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Getting better customer files

Jul 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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You have to hand it to technology. While advancements such as FTP, e-mail and other file-transfer methods have streamlined print production and made it easier for printers to receive job orders from customers, they have also introduced a new problem to the production process: customer-created files.

Quick printers can eliminate many of the problems usually associated with customer-created files, simply by instituting some standards for file submission and transfer. Having standards forces you, the printer, to educate your staff and customers on digital requirements. Standards also establish a benchmark for pricing: If a customer submits the file outside of your published standards, you can charge more to get the job ready for print.

Follow these guidelines to begin simplifying your digital workflow.

  1. Standard software

    A printer can't support every software application, but you can focus on the major ones your customers use to create their files. Most printers support Adobe InDesign, Pagemaker, QuarkXPress, MS Publisher and MS Word.

    Adobe applications are available at a special low price from the Adobe Solutions Network, at Microsoft provides Publisher free to printers when they join the Microsoft Publisher Service Provider Program at

    Other files that are ready to print can be submitted as a PDF, or a PostScript that you can then distill into a PDF. If your customer needs you to support an application that isn't standard, again, have your client provide the file as a PDF or a PostScript. Images created with illustration software programs are accepted as EPS or TIFF files with text converted to outlines or paths. You can charge an additional fee to handle any native applications your print shop doesn't typically accept.

  2. Standard job-submission procedures

    Most popular applications have special tools that will package the elements printers need to print a file properly: Quark has “Collect for Output,” InDesign has “Package,” Pagemaker has “Save for Service Provider” and Publisher has “Pack and Go.” These tools also force your customer to preflight the file before sending it to you — those who fail to use the special packaging tools force you to spend more time preparing the file for print and increase the overall price of the printing order.

    Because of problems caused by e-mail attachments, many printers also are developing procedures for digital files to be sent electronically to the company's FTP site. This allows you to avoid the size limitations of some e-mail programs and provide a direct link to your customer's computer.

  3. Standard colors

    Few business-to-business customers really understand color and what is required for a color digital file to print properly. Inform your clients that CMYK and Pantone color models are required if the file is to print correctly, and ask them to select the proper color model before submitting their file to you. Customers that submit files with other color models, such as RGB, can be charged extra to cover the costs of converting the colors.

  4. Standard image formats

    Many graphic formats do not reproduce as expected. Printers are standardizing on EPS and TIFF and are requiring graphics to be saved in those formats prior to submission. Other file formats require conversion. You can inform your customers that if a graphic is not submitted in the proper format, you may have to recreate it — and charge accordingly.

  5. Standard proofing procedures

    A file submitted electronically does not eliminate the need for a paper proof (printout of the file) from the customer. Include a proofing standard into your procedures when accepting files from customers. Customers should submit both a composite and separation samples (if separations are required), which will allow your prepress department to compare the digital file to the hard copy.

A profitable exercise

If everyone in the production workflow understands the standards and the ramifications of not following them, accepting customer-created files can be a profitable exercise. Without published standards, a printer cannot expect to receive properly constructed digital documents from their customers.

Educate your customers on what is expected — and if customers fail to prepare their digital files correctly, you must be ready to train them on how to correct the problem. Be ready to charge extra for fixing problem files.

John Giles is a printing-industry consultant specializing in digital issues. E-mail him at

Establishing a digital workflow

John Giles' book, “Digital Directions: A Digital Workflow for Customer-Created Files,” outlines how to develop standards for customer-created files and the roles of different staff members in the digital workflow. To order the $40 book, call (304) 586-3548 or visit

Giles is also author of a CD manual, “The Digital Original,” which explains how to establish standards for accepting customers' computer files.

Want to help customers submit good files? To get this free checklist (right), send an e-mail to

Sending files across the miles

File-transfer software providers include the following:

The case for file compression

If you don't already, it's not a bad idea to ask your customers to compress their files before sending them to you. For those who balk at taking any extra steps when preparing their files, here are three reasons you can give them:

  1. Speed of transmission. By reducing the size of the file, it travels faster via modem and takes less time — and space — to copy.

  2. Organization. Compressing several files into a single file makes document management more efficient.

  3. Protection. Compression helps to protect the integrity of a file. It's essential for Internet transmission, where the possibility of core file corruption is significantly increased as the file travels through various operating systems.

The practice of compressing files for archival also will save your customers significant disk space over time.

Source: Copresco (