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Related Topics: MultiTouch Developer Journal

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Bulletproof Printing

Bulletproof Printing

If you've only used FreeHand MX for Web-based applications, then it's time you learned about the broader world of print. FreeHand was originally designed to give artists a way to put drawings onto paper via the computer. Even though the program's scope has grown far beyond early expectations, you can still achieve superior printing results.

PostScript Printing
The most important thing to remember about FreeHand is that it requires a PostScript printer to achieve acceptable results. Yes, you can print to a desktop non-PostScript inkjet printer, but the output is sometimes less than what was expected.

PostScript is a page description language introduced by Adobe in 1985. Its application on the Apple LaserWriter brought Macintosh computers fully into the front-runner position in the growing desktop publishing field. A PostScript file interprets or describes text and images in a device-independent fashion. Device independence means that the file can be used on any PostScript printer without regard to printer resolution or other printer attributes. The same file will print to the capacity of your PostScript desktop printer or the service bureau's RIP (Raster Image Processor).

Non-PostScript Printing
Many factors determine what is going to print and what won't print from a particular file on a given day to one printer or another. To get good results from imported images, set Preferences>Redraw>Better - but set slower display, and Onscreen Resolution to Full. For the most part, you'll lose certain effects or features that you may have fallen in love with on screen.

Some of those items may be very important to your work. For instance, a placed EPS file (EPS stands for Encapsulated PostScript - that's your first clue) will print only the on-screen preview, not the actual file. That means a jaggy, totally unacceptable print. Then, add a bitmap effect - any bitmap effect - and you'll see more jaggies. However, text effects (Highlight, Inline, Strikethrough, Shadow, Underline, and Zoom) do print as you see them on the monitor, but will not output correctly to a high-end RIP at the service bureau. For that reason alone you should get in the habit of creating your own special effects on text if you plan on doing commercial printing.

Without special third-party software, you cannot print "printer marks" on most non-PostScript printers either. Printer marks are needed by professional printers to properly set ink levels, crop or trim the page, and provide information about the color of ink that is to be printed.

Separations is the term given to the result of creating negatives for each color that is going to be printed on the page. It's good practice - and required by most service bureaus or printers - to provide a complete set of separations with the finished job. Printing your own separations is necessary for you to proof the work. Non-PostScript printers usually don't allow you to print separations without extra software. Since we're after professional results, the rest of this discussion will assume the use of PostScript printers.

Printer Resolution
We get used to seeing our artwork on a monitor and too frequently forget to set the proper parameters for the document to be output correctly. FreeHand MX tossed a few new features into the parameter soup to digest, starting with raster effects. For spice, add a pinch or two of printer resolution, raster effects resolution, and document raster settings.

Printer resolution has been around for years, and is set in the Document window of the Properties panel. The default is 300 dpi (dots per inch - the number of halftone dots per inch that are printed on the page), but you have several other choices in the drop-down menu. Printer resolution uses this information to generate the number of steps in auto-created objects such as blends and gradient fills. The higher the printer resolution setting, the more steps in the blend or fill. To see this in action, choose a low number, such as 300, and create a blend between two different colored objects. Note the number of steps in the blend. Then raise the resolution to 2540 and blend the same two shapes. You'll see many more steps in the blend. A high number will give you a smoother blend effect, but it also complicates the file. That equals nonproductive waiting. It's important to remember that you can change the number of steps in a blend at any time. Just enter a new number in the Number of Steps box in the Object panel while you have a blended shape selected.

When you apply any of the raster effects (shadows, blurs, glows, embossing) to an object, steps must be taken to ensure that you will achieve the desired result when you go to print or press. Select an object with a raster effect and open the Options menu in the Object panel. Midway down the list of options you'll find Raster Effects Resolution. Select this option and the Object Resolution dialog box opens (see Image I). The default setting is 72 dpi, which is fine for Web use, but not at all acceptable for print work. Select 72 dpi from the drop-down menu while you're working on the project and FreeHand will react more quickly. When you're ready to go to press, change the resolution to 300. Notice the "Use Document Raster Effects Resolution" option. Choosing this option overrides any setting that appears in the Resolution field. If you set this option to "on" in your default page, then all objects with raster effects will use the Document Raster Effects you set.

So, where do you set Document Raster Effects? Go to File>Document Settings>Raster Effects Settings and a box very similar to the Raster Effects Resolution box opens (see Image II). If you're printing in CMYK (and only if all your colors are CMYK), click the "Optimal CMYK Rendering" box. From that point on, any objects with raster effects will have adequate resolution. You can override any effects you wish by dropping back to the object level described earlier. Again, your work will go faster with a 72- dpi setting (although the image may look a little coarse), but remember to switch to 300-dpi resolution as you go to press. Your service bureau will not make this adjustment for you - it's your responsibility.

Why All the Fuss?
In short, if you don't deal with resolution while you're working on the job, you'll deal with extra printing costs to have your job printed again. Do a quick test on your own by creating several objects with various raster effects applied. Give them a resolution of 72 dpi. Clone them and raise the resolution to 144; then clone again and change the resolution to 300. At 100% size on screen, they look pretty much the same, but print the page and examine the results. It's really important to realize that all the raster effects are RGB, not CMYK. If you're using spot colors, those colors are converted to RGB for screen display. Again, they look great on screen, but when it comes to printing them, the conversion from RGB to CMYK is often less than pleasing, so proof your work often and critically. If it doesn't look right when it comes off of your desktop PostScript printer, it won't look any better coming off the press. For best results you will also want to "set on-screen image resolution" to "Full" when printing documents with Raster Effects.

We're Caught in a Trap
You probably know that if you place one colored object on top of another in FreeHand the colors are not mixed or multiplied as they are with traditional paints. Instead, FreeHand "knocks out" the area of overlap and places pure colors in the two shapes. When two colors abut on-screen, you see no space between them because you're looking at adjacent pixels that are fixed on the monitor. Getting those two colors to touch exactly on paper is quite another story. You usually end up with a sliver of white or a dark color that is the combination of the two colors.

To minimize slight misregistration, you must create traps. Check with your service bureau or printer before proceeding - some have special trapping software that does the job for us, and to their exact specifications. Traps are basically the minor overlaps of colors that eliminate possible white spaces where the colors are supposed to abut. To create a trap, you either choke or spread one color onto another by printing a tint of the lighter color on top of the darker color. In Image III you can see the results of trapping. You can also see tiny "o" shapes in the overlapping areas. If you go to FreeHand Preferences>Redraw and select Display Overprinting Objects, you'll acquire this on-screen verification that overprinting is going on. At times it can be visually annoying, but if you're doing any trapping it's absolutely essential that you see what you're doing. Be advised that basic text colored black is set to overprint. With this option checked, the text will be filled with "o" shapes if you convert the text to paths. The "o" shapes will not print.

Trapping can be done easily by using the Trap Xtra. Just select the inner object, Shift-select the outer object, and choose Xtras>Create>Trap (or click the Trap icon if you've placed it in your main toolbar). A dialog box opens (see Image IV) where you can input the size and type of trap you want. The size of the trap depends entirely on your printer's specifications, usually a quarter-point to half-point trap is sufficient for offset printing - screen printing needs a bit more - check with your printer before setting the traps. The Reverse Traps option will make the overprinting color dark instead of light.

To create a trap manually, simply select the lightest-colored object and click the Add Stroke icon in the Object panel. Make the stroke equal to double the width you want to use as the trap. Give the stroke a suitable (around 40%) tint of the light color, and set the stroke to overprint. The center portion of the light-colored object will correctly knock out of the darker color and the outside half of the stroke will overprint the dark color, eliminating any white space caused by misregistration.

Spot or CMYK Colors?
As you design a print project, certain decisions must be made concerning ink colors. FreeHand allows you to create colors in the Color Mixer panel in many color modes, including RGB and CMYK. If you will be printing the project, avoid creating colors in the RGB or HLS mode. Those color modes are for on-screen viewing and must be converted to CMYK in the printing process. Due to the limitations of the process, or CMYK, method of printing, color conversion may work well or not. Certain RGB colors will not give pleasing results, and most colors will show a slight or noticeable color shift. If a specific color is desired or required, then you should consider using a spot color. Spot colors are specific ink colors from ink manufacturers; you can find several libraries of them in the Swatches options menu. The ink color will be interpreted and displayed on your monitor in RGB, and will be marked with three dots (red, green, blue - RGB) in the Swatches list, indicating that it is a spot color. Don't be lulled into the beauty of any color you see on screen, as the calibration of your monitor along with the RGB interpretation may have no bearing on the true color. Instead, invest in, and learn to trust, a printed color swatch book. PANTONE makes a "solid to process" book that is invaluable for process printing. It contains hundreds of solid colors printed next to their CMYK breakdown so you can see what the color conversions will produce.

Collect for Output
FreeHand makes a heroic attempt to help you produce a trouble-free print job with the Collect for Output command. When you select this feature from the File menu, you will be asked to save the document before continuing. A dialog box will open (see Image V), giving you the options of adding various types of information about the document in a simple text-only file that your commercial printer or service bureau personnel can open and read. Each category has a list of options; holding down the Option/Alt key as you click any of the options will either deselect the entire list, or select all the options in the list. Unless you only want to see certain information for yourself - to get a list of fonts, for instance - leave all the options checked for the report that you give the service provider. Close the box by clicking Report.

