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Simplifying Your Art Files

Someone once said "Time is money," and this truism is equally valid in the prepress arena. It is very easy to create a file that will take a long time to image on your print provider's imagesetter. Even if this doesn't cost you extra money, it may at least encourage your printer to put your file aside to process other work to avoid getting behind. Therefore, simplify your files whenever possible.

There are a few easy ways to do this. For instance, curves created in Illustrator are really made up of many small, straight lines. Setting the "flatness" of a curve to a higher number (increasing it from 0 to 10, for instance), will make your file print faster without visibly degrading the image (of course this depends on the output resolution, so check your user's guide first).

  • Simplify paths in Illustrator. More points on a path slow down the imaging process.
  • Crop and rotate TIFF files in Photoshop. Expecting your page composition software (Quark, InDesign) to do this also slows down imaging.
  • Convert display type to outlines in Illustrator (Freehand also has a similar option). When you do this, the output device will not need to download the font used in the illustration.
  • In your page composition application, don't use a white box to hide anything. If you don't want something on the page, delete it. This is particularly true for placing an image and using the picture box to crop it. Instead, crop the image in Photoshop, throwing away the unwanted portions. In short, what you hide must still be processed.
  • Use fewer rather than more typefaces, gradients, patterns, etc.

All of these options create smaller files that are easier to edit, take less time to image, and redraw faster on your monitor.

Split Fountains

A novel way to save money by getting more ink colors from a press unit is to "split" an ink fountain. Usually, only one color of ink is placed in a fountain (the trough-like ink receptacle of a printing press). So a two-color press would have two ink fountains. But if you block a fountain, you effectively make one fountain into two and can use two separate inks, one on either side of the block. You might, for instance, use a match color one one side of the fountain and one of the four process colors on the other side, effectively turning a four-color press into a five color press (and saving money in the process).

Splitting a fountain has certain limitations, however. Since half of the fountain contains one ink and half contains another, you cannot have both colors in-line on your press sheet. If you have a sixteen-page form (eight on either side), for instance, your spot color might be on the pages on the left half of the sheet, while the process colors might be on the right.

Also, you will need a certain distance between the two colors used in the split fountain. This is because one roller will come into contact with two different inks, and you want to avoid either ink's touching (and therefore contaminating) the other. Your printer will tell you how much space will be needed between colors (possibly up to eight inches), and you can design your piece accordingly. In the example noted above, the clear area might be two pages (one above the other on the press sheet) that would be black text only. On the left of these, you could place your PMS color (on two pages, one above the other), and on the right you could use 4-color process (on four pages, two above and two below for a total of eight pages on this side of the sheet).

Since this is a rather complex printing trick, it would be wise to involve your printer early in the process to make sure what you want can be done on his press and to make sure you understand the limitations and requirements of the process. But done right, this can be a creative way to economize.


[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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