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<Perfect Output Pt. II>

By Daniel Will-Harris

3-30-98 - Last week’s column had the first steps necessary for creating successful output files bound for a service bureau. If you read them and thought, “Well, that all seemed like a lot of work, I’ll just take my application file to the Service Bureau (SB) and let them figure it out,” then don’t read the following.

But if you’re a professional designer, you should know how to use your tools--and get the results you want. If you want to know how to do this right, then read on.

>The Right Steps

With the proper printer driver set as default, open your file. Check the line and page endings. Make sure it “looks right.” If you’re using Xara, choose “Show printer colors,” so you get a good idea of what colors will actually print, as opposed to what colors showed on-screen. Other programs have their own (often much more complex, though not necessarily more reliable) color matching systems. It’s a good idea to use them, because otherwise your blues may appear purple and other colors can shift, sometimes dramatically.

If you’re using bleeds (where your printed image runs off the edge of the page without a border), make sure any item that bleeds actually runs off the page by at least 1/8th of an inch. Make sure there’s room on your paper size for crop and registration marks (most software will insert these marks automatically--but if you need custom marks, then you must add them yourself).

Now choose File Print. Most programs have a button called “Printer” or “Printer settings” to let you make sure that what you set for the printer is still set. I check this every time, just to make sure.

Most programs also include a button called “Options” or perhaps “output” or “imagesetting.” You need to click on this to set the specifics of how you want the job sent.

I’ll use Xara as an example, because it makes this process simple--but every program has its own different controls.

Xara2 has four tabs representing imagesetting, output, print layout and separations. Go through each one and choose the settings you need.

Imagesetting: You will want printer’s marks. Ask your printer and SB what kind of film they need--positive or negative, and whether they need emulsion up or down. You can set these here. I almost always choose “Always overprint black” for two reasons. 1.) Black looks better overprinted, and 2.) It helps you avoid problems in the final printout. If you don’t choose this, objects behind the black will be “knocked out” (they’ll print as white), and if the print job isn’t perfect, you’ll see white halos around your black objects. Overprinting avoids this and makes even lesser print jobs look better.

Output: These features will vary from program to program. Xara lets you select what’s output (visible layers or everything)--don’t choose everything unless you really want it. You can choose the PostScript level here--if you’re using a Level2 printer, choose Level2--it will make your files more efficient. Print as: in most cases, choose PostScript. If your file is especially complex and you are having trouble printing it, choosing Bitmap or Anti-aliased bitmap will ensure it prints--but you won’t get printer’s marks, and your text and line art may not be as sharp. What I recommend instead is to have Xara convert a number of complex objects into single bitmap inside the file itself, then output as PostScript.

I always set the transparency resolution to automatic, and I always choose “Print all text as shapes.” That ensures that all fonts print correctly, all the time.

Print Layout lets you specify where your image prints on the paper. It’s best to set this before you get to this point, something you can do from File/Print Options. Make sure to turn on Windows/Show printer borders so you can see how your work really fits on the page.

The final tab is Separations. If your piece is one color, you don’t need to touch this. If it uses more than one color, you must. I get good results using the printer default button, but you can ask your SB if they suggest any particular line-screen settings, and if so, you can change them here.

Click on “Print color separations” and make sure each color you want printed is checked. If you’re using “process color,” then you’ll want Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. If you’re using spot or Pantone colors, you’ll probably want Black and any other colors used in your document. If you’ve used Spot colors and now you want everything to print as process colors, click on “Print spot colors as process colors,” and Xara will convert them as closely as possible (process colors often cannot exactly duplicate spot colors, however, no matter what software you use).

Click on OK, then print.

Don’t check the “print to file” box--even though you want to get a file. Your imagesetter is already set to print to a file, and if you check this it just confuses things!

Your computer will ask where you want this file. Put it someplace easy to find, like on the desktop, so you can find it easily later! You’ll see your software telling you that things are printing, pages or separations. When you’re done, you’ll have a file (often quite large) on your hard disk.

I almost always use WinZip to compress my .PRN and .PS files. I do this for two reasons. 1.) It can take a 100MB file and turn it into a 10MB file which takes much less time to copy to a ZIP disk, and store for later use. 2.) ZIP files contain error checking software, so when the file is unzipped, if the file has been corrupted in any way, the SB won’t be able to unzip it--and they’ll know there’s a problem with the file. In some rare cases, the less-bright among the SB crowd may try to copy the ZIP file to their imagesetter and obviously, this doesn’t work. So you should label the disk with a note saying it’s a PC disk containing a ZIP file that must be unzipped before use, just in case!

>The right info

Once your files are complete, you need to send the SB information about your job. I use a Word template with spaces for what I want to include, so I just fill-in-the-blanks. My form includes:

    • Client Info
    • Billing Info
    • Ship To Info
    • Turnaround Time
    • Delivery Via
    • Media (make sure to indicate if your file is from a PC)
    • File Info - what you’re giving them, with filenames.
    • Program created and file format.
    • Output: What you want back, such as Separations on film and proofs.
    • Paper Size - plus whether you included crop marks.
    • Special Instructions, such as whether you need them to make your positive film into a negative RRED (means “Right reading, emulsion side down,” the most common request of printers--but you may have to ask your printer what they need).
    • Material: Positive or Negative
    • Resolution
    • Colors to be separated (either four process colors, or a list of the colors if you’re using spot or Pantone colors).
    • Fonts: All fonts should be included in PostScript stream.
    • Additional info: such as what kind of proofs you’ve sent them, or any special requirements.

>Extra security

Because your local printer may not be able to proof things exactly the way they’ll appear on an imagesetter, you sometimes still aren’t sure what you’ll get. There’s a solution to this, and if you do a lot of print work, it’s worth the investment.

Adobe’s Acrobat Distiller, which comes in the Acrobat package, is basically a PostScript RIP (Raster Image Processor), just like the ones in imagesetters.

Once I’ve created my .PRN or .PS file, I drag it into the Acrobat Distiller. After a few minutes, the distiller creates a .PDF or Acrobat file. You can then use the Acrobat viewer to view the file.

The miracle of this is that what you see in the Acrobat file is exactly what will appear in your output. This is the best possible way to troubleshoot your work, before you send it off. You may also want to include the PDF with your .PRN or .PS files, so the SB can use it as a proof.

Some SB’s are starting to use PDF files for final output. The advantage is obvious--everyone can see what they’ll get before they print. To do this you need to take special steps in the Distiller, otherwise your graphics will all be “downsampled” to screen resolution. Ask if your SB accepts PDF files, if they do, try them, they are the future of output files.

>More info

If you have CorelDraw 7 or 8, read the excellent booklet called the Commercial Printing Guide. It will give you all the information you need to make informed decisions about output. If not, spend a few minutes talking to your SB--they’ll be happy to help you learn how to do this right, because it will save them time, and help keep you from getting mad at them.

Sending PostScript files, rather than applications files, will take more work on your side. But the reward is that you have more control over the final process, fewer unpleasant surprises, more security (no one else can use the application files you spent so much time creating) and better results. It’s your work after all, so this final added effort is worth it.



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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