Why PDF Files Fail During Preflight

PDF Preflight

In today’s print world, press processes smooth out many issues common in artwork files. However, these automatic ‘quick fixes’ are not always what you want.

To avoid any risk or unexpected alterations to your artwork, it is important to understand these processes and practice proper procedures to design and export these files correctly the first time around. Preflighting – a quality checking process for PDF’s before production – is one of the most essential tasks in the print industry.

Here are the most common problems that you should keep an eye out for to ensure your company logo, ad, poster, or business card is printed just as you envisioned…


Industry standard is to work in RGB color palatte as much possible before converting to CMYK for printing. Quite often, a designer will fail to make that final conversion to CMYK. The printer then may reject an RGB file, or attempt to convert it themselves. This can result in significant color shifts that may conflict with your, or your customers’, branding guidelines.


Like it or not, your computer screen does not work the same as a printer. On screen, your image may look presentable, but printing requires a significantly higher resolution of images. Too often will a layout look fine on a computer, but appeared blurry, fuzzy, or even miscolored on the hardcopy.

Digital images are made up of pixels. You can always reduce (for online publishing, etc.) but you cannot add. Never try to upscale artwork in Photoshop as you are only adding pixels that do not and cannot exist.

GOOD HABIT – Always source the highest resolution of an image you can find to start with, then scale down as needed.


Under all the layers, it can be hard to notice if you have mistakenly placed or left behind a transparent image, shape or box in your design. But once the PDF file makes it to the printer, these transparent, or screened, components can be a real issue. Not only will your hardcopy have mysterious shapes and colors appearing, there are also underlying software compatibility issues as well.


Always be sure your fonts are embedded within an exported PDF file. This ensures that all fonts you intended to use show up correctly in the printed document. If fonts are not embedded and the person who opens the file does not have the fonts you used installed on their computer, the system will either replace those missing fonts with alternates or not show that text at all.

EASY SOLUTION – Select all text within your InDesign or Illustrator file, from main tool bar select Type > Create Outlines. 


Like all files, font files can be damaged and more often then not, this issue goes unnoticed until exporting. Many times, files are ‘corrupt’ because they haven’t been properly embedded within the PDF. Maintain a habit of checking all fonts at the beginning design stage to be sure they are not damaged, and be sure to outline them before exporting.

IMPORTANT TIP – Never save a native file with outlined text unless you save it separately. Once text is outlined, it cannot be undone, making future text revisions a real pain!


Unlike digital ads, printed documents need margins to account for the mechanics of printing and trimming. A document bleed extends past the trim edge so that the finished, trimmed piece has colors or images that go all the way to the edge. If your design requires this feature, be sure to look up the bleed, trim and safe area specifications of the printer and include these in your document setup. Just be sure that no essential content is in the bleed or trim areas so they won’t get lost in production!

Keep these easy tips in mind and make them a habit so that your next artwork file will be free of errors and ready for production!


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