Printing Lingo: What does the term “Pre-press” mean?

Pre-Press Ensures Your Layout will Print as Intended

Pre-press is a printing industry term for the activities that occur after a commercial printer receives an order and a corresponding graphics file from a client or graphic designer, but before any actual printing takes place.

The First Stage: Pre-Flighting

Once the graphics file has been created by the designer, it undergoes the first pre-press stage – the pre-flight. During the pre-flight, the file is checked to make sure it contains all the elements necessary for a successful print run.

For example, the file is checked to make sure the images have the proper format and resolution, the fonts are all included, the PMS/CMYK colors are set up appropriately, all layout elements such as margins, crop marks and bleeds are set up correctly, etc.

Also, depending on the software used to create the original graphics file, sometimes the entire file needs to be converted to a format better suited for commercial printing-like an Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format).

Basically, the pre-flight stage is performed first to catch any issues with the file set-up that might prevent it from being print ready. Bear in mind that pre-flighting is not really intended to find and correct mistakes in grammar or spelling, so it is recommended that all general editing and proofreading be performed by the client and/or designer prior to the pre-flight stage.

The Second Stage: Creating a Proof

Once the graphics file passes the pre-flight stage, it moves on to the second pre-press stage – creating a proof. A proof is a close representation of how the finished piece will appear when it is printed.

On many projects, such as business cards or postcards, a proof is often created as a PDF. Since a PDF is an electronic file, it can be emailed to the client for approval-which greatly speeds up the proofing process.

Also, if a print project involves finishing operations such as binding or folding – like that of a book or brochure – it is recommended that a physical proof be created. A physical proof will demonstrate how the piece will be constructed, where it will be folded, the order of the pages, etc.

In addition to avoiding any unforeseen errors, the purpose of the proof stage is to ensure that the client and printer are in complete agreement on the desired outcome.

The Third Stage: Printing Plates (for Offset Presses)

After the proof has been approved, the project is ready to be produced on a printing press. If the project is to be produced on a Digital printing press, the pre-press process is pretty much complete. This is because the graphics file can be electronically transferred directly to the Digital press for output without the need for printing plates.

However, if the project is to be produced on an Offset press, it will need printing plates. In this case, the final stage of the pre-press process is the creation of printing plates. Printing plates are custom made for each job and provide the method for transferring the inked images to the proper place on the paper.