What is a Press-Check and What Are You Supposed to Do?

Back in the olden days of digital prepress and printing, when proofs bore no resemblance to what would show up on press, the designer would be invited to a “press check” at the printing plant. This was so that the designer could approve and sign off on the actual job in addition to already having signed off on proofs (I use the term proofs loosely, compared to what we have today they were stabs in the dark. It’s a whole other post, but there’s a difference between a proof predicting how the printed job will look and the proof showing what the file looks like when printed to SWOP standards. Like I said, it’s another post.)

So you might be invited to do a press-check. Or your boss might say, I need you to press-check every job that prints, or agency standards may dictate mandatory press-checks. The reality is there are only a few circumstances today that warrant a press-check. After learning what those circumstances are, you can decide if you want to tell your boss whether or not you need to be out of the office for half a day, I will leave that up to you ;-).

So when do you need to be at a press check? What’s changed since the dawn of digital prepress? Today we have contract proofing that really predicts what the printed job will look like. We have drawdowns made by very precise ink mixing technology. We have papers with plate curves loaded into press control panels with scanning densitometers built-in! I mean, wow, what can go wrong?

If it is a routine printing job probably nothing will go wrong, but not every job is routine.

These situations call for a press check:

  • If your printer’s workflow is Gracol certified and you are uneasy about the way the proof looks, do a press check. If you are uneasy about the proof and your printer is not Gracol certified and says “We will make sure it looks like you want on press” demand a press check.
  • If you are printing on colored paper
  • If your design calls for overprinting
  • If the paper is “unusual,” or you are working with synthetic papers, suede finishes, etc.
  • If your printer said, “We haven’t done this before, but let’s give it a shot.”
  • If your printer wants you there.
  • If you are mixing a spot color with process colors, such as Hexachrome, hifi or touch plates.
  • If you will get fired if the color is not “perfect.”
  • If you are using a printer for the first time.
  • If you are using a printing method you have never used before, or you are experimenting.

If you choose to be at a press check for a job, then you MUST take responsibility for decisions made there. It’s best to be aware of your responsibilities during a press check. So what should you be doing at the press check? Really, all you have to do is look at the proof you signed off on, compare it to the press sheet and make sure they are very similar. Sometimes an exact match is unrealistic. There is some etiquette and protocol to being on a press check. There’s also etiquette and protocol on the part of the printer. Here are the manners from both sides:

Customer Etiquette

  • Do be on time.
  • Don’t use the press check to check for trim, bleeds, spelling, dates, phone numbers, addresses, or anything that should have been caught on the proof.
  • Do check that what is on the plate is what was on the proof (i.e., the same file, same edition, etc.) We’ve all seen a wrong file make it to plating or on press.
  • Do make sure the proof you signed off on is at the press check so you can compare its color and content to what is being printed. If changes were marked on the proof, check that they are on the press sheet.
  • Do compare drawdowns, if you have them, and make sure they match the press sheet if you approved drawdowns before going on press.
  • Don’t freak out at however much money your employer is spending and decide to question everything. That press is costing at least several hundred dollars an hour, and every minute you tie up is time the printer cannot sell again. Your printer will get annoyed if you consistently make press checks take more time than necessary, or he may start to include that cost in your future estimates.
  • Do recognize that making changes on press, such as a copy change that needs a new plate or a color change, are billable alterations.
  • Do try to see your project with a fresh eye. If you go in looking for a specific problem, you are going to miss the giant red flag staring you in the face.
  • Do not be afraid of speaking up. A press check can be intimidating. If you have a concern, voice it.

