RESOLUTION | TEMPLATES | BUTTON TOLERANCE | SMART OBJECTS | DARK PRINTS | SAVING ART | NO PHOTOSHOP?
Please note that illustrations used here and on our website are for informational purposes only.
Artwork prints are developed using a professional inkjet printer and cutter machine. The printer utilizes 6 distinct color cartridges to accurately reproduce most artwork in vivid, detailed hues.
If you have already reviewed our article regarding what the Plexworks service is (and what is isn't), let's now look at additional topics regarding artwork size, use of our photoshop templates, and alternative submissions for those who don't have photoshop or a similar program to edit content.
High Resolution, High Quality
Artwork that appears on a computer monitor can look fairly sharp due to a monitor's resolution and lower pixel density than print. This becomes a problem when artwork is submitted without consideration to print resolution. I cover this topic in detail in a separate article titled "Screen vs Print - A Helpful Guide", worth reading before you submit your first personalized artwork to us.
I recommend that artwork is larger than 1024x768 pixels if submitted by itself. Meeting just that minimum is not going to produce a sharp detailed print, as we must resize it to fit within a 300dpi area. In terms of screen resolution, an estimate for a 300dpi rectangle image for a large panel like the Razer Atrox is about 5000x3000 pixels or less.
Anatomy of Plexworks Photoshop Templates
To help you optimize turnaround and compatibility with the Plexworks printing service, we offer Adobe Photoshop templates for all products offered. I highly recommend that you use these templates if possible. However, I will discuss concessions that we can make for non-Photoshop users further down in this article.
Opening the Photoshop Template
Once unzipped, launch Photoshop and open the template file. All templates will first appear like this:
This top layer is labeled "Instructions", which provides helpful information regarding the templates' proper use, such as making sure to flatten the artwork (please do NOT flatten the layout guide to your artwork, or we will place on hold) layer before submitting the file, not resizing the template, or remembering to resize artwork past the overprint area to ensure that the cutting process does not affect the presentation.
Once you review the instructions, feel free to hide or remove this layer. We now move to the layout:
In the template you will find several layers, most of them locked except for the "Add Artwork Here" layer:
The layers are locked to prevent accidental resizing or removal while working within the template. You can always hide them by clicking the "eye" icon. Note that the unlocked layer does not have to represent the only layer you can work within. You can create as many artwork-related layers for your project as you want.
Sizing for Overprint
As mentioned prior, and explained in the article "Screen vs Print: A Helpful Guide", you may have to resize the artwork to fit the 300dpi template. Here is a good example where the artwork's existing size is simply too small to cover the entire layout:
Of note here is the red border around the grey layout. This is called the "overprint". Overprint represents extra space that is allotted for the our printer/cutter to cut without affecting your presentation. It is critical that you size the artwork past the layout and towards the overprint area. That said, do not position any important elements in the overprint area that you want included in the actual cut print, as they will not appear. Here is an example of resizing to reach the overprint:
Button Artwork and Cutting Tolerances
Often, artwork is designed around the buttons and joystick. This looks quite good in many scenarios, but it also poses a problem when the artwork doesn't allow for cutting tolerances. Laser cutting - the method we use to cut the paper into shape of the control panel, is sometimes offset off by hundredths of an inch because the paper must be installed into our cutting machine by hand. When the edges of the artwork stop just before the button hole, it leaves white or some other color around the edges of the button hole. This is avoidable and unnecessary.
Look at this example:
The artist chose to design around the buttons, but stops the artwork right at the button guide.
This doesn't work well, as the laser cut must perfectly align with the guide. When cut, it could have some of the white from the button rim area appear around the button area.
Use the "Ring" to Create Cutting Tolerances
To avoid this problem, we ask that you extend your artwork into the button "ring".
The area that surrounds the button plunger - the rim - does not accomodate artwork. The "ring" that is created from cutting the button hole and the plunger is actually thrown away during installation. It serves no purpose, but it can be used to allow for cutting tolerances.
