6 Replies Latest reply on Aug 19, 2016 11:36 PM by Eugene Tyson

    Why do all of my printers want .ai files?

    BrieBurnham Level 1

      Hello, so I'm a professional graphic designer. Most of my work is for exhibit graphics in museums (so basically, making large posters with text and images).

      Since I'm often balancing a wide variety of placed images (.psd files, eps, jpg, .tiff, pdf, etc), use master pages, grids, styles, text wrap, and typically am placing a large amount of text, I use InDesign. Its more robust and intuitive when handing photos, I like the text formatting better for large blocks of text, and I have just found it all around to be superior for the purpose of laying out complex graphics that combine imagery and text.


      The problem I'm having is literally every single time we use a printer to produce our graphics, they seem perplexed and annoyed that I lay out my exhibit graphics in InDesign. One guy even tried to explain to me about how I should be using illustrator, and that in design was only for "book layouts."


      Most other graphic designers I've talked to agree that you use photoshop for raster files (photo editing, retouching, etc), illustrator for vector drawings (illustrations, logos, etc) and some simple text layouts, and indesign if you are using complex combinations of the two and for both single and multi paged layouts. I comfortably go between all three of these programs depending on my needs.


      I guess I'm justing wondering, why in the heck do all of our printers give me push back about using indesign? It seems strange to me to be told its wrong to use InDesign to design a poster.


      Can anyone shed some light on this? I've talked to other graphic designers who create posters and their printers all seem fine using InDesign. Could it be the type of printer we are going to? (they tend to also be fabricators, and build exhibits). I of course use illustrator when they need a cut path (for dimensional letters, etc).

        • 1. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
          BrieBurnham Level 1

          I have a meeting with our printer on Monday, and I just know they are going to try attempt to get me to provide them with all 200+ of our graphics as illustrator files rather than packaged InDesign. While I'm fairly firm on NOT doing that, I need to have a quick, concise way to shut down their request. And make it clear to my boss and other people on my team, that it wasn't a mistake for me to design these exhibit graphics in InDesign.

          • 2. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
            Test Screen Name Most Valuable Participant

            I think that if there is an app you don't use the last thing you want is native files for you to mess up through inexperience. So the printers don't want that, because they don't use InDesign.


            But why would you send InDesign files? Or AI files. Your evaluation of the best use of the apps is fine. But your deliverable, surely, is a PDF in any modern workflow.

            1 person found this helpful
            • 3. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
              BobLevine MVP & Adobe Community Professional

              +1. Send a PDF but make sure the printer doesn’t open it in Illustrator. They’ll destroy it that way.

              • 4. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
                Dov Isaacs Adobe Employee

                On behalf of Adobe Systems Incorporated …


                The problem you are encountering is not all that uncommon, unfortunately!


                In a more perfect world, graphic designers would carefully create their content, create a PDF/X-4 file (all fonts embedded, live transparency, ICC color management with all profiles), and send that to the printer. The printer would produce a proof (hard proof or soft proof) for your approval and if it was OK, run the print job.


                The problem with sending source files to printers is what they see as the advantage of same. Source files can be readily modified by the printer either for technical or content. Technical changes are sometimes necessary if the graphic artist is not properly doing their job and doesn't understand the issues associated with preparing content for print. Content changes by printers, often “well meaning” (i.e., they think they are correcting a mistake which often is not the case), should never be done. If a printer thinks that there is a content error, they should notify the customer who should fix the source file and send a regenerated PDF file. There are also logistical and legal issues of sending source files. Many graphic arts documents include numerous placed images and other artwork. Fonts are also involved; most font licenses absolutely prohibit sending loose font files to the printer or anyone else who doesn't already have a license for the font(s) in question.


                PDF and more specifically PDF/X-4 were designed as a final form file format to allow transfer of ready-to-print content from a designer to their clients or printers. There are no dependencies on external fonts, placed resources, etc. A printer who cannot deal with properly-constructed PDF/X-4 files is not worthy of your business!!! It shows an incredible lack of training and/or professionalism.


                With regards to InDesign versus Illustrator (versus Photoshop) is spot on in terms of the sweet points of their use. Specifically, in terms of InDesign versus Illustrator especially for single page documents, if you are comfortable and proficient using InDesign and don't need some of the exceptionally sophisticated vector operations of Illustrator (or alternatively, you create such content in Illustrator saved as PDF/X-4 and placed into an InDesign document), then go for it using InDesign.


                If a printer is pushing you to use Illustrator as opposed to InDesign, it is a clear sign of ignorance, lack of professionalism, and/or a sign that they are planning to edit your source files come hell or high water and don't have the skills (or maybe even the license) to use InDesign. We recommend that you find another printer who is less bigoted and more professional.


                And repeat, don't send source files, send PDF/X-4!


                          - Dov

                3 people found this helpful
                • 5. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
                  Randy Hagan Adobe Community Professional

                  Respectfully, I beg to differ on your assessment that a lot of this is "ignorance." I'll be gracious and say your assessment may be only partly informed.


                  A lot of sign producers regularly use workflows that have nothing to do with conventional printing -- who cut vinyl, who burn wood, who mill metal, who create screen printing masks for spot color work -- use equipment targeted to 2-D CAD/CAM environments. Illustrator-native files offer more portability with producers who use mixed media elements to create signage, even if print-targeted PDFs may work as well in a conventional printing environment. Font-rendered .AI files offer a simplified model for defining shapes and Bézier curves than the myriad definitions of output definitions rendered by translation between various graphic programs and a more "small c" catholic definition of vector shapes in application-created PDF files. Which is why, for good reason, they feel comfortable with .AI native files.


                  Vendors recommend file formats which deliver consistent results for them. Some of that equipment, if it's older, may only accept .AI files (and/or, God forbid, .CDR files *shiver*). There's a lot to be said for PDF files, though as Bob Levine said above, you don't want to be editing PDF files in Adobe Illustrator. And if Illustrator or some other vector-based CAD/CAM vehicle is used to drive that non-printing process, "editing" that PDF file may become an unintentional and unfortunate circumstance.


                  To the original poster: I do think that part of the file formatting inertia you're encountering is a function of your vendors wanting to maintain file portability for a wide range of output media. If the communication issue is too much to overcome, I'd suggest finding commercial printing vendors who can put an InDesign workflow to better use for print production. Or, if your vendors are otherwise meeting your price, time and quality standards, that you should seriously consider that being compatible with their workflows is in your best interest.

                  • 6. Re: Why do all of my printers want .ai files?
                    Eugene Tyson Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                    I'd like to echo those sentiments.


                    Most of the time using PDF is fine. But there some production methods that require other file formats, as mentioned above.


                    I still get prepress instructions that say "Only PDFs created on a Macintosh will be accepted" - which is the bizarre thing I have ever seen.


                    There people stuck in a time warp when it comes to workflows, technology and file formats.


                    I'd suggest perhaps going to their premises and seeing how they operate, what they're operating, how the handle files and what they need to do.


                    If you need to do it in Illustrator - then do it in Illustrator - what's the big deal?


                    For example, I got artwork sent to me that was designed in Illustrator. So I made a pull up banner, a 3x3 pop up, table skirting, and a host of other material in Illustrator.


                    I would  have preferred to do it in InDesign - but the artwork was better handled in Illustrator.


                    Once completed I saved all to PDF for proofing and to have a print file ready.



                    Most of the time - InDesign is perfect for creating whatever you need. I use it 99% of the time, and Illy and PS are sideshows to my workflow for making minor edits or getting colours/fonts/shapes etc for InDesign layouts.