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Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

Is that schedule padded?

In my book, a slightly padded project schedule is a good thing. If the client changes her mind, a new solution can be created. If the carton of paper is damaged, the ink won’t dry, or there’s a back-up in bindery, the deadline can still be met.

As an added bonus, studios look good to clients when the product still delivers on time, or even delivers sooner than promised.

Read more about scheduling →

Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

InDesign’s new “oh wow” features

This evening I went to Seattle’s Adobe InDesign User Group to see previews of some of InDesign 5’s new features.

Although my own InDesign needs are simple, I can see that many of the new features will make production of printed pieces much quicker and easier for designers and add accuracy to preparing files for print.

Read more about CS5 →

hyattplace_logoToday I drove past the construction site for Hyatt Place Seattle, where the colorful Hyatt Place logo caught my eye.

Of course, being the print woman I am, my first thought was, “How would I print that?”

It occurred to me that this logo could be reproduced as spot colors only on an 8-color press. The other choices would be 4-color process builds—or RGB on the web.

Curious to know more about the Hyatt Place mark, I did a little web sleuthing and learned that it was designed byLippincott, am international design and brand strategy consulting firm.

Check out Lippincott’s interesting case study about the development of the brand and take a look at more Hyatt Place brand elements there.

Are logo design considerations changing? Read on and weigh in… →

How do you determine whether 4-color process printing will work for your design or project? Here are some tips to help you decide:

Considering 4-color process, also known as CMYK

Dots of C, M, Y & K form rosettes in standard screening *

In 4-color process printing, all colors are printed in dots, in the 4 process-color inks. The 4 process colors are cyan (C), yellow (Y), magenta (M) and black (K). Why K? K stands for key. That’s because in four-color printing the C, M, and Y printing plates are lined up or keyed with the key of the black plate.

In traditional offset printing, those dots of color form rosettes, like the ones here. Each color of dots is printed at a different screen angle.

The easiest way to understand 4-color process is by looking at the cartoons in the Sunday paper. The dot pattern is printed so coarsely on the newsprint that you can see all the dots.

Read on to learn more about spot colors→

Relief printing techniques can add a whole new tactile element to a design without adding a lot of cost. Have you considered embossing? Here’s an introduction to the technique.

I had a hand in creating the embossed example below, an invitation for Seattle University donors to a private tour of a Dead Sea scrolls exhibit. Calligraphy taken from an image of an actual scroll fragment was blind embossed onto the invitation to add an air of ancient mystery. The invitations were printed in three ink colors, plus the blind emboss. The run of about 500 invitations was surprisingly inexpensive.


Design collaboration by David Balzer and Nani Paape. Printed by MC Lile. Embossed by Golden Pacific Embossing.

Embossing and Debossing Demystified

A relief die either makes an indentation in the paper, called a deboss, or a raised area, called an emboss. I remember the difference by saying, “Down for Deboss” or “Deboss inDents.” (I also say “Emboss is Up,” but that’s just me!)

Debossing is done on the front of the paper, while embossing is done on the back side. For this reason, a debossed image is generally more crisp. They are both created on a letterpress with a die made from your artwork. Dies can be single-level or multi-level, sculpted, flat-edged, bevel-edged or rounded. The depth  of “bite” can be specified. The design can either be registered to a printed part of the page, or “blind,” as in the example shown.

Relief dies for embossing and debossing are etched into either magnesium or brass from your digital file. Single-level magnesium dies have gotten a lot less expensive in recent years due to the automation advances of machine and laser engraving that eliminate most of the handwork traditional die making entailed.

Multi-level dies are made of brass and still require the expertise of a skilled die tooling craftsman. That’s what makes them expensive. While too pricey for your average event invitation, a brass die is a good investment for a corporate brand element that will be used repeatedly, such as an emboss for a pocket folder or business cards. If you choose the size of the image carefully, the same die can be used for a variety of applications.

Capitol Press in Olympia, WA offers this helpful article on embossing on their website, with lots of diagrams and recommendations for designers.

Paper Choice is Key

The right paper choice for relief printing can make or break the project. Embossing stretches the paper and applies heat, so the paper needs to have resilient fibers. Otherwise the entire piece will warp.

