Welcome to Exploring Digital Prepress

This blog is devoted to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news about

this exciting prepress book. Check back often for up dates and announcements

on Exploring Digital Prepress!

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Friday, November 15, 2013


HELP!! Cengage has decided not to reprint any further copies of Exploring Digital Prepress starting this year. We need to launch a campaign to have a new edition published. I need you to write my publisher now and let them know you would like a second edition. You can email Jim Gish, Senior Acquisitions Editor.

Click this link to email Jim:

We want a new edition of Exploring Digital Prepress


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Proper PDF workflow practices

I overheard some designers talking amongst themselves and debating whether they needed to preflight their files anymore. Apparently they felt that since new versions of Adobe® Acrobat Pro have a preflight feature that allows a prepress department to fix errors in PDF files that designers send them, they could send their files to the printer without making sure there were no significant errors. This is like never performing any maintenance on a car you own and then taking it into the repair shop after it no longer runs—a very expensive way of doing things. While a few errors can be ignored in the Preflight window, such as an uncompressed page description, PDF-X compliancy errors in a file that was not saved using ISO standards and spot color warnings where Pantone® inks are being used for printing, many others cannot. Preflighting files during the design and production phases is even more important than at the prepress stage. Why? Because mistakes become more costly to fix when the job is being impositioned to plates just as a car is more expensive to repair when it breaks down. If the errors are too significant, the PDF file gets trashed and the designer has to return to the native production document to correct the problems.
The most common errors I see when my students submit PDF files are low resolution images, leaving images in RGB mode, missing bleeds, using fonts that do not embed properly, hairlines, transparency issues, specifying the wrong type of Pantone® ink and overset text (too many CMYK inks in text smaller than 9 points). While some of these are fixable in Acrobat Pro, it becomes a time consuming process. So how does a designer eliminate these errors before the trouble becomes serious? The answer lies in proper workflow management and eliminating bad habits. When a designer becomes prepress savvy, it makes bother their lives and their printer's lives much easier. So here are my suggestions on what designers need to be do to make sure their PDF files are free from serious problems.
  • First and foremost, save image files as close to the actual size before importing them into their layout document. This eliminates many resolution problems that need to be fixed later on in Acrobat. They also need to convert images to CMYK color space instead of leaving them in RGB. However, color profiling can be applied at the prepress stage using proper workflow software.
  • Bleeds are a necessity when a job requires trimming after it comes off the press. While most newspapers have margins instead of bleeds, nearly every other job requires ink to bled off the page by at least 1/8 of an inch. If you plan on printing with an web offset press, then it needs to be 1/4 inch. Talk to your printer to make sure your bleeds are set right.
  • Downloading free fonts from the Internet is a bad habit that should be avoided. Many of these fonts have printing restrictions, poor kerning tables and are missing special characters such as proper quotation marks and ligatures. Only fonts from reliable sites such as those run by true fontographers such as Ray Larabie should be used in your layout document. 
  • Transparency features in many layout programs are a cute idea, but they can cause many problems when the file gets output to plates. Transparencies need to be flattened when saving a PDF file and always at the high resolution option. If you are placing objects over an image and applying a transparent effect, it is better to perform this in Photoshop® using the opacity mode in the layers palette. 
  • When a stroke has a width of less than 0.25 points it becomes a hairline. While many men worry about their hairline, designers love using them in their artwork. Unfortunately, most presses cannot print a hairline as the ink will not show up on the paper as it is too fine a line to image properly. Always make your strokes at least 0.25 points so they will print.
  • When creating spot colors in your document, make sure you use the correct color model of Pantone® inks. For instance, if you plan on printing your piece out on a clay coated stock, then use the Pantone® Solid Coated model. Check with your printer if you are not sure.
  • If you have to use mouse size type in your document, then try to make it 100 percent black or at least two solid process inks. Using four process colors that are screened on 7 point type will only cause a registration nightmare for your printer. Avoid this especially if you plan on using a light version of a font.
There are other errors that show up once in a while when you preflight a PDF file, but these tend to be the most common. It takes patience and practice to learn good prepress and workflow habits, but the rewards are enormous.You will save your studio thousands of dollars, not to mention hundreds of lost hours and your print provider and their prepress department will worship the ground you walk on—okay, maybe that's a stretch, but you will look like a PDF workflow hero instead of a zero.
Adobe® is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Inc. Pantone® is a registered trademark of Pantone LLC. All other trademarks and brand names used in this article are the property of their respective owners.
© Copyright 2013. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint by permission only.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Printing batch files in InDesign

