Thursday, October 26, 2006

Preparing colour separated PDFs using ColorSync

26 October 2006

If you only print a dozen or so copies of your work, you can print straight from Pages to printer.

Larger print-runs require working with professional printers. Most, Mac or Windows based, will take your work in PDF format.

Pages provide several options to produce PDFs. However, not all are suitable for professional print shops. One difficulty to overcome is CMYK colour separation. For instance, 'Export to PDF' option under File menu will give you PDFs that look okay on screen, but will not break into four colours needed for professional printing.

One efficient way of preparing Pages files is by using the ColourSync utility. On its own it is in Applications - Utilities folder. But you launch it through 'Print' dialogue window.

1. In your Page document go File - Print. Print dialogue window opens.

2. Click on the third pop-down menu bar (by default it starts with 'Copies & Pages'.) Go down to ColorSync (fifth option down in Pages 2).

3. In ColorSync dialogue second pop-down menu bar is called 'Quartz Filter'. Click on it and go down to 'Add filters...' ColorSync launches and a Preview pdf of your document opens after a few seconds. In the top left corner of the Preview there is an icon with red, green and blue filters. Click on it.

4. 'Filters' dialogue window opens. Click on the triangle next to the third option 'Create Generic PDFX-3 Document'. At the bottom of the window click on + to create a new filter which will be your configurations choice for producing PDFs for printers. 'Untitled' option appears at the bottom of the list.

5. Double click on it to change the name of the option. Click on the little triangle to the right of the 'Untitled' and a choice of option opens. Go down to 'Add PDF retouch component' and when options open choose PDF/X-3.

6. Click on the little triangle to the left of your 'Untitled' and you will see that a new 'Create PDF/X-3' submenu has been added.

7. Click on the little triangle to the left and a choice of PDF settings appears. Now here, on the fourth line you have 'Destination Profile' drop-down menu. If you choose 'Generic CMYK' you can start producing PDFs already colour separated for professional printers. Next, go further down to 'Flatten Transparency'. By default it is checked and resolution is set at 72 dpi. That is good enough for the internet and for e-mailing pdfs. But for professional printing, especially for larger runs that can't be handled by digital printers (here in Normandy it is normally upwards from 500 copies,) you need a much higher definition. 300 DPI gives good results. I print on glossy magazine paper, so I set my DPI to 2400.

8. Next step: click on your preview pdf, at the bottom left there is a choice of filters - a drop-down menu bar. Click on it and you will see your 'Untitled' at the bottom of the menu. Go down to it and click 'Apply' on the right.

9. Close Filters dialogue window, close preview, and go back to your Pages document. Click Print under File menu and in Print dialogue window go to ColorSync again. Click on the Quartz Filter menu bar and you will see that the 'Untitled' filter with your PDF settings sits there.

10. Now, follow the Print - Save as PostScript - Create PDF route, but in a slightly modified way:
- Open Print dialogue;
- Choose ColorSync and set Quartz Filter to yours - e.g. 'Untitled'.
- Under PDF menu choose 'Save as PostScript'
- Launch Acrobat (or drag the PS file onto the Acrobat icon) and 'Create PDF from file' under Document menu or Open the PS file under File menu.

Changing PDF settings allows you to prepare ready CMYK converted files for printers, and it gives you control over output quality of your project. One problem that I had been struggling with was the text blur when wrapping tightly around graphic objects. The blurring of text becomes totally unacceptable when you ad shadows to objects. Increasing DPI definition solved that problem.

It may look cumbersome, but, mind, you only have to adjust your PDF settings once to find what best suits you, and then it's just sliding down to ColorSync and clicking on your settings.


  1. First, let me say, thank you, so much. This post was a life saver for me. But, I have a question about this process, as I am an amateur designer who needs to get 300dpi PDFs out of Pages. At the very end, you suggest saving it as PostScript and then using Acrobat to create the PDF. Is that necessary? Can you just save it as a PDF using the print dialogue and the filter you've created? Does it make a difference? If you would like to email a response to me, my address is Thank you very much.

  2. Hi sashura

    Did you ever respond to this. I'd love to know the answer to the same question. Please email me at


  3. Anonymous7:26 pm

    Thank you! My printer needed a CMYK pdf and I couldn't find a solution until I read this.

    Not everything you suggested worked out for me though - I couldn't set the resolution because the I couldn't locate the commands you suggested. I'm working in Pages '08 - maybe they have created a higher dpi as a default? Best wishes, Karyn

  4. there is still an issue with templates and pages generated special effects, like frame borders. there elements base on bitmap pictures, which are very low-res. it's true esp. for the frame borders, and they look not very well in highres exports.

    i am now trying to replace one of them with selfmade highres elements, and i will post a comment if i got further with the story.

  5. This looks like exactly what I need, however I'm running Pages 3 with 10.5.3. Do you have an updated way to do this?

    I can create a really great PDF with Pages, but my printer hates me because it's not CMYK. I hope you can help.

  6. Damon, hi

    yes, I work with Pages'08 version 3.02 too and OS 10.4.11.

