Saving Money and Avoiding Problems In Outputting Your Files

By Howie Fenton

It's the night before your press deadline, you're preparing your files for output and only your laser printer is stirring. You print out the last revisions of your document from your laser printer and rush to deliver it to your service bureau. Wiping the sweet from your brow you hand your files to your customer service rep and relax until a few hours later when you get the dreaded "service bureau problem call".

The muscles in your neck and back tighten as a strangely familiar conversation repeats, "We are having some problems with your files. We can fix them but it will take some time and cost you some additional money." Your blood pressure sky rockets, your stomach aches and you scream, "Why didn't someone tell me how to avoid these problems, before this happened?" This article is designed to help you avoid the myriad of pitfalls which can interfere with the smooth output of your files from a service bureau.

This will include: identifying important features of hardware and software, instruction on the proper installation of programs, recommendations for avoiding font id and printer font name conflicts, a comparison of file formats and transportation options, as well as hints and tips for composing files.

  1. Buy And Use The Right Stuff

    The first things to do to avoid problems is to ensure that your system is set-up correctly. This means all the components of your system should be PostScript the language used by the service bureaus high quality output devices (e.g. imagesetters) to print out pages. This includes printers, fonts and programs.

    Using printers or fonts that are not Postscript, such as Hewlett Packard laser printers that use HPGL or TrueType fonts, greatly increase your chances or receiving the dreaded phone call.

    Remember that TrueType fonts print out less reliability then PostScript fonts, also known as Type 1 fonts. A problem of course is that TrueType fonts are automatically installed when you install your Mac System (7.x) or Windows (3.x). You should ask your service bureau but most suggest removing your TrueType fonts from your system.

    On the Mac using System 7.x True Type fonts are placed in a fonts folder within your system folder and have three A's on them when viewed by icon. You should remove them and place them in a separate folder, outside of your system, just in case you ever need them. In Windows you go into your control panel and delete the TrueType fonts.

    After purchasing the PostScript components you need to install them. Depending on the computer and programs you use you may have to chose which printer drivers to install. Printer drivers allow you prepare files for specific printers. Before installing the programs you should call your service bureau of choice and ask them which printers they use. That way you can install there printer drivers. If they are not available in your installation software, they can give you there printer drivers. Before you send your files to them, select there printer driver and then check to see if your line breaks have changed.

    Most programs and PostScript printers come with the 35 Laserwriter Plus fonts. These include the families: Avant Garde, Bookman, Courier, Helvetica, New Century Schoolbook, Palatino, Symbol, Times, Zapf Dingbats ad Zapf Chancery. The fonts to avoid on the Macintosh (Mac) are those with names of cities such as Chicago, Geneva, etc. These are not PostScript fonts.

    Besides the 35 faces which typically come with DTP programs, other fonts can be purchased. One thing to consider before buying fonts is the reputation of the manufacturer. Often buying 1000 fonts for $29.95 from the "Fonts R Us" ad in the back of the DTP magazines results in those surprising phone calls.

    The are several manufacturers of typefaces, but the mot popular and reliable fonts are made by Adobe and Bitstream and the imagesetter manufacturers such as Agfa and Linotype. If you need to purchase other typefaces, you should contact your local service bureau and ask them whose fonts they support. Remember, the money saved in buying cheap fonts may more than offset the headaches in getting them to print.

    A more common and difficult problem for most service bureaus is overcoming the Mac screen font identification numbering conflicts (font id conflicts). Before working on your document you should contact your service bureau and ask what strategies they use to overcome font id conflicts.

    On the Mac if you're are using a font management utility like Suitcase or Juggler, the service bureau may ask you to send your font suitcase. Many service bureaus ask customers to send them PostScript files to avoid font problems. This is easy to use simply by choosing the "print to disk" option in the print dialog box.

    Avoid mixing different font vendors for the same family of fonts. For example don't use Adobe Future regular and LaserMaster Futura light, etc. This will results in great confusion and unpredictable results.

    Many service bureaus today use the new font numbering technique (NFNT) in which the font numbers have been reassigned to unique non-conflicting numbers. Fonts that have been renumbered with the NFNT strategy are easy to access.

    For example, the 5.5 version of Illustrator from Adobe has their screen font library available in NFNT formats. Or you can download fonts from the Adobe Library on CompuServe or buy a CD-ROM filled with "Fonts-on-Call" from Adobe, Agfa, Linotype and others. The screen fonts are generally free and you can purchase or "unlock" the printer fonts with a credit card and a phone call.

    One common mistake is to forget to tell your service bureau the fonts embedded in eps files. On solution is to convert typefaces to outlines or paths within the drawing program before converting it to a eps file. Before exporting the file into a eps format use the "convert to paths" command. Illustrator, Freehand and Corel all have this ability.

