If you’ve ever been involved in a graphic design project and needed to get it professionally printed, it shouldn’t have taken you long to discover that it’s not as easy as hitting “print” on your keyboard. There are many things to consider and (no doubt) you will have to make several decisions that you perhaps haven’t anticipated in the design process. Below are a few tips and things to consider before you send your masterpiece off to the printer.
Paper is often the most expensive part of a print project and should be chosen carefully. Every paper isn’t suitable for every printing project. Selecting the right paper is as much about character as it is quality. Choose a paper that fits the style and message of each individual project.
As soon as the preliminary design is done, spec your paper and get quotes from printers. Tell your printer you are open to paper suggestions. If a specific paper isn’t necessary and you are pressed for time, (you don’t have time to wait for the paper to be ordered and delivered) consider your printer’s house sheets. Printers buy their house sheets in bulk, they are readily available and you will usually get a good price.
Getting your quotes early will also make you aware of any turnaround times you should consider in your deadline.
If a specific stock is needed for the design first, consider the life span of your printed piece. Does it have a short life span like a direct marketing piece, or does your piece have a longer life span like an annual report, a marketing brochure or catalog? The personality of your piece, its life span, texture, color and coating determine the price range and quality of your paper.
Ask yourself what impression the piece should make. A non-profit organization asking for financial support probably shouldn’t be printing on a premium (expensive) stock. Premium paper suggests luxury – not the message a non-profit wants to convey.
Remember, the paper is not only there to give the ink a foundation, but to enhance the design and experience you want to portray.
Uncoated papers have a rough, more natural feel to them. These papers tend to be more porous and absorbent, so inks, varnishes and coatings are absorbed into the paper.
• Printing on uncoated stocks can increase dot gain in half tone and screened areas. For best results, choose photos or illustrations with sharp contrast.
• Varnishes and coatings have no effect on uncoated sheets as they just absorb into the paper.
• Folding and scoring a light-colored, raised surface sheet printed with solid ink can result in exposed, light-colored fibers.
• Drying times vary. An uncoated sheet typically takes longer to dry than a coated sheet.
Coated papers, by contrast, have a smoother finish and are not very porous. They are available in a dull, matte, silk or gloss finish. Type and photographs look sharper on coated stocks. Detail is not lost and fine text holds up well. Coated papers are generally more expensive than uncoated stocks.
If your project will be printed on both sides and if there is heavy ink coverage, the paper’s opacity is crucial. Make sure the paper you choose does not allow any show-through. If in doubt, go one step heavier in weight.
If you are working on a piece that will be mailed, the weight of the finished piece should be a major consideration. Watch out for postage costs, and make sure the finished piece is below the USPS requirements. To be certain of the mail cost, create a full size dummy using the actual paper and take it to the post office. Have them weight it, but don’t forget there will be ink added as well as any coatings or varnishes, which will add more weight to your pieces.
If bulk and weight are important, an uncoated sheet will work better for you. A coated paper will weigh more than its same-sized counterpart. Even though it weighs less, the same piece printed on an uncoated sheet will be thicker because uncoated paper naturally has a higher bulk.
Offset Versus Digital
This method of printing is the most common used today for high volume printing. It is also one of the oldest. Each color of ink is applied separately – one plate per color. Small dots of the four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) are deposited in specific patterns that make our eyes believe we are seeing a wide range of colors. That’s why the standard offset printing process is often called 4-color process lithography or 4-color printing.
Offset printing can also use premixed inks in specific colors, including metallic and fluorescent colors, called PMS or spot colors.
Advantages of Offset Lithography
• High quality and cost-effectiveness in high volume jobs. Offset printing produces rich, accurate color and high-quality images and photographs, with sharp typefaces and fine details.
• Low price per piece. The more you print, the less you pay per piece, since most of the cost is in the setup.
• Works on a wide range of printing surfaces including paper, wood, cloth, metal, leather, rough paper and plastic.
Another popular printing method is modern digital printing. In this method, prints are made directly from a computer file without film or plates. It is ideal for lower-quantity and customized needs but can only print CMYK images and files.
You should go with digital printing if you need something printed quickly. This is an ideal choice for anyone operating on a deadline or needing to print a piece that doesn’t require a lot of detail.
Advantages of Digital Printing
• Shorter turnaround.
• Cheaper, low volume printing.
• Availability of variable data printing (database driven, e.g. mailing lists)
Be sure to request a pre-press proof before authorizing the full run. It will allow you a hands-on preview of the final product, so you can catch any imperfections and corrections before your piece is mass produced.
In the end, a good design cannot fully live up to its potential if all the details aren’t considered. If you are careful and selective, you can make sure the physical product is of the highest possible quality, accurately portraying the look and feel you intended to achieve. All things considered, high quality is precisely the message you want to deliver.