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<Perfect Output>

By Daniel Will-Harris

March 16, 1998 - One question that designers who use service bureaus rarely think to ask--but always need to know, is: how do I send files to a service bureau and end up with the results I want?

People rarely ask it, because they don’t understand the issues involved, and it’s true there are a lot of them. For some unknown reason, few service bureaus have bothered to write a step-by-step list of what people should do--and so most service bureaus spend much of their time trying to get files to output correctly.

There are right and wrong ways to send files to a service bureau. If you do it wrong, you’ll want to pull your (or someone else’s) hair out. If you do it right, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, trouble and money. The good part is that it’s not hard to do it right--if you know how.

Now I’m going to tell you how--and while going into all the necessary details takes time at first, it will save you time (and headaches) later.

Using what I show you here, you can output from any program, whether or not your SB has it, using any font, whether or not your SB has it. You send them a single file for each print job, not a mass of things, and the results work. Period.

>The “popular” way,
if you don’t mind the frustration

Most people believe the best thing to do is to take their PageMaker or Quark or Draw file to the SB. They think this, because some SB’s encourage it. The SB’s encourage it, because then they can make the PostScript files necessary to print.

This causes two problems--the first is that some people think they can’t get output from excellent, but less well known products (such as Xara), because their SB doesn’t have a copy. Wrong!

The other problem is that software is not immune to the system it’s run on--and while a file might have looked perfect on your system, when it’s sent to a SB, and they install the fonts and graphics you sent it with, it’s not unusual for things to change--often things like line and page endings. Of course, you’ve spent a long time making it perfect, and then the software goes and moves things, making it unperfect. The SB doesn’t know what yours looked like (well, you should have sent them a printout--but even then they probably won’t check line and page endings), so they print it--you pay for it, and it’s wrong.

If you do things this way and it works for you--great. If you’re a neophyte and you want the SB to walk you through this in person, then find one that will.

But if you’re a pro--you need to learn how to do this right. Only then will you be sure that what you give your SB is what you’ll get back, first time, every time.

>The right way

The first time you do this, it will take extra time, because you’re setting up your system. Once done, however, you don’t have to do it again, so you’ll save time, and get more predictable results.

All imagesetters are “PostScript” devices. PostScript is a graphics language from Adobe that describes the look of a page. Whether or not you have a PostScript printer, you can still create PostScript files to print on an imagesetter.

PostScript “.prn” or “.ps” files are the only files I ever send to a SB. I may send them a GIF or a JPG or a printout, so they can see what the piece is supposed to look like--just in case something still goes wrong somewhere, but all they get is the file they feed directly into their imagesetter. Working this way, there’s no chance that their system can reformat my designs.

>The right driver

Creating a PostScript file first involves installing the correct printer driver. You will need to call your SB and ask them the model of their imagesetter, and whether it’s PostScript Level1 or Level2. Level2 devices are more sophisticated and can do things that Level1 devices can’t, so if they have that capability, use a Level2 driver. Level2 drivers also make it easier to work with fonts. But Level2 files won’t work on Level1 devices--so you must know this information first.

In Windows, choose Start/Settings/Printers and then double click on “Add Printer.” Choose “Local printer” (even though it’s not local), then select the model. If you see the exact model (say a Linotronic 300, which is quite common), select it, then choose a port called FILE. This will let you create a file on disk, rather than sending the PostScript to a printer port. It’s this file you’ll take to the SB.

If your SB uses a common model you can move to the next step. If not, here’s how you can get the latest printer driver for any PostScript output device:

The model is very important--if you don’t see the exact model listed in your add printer dialog, go to http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/printerdrivers/windows.html and find the driver there, then download and install it. Once you do, you’ll also have to download what’s called a PPD (PostScript Printer Description) at http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/printerdrivers/winppd.html - these files tell the driver specifics about each printer or imagesetter. The web site includes instructions for installing this.

>The right settings

Once you have the printer installed, you’ll want to select the correct paper size. The paper size must be larger than your project, so there’s room for bleeds, crop and registration marks, and other printers marks.

Choose Start/Settings/Printers then right click on the imagesetter you’ve installed and choose Properties. There’ll be a tab called “Paper” which you’ll choose, then a list of different paper sizes available on the imagesetter. Don’t use a size larger than you need--the more paper you use, generally the more you pay.

Click on the Graphics tab to select the output resolution you want. The higher the resolution, the sharper everything will be--but using a higher resolution can also make your files larger, take longer to output, and cost more. Ask your service bureau what they recommend. It’s best to leave the other options alone, unless your SB tells you to change them. Click on OK, then right click on the imagesetter icon and choose “Set as default.” When working on a file destined for an imagesetter, it’s good to set it as default, because this can affect line and page breaks in many programs. Some programs, such as PageMaker, allow you to specify a “target” printer and a proofing printer--so you can format for the imagesetter yet print to a local printer. Look under the Help menu in your program to search for this.

>The right fonts

PostScript and fonts... hmmm... it should be easier than it is. The problem is that if you install a Level1 PostScript driver after you install fonts in ATM (or using FontMinder or FontNavigator), then those fonts aren’t automatically installed for the new PostScript printer.

The easiest way to fix this is to uninstall your Type1 fonts, then re-install them. Then the win.ini file will be in sync for the new printer. If you’re using FontNavigator, choose File/Settings/PostScript printers and make sure there’s a check next to FILE. If not, check it.

If you’re using ATM4 and a Level2 driver, the fonts should be installed when you install the new driver, though it can’t hurt to uninstall, then reinstall them.

When you create a .prn or .ps file, the fonts will be included, in the file. There’s no need to send the fonts separately to the SB, they’re “in the PostScript stream.” That way you avoid any legal gray areas--and assure that the fonts you need are included with your document--no matter how rare the fonts may be.

>Next week

I’ll go into the step-by-step details for creating PostScript files so that what you see on your screen is exactly what you get from your SB.

>Read Part II Now


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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved