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Rob Cubbon is a graphic design specialist in London UK specializing in complete identity and design solutions...

Supplying artwork to printers

Whatever you want to print, whether it's a book, a brochure, packaging, a mailer, an ad, posters, flyers, business cards, signage, a free standing display unit, billboards, or even clothing -- to rotogravure, offset lithographic, inkjet, laser or digital printing -- from Macs or PCs -- artwork will need to be supplied to printers in a digital format that they can work with.

There are two basic digital ways for printers to receive artwork. As a high resolution PDF (a more preferred up-to-date method) or everything collected together (usually a QuarkXpress, Adobe InDesign or Illustrator document with images and fonts).

Before this can happen there are many things to check in the artwork which is covered in my article entitled Preparing artwork for print.

But let us assume that you've done all that. Everyone is happy with what they've seen of the job and it needs to go now what do you do?

Collecting artwork

This is becoming a less preferred method. Basically, it means everything collected together -- a QuarkXpress, Adobe InDesign or Illustrator document with images and fonts. (Obviously, I'm assuming you'd own the fonts and therefore are at liberty to send them out). The reason it is less preferred and the reason for problems with this method is compatibility.

You must make sure which software version they have at the printers. It may be necessary to save your Quark document to an earlier version. I remember having to save Quark 6 documents down to Quark 5 so that I could open them in Quark 5 to make them Quark 4. Hopefully that's not going on anymore! It's an illustration of how this method is open to error.

Sometimes printers can find that the fonts don't load successfully -- another thing that can go wrong.

If this is what you have to do, here's how you do it.

In Quark, go File > Collect for Output, it will ask you to save the document if you haven't already, check everything in the checkboxes. Select where you want the folder saved, hit OK and it'll do it for you.

The Color Profiles option copies any International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles associated with the document or imported pictures. These profiles will be placed in the “Color Profiles” subfolder within the target folder. The Color Profiles check box is available only when the Quark CMS QuarkXTensions software is loaded. You should make sure your colour spaces are synced up to the correct profile for the job. If you are unsure about this then leave the box unchecked.

In InDesign, go File > Package... hit Continue and, again, I would check every checkbox. And, same with Quark select where you want the folder saved, hit OK and it'll do it for you. InDesign has a good Preflight feature in the File menu. It checks if the fonts are OK and alerts you to any colour space errors with the images.

Illustrator has no collect or package tool so you have to do it the old-fashioned way! Go Type > Find Font... and write down your fonts. Go Window > Links and write down all the linked images and where they are on your system. Embedded images need not be collected. Then you have to find the fonts on your system -- make sure you get exactly the right file names, Adobe Garamond is not the same as ITC Garamond. A more usual way to artwork an Illustrator file is to embed all the images and turn all the type into outlines therefore negating the need to collect the artwork.

But this brings me neatly on to the preferred alternative to collecting artwork, the high resolution PDF.

High resolution PDFs

A PDF - or Portable Document Format, it you want to use a lot of syllables -- is an open file format created by Adobe Systems, encapsulating a composite description of a document that includes the text, fonts, images, and vector graphics.

The advantages of high res PDFs over collected artwork are numerous, here are four

There are 101 ways to make a PDF. Many printers will specify their own and may even supply their own Acrobat Distiller settings. However, many times I am asked to provide a high resolution PDF for a wide variety of printed output. This is what I'd do based on the various guidelines that I've read.

First of all, top quality reliable PDFs can easily be exported direct from InDesign and Illustrator. The same can not be said for Quark. Do not, repeat, not send a PDF to the printers that has been exported direct from Quark.

How to create a PostScript file from Quark

The only way to make a high res PDF from Quark is to first create a PostScript file. Go File > Print and click on the first tab Layout. Here you can specify whether you want your layout to be output as spreads or not (usually not) and Registration should be set to Centered to put crop marks on each separation of the PDF. Leave everything else unchanged.

Then click on the next tab which is Setup. For Printer Description choose Adobe PDF 7.0 or whatever version of Acrobat you have loaded. For Paper Size select Custom and enter a value roughly 40mm more than the width (double if you're printing spreads), leave the Paper Height. Paper Offset and Page Gap should both be zero. Reduce or Enlarge: 100% obviously. Leave the Orientation at landscape and Page Positioning at Left Edge.

The next tab in the Quark Print dialog box is Output. In Print Colors it should be Composite CMYK, even if it is a mono job or has special colours, the Halftoning should be Conventional. Resolution, I usually go for 2400 dpi, but Frequency (this is where guidelines differ wildly) anything between 175 and 400 lpi depending on output quality. 175 lpi would be sufficient for average quality magazine ad.

Next up is Options. Leave Quark PostScript Error Handler unchecked. Page Flip should be None, Output; Normal. Data, Binary. These are all defaults. However, Overprint EPS Black, I usually leave unchecked, but Full Resolution Tiff Output should definitely be checked.

If your document has bleed then specify it, obviously, in the bleed tab usually as 3mm clipping at bleed edge.

Finally, ignore OPI, check the Preview to see if the crops and bleeds all fit within the black square and, if you have a Profiles tab, make sure all Profiles are off as this can create havoc with your PDF.

Lastly, the actual saving of the PostScript file. In the Print dialog box click on the Printer button at the bottom, in the next box where it says Copies & Pages select Output Options the pull down menu, then check Save as File and in Format select Postscript, hit Save. If there is no Output Options in the drop down menu a shortcut is down on the left of the dialog box in the form of another button called PDF with a triangle pointing down, choose Save PDF. A browser window will pop up, select where you want the PostScript file saved then hit Save and then back to the Quark Print dialog where you hit Print.

