(Lovingly borrowed from Boxcar Press's Platemaking Department)
Our favorite ways to receive files: a press-ready PDF with fonts embedded, or else an EPS file with type outlined
If using Adobe Illustrator: Illustrator works very well for drawing artwork and setting type. Before sending your Illustrator file to us, outline the type (Type>Outline) and save the layout as a new file name (so that you can go back to edit the type if necessary later). Also, embed all linked images (an option in the Links palette). Preferred file formats: PDF or AI or EPS.
If using Adobe InDesign: InDesign work very well for typesetting and multiple-page layouts. Preferred file format: exported PDF (File > Export as > Press ready or high quality PDF)
If using Adobe Photoshop: If possible, use Photoshop only for imagery. Save your image as a TIFF and place it into another program (Illustrator or InDesign) where you add your type. For images, refer to our File Prep tip below on changing to image mode of bitmap. If you only have Photoshop, start with a document that is 600-1200 dpi (maximum). This will be a large file however to start, but when you save your file later as a TIFF, use LZW compression to make this file smaller and more easily managed.
Your scanner will likely save your image as a grayscale.jpg. Many scanners will only allow you to scan up to 300 dpi. If you can scan higher, choose 600 dpi. You have some options now. If looking for the crispest and cleanest impression, you will need to convert the file to black and white only (no grey pixels). You have two methods depending on what computer software you have available. If you only have Photoshop, you will need to convert your file to one that is in image mode of bitmap. If your image dpi is currently 300 dpi, you can choose Image > Image Size and change your dpi to 600 or higher without changing the inches. Your file will temporarily be quite large but you will then save as a .TIF with LZW compression and this will resize it to something smaller and more manageable. A higher DPI can help with preserving your details and smoother pixelation while bitmapping. For exact steps to Image Mode of Bitmap, see our File Prep Tips. If you have both Photoshop and Illustrator, you can convert your image to image mode of bitmap as directed above, then place your TIF into Adobe Illustrator, and convert the file to a vector art file via the Live Trace option. This does not always work with all files to give satisfactory results, so with practice, you will learn to recognize which files will give you a vector result you like. After converting to vector, save the file as a PDF or EPS for upload.
Choosing colors: If printing in one color, use 100% Black (K) only in CMYK mode. If sending two color files, use Pantone uncoated solid spot colors only—don’t use process, RGB, CMYK, LAB, or Indexed colors. Refer to our file prep tips, below, for step by step instructions.
Images: Vector images (from Illustrator or Freehand) work very well. For raster images (from Photoshop), avoid the grayscale color mode for your images. Use a 1200 dpi bitmap instead as outlined in our File Prep Tips
Dies and scores: Die cuts should be clearly indicated by a 1 point 100% magenta line; scores should be indicated by a 1 point 100% cyan line.
Bleeds: If you’re using a bleed, extend your artwork at least 1/16” past the trim.
Envelope artwork: Draw the envelope flap or the front of the envelope where we’ll be printing your artwork. The envelope should be drawn in black. Position your artwork on the envelope flap or envelope to show us placement.
If you want a lineart image, use bitmap mode (don’t use a linescreen or halftone)
Most of the time, if your file contains an image, you’ll want that image to be in bitmap mode. Otherwise your image will produce a halftone, which means your image will be made up of tiny dots instead of being solid (presenting printing challenges and a jagged image). Make sure your images are in bitmap mode by going in Photoshop and selecting Image > Mode > Grayscale. Then Image > Mode > Bitmap. When you bitmap files, use a resolution of 600-1200 dpi and a method of 50% threshold. Most likely the only time you shouldn’t bitmap your files is when printing a photographic image with numerous shades of gray (in this case, you’ll actually want the halftone!).
Don’t use a JPEG file for your images!
Our favorite image mode is a TIFF file (.tif). Or send us vector art images (the kind you’d make in Illustrator or Freehand) instead of raster images (the kind you’d make in Photoshop). JPEG files will create low-quality letterpress plates that will make you unhappy; its file format is best intended for the web.
We output halftones at 100 LPI (lines per inch)
If you want a different line screen, tell us in your comments when you place an order. The ideal LPI depends on your paper and presswork, but most printers printing on uncoated paper use a 100 LPI. It’s a good balance of fine screen and easy printing. The higher the line screen, the more difficult it will be to print, because the high line-screen plate plugs up with ink in the shadows and looks murky over-all. Some printers prefer playing it safe and order 85 or 65 LPI. That way your plate will be less likely to clog when on press. Using a lower LPI does make the dots coarser and more obvious. The finest line screen that we usually process is 133 LPI, although we would even question the use of 133 LPI, except on coated or hard papers. Our plates can hold detail to 200 LPI, but such a high line screen would be very difficult to print. If you’d like a halftone for your image, we’ll go with 100 LPI unless you instruct us otherwise.
In Illustrator, the only black your submitted file should use is 100% CMYK black.
In Illustrator, go to File > Color mode > CMYK. Then select all the black artwork in the document. Make sure the fills and strokes are 100% CMYK black in the color palette. If using Illustrator, outline your fonts. (We prefer that you outline your type because sending all your fonts packaged is not fail-safe: all needed fonts aren’t always provided, or all your fonts may not be recognized when we open your file, causing shifting and changes in your design. On the other hand, outlining fonts is fool-proof, safe, and ideal. So outline your fonts! In Illustrator, you do this by Type > Create Outlines!)
If file has linked images in Illustrator, embed them
Before sending your Illustrator files to us, embed all linked images (an option in the Links palette). If linked images aren’t embedded, we can’t output your plates! In a related note, if you’re sending a native Quark or InDesign file, make sure to include the image files when you upload your layout.
In Illustrator, if you want crop marks on your plate, create crop marks, not crop areas!
If you want crop marks, go to Filter > Create > Crop marks in Illustrator. Often, customers who want crop marks on their plates submit files that have a crop area instead of crop marks. If your file is set up this way, crop marks won’t appear on your plate! How do you tell? Crop areas can’t be edited with the select tool; crops marks can be edited. If you have a crop area instead of crop marks, first go under Edit > Crop Area > Release. This will take off the crop area. Then go to Filter > Create > Crop marks.
It’s not necessary to reverse your files before submitting.
We need your files and proofs to appear the way you want your final design to print – commonly called right-reading (no backward text or images). When we create your film negatives, our software does the reversing to create proper negatives, so leave that part up to us.