10 Pre-Press Tips For Perfect Print Publishing

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A lot of designers think CMYK is the way to go when designing for print. We will, of course, always use CMYK-based ink, but this does not mean you have to work with CMYK files. You can work with RGB images to perfectly optimize your print colors and save a great deal of time in the process.

You may be interested in the following related posts:

1. Use RGB Color Mode For Photoshop Images

For several of the following tips to work, you will have to create and save all of your Photoshop images and artwork in RGB color mode. If you’re a veteran designer, you probably think this goes against what you’ve been taught, which is to use CMYK color mode. Well, technology has come a long way, and nowadays RGB color mode is better because it produces a wider range of colors and allows you to use one image for several media, including print and Web.

Screenshot

Think of it this way: RGB colors (red, green, and blue) are created with light. That’s why your computer monitor and TV use RGB colors to produce its fantastic range of colors. CMYK colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and key, or black), on the other hand, are created by putting ink to paper. “Ink-on-paper colors” will never be as bright or saturated as the colors on your computer screen or TV, no matter how much ink you add to the paper. So, to get the widest range of colors possible, you need to save all of your Photoshop files in RGB color mode. Most of the time, you won’t even have to think about it, because almost every photographer will supply you with RGB images. All you have to do is keep them in that mode.

Screenshot
A 3-D map showing the range of the Adobe RGB (1998) color space, the sRGB (or small RGB) color space and the common newspaper CMYK color space. sRGB’s range is much smaller than Adobe RGB’s. Working in the Adobe RGB color space would result in much brighter colors. The range of the CMYK color space is much narrower. Especially for this newspaper, the white in CMYK mode isn’t white at all. It’s more of a dirty brown.

2. Specify The Right Color Settings

To successfully use an RGB image in Adobe InDesign, you first need to specify the appropriate color settings. Fortunately, Adobe has made it really easy for you to specify the right settings and quickly apply them across its Creative Suite. This is where Adobe Bridge comes in.

To specify a color setting in Adobe Bridge, choose Edit → Creative Suite Color Settings and then select your region: either “North America Prepress 2,” “Europe Prepress 2″ or “Japan Prepress 2.” If your region isn’t displayed in the dialog box, select “Show Expanded List Of Color Settings Files” at the bottom of the dialog box. After clicking “Apply,” the setting you have specified will be applied to Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat.

3. Ditch Photoshop EPS Files And Use PSD Files Instead

After your images and artwork have been saved in RGB color mode and you’ve specified the right color settings, it’s time to start designing. Do you still keep a copy of your native Photoshop (PSD) files and save TIFF or EPS versions, which you then import into InDesign? If so, you’re missing out on some valuable opportunities.

If you’ve been using InDesign for a while, you probably already know that it honors transparency effects in PSD files, but that’s not all. When you import PSD files, InDesign also honors clipping paths, spot colors, alpha channels, duotone colors and vector information (such as Smart Objects). You can even access all the layers in a PSD file by selecting “Show Import Options” when you import an image or choosing Object → Object Layer Options after importing an image. With all of these time-saving opportunities, saving all of your Photoshop images in the PSD file format is a no-brainer.

4. Accurately Simulate CMYK While Working In RGB

Keep in mind that even though you’re importing RGB images with bright and saturated colors, InDesign actually shows you what the CMYK equivalent of each image will look like. So, how does InDesign make that color conversion properly? Well, because you’ve specified the appropriate color settings in Adobe Bridge, InDesign will use those settings to accurately display each RGB image when it’s converted to CMYK color mode.

InDesign even goes a step further and shows you exactly how the colors in a layout will appear when printed on a certain type of paper using a specific output device. Simply choose View → Proof Setup → Custom. Then choose an output device from the “Device to Simulate” pop-up menu, and select the “Simulate Paper Color” option. After clicking “Okay,” the color of your pages will change, and your images will appear darker and less saturated. So, to get a good idea of how your layout will appear when printed on coated paper using a sheet-fed printer, choose “U.S. Sheetfed Coated v2.” This feature is great because it gives you an accurate idea of how your colors will appear when they’re printed.

If you use Photoshop, you may be wondering, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Photoshop could do the same trick, so that I can see what happens to my RGB images when they’re converted to CMYK?” Well, of course it can. Just choose View → Proof Colors, and make sure that “Working CMYK” is specified by choosing View → Proof Setup → Working CMYK. When you proof colors, you’re not actually changing the color mode of the image, so you can continue working in RGB color mode while simulating CMYK. This is yet another reason not to convert your Photoshop files to CMYK.

Screenshot
The top part of this image is a “SoftProof” of how this RGB image will appear when printed in a newspaper. The bottom part shows the original sRGB. The dirty color is actually the color of the paper. As you can see, the color of the paper affects all other colors.

5. Selecting the Right CMYK Output Profile For The Job

There are many different kinds of paper, such as recycled and brownish paper for newspapers, glossy paper for magazines, uncoated paper for stationary and bright-white coated paper for high-quality brochures. As you can imagine, each type has different characteristics when it comes to printing. The recycled paper sucks up more ink, and if you don’t take this into account, your beautiful full-color photos will become too dark, and the ink will blur over the paper, creating an ugly brownish effect.

So, how do you optimize artwork for all of these different kinds of papers? Well, that’s the easy part. Standard CMYK inks have been tested on every type of paper to the extreme. The way cyan, magenta, yellow and black are printed on a specific type of paper is documented in an ICC profile. All you need to do is download these free “Color Profiles” and select the right one when you export a PDF using InDesign (Export → Output → Color Conversion & Destination). If you’re not sure what kind of paper your printer will use, simply ask them. Most printers would rather answer a simple question than clean up colors afterward.

