Before Your Design Goes to Print: A Checklist

circle overlay

It can be a hugely deflating moment for a designer when, because of a missed step or an overlooked process, the design they’ve worked so hard to create does not accurately translate to print. And what’s just as crushing is the time, effort, and cost that’s associated with reprinting pieces that don’t quite match the design on your screen. 

Though it’s ultimately the most creative part of the process, the design phase of executing print is just one step on the journey to creating high-quality pieces, and ensuring your design files are print-ready is a mission-critical part of seeing your brochure or postcard or spiral bound book through to completion.

“Remember, handing off your files may be the end of your design process, but it’s just the beginning of a whole other production process,” write Elizabeth Gooding and Mary Schilling, authors of The Designers Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition.  

To help designers successfully cross the finish line of their project, here’s a short list of some things to keep in mind, review or do before your design goes to print. 

Prioritize the efficiency of your design file

You may not know it, but design files containing inefficiencies can not only be a pain for your printer to work with, but they can actually complicate the print process and they can end up costing you time and money. 

“Files that are unnecessarily complex or faulty create inefficiencies in the RIP, adding anywhere from a few milliseconds to maybe two or three seconds per page,” explain Gooding and Schilling. “So, if you have a 100,000 page job that takes an extra tenth of a second per page to RIP, you’ve wasted 2.7 hours of the print provider’s production time.” 

To avoid this, here are a couple of key elements your design file should contain:  

  • Images in the proper or appropriate resolution

  • The right document color space

  • Properly assigned CMYK color values from a printed image using the correct ink, paper and output profile

  • The appropriate image file format and compression setting 

Make sure to provide complete font sets

Make sure that the complete font sets are available for every single font used in your design, even if they’re embedded. Often fonts are loaded as “restricted,” meaning that they only embed the actual characters used in the PDF file, and if there are characters that are not part of the embedded fonts, your job could fail in production — or, worse, print with missing letters. 

This is particularly important when it comes to packaging native files, as it streamlines and accelerates that process. If your design file was created on a Mac, then be sure to provide the Mac fonts that were used; if your file was created on a PC, then provide the PC fonts included in the design. According to Gooding and Schilling, packaging native files can be quite cumbersome and time-consuming if the file contains fonts that were not provided at the outset. 

Check to ensure updated color information is applied across every proof

You’ve done a soft proof on your monitor, a hard proof with your printed reference chart and you’ve compared them both for consistency. However, if you make color corrections or set CMYK values with this proof process, you need to make sure this updated color information is applied to the entire workflow. 

“Many composition tools have a setting that tells them whether to use the color definitions from the input file or to override them with software’s own color management settings,” explain Gooding and Schilling. “If you actually want to use the settings you so carefully specified, make sure this is clear to your print provider.” 

Make sure to account for static and variable designs

While designs that don’t require any variable processing (static) can be run through a preflight process to detect any color, font or image assignment issues, designs with variable data or images are something else altogether. Static elements appear the same on each piece, while variable areas are filled with text or images directed by information from a data source like a CSV file. The original design file may include only one copy of each element, but those elements are combined in different, data-driven ways on each page. 

“The original design file can go through a preflight process just like a static file, but this may not identify all the potential issues that could cause a bottleneck in production as different elements are combined on a page,” write Gooding and Schilling. 

Print providers can, depending on the type of press being used, help process variable data using several different methods, so it’s best to communicate with your printer about their variable data processing method at the outset of your design process. 

Provide a PDF prototype and document all your settings

A prototype PDF is not a high-resolution, press-ready file with all the elements prepped for print, but rather an instructional document that better helps your printer visualize and understand your concept, particularly if you’re using variable data copy or images. Documenting your settings before sending this PDF to your printer can also help trap any unintended settings on your side and quickly identify any miscommunications on preferred file formats or settings for optimal print performance. 

QC your press-ready files

Not only does a quality press-ready file lend to a smoother, issue-free print process, but it also demonstrates that you care about and value your print provider’s collaboration and time. While each printer may have slightly different best practices for press-ready files, following these guidelines will help you provide a press-ready file that is actually press-ready: 

  • Clear out any unused fonts

  • Remove extra layers, as additional layers require more processing time

  • Remove elements in the gutter such as extra lines, marks or notes from the document’s surrounding area

  • Removed unused colors and review your color library to include the colors applied to the file

  • Check for any missing elements and review the file to ensure all fonts and images are linked or embedded 


There are a handful of other considerations on the table in order to ensure a high-quality, streamlined print process, but this checklist will start your inkjet print journey off on the right foot. Download The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition to learn more about what to know before your design goes to print.