Top 4 Common Mistakes for Print Files

By: Contributor Last Updated: August 17, 2010

nextdayflyersthumb200.jpgAs a graphic designer, I am always trying to find the balance between my creativity and the strict guidelines that Print Service Providers (PSPs) require. Basically, I do not want to spend a lot of time on creating the perfect printed piece for my client, and then have to compromise the design so that it can be printed.

I am fortunate to have been on both sides of the process. I’ve been sending files for print to various PSPs for the past 20 years, and I am currently employed by a PSP. Over that time I’ve seen many print files that designers believed were perfect be either rejected by the Printer , or when printed, did not meet the expectations of the designer.

Here are four of the most common concerns:

  1. Improper use of “Bleed” – Most designers know what a bleed is, but they don’t always know how to incorporate it into designs properly. Most PSPs require a minimum of 0.0625” (1/16”), some require 0.125” (1/8”). The bleed requirement is usually in the product specs section of the website. The most common problems with the bleed are when a graphic or photograph extends to the edge of the final size of the piece, and PSP is forced to either stretch the background so that the image bleeds, or shrink the background, or add a border. Neither of these solutions will result in a printed piece that matches the original artwork.
  2. Files not converted to CMYK – We live in an online world. Computer monitors emit light in three channels, Red, Green, and Blue. Offset presses print with ink that reflects light rather than emitting light, and therefore needs the four color inks: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Many RGB colors shift when converted to CMYK. Also spot colors e.g. PMS colors need to be converted by the designer to CMYK to insure that they will print as planned.
  3. Low Resolution Images – Most PSPs require that the graphics to be printed are 300ppi at the size they will be printed. Most modern digital cameras and scanners are capable of producing high resolution images. Pulling images from web sites will usually result in 72ppi resolution and should be avoided.
  4. Fonts not outlined and Images not embedded – You find a fancy font for your printed piece, one you have never seen used before and you know it will make an impact. When you send the artwork to the PSP, chances are they do not have that unique font. The solution is to convert the text to outlines in Illustrator or flatten the layers in Photoshop. Also be sure to embed the images in Illustrator. It’s a good idea to save a version of the file with the fonts editable and the layers not flattened, and then send an outlined flattened version to the PSP. If you address these four issues you will save a lot of time and frustration and you can be confident that your file will print exactly as you have set it up… no surprises when it is delivered to you!