    The key here is to use the PostScript stage when converting Pages documents to PDF. Simple Export to PDF will not work with professional printers who use CMYK separation.

    - 'Print' Pages to PS
    - launch Acrobat Distiller and process your PS files through Distiller

    Distiller has several settings. Choose Press Quality or Prepress, whichever settings are available in your version of Acrobat. Here is a summary of my settings which have given me consistently good results for over a year now:

    - Under General set Resolution to 2400 dots per inch;
    - Under Images set Sampling off and resolution for color and grayscale to 300 pixels per inch and 1200 pixels for monochrome;
    - Under Color: Settings file none, Color management policies: set to 'Convert All Colors to CMYK';
    - Under Fonts: check Embed all fonts checkbox.

    These should give you CMYK ready PDFs and keep your printer happy.

    If you regularly use the same printer, I strongly suggest that you arrange a session with them to synchronise all your settings. It's easy to overlook a minor difference in settings which can result in serious problems at one of the later stages in the printing process.

    Most printers use specialised computer service companies to fine-tune their machines and processes. Find out who they use, get in touch with them and ask them to run through your workflow and settings.

    I also highly recommend Enfocus Pitstop software which works like an extended set of tools to Adobe Acrobat. It allows you to convert your PDFs to CMYK in one go and to make a thorough check of prepress quality of the PDF.

    The Colorsync process worked great for me in the early stages of my project and allowed me to produce good quality PDFs. However, with the iWork/Pages version 3 (2008) I found that there is no need for it. It is enough to Print a Pages document to PostScript and process it through Acrobat Distiller with Press Quality settings to create a CMYK separated PDF.

    Hope this helps.

  7. I'm working on the most recent version of Pages from iWork 2008 running on the most recent version of Leopard, and I have to create a CMYK PDF for publication, but I do not have Acrobat Distiller.

    Is it possible to create a CMYK PDF with ColorSync filters by the process you describe? If not, is there any other way to create a CMYK PDF from Pages or to convert a RGB PDF or PostScript file to CMYK using ColorSync?

  8. Thank you for your comment,Hans -

    I am not aware of a way to produce CMYK separated PDFs without Distiller. And it's not just about four colour separation, but layer flattening as well.

    I can suggest two workarounds to you:

    - if you need CMYK PDFs for a one-off, occasional project save your Pages document to PostScript, put it on a USB stick, CD or similar and take the PS files to a friend with full Acrobat Pro suite which includes Distiller. A computer service/shop or a small professional printer may do the distilling and colour separation from PS files for you for a reasonable fee;
    - if your project is of a continuous, long term nature - periodical print publication, posters, cards etc., my advice would be - get yourself full professional Acrobat/Distiller suite. I've just looked it up on Amazon - Pro version 9 could be as low as 200 dollars. When I did costings for my magazine three years ago I found that even after upgrading my Mac to Tiger, installing additional RAM (Pages are very RAM hungry!) and buying Acrobat Pro, I'd spend about half of what I'd have to, had I chosen InDesign or Quark.

    And the ease of learning Pages, their elegance and intuitive behavior are a big factor too.

    Please let me know if you find a way of producing CMYK PDFs from Pages without using Distiller.


  9. Thanks so much for posting this - you're the only designer on the Web that doesn't simply say "well Pages isn't InDesign so it sucks" and doesn't help us poor Pages users. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!


  10. blimey,
    the only one on the web?
    should it not make me feel sad and lonely?

    thanks, Danny, glad it helped.

  11. Has anyone tried this? I think it MIGHT work!

    My other plan has been to save as .PS, at ~1200dpi (ColorSync setting), open with GraphicConverter at 1200 dpi, and then have GC save as a CMYK TIFF.

    Here's what the GC Manual says to do to make CMYK TIFFs:
    "RGB and CMYK
    If you want to separate an RGB picture, select the required profile under File /
    Edit Color Profile... with the CMYK Select Change... button.
    The profile file takes the equipment used in the print shop into consideration and,
    above all, the paper used. You can obtain the profile file from your print shop. Copy
    the profile file into the folder: User / ̃ / Library / Application Support / Graphic-
    Converter / Profiles. The tilde stands for the name of the user.
    Separate the picture file with Picture / Mode / CMYK Color. The selected profile
    file is attached to the image file. The mode is displayed in brackets in the title bar of
    the picture window. You can now save the file and use it in a program like QuarkX-
    Press or InDesign or forward it to a print shop. CMYK mode is only supported by
    the JPG, JPEG2000, TIFF and Photoshop PSD formats. The TIFF format with the
    extension .tif (just one f) without LZW compression is used as the standard."

    I'll just send the CMYK TIFFs made from the PostScript to my print shop.


  12. It looks like it might work.
    But I just can't imagine a situation when you MUST use this process instead of the more simple Pages-PS-PDF route.

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  14. Thank you very much.
    Your article is very helpful.
    Can I repost it on articles section with copyrights?

    1. Ok, please put a live link to I Work in Pages.


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