Pre-flighting your print-ready digital design files for a printing press run is as much an art as it is a science. The science of printing from digital files is the part that never changes. However, the art of pre-flighting is getting yourself to remember to check for all the things that could delay, or at worse ruin, an otherwise successful and timely print job. Here are some things to jog your memory, and hopefully prod you to come up with your own list of things to check before sending off your print files to your printing resource.
Did you use a template provided by your printing service?
If you are using an online quick printer, you have to be sure follow the templates they provide perfectly, or you will get poor results. If your printer provides, say, a PSD template for a business card, either use their template or at the least compare your dimensions and bleed lines to make sure they are the same. The most common mistake with templates is missing your bleeds, so triple check this. The results of bad bleed trims are wasted time, wasted money, and damaged client relationships.
Did you include fonts?
While many print shops can work directly with PDFs with embedded fonts, many print jobs still require source files from InDesign, Quark, etc., along with all the attached images and fonts. Now that designers in fact do get to submit more self-contained PDFs than ever to print shops, it’s that much easier to create an “old fashioned” zip file of a print job and forget include the basics. Like fonts! And never assume that your printers “Garamond” is going to be your “Garamond”. For instance compare “Adobe Garamond Pro” to “ITC Garamond”. One of those typefaces is a dream and the other is a nightmare. I’ll let you google that one. Don’t trust anyone’s font substitution judgment calls but your own!
Are you submitting the right PDF format to your print shop?
Many print shops have requirements, based on their software, for a certain format of PDF. It very much depends on the type of job you are running and what machine or software package your printer will process the job on. Don’t assume! Give the pre-press department a call and find out exactly what they need from you before you lose time after the fact, or they just print what you sent and you get unexpected results. Overly-compressed JPG files are easy to miss in the wrong format PDF. What your screen might hide, the press reveals, in terms of poor quality images.
Did you set up your bleeds correctly?
If you are printing edge to edge color, you will have had to set up bleeds correctly. The size of the bleed is completely dependent on the type of job and the size and type of paper it will print on. Don’t assume your arbitrary bleed amount is enough or too much. Talk to the pre-press department or your print shop sales rep. While many print shops can fix incorrect settings, sometimes they don’t know if they can until they try, and you might end up with extra pre-press charges or delays because your bleeds were not to spec for that job. Save money and time by setting bleeds to accurate specs.
Do you have stray layers in your documents?
It’s best to remove any unused layers in your Illustrator or InDesign files before making PDFs or packaging source files for your print shop. It’s very easy to miss having turned on a layer by mistake and not notice it until you get your proof back from the shop. Extra guides, random “clip board” elements you were saving, text layers you were messing around with, etc., all can get turned on by mistake by you or the pre-press department. The sneaky little mistakes on stray layers aren’t caught sometimes until the presses have stopped rolling. Ouch!
Did you rip your PDF to PhotoShop before sending it to your printer?
This is one final fool-proof way to make sure the printer will see what you intend them to see. Ripping a lo-res PDF into PhotoShop is like having an unbiased third party evaluate your files. Flip through each page, if possible, and look at the raster version up close. You’d be surprised what you might find using this method of proofing. It’s different enough so that your eyes might catch something here that they wouldn’t normally catch from inside InDesign or Illustrator, or whatever other program you might be using.
Did you double check your die cuts?
This is one you want to be very sure of. Either use a die template provided by your printer or from a reputable source online, and make sure the printer has double-checked them, especially if you have modified them. What could be more expensive than incorrectly cutting a freshly-printed pile of, for instance, presentation folders, with the incorrect die?
Did you use rich black or regular black?
There are lots of articles on the net about rich blacks and regular blacks. Make sure you know what you’ve used in your design. Clicking a black color chip in a color palette does not mean you have selected a rich black, or that you have selected the correct rich black. Is your rich black warm, cool, or neutral? Please find out before you print!
Did you use CMYK-colored text with small font sizes?
Depending on the font, you want to make sure you have not applied complex CMYK colors to small type. A 9pt Garamond italic is simply not going to print nicely in a color comprised of all four process colors due to print registration limitations. Small type should be made of one or two colors at most. Very small or very delicate type should be made of one color at most. The same applies to knocked out type. Very small or very delicate type should not be knocked out (colored as “white” or “paper”) in richly colored CMYK backgrounds because it will be blurry in any case on a good number, if not all, of the print pieces. Printing is simply not accurate enough to prevent registration and dot gain from blurring those tiny strokes and shapes under a certain point size.
Did you check your varnish layer?
It’s worth triple-checking. You may have moved the type layer over which the varnish type layer originally sat. Or maybe you changed the font size or altered kerning just a touch and now the varnish copy you made earlier does not line up. You want your varnish or aqueous coat layers to be spot on, not spot off.
Did you check if any imported graphics have extra spot colors?
When using third-party art like native AI files or EPS files, it’s easy to overlook any spot colors that those files may have been created with. Though you may not have any spot colors in your layout, the imported spot colors will trigger the pre-press department to generate a plate for that color when you are not expecting it. While a press is not going to start printing a 5 color job (CMYK plus Spot) without your approval of course, it’s a needless waste of time, and may cost you pre-press charges. Proof your files carefully and convert any problematic vector files to a CMYK PSD or JPG at 100% of the size you need them to be, at 300 dpi, and re-import them. It’s not an optimal solution, but is the fastest way to fix the problem especially if you can’t edit the source file.
Did you double check to make sure all of your placed graphics are up-to-date?
If you work on a team, you want to make sure anyone working on imported graphics got their latest update accounted for. If they changed the size of something and you didn’t update the display, you could end up with a design gaffe that you catch in the proof you get back from the printer. It’s better to make sure everything is updated before it leaves your studio.
Well I hope you enjoyed this reminder. There are a dozen more things you could check over, but these are the ones I often double check personally because I have indeed been the victim of my own forgetfulness. What are some things you check before going to press? What are some things you have forgotten? Comment below!