The information provided by the color setting that you specified in Adobe Bridge is used by InDesign to determine how to convert RGB images to the CMYK color space when you output a document. By using InDesign instead of Photoshop to make that conversion, you gain the benefits outlined in the following point.

6. Use InDesign Instead Of Photoshop To Make The Final Color Conversion

There are several good reasons to let InDesign do the conversion:

  • Images are all converted at the same time instead of one at a time before you import each into InDesign.
  • You can reuse the same image for different purposes. For instance, you might want to re-use the image on your website for a brochure, magazine or newspaper. If you let InDesign do the color conversion, it will optimize your RGB images for whatever output device and type of paper you choose.
  • You can simulate how the colors in a layout will appear on different kinds of paper using the same RGB images.

When you use Photoshop to convert all of your images to CMYK before importing them into your InDesign layouts, you prevent InDesign from optimizing the color for different output devices and paper types. If you make the conversion to CMYK first and start designing later, you might unwittingly alter the “maximum ink” and other important color-related characteristics that were pre-defined in your Photoshop file when Photoshop converted your RGB image to CMYK.

As a result, when you work on the colors and contrast later, what you see on screen won’t be what you get in print because you have altered the optimal colors.

7. Download All The Profiles

Different CMYK Color Profiles are available for different kind of papers and print processes. Several organizations provide top-of-the-line ICC profiles, all of which can be downloaded for free at the bottom of this page. The most common are:

  • Newspaper: ISOnewspaper
  • Magazines: ISOWebcoated
  • Full Color Offset:
  • U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2
  • ISOCated_v2
  • ISOuncoated
  • Europe ISOCoated FOGRA27
  • (or the new one, FOGRA39)

8. Exporting A Perfect CMYK PDF Using RGB Images

Once you’ve downloaded and installed the ICC profiles, they’ll be available to InDesign. You don’t even need to select the right profile and assign it to your InDesign document. All you have to do is select the right ICC profile when you export the document to PDF (Export → Output → Color Conversion & Destination). Although you don’t need to assign the right CMYK profile, I would recommend it, because it allows InDesign to match the colors when you select the “Proof Colors” command.

After choosing File → Export and specifying Adobe PDF as the file format, select the “Output” category on the left side of the “Export Adobe PDF” dialog box. Choose the appropriate CMYK destination from the “Destination” menu, so that InDesign can optimally convert all RGB images to CMYK. Also, be sure to select “Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers)” from the “Color Conversion” menu so that the colors you’ve created in InDesign will maintain their original values.

9. Avoiding Errors When Using RGB Images And Spot Colors

You can use RGB images even when producing a high-end brochure that has die-cut embossed areas and spot UV coating. All you have to do is lay everything out in InDesign and then use a spot color to define the areas that will be die-cut, embossed or UV-coated. Make sure that the spot color objects are placed on top of the RGB images and that they are set to overprint: choose Window → Attributes to open the “Attributes” panel and select “Overprint Fill.”

When you export the document to PDF, the RGB images will convert to CMYK, and all of your spot colors will remain unchanged. I recommend that you check the color separations in Adobe Acrobat to make sure that everything that needs to overprint has been set to “Overprint” (Advanced → Print Production → Output Preview).

Screenshot
The cover of a brochure for a well-known Dutch beer brand. Adobe InDesign’s “Separations Preview” shows the RGB image in CMYK. Scene 2 shows the parts that will be highlighted using a glossy ultraviolet coating. Scene 3 is the part that will be embossed. Scene 4 shows all of the colors combined. (The combined image looks a bit weird because the UV coating and embossed parts have been given a extra spot color so that the printer can keep them separate from the full-color artwork).

10. Share Your PDF Files With Acrobat.com

Now you have but one problem to solve: getting that high-resolution PDF to your client and the printer. Email won’t work because a high-resolution PDF is usually too big. Most printers offer an FTP website, but many clients don’t know how to use FTP. Fortunately, sending out large files is much easier with Acrobat.com, which is a free Web-based service provided by Adobe.

With this incredibly easy and free service, you get your own online storage where you can upload high-resolution PDF files. You can notify your client and printer via email that a PDF is ready to download. And the email even contains a preview of the PDF. If you don’t want Adobe to email your clients, Acrobat.com lets you create a short URL to include in your own email. You can create an online “vault” if you wish, but no log-in or registration is required by default for your client or printer to access the PDF. You can even share PDF files on your website or blog using the embed code provided.

Screenshot
This email is automatically generated when you upload a PDF to Acrobat.com. Feel free to take a look at the PDF file of this brochure (which I’ve downsized to 100 dpi). I’ve shared it on Acrobat.com. Click this link to see it: https://share.acrobat.com/adc/document.do?docid=6ba6d3e1-988e-4452-83bf-2fe0367491715

Further Resources

All of the color profiles and tricks in this article can be used throughout the entire Creative Suite: 1, 2, 3 and 4. ICC Profiles can be accessed from the following directories:

  • Mac OS X: …/Library/ColorSync/Profiles
  • Windows: …Windowssystem32spooldriverscolor

Owning a copy of Adobe Acrobat is not necessary, but the application comes in handy when checking the PDF files that you’ve exported from Adobe InDesign. Adobe Acrobat even lets you see which destination profile you have specified in InDesign by choosing Advanced → Print Production → Output Preview. Quark XPress users can use these same ICC profiles.

Keep in mind that experimenting with color can create undesired results if you’re not sure what you’re doing. I highly recommend speaking with your printer before altering your workflow because he won’t be expecting color-optimized artwork if you’ve never bothered to submit it before. Should you have any doubts about the colors in a design, ordering a color proof on paper is always a good idea.

Related posts

You may be interested in the following related posts:

(Illustrations by Frank De Man.)

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/16/switch-from-print-to-web-where-to-start/
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/02/the-ultimate-round-up-of-print-design-tutorials/
  3. 3 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/21/creative-print-typography-layouts/
  4. 4 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/02/11/award-winning-newspaper-designs/
  5. 5 https://share.acrobat.com/adc/document.do?docid=6ba6d3e1-988e-4452-83bf-2fe036749171
  6. 6 http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/detail.jsp?ftpID=3680
  7. 7 http://www.eci.org/doku.php?id=en:downloads
  8. 8 http://www.ugra.ch/index.php?session=29403&show=197
  9. 9 http://www.color.org/iccprofile.xalter
  10. 10 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/16/switch-from-print-to-web-where-to-start/
  11. 11 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/02/the-ultimate-round-up-of-print-design-tutorials/
  12. 12 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/21/creative-print-typography-layouts/
  13. 13 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/02/11/award-winning-newspaper-designs/

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Marco Kramer is a graphic designer who works in the Netherlands. He specializes in the technical aspects of the design process. As such, he refers to his position as Digital Engineer. Marco has been publishing articles about pre-press and design-related topics for eight years on his blogs DigitalEngineer.net and MacMojo. He has recently started publishing articles for an international audience.

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  1. 1

    Use RGB images and let InDesign make the CYMK rip for you — that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

    Granted technology has come a long way and I’m sure InDesign *can* do it but there are reasons why CYMK should be used in print production.

    RGB (Red Green Blue) aren’t real colors — which means they’re not used in professional print production. They’re only used for monitor display. RGB also has a much wider color gamut than CYMK that can’t be fully reproduced in 4-color printing. This is also why any color correcting is done in CYMK mode and why simply converting an RGB image to CYMK can produce images that are out of gamut.

    Following this process, one would need to keep going back and forth between color correcting, previewing the image, and then back to color correcting to achieve the desired results. That’s a lot of steps to go through when you can achieve better results in Photoshop — and with fewer steps.

    I feel that the best way to get the results you need is to learn about the printing process, color separations, get some good info on color correcting and know how your project will be printed (digitally or offset) before you start working with images. This will give you much better results over time.

    That said, #3 “Ditch Photoshop EPS Files And Use PSD Files Instead” and #5 “Selecting the Right CMYK Output Profile For The Job” are good print production tips.

    Appreciate the links to the color profiles. I’m going to forward them.

    0
  2. 52

    Nice try Marco, but no thanks.

    ” … to perfectly optimize your print colors …” you have to go CMYK!

    Color-control (to get what you want to see) is one of the most important design-technique-elements. Use an RGB-image in an high-end annual-report, and it will be your last job. You have to convert the image ! To proof it, and to correct it in the proper way. BTW don’t forget to calibrate your monitor – essential! To get the perfect result you also need to go to the printing-machine – beside every ISO-guideline is something very special – it’s called: feeling.

    a veteran designer

    1
  3. 103

    funny that this post appears on the same date as the book announcement is sent to the people who pre-ordered..

    seems something like: “ok, we figured out how it is done, sent it to the printer, and wrote an article about it too” ;) ;) ;)

    nice article, but the color conversion would definitely spark some debate, i knew it when i saw it.

    my opinion is that Indesign does a really good job for conversion, but some people will want to do the tweaking themselves, they want to take control of what is printed (this is not a question of “but you can’t see those colors anyway when working in cmyk”), they just want to know just how it looks like when it gets printed

    0
  4. 154

    Thanks for the article, Marco. Having just finished reading through these comments, I imagine you must be getting fairly tired of responding to people who clearly either didn’t read it all, or did read it, and completely failed to understand it.

    Perhaps you should put a giant red banner at the top, “NOWHERE IN THIS ARTICLE DO I STATE THAT YOU SHOULD SEND RGB FILES TO YOUR PRINTER.”

    Somehow, I imagine they’d still miss it. I’ve a feeling they read the heading for #1, and dropped right down to the comments. If they can’t be bothered to even read the whole article, why waste your time re-iterating points you’ve already made in the body copy? Anyhow, thanks for all the great articles. Hopefully the kneejerk reactions seen here don’t affect your desire to write more like this.

    0
  5. 205

    I have never had to run a large print job like this or anything. I am Web Developer only. I hope to learn more about graphic design but I just don’t have the time. This may be incorrect but what I gathered from this article and comments is:
    If you know before you start the project you have access to (1) a high quality digital printer that will take your PSD or CYMK PDF, (2) you have access to Photoshop and InDesign, (3) communicate with the printer ahead of time to figure out what he can do, (4) you are willing to spend a few bucks for proofs and finally (5) are familiar with the printing process, color separations, have good knowledge on color correcting the method in this article will work great, especially for people new to the printing game.
    So essentially, people who are already good at printing the old way. To many chances for a newbie to screw this up.

    However if you are unsure of the quality of the printer that you will be using or the ability to print proofs when CYMK all they way is the SAFEST. Not the best, but the safest.

    0
  6. 256

    I’m going to use this work flow- for some jobs, but not for others. Doing one conversion at the end is fine for things where color isn’t that critical like directories and programs, and speed is usually part of the equation. If it’s something where the skin tones, skies, fabrics, jeweltones etc., need to be as accurate as possible I will continue to do the conversion earlier, mostly so I can tweak the color of the CMYK file to improve it after the conversion. It’s always easier to fine tune using 4 color channels instead of being limited to the 3 you have with RGB.

    0
  7. 307

    Yat again SM proves that it’s articles need to remain strictly in the amateur domain. This article makes huge assumptions and leaps of blind faith in adobe. I swear there should be a flashing caveat/warning about articles published on this site as they are all too often laughable and it should be made clear that this is by and large a hobbyist magazine. I wish newsdesk would remove the feed to your articles so I would never be distracted by such horseshit again.

