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If you're going to submit a native Illustrator file as your final printing file, keep in mind that Illustrator doesn't gather up any linked artwork and it doesn't gather up any fonts that are used in the file. So you might consider sending a PDF, but if you prefer to send the Illustrator file, what can you do? Well, if I go to Window > Links, you can see that this image that's down behind all the little black checkerboard is linked to the file. That means that when I send it, I would have to send both the Illustrator file and that separate image.
And that's probably best because if there needs to be any color correction to the image, then the printer has that standalone image that they can color correct. But if you don't want them to color correct or you know that it's safe to send the image and you don't anticipate any color correction or retouching, what you could do to make that image portable is in the Links panel you could choose to embed the image. Notice that there's a little new icon there in the Links panel and that tells us that that image is now embedded. The advantage to that is that now you don't have to worry about gathering up the image and sending it as a separate file along with your Illustrator file.
The disadvantage is that it can't be unembedded. There's really no direct way to pull it back out of the Illustrator file in case it does require retouching or color correction. Also it adds to the file size, and that makes it portable but it makes it larger. Well, what about fonts? If you go to Type > Find Font, you can find what fonts are used in the document, but there's no provision for gathering up the fonts. Keep in mind that if somebody has to open this file at the printer and has to perform some edits, they're going to need the correct fonts, unless they just happen to be very common fonts that you know they have.
But just to be sure, you should send along the fonts with your Illustrator file. There's no way to package but there is at least a way to get a list of the fonts so that you can gather them up manually. Here in the Find Font dialog, if you click on Save List, it asks where you want to save it and it makes a little text file. And when I save it, there's my little text file. It's pretty simplistic. It just tells you the name of the file and it tells you all the fonts that are used in it. That still leaves you with the job of trying to gather them up manually and making sure that you ship them off to the printer.
It's a little kludgy but at least gives you some information. What you might want to do if Illustrator is your favorite program to build in, to give yourself maximum flexibility, there is a little plug-in for Illustrator called Scoop. It's from worker72a.com and it can gather up all your fonts, any linked artwork, and your Illustrator file in much the same way that InDesign does a file package. And it can do one other really handy thing, if you have an embedded image, it can actually unembed it. Illustrator doesn't play quite like InDesign, but there are some ways around it.
And again, your final goal is always to be able to give to your printer all the components that your printer needs to successfully image your file.
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