Printing Services Guide – Preflighting Artwork for Print

by Rich B

What is Preflighting?
It’s a process your designer or printing services company (printer, print manager etc.) will put your artwork through to make sure all the data required to produce a great print job is present and correct. The process is usually helped by software which plugs in to existing design or proofing software (such as Acrobat Professional) or standalone software (such as Enfocus Pitstop). But the software can only help so far. What’s important is that you understand the particulars of your print job and know what to look out for so you can resolve problems before they hit the printing press.

Artwork has to be in CMYK, not RGB. One of the most common problems printers encounter.

Remember. When preflighting artwork, CMYK = good. RGB = bad!

Why Preflight?
Pretty well all artwork is delivered as a PDF file to a printer these days. Some smaller printing services companies will accept Quark or InDesign files, but pdfs are more common. Used properly, PDFs help deliver the highest quality of work and reduce production time (improving efficiency and reducing costs too). A pdf is great because it can carry all the essential data a printer needs to get your job on the press, including information on graphics, fonts, trim and bleed. However, if you think all pdfs are created equal, then think again.

A recent survey I found here shows the extent of failing pdf files and the 14 most common failings. The stats speak for themselves – each one accompanied by a headache for the designer and the potential for deadlines to slip.

The Earlier the Better
The earlier you detect problems with your artwork, the better. So it’s probably worth preflighting your artwork before it’s sent off for printing. That way, you’ll catch issues yourself, understand what to look out for next time (speeding up your pipeline) and won’t lose time while it’s caught later in the process. That said, all printing services companies worth their salt will preflight check all incoming artwork to make sure artwork received meets their own particular specifications for their presses. If yours doesn’t, they should let you know.

Common Problems
Problems you might encounter are very much dependent on the final use of the files (precisely what they’re going to be used for). However, there are some common problems that preflight checking can catch:

  • PDF version. It’s essential you’re working to the same PDF standards as your printing services company. PDF standards have changed over time (some don’t allow transparencies for example) so working to the same standard is vital.
  • Image file resolutions are too low (should be a minimum of 150dpi for print)
  • Fonts are not embedded in the PDF. Embed all fonts to avoid incorrect fonts being substituted.
  • PDF compression used is not compatible – check that compression used to create the PDF is compatible with your printing services company’s workflow.
  • RGB was used instead of CYMK – fine for viewing on a monitor, but useless for the printing process.

How to Avoid Problems
The first step is to speak to your printing services company or print consultant and ask for their advice on preflight checking. Find out their specific artwork requirements when outputting your artwork and make sure your designers comply. Even though your printing services company should preflight your artwork on receipt, if you can get into the habit yourself, you’ll spot problems earlier.

See also:
Our Guide to Proofs and Proofing
Printing Services guide: Design and Artwork for Print

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