When designing outside of the button, please allow the artwork to extend into this ring, similar to our request that you extend artwork the the red line (overprint). It prevents white edges while cutting. If you are designing artwork that will fit into the button plunger, extend artwork portions into the ring as well.
Doing this allows us to cut without creating unwanted white edges or colors spilling into another simply because they were too close to the edges. This example shows how the artwork boundaries are extended into the ring, creating a safer edge:
If you do not plan to use button artwork, you can fill in that space entirely. Again, if these elements go unused, it's better to prevent white edges simply by filling in these spaces with color.
This tip will soon appear in all of our Photoshop templates.
Indispensable Smart Objects
Smart Objects is a recent feature in Photoshop that once used, you wonder how you did without.
Converting a layer to a Smart Object allows you to perform a number of adjustments nondestructively. Among them, you can apply various filters that can be edited or removed without affecting the source layer. Additionally, you can edit the original content as a separate file, and its changes will appear in the layer once saved. You're also allowed you to group multiple layers together into a single smart object; this saves you from clogging up your main document.
Most commonly used is the ability to nondestructively resize an object up or down, all while keeping its original resolution and detail intact. Originally, a layer that was first made smaller and then enlarged would lose fidelity. This is because the image data was lost when sized down. I must note that if an object is already small or low resolution, this will not enable it to enlarge while keeping detail - again as mentioned in the Screen vs Print article, image data that is not available will not magically appear when a photo is enlarged.
To create a Smart Object layer, right-click the desired layer and select "Convert to Smart Object". Layers that are converted to Smart Objects will display an icon at lower right.
Wrapping your head around smart objects will lead to time savings down the road. I highly recommend that you use them in your projects. Here are some resources to help you better understand:
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Smart Objects in Photoshop (TutsPlus)
- How to Master Smart Objects in Photoshop (PhLearn)
- Smart Objects: The Little Feature in Photoshop that Makes a Big Impact (Digital Tutors)
Worried about prints Appearing Darker than your Monitor?
Occasionally we hear from customers that say their print appears darker than what they saw on their monitor. There are a number of reasons to explain this, but it's important to know that a computer monitor's brightness setting is not saved to your artwork file. A backlit monitor with default calibration settings is much brighter than any printed page can reproduce, simply because paper reflects light from its surroundings, and cannot produce consistent light on its own. We print what you give us - no color correction or brightness adjustments are made. To learn more about monitor to print differences, plus how to potentially address darker prints when submitting, please read this article:
Saving your Finished Artwork
After putting the final touches on your personalized control panel, it's time to save your creation and prepare to submit for printing.
When saving, you must keep all locked layers (Information, Overprint, Layout, Background) intact. This means you must not merge them together. Doing this, or worse, merging your artwork and the locked layers, will result in a hold within the fulfillment process.
The submission should be saved as a PSD file.
If You Don't Have Photoshop
Many that don't own a copy of Photoshop, you use the free, open source application GIMP to create artwork using our control panel templates. It is possible to import our Photoshop templates into GIMP. Plexworks currently does not support GIMP's .XCF format, but GIMP does export to Photoshop .PSD format.
Another possible alternative is Autodesk Sketchbook, recently made free to download and use. It will open Photoshop PSD files, allow you to work in layers, and export to PSD. We have tried it and it does function well.
Plexworks will also accept files in JPG, TIFF, and PDF. However, there are some caveats when submitting these formats:
- Artwork that are submitted without guidelines, a smaller size than 300dpi, or other inconsistency from our templates will be prone to judgement calls from our fulfillment team when sizing for print within our internal templates. Please note that custom artwork services are not refundable.
- Please consider the artwork you are using in relation to the Fightstick layout you want to print on. For example, buttons, control panels, and other elements may block out key parts of the artwork when cut.
- Please keep in mind that artwork submitted without guidelines will be attempted to line up with our internal templates, but may not align exactly as expected.