File Prep: The Extra Step

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You have probably heard the phrase “print-ready” files throughout your graphic arts or publishing career. But do you really know what that means and why it’s so important?  Do you know what considerations should be made for perfect bound publications vs. saddle stitch publications? Did you know that the type of paper you print on how it will print (digitally or on the web press) will affect the color? Do you know how to correctly calibrate your monitor and which simulation profiles should be used in the Adobe software to proof your pages on screen? Are you familiar with the recommendations for running metallic inks or other PMS colors?

If this sounds completely overwhelming, don’t worry – we are here to help!

To break it down further, let’s look at why you need to know how to set up files for a perfect bound project.  A perfect bound book is created by stacking signatures on top of one another, grinding off the spines, then gluing and clamping the covers to the book blocks.  Because of this spine grind, files need to be prepared so that all text and images are even further away from the edge than on the other three sides. Something else to keep in mind with perfect bound publications is the glue hinge. This is the 1/4” area on the spine edge of the IFC to the first text page and IBC to the last text page that has to be clear of any ink so the glue can adhere to the stock when the cover is bound onto the text pages. Due to this loss, adjustments to artwork may need to be made to ensure content isn’t lost and/or crossover images line up when bound.

In the past, you may have supplied source files to your printer to output from and PDFs were only created for proofing purposes. With today’s technology, most commercial print workflows are now PDF-based.  This means that as long as your layout is built correctly for your project, you can now generate a “print-ready” PDF file to submit to your printer. This will minimize the potential for error and reduces the time it takes to produce your project.

PDF stands for Portable Document Format.  Supplying print-ready PDFs speeds up all of the processes required for your job in our pre-press department by creating a simple workflow, providing for a hassle free transition from design through print and delivery.

A print-ready PDF must meet certain criteria for your file to print without encountering problems. (Additional criteria may be required depending on your project specifications.)

  • The document’s page size is correct and exact.  (E.g.: do not set your files up to be 8.5 x 11 – they must be 8.375 x 10.875 for most magazines)
  • Files are supplied with a minimum of 1/8” bleed.
  • Any printer’s marks are outside the 1/8” bleed area.
  • Fonts are embedded or converted to outlines.
  • All resolution is 300 dpi at 100% of the final image size.
  • Artwork not meant to bleed is at least 1/4” from the trim edge; this is the top, bottom and face of the page.
  • Small black text is 100% black and not a mix of CMYK.
  • The file is supplied as CMYK and does not contain PMS colors or other color space such as RGB. If you are unfamiliar with this terminology don’t worry, we will convert it for you, though some colors may shift.
  • Any multiple-page PDF consists of single pages running from the front cover through to the back cover, including blank pages if needed.
  • All files are clearly labeled.

Once the layout has been built and meets the criteria for your project, you are now ready to export to PDF. We can provide you with PDF instructions for all major layout software and versions. These instructions will walk you through setting up a preset to generate PDFs that are usable by us. However, they will not “fix” files that are setup incorrectly.  Remember, if you have questions about color management, file prep and layout, we can help!

For these reasons and so many more, it is important that your files are set up as correctly as possible to ensure the highest quality on your publication.  Don’t be intimidated, however, as we have a resident Prepress Technical Advisor/Customer Trainer, Michele McNutt, who is here to help you every step of the way.  If you are in Colorado, we invite you to set up a meeting at our plant with Michele to get you on the right track.  If you’re not local and you need dedicated support in building your files, don’t worry – we can send Michele to you!

This is one of the many services we offer that sets us apart from the “other guys.” The experts in our prepress department and their availability to you is unparalleled. That’s because we believe in investing in the long-term success of our customers. We want to help you succeed and grow – and you might also refer your friends our way.





  1. Susan  September 25, 2015

    “Small black text is 100% black and not a mix of CMYK.” How small is small? Anything smaller than 8pt.?

    • Stephanie Roose  September 25, 2015

      Hi Susan! Michele here. The reason we recommend keeping “small black text” as 100% K only rather than a build of CMYK is because it can potentially become out of register on press. This can happen if there’s even the slightest variation or bounce during the registration of CMYK or throughout the course of the run, resulting blurry type or halos around your type. This can commonly be seen on Newsprint publications where the text almost looks as if you need 3D glasses to see it clearly.

      As for a recommended point size, that will depend on the design, the font/typeface being used – some fonts will be larger at 8pt than others based on how the font has been designed. Another factor is if it’s a bold or thin typeface. Bold typefaces will have less potential of becoming out of register than thinner typefaces. A good is example is the difference between Arial Black and Arial Regular. If you were to type the same line of text in both typefaces, you will see how much heavier Arial Black is. The other factor is if the type is vector and allows trapping or if it’s raster (pixels).

      We know there will be times when small, built black text is unavoidable such as in ads generated from Photoshop with the default black or RGB. In these instances, there may be little that can be done to change it.

      If ever in doubt or if you have further questions, feel free to email me ( some test pages with your concerns or call me to discuss them further. I am always happy to review files and give feedback.


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