A Guide to Preparing Files for Print

Understand the Basics

With most print jobs, you should have specifications to adhere to. These specs work for preparing advertisements, brochures, business cards, and other printed mediums.


A lot of the colors you create in RGB mode are not achievable using standard four-color process printing. It is always best to create your document from the start in CMYK color mode to ensure that you have a better idea of how your colors are going to print.

Some exceptions are tradeshow signs or large format prints, but the best way to know for sure is to check with the printer.

Using the rounded rectangle tool

Four over Four (or 4/4)

If you’re printing a flyer, you might be printing 4/4, which essentially means you are printing four color on the front and four color on the back. If nothing’s on the back, then it would be 4/0.

For postcards, you might print 4/1: four color on the front and 1 spot color on the back.

For business cards, you might print 2/2: 2 spot colors on the front and back.

Print Layout

Here is a diagram of a typical document for print designs.

Using the rounded rectangle tool

Trim Line: This is the finished size of the piece.

Live Area: The area that is considered safe to keep any important information within. For example, if an ad’s trim size is 8.25 in × 10.25 in, the live area might be 7.75 in × 9.75 in. This takes into consideration the binding if the ad is placed on the left or right of a spread and you don’t want copy to be unreadable if it is too close to the spine.

Bleed Area: The more bleed you can offer, the better.The minimum bleed you need for a printed piece is 0.125 in (1/8 in) but some specs require more than that. So if you are working with an image in Photoshop and you’re placing it in InDesign for print preparation, keep in mind the area you might need to use for the bleed.

Crop Marks: Indicates where to cut the paper.

Deciding to Use Black or Rich/Packed Black

When printing with black color, there are two types of black you can use.

  • Black – 100 K: can be used for body copy and barcodes
  • Rich Black – 40 C 40 M 40 Y 100 K: should be used when using blocks of black

Note: Rich/Packed black specifications may differ from printer to printer, so you should ask your printer what they recommend.

Rich Black vs Black (100 K)

Below, you will see the difference between rich black and black.

It may be hard to tell the difference when preparing files on your monitor screen depending on your monitor type and monitor calibration since PC screens show richer colors in RGB. Therefore, it is wise to get a press proof when printing blocks of black.

Here is a sample of a flyer using the 2 blacks. The live area is denoted in green and the dashed, pink line is the trim area.

Download the InDesign template for the flyer above.

Preparing a File with UV Varnish/Coating

If you decide to use a UV varnish/UV coating on your printed piece, all you need to do is select the image or text you want the varnish on.

To keep your work organized, I’d suggest creating a layer and a spot color named "varnish/spot" and then make sure this spot color you create is not already used in the file.

Here is a piece without a UV varnish layer.

First, create your spot color in your Swatch Panel.

Then select the image/s and text block/s you want to apply the UV coating on.

Add a new layer, duplicate the elements (Ctrl/Cmd + J), and then apply the spot color to the elements on that new layer.

Extending Design Elements into the Bleed Area

If you haves a design that has type that’s flush with the trim, one suggestion is to rasterize the type and pull the paths out beyond the bleed.

Here is some text that’s flush to the bleed line on the left.

Here, we extend the letter "D" to the bleed area so that we can ensure that the text is going to be printed right at the edge when the piece is trimmed by the printer.

If we don’t extend it into the bleed area, the text might have a gap at the edge of the printed material.

Download the InDesign template for the UV varnish/UV coating piece above.

Using Spot Color

If you need more vibrant colors or exact color matching (e.g. for consistent company branding) than what CMYK inks produce, spot colors/PMS colors is the way to go.

Example of a Flyer with 2 Spot Colors

Here is a sample of using 2 spot colors in InDesign (the design is 2/2).

Download the InDesign template for the 2-spot color flyer above.

If you are doing spot colors in Photoshop, make sure all objects and type that are in the same color are merged on the same layer and named with the spot color they should be printed in so it is clear to the printer.

Also, provide a layered PSD or TIFF file and rasterize your type and vector layers. This can also be applied to files set up in Illustrator.

Additionally, remove any unused colors before packaging file.

Collecting Files in InDesign

In CS4, collecting files is known as Packaging (in previous versions it was known as Preflight).

To collect and package your files in InDesign, go to File > Package.

A summary screen will pop up. Here, you will see any spot colors used, RGB images, image sizes and fonts in the file.

