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FA files for large format printing efficiently

As the creative director of an ad agency, I’ve come across many a time when designers don’t seem to know how to get their Final Artwork done right. I’m not talking about web design, where no FA is necessary considering web design files should always come as is, in PSD with layers and so on and so forth.

I’m talking about FAs for offset print, and large format inkjet print including billboards, posters, backdrops, buntings…you know what I mean. (It’s my guess that if you’re reading this, chances are you’d be in the design related industry).

In this installment, I will be going directly into large format printing.
It may surprise you to know I’ve come across simple bunting FAs that totaled a heaping 657MB – for 1 design, mind you.

So what went wrong? These are the frequent mistakes often made by designers in preparation for large format print.

MISTAKE 1

Some designers think that FA for large format print SHOULD ALWAYS be prepared in ACTUAL size. Simply because they think it would affect the print quality.

The truth:
WRONG! Take for example, a 2×6 ft outdoor bunting (those you’d normally see strewn across lampposts. DON’T create a 24x74in artwork in ai, for goodness’ sake. (As you should also jolly well know, there’s no “feet” dimension available for you to choose from in Illustrator.) It doesn’t matter if your visual comes with images or contains purely of vector graphics – your visual can easily be created into a 2.4 x 7.2inch size and NOT affect the outcome of the final print.

MISTAKE 2

Based on the above 2×6-foot bunting example, I’ve seen many designers who’ve actually scaled the image right up to EXACTLY 2×6 feet, which is completely pointless.

When it comes to creating FAs containing images, use your common sense. Obviously you’re going to end up having an image file in your FA folder as well. Just ensure that the image size is large enough for the required print. Example: if your image size is 4000×2000 pixels at 300dpi for a 2x6ft bunting, frankly, you can either leave it as it is, or even scale it down to 70% should you want to (either way, without affecting the final print quality).

What you’re going to end up with is this:
1. LARGER file sizes for BOTH the image AND .ai, Quark, InDesign, etc
2. Unnecessary time wasted on saving the large files
3. No sharper / enhanced quality of final print as compared to if the files were smaller.

MISTAKE 3

Images should ALWAYS be saved as a .tiff file because print quality is better.

Truth:
WRONG again! Use a .jpg file for goodness sake. Save yourself the extra and unnecessary time saving the file into a pointless larger format.

MISTAKE 4

Images should ALWAYS come with a .eps extension if linked to illustrator.

My answer:
(mouth wide open) WHY?!!!
I’ve asked a few designers this question, and all I’ve ever gotten was, “well, I was told to in college….”
Oh, OK! Well, now I’m telling you from over 10 years’ experience in the ad industry – NO!

MISTAKE 5

Preferably, images should be embedded.

My answer:
No, no, no. Embedding makes the file bigger, overall. Embedding the image also restricts color collaboration on your printer’s end.
Do yourself a favor – Save the image as a separate file and LINK it from your artwork.