Preflight Software and Preflight Checklist for Graphic Design and Prepress
This is an ideal preflight checklist for graphic designers, publishers, and prepress operators. The article is a comprehensive breakdown on how to improve your file submissions to the printing company. It's a must read for graphic design school students and those already employed as graphic designers. Written by a long time prepress and graphic arts trainer and manager.
Preflight - a preflight checklist is used to discover and identify predictable problems with your files and job before going forward. There is new freeware, software to aid in this process called FreeFlight™, you can download a copy at http://FREE-PREFLIGHT.com Read more about Preflight Process and Software.
Job Planning - a preflight checklist is used to verify the engineering of the print project. The graphic designer should make a dummy, or mock-up that demonstrates folding, backup, and physical details of the piece. See #7 below, take time to seek any potential problems, talk to your printer, take time to explicitly communicate every detail.
File repair - your prflight checklist is used in the process of correcting these problems with your files before sending them to others. Accurate preflight and file repair is the responsibility of the file preparer. Please be proactive, using this document as a guide.
Proofing - to actually read your proofs at every stage. It is simply shocking how many printing jobs have type corrections AFTER submitted and proofed at the printing company. Your job should never go to the printer with simple type corrections and type-o's. Take pride in the quality and integrity of your work that goes to others.
Graphic Designers Goal = One Way First Time Right Submission
It's your job as a graphic designer. If you are a top notch designer, your job is about more than aesthetics, it's about integrity and accuracy too. Your job should go to the printer in a state of readiness, to flow right to press with No Delay and No Additional Cost. It all comes together to make your design project a real professional job.
Any problems with your graphic design will cause delays in production. File repair costs from the printer are never in your print quote. Expensive prepress time to repair files is also not built into your schedule. A consistant process using a preflight checklist will help avoid delays and additional costs. In most printing quotations is usually some verbage like:
"This quotation is based on the assumption that all supplied files are ready for output. Any corrections or changes necessary to ensure successful output will be charged as additional work, upon approval of the customer.
"Here's a preflight checklist of common design problems to avoid:
1. ___ Fonts Missing, Not Supplied
2. ___ Graphics Missing, Not Supplied
3. ___ Too Many Spot Colors or Bad Separations
4. ___ RGB Scans and Images Used and Supplied
5. ___ Low Resolution Images Supplied
6. ___ Improper Bleed and Copy Margins
7. ___ Brochure Panels, Not Laid Out Correctly
8. ___ No Folding, Backup, or Pagination Dummy
9. ___ Laser Proof Not Supplied, or Not Current
10. ___ No Submission for Mailing Requirements
11. ___ Problems in Color and Proofing Expectations
12. ___ Using Non-Professional Grade Applications
(1) Fonts Missing, Not Supplied - If the designer uses a particular type style, then does not supply the screen AND printer font files needed to output that type style, it's a problem. Without the correct fonts available, the output device will substitute Courier, which will not look as desired.
If the printer tries to help by substituting a font, this can cause text to reflow. It is possible that two fonts of the same name were designed by different companies, and are not identical. Any differences can cause type to reflow, lines to get cut off, hyphenation and line endings to change, etc.
If you supply a job without its required fonts, your job may be delayed until you can supply the printer a copy of the fonts. If the graphic designer does not supply the EXACT fonts used, then correct results should not be expected. You will sabotage the quality, budget, and schedule of your own job. The most common mistake or problem is to forget about the fonts used in your eps graphic files. The printing company recommends that you collect all jobs in the most professional and careful way. There is new freeware, software to aid in this process called FreeFlight!", you can download a copy at:
(2) Graphics Missing, Not Supplied - A similar but more serious problem than missing fonts occurs when images and graphics files are supplied with the layout and font files. Although the missing graphics remain visible in page layouts, they are actually linked components (which are not part of the page layout). Frequently Quark, InDesign, and Pagemaker files are received without the linked graphic files, the job is delayed while the printing company waits for these graphic files to be sent. Missing graphics are an absolute show stopper since there's not even an option of substitution.
