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Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Designers Who Always Get Lost

Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Graphic Designers Needing to Know about Printing Process
Photo by Leeni!

Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Designers Who Always Get Lost in the Printing Process & Common Printer Problems

The most common issue printers face with graphic artists and designers are deadlines. Some graphic designers think that when they hand the design project over to a printer, that they should get the final project back within 30 minutes. While that may be possible on small-scale projects done at quick-copy establishments such as Kinkos, it is not going to happen with a commercial printing press printer. First, understand that getting the project off your computer and turned into the final product has several steps.

The Commercial Printing Process

commercialprintingpress - The Commercial Printing Process

1) The printer must get your project onto the press. Although many printers now have new digital methods, for many commercial printers this means, typically, shooting negatives, stripping them if needed and burning a plate from the negatives. This will take a few minutes.

Quick Fact: In printer’s jargon, the process of get­ting a negative ready to make a printing plate is called “stripping.” Using that negative to make an image on a chemi­cal-coated aluminum plate for printing is called “burning a plate.”

Quick Fact:
Putting printing plates on the press is called “Putting it to bed” because part of the printing press is called a bed.

2) The press must be loaded. Even if the press has the color ink you want, the plate must be installed correctly.

Quick Fact: The first sheets off a press are usually discarded. This is called “spoil.”

3) The printer must run a few alignment and test sheets to make sure everything is working.

Quick Fact: High speed presses running a single-sheet project can run an exact number of copies. Multiple-sheet projects gen­erally will not turn in an exact number of copies. In fact, projects like books will have contracts that specify a 10 percent over-run or over-run. The cus­tomer is expected to pay for over-runs and will be credited with under-runs.

4) The printing then begins. If it is a multiple page project and the printer is a small shop, presses may have to be cleaned and reloaded with the other plates. Then, on a multiple copy project, the sheets must be collated and bound if desired.

Quick Fact: Each paper stock weight in the United States is based on 500 sheets of paper cut to the specified size. If your copier paper is “20lb bond,” then 500 sheets of it, if cut to 17″x22″, would weigh 20 pounds. If cut to 25″x38″, it would be called “book paper” or “text paper,” and it would weigh 50 pounds. Paper stock for posters, catalog covers and other items which require rigidity is meas­ured differently. Point size and Weight. Point Size: Designates the thickness of a sheet in thousandths of an inch, so .010 would be 10pt as well as .012 would be 12pt. Weight: Using the standard US pound (#), weight is determined as the weight of 500, 20” X “26” sheets. (Source www.theprintingguide.com)

5) Your project may be on a list of projects the printer has. It could be that your project is a little way down on the list, so the printer won’t be able to begin work immediately. Understand also that if you request an urgent print schedule, someone else may have requested a rush job ahead of you.

Common Problems That Occur During the Commercial Printing Process

pullingmyhairout2 - Common Problems That Occur During the Commercial Printing Process
photograph by bcymet

Common problem: Incompatible formats.

incompatibleformats-Common problem: Incompatible formats.
Photograph by Kaptain Kobold

This should never be a problem thanks to Adobe Acrobat. With Adobe Acrobat you can create a project on any computer platform in any kind of application. Then, convert the project into a .PDF (Portable Document Format). PDFs can be opened on all the common personal computer platforms with the free Acrobat. Acrobat is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Visit <www.adobe.com> for more information and free Acrobat Reader downloads and updates. If you decide to not make a PDF file, then check to see what file formats the printer can use. If you send a file his system won’t open, then you, not the printer, have delayed the printing process. Not everyone has the very latest software updates. Not everyone can open every kind of file. If you create a project in Adobe Illustrator on a Mac and save it as an Illustrator file for a Mac, do not be surprised if the printer cannot open it.

Common problem: Special printing requirements.

specialprintingrequirements - Common problem: Special printing requirements.
Photograph by DuneChaser

If your customer wants a particular grade of paper, color paper or color of ink, call ahead and make sure the printer has it. If the printer does have it, ask if it can be ordered and what the turnaround time will be. WIth the huge variety of papers and inks available today, most job print shops will not have everything you can imagine. If you want a specific kind of trim on the paper, it may have to be cut. If the printer has to cut the paper, this is an additional step in the printing process and will cost extras. Be prepared to pay for this extra work
Common problem: No proof sheet

Common problem: No proof sheet
Photography by Nate Hofer

A proof sheet shows the printer what the final project should look like. It insures that your borders, margins, bleeds, art and text are all aligned properly. When the printer generates the image that will be loaded on the press, he can use the proof sheet to make sure everything is lined up properly. If something is off, the printer should call you and tell you the problem. Then the two of you work it out. If you supply a proof sheet and the project prints incorrectly, then you have a case to go back to the printer for redress. If you do not supply a proof sheet, then you have little recourse unless it is such an obvious error that anyone could have caught it. If there is no proof sheet, the printer is on his own and must use his own judgement to decide if the project is printing correctly. A proof sheet, especially on color projects, lets the printer know what the final product color scheme should be. The printer can and does make minute adjustments to the press ink wells while a project is coming off the press.

Common problem: Contact information

lostandfound - common problem: Contact information
Photograph by LightSoutFilms

Simple courtesy means you don’t just drop off a project with instructions. Be sure you leave a phone number where the printer can reach you during business hours. If there’s a problem, you might be able to solve it over the phone. If the printer can’t reach you, your project will likely be set aside until the printer can find you and address the problems.

Common problem: Not listening

notlistening - Common problem: Not listening
Photograph by Meredith Farmer

One sure way to infuriate a printer is to not listen to him when he says something. You may be the graphic artist with project, but most likely thep-rinter has extensive experience in graphic design as well. Furthermore, the printer knows his printing equipment and what it is capable of. You are hiring the printer to do a job, so listen to what he says. In addition to learning some­thing about his printing operation, which will help you down the road, you may pick up some additional design tips.

Pro’s Tip It never hurts to ask.

askquestions2 - Pro’s Tip It never hurts to ask.
Photograph by Kygp

Once you delivered the project, given all your instructions and answered any questions the printer has, ask this last question, “Is there anything else I might need to know or might need to tell you about this project?”

[tags]printing process, commercial printing process, commercial printers, commercial printing, printers for designers, printing for designers, printing process for designers, graphic design, design tips, graphic design tips, printing tips, common printing problems, printing problems[/tags]

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4 Comments

  1. Posted June 2, 2009 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    How true. This post will let the layman take a sneak peek into the crazy, frenzied world of commercial printing. I know what it’s like in there. Nice post there. The dramatic pictures are a laugh.

  2. Posted August 11, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    We’re looking for dimension-bending artwork to wrap the Brand X Nissan Cube. The winning work will tour Los Angeles for six months (imagine the exposure!). Check it out: iambrandx.ning.com.

  3. Posted August 18, 2009 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Design is one of those careers which to my thinking is not suited for a liberal arts college. The opportunities abound in the field of design. Letterhead, envelopes, and business cards can be incredible works of art. Throw away the ideas of simple, plain white sheets of paper that you call stationary and look at these inspirational design pieces to move your concepts of identity design forward

  4. Posted September 1, 2009 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Printing for clients can be most trying expeience.It can make anyone go crazy.Thanks for this guidance

6 Trackbacks

  1. By zabox.net on May 17, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers…

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Designers Who Always Get Lost…

  2. By Graphic Design Links and Tutorials on May 17, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers…

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Designers Who Always Get Lost…

  3. By vot.eti.me on May 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers…

    Easy Guide to Commercial Printers for Designers Who Always Get Lost…

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