    0
  8. 358

    I have to agree with Ryan (#49).

    There’s no way an RGB image can be optimised for print. For printwork you have to colorcorrect in CMYK to get the maximum out of your printable colours, not out of the maximum obtainable colors in RGB. Letting a rip handle the conversion is asking a blind man to pick a colour. No 2 rips are the same.

    I do believe that image-correcting should be done in RGB to have the widest colour gamut possible, but as soon as your optimising for print you need CMYK to handle and control the specific values of the printcolors (cmyk).

    0
  9. 409

    @ Ryan: These discussions are always welcome. It is much preferred above discussions by people who didn’t bother to read the entire article ;-)
    And you’re right. For important jobs I (or my client) sometimes wish to see what will happen on paper. But they don’t always have a budget or time to order a actual proof-print. It didn’t fit in this article but you can use these very same techniques to create a -guaranteed- colorproof using your own HP or Epson inkjet printer. As you might understand the color-range of an injet is larger than CMYK. As such if you download one of the standard TIF images containing a wide range of standard color-swatches and simply print those out you can send it in to color-specialized companies and receive an ICC-profile of your own device. With this the ‘color-behavior’ of your printer on that specific kind of paper is known and you can create your own proof-prints. These are good enough for your printer. A short colorstrip is also printed with info on how you’ve pinted this proof. (so your printer knows what you did. He can also use standardized tools to measure the colors of your proof. Tis is a bit of the short version but it’s called ISO 12647-2 if you want more info. I wrote about this a few years ago (in Dutch) but you can view images I talked about here: http://tinyurl.com/yz835lc

    And yes I do optimize for a different kind of paper. I don’t have to do anything except change my export setting. For uncoated less ink is required. Images would simply become blurry as the paper sucks up too much ink. You could also not do this and hope your printer will take care of it afterwards (with a Tool like CMYK optimizer or PDF Toolbox). But I prefer to do it with the original image as they will use data from the very same ICC profiles. So it’s better to do it at once. A printer can check if you did the right in Acrobat. The ICC profile you used is located in Acrobat’s Advanced → Print Production → Output Preview.

    About the CMYK profiles. No I don’t have every cmyk-profile, but I don’t need every one. I need professional printers that can at least confirm to the industry standard ones, coated, uncoated, newspaper, magazine and a few others. I print all around the world and those profiles are in fact everywhere. From Holland to China or Australia. Using these most-common profiles I can optimize perfectly for the most common groups of paper out there. Perfect color control. (Expect for the 1.x % black that sometimes might appear in images like you said). But then again, if a designer failed to optimize for the right kind of paper this 1.x% will totally disappear because the paper will suck up way too much ink. I wote about this also: “White? There is no white!” http://www.digital-engineer.net/archive/entry/white-there-is-no-white/

    @ Osjar: The icc-profiles are not created by Adobe alone. It’s just InDesign doing the conversion rgb-profile to cmyk-profile. Just like Photoshop. Like the way us designers have always converted to CMYK. You think Adobe will do a great job with Photoshop but not use this ICC-technology for their flagship InDesign? Besides there is an entire pre-press industry out there: Enfocus, Callas, Pistop, Proofmaster…

    Thanks for the good discussion, Ryan.

    For other readers: no rgb files get send out to the printers! Damn if you care so much about this than you should really start optimizing your artwork for the different kind’s of CMYK out there.

    0
  10. 460

    “This is also why any color correcting is done in CYMK mode and why simply converting an RGB image to CYMK can produce images that are out of gamut.”

    This is absolutely not true. That’s the point of converting, you put the wider colors in the gammut of the smaller gammut. If you convert RGB to lets say a coated CMYK, all the colors will be printable on coated material.

    “Following this process, one would need to keep going back and forth between color correcting, previewing the image, and then back to color correcting to achieve the desired results.”

    Wrong again, with active and correct softproof, you see exactly the same on your monitor as in CMYK. You can try it by yourself, open an RGB image and duplicate it, activate softproof for both of them, then convert one to CMYK. It will look absolutely the same on your screen.

    @Ryan (#49)
    I agree with you to a certain point, some minor tweaking can absolutely be done in CMYK, like you said for example the highlights. But converting to CMYK in Photoshop or Indesign without any tweaking should give you the same result, as both use the same CMM.

    And major color correction should not be done in CMYK at all, you get really bad gradients, and you’re messing with the CMYK’s profile UCR/GCR, which will give you a CMYK file which is far away from what CMYK output it was originally intended to be. Leads to the necessary to make a CMYK to CMYK conversion at your printer, which we all know isn’t good at all.

    0
  11. 511

    Osjar: that’s the truth

    try this in a magazine… a real one; and you’re going to lose more than your job…

    0
  12. 562

    Two resources that should be mentioned also:
    * Ghent PDF Workgroup (www.GWG.org): they have – free – settings for PDF creation and PDF preflighting, for 13 different market segments. The GWG is an interational organisation promoting best practices in the printing industry. Setting files are available for the most common software applications used in the printing industry.
    * Adobe InDesign Live Preflight and the – once again free – profiles from VIGC, the Flemish Innovation Center for Graphic Communication (a not for profit organisation in Belgium). These profiles can be downloaded here: http://www.vigc.org/standard-preflight-profiles/ The VIGC Live Preflight Profiles are for the same market segments as the GWG profiles.
    Using both the VIGC Live Preflight Profiles and GWG profiles for PDF creation and preflighting will give you the highest quality assurance possible at this moment.

