorial!

The “Interpolation method” option refers to different ways your image can be scaled up or down. It makes sense to leave this at “High accuracy” for most cases.

We can now press “OK” and the image will be adjusted according to your specifications.

Next, if you want to add bleed to your artwork, you can do this by simply going to “View” > “Crop Mark / Default border settings”.

Now you can adjust the same values as previously discussed in the tutorial. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to extend the canvas size in this window, and if your canvas size is already at the size of the final artwork you desire, you may have to first extend the canvas size by going to “Edit” > “Change Canvas Size” and then come back to this window.

Exporting full color images in CMYK

Clip Studio Paint is primarily set up to work in RGB, a color space that mixes colors in an additive manner.
However, for print we will work in CMYK, a color space that mixes colors in a subtractive manner.
If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, I’d like to briefly explain them.

First, “additive” colors. In RGB, which stands for Red, Green and Blue, we increase each color value to brighten the overall color. If all three are set to the maximum of 255, we have a white color.

Now, “subtractive” colors. In CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (or Key Plate) we increase each color value to darken the overall color. If all three are set to the maximum of 100%, we will have a very dark and saturated color.

One important thing to note is that screens can display brighter colors in a more vivid way. In CMYK this usually is only possible with spot colors, which we will address later.

First, let’s see how we can work with CMYK in Clip Studio Paint.

Go to “View” and select the “Color profile” > “Preview settings” option.

Before we move on, let’s quickly address the first drop down option here, “Profile for preview”. There are different color profiles in the world of printing that pay respect to different papers and colors. For example, if you create artwork for a newspaper, you will need to use a distinct color profile that limits the amount of color that can be applied to the paper. This is because newspaper soaks up color very differently to the kind of paper you might use in an inkjet office printer. Things might end up looking too dark if too much color is applied, and color profiles try to help optimize the end result.

Make sure to look up the print specifications on your printing service’s website to find out which color profile you will need to work with!

But back to the window that just popped up. Here, you can select your intended color profile.
Once you’ve done so, you’ll notice that it looks a lot more dull now.

We can however do a few things to improve this. Let’s look at the “Rendering intent” drop-down menu. This offers a variety of options in which your colors can be converted from RGB to CMYK! It can be a good idea to go for the "Saturation" option in most cases. This option will often result in a much more similar look to how your artwork was displayed in RGB.

While you won’t be able to actually make the colors more *saturated* (there is a limit to what standard CMYK colors can do), these options DO change the contrast of your colors. And if you know your color theory, you know that more contrast can make things look more vivid.

If you are unhappy with all four “Rendering intent” options, you can also select the “Tonal Correction” checkmark and fine tune the contrast on all four color plates individually!

Once you are happy with the result, make sure to select the “Save on canvas” option! Otherwise, your adjustments won’t actually be saved when you export the image.

You may want to now save your .csp file as a new file with a different name to signify that this is the CMYK version of your artwork. Otherwise, if you ever want to make a change, you would have to redo the color adjustments!

Finally, let’s actually export the CMYK file. I would suggest exporting your file as a JPG with the quality turned up all the way to 100, or as a TIFF file, which can offer an even higher print quality.

An export settings window will pop up. The important thing here is to include the “Crop mark” option.

Next, select “CMYK color” in the “Expression color” menu. Make sure to also “Embed ICC profile”.

Finally, leave the “Scale ratio from original data” at 100%. And that’s it!

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This concludes the first part of the tutorial. You now know how to export basic full color images for print in Clip Studio Paint. If you’d like to know more about preparing an image such as this for a two tone spot color print, stick around for more advanced techniques!

An Introduction to Spot Colors

I briefly teased the topic of spot colors earlier. The thing is: Even in print you can achieve some very bright and vivid colors, such as this neon green. This is possible with spot colors.

Let’s remember how CMYK works. Colors are added together. If you have a magnifying glass nearby, why not try looking at a printed piece of paper near you? Chances are, you will notice that the picture is actually made up of tons of tiny dots, that mix these four colors together!

Now, if something is printed in only one of these base colors, it’s going to result in a slightly smoother, cleaner look than if you were to mix two of them together to create Green, for example.

This is one reason why spot colors exist. Think of them as pre-mixed colors. Using them will not just result in a more even color application, but it also enables brighter or more vivid colors.

Clip Studio Paint sadly does not yet have support for this technique. But, we can hack our way there. To figure out how to do this, let’s first look at what a file looks like that’s been set up for print in a program that does support spot colors, such as Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign.

Take this PDF for example. When opened in Adobe Acrobat, I can access the “Print Production” menu, and the “Output Preview” window from there. Here, I am able to see that the neon green is listed as its own color alongside Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (or Key Plate).

If I deselect this color, I will now only see what is being printed in the other colors (in this case, only Black shows up). Likewise, I can turn things around and see what happens if I deactivate all the CMYK color plates and only have the spot color plate visible.

As you can tell, the color disappears and we only see Black left. Because it basically is an instruction that tells the printer “where you see Black, print this other color and where you don’t see Black, don’t”. As you mouse over an area displayed as Black, you will still see the percentage information next to the color plate reflect this and display as “100%” for the spot color I picked.

With that knowledge in mind, we are ready to switch back over to Clip Studio Paint.

Setting up Spot Colors in Clip Studio Paint

Before we start, let’s analyze how I set up this artwork. You may have yours set up differently, but I hope that I will still be able to show you the principles of setting up spot colors in a way where you can apply it to your own artwork!

