What type of file should I send to my printer?


Digital printing has come a long way in the last decade – rapidly increasing the efficiency of processes and also lowering costs for many of the jobs that are integral to a successful business operation. Getting the files off to the printer in the right format is a key step in the success of your print project. So how can you ensure your files are in top shape to avoid disappointment on delivery of your print collateral? That’s what we’re here to explain today.

What software should I use?

The simple answer is: whatever you have. Sure, some software is better at handling graphics or can do more typography tricks than other software – but if you’re not already skilled in using a program like InDesign, we don’t recommend you rush off to buy it just because that’s what professional design studios use. Instead, use a word-processing package, desktop publishing software or whatever application you feel most at ease using. The only caveat to this is that you’ll need to be able to save the file in a format your printer can handle – preferably as a PDF. If your software doesn’t have a “save as PDF” option, look for an “export” option and see if PDF is available as a file format there. If it isn’t, don’t fret – there are a number of plugins you can find that will allow you to install a virtual PDF writer as a “printer” with just a few simple clicks.

How should I format the page?

This depends on what the artwork is for – digital printing offers a variety of flexible output options in virtually limitless combinations. Instead of trying to guide you through every eventuality, we’ll give you these general guidelines:

  • Print specs: Ask your print rep for the specifics of your job. These should include the page size, bleed area, trim area, whether or not crop marks are required, and any particulars to do with the color space that might be quirky for your job.
  • Image format: Images printed on a four-color press should be saved as CMYK rather than RGB. Additionally, photographs should be of sufficient resolution for their size and type – a color picture in a brochure should be 300dpi at actual size as a general rule.
  • Color space: Color space is a term designers use to refer to how images, artwork, and other “colored” things are digitally handled to appear properly in a finished work. These days, most digitally printed material uses a four-color process commonly referred to as CMYK. Some work is referred to as “spot color” - generally this is stationery or other items where the only color used is in your corporate logo. When saving images and line art (logos) for print, refer to your printer’s specifications to ensure the most accurate color matching possible.

How should I save the final file?

If possible, save your file as a PDF. You can send a printer just about anything and odds are they’ll have someone in their studio that can open and convert it. But it saves everyone time and headaches if you submit a “finished” file. What’s more, sending a PDF to the printer puts you one step closer to guaranteeing there’re no press errors in the finished product – because you’ve encapsulated all that data in one tidy package with your own mouse and keyboard.

Image source: Flickr user Yoel Ben-Avraham