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  • How to Flatten PDF Files for Great Printing Results

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    Digital Printing

    Wondering why you need to flatten PDF files? Authors who go the self-publishing route quickly learn the critical role that PDF files play in the printing process. A final manuscript must be submitted as a PDF file for the printer to use to create the printed book, but the PDF must be “flattened.”

    So what does that mean and how can you flatten PDF files? Let’s look at what you need to know about converting your files into flattened PDF files that your printing partner will use to create hard copies of your book.

    What Are Flatten PDF Files?

    When you develop your book, you create different aspects of the book separately. The basic framework of your book might be a formatting program like Adobe that you use to organize and present the text. As you add in details like chapter names, the program creates overlayed content to the basic framework with this new content.

    Each additional contribution creates a new layer onto the file, and when you create a PDF of the file, you are essentially creating a stack of PDF layers that visually appear as a singular file. When a printer views this PDF file, without any changes, instead of viewing all of the stacked layers as a whole, the printer can only view the top or last layer added to the PDF file, completely skewing what the PDF was intended to look like.

    When you flatten PDF files, each of the layers is bonded together so that the flattened PDF file integrates all of the layers into a single, readable PDF file.

    How to Flatten PDF Files with Adobe Acrobat

    1. Make a Backup Copy of Your PDF

    The first step to flatten PDF files, which is a permanent alteration of the file, is to simply create a backup copy. You may need to access this backup file if you see an error or want to make a change in the file, because once you flatten PDF files, you can no longer make adjustments to the PDF. This backup file may not ever be needed, but it is smart to always have one just in case.

    2. Get to the Right Location in the Settings of Adobe.

    To find this spot, head to Advanced > Print Production > Flattener Preview.

    3. Play with the Raster/Vector Balance to See How It Affects Your File.

    This sliding scale of 1-100 impacts how hard the flattener works (called the balance) to maintain the appearance (called the vector) of the layered objects in your file. The lower the number, the faster the flattener will be able to work because it uses the least amount of rasterization on each object detected within any layer of your PDF file.

    By contrast, the higher the number, the slower your flattener will work because it will use a lot of rasterization to try to maintain the integrity of each layered object within your file. The process of rasterization includes the flattener taking into consideration the transparency of each layer, where each object was originally placed in relationship to other objects, the amount of overlap between all of the objects, and the types of objects that are included within the file.

    A good starting point is to move the sliding scale up to 100 and look at the flattener preview to get an idea of how the flatten PDF files will look. Playing with the scale can help you find the best appearance when you flatten PDF files.

    4. Make Sure that “Convert All Text to Outlines” is Checked.

    In order for your text to all show up as the same weight when you flatten PDF files, they must be converted to outlines. This setting controls how the text appears in your flattened file, so making sure this box is ticked will ensure that your text will all look the same within the converted file.

    5. For Files with 1-99 Raster/Vector Balance: Deselect the “Clip Complex Regions” Option.

    Deselecting this clipping feature will tell the program not to clip around the transparent regions and enable it to present your objects seamlessly. If you had previously selected 100 on the Raster/Vector Balance, skip this step.

    5. Finalize the Flattening by Selecting “Apply” and Closing the Preview Window.

    Once you flatten PDF files, it is ready to send off to the printer. This file is in its final form, however, and cannot be altered like other PDF files may be. If any changes to the final file need to be made, use a copy of the backup file and repeat the steps to flatten PDF files once the changes have been made.

    A Faster (But Lower-Quality) Method to Flatten PDF Files

    If you are looking for a speedier way (a minute or so) to flatten PDF files, then this quick three-step process may be right for you. Remember that this lower-quality file may not be the right option to send to your printer as the quality of the objects in the file may not render perfectly, but if you want to print out an advanced reader’s copy or just want to see what your book’s manuscript will generally look like before finalizing it, this fast flattening method might be a good choice.

    1. Open the PDF File and Press “CLT + P.”

    This command will open the print box and enable you to begin the fast flattening process with the file you have opened.

    2. Inside the Pop-Up Box, go to Page Sizing & Handling.

    In the dropdown menu, choose Custom Scale>Auto to enable the orientation. At this step, you may need to further compress your file. To do this, choose “Advanced’ and then you can lower the resolution of the file in the new pop-up box under the dropdown “Transparency Flattener Preset” choice.

    3. Save and Rename Your Converted File.

    In order to save this lower-quality file, first make sure that your printer is set as “Adobe PDF.” Then, click “print” and a new pop-up window will appear that will give you the option to “Save PDF File As” with a new name. Rename the file and hit OK to complete the conversion.

    Why Printers Need You to Flatten PDF Files

    Authors often pay for a book designer to help them put their self-published writing into a beautiful format or they may even purchase special formatting software to do it themselves. And the result of both of these is a gorgeously presented manuscript that appears ready to be printed – but it isn’t.

    Printing companies prefer (or even require) a PDF file so that they can be sure that everything that they need to produce a high-quality book will be included. PDF files, flattened or not, contain critical information that printers use to transform the file into the final printed copy of a book, magazine, or a myriad of other types of printing projects.

    Portable Document Format or PDF files ensure that key data will not change when the file is transferred from the creator to the printer’s receiving computer.

    The Color Profiles are stored on a PDF. This is done so the final product’s colors will exactly match the file’s original colors that were used on the cover or in any other artwork included in the file.

    Fonts are Embedded into a PDF file. Fonts are included so the printer is able to use the identical font that the author included in the file instead of substituting a similar one if the receiving computer doesn’t have the exact font already stored.

    The Formatting and Style of the document will be stable with PDFs. When a DOC or DOCX file is transferred between devices, this file type may be adjusted when an upgraded or different version of the file reader is found on the receiving computer, resulting in unforeseen changes to the format or style of the manuscript.

    Transforming Your Flattened PDF Files into a Book: Partnering with a Printer

    If you chose to use the fast flattening method, you can use the lower-quality flattened file to print a few copies that would be appropriate to use as ARCs or advance reader copies. But once you have made the switch from your final PDF file to the flattened PDF, you are ready to send your manuscript to your printing partner to begin printing the final copies of your book.

    And working with an experienced printing company like Dazzle Printing means you can be assured that the physical copy of your book will look just like the PDF file you sent off because Dazzle Printing guarantees that they will use their modern digital printing processes coupled with high-quality materials like paper, ink and bindings to produce a book that you can be proud of for years to come.


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