Preparing Files for Print: the PDF Standard

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Originally developed for office communications use, the PDF file format is now the world standard for electronic document exchange. A PDF file’s unique characteristic – the ability to exist independent of the hardware, software and operating system used to create it – allows file creators to share documents and to keep them secure from modification.

PDF version 1.0, an internal project of Adobe Systems conceived by founder Dr. John Warnock and based on the page description language PostScript, was first announced at Comdex Fall 1992 where it won the “Best of Comdex” award. After years of continuous improvement, and in recognition of the power of PDF for document exchange, Adobe relinquished control of PDF to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2008.

For printers, PDFs solve many problems associated with using customer-prepared files. Before PDF, printers had difficulty opening and preparing files that were created using many kinds of software programs and containing fonts not owned by the printer. This led to delays in getting on press, extra cost for file repair, and frustration for both customers and the printer.

This week, we will be outlining the steps required to generate clean, print-ready files that will guarantee the best possible finished product.

Unleash the power of PDF

We hope this discussion will help you prepare perfect print ready PDF files. If you find you have questions, call our production manager Davey at 775-852-8800 and we’ll do our best to clear way the confusion.


A good PDF file begins with a good native file.

As versatile as a PDF file is, the final printed product will only be as good as the native application file. A PDF created from a poorly designed file containing low resolution photographs or graphics and typographical or grammatical errors will still have these flaws. And a PDF created from a file that has no allowance for bleeds (i.e., an image that extends beyond the trim line) or finishing functions (binding, drilling, saddle stitching, etc.) will still need to be repaired and resubmitted.

Here are a few tips to help you create good native application files:

  • Set the page size equal to the document’s final page size after trimming.
  • Set the live print area of the page to create a minimum of 0.125″ of white space on top, bottom and side margins.
  • Extend any image that will bleed to beyond the trim line. The standard allowance for a bleed is 0.125″, so if the final size of the printed piece is 8.5 x 11″, then set the document size at 8.75 x 11.25″, set trim marks at 8.5 x 11″, and extend the image that will bleed 0.125″ inches past the trim lines.
  • Set trim, score and fold marks outside live print area.
  • Make allowances for finishing operations such as folding, drilling and binding.
  • Use images of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution at the size they will appear in the document. Lower resolution will produce pixelated images; higher resolution will increase file size without improving print quality.
  • Use Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) for photographs rather than JPEG or GIF.
  • If printing a color photograph in black, save as grayscale before placing the image in the document.
  • Crop images in an image editor such as Adobe Photoshop.
  • Set screens and tints at a minimum of 5% and maximum of 95%.
  • Use the correct color space for the output (CMYK or Pantone for offset printing).
  • Delete blank pages before creating the PDF.
  • Use the right native application for your print job. For complex page layout, use a printing-standard program like Adobe InDesign. Use Publisher and Word for simple layouts such as one-page flyers. For photos, artwork, and posters use software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. You should always avoid using programs intended for creating documents meant to be viewed only on a computer screen, such as PowerPoint and Excel.

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