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10 Common File Mistakes

How to design for successful print production by avoiding these

10 Common File Mistakes

During a recent PCC Senior Design Class tour, I was asked to present Acculink’s typical file workflow process. I immediately thought of these 10 Common File Mistakes which can drain your resources quickly; especially time and money. These mistakes can also become frustrating and embarrassing when your boss or client return upset because the printer is unable to use the file. Most errors can easily be avoided by communicating directly with the printer prior or during the file setup process. Ensure projects will be produced exactly as intended and within budget, while making clients or the boss sing your praises in avoiding these 10 Common File Mistakes.


Inadequate or No Bleeds

The Problem

Bleed is the area on a printed sheet that extends beyond the trimmed edge and is extremely important to consider before beginning a design. Missing or inadequate bleed can cause a white sliver to appear on trimmed edges leading to an unprofessional look. The bleed area is for graphics that fall to the edge of the design piece so be sure not to put any important design elements in this area like crucial copy, logos, or borders.

The Solution

To prevent the undesirable white line on projects, we require at least 0.125in of bleed for each edge that extends beyond the trim line of a piece. Borders should also be reviewed to make sure they are inside the bleed area and the line weight is correctly positioned near the clear zone. For most printing projects, 0.125in bleed is perfectly adequate, however, certain projects that are larger may need additional bleed to ensure full-color edges or less bleed to accommodate gripper tolerances. Talk to your printer if you are unsure how much bleed to add to a project. They will appreciate you asking for this information upfront to prevent unnecessarily long lead times and reprints.


Improper Resolution

The Problem

Resolution determines how sharp or clear an image appears. Resolution for images on-screen is judged on their ppi (pixels per inch). Low-resolution images will appear grainy and blurry when printed making for a low-quality, amateur print. However, it is possible to have your resolution too high which will bloat files and make them difficult to edit or print.

The Solution

Reducing the risk of grainy, low-res images is easy by ensuring CMYK images are a minimum of 150 dpi to a maximum of 300 dpi while grayscale images should be a minimum of 300 dpi to a maximum of 600 dpi. Although resolution can be higher or lower based on the printed piece. A lower resolution will work if printing a project that will be viewed from further away like posters. If you’re ever uncertain which resolution is best, consult with your printer to avoid any production quality issues.


Artwork Outside of Safe Zone

The Problem

The safe zone is where important information is contained. The overall design should remain in the confines of a safe zone to avoid it from being cut off unless it is meant to bleed off an edge. Artwork designed with important text or images close to the trim edge runs the risk of being trimmed incorrectly or cut into. A costly error that could require a redesign and reprint of an entire job.

The Solution

To safeguard against essential pieces of copy or images getting cut off, define a safe zone area within the project. The best way is to apply at least 0.125in all the way around a piece. Artwork can still bleed, but parts that need to be legible should stay within the safe zone.


Designed to the Wrong Size

The Problem

When you want a standard booklet size (8.5in x 5.5in) and submit an 8.5in x 11in “press-ready” document, the file will need to be rearranged or reduced to fit the correct size which could leave large amounts of white space in the layout or be rejected by the printer since it doesn’t fit the estimated job specifications. This is costly to project deadlines and potentially your bottom line.

The Solution

In order to avoid reprints, always begin designing the size of the artboard so it matches the correct trim size. This will save you the headache of reworking a finished piece. If you’re unsure the best size to design for the stock you want to use, consult your printing company prior to setup.


Incorrect Program Used When Designing

The Problem

There are many different programs that can be utilized when designing a project. Using the right design software for a specific type of project (ie; logo, text, photos), should be employed otherwise your output may not be as efficient or effective. If a business card layout is comprised primarily of text in Adobe Photoshop, then you’re going to have fuzzy, rasterized type. Photoshop is a program intended to edit photographs. Using this scenario, designing your card layout in Adobe InDesign would have produced crisp text and lines since this program’s purpose is for page layout. Projects suffer when designed in software intended for other purposes.

The Solution

To avoid potential havoc an improperly used program could have on your project, always use programs for their intended purpose. Photoshop is a photo editing software, InDesign is for multipage layouts such as books or magazines, Illustrator is used for creating vector illustrations and logos, Microsoft Word is for typing up simple, text-only documents, and Microsoft Powerpoint is for creating presentations. Being aware of each program’s capabilities will prepare you to get the best output for any project.

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Applying the Wrong Color Profile

The Problem

Color profiles are numerical models of color spaces (ie: RGB, CMYK, LAB) that operating systems and programs use to give correct interpretations to output devices. These profiles define the color gamuts used by the output device. RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is used for screen viewing. sRGB and Adobe RGB are common color spaces used for this type of output. The color you are viewing right now is millions of tiny red, green, and blue pixels dotted together to form specific colors. CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) works similarly but used mainly for offset and digital printing. Some of the more common CMYK color profiles are SWOP, Coated/Uncoated GRACol, and Coated FOGRA27. A project set up as RGB will be converted to a printers CMYK color space which could result in less vibrant colors or an undesired color output.

The Solution

Always design with your output intent in mind to reduce the risk of printing wrong or objectionable colors. When making a website or graphics specifically for the internet, using sRGB or Adobe RGB is a great choice. sRGB has a small color space and works best for web graphics since most web browsers don’t support color management. However, if your project’s goal is to be printed, beginning a design with CMYK is the correct course. If you intend a project to print with black ink only, ensure the color is set to 100% black. Registration black may appear darker on-screen, but prints using all the ink colors (CMYK) instead of just black; increasing the price of your print and possible registration issues on type or lines.

