Custom printed display items are a huge component of marketing campaigns for many companies. Branded goods can range from the simple (pencils, counter mats) to the complex (custom embroidery, multi-part tradeshow exhibits). In general, the ordering process for marketing items is fairly easy in this computerized age. In some cases, all that is necessary is a line item on a budget and a phone call to the marketing department. However, in other cases you may find yourself in contact with a vendor, placing an order for a custom imprinted display item. In those situations, it’s a very, very good idea to have some idea about what the terminology includes, especially if you’re not a designer or you don’t have a background in printing pre-press.

Let’s start with that last phrase, actually. It’s  powerpoint design services a perfect jumping off point in many ways.


What it means, literally: Pre-press literally refers to the pre-printing production process for graphics. On the larger scale, it encompasses everything from mixing inks to the way digital files are formatted, transmitted to the printing company and turned into something that can be output.

What it really means, to you: This is the stuff that in a perfect world, you would never have to deal with unless you’re a designer or a printer. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and more than 90% of the time your vendor is going to ask you for files that they will use to create your custom printed marketing pieces.


Also referred to as “file extensions” because they live at the end of a filename, after the “dot.” Kind of like the last quotation mark in that last sentence. In many cases you, as the user, will never actually see the extension, but believe me, it’s there. File extensions are the reason that a Word file that you name “bobs files version 1.23” is more than likely not going to work. This is a list of the more common ones, and how they can be used in the pre-press process.

Text File Types: Just what they sound like, files with text in them with varying degrees of formatting. Don’t send these to your vendor, they’re generally unusable for pre-press as anything except proofs.

.doc: This is the extension for Word documents. The latest versions use.docx or.docm as well.

.rtf: This stands for “Rich Text Format.” It’s a text file with formatting applied. Most commonly seen in email message formats.

.txt: A Plain Text file. Can be created out of any word processing program, using the “save as” function.

.wpd: WordPerfect document.

.wps: Microsoft Works word processor document.

.ppt: Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

.pps: Microsoft PowerPoint Slideshow. Newer versions use the .ppsx extension.

Desktop Publishing File Types: Also known as “page layout” files. Desktop publishing is like word processing on steroids. It controls every aspect of how both text and images appear, as well as the general layout of the pages themselves and specific color information. These types of files can be sent to vendors for pre-process use.

.pmd: Adobe PageMaker document, now replaced by InDesign.

.indd: Adobe InDesign document. InDesign replaced PageMaker as Adobe’s flagship publishing program.

.pct: An Apple format picture file.

.pub: A long time ago, there was a little program called “Publisher” that allowed anyone to be a Desktop Publisher. It was easy and popular, and although it went away a long time ago, people still try to use it, although it never, ever worked for pre-press use.

.PDF Files: The extension stands for “Portable Document Format.” PDFs are files that, in effect, are pictures of other files. They are created using Adobe Acrobat, and can be read with Adobe Reader. Although some data can be manipulated in a .pdf file, what they are generally best used for is taking a file from a program that not every user will have access to (like Adobe Illustrator) and saving it in a format that others can look at without having to have that particular program installed on their computer. These are useful in pre-press as proofs, but you should not send them to your vendor as initial artwork or text submissions.

Picture File Types: Pictures shouldn’t be confused with “Graphics” (see below) when thinking in terms of pre-press. Like a photograph of a person, a picture file is a representation of what a graphical file looks like, not the thing itself. The thing itself is the graphics file.

.bmp: Stands for “bitmap image file.” The image is stored as pixels, which are the individual “dots” that go to make up a screen image on a monitor. This is the raw form of “raster” graphics (as opposed to line art or “vector” graphics). More on those in a later article!

.gif: Stands for “graphical image file.” GIFs started  life as the proprietary image format for CompuServe, and copyright issues still sometimes arise as a result. A raster format that is slowly being replaced by PNG.

.jpg: Stands for “JPEG image file.” That JPEG itself stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group” is a bit of useless trivia that has no impact whatsoever on anything. Another raster format, commonly used for photographs.

.png: Stands for “portable network graphic.” More raster images.

.tif/.tiff: Stand for “tagged image file” and “tagged image file format,” respectively. Can be either raster and/or vector.

Graphics File Types: Graphics are more than just “pictures.” Graphics include nitty gritty information about things like colors, line height, line weight, fonts, and much much more, all of which is generally very important for the final output of a printed item.

.ai: Adobe Illustrator raw data file.

.ps: PostScript file. PostScript is a proprietary page description format developed by Adobe. Somewhat similar to a PDF file, but harder to explain.

.psd: Adobe Photoshop file. Does not have to be a photograph!

.eps: Stands for “encapsulated PostScript file” and incorporates PostScript previews.

.svg: Scalable vector graphics file. Adobe’s vector format.

“PROOF”: A Proof is a file or image or piece of paper or sample of some sort that your vendor/printer will send you for approval before they print the job. It is the best possible approximation of what the final product will look like, without being the final product itself. Whenever possible, it will be as close to scale as they can make it, within reason. A proof for a custom imprinted banner will not be the same size as the banner, whereas a proof for a printed pencil or pen may be. Proof color is a tricky area. Some proofs are “true color,” where others are approximations. Check with your vendor about specifics before approving a proof, because if they have an approved proof and the final product isn’t what you wanted, you’re in for an argument that you probably won’t win.


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