Pave a Smooth Path For PrePress
Understanding file, font and color separation issues is essential for successful commercial printing projects
COMMERCIAL printing used to be a scary term for many distributors, who shied away from learning its intricacies as long as margins on business forms were good.
But, according to a BFL&S survey conducted in 2004, distributors now report that 21.5 percent of their sales are in commercial printing, and that they have begun to learn the argot of bleeds, trapping, fonts, graphics, tiff, eps, pict, RGB and CMYK.
With computers now handling the job of traditional typsetters and graphic artists, "Putting ink on paper is still the same, but prepress has undergone drastic changes," said Chris Green, vice president of Midwest Color Graphics in Columbus, Kan.
"The computer changed everything in the mid-1990s," agreed Thomas Lewis, of Stateboro, Georgia-based Lewis Color. The learning curves were stiff and occasionally painful, but commercial printers report that prepress production has since become smoother and less arcane.
Lynda Young, marketing director at Accurate Graphics in Norwalk, Conn., stated, "Now, people are more well-versed in disc submissions. Fonts aren't normally missing anymore."
In contrast, when commercial printers first began switching over from traditional film to digital prepress, "It was a nightmare," Young said.
Find That Font
Despite greater general knowledge of prepress, issues do still remain. Printers can combat these troublesome issues with a checklist of acceptable formats and potential problems.
"Fonts, CMYK and bleeds are our biggest problems," Green said. "They are issues that have remained troublesome since the early days of digital prepress."
Until recently, most printers wouldn't accept TrueType or "bargain" fonts for word processing programs because they weren't Postscript-compatible, meaning high-end imagesetters couldn't read them properly. (Macintosh fonts were always PostScript.) Each typeface must have its printer font, as well as a screen font included with the document file—just because you can see it on the desktop screen doesn't mean that it will print. Bottom line: check first with your commercial printer to be sure that a chosen font is acceptable for their equipment.
File Format No-Nos
Speaking of word processing programs, most printers won't accept documents formatted using WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Excel or Publisher. The standards are venerable page layout software programs, such as Quark Xpress and PageMaker, as well as the newer InDesign.
"Over the last five years, Adobe's InDesign has emerged as the choice of those that are in the industry," said Lewis. "It combines the best of Quark and PageMaker. When a customer gives us a Word, WordPerfect or Publisher file, I know that they're not a fluent print buyer."
Green also reports problems with documents created entirely in Adobe Illustrator or Freehand. "There are layering issues when people try to do the whole document in one of those programs; that's not what they're designed for."
If such a file is created, Green suggested saving it with fonts outlined or using Adobe PDF to format the file. "I think that PDF is a real problem-solver," Green enthused.
Lewis noted that PDF can take all of the elements of a project and put them into a commercial print-friendly format. "It packages all the elements so you can RIP (Raster Image Processing) and output," he said.
Young warned, however, that PDF was not a panacea. "PDF is okay, unless it's a very elaborate file. It's not a guarantee that everything you see will go to press; some information may still drop out."
RGB vs CMYK
Printers say that's why a physical proof is so important—they strongly discourage using only electronic proofs. Hard-copy proofs ensure that the customer is happy with the color on the job, since computer screens and commercial printers use entirely different methods to produce color.
Computer monitors produce color the same way a television set does—using red, green and blue, the primary colors of light. Files produced in RGB must be converted to the ink primaries of cyan (blue) magenta (red) and yellow, plus black, or CMYK—a conversion frequently forgotten in the early days of digital prepress and a continuing headache for commercial printers.
"We can translate from RGB to CMYK," Young said, "but it's going to look different when it's printed." An electronic proof compounds the problem, since the customer is seeing monitor color, a distortion of the true color of ink on paper. "It scares me when people aren't choosing to see a hard-copy proof," Green said.
Graphics files are another potential problem. Images must be saved as high-resolution, usually as eps (Encapsulated PostScript) files with outlined fonts. If the graphic file was created in one program, such as Illustrator or PhotoShop, and imported into a page layout program, it is suggested that the client include the original source file so that the printer can tweak it if need be.
The proliferation of digital pictures hasn't caused any format problems, Green said. Midwest can accept jpegs and gifs, but customers need to save them correctly, as a digital camera takes an RGB image.
"We want a 300 dpi CMYK image," Green said. "Doing it as 600 or 1200 dpi is overkill."
Rock 'n' Roll
Navigating the ins and outs of fonts, graphics and file formats is well worth the effort, printers say, especially in these days of I-want-it-yesterday deadlines.
A decade ago, customers' priorities were quality first, then price, then turnaround, Green said. "Now it's flip-flopped. The end-user's producing the job and it's 'Hurry up, we need it for the trade show.'"
But when files are improperly prepared, often in a rush job, deadlines suffer. "While we're correcting, 20 more jobs come in the door and your press time is dedicated to another job while we're on the phone," Green said.
Young noted that submissions "with no glitches" that come in before noon can receive a proof that day, although she suggested customers allow two to three days in prepress and longer for larger projects.
The lesson? Distributors should educate themselves and their customers on prepress issues in general, and the commerical printer's specfic requirements well before a rush job needs to be done.
As Green said, "It sure is nice when a file comes in ready to rock 'n' roll."
By Janet R. Gross