Back in design school, I remember teachers stressing how important it was to make our designs press-ready, but I don't think I fully understood what a priority this should be. Working as a production artist for a local printing company has taught me many real life lessons on what not to do.
Now I realize that what I learned in school was only scratching the surface. I’ve actually had to deal with, first hand, some of the nightmarish things that some designers do when preparing a project to be printed.
The following are the top 7 things NOT to do:
1. Not Including Enough Output Instructions
This is probably one of the more common problems that I see. You know how you want the finished piece to look, but don't just assume your printer does. The printer will need to know things such as, what the finished trim size will be, how many colors the job will use, whether the job will use special printing methods like a spot varnish or a die-cut, and are there any folding instructions.
The best step to take, is to contact your printer and just ask them what kind of information they will need. The printer will be glad you took the initiative to contact them, and you will save time and money in the long run.
Including a laser print of your document is a great way to show your printer what the final piece should look like. The more information you supply your printer with, the better.
2. Incorrect Use of Spot Colors
Nothing is worse than getting a document with 23 spot colors, all in use, and not knowing which ones should be spot and which ones are ok to run as process. It seems a lot of designers don't realize that every spot color is a new plate, thus more money. Also, most presses can't handle more then 6-8 colors at a time.
Before a document is sent for output, all spot colors that are not needed should be deleted. A spot color should be used when absolute color consistency is needed, such as in logos, and for large fill areas. If, for example, a document is being printed with a black background and color images, the black background should be made a spot color. Making the background a spot color will keep it from shifting when the color in the images is adjusted.
Small type should also be either black or a spot color because of registration problems caused by building small type out of 4 color process.
3. No Bleed
Yet another big problem that I see is a lack of bleed. Bleed is when an image or another object extends outside the trim area. Having a bleed insures that there will be no unwanted white border around your printed piece when it is trimmed down.
A typical bleed is 1/8 of an inch, but a larger bleed could be required for a die-cut. Ask your printer how much bleed your document will need.
4. Low-res or RGB Images
It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that the web is an excellent source for images to use for their designs. Not only are there issues of originality and legal concerns raised here, but the majority of images from the web are screen-resolution (72 dpi). A dpi of at least 300 (sometimes higher) is needed for most printed pieces. Just because it looks good on your screen, does not mean it will look good on the press. I also see a lot of images provided in RGB rather than CMYK. Files should always be converted to CMYK before they are sent to the press.
Typically images are converted to CMYK early in the game, however,
The main thing here is to avoid using images that have already been saved for the web. If you got it from a Google image search, chances are it won't work for print.
5. Incorrect Document Size
Yet another mistake some designers make is not knowing the correct size to make the document. Depending on what the printed piece is, things like scores, wraps, grooves and hardware will need to be allowed for. It can cause a lot of extra work for the Production Artist when the document has to be resized, after-the-fact, due to a lack of planning. In some cases, the appearance of the artwork will change drastically.
Again, it is best to contact your printer when in doubt. A lot of times your printer will gladly provide you with a template to set your document up by. All you have to do is ask.
6. Use of Conflicting Fonts
Now, I'm not talking about using two fonts that visually clash–that's another post, for another day. I'm talking about the font files themselves. Font problems are probably the worst problem to deal with. I can't tell you how many times I have opened a document, that had everything else done correctly, only to get a missing font error.
Most, if not all, printers use a font management system, such as Font Reserve or Suitcase, that automatically activates fonts. These font management systems cannot activate both Postscript and Truetype fonts at the same time. So, if both types of fonts are used, it will cause problems.
Dfonts are also a big problem. These are the Truetype fonts that come packaged on your computer, if you are running OS X. Dfonts can conflict with Postscript fonts of the same name, so your printer will likely not load them. When a Dfont or Truetype font is replaced with a Postscript font, there can be text reflow due to slight differences in the fonts, and the printer is left with the problem of fixing the reflow.
To avoid any font problems, and legal gray areas, you should convert all fonts to outlines before submitting your document.
7. Waiting Until The Last Minute
This is usually the fault of the client, but another very avoidable mistake is waiting until the very last minute to submit your design for production. There may be some cases where waiting until the last minute cannot be helped, but far too many times it comes down to a simple failure to plan.
If you know in advance that you will need something printed, then don't put it off any longer than you have to. Allowing plenty of time for design and production will make things easier for the designer and the printer, and you will likely get better quality at a lower price.
Please don't wait until it's an emergency to get something finished! Your Designer will thank you, and your Printer will too.
Taking the time to make sure your documents are press-ready will create a good relationship between you and your printer, and will save you and your client time and money.
Look for a follow up post, on how to make a press-ready PDF, in the weeks to come.
If you have any printing horror stories, further suggestions or input, please leave a comment below.
Note: This article is featured in the November, 2009 issue of