Four Color Printing Tips for Publishers

Manufacturing a book is a pretty intricate process.  Even experienced publishers have questions from time to time.  How do you really know that the files you’ve worked so hard to prepare will really produce the desired end result?  Here are some common elements we see questions on when it comes to four color printing on offset web presses.

What Image Types Will Work Best?

It is very important to get image formatting and file type right when submitting files for printing.  Having a resolution that is too low or a file extension that is not well suited for the type of image can make the finished product look very bad.

For example file formats like .gif or .jpg compress resolution and/or picture color.  This can cause colors to shift or make images blurry on printed paper.  Your files may look fine on a computer screen or even when printed on a consumer printer but when put through a commercial printing process, things can go awry.

Here are some tips to make sure your images are good to go:

  • If you scan images yourself or even download them from a commercial source, be sure and use .tif or .eps files
  • Avoid using .jpg or .gif image files (even if you convert them to a suitable format)
  • Scan or download images at a 300dpi (dots per inch) resolution
  • Make sure the resolution remains at 300dpi at the size you intend to use images (hint: it’s ok to make a big picture smaller but avoid increasing the pixel dimensions of a small image)
  • Work with your images in software common to the printing and publishing industry (such as Adobe products)

Does the Printer Need My Fonts?

A good prepress department will let you know if they are missing the fonts that you have used in your print-ready files.  You should know that not all fonts are always available in all versions of software and your printer’s prepress department may be using different software than you are.

It’s always good to ask if your printer has the fonts they need to produce your work just as you intended.  If you use default fonts in desktop publishing programs that are common in the printing and publishing industries, your printer may already have them.  If not, it is simple enough to send a font to your printer in a zip file.

From Web to Print

A common misconception is that images will look the same (or similar) in print as they do on a computer screen.  Computer monitors create colors using three primary colors (red, green and blue or RGB.  Electronic devices like scanners or digital cameras also create images using these three colors.

Many printing presses create images using four primary colors of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK).  At some point during the process, your images must be translated from RGB to CMYK.  Many high-end editing programs like InDesign can do this task for your images.  An issue arises when colors are used that have no CMYK companion.  In these cases, a printer will get the closest match possible meaning that your images may sometimes look slightly different than they do in your document.

What Color Can My Text Be?

For the most part, small text should be in black.  It is safer to use colored text in larger headers or titles of sections but in small text there can be a haloing effect.  This phenomenon is called misregistration and it happens when the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black portions of the printed text do not line up exactly.  This results in text having the halo effect or even looking fuzzy around the edges.

Can Text Go Over Images?

Text over images is fine however you have to be cautious.  The final printed piece can vary for many reasons and text over images might look fine on a computer screen but much different on printed paper.

Ideally you should avoid using images as backgrounds for text.  If you do, make them lighter than the text by reducing their transparency.  Err on the side of caution and make them lighter than they probably need to be as viewed on a computer screen.  If you have any doubts, ask the prepress department of your printer to make sure the text on images will be readable.

Bleeds and Why You Need Them

A bleed is a printing term and it refers to ink that goes right to the edge of the paper.  During the printing process, ink does not actually get printed right to the edge of the paper.  Instead, this is achieved by inserting guides into your print-ready files where your book is to be trimmed after printing.  This way only the ink is left at the edge of the page instead of the paper.

A typical bleed is .125” on all margins of your pages.  Layout your design knowing that any text or images that go beyond your bleed lines will be trimmed during the manufacturing process.

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