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How to Set Up a Print-Ready File for a Professional Printer

There’s a lot of time and hard work that goes into designing print collateral. Nothing is more disheartening for graphic designers or more frustrating for business owners than seeing all of that effort go to waste because the design file wasn’t properly set up in a print-ready format!

Not taking the time to set up print-ready details can have major consequences on your finished product. And, once your design is printed, there’s no way to “undo” any errors without paying for a complete re-print! It’s best to get things right the first time through. That starts with setting up print-ready files.

What Does a ‘Print-Ready File’ Mean?

Print-ready files are design files that have been optimized for print production with all of the necessary details, specifications and information to ensure they go from digital to physical seamlessly. Print-ready files give printers the instructions they need to get to work and help keep their efforts on the same page as the design vision.

Tenants of Print-Ready File Optimization

There’s a lot to be done to ensure a design file is print-ready. Luckily, many modern design programs like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign have selectable presets to help. For the novice designer, these presets will often ensure the printer has (at a minimum) all of the essential data they need to move forward with a job.

For more experienced designers or specific projects, there are a lot of variables to consider when mocking up a print-ready file. Here are a few of them to keep in mind:

  • Bleed. Setting the bleed determines how much “over” the design will print, to ensure it’s an edge-to-edge production. Bleeds can vary, but start around .125 in (1/8″).
  • Resolution. Setting the correct resolution is important to ensure your print products come out looking crisp and clean. Most print resolutions will be around 300 DPI.
  • Color. The colors on your screen are going to differ from the colors you see in print unless you specify them exactly. It’s important to convert files to CMYK color, which is what your printer will use to mix exact hues.
  • Vector. Fonts aren’t universal, which means you’re going to need to vector any text to ensure it prints appropriately. Vectoring simply means outlining each letter to define its specific shape, which preserves the attributes of the font for print.
  • Embed. Using images in your design file? Make sure they’re embedded! If they’re not embedded, it means they’re linked from elsewhere and it’s a good bet your printer doesn’t have these same files on their computer.
  • Format. Some printers will accept direct design files from customers; others don’t. In any case, however, sending a PDF is the smart thing to do.
  • Size. Make sure your overall file size is consistent with standardized print sizes. Or, if you have a unique size, talk to your printer about the right dimensional setup.

There are even more variables to consider beyond these, but this list should be enough to get you started. Check each one off appropriately and you’ll be well on your way to a print-ready file.

Got questions? Talk to a print expert at AlphaGraphics in Bozeman, MT to learn more about the crucial variables that make up a print-ready file. Or, if you’re getting ready to send one our way, feel free to ask us about any specifics we might need to get your job in the cue.


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