This is an enhanced version of a mini-tutorial I sent a friend today in regards to why I needed an original image file to put in a printed piece, versus using an image from a low-res second-generation pdf embedded in a Word document.
This is NOT an end-all, be-all op-ed on the various techniques I mention below. There are lots of work-arounds to get what you need and want with the – sometimes crap – stuff you're handed to work with. There's uprezzing, large dimension vs small dpi...lots of fun tips and tricks for making what you have work. Nope, just wanted to have some fun to illustrate the sometimes frustrating life of desktop publishing.
If you are a graphic designer, laugh. It is better than crying.
If you are a client who uses a graphic designer for ANYTHING you print, this, my dear, is for you.
Level 1: The Source File
Sometimes called a NATIVE file. This is better than the top of the heap. This is sitting on the garden table, high above dirt and grime. This is Indesign, Word, Quark, Publisher, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. Viewed on the computer, it’s the cleanest, purest form of viewing a document destined for print or web. This piece is shiny clean, sparkling in the sunlight. Little birds are chirping and butterflies are flitting. And you don’t have to wash your hands. WOOT!
Level 2: The Layout File
For many designers it’s InDesign with placed NATIVE (source) graphics such as Photoshop or Illustrator files. But this can be any desktop publishing program. This is still a clean piece, nicely editable and the placed graphics are easily accessed to be edited if necessary, easily updated in your Layout File afterwards. There is also a wonderful links path clearly showing where the native files are housed. If a layout file is sent to a designer, all links (source/native files) used in the layout are also sent. Designers LOVE using Native Files in Layout Files. It’s like plant-food. Roses are blooming all over. It’s still sunny, you’re still clean. Draw in a looonng, deep breath of fresh air. Pat your dog’s head. Life is good.
Level 3: The PDF
This is that clean layout file exported to a PDF format for viewing either on web, or to be printed. There is compression of some kind depending on settings. This is still a pretty clean form of imagery for print or web, but there is a chance you might have to clean it up a bit for optimal viewing. Get out your duster or hankie and start polishing up those optimal settings.
Level 4: Placing a PDF into a Layout File
Get your trowel, kneepads and gloves because this is where the digging begins. A placed PDF can be clean and print-ready, but the link to original source files (such as images, another layout file, etc.) is not direct. Uhoh. Now you have to know where the layout file for the PDF resides if any changes need to be made, then RE-PDF that layout file, then relink the saved-as PDF. Do you even have that original file? Aw. The little birds and butterflies just flew away. That’s sad.
Level 5: Screengrabs (aka Screenshots, Screencaptures)
Time for the shovel. This can work depending on the job, especially if it’s for web. But in most cases this is a bad idea for anything being printed unless you have a ginormous screen and are using the image in a teeny space. Clouds have hidden the sun and it is oddly quiet except for the faint sound of your neighbor’s Dog the Bounty Hunter reruns filtering through the blood-pressure thumping in your ears. YOUR dog just went in the house and you realize your knees are getting too old for this crap.
Level 6: Creating a PDF from a Layout File Using PDF Links
Digging deeper still. You now have worms and other creepy-crawlies. You are viewing a compressed file that uses compressed files. Like your knees, your images have 2nd generation compression and it is painful! By now you are up to your elbows in a dark and dirty hole: your image quality is rank and if you need to edit the images, well, good luck. You start scooping desperately with your bare hands. Big birds have returned but are circling high overhead (you might want to wear a hat).
Level 7: Image Taken from Web to Use in Print
It is advisable to don coveralls because you’re gonna be working with shit. Web images use standard 72 dpi resolution. Printed pieces use standard 300 dpi. You are shocked when your gorgeous, colorful, big picture from that cool website prints out in a 1-inch square and is made up of lots of little boxes. Oops...one of the birds dropped a big one on you. Do you hear thunder? Well, thank goodness for your coveralls and hat.
Level 8: Extracting a Native File Image from Word
You my friend have just busted a water line. Just because your beautiful and maybe even high resolution TIFF or JPG or PNG picture is easy to put in Word doesn’t mean it’s easy to take out. Word embeds files and when they are extracted the image quality is poor regardless of the original quality, even for web viewing. And, you now resemble Wile E. Coyote after an explosion of ACME Mud Bombs. You stand there, blinking your eyes wondering where your Help sign went. Maybe the dog took it.
Level 9: Extracting a screengrab, 2nd-, 3rd-generation, etc., image from a Word document or low res pdf
You have fallen deep into the hole, which is filling rapidly with rain and Lassie is nowhere in sight.
Level 10: A Screengrab of an Embedded Image in Word
You disappeared after the storm. Your family wonders why Lassie keeps digging in the garden.