When doing a major piece, such as a high-end brochure, annual report or sustainability report, you want to make sure that the exceptional artwork of the piece is maintained throughout the print process. To do so requires a press check. As the project manager of a range of marketing tools, this is a service that I provide and strongly recommend for high-end print pieces.
My marketing pieces are not advertising oriented. They typically contain articles, profiles and news about the organization, and are illustrated with photos. They don’t require a flashy, high-gloss finish – which is more common in advertising.
Choice of paper is very important. I often spec a matte sheet (paper) because it’s not as reflective as a gloss, yet has a non-gloss coating that holds the ink better than an uncoated sheet, which is more porous and prone to ink saturation. Whenever possible, I ask to see samples of a report or brochure printed on the stock that I am considering.
Many printers can also provide a mock-up of the book using the specified sheet. While it’s just plain paper, it gives you a sense of the heft of the piece and the ease of turning pages. How does it feel to your fingers? Is it crisp and solid? Or is it soft or flimsy and hard to turn the pages? The feel of the paper matters; it’s comparable to the choice of fabric in a dress or pair of pants. It’s the foundation of the print piece.
Getting back to the press check. The printer typically provides digital output of the book and strives to match the color. However, the proof often looks better than the print run. Why is that? Well, the proof has a slick finish that makes the color pop. Because the proof is a digital print, the ink lies on top of the paper and is not created by a dot pattern, which is inherent in offset printing. In the latter process, the ink soaks into the paper so the colors may not be as vibrant.
Here’s what I look for at a press check:
• Color match – Did the printer capture the true color of the piece? If not, ask for more runs as they adjust the colors. Of the 4-color process (CMYK, which stands for cyan (blue), magenta, yellow and black), the printer can pump up the red or tone down the yellow for example.
• Look closely at the faces in the photos. Does the color hold here? If people look either like ghosts or are too red-faced, adjustments need to be made.
• When the design originates on the left page and ends on the right page, check to see the color hue matches across the spread. These sheets won’t print next to each other, so you’ll have to find the opposing page on the print run to check. It may be on a later print run.
• Check the page numbers. Are they still there? Sometimes, with layering, they get covered up and no one notices until the book is printed.
• Watch for hickeys – blobs and any dust or marks – that are embedded in the sheets. They are especially noticeable on reversed-out sections or dark areas. Usually these hickeys are from dust getting into the equipment or flawed plates or rollers. The printer needs to clean or fix the equipment before printing more sheets.
• Look at the type. It’s too late to proof read, but scan the headlines and peruse the copy to make sure the paragraphs are intact and no copy has disappeared. In the rare event that you catch a typo, it’s best to fix the file and reprint the sheet.
• If you are viewing a sheet that has aqueous coating – a water-based film that holds in the ink and adds a sheen – make sure the coating has been evenly applied and there are no spots or gaps. Same goes for varnish.
• Look at the edges of the sheet. Do the bleeds go far enough near the printer’s cut marks? If not, you’ll have a gap in ink coverage. This can be fixed at this stage.
• Are there any overlapping boxes that block out text, graphics or photos? Look closely at layered components to make sure all the layers are showing up.
• Make sure the sheets are not crinkled or otherwise damaged.
Much can be done at a press check to ensure that a quality piece is produced. For bigger pieces, I make sure to conduct a press check on the cover and at least one inside spread. Feel free to add your comments about quality concerns for your organization or surprises at press time.