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There are myriad file formats available for output, but some work better for letterpress file preparation than others. It’s important to check with your service bureau to see what file formats they prefer to receive–it’s also important to know the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used formats.

File Formats to Use


A PDF (portable document file) is a digital document file that can be used to easily to view text or graphics across multiple platforms (such as Macintosh, Linux, and Windows-based computers). Depending on how a PDF is saved, fonts and graphics are encapsulated within the file automatically without having to send along the actual native file or font file to link to into it.

Because of its universal accessibility, the PDF can be used to send graphics, layouts, text, and designs across different computer operating systems with minimal concern of whether the page layout will be distorted or corrupted. However, if a PDF file is unopenable or corrupt, this is usually the result of a PostScript (the computer language used to display and organize a PDF file) error, an improperly saved font or graphic within the PDF, or an error while saving the file. Checking that all graphics, text, and fonts were saved properly in their native file formats (eg JPG, TIF, PSD, TTF, etc) before saving it as a PDF will greatly increase odds of creating a complete and fully useable file.


A native file format refers to the file format or extension that is the default file format for a computer software program but may be universally read or edited to a certain extent via other computer software programs. For example, a file created via Adobe Photoshop can be saved as a native .psd file and opened in Adobe Illustrator. However, in Illustrator, the file can only be edited or adjusted in certain limited ways.

Examples of native file formats include:

.ai from Adobe Illustrator
.indd from Adobe InDesign
.psd from Adobe Photoshop
.qxd from Quark
.cdr from Corel or CorelDraw
.fhx from FreeHand
.pmd from Adobe Pagemaker
.ppt from Windows PowerPoint

“Going native” refers to using only native file formats created from a specific program and not saving or editing a universally editable or viewable document while in that specific program. For example, the default or “native” file for Adobe InDesign is .indd and .cdr for Corel. These native file formats are created in the program’s default language, and may not be readable or openable with other software.

The user must take into consideration the recipient’s (be it another designer, a client, or graphic service company) preferred method for receiving files. Some companies ask for the original or “native” file with a PDF or EPS as a back-up or a proof file to ensure accuracy and efficiency.

When to Send Fonts or Linked Images

Depending on where your files are being sent, a good rule of thumb is to ask your recipient how they’d like the file formatted, either with or without attached linked fonts or images, and in which format. Either consult their file preparation guidelines or technical support staff when in doubt, as sending the correct format following the correct specifications will save time and much back and forth.

If working with Adobe InDesign, it is good practice to pre-flight the InDesign document (so that all fonts and linked images are packaged into one organized folder), as well as save the InDesign document as a PDF to act as a back-up file. Saving the InDesign document as an EPS may also be acceptable, however ask your recipient if an EPS is appropriate and acceptable.

Software to Use


Photoshop is an image-editing computer software program that is primarily pixel-based rather than vector-based. It was created by the Adobe Systems software company and its main use is photo manipulating and editing. Photoshop offers many powerful editing capabilities for creating press- and plate-friendly files for the digital platemaking process.


Illustrator is an image-editing computer software program that is primarily vector-based (lines, values and objects are rendered using mathematical formulas) program created and distributed by the Adobe Systems software company. Illustrator offers versatile editing functions for typesetting and creating graphics for the digital platemaking process.


InDesign is a computer software program created by the Adobe Systems software company that is largely used for multi-page layouts and spreads and tightly controlled digital typesetting. InDesign’s editing and manipulation functions are primarily vector-based, rather than pixel-based. However, a small amount of pixel-based manipulation effects can be used in InDesign. InDesign’s layout-centered functions provide excellent editing opportunities for both graphics manipulation and typesetting.

Other (Word, Publisher, etc)

Other visual editing programs, such as Word, Publisher, OpenOffice, NeoOffice, and Powerpoint offer graphics and typesetting capabilities for file creation in the digital platemaking process. The most common file extensions used for output are either PDF or EPS, if the user is intending to send the files to graphics or platemaking service company. Both of these file formats embed or encapsulate the graphic files and fonts without the user having to send the font or image files separately.

How to Find Graphic Design Software

The best way to find and obtain graphic design software first depends on the user’s needs and budget. If the user is looking for an editing software program for little or no cost, online or freeware software, such as Intaglio and GIMP can be used. Triall versions of licensed versions, such as the Adobe Creative Suite, Corel, Quark, can also be used, but often only for a limited trial period.

If the user is looking to find and purchase licensed software programs (such as Corel, FreeHand, Adobe Photoshop) an internet search from the official distribution source is recommended. Local electronics or office stores are also good places to purchase software off the shelf.

Free Options

Free graphics editing programs are found online as shareware or beta programs; they are applications designed specifically for universal access and afford an opportunity to edit or create files.

Online Versions

Online free versions refer internet browser based online image editing programs and do not require downloading, although most versions need a current version of either Quicktime, Flash, or Java to run properly. Most are free to use, however may require a logging in.

Example versions include:

Shareware or Free Versions of Software

Shareware versions refer to software programs that can be downloaded and installed on the user’s computer and do not require Internet access to run. However, some features, such as connecting to online galleries may require an Internet connection. Shareware version’s aim for accessibility, often will often either ask for a donation to support the group that created the program or a citation if using it exclusively for commercial use.

Example versions include:

  • FX Photo Studio PRO
  • GIMP
  • Intaglio
  • Inkscape
  • LiveQuartz
  • Scribus

Beta Versions

Beta versions refer to software programs that are prototype programs—programs that are still in development—that rely on donations from users and support from that particular program’s community members. Beta versions are sometimes used to garner financial support from larger companies for completion and to advance to a commercially distributed stage. Because of this, beta versions of software can range from fully functional programs to corrupt and sometimes incomplete programs with defects (hence the term “Beta” instead of “Alpha”). It is strongly recommended to consider community reviews or other sources for reference if that program is applicable for user’s needs.

Example versions include:

  • ChocoFlop
  • Adobe Photoshop CS6 BETA
  • Adobe Illustrator CS6 BETA
  • Adobe InDesign CS6 BETA


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