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While your design is very important, communication is the crucial ingredient in the success of any print job. You need to know the capabilities and limitations of the potential printer, and your printer needs to understand your vision of the final printed piece. That's why there are no dumb questions, please don't be afraid to ask. Printers appreciate designers that express curiosity and have concern for a successful job. If you're tackling a project that isn't plain vanilla, if you're using nonstandard inks or you've interesting folds, pick up the phone.
It's your most valuable graphic tool at this stage of the job. Especially, if you've chosen an exotic paper or you require a special finishing start that conversation as early as possible. Speak with the technically knowledgeable customer service rep, describe what you have in mind, create a comp, a dummy if it's a tricky job, and schedule a visit at the printing plant. The CSR may schedule a meeting with representatives of the departments that will touch your job from sales and customer service to electronic prepress and Pressman and binary managers. They are the ones are the best equipped to analyze the needs of your project and advise you on the best ways to create your files.
If the stock requires special handling during the printing or finishing process, they may suggest modifications to your project or perhaps a better behaved stock. Remember that disappointment is all about expectations after all. The more realistic your expectations, the happier you'll be with the results. So here are some of the topics you may need to address. Is your stock going to present any problems? Is it difficult to print large areas of color on it because it's highly absorbent or highly textured? Remember that specialty papers with introduced components, such as flexor fibers, might cause a little problem as those little parts fly loose on press.
Some synthetic stocks may present issues with complicated folds. Colored stock of course is going to affect the appearance of graphics and art but that may be what you've in mind. Offset presses can print up to 12 colors or more if you're going to use a spot colors keep in mind that certain inks require special handling, and you may need to modify your files to allow for this. For instance, reflex blue--which is sort of the navy blue--often requires extra drying time which might mean that other inks can't be printed until that dries. Fluorescence, sometimes require a second pass to get full strength, and some inks are prone to scuffing, so especially, if it's a piece that's going to be mailed you might want to have them applied a coating, that will prevent that scuffing and some metallic inks require special handling.
Digital presses are usually but not always limited to CMYK, some of them now can handle spot colors. Once the piece is printed then folding and finishing take place. Simple folds such as 3-panel brochures are pretty common. Your printer might have a standard template, if they do, use that as your starting point. But if you're going to do something complicated such as packaging or special pieces with little pop-up areas, that's when you want to consult with the binary managers. You might find that you've to modify your design somewhat to accommodate the finishing process.
And if you're going do something like die cutting or embossing keep in mind that those dyes have to be created. And that may require a bit of lead time that might impact your deadline, and you need to make sure that your file is based on the artwork that's going to accomplish that process, the piece it's actually going to serve as the basis for the actual physical die. How far ahead do you need to plan? Keep in mind that press time is scheduled far in advance of the actual printing date. So make sure that you keep up with your deadlines, and you understand what the printer's deadlines are.
If the printing company is going to provide fulfillment, that is storage and shipping services for you, make sure you've make those arrangements far ahead of time. So please remember there really are no stupid questions, don't be embarrassed to ask the printer what they need. They'll be pleased you asked questions, they like having customers who want to do the right thing.
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