How to Prepare Your Art and Documents for the Printer

Preparing Documents for the Printer - Prepress 

Preparing artwork for print

Love it or hate it, you just can’t escape printed materials. From the moment you wake up in the morning, you read the newspaper, curse the amount of junk mail on your doorstep, pass billboards on your way to work, hand out your business card, get given a flyer on the high street, or pick up a swanky looking brochure at your local shop. For all of these rainforest-depleting elements there was someone who had to get the job printed. Whatever you want to get printed, whether it is books, brochures, complicated packaging, mailers, ads, posters, flyers, business stationery, signage, free standing display units, point-of-sale, billboards, or even clothing “¦ whether rotogravure, flexographic, offset lithographic, inkjet, laser or digital printing “¦ from  Macs or PCs “¦ it is incredible how just a few basic principles hold true across the broad range of printed output. Between the designer’s idea and the finished product there are a host of problems, issues, and glitches waiting to be experienced. I can honestly say that in the last ten years, I have probably come across most. There are two basic digital ways for printers to receive artwork. (1) As a PDF (my preference) or (2) everything collected together (usually a QuarkXpress, Adobe InDesign or Illustrator document with images and fonts). But you can collect the artwork for the printer, there are a lot of things to check for within the document, whether this is in QuarkXpress, InDesign, Freehand, Illustrator, or another piece of software. 

1. General

Run your eyes over the entire job.  Ask questions about the output of your document. What is the size and shape? How many pages are there? Is it a mono job, process job, a spot color job, or process with spot colors? Should any of the colors overprint? Are there any repeated items, like a subheading style, that needs to be the same throughout the whole document? Is there a picture style, like a border or an effect which should be implemented throughout? Does the document look correct? Are there any glaring typos? Are there any glaring widows? Do all the elements look present and correct? Are there any obvious omissions? Is there a page number, a caption, and a background? 

2. Size

What size is the document? Look in Layout > Layout Properties in QuarkXpress and in File > Document Setup in Adobe Illustrator or Adobe InDesign. That’s only if it is a square or a rectangular shape. If not, you’ll need a cutter guide, if so, see below. Make sure you know the length of the width and the height of the document. Most people when given the size of a rectangle will specify the width first followed by the height. The advertising industry, however, give sizes of their ads with the depth first and the width second. I have absolutely no idea why this is.  If it is an ad, then ask if it is a trim or type area ad. What the difference? A type area ad is like a classified ad - it only has one size and floats on the page in the position where the magazine or newspaper wants it.  However, larger ads will need three different sizes. These are full page ads, across a double page. Spread ads, or even half ads, or sometimes quarter page ads, will need trim, bleed and type area. The trim is the most important as it is the size of the visible area of the ad. The bleed area will be the trim plus an amount (usually 3mm) extending the sides of the ad, which runs off the page. And the type area (I must confess I love to ignore this), is the space where all information of the ad must be contained. In other words, the type area gives you margins that you have to use.  

3. Type/copy

Although they really are a necessary evil in the modern world, I’m not a huge fan of spell checkers. Remember, if ‘not’ has been spelled like “nit”, the spell check will not pick it up. The QuarkXpress spell checker continually flags words that are correct. Remember to have the correct dictionary selected, but even then, don’t rely on them. You can’t beat a good read through by an experienced proof-reader. If you’re not sure about a word or phrase it can usually be sorted out by a simple Google check. If you are not sure if the word is American or UK English, arguments can be sorted out at http://dictionary.reference.com. Which, by the way, if you need inspiration for headings or stand-firsts, use the thesaurus http://thesaurus.reference.com. Also, Mac users have a good dictionary and thesaurus in the widgets with

UK and US spellings. Check if your quotes are curling the correct way. Text pasted or imported text from a text editor can strip the type of it’s curly quotes and “˜en’ and “˜em’ dashes. If your document is full of foot and inch marks you can use the Find/Replace function. Find a ‘ and replace with a ‘, or replace a ” with a “, and Replace All. They look exactly the same in the Find/Replace panel. But, it works in the document. Use the Find/Replace function to replace your hyphens with “˜en’ dashes, although you should skip through checking each one individually, as you don’t want to hyphenate a word with an “˜en’ dash.  Hyphenation in general should be checked as well. A last minute paste into a new document can re-set the hyphenation settings.  Good old Find/Replace should also be used to eliminate double spaces. Again, skip through double spaces one by one, as some un-professionals could have used multiple spaces to indent text in headlines. Of course, check first, as some people like double spaces after full stops. 

4. Logos

There can be a myriad of rules about the use of a logo. Corporate logo guidelines can run to dozens of pages. The most important thing to consider, apart from whether it’s the right logo, of course, is the safe area. The safe area is the area around the logo that needs to be clear or it can also be the distance from the logo to the margin or other elements. Great care should be taken when scaling logos as they should always be in proportion. Clients will be ever so unhappy if it is squashed or stretched. Check the x and y percentages in Quark and InDesign if it is linked. One of the great disadvantages of embedding logos into InDesign or Illustrator layout is that you are unable to tell if it has been anamorphically scaled. Check against the original if you are in any doubt. 

