Essential Terms to Understand When Preparing a Print-Ready File

January 30, 2023

When delivering print-ready files to commercial printers, certain requirements must be met to ensure the best possible printed outcome. The most critical requirements include crop marks, bleed, and color mode.

Crop marks, also known as trim marks, are small lines placed outside the corners of the document to indicate where the final printed piece should be cut. They are important because they help the printer ensure that the final product is cut to the correct size.

Bleed is the term used to describe the area around the edge of the document that will be trimmed off after printing. Projects with art (photograph, colored shape, etc.) intended to print to the edge of the page are printed on a larger sheet allowing for the bleed, and then trimmed to the final size. This is important because it allows for slight variations in the cutting process without compromising the final printed product. A typical bleed requirement is 0.125 inches on all sides.

Color mode refers to the color system used to create the document. The most common color modes used in print production are CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) and RGB (Red, Green, Blue). CMYK is the standard color mode used by commercial printers for offset printing, representing the colors that the printer's ink can produce. RGB is used for screen-based display and can be used with some digital press machines, but it must be converted to CMYK before printing on an offset press.

Spot color is another color set up in offset printing. Typically, this project is printed in one, two or three colors. Spot colors are premixed and used when a very specific color is needed for a project.  

Another important requirement when delivering print-ready PDF files to commercial printers is to ensure that all fonts are embedded in your exported PDF or have been converted to outlines before exporting your PDF. This helps to ensure that the text in the document will appear as intended, even if the printer does not have the same fonts installed on its system.

Ideally, it is vital to supply your printer with an editable layout file (InDesign or another program) with all the links (Photoshop and Illustrator files) and fonts used in your project. Bleed, crop marks, and color mode should be properly set and a printout of the project, folded (if intended) to its final size. This will help the printer to produce a final product that is true to the original design and meets the desired specifications.

 Lastly, be proactive. Call your printer to discuss your project to find out their specific requirements. No question is a bad question, and it will likely save you time throughout the project. Your printer will appreciate the conscientiousness, and it will ensure timeliness in your project’s completion. 

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