Understanding Production Issues For Print

Understanding Production Issues For Print

In order to understand how to prepare your files for output at a printer, you first need to understand the complications that arise when trying to convert a digital file into a printed piece. There are many applications on your computer you can use to create something that looks great on screen. But once you take it off screen and try and translate it into a working printed piece, that’s where the trouble arises. There are many reasons for this. Whether you are simply printing to your desktop printer, or having it professionally printed, there will be complications in the translation from digital to material.

Most of the time a designed item will be made up of three things; the font, the colors and the images. You may have a piece that is only one or two of these things, but each item has its own requirements when translating to a printed piece.


A font is your message delivery system. There are millions of fonts in the world, and even if a font has the same name the digital file that carries the font’s information can be different from one person's computer to the next. There have been attempts at standardizing the files, but the proliferation of digital fonts throughout the world makes it impossible to make sure everyone’s “Helvetica” came from the same place and is exactly the same. Problems occur when you hand over your piece to another person or computer to have it output.

It is essential that, when sending your file to someone else, you include the font file you used to create it, embed the font within the file, or convert your type to outline (converts the font into a vector graphic - more on that later). You may luck out and the computer that will do the actual outputting will have the same font file you do. However, it is more likely that it will be a font of the same name that is compatible, but there will be small differences in the file’s code that will cause odd spacing anomalies, turning your carefully designed piece into something messy – and not what you intended. By doing one of the three things mentioned earlier, you provide the same digital information you used to create the file. This will help control the output.


The problems that occur when outputting color have to do with the fact that the color you view on screen is comprised of a totally different color make up then the one that is output through a printer. The colors you view on screen are RGB (red, green, blue) and what you output through a printer is CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). Imagine trying to mix paint and come up with the same exact color using totally different colors of paint. Impossible. Try it. You’ll fail.

Thankfully we have technology that does its best to get as close as possible a match. For the most part it does a great job. It’s true you could just be printing a black and white document. But did you know that there are different types of black? On-screen black can look black but once converted to CMYK can contain varying amounts of Cyan, Magenta or Yellow. This will show up when printing.

Unfortunately there is no 100% proof positive way to make sure what you are seeing on screen will translate onto your print. With today's technologies there are calibration tools both for your computer screens and for printers that get them as close as possible, but there will always be something lost in translation.

You can somewhat manage your expectations for what the color output will be in an offset print by using a color matching system such as Pantone. All applications designed for publication (InDesign, Quark, Pagemaker) have the ability to access Pantone's color library. You can also ask for a color proof directly from the printer to make sure you are satisfied with the outcome.

Before sending to the printer, make sure all your colors are converted to CMYK. This includes all photos. If you are printing black make sure all your blacks are converted to greyscale or made up of the same CMYK breakdown. The only exception to converting all of your colors to CMYK before sending files to the printer is if you are using spot colors. In this case, make sure you understand what limitations there are to printing with spot colors, and that your printer is aware of it and can meet your expectations.


There are two types of images your designed piece may have:

Vector Graphics - A vector graphic is one that is made of points, lines, and curves within a computer program using a mathematical expression. In other words, it's a shapey thing that a computer figures out. Because it's made of mathematical expressions, these versatile graphics are scalable. Your computer will crunch its 1s and 0s to make it right. There will be no pixelation and it will always look crisp and sharp. Most illustrations or logos are probably vector graphics unless they’ve been rendered, which is just another way of saying converted to dpi.

There is not much production needed on a vector graphic except what was covered in the color section. If you’ve created your vector graphic in an separate object-based editing software program such as illustrator (.ai) or CorelDRAW (.cdr) just make sure you send it along with your art file.

DPI images - Any type of photograph you are using will be made of DPI. DPI is used to describe the resolution number of dots per inch in a digital print. You want your image for print to be 300 DPI. Having a higher DPI in an image does nothing for the image – it simply increases the file size without any added benefit. An image with a much lower resolution will result in low-quality image. A computer screen requires a resolution that considerably lower than print (72-100 dpi or ppi). Because of this, simply grabbing an image from the web will not be sufficient to go to print.

When building your designed piece, be aware of how large you are scaling images within your page layout program. Just because you have a 300 dpi image that is 5 x 7 doesn’t mean you can blow it up to a 12 x 13 poster size within your editing program and have it print nicely. Check the DPI of your image at the full size you wish to print.

The optimal file format for print is either a .psd or .tiff. While .jpgs and .gifs are great at compressing a file to make it a faster download, every time you resave the file you lose more color and detail. By making sure your photos are .psd or .tiff you guarantee the quality of the image you are using will not degrade.

Additional Production Concern

Another thing you need to keep in mind when creating a file for print is bleed. Bleed a small area that extends beyond where the sheet will be cut in the final stages of production. You build this extended area of ink coverage so that when the blade trims the paper you ensure your ink goes all the way to the edge. Typically you’ll want to incorporate 1/8 (.125) in. outside of your page size.

Oct 18, 2013

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There are 2 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

Thank you for covering these issues. They are all very important points of communication and prep between the designer and printer!

Jeff Fishel
Oct 29, 2013

Nice. Though you wrap it up rather abruptly...

Oct 18, 2013

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