On the image below, you will see that there is 1 font used, 2 linked images, no RGB images, 4 color process and 1 spot color.

For a more detailed overview of each component, click through the navigation menu on the left side of the Package window. It is good practice to check these.


Check the font/s you used in the document in case you need to remove anything saved on the pasteboard.

Links and Images

In the Links and Images section, you can see the file type is a TIFF with CMYK value at 300 ppi.

If you only want to see errors such as RBG linked files, check the Show Problems Only option. If everything looks good, hit the Package button.

When collecting the native files for the packaged folder, make sure the links below are clicked on.

Your final packaged folder should resemble this:

Preparing Print Files in Adobe Creative Suite Applications: Summary

Photoshop InDesign Illustrator
  • Create the file in CYMK color mode
  • Remember to include a bleed
  • Add Guides to show trim area or crop marks
  • Rasterize type
  • Name layers clearly if using spot colors and UV varnish/coating
  • Rasterize vector layers
  • Provide a layered PSD file if you have spots colors
  • Most printers will accept TIFF, EPS, PSD, and PDF files created in Photoshop
  • Create a file with a bleed
  • Remove unused colors
  • Name layers clearly if UV varnish/coating
  • Package the file
  • Check colors, images and image sizes
  • Save Packaged folder
  • Zip the file if you are uploading to an online printer
  • Most printers will accept high resolution PDFs and collective native files from InDesign
  • Create the file in CYMK color mode
  • Remember to include a bleed
  • Add Guides to show trim area or crop marks
  • Rasterize type
  • Name layers clearly if using spot colors and UV varnish/coating
  • Link files and provide a folder with linked files to the printer
  • Most printers will accept high resolution PDFs, AI, and EPS files from Illustrator

Tutorial Summary

This tutorial outlined processes for preparing your artwork for traditional printing presses to ensure the best possible results. I’ve included the templates used as examples in this guide. We focused on InDesign, but the process is very similar amongst other Adobe Creative Suite applications. You can see the similarities and overview of the process above in the summary table with the heading "Preparing Print Files in Adobe Creative Suite Applications: Summary."

Download Tutorial Source Files

  • Why you don’t make this article before?! Impressive work, congratulations. You make point about everything that we need to finalize an artwork. =)

  • Really useful article.
    Thanks 🙂

  • Don’t know about you guys, but I remember my first print job. Designed in RGB with no bleed lines. Well, you can figure out that I had to redesign it and compensate for the lack of DUHHHH on that project.

    Glad to have articles to teach like this. Good for new designers!

  • Hey thanks a lot for this great article it’s really helpful .. Shared it with my friends .. keep it up 🙂

  • Thank you hygorbudny, Auré, Scott and Geeee I am so glad you liked this. I remember leaving college thinking I knew what to do but was just clueless to getting files press ready. That was a time when Quark was fashionable.

  • Jesús

    Muchas gracias por la información. Excelente guía, sencilla sin dejar de ser bastante práctica y con ejemplos específicos.

  • I’m impressed! I have over 18 years experience in design and production on the computer and this well written article that covers a lot of the pitfalls that designers often make.

  • Thanks Randy. I’m glad you liked it

  • I was curious and clicked through Randy’s portfolio. I have to say @ciara, that’s quite a compliment coming from an accomplished graphic designer such as Randy.

  • Sadly, I had to learn it the hard way too while taking prints for various designs over the past few years. A great article!

  • sidney davenport

    This is such a good article — so clear and accurate. Could use a paragraph on foil printing, or is that too advanced. I just learned that if the foil is to be printed over ink (an image), the image should extend all the way under the foil plus bleed so that the foil is pressed evenly. Also, my printer wanted vector art for all the foil areas (and that means no Photoshop Effects).

  • That could be an interesting follow-up tutorial. I think somewhere along the lines of a tutorial focusing on more specialized printing like using foil, letterpress print work, etc.

  • Excellent suggestion @jacob and thanks for adding that input @sidney

  • Foil printing or specialised would be a good article. i have to do some artwork for a blister pack (for vitamins) and really I’m completely winging it!

    Theirs never enough articles on print design (well more would be better)

  • Thanks for the article. Clear and concise.

  • Whatever you want foil printed, uv spot layered or whatever: just make a copy of the original page and make all pieces a specific color (for example: 100% K, or a Pantone color) you want the special layer applied to. Enclose it in your indesign document, or as a separate PDF file. Done.

