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Folder Printers Custom Presentation Folder Printing
Folder Printers Custom Presentation Folder Printing
Folderprinters > Blog > Professional Grade: Pre-Press

Professional Grade: PREPRESS

Learn what prepress is. Its critical importance in ensuring that your printed project comes out right and just as you envisioned.


February 14, 2024

Have you ever wondered if commercial printing companies, just as you do on your home computer and desktop printer, only need to hit Ctrl+P to start churning out printed sheets? If only it were that easy. . .

To the uninitiated, it raises the question: How does a submitted art file — whether manually created or in digital form — become mass produced ink on paper?


Like any serious professional procedure, commercial printing has its own initial quality control and adjustment process during the production cycle: pre-press.

In this article, you’ll learn about this process; why it is important and what it entails.

As the prefix of the term implies, pre-press is a step during the print-production process that is performed on a project before it goes to press for actual printing. This phase involves the inspection, evaluation, adjustment, and organization of client-submitted material before sending it through the subsequent manufacturing steps, in order to ensure that the final printed pieces come out as intended and in line with quality standards.

It is important to remember that the inspection is related mainly to appearance and not content. That is to say, proofreading is not included.

Aside from quality, pre-press also ensures that a project is carried out in the most efficient manner, thereby reducing time, waste and, consequently, cost.



Pre-press involves several steps. The first of which is pre-flight.

As your imagination has probably led you to think, it is borrowed from the field of aeronautics in reference to being cleared for flight. In printing’s case, good to proceeed to the succeeding steps in the manufacturing process.

In preflight, the obvious first course of action is to check if the submitted material is viewable and usable. Time was (during the purely analog era) when clients would submit sheets of paper on which photos, hand-drawn art, and smaller sheets of paper containing text were glued; very similar to how a collage of photos or news clippings is made.

Thankfully, in this electronic-media age, virtually all submitted files are in digital form. However, while majority are created using some of the most popular image editing software, there are still rare instances in which the client-file is of a program not suitable for commercial printing, e.g., Microsoft Word.

Even with nearly universal adoption and capability of virtually all design software to save as Portable Document Format (PDF) problems may still arise (including MS Word). In such cases, the prepress technician has to convert the file into one that is compatible with the printer’s system and equipment.

Since electronic screen displays (also most design-software's default) are in red-green-blue (RGB) mode, a considerable amount of client files are submitted as such. Because of this, pre-press technicians have to check, and when necessary, convert them to cyan-magenta-yellow-black (CMYK), as this is, by and large, the color model employed by commercial printers.

Back cover of Beyond the Stars' red folder.
CMYK Color Model
While some late-model digital presses are capable of automatically converting and making adjustments from RGB to CMYK, most reputable printing companies still prefer CMYK due to color calibration in their internal workflow, and, in the case of offset lithography, still no escaping the four-color process.

Low resolution images — which appear just fine on computer screens — will appear blurry or not as ideally sharp on a printed sheet. Unless a client explicitly declares that it can be used, a high-resolution version is always requested.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but the number of pages, their order, orientation and configuration can be incorrectly created or saved by the client, and therefore must be double checked.

In cases where the printed image is designed to appear flush on the edges of a page, printer bleeds are required. Bleeds are the overflow of said images past the cutting lines of a page's design layout. If the image big enough, a technician can make some "stretching" adjustments, provided that it does not result in any movement in the client's original desgin layout. Otherwise, client will be asked for a new file.

A client could be forgiven for believing that everything on their design file is properly laid out; however, in some instances there are elements that might not seem plainly obvious, or outright confusing to the untrained eye. As a leading manufacturer of custom presentation folders, we often encounter such a case involving a peculiar part of a folder: its pockets.

The pre-press technician has to check and make sure that the images on the pockets are positioned upside down (when the layout is viewed as a flat sheet). The reason being, after the pockets are folded upwards and glued, the image will then appear right side up.


The thought of printing a job in single pages at a time does not conjure up an impression of professional printing expertise, let alone efficiency.

Although there are presses through which smaller sheets (the size of one flyer) of paper can be fed and printed, most industrial presses — particularly multi-color offset — are configured to use, at the minimum, larger sheets that, depending on the make and model, range from 12 to 20 inches, going as high as 40 inches — or even larger.

This is where imposition comes into play.

Imposition is the method of arranging the individual pages on a large sheet. In the case of a multi-page book, they are positioned within the sheet to ensure that it will eventually fold then be trimmed in the correct order. If the job to printed is just one page, the same image is laid out multiple times across the sheet.

imposition software interface
Imposition program screen interface.

The idea is to maximize the surface area of the paper by filling it as fully as possible. Which results in running fewer sheets in less time, thereby increasing productivity and reducing waste.

To get a better understanding of this concept, picture a scenario of an order for 100,000 flyers sized four inches wide and six inches tall (4"x6"). Utilizing a multi-color offset press that can run sheets that are 40 inches wide by 28 inches tall, you could layout 24 of these flyers. Twenty four is then the printed yield every time one sheet goes through the press.

one sheet laid out multiple times on larger sheet
A flyer laid out multiple times on a larger sheet.

This means that instead of running 100,000 individual flyers, a printer would only need to run about 4,200 of these large sheets. Economy of scale at work and on full display.


Assuming the project passes all these internal checks, there is one final inspection before going to press: the client’s.

Because it had gone through adjustments made by pre-press technicians, it must be confirmed by the client that everything is still in accordance with their submitted design. This process is called proofing.

Image of browser window of PDF proofing
A PDF proof reviwed on a web browser,

Proofing involves a one-off rendering — either as a printed sheet or electronic form such as PDF — that is examined by the client. Once a proof receives final approval, only then is it cleared to go on press for actual printing.


As you can probably tell from reading this article, the production of printed pieces is not as simple as it may have seemed — and pre-press, mind you, is just the start of the process. Any commercial printing company worth its salt invests a substantial amount of resources and talent into this department to ensure that every job is executed efficiently and most importanly, correctly.

Perhaps you've gained an appreciation for times when your printer refused to go ahead with the job pending the new files that they requested from you.

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