The printing industry has long pioneered new forms of technology and is now on the cusp of more significant change, spurred on by the devastating deterioration of our planet. The truth is climate change is here and our industry has to change.  

The printers we consulted say that the best strategy for this kind of major shift is to truly believe in the need to change how we work, then prioritize it without losing jobs, time, and productivity. The footprint of every step of a project, from the very beginning to when it is loaded onto trucks for delivery, has to be re-evaluated. As an industry that thrives on innovation, it is time for us to reinvent ourselves yet again.  

None of the changes we make will matter unless customers consult with their printer at the very beginning of their project, so they can be briefed on sustainability-related changes. Fortunately, findings from a recent survey by the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania indicate that the consumer, particularly the up-and-coming Gen Z consumer, is trending more and more towards greener consumption practices1. This is a major driving force for almost every industry, many of which are steadily adopting more planet-friendly practices.  

Plan a sustainability strategy 

Community Printers is an employee-owned printing company in Santa Cruz, California. They have been in business since 1977 with a strong commitment to sustainable practices, including a strict chain of custody for everything used in their work. “We build a matrix designed to help you figure out all the levers that you can pull when you’re designing for sustainability,” says Ross Newport “and it looks at things like recycled content, it looks at things like FSC and whether the fiber that’s being used is coming from sustainable sources. It has a value system built into it.” 

The client who is anxious to limit their carbon footprint should be persuaded to follow a sustainability strategy that includes all elements of the printing process. This begins with designing so as to optimize sheet size, then adding their project to other jobs on press, using the house FSC-approved sheet, printing with low or no VOC inks, and avoiding non-recyclable features like foiling. When starting this process, begin with the files themselves.  

When collecting and preparing files for print, how often does your team do repetitive tasks manually? These grueling tasks result in mistakes that lead to costly reprints. They are time-consuming, generate unnecessary waste, and are not always the best use of a team member’s time. You can eliminate mistakes by automating your workflow with a sophisticated yet cost-effective solution like Enfocus Switch. Pull in files delivered by email, FTP, and other delivery methods automatically in a flow, preflight and make corrections automatically, label jobs and route them to the right approval system or press, and eliminate the waste of time, error, and reprints.  

If you have a soft proofing system in house, the sustainably-minded client will be excited to view and approve their proofs on a profiled prographic monitor. Remote Director is a tightly controlled soft proofing solution that consistently produces accurate, repeatable proofs. These digital proofs are charged to the client at the same rate as inkjet proofs. Though there is a carbon footprint to all things digital, the footprint for soft proofing is significantly lower than that of hard proofing due to the reduced need for paper and inks, which also have a production-related carbon footprint. For those clients who do prefer physical proofs, a profiled printer that is regularly calibrated with a RIP designed for an inlet printer will produce accurate contract proofs right away, eliminating waste and misunderstandings on press. 

Selecting papers and ink for a lower footprint 

Waste is a major concern of the printing industry. Jason Tempestini, CTO of Rods and Cones, examined the claim that there are recyclable plastics. “I think we’ve been really trying to recycle plastic for a long time,” he states. “And the evidence I’ve seen over the last five years is that it’s not a recyclable product, period. There’s no such thing.” A more commonly wasted material in the printing industry is not plastic, however, it is paper.  

Although paper waste is in some ways less harmful than plastic waste, paper waste should be just as heavily considered. By combining jobs, the amount of paper waste is dramatically reduced, fewer plates are generated, and less ink is used. The press can be organized around these jobs, which allows you, for example, to set your press to a four-color process and keep it like that for a certain number of days per week. This not only saves on cost, but also has a substantially lower carbon footprint. To get there, your client will need to have been persuaded at the start of the job to allow a few more days in the schedule.   

To persuade your client to use your FSC-certified house sheet, remind them that there is often a heavy carbon footprint produced by ordering paper from abroad because ground and air shipping contribute large amounts of GHG emissions. Statista reports that in 2020, bulk carriers emitted on average 440 million metric tons of CO2, while container ships emitted 140 million metric tons CO2 2. Using the house sheet is preferable, but in order to have an alternative, build a list of papers that can be sourced locally with a clear chain of custody and certification.  

Whenever possible, offer soy-based inks and, if the design is in black and white, consider a black, algae-based ink, currently offered by Eco-Enclose, which also specializes in sustainable packaging. The pigment of algae-based inks is biodegradable and uses water or plant-based carriers. Soy-based inks are currently the sustainable ink of choice, and are undoubtedly much less destructive than traditional inks made with oil, but because they must be grown on land they create new issues around crops and crop cycles. Algae, alternatively, is grown in water which eliminates soil and biodiversity issues caused by monocropping. It is also a net negative carbon technology, meaning it’s an active absorber of CO2. In fact, each bucket of algae ink captures the same amount of carbon as two trees3.  

However, it is not only the ingredients in ink that should be considered. Other ecological concerns, such as whether they will dry without curing and whether they can be sourced locally, should also be assessed. Curing requires dryers that cause the inks to emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can sometimes cause harmful effects to humans and the environment4. The popular solution printers are using today is LED UV curing, which uses considerably less electricity. 

