Design for troublefree output

Text and fonts

  • Font types: By preference, you should use OpenType fonts. Type 1 or TrueType fonts are also OK but try to avoid Multiple Master or older Type 3 fonts. A lot of systems no longer properly support these fonts.
  • City fonts: Older Macintoshes come with a series of fonts that are named after cities (e.g. Geneva, Chicago or New York). Avoid using these fonts as older versions of the Mac operating system only supply them as screen fonts which are not suitable for output. This rule does not apply to ‘Memphis’.
  • Style menu: Don’t use stylized fonts, select the fonts by their long names name. So select ‘Helvetica bold’ as a font instead of selecting ‘Helvetica’ and then clicking on the “bold” style button. Some applications do not show all font faces for TrueType fonts. It that case, you can use the different styles if you are sure the corresponding font exists.
  • Outline fonts: Try to avoid the underscore or outline fonts from QuarkXPress or other applications. These are gimmicks that can look great on screen but are sometimes impossible to output correctly.
  • Spelling: Always use the spell checker that is included in most applications to check your document. Add words that appear frequently in your documents to the custom dictionary.
  • Cross-platform issues: Avoid moving from one platform (e.g. Mac) to another (e.g. PC) because this can cause text to shift slightly. Some fonts that are available on both Mac and PC differ slightly, even if they use the same name.
  • Colorized text: Don’t colorize small text (e.g. < 8 points) in 2 or more process colors. The slightest registration problem on the press makes such text illegible.

Rectangles, fills and lines

  • Hairlines: Some applications have a line thickness that is called “hairline”. Never use this, always stick to a specific width, e.g. 0.25 points. The problem with hairlines is that they are imaged as the finest possible line on any given device. This may be fine on a 300 dpi laser printer but a 1 pixel wide line on a 2400 dpi imagesetter is hardly visible. Some workflows allow the operator to set a minimum line width to avoid this trap. Just don’t count on this workaround and avoid hairlines entirely. The smallest line width you can use depends on the press, paper, speed,… Consult your printer. As a general rule, never make a line smaller than 0.2 points.
  • Total ink coverage: Depending on the paper stock, the type of printing process and the press itself, your printer can specify a certain ‘total ink coverage’ (TIC). This is the maximum amount of ink that any object on a page should contain. For example: if the TOC is 280, you can have objects on the page that contain 70 percent of cyan, magenta, yellow or black but a mixture of 100 percent cyan, 100 percent magenta, 50 percent yellow and 50 percent black has a TOC of 300 which is too much and will lead to smudging on the press.
  • Solid colors: Avoid large areas of solid black ink which can be very difficult to print. Digital presses tend to have a problem with any large area that contains a solid color.
  • Colorize thin lines: Don’t colorize thin lines (e.g. < 1/2 point) in 2 or more process colors.


  • File formats: Avoid file formats like PICT, GIF or BMP which were never meant for design purposes.
  • Resolution: Make sure images have the correct size and resolution while scanning them. The final resolution of bitmaps should be somewhere between 800 and 1200 dpi. So if you scan a logo and want to enlarge it 300 percent in the layout application, it should be scanned at 2400 to 3600 dpi. For output on digital presses, a resolution of 600 dpi is often sufficient.
  • Size: Never enlarge images more than 20 percent in your layout application. It will reduce the resolution of the images and lead to an effect called staircasing.

9 thoughts on “Design for troublefree output

  1. It appears to me that this website doesnt download on a Motorola Droid. Are other folks getting the exact same problem? I enjoy this website and dont want to have to miss it when Im away from my computer.

  2. Hi guys,

    We’ve just produced a handbook for designers. It answers a lot of the questions here. We’ve included printed examples of things like: different rich blacks, trapping, overprinting, line weight limits, point size limits with different colours and more.

    I just thought it might be useful to people here. Do check it out at:


  3. Found you by pure chance and good luck! Love the info, easy to read, understand, interesting and with a sense of humour which you really need in this industry sometimes ha ha.
    Great stuff, thanks.
    Are you on facebook, twitter or linkedin at all?

  4. Thank you for the effort you have put into this site. I was looking for well-organized stuff to pass onto our prepress operators so that they would send me good PDF files to run through our digital presses. For example, a 100-page file sent to me would not work. They made several attempts to improve the file until one did work, but took an hour to rip. In frustration, I took the PDF file, optimized it (reducing size from 103MB to 19MB), ripped it in 10 minutes, and produced an acceptable proof. In the past week, I estimate I have wasted 10 hours in a 60-hour week because of bad PDFs.

  5. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  6. Drop shadows = transparency

    I have had and encountered remarkably few problems with transparency myself. That is probably a coincidence as it is a favorite topic in many prepress discussions.

    Two of the suggestions which I see pop up regulary:

    – As a general rule, make sure that text in InDesign is all put in a separate layer which is the topmost layer.

    – Don’t mix different color models when using transparency. For example: don’t put text that is CMYK (or just K) with a drop shadow on top of a background which is defined using spot colors. A lot of problems can be avoided by correctly defining colors in the InDesign Ink Manager. You can use spot colors in InDesign but if they are going to be printed in CMYK, define the colors as being separated right from the start. I have gotten around a few issues with white rectangles appearing in the background by redefining the colors properly in an InDesign job. Maybe that is what your printer does as well?

  7. Great site – really worthwhile and useful!

    One recurring issue I have is with drop shadows, particularly in InDesign which look fine on lasers, but when run to digitals often ‘block out’ the vignette area as a flat colour. Printers usually manage to solve the problem, but are not able to supply me with an explanation as to the cause.

    with thanks

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