Proofing & File Specs
This page has details about file setup for printing trade show display graphics.
Because we are migrating to an automated proofing system in order to reduce turnaround time, our file specifications are going to become more specific as to the types of files we can accept and the way they need to be set up. Of course, we are happy to help anyone who doesn’t have the right file type, or can’t get their file set up to these specs on their own, and there will be special circumstances where it will make sense to not use the automated system. In these cases, contact us for assistance but keep in mind that it will likely increase production time as a result, so if you’re able to follow these guidelines it will help keep your job on schedule.
It's important to check your files before sending them for resolution. Digital proofs are low res by design so they can be easily e-mailed which means they will likely be lower resolution than the original file. The automated system will warn if the resolution of your file is below a certain threshold but can't tell you if the file looks good visually. Looking closely at the elements in your file before you send it is the best approach to make sure you're happy with the quality, or you can also order a printed proof to check resolution and color, but that adds time and cost to the order. See the section below on resolution and file size for more details.
If the system detects that your file doesn't scale correctly to print size that's been ordered, is below the recommended resolution, or has other issues it checks for, your proof will have a warning and you will have the option to reject the proof and upload a new file or approve it anyway. If you approve a proof that isn't the right size, we'll contact you to find out what you want to do about the difference, but if you approve a proof with resolution or other issues, we will print your job as submitted, so check it carefully before you approve it and contact us with any questions or concerns first.
At the end of the order process, on the order confirmation page, there will be a link for you to use to upload your file. You will also receive several e-mails from the proofing system if the product you have ordered is set up to use the automated system. The upload links will also be on your order confirmation e-mail. If you don't receive an e-mail confirmation of your order and file uploads, contact us because the e-mails may be getting marked as spam, or there may be a problem with your e-mail address.
Color and Transparency
Digital proofs should not be used to judge color accuracy. There are too many variables, such as computer monitor calibration and differences in color spaces, to make it possible to rely on that for accurate proofing. If color accuracy is important for your job, we recommend ordering a printed proof first. While we spend a significant amount of time and energy on color profiling to get the most accurate color possible out of every different type of printer and media we offer, if the resulting print isn't what you expected, you'll likely be disappointed, and we want to avoid that. Typically, when that happens, it's because the customer has something printed elsewhere and assumes it will print the same everywhere, or expects the color to match their screen, and when it doesn't it's usually because our print is more accurate than what they already have, but that doesn't help when they need them to match so a printed proof can help identify these kinds of issues before the finished product ships. If you have PMS spot colors in your design, and you leave them as spot colors, we can color match to those without the need for a printed proof. Other colors that are critical should have a printed proof for safety and we can't guarantee color without that.
Transparency effects, particularly in design programs such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign can create problems during printing, so if you use those effects we can't guarantee the printed result even though they will look fine on screen and in your proof. In many cases, there is more than one way to create a design, and if it can be done without transparency and blending effects, we recommend doing so to avoid potential problems. Transparency effects in Photoshop or similar software is typically safe and doesn't cause any printing issues. Unfortunately, there is sometimes no way to tell if there will be a problem without actually printing the design so if we do spot a problem after the job is printed, we will contact you to give you options but there will likely be a cost associated with reprinting the job at that point.
Some common problems we see with judging color on digital proofs include subtle, color on color effects, such as dark gray type on a black background. Viewing these on screen often looks fine but the contrast is much less when printed making it hard to see the subtle differences, especially on fabric or matte finished materials. For these types of designs, you should order a printed proof to make sure the result is going to be what you intended. Another common problem is the printing of colors that are possible on screen but not possible in print. The RGB color space used for display on computer screens is much larger than the CMYK color space used for printing, so some colors, like RGB blue and green, are impossible to print the same way that they appear on screen. Part of the color profiling process is to map those colors to the closest possible printable color, but that involves some tradeoffs and the results may not match expectations. A common problem is RGB blue can either print as bright and saturated as possible, or as true to the tone of blue as possible but be duller. A more saturated blue will shift toward purple when printed and that's usually the default condition. Even differences in the way colors display on screen can make blues that look fine on screen print more purple than expected, so this is another case where we recommend using a PMS color or ordering a printed proof first to make sure the color will be what you expect.
