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The 8 Biggest Headaches for & by Graphic Designers


We all wish 100% of our projects could go easy and make us happy 100% of the time, but that doesn’t happen. Are you walking away frustrated from print projects? You could be creating design expectations that could not have been met. Designing for print can produce some pretty big headaches. Read on for the most common causes; all are controllable in the design stage.

1. Use Printer-Speak
Communicate your specifications using the language printers’ use for optimum results. One example is the page size. The first number is always the horizontal measurement and the second number is the binding edge. 8.5 in. x 11 in. means it is binding on the 11 in. edge. 11 in. x 8.5 in. means it is binding on the 8.5 in. edge. This is a basic item that continues to mess up print jobs. Another good example is specifying paper and ink. Cover weight paper is not “card stock” and “black and white” is not a two-color print job.

2. Crossovers
A crossover is a design element that crosses over the gutter of a bound printed piece. Depending on the type of binding and where the crossover takes place, you may need a very high-quality printer to bring about the results you desire. Be very careful when adding crossovers to a design if you do not know your printer well. Crossovers within a signature are not as challenging depending on the type of binding and paper. However, crossovers that butt across signatures are very challenging. Ask your printer for an imposition diagram if you are not sure.

  •  Ask your printer for samples of the type of binding you want, such as perfect bound or saddle stitched, and request crossovers in the sample.
  • Set up your InDesign document with facing pages to minimize layout issues.
  • Do not use elements under 1pt. on a graphic element that crosses over a gutter.
  • Color may vary from one signature to another. If you are using a cmyk border it may not match on a spread that is made of two signatures.

Here we have examples of two crossovers printed and bound. The top image shows an impeccable crossover and the bottom shows an average crossover.


3. Ink Cracking on a Fold
When paper is folded, it cracks. Sometimes the cracking is microscopic, and sometimes it is glaringly obvious. The extent of the cracking depends on the type of paper, its thickness, and the folding method. If the paper is coated with ink that is a completely different color from the paper (e.g. black ink on white paper) and the ink is solid, the cracking is going to be much more obvious. Things can be done to mitigate cracking, such as folding paper parallel to the grain or using die scoring, but cracking still occurs.
If you are designing a folded piece with large areas of solid color, check with your printer and see if you’re going to wind up with cracking. For instance, cast-coated paper cracks like crazy.


4. RGB to CMYK Gamut
A major headache-maker for designers is specifying a logo color or other major branding item on a website in RGB and then you can’t match it in CMYK or spot color ink. The swatches shown below from the Pantone Bridge fan deck illustrates the problem and the solution. Pantone 3395 below is an example of a color that is not reproducible in CMYK as shown by the process swatch to the right. On the left is the Spot Color and below the RGB equivalent to match. To the right is the CMYK equivalent of the spot color. This is showing you how close you can get with process color. Whereas Pantone 7634, when converted to process, is almost an exact match. Look this up before you design a website/identity system in RGB. Your client may be saying all they need right now is a website but eventually they need printing that matches.


5. Using Pastel Ink Colors
The swatch below left is the same color as the swatch on the right! The left swatch is ± 10 years old, and the one on the right is three years old.  Aside from illustrating the problem with specifying pastel inks, this shows you why you need to update your Pantone fan decks!  The elements of an identity system can sit around for a long time. Some people can take three years to use up a box of business cards. If you specify a color in the identity system that has a lot of opaque white, that color is going to yellow within 12 months. Then you will receive a phone call from the customer because the letterhead printed a month ago doesn’t match the envelopes printed six months ago, and nothing matches the Ceo’s business cards printed 12 months ago. We have seen this happen too many times to count. Only use pastels on items that don’t have to match over time, such as a special promotion, invitations, or other short-lived items. Shown in the images below are the ink “recipes”. Pantone 1205 has 60 parts transparent white, 1215 has 44 parts, and 1225 has 8 parts. Which is going to be the most stable color? 1225. Specify 1205 for an event invitation and 1225 for an identity system.



6. Large Screened Areas
A screen is a tint of a color. It can be a dark, 95% screen, or it can be barely visible at 5%. Either way, large screened areas are difficult to print perfectly. If the screen is very dark, 80% and up, it can plug up on press and will look blotchy and darker in the areas that are clogging. With a very light screen, 20% and lower, the same thing can happen only it will be more obvious. Because of how printing presses work, ink density needs to be the same across the entire sheet from left to right and front to back. Today’s software, built into the presses, helps regulate ink density based on the images on the press sheet. However, a very light density image at the head of the sheet and a solid image at the tail, can lead to some tricky press work, especially if your printer is using older equipment or a small press with a common blanket. If you need to screen a large percentage of the sheet, try to stick to screens that are between 30% to 70%. Check with your printer; if your printer is using state-of-the-art equipment, you may be able to push your design to obtain the results you want.

7. Metallic Ink
Metallic inks printed on coated paper need to be coated with a protective varnish or an aqueous coating. If your printer recommends this, she is not trying to get you to spend more money. She wants you to be happy with your job. When that pocket folder is delivered with scuff marks from the binding process because your client didn’t want to spend the extra money on varnish, you will have learned this lesson the hard way.

8. Invoices that do not Match Estimates
The number one cause of an invoice not matching the estimated price is incomplete specifications (specs) or the final specs differ from the quote. For instance, if you didn’t specify bleeds and the art comes in with bleeds, the printer will likely have to order larger paper, which costs more. Furthermore, not allowing enough time in the schedule to order the paper on which the job was bid may require the substitution of a more expensive paper. The second biggest cause is alterations made after the job has begun. Depending on where the print job is in the production cycle, changes can be very costly. If changes are made towards the end of the production cycle, the cost can be catastrophic. Holding a press while you make changes at a press check gets very expensive. Keep in mind that presses are billed by the hour, and the press schedule for the day was likely decided the night before. If your job takes an extra two hours to run — because of you — expect to pay for the additional time.

I hope this helps you avoid these printing headaches! As you can see, none of these is complicated to learn or prevent. If you have a story about one of these printing headaches, I’d love to hear it, please leave a comment below!


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