Article #14 – Pre-Press Step-by-Step

What is Pre-Press?

Pre-Press, also called Pre-Production, comes after you fund, after you have all your art files and have arranged them into a print-ready format. It is the process of sending your perfectly arranged, perfectly sized, art files to your printer, getting feedback and die lines, updating those files, resending better versions, and waiting for a Soft Proof. YOU then review what THEY send you, and give them feedback, instruct changes, and give approval. Once both parties agree on the Soft Proof, the process turns to a Hard Proof which will require similar revisions and new revelations will erupt from both sides.  When all elements of your game are complete and officially print ready and approved, you then “go to the presses”. …Hence “Pre” “Press”.

In this first Article on Pre-Press we’ll discuss the first half of the process: Soft Proofing.

To cover this topic, I want to start at the point when you have all your art files, and are doing your own (or contracting out) the Graphic Design Arrangements according to the Printer’s required Specs.

Tools you’ll need:
Gimp or Photoshop – Though Gimp is free.
Adobe InDesign – Paid Monthly ($29.99/m).
Time – Never found, only made.

Printer’s Specs

To get started in Pre-Press, above all you’ll need to know your printer’s specs (also called Design Guidelines).

They’re going to require files be set up in certain ways. Here is PandaGMs Design Guidelines (Printer Specs) at the time TKA was in Pre-Press. Be sure to check with your own Manufacturer for their most updated version.

Common Specs:
• Size Limitations on Printed Components
• DPI (Dots Per Inch) for image files – Usually 300dpi
• File submission formats & compatibility – Printers don’t print JPGs or PNGs they print PDFs
• Box Size limitations – Top & bottom pieces
• Bleed distance on files – ie: the Space between art and the next piece of art or edge of image – usually 3mm
• Card sizes (actually varies by region sometimes, so check with your manufacturer)
• Die Line Requirements
• PDF files naming methods
• File arrangement within each PDF – ie: Where fronts and backs go. Where die lines go. etc.

I can’t give you specific specs, only your printer can, and it will vary by printer/manufacturer. So be sure to ask for their Printer Specs / Design Guidelines when you get serious about accepting their quote.  It’s as simple as opening a single PDF file, and there’s nothing secret about it, so don’t be shy to ask.

Now that you know what you need in order to assemble your files, open up Gimp.  Or Photoshop for you folks with money.

Gimping the snot out of your files.

First, if you’ve not familiar with Graphic Design, watch some online tutorials.
Especially on how to: create and work with layers (including hiding them), lighten & enhance image quality (contrast & unsharp mask), make text look good (bevel), create shadows, use guides, convert Gimp measurements to Milimeters and Pixels and back again, convert files from 72dpi to 300dpi, resize images, create transparency, remove backgrounds with fuzzy select, and export as a PNG.
Video tutorials for Gimp are easy to find on YouTube.

With this army of skills, you’ll be able to do your own Image prep for pre-press. If you suck at design, admit it, and hire a reliable friend or professional designer.  It’s nice to have a team anyway.

Ok, now that you know how much bleed you need, and how to work with layers…

1. Import ALL images of the same type (all Deck Cards, or all Player Boards, or all Map Tiles, etc.) into the same Gimp File, each on a transparent background and each on its own layer.
2. Convert the image to 300dpi.
3. Resize the Canvas to the size of the image + a number of millimeters equal to the Bleed requirement x2. (Usually +6mm, as 3mm is the norm per side.
4. Create 50% Horizontal & Vertical Guides.
5. Center all images using the guides.
a. Create a layer(s) for the BACK side of the image type (Card, Player Board, etc.)
6. Create an empty layer, move it to the bottom, and fill it with your background color if necessary. If your background color is white, leave it transparent.
7. Create an empty layer, move it to the top, and draw your die line on it. Example: If it’s a rectangle (like a card or a common player board)…
a. Set your Pencil Tool’s size to 3 pixels.
b. Select a full Magenta or Chartreuse color.
c. Use the “Rectangle Select Tool” with the “rounded corners” box checked to highlight where you want your die line. Ensure it is centered and the PERFECT size to the pixel.
d. With the “Marching Ants” rectangle still blinking: Edit -> Stroke Selection -> Stroke with a Paint Tool -> Pencil -> Stroke.
e. Check to see it’s centered, and the corners look good. Adjust as necessary.
8. Crisp up any images required.
a. Lighten and sharpen all your images (layers). Production darkens and blurs them.
b. Crisp up image: Use Colors -> Brightness/Contrast -> Set both values to 10 -> Ok.
c. Remove Blur: Tools -> Enhance -> Unsharp Mask -> Amount to .25 -> Ok.
d. Brighten: Colors -> Levels -> Drag the top right WHITE arrow till the value changes from 255 to 235+/- -> Ok. (This is going to make your image look very bright on your light emitting monitor. When you print, these colors will get much darker when printed in ink. By brightening it now, it balances back to about where you started.)
e. Create a dedicated folder for this image type (Card/PlayerBoard/BoxArt, etc.)
f. Export as… Save all files in PNG format. It has a transparent background and is “lossless”, whereas JPGs tend to slightly degrade image quality with each save.
g. Repeat all these steps for each image (layer). (Optionally, you can do the Exports, and then do the Brighten step on the .pngs if you want to preserve the original image’s RGB integrity inside the .xcf file.)
9. Repeat all these steps for each image type.
10. Save your .xcf file regularly!

