5 Tips for Creating Print-Friendly PDFs • Colorkarma

5 Tips for Creating Print-Friendly PDFs

Author: Roger Gimbel

Creating print-friendly PDFs ensures a smooth production process. But many factors can throw your design off track.  Keep these tips in mind.

When you send your PDF to the print provider, pre-press specialists put it through their own processes to make sure it doesn’t have any serious issues that may delay production. If you build and design your documents well, this process goes smoothly. But many factors can throw it off track, including not following the requirements of a particular press model. Fixing errors in pre-press mean lost time and money.

Introduced nearly 30 years ago by Adobe, PDFs — or Portable Document Format files are an efficient way of digitally sharing and outputting files across multiple platforms, including printing, losing no essential information in the transmission.

PDFs are built on a set of regulations. The PDF Standards Committee develops different versions of PDFs for various needs and manages the standards. These versions include PDF/a for digital or electronic archival documents or PDF/UA for accessibility purposes. Common options for printing are PDF/X for general commercial work and PDF/VT for variable and transactional documents.

PDF/X is a format that ensures materials print exactly as designers create them on the screen, including images, colors, fonts, logos, and so on. Designers can include only static elements in these documents, meaning each impression in a print run must be similar.

PDF/VT is for outputting personalized variable documents such as bills, invoices, statements, or variable promotions. With this standard, it’s possible to include elements, such as images, logos, text blocks, and entire page descriptions that are different on each page and come from separate spreadsheets and databases.

woman designer working on logo branding
woman designer working on logo branding - - Freepick

This offers a few advantages. One is time savings during RIPing — a process that prepares a file for the press. Rather than RIPing every single page in a print run, the basic template or structure of a PDF/VT job is RIP’d once; only variable elements are RIP’d individually, making the process faster. Eliminating just a few seconds per printed page can add up to significant time savings in the long run.

Another advantage is data safety. Keeping sensitive information like credit card numbers in its own database makes it easier to protect the safety and integrity of the data.

When you send your PDF to the print provider, pre-press specialists put it through their own processes to make sure it doesn’t have any serious issues that may delay production. If you build and design your documents well, this process goes smoothly. But many factors can throw it off track, including not following the requirements of a particular press model. Fixing errors in pre-press mean lost time and money.

Let’s look at the most common issues that stand in the way of a good PDF. As with most jobs, your first step is to contact your printer early in the process, especially with variable jobs, so experts can give you the specific requirements they need to output your designs properly.

vintage letterpress alphabet and number background
vintage letterpress alphabet and number background - Freepick
FONTS

Ask printers what their top PDF frustration is, and most will point to fonts. Unless you’re using a standard and widely available font the printer has on hand, you must supply the fonts you’re using in the PDF. Remember, the printer may not have the right to use a font they don’t already own.

Embed all the fonts in the PDF. The process may be different among design software, but once you create the PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat or Reader to view the PDF specifications and verify that your fonts are properly embedded in the file.

An alternative is to create a font outline, a process that transforms a font into a graphic vector image that can’t be edited. This can be done in InDesign.

BLEEDS.

Bleed refers to the excess border paper that gets cutaway on a document during the finishing or binding process. A printer needs bleeds to account for paper movement as sheets pass through the press and binding equipment.

Artwork and colors need to extend to the bleed, or pre-cut edge, to avoid having a strip of white unexpectedly appear on the final document. Common bleeds are .125 or 1/8 of an inch on all outside edges. When outputting your work to a PDF, make sure it includes the crop and bleed marks you set up when you initially created the document in your design program.

Large offset printing press or magazine running a long roll off paper in production line of industrial printer machine.
Large offset printing press or magazine running a long roll off paper in production line of industrial printer machine. - Freepick
IMAGE Resolutions and Clarity.

A sharp image on a screen needs a resolution of 72 dpi; a sharp printed image must be a minimum of 300 dpi. This is important for photos, but also for logos and any graphics except vector images. But also remember that photos substantially above 300 dpi may also be a problem because they slow down the RIPing process, so resize them accordingly.

If you crop an image extensively, remove the sections outside the cropped area and don’t simply hide them with a clipping path. Those extra pixels won’t be color managed, but they still need to be read from the PDF file to find the pixels that are actually required, which, you guessed it, slows the process down.

COLOR.

The screen displays a color gamut that is somewhat larger, and different, than a printing press, so colors don’t reproduce exactly the same. Paper, inks, and the printing process also impact color reproduction and accuracy, whether it be digital, offset, or inkjet, so be sure to account for these variables.

Your computer uses the RGB (red, green, blue) model to build all colors you see on the screen. Printing presses use the CMYK model of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, to build colors on a substrate. This is known as process color and is the universal standard for commercial printing.

Before creating a PDF, you need to ensure that you convert your project’s colors to CMYK so the press can reproduce them properly. Again, if color accuracy is extremely important, consult with the printer about how to build the color layers to get the results you want.

PDF/VT Requirements.

The PDF/VT standard requires you to pay attention to all the aforementioned building blocks, but it also has other, more complex, requirements.

If you’re creating variable documents with changeable elements, such as graphics-heavy marketing messages, consider including large images that appear in each ad as static, so it’s faster to process the smaller variable images. It may be best not to layer images on top of each other unless you can create an exact alignment to avoid artifacts along the edges where the images meet. Transparencies must be handled carefully, as do overlapping colors. Other rules will most certainly apply, but it’s best to check with your printer for the most precise requirements for their software and equipment demand.

PDFs have been a game-changer in the graphics industry for the ease and consistency they bring to managing digital output. But nearly three decades after their introduction, and with multiple updates along the way, constructing a proper PDF still requires some vigilance.

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