Please do not ask that the printer find and pick up graphics or images from another job or a previous job. All jobs are to be submitted completely and it is the responsibility of the designer to submit each job completely.
Using Quark's "Collect for Output", Adobe InDesign's "Preflight and Package", and PageMaker's "Save for Service Provider" utilities will gather all necessary linked graphics. Please see our Collecting For Output Guide for more help and details at the following URL.
l(3) Spot Colors, Too Many or Incorrectly Specified - When separations are printed, each of these names produces a different plate. Therefore, the colors used in your files MUST be accurate to the colors in your print quote. For example: A job that is quoted to print 5 colors, CMYK + a PMS "Spot" color, MUST be prepared to print out to only 5 colors. Most files contain extra colors or colors that are not separating correctly. If your job is not prepared to separate correctly, it will cause a delay to repair the files and make them separate correctly.
All colors that are not supposed to be PMS or "Spot" colors as defined in the quotation must be deleted or converted to CMYK. From within layout and illustration programs a designer can optionally separate the color into four-color process (CMYK) plates, "Convert to Process", or to output it as a separate plate for printing with a PMS or "spot-color" ink. Every time a special color is created or used without specifying it as a process separation, the color will output as an additional plate. That extra color plate would then have to be printed on an additional press unit or omitted from the job.
(4) RGB Scans and Images Used - All scanners use RGB (red, blue and green.) when saving a color scan. It is necessary to convert all color scans to CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). CMYK is the color gamut used in commercial printing. All black & white or colorized one color scans should be saved as Grayscale or Bitmap. No other color modes should be used.
Because RGB is a broader color spectrum the original scan will look different once converted to CMYK. Usually scans get darker when converted from RGB to CMYK. Conversion should be done carefully using the best possible settings by the graphic designer so this color shift can be observed. To leave your images in RGB mode when sent to the printer will delay your job. A file repair will be required to get the file to separate to CMYK properly.
The printing company receives a large number of RGB scans from graphic designers. When separated, the layout programs simply print the RGB scans as black and white. Unacceptable color shifts can also be a common result. Color corrections should always be done with CMYK scans and all color scans should be converted to CMYK prior to submission to the printer.
(5) Low Resolution Images Supplied - Most of the problematic scans the printing company receives were scanned at too low resolution. Computer to plate and other quality devices normally output at 2540 dpi and 150 line screen. So it is very important that scans be prepared at the proper resolution to support the quality of the process. Always pay attention to the image size info. and use a preflight program to warn of low resolution files.
Color or Grayscale scan resolution should never be less than 300 DPI (at final size). It is best to error on the high side, so 350 DPI (at final size) would allow a safe tolerance for scaling in the layout application.
Bitmap, or Line-Art scan resolution should never be less than 600 DPI (at final size). It is best to error on the high side, so 800 DPI (at final size) would allow a safe tolerance for scaling in the layout application.
Remember, enlarging and reducing a scan in a layout affects its output resolution, thus the term (at final size):
Resizing a scan up will reduce the resolution. So, a scan placed at 200% has HALF the resolution of the original. A 300 DPI scan enlarged to 200% in Quark has a resolution of ONLY 150 DPI (at final size).
Thus, resizing a scan down will increase the resolution. A scan placed at 50% has DOUBLE the resolution of the original. A 300 DPI scan reduced to 50% in Quark has a resolution of 600 DPI (at final size).
(6) Improper Bleed & Copy Margins - Any page design objects that touch the edge of the final trimmed page must be extended 1/8" beyond the edge in your layout. Without creating this bleed margin, slight shifts in cutting equipment could result in paper showing at the edges where ink is supposed to be. Extending bleed allows a certain manufacturing tolerance. Example, if a page has a background color of black that covers the entire page in your design, the black area should be extended to hang over and beyond the crop marks instead of stopping at the edge.
