10 Ways printers can help designers

Saw this wonderful, helpful article on LinkedIn, about how printers can help graphic designers with print collateral. Good tips and hints.

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Why is it that printers are responsible for teaching their design clients these very rudimentary skills. That article is why the design industry should have set a bar as to who can practice design. All of that stuff should already have been learned before ever working for paying clients.

(that comment is not directed at the OP, but the writer of the article and the industry in general, just for the record.)

Now if the printer is helping to educate a designer’s client, that is an entirely matter.

I do take exception to the one about pastel inks. That’s all about the ink, not the color.


I think that was the intent, actually, giving us tools to help educate our clients.

Whew! Thanks for clarifying! :wink:

Now there are a lot of technologies used for printing. On 3d printers, details are created according to drawings, so that printers have become not only a tool for designers. In this article polarengraving.com I read about laser printing on bricks and tiles. And what will happen in the future? Can we print food? Already, such technologies are being developed.

Wouldn’t happen to be affiliated with that website, would you?
Laser engraving tile and brick, all well and good. Indoors.
I’m doing some real time weather testing by observing several installations of these things in some local memorial parks out in New England weather. Jury’s still out but not impressed so far. Biggest observation, don’t use them as pavers. At least, IMO.

While the article has good info, I’m going to vent with PrintDriver here… The current-day design industry undervalues print knowledge. Right now there are entire generations of designers that lack the skills needed to even setup a 4cp+1spot litho job, let alone a 12 station Flexo job (or how to create appropriate designs for those jobs respectively). And unfortunately there aren’t many good resources for designers to learn it aside from the printers themself. Schools aren’t teaching it because professors and curriculum advisors don’t even understand it.

I’ve done a lot of work with big agencies on the production side, and the number of designs that come through that don’t work given the print specs is staggering, and its only gotten worse over the years. Most of the industry now seems to think print is just a cost, not a solution.

“Can’t we just print this as CMYK?” …meanwhile the design is vector shapes, negative type, and contain no photographic images. :roll_eyes:

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I’m with you there Silence04. Even with print specs supplied, simple things like bleeds and crops are ignored. Or applied wrong. With wide format printing there is the added problem that all the resolutions and bleeds are “not what was taught” so I get designers sending 20’ banners with 3mm bleeds and trying to work on files that are several gigs in size so they can be 300ppi…(if you are sending a .psb, you’re most likely doing it wrong…)

It’s gone nowhere but downhill and the last 3 years have been horrible.

So in both your cases is vice versa - Ways designers can help printers…
Thanks for the article. #moreprofessionalism

I agree. There is a whole lot that designers can learn from printers, and what I’m about to say isn’t meant to detract from that.


It’s a rare situation when the many printers I’ve worked with over the years want to take the time to answer technical questions or provide detailed feedback.

At least half the time, designers work with sales people whose main concern is getting the work and who don’t know much about art and file preparation themselves (although they pretend to). Try to get around the sales people to the prepress staff or pressmen, and they typically resist it.

Ask for templates, have imposition questions, request color profile settings, have paper stock questions, etc., and more often than not, I’ve gotten blank looks and responses that go something like, “Just send us what you have. We can figure it out.”

The attitude I get from most printers is one of getting work in, and cranking it out with minimal interaction from the designer. It seems as though they’re resigned to getting badly prepared artwork and just consider part of the process to be them fixing things, as though it’s just easier to do this than to actually educate the designer.

They’ll put up with press checks, but more often than not, it’s a formality where you show up, stand there stupidly while the pressman prints out a few copies. You ask a few questions that don’t amount to much, get some perfunctory answers, then sign off on things. More often than not, it’s a superficial interaction that could be much more, but typically isn’t.

I do want to say that these problems don’t apply to all printers. There are ones who want to work with you — especially when they realize you’re a pro who can speak their language. These good printers view designers as partners instead of customers who come and go.

So my advice to new designers is to insist on getting answers to your questions and insisting that printers provide advice and critical feedback. If they won’t go there, that’s one very good reason to look for a different printer.

Sometimes it requires being adamant about discussing the job with the prepress person who will be working on the job or the press operator who will be printing it. It differs from one company to another, but good printers know a whole lot that designers really need to know.

