A DESIGNER IN THE PRINTER’S DEN
In this blog series, the creative director of our sister company, Blackbuck Marketing, gives us an insider’s view of what a graphic designer can learn working inside a printing company.
I’ve been a graphic designer working within a printing company for a year now, and oh man, have I learned a lot. Enough that I’ve got some new year’s resolutions to myself for the coming year:
I will check in with my print rep before embarking on my design.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my year here, it’s that there’s the world of the design imagination and there are the worlds of physical and financial reality. These worlds overlap, but let’s just say they are not always congruent.
You can develop the most gorgeous design, but sometimes it cannot physically be done. More often, your design can be physically achieved, but the cost to print it or to fold it or to mail it would be prohibitively high.
I’ve saved myself so much time – and my clients so much money – by talking over my designs with my print rep first. When my original design isn’t feasible, together we develop an alternative that works. And often that alternative is even better.
I will convert all my black-and-white photos to grayscale.
You may be asking yourself, “Aren’t black-and-white photos automatically in … um … black and white?” Not necessarily.
Many photos that appear black-and-white on your screen are actually in RGB format, and they have subtle amounts of color in them that can become very obvious when it comes to print.
In the first image below, I’m holding the eye dropper over the left-hand runner’s tank top. Note in the Info box at right that the color of that tank top contains 72% cyan, 66% magenta, and 65% yellow, along with 76% black.
How do you fix this? Open up all your black-and-white images in Photoshop, then go to Image > Mode and change the mode to Grayscale (below).
I will make sure all of my images are at least 300 dpi.
I realize that you may already know that all your images and graphics need to have a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch (dpi) to print properly. (At lower resolutions, the image may look too pixelated.)
But do you always check all your images before you send your files off to print? Yeah, I didn’t always remember to do this either. This wastes time (and therefore money), because then the printer has to contact you to obtain higher-resolution images.
If you use Adobe InDesign, you can make the software check image resolution for you. Create your own preflight profile for printing, and set it to raise a red flag if any image’s resolution is below 300.
I will edit my photos down to size first instead of placing them into the layout at full size and then cropping and resizing them.
Say you need to place an image onto a page of a newsletter. Just place it in and resize as needed, right? Well, a much better practice – especially if the original photo is much larger than it needs to be for the publication – is to use photo-editing software to resize the image to about the size you need and place that smaller version into your layout.
Why bother? For one thing, you’ll keep the size of your files more manageable, which helps with storage space and helps keep your computer’s process from lagging while you’re working. Also, your layout software will probably downsample your images to 300 dpi anyway, and you’re much better off having a photo-specific piece of software like Photoshop do that downsampling for you.
Again, if you’re using InDesign, you can use that same preflight profile to remind you to resize your photos ahead of time. I set a maximum image resolution of 750 dpi. That way, if I’ve placed an overly large image into the file and shrunk it down in InDesign, I’ll get a self-induced slap on the wrist.
I will double-check that I’m only using spot colors in my files if I’m printing in spot colors.
Professional color printing is generally achieved by layering mixtures of four different color inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). But let’s say you’re designing for a client whose logo and brand identity use a very specific red, and they want to be certain that red looks exactly right. You’d use what’s called a spot or PMS color.
On an offset printer, this will mean adding a fifth ink, instead of letting a combo of CMYK create that red. It adds to the cost of your print job, but sometimes it’s worth it.
However, what if your client wants to save some money by having everything printed in CMYK? Before sending your design off to print, you’ll want to double check your file and make sure there are no spot colors accidentally lurking in there. Open up your swatches panel, remove any unused colors, and then check for spot colors. If there are any, convert them to their CMYK equivalents.
I’ll use rich black for any large, black areas in my design.
In four-color printing, black text and graphics are printed using just black ink. Makes sense, right? Yes, but if you have a large area of black in your design – a large black area on a graphic, for example, or a black background – you’ll want to color that “rich black” and not just regular, 100% black.
What is rich black? Different printers prefer a different mix, so ask yours first. 360 Press Solutions prefers a mix of 40% cyan, 30% magenta, 20% yellow, and 100% black. Why add all that extra color on top of the black? Regular black by itself can look a little flat. For small areas like text or small graphics, that’s fine. (And in fact, you don’t want to use rich black there or you’re liable to make a mess.) But for large areas, you want a richer, deeper color, so rich black is the way to go.
There are some exceptions to these basic rules about when to use rich black. For example, you wouldn’t want to use rich black anywhere on a black-and-white print job, because using rich black effectively turns your inexpensive black-and-white printing into more costly color printing.
I’ll check that I’ve got at least a ⅛” bleed and have used it consistently.
If you have any design experience, you probably know that if you have any images or graphics that you want to go all the way to the edge of the page, you’ll need to include at least a ⅛” bleed in your files.
All good. But if you’re like me, you often forget to double-check that you’ve used that bleed consistently. Do yourself a favor and before you send off those files, give them a good once-over to make sure all elements that touch the edge of the page also have a bleed.
I will not use printer spreads.
If you’ve ever pulled the pages of a magazine or book out of their binding, you know that non-consecutive pages are often printed onto the same piece of paper. (For example, see the booklet imposition shown here.)
Knowing this, you might be tempted to “help” your printer by arranging the pages of your book or magazine into the order you think they’ll be printed. You can do this in InDesign by creating what are called “printer spreads” when exporting to PDF.
Cool, right? You’ll be so helpful! Your printer will thank you!
Hate to burst your bubble, Matilda – but no, they won’t thank you. Imposing magazine or book pages into the proper order is best left for the printer’s prepress department to do. How to best arrange those pages will depend on the size of the paper and the press the printer will use for your job, for example. If you create printer spreads, you will likely create more work for your printer, not less.
Whenever possible, I’ll send a package file instead of just a PDF to the printer.
It’s usually perfectly fine to just send a PDF of the design you want printed. But often the print shop’s prepress department will need to make some adjustments to your files to make them ready for print. You’ll make this process easier if you package up the original files and send them instead of just the final PDF.
I will tidy up all the layers in my files before packaging them.
While we’re discussing packaged files, make sure all of the layers in those files are unlocked. Locked layers may not transfer over during the packaging process. Also be sure to delete any empty layers, unused images hanging out on the pasteboard, and so on. It will reduce the size of your files and make it easier for your printer to work with your files.
Want to get more design-savvy in the coming year? Check out our free monthly classes on design, printing, and marketing!