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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Sometimes It’s Wise to Submit InDesign Files, Not PDFs

Normally I send PDF files to commercial printers or book printers I work with. In handing off a design job, this is often best. If I’m unsure of a printer or just don’t have a personal working relationship with someone in prepress, I can rest assured that the custom printing job that is delivered will match the design files I upload to the commercial printer.

That said, I have a different approach with some printers.

This is a case study of a photo and poetry book I just uploaded to a commercial printer in native InDesign format.

What I Did and Why (Transmitting the Files)

At the request of my contact in prepress, I sent compressed versions of “packaged” InDesign files for the book cover and text via the commercial printer’s FTP site. The compression protected the Macintosh files in transit. I used the FTP site because the files were so large (about a gigabyte in total). In fact, I broke the links file in two (half the photos in each of two folders). Then I did three separate uploading sessions: one for each of the two compressed photo folders, and one for the native InDesign text file and the native InDesign cover file. In the final transmission, I also sent a low-res PDF of the cover and text so the prepress person at the commercial printer could see exactly how I wanted the final job to look.

How to Upload Your Files

Consider these items when you upload your files to your commercial printer or book printer:

  1. Find someone you can trust in the prepress department. If he or she wants to work with PDF files, great. If he or she prefers that you send InDesign files, as many printers do for complex items like book covers, having someone you trust and can call with questions makes a huge difference.
  2. Start with the “Package” command in InDesign (which will collect in one folder all fonts and linked art and photos as well as the InDesign file itself). Then right click on the folder, drag down to “Compress” and create a compressed file. (If you’re using a PC rather than a Mac, look into acquiring similar compression software such as WinZip.)
  3. Always send a PDF along with your native InDesign file to make sure the commercial printer knows how the final job should look.

What the Printer Sent Back to Me

After my prepress contact preflighted the native InDesign documents I had uploaded, he made some changes to the files:

  1. The spine was too wide for the thickness (caliper) of the actual printing paper and page count, so the prepress operator adjusted the flat cover file (back cover, spine, and front cover on one large document page). He made the spine narrower and suggested that I reduce the type size of the spine text. He was concerned that the type might wrap onto the front or back cover if there was any variance in the binding process.
  2. Had I sent him PDF files only, my contact could not have fixed the file. He would have sent it back for me to fix. Given the length of our professional relationship, I don’t think he will charge for this service.
  3. My contact in prepress also broke the job into individual pages. I had set up the job in InDesign using page spreads. Apparently, for perfect binding on this printer’s equipment, individual pages are preferable.
  4. My prepress contact sent me a link to his website, so I could download the preflighted files that he had corrected. He asked me to use these files to make any further corrections to the job. This will save me time and ensure that the files the printer receives back with my corrections will be press-ready.

What This Means to You

  1. Ask whether your commercial printer would prefer that you set up your InDesign file as individual pages or page spreads. Different commercial printers will probably differ in their answer depending on the binding method, the printer’s equipment, and the printer’s preferences.
  2. Understand that the kind of custom service I received should be discussed first. Some commercial printers and book printers will charge for this exemplary service. Others consider it part of their “value-added” proposition and are proud to distinguish themselves from their competition. Granted, any printer will charge for extensive corrections to your files.

This Is Actually the First of Two Proofs

If your book is “photo-heavy,” like the one I’m producing, you may want to ask for two proofs. Consider requesting only the photos in the first round. This will save you money. You may also want to request a few text pages to make sure the type point size is ideal. This interim step could cost you an extra $100.00+, but it may well be worth the expense for a $10,000.00 job. Here’s why.

  1. Not all computer monitors are the same (or adequately calibrated, or used in consistent ambient light). Therefore, your monitor may mislead you. You may think the photos are perfect and then receive a nasty surprise when the hard-copy proofs arrive. They may be very dark, for instance, if you’re using a back-lit LCD monitor to evaluate your Photoshop work. Colors on these monitors may appear lighter and brighter on-screen than in the printed output. It’s better to find this out early so you’ll have time to adjust your Photoshop files. Or, you may actually alter the color in the photos in the conversion from RGB to CMYK and not see the changes accurately on your monitor.

    (By the way, before the advent of computerized page composition, when photo separations were done on a press camera, the commercial printer used to provide “randoms” or “scatter proofs,” which were hard-copy color proofs of the photos. This way a designer could see—and judge and request alterations on–the individual images prior to receiving a composite proof with all images and text in place.)

  2. If you’re like me, you design on a large monitor, which shows the pages in full-sreen mode, backlit, crisp and with good contrast. The on-screen type point size may be misleading. Granted, you can print out laser copies to see how the actual type will look, but just as the screen looks different from the laser proof, the laser proof looks a bit different from the printer’s contract proof, which looks a bit different from printer’s ink on paper. It doesn’t hurt to see a printer’s proof of a text spread at this point.

4 Responses to “Book Printing: Sometimes It’s Wise to Submit InDesign Files, Not PDFs”

  1. I completely agree! I prefer InDesign way over PDF’s. I write online storefronts for our clients and PDF’s always give me trouble. Once they ask for a change, I always reply, “do you have InDesign files?”.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. As a designer, if I have a level of trust in a printer’s prepress operators, I’m more comfortable sending native files. At this point I’m basically saying–through my actions–that I know their knowledge of prepress issues exceeds my own and I want them to identify and correct any problems that arise. If I don’t have this level of trust, which comes over time, then I’m more comfortable sending PDFs.

  2. Safy says:

    The first person is mostly correct. Most likely what is happening is the printer is not getting the packaged files: they are getting the InDesign file with the low resolution images that InDesign uses without the full linked images. Before you send the file, make sure to run the preflight (which checks for errors such as RGB when you need CMYK, and so on). Then go to File>Package. What this will do is put copies of the InDesign file, all linked images and the fonts you used into one folder. It is this folder that should be sent to the printer. That way the printer will have everything you used, including all the related images.The alternative is to export to a PDF; the PDF file will imbed the images.

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