There are some decorative styles that your client may request, especially in the realm of packaging, and should be discouraged at the onset such as foiling and lamination. The metallic or pigmented foil applied to the paper cannot be removed and cannot be recycled and, of course, lamination is just “plastic with a paper core,” says Jason Tempestini. 

Becoming the go-to green printer to grow a business 

For printer and client alike, putting our carbon footprint first is a major cultural shift. It requires new ways of working, storing, selling, buying, and appealing to clients. It’s an investment of time and money, and it forces re-prioritizations from start to press. But printing industry veterans will be reminded of earlier days when linotypists were replaced by typesetters, digital printing heavily impacted offset, and match prints and color keys were waylaid after inkjets arrived. These significant changes heralded new eras that were also, and foremost, new opportunities.  

As always, when unsure about the steps to take, consult a workflow specialist. Their mandate is to chart a path for change, in incremental ways, with a clear understanding of cost and revenue.  

Community Printers, who decided more than 12 years ago to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage their clients to do the same, has grown and prospered because of their creative approach to projects. Becoming the sustainability consultant at the very start of a project, when everything is open for discussion, and then becoming the printer known for their commitment to better solutions, is opening a new channel that brings more revenue at the onset, and guarantees a place for the company in the future. 

As for the clients, their priorities are changing too. They come to printers after discussions with family and friends, exposure to the news, and sometimes after falling victim to unusual and destructive weather patterns. Consumers are living through the effects of climate change, and they want to play a role in reversing them.  

It is clear that there is a distinctive role that we can take as members of the printing industry that positively contributes to recognizable change for our planet. We can be the stewards of innovative environmental practices, not only for existing clients that share our values, but also for those who are newly ready to embrace positive change. 

Laura Aitken is a writer and script developer. She is based in Los Angeles. Erica Aitken is president of Rods and Cones. The company offers color management and automation solutions. Laura and Erica are committed to helping change how we live and work. 


This is an interesting article Kevin started to write for us at the time of his death in 2019. There’s affection and regret reading this but, as usual, pleased at finding so many interesting facts. I hope you enjoy this piece written by a wonderful friend.

A frisson of awe ran down my neck as I looked up at color on the cave wall in front of me. The image of the bison was painted 19,000 years ago, by an artist who used shades of black and ochre to showcase his skills of depth and perspective, eighteen millennia before European artists would rediscover perspective in the art of the Renaissance. Such is the power of ink and color when used with skill.

The Grotte de Font-de-Gaume is the last of the French prehistoric caves with polychrome images still open to the public—with very limited access by strict reservation. A UN Heritage site, it was discovered on December 12, 1901  by a local schoolmaster. Over 230 images are in the cave; 30 of the best are shown during the tour. Our guide, though disclaiming his skills in English, punctuated his French tour with excellent English asides to make sure we were included in the  vivid details he shared of each image. Each member of the tour seemed appropriately awed.

As I listened to our guide, an impossible thought raced through my head; what would the artist who painted these prehistoric animals think of the ease with which visual art can be created and reproduced in our modern world? 

Early inks

Until recently all inks were made from easily found natural materials. Black ink was most common (and still is).

Ink was developed about the same time in China and Egypt, around 2500 BC. India ink was actually made in China, using soot collected from oil lamps (lampblack) and water. Sometimes, animal fat was substituted for water. Iron gall ink became a standard in much of Europe for many centuries. Early records show this ink being used on papyrus in the Roman Empire, becoming a primary ink during the Middle Ages, and remaining in use well into the 20th century. Artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh drew with gall inks; early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written in gall ink, as were DaVinci’s notebooks. These inks could not be erased easily, and were in great demand due to their permanence.

Illustrate what early inks were made of.
Oak gall is used to make ink.

Gutenberg’s tests showed that the ink common to the time wouldn’t work with his new invention. Water-based ink would simply run all over, so something more viscous was needed. Gutenberg set to work testing and mixing until he found a formula that worked on his presses. This ink was analyzed in the 1980s, using a cyclotron at UC Davis. Tests documented changes in ink composition as various batches were made to print Gutenberg’s Bible as it was printed over 4 years and contained a surprisingly high amount of both lead and copper. The UC Davis research played a key role in the writing of Gutenberg’s Apprentice, an historical novel by Alix Christie, describing when various books of the Bible were printed and then assembled, showing variations in substrate as well as ink, etc. Subsequent analysis done in London of six copies of the Gutenberg Bible in various countries in Europe showed that various copies were printed at different times, using a variety of ink sets of varying colors. The primary inks displayed the variations expected when mixing batches by hand. 

Modern inks

Contemporary Ink for presses comes from large scale manufacturing operations, as do inks used in inkjet printers.

One of the most fascinating areas of ink development has been the growth in various types of ink for inkjet printers. Before inkjet printers, there was a clear distinction between inks used for presses, which are made with pigments, and inks used for writing, which were made with dyes. Early inkjet printers used dye-based inks. This distinction became very important as the market for inkjet printing expanded in various directions. 

Pigments versus dyes

Dye or Pigment? It's in how the ink "sits" on the paper. Image courtesy of © DTM Print GmbH

In both pigment ink and dye ink, a colorant provides the color, and something else carries the color to the paper or other substrate on which it is used.  Pigment inks are composed of ground particles of a particular color, suspended in a carrier. Other components of pigmented ink can include humectants, which prevent ink from drying too quickly, and anti-foaming agents.  Clay is sometimes added to extend the ink as a filler. Thickening agents, wetting agents and biocides to preclude mold or other biological agents can also be included.  All of these additions can be generically referred to as stabilizing agents. 