  • Very nice and useful article.

    I just want to add that InDesign allows the control of rich black display: it’s in the “Appearance of Black” tab of the “Preferences” panel. The default setting for onscreen viewing is “Display All Blacks as Rich Black”, but the user can (and should) switch it to “Display All Blacks Accurately”.

  • Great article! Pretty nice and useful tips =)

    Unfortunately here in Brazil almost all printers still use Corel Draw, and I only use Adobe softwares… So it’s a real pain to prepare files for them, almost every time the colors come out wrong or they can’t open a eps files (saved for Illustrator 8). Most of them can’t even print a pdf =(

  • Very useful tip, thank you @João Carlos de Pinho

  • Great tip João, thanks for sharing that!

  • sidney davenport

    Just make sure to find out from the printer if they require vector for that job.

  • “In CS4, collecting files is known as Packaging (in previous versions it was known as Preflight).” – This is wrong. Preflight is different from “Package”. And in previous versions also it was termed as “Package” too. It is an equivalent of “Collect for output” in Quark. “Preflight” actually check the document for errors with predefined parameters.

    Best Regards

  • Hi SunSeven,

    When I started this piece I was actually working in CS3 and when you went to “File> Package” all you got was to collect files and a Summary. When you went to “File> Preflight” you got what is shown above to check the files. So in the CS4 version I had to finish this piece up when I went under “File>” Preflight was no longer there and the functions it had in CS3 were now under “Package” and the preflight feature was moved to the bottom left of the workspace window. I am not sure if this has changed in CS5.

  • FANTASTIC! Thank you!

  • alejandra

    excelente!!! muchas gracias!!!

  • Dede Sonntag

    This is amazingly helpful for beginners. Great tutorial!

  • Very useful, confirmed what I thought I knew. Thanks!

  • amber

    awesome info, adobe! too bad i just spent $50,000+ on an associates degree in graphic design to learn what you just posted for free. lol. but super thanks for the templates!

  • Lukas Engqvist

    On the whole a good article, though some concerns.

    In your rich black you have negative text, but no mention that the rich black can give missregistration on negative text. The recepie you have is still much ink, I would have said a more neutral rich black 30 20 20 100 is quite adequate and will give better drying times.

    Also a little surprised RGB images considered errors. CMYK is device specific this means that same CMYK values will be differet in Coated, Uncoated and Newsprint.

    2010 I would have expected also some detail on the preflight panel and/or live preflight where you will get the info of the links while designing rather than when you are packaging.

  • GrandLuLu

    I work in a printing works, for rich black we use to print on 40/0/0/100.

  • Ratania

    What happen if my images are in different resolution, for example one photo in 300pp and other in 200pp….

  • I would say that it is ok so long as the image is 200ppi @100% when placed in the document not 200ppi stretched to 150% in the document. If you feel unsure feel free to send me an email via my website or contact me on twitter @ciarasworld. Alternatively check with the printer your sending it too and see how they feel about the piece and if it will print ok. Some places won’t accept less than 300 others won’t accept less than 150 so it all depends on the printer too.

  • Lukas Engqvist

    The PPI issue realy depends on the image, and the medium used. In an uncoated paper (or newsprint) with 130 lpi screening you are not really getting anything extra for the 200-300 ppi range. If it is a full page background image I would say 200ppi is really no problem either. But as clara says talk it over with the printer (and you will need information about output intent to get a good answer)

  • Amazing article, thank you Ciara.

  • This was really helpful! Thanks for the guide.

  • Cindy

    As a Prepress operator for 20 years this is a great article. Graphic Designers who have never worked in a print shop or just graduating from college have difficulty acquiring the results they would like when they do not understand the printing process. KUDOS!

    But my best advice is talk to your printer! Rich black does cause problems when printing with CMYK mostly with the registration, because instead of just one color for black you are trying to “HIT” four colors. Large areas of black are fine for rich black, but as mentioned in the article leave type and small areas of black 100% CMYK.

    Trapping is another problem I run into in our small print shop. Our presses print light to dark and CMYK presses print Yellow, Magenta, Cyan then black. There is some equipment used today that automatically adjust the trapping, but there are some that do not…so again check with your printer first.