Printer Etiquette:

  • Do be on time. Respect your client’s time if you want her to respect yours. Notify the client if you are running more than an hour behind schedule.
  • Do have the client’s signed-off proof and drawdowns ready and available. A client standing around and waiting for someone to dig up the proof makes your print shop look disorganized.
  • Don’t steamroll the customers into making a decision. If there’s a tough call, help them weigh their options. Make a pro/con list. Be supportive and share your expertise. Bring in senior management if that’s not your strong suit.
  • Do provide a clean, quiet area for your clients to wait between checks. Ideally, give them internet access so they can work, and coffee, tea, water, and some kind of snack. Nobody wants to have a hangry customer!
  • Don’t get your wires crossed. If the client asks for something and the rep and pressman instantly contradict one another with a yes and a no, that isn’t good. Decide who is going to answer questions at the outset.
  • Do give your clients a trimmed-out sheet for their boss. Everyone back at the office wants to see what the new brochure/gift card/packaging looks like.
  • Do listen to your customers and don’t feel personally insulted if they find something wrong during the press check. (We once had a brilliant New York agency-trained art director say that the 7pt. font wasn’t trapping correctly to the background solid, and she wanted a loupe to check. Damn if she wasn’t right! She earned our respect for doing her job and displaying her training and technical knowledge.)
  • If your customer hasn’t had a plant tour or you’ve added a capability, show him what you are up to. I have never seen a designer or print buyer who wasn’t curious about the goings-on at a printing plant. Now that the technology has changed so much and press checks are infrequent, giving a customer a tour makes even better sense.
  • Do take the time to introduce your client to the other team members who keep the jobs running smoothly, such as the production staff, estimator, prepress person, receptionist, etc.
  • If your customer has never been on a press check, give her the low down on what she should be looking for. This is your opportunity to train your client.

There is stuff on the press sheet that is for the pressman to measure what the press is doing. You do not need to know how to read the registration marks, slur marks, color bars, gray balance or any of that. It might seem a little scary to see all that stuff on the press sheet but it will be trimmed off and will not wind up on your job.


When you are done, ask for a press sheet to take back to your team and you are outta there! Wanna know more? Download a sample chapter of my book about the Press Check.

Do you have a press check experience to share? Please comment, I would love to hear it, good or bad!



It’s Design Week in San Francisco

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, speaking in Kansas City MO and Greensboro NC and meeting talented, passionate creatives and craftspeople who love, love love, print! It’s so much fun to be a part of this community of makers. I always return re-invigorated and re-passionated about our industry.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to participate in SF Design Week, here’s an incentive… I will be speaking Friday at the VMA Design Conference and am just tickled pink to be included in the line-up of great speakers! Here’s a link and discount code: FRIENDS that you can only get from a speaker like yours truly! Join the hundreds of graphics peeps that will be in SF and tackle the rest of 2018 with some deep inspiration, intention, and tools to get the job done!

Last week I was interviewed by Deborah Corn, who is an amazing force in the printerverse! Here’s a link to the interview, listen as Deborah asks me some great questions about my book “Designing for Print” and it’s potential for the holiday season!

Have a great week!


10 Ways Printers Can Help Graphic Designers

This is an article I wrote for Printing Impressions a while ago and rather than rewriting it, I think it is still apropos in its entirety. If you are a designer or a printer, you can use this to reach out to your customer/vendor and start a dialog that will improve your work and your project. Speaking of which, on May 1st I will be speaking in Kansas City, MO about collaboration between printer, designer, and marketer. If you are in the neighborhood, I would love to shake your hand. Here’s the link.

10 Things Printers can Teach Designers:

Designers are visual people and the best way to teach a visual person is to show them. Graphic designers are also curious people who generally like to see how things work. We all walk around with our cameras all day, lauding their efficiency for email, Slack, twitter and more. But it is the instant transmission of images and videos that make showing easy-as-pie.

Here are 10 ways you can use your smartphone to reach out to your designer clients, add value to your company website and make life easier for yourself. (Sales managers, appoint one person to collect this kind of knowledge and disseminate to the whole sales team.)

1. Coated vs. Uncoated. Sit down with a designer and have two paper swatch books in front of you and explain coated paper versus uncoated paper. You will have saved yourself countless hours of “it looks like postcard paper” descriptions, and the like.

