Most printers understand the value of having their customers send PDF file for printing. Correctly created, a PDF is a digital master that contains all the graphics, type, and fonts that make up a document for printing. The key is in the settings you choose when you make your PDF file.
If you’re using the print-oriented Adobe Creative Suite applications, things are made much easier because there is an Export Adobe PDF dialog box available in InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. It provides PDF presets for many print workflows, and you get the most control over the kind of PDF file the printer needs. (While it’s still possible to make a PDF by creating a PostScript file, and processing it though Acrobat Distiller, this older, more tedious process usually provides few advantages.)
In Adobe InDesign, choose File > Export > Adobe PDF or Adobe PDF (Print), depending on the version. In Adobe Illustrator, choose File > Save As > Adobe PDF (pdf). In Adobe Photoshop, choose File > Save As > Photoshop PDF.
The most important question is which of the PDF presets to choose. The best choice is typically the one that your print provider gives you. However, if they don’t specify their own choice, use one of the three PDF/X options: PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, or PDF/X-4. A PDF/X file must include certain elements essential for printing, and it may prohibit certain things.
If your printer has a PostScript RIP, the best choice is usually PDF/X-1a (shown above). When you choose this preset all colors (e.g., RGB images) are converted to CMYK using the output intent defined on the Output pane (the default is US Web Coated SWOP). Fonts are all embedded. This choice also flattens all transparency. Your printer can tell you if this workflow will work for their printing process.