Most bleed problems are easy to fix. The difficult repairs are when the object that needs to bleed off the edge of the page is a graphic such as a Photoshop image. If the image file doesn't contain enough image to extend another 1/8", that area may need to be cloned in. So any image that requires bleed should be designed with this in mind. Adding 1/8" to a complicated Photoshop file can be difficult and expensive once it reaches the printer. although it is easy to check and set your bleeds while you are creating layouts, it is time consuming to alter your design once it gets to the printing company.
Any pages where you have type that is expected to be readable needs to be restricted away from the trim marks atleast 1/8". For example, if a page has a readable line of text at bottom of page, the line of text should be restricted to 1/8" inside the trim marks instead of being placed right on the cut line. If the cutter moves around a little in production, you never want that live copy to get cut off. In the layout of a piece, a healthy "live copy margin" should be maintained. Most publications and magazines never put text closer than 3/16", so more is usually better.
(7) Multi-Panel Brochures, Not Laid Out Correctly - A very common problem with brochures is that designers often build them with all panels being of equal measure. Brochures should almost always be designed with different sized panels. Tri-Fold Brochure - it has three panels on each side, usually folding letter style. The inside panel that gets folded in first should be a 1/16" to 1/8" smaller than the other two. This allows the smaller panel to fold in, so when folded will lie flat. If it were not shorter the brochure would buckle and can wrinkle when folded.
Roll Fold Brochure - this one has 4 or more panels on each side, each panel folds into the next. The brochure's cover panel and the panel right next to the cover can usually be left the same size. These should be the biggest panels. Each successive panel after that should get incrementally smaller by 1/16". The most inside panel should be mor narrow than any other.
Other Brochure Types - folds that require different panel sizes are gate folds, double parallel folds, double gate fold and Z folds. Please call the printing company for the correct specifications if you are not sure. Building your brochure to its proper size is much easier than adjusting the size after the job is at the printer.
(8) Folding, Backup, or Pagination Dummy Not Supplied - When you make a folding dummy it does two VERY important things. Thus the old industry saying goes "If you don't make a dummy, you will be a dummy". With any printed job that must be folded, bound, or has printing on two sides, there must be a dummy that travels along with that job all the way from the designer to the bindery. In a good manufacturing process, you should assume nothing, that includes that everybody down stream knows what you want. Your bindery dummy will give you that absolute expression of what is expected from others.
(8a) Quality Control - Making a folding and bindery dummy is a last chance to focus on mailing specs and placement of design elements. The folding and bindery dummy gives you a way to check your design, layout, and panel sizes in a folded down piece.
(8b) Communication - It is a way to communicate to every person that handles your job how it is to fold, trim, back-up, or paginate. There will be NO CONFUSION for the printer or bindery staff as to the type of fold you want. Even when folding seems to be obvious to you based on the design, it might not be apparent to the printer. Printers see different folding jobs from many different graphic designers. An incorrect communication for fold, trim, or pagination can simply ruin a perfect print job at its last and final stage.
The prnter needs a good folding/backing dummy to set up your piece properly. Without a dummy for clarification of what you want your job will be delayed until the printing company will be clear how to handle the bindery and back-up of the piece.
(9) Laser Proof Not Supplied, Not Current - When you send laser proof with your files it does two VERY important things. When possible, have such B&W laser proofs marked up with the names of colors and files. When a printer receives only a disk, he has no idea what's on it, he cannot even review it or plan the job till he makes his own laser. Files submitted via the Internet or over a phone line can be accompanied by a faxed laser copy. It's better to output the copy on a laser printer and then fax it using a fax machine, rather than faxing directly from a computer. If faxing from a computer, the customer can't see what the lasers look like. All jobs are required to come in with a marked-up B&W laser print of the documents. If no laser proof is submitted, the printing company may have no choice but to delay printing your job.
(9a) Quality Control - A black & white laser proof verifies the document to be output, demonstrates expectation, and allows your job to be planned based on that laser. The printer can compare your laser proof to his proof, checking to verify the correct positioning of elements and to rule out any text reflow problems. Without a proof the printing company cannot determine if what they are about to print is correct or not. When no proof is provided, the printing company has no guide as to how you want your lines to break. Without a current proof, the printing company doesn't know if a type reflow is the result of a last minute edit, or a difference between our default settings and yours.