Ok, so you’ve got 50 to hundreds of .PNGs laying around all ready to become PDF Files.

Making PDF Files:

This is trickier than just exporting each image as a PDF from Gimp, because you need to put all the images of the same type a SINGLE pdf. This is where Adobe InDesign comes in.

Adobe InDesign

First, if you’ve not familiar with Graphic Design, watch some online tutorials.
Especially on how to: create new files (surprisingly complex with InDesign), create frames, insert pictures, place text, link frames for large text quantities, create pages, create and assign Master Pages, Raise and Lower layers, adjust view quality, and how to properly export according to your printer’s specs (also very complicated with InDesign).
Terry White’s videos are just great.  Start with this one, it covers a lot of the above must haves.

With this army of skills, you’ll be able to do your own File Prep for pre-press. If you suck at design, admit it, and hire a reliable friend or professional designer. : D It’s nice to have a big team anyway. ; )

Why Adobe InDesign?

Four Reasons:
1. It’ll put all your images together in a Single PDF just the way your printer wants it.
2. It auto-converts every art file to CMYK automatically upon export. (Reason enough!- You do not want to do that 1 at a time.  Trust me, I tried.)
3. Designing your Manual just became easy.
4. It’s cheap, especially if you remember to cancel your monthly subscription. But don’t forget to do so as soon as you think you’re done. You can renew it in a couple months when you need it for another major fix.

Ok, now that you know how make a file in any size using Adobe’s crazy sizing numbers (thank you tutorial videos)…

Using InDesign to create Print-Ready Files:

1. Create a new file with an excessively large page size.
2. Import an image of a given type.
3. Pretend to resize the image and note the exact size numbers for X & Y, write them down.
4. Create a new file with a page size EXACTLY the size of the image.
5. Import the same image.
a. Verify it fits exactly.
6. Erase the image.
7. Duplicate the page a number of times equal the number of like images plus 2 (ie: 77 Cards = 79 pages, 14 player boards = 16 pages, 17 map tiles = 19 pages, etc.)
8. Starting on Page TWO, insert each image one per page.
9. On Page 1 insert your die line image.
10. For the BACK side of this Image Type…
a. If all items have the SAME back (like a deck of cards), place the image for the back on the LAST page.
b. If each item has a different back (ie: for reversible map tiles, etc.) delete the last page and…
i. Create a new document with the same # and size of pages that the first one has.
ii. Leave page 1 blank, and put text indicating that it’s blank on purpose.
iii. Starting on Page TWO place the Back Side images corresponding EXACTLY to the page #s of the Front Side’s document created in steps 1-9.

Exporting these documents:

File -> Export -> … lots of options.
Your printer will help you with these, and you can toy around in the settings on the export page to find what you need.  There really are a lot of options, but most of the default settings will work for you.  You will need to look for and set a few major points…

Major points:
• Color Conversion to the CMYK profile your Printer Specs indicate (ie: “U.S. Sheetfed Uncoated v2” as seen in Panda’s guidebook file linked above).
• Set Bleed settings to “Use Document Bleed Settings”. These will be zeroes from when you made the art files in the first place. Your printer might request you set the export bleed to 3mm on all sides. Just note that when you type 3mm and click Tab or Enter it may convert to Adobe’s numbering system; that’s fine.
• Do not put any protections on it. Your printer will need to edit or manipulate it.
• Set the “Printer Marks” as requested by your Printer. It’ll usually be all of the options, or none of them.
• Name the document clearly and put a version number on it. ie…
o If the back side image is included on the last page: “Armory Cards v1.0”
o If the back side images are on separate document: “Terrain Tiles Front v1.0″ & Terrain Tiles Back v1.0”.
• Save all print-ready PDF files together in well named Folder.

