A camera-ready document is a document a printer can reproduce without making any adjustments. Historically, a camera-ready document is one used in offset printing, which is the equipment and expertise that produces most printed material, such as newspapers, magazines and catalogs. Other forms of camera-ready documents include designs for mugs and T-shirts printed by promotional advertisers. Previously printed or not crisp material, such as faxes, photocopies, smudged text and artwork, generally are not camera ready.
The term “camera ready” applies most often to the offset printing process. Using a desktop publishing design program and a high-quality inkjet or laser printer, a page is printed just as you want the reproductions to look. This image then goes before a camera, which takes a photographic negative of the page. The full-size negative is etched onto a thin aluminum plate, which is coated with ink. The inked image is transferred to a rubber roller, and the roller prints page after page, just like the original. The term “camera ready” also describes a document that can be scanned or otherwise reproduced on a large scale, without the transfer to aluminum plates. For instance, when you order 1,000 copies of a flyer, business card or brochure, the printer first needs your original camera-ready document.
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of a camera-ready document. Each printing service differs. A document that once company considered camera ready won't work for another because the second company might have different equipment and use different file formats, font sizes and color palettes.
File and Image Formats
Whether you’re submitting text or artwork, you need to submit the file and images in formats the printer uses. Some printers prefer all files to be created in a vector-based graphics program. Some will accept flyers and other documents created with Microsoft Word or Excel and in .PDF format. The printer also will specify how large to save your file if you’re submitting it electronically. Typically, files must be smaller than 100 MB.
To reproduce images like artwork and photographs, some printers require .JPEG or .TIFF files. Others find these formats too compressed and will specify, for instance, a file with a resolution of 1,000 DPI (dots per inch).
With a camera-ready document, any text must be submitted in black on a crisp, white background, even if you want it printed in color. Certain printers might not have certain fonts or font sizes installed. Some ask that you include all the fonts you used when submitting your original via email or a disk to guarantee proper reproduction.
Printers use different color palettes. Traditional four-color offset printing uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). To print color photos in a newspaper or magazine, the photographic negative of the page is etched onto four different aluminum plates, one coated with cyan ink, one with magenta, one with yellow and one with black. The etching varies in density to accurately produce the color in the photo (e.g., using a combination of 100 percent cyan and 30 percent black). During the printing process, the image is transferred to paper in each of these colored inks, layered on top of each other. Other printers prefer abstract mathematical models called color spaces, which use a numbered chart for each color. To print a flyer, for instance, you would submit the camera-ready file and any artwork in black on a white background, then specify you wanted the text to appear in a particular shade. For example, 1788 is a shade of red.
A Tampa resident, Valerie Kalfrin has more than 16 years of journalism experience, twice earning first-place reporting awards from the Florida Press Club. Her byline has appeared in "The Tampa Tribune," "Ladies' Home Journal," "Time Out New York" and "Word & Film." She has edited copy for "Ladies' Home Journal," "Vogue" and The College Board.