This is one instance where virgin fiber papers perform better than recycled. Papers with high recycled content are not recommended because they have short, less resilient fibers which are more likely to crack or break. They also tend to get shinier, for some reason.

Papers that have high bulk (think cushy, not hard) and a softer surface are good candidates for relief printing. Strathmore wove or Crane’s perform well. The Dead Sea scrolls invitation was printed on Neenah Classic Crest, which also embosses nicely. The cotton fiber papers that Crane’s offers make for exquisite relief printing because of their long, especially maleable fibers.

disaster avoidance tips

Select a printer who knows about relief printing and ask to see embossed examples to review. Most smaller printing companies hire a specialty vendor to do their relief printing, but some larger or specialty printers offer relief printing in-house. Many letterpress operators are true craftsmen who have been plying their craft for decades.

Before the die is ordered, it’s best to go over the samples and your design with the print rep so they can determine specifications for the die that will achieve the look you have in mind.

Before press day, ask to approve a test stamping of the die to be sure it’s right. I also like to attend the bindery check to review the job on press. Subtle adjustments there can achieve the just-right impression.

Relief printing is beautiful, and it really enhances a design. Careful, once you try it, you’ll be hooked!

As someone who looks at things for a living, I’m always looking at the printed page—any printed page. It can be entertaining, or a real curse. 

Leading example

Can you spot the leading mistakes?

If you work in design or production, you know how it goes… Can you eat at a restaurant where the menu was typeset in Zapf Chancery? Have to ignore the banding on a badly digitally printed menu? Stand at a bus stop and tune out badly kerned outdoor signs?

One friend remarks wryly that our dates usually consist of dinner, a movie, and a typeface critique. Argh, guilty as charged! The well-trained eagle eyeball never takes a holiday.

So as I perused my junk mail over lunch yesterday, I got that slightly dissonant feeling: What was wrong with this cover story? Oh yeah, inconsistent leading. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the designer, who probably saw it the minute his printed samples were delivered. For some reason it’s such an easy thing to miss at proof stage, but jumps right off the printed page. 

Disaster avoidance tip

Here’s a trick for catching leading errors. When you’re reviewing proofs (preferably not over lunch), turn the page sideways and squint at it through your eyelashes until you’re aware of positive and negative space rather than characters. Any differences in leading will stand out more this way than when you look at the page right-side up.

And is it just me, or does the leading in this post look wonky?

I had lunch today with a print rep who told me a sad story about a designer whose release file contained the wrong ink color name. Nobody caught the error until the designer’s client received the printed job and was unhappy that the color wasn’t the corporate color she had specified.

Sometimes during the design review/approval process, designers have to alter one or more colors in their files so that the mock-ups will print out on the laser printer close to the colors they have in mind. (The laser printer may render the correct PMSs horribly off!) This may be what happened to the designer in this cautionary tale.

It used to be standard practice to print separations for files before releasing them to be sure that all the colors were assigned properly and no sneaky colors had made themselves too at home in the file. For some reason, many production artists don’t print separations anymore, but there’s a great paper-free shortcut available in Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Make a PDF of the final file, then open the PDF in Acrobat and select “Print Production” => “Ink Manager” from the Advanced menu:


A window will appear that shows the ink colors in the files, like this: 



In this example, a page from my portfolio, the file is set up in CMYK and there are no extra colors. 

See? Easy! I use this trick when reviewing a PDF as I write print specifications. If I spot an extra or odd color, I can flag it for the designer or production artist. I watch particularly for two colors that look very similar on screen, as one of them is usually a culprit.

Disaster avoidance tip

Using Acrobat’s Ink Manager is an easy way to check ink color accuracy before the files are released to the printer. Also be sure to provide a specification sheet that lists the ink colors, as this gives the printer’s prepress department one more tool for cross-checking the ink colors and questioning them if what’s in the file and the documentation don’t match.


Press test to confirm palette for a magazine series

Test to confirm palette for a magazine series

If your design idea calls for an unusual printing technique, there’s nothing like a press test for making sure it’s going to work—and being able to show a hesitant client exactly how the printed design will look.

To test or not to test?

This press test compared the legibility of black body copy to PMS warm gray 11 and tested the CMYK-build palette for a web-press-printed magazine series.

