Understanding Print Ready Files
by Marvin Magasura
While some experienced graphic designers might be very familiar with print-ready work, this concept still represents a terrifying and intimidating aspect of graphic design for many newcomers. For those of you that don’t know what it is, the term ‘print-ready’ is often used in the printing business to describe a file that already meets all the necessary specifications to result in a high-resolution printed outcome without the need for any additional intervention or alteration.
Put in simpler words, ‘print-ready’ means that a commercial printer is able to use the submitted file as is to create the desired print job.
The terrifying aspect comes in at the part of the job that takes a lot of practice to master and it might require different changes on your file depending on the commercial printer you’re working with. It is intimidating because it doesn’t matter if your layouts are awesome or if your typography skills are top-notch, all of these will mean nothing if the printed result is not satisfactory.
Sadly, when a printed job comes knocking at your door, there is no ‘Undo’ option. The best way to prevent this is to know what exactly print-ready entails. Let’s take a look at some of its main characteristics:
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but many newbie designers actually make this mistake when attempting print-ready results. Always make sure you’re sending your file with the highest resolution possible.
Commercial printers can produce great results, but this is only true if the file they are printing is also great. Low-resolution files lead to loss of time and poor production, and you will probably want to re-print the job. Using native files should prevent this from happening.
Type of File
Similar to your file’s resolution, the type of file is another crucial factor to do a print-ready job and can determine whether a successful print can be achieved. For instance, Adobe PDF files tend to have a higher resolution than files created with other programs, thus making them the preferred choice and universally accepted by almost all commercial printers.
Other layouts created with Adobe products – like Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign – also count with widespread acceptance. Files created with QuarkXpress, TIF, and EPS are usually accepted as well.
On the other hand, Microsoft programs – such as Publisher, PowerPoint, or Word – often produce files that require some sort of conversion and intervention to become print-ready. Plenty of other popular software, such as “non-professional” publishing packages, also require the same intervention.
You may notice that the file is outputted well-enough on your desktop printer, but the truth is that they’re rarely well-suited for commercial printers. When in doubt, consult with your printer to check if your file type is accepted beforehand, they should check if the printer’s proof is print-ready.
Crop lines are marks that tell your printer where to cut depending on your sizing specifications. It’s actually quite simple, if you’re printing an 9″ X 12″catalogue, then it’s obvious that your crop lines should be set at 9” X 12” for every page, including the cover.
Print-ready projects that include a color or image that runs all the way to the edge of the paper must always include bleeds. In other words, a bleed is an image or a color that runs beyond the crop lines by 1/8th of an inch.
You’re probably wondering why is this necessary? Blame it on the trimming process. When a print job is completed, a trimmer cuts the paper along the crop lines depending on your size specifications. While modern trimmers are completely accurate in their job, you still have a slight chance it’ll trim past the crop line.
If there are no bleeds when this error happens, you will get a sliver of white paper between the color or image and the end of the page. Of course, this is not an attractive outcome for a job that’s going to be sold. Using bleeds, if the trimmer misses the crop line, there will be no evidence as it will be covered with the same color and the larger paper won’t be so noticeable.
While there are plenty of other items to check off your print-ready list, these are the basic characteristics you need to cross off before sending your work to the printer to ensure a nice, efficient, and clean production. Besides, most printers will let you know if your file is not print-ready and they’ll probably ask to do it themselves. But since this could slow-down the production and increase your budget, you should always try and include these key items in your file before sending it to a printer.