2. Bleeds. Take a video of your guillotine cutter in action, preferably a job with a bleed. Zoom in on the crop marks, text it to your designer client. (Put it on your website too!)

3. Grain. Look in your sample room for something with a nice black solid. Pull two samples. Fold one sample with the grain. Fold the other sample against the grain. Put them side-by-side folds-up and photograph with your phone. Open the image and crop to relevant image area and mark as a favorite in your phone for quick retrieval.

4. Waste=Cost. Show your client an illustration of paper waste for various page sizes. Here are some examples you can use: (Put it on your website too!)

5. Quantity matters. Walk into your pressroom and film a sheet-fed press at the delivery end while it is running for 30 seconds. Confirm run speed with pressman. Text video to the client explaining that’s how long it takes for (insert quantity here) brochures/posters, etc. to run through the press and why they should opt for digital printing on this short run. (At 15,000 iph 30 seconds is 125 sheets, 8-up that’s 1000 pieces!)

6. Printing is green. Calculate how many pounds of trim, corrugated and electronics you recycle each year (if your trim is picked up and weighed by a recycler they have this info). Next time your vendor picks up a container run out to the parking lot and take a pic. Put the photo on your website with an infographic of the tonnage you recycle annually. Explain that the trim and corrugated goes into future recycled paper products.

7. Ink can change color. Show your client this photo. Explain that the ink formulas with a high percentage of opaque white (basically all pastels) will shift within a year (swatch on left was two years old, on right 6 months, when photographed). Share that pastel colors are great for a short-lived item like an invitation not so great for an identity system.

8. Paper makes a difference. Next time you’ve got an attractive job with photos that’s going to run on white paper, order some extra sheets of ivory, canary and grey uncoated paper. Add those colored sheets to the job and photograph the same detail area of all four colors. Make a montage (easy with the Layout app for iPhone). Send this montage to a client who is wondering about running a job on colored stock and put it on your website too.

9. How to read a swatch book. Oh boy, if I had a penny for every time a customer found the “perfect paper” in a swatch book and placed an order specifying that sheet only to find out there wasn’t enough, or it wasn’t stocking or that the chosen color had been discontinued… This is a great topic to discuss at a quick lunch with a new customer. Text her an image showing how to look up the date of a swatch book. Then bring her some lunch and a few swatch books and show her how to “read” it.

10. Art takes time. Text your idea of a rudimentary schedule to your client as a pdf graphic they can print out and pin to their idea wall. Next time they are working with a client to develop a timeline they won’t guess and it saves them and you a call/email.

I know that some will think that answering questions and fielding problems bring value to a client, and they do. But do they bring value to a business owner? If staff is reacting/interacting at the 100-foot level, how are they going to interact at the 30,000 foot level with intention? Focus on the little things with intention and planning and then the 30,000-foot questions aren’t as scary. What are your clients’ plans for next year? Are you discussing budgets internally? Are they planning on launching any new products or services within the next six months? These conversations are really easy when “what do I need a bleed for” is taken care of.

(all images from “Designing for Print, the Art & Science, used with permission please repost with credit)


Success is a Double-Edged Sword

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

But before I get to that, I want to put this news into a world context. My prayers and whatever aid I can give, to all of those affected by the recent storms and quakes. My “bad news” isn’t anywhere in the ballpark of that kind of having-your-home-and-family-swept-away kind of news. I get it. If you know of a designer who has lost their library because of recent events, please email me through the contact form on this site and I will do my best to get a copy of Designing for Print into their hands.

Now, the good news is the Kickstarter campaign has funded! There are 14 hours to go, so it is not too late to get your incredibly discounted copy of Designing for Print. There isn’t a ton of time either, so if you are interested I would definitely put this is in the do-right-this-minute column of today’s tasks! Click here.

The bad news is I have been so incredibly, phenomenally busy with the Kickstarter that I haven’t put any new content up for a while. I apologize for that. I really do love hearing what you think of what I am putting out there and receiving feedback on how it is helping you out.

Short and sweet, I’ve got to get back to Kickstarting!