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Prepress Checklist: How to prepare your design for print

Collaboration between a designer and their client is crucial for crafting flawless brochures, posters, or business cards. It is essential for both parties to actively participate in every stage of the project, starting from generating ideas to the final printing. Regrettably, there is a common misconception among them that prepress and printing tasks should solely be entrusted to the technicians at a print shop.

It is crucial to avoid this error! Allowing individuals without a design background to make modifications to your file can lead to unintended design changes that undermine the intended layout’s overall impact. To prevent any loss in translation from your computer to the print shop, performing your own thorough prepress evaluation of design files can save you valuable time and prevent numerous headaches. Moreover, it can significantly reduce your expenses!

 

Here is a comprehensive prepress checklist you can follow step-by-step:

  1. Thoroughly proofread all text and content.
  2. Verify font spacing and ensure proper kerning and tracking.
  3. Confirm that all images are the correct size and have the appropriate resolution for printing.
  4. Ensure color accuracy by checking that all colors are in the desired CMYK or Pantone format.
  5. Calibrate your computer screens to ensure accurate color representation.
  6. Define bleed and crop marks to indicate where the design extends beyond the final trim size.
  7. Create a high-resolution PDF file that preserves the quality and integrity of your design.
  8. Select the ideal paper type that suits your project’s requirements, considering factors like weight, finish, and durability.

According to large-volume print production expert Allen Glazer, 25-75% of a design project’s budget should be set aside for printing costs. If you don’t catch a mistake in prepress, it will be much more costly to fix down the line.

Preparing graphic design files for printing can be quick and easy once you know what elements to look for. To give you the upper hand when it comes time to print, we’ve put together a prepress checklist that covers everything you need to look for when finalizing your proof. It incorporates everything from simple editing to advanced technical procedures. And of course, both designer and client should be involved. Here’s our prepress checklist to help get you started:

 

1. Thoroughly proofread everything

Paying close attention to detail is crucial, as even small oversights like typos and grammatical errors can have a significant impact on your business. According to a poll conducted by Standing Dog Interactive, a mere 3 percent of people are tolerant of such errors, with the majority considering them as decisive factors in determining whether they will continue reading or choose a competitor.

The poll suggests that typos and grammatical mistakes can lead to negative user experiences, which in turn can harm sales. It highlights the importance of ensuring error-free content to provide a positive experience for potential customers visiting your website.

Maintaining error-free content

Becomes even more critical when it comes to printing, as once your design is in the hands of consumers, real-time updates are not possible.

When preparing your file for printing, it’s essential to address two types of proofreading. Linguistic proofreading focuses on what is commonly associated with editing, including checking for grammar mistakes, typos, spelling errors, and ensuring the overall language flow used in the advertisement is smooth and coherent. This step helps guarantee that the text is error-free and effectively communicates your message to the audience.

Prepress proofreading,

Also known as graphic proofreading, focuses on the visual aspects of the text from a graphic standpoint. It involves examining elements such as splitting words at the end of line breaks, the length of lines themselves, and the spacing of the text. One crucial consideration is maintaining consistent line lengths when breaking sentences. It’s important to avoid longer or shorter lines that stand out and disrupt the overall uniformity within a block of text if not properly spaced. By paying attention to these graphic details, you can ensure the visual appeal and cohesiveness of the text in your design.

 

2. Adjust font spacing

After completing the proofreading process, it’s essential to fine-tune the spacing of your fonts. While most fonts and design programs come with default settings, relying solely on them may result in suboptimal visual appeal.

Kerning and no kerning

To achieve the desired look and make your design stand out, it’s important to apply classic typography techniques. This involves adjusting the leading (line spacing), tracking (letter-spacing within a word), and kerning (space between individual letters) of your text. By treating your entire composition as a cohesive image, you ensure that every punctuation mark, letter, block of negative space, and paragraph work harmoniously together, providing a seamless and visually pleasing experience for the viewer of your design.

