A Newbie’s Guide to Preparing Files for a Print Shop

printing shopSo you are tasked with designing and preparing a brochure or some other marketing material for mass printing. There are a few things you should know about preparing design files for print shop use.

If you have never sent design files to a print shop for reproduction, you may not be aware of the standards that are necessary for a successful print job. Though the specific requirements for received files may differ between print shops, all shops generally need to receive files that fulfill specific requirements in order to successfully print your job.



If you are new to creating files for your print shop, there are a few things you must do to prepare the images, text pages, fonts and colors. Additionally, you need to account for slippage and movement of the paper during the printing process. By preparing images and text in advance, you take measures to ensure that the finished printed product appears exactly as you have designed it.

Your selected print shop should supply you with a checklist or guidelines for file submission. Some print shop may supply additional requirements. Generally, the guidelines will contain requirements about text pages, colors, resolution requirements and images. Though specific requirements may vary, a general list of file requirements for print shops include:

1.) Image Size

Your image files must include a bleed area. The bleed area is an area around the image. As a rule, this area is .25 of an inch. This means that if the final trim size of your image is 8 x 10, the image dimensions with the bleed included would be 8.25 x 10.25.

2.) Create “Safe” Areas inside Documents and Images

When you are creating an image for reproduction, you should keep the “safe” area in mind. The rule of the “safe” area states that any image or vital text should be at least 1/8 of an inch from the final cut trim border. Create a “safe” area of 1/8 of an inch within the final trim border and place all content inside this area. Creating a safe area ensures that none of your content will be inadvertently cut off.

3.) Working with Fonts

Not all fonts display the same across different operating systems and computers. You will need to take steps to make sure that your fonts appear as you have designed them. You have three options for ensuring your fonts properly transfer.

- Convert Fonts to Outlines

If you are using a vector-based application for design, such as InDesign or Illustrator, you may
convert fonts to outlines from within the design application.

- Flatten the Image

For Photoshop and similar programs, flatten the image to preserve the fonts.

- Embed the Fonts

If you are using a brochure design program such as Microsoft Publisher, embed the fonts into the document or image.

4.) Image Resolution

Images submitted to the print shop should be saved in at least a 300 dpi resolution. Any resolution less than 300 dpi may result in degraded images when printed. Degraded images may appear pixelated or blurry. If you plan to design highly intricate graphics, you may need to significantly increase the resolution. The higher the resolution, the more crisp and clean the graphic will appear when printed.

5.) Select the Proper Color Mode

Images to be submitted to the print shop need to be saved in the CMYK color format. Designers often create images using RGB mode. You will need to convert to CMYK color format, though the colors may vary once the image is converted.

6.) Borders Around Images

When creating borders around images, particularly white borders, make the borders at least 1/8 of an inch thick. The appearance of borders thinner than 1/8 of an inch may appear to be uneven due to slippage during the printing process.

7.) Proofread, Spellcheck and Proofread Again

Few situations are worse than finding a glaring typo after you have just had 1000 copies of a marketing piece printed. Before converting files into a format for the print shop, make sure you proofread the content several times. After you have reviewed the content, have another set of eyes proofread it for you, too. You may even want to have yet another person review the piece. Make sure every word is spelled correctly and that there are no mistakes.

8.) Catalogs and Booklets

Generally, the print shop will need to receive catalogs in booklets in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF). The print shop will likely need the file in a single-sheet PDF. This means that you will not export the PDF as a “double-spread.” Instead, you will save the PDF file in one continuous, single-spread file. The first page of the PDF will be the front cover of the publication. The last page will be the back cover. PDFs must also include the .25 inch bleed area, as well.

9.) File Formats

Your print shop may request that you send the image files in specific formats. Generally, accepted file formats include:

- Adobe Photoshop (.psd)
- Adobe Illustrator (.eps, .ai)
- Adobe InDesign (.indd)
- Corel Draw (.cdr)
- Microsoft Publisher (.pub)
- Microsoft Powerpoint (.ppt)
- Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf)
- Tagged Image File (.tif)
- JPEG (.jpg)
- Bitmap (.bmp)

Your print shop may only be able to accept a subset of these file types. Be sure to check with your print shop in advance to understand the graphics file types that will work best for the type of printed material you are designing. Work closely with your print shop from the beginning of the design process to avoid any missteps. Getting your work to the print shop in a format that they can use is essential, especially if you are facing a time crunch.

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3 Responses to A Newbie’s Guide to Preparing Files for a Print Shop

  1. Wayne Ho says:

    I was just about to send my company’s image files for printing, but I just realized that the focal points are a little too big and went beyond the printing borders or the so-called safe area when I saw the print preview. Thanks for the tip off! It really saved me an entire print job.

  2. William Bass says:

    I normally ask my graphic designer to send me the file in vector format so that the image quality doesn’t get jeopardized when I want to do an impromptu edit on the print size, which is a quite a safe method.

  3. Juan Freedman says:

    I had a tough adjusting to the PDF’s bleed area as I didn’t know about the 0.25 inch bleed area. It’s the first time I’m hiring a professional printing company, and I was quite shocked by the requirements!

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