printing mistakes

There are many fallacies about what can be done in commercial printing and if you believe them you are walking down a very dangerous path that will create for you poor work andhigher costs. I have come up with a list of ten of the most widely spread fallacies concerning the commercial printing process and will share them with you here. All of the points made herein will be relevant to book printing, magazine printing, catalog printing and every other form of commercial printing.


1-I Can Print with Web (72dpi) Quality Images:   Wrong:  72 DPI is 5% of the pixels necessary for commercial printing.  If you recall having ever shopped for a scanner, you will note they give you two dimensions, one being the width and the other the height. Thus 72 x 72 =5,184 pixels, while 300 x 300=90,000 pixels. Now imagine needing 90,000 pixels when you present your magazine or book to a commercial printer and you are supplying only 5,184. Your end product will look like finger painting at best. If you want to approximate how your poster or brochure will look, blow it up on screen to 400%. If you see edgy pixilation you have a problem.

2-I Resized My Images in the Document Program:    No, No, No, you never want to do that anymore than buying a size 6 shoe for a size 10 footsie. All you are doing is squeezing more dots than necessary into a smaller space. You are getting nothing more than a “squish sandwich”. You don’t want your sandwich squished anymore than your images. When your image files are too big, you risk them at best creating a slow and tedious rip, to a default to 72 dpi or worse, crashing the rip and preventing output in severe cases. Bottom line, make a smaller sandwich. Use Photoshop to properly size your images for commercial printing first, and then import them to your document program.

3-I Can Use Non Graphics Files:   Commercial printing companies will not accept Word, Excel, or other downloaded junk software for the simple reason that they do not have similar software loaded to their workstations or rips. But more importantly you will have nothing but trouble with fonts, image boxes, and text boxes that will be larger than you think when you print your book, magazine or catalog, as well as potential copy reflow from software that many times is unstable moving from desktop computer to another desktop computer.  If you must print your poster or calendar or any other piece with commercial printers, then at the very least you must be able to export your files to an “appropriate” PDF.

4-I Designed it Perfectly, But……   Poor job planning is one of the biggest mistakes that commercial printing companies have to deal with when getting files from designers or self design amateurs.  This is due to the lack of a thorough and complete understanding of the commercial printing processes for the items they are designing for. Whether it be a book, magazine, catalog, poster, calendar of brochure, if you do not understand the complete process than you cannot design for it. The best advice I can ever give another for a commercial printing project is to plan your job from the last stop and work backwards. Even if a simple flyer, print it out and look at it. Don’t ever count on what you see on screen. Only the best designers can extrapolate from their expensive high end graphics monitor which is still not accurate, to what it will look like on the press. If it is a folded piece or a stitched magazine, print it and fold it. This way you can see what actually occurs in the final process and plan for things like “creep”, how inner panels need to be less wide than outer ones so as to meet the final size required, or how pages jut outwards as they move towards the centerfold in a stitched magazine, etc.

5-Why Is There a White Box Around My Flyer?   Because you did not plan for bleed my friend. Commercial printing companies do not have the time nor accurate enough trimming equipment, to chop right where the copy ends.  Nor does lay down that evenly at the edge of sheets so as to create a perfect edge all of the time. You must create a “bleed” by extending the image area beyond the trim area required. This is then trimmed back to create the “ink to the paper edge” result. Even if you remembered to create a bleed in your native application, many folks just export to a PDF as the final size of the document and wonder why the bleed is not there when the files are given to the commercial printing company. You must set up the bleed by either telling the PDF prompt to use the document bleed, preferred, or to add bleeds and thus export to a page size larger than the final trim size so the bleed and crop marks are present for the commercial printer.

6-Why Am I Paying To Re-output My Files As it Was Only a Change In Spelling?    Spell Check your files in Word or if using an appropriate native application such as InDesign, spell check it there. Do not wait for the proof given you by the commercial printing company in order to find out that your magazine, brochure or book as a ton of spelling errors. That is your fault and not the fault of the commercial printer.

7-I Gave You Everything I Had:   Handing over print files to the printing company, with either not all of the ingredients or more than are needed are equally faulty. If you provide a native application file such as Quark or InDesign, the default settings to these types of programs, unlike Corel or Publisher, is to link images and fonts and not to embed them. Thus if you are short some fonts or images in your respective font or image folders, they will not be there at output time. It is almost as bad to give your commercial printing company bits and pieces that may be from other projects or part of the work flow of the current one. You risk them being output at a cost to yourself. Never give a commercial printing company more than is required to print the job.

8-I Can Perfect Bind a 32 Page Magazine:   No it is not possible to bind. Mother Nature will not allow it. Commercial printers have equipment that requires a full 1/8” in spine width in order to perfect bind. Less than that you risk having pages falling out and at best a real hunk of garbage for your product is what you will get.

9-I Want to Saddle Stitch 30 Pages:   Wrong, again Mother Nature has you there. In order to saddle stitch you must have a page count divisible by four so as   the staples may grab onto paper. The only way you could have such a booklet would be to have a loose two page insert.

10-It Looked Good On My Screen:   As I previously mentioned there are very few experienced designers who can create on the screen with the experience of knowing how the end result will not just look, but perform on the press and at bindery.  One of the biggest issues is dot gain on the commercial printing press. If you are not familiar with dot gain then you will be continually asking yourself this question: Why are my photos so dark? This is because dots get “smashed” when the plates hit the “blanket” and then the blanket collides with the paper to lay down the ink. The resultant effect is that the dots spread, thus the ink spreads and becomes a bit denser, thus darkening the final photo during the commercial printing process. You must adjust for this by making your images lighter on screen to compensate. Modern presses may only have a dot gain of 5%, while older newspaper and book presses may have a 15% or more dot gain.

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