Prepress is the term to describe all of the processes that occur before printing and finishing. Since many publications nowadays are published both in print and electronically, many refer to the shared processes as premedia services instead.


The prepress processes that are listed below may take place at one single location, such as a large publishing and printing company, or at a variety of places. Usually, some tasks happen at a publisher while others take place at a printer or a dedicated prepress company (which are sometimes referred to as service bureaus or trade shops).

  • Design: Since the advent of desktop publishing, many people in the printing industry no longer consider design to be a prepress task. The design process includes:
    • Preparing data, which includes copyediting and product photography, such as for a mail-order catalog.
    • Creating the layout is done using one of the leading design applications such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. People outside the graphic arts community may use tools like Microsoft Office or Publisher. There is also a wide range of specialized applications for tasks like database publishing.
    • The correction cycle includes processes such as proofreading and image retouching, for which Adobe Photoshop is the leading application.
  • Preflighting: Before finished pages go through the remaining processes, a validation is done to check if all the data meet the necessary production requirements.
  • Proofing: During the design phase there are already page proofs being created. Proofs are usually also made by the company that is responsible for the printing. This can be done for internal checks of the impositioning (imposition proofs) as well as for their customer who needs to sign off the proofs for approval. More and more such proofs are softproofs that are evaluated on a monitor. Hardcopy proofing remains popular when there is sufficient time for it and for color-critical or expensive jobs.
  • Imposition: Depending on the final output device a number of pages will be combined into signatures.
  • Output to the final output device such as a digital press, filmsetter, or CtP device. To output data, pages or complete flats have to be ripped or rendered. This process usually also includes:
    • transparency flattening: transparency effects such as drop shadows behind text need to be resolved.
    • color separation
    • color management
    • trapping
    • screening

    Some people prefer to delay the above destination specific conversions to the very last moment. This is commonly referred to as late binding. Once a job is printed, its data usually go into an archive.

Many of the above steps are nowadays heavily automated, by either stand-alone applications or prepress workflow systems. The automation also allows for more elaborate communication processes:

  • Exchanging data such as the final layout may still happen using a physical carrier such as a DVD. In the past people usually submitted the native data, meaning the original layout file(s) and all associated images, fonts and other data. Nowadays PDF files are often used instead.
  • Increasingly the internet is used for submitting jobs.  This is referred to as web-to-print.
    • When the data exchange focuses purely on page content, solutions range from using an FTP server or e-mail system to using file-sharing tools such as DropBox or YouSendIt. A more sophisticated web portal can add functions such as preflighting and page approval.
    • A digital storefront enables a printer to not just capture page content but also order related information. Such a system can also facilitate reorders and allow print buyers to customize documents on-line.
  • Job-related data such as the job ID or run length are exchanged between systems such as an MIS (Management Information System), a prepress workflow, press control system, and finishing equipment. Protocols such as JDF allow systems from different vendors to exchange the necessary data.
  • Many projects nowadays are published using other media besides print as well. The content of a magazine may also be published on the web while the content of a book is repurposed for e-books. There are special tools and protocols such as XML to facilitate cross-media publishing.

Working in prepress

A CtP operator making plates while a colleague prepares another job

Over the past 20 years, employment in prepress has declined rapidly due to the increased use of computers and software automation. This trend is unlikely to stop – in the US job market employment in prepress is expected to drop 16 percent from 2006 to 2016, going from 119,000 workers down to 100,000.

The history of prepress

This site contains an extensive description of the history of prepress. You can read either the summary or a more detailed year-by-year story, which starts in 1950. There are also separate pages on the history of printing, fonts, PostScript, and PDF.

Other sources of information

Prepress has evolved a lot during the past 20 years. Many processes got automated, jobs disappeared and the terminology changed. The description of prepress on sites like Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have been adapted to this rapid evolution. Be aware that much of the stuff that is available on the web about prepress is simply outdated. If you know of any interesting sites, please add a comment to this page.

26 thoughts on “Prepress

  1. Hi, I am Rohan.
    We are doing Offset printing. Our RIP of the Prepress was changed in recent past. Later we got to know that in our previous RIP we had used elliptical dot and now we are using round dot. Also previous dot angles were C-105, B-75, M-45, Y-90 and in new RIP angles are C-75, B-105, M-45, Y-90. In this case I have problem that whether I will able to achieve same colors in repeat jobs. More issues in color re-matching might be happened.

    Pls advice.

  2. I’m a trained Typograph (Lead) , Printer (Letterpress) and some other stuff. Have stripped Film for the First stochastic Pattern used in Printing, worked in the Publishing Industry until the Floor fell out. we now print books Letterpress, make Film (FM screen) and Polymerplate, but also have Hot metal Type at hand.

  3. My name is Antonio, I’ve been a prepress operator in Mexico for nearly 25 years. The industry is evolving pretty quickly worldwide, but still good work rules for customers, specially brands that take care of their reputation.

