Printing Dimensions Inc., a Beltsville-based printing company locked in a legal battle with a failed merger partner, filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code yesterday in bankruptcy court in Rockville.

F. Scott Watkins, president of Printing Dimensions (PDI), one of the Washington area's largest job-printing firms, said the bankruptcy filing was the result of financial pressures from the broken deal -- in which PDI has charged that its former partner, Metro Graphics Inc., owes it $400,000 -- and an inability to borrow additional funds from the company's primary lender, Signet Bank.

Because of the financial problems, PDI has laid off more than one-third of its 69 employees in the past few weeks, according to Watkins.

"There's no way a small company like this can take a half-million-dollar hit like that without help from its bank," Watkins said. "They're unwilling to work with us."

Officials at Richmond-based Signet could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

But like other banks in the region, Signet has been tightening credit in recent months in reaction to the softening local economy and pressure from federal regulators.

Watkins said the company hopes to continue operating, while reorganizing under supervision of the federal bankruptcy court, if it can obtain interim financing from the bank.

Watkins said PDI's troubles began with the breakup in late April of the company's planned merger with Metro Graphics, a smaller printer based in Washington.

The rift between the two was a bitter one -- when Metro Graphics employees attempted to remove some of their company's equipment from PDI's Beltsville headquarters, they were blocked first by PDI officials and then a court order.

PDI then sued, claiming that Metro Graphics owed it $400,000 for work performed in the months preceding the formal merger.

Details of the case are now under seal in Prince George's County Circuit Court.

Watkins said yesterday the broken merger was "totally responsible" for his company's problems.

Although business has been good recently for the company, PDI was unable to negotiate new loans from Signet to cover the funds tied up in the merger dispute, Watkins said.

Its revenue last year was $8.9 million last year.

In recent weeks, the company has reduced its employment to 41 from 69, Watkins said.