Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Preparing QuarkXpress Files for Printing

Best Practices in preparing machanicals for delivery to a printer, with a focus on QuarkXpress.

There are many things a print designer must know, from pre-press technology to fixing corrupted fonts, but few rank as high as properly preparing digital files for printing. With a few minutes extra effort in the design stage, countless hours and dollars can be saved from pre-press errors. While this article is by no means complete, many of the guidelines can be applied to other page layout programs like InDesign and PageMaker.


  • Talk to the people you’re giving the files to, whether it be the printer, the magazine or a pre-press professional. Its best to open the lines of communication before there are any problems.
  • Delete extra colors in the color pallette, and make sure all the color formats match for the job. Don’t mix CMYK colors in with a two or three-color job. Don’t design CMYK files with Pantone shades. And for heaven’s sake, just stay away from RGB completely.
  • Name the colors appropriately. It will make far more sense to the service bureau or printer to see a warm yellow marked “m12 y95” than “orange mango.” This is especially important when you mark your proof.
  • Delete extra guidelines. Leave only what the pre-press technicians need to see.
  • Pull bleeds. This is imperative for most print work and can be easily forgotten. General guideline is 0.125” on all sides, but some magazines ask 0.25” for ads.
  • Check images. Make sure TIFF and EPS files are high-resolution and saved in either CMYK or grayscale format. (Unless you’ve prepared Duotone or Pantone-specific EPS files.) For resolution, it’s double the line screen of the output; generally 300 dpi is the default. For vector graphics, make sure all fonts are reduced to outlines. For bitmapped TIFFs, resolution should be 600 dpi.
  • Remove extraneous fonts. Often, font choices go through many generations, and artifacts can get left behind. Check the usage, and delete references to fonts no longer in the document. If you’re using Xerox and Univers, you don’t want the printer to have to look for some obscure face like “ZeitGuys” because you left a single character floating in the last paragraph on the third page.
  • Adobe Type 1 fonts are the industry standard for printing. Many printers and service bureaus refuse to deal with TrueType fonts since they sometimes render as bitmaps. OpenType, a format developed jointly by Adobe and Microsoft, is slowly replacing Type 1, but talk to the printer in advance to see if they offer support for this relatively new medium.


  • Organize support files intelligently. Give the artwork its own folder called “Support Art” (or something similar) and place all images in it. If you’re working with a particularly graphic heavy project, consider organizing even further, either by format (EPS/TIFF) or by project section (for instance, “Chapter 4 Graphics”). In a similar vein, organize your fonts by family. Provide a separate folder for “Times” and one for “Univers.”
  • Give the document an original name. Don’t name it “brochure.” Give it a descriptive title, something like “IBM_salesbrochure_021703.” Remember, there are lots of designers out there not reading this article who are going to name their cheesy real estate sales piece “brochure.”


  • Provide a hardcopy printer from your computer, and mark it up appropriately. Highlight colors, fonts or any trapping issues the printer should watch out for. This can save you lots of money if you’re having film produced.
  • Provide a digital proof on the disc. The best means in by PDF, or even JPEG. Just something they can view on screen.
  • Too often, Quark files can get corrupted. Supply a secondary format to print from, such as a full-resolution EPS generated directly from the Quark document. Make sure to convert all fonts to outlines.
  • Label your disc clearly, and label the sleeve it arrives in. Since most printers return discs, it provides an excellent form of backup. If the piece gets reprinted down the road, the files will be close at hand.
  • Test your disc! Check it on your computer to make sure it reads, then check it on a completely foreign machine to make sure everything loads properly. It’s a pain in the ass, but if there are any final details wrong, 99% of the time, you’ll find them at this point.

Further Resources