Establishing a positive relationship with your printer

Establishing a positive relationship with your printer

It’s not your printers fault, it’s yours. Ouch, I know that was hard for you to hear. A designer’s initial reaction when receiving faulty print jobs back from their printer is to point the blame at the printer. In most cases, it is our fault. As designers, it is our responsibility to make sure our projects are perfect and fit the specifications requested by our printer before we even think about sending our jobs off to them. There has been this never ending war between designers and printers because we never take the time to understand one another. Just like you, your printer wants to do a perfect job and make sure your job comes back to you flawless.

In this article I am going to highlight certain key points to help you build your relationship with your printer. Even if you never meet your printer face to face it is important to build an everlasting professional relationship with them.

  1. Printer Specifications. No matter who your printer is they have most likely provided you with a list of specifications. Following these specifications ensure that your project will come back to you looking how it did when you designed it.
    • Even though printing is the final stage of design it is important to read over your printer specifications before you start a new design project to make sure you are building your document correctly. Why? Well, depending on your printer they may have certain document setup sizes. Some printers build their bleeds directly into their document making them larger, while others require the standard .125 inch bleed around your document.
    • The printer specifications also address color guidelines, as well as rich black specs. Did you know that some printers have their own specific rich black mixture? There are so many rich black combination’s out there, so if your printer uses a certain combination make sure you are using their rich black. Also take the time to discuss Pantone Colors with your printer. Some printers charge a higher fee to print Pantone Colors.
    • Your printer’s specifications will also provide you with file format guidelines and how to save them correctly. Don’t assume your printer is able to print your EPS file. Even if they may be able to print your EPS, it may not be their preferred way of printing. If possible, always create your final print file using your printers preferred file format and step-by-step instructions to setting up and saving out your file. It is always a good idea to never send your printer your original documents. This can cause all kinds of text, color, and image problems.
    • If your printer has asked you to name your files a certain way, respect that request. I have learned from experience that naming your file any old name is grounds for confusion. Your printer probably has a high traffic of files coming to them daily, so naming your file ‘MyBrochure.pdf’ is not going to help your printer distinguish your jobs from the next brochure they receive. If your printer doesn’t have a file naming system, create your own. This will help prevent confusion for your printer, as well as yourself. I always include my job name and date in the files title before sending it off.
  2. Never wait until the last minute. Your printer is very busy, so don’t think you are their top printing priority. If you know you have a deadline that needs to be met and that you will be placing a large order of a large print run, plan ahead. Even if you are not aware of your exact deadline date book a general time slot with your printer to ensure that they have all the printing materials needed for your project and the time to print it. In some cases, it is more important to make a date with you printer opposed to your client. You can always change your printing date, but you can’t change your client’s expo date and when they will be needing their newly designed banner.
  3. Send test files to your printer. A lot of the time we are in a hurry to send jobs out to the printer and don’t take the time to test them out. After you have fit your project to your printer specifications and packaged it accordingly to their guidelines send them a test file. By doing this it helps guarantee that there are no unaccepted mistakes when the final file is ready.
  4. Time is money. After you have delivered your job to the printer don’t just sit around and wait for them to contact you. Contact your printer every now and then between the time that you send your job and the time you are meant to receive your job back. Make sure that they received your job and that everything was delivered to them with no problem. It is also nice to contact them to just ask how everything is going. This lets them know that you are very concerned about the print job and that you are waiting on it.
  5. Double check your job once you receive it. Ok, this is the step that we love to point the blame at! We are sticklers when it comes to checking over our final product for errors. If you happen to find any errors that are clearly printer mistakes address them with your printer immediately. If your printer did a wonderful job, make sure to tell them. We love to know when we have done a good job and so do our printers.
  6. How do we know when we have made mistakes as designers, not the printer? Here are some common mistakes made my designers:
    • Text issues: If you have sent your printer a job and saved it as a PDF straight from Illustrator, chances are your printer is going to need your fonts unless you have created outlines of your text. Make sure you are always sending your printer a flattened PDF or have created outlines from your text to ensure that there will be no font issues. Also double check the colors of your font. If you have used black on your body text, make sure you are using 0,0,0,0 CMYK color values and not registration black or rich black (rich black is used for large blocks of black color, such as background colors).
    • Image issues: Always try to keep your images at or above 300dpi and in CMYK. Some printers allow for image dpi a little below 300 (I have never gone lower than 250 dpi) and in rgb, but double check this with your printer. Better safe than sorry. If you are placing your images into your document, make sure they are linked to the appropriate file. InDesign gets a little tricky sometimes when it comes to linking images. Even if your image is not linked correctly in InDesign a low res version on that image is still displayed in your document, make sure it is linked and not just a low res instance of your image.
    • Check your dot gain values to make sure that your images don’t become washed out or shadows look too dark. If you aren’t sure what your dot gain is or how to check it learn all about dot gain here.
    • Trimming issues. I have been reinforcing ‘better safe than sorry’ throughout this article, and once again: better safe than sorry! Always keep your text .25in from the edge of your document and always extend your bleeds .125in outside of your document to make sure that no text is being cut off and that no unwanted white edges are showing.
    • Paper stock. Depending on your project your printer will usually recommend a paper stock. If they don’t, ask. If you don’t ask this is a good learning experience. If you receive your project and the other side of your paper is showing through, your paper was too thin! Unfortunately, this is our problem. It is always nice to learn from our mistakes though.