If you run into printers who regard you as just a customer dropping off work and who won’t spend time with you, you’re probably working with the wrong printer.


B, I’m sorry you are running into such things. I outsource as well and have yet to have a vendor do that sort of thing. That’s not to say I haven’t had my share of clueless sales reps (I’m sometimes convinced I get handed off to the most junior to train em up) but that is also where experience counts.

The way the design industry is now, no one is teaching new designers how to negotiate the print world. They are having to figure it out from ground zero, without the terminology and without the experience of a mentor. And the print industry has so exploded in the last decade, with so many offerings, that it is impossible for a newb to get up to speed on the fly. As I said in an earlier thread, it’s become so bad in the last three years, even I have said on occasion, “just send the files and we’ll deal with it.” Nicely of course. That comes about only when the designer is just not listening to what you are telling them or there just isn’t time to walk them through it. In the latter case, I’m open to doing post mortems, returning fully prepped files so the designer can see how to do it next time. If they they’re interested.

A lot of places do not want inexperienced designers bothering the help. It’s not productive, and quite honestly a lot of production people really just want to be left alone to do their jobs. A lot of the best print places will have a second line of defense behind the sales reps called customer service reps (CSRs) who handle the project once the salesman has bagged it. They are the ones with the answers to your questions. They are the ones you deal with while your project is running. They are the ones responsible for contacting you if something is awry in your files and offer suggestions on how to fix. As I look at my vendor list, most of them do have this CSR layer in place.

But you have to meet them halfway. Show an earnestness in wanting to make the printer’s life easier, “what can I do to present files that fly through your pre-press,” that kind of thing. More Honey, Less Vinegar.
And once you get an answer, apply it. Always. On every file there on. Keeping in mind that print vendors all have slightly different ways of handling workflow (especially when you are dealing with wide format.)

If I tell you an image only needs to be 25-50ppi for your billboard sized banner, I’m not kidding, and I’m not wrong, no matter what you were taught about 300ppi for print.
If I tell you your bleeds need to be 6" all around on that billboard sized banner, I’m not kidding and I’m not wrong, no matter what you were taught about 3mm bleeds.
READ the spec sheet. If you don’t understand a spec, call and ask. Don’t just fall back on what you think is right.

B is right. If you don’t get adequate customer service, time to start looking around. There are a lot of us out there willing to help, if you are willing to listen.

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A difference between you and an inexperienced designer is that you’re approaching these subcontractors as an experienced professional from a reputable company. In other words, you know how to do it and their assumption is you’re a peer.

I think this is the heart of the problem, and where lots of more inexperienced designers run into issues.

The printer receives a one-off job from someone they don’t normally deal with, and those jobs are more often than not have problems. Rather than educate every naive customer who walks through the door, they just take the job and run with it.

I haven’t run into many printers (other than larger shops) who have dedicated customer service people beyond the sales rep.

You and I have both been around the block hundreds of time, and don’t have problems with these things.

When I contact a new printer, for example, it typically takes a few sentences to establish my credibility, since the assumption always seems to be that most every new customer is largely clueless. Once I start asking specific questions, however, the conversation shifts to a peer-to-peer level, which is difficult for a newbie designer to do — especially one who’s just graduated from school and is, for the most part, clueless about this thing.

So to repeat myself a bit, a serious new designer really does need to push the printer for answers to questions. As I mentioned, printers are not able to give everyone who walks through their doors a crash course on art production, but if, as a new designer, you push the issue a bit with a less-than-forthcoming printer, there’s a wealth of invaluable knowledge to be gained once they know you’re serious.

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Which is why it is sad there are too many design students and not enough mentors. The production stuff isn’t taught in most colleges and there’s no one to teach them the terminology. Too many freelancing directly out of school. Too many taking on decidedly more than they are qualified to do a little too quickly. In the design industry, though, perseverance is everything, I guess. Only the bold move upward.