  • Cindy

    100% K on the black…sorry for any misunderstanding

  • Bri

    Thank you so much for posting this- I just started my first “big kid” job today at a large scale printing company. I was mortified when I left work because there were so many things to check and I just couldn’t get a handle on everything in one day. I went straight home and ordered a book, then checked Twitter, and clearly that’s all I needed to do because this answered almost all my questions in addition to giving me a “checklist” to follow! Thank you SO much!

  • Tobias

    Nice article!. Some mention to the potential disaster taht came with a wrong ‘overprint’ setting will be helpful.

  • O.o I just realised in your summary you are suggesting rasterise type in Illustrator? That sounds like one dangerous advice, especially since it is counterproductive to the ideals of vector graphics. If it had said convert type to outlines, it would be less destructive, but even there it would be limiting the quality of output since Typehinting would be ignored. (I am hoping this is a remenant of copy pasting the photoshop summary to Illustrator summary)

    I would also like to point out that if art does have small type there may be cases where you want to keep vectors and type as vectors even from photoshop in which case it is good to know that exporting to EPS or PDF from photoshop allows vector objects and type to remain as crisp vectors. It does mean working with care and communicating with printers, but if quality is what you want then please consider it.

  • Very good article. I’m a printer by trade and 30 years experience, before moving into pre-press design work. Even ‘designers’ who did 3 year courses would fail very basic stuff that is covered here. If in doubt, ‘talk to your printer’ 🙂

  • Russell Spears

    I agree with keeping vector art where possible, but I am sure the author meant to convert to outlines, however your concern for hinting is not clear for me. Why ia that important? if as I assume, the header is converted to outlines. What ever font hinting and manual adjustments to tracking the author did before the outlining would be fixed as absolute positioning of what would then be art. Can you explain…

  • Russell Spears

    What do you think about setting body copy to overprint? For example, if one is wanting clean dark orange’ish type over a yellow sidebar box, could I set the type to overprint 70% Magenta? I know the actual color results are harder to predict, but can this work well as one method of getting beyond 100%K or reverse-out type?

  • Hinting is what makes text look as good as possible, yes for a large type you can get away with converting to outlines, but for the RIP (raster image processor) vectors may be handled differently to text.
    Hinting is for smaller text, and if there is no hinting, you may find that it appears that characters jump a little across the page. There are zones which are to align in the characters so that when the mathematical rounding off, which is inevitable, happens it happens in a way that preserves the best appearance.

  • Trapping is only a problem if there are no common components in the colour. Having orange on yellow, yellow is common for both colours and so trapping is redundant and it would be simpler just to make the text orange rather than magenta and overprint.

    Having cyan text on a yellow background is however problematic since any overlaps will be darker than either of the two colours (but the colour combination is illegible anyway ;p )

  • Russell Spears

    I was not so much concerned with trapping body copy-which I would think could not be a good thing. My thinking was that as long as one of the background color is solid and only one additional color is use for the body copy but set to overprint it could avoid registration issues altogether (no trapping needed)

  • Russell Spears

    That is what I would expect with the body copy since hinting would include tracking and leading changes as well as adjustments to some kerning pairs. But this was about the header and such a large type-I would think that converting it all to outlines would be best and not include concerns over hinting.

  • Russell Spears

    I would also be concerned over too much dot gain if the color build is beyond the total ink limit -right?

  • Russell Spears

    I would think that for pieces where color management is not so important, one would best be served by sending RGB files. If you do a conversion to CMYK you really do not know how much color information you are loosing and where clipping might be occurring-even with a relative rendering intent. What say the printers here?

  • Russell Spears

    What would be the best way to set up a magazine cover where part of the raster cover art is over the magazines vector nameplate. Now the trick is to avoid Transparency/flattener issues. What would you recommend? I have one way that involves two copies of the nameplate and the raster image, but I am curious what others think. And I already know about alpha channels in Photoshop’s psd file.

  • Depends on the image, if you have any transparency over text it will rasterise the text unless it is a clipping path, but a clipping path gives a very cut out look. Provided you run at 300 ppi it’s not a problem, and alphachanels will give you the best appearance.

  • I don’t see the point in converting to curves… it’s an extra step, and including fornts is just as easy in a modern workflow.

  • Well yes, you could do it magenta and overprint, but overprint is tricky in that if you have a cheap office printer you may have people printing it with office printers that don’t support overprint, which would mean they thought they approved a magenta text rather than an orange one. All things that are possible are not recommended 😉

  • PDFx standards have output intent PDFx1a if your printer has older gear and all will be converted and flattened at creation, or PDFx4:2008 if you have a modern service provider and want to maintain highest level of abstraction, ie live transparency and full colour managent savy. Better that you see what clipping is to occur before you send the file than that you get disapointed when you get the prints back.

