Four Questions To Ask A Commercial Printer Before Going To Press

Having a great relationship with a commercial printer is a must for most businesses. Even if you don't print more than a handful of projects in a year, knowing what your printer needs to be most effective and save you time and money will make these go smoothly.

The first time you work with a new printer, you'll need to ask some questions to make sure you are providing them with digital files that won't cause them undue headaches. Be sure to schedule some extra time on the project to make sure that you can go back and forth with your printer if you have any issues. A huge printing project that needs to be done immediately is often a poor time to work with and evaluate a new printing company.

Here are some questions you can ask before you deliver final files in order to get the best results.

1. What file format do you prefer?

Most printers are happy with a press-quality PDF (portable document format) file. The catch is that once you provide that, your printer doesn't have much control over the file. If colors are slightly off, or the bleed is set incorrectly, or the quality isn't high enough for output, the printer will have to reject the file.

On the other hand, if you provide both a PDF and the original source files from your layout program, like Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, the printer may be able to tweak any issues quickly.

Some printers will not work with original source files at all, and some won't work with those from Microsoft programs like Publisher or Office. Ask before you provide.

2. What size of bleed do you need?

Some files won't have a bleed, or area where a photo or graphic is set to go to the edge of the page. If you're new to design, not a professional designer, or working with a printer for the first time, it might be best to eliminate any bleeds.

If your design absolutely requires a bleed, ask how big it should be. Make sure you know whether a "1/4-inch bleed" means 1/4-inch on each side, or 1/8-inch on each side for a 1/4 total area. If you are making a PDF file, make sure your settings for the bleed are correct in your Adobe Acrobat or other PDF creation program.

3. How do you handle fonts?

Most professional designers use programs for design that can make outlines of fonts. This turns the text into a graphic and eliminates any issues with your fonts not being compatible with your printer's system. In general, this will be a printer's preference, but you should ask to make sure.

If you don't (or can't, depending on your software) create outlines, ask how the printer wants fonts to be managed. Some programs automatically gather a copy of fonts used when you create your print-ready final. If you don't have something like this, plan on an extra day or two for your printer to make sure fonts will print as desired.

4. What is the minimum resolution for my photos and illustrations?

A good rule of thumb is to use a 300 dpi image at full size for high-quality printing. You may not have access to an image of this quality, so find out from your printer what you can do and still get decent printing results.

It will also help if you run your file through a "pre-flight" or pre-press program to make sure there are no issues. For example, sometimes you might have an image in RGB (red-green-blue, used on screens) instead of CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black, used for printing) format. Converting that may be necessary to get good results from the printer. A pre-press option is included in most high-end design programs, but not with all.

Be sure to let your printer or places like JKG Print know that you do want to know about any issues so you can make sure they don't apply to subsequent print jobs. Your printer should be happy to help you learn more about how to prepare project files for the best possible printing quality.