Important prepress steps for print production

When asked to write a blog for our website, I had a moment of sheer panic. I am no writer — I am a production manager.
I figured the easiest thing to do was give a little insight into our production process for print jobs here at our agency, with a focus on the checklist we use right before a job goes out the door.

To provide a little background, my role in projects often begins long before we’re sending a job out to a print vendor. Since I’m the liaison between our print vendors and the agency, I’m working with the design and account team to create print specifications, secure vendor estimates, coordinate production schedules and support designers in making color decisions and other adjustments. This close coordination with the rest of the team and our production vendors ensures that our clients’ brand standards and the vision of our team carries through to final production. 

Once a project is ready for final production, we have a system that includes close coordination between our production, design and account management teams, print vendors and our client. Here’s the production checklist that’s part of our proven process for production management:

Manual Check:

Review the document. Check that the project matches the client’s brand standards (fonts, colors, and graphic elements). Make sure it has been set up based on the client’s or publication’s specifications. (page size: trim — the final finished flat size; live area: where all your important content/graphics should stay within; bleed: extend the background colors/photos that are touching the edge of the trim size — usually 1/8 or 3/16; color: CMYK).

Check the page count. Make sure the total number of pages for a stitched document such as a catalog or booklet is divisible by four. This is also something we check very early in projects, especially on fast-paced projects that see a lot of client revisions. Perfect-bound books can be any number of pages (check with the print vendor to confirm there is no paper waste). Loose-leaf documents such as spiral-bound booklets or corner-stapled pamphlets are divisible by two.

Proofread. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors (consult with a copywriter, if unsure) — use the client’s writing style guide if they have one. 

Graphic proofread. Check the visual appeal of the text. Fix widows, orphans and text breaks. Avoid having hyphens or proper names split at the end of the line of text. Look to see if the text and images follow the document grid. 

Layout. Check that the type hierarchy sizes and leading are consistent throughout the project.

Check to see if paragraph, character and object styles were applied and have been used correctly.

Check the folios on the page (generally containing page numbers, the magazine name and the issue date) are accurate and set up correctly on the master pages. 

Remove unused elements that appear on the pasteboard.

Colors. Delete all unused colors, and use CMYK document mode and CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) color palettes. Leave the spot colors active if the final piece is intended to print with PMS (Pantone matching system).

For print, if RGB colors are used, they need to be converted to CMYK. Make sure if the body text is black, it is set at 100% black, not a four-color variation. 

Confirm Accessibility. If a project requires accessibility by design best practices, run checks on colors, fonts and other elements to ensure adherence.

Images. Convert all images to CMYK (no RGB images). Check that all photos and graphics are positioned correctly and linked to the document. Do not embed images, unless specified by the print vendor.

Purchase all stock images or graphics.

Check resolution. Save images at 300 PPI at 100% of the final printed size.

Print out the final piece at its actual size to see if everything lines up correctly. Make a mockup to see the final product assembled. Usually, at this point, I have another person review the mockup for a final check-through.

Automated Check:

Preflight files. This checks for potential problems like over-set text, missing links and fonts. You can also set up a customized preflight profile for your specific settings.

Run spell-check. 

Package file. This also shows you a summary of your document and checks to see if you are missing fonts, links and images and if colors are not converted to CMYK or if there are any spot colors. If everything checks out fine, you can package/collect the document. 

The collected file contains the document, linked images and fonts (make a note to let the print vendor or client know if they need to sync with Adobe fonts.) If sent to the client, and it is not an Adobe or Google font, they will need to purchase a license for that particular font, if they do not already own it. 

Create a hi-res pdf, including bleed and crop marks. Outline fonts if specifications require.

Send collected final files to the client or the printer vendor.

Every project is different, and it’s exciting to find new opportunities to innovate our print work, make the process more efficient or discover new work-arounds.  We’re a full service agency, and we do a lot of digital work including paid social, digital, and website design and production. While there’s some overlap, we have specific sets of protocols for each type of project.