Check your color separations in Adobe InDesign or Acrobat prior to submitting to a print provider. By checking color separations, you can determine how much of each color is going to be used to build specific colors. For example, a teal color could be made up of 79%C (Cyan), 13%Y (Yellow), 39 M (Magenta), and 0%K (Black) with an RGB conversion of 0R (Red), 165G (Green), and 165B (Blue). Consult a color guide or request a hard copy proof from the printer prior to producing the full job to eliminate the guesswork.

Spot colors can also be an issue if not set up properly or left in a file unused. Connect with a printer prior to setting up special spot colors like white ink or spot varnishes to make sure they are correct. Also, remove any unused spot colors from a file. Not removing unused spot colors could result in unnecessarily created plates that can eat into your profit.

Color Profile Conversions
Color Separations and Spot Color Setup


Failing to Check Your Overprint and Transparency

The Problem

Most inks are transparent. Overprinting layers these transparent inks to create interesting blends, or when used with opaque inks like white, achieve depth. Overprinting black text on flooded backgrounds can also be employed to ensure there are no registration problems.

We see most overprint issues with colors that are not intended to be set to overprint. Failing to review your overprint settings will result in colors being layered in unintended ways and run the risk of having unpredictable flattening effects. Overprint and transparency issues result in the cost of reprints and time for adjustments.

The Solution

Reviewing how the file will look flattened or flattening the file before submitting to the printer will reduce the costs for reprints, prepress adjustments, and modifications to the production schedule. Checking for overprint issues in Adobe InDesign is simple by reviewing the color separations preview and transparency flattener preview panels. If colors appear blended in unintentional ways or don’t knock out the color underneath as intended, you probably have an overprint issue. This will need to be resolved before submitting your file or the printer’s prepress department will need to fix it for a cost.

A good explanation of these transparency problems come from the prepressure.com blog:

Transparency is a very complex technology. The Adobe technical documentation on it is over 100 pages long. To simplify things, applications tend to split up a page in small square areas, called atomic zones. The effect of transparency is then calculated for each separate atomic zone. The stitch between atomic zones can sometimes show up on-screen (and even in output) as thin white lines.

Another stumbling block is the fact that a PDF file can contain transparent objects with different color spaces. Adding a drop shadow to a spot color element that sits on top of a CMYK background (or vice versa) is an example of a design that challenges the RIP or workflow that needs to process the job. Making an RGB image slightly translucent on top of a CMYK background is another example. Issues with color handling can show up as color shifts in (part of) an image.

Sometimes transparency involves the interaction between a vector based object, such as text, and a bitmap object, such as a digital photograph. Under some circumstances, software needs to partially convert a vector object to a bitmap. This is frequently the reason why text fattens up a bit on output.

On top of all of this software applications needs to work out how to best handle groups of objects that are transparent. Should each object, in turn, be blended into the background or should it be done on the entire group? Older prepress systems can really slow down when they need to flatten transparency.


Inaccurate Dielines and Folds

The Problem

Dielines in a layout serve as placeholders and are also used for die creation. They are essential for packaging, brochures, tags, lanyards, and specialty pieces. Dielines dictate where cuts, scores, and folds will be applied. These design elements are usually placed on a separate layer so it can be hidden or shown as needed in the production process. When folds, cuts, and scores are incorrectly defined, reworks and reprints may be needed due to artwork falling inside of these areas or have an amateurish look with uneven borders and offset cuts.

The Solution

Counter unprofessional looking cuts or folds by making sure you are using the correct dielines for your project. Treat the edge of the dieline like you would the edge of a regular layout. Include bleed, as necessary, and make sure to utilize a safe zone. Folds should also have a safe zone as reading something inside a fold can be difficult. If you’re unsure, it is a good idea to talk to your printer about what you need. They may already have a dielines for your special project.



Not Packaging Fonts and Images

The Problem

Packaging refers to putting all layout resources, like fonts, images, and interchangeable file formats, in one easily accessible location. When sending native files, don’t assume the files have all of the fonts and graphics used. Printers may not have the fonts used and will need to purchase them putting you behind schedule. A similar mishap can occur with unpackaged images. If your design has linked images, the printer will have to request them from you also impeding production time.

The Solution

Avoid potentially missing your deadlines, make sure you include all of the images and fonts used during the creation of your file. In addition, don’t leave unused images or assets in the Twilight Zone or pasteboard. You can package your files manually by placing all of your used images and fonts into a folder or, if you’re using Adobe InDesign, it can package your assets for you.


Failing to Adjust Font & Line Weights on Flooded Areas

The Problem

A flooded area results when a large swath of color fills the majority of an area, mostly used for flooded backgrounds. Font weight is the thickness of a font (ie thin, regular, medium, bold, etc). Using a font or line weight that is too small or thin on a flooded area can result in it filling in during printing. This occurs because inks bleed slightly filling in those smaller gaps. Possibly making type and lines look “thin” or disappear completely.

The Solution

To prevent copy from filling in, assess font and line weights on flooded backgrounds. As a general rule, don’t use font weights below medium or 9 points and make sure lines are not set to hairlines. Sans-serif fonts generally work better on flooded backgrounds than serif fonts. Serifs are thin and tend to fill in. Futhermore, fonts and substrates vary in makeup. Getting a hard copy proof from the printer will eliminate any production woes.

In Conclusion

Making sure to avoid these 10 common file mistakes will guarantee timeframes are met and costs remain as budgeted. Involving the printer at the planning stages can also alleviate any production issues, and help with finding the most cost-efficient way to produce your project. To help jump-start your next venture, we’ve developed the following guides:

*Also, see our other helpful FAQs & Guides.

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