    0
  13. 613

    if you are SO worried about RGB, just output on an RGB device (lamda)…doy!
    you will never get the color gamut in RGB with cmyk, this is the whole reasoning behind global printing standards (swop, panton, Gracol ect.)

    0
  14. 664

    To all the critis: I understand this is difficult and even scary. My other comment is awaitng moderation (because of the links to ther sources) but all of these tips are used for real clients. I work for clients like PepsiCo, Nestle, supermarkets and others. I specialize in the ‘food’ business. If you think color is not important for these clients please think again. Besides this entire process follows specific guidelines as outlined in the ISO 12647-2 printing process. A worldwide standard for color. Like Belifant said: Tampering with cmyk files after you converted from rgb can be dangerous as well as the icc-profile already optimized it for the specific paper.

    0
  15. 715

    As others have mentioned and given the title of this article, point 1 MUST be “Talk to your Printer” Which is absoloutley the most important tip for perfect printing.

    Other than that I would like to thank Marco for writing this, Belifant for holding it down in the comments, and particularly to Ryan for holding up the CMYK argument with something a little stronger than “don´t send rgb files to the printer”.

    Between these three and their comments I have really got my head around the differences in colour space, and am able to make some reasonably informed choices, because that´s what it is in the end really isn´t it, choices.

    I´ll be rolling with a RGB workflow for my day to day, and a CMYK workflow for more colour critical work.

    cheers to everyone that ACTUALLY READ the article and gave some feedback.

    0
  16. 766

    Working in RGB-Mode and converting to CMYK later is a good choice.

    Just wanted to mention that it is important to choose the right RGB working space. For euorpean Designers the eci RGB color working space is a good choice, as it covers all CMYK color spaces -> less colors have to be transformed when changing to CMYK.

    Good article!

    0
  17. 817

    My other comment I wrote a while ago doesn’t show up. So here is is without url’s:
    @ Ryan: These discussions are always welcome. It is much preferred above discussions by people who didn’t bother to read the entire article ;-)
    And you’re right. For important jobs I (or my client) sometimes wish to see what will happen on paper. But they don’t always have a budget or time to order a actual proof-print. It didn’t fit in this article but you can use these very same techniques to create a -guaranteed- colorproof using your own HP or Epson inkjet printer. As you might understand the color-range of an injet is larger than CMYK. As such if you download one of the standard TIF images containing a wide range of standard color-swatches and simply print those out you can send it in to color-specialized companies and receive an ICC-profile of your own device. With this the ‘color-behavior’ of your printer on that specific kind of paper is known and you can create your own proof-prints. These are good enough for your printer. A short colorstrip is also printed with info on how you’ve pinted this proof. (so your printer knows what you did. He can also use standardized tools to measure the colors of your proof. Tis is a bit of the short version but it’s called ISO 12647-2 if you want more info. I wrote about this a few years ago (in Dutch) but you can view images I talked about here: tinyurl-dot-com-slash-yz835lc

    And yes I do optimize for a different kind of paper. I don’t have to do anything except change my export setting. For uncoated less ink is required. Images would simply become blurry as the paper sucks up too much ink. You could also not do this and hope your printer will take care of it afterwards (with a Tool like CMYK optimizer or PDF Toolbox). But I prefer to do it with the original image as they will use data from the very same ICC profiles. So it’s better to do it at once. A printer can check if you did the right in Acrobat. The ICC profile you used is located in Acrobat’s Advanced → Print Production → Output Preview.
    About the CMYK profiles. No I don’t have every cmyk-profile, but I don’t need every one. I need professional printers that can at least confirm to the industry standard ones, coated, uncoated, newspaper, magazine and a few others. I print all around the world and those profiles are in fact everywhere. From Holland to China or Australia. Using these most-common profiles I can optimize perfectly for the most common groups of paper out there. Perfect color control. (Expect for the 1.x % black that sometimes might appear in images like you said). But then again, if a designer failed to optimize for the right kind of paper this 1.x% will totally disappear because the paper will suck up way too much ink. I wote about this also: “White? There is no white!” (my own site is mentioned in the last part of the article)

    @ Osjar: The icc-profiles are not created by Adobe alone. It’s just InDesign doing the conversion rgb-profile to cmyk-profile. Just like Photoshop. Like the way us designers have always converted to CMYK. You think Adobe will do a great job with Photoshop but not use this ICC-technology for their flagship InDesign? Besides there is an entire pre-press industry out there: Enfocus, Callas, Pistop, Proofmaster…
    Thanks for the good discussion, Ryan.

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  18. 868

    Great article, caused quite a discussion too, haha! I’ve read a few comments but not all, I don’t have all year unfortunately! ;)

    I work in RGB, and then convert to CMYK . The exception is if I’m designing for print, and I know it’s going to be for print only, for example a business card with a spot gloss or colour, I usually work straight from CMYK – but that’s just my way of working and I’ve never had a problem with it.

    My best piece of advice I can give anyone is ask how your printers want the files delivered to them!. They all vary, even if they’re in the same industrial estate!

    EDIT: In response to Marcos last comment: I don’t usually set up my artwork for the printers, that’s what guy in pre-press is paid to do :) I send my artwork as CMYK + any spot colours, he then sets it up correctly for the kind of paper they stock – again, all printers stock different paper. Where I work part-time (factory work unfortunately), they have a warehouse full of paper, they probably stock 50 different kinds of paper, and to me half of them look the same!

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  19. 919

    My area of expertise lies online, but (and I’m almost afraid to use the word now, after reading all the comments) as a hobby I do an occasional ‘easy’ print job. I love it, it’s another world that I still need to learn a lot about, but to me this article has definitely been an eye opener as well as an inspiration. I definitely want to learn as much as there is to know about this strange world of paper :)

    Also, I cannot believe how many people scan this article and falsely assume that Marco is asking people to send RGB files to their printer. This is one of those sites where you are required to read the whole thing, people!

