Printing & Design Tips: May 2002, Issue #10

Why Won't Your Printer Accept MS Publisher or MS Word Files?

Actually, some--very few--printers will accept these files. Most will not because of the amount of work they must do to prepare the files for printing to film or plates. Microsoft applications such as Word and Publisher do not produce PostScript code. They produce ".prn" ("print") files. The printing industry is based on a PostScript workflow, so a printer that accepts a MS Word or MS Publisher file must either transfer the text and images into a program like Quark that produces PostScript code or import the file into Acrobat for distilling into PDF format. This PDF document will then include the font and graphic information in what is essentially a subset of PostScript code. You could avoid this extra work on the printer's part--and opportunity for error--by starting with a Quark or PageMaker document.

In addition, Microsoft applications deal within a gray-scale and RGB color gamut exclusively. Even though the PostScript RIP that drives the platesetter or imagesetter can translate the color from RGB to CMYK (RGB is only used for documents created with light, such as images on a computer monitor, not for offset printing), Microsoft applications cannot process spot colors. To process spot colors, you would not only need to distill the document in Acrobat, you would also need to use a plug-in program called PitStop to edit the PDF and apply spot colors to elements in the file. Again, you could avoid this entirely by starting with a Quark or PageMaker file.

Finally, MS Word and MS Publisher files may not support the level of resolution your images need for quality printing. At 100 percent size, a 150-line halftone would need a resolution of approximately 266 to 300 dpi for high-quality reproduction on press. This is the realm of Quark or PageMaker halftones.

So, yes, a small minority of printers will accept Microsoft files, but they will need to do extensive work to make them usable for high-quality printing. Therefore, consider starting with the applications specifically created for print publications work. Your printer will love you for it.

When Should You Consider Digital Printing?

Let's say you have a 4-color brochure to print, with heavy ink coverage, photographs, and bleeds, but you only need 800 copies. Ouch. Short of paying an exorbitant price, essentially for makeready, what can you do? Consider digital printing.

Currently digital printing consists of ink-jet, color laser, and actual ink-on-paper technologies. Ink-jet and color laser have improved dramatically in the last several years. The images are vibrant and far less "waxy"-looking. Still, they are not at the level of ink-on-paper for showcase-level printing work.

Heidelberg offers a press called the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI (direct-imaging) press which is quite good for brochures and other small-format work (including small 4-color posters) within this short press-run range. Plates are imaged right on the press. To find such a press at a printer near you, contact Heidelberg (you might start with their web site). This press produces luxurious, heavy coverage and excellent photographic images.

For less critical work, consider ink-jet and color laser alternatives, such as Docucolor. Such toner and ink-jet-based equipment is also ideal for projects that require multiple text changes within the press run. For example, should you need to personalize your print product for several groups or even on a piece-by-piece level, these digital presses are invaluable.

Unlike offset printing, however, in which you pay less per copy the more copies you print, with digital printing you usually pay a consistent unit cost (per-click). Talk with your printer to determine the ideal press run for the technology in question. Usually the break-even point will be in the shorter-run range, around 500 to 1,500 copies, but your printer will know for sure, based on his equipment.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]