  • If above total ink limit it will smear. Dot gain that varies with amount of ink is in inkjet, not in offset. Dot gain is defined by ISO standards, and has specific targets depending on paper type. Assuming wrong dot gain will make your image dark or washed out depending on which way you go. Simply put dot gain, or TVI (tone increase value) is the measure at what is the difference between file and you get on paper. Typically a 50% swatch in illustrator will print with 65% ink covering the paper on coated and around 70% coverage on uncoated. Why is this important for the designer? … because 50% is not half way between black and white!
    Trust your eyes when evaluating contrast, don’t go by numbers. Also the asymmetrical relationship means that 0% to 10% has much more contrast that 90% to 100%. Where as a watermark will be quite strong at 10% if you have a 100% black background a 90% shape will almost disappear.

  • Russell Spears

    I know the ways you gave, but a attended a class with a professional production artists. He gave me instructions on how to maintain the vector with a cleaver use of clipping paths with a reworked version under it. It sounded really neat, but I have yet to here of anyone else that knows of it. I am just curious to see if someone has seen this too and to confirm what he said. FYI. even using alpha channels, you will force the nameplate, or parts of it, to flatten.

  • Russell Spears

    Keeping live text has more possibility of moving. When the live text is converted to art-it will be fixed. The problem will be relevant if the D is converted and the rest is left live type. This usefulness is do to the fact that font issues will not be applicable afterward.

  • Russell Spears

    I would not worry about registration issues with office printers and the assumption is that this is about printers work. I am sure you could use a process swatch book to get a close idea of the final color in this example. and registration and trapping issues would be a non-issue which I would think is a big plus with small body copy text.

  • Russell Spears

    But I am sure that some color is lost between the different CMYK flavors.

  • Clipping paths was the only way supported 10 years ago, as was the whole issue of transparency. What is transparent, pixel or vector is not really significant it is the final appearance that matters. It is however important for you as designer to know what is happening when and why, so that if there is any problem you can pinpoint it.
    (When printing plates are made everything is in pixels, that’s what a RIP does)

  • Russell Spears

    If you rasterize the vector art at 300 ppi the RIP will be using that resolution’s pixel information to determine the plate’s dot structure and it’s lpi settings. However, keeping the information as vector will allow the art to take advantage of the RIP’s own much higher resolution of 1200 or 2400 dpi which would give vector art its characteristic advantage. If not printing would have been easy a long time ago by just sending a 300 ppi image of everything. Because the nameplate is effectively line art it should be kept vector or set at a much higher resolution to that of the rips-but I know you printers hate to have longer output times so I wouldn’t go for the last option.

  • Lee Rankin

    Haven’t done 4 color for years now, find your article excellent and mind refreshing, ( I’m 82 years old) I have a file with only 1 layer with a clipping path, do i save it as a tiff, or an eps if I want the background to drop out???
    Thanks for the valuable info.


  • Great article Ciara. Really thorough.

    You might all like to check out our Print Handbook for Designers which covers similar topics to the ones mentioned here and gives actual printed examples. Examples of things like rich black, overprinting, different dpi/ppi and more.

    You can check it out here: http://www.printhandbook.com

    Just thought you might all find it useful.

  • himshikha

    Really..it is too much benefecial for all designers who really want to know about printing media…

    Thanks a lot…from my side too…

    And you really so much lucky that you are appreciated by enough experienced graphic designers.

    I have seen your website too…it is also very unique as well as simple too.

    All the best…keep it up…

  • Jane S.

    As a member of a small print house I must say, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! These are the basics, but it’s baffling how often we deal with full-fledged designers (and poor marketing directors who are made to design) missing a lot of these steps, holding up the turnaround of their job.

  • Russell Spears

    But I can say that when I do have a question from production it is very hard to get an answer. Like fold compensation… What method do you use for this and how do you calculate it based on paper thickness and process variation? That would be nice to hear from your side….

  • @Russell It’s hard to get a general value, since the process (and machines available at the production site) must be taken into account. If you don’t get good answer from production then making a dummy with the right materials is the closest you can get, and that includes the right kind of binding as the finished product (especially if you have a fold-in-spread in a magazeene, book or spiral bound product).

