Why a commercial printer wants a PostScript or PDF file

Commercial printer

By John Giles, owner of The Giles Group

Submitting a digital file to a commercial printer can be confusing, so printers are using a new technique to standardize the process. To help you save money, find out now what commercial printers may start expecting from you.

Applies to
Microsoft Office Publisher 2003

Commercial printers are changing how they accept digital documents and publications created by customers. Because of new workflow methods, printers are bypassing native application files and asking customers to submit their documents and publications as PostScript or PDF (Portable Document Format) files. These new workflow methods can save you money and time.

Customers use hundreds of different software programs to create publications and documents. Most commercial printers, however, can only afford to support a few of the more popular programs such as Microsoft Office Publisher, Microsoft Office Word, QuarkXPress, Adobe PageMaker, and Adobe InDesign.

When a commercial printer supports a file in its native form, several problems can develop due to customer design errors or printing production issues. Files fail to print properly if customers don't include the fonts or don't correctly identify colors in the publication. The printer may need to paginate or impose the document to print several images on the sheet of paper to take advantage of printing efficiencies. It is difficult for a printer to be an expert in every software program, and such complications add costs to the printing order.

PDF is the new commercial printing standard

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Commercial printers are using the advantages of the PDF format to save customers money and time. The PDF provides a standard way to store and edit printed publishable documents.

Documents and publications converted to PDF files can easily be seen on screen and printed by users on a variety of computers and operating systems, no matter what program was used to create the file. PDF is a popular format for transferring documents on the Internet.

Printers find the PDF format to be an excellent choice when accepting customer-created files for commercial printing. A PDF file can include all the information needed to print a document or publication correctly. If prepared properly, the PDF files can include the fonts and graphic images needed by a commercial printer. Printers can even edit the PDF file for common prepress problems.

Software tools are available that make it easy to edit and manipulate PDF files. The latest printing equipment is designed to work most efficiently with PDF files. Commercial printers now try to convert all native application files to the PDF format when the files enter their workflow, so they can take advantage of the new technology.

As a result, you can usually save money when you submit your document or publication as a PDF file. Although printers still support files in their native application, many customers can lower their printing costs by using the PDF format. Printers usually have fewer problems with PDF files, and they can identify and fix any problems faster with PDF than with native applications.

When you create a document or publication on your computer for your commercial printer, you are becoming part of the printer's workflow. You must work closely with the printer to make sure your document or publication is assembled according to the printer's digital specifications. The printer has established certain parameters for dealing with digital files that allow the files to flow easily through the system. If you do not follow the printer's procedures, your order could be delayed or the cost increased.

3 ways to submit a PDF file

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There are three ways to submit files to meet the new commercial printing standard:

Save the publication as a PostScript file

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When you save a document or publication as a PostScript file, a commercial printer can take the PostScript file and distill it, by using special software, into a PDF file.

  • In many software programs, including Publisher, you save a document or publication as a PostScript file by clicking Print on the File menu. In the Print dialog box, select the proper PostScript printer, and then click Print to File.

 Note   In Publisher, you can click the Advanced Print Settings button in the Print dialog box to choose output options. Composite CMYK and Separations are usually the best options for files that will be printed commercially. (CMYK is a color model for commercial printing that produces a wide range of colors by mixing varying percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks.) Ask your commercial printer which option you should choose.

Some commercial printers prefer this method because they can distill PostScript files by using a Distiller that is set up specifically for their output device. It's also convenient for many customers, because the ability to save a publication file in PostScript format is built into software they already use.

Basically, a PostScript file is the computer code that would normally be sent to your desktop or laser printer to indicate where to put the images and text on a page. Instead of sending the file to the desktop or laser printer, you save it as a .PRN or .PS file. The file can then be transmitted to another computer, where the commercial printer uses special software to distill the PostScript file into a PDF file.

To create a .PRN or .PS file, you must have a printer driver on your computer that supports the PostScript page description language. You can check your current printer to see if it has a PostScript printer driver:

  • In the program where you create your documents or publications, on the File menu, click Print. Click Properties, and then click Advanced. If you see PostScript Options listed under Document Options, you have a PostScript printer driver. If you don't see PostScript Options listed, you have to install a PostScript printer driver.

Publisher includes a Generic Color PS printer driver for Commercial Printing that you can use to create PostScript files. The Generic Color PS driver must be installed manually. To learn how to install this printer driver, click a link under See Also on this page.

To ensure that the PostScript file you create will distill into a PDF file properly, your commercial printer may ask you to load a specific printer driver on your computer. You can select the printer-supplied printer driver when you use the Save As command on the File menu:

  • In the Save As dialog box, in the Save as type list, click PostScript (*.ps), and then click Save. If you see a message about choosing another printer, click OK. In the Page Setup dialog box, under Printer, choose the printer-supplied printer driver.

