CategoryProofing

Managing Image Color and Quality – Part one of two

One of the things designers worry about the most is being disappointed with how a print project turns out. Seeing their project print in the “wrong” colors or not as sharp as it looked on the screen are common issues but there are also others. Many of these issues are surprisingly easy to manage. The good news is that only part of this management is on the designer’s end, some of it is on the printer’s end and out of the designer’s hands. Because printing problems can be expensive, or very expensive to fix (as in redo the entire job ?), there is usually some finger pointing going on when a job goes south. If a designer messes up on their part – they are responsible for paying to reprint the job and I know firsthand, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I’ve put together a list of the things you, the designer, controls and those which the printer controls. In this post, I will address the designer’s responsibility. In part two I will address the printer’s responsibility!

Things the designer Controls

Specify the Right Paper
The most important decision you can make is choosing the right paper for your project. No matter what you do on the prepress side to enhance image quality if you are printing a finely detailed image on the wrong paper, the details are going to be lost. Paper choice significantly affects reproduction quality.

Color Manage Your Devices/Workspace
Most designers who are disappointed by color are using a proofing workflow that is not calibrated, ie: their monitor and desktop printer. There’s a reason why the proofing printers that printer’s buy cost five figures (and the color management RIP can cost six figures!), they are way better than your desktop printer. It could be that your printer happened to predict how a job printed in January when you used photo paper and an OEM ink set, trust me, you got lucky. But in June when you are using copy paper with non-OEM ink the whole picture could change (picture, pun, LOL).  Either manage your color at your studio/office or rely on supplied proofs at every step of the process. It’s that simple.

Don’t put off color management thinking you can wait until you see the first set of final proofs from your printer. This can lead to a major color rework during the final hour, delaying the job delivery, and that is not good for you or your client.

  1. There are some really quick and easy ways to calibrate your monitor so you can check color: Google “how to calibrate my monitor,” follow the instructions, and take your monitor’s age into account; as monitors age, they become less accurate.
  2. Get your print provider’s ICC profile, (a standardized data set that describes the color space of an input or output device,)
    and apply it to your monitor and desktop printer. If your desktop printer cannot load an ICC profile, ask your print shop for work-around help or hire an outside firm. Sometimes spending $100 is the best thing you can possibly do.
  3. Take a rhem lighting indicator (RHEM indicator) with you when you show proofs to a client. There’s one in the back
    of the Pantone Color Bridge set. If your proofs look odd or different in your client’s office, it might be the light.
  4. Where are you looking at your proofs? In the parking lot? In the kitchen? In a room with purple walls? Try to check
    proofs in a color-neutral environment; a color booth is best. Specify color while you are in the booth too.
  5. Install 5000k fluorescent lights and daylight incandescents in your workspace.
  6. Do not convert your files to CMYK unless your printer specifically asks you to. Chances are the printer is going to
    want to handle that conversion, especially if your files are printing on a digital press.
  7. If you are printing on colored paper, proof on colored paper. If you can’t proof on colored paper, change the “paper” color in InDesign to approximate your paper color. It will not reflect how transparent inks appear on colored paper, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Rhem indicators show you if your lighting is correct. You can purchase them on a card or a pack of stickers to place on proofs and there is currently one in the back of the Pantone Bridge set. In correct lighting, both halves of the rectangle are identical. Here it is shown in incorrect lighting.

Specify Color Precisely
Using your monitor to select color is a sketchy proposition. You can specify color precisely if you use printed color guides to select your colors. I highly recommend the Pantone Bridge Selector, which gives you Spot, RGB, and CMYK equivalents for each color. When working on identity systems, it is an invaluable tool. You can immediately see how out-of-gamut some Pantone greens and reds are when rendered in CMYK. And for the RGB equivalent enter the values shown in Adobe Photoshop and see how that compares (knowing the browser, monitor and hardware will serve it up differently in each case).

 

Use the Correct Resolution
Resolution is worth mentioning because it causes so many problems in the prepress department. Any image you want to print must be a minimum of 300 dpi at 100% of its actual size. If you pull an image from a website, and it is 4 in. x 4 in. and 72 dpi (the typical web resolution), when you place it in your page layout, it must be sized to 24% of its original size or 0.96 in. x .96 in. in order to be at the correct resolution for printing. (Web designers take note!)

There is absolutely no way to take a low-resolution image and make it look like a high-resolution image. Interpolating a file to a higher resolution makes the image look like an image that was interpolated up to a higher resolution to improve its appearance. One low-resolution image can make collateral look unprofessional. Make sure all the images you provide are the correct resolution for their output size.

