Ever heard of the term Final Artwork (FA)? It might not sound familiar to you, but it is one of the most important terms in commercial printing. Don’t be surprised to hear the term – even if you are not a graphic designer – when you want to send your file to print! Read on below to understand how FA works and what you need to do about it.
What is FA?
FA, short for Final Artwork, refers to the last approved version of a digital file before it is sent to print. Basically, once the FA passes, printing will occur. FA is an essential step because there are many changes to make to the original digital copy. FA ensures that the printed version is like its digital counterpart. After all, printers are subjected to physical limitations, which could lead to many errors.
If you are the person sending your artwork to print, the responsibility of producing the FA falls on you. Here are some of the most important factors to take note when you are preparing your FA.
As mentioned in the previous article – Why can’t I print in RGB? – printer colours use a different colour system compared to digital versions. Printers use the CMYK system, which is a subtractive colour system. The mixing of dyes produce darker colours. Digital graphics use the RGB colour system, which is an additive colour system. In this case, the colours get brighter when mixed.
Using RGB instead of CMYK in print can result in colours being “out of gamut (range)”. The printer has no choice but to select alternative colours automatically, which are most often duller and lack detail. This is why it is important during the Final Artwork process to check if your file is in CMYK mode. You can then choose CMYK colours that match the original colours more accurately.
Fonts are tricky because the printer might not have the font you use, especially unique types or styles. This can create serious problems as the words might lose shape or even disappear during printing. There are two solutions. The first option involves sending the actual font file over to the printing company. While there are licensing laws, trustworthy printing companies should only use the font just to print your artwork. They would delete the font file afterwards.
If you are not comfortable with that, you can choose to convert the font to paths/outlines instead. This means that the printer treats the fonts like shape layers, which are readable anywhere. However, you cannot make any more edits to the texts afterwards. Saving two versions of the artwork (one with fonts and the other with outlines) is crucial.
3. Bleed and Crop Marks
Bleed occurs when an element of a page touches the very edge of the page in the design. In other words, the element actually goes beyond the page and leaves no margin behind. Photographs, pictures, graphics and decorative art can all cause bleed. Printers in general have a difficult time printing at the very edge, due to movement of the paper. This can cause white strips to appear during trimming. Hence, we have to add a bleed area – normally 1/8 inch from the borders of the artwork.
Besides the bleed area, remember to add crop marks too. Crop marks are lines printed on the corners of the artwork to guide printers on trimming. This allows precise points where the printer will trim accordingly.
Simply put, resolution is the total number of pixels in an image. The higher the number of pixels, the better the print quality. The recommended resolution for print is usually 300dpi (Dots per inch) and images from cameras tend to be captured at 72dpi. Images with lower number of pixels may look pixelated and blurry. During the Final Artwork process, you have to ensure and convert all the images to 300 dpi.
5. File format
Don’t forget to save your file in the correct file format once you have finished editing. The PDF file format is usually the preferred choice. This format is readable on numerous platforms, without making any edits to the files. PDF files allow compression with no noticeable loss in quality, as long you have embedded the images and outlined the fonts. Artworks edited in the native file format of creative software – such as INDD, AI and EPS files – are safe bets too.
For photos, TIFF files are the best choice for printing. They tend to be very large in size, but it is a “lossless” format that retains the highest quality and information such as transparency. Avoid PNG and JPEG formats as JPEG loses data in compression and PNG does not support the CMYK colour scheme.