    Not everyone agrees with this philosophy. Some people complain that "convert to paths" type which is 10 points or smaller distorts the type. Others say that it increases print time when there is a page filled with text this is "converted". If you have concerns about this procedure run a test file.

    If you create your own special fonts using programs like Fontographer, be sure you create unique names for both screen and printer versions to avoid conflicts with industry standard names. If you do this don't forget to send the screen and printer fonts and don't rename fonts.

  2. Understand and Use File Formats Wisely

    In addition to using PostScript fonts you will need to assign other specifications to the file to avoid problems. The first involves file formats. Of all the different file formats TIFF and EPS are the most reliable.

    There is an importance differences in these two file types. Scanning results in a TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) which is a "bit-mapped" file. Drawing in an illustration program results in a eps or "vector based" file format. Scans are bit mapped while EPS files are vector based.

    Bit mapped files, such as scans (TIFF) or “paint” files are resolution dependent. The resolution is dependent of the scaling in the page layout program. If you make it bigger it loses resolution if you make it smaller it gains resolution. Think of bit mapped files as a picture filed with bunch of dots.

    Resolution is measured in the number of dots per square inch. If you scale the picture beyond 100% you pull the dots apart resulting in less resolution. If you scale the picture to less then 100% you push the dots closer and increase the resolution.

    The 2:1 Ratio

    The "rule of thumb" ratio for how much scanning resolution you need for outputting to an imagesetter using conventional screening is 2 to 1. So you need 300 dpi scans in its final size to output pictures for 150 lpi. To end up with 300 dpi you could scan a 4x5" original and 600 dpi and make it 8x10" (twice as large) in your page layout program. The converse is true if you scan at 150 dpi at 8x10" and scale it to 4x5" (half its size) you will have 300 dpi.

    The rule of thumb says that scans should be created at 100% size with a dpi of 2:1 the line screen for which it is to be printed. (Example: 150 line screen = 300 dpi).If scaling up or down takes place, the effective resolution of the file is changed, and the output may suffer.

    However 2:1 ratio results in fairly large files and some people argue that the 2:1 ratio is overkill. Brain Lawler a frequent seminar leader and consultant has been advocating that the 2:1 ratio is too much. Lawler says that the 2:1 ratio is overkill and most times you could get away with lower ratios which are not noticeably different.

    The 2:1 ratio results in larger files which are more time consuming to manipulate requires greater storage, will take longer for you service bureau to transfer across their network and longer to output from their service bureau. If your service bureau charges based on time to output, larger files will cost more to output.

    If you are considering using lower resolution files perform some tests. Divide a letter sized page into 4 quadrants. Take one picture place the 2:1 ration in one corner, and a 1.5:1, 1.3:1 and 1.25:1 ratio in the other corners. Then see for yourself.

    When working in a photomanipulation program such as Photoshop remember to assign the line screen. Forgetting to assign a line screen value may result in the default line screen being printed even after the scan is placed and output from the page layout program.


    The other type of file format is the vector based or object-oriented files such as the EPS file format. An easy way to think about vector based graphics is that they describe the picture using mathematical formula. The formula says put a dot here and put a dot there and draw a line between them. Drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Aldus FreeHand and Coral Draw create these types of files.

    These files are resolution independent meaning that they will print out at the best resolution of the output device regardless of scaling. There is only one exception, if you save a scanned image (bit-map) as an EPS file it does not become resolution independent.

    When using eps files avoid nesting or embedding two EPS files. Nesting is when you import a eps file into a new Illustrator, Freehand or Coral Draw file and save that file as another eps file. Often refereed to as a "RIP-killer" and rarely print. The simple solution is to open the eps in the original drawing program, make the modifications and save the resulting file as a eps file.

  3. Put your files together the right way

    Of course the most complicated aspect of preparing your files correctly is the actual page composition. There are a number of things you need to do right as well as a number of things to avoid. Here are few things of the more common problems and solutions.

    Before a file is an eps file it is saved in a file format from that program, that is called an application file. Before illustration programs could open their own eps files it was critically important to include the original application files. Although not as important as it used to be it is still a good idea to include you original graphics files when you send your page layout files. Of course don't rename your graphics files after you've placed them into the page layout document. The file name is the link between the graphic file and the layout file.


    Another issue when incorporating graphics into page layout programs is how you define lines. When you create an eps file with certain line weights those line weights will change as you scale that eps in the page layout program.

    Don't use the predefined "HAIRLINE" width rule if you are working with two programs. Different programs define hairline rules differently. Therefore the hairline rule you define in your drawing program may have a different weight then the rule you specified in your page layout program. Instead, define your own hairline width rules as .25 point. Used in both programs without scaling the eps will not match.

