How to Send Illustrator Die-Cut Files for Print Production
Sending Illustrator die-cut files to the printer
I finished designing this card, I've created the die line and now I'm ready to send this to the printer, to have it printed and die cut. Now, not all printers do their own die cutting, a lot of printers don't build their own dies, and it's often a collaboration between the printer and a finishing company. But in this case, my printer actually does their own die cutting. They've already had the die created based on the die line art that I gave them and now, it's time to send them this artwork so that they can print the job, and then die cut it. They're going to lay it up, they're going to have multiple instances of this card on the press sheet. But that's not something I do, because it's up to them, they know what size stock it's going to run on, they understand their presses the best, it's just my job to give them a good, healthy file.
So they've asked me to send them a PDF and of course, my native Illustrator file. When I choose File > Save a Copy, and I'm going to do that to save my PDF. Why would I do that? Well, funny thing, Illustrator can make PDFs without having to use a print process or an export process. Under the hood, Illustrator files kind of are PDFs. So here I'm going to choose Adobe PDF, click Save, now the default is something called Illustrator Default and it's sort of an odd bird, it's really sort of a two for one file, it's really your Illustrator file inside a PDF.
The good news about that, is that, Illustrator can safely open up a PDF like that because it's really going to reach inside and just get that native Illustrator content. But that's going to add to the file size and that's not really what my printer wants this PDF for, they're not going to be editing it. This PDF is going to serve as sort of the digital equivalent of when we used to send lasers. Remember when we used to print lasers and send with our jobs? It's still a good idea, but for this I'm going to say I want it to be high quality print, even though it's not going to get printed. This is not the file they're going to use for printing, they're just going to use this as an on-screen reference, just, for the mechanics of the file.
So, to keep the file a little smaller, and because editing isn't going to happen, I'm going to uncheck Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities, Optimize for Fast Web View does not make it a smaller file, I'm going to uncheck that. As far as marks and bleed go, all of the bleed is actually inside my file dimensions and I don't need to add marks. Again, it's just a PDF that's just for visual reference on screen and I'm going to click Save PDF, and then of course, Illustrator's going to squawk a little bit, because it says, you unchecked Preserve Illustrator Editing Capabilities. It's not a problem, and I know that, so I'm going to click OK. Now to save my Illustrator file, I just say File > Save As, I'm going to put it back in that same job folder that I'm going to send to the printer, and it gives me this little squawk about spot colors, but this is a process color job. What's my spot color? It's my die line, because that's a spot color.
This doesn't mean that I have a problem, it's just Illustrator being polite saying, are you sure you want to do a spot color, yes I am. And, if these things annoy you, remember you can always check this Don't Show Again box. So when I click Continue, I'm just going to click OK because all the default options are going to be fine. So what happens when this lands at the printer? What do they do with it? Now, this is not an actual press sheet but I wanted to give you sort of an idea how a job like this might print. Now, we can still see the die line, that would not print, that's something that's just a guide for the die creation. But, I just wanted you to see how the die relates to the printed artwork. And it's always a goal to try to make the best use of the piece of paper. So, here's something that could happen with a job like this, so that the printer can make just one cut, to separate these cards, there's no bleed where these two cards meet.
So that would just be a single cut. And as far as how close to put a row of cards next to the next row of cards, again, it's just going to depend on the press that they're running on, the size stock that they're printing on and how the die is going to be built. Now, it's not up to you to build this kind of layout, that's something that's going to happen at the printer. You're going to provide them with just that one single card, and it's up to them to determine the position for these, what we called ganged printing for these cards. And they're going to make that arrangement based on a collaboration between them and the die cutting company. Now, some printers do their own die cutting, a lot of them don't build their own dies, though, so they would have the die cutting company prepare the dee for them, supply them the die, and then the printing company performs the die cutting. Some printing companies don't do this fancy die cutting at all, they'll send this entire job out once it's printed to a separate die cutting company. They'll make the die and they'll perform the die cutting. So it's important of course, that the printing company and the die cutting company communicate with each other, and that the die line of course, lines up with the final ganged up art work.
So yes, it's a complex process, but the results are really nice. So, I would suggest that if you're entertaining the notion of creating something like this, of course, you want to talk to your printer, but go to the printing company, watch something like this run, watch it come through the press and then either, go to their finishing department and watch a die cutting job being handled, or go to a finishing company and watch a die cutting job being handled. It gives you an appreciation for the craftsmanship that's involved but, I think you also find that in addition to being sort of an education, it becomes sort of an inspiration when you see what's possible, when you change the shape of paper I think it gives you some great ideas for future projects.
Sending Illustrator die-cut files to the printer provides you with in-depth training on Design. Taught by Claudia McCue as part of the Print Production Essentials: Embossing, Foil Stamping, and Die Cutting
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