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Items to Check When Submitting Design Files to Printers

Here are some last minute things to check before you upload your InDesign job files to your printer's FTP site:

Extra Colors: Select and delete any unused colors listed in the colors palette. You'll notice that if you have placed any items in your art file that use additional colors, these colors will also show up in the colors palette (Window/Color/Swatches), and they cannot be deleted. This isn't a problem. Just make sure they are set to print as process colors rather than spot colors. You can confirm this in the Color Swatches palette. Select the color in question by clicking twice, and then look under Color Type (Process or Spot). To be doubly certain, you can check the color separations menu (Window/Output/Separations Preview), which will list all process colors and spot colors used in an InDesign file as well as show their location within the file.

Colorizing Art: To add color to a TIFF art file, use Photoshop, not InDesign or Quark. Even though it seems like you can add color within the design application, this is not a PostScript compliant method (i.e., it could look fine but not print as you expect).

Change the Color Space to CMYK: Don't forget to change all Photoshop TIFF files from RGB to CMYK before placing them in your InDesign file. This is easy to overlook, so check images individually in the Links palette (Window/Links). Selecting any placed file in the Links palette will show you the item's color space. If you forget to do this, the printer can make the change within the PostScript RIP as the files are plated, but this may cause an unexpected color shift in the translation from one color space to another. (Therefore, it's better for you to see the color shift on your own monitor and then adjust the image in Photoshop if need be.)

Check Total Area Coverage (TAC) of Ink: You can use the Separations Preview function in InDesign (Window/Output/Separations Preview) to check the total ink coverage of your design piece. This is the total amount of ink on a page, from 0 to 100 percent for each of the process colors. Solid coverage of C, M, Y, and K would equal 400 percent (100 percent each). However, this amount of ink would create a big mess. (An uncoated press sheet could not absorb that much ink, and the ink would sit up on top of a coated sheet, gumming up the press.) Your printer can tell you his total percentage limit, since it depends on the paper and the printing technology involved. (For example, one print supplier I frequent notes 320 percent as the TAC in their “preparing files for print” literature.)

Remove Any Unused Fonts: Use the Find Font function in InDesign (Type/Find Font) to ensure that you have removed any unused fonts. If any text shows up in the wrong font, InDesign will allow you to replace the font with another font using “find/change” buttons in the Find Font window.

Select “Press Optimized” When Making Your PDF: After you have checked all of these items, it's time to make the final PDF copy of your job. Your printer will give you the specifications he needs for his particular equipment and workflow (most printers can send you a PDF creation document), but a good rule of thumb is to start with File/Export/Adobe PDF (Print) and then in the topmost InDesign field (Adobe PDF Preset) choose “Press Quality.” This incorporates the settings best suited for prepress. (However, it's always best to confirm this with your printing supplier, since many printers will want you to make specific selections within this menu.)

This is not meant to be a complete list. Most printers provide a comprehensive, multi-page document noting their requirements for preparing PDFs. Nevertheless, this is a good start, and these particular items are easy to overlook even if you've been doing this work for a very long time.

What is Side Stitching?

You may have seen side stitching and not known it. Until just recently, all National Geographic magazines were side stitched.

It is the strongest binding method, it allows you to add individual pages without tipping them onto a signature, and it is cheaper than perfect binding. In addition, it was actually the binding method of choice prior to adhesive binding (except for hardcover, sewn books).

Side stitching is basically stapling together a stack of individual pages with two or three staples running vertically along the bind edge of the book. This works for books up to about one-inch thick. Beyond this thickness, the books are stapled from both sides, but the wires are not clinched (folded back).

You can also wrap paper around the bind edge to create a printable spine (as the National Geographic does).

The main liability to such binding it that a side-stitched book will not open and lie flat on a table.

Side stitching is also a good option for binding calendars and pads of application forms, particularly if you perforate the job near the staples so that pages (calendar pages or application forms) can be torn off one at a time.

A Few Large Format Printing Options

If you're designing products for a trade show, you may want to consider the following items, since their graphic message will appear larger than life and will command attention:

Retractable Banner Stands: The spring loaded, roll-up graphic in a retractable banner stand can be unrolled and hooked over the vertical extension post to create a free-standing graphic image. Using one banner at a time can be powerful, but the real beauty comes out when you line up four or five, each with a portion of the entire image. This can create a huge and memorable visual display. Granted, there will be a space between each banner, but the viewer's eye will compensate for this and will see a single image over the four or five separate elements. Due to the complexity of the retractable banner stand mechanism, I would use a display like this inside only. For outside use, I'd choose another display option.

Full-Scale Display Units: You can stretch a digitally printed fabric banner over a collapsible pop-up frame to create a graphic “backwall” display. These range from ten to twenty feet wide (and some are even larger). In some instances, the carrying case that comes with such a banner stand can also be wrapped with a banner and can double as a podium. If you add LED lights above the entire structure, you can showcase the graphic and bring out its vibrant colors.

And here are a couple of dramatic signage options for inside and outside retail stores:

Floor Graphics: Savvy marketers use all available space for their messages. And what's more available than the floor? Large format graphic printers can produce floor graphics that have adhesive on the bottom (permanent or even a “peel up and reposition” option). This glue holds the floor graphics stationary and keeps passers-by from slipping. Durable lamination on top of the graphics will protect the images from gouges and foot traffic.

Wall Graphics: These are like floor graphics, but you apply them to a wall. They have an adhesive backing and often are laminated with a clear, protective topcoat (in this case for light-fastness and water protection rather than protection from foot traffic). Wall graphics can be installed inside or outside, depending on their lamination and the light-fastness of their inks.

Feather Flags: You may have seen these at the beach. They incorporate multi-part aluminum poles (a few straight poles with an outermost curved pole) and a printed graphic on a swath of curved fabric. The curved, assembled graphic resembles a feather. Feather flags can be stuck into the ground, or their base can be wedged under a heavy object (like a tire on a car). These banners will flap in the wind, so their movement will catch the eye of passers-by. Due to their simplicity, they are also one of the less expensive as well as more durable signage options.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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