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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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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 Link

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.

You may be interested in the following related posts:

(Illustrations by Frank De Man.)

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Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/16/switch-from-print-to-web-where-to-start/
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/02/the-ultimate-round-up-of-print-design-tutorials/
  3. 3 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/21/creative-print-typography-layouts/
  4. 4 https://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 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/16/switch-from-print-to-web-where-to-start/
  11. 11 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/02/the-ultimate-round-up-of-print-design-tutorials/
  12. 12 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/21/creative-print-typography-layouts/
  13. 13 https://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

    Martin Bentley Krebs

    October 27, 2009 7:50 am

    Very well written and explained. My only disagreement is your opinion that RGB is “better.” I would still contend that in spite of all of the proofing devices available to show what your brighter RGB colors will look like in CMYK, there are print limitations that prevent you from producing those brighter colors with CMYK ink. To design without those limitations in mind is somewhat shortsighted.

    I understand that “technology has come a long way,” but there are still fundamentals at play here. An inherent knowledge of CMYK formulas that reproduce well when printed never hurt anyone.

    Thank you, though, for explaining the many advantages to working in RGB… perhaps this “old dog” will learn a new trick or two!

    9
  2. 2

    Outstanding tips. Greatly appreciated!

    1
  3. 3

    Excelent

    -2
  4. 4

    Is the assumption here that we’re talking about digital printing and not offset?

    2
  5. 5

    Interesting, have to try it !

    -1
  6. 6

    very good ! Thanks

    -1
  7. 7

    the use of Pantone colors is also very interresting. Once you learn how to deal with them, it’s a pleasure to work with. Of course, the colors are not made for photos. Nice post ;)

    -1
  8. 8

    Whether to use RGB or CYMK is very dependent on your output media and its established work flow. For instance, those of us working on newsprint or systems designed for newsprint will still be using CMYK most likely. Using RGB is just as Martin noted… poor representation of the actual printed media and likely to screw up any color management system design to work around CMYK. And to eliminate EPS is another possible error in color management vs. PSD not to mention added file size for preview images that could have been 8bit for layout purposes speeding up screen refresh time which is really important when dealing with lots of images in say a car advertisement in a layout program like InDesign.

    These are good tips, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think we can say they work on every situation because it all depends on the system in which the final work is output from and how they are used in their work flow.

    1
  9. 9

    This reads like an Adobe press release.

    -1
  10. 10

    I’m confused. In my experience all printing companies require CMYK if you are printing on a traditional press.

    Even on a digital press like the Xerox iGen4 there will be color shifts due to RBG to CMYK conversion. Is there any press out there that prints true RGB? I don’t think so. (Please enlighten me if i’m wrong.)

    Also consider the costs. A digital press is considered a “brand new technology” in many printing companies it often comes with a premium. It’s important to consider your qty and available budget. If you are printing in high qty, you will often get a much better cost on a traditional press.

    -1
  11. 11

    I agree that there is a benefit to RGB/PDF workflow but I also have to slightly agree with rpsms. I still use Quark and, although it’s gone out of fashion slightly, I still know quite a few people using it, and my printer tells me he’s still getting more jobs in it than in ID.

    While this is a good article I think it might benefit from being updated, either with a new title to reflect the focus on one publishing program, or with how to do the same things in the industry’s other major platform.

    -1
  12. 12

    I agree with Martin. How can you be sure of what you’re gonna get if RGB has millions of colors while CMKY has thounsands?
    I can’t see another way to get exactly what you want but to work with CMKY all the way.

    0
  13. 13

    @ Synthetic Tone:
    You wrote: Poor representation of the actual printed media”.
    Almost every newspaper uses a PDF workflow (at least for incoming ads). As such using ISO newspaper color-profiles to convert your RGB-images to Newspaper CMYK is a great leap forward when you value the color of your artwork. As long as you have a decent monitor and calibrate it, you’ll do quite well in predicting the color of the printed ad.

    About the EPS: As long as you deliver a press-ready PDF it won’t matter if you used a PSD or not ;-) The only advantage will be to the user (that is you).

    “Is the assumption here that we’re talking about digital printing and not offset?”
    @Joe: It does not matter really. Everything gets converted to CMYK-PDF in the end.

    I’m confused. In my experience all printing companies require CMYK if you are printing on a traditional press.
    @Paul: Please understand all RGB-images get converted to CMYK in the final PDF the printer receives.

    How can you be sure of what you’re gonna get if RGB has millions of colors while CMKY has thounsands?
    @Breno: Thats where to soft-proofing comes in. InDesign can use the ICC-profile. Perhaps I didn’t make this clear enough in the article. InDesign / Acrobat and Photoshop can soft-proof the CMYK-colors. It will look EXACTLY the same like it would when you actually converted the image to CMYK.

    -1
  14. 14

    @Marco I understand I have used Ps’ softproof a lot, but why waste time using a color profile that won’t be used? ( I mean that for artwork, designs, illustrations etc. not photos)

    -1
  15. 15

    Away with the old and in with the new! This is an excellent, as well as extremely informative, article. To me this makes perfect sense, although I can see how many factors play into the overall scheme. Some printers just aren’t technically set up for this kind of challenge yet.

    -1
  16. 16

    we touched on this in a fairly recent post by the same author. As I recall, he used himself as a citation regarding rgb workflow. When an author asserts something that is counter to a whole industry, he should have better cites IMO.

    In fact the only place I have seen similar assertions was in an adobe generated document about editable PDF preflighting.

    The real bottom line is this: whatever your printer wants, you give them. If it is counter to your experience you ask them a) “are you sure?/Did I hear you correctly?”; and b) “This is a learning opportunity for me: what has changed?”