  4. Great definition of prepress. The evolution of prepress is amazing but is still a career path to follow

    1. I have a box of matrices, 1959 “Marmaduke” and before, a lot earlier, maybe 800
      of them, can these plates be pressed at home in any way, there very cool cartoon strips, stories, any help would be appreciated…

  5. I’ve been a prepress operator in Toronto for more than 18 years and while I love the work, I have to agree with Seth and Mike. I am now having a heck of a time finding a new job and have been laid off twice in the last year. Owners treat us like crap and work us to the bone and then the instant things get light, you get laid off.

    I am currently temping at a printer with a great team…I mean great…like the old days. Again though, it’s temp and it scares me as I have a family to support.

    I want to take the skills I have and improve on them to move out of prepress and into something that has a future and is respected. Any suggestions from others out there who’ve been able to transition into something else??

  6. Funny Comments

    When I started my career as typographer on berthold typesetter serieM (Unix-based Software on Sparc Workstations, very cool, very expensive) I had the chance to learn the mac-os (6.x, on Apple Macintosh CX II).
    My first aim was to gain similar quality and perfection in artwork like the Output of my beloved Berthold. It was a fight I could not win.

    But the giants were windmills. Only a few years after that, nobody could see the difference. And one argument that was a no-go before: the software is not able to do that. Basta.

    Now I am a teacher and coach. The quality in artwork is not measured by technical perfection. 750 years of tradition in typography and some 100 years in lithography are lost. We can see a view people making art with old machines and techniques. But they will die and the knowledge will be lost.

    Did this knowledge saved our planet? Do we have learned to be peaceful and harmless to nature printing high quality papers or books? Is there a need for wasting time and money for advertising? No, it isn’t.

    Modern shit represents our mind and cultural situation better than handcrafted masterpieces for millionaires. What we have lost through the digital revolution is not perfection or quality. We lost our focus on things that lasts longer then their owners. And behind this aim is a very important matter to our children and the upcoming generation: life is too short to produce shit for money. And most of us are too poor to afford cheap things.

    The spirit of our work as a typographer, lithographer, designer, image-composer, the spirit is not perfection on printing paper. It is our wish to give other people the chance to realize how much beauty we have in a little story, if that story is presented in an adequate atmosphere.

    I think of it like the scenery in a movie picture. We only look to the characters and listen to the voices. But how much work is done in the scenery artwork behind all persons and scenes? Do we take care about that fact? We are only painters and carpenters for the scenery of beautiful situations reading books or regarding advertising.

    Humility is something I learned in the years before Hardrives and WYSIWYG. And it is a good leader into the last years of my digital career.

  7. Hi,Dear All:
    Sorry for my poor English.I am a graphic designer, I do appreciate the people who know what they are doing for life. For the people who do not appreciate what you guy are doing, they are the people who do not appreciate art and craftmanship.
    For me, pre-press, printing are all about craftmanship, a lot of time it depends on indiividual’s experience and skill. It is not only machine and softwares. It is all about the people who operate the machines.
    How many time we have asked our junior about tracking, kerning,leading..How many of them really understand about these topics? I have even gone through a book written by a senior lecturer in a design school, she can not even diffeciate what is additive colour and the colour wheel that she is talking about on the same page of book. Surprisingly she is a Master Degree holder from university.
    The problem face by most of the colleges and varsities are they have enployed too many of academic staffs who own academic qualifications but do not have real world experience.
    When we send our kids to college, we want them to be trained and prepared to be a professional in a certain filed but not all to be academicians.
    If you guy have the knowledge and skill, share it with the young generation who appreciate it. The college need you guy to bridge the gap between classroom and industry.
    The academicains need your decades of experience and we need the academicians research to explore to a new untouched territory. Think about what we can share. Hopefully by doing these, it will make our life more meaningful and more HAPPIER!

  8. This website is a very good website for prepress staffs.I had read the comments of Mr. Seth and Mr. Mike which is absolutely correct. Because I also having the same experience. I also entered into this field accidentally because after my school and college studies nobody was there to give me a proper career guidance. I had almost 16 years experience in this field. Working hard like donkey. No respect for the prepress staffs. From last 2 years I am trying to quit this stupid field. As a worker in this field I will promise you will reach nowhere. Thanks

  9. Ditto Seth and Mike.
    I have been in this field since I was a typographer and there were actually people called “proofreaders” that told you how many EM or EN spaces you needed to kern type. Ask anyone about kerning pairs or pica poles today and they’ll probably think you’re talking about porn. All the knowledge accumulated after 20 years of working in the printing industry is not respected at all, as Mike stated. No one cares what it takes to get a job to print correctly. They don’t understand type, trapping, color spaces, or anything that “doesn’t look like it looked on my screen” LOL! Crap occupation now! Should have been a mechanic or doctor, everyone’s gonna need one sooner or later. It’s really sad to see an ad for a graphic artist that knows Corel, or “Coral” as I’ve seen it referred to, Word, Powerpoint, etc. Somehow these file types got “dumped” on the Pre-press, or art department and all of the sudden we are dumb as@@es for not getting it to print. Seriously, there are some really sad situations out there. Thank God I got in while it was still a trade because I would seriously be p’od if I had spent a bunch of money only to get out of school and make ridiculously low wages. S in S out, no one cares!

