Design for troublefree output


  • File format: Save drawings made in vector drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator, Freehand or Corel Draw in the EPS format if they are to be used in a desktop publishing program like QuarkXPress or PageMaker. Avoid other formats like PICT or CDR. For Illustrator, you can use .AI files for inclusion in InDesign pages.
  • Corel Draw lens effects and tiles: Avoid extensive use of lens effects in Corel Draw. They create big PostScript files, don’t always print as they appear on screen or won’t print at all. A possible work-around is to convert the objects that use lens effects to bitmaps. This will make them easier to RIP. The same is also true for tiles. If they aren’t converted to bitmaps, small white lines may also show up between the tiles.
  • EPS in EPS: Avoid EPS-nesting: never put an EPS-drawing in another EPS-drawing. Use “copy” and “paste” from one drawing to the other to create only one file.
  • Size: If the drawing contains bitmap images (scans,..) you should never enlarge or reduce the drawing more than 20 percent in your layout application. Enlarging it will lead to pixelization and staircasing. Reducing it too much will lead to a loss in sharpness and contrast.

Communication with your trade shop or printer

  • Platform issues: Select a printer that uses the same platform as you do. Converting documents from Mac to PC or vice versa can be done but leads to problems with fonts and is prone to errors.
  • Output form: Most companies have a form that has to be filled in for every job. Please do this properly.
  • Hard-copy: Always provide your trade shop or printer with a to-size printout of your document. That way the prepress operator knows what he can expect from your file. Mark last-minute changes clearly on this proof if there is no time for updated printouts.
  • File format: There are a number of ways in which you can exchange your document with the service bureau:
    1. As a native file: just send your QuarkXPress, InDesign or whatever file and don’t forget to include all images and fonts.
    2. As a PostScript file. In this case, you are responsible for the creation of the PostScript data as well as their content. The service bureau cannot easily fix any mistakes you made.
    3. As a PDF file. This is more practical than the use of PostScript but you have to be aware of the proper procedure to create PDF files. The GWG site offers great advice on delivering proper print-ready files from a number of applications.
    4. Using another format like TIFF/IT P1, CT/LW,…
  • File inclusion: If you supply native InDesign,… files to the printer, you should include all the files with your job. Don’t forget any fonts or images. Provide all fonts: maybe your service bureau has the font but it is a different type or from a different manufacturer. This can lead to text rewraps. Include instructions when you have made custom modifications to fonts. There are several pre-flight applications available on the market to make sure you provide a failure proof document. Use them.
  • Garbage: Do not include superfluous material. If the folder you want to send still contains some old files that you no longer need, delete them!
  • A copy of files: Never give a printer or trade shop the only copy of your files.
  • Responsibility: Never assume that anyone will do more than they are paid for. If there are typos in your files, a printer will leave them untouched unless you agreed to pay for proof-reading. The same applies for removing color casts or other corrections in the images.
  • FTP: compress files before sending them to a FTP-site. Incorrect FTP-settings or cross-platform issues may damage uncompressed files. ZIP and Stuffit are compression systems that everyone supports.
  • Label disks: Always label CDs or DVDs with your name and contact information. If it is a set of disks, number them (e.g. 1 of 4, 2 of 4,..)

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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