As a graphic designer, there is a very good chance that someone besides you might need to be able to read a file you created. Wouldn't it be great if everyone saw exactly the same thing you did when they opened one of your files?
In the real world, even though there are standards to assure compatibility between programs, trouble-free file sharing is allusive. There are ways to minimize problems and we will be looking at some of those.
I have successfully shared files for thousands of production jobs over the Internet, but it is beyond the scope of this article to cover everything that can go wrong and what to do about it. What I can do is lay out a "master plan" before we cover a few examples of common problems.
In my experience with the creative services industry, standards and formal procedures are often neglected. What may seem elementary from a business perspective, easily gets overlooked by people whose gifts for creativity overpower their organizational skills. If you, as a creative services provider, can master a few simple principles, you can rise well above most of your competitors.
If, on the other hand, you get careless, take shortcuts, or skip over any of these important principles I am about to outline, you will join the ranks of those who are average. If you do that, guess when something always goes wrong.
Always, always, always, do everything on this list. Never, never, never, skip over any of the following items. Maybe I just violated the rule about never saying never. Oh well! These are the principles of successful file sharing, and they are more important than the mechanics we will cover later.
Give your file a descriptive name. I once had to check on a job from a vendor that produced pencils. During our conversation, they commented that I would be amazed how many people sent art and the file name was "pencil." Maybe the sender knows what that is, but it doesn't help much to a company that does nothing but pencils.
Avoid spaces in file names. Corel does not care about spaces and many other programs don't care either, but since it can cause problems, it should be avoided as a habit. If it gets posted on the web, spaces will cause problems. Also avoid special characters. Aside from a dash ( - ) and an underscore ( _ ), all others should be considered taboo.
Label the file. Whether you are using email or disk, label it clearly. Include information like: your name and a PO number, as well as a description, file name, and file format. It is OK to make an assumption here; assume that your file is not the only one your recipient will have.
Include a hard copy. Either enclose it with the disk or fax it, but never assume that what you created is the same exact thing that someone else will see when they open the file. Give them a printout to verify how everything should look With email, always include an Adobe Reader (PDF) version of the file.
Provide contact information. Make it easy for someone to reach you. Tell them who you are, in case there are problems or questions. I favor creating a plain text file with notes and contact info, then include a copy on your disk or in your email.
Get signed, final approval from the customer or client. In many cases, a vendor will have you sign off before they will produce a job. Having your customer or client sign for final approval builds your professionalism. It greatly reduces the risk that problems such as typos or misspelled names exist in your design. It provides at least one more set of eyes looking things over.
Test the file. Before sharing a file you have converted to a format other than Corel, open a "New" CorelDRAW document, then "Import" your file into that document. You would be amazed how often this simple step helps you to detect problems so you can take steps to correct them.
Consider a pre-production proof. In some cases, this may increase costs and delay production, but if you want to be sure how a finished product will look, there is no better way than a pre-production proof. This could save you the grief of having hundreds or thousands of rejected pieces.
These important principles, if you are not already using them, will prove more valuable than knowing all the possible pitfalls. When used, they will alert you to problems at the earliest possible stage. You can avoid having a flawed design go into production. Each problem provides an opportunity for you to learn from the experience, and that is something this article cannot provide no matter how comprehensive or long-winded.
If I can say it again, the principles above are more important than the mechanics. I will outline some of the mechanics more in future articles. Look at the principles though, they will be the most helpful.
The problem with having all those cool features in a design program is that every single one of them has a potential for disaster. Unless the people producing your design have the exact same everything that you do, there is a possibility that something could get lost in the translation.
Corel has some really cool features. With some creative input from you, it can produce awesome looking graphics. Without some precautions though, you could end up disappointed when it comes to reproducing your designs.
As a general rule, the fancier the effect, the more caution is needed. If you can gain physical access to the people you are sharing a file with, you can view the results that way. Since this is not always possible, testing the file in other design programs can be very educational. Even testing within Corel itself can reveal problems in advance, see Principle #7 above.
There is truly no substitute for experience. As long as a hard copy is included, an experienced production artist can spot discrepancies, and most can be easily fixed. Did I mention that the principles listed above are very important?
Probably the most common occurrence is missing elements. Usually though, they are not missing, only hidden. When you are informed of problems, you will have the opportunity to be thought of as a genius because I will give you some simple concepts that will work most of the time.
If what I have written so far has led you to believe that you will have nothing but trouble, relax. Most jobs will go smoothly. Once you understand some of the basics, even the problems will not cause you any alarm. You have the opportunity to use a powerful design tool with Corel. Then you can solve the problems caused when you have to share files with non-Corel users; those who either choose to let pre-conceived bias stand in the way of profit and performance, or they're too cheap to buy the program.
In the next part of this series, we will look at these common problems and some simple solutions. We will examine design principles that will help you be successful when your files need to be shared for reproduction. I will reveal a single concept that will work most of the time and make you look like an expert.
Until next time, use the principles above as a checklist for every job. If you do not already have one, design an art approval form so your customers and clients can sign off for final approval of a design.
Next.. Expert Design Strategies.
Steve Chittenden owns and operates Creative Business Services which provides web design, graphic design, writing, and marketing services. If you have a web site that could benefit from this CorelDRAW 9 material, please feel free to link to these pages.