Any gourmet chef will tell you that the secret to any successful dish is dependent on the quality of the ingredients used. The same is true for print production. By using error-free artwork files, you ensure production will go smoothly and that the result will be a timely delivery of your printed product.

But a lesser known secret is that nine out of 10 artwork files can be easily optimized to increase overall production efficiency and quality. These days, with the increasing number of orders per shift, it is more important than ever to ensure a continuous flow along the production lines. Any obstacle during the process can detract from the production plan and cause delivery misses. The goal is to reduce the friction and avert any small delay in file processing that could potentially be multiplied thousands of times.

So how can you ensure the quality of your incoming artwork? First and foremost, use automatic preflight tools that are available in the market. Today’s tools can filter out many of the problems that might stop production or suggest automated corrections based on predefined settings. There are different vendor solutions that check for a vast range of issues, which we will not cover here, but in some cases even if the artwork passes automated preflight tests, some artwork files might have innate problems created at the early design phase which can still be resolved.

Here are the top nine common cases where a human touch can remove the potential issue, improve the quality of the file, and ensure smooth sailing during production with optimal processing time.

  1. Clean unnecessary elements outside the bounding boxes.
  2. Consider converting blends to images.
  3. Keep images at 300 PPI.
  4. Keep the image ratio 1:1.
  5. Clean overlapping elements (remove hidden graphics).
  6. Watch out for clipping masks (they can be a Pandora’s Box).
  7. Using transparency modes can dramatically affect file processing time. This is a complex issue. Rule of thumb: avoid flattening and creating a high number of small elements. Also, transparency elements should be in the background layers if possible.
  8. Confirm all job elements are in the same color space.
  9. When using variable-data artwork, make sure that the fixed information layers are in the background.

Here are some tips on where to look in your authoring tool (such as Adobe Illustrator, Esko ArtPro+, Hybrid PackZ) to identify above-mentioned issues:

  • Use Outline view to find any unnecessary elements inside and outside the bounding box.
  • Use Layers window or Select Manu to reveal clipping masks. Consider investing in the time to delete.
  • Use Links window to track image info.
  • Use Search to find Transparencies.

Bear in mind that even when the digital front end is equipped with the latest technologies (such as HP’s PrintOS Production Pro DFE with Harlequin RIP) and supports a variety of file formats including the latest PDF ISO standards, proper file preparation will still significantly improve production efficiency and prevent headaches at later stages.

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