August 23, 2022

How to Keep Printing Disasters from Ruining Your Day

There are few things in the design world that print buyers and designers fear more than sending a file to print and realizing it's not ready. You know the feeling: the job the creative team has worked so diligently on for months has finally been completed and after a few weeks at the printer you've been sent some printed samples. To everyone's dismay, the colors are so far off brand that it will never be accepted by your client (or boss) and needs to be reprinted.
But the good news is that there are ways to prevent print disasters such as this from happening.
Below are four tips for ensuring that your next print project not only looks exactly as the designer envisioned but also stays within budget.
1. Check for mismatched materials
From ink and color to texture and paper (or board), many things can go wrong if you don't double and triple check the design and press proofs. This is especially true when printing a series of collateral materials on varying substrates. For instance, what is printed on virgin board, such as a branded logo or tag line, may appear radically different when printed on a black folder or brown kraft paperboard.
If the substrates used for a particular customer vary widely in color or density (i.e., coated vs uncoated stock) then requesting the printer underprint an opaque white mask may be essential for close color matching.
2. Know when to use opaque white masking layers
There are times when an opaque white base layer will be needed to complete the best possible printed piece. Unfortunately, not all designers understand how to create a masking layer as it's a tricky, complex process and requires advanced knowledge of programs such as PhotoShop, InDesign, or Illustrator.
If your designer does not know how to create a masking layer, don't worry: the prepress team at your printer or packaging company can create it on your behalf for an added fee. If your creative team does know how to create such a mask, then watch out for projects that cross your desk that require that specialty finishes, such as coatings, holography, and specialty inks be applied to certain sections of the project. (In other words, when the finish is not to be applied as a full bleed.) In these instances, just make sure that your creative team has included the masking layer before sending the job to press... and make sure you've asked your vendor to bid on the job accordingly.
Another example of when a masking layer may be required was mentioned earlier: when printing on a colored substrate or on uncoated stock. Printing on a non-white substrate or an uncoated, highly porous paper or board will alter the color of the inks; the darker or more porous the substrate, the greater the alteration. Sometimes a dulled coloration is what your designer may be hoping to achieve. But if the graphics, especially logos, must match branded colors, then printing a white masking layer before applying the CMYK or spot colors is essential.
In such instances, also ask your printer if one or two passes of opaque white should be applied to achieve optimal color matching. This is good to quote for in advance, as two passes of white underprinting may increase your print quote.
3. Understand when to use rich black
Printed as a combination of CMYK, rich black is often utilized when printing a large area of black. Why? Because printing such an area in 100% black ink will look more gray than black. In fact, printing experts say that the best CMYK combination to achieve a rich black is:
C 60
M 40
Y 40
K 100
Of course, printing with rich black may not be appropriate in every project. For instance, if there is text being knocked out of the background, a rich black will bleed into the text and make it appear blurry, especially if the type is under 10-12 pt.
As a print buyer, when a project comes by your desk that has areas of black ink, you can avoid issues on press-or unhappy customers-by confirming that your creative team has set up the print files for rich black. Of course, if you're ever unsure of how to proceed, your vendor's prepress team will be able to advise you on how to set up the print files to best achieve your creative team's goals.
4. Confirm press size requirements
One of the questions that I commonly ask my vendors is, "If I make this project slightly larger or smaller, will that affect the estimate in any way?" Occasionally the answer is yes! This is especially true in the case of periodical printing, when trimming down the page size by as little as 1/8" may mean that the printer can run the job on a smaller, less expensive press.
Of course, adjusting a project's size may not be feasible in every instance, but it's worth asking when placing an estimate... and then passing the info onto the designers, who can make the final decision to pay more for the desired size, or trim down the page size (or dieline) to save money.
By following the tips above, you'll be able to better communicate with your creative team-as well as management-and make more informed decisions. Like anything in business, attention to detail is critical to success, and print projects are no exception.
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