Avoid Time-Wasting – and Expensive – File Bloopers

You work hard to design the perfect direct-mail package, following all the principles you're learning in the Graphic Design Success Program.

Next thing you know, you get a call from the printer. There are problems with the file that you have to fix before he can print. This causes a delay, messing up your client's mailing schedule and costing him money.

Here are some suggestions for avoiding the common file bloopers that cause these nightmarish delays …

  1. Fonts: (the source of most problems)

    • Supply all of your own fonts with the files. Your printer owns many font faces, but maybe not the exact ones you want. If that's the case, they'll stop production and wait for you to send the correct fonts. Or they'll provide a “near match,” which may not be what your client wants.

    • High-end design applications like InDesign bundle fonts and graphics when you run their built-in “preflight” programs. And if your printer accepts PDF files, Adobe Acrobat embeds the proper fonts in the final PDF file. But always check to make sure everything was pre-flighted properly.

    • Avoid using “fake” font styles rather than true font styles. For instance, using the Control-I option to specify Garamond Italics rather than using the separate Garamond Italics font.

    • Avoid using hybrid Mac True Type or PostScript fonts in PC applications … or PC fonts in Mac or PostScript applications. OpenType is a new font format that can be used in both platforms.

    • Make sure you send all the fonts used, including fonts in EPS graphics (or convert fonts in graphics to outlines before placing in page layout application). If you're sending PostScript fonts, send both screen and printer fonts.

  2. Graphics:

    • Most printers need graphics as CMYK, not RGB. Convert images to CMYK.

    • Do not use CMYK for images that should be in spot color.

    • Supply original source files for graphics. If providing images for scanning, mark them for cropping, including the required size and placement information.

    • Avoid nested graphics. If you want an image inside an image, prepare it on image-editing software like Photoshop or Illustrator before placing it in your design.

    • Use a digital format accepted by your printer (TIF, PS, etc.).

  3. Design software:

    Using the wrong software – such as PowerPoint, Word, WordPerfect, or Excel – can have you going back to completely redo the package. Many service bureaus now accept Publisher files. But check first. Some of the problems associated with using the wrong software can be sidestepped by converting files to PDF, but check with the printer before you send.

  4. Proofs:

    Include a laser or color proof of your design after ALL changes and corrections have been made. Check proofs to ensure they accurately reflect graphics, fonts, and bleeds, and include crop marks (if required). Make a note on the proof if it is not a 100% size representation of the final product. Label all proofs with your contact information.

  5. Be in sync with the printer's RIP software:

    Avoid using the latest gizmos on design software if the upgrade is recent. Your service bureau might not have caught up with these advances yet.

  6. Bleeds and safeties:

    If your design includes a full bleed (a background extending to the edge of the design), it must extend beyond the edge of the design. Most printers say 1/8” is enough, but check first. Also, make sure any critical images and all text are inside the safety area within the design (usually 1/8” to 1/4”). This keeps you from losing crucial design elements when pages are trimmed.

  7. Imposition:

    Most service bureaus do their own imposition (putting pages in printing order) – but find out in advance whether the file is to be submitted in reader spreads or printer spreads.

  8. Unneeded Elements:

    Remove references to unused fonts and colors. Remove non-printing items from the pasteboard.

Feeling overwhelmed? Well, relax. The best way to avoid all potential problems is to simply talk to the printer before submitting your files. They want your business, and they want the job to run smoothly and efficiently. They will gladly spend time with you to make sure you send files that they can use immediately.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 25, 2007

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