Prepress Guide for Beginners


Here are 10 helpful reminders, tips, and tricks to make sure your files are printed successfully and in a timely manner: 

1. Use templates, if provided

Common mistakes are missing your bleeds, fold lines or not knowing where to properly position your elements. If your printer provides a template, it is best to use it. At the very least, compare your dimensions, fold lines and bleeds to make sure they match your file.

2. 300 dpi & Vector Graphics

For a quality print job, the industry standard for photos or rastered images is 300 dpi. (dots per inch). These graphics are resolution dependent, meaning they cannot scale up to an arbitrary resolution without loss of apparent quality.

All other elements should be Vector (a vector graphic is scalable without quality loss and should be used whenever possible). Fonts are also vector. Never rasterize your fonts prior to sending your file to press. Your fonts will print fuzzy.

3. Color Format CMYK v. RGB

Your Illustrator or Indesign full-color process files should always be set to CMYK so that you have full control over color. The best way to choose colors is to use a Pantone Process Book. The Pantone libraries are available in Adobe programs, but monitor representations will be much different, so you should select your colors from a physical swatch. If you do not have Pantone Books, you can do a web search for CMYK color schemes that will help guide you in the right direction.

Imported photos – Some printshops are ok with designers submitting RGB imported images because they will convert them to CMYK using their own color profiles for their press. Best to check with your printshop. However, if you would like to have more color control, here is one quick and easy way to convert RGB images to CMYK without going into the vast number of ways you can convert your file. The setting we are going to show you will allow you to convert RGB into CMYK without making your blues and greens become muddy.

BEFORE converting your RGB image to CMYK...

STEP 1 – Change your Photoshop setting: EDIT > COLOR SETTINGS. In COLOR SETTINGS Panel (working spaces), select CMYK (in drop-down, select CUSTOM CMYK)


STEP 2 – CUSTOM CMYK Panel (Set up as shown here). Save these settings. 


STEP 3 – You can now change the image mode of your document to CMYK. The look of your original RGB should remain somewhat close. If you feel your colors need to be beefed up a bit, you can add 10% to 15% Saturation (HUE/SATURATION PANEL).

4. SPOT Colors

Spot Colors should be chosen using a Pantone Solid Coated Swatch Book from a physical swatch. There are some Pantone colors that cannot be represented using the CMYK gamut. The Color Bridge Pantone Color Book Set will tell you if they can or cannot be represented well in CMYK.

You can do a web search for Pantone PMS Color Schemes that will help guide you in the right direction. Choose from colors you know. Example: if you have something printed from your favorite sports team and you like the colors, you can look up the PMS colors used.

5. Black or Rich Black

You want to make sure you have selected the correct black to be used for different elements in your project. A Rich Black is an ink mixture of black over one or more of the other CMY colors, resulting in a darker tone than black ink alone generates in a printing process. A Rich Black is used when you really want the black to pop. It can be used for anything other than body copy or small fonts.

Here is a list of Rich Black Values:

  • Typical Rich Black 1 (c75, m68, y67, k90)
  • Typical Rich Black 2 (c50, m50, y50, k100)
  • Rich Black for a FOGRA39 or G7 Qualified Printshop (c91, m79, y62, k97)
  • Cool Black (c70, m35, y40, k100)
  • Warm Black (c35, m60, y60, k100)
  • Registration (c100, m100, y100, k100) – For certain register marks only. Never use in your document.

Body copy (when using black) should only be values of (k) Black. If you are using a large headline or a font as a design element, then a rich black may be the right choice. When using other colors for body copy, it depends greatly on the font. Due to print registration limitations, you'll want to be sure you have not applied complex CMYK colors to small type. Small type should be made of one or two colors at most. Very small and delicate typefaces should be made of only one color. Also, this size type should not be knocked out in rich CMYK backgrounds, as it will print blurry.

6. Colors of imported graphics

Always check the colors of your imported graphics. Are they set as CMYK or RGB? Are they set in the correct colors? Many times, if you find a vector file online you wish to use in a job, the color gets overlooked. Your imported graphics are just as important as the main document.

7. Set up your bleed correctly

In printing, bleed is printing that goes beyond the edge of the sheet before trimming. The size of the bleed can differ depending on the job or printshop. 1/8” bleed is most likely the standard on 99% of print jobs. If you are using die cuts, definitely check with your printer on the required bleed and triple check your document against the die lines to ensure your job is accurate.

8. Remove unused layers or images

When packaging source files, it’s best to remove any unused layers or elements from your Illustrator, InDesign or even your PSD linked files before making a PDF. First, it keeps the file size down. Second, it ensures that you have looked over your files again and no extra elements or layers may be visible and print by accident.

9. Submit your file as a PDF

Export your file as a PDF (Print Optimized). Make sure your PDF is set up correctly:

  1. General – Correct pages are set to export - typically as Pages, not Spreads, for multi-page documents.
  2. General – Do not have “Optimized for Fast Web View” clicked.
  3. Compression – Color and Grayscale Images set to “bicubic Downsampling to 300 dpi for images above 450 dpi. Compression set to "none".
  4. Compression – Select “Compress Text and Line Art” and “Crop Image Data to Frames.” 
  5. Marks and Bleeds – Do not select any marks.
  6. Marks and Bleeds – Make sure your bleed values show if you click “Use Document Bleed Settings.” If not, do it manually to make sure it is set.

10. Preview your PDF in Photoshop

This is one of the tricks of the trade. Opening your PDF in Photoshop rasterizes your file and gives an accurate preview similar to your printshop's ripping software. It's amazing what you can find using this method of proofing. This is a step for proofing only.

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We hope this blog helps you. If you feel we missed any important step, or you have a trade trick you would like to share, please do so below.

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