How to Prepare Artwork for Printing

By: Robert Thomson


For all the newspapers, magazines, billboards, business cards, flyers and other printed matter, someone is responsible for all the creating and printing that takes place. Problems can always arise between the designer's final idea and the actual finished product. There are two specific ways that printers receive artwork. The old-fashioned way is for printers to receive art boards with pasted-up type and photos, which the printer then screens, takes a photo, makes a negative, prepares a printing plate and goes to press. This takes many steps and is an inexact method.

With the advent of computers, new ways arrived. Now many of the old steps can be skipped, and printers can send files directly to printing plates, or use new digital printers with no plates at all. Perhaps the best-known new way is through an Adobe PDF file (Portable Document Format) where everything is collected together from an original work document done in QuarkXpress, an Adobe application (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator) or another computer program. The PDF will end up with the images and fonts included, as well as the color information. There are certain things to look for before you prepare any artwork for printing that can make all the difference. Here are five helpful tips in order to prepare your artwork for the printing phase.

1. Getting an overview of the entire job is important. Make sure to ask questions about the final output. Know the size, shape, how many pages there will be, etc. Determine if it is a process-color (four-color) job, one-color (mono) job, a spot-color job (black and one or more other colors) or even a process job with additional spot color. Do any of the colors overprint? Are there repeated items like subheads that need to be the same throughout the entire document? Is there a certain style like a border or an effect that should be throughout the document? These are all important questions that need to be asked and answered in the design phase, and communicated to the printer when ready to go.

2. Proofread all of your documents before the final print stage. You can never go wrong with an experienced proofreader but if you're not sure about a simple word or phrase, look it up in Google to be sure. There are plenty of online dictionaries and resources that can help you with spelling issues. Be sure that your quotes are curling the right way. Always check your hyphenation as well. Using the Find/Replace method is a great way to ensure your hyphens are in the correct places. It also helps to eliminate double spaces.

3. You need to take great care in the use of logos, especially when scaling logos. They need to always be in proportion and any client will be quite upset it is squashed or stretched too much. If you have Quark or InDesign you need to check the x and y percentages of the graphic box in which you placed the art. One of the biggest disadvantages of embedding logos into any layout is that you cannot tell all the time, on screen, if it has been properly scaled. Be sure to check against the original layout if you have doubts.

4. You need to check more common problems like the fonts in the document. To be sure that all of the fonts are installed correctly you can do a simple check by going to the font menu in your application, and if there are any faux bold or faux italic fonts, replace them with the defined bold or italic from the font menu. If you have to make any changes to the font style, be sure to check the line breaks and the flow of how the words are running. This will assure that no extra lines have been created or have been altered. A widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears by itself at the top of a column, an orphan appears at the bottom, and you want to reduce the occurrence of both. There are no fonts that are the same, so making substitutions will always cause a change.

5. Color space is important in your submitted document. If you are printing one color, you can save in grayscale (black and white). If you are printing in two spot colors, you need to make separations, meaning your document will be output in such a way that the printer can deal with art for each color separately. In a four-color job, you need to have the CMYK color space selected so that the four process colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK) can be printed independently. When they are all printed together, the photorealistic effect of four-color printing is achieved. The default color space for computer art is RGB (Red, Green, Blue), and printers cannot print RBG-spec'd PDF files. They need CMYK. If this is confusing to you, there are plenty of educational resources to help you get up to speed, from the Internet to the printer's own staff.

Of course, there are any number of other factors to consider before making a final print. Still, these five tips can help you get started. If you are precise, diligent and careful you will be able to eliminate all of the unnecessary mistakes that might arise. Often times, mistakes are made because some simple things have been overlooked. Careful planning is the best way to assure that your final printing job is a success (and a thorough checklist helps, too).

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