Before Sending Artwork to Vendors, Questions to Ask

Let’s say you want to have some t-shirts printed with your logo on the front or you need to have a new sign made for your door, or you’re submitting an advertisement to a publication. How should you send it to them? What format? What size should it be? What resolution? What linescreen? Are you serious? aaarrgghh!

I often have to answer this question for my clients who have received a call from the salesman saying, “Just send us your logo and we’ll take care of it.” Or the vendor has e-mailed, writing that they are ready to print and need artwork.

It’s not always easy to know exactly what to send, but once you learn a few questions to ask your vendor, and become familiar with a few specialized terms, it gets easier to provide exactly what’s needed. Whether you are responsible for creating and providing the artwork or have another vendor such as an agency or designer providing it, the information needed is the same. Below are some basic questions to ask.

What graphics format do they accept?

The great majority of vendors today will accept a variety of computer-generated graphics formats. However, different vendors use different equipment, systems and software which will determine, and sometimes limit, the types of files they can accept. So you need to ask each vendor for their specific requirements to get the best results.

Most vendors will accept more than one graphics format, so you need to know how to determine what will give the best results in different circumstances. The four most-often used formats and how they are best used are:

Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) format is best for printed material and the files can be scaled to any size without a reduction in quality. Applications such as Adobe Illustrator are used to create “vector” graphics. Vector graphics are images created from mathematical descriptions that determine the position, length and direction in which lines are drawn. Objects are created as collections of lines rather than as patterns of individual dots or pixels.

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is also good for print, particularly when the image includes gradations or multiple colors, such as black and white or color photos and illustrations. TIFF files need to be sized at 100% of the size you desire. If these files are scaled up in size, there will be degradation in the quality of the image. How much degradation depends on the resolution of the image and how much it is scaled. Image resolution is tied to the linescreen or lines per inch (lpi) used by the vendor. You can ask what the resolution should be for best results. If you’re not sure, it is usually safe to size an image at 300 dots per inch (dpi) and at 100% of the finished size.

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is a format for storing images in a compressed form. It trades off quality for file size. The amount of quality loss is dependent on the amount of compression used. These files are most suitable for use on Web pages or, often, for transferring files. Combined with a lower resolution matching standard computer screens, this format can provide very small files that, on a Web page, will load fast. However, they are not best for use in print, as they often show moderate to extreme degradation of quality.

Portable Document Format (PDF) found in Adobe Acrobat or Reader files is increasingly the preferred format for submitting artwork for vendors, particularly publications. This format is requested more and more often because of its platform and application independence, and many printers and publishers have adopted a PDF work flow.

There are many other graphics formats but most vendors will be happy with one or more of the above.

What size image do they need?

This relates to the format. If your vendor will accept EPS format files, you can send it just about any size and they will be able to scale it to what they need. If you are supplying a TIFF or JPEG format file, the art should be sized to 100% of the size needed, at the resolution specified by the vendor (300 dpi is usually safe if you’re not sure).

What color format?

The color format simply means, “How many colors will be used to produce the item?”

Your vendor will be using one of the following:

  • black and white or grayscale
  • 2 color, RGB or spot color
  • 4 color, process color or CMYK

You need this information so that you can convert, if necessary, to a different color space. If you provide the wrong color format, colors may not work properly and could default to something unknown or unwanted.

And one last question you really should ask first:

Do they accept electronic files?

Chances are, these days just about every printer and publication will accept electronic files. But occasionally you’ll come across a small publication or other vendor who is not in a position to accept an electronic file of your artwork. These vendors will probably request “camera-ready art.”

Camera-ready means that your artwork is complete and is ready to be photographed by the printer for use in making the printing plates. This means a high-contrast, high-resolution print.

The high quality and higher resolutions of many desktop printers today can make it okay to use a dark print on bright white paper as camera-ready. However, the final printed piece will be at least one generation reduced in quality. So if your printed page does not look crisp and clear, the final product will probably look even worse.

If quality is a foremost requirement, or if your artwork contains shades of gray or gradations, you may want to have your file output by a high-resolution imagesetter. This produces a positive photographic print on a resin coated paper. You may have heard this type of camera-ready art called a “Velox” (Velox is a registered trademark of Kodak).

If the publication is printed in color, the printer may ask for color-separated negatives. This involves a special scanning process to separate the color artwork into the four colors used in color printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and then creating one high-resolution negative for each separated color. This cannot be done properly from a desktop printer.

More to Know

There is more to know about graphics formats and working with vendors, but if you talk to the vendor and ask at least these questions, you should obtain the basic information you need to get good results.