What constitutes "output ready" or "camera ready" art. For those not familiar with these terms, "camera ready" refers to hard copy art that has been printed out or pasted up in such a manner that it is ready to be shot on the camera for film or plates (or is ready to be laid down on the copier glass for scanning). "Output ready" refers to a file that is supplied via disk or the internet that is ready to be output directly for printing without any additional work on the printer's end.

Why is it important for you to know these definitions? Simply put: time, money & quality. If you supply art to a printer that is not ready for print, there are a number of things that may happen:

  • The job may be delayed while the issues are resolved.
  • There may be additional charges to take care of the issues.
  • The quality may be compromised by unsuitable art.

Taking the steps to ensure your artwork is ready for print can seem at times like a lot of extra work. There is often the temptation to say, "I'll just let the printer handle that stuff." However, by learning how to create proper art, you are able to take much greater control over your work, achieve better consistency, and you will be able to spot potential "print pitfalls" far enough in advance that they will never occur. For those ready to take this step, please read on!

Document Margins & Gripper Margins

Most every printing device has a limit to how close to the edge of a page it can print. Most photocopiers have a ¼" margin around the edge of a sheet that they can not print beyond. Also, most presses have a 3/8" gripper margin. "Gripper margin" refers to the area on the lead edge of the printed sheet where the press "grips" the sheet. If you have anything outside the print or gripper margins on your art, it will simply be cut off when the document is printed (there are other ways to print to the edge of your document - we will discuss "bleeds" below). If you are unsure of the margins you should leave, check with your printer before creating your document.

Margins are also important within the press sheet if you are running more than "1-up" on a sheet and will require cutting, as with business cards. While most cutters are very accurate, you usually won't want to leave anything closer than 1/8" to the edge of an individual card (or other item) as there is a risk that it may be too close to allow for cutting (you don't want it cut off!). With photocopied jobs, the print image may shift around the page slightly, so you are safer to leave at least ¼" from any cuts.

While speaking of margins, it's important to note that any extraneous items in your file that are outside of the print margins (not being printed) should be removed before supplying your digital file. In some cases, items outside the print area can cause software problems when your document is being output.

"Registration" refers to the lining up of different colours on multi-colour jobs. It is rare these days to see close registration jobs (where the colours are very close together or touching) supplied camera ready. For quality reasons, it is usually better to generate film or plates from an output ready file. If you choose to supply camera ready art for multi-colour jobs, make sure it lines up very accurately, as any inaccuracies are heightened when it goes on the press. Also, make sure that your colours are not close registration if you are printing using a method (ie. instant plates/quick printing) that will not allow for it.

Trapping refers to creating a slight overlap of your colours so that there are no "cracks" or white spaces showing between them when you are doing close registration work. This is an area that varies greatly between different equipment and print companies, so check first with your individual printer regarding any trapping issues that might come up with your job. Also, there are times when small text or graphics need to be "overprinted" on the background colour instead of being "knocked out." Check with your printer regarding any issues with overprinting.

Printers Marks
Crop marks and registration marks are the most common printers marks. If your job is going to have close registration, registration marks (which appear outside the print area) are essential for lining up the different colour plates. Crop marks (or cut marks) are also essential as they show the printer where to cut your job. Even in cases where your sheet will not be cut down, it is still helpful to have crop marks on your art as it shows the printer where to position the image on the sheet when they are printing your job.

Bleeds are what we refer to in cases where you want images or text to go right to the edge of the page or right off the page. [inset side="left" title=""]Bleeds are what we refer to in cases where you want images or text to go right to the edge of the page or right off the page. [/inset] For instance, if you had a light blue background that was going to cover your entire page, you would have to "bleed" it right off the edge of the page. In doing this, you generally must have your job printed on a larger sheet and then cut down to the finished size. Most printers look for bleeds of 1/8" to ¼" inch This is the distance past the edge of your final size that any bleeds should extend to.

Page Imposition
For the purpose of discussing page imposition, imagine a 4 page newsletter, printed on 1 sheet of 11"x17" stock, folded to 8.5"x11". If you unfold it, you will notice that page 1 is next to page 4 and page 2 is next to page 3. If you had an 8 page newsletter, you would have page 1 next to page 8, page 2 next to page 7, page 3 next to page 6, etc. Page imposition refers to having your pages set in the appropriate "printer's spreads" so they will be in the right order when printed & folded. The exact imposition will depend upon the document length, the type of printing, and how many "up" the job will be printed. It can be quite useful to make up a "dummy" from scrap paper to check your imposition.

Some software supports automatic imposition, while other software requires quite a bit of work to get your pages imposed. Also, some printers have sophisticated pagination software that can impose pages. Although there is usually a charge for this service, it's a great value if your alternative is manual imposition. Watch our for page "creep" in saddle stitched documents that have a lot of pages. When the publication is folded and stitched, the pages in the centre tend to stick out slightly. In this case, you have to plan for trimming of the publication as well as large enough margins to accommodate the trimming. Talk to your printer regarding imposition before you start producing your publication and you might save a lot of time, grief and money when it's time to print it.