First, the actual artwork is on it’s own layer. Everything that is not black is transparent.

Next, the spot color is actually a completely black layer where I used Clip Studio Paint’s “Layer Color” effect to select the neon color.

Inbetween the two, there is a layer with white color that I used to give the illustration some highlights.

To achieve something that looks like what we saw in the PDF file before, we will now press CTRL and click the main artwork layer to create a selection of it. Alternatively, you can right click the layer and select the “Selection from Layer” > “Create Selection” option.

Next, we need to also select the white area. To add it to the selection, hold down CTRL + SHIFT and click the layer. Alternatively, you can right click the layer and select the “Selection from Layer” > “Add Selection” option.

We now have everything selected that ISN’T going to print in neon green. This means that our next step is inverting that selection. You can do so by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + I or going to “Select” > “Invert Selected Area”. Now, we actually have a selection of everything that IS supposed to print in neon green, and we can select that layer and create a new layer mask.

Next, let’s turn off the “Layer Color” effect so the layer appears as fully black. What we see now is identical to what we saw in the PDF file earlier.

The next step is manually adding information about which color this is supposed to print as. I’ve mentioned before that Clip Studio Paint doesn’t (yet!) have any support for spot colors such as PANTONE. However, most printers that are able to print spot colors will still accept files that don’t have them baked in naturally and instead are showing this information as text.

This is why we’re going to use the Text tool to simply write the color we want to print in outside of the main printing area and in fact, even outside of the Bleed area (we don’t want to risk having this text ever show up anywhere on a print!). The way I would suggest phrasing it is “Print in [your color]”.

To figure out which color you want to print something in, I would suggest investing in a PANTONE color sampler. But if that is outside your budget, you can use their website to have a color suggested to you. To do so, double click your currently active color. Note down the RGB values, or alternatively, copy paste the Hex code.

Next, go to Pantone's website and select the “Find a Pantone Color” menu option. On the left, select “Convert” > “RGB/CMYK/Hex”. In the “Color Space” section, select either RGB or Hex, and input your information.

Before you press “Search”, you need to select the correct Color Library. If you are unsure which one to use, you can always select “All Pantone Books”. For this example, I already know I want a neon color, so I will only select “PANTONE Pastels & Neons Coated”.

A quick explanation of “Coated” and “Uncoated” color profiles: These refer to the paper quality. Anytime a paper has a smooth or glossy texture, you’re probably looking at a coated paper. This usually is the case for most photo or magazine prints. Anytime a paper has a coarse and natural feeling texture, you’re probably looking at an uncoated paper. This is usually the case for newspapers or eco friendly packaging. As mentioned before, different paper types soak up color differently, which is why PANTONE offers separate color profiles.

Once I’ve pressed “Search”, I will get a suggestion from PANTONE’s website for what color to use. Your screen isn’t going to accurately reflect how this will look on paper. If you can’t afford the samples, contact your printer and ask them for a suggestion. Maybe they also have samples they can send or show you to help you decide.

But now, let’s go back into our file, and simply add this PANTONE color into the text information! You can also do this for the Black color plate to be extra clear in your communication.

Exporting Spot Color images

Now, when we export this file we have to consider a few factors. Previously, we’ve exported a CMYK file that was a full color image. However, in this example, we only want to print in two color plates - Black and the PANTONE spot color.

When we export our files this time, we are going to export two separate TIFF files - one for the spot color plate and one for the black color plate. Before exporting, make sure that both the spot color and the black color plate are displayed as a pure RGB Black (R=0 G=0 B=0), and then in the Export Settings window, select “Gray” as the Expression Color.

When splitting up the color plates like this, it would also be helpful to send your printer a preview of how the final artwork is supposed to look. I would recommend exporting a RGB JPG file of your artwork and sending it off to your printer alongside the TIFF files we just created.

Even though we added crop marks and print color information onto the image itself already, it can also be helpful to add the final print size (after cropping) into the file name, as well as which color plate each file is supposed to represent. It’s never a bad thing to have file naming conventions that communicate clearly.

And while we’re talking about communication, most important of all: Always make sure to check that your printer understands what you want and will tell you if there are any changes you might have to make for an optimal printing result!

And that’s it!

Before ending this tutorial, I have two short notes I quickly want to address!

Overprint

Keep in mind that you have the ability to overprint colors. This means that you can, for example, print 100% of your spot color in the same space as where you are also printing 100% of black. It’s useful to keep this option in mind especially when you want to print something like this:

Unlike our previous example, this image has shading in various tones rather than cell shading with clear edges. To have the shading applied to the green spot color, we need to print the spot color even in areas where we also print black. Keep in mind that those areas are going to be darker than those where you are ONLY printing in black.

Let’s go back to our previous example to see when you might NOT want to include overprint options. If I were to not exclude the black artwork itself and just exported the spot color plate with the white highlights, the final print would look something like this:

The big circles surrounding the white sections don’t exactly look flattering. So make sure to consider what kind of look you want when setting up the spot color area.

Special Print Effects

I also want to bring to your attention that you can use this technique to set up files for special printing techniques, such as UV coating (parts of the image will reflect light or appear shiny), glitter coating (sparkly!) or many other effects. Contact your printer about what options they have on offer, and then simply set up the file as you would a spot color plate file, except describing that file as “Print as [desired effect]”.

Thank you for Reading!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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