Digital Original: Setting Prepress Standards

Digital standards for all phases of production should be reviewed on a regular basis. Not having digital standards, not promoting the standards to the customer, or not training the sales staff about the standards can be one of the biggest drains on both profits and time in a print shop. This is especially true in the prepress department and working with customer-created files.

One of the best sources of information on industry standards for print production that include all aspects of print is IDEAlliance’s Guide to Print Production. Now in its 12th edition, the book categorizes the best practices from G7, GRACoL, and SWOP and includes updates in lighting and measurement. It can be a great tool for developing production standards and educating the customer in best print practices. Available at the IDEAlliance website at, it can be one of the best resources a printer can have.

Printers must have standards for how customer-created files are submitted. Simple requirements for how the files are prepared eliminate much of the guesswork in dealing with a customer-created file. Most file submission standards typically limit customer files to the PDF format or a few popular native applications. The customer also must understand how to use the color color, font, and graphics as well as providing a printed copy or PDF of the file with every native file submitted.

Industry standards are not difficult for a customer to follow if they know what they are. For a customer to save money by doing part of the prepress work, they need to follow the industry standards -- or be charged for the work a printer must do to get the file to print properly.

4 Simple Procedures

Here are four simple procedures a printer can use to avoid problems and additional costs with a customer file.

  1. Actually talk to your customer and explain the standards. Most customers provide bad files because they have never been told how to send them properly. Most customers want to know how to provide a good file that will print properly. Those who don’t will probably be the same ones who are going to argue about the final price of the total job.
  2. Require PDF files when possible. It is rare to find a computer or software program that doesn’t have the ability to save, print or export a native file to the PDF format. Once a printer gets a PDF file, he should have the tools available to make most corrections to the file fast and easy. In addition to the Adobe suite of products, programs such as Enfocus Pitstop give a printer a quick way to correct files. InDesign and Acrobat, along with Pitstop and Markzware Flightcheck, can quickly check a file for problems. Some will automatically correct PDF files.
  3. Don’t let the file drive you crazy. If the file won’t print, rebuild it from the copy of the original the customer submitted in an application that will. Too often printers spend an abnormal amount of time trying to get the submitted file to print properly. Often, it would be faster and cheaper to just reconstruct the file. The cost to the customer for fixing the file would be the typesetting cost you would have charged to construct the file in the first place.
  4. Charge for your work. Use price to get the customer to follow the standards. If they don’t follow the industry standards, then charge them for the extra time it added to your production costs. Too many times, any profit on the press is lost by the extra time spent in prepress getting the file ready to print if the customer isn’t charged for the extra work. Why work for nothing? If you aren’t going to make money on the job because of the problems caused by the customer, just say no to the file.

Printers have to take customer files, but they don’t have to do it at a loss. Having standards can make getting the price needed to have a profitable prepress department much easier.