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Basics

Preparing a file for printing by blueark
Posted: 11 Sep 03 (Edited 24 Sep 03)

QuarkXPress is generally used to prepare documents for commercial printing, but it's still something that causes many people problems. Having worked extensively in pre-press for more years than I care to admit, I've seen many people make the same simple mistakes. Hopefully this FAQ will clear a few things up.

Some Background
QuarkXPress, and DTP in general, is a young technology. Therefore, many experimental working methods from 10-15 years ago are still being used today, despite the fact that they are counter-productive. Some senior art directors are well known for producing the most needlessly time-consuming artwork, and forcing the rest of their staff to do the same!

What your document should look like
If you were asked to send business cards to print, what would your document look like? If you're like many designers, you probably have a standard size document (US letter, A4, etc), with as many cards as possible crammed onto the page.

Ten years ago, that was acceptable, because nobody knew who was responsible for what. Nowadays, people's roles are more defined. The designer designs. Pre-press figures out how many to fit onto the page, and what way they are planned up. Then it's printed. Simple.

Don't assume you know better than the people in pre-press. You probably don't know which press they are going to use, what print area they have to work with, whether they need single or double cuts, etc. If you are stubborn enough to ignore this advice, let me explain what happens.

1. You design a business card. Now would be a good time to stop.
2. You decide to be 'helpful' and duplicate them until they fill a standard page. This takes ten minutes of your time.
3. Pre-press guy looks at it. Only one crop mark between each card, but he needs two plus a gutter. He also needs to plan them up on an SRA3 sheet. He's also not sure if there are ten copies of the same card, or is there one or two different ones, perhaps with a different phone number.
4. After about a half an hour he has reduced the Quark document to the size of one business card and added bleed. In other words, 40 minutes wasted to get back to stage 1.
5. Runs the document through his imposition software. 5 seconds later, it's planned up and ready to print.

In other words, don't be helpful! Documents should be set up at exactly the size you want them. Any elements that you want to print right up to the edge of the document should extend past the page bounderies by a few millimetres ('bleed'), and anything critical should not be too close to the edge. When documents are cut down, it's unlikely they will all be cut exactly, which is why you leave these margins for error.

Here are a few other types of documents you might want to set up:

Brochure/Multi-page document
Don't try and set up printers pairs (if you don't know what they are, it's probably best if you keep it that way!). Start from page one, and add new pages in the order that they will be read. Although not strictly necessary, it's easier if you activate 'Facing Pages' in the New... dialog box. That will let you see both left and right pages by default. If it's not activated, you can still drag pages beside each other in the Document palette. I should also point out that if you don't use facing pages, and you just have single pages, it's unlikely to cause problems for the printer.

Just keep in mind that most documents will have a multiple of four pages (eg. 4, 8, 12, etc.). If your document doesn't (eg, it has 10 pages), you will have to either take some out or add some in. Don't depend on the printer to do this for you.

One personal preference of mine, when creating 4 page documents, is to actually create a 2 page document instead, but make it twice the size (eg. A3 instead of A4). Many printers find this special case a little easier to work with, and it can also come in handy if you want to create a seperate document for the cover of a brochure. Creating a separate document for the cover is common enough, especially if it's to be printed on a heavier paper, for example.

Large format
This is another confusing area. There's usually no point in leaving Facing Pages on when creating posters or banners - in fact, it's usually a disadvantage. Without facing pages, Quark imposes a limit of 48"x48" on your document. So what happens if you need to go bigger? Create a reduced version of your document. Try and keep the reduction simple, though. A 48"x96" poster should be set up as 24"x48" (half size) or 12"x24" (quater size) rather than 100mm x 200mm (8.2%). Don't forget to tell your printer that it has been reduced, and what size you expect the final print to be.

Variable Data
This is new area that has really taken off with the advent of digital printing. It refers to the way each print refers to a database for certain information, allowing you to personalize a mail shot, for example. It can get very complicated, but basic jobs, where just text is personalized, are quite simple. In fact, you set it up the same way as any other job. Use dummy text where you want the personalization to take place, but make it as long as the longest data used so you can see if you've enough room. It helps if you supply a hard copy of your artwork so you can mark exactly where the text is to be replaced.

Next, you need a database. Actually, this is just a text file, with each field delimited by a tab (other charactors can be used too, but tabs are less likely to show up within individual fields). For example, the first few lines might look something like this:

FirstName tab LastName
John      
tab Smith
Jane      
tab Moore
...       
tab ...

Many people just something like Excel instead, as it simplifies things for them, and it's easier to spot mistakes. Either way, just supply the file along with the normal documents you would send to your printer, and let them look after the rest. Just make sure they have the facility to output variable data jobs, and see if they have any other limitations too (such as single color, etc).

What to supply
When you send your document to a printer, you should give them everything they need to produce a print, but no more than that. In other words, supply the Quark document, all the images used, and every font used both in the Quark document and in any of the image files. Don't send every work-in-progress file, and don't send jobs that aren't needed - you only risk having the wrong file printed.

On a similar note, keep your filing simple. One Quark document, one folder for your images, and one for your fonts. That's all you really need for most jobs. I've received over-organised filing before, such as images split into different folders depending on what application created them. I've also seen people create different folders for printer fonts and screen fonts - now that is wasting everyones time!

The easiest thing to do is go to File > Collect For Output, and create a new temporary folder to save the results in. That will collect a copy of every file you need into one location which makes it easy to know what to send. However, version 4 and lower won't collect the fonts without third party software, so you may need to do that manually. There are flightchecking programs out there too, which can also alert you to other useful information, such as RGB images.

If you are sending your artwork by disk, I would recommend using CDs. The reason is that sometimes there's a dispute over what was supplied - perhaps the printer accidently deleted an image and is claiming it was never there. The unaltered original can be referred to on the CD, which should settle any arguements. Rewritable media, such as Zip disks, are less reliable in this situation, because original files can still be altered (not that I'm suggesting any printer would do that!)

Proofing
Finally, MyFavoriteLetterIsB kindly reminded me that I never mentioned sending folding proofs (thanks!).

The idea of sending hard copy proofs isn't always practical - you might be sending your files electronically, for example - but if it is possible, it certainly doesn't do any harm, and it may just be helpful. The main pitfall to avoid is to assume the printer is going to match the colors on your proof exactly. All printers are different, and some proofs off some inkjets are actually superior to what a commercial printer will create! With experience, you will come to know what to expect, but don't compare the qualities of two different printing processes. If you're really concerned, look into color management systems, but that's whole different can of worms...

Where supplying proofs comes in useful is when you need to eliminate any doubt regarding the bigger picture - what elements should appear where, what order the pages should appear, what the fonts should look like, how the text flows, etc. When sending files electronically, you may not have the advantage of being able to show page order, but if you keep your document simple, it should be obvious. Send a PDF anyway, and if you are preparing a job with complex folding, seriously consider sending a hard copy folded the way you want it.

Conclusion
I suppose the basic message here is, don't try to be clever. Keep your documents clear and simple, and make sure everything is supplied. There are other issues not covered here, such as color modes, spot colors and resolution, but hopefully you should now have some idea about what's involved.

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