MonthDecember 2016

The 3 Workflow Mistakes I Made on My Holiday Card

Arrrgh! I am a pro! I know all this stuff!

I received my holiday newsletter from the printer and I am like, ‘what-the-heck is going on with the body font?’ (I didn’t really say ‘what-the heck’ but I am trying to swear less). I ran to grab one of my proofs to see if the type was as fine on the proof as it was on the printed product and is was not!  I then remembered I proofed it at home on my little Canon Pixma (that I love to bits, not her fault). Crap. Why didn’t I ask for a proof? Because I was late with my holiday cards this year and had already turned it into a New Year’s card and I didn’t want any further delays.

My husband and I are the only ones who saw the proofs and would know the difference, but it was still disappointing. And it is not the first time this has happened to me on a personal project! On a client project I have SOPs, (Standard Operating Procedures) and do not cut corners and typically am not working from home. I have a studio with professional equipment, including printers, so that I can work at the level necessary for commercial work.

This morning I thought, dang, maybe my readers can learn from my mistakes… they might like to see what I am talking about.

The Backstory

This year I did a tongue-in-cheek newsletter “Hark the Herald News” and spent a few minutes researching actual newspaper typefaces from the 1940’s and 50’s to give it that newsy look. (Here’s a pic a friend sent, he thought it was funny, yay!) I loved the Blackletter masthead and condensed Helvetica fonts and thought the non-beautiful spacing of Times was the perfect body font to convey that newspapery feeling. (I also thought a farcical newspaper was the perfect wind-up to 2016 ?.)

Mistake #1: Know what you are proofing

It is easy to forget what you are proofing or why you are proofing when you are caught up in a project. In my case, my husband was proofing typos and content and whether or not my jokes would fall flat on our friends and family. When he was done with his proofing, I thought, okay, good to go, one last check and let’s send off this pdf. When I printed the proofs for my husband I knew that they were for copy only. I knew that I needed to print another set of proofs to check everything else; halftone densities, ink gain on the copy paper, margins, etc. I totally forgot that we were proofing content only, not visuals. 

MISTAKE #2: make a final proof the right way

After we worked out our content and captions I printed some more proofs to make sure I had done the best I could to balance columns and whatnot.  I am a terrible production artist and I know it. I dread this stage of tightening everything up. I like it when I have a design and prepress team with eagle eyes to catch everything I miss. In other words, I rushed through as quick as I could. At this stage I should have switched out the paper to proofing paper instead of 24# copy paper and changed the print setting to “High Quality” or gone to the studio and printed it out on the proper printer and paper.

MISTAKE #3: If you can’t generate a hi-res proof get one

I sent the PDF to the printer with instructions to print it on a nice, unbulky, text (lighter than 80#), because it had to be folded in quarters to fit in my announcement envelopes. I remember being a little concerned about the halftones being dark and was wondering if they could lighten them up on press. I decided against asking that question when I submitted my pdf for fear of slowing down the process. I knew I was getting the file in late and asking for a rush deadline and I did not want to be a pain in the you-know-what. I did not ask for a proof.

Mistake #4: make sure everyone proofing knows what they are reviewing

My husband was surprised by the size when he saw the finished cards. He thought it was going to be tabloid-sized and I was shrinking it down to print at home. The proofs I showed were tiled, trimmed and taped together at actual size, 10″ x 15″ but because of the ratio and the subject, a newspaper, he thought it was going to be bigger! I should have explained that he was seeing the final size.

THE RESULT: disappointment

When you are speccing or setting body copy the “color” of the type has a huge effect on the look of a page. On the left is what the body type looked like coming out of my desktop inkjet printer on plain 24# copy paper with printing quality set to “standard”. On the right is the final output with the body text looking cleaner and more delicate than I wanted. I wanted that soaked-in-newspaper-ink look. This one difference completely changed the impact of the page and man was I bummed. It is the worst feeling to be totally excited about seeing a job come back from the printer and be disappointed. The. Worst.


This morning I printed a few more versions so you could see the differences that paper and print settings make.