    While discussing rules, avoid if possible using lines or rules to create frames. Even when you spend hours of proofing that the rules align perfectly from you 300 dpi laseprinter, it may not at the higher resolution imagesetter. An alternative is the frame command in XPress. Be aware that the XPress frames are bitmaps that print at 300 dpi which introduces other problems such as trapping and overprinting.


    Of course there are two basic ways to output color as a spot color or as a four color process equivalent. If you want a spot color remember to set the separation button to OFF to ensure that the color that you specify is not generated as a process equivalent. Another important distinction is that your monitor works in RGB while the printing process works in CYMK. Therefore anything done in RGB will not work that well.

    There is a manual called CREF (Color Ready Electronic Files) which is designed to standardize file preparation. It has been created by Scitex and in some instances the recommendations are specific to workflows involving Scitex equipment. Another good resource is a book from Agfa on how to work with prepress suppliers.

    The CREF manual recommends the removal of the predefined base colors of red, green, and blue from the default color palette of master grids, as well as any colors that you may have defined. This will avoid creating colors based on RGB and decrease processing time.

    Four color blacks come in handy for certain applications. Some designs call for it. In addition it is one way to avoid problems in trapping black text to background colors. According to the CREF manual you should use the process equivalents of 60C, 100K to create a Rich Black and 60C, 40M, 20Y, 100K to create a Full Body Black. In general, you should always match up whatever tints and colors you plan to define to a printed tint guide. This will eliminate unpleasant surprises at proof time!

    If you ever created a eps graphic with a Pantone color in your illustration program and defined the same color in your page layout program then you know that when it is printed those colors may not match. The reason is that different programs will take the same Pantone color and generate different CMYK percentages.

    The way around this problem is to define your Pantone color as a CYMK mix in your illustration program and give it a unique name. Then define the same color in your page layout program with the same equivalents. When they print they should match. It’s important that the name match exactly. For example PANTO02 will not be recognized as PMS 102 CV.

    The latest versions of Quark XPress (3.3x) incorporates the Quark XTension "Prepare For Service Bureau" into the "File " menu as 'Collect for Output". This utility can help you send your files. IT can copy all the graphics and updates the links. And most importantly it creates a file with important information, such as fonts, colors, traps, etc.


  4. Send Responsible Files to Responsible Staff

    There are several methods for transferring files to service bureaus. The most common way is to use floppy disks. If a file gets too big for a floppy disk, the file can be “stuffed” of "packed" with a compression program like Stuff-it (Mac) or ZIP (DOS). Unlike color compression, this type of compression does not alter the data.

    Another option for transferring large files is to "span" the file across several floppies. Back-up programs and some compression programs like Stuff-it offer this option. If you are considering "spanning" the disks remember to confirm that the service bureau has the same program to unspan or reconstitute the file.

    In working with files that contain color scans, spanning and compressing are not productive options. A more productive option is to use removable hard disk technology such as SyQuest, Bernoulli and optical rewritable cartridges.

    Both the SyQuest and the Bernoulli have storage capacities ranged from 44 Mb to 270 Mb. SyQuest drives are less expensive, but the reliability of data storage has become controversial. Ask your service bureau if it can accept files from these devices.

    Be aware that all SyQuest drives or optical drives are not the same. You might have to send what we used to call the INIT (initialization program) and today we call the extension to the service bureau.

    One last option is to transmit your files over the phone lines using a modem. Using this option will require the purchase of a modem and a modem program. Modems are classified by the speed at which they transmit data, which is known as the baud rate. The minimum baud rate worth considering is 9600.

    Before investing in a faster modem, ask your service bureau if it owns a modem that will accept faster transmission, like a 14.4 or 28.8 baud modem. However faster modems have not been standardized, therefore you may have to buy the same 28.8 modem as your service bureau. Also some modems use their own compression which means that you don’t have to compress the file before sending it.

    End of File

    If you are using PC based products it is a good idea to find a service bureau that has PC based equipment and experience. Not all service bureaus provide reliable output from PC files.

    If possible, try not to wait until a deadline is at hand to test your files. There are some things which are guaranteed to be different then your 72 dpi screen and 300 dpi laserprinter. These include line weights, typeface stroke weights, graphic images, and screen or tint densities. Experienced service bureaus generally suggest running a test file and then compare it to the output from the imagesetter.

    It is important to send laser prints of the files to your service bureau. If you don't send laser prints to your service bureau then you don't have a leg to stand on when they say to you, "We couldn't check the files". The best way to avoid the dreaded phone calls and additional costs is to assume as much responsibility as possible.

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