press checks every designer needs to know

A preflight checklist for printing with confidence

What is a preflight checklist

A preflight checklist is a list of press checks that a book designer uses to review their files to ensure they are ready for printing. These checks are done before and during your final print export, to ensure there will be no (or very few) errors when you review your print proofs.

As a designer, I’ve seen many errors go to print over the years. Being a book designer is a role in which many of us learn on the job, and I’ve seen it all! I have added to this list year after year (and will continue to do so) to ensure I am always improving my work, and I want to share it with you in the hopes you avoid some of the mistakes that I have made in the past. Feel free to copy and paste this list into a living document that you can add to throughout your practice as well.

Note that human error is still always possible. Even if you’re 100% sure you’ve checked everything, spending a bit of extra money on a print proof is always a best practice. It’s astounding to see a tiny error on a print proof that has passed through many review by the designer, editor and proofreader. Print sometimes makes errors easier to spot, so do not skip this step!

Cover design checks

  • Check the barcode and ensure the ISBN matches the ISBN listed on the cover
  • Ensure pricing and any other bibliographic data is correct such as the subject category and the publisher or author’s URL
  • Check that the title on the front cover matches the title on the spine
  • Check that the author name on the front cover matches the title on the spine
  • Ensure the author’s name is spelled correctly
  • Ensure the content in the spine has been centered correctly including the logo and it’s spacing
a photo of a cookbook shot overhead of the full front and back cover

Interior design checks

  • Check that the title information is correct on the half title and title page
  • Check the copyright page to ensure the bibliographic data is correct
  • Ensure all necessary credits are listed and that the ISBN’s and CIP data is correct
  • Include any grant logos or sustainability certification logos if required
  • Ensure there are specific disclaimers as needed for certain categories such as fiction or cookbooks
  • Check that the table of contents page numbers match the correct pages
  • Check that chapter titles are consistent in the endnotes if applicable
  • Compare the chapter openers to ensure consistency in format and spacing
  • Check that the running headers or footers are correct
  • Scan the top and bottom of each page to ensure that the text flows from one page to the next correctly
  • Check the folios to make sure that all pages are there and are in the proper order
  • Check the back matter to ensure that it is complete including author photo, bio and credit
  • Check that all of the captions correspond with the correct photos is applicable
  • Ensure all location indicators for images are correct e.g., “above left,” etc.)
  • Check that all blank pages in the book are actually blank, with no running headers or folios
A photo of a hand holding open a cookbook

General preflight checks

Use these checks for both the book cover and book interior design file as you export and prep your final print PDF’s.

  • Ask the printer for a PDF preset to use

  • Embed the fonts upon export if required by printer

  • If the printer requires, embed or link all images as necessary

  • Ask the printer for their preferred color profile to be applied to any images and used in the InDesign export

  • If the printer doesn’t have a preferred profile, be sure to use either a coated or uncoated profile for the paper type you are printing on

  • Ensure TAC (ink coverage) is correct for your chosen print vendor (this is critical for visual books)

  • Run InDesign preflight and package the InDesign files prior to final press export (ensure there is no overset text or missing fonts)

  • Remove unused colours and styles to clean up your InDesign files before packaging them (you may find there are various shades of black or grey imported from Microsoft Word that you don’t want printed)

  • Check that nothing is too close to the margins i.e. nothing will get cut off that is not intended to be cut off
  • Check that crops and bleed correct for the printer specifications
  • Check that all images rendering as high res
  • If the book is printing with KDP or IS, ensure there are no transparencies
  • Double check all images are in CMYK or in correct colour usage based on printer requirements
  • Ensure any special features are noted correctly to the printer and in the final files such as spot gloss, foil, etc
  • Do final check for widows and orphans
  • Check that no footnotes or endnotes were dropped
  • Ensure that you’re getting a print proof from the printer

This preflight list is part of our complete book design master checklist poster that’s for sale by donation to the IRSSS. Grab yourself a copy if you’d like to print out the list as a handy guide to refer to.