Despite my somewhat nasty online persona, I have absolutely no problem speaking to or corresponding with a designer patched through from the front office, as long as it pertains to a job we are doing, or about to do. I like nothing better than a kick off meeting for large projects or a phone call on smaller ones, especially where most designers have never done large format before. I’m very insulated from conventional print so probably can’t speak for those poor guys in those frontline trenches.

In this day and age, a printer can’t skimp on customer service. As we both said, if you aren’t getting response, time to shop around. If someone isn’t paying attention to you, likely your print job isn’t being paid attention to either (how’s that for a broad brush. :slight_smile:)

As for the CSRs, even the small quikprint sign shops around here have them. The CSR and production person might be one and the same in some of the smaller places, but they are removed from the sales rep. Maybe because this is a decidedly metro area. I dunno.

This is unfortunately the norm. I have been in and out of the industry for all my adult life. I am currently in a production function but spent many years as a CSR in a company that spent almost 6 months training reps to talk intelligently about the offset industry. That was my first job. Now at a different company the past 5 years It is a very sad day when me as a production guy was offering to talk in place of our CSR’s because they are just not taught any more and almost immediately put on a phone.

Yup. And I don’t just think that’s exclusively a recent thing either.

Printing itself has gotten a lot more complicated, but file preparation, in some ways has gotten simpler, but with endless details and gotchas that can be easily overlooked through ignorance. Most anyone with a computer and a copy of Photoshop feels semi-comfortable doing this stuff, even when they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

Way back when I was in college, there were no production classes either — it was all about creating nice-looking designs with little thought given to how practical it was or the art preparation that went into it. At the time, production involved wax, paste-up, X-Acto knives, Pelican white out, marking up and ordering type from a type house, cutting amberlith overlays, specifying halftone screen frequencies, using stat cameras, etc. It was totally new to me and utterly confusing. Luckily, I had good mentors at the places I interned, and I practically memorized a copy of the old Pocket Pal booklet a printer gave me.

Most everything has changed since then, but one thing that hasn’t changed is how design school professors just don’t teach this stuff — mainly, I think, because it changes too fast for them to keep up since they’re not immersed in the business themselves.

For new designers, there’s a whole lot of self-education that has to take place by actively looking for internships, mentors and serious studying. It’s crazy how so many recent graduates feel they can jump right into freelancing after graduation. I don’t think many of them even know how clueless they are until a job comes along that ends up turning into a production and printing mess.

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Well. I did not totally like the article. Most of those “tips” should be learned in the design school… (Oh yeah, there are a lot of “designers” that just took a crash course on Photoshop**) But it is a good effort tho.

But I totally agree that some “tips” are necessary for the printer to give to more “pro designers”

  • Which color profile are they using?

  • Is there an over saturation of inks on the specific project that will cause print problems due to the humidity and cold temperatures on that time of the year?

  • Is the prepress guy noticing a problem with the overprint of one specific ink?

  • Did the designer send a file on RGB mode by mistake (not by ignorance)?

  • But the best way a printer can help a designer is to have a well-calibrated, color managed workflow!

Oh, well. Back to reality…

** If you are one of these persons, I am not writing that so you feel bad, On the contrary… There is a LOT to learn. Don’t rush too fast your projects, because it potentially will cost you real money. Keep learning all the way.

Color profile, ink limits, humidity and temperature control are not the designer’s problem. Those items are totally the under the printer’s control. Color profiles especially. With the wide array of machines and materials out there, likely as not, the designer is not going to have access to specific profiles. Especially in wide format where the profiles aren’t canned in the software and are not available to anyone who doesn’t own a machine. Not to mention the proprietary profiles a lot of larger or ISO shops have that they don’t even let the print machine suppliers see. If you are a printer and want profiles applied by designers, make Job Options available.

As for “RGB by mistake,” it’s becoming far more common for imagery to be supplied in RGB just so those custom profiles can be applied. RGB has a much larger color gamut than CMYK. Having a native RGB file from which to pull as much color information as possible on conversion is a definite plus (bearing in mind once you convert an RGB image to CMYK and save it, you have lost that gamut information forever.)

There is also one RGB print process out there. At least for a little while longer. It involves RGB laser exposure of film and wet developing. Lambda prints and Lightjet prints do still exist. And they are very beautiful things.

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