File Prep Guidelines

File Prep Guidelines


The followings are some general guidelines for preparing electronic files. Adhering to these guidelines will help us produce your job in the most efficient, expeditious and cost effective way possible. If your question is not answered here please contact our friendly Customer Service Team at (925) 484-3690.


Top 5 File Problems

  1. Incorrectly defined bleeds
  2. Image resolution too low
  3. Missing fonts
  4. Missing graphics
  5. Incorrect color: RGB vs. CMYK, Spot vs. CMYK


Acceptable File Types

The preferred format is an Adobe Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format) file created using the PDF/X-1a or PDF/X-3 setting from the native. Include bleed and crop marks, embed fonts and use CMYK, not RGB, settings.

The following native files are also accepted (in order of preference) and should adhere to the guidelines listed in this document:

Supported Software

Other File Formats
There are literally hundreds of other applications which may be used to create digital artwork. Because we cannot be experts at every application available, we have chosen those listed above which are recognized by graphic professionals to be the most reliable and universal. We will of course attempt to support any files that you provide, but please be advised that additional charges may apply.


Working in the Right Software

*Prepare your art in the program best suited for the task. Illustrator is a drawing (vector) program, ideal for logos, packaging, posters and single-page layouts. Photoshop is a pixel-based (raster) program that lets you size, color-correct and manipulate scanned images such as photos and flat art (fonts in Photoshop do not print as sharp as they do in a vector-based program). Neither is intended for multi-page documents. For that, use a page layout program such as InDesign.


Build to Size

Build your files at actual size unless your final size is too large for your software to accommodate. A printed piece with a final size of 8.5 x 11 should be built to 8.5 x 11 page size. Spreads/facing pages (i.e., for booklets) should be created as two 8.5 x 11 pages, not a single 17 x 11 form. Facing pages are ok as long as the job does not perfect, coil or wire bind, in which case bleeds in the gutter become a concern (all bleeding pages should bleed on all four sides for these binding styles). If your file is a 17 x 11 double-sided brochure, folded to 8.5 x 11, then do set up your page as 17 x 11. Incorrectly specified page settings cannot be fixed by simply scaling up or down, so make sure your document is built at the correct size.

When submitting multiple lots of of any item, please submit one page per item instead of bunching a group of them on one larger page. This would take you longer to make and us longer because we would have to disassemble it and re-make (see Figure 1).

Multiple Lots



The area beyond the trim edge of your page document is considered the bleed area. When butting a color or image up to the edge of your page, it’s required that the color or image “bleed” 1/8” beyond the edge to prevent an unwanted white border from showing when the document is trimmed (see Figure 2). For the bleed to show up in your PDF, you must indicate 1/8” bleed in your PDF print or export setup (see Figure 3).



Trim Marks

The trim area indicates the finished size of the document. Files should include trim marks set back .167” from the edge of the document (see Figure 2 above). Do not manually draw in the trim marks. Allow the software to add the trim marks when you create your PDF. You must indicate you want trim marks in your PDF print or export setup for them to show up (see Figure 3 above).


Safe Area

Remember to keep important information, like names, addresses, phone numbers or logos, within the safe margin (at least 1/8” – 1/4” from the edge) to ensure that they aren’t cut off when your document is trimmed (see Figure 2 above).



CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) are the ink colors used in the printing process, whereas RGB (red, green, blue) are the colors used by screen displays such as your monitor.

Your document should be created in CMYK mode so that the colors you see on the screen most closely match the final printed product (see Figure 4). Many of the bright values produced by our monitors’ RGB displays cannot be reproduced in print.



CMYK Process vs. Spot Colors

Process and Pantone match colors may look identical on screen, but they will separate differently (see Figure 5). If you need to convert a spot color to process, use a conversion guide or ask us for a recommendation.



Heavy Black Ink Coverage (Rich Black)

When your project has heavy, solid black ink coverage please convert to Rich Black (see Figure 6). For best registration on press, do not use rich black on fonts. The rich black combination we prefer is C = 40, M = 0, Y = 0, K = 100.

Rich Black


Keep Track of Your Colors

Delete unused colors from your swatch palette before submitting your file (see Figure 7). If the piece is printing entirely in CMYK, convert any spot colors you may have used (see Figure 5). This eliminates any question as to whether you want the piece printed as CMYK or spot. Having said that, it’s still best to indicate the ink specs when you upload your file, especially if you want it to print CMYK plus spot.

Unused Colors


Small/Reversed Type


Rule Lines

All lines and line art images should be a minimum .5 pt. thickness (including reversed lines/line art) at final size to reproduce effectively on press.


Fonts and Linked Graphics

All fonts and graphics must be included with your files. Take advantage of the “Package” feature in InDesign (here's a quick tutorial from Adobe). It will help you collect all the fonts and images used, and search for missing items. (Your document may show the placed image, but the actual file may have become unlinked when saved in a folder that differed from its original location. Missing links can cause graphics to print out low-res or not at all.)

Please remove any unnecessary or non-printing elements from your document pasteboard.

If working in Adobe Illustrator, graphics should be embedded within the file and fonts should be converted to paths. If you do not convert your fonts, be sure to include them with your document when you upload your files.


Image Resolution and Quality

Images must conform to the specifications for minimum image resolution – 300 dpi for offset printing and 150 dpi for digital printing (see Figure 8). Photoshop provides tremendous pixel control, however, raster software cannot enlarge images without a loss in quality. It’s better to start out big when producing a digital image, as you can scale down with impunity. If you need to make an image larger, it is best to rescan or reshoot it at a higher resolution. Vector graphics, however, retain high image quality at any size.

Image Resolution



Try to flatten all transparency effects (soft drop shadows, etc.) to eliminate possible ripping/printing issues. Most transparency issues can be resolved before saving your file.


Make Image Changes Before Importing Them

Placed images should not be scaled, cropped/masked or rotated within the page layout application. Instead they should be manipulated in a proper image editing program (i.e., Photoshop) and then imported into the page layout program at proper size and position. If done in a page layout program, these steps consume a lot of computer memory.