Making press ready PDFs for digital printing

So, what is the best way for a designer to produce and proof their own press ready PDF files for short run digital printing?

Digital Colour printers use a “composite workflow”, and thus do not require separated files. We can follow different rules when sending files to these printers. Firstly, they can process RGB images nicely. They don’t require a “rich black” for large black areas, however, there can still be registration issues when white type knocks out of a 4 colour background. They do not print with spot colours, so don’t use them—make sure all of your swatches are process, not spot, especially when using transparency.

The programs you use will determine the method of creating PDF files. To use Adobe Creative Suites 2 and 3, follow the directions below.

Illustrator files can be saved as PDF. Set your bleed at .125” in the dialog and set the colour setting to “No Conversion”—the printer’s rip software will do the best conversion for you and will add marks to the file. Saving your Illustrator PDF using “Create Acrobat Layers from Top Level Layers” was the cause of the problem discussed in last month’s topic. After writing the article I discovered that it caused items to disappear from the page. This setting is on by default in Illustrator CS3, so beware and make sure you turn it off at the beginning.

To save a PDF from Photoshop, you will need to create your files with bleed and keep the layers to a minimum. Don’t attempt to place a lot of small text in Photoshop, use a layout program for that.

Indesign has an export setup for PDFs and your service provider will be happy to email you their job options. To set up your own, make sure the colour conversion is off, marks are off and bleed is on (.125”).

Quark versions 6.5 and under are usually not exported to PDF but printed to file first then distilled. Ask your printer about Quark 7. Some will accept an exported PDF and the same rules apply: No marks and bleed is on (.125”).

Avoid using the following items in your files as they cause trouble in PDFs: Monotones, Duotones, Word Art, Multiple Master (MM) fonts, Transparency with a combination of CMYK, RGB, and Spot Colours. or too many layers in Photoshop.

Setting up Acrobat for Proofing Press Ready PDFs

Proofing using Acrobat Professional version 6, 7, or 8 is easy with a few adjustments to preferences and viewing setup. Turn on “Display art, trim and bleed boxes”, and “Overprint Preview” in the Page Display. You should see a red or green border for the trim box. Turn on the rulers (cmd R) and you will see the size of your page. Page size will also be visible if you point to the bottom left corner of the window. Next you can set the Grid up for use as safety for text and images.

In preferences, go to Units and Guides. There is a section for Layout grid. To get a ¬º” safety from the trim set the width to 8, the height to 10.5, the left edge offset to .25” and the top edge to .25”. Now select OK and view your page. You can change the colour of the grid in the preferences as well. Flip through the pages of your PDF and you can proof the file with all important areas marked on the screen. Note that none of these lines print, they are for proofing on screen only.

To ensure your file is correct, select File ->Document Properties (cmd D). In the Description tab you will see the PDF Version. It should be 1.4 or 1.5. The newest versions, 1.6 and 1.7, may be too high for some printers.

The Page Size should equal your page size plus the 1/8” bleed on all sides.

Select the Fonts tab. All fonts that are used will be listed. Make sure they all have “Embedded” next to them, any fonts that don’t will cause a problem when printing. There are times when you will need to switch a font or create outlines because it won’t embed into a PDF.

With a little practice, saving your own press ready PDFs will save you time and money. Keeping files simple and knowing how to proof them is the key to success.