Graphic designers create gorgeous print pieces. However, without the knowledge of how a printer works sometimes the designs just can’t be done. So, how do we communicate to our printer exactly what we are going for?

I got my education in graphic design but out of school the first job I got was in the prepress department of a print shop. It was not ideal, I wanted to be designing CD covers and posters but mostly I got to type set and set file up to print. I always stayed in the graphic design by doing freelance but finally after three and half years in the print shop I got the graphic design job of my dreams. There was nothing more valuable in the design field than my experience in a print shop. I don’t think it is necessary for every designer to serve their time in a print shop as well but there are a couple things designers could be aware of to create a better lines of communication with their printer.

1.       Ask for print shop specific details. Call your printer before starting a project. A general knowledge of how to set up print pieces is helpful but every printer is different. Explain your project while getting your quote and ask if there is anything that you should keep in mind while designing for their printers specifically. For example; what is the max sheet size, what kind of paper can be used, would it be best to print digital or offset and what kind of binding or folding do they have available.

2.       Know your project size! The sales representative is there is sell, you are here to design. Is your file a full sheet 8.5x11, a half sheet 8.5x5.5, an #10 envelope size 9.5x 4.1 etc etc. Keep in mind standard postcard sizes, there are postal regulations for this, if you go over or under the size it may not mail or will cost extra postage, which could end up costing you. Standard sizes are 4″x6″, 5″x7″, 5.5″x8.5″, 6.8″x7.5″ and 6″x11″. Know exactly what you are trying to accomplish and use your sales rep as a resource. They know their printing systems and the cleaner the file they get the more accurate the project will be.

3.       Find your rulers and use them. Do not rely on your software to setup correct folds. I know a lot of desktop publishing programs like Microsoft publisher do not set up the correct folds for example, the fold are off on a tri-fold brochure template. You may want the front title and picture centered on that panel but without the correct measurements it wont happen. Instead of using their preset tri-fold or brochure templates try measuring it out for your self. On a 8.5x11 horizontal sheet, your cover will be the panel farthest on the right. You need the last panel (the one that folds in to be just a little bit smaller than the other two panels for proper folding. Your cover is 3.6875 (3 11/16), the middle panel is the same, and that leaves the panel on the far left to be 3.625 (3 10/16). For the inside of this brochure use the same measurements starting from the left side of the sheet 3 11/16, 3 11/16, 3 10/16. You will be able to see clearly where your panels start and end and your piece will look much more professional.

4.       Color, Color Color. Is it 1 color? 2 color? Full color? This requires you to learn some printing terms. Print pieces are done in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). Color separation is the hardest thing to understand when putting your piece together. If it is full color then you have little to worry about. The printer will be able to separate the  CMYK in your file. If it is two colors? such as black and purple you then need to open your Pantone swatches. Pantone is a universal color system to ensure you get the same colors every time. For example, the University of Notre Dame’s colors are navy blue and gold, with out Pantone the possibility of their colors having different hues of gray, blue or red go up. Notre Dame’s colors are 871 and 541 and will always be color consistent. To set up a 2 color file you need to pick either one of the process colors (CMYK) or a Pantone color for it to count as a 2 color and make sure those are the only two colors in the file.

Be specific and clear when speaking with your print representative, phone conversations work better for the initial order and to answer some of the questions you might have. Some times print shops have the tools and capabilities to do so much more than they offer as standard. Even if you have, what seems like an outrageous print idea, talk with your local print shop, they are more than likely able to work with you to get what you want. what you want.