Graphics: Cheap art program that outputs for print

started by Kestrel on Mar 16, 2005 — RSS Feed

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Does anyone know of a program like Photoshop CS, but much cheaper, that can produce files print firms are likely to be able to use? I am thinking of the "CMYK" process, whereby your page is separated into four colours, so it can be printed professionally.

I know Paint Shop Pro can separate an image into four colours, but I have only tried it on photos. Would it work for a whole page of artwork with fonts and lines etc?

I need something cheap on the Windows XP platform. If anyone can recommend something, let me know. (It doesn't have to be a very capable program, so long as it does basic DTP.)

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

Colour separating files is a lot more complicated and exacting than you think and requires you to know all kinds of stuff like what ink is being used, what paper is being used, how much the ink will 'spread' on that paper, how much the colours need to overlap (trapping).

Programs that do all this (Quark XPress and Adobe Indesign) are expensive and need a fairly high degree of skill to use. You won't get acceptable results with any 'cheap' software that I know of, they may do the colour separations but that is only a fraction of what is needed.

Even after main years of experience in print, I wouldn't attempt to colour separate a DTP layout myself, I supply my InDesign files to a professional  platemaker and they make the final adjustments according to their particular equipment, ink and paper stock.

Kestrel Kestrel
Posts: 3

Thanks for that. I was under the impression that you just gave the printer a CMYK file and away they went.

We had a guy do some artwork for us and he used Photoshop. Proofs were done on a digital printer.

What then is the minimum format we could give to a printer - would it have to be a Quark or Indesign file? Would a PSD (Photoshop) file suffice?

Joe Gillespie Joe Gillespie
Posts: 528

No, a PSD file is unlikely to be satisfactory, it's a bitmap format and they type will probably pixelate unless the resolution is enormous. Typesetting is typically done at 2400 dpi.

You would have to consult with the printer, ones that are on the ball can work from .PDF files that have been produced with Quark or InDesign. A PDF file contains vector and bitmap data. You could also supply an .EPS produced with Illustrator or FreeHand - which also combines vector and bitmap.

If you don't care too much about the quality, for a throwaway flyer for an unfussy client, for instance, there are cheap DTP packages for Windows - but they are really for amateur printouts done on inkjet or laser printers which require RGB format, not CMYK.

CMYK is for litho printing (or photogravure) and requires the right software or you could make *very* expensive mistakes. A rejected print run can cost many times the price of a copy of InDesign.

Output from digital printers, even the most expensive, never comes close to CMYK litho, they are only used as a guide and the triained eye knows, and can make allowances for the differences. The same CMYK spec for 100% blue, 100% magenta, 0% yellow, 0% black will print ultramarine blue on a digital printer and dark purple in litho.

That's what I mean by expensive mistakes!

Kestrel Kestrel
Posts: 3

Many thanks for that. I am learning a lot!

Our printer uses a digital printer for proofs - in fact, for final runs too, when they are small and use a low number of colours, mostly black and white.

I asked him what software he works from and he said Quark Express. He also uses Freehand 10 and Photoshop. These are all on the Apple Mac.

That raises another question. Would we need to use Macs too? Or are files from InDesign on Windows compatible with Mac ones?

In the past we have had problems saving PDFs from Word on Windows. On a Mac, they were not 100% the same. (Bullets in a list came out wrong, for example.)

Now, when I initially said Photoshop CS was too dear, I am able to get it at a reduced price, but I still feel it is too high for what we want. However, your mention of InDesign had me looking at Adobe's website, where I gleaned a lot of information about it. I am happy to say the price is also much cheaper. Still expensive, but cheap enough to fall within the amount I had budgeted for. So thanks for the suggestion!

I am also thinking that Photoshop won't really be suitable for mastering documents anyway. I don't think it has DTP-like text handling. I would need a DTP-like program that can handle lots of paragraphs and images.

InDesign seems to fit the bill. But is it as good as it looks? Are there problems you have heard about it? Should I be looking at another similar product?

Also, do you feel it is overkill for small businesses to use it? I don't mind a steep learning curve - the more the program can do the better - so long as it is not too complex to do simple pages with.

David David
Posts: 40

You might want to check out this plug-in for the gimp. It's still new, and not very feature rich, but it's a taste of things to come and should go some way to alieviating gimp's current short-comings in this colourspace. From what I can gather, though, gimp is still not print-ready, so use it with caution!

They're both free and the gimp is well supported in Windows, at least.  Make sure you get the official port, though, rather than WinGimp (which I've been put off after reading Joe's review of MacGimp).

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