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Prepare files for digital printing

Preferred File Icons

How to save your files: The recommendations below apply to professional graphic programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw, Quark Xpress, and InDesign. Consumer grade software may also generate PDF files but you should double check their settings to make sure you are generating the best PDF you can for commercial printing purposes.

Here are some basic rules: For images, you are looking to either keep resolution and do not downsample, or downsample to no less than 300dpi. For fonts, include all fonts. For compression, use .ZIP instead of JPG. Convert colors to CMYK, avoid RGB.


PDF files can be created from most programs, the key is to select the proper setting when creating your PDF files. Many programs allow for the user to select from Presets. (Common pre-defined settings for creating PDF.) We recommend using the setting titled Press Quality. You can also choose High Quality. The two are identical except when using Press Quality, all spot color definition are converted to CMYK values.

Download the Press Quality setting file Optionfor use with Distiller and other Adobe products, especially Adobe Illustrator.

Otherwise here is an overview of how to properly create and save your file as a PDF for printing in full color. Please note, there is no standard way of creating a PDF. Each program, and even between version releases of programs, differs on how and where to change settings which we cannot cover here. The text below provides only general instructions.

  1. If applicable, make sure your working mode in your program is set to CMYK.
  2. If applicable also, make sure you are working at the correct resolution - only applies to "paint" style programs.
  3. Save your file as you would normally.
  4. Verify your PDF settings. Your program may have a PDF Presets, PDF Settings, or deep within a preference setting such as Output styles: Default PDF.
  5. Once found, check the following setting: Compression - set to Keep Resolution.
    Color - set to CMYK
    Fonts - set to download or embed all fonts
    Bleeds - set to .125 bleeds on all sides
    Other setting can be set as you see fit or leave as their default setting.
  6. Save your PDF file.
    Some programs have a Save As PDF option, others Export to PDF, Publish to PDF, or list PDF as a possible file format.
  7. View your PDF file to make sure all the information is included, screens and gradients appear correct and the product is properly centered within the PDF file.
  8. Once checked, upload your file and place your order.


If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro (not Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Standard): You can save your file as an Optimized PDF. Open your PDF file in Acrobat Pro and select Save As from the File menu. When the Save dialog box appears, change the file type to "Adobe PDF Files, Optimized".

Save Optimized

A settings button should appear on screen in the same dialog box you see on-screen. Click on the Settings button. You should see a dialog box similar to the one shown below. Check your settings for Images.

PDF Optimized Screen

Then click on Transparency and check those settings.

PDF Settings - Transparency:
Transparency Settings

Then click on Discard Objects and check those settings.

PDF Settings - Discard Objects:
Discard Objects

Then click on Discard Objects and check those settings.

PDF Settings - Discard User Data:
Discard User Data

Then click on Discard Objects and check those settings.

PDF Settings - Clean Up:
Clean Up

The above settings will eliminate a lot of "extra" data in your PDF file. This extra data is useful in other applications but not in printing. Nothing above affects the quality of your images except for the downsampling. Our recommendation is always to set your images at final size and set color and grayscale raster images to 300 dpi. This avoids the need to downsample and if you set your image size in Photoshop to final size used in your design and set the resolution of image to 300dpi, Photoshop is doing the downsampling for you (assuming you started with a larger image and/or higher resolution) and the routine used in Photoshop is far superior to any other downsampling routine we have seen elsewhere.



There are many important factors to consider when creating a file for commercial printing. Fonts, color mode, bleeds, transparency and centering. Starting with fonts, you should either embed your fonts or better, convert your fonts to outline if possible. if your application supports converting fonts to outline (aka convert to path, convert to curves) do so once you are done creating the file. Converting the fonts to outline should be one of the final steps when preparing a file for production use. A Help Tip: Before converting fonts to outline, save a copy your file so you will have an editable version.

Color mode is a simple rule. For commercial printing, color code should be set to CMYK. In your application, set your code mode to CMYK. (not RGB)

In some of the newer applications, there are color setting including the destination or something with a similar name. Make sure these settings are also set to CMYK. The location and availability of such settings vary from program to program so just check throughout your settings in your program and if you see anything where you can choose RGB or CMYK, select CMYK.

Bleeds are a bit more difficult to handle because different applications handle these settings differently. But here are the basic, once you set up your document file size to the size of your product, you will need to define the bleed area. Set this to be .25" and make sure your art extends beyond the edge of your document. Do not place text within 1/8" of the documents edge as you chance getting text cut off when the final product is trimmed.