Below, left is a proof printed on non-inkjet paper but smoother and “nicer” than 24# white copy paper. As you can see, the output is worse than the proof on the 24# paper, above, left. Copy paper is designed for imaging, not necessarily inkjet, but definitely laser printing. The proof is printing better on plain old copy paper than a much nicer non-imaging paper.

Below at right is a proof printed on Photo Glossy Paper. As you can see, the “color” of the paragraph is much closer to the final output than the copy paper proof. The photo paper is designed for desktop inkjet printers and does a fine job of representing how it was going to print. And that is exactly what a proof should do!

I am pretty picky about my print-outs, and that’s why I have a printer at home that uses archival inks and is capable of very high quality printing. Forgetting to use the correct paper is just plain dumb on my part. And even though my printer is awesome, it doesn’t hold a candle to a million-dollar digital printing press. Commercial presses have similar color and resolution, but they are completely different when it comes to speed, media variety, and repeatability.

We were each a little disappointed, I with the color of the type and my husband with the finished size. We still sent them out, folded in quarters, to spread some holiday cheer. The moral of the story is; if you don’t follow the steps necessary for a professional print project…you won’t get a professional outcome. Do you have a story about missing a step? I’d love to hear it.

I wish you a joyous 2017 with perfect proofs and awesome printing!




Clean Files – The Good, the Bad and the Fugly

The Good

Knowing how to accurately prepare clean files is a critical skill for any designer. You may work in an environment where you only design, and the production department cleans up your files and passes them on. But knowing these requirements will keep your work “producible” and you in the good graces of your production team.


Bleeds The number one faux pas of newbie files is no bleeds. This can cause so much trouble in prepress that it deserves to be the first item in software settings. When you set up your file, turn on bleeds so that you can see them. Then make sure that anything that runs off the edge of the page extends to the bleed line. You will soon learn that type and images become critical in their placement for bleeds, and you do not want to leave these decisions in the hands of your printer’s prepress department. Many printers will not make changes to files unless you specifically ask them to do so or mark your request on a proof.

Process Colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) 
All the process colors are transparent. That is why images printed with only the four process colors look wonderful because the colors optically mix. Process black is transparent. If you print process black over another element, the element will show through. If you place a solid area of process black next to a photo with dark areas, the photo’s dark areas will look darker, and the 100% black area will look too light or simply incorrect. Build and use rich black, not process black, for projects using photos or elements that have dark screen builds.

Specifying process colors using a Pantone process specifier helps you preview colors side-by-side before they are printed. Your monitor, if calibrated, is useful for roughing a design, but using a specifier is far more accurate when you are building your final file. Not only can you see the printed colors, but they are also formulated to reproduce without too much ink being laid down.

Rich Black Rich black is a mixture of the four process colors — Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. This formula for a neutral rich black works well for most printing methods:     60% Cyan 40% Magenta 40% Yellow 100% Black  Some presses and papers have a limit on the total amount of ink possible, for example, 250%. The rich back recipe above totals 240% and is therefore fine. If you specify C100, M100, Y100 and K100, it won’t work. If you are printing digitally, rich black may result in a weaker black (check with your printer). Do not build rich black type.

Specifying a Spot Varnish or UV Create a spot ink color in your file and name it varnish. Let your printer know that varnish needs to overprint the inks underneath it. If you have more than one varnish, name each one appropriately, such as “Gloss Varnish” and “Dull Varnish” or “UV” The actual color you choose to represent that color is irrelevant, but you want to make it stand out so it’s easier to identify in the file.

Applying CMYK Color to Type If you must apply a process color mixture to type that is smaller than 18pt, for instance, make one of the colors 100% so the font has a solid outline that the other colors can float within. This will save you some heartache at press checks. Look at the example below which is greatly magnified to show you what is happening when you apply a screen build to type. The top example has magenta set to 100% whereas the bottom example has the magenta set to less than 100%. Note how the outline of the type is lost and becomes and series of jagged dots. That is what happens in your file.


