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Steer Clear of Printing Problems with Documents You Create on Your Computer

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As the administrative assistant for a small company, Susan had to make sure her boss “looked good” in front of an upcoming meeting of venture capitalists. That meant their marketing plan had to look great. She knew the stakes were high. But when Susan picked up the marketing plan from the print shop, she was disappointed. What went wrong?

The printed pages did not resemble what she had created on her computer. In some places, the words appeared in a font she has never used. Some graphics she imported from another document looked “pixelated” into a mosaic of small squares. What’s more, the company logo had changed color; it was purple when it was supposed to be blue.

Knowing a few basic principles, tips, and techniques could have prevented these problems. If you review the guidelines that follow before you tackle any desktop publishing job, you’ll make the right decisions from the start. It’s crucial that desktop publishing materials–such as brochures, flyers, and reports–print correctly, since professional-looking documents indicate a successful, legitimate business.


Pre-Printing Moves

First, determine the budget, turnaround time, and level of quality your document must have to meet the company’s objectives. Next, determine the best software for creating your document. If you’re going to print the document on a color laser printer, the requirements are flexible; you can use a word processing program such as Microsoft Word. If you’re going to have it printed by offset, you should use a professional page layout or illustration program such as Adobe PageMaker, Illustrator, Corel Draw, Quark Xpress, and Macromedia Freehand.

Once you’ve made those choices, you need to specify the colors in your computer programs accordingly and to remember that the color you see on your monitor is not likely to be the exact shade printed on your job.

Be aware of the type of fonts you’re using. Never combine Macintosh and PC fonts in one document because the printer software will get them mixed up. Documents printed on an offset press require higher resolution scans than laser-printed ones, so ask your print shop what resolution is required. If you import graphics into your document–from an advertising campaign, for example–save them in the file format your print shop requires to prevent them from printing incorrectly or not at all. And consult with your print shop about graphics copied from the Web (identified with a “jpg” or “gif” extension) because they may print at a low resolution (pixelated) or simply not print.

If you are going to print offset, collect all your fonts and imported graphics and put them on a disk along with your document. Or consider using Adobe Acrobat software to automate this process and convert your file to the “pdf” format that is designed to be cross-platform compatible. Ask your print shop for the proper Acrobat settings.


Printing Choices

In general, you should use laser printing for print runs under 200 copies and offset printing for quantities over 1,000. These types of jobs include brochures, flyers, reports, and other marketing materials.

Laser printing:

• Lets you choose from a wide range of colors

• Costs the same whether you use two colors or 100

• Is cost-effective for low runs of full color (fewer than 200 copies)

• Is expensive for high quantities

• Gives you lower quality than offset printing

• Requires special white paper of a certain weight

• Has a quick turnaround time (24-48 hours).

Offset printing gives you a choice of PMS inks or CMYK process inks.

With PMS inks (spot color), which is the simpler process:

• Stationery items are among the types of jobs printed

• Black ink is the least expensive option when you want only one color

• The price goes up with each color you add

• You can select from thousands of pre-mixed colors using a swatch book to specify which one(s) you want

• You can print on a wide range of paper colors, weights, and finishes

• The quality is higher than with laser printing

• The turnaround time is longer than with laser printing (three to five working days).

With the more complex CMYK process, four inks are always used–cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The size and density of millions of dots in combinations of these four inks create a full range of colors. (You can actually see these dots in printed color photos when you look through a magnifying glass.)

Because the CMYK process requires complicated specifications, it’s wise to have a professional designer create your document or at least check it before it goes to the print shop.

With CMYK ink:

• You get high quality full-color photos (accurate flesh tones, color reproduction, etc.)

• Costs are higher than for spot color and prohibitive in runs of fewer than 1,000 copies

• Quality is much better than with color laser printing

• Turnaround is longer (5-10 working days)

• An expensive “match print” or digital color proof is required for each page printed

• You can print on a wide range of paper colors, weights, and finishes

• Photos will “pop” on glossy or coated papers

• A high level of technical expertise is required to guarantee quality results.

Karen Saunders, a graphic designer since 1982, works with companies to design logos, marketing materials, flyers, ads, book covers, page layout, and Web sites. Visit her Web site at www.macgraphics.net or call 303/680-2330.



Printing Options at a Glance

Technical Specifications for Color Laser Printing:

PC Macintosh

Software programs Most programs* Most programs*

Fonts True Type** Postscript**

Color specifications CMYK CMYK

Imported file formats tif, eps, jpg*** tif, eps, jpg***

Scanning resolution 150 DPI 150 DPI


Technical Specifications for Color Offset Printing:

PC Macintosh

Software programs**** Adobe PageMaker, Adobe PageMaker,

Illustrator, Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Quark Xpress,

Corel Draw Macromedia Freehand

Fonts True Type** Postscript**

Color specifications CMYK for process color CMYK for process color

PMS for spot color PMS for spot color

Imported file formats tif, eps, wmf tif, eps

Scanning resolution 300 DPI 300 DPI

* Word Perfect not compatible

** Don’t mix True Type and Postscript fonts

*** Save jpg at compression rate of 8, 9 or 10

**** Microsoft Word not compatible

Mini-Glossary of Printing Terms


Pantone Matching System (a type of spot color ink).

Spot Color:

Ink pre-mixed from PMS inks.


Process color inks, always consisting of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in millions of dots in varying sizes and densities.


Graphics Interchange File format (use for graphics on the web).


Jpeg File Interchange format (use for photos on the web).


Tagged Image File format (use for scans and photos).


Encapsulated PostScript format (use for logos and graphics).


Windows Metafile format (use with Corel Draw graphics).


Dots per inch used in scanning and printing resolution.


Portable Document Format file (use Adobe Acrobat to create these cross-platform compatible files).

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