The same photo shown in three different light sources, from left: store light, daylight, and home light. Consider the challenges inherent in designing packaging where the product will be viewed in several lighting environments. (Photo courtesy gti Graphictechnology Inc.)

Use Correct File Formats
Each software program creates a native file format that it “gets along with” best. For Adobe Photoshop, that would be bit-mapped files like tiff, jpg, and png. For Adobe Illustrator, it is eps files. Adobe InDesign is a composition program that can accept nearly any file type for inclusion into a document that will be printed or published to the web.

Some file formats work well for print, and some work best for the web. Here are some common file types and their best uses:

Print
• Tiff for high-resolution photographs and scanned graphics
• eps for infinite scalability
• Pdf for high-resolution printing when properly saved with embedded fonts and bleeds, etc.

Web
• Jpg for many compression options and fast loading
• Png for more image depth. The trade-off is its large file size, no CMYK, RGB only.
• Gif limited color (256 only) but very fast loading

Don’t use image compression unless you absolutely have to. Every time an image is compressed (when it is saved) and uncompressed (when it is opened), it rewrites the data in the file and leaves little artifacts/noise in the image. Compression is left over from the days when a 44mb (yes, that’s MB, not GB or TB) Syquest drive cost $200. Nowadays, storage is cheap. Compression works well for the web, but it isn’t necessary for anything else. For example, Tiff files and images are not compressed. Jpeg files and images are.

I hope this helps you to feel super confident the next time you send a job to your printer! Stay tuned for part two – What Your Printer Controls!

Do you have a question about this topic or would you like me to further explain something?  Do you have a request for a topic for me to cover or elaborate on? I’d love to know, comment or email me at marina @ designingforprint.com

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The pudding is in the proof.

Pudding is pretty thick and murky…  the reasons for proofs and types of proofs can seem murky as well. You need proofs, as in you really need proofs. One of the most important things to understand is what type of proof you will need for any given project. We will discuss the different types of proofs and what to look for when proofing print and graphic elements.

How Proofs are Made

A little background on how proofs are made will help you know what types of proofs you need. Proofs are printed on large-format inkjet devices. At the best printers, these devices are calibrated to predict how the job will print. This is an important concept. The proof is not necessarily showing you the most accurate representation of your InDesign file… it is predicting how your file will look when printed on a specific press and paper. Your file whether it is on a Mac or PC is going to be output (interpreted) by a device. That device can be someone’s laptop running a browser if it is a digital project or a printed billboard/package/brochure/card that was printed and therefore interpreted by a RIP. Sometimes, but not always, a proof can be a dot-for-dot proof of your ripped file, but that’s a convo for later.

Because the large-format device is calibrated for the paper it uses, you cannot choose the paper you want for a proof. You have to accept the paper for which the device is calibrated. If you want a proof on the actual paper the job will print on, you will sacrifice color correctness and resolution and it just generally will not work, unless the job is printing digitally.

 

Types of Proofs

Blueline (brown line)   A blueline proof is a low to medium resolution proof in color or black and white. This proof is trimmed, folded, and printed from the final file from which the plates will be made. Blueline and brown-line are terms that belong to a technology that became obsolete in the 1990s, but the terms are still in use. Other equivalent terms are: plotter, folding Epson, folded color digital proof, digital plotter or just plain digital proof.

Contract   A contract proof is the “best” proof for resolution and color. In some, but not all, cases, it is a dot–for–dot proof, which means you will get what you see right down to the halftone dots. This proof is on high-resolution paper. If your project involves multiple pages, ask for your proof in reader’s spreads. Otherwise, you may receive printer’s spreads (which is easier for the printer to do), and it could take a ton of extra time to compare printer’s spreads to an earlier proof in reader’s spreads.

Soft Proof   A soft proof is a proof viewed on a monitor. Not to be used for color. A PDF is a type of soft proof.

Die Strike   A die strike is a sample impression made by a foil or embossing die on the specified paper. This procedure may be done while another job is running, so whatever foil is “on press” may be used. Your printer should supply paper so that the die strike is on the paper on which the job will run. If you also want to see your foil on your paper, specify that so your printer can plan accordingly. That is a press proof and an additional charge.

Press Proof  The actual job on the paper with all finishing techniques applied for a limited quantity.

Drawdown   A drawdown is a proof of specified spot ink on the actual paper that will be used for the job.

One-off  A one-off is a proof of a job that will be digitally printed. Because it is being digitally printed it will be on the press and paper specified. In the case of a large format project, the one-off may be reduced in size or only a critical section may be proofed.

