IMPORTANT: I dont know who the printer is or will be -- the PDF goes to an unknown layout person who will incorporate it in the publication (book). That would make it for offset printing I believe.

Background: I do semi-technical illustrations which are used in publications. I never hear anything once I've sent off the figures -- until I see them in print. Till now these illustrations have only been B/W.

I now want to prepare full-colour PDFs which, I emphasise, will be given to an unknown layout person and printed somewhere unknown. So, I'm wondering should I use no color profile -- or does it matter?

PDF dialog - color output. PDF dialog - color output. Preset is "Press Quality" changed to appropriate destination for "European Prepress 2" (see below). I'm using save-as PDF in illustrator (CS4) preserving illustrator editing capabilities.

I am based in Europe, my color settings in illustrator are set to: "Europe prepress 2"

Color settings: "Europe prepress 2"

Document color mode is CMYK. All inks are (perecntages of) CMYK.

FWIW I'm self-taught i.e. ignorant of many things I probably should know. TIA for any help!

  • You forgot to mention what the printing method is Nov 8, 2017 at 14:41
  • Is it offset, flexo, or digital printing? Nov 8, 2017 at 14:46
  • Also, doesn't your printer have a website? Have you looked there yet? They should have guidelines on their website. Nov 8, 2017 at 14:54
  • In my post I say I dont know who the printer is: the PDF file will go to an unknown layout person who incorporates it in a publication (book). Wouldn't that be offset printing?
    – t_o_m
    Nov 8, 2017 at 15:42
  • @LateralTerminal I added an edit ('Important') to the start of my post above, which will hopefully answer your questions.
    – t_o_m
    Nov 8, 2017 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


In this answer I assume you are creating vector graphics and text without images.

In your case, with Color Conversion set to Convert to Destination (Preserve Numbers), the color profile doesn't affect the CMYK numbers you have chosen, so it doesn't matter which profile you choose. You are not using color management, you are kind of "programming" which raster percentages to print "manually".

This is traditionally the way graphic designers have worked for many years and it is a very common way to work (I do it most of the time myself), but it is not really color managed. When choosing the percentages of a color manually it is like choosing a color marker and then use that same marker on any kind of paper. I like that approach because of its simplicity, but the color will look different on different medias.

A way to make use of color management would be to make everything in RGB and then convert to the correct CMYK profile on export. If you have a calibrated ISO certificated screen and use Proof Colors with the correct profile, the colors you see on your screen should (more or less) match a print made by an ISO certificated print house.

But there are downsides to working in all RGB and reasons to work in CMYK instead. The conversion to the correct color profile ensures the best preservation of the colors, but in offset there are other things to look after. For example, thin lines and small text can look blurry if printed with more than one ink, 100% of a color creates a sharp contour, everything below get a (subtle) raggedness from the raster dots. Neutral greys made from all four inks will often get an unwanted color tint. Furthermore, it seems more intuitive for many designers to work with CMYK colors for graphics.

For you, I would recommend the following:

  • Work in CMYK if that's what you are most comfortable with. Keep your current settings.

  • In "Edit/Preferences", make sure "Appearance of Black" is set to both display and output all blacks accurately.

  • In "View/Proof Setup/Customize..." setup like below. Now, once in while turn on "View/Proof Colors" to preview how your colors would look if printed on coated paper ("Coated FOGRA27" is a good standard "guess"). You could try changing the "Device to Simulate" to "Uncoated FOGRA29" to see if your colors looks ok on uncoated paper.

Proof Setup

  • Since you don't know which kind of paper your illustration is printed on, avoid using colors with too much total ink (C+M+Y+K). For coated paper the limit is approximately 300-320% and for uncoated paper it is approximately 250-280%.
  • Very helpful answer, thank you @Wolff. My illustrations do have lots of fine lines and small text, but I have been careful to only use 100K or single inks (e.g. 100%C for rivers on maps). I will have a look tomorrow at the view proof colours.
    – t_o_m
    Nov 9, 2017 at 9:02
  • Proof Setup / Proof colors is a good tip: I'm surprised how much it changes everything -- makes everything a lot cooler (when set to "Coated FOGRA27" which does seem to be a good guess seeing as it will be printed on coated paper).
    – t_o_m
    Nov 10, 2017 at 11:18
  • Glad I could help. Another nice tool for working with colors: "Window/Separations Preview". Here you can switch the inks on and off to check your own work. Makes it easier to spot problems with different blacks for example.
    – Wolff
    Nov 10, 2017 at 16:12
  • "Window/Separations Preview" is a very nice way of checking. Illustrator is odd (imo) in not showing what colours are actually in use: another trick is to select all, then click 'New color group' in the Swatch panel -- that way I can see what colours are in use.
    – t_o_m
    Nov 14, 2017 at 17:19
  • Re the 'Proof setup' it doesnt remember the setting 'Simulate paper colour' -- neither in general nor for a particular file (ai CS4) which is a bit of a pain. (I'm working my way through about 50 files.) I gave it a custom shortcut. Re the colours shown -- they do look a lot closer to prints I've been making here on high quality glossy paper. The white though is completely off -- it's got a definite blue, almost lilac tint. I presume this is my monitor: it's not professional grade, but, FWIW is supposed to have very good RGB coverage & calibration out of the box. This CMYK though...
    – t_o_m
    Nov 14, 2017 at 17:22

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