well-designed and effective printed piece is a failure if
be properly output for printing. However, preparing your
electronic files for printing isn’t difficult.
Just follow the steps in this Pre-Press
Checklist and you’ll be on
your way to sending perfect files to press.
Here’s a breakdown
of each item on the Pre-Press Checklist:
Check your spelling
This sounds like a total no-brainer,
right? Run your software’s
spell check, then print the job out on your laser printer
and sit down with a red pen (or a non-repro blue if you’re
old-fashioned), and give it another look. Spell check won’t
catch "it’s" instead of "its",
or "there" instead of "their", so you still need human eyes
to give the
job one last review.
Think you don’t need to check it again, because your
document has been through multiple rounds of proofing? Check
it anyway. I once visited a printer who was running an annual
report for a major airline. While the job was on press – a
deadline-critical large run on a really big, really expensive
press – someone caught an error. Albuquerque was misspelled.
Oops. Don’t let this happen to you.
Delete unused colors
Review the color palette in your document. Delete any colors
that you haven’t used. If you’ve told the printer
that you are using PMS 123 and PMS 185 in your document, but
your printer’s preflight department (this is the department
that reviews your artwork first at the printer) also finds
PMS 124 in your file, a red flag will be raised. You don’t
want any red flags showing up when your files are at the printer.
Red flags cause delays and potential errors. If you were the
printer, what would you do if you saw a color that shouldn’t
be there? Hopefully, you’d make a phone call to clarify
what the unused color is doing there. Phone calls cause delays.
Not making phone calls may cause errors. Avoid any possibility
of questions on your project. You don’t want red flags
raised when your job goes to press.
Define colors correctly
If your job is a spot color job, be sure your PMS colors
are defined as spot, not process. If you don’t define your
colors as spot, your job will output incorrectly. Instead of
getting one piece of film (or one plate, as the case may be)
for PMS 123 and one piece of film for PMS 185, you’ll
end up with four pieces of film – one each of cyan,
magenta, yellow and black.
Likewise, if you are running a four-color process job, make
sure your colors are defined as process. It’s okay to
specify PMS 123 and 185 if your job is CMYK; just be sure to
specify that those Pantone colors should be output as process.
When you specify in your software that PMS 123 is to be output
using the CMYK equivalent, you will get the four pieces of
film – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – that you
need. Otherwise, you’ll end up with five pieces of film – cyan,
magenta, yellow, black and PMS 123. Your file tells the printer
that you want to run a five-color job instead of a four-color
job. Not good. You’ve just invited more red flags to
the party. Red flags are bad party guests.
Match color names throughout all graphic programs
If you’re using PMS 123 on your job, be sure that in
every application where you’ve used that color, the name
of that color is identical. Let’s say you’ve done
a logo in Illustrator that uses PMS 123U. When you import that
logo into QuarkXpress, that PMS color comes along for the ride.
Any time you use PMS 123 in your QuarkXpress document, make
sure that color is also defined as PMS 123U, and not something
like PMS 123C. You may get some unexpected and unsatisfactory
results if your color names don’t match. Not to mention
more red flags.
Define color space correctly
Check any imported images you’re using in your layout
to make sure they are defined using the correct color space.
Unless your printer specifically tells you to save images as
RGB, you won’t use an RGB file on a press run.
This checklist item gets tricky if you’ve used Photoshop
images, yet your job isn’t running as four-color process.
The topic of defining color in a Photoshop document is too
extensive to cover in this brief space. Just be sure that you’ve
defined your color correctly before your document goes to press.
If you’re not familiar with defining color spaces in
Photoshop for spot color jobs or specialty treatments like
spot varnishes, research the issue before or during production.
Discovering that something is wrong after you’ve released
the job to your printer is too late. At that point, you can
count on delays and additional charges from your printer. Those
aren’t words that clients like to hear.
Build bleed if necessary
If your design has ink color running all the way to the edge
of your paper, you’ve got a bleed. It’s not possible
for a press to print cleanly to the edge of a piece of paper.
In order to make this effect work, the printer will print your
job on a larger sheet of paper, then trim the job to actual
size. You need to have ink color running beyond the trim boundaries,
so that when the trim is made, there’s no slivers of
paper color showing between the edge of the color and the
edge of the paper.
