Lack of communication between designers and print shops is one of the most pressing problems in the print industry. As both a designer and a print shop employee, I have encountered countless time-eating complications that could have been solved through quick and simple communication. Hopefully, I can use my experience in both fields to shed some light on the production that goes into print with some handy information every designer should know. This can save both designers and print shops from wasting valuable time. This will lead to the designer, the print shop and the client each having a great looking final product in a shorter amount of time with fewer road bumps.
The biggest and most common issue I witness between designers and print shops is “bleed.” Bleed refers to printing that goes beyond the edge of the final piece. It can be extremely confusing to a designer when a piece is meant to bleed but does not have any extra space around the edge. Often times, a shop has to teach a designer about bleed, frustrating both parties and sometimes even adding days onto a project’s deadline. Here are some simple tips to avoid such delays:
After printing, the bleed is trimmed away, so the final printed piece has full ink coverage that runs all the way to the edge. For designers, the bleed should be thought of as the background for pieces that require having full coverage of ink (or photograph.) Most printshops require each edge to have 1/8 of an inch added to all four sides, so add ¼ of an inch to both the width and height when creating a new document. Then, once the file is set up, draw guides delineating the edges, or bleed, which will get cut off in production. Respect the 1/8” border on all edges, then push all text and important elements slightly closer to the middle. When a printer is producing large quantities, the image will sometimes slightly shift around on the page. The variation is usually very minimal, but it is safest not to design a piece that is too close to any of the four edges.
Stepping an Image: Multiple Up and Cut Marks
Another common miscommunication I encounter concerns multiple images and designer-provided cut marks. Often times I have seen designers provide, for instance, a business card repeated four times on a sheet with cut marks. It is best to provide all print shops with a single image because they will fit the image on the largest sheet of paper possible. Some will use an 8.5” x 11” sheet, but most will use 11” x 17” and beyond. This minimizes paper waste and keeps prices low because fewer sheets run through the equipment.
Also, the print shop’s software will generate cut marks, using a determinate amount of space between each image, so they can easily, precisely, and quickly cut the product down to its final size. As a general rule, keep it simple and avoid assumptions. Providing a single image, free of cut marks is the best policy.
Designing Brochures and accounting for folding space
Differences between designing and printing brochures can also be tricky. Designers must be careful to account for folds in the paper. For example, consider an 8.5” x 11” tri-fold brochure. When unfolded, the right panel should be the largest at 3.816″, the middle is 3.669″ and the left panel is the smallest at 3.604″. When the brochure is folded, only the cover should be visible. The middle and last panel should fold neatly into each other,with no hangover beyond the cover. Remember that you want enough space built in between all the panels so the text doesn’t fall into the fold.
Booklets: Printers Spread versus Readers Spread
It is very important for designers to understand the difference between “printers spread” and”readers spread.” A whole article could be written on this subject alone. I know that a quick google search will yield some very helpful information. If the pages in the proof for a booklet are numbered, that will flush out any confusion when assembling a booklet. But, if a designer is confused about the different spread styles, It’s best to do a bit of research or even stop into the print shop to have them show you a physical copy of a booklet that has been folded and saddle stitched.
Asking for a Proof
A must for any designer dealing with a printer is to ask for a “proof,” aka a single sample from an order. If the proof is correct, the entire order should look the same. It keeps the printer accountable for delivering an identical product. The larger the job, all the more important the proof is to the job being correct and your reputation as an organized designer. Also, as I mentioned above, avoid assumptions and stick to the rule of keeping it simple. Remember, the print shop usually has expensive and sophisticated software which will set up your file for their own printing needs and preferences.
Of course, the most important thing to keep in mind is communication. If there is ever any confusion, avoid elaborate and time-consuming frustrations by communicating with the print shop. Frequent communication between clients, designers, and printers can save days worth of time and a lot of money. I hope you find this helpful and have fun designing!
Eric Foster attended school and graduated from Buffalo State College in 2005. For four years, he worked in a print shop doing everything from Design, to driving the delivery van, and everything in between. Most recently he has gotten into the world of Freelance Design. He enjoys riding a bicycle and writing songs on his electric guitar. He draws inspiration from film, music, art and his fantastic, loving and creative friends and family members.