    -1
  17. 17

    excellent article! thank you

    -1
  18. 18

    Wow. I didn’t know half of this stuff. Though, I hardly use inDesign anyway.

    -1
  19. 19

    WOW!

    What a great article. Simple and to the point.
    I’ve been telling other Graphic Designers about your website, and now I’m going to send them this article.

    Thank you so much.

    -1
  20. 20

    My suggestion is if you want to work in RGB, then fine, but convert to CMYK before you make the PDF. You will always be sure that your file will print correctly this way.

    3
  21. 21

    Your author seriously needs re-check their facts if they think leaving photos in RGB is better. This reflects ignorance about the key differences of both colorspaces. It is too strong and generic statement.

    It would have been very important to stress the one scenario in which this is true: if someone who does not know the benefits of the CMYK colorspace (ie beginners). If you don’t know how to use curves or sharpen in CMYK, by all means leave them in RGB because simply going to PS and converting won’t make a difference, since InDesign or a RIP can handle it just as easily.

    However, if you know curves and the sharpening/contrast advantages that are available in CMYK, simply letting a program or a RIP with the task of converting images will simply do sub-par work.

    Claiming that RGB is “better” is also open to debate — it greatly depends on the intended goal and context if RGB, Lab or CMYK will produce superior results. Generally, yes, you have more colors in RGB. However, lots of colors in RGB are simply unprintable on a press, especially if you are supplied photos in the ProPhotoRGB colorspace, to a degree that is hard to demonstrate on the screen.

    Sincerely,
    Rene

    3
  22. 22

    The RGB image format is an interesting technique, but what if the color of your designated RGB file doesnt print in the CMYK conversion you expected? i understand that you can view the CMYK PDF of the file, but i still feel without a printed proof, that technique is not a risk im gonna play with , especially with an expensive job. and i wouldnt want to waste time and money with the printers on an experiment …Plus, during proofs, you can always tell the printer to bump up the intesity to your CMY or K colors…. im interested for some extra feedback on this. what would you do ?

    -1
  23. 23

    I think a problem may arise in using only RGB images when you collect and package a job through InDesign. Some printers still prefer the native file in addition to a high-resolution PDF. If that is the case, InDesign will collect the fonts and images…and they will be left in RGB mode (causing a possible headache for the printer).

    The article does present some new ideas which I plan to implement as part of my workflow. Thanks!

    -1
  24. 24

    The RGB thing is misleading. Sure, you can do this, but it still comes down to the pre-press guys doing separations in CMYK. In the long run, NOT doing work for print in CMYK will cost you or your clients more money for pre-press work. Also, the colors on the final product will look much different than they do on screen. You could end up looking like an amateur. That’s fine, if this is what you want, but you should know this and your clients should as well.

    0
  25. 25

    Great article. A lot of the criticism in the comments ignores one important statement:

    “…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.”

    If your purpose is to use one image for “print and Web”, then the article outlines how to get the exact proof of the CMYK output, and still benefit from the RGB color range that can be viewed on the web.

    -2
  26. 26

    I second Rene’s point. This is one of the better print tutorials I’ve seen on a web design site, but it is still overly simplistic. The gamuts shown in the animated gif at top is unrepresentative of the experience most designers will face. You may run a newspaper ad every now and then, but you will most certainly design brochures, business cards, and presentation folders much more frequently. These products will be printed by a commercial printer. A small printer won’t conform to any standard and you will need to contact them directly to get their ICC profiles. Use them. If you’re lucky, or if they’re mid-size or larger, they conform to GRACOL or SWOP. CMYK in the SWOP and especially GRACOL color profiles have regions that officially exceed the gamut of Adobe RGB in the cyan and magenta color areas. If you convert to CMYK in Photoshop, you can enhance these areas (most notably, skies) before you go to print.

    Additionally, if you are working in CMYK, you really can do more to the image by adjusting the black than you can in RGB. If you want to trust your conversion to an algorithm, be my guest. However don’t be surprised if you end up with a 1.37% screen of black in your highlights. What’s a better way to fix this? mess with all your RGB colors? Or just remove the black and preserve your colors? No serious photographer, color management / prepress expert, or publication designer would ever leave this to chance.

    Case in point, National Geographic. They have a full-time individual whose sole duty is to optimize images for print. This person is in constant communication with his counterpart at their printer. They work together as a team to ensure optimal image characteristics. Guess what color mode they work in? Don’t tell me you can’t tell a difference.

    Finally, there is one factual error. Except in rare instances, commercial printers don’t create color profiles based on the paper type. Their profiles are dependent on their platesetters and presses. You can however preview the paper color in Acrobat’s output preview by fudging around with the colors a bit.

    4
  27. 27

    Martin Bentley Krebs

    October 27, 2009 10:45 am

    @James: The criticism you refer to as ignoring one important statement is, conversely, based on that statement. The author even confirms in the next paragraph that the wider, brighter range of colors available in RGB cannot be reproduced in CMYK, and that is exactly the point: why work in a virtual color format that cannot possibly be achieved in the real printed world? You have to know and understand the workings of CMYK in order to print something in it.

    -1
  28. 28

    “Send an RGB file to a printer ”
    “Don’t shake my faith boys”

    @ Orangetiki; please remain a silent reader or read the entire article before commenting. No one speaks of sending an RGB file to a printer.

    1
  29. 29

    Jeez, I speak as a pre-press Mac Operator – one way to look like an amateur and wind up your printer is to use RGB colours. You’ll lose their faith in you as a supplier of quality artwork and 9/10 you’ll be disappointed with the colour conversions.

    The majority of artworkers aren’t clued up about colour management settings etc. and to be honest alot of printers just want to run your files through their system using their settings.

    If in doubt don’t leave it to chance, ASK the pre-press/printers how they want the file supplied.

    1
  30. 30

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