Art Imposition
Many items, such as business cards, are printed with more than one on a sheet (or "up"). [inset side="left" title=""]Many items, such as business cards, are printed with more than one on a sheet (or "up"). [/inset]Business cards are a good example as there is a lot of variation as to how printers run them. You will see situations where cards are printed anywhere from 2-up to 24-up. Also, depending how the job is being printed, you may need to set up your art for "work & turn" or "work & tumble" printing. These are issues you should ask about before preparing final art. A truly output ready file will contain your job fully imposed, with the right number of "ups," proper page size, and proper cut marks and registration marks (the software will often create these when the file is output). Most printers are happy to accept a 1-up file and impose it for you, although there is usually a charge for this service.

Fonts, fonts, fonts! With the advent of modern desktop publishing, there are now tens of thousands of different fonts available. NEVER assume that a printer will have the fonts that you have used in your documents. This is especially important, as there are often many different versions of fonts floating around with exactly the same name. If one of these fonts is substituted for your font, your document will likely be affected. This sometimes occurs in the form of a subtle reflow of text, which you may not even notice before the job is printed. Also, if you are using fonts that have separate files for displaying on screen than they do for printing (most Mac fonts), make absolutely sure that both versions are included on your disk.

File Formats
Check in advance to make sure that your printer or service bureau supports the software package that you are using to lay out your project in. Also, be aware that not all software packages are capable of producing art for all types of printing (even though you can see it on the screen!).

Graphics Formats
Make sure that the placed graphics and photos used in your document are in appropriate formats. There are many formats, particularly internet related file formats, that will not perform properly in a print environment. In general, save any vector based graphics as eps files and any bitmaps (photos or scanned graphics) in tif or eps formats. There are some other formats that will usually work, but these are the tried and true formats that will ALWAYS work if created correctly. It may seem like a pain to save your jpeg files out as tifs, but in the long run you will have less file errors at the time of printing and better quality, more predictable results.

USE THE CORRECT COLOUR MODEL FOR THE TYPE OF PRINTING YOU ARE DOING AND USE IT CONSISTENTLY! This is one of the biggest crisis areas in the printing industry. If you are doing full colour printing, use ONLY CMYK colour and files and select important colours from a printed CMYK swatch book (Pantone spot colours will not look the same when printed in full colour). Also, always make sure that any images for full colour printing are in CMYK mode (not RGB).

If you are using spot colours, use only spot colours and name them consistently. Often, you even have to specify whether they are coated or uncoated (CV/U or C/CVC). If you have coated and uncoated colour specified in your document, there will be a different separation printed out of each, rendering your film useless and unprintable. Please note that spot colours in bitmaps can generally only be specified by using the monotone/duotone feature in your photo editing package and saving out as an eps file.

Please note that hard copy camera ready art for spot colour printing is always supplied as a black and white sheet or black & white separations.

Resolution of Bitmap Images
Make sure that there is sufficient resolution in your bitmap graphics to support the level of quality that the method of printing allows. Also, don't create extra processing time by having images that are a way higher resolution than necessary for the method of printing. As a rule of thumb, scans & photos (at 100% of final size) need approximately twice the dpi of the eventual lpi (lines per inch) used for the print job. Copies & quick printing are often done at 75-100 lpi (requiring 150-200 dpi scans) while high quality offset work is performed at 133-175 lpi (requiring 266-350 dpi scans). One big exception to this rule is scans of text or line art. If you are scanning text to be used for high resolution printing, you will need to scan it at 600-1200 dpi. In regards to resolution, it's best to ask your printer before scanning than to end up with inappropriate scans.

Printer Drivers
If you are composing a publication in a package that reflows text according to which printer driver is selected, make sure that you have an appropriate printer driver loaded on your system and in use when you create your file. Otherwise you risk having text shift around on the page when it is output to the final printing device.

Line Thickness
Do not use Hairlines! In general, you want to use line thicknesses of a minimum of 1/2 point. If create thinner lines, they may disappear when printed on a high resolution device. The crazy thing about line thicknesses is that many software packages allow you to create a line that wouldn't even be visible if it was displayed properly. One illustration package, for example, allows you to use a line thickness of .004 of a point. Lets consider that a point is approximately 1/36th of an inch. Working this backwards, .004 of a point works out to slightly more than 1/10,000th of an inch! Is it any wonder that this line would not be visible when printed on a high resolution device?

Halftone Dot
In traditional offset printing or copying a halftone dot is used for photos, greyscales and screened areas to give the impression of lighter shades (in fact, the dots themselves are solid ink or toner). For your images to look good when printed, they need to have an authentic halftone dot printed out at an appropriate line screen. For instance, camera ready originals for photocopying need a fairly coarse line screen of 75 lpi. Please note that dpi and lpi are two entirely different measurements! Unfortunately, most consumer based laser printers and ink-jet printers are incapable of printing an authentic halftone dot. To print a proper halftone dot, you usually need a PostScript (printing language) printer. To get around this, you can sometimes have a PMT created at traditional service bureau of your photo or image. Otherwise, you will need to get your printer or someone else to output your greyscale images. If you choose to use ink jet or non-PostScript output for your greyscales, there is a very good chance that the "dots" will fill in and you will have a very poor quality final image.

If you have made it this far in this article, you are doing great! There is an intimidating amount of information that you need to know if you are going to consistently create printable art. It is well worth the investment, however, as being intimately familiar with this information and following it will set you apart as a true professional.

We strive to be as accurate and current with our information as possible. Due to the infinite number of scenarios that occur in print & desktop publishing, we can not guarantee that the above information will be correct in all situations.