I'm a creative director at Laughing Samurai. I bark orders. Sometimes people listen. Sometimes they don't. When they play nice, I pay with pizza. And sometimes with Nachos. Hell, sometimes even Beer. Wanna work with me? Let's do this.

make an awesome pdf… every time…

As we all know (hopefully), PDFs have become the standard in just about any field of presenting a digital document. It is cross platform and browser compatible, and it serves as a great tool for presenting a multi-page document, including websites. Of course, Acrobat is much more robust than this of course, with capabilities for form creation, interactive PDFs, video and audio, annotations, digital signatures and even capable of starting a meeting with a slideshow. Unfortunately, we will not being going that deep into Acrobat’s awesomeness, but rather stay with the basics. A PDF to send a file to press.

In this post I will cover a settings file I call “Press With Bleeds”. This is a preset I created when working in Pre-Press. The reason it is so compatible is that at the time I created it, we were working with a rip called the Scitex RIP, and this thing was moody!

For those of you who may not know what a RIP is, this is basically a piece of software, usually on a pimped out PC, that takes your artwork and converts it to lines of data that a PostScript printer or Plotter (Plate Maker) understands. In turn, they spit out either a full color print in the case of a Printer, or a plate or piece of film in the case of a plotter.

The fact is that the Scitex RIP would error out on the most minor of things, like checkboxes or bad weather. Thru an arduous process of trial and error, and with the goal of streamlining my workflow (and not staying extra hours), I found a sweet spot that never errored out, and has proven to be a stable PDF since.

Note: These PDFs are created from InDesign. Like I said in my previous post, InDesign should be the last point at which you prep files for delivery, whether a proof for a client or a file for a printer. Of course, there is the case when you would use illustrator and the use of InDesign is unnecessary. No worries – once you have saved a PDF preset, you can access it from both applications.

Making the PDF

Once your file is all ready to go, go to File>Export. Select Adobe PDF in the format drop down menu at the bottom of the window, then press Save. This will take you to a window that looks like this (You can toggle between the subsequent windows by clicking on their names on the left navigation):

General: I like to keep my Compatibility to Acrobat 5. Some printers running older RIPs may ask for the file in Acrobat 4. Do not use 4 unless absolutely necessary, since it flattens all your transparent objects, and can sometimes make things look weird. Acrobat 5 was the first to support transparency, which is why I use it. I would not go any higher than 5 though, since I’ve found it to be a bit incompatible at times.

Compression: I keep all my images at 300dpi with JPEG compression at Maximum quality. One thing to note on this page are the two check boxes at the bottom of the page. Those nifty little checkboxes allow you to compress your PDF even further. The one to the left is self explanatory, but to the right we have a genius feature. What this does is that it takes whatever image you imported into let’s say a box in InDesign, and basically crop out and discard any excess image from the file when it rips it to PDF. So if your image was originally 8.5×11, but you only used 6×10, it will only rip the 6×10 visible area, significantly reducing file size. Just note that this only applies to images, not vectors.

Marks & Bleeds: The only Printer’s marks you’ll need are the crop marks. All the other ones are there for show, since the printer will never use them. I always offset my crop marks at .25, to ensure they will stay clear of the bleed in the file. Also, make sure you include a bleed in the file. In this instance I pre-set the bleed in InDesign, which carries over into the PDF. But in the rare case that you might forget, put in your measurements here, to make sure you include a bleed with the file.

Output: If you read my previous post on Best Practices, this is where the aforementioned conversion to CMYK should take place. As your destination profile, you should be using color profiles sent by your printer, depending on what press they will run your file on. In the event that I don’t have these, I use the “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2” which has yielded great results across several jobs.

The Advanced, Security and Summary settings I don’t mess around with since they don’t affect compatibility or print quality. The only exception is when you RIP an Acrobat 4 file, in which case the Transparency Flattener is editable. I usually set it to High Resolution, with good results.

There you have it. An awesome PDF. Once you have gotten all the settings to your liking, don’t forget to click on the Save Preset button at the bottom left of the window, to save your presets. Enjoy!


  1. Posted May 8, 2010 at 7:22 am | Permalink Xavier

    Also, check out the GWG PDF Application Settings, which are a great help (and a de facto industry standard, at least in Europe!): http://gwg.org/applicationsettings.phtml.

  2. Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:25 am | Permalink Kendra

    Hi, I didn’t know you could put audio in a PDF. That’s cool. Hopefully you’ll write a blog post about that soon. 🙂

  3. Posted July 3, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink Wordpress Themes

    Amiable fill someone in on and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.

One Trackback

  1. […] reliable way to distribute not only fonts for reproduction, but also any file going to a printer. Creating the right kind of PDF is the most efficient way to distribute anything going to a printer, and not only ensures they […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *