Cross the Finish Line


Nothing can derail a print project faster than pre-press errors with the file you’ve sent to your commercial printer. Here are 9 of the most common problems we see, and how you can avoid them to ensure you cross your project’s finishing line:

1. Print files not proofread before arrival, resulting in multiple proofs.

Designate someone in your department or organization to act as the official proofreader. This person should be very detail oriented and have an excellent command of grammar and punctuation.

2. Graphics converted to CMYK but should have been left as spot color.

This problem is quite common, especially if you supply a PDF. If your files were created as spot colors, make sure when you export and create a PDF from the native files that you do not select an option that converts all colors to process. If the files were originally created in an app that only works in the RGB or CMYK colorspace (e.g., Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop), the artwork will have to be recreated in an app that supports spot colors.

3. Missing or corrupted fonts.

Fonts are frequently a challenge with printing jobs. They can go missing. They can become corrupted. The likelihood of your printer having the exact font and font version that you used is low. You should always embed fonts in the PDFs you send to your printer, or convert them to outlines. When emailing fonts, always zip fonts into a single archive file before sending.

4. Incorrectly defined or missing bleeds.

Image bleeds must extend beyond the edges of the printed piece, so it can be trimmed to size after it’s printed. Often, designers will forget to define the bleed in their page design, or won’t extend the images or graphics to the bleed lines of their page layout. How do you determine how much of a bleed is needed? Ask your printer, as this requirement may vary.

5. Missing graphics.

Before you send files to your printer, make sure you have included all of the high-resolution versions that correspond to the low-res versions in your page layouts. If possible, use the “collect for output”, or “package” option in your page layout program to collect all necessary fonts and graphics. Adopt a consistent file-naming convention for your print projects, which will make it easier for you to keep track of all of your image files, and to determine if anything is missing.

6. Low resolution files.

Resolution of photographic (pixel-based) images should be 300 dpi at their final printed size. If their resolution is too low, the images will not be sharp and will appear blurred or pixelated. One trick: After outputting a Press Quality PDF, view the images of the file at 400% magnification. If they look sharp, your print output should be good to go.

7. Copy too close to edge of sheet or trim area.

Allow a minimum of 3 mm space if you want the content to have white space around the edges of the page. If you do not, this may cause the main copy or image of your page to appear off-center when the page is trimmed.

8. Files using both RGB and CMYK colors or using both black and registration black.

For best results, start all your projects in the correct color format. Be aware of the file formats of the images you have selected. If you’re using stock photos, many of them may be RGB files; they must be converted to CMYK in order to print properly. In CMYK printing, registration black refers to 100% coverage in each of the four process colors. It’s typically used for printing crop marks, or “registration marks,” or for printing a truly rich-looking black color. It’s different than black, which actually prints as grey due to the paper absorbing part of the ink.

9. PDF files sent with standard quality instead of press quality settings.

Standard quality settings are used to create PDF files so they can be printed on desktop printers or digital copiers in an office, published on a CD or emailed to a client as a proof. This set of options uses compression and downsampling to reduce the sizes of the files used in your document. Press quality settings are used to create PDF files that optimizes images for output and converts colors to CMYK process for output on a digital or traditional press. When working with a commercial printer, always select the press quality setting, but if you are in doubt, ask your commercial printer for their pre-press guidelines. Many of them offer PDF presets that make outputting your designs in the correct format much easier.