Looking at Proofs

Reviewing a Contract Color Proof

You are going to need a Sharpie®, preferably red, or a similar permanent marker to make your notes and corrections on the proof. Gloss proofing paper is not receptive to many inks, but a Sharpie works very well.

• What are your viewing conditions? Is your lighting color correct? Use the lighting evaluation tool in your Pantone Color Bridge fan deck, if you have one or order a set of Pantone lighting indicator stickers. The photo below shows a RHEM indicator.

This is a RHEM indicator showing that the light in which it is being viewed is not color correct.
When the lighting is correct both halves of the rectangle look the same. 

• Are you at a viewing booth? Should you be? A viewing booth or viewing area is a color-correct environment. If you do not have the proper environment, go to your printer and use his.

Proofing Graphics
• Look closely at every piece of art whether it is a photograph, drawing, or logo.
• Is the color off or correct?
• Is the cropping correct?
• Is the logo the correct version and/or usage?
• Does the image look muddy or fuzzy?
• Does part of the image look dark or muddy?
• Does anything need retouching?
• Was requested retouching performed?
• Are any moirés visible? (this applies only if checking a contract proof that is dot-for-dot)

Proofing Pages
We strongly recommend you proof hard copies. Here is what you want to check on each page:
• Is text flowing correctly from column to column and page to page? Scan the last few words in each column or page, and the beginning of the next column or page to make sure the flow is correct.
• Was the document spell-checked?
• Are headlines complete without missing copy?
• Is the document the correct size?
• Are the margins as specified? Top? Bottom? Outer? Inner? Left? Right? Are the margins consistent?
• Are the folios correct? Does the numbering start on a right-hand page?
• Are there any hyphens or widows that need to be corrected?
• Are columns correct and consistent, justified, or ragged?
• Are elements that bleed cropped correctly?
• Did the binding hide or cut off anything?
• Is the backup, front-to-back orientation, correct? Triple-check this for two-sided postcards, business cards, or any item that changes reader/viewer orientation from front to back, outside to inside. See the two videos below for examples of head-to-foot and head-to-head orientations.

This is what head-to-foot orientation looks like:

This is what head-to-head orientation looks like:

 

Proofing a Paper Dummy
• Is the size correct?
• Is it the right paper(s)?
• Is the color correct?
• Is the weight(s) of the paper correct?
• Is the paper’s finish correct?
• Are the hash marks correct on the proof/dummy?
• Do you have drawdowns? Are they correct?

Proofing a PDF
• If you are reviewing a PDF that was emailed to you or that you downloaded, print it out to size with bleeds and crop marks. Trim it, score it, fold it, and perforate it if necessary. (Having done all this, you will wish you had ordered a hard copy proof from your printer.) If it is a postcard and prints two sides, glue, tape, or staple it together. Is it head-to-head? Head-to-foot? Is the head-to-foot or head-to-head orientation in writing on the purchase order or on the estimate?
• If you receive a hard copy proof, check it for trim, scoring, folding, color, imposition, backup, etc. Note that you should not be checking for spelling at this stage.
•  I do not recommend reviewing pdf proofs on a smartphone. I recently saw a pdf that looked different on two different phones. One showed the error, a key-line around a graphic, and the other did not show it at all. Needless to say, the job printed with the key-line because the client reviewed and okay-ed the proof from his phone.

Proofing Color
• Check the color carefully. Most proofing systems can now proof CMYK color very accurately. If the project is printing with a Pantone spot color, look at a chip or a drawdown and confirm it is the color you want. If the project is printing Hexachrome, HiFi or with touch plates, make sure you are at the press check.
• If you are proofing via an online system, print the proof out yourself so that you will have a hard copy in your hands while you are looking at the job on screen.

PHEW. That seems like a lot of stuff.  If you have a question about proofing or would you like me to further explain something, I’d love to know, comment or email me at marina @ designingforprint.com. Do you have a request for a topic for me to cover or elaborate on? Let me know! Really!

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The 3 Workflow Mistakes I Made on My Holiday Card

Arrrgh! I am a pro! I know all this stuff!

I received my holiday newsletter from the printer and I am like, ‘what-the-heck is going on with the body font?’ (I didn’t really say ‘what-the heck’ but I am trying to swear less). I ran to grab one of my proofs to see if the type was as fine on the proof as it was on the printed product and is was not!  I then remembered I proofed it at home on my little Canon Pixma (that I love to bits, not her fault). Crap. Why didn’t I ask for a proof? Because I was late with my holiday cards this year and had already turned it into a New Year’s card and I didn’t want any further delays.