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  20. 970

    @Marco;

    I work in the packaging/food industry as well, for (dutch) clients such as Jumbo, Stegeman, Vacuvin and such, so I know how important colours are in that part of the graphic industry. :)

    We do all the color correcting in the first few rounds in RGB to get the optimal result. But as soon as we’re making prepress files (in both the package-industry companies I’ve worked) we change them to CMYK to do the final correcting, to keep all the details of the converting in-house. Finetuning the amount of cyan/black etc. an image has is part of the prepressing here, before it goes to a lithographer to make everything printready on a press-specific level. But we always want to keep the finetuning in-house, because of the massive amount of different printers package-designs go to.

    For example: if we feel that an image needs 5% black instead of 7%, we need the CMYK-workflow in the prepress-part.

    I absolutely believe an RGB-workflow has it’s purpose, but in order to keep full control of the color-output at the end of the line, I don’t think RGB-workflows should be used in the end of the workflow. Maybe in the “normal” printworld like magazines, but not in a printworld where every % of color has to be controlled by the prepresser/designer.

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  21. 1021

    I’m really interested by Marco latest points. My experience is admittedly very US-centric. The standards I mentioned are North America, not world. Anyway yes Marco I am familiar with color management but your link isn’t working for me.

    Do other printers around the world not incorporate their own uncoated curve by default? This is usually done on the platesetter. However, I still disagree with the idea that an certain amount of deviance is acceptable because the “paper will suck it up.”

    @Belifant I’m not sure you know what you’re talking about. There are some CMYK profiles that have a larger gamut than some RGB profiles as I have previously mentioned. Also, GCR / UCR are in no way affected by the work you do in Photoshop unless you actively adjust the settings in Color Management. You seem to suggest Photoshop would cripple its own software and that thousands of photo editors who have worked this way for years have never noticed it? Also as I mentioned, up to and including CS3 the various Adobe apps converted RGB -> CMYK using different algorithms, even under unified color management. If you have the apps, try it out. Honestly, it sounds like you are just inexperienced with working in Photoshop in CMYK if you can’t even make a smooth gradient. That is basic stuff and there is no reason this would trigger a CMYK -> CMYK conversion, whatever that is.

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  22. 1072

    Whilst I agree with everything the author said, its not always good practise. It also depends on how the printing company handles their files.

    I use many of the above methods, but sadly others don’t and I have tons of work pre-flight to make them ready.

    Great article.

    Mike

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  23. 1123

    @Ryan
    When you convert from RGB to CMYK you apply a UCR / GCR to your file. When after that you go and play around with gradation curves and alter the amount of black for example, you actually changing what was intended to be bye that CMYK profile for that certain paper.
    Other example, not the best I know, but when doing color correction in CMYK, you could also go accidently higher on the total amount of ink than the paper could handle, for example on coated paper, going higher than a max of 320 or 330 %. This can’t happen in RGB. If you send an image to a printer with then maybe 360 % max. ink, they will do a CMYK to CYMK convertion, from your picture’s CMYK profile to their machine’s default profile. And you sure don’t want that to happen.

    I know there are CMYK profiles that are bigger than RGB, especially in yellow and cyan, but in general the RGB is the bigger one, so let’s not confuse the already confused reader here.

    And what I meant with the gradients is, in RBG you can make much bigger colorcorrections before you see a damage to your image, in gradients or shadows for ex.
    As I think you know what you’re talking about, you have to admit that you really can mess your CMYK image up if you do all the major corrections in CMYK.

    I admit I’m a bit out of practice with the GCR/UCR stuff, and also this is new to me that Indesign and Photoshop really convert visible different to CMYK, as they both use the same CMM to do the conversion (unless you change it).
    But, I do know CMYK and Photoshop well enough, as I used to work at a digital print factory at the RIP and print machines, before moving to prepress/graphics.

    Besides that, I think we’re more or less on the same page. Work in RGB and do your color correction and contrast or whatever, when you finished, convert to CMYK and make your final tweaking and print optimization if you feel it needs to. That’s absolutely a good way to go, especially on low quality paper like newspaper.

    Also just to clarify, I’m talking here only about digital images! No vector or logos of that kind, that stuff I leave in CMYK too usally.

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  24. 1174

    “Also just to clarify, I’m talking here only about digital images! No vector or logos of that kind, that stuff I leave in CMYK…”

    Jep. Me to. Thanks for adding this info, Belifant.

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  25. 1225

    When you have to be spot on with colour percentages, this method won’t work.

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  26. 1276

    Martin Bentley Krebs

    October 28, 2009 5:11 am

    One last comment (from me, at least): This is really great that most people in this chain are providing backup to their input, which is absolutely essential to a civil discourse of knowledge. And it is my belief that every generation that comes along should be smarter than the one before it. But a word of caution (wisdom?) to those of you clanging the “new is better, old is stupid” cymbals: knowledge between generations should and does travel in both directions. Choose your information wisely, and apply it with your own hands — if it doesn’t work, try something new. But if it does work, let someone else know about it.

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  27. 1327

    This is a very interesting article, and I plan on sending it to my printing reps for their opinion. The only problem I have with taking all of these suggestions verbatim, is that every print outlet that I use, utilizes a different workflow, different proofing systems, different settings in their rips for their respective presses. Although it is true that all print files end up as CMYK PDFs, that typically doesn’t happen on my end. We usually do not provide the print ready PDFs to the printer, we usually supply the native files (mostly ID now) with supporting lowres PDFs and marked up lasers. To completely abandon our workflow would mean that we would have to get all of our printers, both digital and offset to buy into this process. Plus, once you get a proof from the printer and the client has changes, you would have to repeat this process (which can be very time consuming) all over again, instead of just making the minor text edits throughout the documents and resubmitting the layout file.

