magazine printing, book printing, catalog printing, posters, calendars


As a result of getting many files that “are not right” from designers that are for output in commercial printing, many times, more than I care to even think of, the files are poorly constructed. The designer looks at the files on screen thinks “nice job, I think I deserve a pat on the back”: Wrong, how about a slap upside the head? Well, I thought long and hard and with the help of some very cool and knowledgeable folks in the Communication Arts group I have composed my list of the Seven Deadly Sins of Commercial Printing.

1-Image Resizing In a Document Application

Many designers, whether by laziness or lack of knowledge take an image that may be 6 x 9” and place it into a design box that is 3 x 2”. Now it is true that InDesign and other applications will allow you to resize the box or the image. But what occurs is that the dots get squeezed and there is not a real reduction in size. The image is then larger what is necessary and when you do this too many times in a document you wind up with a bloated file. The net result can be a document that is way too large for a given RIP to handle and then the RIP either crashes, which does not help one’s timeline, especially in magazine printing with its deadlines, and will not make you any friends in the pre press department. It also can also cause the RIP to process the files using a rather unfriendly default, which can then change the image to 72 dpi, the default of some rips. The moral to the story is never size images, unless a very marginal amount for good fit, in the design application. Size them a few percent larger for good fit and no more using Photoshop.

2-Plan the Printing Job from the Bindery Back

One of the best points I make to designers and clients is that you should plan your print job from the “last stop on the train”. In other words, if you are printing a catalog or book, print it out and look at it. It may work on screen, but nothing beats the reality of holding the job in your hand and adjusting it from there. You would be surprised how many designers never proof their work this way. It does not matter if it will work on press, should it not work at bindery. In the final analysis it is still a mechanical thing. Some standard examples are the 6 page brochure, the “double gate folded” catalog cover. If you do not plan your panels to meet with a 1/8” gap, then they will fold with creases or balloon out. Another example is the “map fold”, where you must first “Z fold” and then “accordion fold” as well as being careful to use lighter weight paper, or you will be creating a balloon again.

3-Don’t Expect Exact Match on Colors for Reprints or From Proofs

I tell my clients that from press to printing press NEVER expect to see the exact same thing from the same files. Even the most “exacting” ink system out there, the Pantone Matching System, tells you right on their color chart book not to expect that, due to the press mechanicals, the paper, etc. and to allow for a variance of a few percent so you will be happy.

4-Deliver Files with Appropriate Bleed Settings

I hate to tell you how many “so called” high end designers do not deliver files with bleed and if they remember to set them in InDesign, they forget to make the PDF the right size to show them. Set your brochure or catalog bleeds in the design application. If on a sheet fed press they should be 1/8” on all sides. If your file has a bleed on only one edge, but goes from the top to the bottom, that is NOT one bleed, but three. If on a web press, many prefer a ¼” bleed due to “press jiggle”, meaning the high speed of a web or its age or both will have such a variance that even with 1/8” for bleeds that may not suffice. The most common mistake is setting the bleed in the application but when exporting to the PDF, forgetting to enlarge the page to show the document bleeds.

 5-Understand “Image Area”

Not only does it look bad from a design standpoint, to have copy or non bled images bump up right near the page edge, but if you do so, you risk some of it getting cut off during the trimming of your magazine or book. Book printing presses especially tend to be older cold set webs and have more “jiggle” to them.

6-What Creep, Me?

Have you considered what will happen to your brochure if it is a multi folded piece, such as a roll fold or double parallel fold, where the stock gets thicker and thicker at the fold line after each consecutive folding of the paper? This is called “creep” and figuring out “creep” takes some math. On standard text stock, the average is to reduce each panel by 1/32” of an inch from the last folded panel going inwards and deducting that from each successive panel, but from the size of the prior panel not the first. This way if you plan for a 4” wide brochure, you don’t wind up with a 4.5” or so one after all of the folds. Back in my music business days, the concept was “we will fix it in the mix”, and that was wrong then and wrong in printing as you must plan for what happens in the bindery and not just on your screen or press.

7-Image Issues

The two biggest issues which are the cause of bad images are that they are presented as RGB or that they are low resolution. RGB is NOT a system that is used in the world of printing. It is used in photography and on your computer screen, which in most cases as, your screen is not accurate in the least. In the early days of pre press, prior to the RIP defaults becoming much better, just changing a file from RGB to CMYK would not only look awful on screen, with a chalk white caste to it, but similar on press. Nowadays, the default at the RIP, gives you something quite reasonable. HOWEVER, if you want total control of your color, don’t become a musician and assume it “can be fixed in the mix”, but fix it in the foundation by changing your images to CMYK and if color correction is needed do it in Photoshop. Otherwise “ya gets what ya gets” by default and “de fault” will be yours!

The other issue is resolution. Hey let’s get some resolution here buddy! Just because something looks good on the screen in no way, in this life reflects how it will look on a commercial printing press. If your files are “low rez”, then your magazine or catalog will have images that look fuzzy and the best you can do in some cases is to ghost them back or make them much smaller. Here is the deal Neil! Your screen resolution is 72 dpi and print resolution for commercial “eye pleasing” printing is 300 dpi (art printing can go double that easily). So let’s do the math, please? The actual dpi is not just 72 for what you would be seeing as a “so called clear image” on your computer screen, but 72 x 72. Now if you use the x as a times factor, 72 x 72=5184 and thus a 72 dpi image contains 5184 dots per inch. Let’s try the same for images that are 300 dpi and the required amount of dots for commercial printing and thus 300 x 300=90,000 dpi. Wow you say what a difference? The fact is that the 72 dpi image has only 5% of the dots (information) of the 300 dpi image. This is the reason why low resolutions look so awful in commercial printing.

Here is a trick to check your images, should you not have a quality postscript printer to output them to. As a rule of thumb, if you blow up your image on screen to 400% you will get an approximation (note the word here, as I did not state a totally accurate result) of how it will look once your commercial printer prints it. If you see pixels, hard edges and fuzziness, just know that it was not that drink you had at lunch. Your image is junk.

8-“Bonus Sin”-Spell Check Your Files and Last Minute Details

This should be obvious, but you would be surprised. If you spell check your file using the application or even Word or your email program if you must, you will not be looking at your mistakes in a commercial printing company’s proofing mechanism. If you catch your errors then, you have just flushed money needlessly down the drain as you will be charged to re RIP and re proof your files.

When you hand over your files for your poster, catalog, brochure, magazine or whatever, never add more there than necessary, as you may not only confuse your printing company, but may have just bought some pre press time outputting files that were not even part of your job. The same goes for records given to a direct mail company. You may need to keep records for email addresses, telephone numbers and the like, but this is not part of what goes into the addressing of your magazine or catalog before it is mailed. Needless to say, ALWAYS provide a “style sheet”, which is the road map to your files, telling the printer what is there, should be there and any last minute instructions.

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