printing company describes how to be proactive

You have spent weeks creating your layout for your book, magazine or other printed materials. You then spent the next week or so researching and contacting printers and sending each the commercial printing specs and anxiously awaited their responses. The responses have arrived and you then make your decision on which printing company to do business with and send in your files and paperwork.


  • You then hear back from the printing company that your files are useless, your images are not printable with any sort of quality, or if they can salvage your mess, the pre press costs to do so are astronomical.
  • OMG I have a deadline to meet.


If these problems and their results sound familiar to you here are the things you can do proactively in order not to wind up pulling out your hair and screaming OMG:


  • Bad Images:

If your images are poor there are several reasons and the first one you need to look at is resolution. If the resolution is too low then you will see fuzzy and pixilated images in the printed magazine, book or catalog. First and foremost, stop using any of the cheap home programs and only use Photoshop. Any version is fine, so long as it is not Photoshop Lite. While it may do many of the things you require it will not allow you to create CMYK images which are required for magazine printing or anything you print. If you present a document with RGB images, the printing company RIP will default process them to CMYK, but by doing so you will lose any control over correct color and wind up with something the RIP feels is approximate or worse.

The quickest way to check your images is to print them out on a printer of at least 600 dpi resolution, and ideally on a Postscript printer of much higher resolution which will give you a better picture of how it will print. If you do not possess a quality printer, enlarge your image under view to 400% of the actual size. This will provide you with a reasonable approximation of what the printed magazine, book or catalog may look like. If you see pixels you have a problem. Your resolution is too low. Pixels are those pointed jagged edges at the edge of the image and also seen throughout it.  You cannot use web images as they are 72 dpi, for printing. 72 dpi, or dots per inch, represents 5% of the required dots for commercial printing.

Another thing to take note of is not to try and stuff a size 13 foot into a size 5 shoe when it comes to images. What I am saying is do not size your images in InDesign or any document type program.  Size them in Photoshop as if you do not you are creating an overly large document which could crash the pre press RIP and may not even be able to print. Sizing images in the document program is the lazy and what is worse the dangerous way of image sizing.

Be aware of the image formats your printing company can support by asking them. If your images are very large and you are using JPG’s do understand that what makes the standard JPG image smaller in size is built in compression. If you are producing large posters or any critical piece of printing, you may be seeing the encoding as part of the visual image. Use 300 dpi Tiffs, PSD or PDF formats for images in your document.


  • Bad files:

Bad files can be caused by many things. The very first thing I tell our clients is to print out your complete files so you have a closer approximation to how your magazine or book may print rather than a screen view. Crappy images look great onscreen. Pagination, folding or bindery may be inaccurate or nonexistence. When creating anything that binds or folds you are best advised to work from the finished folded piece backwards so you can move forward knowing what you will get. It is sort of like proving an algebra formula.

Bad files can be caused by overly large images, or poor software that cannot create CMYK. If you are using Word, God forbid, Word cannot create with CMYK images. If you must use anything, Publisher by Microsoft can, with a bit of skill.


  • Bad layout:

As I mentioned earlier, print out your piece in order to provide yourself with a bindery perspective in order to understand how your magazine or book will look in the end and provide you with a better understanding of how to lay out your piece so you can get there.

Do not try and assume how things will print. Ask your printing company for direction of what file formats and how they want the files to be constructed before you start and what version PDF works best with their RIP. Find out if they require an eighth of an inch for bleed or a quarter as on many older web printing presses.

Do not provide single pages for a long document as you will only incur pre press costs for the extra RIP time and imposition.

Unless you truly understand what a “printer’s spread” is (page 32 to left, page 1 to right of a 32 page doc) do not give the printer reader’s spreads (page 1 to the left and 2 to the right) as that is not how it will be bound and it will not be accepted by the press. If the pre press has to fix your PDF files then they manually have to add the missing bleed between the two pages after cutting them apart and you will pay through the nose for that. In InDesign, it is a simple click to change from spreads to single pages within your document. Your final document should be a single file for the entire text as single pages with bleeds on ALL four sides for proper trapping by the printing press. If you have a “separate cover” that prints on its own, provide that as a separate four page doc.

Understand how things fold and bind. If you are doing a roll fold of several panels, understand that each panel from the last as you move inwards needs to be approximately 1/32nd of an inch less in its width than the prior one, so that when folded you have not punched out the front panel to a width larger than you planned for.  Add fold marks above the image area so that the printing company can see your intent for bindery. The same holds true for stitched magazines, in that the fatter the issue or larger the page count, the inner pages “creep” out they get closer to the center due to the prior pages in the magazine. Thus the trimming at the face will slightly alter the layout of those inner pages as they will be shorter in the width. This is called “adjusting for the creep”.

On a web press be sure to ask about the “live image area” as there is more “jiggle” as the rolls go through at super fast speeds as compared to a sheet fed printing press. Therefore any critical copy or image outside of the “live image area” risks being cut into at trimming.

These are but a few things to look out for and the basic ones and if you want to avoid the tears at press time and the “heartbreak of printing psoriasis” you are best served by planning your magazine, book or catalog printing job with aforethought and precision.  On a final note, if you are ever unsure about what to do, finish a few pages and submit them to your printing company for “file approval” before finishing them and going through the RIP where you will be slammed with sticker shock at the costs to you and just may suffer those tears.


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