Preparing Artwork For Print

by Rob Cubbon - Date: 2007-01-17 - Word Count: 2010 Share This!

From the moment you wake up in the morning, you read the newspaper, curse the amount of junk mail on your doorstep, pass billboards on your way to work, hand out your business card, get given a flyer on the high street, pick up a swanky looking brochure at your local shop.

For all these rainforest-depleting elements there was someone who has had to get the job printed.

Whatever you want to print, whether it's books, brochures, complicated packaging, mailers, ads, posters, flyers, business stationery, signage, free standing display units, point-of-sale, billboards, or even clothing whether rotogravure, flexographic, offset lithographic, inkjet, lazer or digital printing from Macs or PCs it is incredible how just a few basic principles hold true across the broad range of output.

Between the designer's idea and the finished product there are a host of problems, issues and glitches waiting to be experienced and in ten years I have probably come across most.

There are two basic digital ways for printers to receive artwork. As a PDF (my preference) or everything collected together (usually a QuarkXpress, Adobe InDesign or Illustrator document with images and fonts).

But before this can happen there are many things to check in the document, which could be in Quark, InDesign, or Illustrator.

1. General

Run your eye over the whole job.

Ask questions about the output of it. What is the size/shape? How many pages? Is it a mono job, process job, a spot colour job or process with spot colours? Should any of the colours overprint? Are there any repeated items, like a subheading style that needs to be the same throughout the whole document? Is there a picture style, like a border or an effect, that should be implemented throughout?

Does it look right? Are there any glaring typos? Any glaring widows? Do all the elements look present and correct? Any obvious omissions? A page number, a caption, a background.

2. Size

What size is it? Look in Layout > Layout Properties in Quark in File > Document Setup in Illustrator or InDesign. That's if it is a square or a rectangular shape. If not, you'll need a cutter guide, if so, see below.

Make sure you know the length of the width and the depth. Most people when giving the size of a rectangle will specify the width first followed by the height. The advertising industry, however, give sizes of their ads with the depth first and the width second. I have absolutely no idea why this is.

If it is a ad, then ask if it is a trim or type area ad. What the difference? A type area ad is like a classified ad: it only has one size a floats on the page in the position where the magazine or newspaper wants it.

How ever larger ads will need three different sizes. These are full page ads, across a double page spread ads or even half or, sometimes, quarter page ads will need trim, bleed and type area. The trim is the most important as it's the size of the visible area of the ad. The bleed area will be the trim plus an amount (usually 3mm) extending the sides of the ad which run off the page. And the type area (I must confess I love to ignore this) is the space where all information of the ad must be contained. In other words, it gives you margins that you have to use.

3. Type/copy

Although they really are a necessary evil in the modern world, I'm not a huge fan of spell checkers. Remember, if 'not' has been spelt "nit", it won't pick it up. The Quark spell checker continually flags words that are correct. Remember to have the correct dictionary selected, but even then don't rely on them.

You can't beat a good read through by an experienced proof-reader. If you're not sure about a word or phrase it can usually be sorted out by a simple Google. If you are not sure if the word is American or UK English, arguments can be sorted out at Which, by the way, if you need inspiration for headings or stand-firsts, use the thesaurus Also, Mac users have a good dictionary and thesaurus in the widgets with UK and US spellings.

Check if your quotes are curling the correct way. Text pasted or imported from a text editor can strip type of it's curly quotes and en and em dashes. If your document is full of foot and inch marks you can use the Find/Replace function. Find a ' and replace with a ', or a " with a ", and Replace All. They look exactly the same in the Find/Replace panel. But, it works in the document. Use the Find/Replace function to replace your hyphens with en dashes, although skip through checking each one individually, as you don't want to hyphenate a word with an en dash.

Hyphenation in general should be checked as well. A last minute paste into a new document can re-set the hyphenation settings.

Good old Find/Replace should also be used to eliminated double spaces. Again, skip through one by one, as some un-professionals could have used multiple spaces to indent text in headlines. Of course, check first as some people like double spaces after full stops.

4. Logos

There can be a myriad of rules about the use of a logo. Guidelines can run to dozens of pages. The most important thing to consider, apart from whether it's the right logo, of course, is the safe area - the area around it that needs to be clear or the distance from the margin or other elements.

Great care should be taken when scaling logos as they should always be in proportion. Clients will be ever so unhappy if it is squashed or stretched. Check the x and y percentages in Quark and InDesign if it is linked. One of the great disadvantages of embedding logos into InDesign or Illustrator layout is that you are unable to tell if it has been anamorphically scaled. Check against the original if you are in any doubt.

