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How to Prepare Your Design for Print

There may be 100 ways to cook an egg, but there are thousands of ways to build design files for print. It doesn’t much matter how you construct your design, but when it comes to how the design elements are prepared and how files are saved, it matters a great deal. As a designer, you’d probably be surprised how much additional work is often necessary to make your “press-ready” file actually press-ready.

I didn’t fully understand this until I worked in prepress. Prior to that, I was sending design files to a printing company and assuming their team uploaded my PDF and simply hit Print. But when I became the link between designers and the press, I was amazed at how much submitted “press-ready” artwork actually wasn’t.

My stint in prepress provided me with many “ah-ha” moments. These moments became benchmarks for me to create more thoughtfully built art files. Not only does it make for fewer headaches for the printer, it also makes for more accurate and timelier prints for your clients. This is why I strongly believe that all designers should work in prepress early in their careers, even if it’s that dreaded summer-wrecking unpaid internship.

The elements that make up the artwork and the type of files saved for print are what makes or breaks the printed result. So let’s look at each element in detail….

Color

Color is what evokes feeling, strengthens brands, and determines what socks you put on in the morning. While a designer will lose sleep over picking the perfect blue for the headline in their design, a printer will lose the same amount of sleep over ensuring the press mixes that perfect blue…perfectly. We print with four colors of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. And if the color profiles of your file, images, and graphics aren’t built in a CMYK color profile, that perfect blue will print less than perfect.

Images

Images speak to the viewer or the “target audience” you’re hoping to reach. Photographers travel to the ends of the earth to get the shots that you can easily download online. And you’ll search through thousands of images before the client finally settles on one that’s “good enough.” So it’s important that the images print as crisp and as vibrant as the photographer intended. If you’re not acquiring high resolution images, not setting them up with a CMYK color profile, and not ensuring they are saved at 300dpi (dots per inch), you’re guaranteed to hear from an unhappy client over the “low quality” of the artwork.


Pro tip: Images pulled (not downloaded) from a website are at maximum 72dpi and will in fact print at 1/4th of the quality of a high-resolution 300dpi image.

Type

Type sets the tone of the message. The headline may say one thing but the appropriate (or inappropriate) typeface speaks even louder. For example, Ferrari would never use Comic Sans in an ad for the 488 Spider, but that font might be perfect for your five-year-old’s birthday party invite. As a company, we literally have thousands of fonts, but we may not have that exact version of Akzidenz Grotesk light, condensed, oblique that you used in your file. And it could cost a few hundred dollars for us to acquire it. That’s why it’s important to package fonts with your art files (OTF and TTF files).

Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are why those intricate lines in the logo print crisp and sharp. Instead of the pixels that make up an image, vector graphics are made up of paths. And those paths are made up of mathematical points, curves, and angles. The result is highly desirable crisp lines. They also make designers happy because any day we don’t have to recreate a logo is a good day. Just imagine having to explain to your board, after they signed off on an expensive marketing campaign, that the association logo (in the bottom right corner) printed blurry because it was supplied as an image and not a vector file. I think it’s safe to say, we’d all like to avoid that conversation.

File Types

A workable file type can make that quick-turn project happen as quickly as your client needs it, but a file type that is not compatible can delay the printing process by weeks or months. Deadlines are like a large breed puppy: stubborn and hard to move. Getting art that’s designed outside of the Adobe family can sometimes mean the files can’t even be opened by your chosen printing company, let alone printed. Our friends at Adobe have spent a countless amounts of time, money, and development to own the rights to the gold-standard of creative programs. By setting up your work in Adobe Creative Suite, we can ensure the files will properly talk to each other. Submitting a press-ready PDF as well as packaged files (working file, linked high res images, and embedded fonts) will provide us everything needed to properly print the artwork.

Hopefully this gives some insight into what a print company needs from a designer to create an accurate and tangible design. Having a good relationship and good communication with your printer is the best way for designers to ensure they’re delivering the proper files for high quality printing, which makes for happy clients.

As a printing company, we always strive to produce the highest quality print product possible.

Article written by:

Brett Sanders

Graphic Designer

2 Comments
  1. Excellently written.

  2. Excellently written. Timing and relevance spot on.

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