In some cases, when you save a document or publication as a PostScript file, the text may reflow on the page, changing the line endings and layout. To make sure that your layout will be correct, when you first open a new publication file and before you begin adding content, click Page Setup on the File menu, and click the Printer and Paper tab to select the proper PostScript printer. By choosing the PostScript printer when you first open the publication file, your publication on-screen should look exactly the way it will look when the commercial printer prints it.

Before the final printing, your commercial printer should provide a proof of your file, either a hard copy or a PDF copy. Proofs are a very important part of the digital workflow. It is up to you to review the proof closely so you know exactly what you are getting.

If you want to makes changes in the proof, discuss this with the printer. If the changes require text editing that might cause the text to reflow, you should make the changes in the original document and then submit a new PostScript file. Although the commercial printer can do some text editing, it is usually better to make text corrections in the original file.

Use special software to create your own PDF files

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The second way to prepare your file for a commercial printer is to distill it yourself and then submit it as a PDF file.

Although you can create a PostScript file with the tools in Microsoft Windows®, a PDF file requires special software. To create your own print-ready PDF files, you must purchase Adobe Acrobat Distiller or a similar program.

Again, to distill a publication file to create a print-ready PDF file, work with your commercial printer. Most printers have a custom Job Option to be included with the default Job Options in Acrobat Distiller. (A Job Option is a collection of settings, including font embedding and image compression settings, that determine how a file is distilled.) You need to add this job option to your Job Option folder, so you can select it when distilling PDF files. The custom Job Option was created to meet the specific requirements of the commercial printing equipment.

With Adobe Acrobat Distiller installed, you can create PDF files in many of your software programs. The default values for PDF files are usually set for Internet use and do not create a PDF suitable for commercial printing. You create a PDF file by opening the document or publication you want to create the PDF file from, and then clicking the Print command on the File menu. For more details about how to create PDF files, see Acrobat Distiller Help (or the Help that comes with whatever program you are using).

Check with your commercial printer to find out if the PDF created by a particular program is a print-ready PDF file. Many programs automatically create PDF files that can be viewed and posted on the Internet and then printed to an office printer. This does not mean that the same PDF file can be output by commercial printing equipment.

Contact your commercial printer for instructions for your specific software program. Many commercial printers post their custom Job Option and the instructions for use on their Web site.

Use an automatic PDF creation program

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The newest way printers are helping customers create print-ready PDF files is to place a special printer driver on the customer's computer.

The special driver automatically creates a PostScript file and a PDF file that is then transmitted to the commercial printer. Usually the automatic program includes a Job Ticket filled out with basic information about the file and who ordered it. Most of the automated programs require the customer to have Internet access for fast file transfer.

In most cases, you can view on the screen the PDF file you create, but only the printer who installed the special driver can output the file. The commercial printer is usually sure that the PDF file created by the automatic PDF program will meet output specifications. This helps the commercial printer keep the prepress costs down for the customer.

The automatic PDF creation programs are very easy to use. If you work for a large corporation, you will want to involve your computer system administrator in the process, since you are adding a special printer driver to the system. You will find that the programs take only minutes to install.

Because of the advantages of receiving a PDF file from a customer, many commercial printers offer the automatic PDF creation software free to customers. Some even offer a discount to customers who use the software to submit files.

It just takes communication

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Commercial printers want to make print ordering easy. They don't want customers to face delays or additional charges because of bad files. Currently, the PDF format allows commercial printers to do just that. Now the challenge is to educate the customer to the advantages of PDF.

Microsoft Windows provides all you need to create a PostScript file that your commercial printer can distill into a PDF file. You can purchase other software programs that allow you to turn your native application files into PDF files. Or, you can use free software from your commercial printer that turns your documents into PDF files automatically.

Creating publications for commercial printing can be easy if you talk to your commercial printer before you start. This way you know the printer's requirements and what you must do so your printing project can be completed on time and on budget.

 Note   Microsoft provides third-party contact information to help you find technical support. This contact information may change without notice. Microsoft does not guarantee the accuracy of this third-party contact information.


About the Author

John A. Giles III owns The Giles Group, a consulting company specializing in prepress issues for quick and small commercial printing companies. He is director of Certified Printers International (CPRINT), and author of Digital Directions, A Digital Workflow Guide for Customer Files and The Digital Original: How to Handle Customer Files Without Becoming a Service Bureau. John performs digital audits for printing companies to ensure that they can profitably accept customer-created files and conducts training seminars to help printers learn how to teach their customers digital publication preparation standards. He can be reached at www.johngiles.com or john@johngiles.com.

Applies to:
Publisher 2003