3. Verify image size and resolution

Before proceeding with printing, it is crucial to double-check the size and resolution of your images. This involves not only considering the resolution of the photos used in your design but also the resolution at which you save your final draft.

DPIFor print materials, it is recommended to save your design files at a resolution of 300 DPI or higher. As Sara Duane-Gladden from SpeckyBoy suggests, it is generally advisable to save your design files at the highest resolution possible. Remember that while you can scale an image down if necessary, adding pixels after the fact is impossible.

It’s generally best to avoid enlarging photos by more than 20 percent of their original size to maintain optimal quality. Resizing images within your document affects the output resolution of the image as well. This consideration is particularly important for larger print items such as flyers, brochures, and advertorials that feature high-quality images. However, when printing on canvas, a resolution of 100 DPI may suffice for a certain size threshold.

 

4. Ensure color accuracy (CMYK vs RGB)

rgb-cmyk

When it comes to printing your design files, what appears on your screen may not always match the printed output. To ensure consistency between the screen and the printer, it is essential to check the color mode of your design.

Computer screens and digital cameras perceive color and light differently than printers. Failing to synchronize these two can result in unsatisfactory print results. Electronic devices that emit or interpret visual light use the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color spectrum to create colors, as mixing light in these colors is smooth and straightforward.

Most design software programs default to the RGB color mode. However, printers employ the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) process to overlay different intensities of each color and produce the full range of colors. This subtractive process involves adding colors to create deeper shades on the way to black, rather than adding light to move away from black.

To ensure accurate color reproduction, it is important to convert your design files from RGB to CMYK before sending them for printing. This conversion allows you to adjust the colors and ensure that what you see on your screen closely matches the final printed result.

5. Perform screen calibration

To maintain color accuracy, it is important to calibrate your screens before printing. An inaccurate screen can significantly impact the true tone of your colors, leading to discrepancies between what you see on the screen and the final printed output.

Graphic designers and photographers have access to various tools that help ensure the color accuracy of their images before sending the design to print. By calibrating your screen, you can verify that the colors you see are as close to reality as possible, thus minimizing the risk of misprints and potentially saving a significant amount of money.

Performing regular screen calibration is a proactive step that helps maintain consistency in color representation and ensures that the final printed materials accurately reflect your design intent.

 

It’s important to realize that customers and designers may have their monitors calibrated differently, which could lead to issues in communication. It’s often helpful to view a design on several different devices to see if that’s a potential issue. Or, even better, to print the design off! While the colors won’t perfectly match those that you’ll get from a professional printer, this small step can help you notice small differences you’re not seeing on your monitor.

6. Establish bleed and crop marks

When transitioning your design from digital to physical, carefully consider bleed, crop marks, and cuts. These marks indicate the design edges and guide the final cutting process during printing, giving your design a professional, edge-to-edge look.

Crop marks indicate precise cutting points, while the bleed area extends beyond the page boundary to accommodate any text or objects that extend past the trim area, preventing white borders. The slug area, located outside the bleed, provides space for printer instructions and additional print details.

Ignoring the bleed can result in unwanted white borders where the physical paper extends beyond your digital design, compromising aesthetics.

Consider the cutting tolerance of the chosen paper if your text or images align with the crop edge or a fold. Even subtle layout differences can significantly affect the symmetry of the final printed piece when cut or bound.

7. Save as a high-resolution PDF

After completing the necessary steps, save your final proof as a high-resolution PDF. PDF files are ideal for printing as they preserve the design details and ensure accurate reproduction. By saving your file as a PDF, you create a lossless format that maintains the layout, fonts, and images without compromising quality. This standardized format is easy to share and ready for professional printing.

8. Choose the perfect paper

Before sending your design to the print shop, the final step is selecting the right paper. Different types of paper create varying visual effects and textures. Take some time to consider the desired outcome and choose a paper that enhances the overall look and feel of your design. Selecting the perfect paper can greatly enhance the quality and appeal of your printed materials.

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