Dye-based inks, by contrast, are composed of the colorant, which is dissolved in the carrying agent, as opposed to being suspended in the carrier (pigment inks). Water was the most common carrier for many centuries. Additives similar to those used in pigment-based inks can be part of dye-based inks. While dye-based inks continued to be used in writing pens, it’s only now,  more than five hundred years after Gutenberg first made oil-based inks for his press, we've returned to dye-based inks for use in the new technology of printing, using sprays of ink. 

This Epson P7570, and most of the large format Epson inkjet printers, use pigment-based inks that are constantly improved for durability, dry time, accuracy and consistency.

Inks for inkjet printers

The French word for a spray or spurt of liquid is giclée. Technically speaking, all inkjet printers are giclée printers. In practice, this word is used to market higher end inkjet printing, targeted at fine art markets. Fine art printing was (and is) a driver of rapid developments in inkjet printing as the technology spread into the marketplace.

Originally, inkjet printers used dye-based inks, but now, there are multiple types of inks used in inkjet printers. 

In the early days of inkjet photo printing, traditional photo company employees were fond of showing the same image printed on inkjet paper and on photo emulsion paper, taped in windows with half of each sheet covered. Very quickly, the inkjet paper exposed to sunlight faded, while the photo emulsion print stayed full of color. This gave a false sense of security about job stability to those employees. Meanwhile, inkjet printer manufacturers rose to the challenge of print longevity, and while improving aqueous inks, also released new printers using pigment-based inks. 

Much of the research devoted to ink for inkjet printers was to produce the most durable images possible.

Pigment-based inks, because they are made by grinding up colorants and suspending them in a carrier fluid, have larger molecules of colorants. While these do not sit as flat on the surface of paper as aqueous inks sit on coated inkjet substrates, they resist fading better. The best pigment-based inks are considered to be “archival”, a word connoting extended longevity. Their downsides include a higher expense to manufacture, and a need to be even more proactive about ensuring that the printer’s heads are not allowed to dry out and clog. 

So far, we’ve talked mostly about ink on paper. Time to look at inks needed for printing on other substrates. Standard papers are great for many things, but other printing surfaces are often needed, with inks appropriate to the substrates.

Dye-sublimation inks

These inks are used primarily for printing on synthetic fabrics. They are permanent, so that the printed material can be laundered without fading. Specialized dye-based inks are used to print, either directly onto fabric, or onto a special paper, in reverse.  If paper is used, the dry  transfer paper image is then sandwiched with the fabric, and run through a press at a consistent speed, temperature and pressure; fabric printed directly instead of using a transfer paper is also treated with heat and pressure. The image on the transfer paper is vaporized by the heat and pressure, transferring onto the fabric. Failure to control variables can lead to color-critical variations unacceptable to the client, and full rejection of the job, so process control is essential. This technology is in use in a variety of places, such as small, one at a time T-shirt shops, as well as high volume production operations, such as printing a whole series of Winnie the Pooh garments for Disney. 

Digital t-shirt printing heat press machine in printing production shop.

Solvent inks 

 An outdoor sign or billboard will quickly deteriorate outside if printed on paper, so other substrates are used to stand up to the challenges of direct sun, snow wind and rain. Inks designed for paper aren’t going to work on weatherproof substrates such as vinyl. Enter solvent inks. The inks are manufactured using pigments, not dyes, with carrier compounds and resin. The resin in the ink bonds the pigments in the ink to the vinyl as well as providing protection for the bonded color.

These waterproof inks and substrates can withstand fading outside from sunlight, including ultraviolet light. Surfaces such as vinyl don’t need to be coated, either before or after printing, and the range of color that can be printed is excellent. The cost to manufacture is relatively inexpensive. Downsides include the need for ventilation of the oil-based carrier compounds in the ink, the need for drying equipment to set high-speed printed inks, and the possibility of becoming allergic to these inks, which can occur for some people with repeated exposure in printing environments.  

Solvent inks can be classified as hard solvent inks or mild/Eco solvent inks. The hard inks will last longest and stand up best to the elements without requiring special coating, but require careful management of fumes through special ventilation. They also dry fast enough that they are used to print on substrates that can’t tolerate much in the way of heat. 

The mild inks are intended for use in enclosed spaces without specialized ventilation. They are slow-drying, and often require heating units to aid in efficient production times. Mild solvent inks have grown in popularity as advances in ink technology have improved pricing, color gamut and durability. Regrettably, the use of the term “Eco” is not particularly accurate, as the inks are not environmentally friendly as that term is usually understood.

UV inks

This segment of the printing market has experienced rapid growth recently. The ink contains chemicals which allow the ink to be cured with ultraviolet light exposure. After printing, the UV exposure causes the ink to dry very quickly, becoming a solid. No evaporation happens, and no solvents soak into the substrates. This is particularly desirable because of environmental and health concerns surrounding evaporated solvents.  Since the UV exposure is very short, substrates that can’t tolerate much heat can be printed using this process. The speed of this process measured from impression to fully finished print is one of its key selling points. 