My husband and I are the only ones who saw the proofs and would know the difference, but it was still disappointing. And it is not the first time this has happened to me on a personal project! On a client project I have SOPs, (Standard Operating Procedures) and do not cut corners and typically am not working from home. I have a studio with professional equipment, including printers, so that I can work at the level necessary for commercial work.

This morning I thought, dang, maybe my readers can learn from my mistakes… they might like to see what I am talking about.

The Backstory

This year I did a tongue-in-cheek newsletter “Hark the Herald News” and spent a few minutes researching actual newspaper typefaces from the 1940’s and 50’s to give it that newsy look. (Here’s a pic a friend sent, he thought it was funny, yay!) I loved the Blackletter masthead and condensed Helvetica fonts and thought the non-beautiful spacing of Times was the perfect body font to convey that newspapery feeling. (I also thought a farcical newspaper was the perfect wind-up to 2016 ?.)

Mistake #1: Know what you are proofing

It is easy to forget what you are proofing or why you are proofing when you are caught up in a project. In my case, my husband was proofing typos and content and whether or not my jokes would fall flat on our friends and family. When he was done with his proofing, I thought, okay, good to go, one last check and let’s send off this pdf. When I printed the proofs for my husband I knew that they were for copy only. I knew that I needed to print another set of proofs to check everything else; halftone densities, ink gain on the copy paper, margins, etc. I totally forgot that we were proofing content only, not visuals. 

MISTAKE #2: make a final proof the right way

After we worked out our content and captions I printed some more proofs to make sure I had done the best I could to balance columns and whatnot.  I am a terrible production artist and I know it. I dread this stage of tightening everything up. I like it when I have a design and prepress team with eagle eyes to catch everything I miss. In other words, I rushed through as quick as I could. At this stage I should have switched out the paper to proofing paper instead of 24# copy paper and changed the print setting to “High Quality” or gone to the studio and printed it out on the proper printer and paper.

MISTAKE #3: If you can’t generate a hi-res proof get one

I sent the PDF to the printer with instructions to print it on a nice, unbulky, text (lighter than 80#), because it had to be folded in quarters to fit in my announcement envelopes. I remember being a little concerned about the halftones being dark and was wondering if they could lighten them up on press. I decided against asking that question when I submitted my pdf for fear of slowing down the process. I knew I was getting the file in late and asking for a rush deadline and I did not want to be a pain in the you-know-what. I did not ask for a proof.

Mistake #4: make sure everyone proofing knows what they are reviewing

My husband was surprised by the size when he saw the finished cards. He thought it was going to be tabloid-sized and I was shrinking it down to print at home. The proofs I showed were tiled, trimmed and taped together at actual size, 10″ x 15″ but because of the ratio and the subject, a newspaper, he thought it was going to be bigger! I should have explained that he was seeing the final size.

THE RESULT: disappointment

When you are speccing or setting body copy the “color” of the type has a huge effect on the look of a page. On the left is what the body type looked like coming out of my desktop inkjet printer on plain 24# copy paper with printing quality set to “standard”. On the right is the final output with the body text looking cleaner and more delicate than I wanted. I wanted that soaked-in-newspaper-ink look. This one difference completely changed the impact of the page and man was I bummed. It is the worst feeling to be totally excited about seeing a job come back from the printer and be disappointed. The. Worst.

 

This morning I printed a few more versions so you could see the differences that paper and print settings make.

Below, left is a proof printed on non-inkjet paper but smoother and “nicer” than 24# white copy paper. As you can see, the output is worse than the proof on the 24# paper, above, left. Copy paper is designed for imaging, not necessarily inkjet, but definitely laser printing. The proof is printing better on plain old copy paper than a much nicer non-imaging paper.

Below at right is a proof printed on Photo Glossy Paper. As you can see, the “color” of the paragraph is much closer to the final output than the copy paper proof. The photo paper is designed for desktop inkjet printers and does a fine job of representing how it was going to print. And that is exactly what a proof should do!

I am pretty picky about my print-outs, and that’s why I have a printer at home that uses archival inks and is capable of very high quality printing. Forgetting to use the correct paper is just plain dumb on my part. And even though my printer is awesome, it doesn’t hold a candle to a million-dollar digital printing press. Commercial presses have similar color and resolution, but they are completely different when it comes to speed, media variety, and repeatability.

We were each a little disappointed, I with the color of the type and my husband with the finished size. We still sent them out, folded in quarters, to spread some holiday cheer. The moral of the story is; if you don’t follow the steps necessary for a professional print project…you won’t get a professional outcome. Do you have a story about missing a step? I’d love to hear it.

I wish you a joyous 2017 with perfect proofs and awesome printing!

 

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