Then go and get yourself a coffee!

Once Quark has finished creating the PostScript file it just needs to be dragged to Acrobat Distiller to be turned into a PDF. But before I discuss which Distiller setting to choose am going to explain the (much simpler!) process of creating a PDF direct from Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

How to create a PDF from Illustrator and InDesign

In Adobe Illustrator, simply go File > Save As... and select Adobe PDF as the Format, choose where you want your PDF to be saved and hit Save. In the Save PDF dialog box that follows you can choose the Adobe Preset which I will discuss later. The tabs on the left side will be largely left to the default setting of the preset. But you may want to add crops and bleed as desired and it is worth looking through them to see if anything looks awry or if there are any warnings. Then hit Save PDF.

In Adobe InDesign it is a very similar process only this time go File > Export... and select Adobe PDF as the Format, choose where you want your PDF to be saved and hit Export. In the Export Adobe PDF dialog box that follows you can choose the Adobe Preset which is discussed soon. Again, you may want to add crops and bleed as desired, but leave the setting as per the default Preset you have chosen, just flick through to check if everything looks OK. Then hit Export.

Which Distiller Setting/Adobe Preset should I choose?

There is a very good article and discussion about this here.

The three default Presets that you should be concerned with for high resolution print output are: PDF/X-1a:2001, PDF/X-3:2002 and Press Quality.

The first two presets follow PDF/X standards. To reduce printing errors and enable the successful exchange of files, Adobe worked with vendors and professional users to develop the PDF/X family of standards designed for print workflows. They're a good choice if you're not sure what your printer wants. Both of the PDF/X presets in InDesign set Acrobat 4 compatibility which flattens transparency. Therefore, if you choose either of these, be sure to select the High Resolution Transparency Flattener Preset whilst on the Advanced panel.

PDF/X-1a:2001 is designed to provide the most robust and, to some extent, least flexible delivery of PDF content data. It requires that the colour of all objects be expressed in CMYK or spot colors, prepared for the intended printing conditions.

PDF/X-3:2002 allows slightly more flexibility in that colour managed workflows are also supported - elements in Lab, and with attached ICC source profiles may also be used. This PDF/X preset is similar to PDF/X-1a except that it also supports embedded RGB profiles and color management. This standard is more widely used in Europe than in North America.

Use the Press Quality preset for high-quality commercial printing where the printer is comfortable receiving a PDF with live transparency which is rare. It is a good choice if your printer is sending this to an imagesetter or platesetter from Acrobat 7 Professional.

If you are sending an advert to a magazine you may be asked for a "pass4press" PDF, if this is the case you can download a zip file of the preset or .joboptions at their website http://www.pass4press.com and once downloaded and unzipped, go Settings > Add Adobe PDF Settings... in Distiller and choose the file. The settings are similar to the PDF/X family.

With all these presets it is always necessary to check various things. You may want to add crops and bleed and remember to check that the Transparency Flattener is set to High Resolution.

Paramount to all of this is the printer. Liaise with the printer and find out their preferred option.

Checking the high res PDF

So now you have your high resolution PDF on your desktop. Open it in Acrobat Professional and have a good look at all of the job -- it might be the last time you see it and maybe you can spot some errors.

One thing I always do is go Advanced > Output Preview in Acrobat Professional as here you can see all the separations individually. Make sure you have a CMYK Simulation Profile selected at the top. Here spot colours can be checked as well as if the elements you want are overprinting or knocking out.

Also, run your mouse over the job an you can see the CMYK and spot colour percentage values in the Output Preview panel. This is your last chance to see if your colours will be printed correctly.

Go to Advanced and make sure Overprint Preview is checked. This will give you a screen representation of the job with the overprints and is not checked by default. So if you have had black type overprinting on a tinted background it will appear darker whilst using this preview. This can be a life saver as white elements that have erroneously been set to overprint will disappear here and on some presses. Go back to your advanced distiller options and uncheck Preserve Overprint Settings.

Markzware FlightCheck and Enfocus PitStop

I should mention at this point that there is software out there that is reputedly excellent at prepress checking. Markzware FlightCheck should be used on Quark, Illustrator and InDesign files, and Enfocus PitStop can check print PDFs.

Personally, I never found them very useful but they are highly thought of in the industry and I'm ready to eat my words.

Sending the files

Now you must transport, physically or digitally, your files to the printers.

If time is not tight, which it hardly ever is, then you can burn a CD or DVD and put it in the post along with your proofs or low res PDF clearly marked up for pagination.

If time is tight there are a variety of options. if the file is less than 10MB, then you can try email, of course you'll have to check with the receiver. ISDN still lives on in the UK although it has largely been superceded by DSL as a technology.

FTP is the preferred method of transporting large amounts of information between two computers over the internet. To do this it is best to use some sort of FTP software or "client". There are many clients out there for Mac and PC, both shareware and for money. For PC users, Filezilla is generally recommended. Personally, for Mac users, I would recommend Fetch and Transmit if you want to spend money and Cyberduck if you don’t (for Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later).

To upload to a remote site you will need three bits of information from them to input to your FTP client -- the IP address, a user name and a password. If these are accepted you can view the remote site and put the files there.

Rob Cubbon

Rob Cubbon was born in Kent, England, 30 May 1968. Educated in local schools until 18 when he left to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in University of East London. Started working in publishing 1989, involved in writing, photography and design for various magazines and newspapers. Worked abroad as English teacher. Freelance designer for print and web since 1995.

Rob Cubbon runs a graphic design business in London UK specializing in complete identity and design solutions for small- and medium-sized companies in print and online.
Rob Cubbon, www.robcubbon.com

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