Other advantages are the wide range of uncoated substrates on which these inks can be used. These inks are rugged when dry, providing sturdy, high quality prints. 

These inks are comparatively expensive, and require special add-on units to generate the UV light that will cure the ink as soon as it’s printed. These inks are not very flexible, so their use is primarily on rigid substrates, often very large sheets of metal, wood or plastic, printing using grand format devices. The ink has enough volume that prints can show a slight 3D effect, built up on the surface of the print.  

Some may think it mundane, but ink has been the lifeblood of our civilization for thousands of years. Ink gives wings to artists, shape to our writers’ words, communication to our commerce, and carries our love to those we write. It’s a far cry from the original inks made from animal suet and lamp soot, but ink has evolved to serve new needs as they appear. The forms may change, and its uses, but ink is at our heart.

Softproofing is the natural transition from paper proofs to digital proofs. Today, we use a color-managed inkjet printer with a RIP to print contract proofs. The technology is mature and the proofs are close to perfect, not only for color but also in terms of what a specific press can do. Hardproofing is ideal and preferred for many environments, particularly in settings where the brand owner and team is synched with preferred vendors.

Other environments would benefit from a digital system that eliminates mirrored hardware and software systems, fosters real time dialogue from client to pressman, facilitates interaction between remote locations. That’s what softproofing brings to the table.

We have worked for years with Remote Director, a Californian company devoted to the development of digital proofing. We asked Dan Caldwell, president of Remote Director,  to tell us the current status of this interesting but often misunderstood technology.

Remote Director is a unique display-based proofing solution that pairs Remote Director Client with a Proof Server.

It’s the brand that sets the parameters for color as the files are added. Profiles, CxF data, various queues, are entered in the server and integrated in the solution. When the file is opened on the Client application, the correct profiles are automatically applied and the user can see a proof as accurately on the monitor as if it had been printed. The monitor, you might think, could be uncalibrated or too old.

How can you guarantee that the image is viewed correctly? In order to view the proof, Remote Director requires that the user calibrate his or her monitor with the included calibration module, subjecting it to a pass/fail score.

Pairing Remote Director with JUST Normlicht professional lighting

On press, Remote Director is used to view a sheet against a soft proof. To eliminate discrepancies between the luminance of the screen with the lighting of the booth, Remote Director includes drivers that automatically set the luminance of the viewing lights to match the display. To measure spot color on a running press, Remote Director is now working with LithoFlash. The LithoFlash readings, applied to a clone of the file on screen  allows the client to visualize  variations between the proof and the press.

In addition to all the normal mark up and approval tools, Remote Director provides unique tools for critical color work. Any file can be “cloned” to show two print conditions side by side. For instance, you can assign different spot colors to the channels, or different profiles. You can compare papers, dot gain curves or any combination of these settings. It gives the user the ability to make an informed choice that cannot be made with inkjet proofing.

Remote Director can be used from “Think to Ink” whenever and wherever proofing is required. From the photo shoot to press, or to the Internet. And when a hard copy proof is required, any user (with permission) can print to a profiled device and expect a match between proof and display.

A veteran of softproofing

Remote Director is the standard for softproofing because they have been at it, researching and developing this technology for fifteen years. They evolve to meet the ever changing needs of the industry. For example, the current development allows the proof to be viewed in a 3D environment when ambient light can reflect off varnishes and metallics. Other softproofing products are Kodak Virtual Matchprint, which is no longer supported, and Dalim (providing that you use their Enterprise Solutions workflow.)

Remote Director has an impressive array of clients and users such as Schawk!, Phototype, Associated News, Bauer Publishing, Time Inc., Kelloggs, Campbell, and many others.

How to get the best out of your brilliant idea

Creatives today are faced with many new challenges. The path from initial design to final output has many steps and many pitfalls. New creation tools allow greater design freedom but sometimes hinder the print process. With ever improving printing technologies, there’s higher quality output, expanded color gamut, and a multitude of special effects. Changing roles blurred the traditional separation between designers and production, pre-press, and printers. In order to deliver a consistent quality product, creative workflow today must be a fluid and flexible multipath that takes into account all of these factors.

Communication is key

The single most important aspect to a successful project is communication. Most projects today are complicated affairs that include not only a printed campaign but also multimedia, social media and digital media. Since so many parties are involved, it is crucial for the creative teams and their vendors to discuss file delivery and preparation. Specifications must be agreed upon, from the beginning in order to ensure a smooth handoff between parties. A good workflow with standard operating procedures will eliminate errors and delays and, since every vendor is unique, good communication upfront ensures that all parties are in sync.

What are the many roles creatives play today??

Creatives are those people primarily responsible for the design of a project. These include creative art directors and designers. However, as the need to deliver projects on budget and on time increases, many creatives handle production as well as prepress functions. As such they must be aware of the technologies and standards specific to those functions in addition to their own design tools. To be effective, some processes, such as color management, must be applied throughout the entire workflow, from start to finish.

Got a good design? here’s how to create the best file for it.

Design Tools

Use the right tool for the job. Design and print are complicated processes. Not all applications support the file formats, functions, and features needed to create a successful print file. It is vital to use industry standard software in the design process. This ensures that vendors can handle the files appropriately and make changes when necessary.

