How to get your design ready for professional print shops

Having heeded our design advice for your professional print job, there are a few extra tips to add that can round off your design and make sure it’s ready for hassle-free pro printing.

Use layers to help your printer

Layers can keep certain parts of the design distinct from others for the organised designer, or to provide separation of important parts of a professional print job. Here are some handy examples that you can bear in mind before finalising your design.

Document design layers

Whether organising your artwork by separating graphics and text elements on different layers (or master pages), adding ‘spot’ ink colours as solid black areas on one layer per colour, or using layers for the additional design features mentioned below, they can be an invaluable design aid. Each layer in PagePlus can be named, made invisible, made non-printing, or be locked to prevent accidental editing, and they are included as distinct layers in exported PDFs.

Some print shops might instead prefer these extra layers of information as different pages in your design with a text description as a title somewhere, and some might prefer them as completely separate PDFs (which you can produce from individual publications or just from different pages within one publication). Check with your print shop – as advised in our previous article on pro printing, you might also contact them to establish what output colour profile you should be using, how much bleed area to include, and whether any pages need imposing or laying out to suit their specific print methods.

Inks and coatings

You can use PagePlus to design in full colour or use a limited number of individual (spot) colours for aesthetic appeal or to reduce printing costs. Spot colours can be exported safely in your press-ready PDF if you check the Retain spot colours box in the Advanced tab of the Publish PDF dialog, or by including each colour on separate document layers, whichever is your print shop’s preference.

Just as spot inks can give a document very vibrant colour, brighter than those available with ‘full colour’ printing, you can also use the same design method to create defined areas of metallic colour, foil, gloss coatings (also called spot UV) or other finishes. Your print shop should have samples to help you choose coatings and finishes. A gloss coating on some elements can make them really stand out.

Cutter guides

For product packaging and professional craft projects, you’re likely to need an irregular shape cutting out from rectangular card or similar material. You can provide the cutter machine guide as a single line on a layer of its own. You can leave the layer visible in PagePlus so you know where your design space ends, but make it non-printable.


Parts of your design, like logos, flashes, product titles or other major elements, can be embossed. This is normally indicated on a design as an area, of solid colour, usually black. To keep it separate from your artwork, add the black shapes on an extra layer and name it appropriately.

Check before publishing


Check your text before publishing your file for professional printing. Really check it. Triple check it and use more than one pair of eyes. If possible, pass the document to someone with a speciality in language, writing, or proofreading. Check that you’re using the right word where there are homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings, and avoid the most common pitfalls: your/you’re, its/it’s, there/they’re/their, affect/effect, then/than, loose/lose, me/I/myself, using apostrophes – confusing ownership with plurals, could/would/should, fewer/less, complement/compliment etc. And etc., not ect! (Starting a sentence with And is fine, although informal!)

There are lots of other considerations – use an active voice, make sure you have a clear call to action in promotional material, and do not use too many different fonts, sizes, and colours. If you spot errors too late it could prove expensive.


Make sure you have rights to use the image (preferably using a royalty-free image or one you have obtained by license from a stock photography collection). Also, ensure your images are of suitable quality (as we described in our Design for professional print article).


Preflight, as the name suggests, is a term that refers to a check list, one applied to avoid a costly error. It’s evolved from a simple list into a series of automated tests that examine your document and assess its suitability for publishing, helping you ensure it is published as you intend. PagePlus goes beyond simple warnings. It shows you specifically where in your document the warning applies so you can check and correct it, and can automatically correct some issues for you. Open the Preflight tab in PagePlus (enable it using the View > Studio Tabs menu of necessary) and select PDF from the drop down list at the top of the tab, then click the Check button.

If there are any warnings in your Preflight check list, select an item then click the Locate button to select the corresponding object in your document. Click the Fix button if it is available, or manually address the issue yourself. It is not mandatory to fix issues found during Preflight, you may publish and ignore the warnings if you are confident about the results. You can Preflight check at any time, and PagePlus will also automatically check when you publish your design for sharing with a print shop or other audience.

Publish your design

Finally, after all the design care you’ve taken, after all the checks and lists you’ve made and passed to avoid problems, it’s time to publish your file. So what format do you use? There are not many standards but one shines above the others in the print industry, and its one we’ve mentioned above – PDF.

Perhaps you’ve seen the term ‘PDF/X’ when reading about PagePlus or using its publishing features? It’s a specific type of PDF (Portable Document Format) file that is an agreed standard, fine-tuned for professional printing. A PDF is ideal for this kind of sharing, because it contains all the design’s pages, layouts, graphics, text, colours and more, and that file is compatible with Macs, PCs, and the equipment, operating systems, and software used by print shops.

PDF/X is internationally recognised, ratified by the International Organization for Standardization. And you don’t need to be spending ‘professional dollar’ to publish these professional files, the format is fully supported by PagePlus (one of only a few desktop publishers that does).

When you choose an online service or local print shop, it should be clear what format they prefer, but if it’s not clear, just ask. A print shop that requests source files (fonts, images, graphics and DTP files) may not be using the same design software as you and even if they are, they may tweak or recreate your artwork. PDFs, on the other hand, are harder to edit and are self-contained, so they should be printed ‘as is’. PagePlus X7 can output PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 files, the first of which has been a standard format since 2001 (ISO 15930-1), so it’s now safe to say they are in widespread use around the world. Selecting PDF/X-1a or PDF/X3 from the Publish profile dropdown in the Publish PDF dialog in PagePlus X7 ensures that your job can be printed whether you’re in Austin or Australia, as it will contain everything the printer needs.

Stay in touch with your print shop, but if you’ve chatted with them before submitting your file to establish colour and other requirements, your job should print without issues and look fantastic! Let us know of any other tips you recommend in the comments section below, or mention if our tips or PagePlus’s PDF/X output capabilities have helped you achieve right-first-time professional printing.

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