These are just a few general mistakes that designers make. There are many more out there, but I’d like to think that these are the most common. If you run into any other mistakes, don’t be so quick to jump on your printer about them. Your printer is very knowledgeable and want your job to be perfect, so they will be willing to consult with you to make sure the same mistakes will not happen again.

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11 Responses to Establishing a positive relationship with your printer

  1. WilhelmR says:

    I work at an agency where i have no contact with the printer, because “that’s the media department biz”. We just work on a generic knowledge of what the printer MIGHT need, and that sucks :/

    Nice article, cool tips! Let’s hope we start hearing more cmyk love stories in the future :P

  2. Ah! Yeah, that always makes it way more difficult. When I was working at an agency we requested a list of the printers specs that I kept at my desk as well as a folder of their document templates, so that helped out a lot!

    Thanks so much for the feedback. CMYK love <3 haha. Of course there will be more in the future.

  3. Filip says:

    @ IMAGE ISSUES – images in daily newspapers (rotary printing) usualy have 150-200 dpi and that works fine. if you are preparing an billboard ad, it’s OK to go below 100 dpi.

  4. Great mention Filip! I was mainly talking about your usual print work such as brochures, magazine layouts, etc. Thankfully rotary printing and large large print runs such as billboards are done by specific companies who specialize in those 2 things. You never know when you might come across a client who may need a simple ad done for a local newspaper though. Thanks for mentioning this!

  5. David Airey says:

    Hi Antonea,

    Excellent pointers here. A designers relationship with the print process / their printer can’t be underestimated.

    I published a blog post titled: 12 money-saving questions to ask before printing your promotional material. I don’t like leaving links to my own sites in blog comments, so you’ll find it through my name if interested. My readers left some super comments too.

    I hope you’re keeping well.

  6. Great post David! I like how you addressed asking your printer for help. I think some designers are intimidated to ask their printers for help. Yet, it is surprising how helpful just a simple question can be and how much money it can save you in the long run!

  7. Mike Oliver says:

    Working with your printer is almost a whole new skill set you don’t learn in college. I remember my first major brochure project at my first job. The amount of options and choices affecting cost related to paper, trim size, color, etc were mind blowing. Working at a newspaper for 5 years I basically got a whole new insight on prepress and printing, and a ton of knowledge. Now working with the same commercial printer for a while I have learned more and more. When you first start out things like the million paper choices, paper cost, whether or not they are mil items are pretty easy to get lost in. Building a strong relationship with one local printer I think is a huge learning tool… plus sometimes you get freebies like pantone bridges, calendars, and free paper. Antonea, great blogs so far, I’m hooked.

  8. Thanks Mike! Thanks for reading! Hopefully I can keep the weekly useful information coming!

    Understanding printers is that ‘real world’ experience thing that ends up being one of the most important aspects of print. You can always ‘learn’ about bleeds, gutters, what have you…but to actually SEE how they work is a completely different level of knowledge!

  9. johno says:

    Some very sound advice. Printers everywhere will love you for this.

  10. trsone says:

    very good advice here. nice work!

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