The Brain Storm

January 31, 2017

Prepress: What does that mean?

Prepress is the process of taking your logo or design and making it ready for the printers. DBP Chicago knows that dealing with prepress can be confusing if you aren’t knowledgeable of graphic design terminology. We’ve collected a handful of terms that you should be familiar with when dealing with art files and proofs.

Trim Lines, Safe Area, and Imprint Area
The terms trim lines and safe area refer to areas of the art file. The trim line designates the edge of the page on the final printed piece. The safe area is the designated area for text and images; it is typically smaller than the trim line to accommodate for standard cutting variance. Imprint area typically refers to the area on a promotional product that can be imprinted with your brand message. You will typically see the imprint area designated on proofs, but they do not get printed on the final product.

Mock Ups vs. Proofs
Mock ups and proofs are similar, but not quite the same. A mock up is typically a quick overlay of the imprint design over a low resolution image of the product. It gives you a visual reference to what the final product will look like, but is not an exact representation. A proof is a technical file from the plant. It is ready for print with the imprint area or trim lines denoted on a high resolution product image.

Crops and Bleeds, or Printer’s Marks
Many printers require art files to have crops and bleeds, so it’s important to know what these terms mean.  They are two components that make up the printer’s marks on a final print ready file. Crops is an abbreviation for crop marks, which are the lines that designate where the cutting blades should line up. Bleeds refers to graphics bleeding off the page, or when an image goes all the way to the edge of the paper with no white border. On the print file, the bleed is typically ⅛” and the images should extend over the trim lines by that amount. Different printers may have different requirements for bleeds, depending on the equipment at the plant. Ask your printer for their requirements so your files will be built to proper specifications.

It’s well known that images play an important role in marketing. Sharp marketing needs sharp images to enhance your message. When dealing with graphic files for print, you’ll hear the term resolution thrown around quite a bit. For print, images need to be at least 300 dpi, or dots per inch. Images are comprised of microscopic colored dots called pixels, and all the pixels together form the image visible to us. The more pixels contained in the image, the more detail that will be seen and the more you can enlarge the image before it becomes distorted.

Outlines and Vector Files
Live, editable text
Outlined text
These are terms that you will hear a lot when referring to text and logos. They are important to ensure your final print piece looks exactly as it does on your design file. Vector files’ primary function is to allow for sizing. Much like resolution in an image file, a design in a vector file can be enlarged significantly without distortion. In vector files, the fonts should all be converted to outlines. Many fonts are not universal, and a large number of companies pay to purchase a specific font for their brand. Printers typically do not have special, non-universal fonts. When the prepress department opens your file and they don’t have your font, the computer replaces it with a suggested font and that can change the entire look of the design. Converting the fonts to outlines turns text into a graphic element so the words are no longer read by the computer as text and having the font isn’t necessary to maintain the look of the text. Design software comes equipped with the tools to make this conversion easy.

OMG! So many acronyms when talking about color! These are all color terms that refer to the color mixing within the art file and in printers. CMYK and RGB are formula keys. Each of them contains 3 or 4 primary colors: Red, Blue, Green or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (K). Color spectrums in printing are based on formula percentages of each of the primary colors. A file can be CMYK or RGB, but it can’t be both. CMYK is typically preferred by printers, while RGB is best for web or screen views. Another way to identify colors is by using PMS colors, sometimes called spot colors. PMS means Pantone Matching System, and it is a universal color code system. You might see a color specified as PMS 187C. Most brands will designate a PMS color, because it is the most precise way to match a color across a variety of materials and products.


EPS (Encapsulated Postscript) and PDF (Portable Document Format) are file types. For commercial printing, Print Ready PDF files are typically sufficient for printing. They can carry high resolution files in smaller file sizes, so they are easy to email but also easy to convert back into a fully editable file. Not all PDF files are print ready, however, and not all retain their editing capabilities if they are low resolution. Promotional products will sometimes prefer or require an EPS file, which is the file type that contains outlines and vector art. Not all EPS files are vector art, but all vector art should be in EPS files.

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