Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pages and professional printshops: why PostScript

Dealing with PDF production is one obstacle which most Pages users find difficult to overcome once they move beyond office or home printing.

The process I use involves going through the PostScript stage.

  • 'Print' Pages to 'Save as PostScript'
  • Create PDF, Open in Acrobat or just drag the PS file onto Acrobat or Acrobat Distiller icon in the Dock
Using PS stage appears to be the only path where CMYK colour separation is possible for PDFs produced from Pages.

Two years ago I was looking for an affordable publishing programme to start a magazine, glossy paper, full colour, mass-printed. Which meant going through professional printers with CMYK.
"using the PS stage seems to be the key element in making Pages work for professional printing"

I posted a request for advice on several Mac forums. Someone on the British Macuser forum recommended looking at Pages, a new suite of DTP software that had just been released by Apple. I looked at it and was immediately seduced by the elegant look of their templates, the apparent ease of use and, of course, the price.

I discarded drafts made in MS Word and AppleWorks and designed publicity brochure for a local estate agency and a pilot for the magazine - all in Pages.

The next stage was to see if Pages would work at professional printshops. The printer I had chosen assured me that he could work from PDFs. I made a set of PDFs using Pages>Print>Save as PDF path. The document looked fine on computer screen and on proofs printed on a digital printer.

However when those PDFs where processed to CMYK film the colours wouldn't separate. I am afraid I didn't take note of exactly which colour went blank and which completely black. The fact is neither 'Export to PDF', nor Print>Save as PDF worked.

Luckily the printer was as interested in making the project work as me. So we sat down and went through all possible options eventually discovering that Pages>Print>Save as PostScript>create PDF with Acrobat gave documents that could be CMYK processed with satisfactory results.

I've been fine-tuning this process ever since. But using the PS stage seems to be the key element in making Pages work for professional printing, i.e. when your finished project is to be put on a set of four films from which colour plates are made for printing Presses.

It doesn't seem to matter as much with digital printing where print-runs are limited, e.g. up to 500 copies. But even there you get better quality PDFs when the PS stage is used.

I am afraid I lack the technical knowledge to explain why that is so. From what I read it has something to do with Quartz technology used in Pages, layers and flattening.

Also check these earlier articles:

Three steps from Pages to PDF

and an outline of a slightly different process:
Preparing colour-separated PDFs using ColourSync utility


  1. Thanks for all your helpful hints. I just discovered your blog today and will continue reading through your archives.

  2. You are most welcome - Happy Christmas!


  3. Anonymous5:29 am

    This process of creating a PDF from PS file looks great. Now if one does not have Acrobat, will Apple's Preview open the PS file and save as a PDF with CMYK output? Or is using Acrobat the only way to get the CMYK?
    Thanks for this work!

  4. thanks for your comment. Yes, you can open PS files with Preview. They will be PDF type files, but not good for high-end professional printers.
    It is not just CMYK separation. When you process PS through Acrobat Distiller various other settings click in, including DPI and pixel count, flattening. It is another, highly specialised area.
    If your job (project) is a design and lay-out job arrange for printers or specialised design companies to take care of that.
    If you don't have access to Acrobat, stop at PostScript stage, take your files in PS format to a friendly printer (designer) and have them make press quality PDFs for you.
    Hope this helps

  5. pentimento8:24 am

    So glad to have found you and your posts! Does this three-part process also fix the dreaded transparency issue when you try to press print directly from a Pages pdf?

  6. it should.
    that's exactly the point about PostScript. Glad my posts helped. Please check other articles dealing with PDF - click on most popular blog topics in the side-bar.

  7. pentimento5:51 pm

    Thank you so much! Sending a test to the printer!

  8. pentimento11:32 pm

    This has been working really well - no more transparency issues!
    But now when I save as postscript, only part of the file is being saved in the file (one corner of the pages document).
    any ideas?

  9. Sorry, I don't see how this can happen. Click on Preview (next to PDF button in print dialogue window) to see what it shows.
    Let me know if you find a solution.

  10. This is a wonderful piece of work - thanks for sharing! It resolved quite a frustrating time of back and forth with the printer!

