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How to Prepare a Print Piece.

Updated on April 13, 2013

Do you know what you are getting into?

Many times in my 15 years as a graphic designer I have been involved with projects for organizations like schools, home owner associations, sports teams and social groups. These projects are typically run by a volunteer with many other volunteers contributing to the directory, booklet or program. Sometimes the volunteer in charge will have some exposure to graphic design, desk top publishing and or the printing process. More often than not, a person is put in charge of a huge project with little experience or knowledge of the printing industry. If that person is you, volunteering is a good way to learn about creating a quality printed item if you are willing to plan ahead, ask a lot of good questions, and communicate well with the other volunteers. If you spend some time learning about the process the print project you are in charge of must go through in order to be published, you can save yourself a lot of time and headache. You may actually enjoy the creative process. I began my career as a designer when I was a stay home mom volunteering at my church.

School is back in session, so make sure you count the cost before you say yes to any project involving a printer. If you don’t have a lot of spare time, pass it on to someone else. I layout printed pieces every day and I know for each page I design hours of work go into it. This includes revisions and getting the pages print ready. A 50 page document will take me 8 to 10 hours to layout once the content is gathered. Content including text, photos and graphics all need to be collected and approved before a piece is built out. When you are volunteering that translate into collecting content from many people and businesses. Most of these people will have little or no knowledge of the printing process. It will be your job to educate them. It will be your job to communicate expectations and deadlines.


Deadlines are important. To figure out your deadlines you start with the event date. When do you need the piece printed? Next you ask the printer you have chosen how much time they need from the time the finished files are received to the time you expect them to be delivered or picked up. You don’t have a printer chosen yet? Then that is the first thing you need to do. You can’t make a realistic schedule without the printer’s input. You also need to know the file requirements from the very beginning of the project. And you need to understand what they mean.

Working with files

The printer will give you a list of graphic file types that are compatible with the printing process he uses. Some printer will only accept what is called industry standard products. Industry standard products are files made from Adobe or Quark software. Other printers will also accept some Microsoft products like Publisher, PowerPoint and Word. Now days all of the current version of these products will create Adobe acrobat files which most printers accept. However, I actually ran across an online site for a big box office store that did not let you upload acrobat files. I was very surprised. But you don’t want any surprises so you need to know upfront what file types your printer uses.

I have been involved with projects that as a designer required me to compile ads for a program. The files came from many sources, through one volunteer. I placed all the ads in Adobe Indesign. Indesign is an industry standard product that is more costly than the average person wants to spend on software of this kind. It also requires a significant amount of time to learn how to use Indesign. So it is not uncommon for a professional to be involved in laying out the print piece for an organization. If you will be using a professional designer you need to find out what requirement they have and how much time they need to make the print ready file of your project. The layout process always needs checking and editing. A designer will be able to tell you how much additional time he or she needs for the proofing process. Content is your responsibility. Proofing the layout is your responsibility too. It is always best to have several people check for errors and approve the layout.

Avoiding problems

From my experience there are several common errors I have to deal with when I am working on a project of this nature. These errors can be avoided if you express your expectation upfront to the people who are contributing content.

Photos need to be 300 dpi for print pieces. Dpi stands for dots per inches. It describes the resolution or quality of a photograph that is printed by measuring the number of ink dots per inch that a printer puts down on a paper. To print a good quality photograph, 300 dpi are needed. Obtaining photos from the internet is usually the source of poor quality print pieces. Photos on the internet are usually 72 dpi and will appear blurry.

Obtaining photos from the internet brings up another problem. You need to have permission to use someone else’s photography. Only use photos you have permission for in your content. That means the person supplying the photographs needs to either own the copyright or have permission to use them. This includes all watermarked photos taken by professional photographers. A good way for you to get quality photos for your school or organization is to enlist a volunteer with an interest in photography to take photos at your events, better yet ask several people. Another source is to obtain photos from a photography site like Flickr that allows people to use photos posted under a Creative Commons license. For more information on the Creative Commons License visit

Another common problem with photos submitted for print pieces I come across is people who are unfamiliar with graphic programs who resize photos incorrectly. The result is distorted pictures. In general photos should be stretched from the corners, not the sides. When you achieve the correct size, if needed, the photo can be cropped to achieve the final size.

Another common mistake I see is having a photo taken without paying attention to the background. Busy backgrounds make for unattractive layouts. Backgrounds can be removed from a photo, but it adds to the time it takes to produce a print piece and if you are paying a designer, it will cost you money or take up valuable volunteer time. Instruct whoever takes group photos to chose a good background.

Last and not least, using too many fonts or colors in a layout makes for a busy layout and distract from the content. Choose a headline font and a font for body text. It is ok to add variations of the fonts, like bold, italic, extended and condensed. For some occasions, only if it adds to the communication of the project, a special font can be used. Make sure you send fonts to the printer with the print files if you use a nonstandard font. Never use a nonstandard font that is hard to read for the body text. Common body text fonts are Times New Roman, Arial and Verdana. There are numerous text fonts similar to these that are easy to read that you can choose from.

If you remember these simple solutions to common problems you can produce a professional looking print piece. If you plan ahead, ask a lot of questions and communicate well with everyone involved you can save yourself a lot of trouble and produce a print piece you and your school or organization can be proud of.

Correct Method of Resizing a Photo

Pull from the corner.
Pull from the corner. | Source


Crop a photo to resize it to fit a space.
Crop a photo to resize it to fit a space. | Source


Never pull from the side.
Never pull from the side. | Source


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