5. Fonts

One of the most obvious things to check but also one of the most common problems when sending files to print so ... are all the fonts there? Go to Type > Find Font in Illustrator and InDesign and Utilities > Font Usage in Quark. Are there any faux bolded or faux italicised fonts? If there are, replace them with the bold or italic from the font family.

If you have made any changes to a font then check the line breaks and the flow of the copy to make sure it hasn't created any widows or been altered in anyway. No two fonts are the same so substituting one font for another will always cause changes.

By the way, a widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears alone at the top of a column, an orphan is the first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page. Not a lot of people know that. But, don't worry about what they are, just check you haven't got any.

Finally, if you're really worried and you don't have too much type, create outlines!

6. Images

Again, it's an obvious one, check if all the images in the document are present and correct. Go to the Links palette in Illustrator and InDesign and Utilities > Picture Usage in Quark.

After that, check if they are big enough and whether they occupy the correct colour space.

As a general rule the image size in Photoshop should be the same or greater than the size it is to be reproduced with a resolution of 300 dpi. If the picture needs to go larger I would not scale it by more than 130% to avoid pixelation.

If the job is CMYK so should the Photoshop images, go Image > Mode > CMYK, if it is a mono job the Photoshop file should be grayscale or bitmap, spot colour images are very often grayscale or bitmap files coloured up in the output program, Quark or InDesign - otherwise spot colours should be specified in the channels and the image saved as a Photoshop DCS.

I would always use images saved in TIF, EPS or PSD format. You can get away with using JPGs these days, but remember, every time an image is saved as a JPG it loses quality.

7. Colours

90% of the time you will be using process colour. When this is the case go to the colour palette in Quark or the Swatches palette InDesign and Illustrator. Delete all unused colours - this'll make things easier. If there are any spot colours then they should be converted to CMYK. If the spot colour is specific to a client and is their corporate colour then it is important to check the client's own CMYK breakdown. A breakdown of a Pantone spot colour into the 4 process colours is only an approximation and differs between programs, therefore it should have been agreed beforehand and then implemented throughout the artwork.

If you are printing a special colour make sure it is present in the palette only once. PANTONE 032 CV, Pantone Red 032 CV, and PMS 032 CV is the same colour, as is PMS 032 U, but you only want the printers to charge your client once for the spot colour. If you are unsure which one to go for, choose the colour used in your client's logo.

If you are using spot colours, should they be set to overprint or knockout? Change this by selecting the item and using the Trap Information palette in Quark and the Attributes palette in InDesign. Even if you are not using spot colours you may want black type to overprint on a tinted or knocked back background. If this is the case then check if it is set to overprint using the same palettes.

8. Bleed

If any element is going straight to the edge of the document it needs to be "bleed off". The classic amount is 3mm. But some printers and publishers insist on 5mm.

Sometimes you will get a picture that should bleed off the edge of your document. If this is the case you need to go into Photoshop and extend the photo. Double click the locked background layer, Command/Control -J to copy it, increase your Canvas Size on the side you want extending, select the bottom layer and extend where necessary using Free Transform, Command/Control -T. A bit of blurring may be necessary.

9. Cutter guides

Some jobs may not be square or rectangular and they will need a cutter guide to show the printer where to trim or die-cut. Make sure the cutter guide has a stroke of 0.3 point at the most and it is set to overprint. Choose a random spot Pantone colour for the cutter guide, re-name it "CUTTER GUIDE - DO NOT PRINT!" and put a note on the side of the artwork repeating this instruction to the printers.

10. Issues

So, if you have followed the above closely (and I thank you for your patience if you have) then you should have a successfully printed job with no problems well, you didn't think it was going to be easy did you?

Over the years the most regularly occurring issues have been: Large files. Can you scale down your large Photoshop images? Can you cut your Quark or InDesign file down into sections? Clipping paths, or paths with to many points on them. The worse occurrences of these is when a magic wand selection in Photoshop has been converted to a path and produced an unwieldy long path. Corrupted fonts. What can you do? Fonts get used, copied and generally pushed around until they just give up. You could always buy a new one! Corrupt, infected or just inexplicably dodgy elements. Sometimes you have to strip down a job that's not working properly and re-build it from scratch if it won't print. Quark can be a buggy program and sometimes there's a picture box or an element somewhere that some printers just won't like. And that's just bad luck!

And so, that's it! Or is it? Now you have to physically or digitally deliver your artwork to the printers.

See supplying artwork for print here.

Related Tags: digital, illustrator, artwork, photoshop, printing, print, printers, preparing, quark, indesign, col

Born in Kent, England, 30 May 1968. Educated in local schools until 18 where left to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in University of East London. Started working in publishing 1989, involved in writing, photography and design for various magazines and newspapers. Worked abroad as English teacher. Freelance designer for print and web since 1995.

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