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Avoiding Common Mistakes in Graphic Design

Updated on December 29, 2013

Designing For Print Tips

Mistakes in layout and design account for 80% of pre-press costs when a file goes to a commercial print shop. Most of these mistakes can be eliminated if a graphic designer knows standard design errors and how to avoid them.

What you have on your screen is the sum of over 20 years experience in the graphics and printing industry. Check out some helpful standard tips that will help save your company costly pre-press errors, missed deadlines, and substandard output.

CREATE YOUR DOCUMENT TO SIZE

The document size should represent the final trim size of the document. This page size will be used to automatically set trim and registration marks. Be aware of folding panels. Do your work at 100% size of the printed piece and allow for proper margining where you want it to fold. If creating a book, Insert blank pages where they would appear in the finished book to keep all ODD numbered pages as right-handed pages and EVEN numbered pages as left-hand pages in the book. The book will be bound in the center, you will need more margin on the inside of the pages where they are to be bound.

INCLUDE BLEEDS

Bleeds are areas where an object extends beyond the edge of the printed page. Make sure items needing to print to the edge of the paper extend or “bleed” 1/8” beyond the edge of the page to accommodate for variances when the printed piece is trimmed down.

LINK GRAPHICS - DON’T EMBED

Graphics used in the document should always be linked to (not stored in) the publication. This reduces the file size, allows for faster saves and reduces the chance of the graphics getting corrupted. Also, if there are problems with the graphic, it allows the design staff a better chance of fixing the problem if you also include your graphics in their native format when you send your file.

SEND ALL FONTS USED

All fonts used to build the document, including those used in graphics, should be submitted along with the application files. All fonts used should be embedded in any PDF file sent for proof or final output. If fonts are not included, substitution will occur and even fonts of the same name by different company’s may produce undesirable results.

DO NOT USE STYLE ATTRIBUTES

NEVER use the “style” commands in your layout file to make fonts bold or italic. ALWAYS use the actual bold or italic font. What this means is: when you are typing along, and you want something to appear bold or italic, DO NOT click that little “B” or “I” button! Go to your font menu and choose the bold or italic version of the font. Rule of thumb: If it’s not there, you probably don’t have it... and we will not be able to print it.

PROPER SCANNING

Line art should be scanned at 100% of the finished size at a MINIMUM of 600 dpi and halftones (photographs) at 300 dpi. When working with 4-color images, remember to convert all graphics to “CMYK” never “RGB”. Save as Photoshop EPS or TIF. Do not use file compression when saving your scans.

ALL EPS FILES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL

EPS files have always been a source of confusion to a lot of artists. Basically, there are two types of EPS files. One is Raster and the other is Vector. Raster Images can be EPS’s. They also include file formats such as bitmap, picts, jpgs, gifs, or TIFFs. Raster images are those created with Paint programs such as Adobe Photoshop, or scanned into your computer. These images are created at a specific resolution that will only be accurate at the original image size. Therefore, any scaling, cropping, or rotating should be done before the image is placed into the page layout program. Because raster images are resolution specific, any scaling in a page layout program, can cause a significant degradation in quality.

EXAMPLE: If a 300 dpi image is enlarged to 200%, the resulting image is 150 dpi. If a raster image is rotated in a page layout program, the program tries to re-map the pixels, most often causing rough edges. If a raster image is cropped in the page layout program, the file size is larger than necessary and the entire uncropped image will be sent to the imagesetter also increasing output time. To reduce output time and the amount of possible complications, it is best to do any image editing in an application that is meant to do so. (see Editing Images.)

Vector Images are those images that are created by illustration programs such as Corel Draw, Illustrator and Freehand. Vector art is a series of nodes and lines that are object oriented, meaning that you can click on an object rather than a pixel and make changes to the entire object. Vector images are not resolution specific and can be scaled up or down with no degradation of quality. This is the preferred format of logos that are not printed in 4 color process (CMYK) because they are crisper and more defined.

BEWARE OF NESTED GRAPHICS

Do not place an EPS graphic within another EPS graphic. Graphics should ONLY be “placed” in the final layout program. PostScript errors are almost guaranteed to happen when nesting is done.

EDITING IMAGES

For the sake of simplicity and to avoid locking the RIP, edit your images only in their native program, THEN import into your layout program. Editing images in any page layout program (e.g., scaling, rotating, and cropping) significantly slows and may possibly prevent the output of the document on a high resolution output device.

INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

Microsoft Publisher, Word, Excel and Power Point are home/office utility programs that were created primarily for output to laser and inkjet printers... not for commercial printing. The problems encountered with files created in these programs are generally costly and usually result in resetting the entire job in something your provider can use. If you are going to be designing for commercial printing, we highly recommend purchasing programs developed for output to high resolution imagesetters and presses such as Adobe Creative Suite.

EXCEPTION: Creating copy in MS Word is acceptable, but try to remember that your computer is not a typewriter. There is no need to double space after a period because our layout program will take care of that for you with automatic kerning. Be sure to set proper tabs and use centering features (rather than spacing text to desired position) and save all copy text as Rich Text (.rtf) for import into a page layout program.

INCLUDE A PROOF

If supplying a finished file, please send a complete set of currently edited lasers (or PDF) at full size (100%), 600 DPI (minimum) of the files you are providing, including any blank pages in the finished copy, showing registration marks, trim marks and document information to ensure our output matches your expectations.

VERIFY PROGRAMS SUPPORTED

Every shop is different and each will have a preferred layout program. You would be well advised to verify you have this program before starting your design job, otherwise you may find yourself resetting the entire thing, or paying someone else to do it for you.

I personally prefer documents created with Adobe Creative Suite: Adobe InDesign for page layout, Adobe Photoshop for Raster Art, and Adobe Illustrator for Vector Art; however, most places do accept files in Quark Xpress and PageMaker (for as long as their operating systems allow). If you have another program you would like to use to create a document, or want to make a “dummy” for them to re-layout in InDesign or their choice of layout program, please export as a PDF at full size, with full crop marks and bleed, including ALL the fonts, and support files.

NOTE: PDF files usually cannot generally be edited. If the file will require changes or updates at any point, it is best to let them reset it in their layout program if you cannot do this yourself.

PRE-FLIGHTING & PACKAGING

Most professional layout programs have a “Save for Service Provider” or a “Preflight/Package” option from the program menu. Use it! Not only does this option gather EVERYTHING we need to print your job in one easy to transport folder (including fonts, updating linked graphics, photos, and native files); pre-flighting your own job will allow your program to catch problems that these instructions may have missed. Fixing problems at the designer level saves you billable time at the pre-press level!

ENCLOSE YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION

One of the most common mistakes made is in not providing the service provider with contact information so they can reach you if you have a problem. If you can't be reached and they have a deadline, you may find this mistake has incurred correction charges on your final bill... or worse... your job will be put on HOLD and will not make deadline at all! A simple text file enclosed with your documents will insure that they have all the information they need, when they need it. InDesign actually creates this text file for you when you use the Preflight option.

VERIFY MEDIA SUPPORTED

The most common types of media supported are: CDs and DVDs. Be sure that you burn them as ISO format, SINGLE SESSION disks. Most places can also accept USB 2.0 Flash Ram but please label your stick if you want it returned to you.

ELECTRONIC TRANSFER

Place your document and all support files into one folder and using a file compression program ZIP them. Compressed files 5 megs or less can normally be e-mailed. If your compressed file is more than that, ask if your provider has an FTP server. When naming your compressed file, it is standard to use your client's name, then the project name to be sure it can be readily identified in a crowded upload folder full of other customers.

EXAMPLE: clientname_3foldbrochure.zip

Don't forget to E-mail or phone the intended recipient right after you finish uploading so they can confirm that they have received it.

HAS THIS BEEN HELPFUL?

Please comment!

© 2009 Sherry Baker

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    • Sherry Baker profile image
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      Sherry Baker 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Nice check list, Larissa :)

    • profile image

      Larissa 8 years ago

      It is easy to make mistakes when taking a project to print. As a graphic designer, I like to use a printing checklist: http://ljdesignstudio.com/ultimate-design-checklis...

    • profile image

      Mark 9 years ago

      I always got slack for bringing my MS Word documents to my local printshop and never really understood why it was such a big deal to them. I thought a computer program was a computer program, you know?

      You explained it in a way that I could understand. I wouldn't use a screwdriver to hammer a nail... The right tools for the job... Thanks!

    • profile image

      Tara 9 years ago

      Boy, you just saved me a TON of money. All the pictures in my flyer were RGB and they were going to charge to convert them all. If I hadn't read this I would have let them! Thanx!!!

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