Most file types for bitmap images such as photos and scanned images are acceptable. Common formats include tif and jpg files, but native Photoshop psd files are also fine, and if the resolution is good, png files will work, too. Vector images are always best when available as they will print at the maximum resolution regardless of size. The file types that will work are eps, pdf and native Illustrator files in ai format. Most of these formats can contain both vector and bitmap elements, so if you submit one of these formats and get a warning about resolution, it's because there are bitmap elements in your design that have a lower than recommended resolution.
Layouts from design programs like InDesign or QuarkXpress should be submitted as pdf files. If there are multiple designs in one file, you can either submit each design as a separate pdf file, or a multi-page pdf file can be submitted. If there are varying quantities of each design be sure to include that info in the Special Instructions field of your order, or contact us with instructions.
If you're not able to provide files in the required format, contact us for assistance. We have a great deal of expertise in converting and trouble-shooting files, so there is little we can't handle, but these types of files will increase the production time for your order. Files from office programs such as Word, Publisher and PowerPoint can be difficult to output properly, so we recommend against them. If you can, convert them to pdf files. If not, there is a $25 charge for us to work with these files. When sending CorelDraw files, exporting as a pdf or eps file is the best option.
When saving a pdf file, be sure choose an option that contains all the resolution of your original and doesn't jpeg compress the images. If available, PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 or PDF/X-4 settings would all be good choices, as would Press Quality or High Quality Print options.
If your print requires mounting, die cutting, or the size is critical, then you should allow for 1/8" bleed on all sides of your file or outside the cutting path. If you are ordering double sided prints, you should allow 1/2" bleed. This will allow us to trim your print to size more precisely without having the paper edge show. If the final trim size of your print can vary by 1/16" or if your print doesn't require mounting, then bleed is not necessary.
Files for retractable banner stands require extra material at the bottom of the banner for attaching to the mechanism. The amount will vary by model from 6" to 14", so look in the Specs & Templates tab on the product page for details, or download and use the template, which will show this as well.
For jobs such as wallpaper, tradeshow backdrops, banner walls or other prints that require the job be printed in multiple sections, it's best to leave your design as a single large image rather than trying to break it into panels for us. If you split the image up yourself, we lose control over any adjustments that need to be made for overlap of the panels.
Resolution and File Size
The proper resolution for scanned images is really dependent on the viewing distance for the finished print, and the quality you would like. For viewing distances of 5 feet or more, images should be at least 100 dpi at their actual final output size, and we recommend 150 dpi because at that resolution, images will look good at any distance. At viewing distances of 10 feet or greater, 72 dpi images at the actual print size will produce good results.
For images that are to be viewed closer than 5 feet, higher resolution images are required for the best quality output. A minimum of 150 dpi at the final output size is recommended for images viewed up close. 200 - 300 dpi at the actual print size is recommended for art prints and others where the highest possible quality is needed. It's difficult to tell the difference between 150 dpi and 300 dpi prints on most materials, but there is no visible improvement in images above 300 dpi. However, if your print contains text or line art elements that are part of a bitmap image, higher resolutions could be beneficial. In general, it is best to leave these types of elements in their native form for the best quality output or have text and line art as vector elements for the best quality.
Scans can be in either RGB or CMYK. We find that on glossy medias or for backlit images, the RGB color space provides the best color depth and contrast, but there is not a significant difference on more matte finished medias. Files tend to reproduce more accurately in CMYK, but our color profiling minimizes this difference.
Any color space embedded in your file will be used for color matching. In the absence of an embedded profile, we use the US Sheetfed Coated profile for CMYK images, and the sRGB or Adobe RGB (1998) profile for RGB images, depending on the print media. For the most accurate color, you should specify your color space in your software and be sure your software preferences are set to include that when your files are saved.
All files and layouts should be setup at actual size if possible. For programs such as QuarkXPress that may not be capable of creating a file at the actual size of your project, you can create the file at 1/2 or 1/4 size, and we will enlarge it before printing. Keep in mind that your images should fit the resolution guidelines above when enlarged to their final size. For example, a 300 dpi image at 1/4 scale will only be 75 dpi when printed at actual size.
For any job where the final color is critical, we recommend a printed proof before we run your final prints. Due to inaccuracies in displays and desktop printing equipment, judging color on your monitor or your own printer may not be giving you an accurate representation of color. The extra cost of a printed proof could easily pay for itself if problems are found with the color after your job is received. Contact us if you have questions about this process and we will help you determine the best approach for your job.