  10. We are Mac osx with CS4 and send most work through the RIP as PDFs. We need to improve our PrePress but I am not sure where to begin. I have read some comments about Workflow solutions but would like to understand more about HOW they work or more specifically how they are able to improve your workflow.

  11. Dear Laurens,

    How Can I receive each updates in your website instead of each topics since, all are seems to be important to me. Its hard to find each updations in your website. I am updating regularly myself using your website. Kindly suggest me.

    Thanking You
    Prem CM

    1. I have never added a notification mechanism to the site and don’t have any plans to add this in the future. I only do occasional updates, since this is just one of my hobbies. Regularly visiting the home page is the best way of finding out if new pages got added.

  12. I am afraid I have to agree with Seth when It comes to choosing Prepress as an occupation. I was there when it was traditional Prepress and followed with the electronic and digital Prepress. For the amount of knowledge and skills you need to do a decent job, you would be better off to choose a more modern field if you can do some research. On top of the skills sets you need, the people in charge will ask you to double your workflow so they can reduce their staff even if you are already full capacity, I don’t know the reason why there is no respect for the workers in Prepress Dept. but my guess is that they believe the skills are obsolete and the systems can do all. SIMPLE, DO NOT STUDY OR CHOOSE PREPRESS FOR CAREER YOU WILL NOT BE HAPPY.

  13. I can tell you all this much about prepress, do not get into this field!

    Prepress has become the toilet of the graphics world, under appreciated, over worked and most companies are run by morons. I’m 15 years in this shit field and if all goes as planned, this will be my last year in this business. It amazes me the amount of knowledge I have been forced absorb regarding computer graphics and printing, only to be paid pathetic wages. Do not get into this business, do yourself a big favor! And to the jackasses that run ESKO graphics, you people are the biggest dildos roaming the graphics industry. Your Nexus software is absolute garbage and your customer service blows. Tell that gook prick “Long” to go back to the Chinese motherland where he belongs. My grandfather used his grandfather as target practice in Korea. Also, I have to give props to the dumb sticks that work at EFI imaging and Anderson Vreeland. The morons at EFI cannot for the life of them build and ICC color profile and Anderson Vreeland is too stupid to hire experienced workers, rather getting cheap entry level college grads that don’t know a damn thing about color variables on a press vs what they read in their text books.

  14. has anyone experienced 802h errors on a HQ Rip
    it happens when we are imaging (DS Screen Plate Rite 8600) and ripping at the same time.
    The ripped tifs loose their device setting and the HQ has to be shut down and re-started

  15. I am looking for photographs of “then” and “now” scenes, before and after computer automation of prepress operations.

    I am most interested in stripping, the GSI Autoprep (first computerized product for prepress; automated stripping); offset printing plate-making; billboard painting; sign-making; and silk-screen screen-making.

    I am looking for “before” (ca. 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s) and “after” photos in all of those areas.


  16. This is called dynamic regions in the PDF file. A place where transparency is merged with the background. It won’t print but it is annoying. Zoom in and sometimes they go away.

    1. Viny, I think you mean ‘atomic regions’.
      I agree that these are typically visual artefacts that don’t show up in print. Of course they won’t appear if you create a PDF file that still includes transparency, eg by exporting directly from the design app to a PDF 1.4 or later file. As soon as you use PostScript, the transparency is flattened and the lines pop up because of that.

  17. as-tu essayé différents types de pdf pour ton exportation?
    pdf x1a 2001
    pdf x1a 2003
    pdf x3 2002
    pdf x4 2007

    Bien à toi


  18. Hello there,
    Hopefully there is someone out there who may be able to solve this mystery for me.
    I was working to a very tight deadline.
    The file was in Indesign with a ai background.
    When I placed a transparent tiff over top of the background it looked good.
    When I exported it as an ordinary PDf file it looked fine.
    But when I sent it to the PS printer to create a high res PDF file to send on to the Print Co a fine line appeared around the outside of the transparent tiff.
    When printed on my laser printer the lines did not show.
    I could not risk sending it to the Print Co in case these fine lines showed up on the final printed product.
    What caused the outline around the Tiff on the PS PDF file, and would these lines have shown when Printed at the Print Co, even though on my home printer they didnt show?

    I would really appreciate any help you can give to me on this. Many thanks.


    1. This happens with the InDesign files.

      I would like you to check the PDF in the Acrobat Reader Version 4.0 and 5.0.

      The lines would appear in the higher version of the Acrobat Professtional.

      This is a visual inflation associated with InDesign and Acrobat Professtional, but in actual there is no problem with the source file.

      Dinesh Raghav

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