This applies regardless of the file format. For example, although PDF is a universal file format used for file submission, not all PDFs are created equal. A brochure laid out in a word processing program and then converted into a PDF may have type reflow issues, low-resolution imagery and mismatched color spaces. It will not support spot colors and other print specific functions. It will not pass most preflighting systems and most often will have to be redone in a standard page layout program. This delays the project and adds cost.

Design Features

Transparency is a great application feature for innovative designs but can create headaches downstream. When the design is ready for press, a RIP converts the design to a format suitable for the printing. Different RIPs handle transparencies differently and unexpected print artifacts sometimes happen. Communicate with your print partners about which settings to use and ask them how to best prepare your file.

In general, when using a new feature for the first time, consider how it will affect the print process and communicate accordingly. A quick email or telephone call will prevent many problems at a time when mistakes incur costly penalties.

Multimedia, RGB and CMYK

Your project is not only going to be printed, but it will also go to digital distribution. An efficient workflow allows you to leverage assets and create a cohesive design that maintains a tight aesthetic between the multimedia output and the printed product.

To this end, design files should begin in an RGB colorspace. This allows the greatest color gamut and can then be repurposed for different intents later in the design process.

Find out early from your print partners if and when CMYK conversion should take place, and what reference print condition the CMYK should target. In the case of POS, trade show graphics, and other wide format uses, print partners may prefer the RGB files so that they can leverage the expanded gamuts of digital printers. For online web and tablet applications, RGB is mandatory for the best visuals.

Creatives today are faced with many new challenges. The path from initial design to final output has many steps and many pitfalls. New creation tools allow greater design freedom but sometimes hinder the print process. With ever improving printing technologies, there’s higher quality output, expanded color gamut, and a multitude of special effects. Changing roles blurred the traditional separation between designers and production, prepress, and printers. In order to deliver a consistent quality product, creative workflow today must be a fluid and flexible multipath that takes into account all of these factors.

Communication is key

The single most important aspect to a successful project is communication. Most projects today are complicated affairs that include not only a printed campaign but also multimedia, social media and digital media. Since so many parties are involved, it is crucial for the creative teams and their vendors to discuss file delivery and preparation. Specifications must be agreed upon, from the beginning in order to ensure a smooth handoff between parties. A good workflow with standard operating procedures will eliminate errors and delays and, since every vendor is unique, good communication upfront ensures that all parties are in sync.

What are the many roles creatives play today??

Creatives are those people primarily responsible for the design of a project. These include creative art directors and designers. However, as the need to deliver projects on budget and on time increases, many creatives handle production as well as prepress functions. As such they must be aware of the technologies and standards specific to those functions in addition to their own design tools. To be effective, some processes, such as color management, must be applied throughout the entire workflow, from start to finish.

Color Management

Use color management. Within the design tools ofv the Adobe Creative Cloud, you can synchronize col-or management preferences across the entire suite, from a single interface in Adobe Bridge. It is important to synchronize settings throughout the entire creative team because, when files are exchanged, color fidelity is maintained not only between applications but also between designers.

The minimum settings are the selection of appropriate RGB and CMYK profiles, and how to handle color mismatches. In general, use embedded pro-files when available. RGB should be set to the most common profile among your assets. This is often sRGB especially if the project will have a multimedia component. AdobeRGB is also common especially in commercial photography. CMYK is the dominant print condition.

These settings are defaults and serve as a starting point for all new files. Individual files can have separate preferences as well that can tailor each project to it’s intended output. For example, although most projects may be targeting Gracol2006, an individual file may be targeted to SWOP.

Viewing Environment

Critical color evaluation benefits from a stable and standardized lighting environment. A calibrated monitor is useless if the surrounding environment is too bright or if the lighting creates shifts in color perception. Most creative environments are chaotic workspaces with mixed lighting that vary throughout the day. And that’s not good. Instead, use monitor hoods and dim lighting and, if possible, create a dedicated viewing workspace for truly critical color evaluation.

When evaluating hard copy, a viewing station ensures the truest perception of color. Color-correct lights at the proper illumination and color temperature ensure eliminate perceptual color drifts.. ISO 3664:2009 specifies the current standard viewing conditions and many professional graphic arts view-ing stations meet these requirements.

Preparing, preflighting, and submitting files.


Most standardized graphic arts software include a preflighting function. Preflight allows you to check whether your file is correctly prepared for its intended application. For example, if your file is intended for an offset print process, preflight will check for image resolution and flag any images considered low resolution. This allows you to correct most common problems before the file is sent to your printer or before you create your press PDF.


PDF is the most common file format for file submission. It can be a self-contained file that contains fonts, images, and color information for output. Properly prepared, a PDF should print with minimal issues. Just submitting a PDF however, does not ensure that it is printable. PDF encompasses a wide range of features and some may not be compatible with all RIPs. So preflighting the PDF for your particular print process before you submit it to your printer will save time and money. The Ghent Workgroup (an industry association of graphic arts users, associations, and developers) develops best practices for creating, processing, and exchanging files for the graphics arts industry. Among those are preflighting profiles that can be used to verify that your PDF is printable under standardized conditions. These industry wide recommendations along with the specific parameters specified by the print partner ensure a hassle free RIP process.