    Just my opionion. But still a very informative article with great content for the future.

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  28. 1378

    “When you have to be spot on with colour percentages, this method won’t work.”

    basically correct, even though Photoshop lets you see in RGB mode, what CMYK value you’ll get after convertion.

    But as we speak about digital images, shots, you don’t have to be spot on with the percentages.

    @vmaffessanti:
    When it is requested I also send the whole Indesign package, and in that case I also convert all the pics to CMYK, just to make sure. The key is, to do that convertion at the very end of your creative work, and not at the beginning when you get the images.
    And about all the different settings and workflows of printer, that’s what the ISO standards are for (at least in Europe). These standards are made for the printing industrie, and we as the print data supplier should stick to these standards (unless we get custom profiles of the print factory, but that’s often not the case). Every printer who calls himself a professional knows how to deal with these ISO profiles.

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  29. 1429

    “I´ll be rolling with a RGB workflow for my day to day, and a CMYK workflow for more colour critical work.”

    exactly!

    Also nice to see how Marco’s RGB methods finally reached the rest of the world. Here in the Benelux and surroundings we are quite ahead thanks to GWG, MacMojo, Enfocus, etc…

    I use aRGB psd’s and use adjustment layers if some output needs some color tweaking (e.g. one for INP, one for IC,…), which can be turned on or of in InDesign when needed.

    Also the built in security concerning ink limits when using RGB is a great feature.

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  30. 1480
  31. 1531

    Great article, good conclusion. I’ve been preaching RGB workflows for years now, and it’s about time the rest of the printing- and design industry is going to embrace it. No kidding, work in RGB folks! Manage that color in the right way and you’ll have so many advantages over a CMYK workflow, you’ll wonder how in Pete’s name it’s possible you didn’t switch to RGB before.

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  32. 1582

    I think this is an interesting idea, but there is a big flaw in the idea: Your offset printer comes back to you and says, “the magenta and yellow are great, but please adjust just the cyan about 10% darker and remove the black entirely.” You can’t do that with an RGB image.

    We also print directly to RIP from Illustrator and InDesign because we have much more flexibility using these programs instead of converting to a PDF. Many times we are printing a much more complex image than simply one flat image, and everything we do is high quality. There is no such thing as a “poor quality job” in our company, even if the artwork we receive looks terrible – we just output it as optimally as possible. We notice a big color shift in printing from these two to Acrobat as well.

    Finally, I’m concerned that we’re using a larger color space than is actually possible to print. One spends hours color-correcting a photo just to find that in CMYK, that bright lime green just turns to mud (for example). I’d rather know up front what the image is going to look like. Also, especially when you’re trying to eliminate a color (i.e. combining cyan and black for the same effect) to reduce press passes, it’s much harder to adjust in RGB and get the CMYK equivalent you’re looking for.

    BUT, all this said, it’s worth contemplating and discovering when this technique is suitably appropriate.

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  33. 1633

    @april
    With activated softproof (which you also should activate when work in CYMK) you won’t see any bright RGB colors on your screen who can’t be printed. You only see CMYK colors, you see how it’s gonna look like in CMYK, softproof is simulating the look of your CMYK output.

    And I’m curious as I used to work in a similar environment, wouldn’t you do changes like + 10% Cyan, in your RIP? Why go back to prepress? Are we talking here about digital printers like inkjet?

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  34. 1684

    one question about the option “simulate paper color” in indesgin:

    the simulated color is absolutely strange … it’s much too blue, it’s not approximately a realistic paper-color… no matter which profile i choose … do anyone have an idea?

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  35. 1735

    what profile are you using to simulate? Your monitor is calibrated, right?

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  36. 1786

    While I like the novelty of the idea of using RGB workflow, because it seems really convenient. I see some terrible flaws in it, and I can’t imagine someone using it in a professional pre-press environment.

    How can you adjust your CMYK colors when while opening curves adjustment layer you can only adjust RGB? Well… you can’t… You can’t also add 5% more Magenta because there is no curve for Magenta, or Black or Cyan or Yellow, only for Red, Green and Blue.

    How can you work on Total Ink Limit when you can’t operate on CMYK values?

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  37. 1837

    @ vmaffessanti:
    “To completely abandon our workflow would mean that we would have to get all of our printers, both digital and offset to buy into this process”.
    Well no not really. All your printer needs is an up-to-date RIP. (Not older than say 5 years). He can dump the pdf right in the RIP and send you a color-proof. If you ‘okay’ it the same data gets send out to the press. Or you could do your own proffing if you have a inkjet you can calibrate.

    @peter;
    thanks. For the other readers: Before Digital-Engineer.net I ran a Dutch website called MacMojo. I interviewed a lot of authors from various InDesign / Photoshop / Illustrator books and even the famous Dov Isaacs from Adobe. (Who feels we should get our act together and start sending out PDF/X3 or higher RGB-PDf files with layers and transprancy intact by the way. (And this is the man that inveted freaking Postscript and PDF notheless! Nothing but respect!)

    @april:
    “Your offset printer comes back to you and says, “the magenta and yellow are great, but please adjust just the cyan about 10% darker and remove the black entirely.”

    If a printer request this it’s already to late. If I have absolutely tuned an image to perfection there’s no way in hell a printer will tell me to ad 10% cyan.

    I’m not looking to pick a fight; I am my own pre-press. And I will bring the ISO certified color-proof he can measure before he starts printing.

    @mops:
    It’s important to have a calibrated monitor and select the right gamma. (Apple’s standard -1.9 or something- is not good enough).