Other good candidates for press tests are spot color projects that incorporate Duotones, ink overprints, or metallics and metallic tints. These techniques can’t be represented accurately on digital CMYK proofs, which are often somewhat misleading in how they interpret spot colors or metallics.

A press test is not usually necessary on a straight CMYK job, because the printer’s proofs will approximate quite closely what you can expect on press.

build a great communication tool


Press test for an annual report with silver overprinting

A useful press test includes a variety of line weights, color build choices, type sizes and weights, knock-outs, and tint percentage options. It includes several variations of the tech- nique you’re testing, such as the tints of silver over-printing various tints of cyan at left. Your print rep can suggest other elements to include.

After the test is done, but before the final printer files are created, the designer, print rep and electronic production artist should review the press sheet together. The rep can advise on any problem areas that the test has revealed and the designer can select the best options to build into the release files.

a press test is cheap insurance

The printers I’ve worked with regard press tests as relatively inexpensive insurance policies for happy customers. Press tests pinpoint problems before the deadline looms and communicate project expectations to pre-press operators and pressmen. The test sheets also provide them with a visual example of what the designer will be looking for at press and make it quicker to get the job dialed in.

Although you can’t expect a press test to be free, I’ve often been able to negotiate a very reasonable price for testing on larger projects like annual reports and magazines. You might be surprised at how amenable your printer will be to make a press test affordable for your edgier projects.


I get dumb variable data postcards in the mail all the time. Somebody out there must have convinced marketers that people will buy more of whatever they’re selling if their name appears on the advertising—a  LOT. Once that theory met variable data digital printing, it was largely downhill from there. “Let’s put their name in the Post-It note! Let’s put it in a snipe! Let’s write it in the clouds! Even better, let’s write their name in the sand!” All of these brilliant ideas inspired my fake postcard design, above.

Does a woman want to be reminded that she previously bought clothes in the Big Ladies department? Maybe not! Whether clumsy or downright creepy, it seems to me that if the data is inaccurate or potentially sensitive, you run the risk of turning off your audience. Likewise if the design is simplistic or cheesy.

Whenever printers try to sell me variable data digital printing services, I suggest that they approach strategists and designers, not the production manager. Effective use of this technology starts upstream, at the beginning of a project—with smart use of data, strategy, and design. It can’t be an afterthought.

Disaster Avoidance Tip

I do think there’s great potential in variable text, graphics and photos.

Have you seen variable printed pieces done well?

If you are venturing down the variable data path for the first time, find a specialist such as Revolution Dynamic Publishing, whose staff includes data and web specialists along with experienced printers. They have both the technical and the data know-how to guide you in putting together sophisticated campaigns that avoid the rubber stamped “your name here, and here, and here” look.

Blah blah blah!

dscf06252I picked up my new business cards from  C-K Graphics 
today and am very happy with them. They’re printed on Neenah Classic Crest Recycled White, 130 lb. cover. Just right!

One of my pet peeves is wimpy, flimsy business cards. Boingy, I call them. (Yes, that’s a highly technical print term!)

Some business cards are boingier than others

It’s not just the paper weight you choose. The paper’s grain direction can be more influential than you’d think, especially with lighter weight card stocks. See for yourself with this experiment: Cut two business card shapes out of a piece of cover-weight stock, one horizontal on the page, the other vertical. You’d swear one was thicker than the other! The one that bends more and feels flimsy (like the most curvy ones in the photo at left) is grain short. The one that feels more substantial and rigid is grain long.

In this day of quick and dirty business cards, printers sometimes cram as many cards onto one print form as possible. This usually means they’ll be run grain short, which will be especially noticeable on coated paper.


Disaster Avoidance Tip

If you don’t want boingy business cards, specify card stock that’s at least 100 lb. Then select a printer who will agree to print them grain long. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s one small thing you can do that subtly communicates quality whenever you hand out your card.

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© 2009-2015 Nani Paape & Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material in any form without express and written permission from Nani Paape is strictly prohibited. Are you aggregating my copyrighted content onto your website? If so, it's polite to at least ASK instead of just waltzing off with it. WITH my permission, SHORT excerpts and links may be used, provided that full, clear credit is given to Nani Paape and, with appropriate and specific direction and link(s) to the original content.

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