OK, I should start by saying that Microsoft Word is a great piece of software. It can do a huge range of things and it will make some very professional-looking documents if you know how to wield it. We’ve actually got a bit of a die-hard Word fan in the office here. But even our resident Word nerd agrees: never, never use it as the final format to send off for printing.
Files created by word-processing programs, including (but not limited to) Word, include a whole lot of data you can’t see, telling your computer how big the font should be, how far apart the lines should be, how wide the page margins are, what colours to apply to which words, where to place each image in relation to other elements on the page – a whole host of things. The problem is that all this information doesn’t translate exactly from one computer to another (and especially between those old foes, Macs and PCs). Somehow, despite having the same margin width, page size and font, one computer might not be able to fit quite as many letters to a line as another. It affects the flow of the entire document and the text flows onto an extra page. Similarly, images move or don’t appear at all, because they’ve shifted right off the edge of the page!
Worse yet, your recipient might not have the same font set that you do. The fonts aren’t included when you send a Word document – fonts are proprietary. If the recipient doesn’t have the fonts you selected, then their computer will kindly substitute another one for them, probably without even letting them know.
Track Changes can also be a trickster. It’s a great way to keep track of how your document has changed across multiple edits, but when it comes to storing text to be copied and pasted, it presents its own quirks. We had a customer send a Word document with some text for us to copy over into a poster design. As it turned out, the text we copied over included all the changes that had been made: every deletion, correction and addition. As you can imagine, the resulting poster did not make a lot of sense!
Finally, Word reduces the quality of images saved within Word documents. A lot. A high-resolution image should be stored as a separate file – pasting it into a Word doc and deleting the original is, to put it politely, a terrible idea. If you’re using a designer and he or she gives you the final layout in three or four different formats, keep them all. They’ve been supplied like that because there are different uses for different file types, and you may not discover what those are until months later when you realise you probably shouldn’t have deleted that mysterious .eps file that your computer refused to open.
When it comes to printing, the safest file type to use is PDF. JPG is also OK, as long as it’s in an appropriate resolution for the size it’s to be printed. Of course, if you do send an image for us to print and we’re concerned about the resolution, we’ll let you know – but it’s always handy to be able to get it right the first time.