Color Conversion

Here, communication is key. Depending on the printer and the type of printing you will need, , you will have to know whether to deliver RGB or CMYK files. . And, when CMYK is needed, which CMYK should RGB data be converted to? In the case of digital printing, most print partners prefer RGB data. CMYK conversion is done at the RIP stage and most often targets the widest color gamut available on most digital printers.

CMYK is needed for most traditional print processes. However, some print partners prefer to do the conversions internally. As long as the file has been prepared properly with embedded RGB profiles, then the conversion is fairly straightforward. Other printers prefer receiving converted files. In this case, they will specify the CMYK profile to be used, either a custom one for that print facility or a standardized reference print condition such as GRACoL. You can do the conversion when you create PDFs, either manually or with an automation software.

In conclusion, oh designer cum typographer, production and prepress person….

Your role certainly has expanded over the years. With advent of new tools and technologies, a more holistic approach is necessary in order complete any project. Your designer’s skill-set now includes a smattering of process control, color management, and prepress duties.

But that’s okay as long as you remember that the key is communication. Communicating with all parties before, during, and after a project is critical to its success because, when industry standard procedures and specifications are implemented and regularly verified, your work will be a fantastic success.

If you’ve just read Get the best print out of your printer, your files are ready and it’s time to print. Consider first what paper best fits your images, and your taste.

Finding the Best Paper: Practical Tips

Different paper types provide different degrees of apparent sharpness. The amount of gloss on the surface and the finished texture of the surface (such as smooth, rough, luster) interact to give different perceived sharpnesses when printing the same image. In general, smooth high gloss paper looks sharpest, with the crispest contrast; uncoated rag texture paper softest, and everything else falls in-between. You’ll have to decide which type of paper best represents your vision of your final print, and test samples of that type of paper.

The best way to pick a printing paper is to see sample prints. If you have access to trade shows where samples are shown, or local vendors where great sample sets are on display from multiple paper vendors (such as Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto, CA), you can go in and get a fairly comprehensive overview of the options on offer.

When Brightness Is a Bad Thing

Contemporary paper manufacturers add chemicals named Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) to many papers so that the white of the paper will appear more white. Many of the most popular papers have OBAs in them. While the initial appearance is brighter, over time the OBAs will fade, and the paper will look less white than when you first made your print. For work that is temporary, OBAs may be an OK choice. For work you print aiming to have the print last a long time, OBA -infused pa-per is not considered archival quality and should be avoided.

Ethical paper manufacturers will clearly identify which papers have OBAs and which don’t. If you test samples which don’t tell you if OBAs are present, and you can’t find the information on line, you can easily test by shining an ultraviolet light on the paper (similar to the old black lights much beloved of head shops).

In the photo above, the UV light is shining on two papers; one is much brighter than the other, and is clearly manufactured with OBAs.

Essential to Print: Using Correct Color Profiles

Many paper manufacturers provide printer pro-files for their papers to use with popular printer models. Check their websites to see if your print-er and paper combinations are available. These profiles range from very good to awful in quality; you’ll have to test and see how good they are for your workflow. Of course, you can always make your own profiles or have a specialist create them.

However you get them, install these profiles in your operating system, and you can use them not only to print, but to preview your color in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. You can preview how your color will print in Photoshop by:

Note that this doesn’t work without accurate, current profiles for your display, and your paper/printer combination.

Dry-down time and the finished print

Once printed, your prints will need some drying time before they display their final appearance. In the days of darkrooms, Ansel Adams would put his test prints in the microwave oven to speed up final appearance judging. This is not recommended for most inkjet papers, which vary in dry down time needed from a few minutes to two whole days for a final, stable image appearance. In addition, heat can change the final appearance of the print, so devices such as hair driers are not recommended.

Some manufacturers make dry down time available; others make you test for your own pa-per and printer combination. It’s worth investing the time to be sure before printing a big batch of prints which dry down too dark/light/contrast/wrong color.

Proper Storage of Finished Prints

Once prints are made, best practice for storing prints requires avoiding rolling. Flat storage of larger prints can prove challenging, but it’s best for print longevity; when rolled prints are unrolled, particularly when they’ve been stored a long time, they can crack, destroying the value of the print.

A more immediate challenge is an occasional problem called outgassing, caused by vapors emitted from freshly made prints on certain papers, which can condense on the glass of the frame in which you display your print.

A good way of avoiding outgassing is to let the print dry open to the air for at least a week, allow-ing these gases to escape from the freshly-made prints. After that, place sheets of non-buffered, acid free paper between prints in your flat storage. This also helps protect the delicate surface of each print when moving them in and out of storage.

How Long Will Your Print Last On Display? A Resource for Many Papers+Printer Combinations

In general, although the numbers vary for specific papers, usually a print displayed open to the air will last a shorter time than a print displayed under glass. A print displayed under regular glass will usually last a shorter time than one displayed under UV-blocking glass, though the peculiarities of how different colors age may cause some colors to fade faster than others when under UV glass. A print coated with an anti-UV emulsion will last longer than one without it.

Reprinted and refreshed from an article written by Kevin O’Connor.