In order to build a bleed, extend any color or images beyond
the trim boundaries of your piece. A standard bleed for offset
press is 1/8" beyond the edge of the trim size. However,
confirm this size with your printer; different printers and
different presses will have different specifications for
Ensure that images are the proper resolution
If you have raster files (like Photoshop files) in your document,
make sure that the resolution is high enough for offset press.
Check with your printer about the line screen he will be
running on your job. A typical line screen for offset press
or 150; for newspaper printing, it may be 85. The resolution
of your Photoshop files needs to be a minimum of twice the
line screen at 100% size to print correctly; otherwise, you’ll
end up with a pixelated, jagged or blurred image.
Note the key words here – at 100% size. Let’s say
you’re printing a 4" x 4" photo on a page,
and your printer is using a 133 line screen on your job. Your
photo needs to have a minimum resolution of 266 dpi when your
image is sized at 4" x 4". If you create your 4" x
4" image as 266 dpi, but enlarge that photo to 6" x
6" in your page layout program, you have effectively decreased
your image resolution to 177 dpi by enlarging it. That won’t
work – your image quality is too low to be reproduced
Keep in mind that if an image is scanned at 300 dpi, that
necessarily mean it’s appropriate for your usage. Your
files need to be the correct resolution for the size you
are using on your printed piece.
Check the colors in your imported images
We covered this above, but it bears repeating. Make sure
all PMS names match on all your imported images. Also, if
defining colors as CMYK mixes, i.e. 100% cyan, 80% magenta,
10% yellow, 10% black, make sure you’ve used that same
mix throughout all applications when you’re wanting
Build your graphics in the correct color space for separations
If your job is a spot color job, make sure you’ve built
your graphics correctly. If your project is printing as four-color
process, make sure all files are defined as CMYK. Once again,
don’t use RGB for output to an offset press.
All imported images are an appropriate format for printing
Print work uses different image formats than web work. Don’t
send a job to press with GIF or JPEG files imported into
your layout. Convert them to TIFF or EPS first. If you’ve
had to make those conversions for your print job, you’d
better make sure you’ve followed the other steps in
your checklist as well, such as confirming correct color
Replace low-res FPO images with their high-res
If you’ve used any low-resolution images in your files
as FPO ("For Position Only") images, don’t
forget to replace them with their high-resolution counterpart
before sending the files to your printer. If your printer
will be doing the high-resolution scans for you and dropping
into your layout, be sure to indicate which images are FPO
and which are already high-resolution. Do so by putting a
big FPO in bold type across any images that are low-resolution,
to ensure that your printer instantly recognizes which images
are not yet appropriate for output.
Convert fonts to outlines where possible and appropriate
If you’ve got any images imported into a layout program,
make sure those images don’t contain fonts. Convert any
fonts into paths if you’ve used Illustrator, and in you’re
using Photoshop, make sure you’ve rastered the fonts.
Your layout program won’t collect any fonts from imported
images, so it’s up to you to check every image to determine
whether or not it uses fonts, and which fonts it may use. Avoid
this issue; once your imported images are approved, convert
any fonts to paths or rasters. Don’t forget to keep
an original on file, though, in case you have to edit at
Use real fonts
If your layout application has the ability to bold or italicize
a font by clicking a button rather than selecting the actual
bold or italic font, ignore that feature! Always specify
fonts by using the actual font from your font menu (i.e.
Bold) instead of selecting the fake bold like QuarkXpress
offers you – the little "B" in your measurements palette.
If you don’t use the actual font that’s on your
system, your job may output incorrectly and your type won’t
be bold like you specified.
Double-check your fonts
When you send your files to the printer, you need to include
each and every font you’ve used in the files. This is
one of the biggest complaints of printers – designers
forget fonts. If you don’t send a font, that font
will convert to a default font like Courier when the printer
opens it on his computer. You must send each and every font
used in every file, including imported image files, for the
printer to correctly open and output your file from his computer.
Keep in mind the differences in font types when you send
your fonts. If you have used a Type 1 font, you must send
of the font – the printer and screen font – for
the font to work correctly. True Type and Open Type fonts don’t
have a separate printer and screen font; they’re all
rolled into one.
If you’ve used many styles of the same font family, like
a Roman, an Italic and a Bold, you must send a corresponding
font for each style. If you’re using a Type 1 font and
can only find the screen font but not the corresponding printer
font, or vice versa, you’re in trouble. You’d
better either find all components of that font to send, or
use a different
Collect for output
Once you’ve completed all of the above steps, it’s
time to collect your files for output. If you’re using
page layout software like QuarkXpress, the software will
do this collect for you. Your goal is to put your document,
imported images, and all fonts together, nice and neat, in
to send to your printer.
