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Preflight Boot Camp: Quick Tips for File Prep

As people get accustomed to our electronic devices doing more and more for us, it seems a good time to remind everyone that the fundamentals of file preparation, are as important as ever. The old computer adage “garbage in – garbage out” is still relevant, even in these days of automatic PDF creation and automated workflows. Here are some of our time tested tips to help you make sure your jobs sail through the process, no matter what the output method is.

The right tool for the job.

Those preparing files will often use the tool they are most comfortable with, sometimes whether it is appropriate for the job or not. If it is a multi-page document, then Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress would be the logical choice. However, we sometimes receive multi-page documents in Adobe Illustrator files, or even CorelDraw; neither of which are the best choice for multi-page documents. Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard image manipulation package, but it is not the ideal format for complex text layout either, although we receive files in this format as well.

What kind of file can I send?

We can work with native files or PDF files, and there are pros and cons for both.

  • Native page layout files, with all relevant files (graphics and logos and so on) are preferred if you anticipate that there will be complex changes, or that your files may need some color correction. The two main programs for layout, Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress have built in functions for collecting or ‘packaging’ your files for you to make it easy to send all the needed files.
  • If you prefer to send a PDF, it is even more important to make sure that your source files are preflighted and correct before creating the press-ready PDF. If the images are all low resolution RGB files and you make a press-ready PDF, then the result is a nice PDF with low-resolution images wrapped inside. If you are not using a standard layout program, then PDF files may be the best file format for submitting your document. You should be aware that many programs do not offer or support all of the features that your document requires.

Pick the right colorspace.

Choose CMYK for four color process printing jobs, or choose correct Pantone references for spot color jobs and always avoid sending RGB colors. It you are using special colors, such as metallic or fluorescent inks, or spot (overprint) varnishes, they should be specified in the document. If you are unsure how to specify special inks, please contact us and we will be a happy to assist you. Always be sure to remove any extra color swatches from your document, and convert any used RGB colors to the right color space.

Bleeding edges?

Did you allow for the correct amount of bleed? It is standard to allow for .125″ of bleed off all edges of your document for bleeds. It is also a good idea to keep text and other important content away from the trim edges, so that it doesn’t get chopped off or look like it is too close to the edge.

Are all graphics files of a high enough resolution?

Now that we can transfer huge files around the Internet with ease, it is easier than ever to use high resolution images in your documents. Go bigger than you need, it doesn’t hurt in most cases. This rule of thumb will handle most applications: 300dpi at 100% reproduction size. If it is a 4″x5″ image at 300 dpi, and you are printing it at 4″x5″, then you are fine. Double the output size of the image to 8″x10″ and you cut the dpi to 150, and will likely be disappointed with the results.

Spell Checking, Proofreading, and does it look right?

Take the extra time to spell check and proof read one more time. Did you know that 9 out of 10 costly post-proof changes are text edits for typos, misspellings and other such errors. And as there are no 100% effective automated systems for proofreading, we need our brains!

Many websites and printers may state “just make a PDF and send it, we can print it”, and they can, but with serious limitations. Websites and automated workflows can check for many things, such as dpi, color space, fonts and page size; although they are not capable of evaluating whether a photo is too blue, or cropped oddly, or if all the items on a page bleed correctly. And while they can correct some errors automatically, like doing RGB conversion to CMYK, be aware that you are getting an automatic conversion to a CMYK color space for the output device used, with no human intervention. If you send a PDF that has an error that cannot be corrected automatically, your job is kicked back – automatically, and you may get an email notice asking you to resubmit your files, sometimes with the information about what you need to fix and other times without that information. And unfortunately, you have lost time on your schedule or possibly missed your deadline.

Treat every document like it will be printed in the highest resolution, on the most expensive paper made, on the highest quality output device. Then, regardless of whether your document is printed on an offset press, web press, digital press, color copier or even a poster printer, you can rest easy in the knowledge that your file will produce the best possible output that any of these devices are capable of achieving.

If you would like more information on file preparation and preflighting, please contact us through our website.