How to Print your Digital Files

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Photo by Katsuri Roy

A few years ago I made an amazing discovery.  It was kind of my light bulb moment during my business journey.

Digital files are the way of the future.

Although I loved making customers handmade party designs, there was a problem.  Time.

Not the time that it took to make their party designs.  I loved the crafting aspect.  It was more the time to deliver them their designs.

The thing with events, as you probably know if you enjoy planning them often, is that they happen on a specific date.  So while the timing of shipping an art print might not matter too much, the timely arrival of party designs is really important.

And those shipping times became more and more unpredictable.

I started looking into digital files and I liked what I found.  You can purchase creative party designs for your event and print them yourself.  This made it possible to plan an event in a more reasonable time frame.


But what if I am not a DIY kind of person?

Guess what.  It doesn’t matter.  When you print your digital files, you aren’t really doing a complex DIY project.  It’s more about selecting the correct paper and loading it into the printer.  Then, you might have to trim.  Otherwise, you should be good.

And there are other ways to print your digital files than your at home printer.  Unless you have an amazing at home printer, it might even be a better idea to find a print shop or service that you love.  More on that below.

A Bit about Color

Color is a funny thing.  At least when it comes to printing.  There is a reason designers state on their guidelines that the colors on your monitor may vary when the design is printed.  They do.  And there is nothing that we can do about it sadly.

Computer screens read color in RGB mode.  This means that the computer reads color in red, green and blue and mixes them together when reading the colors.

Printers read colors in CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black – and combines them to create the colors that it prints.

Confused?  Definite possibility.  Color concepts are even confusing for graphic designers.  But it does explain why the colors you see on your computer screen aren’t always the ones that print out on the printer.  Many times those colors might appear less vibrant or darker.  It’s just the way the printer is interpreting the design.

Another important thing about color is your printer you us matters.  And every printer is different.  How the printer reads the color of the design and converts onto the paper depends on a lot of things.  Suddenly the type of printer you use and quality of the paper is important.

When you print digital designs, always print a test copy first.  This will tell you whether you want to print an entire set or not.  If you don’t like the quality of the print, try another print shop or even printer.  It’s amazing the differences between different print shops based on the printers and paper that they use.

Three Kinds of Digital Files

If you’ve purchased a digital design before, you probably noticed that there were two kinds of file types – JPEG and PDF.  Sometimes there might be another kind, but these are the main ones you will see.

So, what is the difference you may wonder?

A JPEG file is reserved for photos and graphics.  They shouldn’t be used for any file that contains text.  Text can sometimes look grainy in this file type and can seem out of focus.

A PDF file is used for most designs.  It guarantees a clean, crisp image that will print well.

When choosing or downloading your digital files, lean towards the PDF.  Although JPEG images are popular, most people download them because they don’t know otherwise.  Be smart – select the PDF and your designs will turn out better.

But what if you want to set up a sheet of labels or arrange your own page for printing?  You can also sometimes choose a PNG file.  A PNG file just means that the design has a transparent background.  This can be really helpful if you’re trying to print a sheet of labels so you don’t have extra white space.

Bleed Anyone?

No, I’m not talking about the ancient medical practice of bloodletting.

This bleed is the one that is used when printing your designs.  There is no blood involved at all.

A bleed is the industry term for the image that extends beyond the edge of the paper.  So, an invitation with a bleed has a extended border – .125″ to be exact – around the edge of the design.  When your invitations are made by a professional print shop, this border is trimmed off.  It allows for more exact cutting of your design.  Without a bleed, your design can become skewed or even text that ends up outside the margin could be cut off.  I’ve seen it happen.

Not all designs need to have a bleed.  If you are printing your designs at home, you don’t need a bleed.  Or if you are printing a design on 8.5″ x 11″ paper that you have to cut out individually.

The main designs that you need to make sure have a bleed are invitations, notecards and signs that are printed by a professional print shop. 

Not sure if you need a bleed?  Check with the designer.  We are always happy to assist you with making sure the dimensions of your design are correct.

Choosing your Paper

Paper quality is important when you print digital designs.  You should always print on cardstock, not photo paper.  The quality is just supreme and you will be happier with the final results.

If you aren’t very familiar with paper types, it might be hard to find the perfect one.  One paper might be too heavy even though it has a lighter weight.  Another paper might feel lighter, but have a higher weight.

When choosing the correct cardstock, start with the weight of the paper.  This is shown in the “gsm” a paper has.  Gsm stands for grams per a square meter. 

