Some of our clients are graphic designers who more often than not send us perfect, print-ready files. (Thanks, folks!) Some of our clients know absolutely nothing about design, and they depend on us to conceptualize and produce their projects from start to finish. Other clients fall in the middle. They aren’t designers, but they still have to dabble with design a bit. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and staff of smaller corporate marketing or communications departments fit into this category. They are often given the task of preparing basic graphic artwork for their printed business communications. If this sounds like you, please read this post because it may help you avoid problems with your art.
Our clients often email us the files they want printed. Some examples of the designs they send us for quick printing are business cards, brochures, postcard mailers, reports or presentations to be turned into bound books, and so forth. When we open up these files to inspect them (a practice referred to as “pre-flighting”) we sometimes find problems. And there are three (3) problems that occur more often than all the others combined. Here they are (in no particular order):
Image Quality Issues
Image quality problems such as poor resolution can ruin an otherwise good design. If you want an image to print property, it should have a resolution of at least 300 dpi. There are a couple main reasons why an image might not meet this standard. First, it may have been scraped from the internet, where the typical image resolution is 72 dpi. This is just fine for viewing on a monitor, but it doesn’t work well for paper especially if the image must be re-sized. The other main cause of image quality issues is submission of “compressed” files. High-quality images can lead to very large file sizes. Combining several of them in one graphic design can make the file so large that emailing it isn’t possible. However, rather than asking for an FTP login to send us the original high-resolution art, clients sometimes send us a file that has been purposely compressed (the file size has been “shrunk”) to a size that can be emailed. Compression can also occur accidentally during the pdf export process by the client choosing the wrong PDF standard and ending up with a much lower resolution file than intended. As printers we want the highest-resolution artwork you can possibly send us. No compression please! If you don’t use FTP or a file-sharing site or application, consider bringing us your art on a flash drive. Take the opportunity while you’re here to choose the right paper for your project and kill two birds with one stone.
Document Setup Problems
If you want a 5×7 postcard but you send us a file that is on a letter-size canvas, we’ve got a problem. In this case we will have no idea of the final size you want the piece finished. Similarly, when you send us a file that has been imposed (multiple up, many copies per sheet) but it doesn’t have any trim marks, we’ve also got a problem — just where are we supposed to cut them? The same goes for art that is supposed to have bleeds but doesn’t include bleed and trim areas. The general theme with document setup problems is that although a client thinks the document/file is ready to print, it isn’t. And if it was created using some sub-standard product like Microsoft Office, we literally have to start over, import the elements into our design suite, and set up the file properly. Tip: at the time you create a new file, make sure the document page size and bleed settings (if applicable) are correct.
We’ve written about this issue in our blog many times before, and there’s a good reason for it! After dealing with the “missing fonts” issue so many times, we concluded that people just don’t understand how fonts work. Here’s the deal: the machine that sends the file to the printer is the source of the fonts used in the document. This machine is always going to be a computer in our shop. That means the fonts you have installed on your PC or Mac which you are using in your design are irrelevant to the printing process unless you take extra steps to ensure that the file prints properly. For uncommon fonts you’ll either need to include the fonts with your native file package; convert the characters to outlines (paths); or export using the PDF/x-1a standard which, among other things, embeds the fonts in the file. (We always prefer the latter method.)
Hopefully this list will help you send better art files, and this will make us all a lot happier! Let us know in the comments if you are experiencing any other problems with the way your files print.