(9b) Communication - A graphic designer who fails to provide a laser proof along with electronic files is not communicating clearly what is needed. Again, much like a bindery dummy it serves a very important need for communication. Without it, there is not the same clear communication that is possible with a laser hard copy proof. Your proof provides information crucial to the correct production of your job.
It is extremely important that your proofs should be generated from the exact same file that you are sending the printing company. A last minute edit to the file means you must make a new proof. Please mark the proof "Proof is Current" to let us know that any discrepancy between our output and your proof is in fact, an error. If for any reason you cannot supply a current laser proof, please note any changes and/or corrections on the out-of-date proof. Also, if your proof is not printed at 100%, please mark the proof "Not at 100%".
(10) Improper Submission For Mailing - It is a regular occurrence that a job is completely ready to go but the mailing issues are being overlooked and neglected. Please make time to view the US Post Office Web site. Their site can be very useful if you are unsure about mail regulations and requirements. The most common errors include indicia and bar codes in the wrong spot, post cards that are too small and mailers that have the folds on the wrong end. The Post Office will be happy to help with any information about mailing that they can. However, if your job is to mail, all issues and questions need to be resolved BEFORE the job enters production. If a job is to mail but the printing company doesn't have all the necessary information, and requirements are not met, the printing company may have no choice but to delay printing your job.
Take time to learn what the rules are BEFORE designing your mailer and don't hesitate to talk directly to the Post Office. They are very willing to help you plan your project and may find ways for you to save money.
(11) Problems In Color Proofing Expectations - Low-end color proofers do not show accurate color. Monitors do not show accurate color. The best way to judge color is by a calibrated accurate proof. Always use Pantone swatches and 4 color swatches and expect the more accurate color proof from the printing company to look different from your color proofs. If you want to see accurate color before the scans are assembled, ask the printing company to produce color scatter proofs or randoms of your scans.
Please set expectations correctly, when showing color lasers to your customers, the designer should always explain the variance in colors between the different equipment. This will prevent surprises when the contract proof or printed piece is delivered.
It is also important to remember that some spot-colors, or PMS colors can't be accurately reproduced in CMYK. Common examples: metallic colors, a few oranges, a few greens, and a few VERY rich blues, can't be accurately reproduced in CMYK. If your files use these spot colors, it may be necessary to contact you to see if you want to change your design, or run to the closest possible CMYK match. The printing company recommends using the Pantone Process color systems for color selection, and relying on PMS to process swatches to set your expectations correctly.
(12) Using Non-Professional Grade Applications - Sometimes jobs are done in a consumer level software package. Many consumer level desktop publishing programs and world processors do not provide postscript CMYK separations and other professional controls the printing company needs. These applications lack support for such a high quality process. This would include Microsoft Publisher, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, WordPerfect, Lotus Freelance, Lotus AmiPro, Lotus 123.
The printing company is usually able to work from these programs for black and white and single color output only. If you are using such a program, limit your expectations to black and white. If you need color, it can be forced to CMYK through a conversion the printing company can do to a PDF, but that handling in itself can add cost and time that is not in your quote.
If you have these type of files, please see if you can create a PDF file of your pages, and submit that to the printing company. The PDF is a more common and professional file type that the printing company can work with. Be sure to use high quality, high resolution, print settings in Acrobat Distiller when making your PDF files. When processing files into PDF, you must protect the resolution through using correct Acrobat Distiller settings.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
©Samuel Hargis 2006 - For years, the author has provided development, consulting, and technical guidance to many of the largest, most successful printing and publishing companies in the graphic arts. Also has trained hundreds of designers, publishers and printers in PDF workflow, Font Management, and PrePress Preflight process automation. The author runs a free prepress support community. http://prepressforum.com - http://software-robotics.com