Best Practices in Design – Creating PDFs

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 10 years or so, you’ve probably read, produced, or come into contact with a PDF. The PDF, or Portable Document Format, is a file format created by Adobe Systems in 1993 and is used for outputting documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it.

The PDF was originally used to send clients view-only layouts that they could review and approve before the final files were sent out to be printed. With the improvements made to the PDF format over the years, Adobe made it possible to create high-resolution, print-ready files, thus eliminating the need to package print-ready files via their native applications. Today, designers and production artists are expected to have a thorough knowledge of PDF creation.

When making a PDF, it is important to know its end use. That will determine the kind of PDF you need to produce. For example, if you were showing the client some changes made to a layout, you would send a “view-only” PDF. The view-only PDF would be low in resolution but easy to send in an email because of its small file size. Crop marks would not be necessary. If you were creating a print-ready PDF, however, you would need to ensure the PDF contained crops, bleed, and full-resolution images—in most cases, such PDFs might be too large to send over email.

For Print-Ready PDFs made from InDesign:
First, go to File > Export (Command-E). Select Adobe PDF as the format and choose the destination for the PDF and hit Save. A new dialog box will open. You can select a preset like High Quality Print (for print) or Smallest File Size (for web) as a starting point and modify the settings further if you wish. Pay special attention to the sections in the left-hand window of the options box: General, Compression, Marks and Bleed, and Output.

General – If the job is going to print in spreads, make sure this box is checked under Pages.

Compression – For high-quality color and grayscale images, Bicubic Downsampling should be set to 300dpi for images over that size and the Image Quality set to maximum. You can lower the dpi if the PDF is view-only to be sent via email.

Marks and Bleeds – If you are including crop marks, make sure the box is checked and add the bleed amount underneath.

Output – Make sure Color Conversion is set to No Color Conversion.

One trick that can be useful is to create your own custom settings. Once you have adjusted all the settings in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box, you can click Save Preset in the bottom left corner. You will give the preset a name, and once you hit OK, it will be included as an option under Adobe PDF Preset.

For Print-Ready PDFs made from Quark Xpress:
Go to File > Export > Layout as PDF (Command-Option-P). When the dialog box opens, click the Options button (or you can select a preset like Press – High Quality or Screen – Low Quality as a starting point and modify the settings further if you wish). The PDF Export Options dialog box will open with all the settings. Pay special attention to the sections in the left-hand window of the options box: Pages, Compression, Color, Marks and Bleed.

Pages If the job is going to print in spreads, make sure this box is checked.

Compression For color and grayscale images, Compression should be set to None and Resolution set to Keep Resolution (assuming your images are already 300dpi).

Color – If it is a four-color job, the Setup should be set to Composite CMYK. If a Pantone color is included, the Setup should be set to Composite CMYK and Spot.

Marks – If you are including crop marks, have the mode set to Centered (otherwise it can be set to Off).

Bleed – If there is bleed, have the Bleed Type set to Symmetric with the Amount as you wish.

Once again, you can create your own custom settings. Once you have adjusted all the settings in the PDF Export Options dialog box, you can go to PDF Style at the top and scroll down to New PDF Output Style. You will give the output style a name, and once you hit OK, it will included as an option under PDF Style.

Authors: Will Lovell, with assistance by Eric Swenson

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