The other word to look for is “pound”.  “Pound” refers to how heavy the paper is.  A heavy cardstock is around 120 pound.  A medium cardstock is about 90 pound and a light cardstock is 60 pound or less.

When choosing your cardstock, make sure that the gsm and pound match up.  For example, if the pound is on the heavier side, the gsm should be pretty high.  If it’s lower, then you have a lighter cardstock feel.

It took us years to find the best paper for our stationery.  It’s not an easy task.  So, don’t get too discouraged if you find yourself testing a few paper types before settling on the best one.

If printing at home, you need to find a paper that will not get stuck in your printer, but also work for the design that you are printing.  Here are some guidelines on choosing the best paper.

Invitations, Notecards, Baby Shower Games/Activities, Art Prints and Party Signs

For these designs, it’s best to use heavy cardstock.  The only problem is that truly heavy cardstock doesn’t work in everyone’s printers.

This 120 pound white cardstock (affiliate) has a heavier weight and works well for at home printing of invitations, notecards, signs and games.

If you have a printer that is a bit more finicky, try this “heavy” white cardstock (affiliate).  Although it says 110 pound, it’s a bit on the lighter side and works in most printers.

For any design – particularly invitations – that need a super heavy white cardstock for printing, it’s best to go to a professional print shop.  Then you can choose the best (and heaviest) paper type that fits your event.  We have partnered with Prints of Love, an online print shop, and love the results.  It’s easy to order, you receive free envelopes and shipping.  You can check out more details about their printing services here. (affiliate)

Favor Tags, Cupcake Toppers, Banners

For these designs, it’s best to use a medium to heavy cardstock.  You don’t want it to be too heavy since you will need to punch the cupcake toppers out, string the banner pieces and possibly punch a hole in the favor tag to attach to a party favor.  Try this lighter 110 pound cardstock (affiliate) or you can go with this 90 pound medium white cardstock (affiliate) instead.

Water Bottle Labels 

If you would like your water bottle labels to be waterproof (or at least water resistant), check out this waterproof label paper (affiliate).  Print your labels onto the full sheet and, then cut out the individual labels.  This saves you the time of trying to line up the labels perfectly on the paper.

You can also print water bottle labels on full sheet matte label paper (affiliate) or even copy paper.  You can find more tips for making your water bottle labels here.

Treat Bag Toppers and Food Tent Cards

When making treat bag toppers and food tent cards, you want to use medium white cardstock – about 60 to 90 pound (affiliate).  This let’s you easily fold them in the middle using a scoring board (affiliate).  You can find more tips on making treat bag toppers and food tent cards here.

Stickers and Labels

Before printing your stickers and label designs, determine the size of label paper that you need.  Every label paper is different, so knowing the size of your label is key before purchasing any paper.

You can print stickers or labels at home depending on how much patience you have.  I find that lining up stickers and labels on label paper can take time.  It can get frustrating (and waste a lot of paper) if you can’t get it right after a couple of tries.

There is one trick to printing stickers and labels that can help.  When saving your design, save it as a PNG file.  I know, we haven’t talked about this file type yet.  That’s because you really don’t need to know about it – except in this one instance.

A PNG file saves the design with a transparent background.  Then, you can insert the image into the label template and lay out the sticker sheet for printing.  When you place the PNG image on top of the template design, make it a slight bit bigger than the actual label.  This allows some wiggle room if the printer shifts the label paper at all.

If all of this seems too complicated, you can always have your stickers and labels professionally printed.  Your local office supply shop can probably help.  Vistaprint also offers great printing options for stickers and labels.

Oversized Printing

Sometimes digital files don’t neatly fit onto an 8.5″ x 11″ page.  For any oversized printing, I recommend going to a professional print shop.

Oversized printing requires specialty printers that can handle larger paper sizes.  Some of these designs – such as backdrop printing – use special materials.  For yard signs and outdoor banners, check out Prints of Love (affiliate).  The many different sizing options allows you to find the perfect one for your event.

If you need to print a fancy party backdrop – you know the ones that you display with a stand – UPrinting can also help.

And one more quick note.  When in doubt, choose a heavier white cardstock.  It’s very hard to mess up the printing of your designs as long as they are on cardstock.

Where Can I Print my Digital Files

Now, the information that you really wanted to know.  Where to print your digital files.

There are a number of choices for printing your digital files.  Any of them work.  It’s just a matter of what you have access to and feel most comfortable with.

When printing my party designs, I work in a hierarchy of services.  If at all possible, I try to print most of my designs at home.  It’s convenient, I have a high quality printer that I’ve invested in and it’s easy to take the designs to the paper trimmer across the room to make them.

