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File Preparation Tips

Learning to prepare your electronic artwork files for best output results can save you time and money when working with printers. Costly time delays and additional re-working costs can result from poorly-prepared artwork. While this is an enormous subject, we've tried to outline some of the basics here.

Click here for our In-Depth Topics Menu with links to more comprehensive articles regarding digital prepress and file preparation.

Using the Right Software
Choose software programs that are designed for professional desktop publishing such as Quark Xpress™ and Adobe InDesign™. Make sure the programs will meet the needs of high-end imaging devices and support established standards for typography, photo-editing and drawing. At the minimum, make sure the applications you choose can accomplish the following tasks:
  • Save images in the TIFF or EPS file formats.
  • Output PostScript code.
  • Convert Pantone (PMS) spot colors to their CMYK process build equivalents.
  • Output individual plates for each color you choose to print.
  • Output bleeds, crop marks, page and plate information beyond the page boundaries.
Font Usage

At the outset of planning your project, choose which fonts you wish to use and, whenever possible, use Adobe Type 1 fonts. Keep a list of the fonts used in the document and in the artwork you used to create support files for the document. Fonts are art elements for all practical purposes. Adobe Type1 fonts are the industry accepted standard for PostScript output. TrueType, OpenType and other forms of fonts frequently will halt or complicate output.

More About Fonts >>


Color Space & Usage


The printing process depends on two basic color models, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) or Process Colors, and PMS (Pantone Matching System) or Spot Colors. Please make sure that all colors you are sending are based on these two models only. Images and art using RGB colors have to be converted to one of these models before a file can be imaged.

Establish which colors you will be using to print the piece. Determine if they are to be Pantone colors, Process tints or a combination of both Pantone and Process colors. Make sure to use only those colors when creating artwork for the document. Be careful to insure the color names match word-for-word when importing art from application to application. Avoid color pallets that do not conform with the commercial printing process. This includes software programs that have vaguely named colors like “sky blue” or “olive green.”

More About Color Space & Usage >>

General Project Organization & Layout Tips
  • Make a separate folder for each job and keep all page layout and support art in that folder. Also, within this folder, make a separate folder for the fonts that are used in the job.
  • Maintain a list of all original artwork that you used while creating a project. Keep all file names brief and obvious. Never rename support files after placing them in the page layout.
  • Whenever possible, create and place linked files at 100% of intended output size. Make sure that all scanned or raster images are between a minimum of 225 and 300 ppi (pixels-per-inch) when placed at 100% of output. There is no need to have image resolution higher that 300 ppi for raster images. Try to avoid scaling or rotating placed art in your page layout application.
  • Try to develop the habit of using the "X and Y Coordinates" features of your page layout or graphics programs that allow you to numerically align objects that butt together. This is especially important for trapping colors.
  • Create pages based on the exact size of the output then determine the the size of the finished piece. Make sure all panels and folds are accurate and clearly marked. Pull all colors and images that bleed off the sheet .125” beyond the page boundaries.
"Flawless File Preparation" Checklist >>
Collecting Files for Output
  • Don't completely trust the "Collect for Output" utility that is offered in some desktop publishing applications. Always check and update missing or modified file links prior to transferring the files to disk.
  • Only send the artwork and page layout files that pertain to the job. Be sure to include the TIFFs and EPSs, the printer and screen fonts used in the artwork and page layout files. Make a folder for the fonts you have used and put both the printer and screen versions of each font used in that folder only. If you use common or "universal" fonts such as Helvetica, Gill Sans or Arial, you still want to include your versions.
  • Caution: Some programs such as Flightcheck™ have features designed to enlighten you about which fonts are present and loaded. However, they don’t always find fonts that are used in placed artwork. In general, it's a good idea to convert fonts used in placed artwork to paths (or "outlines").
  • If possible, create a "Print Quality" Acrobat PDF of your finalized layout. Always include a composite laser or inkjet printed proof with all color, diecutting and folding information clearly marked. Make sure to print the lasers after the final revisions are made and before transferring the files to disk. This step will eliminate confusion at the printer.
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