Effects such as Drop Shadows use transparency to achieve their effects. Unfortunately, transparencies are handled differently among different applications and can cause problems during printing. So the best practice, just like with fonts, as one of the final steps in saving your production file, select to flatten transparencies. If you have a resolution option, always select high resolution.

Last but definately not least, is to create a centered file. When creating an EPS file, it is a good practice to make sure your bounding box (a virtual box used in Illustrator, InDesign and Corel) is centering according to your documents center. Below is a sample of a bounding box off-centered (left) and centered (right) as seen in illustrator.

bounding box example

To create a box so your EPS file would center correctly, create a box with no fill and no stroke assigned to it (aka set fill and stroke to none) Make the box the same size as the document page. With the box selected, click on one of the center points (small white boxes on top or side), hold down the option (alt) key and drag to make the box larger. Holding down the option (alt) key makes the box grow from its center point. Make the box larger than any of the art elements on the page until the box encompasses all elements.


Tif files can be saved by most paint programs. Important factors are resolution. Do not start with a 72 dpi file and increase to 300dpi. While this may fullfil the technical aspect of how to submit your file, it does not improve the appearance or reproduction aspect of your file.You should start with a resolution setting of 300dpi for full color printing.

Make sure to include bleed area if your art prints to the edge of the product. Using a business card as an example, a standard business card is 3.5 x 2 inches in size, so your tif file should be a minimum of 3.75 x 2.25 inches in size to accomodate for the bleed area.


PSD files are native Photoshop files. The files we accepts as preferred are FLATTENED psd files. Files containing only one layer and no transparencies (flattened). Side note: Fonts are automatically rasterized when layers are flattened in Photoshop so no font issues would exist. Save your file as CMYK. Please note, the program Photoshop Elements is not the same as Photoshop even though they share the same name. Photoshop Elements does not have a CMYK mode and thus cannot save files in CMYK.


While this is listed on our preferred list, the JPEG format is our least desired file of the five preferred file formats. The JPEG formats is a "lossy" format, meaning some of the quality degrades when you save your file. Depending on the software you save from, a CMYK jpg may cause other issues when viewing. JPG should only be used if you have no way of saving as one of the above formats.


We will also continue to accept a wide variety of file formats but these files will have to be processed by our Prepress Department and will incur an additional cost to prep your files for printing.

Native File Formats - We continues to accept files in the following formats:
Native Illustrator (.ai) - up to version CS4**
Native InDesign (.ind) - up to version CS4**
Native CorelDraw (.cdr) - up to version X4**
Native Quark Xpress (.qxd) - up to version 8.5

What works best - our recommendation - We prefer files saved in PDF or EPS formats with fonts converted to outline, whenever possible. TIF files are also good but because any text would be rasterized to 300dpi upon printing, we prefer PDF and EPS files over TIF files. For full color printing, files MUST be defined and saved as CMYK. Files saved as RGB or containing RGB elements will be converted to CMYK automatically and may NOT result in the desire color. Some files may suffer a color shift. EZcustomSIGN is not responsible for color shifts due to files not properly sent as CMYK. Files from paint programs such as Photoshop should have appropriate resolutions - normally 300 dpi for full color and 1000 dpi for spot color.


* TIF and JPG files MUST be saved at a minimum resolution of 300 dpi for full color printing and 1000 dpi for spot color printing. JPG files MUST be saved with a quality setting of MAXIMUM (10 or higher). We does not recommend using or setting of text within TIF or JPG files.
** Please convert fonts to outline

Instructions for CorelDraw X4

  1. Before anything is designed, set up your workspace for accurate color management by going to the Tools Tab 
    and click “Color Management” make sure you have the box checked next to "CMYK" (NOT RGB) at the bottom right of the menu.
    Also, if you want to view the files you create the way they will look after being printed go to the drop down menu located in that menu box at the top under settings and select "optimized for professional output”.
  2. When you have something created already…. And the file is totally ready to go….
  3. Under File, towards the bottom, Go to "Publish to PDF"
  4. A dialog box will come up and ask you where you want to save the file. choose the file location, and name it accordingly but BEFORE YOU CLICK SAVE make sure to go to the settings TAB at the bottom to choose how the PDF will be created.
  5. There are multiple tabs along the top….
  6. Under the “Objects” Tab, choose LZW  for Compression Type and check “export text as curves” (so there are no font issues!)
  7. Under the “Prepress” Tab, if there are bleeds, click on “bleed limit” and set it to .125”
  8. Under the “Advanced” Tab, go to Color Management and chose CMYK. 
  9. Finally, Double check that there are no issues by clicking on the last tab on the right.
    If there are no issues, click save and send the PDF on over for us to print!