The Designer’s Guide To

Posted: | | Filed under: Design Survival | 1 Comment »

A guide to help new designers prepare their design work for print. Advice provided by international industry professionals, edited and curated by Richard Baird.

Pre-press check list

Before I send a file to press this is the basic list I go through:

  1. Have I checked all the colours against my colour guides?
  2. Have I converted all the text to outlines (to avoid accidental substitution at the printers)?
  3. Have I embedded all my images or included a linked folder?
  4. Is there enough bleed?
  5. Have I clearly specified any special treatments to the printers (foils, spot colours etc) ?
  6. Are all my images embedded and converted to CMYK?
  7. Has the client signed off the design in writing?

Provided by @richbaird


Be aware that each substrate will absorb ink differently and will affect the tone of the selected colour. Invest in coated and uncoated colour guides, these will help you to see the differences and make the right selections prior to printing.

Provided by @richbaird

Getting the best black results

Make sure you are using 100% Black not 4 colour black when using solid black backgrounds with white text as it helps with plate registration.

Note: This will often appear as a dark charcoal grey in most cases and not as a deep rich black.

Depending on the font and point size, to obtain a deep rich solid black there are two good formulas:

C60 M40 Y40 K100  |  C40 C40 Y40 K100

If using standard black text, make sure it is also 100% Black and not 4 colour black, this will negate miss-aligned plates.

Provided by @anilamrit

Press pass

When attending a press inspection, it is imperative you come prepared with 6 things:

  1. A final printout of your job. Essential for checking against the press sheet proofs.
  2. A relatively new Pantone swatchbook. Pantone inks fade over time, especially if these swatchbooks are left out in the open. Refreshing your books every few years (and keeping them away from light by storing them in their protective carrying cases) will ensure that the colors you’re seeing are as true to the “actual” colors as you can get.
  3. A loupe. This nifty little magnifying glass will help you identify items printed in CMYK by their dot patterns, the solid color coverage of Pantone spot inks, and any minute misregristration that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  4. Patience.
  5. Lots of time.
  6. An iron will.

A press inspection will test your limits of patience, and steadfastness, as it will often become a grueling, laborious, and frustrating experience for both you AND the pressmen. You may often feel like the hated one in the room, asking for yet ANOTHER adjustment, but stand your ground, and don’t give in to the pressure. These guys just want to print the job and go home, but you have an obligation to your client to ensure the job prints correctly. If there are mistakes, it is the printer’s responsibility to fix them. With each new press sheet pulled, take your time, compare the colors against your Pantone books, use your loupe, check registration and traps, and compare the entire sheet to your final printout to ensure nothing has dropped out.

Remember, this is a very technical process involving a combination of human, electronic, and mechanical processes. ANYTHING can go wrong at ANY time.

They may be frustrating at times, but press inspections are essential if you — and your client — expect perfection in your printing.

Provided by AtomicVibe

Keep it clean

Don’t be afraid of having some space in your design. Limit yourself to a maximum of 3-4 typefaces. Make sure you understand your clients target market and what they want to get out of the print, so you can tailor the design to their needs.

Provided by @ellishollie

Colour proofing

Dont ever use your monitor as a guide for final colour proofing unless it is a high-end set-up. When checking your work try to get a calibrated proof and not just a laser output. Check, check and double-check all RGB colours are either CMYK or Spot Colour before supplying for print.

Provided by @anilamrit

Check all your printouts, proofs and colour guides under natural light, any bulbs or ambient lighting with a slight tint will alter the way you perceive the colours in your artwork.

Provided by @richbaird

Know your paper

A design process must always consider the finished product. When designing for print this is no exception- considering the paper type and its finish is crucial for achieving top-notch results. Do some research and test various samples on your own to see what design effects work with which paper, how certain papers crease when folded, the feel of varying paper stock (weight), how foil stamping works on your paper of choice and other specifics pertaining to your given project.

