Guidelines for Artwork for Printed Cartons and Sleeves

Carton and Sleeve Artwork Preparation Guidelines

To avoid delays and costs associated with the supply of artwork for carton design the following areas should be considered;

Carton Keyline

This is where it all begins and the importance of using the keyline from an approved sample which has not only been approved as suitable to accommodate the product but has also been inspected and passed by the carton producer cannot be overstated.

Keyline for Carton Printing

Keyline for Carton Printing sample

Carton samples produced at Dollard Packaging pass through the same hands as those that will produce the final printed product and their expertise and input is vital to the smooth and trouble free production of the carton.

Designer FAQs regarding Carton Keylines

Can I add/amend a carton window on the supplied keyline?

Short answer – yes, but only after a further sample is made and run through our QC process. There are limits as to how close a window can approach the creases on a carton and these are also dependent on if the window takes an acetate film or not.

Can I amend the height/width of the supplied carton?

Never. Revert back to our experts and we will happily resupply an amended carton. Amending the size of a carton is not as straightforward as it seems – remember you are dealing with a 3D object and the make-up mechanics need to be considered.

Can I use a keyline that was set up for Laminated printing on a design that is now being printed on Solid board?

No, tolerances are different to allow for the thickness of the final product. Revert back to your carton producer who should be happy to supply a keyline specific to the board being used.

Positioning the keyline on artwork

On artwork, the keyline should be set in the Top layer, set to Overprint with a unique Spot colour assigned to it. The keyline reference should be clearly visible.

Lock the layer to ensure no accidental movement of the keyline occurs, this will also ensure no artwork is inadvertently position on the keyline layer.


Please ensure the barcode number being supplied has been verified and that adequate space has been allocated for it. Also ensure colours being used are acceptable for scanning, Black is always a safe colour to use for the barcode but it will not scan if positioned on certain backgrounds such as Gold, Green, Blue etc

LIkewise, barcodes created in Red, Yellow, Gold or Light Brown will not have the necessary contrast to be readable by the scanner.


Ensure there are adequate bleeds present over knives and that Ink-Free areas are observed, Typically a 3mm bleed runs over the crease and into the Glue Flap. Also in the case of Crashlock or Skillet cartons, there are additional areas that should remain Ink-Free. These areas should be indicated on the keyline supplied to you.

‘Best Before;’ or ‘Use By;’ Conformity

If a product is a perishable item and a ‘Best Before;‘ or ‘Use By;’ display area needs to be created on the artwork for the purpose of shelf life dating on a packaging system, then it is always prudent to try to have the area in a fixed/same position on all Sleeves or Cartons which are common in a range or varieties.
For example, you may have a common sleeve which is to be used on a variety of ready-made stuffing (e.g. Apricot, Garlic & Herb, Apricot & Cranberry …etc).
With the ‘Best Before;’ or ‘Use By;’ area in the same position, no retooling/adjustment is necessary for ‘date stamping’ on the sleeves as the varieties change. In fact – you could call this ‘Speed Dating!’


Remove any unused colours from the document prior to saving.

Pantone book and eye glass with printed food packaging

Pantone book and eye glass with printed food packaging


Outline all fonts – unless fonts are being supplied.
If applicable, familiarise yourself with FIR (Food Industry Regulation) requirements.


All pictures should be converted to CMYK with a resolution of 300 dpi.
Scaling of images should be kept between 80-120% and cropped accordingly.

If positioning the barcode on the Base of a Crashlock carton, familiarise yourself with areas that are hidden when the carton is made up.


All proofs being supplied with artwork should indicate the percentage at which the proof was output, Colours and Spot Varnish (if required), After-Print processes (Hot Foil, Emboss).

printers proof

Sending your Digital files

Most file transfers are through Download Links attached to an email, if total file size is below 10mb they can be sent as an attachment on the email.


Ensure White is never set to Overprint. This can sometimes happen when Black (Overprint) text is changed over to White.

TOP TIP – Create a Low Resolution pdf of your final artwork and send it to your printer for their input prior to sending the completed full resolution files.

Dollard Packaging,  Updated February 2023