A Save window will open, giving you the opportunity to place the report and all of the document's data in a particular location. This data includes all the fonts and placed images and EPS files you have used in the document. That can amount to a large number of files, so it's a good idea to create a new folder for everything. The Save As name refers to the document record itself. When you've found a place for the files and named the record, click Save. FreeHand will then collect everything that pertains to the job for you. If placed files or fonts have been moved or there are other problems with the files, FreeHand will tell you that there were problems collecting the data. If that happens, look through the new folder to try to see what's missing. Usually it's a linked file that you've worked on and inadvertently moved. If you have several placed bitmap images or EPS files, open Edit>Links to see a list of all the files in your document. Compare that list to the output folder and then manually gather the missing files. Alternatively, you can relink the files and Collect for Output again.

Test Prints and Separations
As you begin to wrap up your job, it's necessary to proof-print the job. Doing so will eliminate 99% of the problems your service bureau or commercial printer will encounter. It tells you how well you've done your job, and ultimately saves you money with do-overs. You need to print both a composite print and a set of separations.

Choose File>Print Setup, and select your printer (assuming you've got a PostScript printer) and the page orientation. Then choose File>Print. You can print a single page or a contiguous page range by entering numbers in the fields. Then select FreeHand MX from the print options drop-down menu (see Image VI).

If your document is smaller than the paper that you are going to print on, then choose Uniform from the Scale % drop-down menu. If you are printing a letter-sized document onto a letter-sized sheet of paper, there will be no room for printer marks, so you will be forced to choose Fit On Paper and print a reduced version of the job. It's a proof, so don't lose too much sleep over it. Click the Advanced button to open the Print Setup window (see Image VII).

Print Setup is really the heart of the printing operation. The left side of the window is dominated by the Preview window. I keep mine set to Preview, but Keyline and X-Box are also available views. It's a little-used feature, but you can click and drag the preview image in its window. Only the parts of elements that show in the window will print - good for test-printing partial pages without using the Area Tool. Start by choosing the level of quality in the Print Setting menu - use Quality PS Level 2 or Normal for most jobs. Select the Use PPD option to search for the correct PPD (PostScript Printer Description) for your printer. In the Separations tab, you can choose to print a composite page or separations. By selecting the Print Spot Colors As Process option, you convert the document's spot colors to CMYK for the purpose of printing. Doing so will usually cause some sort of color shift, so pay attention to the composite print. The separations window has three columns on the left: P (a check mark will Print the color, click the check to prevent the printer from printing that color), O (for Overprint - this causes the color to overprint all other colors in the document - it's only advised in rare instances, be wary), and Angle (the angle of the rows of dots that make up the screens in your image - C=15, M=75, Y=0, K=45 to prevent most moirés). The other field's defaults are usually adequate.

Click the Imaging tab (shown on the left side of Image VIII). Here you can choose to print labels and marks or not. FreeHand will place crop marks that match your page size if you check that option. If you've designed a business card in the middle of a letter-sized page, the crops will be at 8.5 x 11 inches, not 2 x 3.5 inches. If you want FreeHand to apply crop marks, make the document exactly the size you want it to print. Registration marks, separation names, and file name and date are all important information that you should use, and they're free - use them. To proof your separations (and save a lot of black toner), choose Emulsion Up, Positive Image. A film output is usually Emulsion Down, Negative Image, termed RRED (Right-Reading Emulsion Down). The right side of Image VII shows the Paper Setup tab. Make sure the page orientation matches your Page Setup orientation. Otherwise, this panel should reflect your document's settings. Click the OK button to close the window and click the Print button.

Depending on the complexity of your project, FreeHand will whirr for a few seconds before your separations come out of the printer. The default settings will give you a positive image of each color separation. Check each separation page against a composite print so you can see where overprinting and knockouts appear. Look for anything out of the ordinary. If something is wrong, this is the time to correct it - don't blindly hope the service bureau will fix your errors. No one knows your job as well as you do.

FreeHand is a very powerful application; with it you can print just about anything from business cards to multi-page catalogs to packaging. Communication with your printer or service bureau will speed up your learning curve and profitability.

Many thanks to Delores Highsmith, David Spells, Peter Moody, John Nosal, and other engineers at Macromedia for the technical editing they provide.

More Stories By Ron Rockwell

Illustrator, designer, author, and Team Macromedia member Ron Rockwell lives and works with his wife, Yvonne, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Ron is MXDJ's FreeHand editor and the author of FreeHand 10 f/x & Design, and he co-authored Studio MX Bible and the Digital Photography Bible. Ron has just introduced a "Casual FreeHand" course available at www.brainstormer.org.
He has Web sites at www.nidus-corp.com and www.brainstormer.org.

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