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Top 4 Common Mistakes for Print Files

As 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!

5 thoughts on “Top 4 Common Mistakes for Print Files

  1. unfortunately, you seem to assume that everyone who uses your companies services is a graphic designer. I am an architect who just so happens to design the all the printed promotional materials for the band in which I am involved. I know how to layout a kick-ass design and, although I do not have (nor can afford) adobe illustrator or photoshop, I have found that using Gimp, I can be very creative in getting the end product I desire. My problem? Although I do understand and can control bleeds and embedment of fonts(and the other issues), the bottom line is that I have no way of converting my files to CMYK.

    Oddly enough, the company I use to print posters never blinks an eye over this issue and the posters are always perfect. not close, perfect. As to business cards: one set of cards I received from you I felt didn’t look a bit like the online proof you sent to me for approval. I submitted the SAME business card file to that cheap generic company Vistaprint and actually got significantly better results with Vistaprint. And again, they don’t whine or complain about the file format. So, the real question is: why don’t you make it easier for non-professional designers to use your services?

    I understand that if we are not your target market, no problem. If that’s the case, I’ll just keep looking for other providers who don’t make such a fuss over the CMYK issue.

  2. I’m a graphic designer. Thanks for the useful info… but to be honest i feel like you just told me about problems (which I am already aware of) without giving any concrete/easy solutions. So you gave us the mistakes, now give us the best solutions.

  3. Please excuse my English, it is not perfect but i couldn’t help but contribute my 2 cents on the 2 comments before mine on this post:

    For Garret Gee:
    How easy do you need the solutions for the most common problems when submitting files to be? They’re clear as water, use the proper bleed and resolution requirements for that particular Print Service Provider, always convert your files to CMYK, outline fonts and embedd your images.

    For Laura:
    How unfortunate that you assume you don’t need to be a Graphic Designer to submit a file for printing and still meet the different printing requirements. I am not an Architect but what would you think of me if i submit to you some blueprints to build a restroom and you found out that the door locks on the outside? should i whine to another architect if you build it the way i planned it or compliment your work for correcting my mistake?
    The fact that you have a Micky Mouse software that won’t let you work in CMYK format does not give you the right to complaint to a printing company for not handling your file the same way another company did.
    Congratulations for finding a printing company for going the extra mile correcting your mistakes without charging you extra.

  4. A response to Laura;

    I urge you to take a step back and analyze your statement for a moment. You said you’re an architect, yes? As I read your response it occurs to me that you want consistent, professional results, but are not a professional in this field, nor are you using professional tools to create your print projects. Consider that I might be able to draw up an attractive home or structure using Illustrator, but it doesn’t mean I’m qualified, or have enough understanding to PROPERLY do so.

    You (and many others) seem very quick to dismiss the fact that professional graphic designers, prepress techs and printers have years of hard earned experience under their belt understanding the many variables involved in actually putting ink on paper. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to submit your design to a PSP unless it was created with commercial print software from Adobe, Quark, etc. Technology has evolved to allow the masses to submit all sorts of file types today. (A fact that I am constantly aware of as my eyes are assaulted with what I call “visual puke”.)

    Professional printing is not a game or hobby. It is a serious occupation and takes knowledge and understanding to consistently achieve professional results. I would certainly hire a professional architect if my needs required it. Perhaps you should consider hiring a professional graphic designer to handle your next project and see if the results don’t come out better than what you could produce.

    *BTW – I don’t work for NextDayFlyers, just another customer who happens to have 16+ years experience in electronic prepress and graphic design.

  5. Very useful information for me. I have faced the problem of printing files. This post is really helpful for me.

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