How to design for print – Episode II

ppcAboutCol02In our first Episode, we looked at designing for print, starting with the end: does it mail? does it have complex letterpress finishing?; how does it trim or fold? Is mailing or insertion into an envelope involved? These are all important factors to consider even BEFORE you design your piece. However, once you are actually in the design process, knowing how the job is going to print or image is your second important concern. Being involved with the print quote request is important, as well as knowing what kind of presses or digital print devices the printer has. For example, is the job running on a 4-color offset/litho press, or digitally? Are you planning on putting in any PMS colors that may have to convert to CMYK, and if so, will they convert successfully? Are you designing large solids (or flat fields) that might require a 2-hit of a PMS color, or would be streaky on a digital press? So, let’s discuss the basics of presses, both offset and digital, and some things you need to know.


Offset presses tend to run in two primary sizes, either 28” or 29” for small “half-sheet”, orfourth_photo_big 40” or 41” for full sheet sizes. The thing to remember is that most presses have a maximum image area corresponding to the press sheet, and the margin is anywhere from ⅛” to ½”, depending on the sheet size and the printer’s own preference. Solid colors are better run on a 40” press, since the rollers are bigger and the ink distribution is better. The thing to think of when designing for press is what the flat size of your piece is, and how it may run through the press. Don’t hesitate to call your printer and ask that question, because your design could succeed or fail if you design it in a way that won’t print well. Also, think that if you have a flat piece that’s 28.5” wide, and has bleeds, it can’t run on a 29” sheet, so it’ll run on a 40” sheet, and printers have a higher hourly rate for 40” presses. And when using PMS colors, remember that they are manufactured with specific colors as the “base”, such as reflex blue, transparent white, or rhodamine red.  The issues with these colors is that they do not reproduce well in the CMYK model, and you may have slight to great difficulty in having those colors come out correctly, unless you pay for the extra cost of running them as PMS colors.  Pantone has excellent tools for seeing how a spot color will reproduce in CMYK, which can impact whether  you run the color as 4-color process or as a PMS.


1_a2301cdb3b1e0ce1cd4856038482c80cDigital presses are excellent for short runs, for mailers, for anything that has multiple continuous tone images, or just copy. Photographs can produce very well on digital presses, which has led to the explosive photo book industry and self publishing. Digital presses come in limited sheets sizes, though, and also have thickness minimums and maximums that don’t apply to offset presses. For example, most digital presses can manage either a max sheet size if 13 x 19” or 14 x 20”, and a few presses can do 14 x 26”. The HP Indigo has a model that can handle a 29” sheet size, and soon, Kodak and Xerox will have 36” capabilities. The non-image margin is small on these, only about ⅛”, but most digital press operators would prefer a minimum of ¼”. They also cannot handle a great range of thickness, with 20 lb. bond pretty much the minimum, and 14 pt. board the max. The drawback to digital presses is the way the image is transferred to the sheet, which is not done by ink rollers, but by the transfer of toner to the sheet and then it’s fused by extreme heat. HP Indigo uses a liquid toner, which allows for a better image transfer, but also is more costly. Subsequently, cracking along folds can be an issue, and solids are particularly challenging, and can be susceptible to streaking. But don’t let the digital press impact how you design, but do keep it in mind when you design. Digital presses cannot run PMS colors, but can have excellent results in reproducing the spectrum of PMS colors.  The key there is set up your file AS the PMS color – do not convert it to CMYK.  The RIP on the digital press will render the color much more accurately than if you save it  out as CMYK.


Large format printing is imaged in three ways, either high-quality inkjet, like Epson digitallarge-format-printing-birmingham printers, or UV inks like the VUTEk has, or dye-sublimation. All of these processes allow for vivid reproduction of continuous tone images, but the main thing to think of when designing is to keep the copy simple, have large, readable fonts, and no heavily contrasting colors. You can check out my blog post from a while ago where I cover good large format designing.

Knowledge of the press or imaging device can be very beneficial in ensuring that your design will print or image successfully. It never hurts to be in contact with the printer, so that you can determine the best design possible for your client.

Next week, in the last installment, we will discuss paper, and how it can impact your design, how to work with your printer on paper selection, and getting paper dummies made.

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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