Wedding Typography: Sending the Files off to the Printer

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Getting everything to your printer so that he or she can create the invitations begins with checking your output. Last time we talked about saving to, exporting, or printing to PDF (from a number of non-design apps). If you’re a designer, you know this is the norm when working with printers. We’ll now take the PDF you produced, give it a quick review and note a couple of common problems to watch out for.

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File size

If your PDF file contains just text on a white background, the resulting file should be relatively small, a few hundred KB maximum. (If it includes, say, a large photo, it should be ~a few MB.) But if it doesn’t have any photos, it should definitely be below a MB in size.

Verify resolution

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Open up that PDF and zoom way in. Above, I’ve made a side-by-side comparison to show what it shouldn’t look like, and what it should. On the left, the type is rasterized—turned into pixels at a fixed level of zoom. On the right, the type is made of vector shapes—so now matter how far you zoom in, the contours remain crisp and solid. If you’re getting the problem on the left in your PDF, you’re probably using photo-editing software such as Photoshop to save your PDF. Instead, use either a professional layout program such as InDesign, or a non-design program that’s capable of delivering similar results.

One final check

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Just to make sure the fonts were properly embedded into the final PDF, it’s helpful to view it on a computer that doesn’t have those fonts installed. If when you check, the type shows up in a default font, such as Times New Roman instead of the desired ones, it means the fonts you specified didn’t embed properly. What now? It may be easiest to try the process in a different program, or call in a graphic designer who can likely help you resolve the problem with minimal effort.

Nice to have

After sending off the PDF, if at all possible have the printer send you a physical proof before production begins. This used to be the norm but now it’s more rare due to distance between printers and their customers.

Thanks Ramiro Espinoza’s Medusa for illustrating today’s post. Using Type continues here Thursday.

3 Comments

  1. Posted July 6, 2013 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    There’s a persistent myth that you can’t get vector text from Photoshop, so it’s worth mentioning that Photoshop does, indeed, save vector (non-rasterized) text in a PDF. In fact, myths aside, I don’t know off-hand of a way to prevent it.

    What Photoshop will do by default is save a complete copy of the native Photoshop file inside the PDF, making it far bigger than it needs to be. But there’s a simple way to avoid that: uncheck “Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities” in the PDF save dialog.

    Even better:
    From the “Adobe PDF Preset” dropdown menu in the PDF dialog, choose one of the print industry standards — they’re the ones with the inscrutable names beginning with “PDF/X”. “PDF/X-1a:2001″ is a really, really safe choice. Any of these will automatically turn off “Preserve Photoshop Editing Capabilities.”

  2. Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

    Thanks Alan! Photoshop’s PDF settings lie just outside my area of expertise. In this case, I’d verify that the type retains its vector outlines by printing out the resulting PDF and examining it closely for rough, pixelated edges.

  3. Posted July 8, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Permalink

    I work primarily as a print designer, and I’m a mod on graphicdesign.stackexchange.com, where this kind of question comes up every so often. Usually someone asks about using a text-heavy native Photoshop file (PSD) in a layout in InDesign. If you insert a PSD, what InDesign (or Illustrator, or just about any program that lets you preview or embed a PSD) actually uses is the flattened composite image stored inside the PSD. In the composite, any text or vector shape is of course rasterized at whatever the document ppi happens to be.

    PDF is fundamentally a vector format. It was a wrapper for Postscript, first of all, before it became the all-embracing format it is today. Saving a PDF from Photoshop and using that in a layout, rather than the PSD, results in all vector information remaining vector, making a massive difference to the output quality.

    A wedding-invitation done entirely in Photoshop can be saved as a PDF/X-1a and sent straight to the printer without quality concerns so long as there are no transparency effects applied (glows, drop shadows, etc.). Transparency can still work, but there are some extra hoops to jump through that would be tl;dr here.

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