Make a new folder for this purpose, and include the word "FINAL" or
something similar in the folder name. That’ll help you
when you need to refer back to the project at a later date – you’ll
easily be able to find all of the final stuff that you sent
If you’re using an application like Adobe Illustrator,
you’ll have to collect all of your files manually.
Make a new folder for the documents to be output, and include
of the linked images and fonts within that folder.
Remember, if you didn’t follow the step above and convert
all of your fonts to outlines in any imported image files,
you’d better go back and recheck every imported image
to find what fonts you used, and include those as well.
Put yourself in your printer’s shoes when you perform
your final collect. Don’t get sloppy – place all
of your fonts in a folder labeled "Fonts," and don’t
make your printer sift through a big mess to find what he
needs for a specific task.
Print a composite proof at 100%
Once you’ve done your collect for output, close the
file you had opened to perform the collect. Now, open the
collected document. For all of the following steps, you should
use the actual file that will be sent to the printer.
Print your file at 100% with registration (crop) marks. Tile
it together if it won’t fit on one sheet of paper, but
make sure you print it at actual size. When the printer outputs
your film, he will be able to lay the film over your printout,
and make sure nothing weird has happened, like text reflowing
or graphics dropping out. He can’t do this is if you
haven’t supplied him a printout at actual size.
Create a mockup
Print out and assemble a mockup for the printer, in
addition to your composite printouts. If you are doing a
brochure with folds, print it out, trim it to size, and fold
it folds. If you’re doing a saddle-stitched catalog,
print and trim every page and assemble the pages in order.
If you’re creating a pocket folder with a die cut,
print it out, trim to the die lines and assemble it, using
tape where the printer will glue.
Don’t leave anything to chance. It’s not your printer’s
responsibility to guess where each page goes in relation to
every other page. It’s your responsibility, so send
the printer an assembled mockup for reference.
Print color separations of your files
While most printers don’t require that you send them
printed color seps (separations) of your files, print them
out for your own reference. This will tell you if you’ve
correctly done the steps above that relate to color. If you
have failed to specify a spot color as process, you’ll
discover your error when you print seps for your own review.
You’re much better off if you take the time to do this,
rather than have your printer find (or not find) your mistake
when your job is ready to go on press and your deadline has
reached critical status.
Put any additional instructions in writing
If there’s anything, anything at all, that you need to
point out to your printer about your files, put it in writing.
If it directly relates to art on your documents, mark it on
the composite printout that you’ve made. For example,
if you’re running a tear-off perforation (perf) on your
brochure job, tell the printer where the perf goes, or indicate
that the perf line in your file shouldn’t print but is
for position only. If there’s any color concerns, put
it in writing. If the printer is supposed to replace a low-resolution
FPO image in your files with his own high-resolution image,
you’d better tell him that. And it had better be in
Supply a disk directory and indicate the files to be output
Don’t make your printer guess which files are the ones
he’s supposed to output. Tell him. Print out a disk
directory, and highlight the files for output. This way,
he will know
what is a final file (that will match your supplied printouts,
of course) and which files are supporting graphics for the
final output file.
Release your job to the printer
Congratulations! You’ve taken steps to ensure that
you are sending error-free, press-ready files to your printer.
While this list isn’t all-inclusive, following these
simple steps will certainly decrease any chance of
going wrong with your files once they’re out of your
Your printer doesn’t have ESP. He has never seen your
files before, so make it easy on him. Anticipate any questions
he may have, and answer them before they have to be asked.
Your printer is your friend – you both want your job
to print seamlessly, with no errors or delays. If you have
any questions during your production process about how to set
something up, call your printer. He should be happy to help
you. It’s in his best interests that you set your files
up correctly for output. Your printer wants a perfect file
in his hands to smooth his production process; he doesn’t
want to have to continually call you to ask questions or fix
things. And if he does have to fix errors, he’s fully
within his rights to charge you for it. Keep communication
lines open between you and your printer, and be friendly.
You may even find that your printer will kick your project
top of his workflow list, once he learns that your files
are always perfect and troublefree!
© 2004 Valarie Martin Stuart