Its time to talk about using the right software to create printed documents, the reason being, I’ve seen 3 or 4 print projects come in this week created in PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a Microsoft program that’s main purpose is creating presentations and it’s a little scary seeing people creating their projects in it and then wanting good looking printed output from it. I am keeping in mind that people many times use what they are comfortable with or what they have, I just believe we have to keep educating people to better use the tools that are out there and they just might get better results.

First, I have a lot of customers that understand what software to use for what situation, so with them this is a non issue. But, I still think we have to help people to understand the “Suite’s” of programs and what each individual program is designed for. Of the folks that are struggling to use the proper programs, they generally fall into 2 camps….. First, the person that has the Microsoft Office Suite and composes their project in one of the MS Office programs; there’s generally a fair amount of struggle with theses projects (digital printing and new RIP’s have made it easier though), but in the end we make them work (they sometimes could look better);  and you know what, I think these folks are usually happy with the results. I’ll come back to dealing with these situations in a second.

The other type of offender really should know better. They’ll have the complete Adobe Creative Suite, and they do their page layout in Illustrator or even worse Photoshop and then argue that they used the software for what it was designed to do. It’s hard to take issue with somebody who is paying you good money to do a job, but if people used the right application in the suite, the path to getting it done would be easier and their results could often be better. 

So lets look at the landscape of the most common printing software (good & bad), and remember that you can generate print jobs from a lot of programs and you’ll get quite a variance in results.

Adobe Creative Suite is the Standard, and I’m just going to talk about the print tools within CS, not the web tools. Within Creative Suite are 4 primary programs (for print use) and the each has a different purpose. The first is InDesign, and this is a page layout program that should be used to assemble all the elements of your document (photos, type, vector art and so on). You’re so much better of having you printed piece built in InDesign for a number of reasons, but the best looking work we do generally comes out of InDesign.

Photoshop is for what it sound like, working on photos and pixel based artwork. What this means is that a photoshop file is made of bunches of pixels and Photoshop is made to manipulate these files. You can do a lot to make a photo look better, but remember that a bad photo is still a bad photo. And one other thing, don’t put type in photoshop, flatten the image, and expect crystal clear type (call me if you want me to explain).

Illustrator is a program that creates and works with Vector Images. A vector image is a design that developed through mathematical formulas, not pixels. It’s used to develop a lot of logos and cool designs that incorporate shapes and sometimes shades.

Acrobat is a whole different animal. Acrobat basically takes a snapshot of your document and distills it into a PDF (Portable Document Format). A PDF is really meant to distribute documents, but over the years it has turned into a lot of different things (including a great format to submit print jobs in if you use it correctly). You might have noticed that our preferred format to print from is a PDF. Thats because when you get your document right where you want it, you make a pdf of it, and it embeds all the fonts and images right within it, and theoretically can’t be changed (note the theoretically!).

Quark is another alternative, and actually used to be the standard, but seems to have lost it’s momentum. We still support Quark, but strongly recommend Adobe if you have a choice. MacroMedia used to be another strong contender, but they were purchased by Adobe. I guess  the Corel suite could be considered, but it’s seldom supported, so make a print ready PDF if thats all you have. 

Now the Microsoft Office stuff….This tough because once again, a lot of people have MS Office on their computer and it just does not make sense to make the investment into Adobe CS. So we generally find a way to make these jobs work by either (1) making it into PDF (99% of the time this will make it 4/color or 1/color) and printing it on a press, (2) printing it digitally or (3) rebuilding it in InDesign. It makes it a little easier if people would use Publisher (if they have that in their package…thats Microsoft’s lame excuse at a design program), but we see Word and PowerPoint files on a regular basis. All of the Microsoft create challenges to work with, but because thats what people have, we make them work. The biggest isues with Office programs is color separations, bleeds and image resolution can be an issue. I just don’t understand how a company with the resources of Microsoft can make the print functions of their flagship product (Office) so lame, but thats a whole different discussion.

This post is not meant to be a problem solver or offer any deep insights, its really meant to just open the discussion on what software you might use, depending on what you have available to you. Call us and talk, we can offer some ideas how to get your project off the ground. You might end up with a better looking project and spending less money to do it.