How to Flatten a File for Print

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    Flattening your files is essential for wide format and to ensure your print will turn out as you expect.

    Why do I need to ‘flatten’ a file?

    The reason you need to flatten your artwork (PDF) is due to the way design software and production equipment works. 

    When designing your layout in design software, each image, graphic, shape, logo, text box etc is an individual component, and when you export your PDF, these remain as individual elements. 

    Why does this matter?

    Print production equipment use powerful processors called RIPs (Raster Image Processors) for the highest quality print outcome.

    These RIPs disassemble files and study each component of the file. This ensures every fine detail is understood, before reassembling them and printing in fine detail.

    If artwork is not submitted flat: there may be issues during the RIP process and the file may not print like you require.

    There could be missing images or links, font issues, transparency and colour issues.

    In summary, you need to flatten a file so that the layout becomes a combined single layer and prints the way you expect it to. 

    How can I tell if my file is flattened?

    The easiest way to tell if your file is flattened is to open your PDF in Adobe Illustrator. Once opened, click ’embed’.

    Right click on the PDF, and if there are options such as ‘ungroup’ and ‘release clipping mask’ then that means there are multiple layers in the file – and it is thus not flat.

    A flattened file will be like an image – individual components can’t be taken apart.

    What software can I flatten files in?

    There isn’t a way to flatten files natively in Adobe Indesign, Adobe Illustrator etc.

    There are two ways to flatten: using Adobe Acrobat Pro or Adobe Photoshop.

    The most effective method with the highest quality outcome is to use Photoshop. This involves placing the print-ready PDF made in InDesign or Illustrator, into Photoshop.

    Follow the steps below on how to use Photoshop to flatten your PDF.

    How to flatten a file (step by step)

    The easiest and quickest way to flatten a file with the best output is in Photoshop:

    1. Open in Photoshop

      Right click on your PDF, force open in photoshop. Or, drag into, or open in, Photoshop.

    2. Unlock the layer

      Double click to unlock the layer (if locked)

    3. Flatten Image

      Right click on the layer and select ‘Flatten Image’ from the optionsHow To Flatten A File for Print In Photoshop

    4. Save as a PDF

      Click: File – Save As – Photoshop PDF. Ensure colour mode is CMYK and compression at 300dpi – JPEG – Maximum Image Quality.

    The file will now be flattened. It is now likely to be larger than your original PDF, so send your file to us via wetransfer: 

    Do I have to flatten every kind of print file?

    While it is especially recommend for large format printing (posters, pull up banners, media walls etc) we still recommend ANY file you provide us is flattened (along with all our other print ready file requirements). 

    Yes – even a 80 page booklet.

    Why? Because it is the only way we can ensure the file will print the way you want it to look. 

    Even if you outline and embed your fonts and images – if you do NOT flatten your file – there is a possibility that these elements will move or not appear in the final print file due to the RIP process.

    Supplying a flat file is the only way you can be sure the file will print as you expect, and we do not accept any responsibility for the output of un-flattened files. 

    It may add 5-10 minutes to your day, but getting your file right could just save you time and money!

    Can I flatten my file in Canva / non Adobe products?

    Affinity Photo is an alternative to Adobe Photoshop that you can consider using. Canva does have a flattening option when saving a print ready Canva file to PDF. However – we have found that their flattener compresses the file heavily which reduces the overall resolution. So we don’t recommend using their flattener unless they release a future improved update.

    Can you flatten my file for me?

    Yes, if you need artwork set up, the fee is $30 per 15 minutes. This can be a good option if you have existing artwork and don’t have the time or software to set up to our requirements.