Here are more logo design articles - http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/graphicdesignarticles/logographicdesign/logodesignbrandingtips.html  

5. Fonts

One of the most obvious things to check, but also one of the most common problems when sending files to the printer are missing fonts. Go to Type > Find Font in Adobe Illustrator and in Adobe InDesign or look in Utilities > Font Usage in QuarkXpress. Are there any faux bolded or faux italicized fonts? If there are, replace them with the bold or italic from the font family.   If you have made any changes to a font, then check the line breaks and the flow of the copy to make sure it hasn’t created any widows or has been altered in anyway. No two fonts are the same, so substituting one font for another will always cause changes. By the way, a widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears alone at the top of a column; an orphan is the first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page. Not a lot of people know that. But, don’t worry about what they are, just check you haven’t got any. Finally, if you’re really worried and you don’t have too much type, create outlines! 

Here are more articles about Fonts Usage - http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/downloadfonts/fontsarticles/index.html  

6. Images

Again, it’s an obvious one, check if all of the images in the document are present and correct. Go to the Links palette in Illustrator and in InDesign and look in Utilities > Picture Usage in QuarkXpress.  After that, check if the images are big enough and whether they occupy the correct color space.  As a general rule, the image size in Adobe Photoshop should be the same or greater than the size it is to be reproduced, with a resolution of 300 dpi. If the picture needs to go larger, I would not scale it by more than 130% to avoid pixilation.  If the job is in CMYK, so should the Photoshop images. Go into Image > Mode > CMYK. If it is a mono job the Photoshop file should be grayscale or bitmap. Spot color images are very often grayscale or bitmap files colored up in the output program, Quark or InDesign. Otherwise spot colors should be specified in the channels, and the image should be saved as a Photoshop DCS. I would always use images saved in TIF, EPS or PSD format. You can get away with using JPEGs these days, but remember; every time an image is saved as a JPEG it loses quality. 

Here is a great article about preferred formats for image files and it is a must read - http://expertexperience.blogspot.com/2007/04/graphic-design-prepress-preferred.html

7. Colors

90% of the time you will be using process colors. When this is the case, go to the color palette in QuarkXpress, or the Swatches palette in

Ado be InDesign and Adobe Illustrator. Delete all unused colors - this’ll make things easier. If there are any spot colors, then they should all be converted to CMYK. If the spot color is specific to a client and is their corporate color, then it is important to check the client’s own CMYK breakdown. A breakdown of a Pantone spot color into the 4 process colors is only an approximation and differs between programs; therefore it should have been agreed on beforehand and then implemented throughout the artwork. If you are printing a special color make sure it is present in the palette only once. PANTONE 032 CV, Pantone Red 032 CV, and PMS 032 CV is the same colour, as is PMS 032 U, but you only want the printers to charge your client once for the spot color. If you are unsure which Pantone color to choose, then you should choose the color used in your client’s logo.  If you are using spot colors, they should they be set to overprint or knockout? Change this by selecting the item and using the Trap Information palette in QuarkXpress and the Attributes palette in Adobe InDesign. Even if you are not using spot colors you may want black type to overprint on a tinted or knocked out background. If this is the case, then check if it is set to overprint using the same palettes. Here are more articles about Handling Colors and Printing - http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/color.html  

8. Bleed

If any element is going straight to the edge of the document, then it needs to be “bleed off”. The classic amount is 3mm. But some printers and publishers insist on 5mm.  Sometimes you will get a picture that should bleed off of the edge of your document. If this is the case, you need to go into Adobe Photoshop and extend the photo. Double click the locked background layer, Command/Control -J to copy it, increase your Canvas Size on the side you want extending, select the bottom layer and extend where necessary using Free Transform, Command/Control -T. A bit of blurring may be necessary. 

Here are more articles about Printing with Bleeds - http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/bleedingedges.html 

9. Cutter guides

Some jobs may not be square or rectangular and they will need a cutter guide to show the printer where to trim or die-cut. Make sure the cutter guide has a stroke of 0.3 point at the most and it is set to overprint. Choose a random spot Pantone color for the cutter guide; re-name it “CUTTER GUIDE - DO NOT PRINT!” and put a note on the side of the artwork repeating this instruction to the printers.  

10. Issues

So, if you have followed the above closely (and I thank you for your patience if you have) then you should have a successfully printed job with no problems. Well, you didn’t think it was going to be easy did you?  Over the years the most regularly occurring issues have been: ·    Large files. Can you scale down your large Photoshop images? Can you cut your Quark or InDesign file down into sections?·    Clipping paths or paths with too many points on them. The worst occurrences of paths are when a magic wand selection in Photoshop has been converted to a path and produced an unwieldy long path.·    Corrupted fonts. What can you do? Fonts get used, copied, and generally pushed around until they just give up. You could always buy a new one!·    Corrupt, infected, or just inexplicably dodgy elements. Sometimes you have to strip down a job that’s not working properly and re-build it from scratch if it won’t print. QuarkXpress can be a buggy program and sometimes there’s a picture box or an element somewhere that some printers just won’t like. And that’s just bad luck! And so, that’s it! Or is it? Now you have to physically or digitally deliver your artwork to the printers.   

For more information about getting documents ready for a printer, take a look at this page full of articles and resources to help you - http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/prepress-prefilghtprinting-printers.html. 

Rob Cubbon 

Born in Kent, England, 30 May 1968.Educated in local schools until 18 where left to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in

University of

East London. Started working in publishing 1989, involved in writing, photography and design for various magazines and newspapers. Worked abroad as English teacher.  Freelance designer for print and web since 1995.Rob Cubbon runs a graphic design business in London

UK specializing in complete identity and design solutions for small- and medium-sized companies in print and online.


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