If I need a special size, I will go to my local office supply shop or online print shop.  I find that Prints of Love and Vistaprint work well for printing dessert backdrops, pin the tail games and large scale party signage. (affiliates)

When I am planning a special event, I want my invitations to shine.  So, I head over to my favorite online print shop – Prints of Love.  They print my invitations and folded notecards on extra heavy cardstock that won’t go through my printer’s feeder.  

I also sometimes have other party designs that are laid out on 8.5″ x 11″ pages printed as a sign.  Then, I can trim them and assemble when the prints arrive.  I find this especially helpful with food tent cards that I want on a more sturdy cardstock.

In the end, the decision of where to print your designs is up to you.  Below, I have listed the best printing options.  They are in order of effort needed – from most to least.  Choose the printing method that fits best with your DIY interest and designs.

Printing at Home

This is the least expensive option to print your digital files, but require the most work on your end.  You will need a decent quality color printer, cardstock and a paper trimmer (affiliate).  If you have these supplies, though, then printing your party designs at home should work great.

One of the benefits of printing at home is that you can always easily print more.  So if your little one adds three people to the guest list, you can quickly print out a few more invitations without making a trip to the store.

A quick note about water bottle labels.  These are usually best printed at home.  Print shops don’t usually print on waterproof paper, so if you want to make your labels waterproof, you will need to use an at home printer.

Online Print Shops 

Online print shops have been my go to print shops for years.  I order our Christmas cards from Vistaprint, photo cards from Shutterfly and high-end event invitations from Prints of Love.

Although I love Vistaprint for my Christmas cards, it isn’t the best choice for uploading most original digital designs.  The sizing is different (especially with invitation and notecard printing) and most designs don’t fit their custom dimensions.  Although you can sometimes ask a designer to adjust the sizing, it’s usually too difficult to do and will cost you a fee.

Shutterfly is great if you want photo prints of your design.  As mentioned above, it’s usually best to print on cardstock for quality purposes.  But sometimes you might want to print a thank you note or invitation on photo paper.

For high end event invitations – such as milestone birthdays, religious celebrations, weddings, life events – and pretty much everything else you need printed for your event, Prints of Love is the place to go.  Prints of Love is a wonderful and affordable print option.  You can find out more details here (affiliate).

Office Supply Shop

The only negative of using an online print shop is turn around time.  If your event is a couple of days away, sending your designs out to print won’t work.  You’ll never get them back in time.

So, instead it might be better to check out an office supply shop for your printing needs.  Some examples of these print shops include Staples, Office Max and Fed-Ex/Kinkos. 

Be aware, though.  The quality is usually the same that I can get at home, I can print on heavier cardstock at home and many times their printing experts aren’t really experts.

That being said, I usually use office supply shops to print designs that need anything larger than an 8.5″ x 11″ page.  I always choose the highest pound paper that they offer knowing that it won’t feel nearly as heavy as they say.

When you are ready to print your digital files, upload your designs directly onto their website, submit your project and it will be ready quickly.   If you haven’t printed with the office supply shop before, send over a couple of test prints.  This way you can assess paper and printing quality before getting an entire job done.

Local Professional Print Shop

Sadly, I have not found in our area a reasonably priced local professional print shop.  But maybe you will have more luck.  If you have a small printing business that you love near you, use them for printing.  They will know how to print, use good cardstock and you will be supporting a local business.  A win for everyone.

Do I have to Print my Digital Files?

Of course not!  Many invitations are sent digitally these days.  You can also text, email and create a Facebook event with your designs.  Just make sure you choose the JPEG version of the invitation for sending digitally.  They are a lot more compressed and easier to send digitally.

For all other designs, it’s probably best to print them.  Not sure how you would insert a digital cupcake topper into a cupcake.  Let me know if you figure it out!

What Do I Do When I Get Lost?

So, just like most things, learning how to easily print your digital files might take a bit of practice.  Just stick with the process and you will figure it out.  Once you do it successfully once, the second, third and fourth times will feel like a breeze.

And if you get a bit lost or overwhelmed, be sure to ask questions.  Designers – at least I am – are always happy to help you navigate the printing of your digital designs.

Have more questions about how to print your digital files?  Be sure to comment below with any questions or tips that you have for printing your digital files.  I am happy to assist in any way that I can.

Not quite ready to print your digital files?  Save this post for later so you can find it again.


And if you are ready to begin your journey with digital designs, you can check out our shop here.  There are lots of party printables and design fun to get you started.

Happy Celebrating,

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