Print-on-demand gives self-publishers enormous freedom to create and distribute books. But the process can be tricky, and the physical book can come out looking different than it did on your monitor.
This forum post shows some of the ways your letters can turn out. It’s easy for text to become blurry or pixelated. My problem was the Garamond font came out looking emaciated.
Here is the process that helped me to get the interior of my book looking great. All credit goes to Daniel Flavin, who posted his method in the Adobe forums. I’ve taken his process and created this step-by-step illustrated guide.
You need Adobe Acrobat Pro version X or higher, because that’s when they added the preflight option. This guide was made using XI, but it should be a similar in X, DC, or any version with preflight. I used Word to do my layout, but if you’re using something else the PDF process shouldn’t be much different.
This guide was made with plain text in mind. Color printing is a whole different ballgame. I used images for dropcaps and simple graphics in my book, and they came looking great. But if your book has illustrations, especially black and white photographs, you’ll need to talk to a graphic designer to get the colors right. Any suggestions or solutions are welcome in the comments!
What to avoid
Print-on-demand is still evolving. When you’re printing black and white, the process doesn’t handle grayscale and gradients well. I recommend avoiding grays for things like running heads. It might be the right aesthetic choice, but it isn’t practical for print-on-demand. You want solid CMYK blacks, and that’s what this guide will create.
Creating the PDF
When your book is ready to print to PDF, choose Adobe PDF and go to properties. You want to choose an option that doesn’t do any compression. I go with PDF/X-1a:2001. Make sure to uncheck “Rely on system fonts only; do not use document fonts.”
It’s worth creating a custom size so your document fits your book. Click Add and input the correct dimensions for your book. Give it a name and click Add/Modify.
Using Preflight in Adobe Acrobat
Go ahead an create a backup of your PDF, just in case a mistake is made.
Once you have the file open in Adobe Acrobat Pro, choose Preflight from the side menu.
Click on the wrench.
Search for “Convert to spot color” and select it. Here’s how it will look before you make any changes.
- Make sure CMYK is selected.
- Type 1 in each of the Source color value boxes.
- Make the tolerance 99.
- Name it Test Black or something similar. Doesn’t really matter.
- Select CMYk from the Alternate color space dropdown menu.
- Leave zero in the first three Destination color value boxes, but make the last box 100.
- Leave the last dropdown menu as None.
- Name your preflight tool. I named it Make it Black.
Click OK, and then select your tool from the list. Go ahead and click the flag and make it a favorite. This will make it easier to find.
With your tool selected, click fix. This will change all the RGB colors in your document to CMYK, and make all the blacks into solid blacks.
That should do the trick! Everything should be a uniform black that will print correctly. Save your file and get ready to upload it to the print-on-demand service of your choice.
The knowledge base for self-publishing is very decentralized, and information can go out of date quickly. I’ll do my best to update this guide as information becomes available.
If you have any questions, put them in the comments and I’ll try to help. If anyone has other helpful PDF solutions, please share.
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