The world of print allows for an endless variation of printing options. Knowing your paper and how to work with it will allow you to bring forth an outstanding finished product that will mold to fit your needs.

Know thy paper and manipulate it.

Provided by @e_known

File set-up and deliverables

Die Cuts
Always include a separate file showing the exact position of the die cut – you don’t want it going wrong.

Digital Embossing/Spot UV
Again, it’s imperative you provide an extra file, showing which areas of the design need to be embossed/spot uv’ed. The areas need to be in the exact position and in solid black.

Quiet Border
Always ensure when setting up the document that you have your 3mm bleed as well as a 5mm quiet border. Text should not enter the quiet border or there is a risk it could get cropped off.

Depending on what software you are using, make sure you flatten your transparencies or they’ll come out as a solid colour rather than with some opacity.

Provided by @ellishollie

Press limitations

Be aware of the limitations of your chosen print technique before you start on a project and work within those limitations. If you are unfamiliar with a particular process spend time researching and make sure you ask your print supplier plenty of questions.

Provided by @daniKelley

Establish a good relationship with your printer and paper supplier

If you’re new to print, one of the best way to familiarize yourself with the process is by visiting a few local presses. These places are always busy, but can accommodate a tour if asked nicely. Be sure to ask lots of questions, and don’t forget to ask for any samples they may have or for discarded press sheets.
Get to know your print reps, and try to maintain relationships with them. Make sure you consult them before you begin any print job, as they will almost always offer cost-saving suggestions. Feed your local print reps enough work, and you might find they start cutting you discounts.

Get in touch with local paper distributors and ask for as many paper sample books as they’re willing to give you. Most times, they’ll ship them out free of charge. Some paper sample books are actually designed to demonstrate how the latest and greatest printing techniques look on certain brands of paper; these handy resources are invaluable for stirring the creative print juices. When you start choosing papers for your jobs, be sure to contact your paper distributors and ask for samples of the papers that interest you. Again, they will most likely send you copious amounts of paper samples for free.

A print designer’s best friend is printed ephemera. Keep a collection of anything printed you think is interesting, and refer to it often. Take note of various printing techniques, folds, and papers, and how and when it’s appropriate to use them.

Provided by AtomicVibe

Transferring your print files to other computers

Be careful when transferring your file to another computer or version of indesign. Fonts can be slightly different and user settings can cause issues. Always recheck your work when making this move. Proof, Proof, Proof.

Provided by @matthewcarleton


Transparencies can be notoriously problematic to print (especially in CS4), remember to select both the transparent detail and background and use the edit > flatten transparency tool before sending work to print

Suggested by @ellishollie

Advising your client

In the case where your client would prefer to handle the printing themselves, make sure you (as the designer) advise them to get a full colour PRINT PROOF of the artwork before proceeding with the final print run to check content, colour consistency, quality etc.  This will allow for changes to be carried out should they be required before the final run. It also helps avoid stressful situations such as an unhappy client disappointed with the printed result (which may be the fault of the printer) or the client demanding the designer cover the costs incurred.

Provided by @sheenaoosten

Consult with your printer

As a printer myself I think a very important step of the design process is to consult with the printers, especially if trying something completely new. We are always interested in helping designers out and as we are actual printers, we have a vast knowledge, we know how papers and certain inks will work or react very well.

Also when it comes to press passes we are always happy to help, but be respectful to our opinions and accept that we are probably thinking of your pockets on a press pass too as they can become very costly very quickly.

I had a great customer that wanted some packaging printed, it was for a well known brand and was on a stock we have never used, but the designer worked with us and was very happy with the end result. It was probably the toughest job I have ever printed due to contamination but also one of the best printing challenges I have come up against.

Provided by @mattmills8133



If you are a designer and have any advice you would like to add to this article, please submit your contribution as a comment below and remember to include your Twitter ID so I can credit your tip.


Tweet This Article!


Previous ArticleNext Article