Want great print results? 10 things you should ask your printer

10 things a designer should ask their printer before starting a project – colors, paper, proofing, finishing, services and more.

Author: Roger Gimbel, Gimbel & Associates

Printing produces beautiful, tangible work that engages the senses in a way virtual design simply can’t. You can smell the ink and hear the crackling paper of a new book. It also demands more complicated and exacting specifications because you’re producing a real object. Here are 10 questions you’ll want to ask your printer to get the perfect result.

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How soon should a printer be involved with a project?

Unless you’re an experienced print designer, involve your printer as early as possible in the creation process. Tell them as much as you can about your project, and they will tell you how to avoid snags or problems in the production process. Printers can also help you execute a data-driven marketing campaign, manage postal regulations, or suggest changes so your project prints economically. In print, it’s often best to start from the end product and work backwards. This helps you identify all the factors that must be in the plan.

What logistical support can a printer provide?

Printers offer more than simply putting ink on a substrate. Their services extend from the purely logistical, such as organizing bindery and delivery, to sophisticated services, like managing data for variable data printing projects. Printers also install banners and other display units, manage direct mail campaigns, fulfill online orders for promotional items, set up websites, and offer help in many other ways. Make sure you understand exactly how your print service provider can complement and enhance your print campaigns.

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Which paper is best for the project?

Paper choices are vast. Basic breakdowns include text stock, for inside pages, and cover stock for covers. Both come in various thicknesses and in coated or uncoated versions. Coated stock can have a glossy, matte, or satin finish, while uncoated paper has an unfinished, flat surface. Paper also absorbs ink in different ways, so a red applied to a glossy stock will look different when it’s put on an uncoated sheet.  For large-format projects, the choice of substrate is even more expansive. Beyond the purely technical aspects of paper, your choice of substrate can also convey different feelings—right now for example, uncoated sheets have a hipper vibe to them. Your printer will recommend the best substrate for your goals.

How do I manage color properly?

Your monitor uses the RGB (red, green, blue) color system, but printing presses use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). RGB can reproduce vastly more colors than a printing press, which is part of the reason you must convert your digital files to CMYK for printing.

In addition, presses can print spot colors based the Pantone Matching System (PMS). Spot colors come in precisely premixed formulas from ink suppliers and reproduce exactly the same every single time. This is especially important in retail and packaging where a brand’s color has to be flawlessly consistent. Specialty inks, like metallic and neon colors, are also considered spot colors. Some colors, like true black, can be tricky to set up, and some colors are more difficult to print. Your print provider will give you the exact specs you need to hit that perfect color tone.

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What should I know about bleeds, gutters, and spines?

Printed pieces have a trim size and bleed area. The trim size is the final dimension of a piece after it’s trimmed and bound. The bleed is a safety margin of printed content that extends beyond the trimmed edge on all sides and is discarded during cutting. Gutters are the inside margins, closest to the spine of a bound book. A related topic is the type safety area, which refers to how close you can place images, text, and other elements to the trim edge without risk of them being cut off. You may have to adjust the safety zone further in the gutter, depending on what binding method you’re using. Your printer will give you all the parameters he needs for perfect trimming.

What PRINT resolution is best?

Resolution refers to how much data an image contains. Screen resolutions generally top out at 72 dots per inch (dpi), but an offset press needs a resolution of 300 dpi. This resolution applies to the final printed image. If you’re using an image that’s 3” x 2” with 300 dpi and resize to 9” x 6” you will dilute the resolution. The larger image must be 300 dpi. If you’re printing an outdoor banner on vinyl, the resolution requirements will be different.

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What’s the best way to set up a PDF?

Printers like to receive press-ready files they can output to a plate or directly to a digital press with minimal corrections. Usually they prefer the Adobe PDF/X-1a format. Avoid sending native files like InDesign. Ask your printer how to best set up the PDF and how to embed fonts properly, a leading cause of headaches on the shop floor.

What press is best for my job?

Printing technology offers several options for outputting files: traditional offset lithography, toner-based digital presses, and the newer inkjet presses. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Offset cannot execute a variable marketing campaign, for example, but it’s the best if you’re printing 20,000 brochures. Ask your printer which press is ideal for your project and get their guidance on how to design for that press. Inkjet printers are replacing silkscreen presses and can print on just about anything you can think of. Leveraging the right technology can inject spectacular, creative elements into your campaigns. Ever seen invitations printed on wood?

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What’s the best way to proof a job?

Proof your work extensively before hitting the send button and focus not just on typos but on design elements like kerning, and other type-related issues. Once your flyer is printed, it can’t be changed. Your printer will give you the option of a digital online proof or a printed proof depending on the job, but be aware that making type changes at this stage can be expensive. Both these types of proofs are mostly used for what’s known as position proofing – making sure all the elements are there and colors are approximately correct. If you need to see exact colors, a press approval is the best choice.

What finishing techniques will enhance my project?

The world of finishing applications is forever expanding with mesmerizing options. Foiling, intricate digital die cutting, special inks, and raised UV applications that render a textured feel are just a few options. Your printer will recommend an application that will lift your project from good to eye-popping.

Printing professionals take a great deal of pride in the materials they create. They welcome opportunities to meet with creative people early in the design process because it helps them avoid unnecessary problems, expense, or delays at production time. By reaching out to your printer, you can discover techniques and embellishments that make your creative projects stand out and create value for your client.

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