Why won’t my printer take my Publisher file?

To people outside of the printing trade, Microsoft Publisher appears to be a price-competitive alternative to layout software such as Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress, without the training required to use that software. However, from a print and design standpoint, Publisher is often seen as a nuisance and source of frustration.

Years ago, as a prepress operator at a service bureau, I would often get requests to prepare Publisher files for film or plates for clients (sent by their printers as soon as they heard the word “Publisher”). My employer was one of a select few that would accept Publisher files, and while we would output the artwork to film or plates, it was done on several conditions – the main condition being a handling fee of 50% of the total.

With the software given nicknames such as “Punisher” or “Rubbisher”, old colleagues who would load a client’s file only to realise it was a Publisher file would groan with frustration, normally followed by the words “I hope they supplied a PDF as well”.

So why does Publisher have this reputation? What has it done to deserve such a bad name among commercial printers? Does it really deserve this infamy or is it all hyperbole?

Reasons that many commercial printers will not accept Publisher files are:

  • Don’t have Publisher or the Windows OS;
  • Their staff are unskilled in Publisher;
  • The difficulties associated with earlier versions of Publisher;
  • Issues within the client’s artwork due to inexperience.

Software and Hardware

In a country where English is the first language spoken, it is most likely that commercial printers will use the Adobe Creative Suite on an Apple Macintosh for the production of their artwork. This means that Publisher files cannot be accepted as the software is not made for the Apple Macintosh. This is where many commercial printers will stop and say that they require press-ready PDF artwork instead.

For the remaining printers that do have Windows OS machines, these machines are not necessarily in the artroom and used for other purposes (e.g. tied into the platesetter software, for their colour laser copier, or elsewhere in the building such as estimating, sales… somewhere outside of the art department).

In my experience, I’ve found that it isn’t the Art department that claims to be able to accept Publisher files, but a Salesperson who does not want to disappoint clients by turning away artwork created using Publisher. In this situation, the salesperson loads a copy of Publisher onto a sales computer that uses a Windows OS, and then declares that the company can accept Publisher files. This does not necessarily mean that the art department can accept Publisher files, nor are they trained to use Publisher.

If a printer does have a dedicated Windows OS machine for client supplied artwork from Windows OS devices, it is also likely that the art department staff won’t be as proficient in Publisher as they would their regular design software such as InDesign. So while they may be able to open a Publisher file, if there are issues (e.g. missing fonts, reflow) or changes required, prepress operators may struggle.

It is worth noting that this issue is not limited to Publisher, but other software typically seen on the Windows OS such as Microsoft Word, Corel Draw, Autodesk AutoCAD, etc. In these instances, the supply of PDF artwork created by the client is an acceptable solution.

Print-skills of Publisher users vs commercial printers

Choosing my words very carefully, Publisher is a general consumer product aimed at making designs that would be difficult to do using Microsoft Word or Excel. Examples would be business cards, invites, DL flyers. But, just as a screwdriver can hammer in a nail, so too can Publisher create artwork for larger projects such as books, magazines, etc.

This is where problems normally arise, because while users may be able to create more complicated artwork, they may not be aware of the nuances of printing such as bleeds, crossovers, or binding considerations. There are typically hand-over issues as well, such as missing fonts and links.

Put simply, Publisher is not used by print professionals with industry experience that typically supply press-ready files. Instead, Publisher is largely used by the general public – people who would be unfamiliar with print procedures. The likelihood of either time-consuming or cost-creating complications arising from handling Publisher files is greater than accepting press-ready files from experienced designers.

Finished artwork vs Layout artwork

Prepress departments of commercial printers usually expect two kinds of files to process for print – Finished artwork or Layout artwork.

Finished artwork is artwork that the client has created and it expects the artwork to print exactly as it was submitted, whereas Layout artwork is artwork that the client has created but expects the printer to manipulate the artwork to varying degrees… anywhere from reformatting completely to adjusting artwork to fulfil specific criteria (e.g. fit a formeshape).

Files supplied in publisher would tend to fit into the Finished artwork category, whereas files supplied in word would be more likely to be Layout artwork.

Legacy of difficulty

Until the release of Microsoft Publisher 2010, the software had various issues when attempting to make the artwork useable for print production, such as colour-space issues, bleed issues, reflow when making PDFs. Like any other software, Publisher has evolved and the PDF creating functions for commercial printers have definitely improved. Nevertheless, bad previous experiences with the software are enough reason for printers to avoid the risks associated with handling Publisher files.

Technical Reasons

Printing to a home desktop printer is normally an easy process of pressing the print button and making sure the printer settings are correct. In a commercial printing business, it is a little more complicated. Whether printed offset or digital, artwork is usually converted into PDFs and then transferred to RIP (Raster Image Processor) software, where artwork undergoes procedures not seen on a home printer, such as:

  • Page imposition
  • Colour trapping
  • Colour management
  • Output settings (e.g. colour separation, line screen ruling, etc)

So what do I do?

No printer wants to turn away work, but when faced with artwork submitted as a publisher file, that is what many of them do. However, I feel the artwork can be handled so long as good communication exists between the client and the art department.

  • If a printer insists on supplying PDFs, supply some test PDFs first to make sure that the files are appropriate for the printer’s purposes, and if not, ask the questions as to what is going wrong and what can be done.
  • If you find a printer that does accept publisher files, make sure to use the “pack and go” wizard:  rather than providing the printer with the publisher file alone.
  • Patience and Perseverance is required from both the client and the printer.
  • If a printer suggests using InDesign instead of Publisher, be aware that for people working outside of the printing industry, InDesign has a steep learning curve. If the software is going to be used once a year to publish a newsletter or yearbook, perhaps keep using Publisher, but make sure you maintain good communication with the art department of the Printer so that any issues that arise are dealt with early on.
  • Markzware does make software for converting Publisher files to InDesign, but do not expect a flawless conversion.
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About colmin8r
A prepress operator since 1997 specialising in Adobe InDesign.

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