Color Questions a Designer Should Ask Their Printer

Here are some questions that you need to ask from your printer so that you know what the printing specs are and your printing job goes smoothly.

So step one is to get the printing specs from the printer. Ask the following questions

Questions for a Printer

Color questions for your printer

by Ben Baker

This article presumes you have an idea of what colors you want to use. If you don’t know the colors, this article will still be of help, but we’re not going into shades, screens and Pantone options. Thanks to computers, color separations (seps in Graphic Design shorthand) are easier than ever, but it still takes some work. Before you start creating separations (pulling seps in shorthand), the very first thing you need to know if what kind of printing process is the project going though. While all printers get ink onto a page, not all printing is the same. Job printer sheet fed presses, think business cards, are run differently than a giant newspaper web press.

So step one is to get the printing specs from the printer. Ask the following questions:

1) What color options do I have? Spot or process?

2) If spot, what are my color options? Pantone numbers, combination
of RGB or CMYK?

3) If process do you run RGB (Red, Blue, Green) or CMYK (Cyan,
Magenta, Yellow, blacK)?

4) What format do you want the seps in?

5) Is there anything I need to know about the way you work and what
you’ll need from me.

1 - This is important because a sheet fed printer can run Red Blue Green (RGB) presses and generate all the color spectrum visible to the human eye. Black ink does not figure into printing color images and may or may not be used with RGB. Web presses generally run CMYK and use the CMY to create the colors, blacK to add definition to the color images and blacK for all the B&W work. In the rapid print
industry (thousands of copies an hour with no interruptions), CMYK is generally considered to generate more vibrant colors on a printed page.

2 - If you are going for Spot Color and have a particular shade in mind, you’re limited in how you can do that. If you stick to the Pantone color schedule, your printer may not have that shade on hand, but if the order is big enough or the promise of repeat print jobs using that color will justify the expense, the printer may order that Pantone ink color.

If you custom mix a color in Photoshop or a layout program like InDesign or QuarkXpress, the printer is going to have to mix inks from RGB or CMYK to match your color. If this is your decision, it is best to generate a color image from a color inkjet or laserjet printer in the office and give that to the printer with the print job files. The printer can refer to your supplied image and make adjustments on the press to match the colors. This “proof” sheet will also let the printer know how much effort it’s going to take to match the colors.

3 - As any decent graphic program today can switch between RGB and CMYK effortlessly. However, there may be some slight color shifts that happen. The reason this question is important is because the
printer wants files ready to go. If the printer has to switch between the two options, there may be some color shift which the printer may not not want to deal with. If you send the wrong kind of seps, you could wind up with the wrong colors, or having the project sent back to you to make the correct seps.

4 - While the PDF is ubiquitous, it is not universal. Some printers still like dealing with hard copies instead of electronic files. Ask and you’ll know. The time you save is yours.

5 - A catchall question that does 2 things. First, it may wind up giving you information that you do need, but which the printer might not have otherwise shared. Second, it shows the printer you are
looking at the work as a partnership and you want to make his work as easy as you can.

Ben Baker is a South Georgia newspaper editor. He’s threatened to take over the newspaper presses when the press crew doesn’t move fast enough to suit him.


[tags]color, printing and color, printers, service bureaus, prepress, color and prepress, design, graphic design[/tags]

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  1. Posted August 26, 2007 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Hey thanks for the article. I’m working on the first project I’ll actually be sending to a printer, and I just have a basic question about the files. First, is it ok to be doing this entirely in Illustrator, or should I be using inDesign (this is just a business card). Second, I downloaded an illustrator template file for business cards which is .25 inches longer than the actual card with cut line guides at the actual length/width of the card. So should I be sending the printer a pdf with the designed card .25 inches longer and just assume that they will cut in .25 inches on each side? Also, would I send a pdf with just one business card on it or would I send an 8.5×11 page with multiple copies of the card on it?

  2. Posted September 24, 2007 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    I agree, well said. Very good website.

  3. Posted March 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Very nice post admin thanks for sharing such a knowledge with us.

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