An old dream of mine is coming through these days. That is RGB workflow for printing. In fact it’s more than 10 years, probably almost 15 years, since I realized that this was the next step in in the printing/prepress procedure. It’s been a long wait.

When the computers took over in graphic design a lot of things that had been done in the printeries came with it. It was all fine to the graphic designer except the color management. Nervous designers trying to get their colors right are now being saved by the professionals at the printeries who know how to do this stuff.

So, I decided to write a few lines about this process which is new to many. Hope it gives you courage to take the first steps.

The main advantage of RGB workflow is that the designer can use one picture in RGB that fits any paper which the work is going to be printed on. Newspaper, hi-gloss brochures – anything. The printers take care of the color separations according to their standards and the paper that is going to be printed on. What a relief!

It is important to know that what I am talking about here below, may be different in your country, at your printer and so forth. The color profiles and settings I mention are what has been chosen by the printing industry in Iceland. This is such a small community that it is possible to co-ordinade all the industry in one well prepared step. And it’s amazing at the same time to realize how well people from hard competing companies can join together to make a standard that benefits all.

Three files are provided to make up the setting and can be downloaded from the website of Samtok idnaðarins

1. ISOcoated_v2_300_eci.icc which is an ISO standard ICC color profile commonly used in Europe. A different one might be used in your country as a standard.

2. SI_CS_Litastillingar.csf is a Photoshop settings file where profiles, dot gain and behavior is synced together inside Photoshop and the rest of the Creative Suite. It is best to activate this file via Adobe Bridge and it will sync the whole Suite. Again, some settings there may be different according to your printer. But it’s easy to change that and save under a different name.

We have chosen to use Adobe RGB (1998) profile and that one comes with the mac. You would have to check with your printer what he prefers.

3. SI_PDF_Prentun.joboptions Job options settings for PDF. This is loaded into InDesign or Illustrator and appears after that in all the Suite. Basically this setting is based on the PDF/X-4:2008 standard which allows RGB color pictures to be used in the PDF and allows transparency and layers to live in the PDF versus the PDF/X-1a that flattens artwork with transparency in it.

Oh, and I have to mention that we have delivered all work for printing as PDF files for ten years.

What is there else to know?

First of all you have to co-operate with your printery. See if they support RGB workflow and get the basic files you will need. Most likely he would give you comparable files to those I mention above. Here are few pointers I want to mention about this RGB process based on my experience.

01 Color Calibration

If you want to use RGB workflow, you have to have your monitor calibrated and re-calibrated at least once a month.

02 Profiles

All pictures are worked on with the Adobe RGB (1998) setting. It automatically loads when the Photoshop settings file is chosen undier Edit > Color Settings… This file is located in /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Color/Settings.

Better yet is to use Adobe Bridge Edit > Color Settings… to adjust this setting to get colors synced for the whole Creative Suite.

All RGB pictures used in the process must have the Adobe RGB (1998) profile attached. An easy way to keep a watch on the profiles in the picture is to use this field in Photoshop to show the Document Profile.


If no or wrong ICC profile is attached to a picture you can correct that in two ways in Photoshop: Go to Edit > Assign Profile… and choose the right one. Your correct profile should show up as the Working RGB. You can also attach it by using Save as… and check the Embed Color Profile. It is best to have all your pictures in the working profile.

The RGB workflow allows CMYK pictures to be used to, but in that case you have to color manage those pictures and use the appropriate CMYK profile to color correct the pictures according to the paper which is going to be used for the printing. Much more hassle as you probably know all too well.

03 File Formats

File formats that suit the RGB workflow are many. These are recommended:

PSD Photoshop files. PSD are great but they only allow lossless compression. Advantages that make that up are that you can use them native, they can include layers, layer comps and transparent backgrounds.

JPG files. JPG are also great and can be compressed a lot more than the PSD files. Jpg files are flattened and can not include a transparent background.

Photoshop PDF files. Not yet very popular format. But it combines the best of PSD and JPG. Great compression, while layers and transparent background can be included

Don’t use EPS. It is best not to use EPS in this workflow, although it is permitted. More about EPS later on.

04 PDF settings

The PDF settings I mentioned above is great but you may want to make your own versions of it. For example this setting has cropmarks checked and 3 mm bleeding, so there are cases you would need to uncheck those. It’s easy to make a copy of the setting, change the name and save it with those minor, risk free changes.

I like to save some time and have a few different settings ready like this.

IS_PDF_Prentun_HQ_BleedTrim.joboptions High Resolution, HQ pdf with bleeding and trim marks.

IS_PDF_Prentun_HQ_No-BleedTrim.joboptions High Resolution, HQ pdf without bleeding and trim marks.

IS_PDF_Prentun_LQ_No-BleedTrim.joboptions Low Resolution LQ pdf without bleed or trim marks for email friendly pdf’s for the clients.

05 InDesign

InDesign is very suitable for the RGB workflow. Remember always to use InDesign’s Preflight feature to check your files before making the PDF’s to see if you have profiles in order, picture sizes, fonts etc. See my article on David Airey’s blog about preparing artwork for print

To export a PDF from InDesign you go to File > Export and choose the correct PDF setting. A good rule is to add HQ or LQ to the file name to indicate if it’s a heigh or low resolution PDF. The size of the file is not going to tell you for sure.

06 Illustrator

Illustrator also works great for RGB workflow. Few pointers about using Illustrator:

Artboard should be in the size of the job if you want to get correct size of the pdf.

If you are using frames around the job it has to be completely inside the Artboard. Easiest way to do this is to make a box the same size of the Arboard, choose your preferred stroke weight and in the Stroke panel choose: Align Stroke to Inside.

Use PSD or JPG pictures. Besides its many advantages you don’t have to think about Flatten Transpareny anymore.

Make your PDF directly out of Illustrator using Save as… or Save a Copy as… (smarter) and select Adobe PDF as the output option.

Don’t save Illustrator as EPS to render the PDF inside Distiller. That’s old school and will tear pictures inside to pieces if there is transparency in there (Drop Shadows, transparent type etc…).

07 EPS is dead … not that I wanted it to be that way

Well, to say EPS is dead is too drastic. EPS has not changed at all for a long time. And that is the problem. Newer abilities in application like InDesign and Illustrator has made other choices of file format like PSD and JPG more feasible for the graphic design world.

I’m not saying that we should get rid of it in one day, but at least compare the options. PSD’s ability to save transparent background and layers to use in Illustrator and InDesign is a huge bonus, although the file size is bigger. The transparent background can be used in InDesign to wrap text around and in both applications it leaves out the need for Photoshop Clipping Mask.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the Flatten Transparency is out of the way when PDF settings higher than PS 1.3 are used, as long as you skip any use of EPS. That is, don’t make an EPS from your Illustrator file to make the PDF in Distiller. Make it directly from your AI file. you use PSD and JPG. And don’t use EPS saved pictures either. If you have up to now, you may have noticed thin (relatively harmless) white lines in your PDF or that when you want to get a picture out of a PDf file, that it’s torn to many pieces. That is history.

Happy work flowing in RGB.