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(Originally published in 1989 as "DTP to Press FAQ" now updated for today's designer...)

Printing Primer for Graphic Designers

Designing is only part of the challenge

What, where, when, why, who and how... all frequent questions from attendees of our workshops, who are looking for the perfect page.

Although it takes many hours and piles books to prepare yourself for competent DTP -> Print, we've capsulized a series of comments which address some of the most frequent questions readers and workshop attendees ask. These are also based on our mentoring program, and makeover clinics as the most common problem areas we see in beginner to intermediate desktop publishers. These steps will help you as you approach each project. Each topic is by no means a complete text -- but serves to alert you of problem areas, and suggest simple entry-level solutions. In every case we recommend take three important steps in your professional development:

1. Rely on your printer(s) expertise. Develop a relationship with the vendors you use and rely on their expertise. They are as interested in making your project a success as you are, and sometimes will go to great lengths to help you make it so.

2. Develop step-by-step procedures. Take the time to boil the entire print process (from start to end) into succinct, basic, step-by-step set of procedures. Document and post them in a place where you and anyone else involved can refer to often. Keep them up to date. It's easy to prepare, but it's useless if you're not going to use your preparations. Posting them on the wall will keep them there as a constant reminder and reference point. Do it today.

3. Proof and follow up. Do not send a job to the printer then forget about it. Follow up and ask questions: "Was everything okay?" ... "will the job go as planned?" ... "Did I forget anything?" Don't wait until the client is screaming for their job to discover that you forgot to send the right font.

This document is divided into the following areas. They are not necessarily in order of importance. If you can contribute important items that we have omitted, please contact me directly for inclusion in this article.

Planning for Design and Production success

* Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Develop a habit of planning your desktop production before you launch into the desktop publishing phase.

Select your vendors well in advance, and gather information you need for the project. Make sure you, your client, the vendor, and all others involved have access to the right information.

A form should be attached to the job folder, and forwarded to the production vendors which includes:

This should also include contact names, and phone numbers. Subscribers to DTG can request our "Design Tickle Sheet" which will provide you with a complete check list of all the keywords and prompts you'll need to fully and efficiently specify the project.

Use this Checklist to help organize your materials.

Test, Document, Test

This is the most important rule in the preparation of projects for electronic output -- particularly if you are trying anything new, or unfamiliar to you. Prepare a test disk and have your printer image or proof it for you. Then you'll know.

Of course, that's why we developed the "PowerHouse B&W" kit and the "PowerHouse COLOR Eval Kit" -- with these, you can analyze your printer and their output devices so you'll know what you're dealing with.

Put together several pages which are representative of the software, fonts and level of complexity you plan to use in the final project. Work with your printer to evaluate the results and finalize the plan.

Once you have this information, keep it so you'll have it on hand for all future publications, and in the event of training new personnel.

The Right Colors

Plan the color for the project carefully (before going to the computer.)

We recommend blocking the whole project in B&W first, save it, then begin color assignment in a new version of the file. Black and white gives you a less distracting view of the project. It's easier to read and concentrate on typography and vital details not influenced by color (You'll be glad you did.)

If using a "custom" color, or a specific "built" color, walk through the document assigning THAT color to each element. (This way you won't get confused as to which elements have been assigned which colors.) If your software offers style sheets that support color, name your colors and apply the style sheets carefully. (Programs like Quark XPress, PageMaker and Illustrator all offer ways of setting up styles and then effecting global changes.)

Be careful with process matches of Pantone colors. We recommend working with your printer to choose the CMYK mix for colors according to paper and press conditions. We've never seen the standard mix in your software result in the color intended. Use only process color or the inks prescribed by your printer.

Avoid specifying a tint of a PMS color unless that specific color will be run as a separate color printer. Otherwise, build the color from CMYK.


A lot of people moan and groan about trapping. Many other self-proclaimed gurus attempt to show you how to trap and try to empower you to do the trapping yourself.

My policy is: Never attempt trapping in your own files. Regardless of what the software companies say, we've never seen a good software trapping solution. Let the printer do it for you. Make sure you tell the printer up front that the trapping is their responsibility. You'll find a brief outline in the Design Center if you do wish to know a little more about trapping.

Next: Scanning, structure and building the page...


Until next time... keep on Printing

Fred Showker
      Fred Showker, Editor/Publisher

I'd love to hear about your educational experiences, or your favorite training products. Please drop me a line and let's share with all DT&G readers!

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