printing company design requirements

When you present your files to a printing company for your magazine, do you get them rejected? Are you told they are not print ready files? Do you seem pre press charges mounting for your employer or graphic design client that are causing you grave embarrassment? If so, it is clearly because you do not understand the differences between designing for magazine and catalog printing to that of a desk top graphic or web graphic. Just because it looks pretty, does not guarantee you that it will not look ugly on paper.

Graphic designs to be utilized by printing companies differ greatly from any other format and there are things the graphic designer must learn as well as ascertain from the printing company prior to handing off files. Let’s review the things you need to know:

Print Ready Files:

This means that your files are ready for the pre press rip and they do not need to be touched, fixed, altered or meddled with in order to make them work on press if they work at all. Therefore let’s assume they are fine and work from the last stop on the train. Before handing off your files to the magazine printer ascertain whether they can work from native files, web printers do not, or at least will charge you extra for the privilege. Thus, if you are offering a PDF file for the work you must ask of the prepress department at the printing company, what type of PDF they want. They may prefer an older version or an eclectic version but something that will be very specific to their rip. Before you make your PDF, ask “what type of PDF”, their rip takes. Also, do not send in individual pages as it will take longer to rip and assemble and you will be picking up extra charges for this failure. One file for the entire doc is best unless you are having trouble uploading to their FTP. Send the cover as a separate file. If you must break up the files in order to upload, do so in even signatures, 16/32/48 or 64 page sections depending on how big your catalog or book is.

Color Formats:

Magazine printing uses the CMYK format. Many designers still send us files with either RGB color formatting or some Pantone or other colors still in the files. Before making your PDF use your utilities feature to ferret out the non CMYK colors. If not two things may happen; 1-the default in the rip gives you a color different than the one you intended and 2-you may have artifacts in the printed image that you did not intend to have their at all. RGB is not a printing format. Pantones are, but if more than two you are asking for trouble if you do not convert to CMYK if producing a small job on a small two color press or unnecessary costs for inks and wash-ups on a large press.


This is something that many graphic designers never think of when planning a job. If a down and dirty throw away, no biggie, but if you are presenting your talent in order to design something nice, “don’t be a creep, and plan for creep”. Creep is what happens when you fold and refold paper. As you fold the spine takes up room and makes the successive panels smaller and smaller in the width. So if you have a catalog or brochure with several panels and it is a roll fold, every time you fold a panel over your will make the next one thinner, by about 1/32nd of an inch. Therefore if you do not want half of a panel for your front cover, following many folds, plan your brochure or catalog from the finished size. Deduct 1/32nd of an inch to the size of each panel as you go inwards towards the final inside panel. This may vary depending on your paper choice, which also tells you get some samples and score and fold them to be able to visually judge the fold and adjust for the creep.

Panels or Sections:

Aside from being concerned for the creep if you are doing a roll fold with a number of panels, you want to make sure your panels fold neatly and cleanly and look even. It is highly advisable to put fold marks above and out of the image area where each panel is to fold. Print out your piece and fold it. You would be surprised how many so called designers never make a dummy of their piece and just hand over files to the printing company and hope for the best or simply be oblivious.


Images can be problematical on two fronts. Your desk top printer and your computer screen and the URL’s you view are all in the RGB color format. Secondly, the resolution of a screen image is about 5% of the quality needed for commercial color printing. 72 x 72=5184 dots per inch which is fine for the web. Since the average magazine or catalog is printed with 300 dpi images, that amounts to 90,000 dots per inch which is a far cry from 5i84 dots. Therefore if you do not want your images to look washed out or have a shift in your intended color, you must convert to CMYK and then color correct your files as is appropriate to your piece. If you do not use the correct resolution and use web images, be prepared for a giant blur.


Contrary to what some graphic designers think, a bleed edge is not created on press. It is created by the ink going beyond the trim area and then trimmed back so that you wind up with a clean edge, cleaner than possible if depending on the press alone. The bleed is created by extending any color that bleeds beyond the crop mark on ALL sides. If sheet fed, an eighth inch is fine and if web printing, a quarter inch is the norm.

Image Area:

If you were designing a web site or even just typing a letter, you would not extend copy or images to the very edge or near edge of the page as it will look horrible. The same holds true for commercial printing. In addition to the look of the page there is also the safety of the magazine printing job that is at stake as web presses have some jiggle as the roll of paper feeds through the printing press. Therefore you risk cutting into relevant copy or images if you do not pull back to a safe area on the page. Sheet fed presses and heat set web printers are OK with all that does not bleed to be a quarter inch from the trim edge. Book printers prefer as much as 3/8 of an inch as they usually are printing books on older cold set web printing presses and they have more jiggle.


Anything perfect bound has a squared off spine and like any other panel needs to be adjusted for bleed and of course page count. Before creating your spine, whether as a printer spread, with the back cover to spine left and front cover to spine right, ask your printer about the spine width based on your paper and page count. The spine, just as any other section of the printing job requires bleeds on all four sides.


Get paper samples in advance. Paper can affect not only the look of your job but the bindery portion as well. Know that offset uncoated stocks will not have images as sharp as dull or gloss coated paper stocks due to the fact that the polished coated stocks allow the ink to sit on top while the uncoated paper allows the ink to sink in a bit and thus spread.


Keep It Simple Stupid, as they say in the world of computers. Do not over design for print as you will only make it harder to end up with a quality magazine. An example of this is to have a spine that can allow for some adjustment in the fold. You would want to have the same color background if possible or at least a gradation of the spine color to the covers allowing for it should you have misjudged the spine width.

There are many things to learn in order to design for the world of printing and these are only a few. If you are coming from anywhere else but a design for print background it will be massively important for you to learn what the printing company requires so you can incorporate all needed into your designs and have something that is not only eye candy but brain food for the press as it prints.

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