So, to Recap…

  1. Start with a clean file (no dust, scratches, artifacts).
  2. Choose your preferred viewing distance for your desired print size.
  3. Test for adequate resolution to create the perfect print at your chosen viewing distance.
  4. Preview in Photoshop on screen at size.
  5. Make a partial image test print of a critical area or areas.
  6. Use Photoshop CC or OnOne Image Resize to make a bigger file if needed.
  7. Sharpen copies of your original file for printing at the desired sizes.
  8. Choose the best paper for your image, by seeing samples first.
  9. Avoid paper with OBAs, when possible.
  10. Capture as much color as possible, and use good workflow color management.
  11. Preview the color on screen before printing.
  12. Store your prints flat, between sheets of ac-id-free paper.
  13. Display your prints under glass for better longevity.

We used to have an amazing technician here who had some very opinions about PDF. I’m a designer and sort of do what I’m told and that usually works pretty well. But Rich’s background is in prepress and he doesn’t like to do what he’s told, especially not when it comes to PDF. His settings are hard won victories in the war of the tried, failed, and corrected - peppered with files lobbed from anywhere, prepared all different ways, and very seldom what they need to be. In his world, a good PDF means a job without reprints. Rich shares his thoughts and recommendations.

I have heard and engaged in many discus-sions about the right settings for creating a PDF. But there is no unique way to create the perfect PDF, just as there is no unique way to make a chocolate cake. A cupcake won’t serve every-one at a birthday party, and a whole birthday cake is tough to pack in your lunchbox. In PDFs as in chocolate cakes, what you make depends on its purpose. That very important consider-ation determines how a PDF is built.

For printing, there are a few settings that I feel strongly about and that I will go over in this article. These settings are not necessarily industry standards but reflect what has worked and also failed during my career in prepress.

- Rich Apollo, xxxxxxxxxx

General Window

In the General screen, I set the Compatibility to PDF 1.4 or better because it’s the only way to keep transparencies intact in the document (1.3 doesn’t have transparency at all). The release some years ago of the Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE) alleviated the need to flatten transparencies in PDFs created for print. Especially when there are spot colors, flattening transparencies can have undesirable side effects, like breaking objects apart which causes incorrect trapping and inconsistent color between the vector and raster components of a single element. If spot colors are converted to process in an all ready flattened file, there can arise an overprint situation that cannot be rendered*. The unintended consequence is that elements, or parts of them, drop out of the design.

I set the Standard to PDF/X-4:2010 because this allows me to include live transparency and an Output Intent in the PDF. Having selected an output intent in your file, nothing has to be converted to the Output Intent color space when you export to PDF. You can even include RGB elements with RGB profiles embedded in a PDF with a CMYK Output Intent. The Output Intent will act like a simulation profile with color man-agement happening downstream. A typical ICC color transformation goes like this:

Source color space ▶ Profile Connection Space (Lab*) ▶ Destination color space

With an Output Intent, or a Simulation Profile, the ICC color transformation goes this way:

Source color space u Lab* uSimulation Profile u Lab* u Destination color space

Let’s say you built a document in the Adobe 98 color space and included an Output Intent profile for the SNAP 2007 (coldset newsprint) color space. When you later convert, the Output Intent will be honored during that conversion and your file will be limited to the smaller gamut that is produced in the SNAP 2007 color space. In spite of being in the GRACoL color space, your file will look like coldset newsprint. This, of course, means that it is important to check whether there is an appropriate output intent in your document.

Under Options, there are only a couple of items that we may want to include. Embed Page Thumbnails is not something that is useful for printing but Optimize for Fast Web View speeds up on-screen drawing. You do not need to check Create Tagged PDF. This setting includes a set of tags to work with assistive devices for people with disabilities including, for example, screen readers for those with vision impairments.

Export Layers offers three self-explanatory options: All Layers, Visible Layers, and Visible and Printable Layers. “Layers” here refer to InDesign layers. This determines what’s going to be exported.

Create Acrobat Layers mimics the layer structure of your InDesign document in the PDF. This can be very useful for documents with multiple versions like different languages. A layered PDF eliminates the need for multiple documents in this situation. However, consult your print provider before using this feature. If they are equipped to make use of layered PDFs, selecting this feature will save them a great deal of time and reduce the complexities of file management. But if they cannot handle these kinds of files, you will have given them a lot of extra work. Exclude all interactive elements, bookmarks, hyperlinks, guides, and non-printing elements.


When selecting the PPI, the gen-eral rule of thumb for image reso-lution for Color Images is 2 times the final screen ruling. If a project is being printed with a 150 lpi screen ruling, then images should have a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. With a 175 lpi screen ruling, images would be 350 ppi, and so on. In reality, 300 pixels per inch is usu-ally adequate, even when printing with stochastic screens screening. I keep Monochrome Images at high resolutions because this category includes all those black and white images that we wish were vector art.

The default values for downsampling are 300 ppi for images above 450 ppi but I give them the same value. I figure that, if I need 300 ppi, then I should choose 300 ppi, not a range like 300 to 450 ppi.

Compression is something that I have strong opinions about. Adobe PDF’s default setting is JPEG compression which is not a good choice for print. JPEG is a lossy compression structure. Lossy is a data compression method that compresses by discarding data, sometimes introducing artifacts that can be seen in the final product. ZIP, LZW, and CCITT are all safe compression methods to use.

