I'm a creative director at Laughing Samurai. I bark orders. Sometimes people listen. Sometimes they don't. When they play nice, I pay with pizza. And sometimes with Nachos. Hell, sometimes even Beer. Wanna work with me? Let's do this.

Good Practices for Delivering Print Files

Currently there is an overabundance of web designers out there that are extremely talented and can create some really cool stuff. But in my twelve years of experience designing for print, on both the Printer and Agency side of things, I have encountered multiple cases where people fall short in the delivery of their creative when it comes to print work, sometimes causing unnecessary charges from the printer to fix their mistakes. Add to that the fact that I have been approached by more than a few of my friends and colleagues with a “deer-in-headlights” demeanor when it comes to creating or delivering stuff for print.

For this, I have compiled a list of good practices and basic guidelines to ensure that your jobs are delivered efficiently. This is, of course, assuming that you are using InDesign as your final delivery vehicle (which I recommend) regardless of which application you used to design the piece.

1. The document size is the size of the document.

OK, so what the hell am I talking about? If you are designing a 5” x 5” card, don’t design it on an 8.5” x 11” document. Make your document size 5” x 5”. There is the case where some agencies require that the artwork have file info on it, in which case you can use the bleed and slug area in InDesign. This is a perfect area to place any relevant ad or file information, that will not print in the final version of the piece. A big advantage of setting up your files this way is that, if a third party is going to be using this file (publication, printer, etc.) once they place the file, they will not have any issues with repositioning or alignment, since the document size will always be constant.

2. Convert all Images to CMYK.

This one is a matter or much debate, which I have argued with people even at Adobe. The common practice is to work on your images in RGB. Why RGB?

Well think about it – cameras take pictures in RGB; your computer screen is RGB; scanners create RGB images – does it make sense to design in CMYK? not so much. This statement came up in a conversation I had with an Adobe engineer (specifically Acrobat and the PDF Technology) and to me it makes total sense. The CMYK color space should not come into play until the very last moment of production, right before the file gets to final delivery. Now, one little thing I left out about this conversation with the Adobe person was that he said that one should not even convert the file to CMYK at delivery, that one should leave the color conversion to the printers RIP profiles, which have more specific color profiles, catered exactly for the printer, and, to quote them directly, “and if they don’t have the technology, then find a new printer.”

Now we all know, especially those of us who have worked in production, that building a relationship with a printer that delivers, is really hard to let go sometimes. The bottom line is that you find the best system that works for you, as long as you and the printer are in agreement as to how to deliver those images. One thing that I have done in the past is to talk to the pre-press person handling your job (NEVER THE SALES GUY< THEY ARE CLUELESS), and ask them for their ICC profiles, which you can then in turn assign to those images. They will be more than happy to give it up, especially if it is going to make their jobs easier.

3. Never paste images into InDesign.

This is a common mistake I have encountered numerous times, which can become an extreme clock drainer and hassle to try and remedy. The InDesign folks had the good sense of allowing designers to paste images directly into an InDesign page, thereby embedding these images into the file, as opposed to the more traditional way of linking them. Although this was a very noble “feature”, if there is any issue with that image, there is no real way to fix it, outside of copying it, pasting it to a new Photoshop document, and re-pasting once the image has been adjusted. Never ever ever paste your images into InDesign. Stop being lazy. Save the image file and then link it. Embedding images also significantly increases the size of your InDesign file, which can cause more delays if there are any revisions to the InDesign file itself.

4. Always add bleed. Usually an 1/8th of an inch (0.125”)

I know most of you are like “DUH!”, but you would be surprised how many times I’ve seen files, from some big agencies, be delivered without bleed. Add to that the numerous people I have supervised throughout the years that don’t account for a bleed in their design from the get. Create the bleed when you create the file. Make sure as you design your piece, you make sure your graphics or images are bleeding if they are meant to. Again, don’t be lazy. It takes a second to add it in the beginning, but it can take hours to add it prior to delivery.

5. Deliver your fonts with your files.

This one is pretty self explanatory. I will add that I have seen cases in which jobs have been delayed a day or two due to a missing font.

6. Never color body copy in 4 color black.

When coloring your body copy, which in my book is anything that is basically under 18 point (depending on the font) never do it in a 4 color black. This is a nightmare for pressmen to register, and there is sometimes no way to fix it, but to get a new file. A 4 color black is a black made up of all four colors, CMYK. This rule, of course, has an exception, which takes me to the next rule.

7. Always bump your blacks.

What this means is that, when doing large areas of black (boxes or type), make sure the black has been bumped, or supplemented, with the other four colors. A good formula that has worked for me throughout the years, across both offset and digital printing, is C:50 M:40 Y:30 K:100. Of course, I always suggest that you talk with your printer to get a black bump that works great on their presses, especially since each press has it’s own personality.