A touch of AwesomeSauce: Now that you’ve watched the tutorials, and survived this far, you can use InDesign to build your game manual! This is a lot of fun and a lot of work. Many contract this part out because it can be daunting. That’s up to your skill level, your time, and your budget.

Now you’re ready to upload these to your Manufacturer’s FTP server (or wherever they send you to upload them).

Uploading to FTP:

If you’ve never done it, don’t sweat it. This part is an easy one.

• Download Cyberduck. It’s a free FTP client, and it works on PC and Mac.
• Your Pre-Press Coordinator will give the address, username, and password you need to access their server.
• Log in and create a bunch of new Folders by Image Type in the main Folder they’ve sent you to.
• Drag and drop all your PDF files into the Folders by image type.
• Email your Pre-Press Coordinator and Account Manager to let them know they have the files.
o Communicate clearly to your Account Manager and Pre-Press Coordinator what each file is, and how each item is laid out. That’ll be easy if you have a card-only game. That’ll be critical if you have super-custom die lines, double sided tiles (with front & back files), and/or unique punchboard layouts.
• …Now the waiting game begins.

At this point you’ll have to wait between 7 to 20 days to get your first set of feedback.
• If you’re working with a known company like Ludo Fact or PandaGM, you’ll wait longer as they have lots of clients.
• If you’re working with a Chinese company like PandaGM, you’ll wait longer as download speeds in China are very slow. (If your files are plenteous and/or large it could take them a couple days to download all of them. True story.)
• If you’re working with a lesser known company in the USA (for simple Card Games, etc.), you’ll hear back pretty quickly. One of the perks of paying a bit more for State-side production.

Once you get your feedback, you go back to the drawing board and fix whatever they told you to.PrePress Edit image

Common fixes:
• Die line arrangement, alignment, or sizing.
• Suggestions on image brightening.
• Image DPIs lower than 300dpi.
• Image bleed size being too small (outside safe distance for die lines).
• Image Inner Margin size being too small (inside safe distance from die line for critical aspects of the art).
• Images beyond wrap lines (boxes and game boards)
• Image size discrepancies (ie: quote was for 25x25inches, but file is 27x27inches)
• Image quantity discrepancies (ie: quote was for 80 cards, but only 79 were uploaded)
• Missing components
• Stuff they missed last time. – Nobody is perfect, so they might not catch something till the 2nd or 3rd pass over the files after updates.

Once everything is reconciled, you’ll get what is called…

The Soft Proof

A soft proof is basically a redo of your PDF files the way they want them. Often they’ll rearrange stuff the way they like, and the files will show the Die Lines on top of the art. This is your preview of what it’ll come out like when they print it for you.

Break out the fine tooth comb!

Here’s what you look for:
• Count the components. Against both…
o Your Quote
o Your personal item inventory
o Is every single item accounted for?
• Look at the die lines as they sit on the art, is it as perfect as it looked in Gimp months ago?
• The colors will be dulled a bit by the CMYK InDesign did, but will still be brighter than print. Just a heads up.
• Verify they put the correct backs on the correct fronts for every individual item.
• Enjoy seeing what your print sheet of Deck Cards is going to look like laid out next to each other.
• Verify print sheets of deck cards have all cards perfectly aligned; no white space between them.
• Check your box’s barcode. They might have added white-space next to it for their logo. Is the layout still the way you like it, or do you need to move it over and put the white-space in for them?
• Don’t proofread anything here, but if you happen to notice a typo, write it down to correct later.
• Exceptional workmanship? Anything impress you? Let them know.

Notify your Account Manager and PrePress Coordinator of any mistakes they made, and any changes you made at the same time. This is critical to save time. Do not tell them about mistakes they made, then 5 days later upload changes that you made and then tell them about those. This will only cause delays for you. Try to do both at the same time to save rounds of revisions, as each revision will take another 7 to 20 days.

Once all the Soft Proofing is done you get to move onto Hard Proofing also known the Pre-Production Copy or PPC.  (Article #14.5 on this topic: Coming Soon.)

If you’ve gone through Pre-Press Soft Proofing what tools did you use to make it easier?

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