JPEG 2000 is a lossless compression structure that may not be supported on all RIPs.

All images should be in 8-bit color. Imagery in 16-bit color is good for color editing, but will cause many RIPs to fail. The last switches, Compress Text and Line Art and Crop Image Data to Frames are ways to reduce file size.

Marks and Bleeds

Unless your printer asks for them, marks aren’t needed. If you include crop marks, make sure that they sit completely outside of the bleed. Printers almost always request a minimum of 1/8” bleed (.125”), but Adobe has left the default offset for marks at .0833 inches, or 6 points which put the marks in the bleed. In order to be at the edge of the bleed, select .125” in Offset. I have never need-ed any of the other options listed here. The printer will be placing each page of your document into an imposition system where the necessary crop marks, registration marks, and color bars will be added.

Options in the Marks and Bleeds screen were important in the manual stripping days. Today, stripping and imposition have become almost entirely digital. Marks are no longer important but it is obviously essential to have a bleed. Set the Bleed in document set up and then select Use Document Bleed Settings.


No Color Conversion - does just what it says – it leaves everything in the document unchanged.

Convert to Destination - Everything in the document is converted to the destination color space, which you choose in the drop down menu.

Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) - is a very confusing option.

Profile Inclusion Policy

The options available in the Profile Inclusion Policy change depending on what is selected in the Color Conversion drop-down menu and or the PDF/X standard.

With No Color Conversion selected, there are four options available.

Don’t Include Profiles – The resulting PDF contains no ICC profiles. That’s not a good idea because, if something is missing, the printer has no way of knowing what you intended. Or if he wants to re-separate the file for ink optimization, he won’t have a reference to do this correctly.

Include All Profiles – All elements in the resulting PDF are tagged with an ICC profile. Items that have an ICC profile embedded will keep that ICC profile. Make sure to have profiles included because untagged CMYK elements will have the CMYK Working Space ICC profile embedded. Untagged RGB elements will have the RGB Working Space ICC profile embedded.

Included Tagged Source Profiles – Elements tagged with ICC profiles retain those ICC profiles. Untagged elements remain untagged in the resulting PDF.

Include All RGB and Tagged Source CMYK Profiles – All RGB elements are tagged with ICC profiles. RGB elements with embedded ICC profiles retain those ICC profiles. Untagged RGB elements have the RGB Working Space ICC profile embedded. CMYK elements with embedded ICC profiles retain those ICC profiles. Untagged CMYK elements remain untagged in the resulting PDF. (whereas all RGB will have a profile) Any conversion will assume the output intent. 

When Convert to Destination or Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) is selected, there are two options available: Don’t Include Profiles and Include Destination Profile.

In all of these scenarios, grayscale images are untagged in the resulting PDF file regardless of whether they have an embedded ICC profile, or not (not a problem in CMYK because it will print K only but a problem if the file goes to an RGB device.

Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers) is recommended when a file is prepared with CMYK elements that have been normalized to a single color space. RGB elements still present are converted to the destination color space. CMYK elements that are tagged with a profile that’s different from the destination profile are converted to the destination profile. If they are tagged with a profile that matches the destination profile, or if they’re untagged, they are not converted.

But this is not my preferred choice because of the ambiguities and lack of control in the handling of color in these two options. I choose Color Conversion set to No Color Conversion and that’s not a simple choice either because, unfortunately, Adobe’s implementation of PDF/X-4:2010 sets the Profile Inclusion Policy to Include All RGB and Tagged Source CMYK Profiles. This means that CMYK elements with no embedded ICC profile have no ICC profile in the resulting PDF. Adobe assumes that CMYK files with no embedded ICC profile are set to be in the color space described by the Output Intent profile. But every RIP and every color management tool for PDF has the option to honor Output Intents, or not. If the workflow does not honor the Output Intent during a col-or conversion, then untagged CMYK elements will be handled as dictated by the workflow, not as the file’s creator had intended.

The Simulate Overprint choice is only available when Standard is set to None, Compatibility is set to Acrobat 4, and Color Conversion is set to Convert to Destination or Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers). When Simulate Overprint is selected, spot colors are converted to process and areas of over-print are broken into individual elements that are colored to create the illusion of overprinting. This choice is not appropriate for offset printing but sometimes right for creating files for on-screen preview, or for certain digital processes that can-not handle in-RIP separations.


PDF/X-4 requires that an Output Intent Profile be present and that renders the other Output Condition identifiers unnecessary. Some PDF/X variants allow for the Output Intent Profile to be an externally referenced ICC profile, and some only require the Out-put Intent Profile to be present if the PDF contains “device-independent” color (Lab or elements tagged with ICC profiles) or if the printing condition is “non-standard”. 


Fonts must be embedded to some extent. Subsetting means that only the characters that appear in the PDF are embedded instead of the entire font. To get fonts to embed entirely, set the percentage to 0%. For  TrueType and OpenType fonts to be fully embedded, there’s a preference in InDesign that has to be set. In some cases, PDFs with subsetted fonts will create a font conflict in RIPs.

OPI is only allowed in PDF/X-2:2003 and PD-F/X-5g.

JDF could be useful to those groups with automation but, unless explicitly requested, leave JDF off.

PDFs for print should have no security. Security is forbidden in all PDF/X variants.

In Summary

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