  • Russell Spears

    Yea but all I am getting is 3/16 to 3/32 as a general rule, 1/8th in another, but worst is that they reference their templates and the values are all over the place…. Every post mentions the stock used as a factor, but nothing about how it is arrived at. Personally, I would think a general safe measure is added to twice the paper thickness and whatever variations the individual printer sees in their process. But no one is willing to spell it out so we designers can give them press ready work.

  • @russel it’s not that simple, it depends on the folding machine, some machines have more precicion than other, and yes the paper thickness is one factor that can affect it. (I’m in europe so don’t work in inches (but I know how a folding machine works). Some web-to-print will have standard settings, because they don’t want to adjust their machine, others will adjust the folds to the job. Important is that as you “roll” the fold each page gets shorter.

  • Russell Spears

    Thanks Lukas, but can you give more specifics like how you get the paper’s thickness and the specific printers process variation (What to ask you printer for here I do not know “Folding Machine Latitude”) I would assume you double the page thickness and add the variation for the fold Compensation you then need add to each successive in-fold is in a roll fold.

  • @Russell Normally if you just use 2 or 3 mm as standard per fold it just makes measuring easy, and easy is good.
    For a 6 page A65 it would mean 100mm+ 100mm + 97 because an A4L is 297×210 and that makes easy maths.
    You don’t need to make it more complicated than it is. Why I say the paper and the machine can vary is that each finishing machine has it’s limitations, so as a designer just assuming that a printer will handle it you may produce something that works fine as an idea but not in production.
    Each physical machine has limitations, a maximum, a minimum, and those can vary depending on the number and kinds of folds. In some cases the parameters will vary with the kind of job, or the paper. Sometimes there are limits that can be overcome with innovative solutions, but the ability to rebuild the machines can be dependant on all parameters of the job. Some printers work flexible, some won’t. Some will just churn out using the same fold compensation without considering the design. There is really no way to do this without communicating with your printer.

    The communication can be a one way communication of you giving instructions and the printer honouring them, as long as your demands are doable, even if it means hand folding them. (If it is physically doable you will know by doing a dummy).

    Some printers give you feedback, some don’t.

  • bhagu

    please include the words for black overprint too.

  • jai

    Really usefull…

  • Russell Spears

    Lukas: Thanks very much for your great feedback. Although it is always the case that one should just keep it simple, I have found that a good understanding of the situation is still better and you have helped along that way. Although I did not relate to the paper sizes and metric-which I will convert both for my own understanding, I would like to understand the formula a bit more, if you have time can you explain how the 100mm+100mm+97mm numbers relate to example 6 page A65.

  • An A65 is strictly speaking between an A5 which is half size A4 and A6 which is half of that again. A65 is loosely known as an A4L (210×297 mm) folded in 3 sections. Mathematically dividing by 3 would give three folds of 99×210 but since the world is physical and paper has thickness, a more practical approach is to divide the page into (100+100+97)x210 where the 97mm is the folded extra. It’s hard to explain in words, best is just to fold a paper and you see 🙂 (If you look at 6page folders you will soon discover how they usually are forced one way or another to make them work.)

  • Jake

    Glad I’m not the only one to make that mistake!

  • I came across your article while tying to figure out how to print text to the bleed. Easy enough to do with a straight edge letter like D or T but how do you do it with an S? My design currently takes a row of Ss in Matchstick font and and has the tops and bottoms over the edge: http://www.sarascheuermann.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/leavebehind-816×544.jpg. Do you have any suggestions on how to extend this to bleed while still maintaining the integrity of the design? Thanks!

  • Good article although there is some misinformation that might confuse a few people.
    As a photographer you create RGB images and work on them accordingly in photoshop. They then have the potential to be repurposed for many different output media. You very very rarely work in CMYK unless you are a designer or printer. So although you work exclusively in CMYK from the design end of things it is not so when working with raster images except for rare occasions.

  • Gerard Simpson

    Great article! It really helped clarify a few things for me before an interview I have tomorrow. Also, as a fellow Irish transplant living in the decidedly un-Irish Southern California, I think your books are beautiful and I will definitely be purchasing some for my future childers (and my own use, truth be told). Thank you again!

  • Kiera

    THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! THANK!! Simple very practical and essential info that is condensed and actually easy to read and understand. I am a graphic design student paying tons of money and they just can’t seem to do just what you did! Please make more articles like this and you will have a very loyal viewer!