Looking for a quick way to print or process InDesign files? For years graphic designers have relied on BatchOutput for this task. BatchOutput is a plugin for InDesign made by Zevrix Solutions. It allows for printing and exporting to multiple formats. Designers and production artists have used BatchOutput extensively as a solution to speed up the printing process and limit the possibility of errors. However, in February of this year BatchOutput was renamed Output Factory, which continues to automate and simplify the output workflows of graphic designers with enhanced functionality. According to Zevrix, Output Factory is the ultimate solution to automate InDesign's output tasks. The plugin supports printing, processing and exporting to PDF, PostScript, EPS, Flash, INX, IDML and many other graphic image formats.
Output Factory's key features include; batch processing and multitasking, various output options, workflows and actions, variable file naming, layer versioning, preflighting of InDesign and PDF files, enhanced file delivery, and more. Output Factory, which works with the latest versions of InDesign can be purchased on the Zevrix Solutions site for $169.95. A Light version is also available for $119.95, as is a free passfine trial. If you need to multiple print files on a regular basis, then Output Factory is a good solution for your workflow needs.
Go to the Zevrix website for more information.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why do designers not take prepress seriously?

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear designers working in a studio downplay the role that prepress plays in the design process. Over and over they will say they "do not do prepress." And the reason—some claim they are too busy while others think it is beneath them. Truth be told designers should be more prepress savvy than production people simply because they are the creative ones who come up with the idea in the first place. Production artists or studio people simply follow the creative and produce the final file which will be imaged to plates. They will not add or enhance the design unless the designer directs them to do so. A designer who has a strong understanding of prepress can add special inks or finishes to enhance their design or suggest alternative printing methods that can add dynamics to their concept. A production artist is nothing more than a foot soldier carrying out orders, while a designer is a commanding officer in charge planning how the creative piece will fulfill the client's needs. They have the last say on it will evolve and what form the final printed piece will take.

So why isn't prepress taken more seriously by creative types? Why are they not as familiar with both the limitations and possibilities of translating what is on screen to the actual paper? I think the problem lies in the way workflow production is taught in post-secondary education, as the material is often delivered in a dry and technical perspective. Many books I used before writing Exploring Digital Prepress were very complex with formulas that many students could simply not understand much less remember. Instructors using these texts would ask students to perform tasks that were rarely used in the industry like calculating the size of an image in Photoshop® using only its bit-depth and dimensions in pixels. Well this information can be obtained by going to the bottom of the Photoshop® window and selecting document sizes from the pop up menu. Why should a designer or anyone for that matter waste valuable studio time on this? Academia sometimes lose sight of the fact that in the business world, time is money! So don't expend energy on trivial exercises to prove you're a prepress Einstein. Instead, show your boss or creative director how clever you are by producing a unique piece.

You can prove you are a prepress guru by adding a spot varnish or blind emboss to the cover of a brochure or saving costs by substituting a spot color used in a logo for one of the process inks and saving the client money in how many plates are required which saves printing costs. Suggest a paper stock that makes the piece look more expensive and elaborate without blowing the client's budget. Or if you're limited in the number of inks you can use, then make your images into multichannel duotones thereby enhancing them. A die-cut or unusual fold can add interest to your piece without significant cost. Many of these techniques are explained in Exploring Digital Prepress. If knowledge is power, then prepress knowledge is a designer's secret power! Use it to your studio and their client's advantage—they will appreciate your extra efforts. For a designer who truly understands prepress is ten steps ahead of the rest. With this knowledge you can go boldly where others dare not tread.

Photoshop is a trademark of Adobe Systems Inc. All other trademarks and brand names used in this article are the property of their respective owners.

