Aug 10/17
By Kerri Benecke

Dear Kerri

Dear Kerri: The print quality of our company brochure is embarrassing. I’m not sure if it’s the printer, our files, the paper, or other details I’ve overlooked. What tips can you share about managing the printing process?

Great question! When it comes to materials promoting your business, the content, layout and design are hugely important, but they are dependent on the quality of the printed piece, so I’m glad you brought this up. This brochure might be a customer's first experience with your business and a quality print piece says so much. It reflects the quality of the product or service you offer and shows the attention to detail and standards you set for your brand. That’s why it’s important to address the seven P's of printing on every project.

As with every vendor, some are better than others but your working relationship is really the key to success. When selecting a printer, you’ll want to first learn about their capabilities, experience with the type of job you’ll be printing and if you will have a dedicated sales rep to help you along the way. Most of what I learned about printing I learned from sales reps so If you’re new to printing, a good sales rep can be invaluable. They can show you the ropes, educate you on the process and be your advocate to ensure the job is done to your satisfaction. But If you have smaller projects or are using an online vendor and don’t have access to a sales rep, the best way to determine if they are a good candidate is to simply ask for printed samples similar to the job you will be printing. Print samples are most helpful when they list the type of press (digital vs. offset), explain any special techniques used (varnishes, special finishes, etc…), the paper specs (type, weight, etc…) and demonstrate how they handle photos and large areas of solid color.

Print technique
A short time ago, making the choice between digital and offset printing came down to quality. But with the advances in digital presses, it now comes down to quantity. Longer runs or higher page count jobs tend to find offset printing better, while short runs are a better fit for digital. There are pros and cons for each but the shorthand is digital printing offers a more consistent representation of your digital file on the page, but you have limited control over the color on press. Offset printing however becomes more economical as the quantity increases, allows for greater color control on press and is ideal for the use of spot color and other techniques not available with digital printing. Problems sometimes arise when using a vendor for offset printing who might gang-run your job with other projects or make subjective color decisions leading to unexpected results.

A common problem we see with printing is the use of low-resolution or poor-quality images. Many times we can “fix” poor quality images with the magic of Photoshop, but it’s much easier to do when have sufficient resolution in the source image. Resolution for printing is defined as dots per inch (dpi). A good rule of thumb is have a minimum of 300dpi when placed at the size to be printed. Keep in mind resolution is just another way to define the amount of data in the image, but the quality of the image is still determined by light, color range and more. So if you’re photos are printing poorly, go back to the source. How do the images look on screen? Can they be improved, brightened, sharpened? If you can improve your photos in Photoshop, great, that’ll make things easy. But if your images look fine on screen but print poorly, then we have a few more issues to address.

One of the big factors that impact the final printed piece is paper selection. Choosing the right stock is critical to how your job performs on press. The first decision is whether to go with coated or uncoated paper. Coated paper comes in different finishes – matte, gloss, and dull – but in general a coated stock will allow more of the ink to sit up on top of the surface, creating stronger colors and brighter photos. Uncoated stocks tend to absorb more of the ink, but provide a tactile feel and deep rich tones. So if you prefer a cleaner, brighter look, a coated sheet might be the right choice. Or if you are going for a softer, more moody feel an uncoated sheet might help you achieve the right look.

With our digital workflow one if the key aspects to a successful print job is often overlooked. Whenever possible have your printed send you a physical proof. Reviewing a PDF is a good tool for catching errors or ensuring correct positioning and crops, but nothing beats a physical proof for confirming color. Particularly with digital printing where a proof can often be run on the actual stock for a perfect example of what to expect.

How you build your files can also impact how it performs on press. A common file delivery method is to simply save out a PDF and shoot that over to the printer. But there are a couple things to remember before sending that PDF. First, make sure all your placed artwork is to scale and in the proper file format – .TIF, .JPG or .PSD for raster images, .EPS or .AI for vector images. Some printers will also ask that you convert images and colors to CMYK before saving. Personally I find PDF does a fine job of that on its own but I always recommend asking your printer what they prefer.

Press Check
The last step in ensuring a successful print run is the press check. If you are printing locally, always try to attend at least for the critical portions of the job. For digital printing this may not be as important, but it does give you one last opportunity to proof and make some minor adjustments as the job prints. For offset printing, press checks are a necessary tool to dial-in ink values and photo colors to your personal preference. Offset printing use large sheets of paper in order to maximize the number of impressions. This means you may have multiple copies of your brochure or multiple pages running on the same sheet at the same time. Because of the way these multiple pages align on the sheet, if you adjust the color for one photo or color block on one part of the sheet it will impact the color on another. You can leave that up to the pressman, but then you may not agree with the decisions made and ultimately the final printed piece.

Keep the seven P's in mind on your next print project, and it's sure to be a success!

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