Choosing a Color Library Know the destination of your color space before you start designing. If you shift destination color spaces, i.e., you start a file for the web and need to re-purpose it for print, changing the web colors (RGB) to process colors (cmyk) might be better left to your printer. Converting spot colors to process colors can result in some unwanted shifts in color. Know where you are headed by using a Pantone Color Bridge set that will show you the RGB, process, and spot equivalents with their shifts.

Specifying Pantone Solid Color Solid color is a color that is made up from one ink. The Pantone system has books of nearly every color model imaginable, reproduced in fan decks so you can see how your color looks on paper. Ink will look different depending on whether the paper is coated or uncoated. So when you are selecting inks for your file, make sure you are looking at the correct swatch for your project. In your file, use the C for coated and the U for uncoated designations and on your estimate request. Although there are designers who will specify 485c on an uncoated sheet, there is no way to get 485c red to look like 485c on an uncoated sheet without using a clear foil to make it shiny. If you don’t like the way your ink looks on the Pantone uncoated swatch, you are not going to like it on your job. Find a color you can live with, and remember to look at the double hit colors, i.e. 485c 2× to see if that is what you want and if so, be willing to pay extra.


Hairlines A hairline is not an actual measurement. It is the thinnest rule a device can produce. If you draw a hairline rule in a file and print it on your inkjet in your studio, it is going to be different from the “hairline” of a high-resolution laser printer, your printer’s plotter, and your printer’s plate setter. This kind of variability exists, even in this day and age. So, don’t use hairline rules. Specify an actual measurement instead.

Fold Marks A fold mark is shown by a dashed line placed 1/16th of an inch outside the pasteboard and is at least 1/4 inch long. When folds are critical, you should place fold marks in your file. A solid line is a cutting line, so make sure to use a dashed line for a fold.

Naming Colors Give the colors in your file the same name as the ink color you are printing. This might sound like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at how many files come to a print shop that were quoted and ordered up for a certain color, say 485c, and then the file says “Rubine Red.” Your job is going to stand still until your printer finds out which color is correct, the color on your order or the color in the file.


Clean Pasteboards You’re going to brainstorm in your file, experiment with different fonts, drop in graphics, produce illustrations, change rule weights, and ultimately use only a portion of what you’ve been playing with. It’s natural to drag those unused items to the perimeter of your pasteboard so they are out of sight. Working in preview mode, you might forget that those items even exist. The problem occurs when your vendor has the file and all those items are still sitting on the perimeter. These items might include photos that are no longer linked, spot colors applied to elements that are not being used, and fonts that are no longer in the final document. All those extra items increase the size of the file and the ripping time. If any of those items are missing from your finished document, your printer’s prepress department is going to look for them. Prepress operators and/or prepress software are going to scan your document, find problems, and then start trouble-shooting those problems. In reality, those extra items really aren’t “problems,” but the software doesn’t know how to distinguish that. The last thing you want is for your files to have a reputation of not being clean. After all, prepress operators will not pick the most difficult file in the pile to work on first. They will choose the easiest one, even if it may not be the one with the most urgent deadline. Keep your files clean, and your job will move to the top of the pile without you even having to ask.

Final Page Size Often, the page size of your project will change as it moves from the initial idea to the final version. For example, if you started with a 5 in. × 7 in. postcard, it will be tempting to simply place crop marks on that 5 in. × 7 in. page to turn it into a 4 in. × 6 in. postcard and send it off to the printer. Shortcuts like this cause a nightmare on the prepress side. The printer must then resize your document and center all your page elements. With a multiple page file, the problems are compounded. You can only imagine what could go wrong. So, make sure that the file you submit is built the way it’s going to be printed.

Proofing Type Before you send your file to the printer, get in the habit of thoroughly proofing the copy. Do not assume that the printer is going to read your document, however short. Run spell check, and then make sure someone, not the person who wrote it, proofs it. A fail-safe proofing method is to read the text aloud to someone who is following along with the marked-up hard copy.

If you have a horror story about one of these dirty file problems or another software-related horror story, please comment and share. We all learn from each other!