    @Bartosz Oczujda:
    Good question. But think about it: If your thinking about “how can I ad 5% more magenta?” you’ve really got it backwards. If a more red image is what you want you could have added it in the rgb already. Nobody really wants “5% more magenta”. As a disigner you have tought yourself to think in cmyk. But what you really want is a brighter image, more red, less or more saturation, and so on… You can change all this in the origional rgb-image. Softproof (or hardproof) the cmyk and your done!

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  38. 1888

    @Bartosz Oczujda
    You have to think differently and have to know color correction in RGB and HSB.
    Why bother with CMYK values during your picture editing? That something the RIP should bother with, that’s something you have to worry about when it comes to printing, not during your creative work.
    If you want to ad more magenta cause your red looks orange for example, why not just use the Hue slider in HSB. It gives you a better result, cause you’re not changing the amount of ink in your red, only the location.

    And in RGB you don’t have to worry about Total Ink Limit, cause when you convert to CMYK after finished editing, it automatically won’t go over the CMYK profile’s Limit. It can’t go over, unless you make some color correction after the CMYK convertion.

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  39. 1939

    Smashing magazine should stick to web design articles where they get things right.

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  40. 1990

    @Bartosz Oczujda, correct. It’s not that difficult to understand but a it sure is ‘a bridge too far’ for a lot of readers. Perhaps I’ll suggest a follow-up to S.M. regarding just the color. (Also known as Certified Color or ISO12647-2). Where do you work? Send me a email okay?

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  41. 2041

    HOLY CRAP!
    That’s a lot of comments I had to skip. Hope no one said this already, or I’m sorry to say it again, but, I work with RGB images day in and day out. Every single one of them ends up going to press. The reason I work on them in RGB is because we do a lot of color correcting, and color changing. There are colors that convert to CMYK just fine, but are completely unattainable through adjustment layers or any other method in CMYK. I also leave my files RGB until the last possible moment. However, I constantly check the info panel to identify my ink densities in CMYK. Very useful panel.
    This is a good article, and depending on the way you work, it can be a great benefit to you.

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  42. 2092

    Alot of misinformation out here about this. Projected light vs Reflected light. Some completely miss this simple root concept.

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  43. 2143

    I think many of the people commenting on the ‘madness’ of doing a last-minute RGB to CMYK conversion of images during PDF creation would be surprised by the number of big publishing companies that already work this way. Making it sound like an unproven (or even worse: unprofessional) way of working just proves you need to look beyond your own monitor a bit more.

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  44. 2194

    It’s not terribly hard to understand why people got the impression that he was talking about sending RGB images to the files when I read:

    1. Use RGB Color Mode For Photoshop Images

    …in a giant headline, with no parenthetical “(Of course, you won’t be sending these to your printer.)”

    Seriously, read that first paragraph again. It’s not hard to understand why people jumped the gun.

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  45. 2245

    Highly appreciated dude!

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  46. 2296

    I am confused!

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  47. 2347

    Abdulsalam Alasaadi

    October 28, 2009 10:24 pm

    this is what i really need. thanks alot

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  48. 2398

    @JB: Can you understand the concept of RGB having more colors than CMYK? When you start doing your corrections in P’shop like cloning, adding / creating / combining artwork, I choose to do this inside the file with the greatest color information, e.g. RGB. I know not every detail will convert to CMYK. I Softproof and see exactly what you would when you convert. I can even print a proof on my calibrated monitor with a FOGRA control-strip if I have my doubts about color.

    Afterwards I can choose whatever CMYK I want when I need it. I can go to magazine-CMYK or coated CMYK. It’s all possible. Most of the time I don’t to optimze anything. The ICC-takes care of it.

    “the issue is YOUR COLORS WILL CHANGE and LOOK DIFFERENT”
    “YOU dont know what it will look like before hand, and thus, you need to go back and COLOR CORRECT it.”

    After more than 100 questions I am getting a bit tyred of repeating myselve, but here goes:

    I will know exactly what it will look like beforehand. That’s the entire point. (Softproof / Hardproof) Have you not noticed the images in the article? One of the images shows you exactly what an image will look like when printed in a newspaper. This is nothing new here. I’ve worked like this for years in complieance with professional printers worldwide.

    I don’t need to color correct. You are fooling yourselve if you think you can do better than an ICC-profile. Yes, you can ‘optimize’ all you want AFTER the CMYK conversion but you’ll mostly change what you see on your screen. For instance; you might not like the black after conversion and decide to up it or change the curve. However! And this is very important: Most of the time it won’t print the way you just “optimized” it. The conversion to CMYK has performed maximum optimization for the specific group of paer and all it’s characteristics already. Adding more to it afterwards will not help you.

    “This entire article is typical of someone who’s never been in the pre-press industry.”
    Re-read my comment to questions and just look around the web. Technology has evolved. And please: Buy an InDesign or Colormanagement book and turn on the light my friend. (this light will be rgb-based by the way).

    Now will an RGB workflow do everything better all of the time? No. But it will do most of your jobs better most of the time and save you a great deal of time.

    Because all of you have been so kind I’ve decided to write a follow-up on my own site using a real-life case. I will use my network of other print-professionals and training companies and will add other real-life cases as well. I hope to see you there somewhere next week.

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  49. 2449

    @ Laurens; correct! (Well in Western Europe anyway. I don’t know about the US but I really can’t imagine they’d be far behind…)

    @jack parsons: Yes, but that is basically what needs to be done: No CMYK-conversions in Photoshop…

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  50. 2500

    @Marco
    I admire your patience!
    I hope with your follow up people get a clearer picture of RGB workflow.
    But some people just don’t want to learn new things. ( And this is actually not even new!)

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