I'm currently working on a calendar design on Adobe Illustrator CC with CMYK color setting. From what I knew from my self-taught experience, we should prepare our files in CMYK format for printing purposes (I always export them as a .JPEG with CMYK colors). But one of my friends said that I should prepare my files with bleed (approx. 3mm on every sides), and saves my files as Adobe PDFs.

So I did like she told me. Saved all my files as Adobe PDF with these formats: - General -- Adobe PDF Preset = Press Quality - Marks and Bleeds -- (ticks all)

Then I printed them all on a Digital Print Press to a glossy art carton. But I got confused when the results came. All the colors seem off and darken compared to the display on the screen.

So here's my question:

  1. Does saving as Adobe PDF automatically turn the color format to RGB? Because when I saw the .PDF files, the colors look like an RGB format, compared to one that I exported directly as .JPEG with CMYK colors.

  2. How to save as Adobe PDF with CMYK colors? Because I need the Bleed setting, and it's only available in .PDF format.

Thank you in advance, designers.

  • 2
    Just save using the PDF/X-1a Job options for the PDF... it saves a PDF with print standards that have been in use for literally decades.
    – Scott
    Dec 1, 2016 at 10:06
  • Here's a helpful reference.
    – Mentalist
    Feb 13, 2018 at 2:03

2 Answers 2


If your output needs to be CMYK then work in CMYK from the start.

In the "New Document" dialog set "Color Mode" to CMYK.

You can change the color mode of an existing document by going to "File → Document Color Mode" (it's worth noting that new documents are populated with color mode appriopriate swatches etc. and changing the color mode after the fact won't update these).

enter image description here

PDF Color Conversion

Assuming you're working in CMYK then the only (predefined) preset that will convert your document to RGB is "[Smallest File Size]", all others will either preform no color conversion or convert to CMYK (by default to whichever specific profiles you have set in your Adobe color management settings).

The color conversion settings can be seen in the PDF save dialog under "Output → Color", what you want there is to set (or choose a preset that already does set) "Convert to Destination" and choose an appropriate destination profile (talk to your printer about this!).

As Scott said in comments, choosing the PDF/X-1a standard is a good safe bet, amongst other things it will convert colors to your working CMYK profile regardless of the document color mode.

enter image description here


Bleed in and of itself is nothing special, just an extra area added to aid in printing, and you don't need a PDF to supply artwork with a bleed. For example if you need a 3mm bleed simply adjust your artboard to be 6mm (3mm for each side) larger in each dimension, you can even manually add crop marks in Illustrator if needs be. You can then save your JPG or whatever format with enough bleed.

That being said, you should supply artwork for printing as a PDF anyway, JPG is not really an appropriate print format.


If you design a document in CMYK, then most likely any PDF exported will stay in CMYK. You should be aware however of 2 things:

  • The "Output" tab in the "Save Adobe PDF" dialog box allows you to change your color profile, which in turn will affect the way you see the final PDF compared to your original artwork. Using the "Press Quality" export preset might change your color profile, so make sure you google this subject first to understand if this is causing your problem.
  • Different software will have different colour settings, which means what you see in AI might be different from what you see in Acrobat, unless properly calibrated, also what you have printed by third parties goes through other software with more different color profiles, which again could affect the end result.
  • It's always helpful to examine the PDF after output with pre-press tools. Some versions of Acrobat Pro have these. You can view each separation (plate), sample exact color values, see overprints, knockouts, bleeds, ink saturation levels, and more. Doing preflight is either very important or critcally important to get what you want on a printing press.
    – user8356
    Mar 4, 2020 at 16:47

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