You’ve created an informative, compelling booklet, an eye-catching direct mail postcard, an insightful brochure—and now, it’s time to send your file to your commercial print shop to bring your digital project to life. Before you press “send,” hit the brakes and take a look at our pre-print project checklist. We’ve compiled several pointers to ensure optimal results, including minimizing last-minute edits and reducing the need for multiple proofs, which could derail your project timeline.
Your 5-Step Pre-Print Project Checklist
1. Review and copy edit your project. Checking for spelling, grammar, style and other errors before you send your files to the printer is one of the most effective ways to cut down on time-consuming (and possibly costly) post-submission changes, especially if you’re on a tight timeline. Don’t hesitate to grab an eagle-eyed colleague and have that person take a fresh look at the content and design. It also helps to read the copy out loud, especially if the project is content-heavy.
2. Check your image size and resolution. Nothing distracts from compelling design and high-quality printing like blurry, low-resolution images. A best practice is to ensure your images—and the design file itself—are at 300 DPI, but many industry pros recommend saving images and files at the highest resolution possible. Think of it this way: you can always scale down an image or file, but it’s nearly impossible to scale up without compromising quality.
3. Confirm color accuracy (CMYK instead of RGB). First, a quick primer. RGB (red, green, blue) uses light in those colors to produce every color in the spectrum. Computers and other electronic devices use RGB to create their displays, so if you’re creating a digital-only piece, it’s fine to use RGB.
If, however, your project is headed to a printer, use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key black). This is the combination that printers use to create any color in the spectrum. The risk of using RGB with a printed project, as 99designs points out, is that you can get “bright and nice colors that are impossible to produce using inks. If you forget about this, you might end up with a great online design that looks quite dull when printed.”
In summary? Make sure your files are saved in CMYK format before sending them to a printer. And if color accuracy is critical to your project, go one step further and use the Pantone Matching System (PMS), color-specific codes that are used as part of a larger reference library to enable international standards for communicating color.
4. Mark crops and bleeds on your document(s). Think of crops and bleeds as cues for your printer. These marks indicate the edges of your design and tell your printer where to cut the final printed pieces. Crop marks show where the design is cut, while bleed marks show where the text, images or design extends past the page boundary. A document that has a bleed is printed on a larger piece of paper than the final product, then trimmed down so that your design fills the page. Without a bleed, you’d probably end up with some sort of white margin. The knowledgeable team at Adobe has some great tips on how to specify printer’s marks, if you’re looking for additional resources.
5. Save (and submit) a high-res PDF. When you’re ready to send your project file to the printer, it’s best to save it as a high-resolution PDF. This file type is close to a universal standard, which means it will display the same way on any printer. Depending on your project, your printer might suggest another file type. But when in doubt, a high-res PDF is the best option.
And with that, you’re ready to submit! Once your file is received and processed, you’ll likely have an opportunity to review the final, pre-press proof. Check with your printer on a specific timeline and process, but it’s best to be as prompt with the final review as possible, especially if you’re working toward a previously specified deadline.