8. Always include a proof. Digital or Physical.

Traditionally, I like to include a Press Ready PDF with all my jobs, just in case all else fails, and as a means for the printer to go back to something final that they can use as a reference once they run the file thru their RIP.

I don’t need no stinking rules!

These guidelines are of course mine. You don’t have to follow them if you don’t want to, but they have served me as a great foundation for consistently delivering good press ready files, free of any errors or “hiccups”.

Stay on the lookout for an upcoming post on “Good PDF Creation”, where I will be going into detail on best practices, what Acrobat versions to use, and I will also include my own Job Settings, which I complied from years of working in Pre-Press, and have used forever without any problems.

21 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink Nikunj

    Nice Tips Thnks

  2. Posted June 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink Habib Ullah Bahar

    great article, but i need the next one actually. How to create good pdf files. We develop softwares which have lots of report generation , usually pdf format.

  3. Posted June 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink Rhi

    Great list of standards for print production and deliverables. The only thing I actually disagree with is designing in RGB. When converting to CMYK there are discrepancies in color values from screen to paper and unless there are specific spot colors used, it is usually best to design print CMYK in CMYK so there are no surprises when the printed proof comes out from the printer, not one’s desktop printer. Thanks for posting!

  4. Posted June 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink Pixelmaster

    abolutly basic rules :) i hope many amaters will read it

  5. Posted June 11, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink Nick - freelance graphic and web designer

    You should convert your colours to CMYK so you can deal with colour conversion issues prior to getting nasty proofs back from the printer. RGB fluro green types of colours cannot be replicated in CMYK. It is impossible to convert and get even a reasonable match. If your client has signed off on it they won’t be happy if the printed version is a totally different colour. I have found digital printers do a better black in just straight black, but for the more traditional offset printing a rich black of at least forty percent blue with the black looks much nicer. Just speak to the printer and ask if they have any template files that they can send you and how they want files. Knowing how something needs to be supplied can streamline your working process and keep everyone happy.

  6. Posted June 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink dlv

    excellent article !
    really easy to read and understand, so clear !
    thanks for share! directly to bookmarks!

    bye
    adeux!

  7. Posted June 11, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink Jeremy

    as one who has worked in a prepress dept of a printing company I can tell you that these guidelines are very helpful and will make your print buying experience much more positive.

  8. Posted June 11, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink Doug Barned

    Great article, thanks… I’m sure it will prove useful to many people who re new to the field and some that aren’t so new :)

    /Doug

  9. Posted June 11, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Permalink Joel

    Hey, love this article.

    I don’t often design for print (mainly web) but when I do I often can’t find the info I need to make a decent attempt at a print ready file, printers don’t even seem to want to help me make their life easier.

    Kudos.

  10. Posted June 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Permalink Luciano Domingues Pinto

    Thanks for sharing! This good practices are really worthwhile.

  11. Posted June 13, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink Alexa Miller

    Helpful article. Is there any other reason besides linking to use inDesign for delivery over illustrator for a one-page design? Or creating outlines rather than including fonts?

  12. Posted June 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink Martin M.

    Great article! One point of clarification: I have never heard your 4-color black referred to as “bumped,” but rather as “rich black.” “Bumped” may be correct, and it just never made its way around to me. Thanks for writing this!

  13. Posted June 13, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink Laurent Holdrinet

    Thanks for these great tips. I particularly appreciated the “Bump your black” one.

  14. Posted June 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink Karl Noelle

    These are great! I made the mistake of using 4-color black on my body copy once, and the text became extremely thick, smeary, and distorted. That’s way too much black for such small copy!

  15. Posted June 13, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink Martin M.

    Great article! One point of clarification: I’ve never heard your 4-color mix of black referred to as “bumped” black, but rather “rich black.” That’s a minor detail, and you may be correct, but that’s what I’ve always heard it referred to. Thanks for writing this!

  16. Posted June 13, 2010 at 11:05 pm | Permalink Martin M.

    Sorry, that was not supposed to post twice!

  17. Posted June 14, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink Marianne

    Great and clear article! I hope that these basics will reach everyone who is serious about the final product of his/her design.

    A tip about ‘rich black’// for a deep black result in case of the use of frames/backgrounds, this coulour recipe might be helpful K100% + C30% (up till 40%).

  18. Posted June 21, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink online cna classes

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  19. Posted July 25, 2010 at 12:06 am | Permalink Savvik

    it was very interesting to read.
    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  20. Posted July 25, 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink The Fontografist

    Go right ahead

  21. Posted October 21, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink Ashlie Cordel

    great post

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