  11. glad it helped.

  12. Anonymous10:22 pm

    Hi, I'm trying to vectorize my fonts in Pages. Is it possible with the Post Script and Distiller or in any other way than pasting everything in InDesign?
    Thank you


  13. If you are talking about creating images of letters, then yes, print them from Pages to PostScript and process via Distiller. Remove white background with Alpha tool when using them elsewhere. Have a look at this post: or search under 'drawing original shapes in iWork/Pages' label.
    If you are talking about creating a full-fledged font package, then I can't be of much help. I am not really familiar with vectorization process.

  14. Thanks for this excellent site. I have written a 480-page bok with multiple color pictures. Using your suggestion of Pages>postscript>distiller>PDF/x has been very successful. All photographs have been adjusted to 300 ppi.
    I have a problem with some text boxes that come out as images with about 216 ppi. Also picture frames for text boxes seem to default to a lower quality image.
    Do you have any suggestions?
    Thank you

  15. First of all, try removing picture frames and repeating the conversion process to see if they are the culprits. (not all, test just one of course)

    If they are replace them with 'clipart' frames - take a high definition photo of a framed picture from somewhere and put a text box with white colour fill over the painting with just the frame visible.
    Hope this solves the problem.

  16. Thanks for this site, it's helped a lot! Can you answer whether I can upload a pages document that has been converted to PDF onto a website? I suppose what I'm asking is will the file be too large (it will be around 20 pages) and if so, how can I compress it for online publication?

  17. Lisa, hi

    yes, you can upload PDFs produced from Pages to a web-site.

    To your second question, you needn't worry about the size of your PDF unless the web-site itself has restrictions. Check the size of your document in megabytes and see what the web-site options are.

    If there is a problem you can use one of the free storage options. For example, Google account gives about 1 GB free storage. You can upload the PDF to Google Documents and then put a link to the PDF onto your web-page. I've just checked: uploading a 20 Mb document takes about a minute and it loads for viewing in seconds.

    When you produce a PDF it is often optimised, for instance in Acrobat, for web viewing. I wouldn't recommend compressing if you are uploading it just for viewing.

    And of course, the website must have the option for uploading PDFs, some don't.

  18. I have a problem. When I send a project to a professinal printing company they complain that the text in pages isn't 100 percent black. It's in CMYK. They also complain about a font that I have never heard of that creates problems in the ripping-prosess.

    Here's the original file:

    Here's a SMALL version of the PDF, but with the problems that occures on some pages:

  19. re black:
    - select all text in your document,
    - in Text Inspector click on the colour well (the bar with which you change colour)
    - when Colour Viewer opens, click on the Slides option (second from left),
    - choose CMYK in the drop-down menu and set CMY to zero, and K (black) to 100 percent.

    Repeat the same for text boxes and captions.

    That should give you what they call 'true black'.

    re leftover font, it could be from a template or an embed from a previous document. You could have imported it in your project with graphics or other files. Try recreating your doc from scratch and see if the problem persists. If you are confident with Acrobat, there is an option for removing unwanted fonts.
    If this is too techy, ask the printers to show you how to remove it, or ask them to remove the font themselves. Usually they would do it for an additional fee, or, if you are a regular client with large, long-term project, they just waive the fee.

    Hope this helps.

  20. Jo E. Brenden10:51 pm

    Thanks! That saved my day. And my week. And my month. Now I hope that I have corrected the errors.

  21. glad to help - good luck with your project.

  22. Great blog.
    I'm having trouble getting the Save as Postcript option to work correctly though. The document is 11x17 and it looks fine in the print preview window, but when I open the new Postscript file in Preview it has only printed a small section of the actual document. It seems like it has only captured an 8.5x11 section of the original.
    Yikes. I can't figure out how to get the Postscript option to capture the whole 11x17 page.
    Any thoughts??

    1. Jen, hi,
      It's a common problem, unfortunately.
      Look at Kathryn's comments on this post
      or read
      Some of the settings may be different but the principle is the same.

  23. The entire information is really good and some good insights available. Looking forward to do more clicks.


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