5 Tips to Avoid Printing Mistakes for Designers
When it comes to print projects and avoiding printing mistakes, you can pretty much predict how the production process will go based on how much prep was done ahead of time. It’s like that old carpentry proverb, “measure twice, cut once.” There’s a lot of wisdom to this. But in our on-demand, convenience-driven culture it’s easy to eschew that advice as outdated and unnecessary. And that would be a big mistake, especially when we’re talking about print.
Producing a print project isn’t necessarily difficult, but a bit of preparation (and perhaps patience) goes a long way in terms of producing a stellar outcome and avoiding printing mistakes. In part one of Back to Basics, we covered resolution, bleeds and folds. Here, we discuss five additional things to keep in mind before sending off your next print project.
Will the design work with the print processes specified?
For example, designing for digital print has some different considerations than offset. Paper is definitely one of those variables that can greatly affect the design depending on the printing process.
I recently got a panicked call from a designer in need of help finding an alternative paper stock for business cards. The problem was the designer spec’d a very heavyweight cover stock for business cards as part of a client’s identity system. To keep costs down, the project was to be printed digitally. Paper was ordered and purchased by the client based on the designer’s specs. But, unlike offset printing presses, digital presses cannot accommodate such a thick paper. Needless to say, the client wasn’t happy. Talking to your printer about your project and expectations will help avoid this printing mistake before you even start the design process.
Will the finished piece look/feel the way the designer intended?
This is where paper samples are critical to the process. Once you have the print design pretty much complete, I always suggest ordering samples and/or dummies based on the final print specs. This is really important to help ensure the integrity of the production design. I suggest doing this for just about every project – invitation suites, catalogs, brochures, identity systems, direct mail and especially packaging.
I’m working on a packaging project right now; the design is amazing and includes foil stamping and blind embossing. We’ve constructed dummies to make sure things like closures and gussets feel “right” when you hold the piece. After all, packaging is highly tactile. We could spend thousands of dollars on beautiful print techniques, but if the packaging feels awkward it’ll fail. And who wants that?
Is the paper you specified actually available?
I cannot tell you how many times a designer gets all the way to the finish line only to find out the paper they’ve specified – and sold the client on – is not available. There are tons of reasons this happens. Maybe the paper isn’t stocked locally and the printer has to purchase it in full cartons from the mill. Or maybe the paper is on back-order. Or maybe the weight specified is a “making only” item and the designer didn’t check the stocking info in the swatch book. And availability issues get exponentially higher when we’re talking about projects requiring matching envelopes.
This is when having a relationship with your local paper merchant is critical to minimizing production headaches. I always advise creatives to involve a local merchant rep in the process once they’ve got the concept nailed down. Your paper rep can help guide you to papers that easily available and stocked locally. This can be a big help if you’re on a tight budget, some paper merchants will break cartons and sell papers by the sheet. The same goes for envelopes. And don’t even get me started on finding the right colors in the weights/finishes you want.
Your paper rep is an expert on all things paper – utilize them to avoid this printing mistake! They know what’s readily available and can recommend papers based on your requirements, minimizing your time and avoiding headaches.
Speaking of paper, did you specify the actual paper and paper merchant?
It’s great to have a strong relationship with your print rep. Producing great print often comes down to teamwork. With that being said it’s important to support those reps that help you through the production process. That means awarding the job to the print rep that worked with you. It’s fine to get more than one quote, but there is a cost associated with service – and it’s important to remember that when it comes time to award the job.
Speaking of service, if you worked with paper rep during the process and they helped by providing recommendations and samples services, it’s important they get recognized for their efforts. As a designer you can support those paper reps by not only specifying the actual paper (grade name, color, basis weight and finish) but the company your local paper rep works for on your print specs.
As a former paper rep, I cannot tell you how often I went to much expense and effort working with creatives on projects only to find out the printer bought the paper from my competitor because my company’s name was not on the actual print specs. It is so simple to do and does not cost any more to do it. And if it’s a sizeable project, your paper rep should work to secure better pricing for you.
Are your files properly set up?
Better known as pre-flight, the process for making sure file-prep is correct can save you and your printer a ton of headaches. You want to make sure you’re using high-res images, you’ve linked or embedded the images and fonts, and cleaned up your final files. Many printers will provide designers with a pre-flight checklist but if not, here’s a good article outlining pre-flight basics.