© Copyright 2013. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint by permission only.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More proof that the analog age is gone…

A couple of weeks ago I was driving on the way to work and the radio announced that Kodak had filed for bankruptcy. “WHAT!” I nearly swerving my car into the oncoming lane. “Kodak… I can't believe it!” For those readers who were born after 1990 this may not seem like a big news story, but for those of us born prior to the digital age, it is like finding out that the lunar landing was faked. It defies all reason and is surely a sign that 35 mm photography has bitten the dust once and for all. Sad thing too because I still know many photographers that swear by the old rolls of film.
A few months ago I wrote about Kodachrome® film and its demise. Now the company that invented it may no longer be around much longer. It was Kodak that invented color film back in the 1930s, spawning numerous industries in the graphic arts field. Every designer, photographer and artist working before the turn of the 21st century owes their livelihood to Eastman Kodak. Think of where the world would be today without that invention. We would still be watching movies in black and white. Modeling agencies would not exist and neither would food stylists. Photography studios might not have proliferated and would probably be few and far between. The advertising and graphics industry would not have the influence or power it has today.
Still, there are those who will say it was inevitable. All things change and digital photography is the preferred method of nearly every photo studio. It is difficult to argue as to the efficiency with which a digital image can be uploaded onto a service providers ftp server and then imaged on a color printer. Still, I remember developing 35 mm film by hand in high school. It was fun and you could play with exposure times to tweak the brightness and contrast of the image. Now all that can be done with a number of different image editing programs like Photoshop®.
So what new invention will come about to replace a traditional prepress process? Your guess is as good as mine. Who knows, maybe printing plates will soon become a thing of the past?

Kodachrome® is a registered trademark of Kodak Canada Inc. Photoshop® is a trademark of Adobe Systems Inc. All other trademarks and brand names used in this article are the property of their respective owners.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint by permission only.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Changing colors in Photoshop

A new video that shows how to replace colors in Photoshop using the "Replace and Selective Color" functions. Check it out on YouTube!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Printing ink prices on the rise

I have recently observed that many manufacturers of printing inks have announced price increases. While it seems odd that ink prices would rise when the economic is still recovering from a recession, it gives printers an opportunity to explore alternative ink resources. Nearly every graphic artist working on this side of the world is more than familiar with Pantone® and process ink systems (CMYK for the layperson), how many of us know that there are numerous printing inks available besides these standards? Truth be told, a designer has many options for specialty inks that can be used to enhance print quality. While ink systems such as Toyo and Focoltone are used sparingly by graphic designers on this continent, there are a number of alternative ink suppliers that produce exceptional quality at affordable prices.
The Flint Group is a manufacturer of printing inks based in Luxembourg, Germany. After opening numerous plants in North America several years ago, they are making headway into the North American printing ink market with brand name inks for nearly every printing method. Flint Group has been established for over two centuries in Europe (the company’s history can be traced back to the 1700s when the earliest presses were developed in Europe) making them one of the oldest manufacturers of printing inks.  By implementing an aggressive marketing and sales campaign coupled with competitive prices they are prepared to give existing North American ink manufacturers a run for their money.
Heptacromía® is one ink type that has been developed by the TrueTONE S.L. company of Italy for use on a gravure press. The system uses seven colors for printing from a definitive formula that is unmatched for precision. Heptacromía® inks can be matched to nearly any color model regardless of press conditions or substrate used. While their marketing efforts have so far been limited to Europe, demand from gravure printers here searching for improved ink quality with competitive pricing may start opening doors in the gravure printing industry.
Another consideration for printers is the ecological consequences from the inks they have been using. These concerns have swayed many printers to using inks that are more environmentally friendly. Although vegetable based inks have been around since the 1980s, many ink manufacturers have begun to produce soy-based inks as an alternative. While the cost of soy inks may be higher many printers acknowledge that the quality of soy ink is superior and contains less volatile materials. In fact, the Flint Group, Pantone® and many other manufacturers now offer soy-based inks as an alternative. While soy ink may not supplant petroleum ink right away, it is certainly a choice for printers to consider when selecting ink suppliers.
Only one question remains for a manufacturer of alternative ink systems. Will Adobe® incorporate these new ink systems into their ink swatch libraries for their CS line of products? Perhaps if they become popular enough but if they are used sparingly and only for specialty printing, it would seem unlikely. Still, a designer can create a spot color based on these inks and indicate it to the printer by renaming it and providing a swatch sample (this technique is demonstrated in our book, Exploring Digital Prepress). So for the designers reading this, do not be afraid of using alternative ink sources for your next project. Encourage your print provider to use environmentally friendly inks.

Adobe® is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Inc. Hepticromía®, is a registered trademark of TrueTONE S.L. Pantone® is a registered trademark of Pantone LLC. All other trademarks and brand names used in this article are the property of their respective owners.

© Copyright 2011. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint by permission only.