Preparing a publication for print involves a whole skillset aimed at making sure the results are what you expect. This preparation starts before you’ve hit “New Document” and goes on past the point of choosing “Export.” Open the lines of communication with your print provider early and involve them at key points along the way. Whether or not you create an actual checklist, you should at least have an idea of the items you’ll want to address before you start the project, while you’re working, and just before sending it off to a printer.
BEFORE YOU START
Select a print vendor before you even start creating your publication. You will want to communicate to them what format the final piece will be provided in, as well as any considerations for binding, paper selection, and inks to be used. If you don’t have a clear idea of the finished piece, this is a great time to get the printer’s input. They’ll know best what works and—more importantly—where issues have cropped up in the past and how to avoid them.
Get specs from the printer on how to set up your document, as adjusting partway through the project can be time consuming. For instance, know how much bleed the printer needs to accommodate your full-page items and what size page margins work best.
You will also want to make sure you’re working in the right color mode for printing. At some point you’ll need to convert your onscreen RGB document to one that can be printed using CMYK. This conversion has to happen whether you’re using traditional offset presses, a digital press, or color laser printer. The main question that needs to be answered is whether you will do the conversion or if the printer will handle it.
AS YOU’RE WORKING
When working on a document, you may end up with styles, swatches, images, or other elements that you actually aren’t using. It might seem like a little thing, but it’s a good idea to do some housekeeping to keep your document tidy. Getting rid of colors you’ve defined but haven’t used, deleting unnecessary layers, and organizing your styles can improve your workflow, and you’ll end up with a more streamlined document when you deliver it to the printer.
Keeping an eye on image resolution as you work will also save time when you hit the crunch of a looming deadline. You’ll want to be aware of actual and effective resolution for every raster image in your document. Your printer knows what resolution will work best for their process, but a good rule of thumb for print is an effective resolution of 300 ppi. Remember that you can’t magically add resolution to an image, so make sure you start with images that are high enough in resolution to accommodate the sizes at which you’ll be placing them.
Page layout programs like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress have built-in pre-flighting tools that keep an eye on your document and its contents while you work. When you input parameters for acceptable resolution, color modes, and type controls, the pre-flight tools will alert you to issues and allow you time to rectify them before you’re under deadline to deliver to your printer.
READY FOR HANDOFF
Make sure you know what file format your printer wants your print-ready file to be in. Most printers will want a PDF, and if you’re lucky, your printer will provide you with either a PDF preset file for you to install or at least a list of PDF preferences for you to manually enter. If you don’t get any instructions, you should know that using the PDF/X-1a standard is a decent baseline for documents headed for print. Be sure to ask if you should paginate the document and which crops and printer’s marks (if any) they’d like you to include.
Send along a hard copy of your output if possible and be sure to include any support files if you expect the printer to fix issues on their end. These might include the placed images and fonts if your font license allows.
While you’ll want to craft your own pre-printer checklist, these steps will give you the foundation to ensure that the design-to-print process goes smoothly and that the publication you end up with is the one you envisioned while designing it.
If you have publication design needs, please reach out to us for price estimate at 301-933-4062, or fill out our contact form.