  • Wow, what a wonderful comment Kiera. It reminds me why we do what we do here on Design Instruct.

  • Zahra

    Thank you a lot! This is my first time trying to prepare files for press and this post is really handy!

  • Excellent clear article, but I am concerned at some comments above from graphics graduates who say they are learning this for the first time – if you’ve been through a college graphic design course and haven’t been taught at least the basics of print preparation then the tutors have failed in their duty towards you. It’s so important that graphic designers can speak the language of print, and know exactly how to prepare their files, especially being able to fix their own errors before the printer points them out or throws the files back at you. Musicians wouldn’t make recordings that couldn’t be played – same thing. The creative and the technical aspects of graphic design go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.

  • Actually a lot of “mistakes” in this article.

    Started well. But really poor advise.

    Like rasterising type! Terrible. Save as PDF! Type will be preserved!

  • Ciara

    Actually many printers who don’t have the licence rights for fonts require that you raster the type. So the statement isn’t incorrect. Especially if you’re handing over eps illustrator files as opposed to packaged indesign files. You should always check the vendor requirements before sending ANY files.

  • In Illustrator type should not be rasterized asshowb in your “Preparing Print Files in Adobe Creative Suite Applications: Summary” but made into outlines.

  • I noticed the same thing….type in Illustrator or any vector based program should be embedded as active type OR converted to “outlines” or shapes. Rasterizing leaves you with degraded and pixelated type, defeating the entire purpose of working in a vector based program to begin with.

  • Ciara, then those print shops don’t know what they’re talking about. The proper method is to “convert type to outlines”. This keeps the type vector based and scalable. Rasterizing creates text that becomes pixelated when scaled. Embedding a font is another acceptable method.

    You’ve got some good info in the article, I would just be careful about spreading incorrect info. Take the advice from the many commenters and update your info. Thanks.

  • Ed Rapple

    PrePress tech here –

    This article is pretty close. I see a lot of comments about outlining text: True, vector outlines are better than raster text, by a long shot, but will bog a RIP down with an insane amount of paths. Modern workflows (RIPs) are designed to work with fonts embedded within a properly created PDF. A proper PDF, exported from InDesign (based upon the Press Quality Adobe preset), will have everything it needs. Font licensing is dealt with upon exporting and prepress will have no trouble with it. Don’t send .eps to your printer. Postscript is a dead language, does not support live transparency, etc… Place your darn .ai file in InDesign and export a good PDF. Not that we can’t handle .eps, but your job will get to press much faster and cleaner if you just do it correctly.

    As far as built black… C-40, M-40, Y-40, K-100 will result in a reddish-brown black, as CMY in equal quantities do not create a neutral gray. You must have the Cyan at a stronger value than M&Y. i.e. C-50, M-40, Y-40, K-100. This will result in a cool, neutral black. Measuring a Graycol gray bar on a press fingerprint will show this.

  • Stembridge Design

    Thanks- I love how simple this is!!!

  • Hilary

    You are a blessing! As a recent college grad I thought they didn’t teach us enough on how to set up files for printing. Thank you for writing this piece, such a great help! I feel more comfortable knowing this.

  • Anna Rizza Celoso

    Thanks for this concise yet very instructive article. Could I use this in (link it to) my presentation on layout and packaging print materials in my graduate class (with proper citation/credit, of course)? Thanks again and congrats.

  • lsha

    i argee with your comment sir .. i was very up lifting

  • Sakina

    Great article! I learnt a lot from you. Thanks much



  • Samuel Wayne Collison

    Am so happy the way you took your time to explain problems I have been facing in my entire life as a graphic designer. God bless you for that wisdom of enlightenment that you shared.

  • sakson

    its very help full… thanks…

  • Raymond

    Nice Article. Thanks so much. Though a got a question on the setting up uv printing part. The spot color you used for the vanish layer on the design instruct text,If that design is printed for example on an aluminum can would the text be shiny and glossy and color blue or it can be shiny and glossy in another color like gold and so on. I want to know is the spot color the one that comes out in the final print or it simply saves an area one wants to uv print out any any other color

  • Dashu


  • sara

    I’m a bigginer in this field pls tell what is spot colour? why we are using spot colour in printing press colour and when we have to use spot colour?

  • Robert

    This is a great article, but I notice it is 6 years old now. Do the suggestions above align with current best practices for file preparation in 2016?