Designing for print: Tip 1 of 2

??????????????????Arguably, the key component for a successful print job is creating and effective design that can be printed successfully.  In this first of two posts, we’ll cover some tips, as well as things that most print service providers require for outputting and printing your jobs in the conventional litho manner.


I don’t wish to rehash it all again, but my post about how litho and digital presses work would be a good quick read before we get too much further here.  Essentially, in litho, the ink is fed into a series of rollers, which evenly disperse it.  The evenly dispersed ink is applied to the printing plate, which has areas on there that are receptive to ink.  The plate then transfers the image to a flat sheet of rubber that’s mounted onto the blanket cylinder.  That image on the blanket is reversed, so when it is printed onto the sheet of paper it reads correctly.  Designing for litho print with the knowledge of how color is placed onto the sheet is not crucial to design a good piece, but it can have an impact on how the job is prepped and eventually, how it is run, which could end up costing the client more than they expected or budgeted.


What, then, are things to watch out for:

  • Gradients or vignettes: with the power of Creative Suites, and how well Illustrator and PhotoShop can work in InDesign, creating gradients are not as bad as they once were. However, they still need to be carefully done, with the realization that uncoated papers absorb the dot more, and so if your gradient has too much of a shadow dot, or a barely perceptible highlight dot, they may plug in or drop off.  Modern presses, improvement in printing blankets, and the advent of Computer to Plate with the accuracy of laser imaging, have all but eliminated this problem.  However, it is advisable that if you’re not sure, consult the prepress department at your print service provider and ask for their preferences
  • Solids with type reversed out: again, this was much more of a problem with film and printing plates being burned on a large contact frame.  However, certain coatings on paper, or uncoated paper, can affect dot-gain, and turn your 6 pt reversed out copy to nothing.  Most printers require the smallest font in a reversed out area be no smaller than 6 pt.  However, some – particularly those running the stacatto or square spot technology – can work in 6 pt or less.  Again, check with your PSP.
  • Solid black: many printers, when they have a solid black, prefer to run what is called an “undercolor”, or “rich black”.  That simply means that if they job is a 4-color job with a black solid, they may wish to add a mix of cyan, yellow and magenta under the black in order to make it rich and more “solid”.  You do not need to create your file that way, but you can communicate to your PSP that you do want that.  Every PSP has their own preference of the CYK mix under the black, so it is best to check with them.
  • Files as individual pages, not reader’s or printer’s spreads: yes, you created your 4-page spread as a reader’s spread, but printers don’t print it that way unless it is JUST a 4-pager.  But the preferred method – ESPECIALLY for multipage pieces, is one page for each page.  Most printers have automated imposition software that takes your 32 page document and imposes it without them having to do anything.  If  you had that same 32 page document as reader’s spreads, the PSP might reject the file until it had been turned into individual pages, or they will do the work themselves and charge the client for it.
  • Saving images and graphics as CMYK: yes, common practice is to save the links and images as CMYK.  The RIP devices see it that way, and there is no additional work required.
  • Fonts, images, links: this may sound silly, but I still see files come in without fonts, or with missing links.  Nothing slows down the process faster than those two problems.
  • Bleeds: If you have image that needs to run off the side of the final trimmed piece, you MUST create bleed, and the industry standard is 1/8″ on each side.  So, an 8.5 x 11″ piece with bleeds will have an 8.75 x 11.25″ image area

These are just a few of the things to be aware of when you design for print.  If you have any further questions, your best bet is to approach the print services provider, and ask specifically what they want.  The goal is to create a file that processes quickly and easily, and prints cleanly, yet still is effective and creative.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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