Illy tips and tutorials no.5

The fifth and final installment of this short series.

Tip #5

Print settings and colour management

When working in Adobe Illustrator (and Creative Suite in general), it is advisable to get the colour settings right before you start.

In the last 5 years or so, many people have been making a case for only using RGB workflows but I tend to stick to the following method:

If my map is for print either by litho/press or by plotter then I will use a complete CMYK workflow.

If it is an on-screen product and/or a map for digital printing then use RGB.

But there are 2 other frequent scenarios:

1) If you have RGB photos to add to a printed map – in which case you can convert these to CMYK but I believe it is safer to leave them, honour any profiles and let Illustrator export options handle the conversion of everything at once (as will be explained later below).

2) If you have a map that you wish to both litho/press print or plot in CMYK and have on-screen. If this is the case then my recommendation is to work from the beginning in CMYK. Once in Illustrator you can save a second copy of the file, change the colour mode to RGB, update any effects to RGB, and then you’ll have an RGB screen-ready version of the same map.

So what do I do with all the settings in Illustrator?

Firstly, before bringing in any mapping, I try to source a profile for the paper type I will be printing to. In Illustrator or in Adobe Bridge (which controls all of Creative Suite), I will set this to be my assigned profile. If using an RGB workflow then generally you will need sRGB for on-screen use, although many litho/press printing houses will prefer AdobeRGB.


Now all you need to do when you open your map into Illustrator is to make sure the colour mode (CMYK or RGB) is correct and happily work away on your map.
When I have a map ready to print, I generally save it as PDF. Printing houses and RIP software both seem to prefer this to AI files. Printing houses used to prefer to receive PDF/X1a which, in Illustrator ‘save as PDF’, is available as a preset (as shown in the image below). If your print company has requested any of the X standards then you don’t need to worry about the other settings as the preset does it all for you. Generally printing companies will ask for profiles not to be included but for an output intent profile to be acknowledged.


When plotting in CMYK locally, albeit via a RIP, I prefer the settings outlined below. First of all you will notice that I convert to destination preserving numbers. This is what I mentioned earlier about letting Illustrator convert everything at once. This setting will take all CMYK and all RGB elements of your map and convert them not just to CMYK but to your specified destination… The second setting is of that destination. Essentially, this is the paper type for CMYK or colourspace for RGB. Finally as I am not using press printing standards I do include destination profiles. This means that when the document is sent to a plotter, the plotter knows what it has been sent. If the destination paper type matches the paper type specified on the plotter, then it knows not to perform any further colour conversion.


Further information on all the settings mentioned here are available from Adobe’s help pages.

I mentioned above the paper type on the plotter. The above step is useless if you haven’t configured your plotter correctly. Setting the correct paper type on the plotter allows the plotter to calculate how much ink to put onto the page and from what height. Such profiles are generally available for download from either the plotter or the paper manufacturers’ webpages, or both.

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