How to work better with printers — a guide for graphic designers

From experience, relationships between graphic designers and print companies can be a beneficial one. I have always had good experience when it came to sending artwork to print and getting inside knowledge on the latest technology in the print industry. Despite being two opposite sides of the spectrum, they are essentially within the same creative group and key roles in the production of corporate communication pieces. Miscommunication is the main cause of mistakes happening, which is why I have put together some key best practice from my 11 year experience of working with print companies as a graphics designer for a marketing team.

  1. Prepare your artwork for print — What may be fine on screen is not always fine for printers. When producing any piece of artwork, always find out if it is going to print. It will allow you to prepare in advance the key factors in print production including bleed space, colour specifications, fonts, image resolution and size. For general in-house print and uploading to the web, a web ready or high resolution PDF which is flattened is fit for purpose. For printers, you need to check with your print company what PDF presets work best. I tend to export it as PDF/X:4 (2008) and preflight check to ensure that all colours are CMYK, that the fonts are embedded and that there are no errors. Printers prefer it if you have bleed (background extends beyond the edge) and print marks set up when PDFing and each page done separately (unless requested otherwise) to ensure flexibility in their end.
  2. A key thing to note is that you should always aim to produce artwork in graphics packages like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. However there are times when people in your company produce things in PowerPoint and Word and want it professionally printed. It isn’t impossible but ensuring quality can be tricky due to the way Word and PowerPoint use colour and text. Help your printer by PDFing these in the highest PDF preset possible, converting the colours to CMYK and checking that the font used is print safe. Make sure that it isn’t a bleed document, because it would be incredibly hard for printers to crop so close to the edge. My advice is to keep backgrounds white/light and if you need a bleed background set up a way to add in a cover page produced in graphic design packages.
  3. Test — Check with your printers if you can do an initial test on any new type of artwork, at times you may be charged if it is wet proof but in some cases they will be willing to assist to get the project done right the first time and ensure an easier workflow in the future. Check that the paper that you are using reflects the brand and image of your company, that the correct gsm (paper thickness) is chosen and that colours are not over saturated and require extra drying time. If a wet proof is required, consider it an investment especially when doing a brochure the first time in order to reduce the potential for error and lose an entire stock of print.
  4. Give an accurate and complete brief — No one is a mind reader so if you do not send emails that give a complete picture of the project then it will not be actioned properly. First and foremost, make sure you use the ‘Subject’ line of your email to printers properly. Adding your company name, that it is a print/quote request, and the name of the project in the subject line makes sure that things do not get lost in the mass amount of print projects they receive. If it is a priority project with a short deadline, make that evident in the ‘Subject’ as well. Make sure that the following information is noted in brief:
    Size: In mm and the size when flat, include the folded size as well
    Extent: Add in the number of total pages
    Colour process: Either B&W, 4 colour process, or state the Pantone colours if more than 4. State if it is a litho or digital print.
    Material: State the type of paper used as well as the gsm. If the covers are different gsm, state each one individually.
    Finishing: State the finishing process required such as trim, crease, fold, etc.
    Quantity: State how many you require. If a mass production piece, note that there is a margin of error of 2%
    Price: If previously agreed, note down the price or request a quote
    PO: If charged to a company/require a reference, adding in the PO reference makes invoicing easier
    Delivery date: Give a specific delivery date/time which the printer will agree with, if unsure, speak to your printer to find out how long it will take to produce the finished piece
    FAO: For delivery purposes, add in the full contact information, address and telephone number of the person receiving the final printed materials.
  5. Finally, don’t forget to attach the print ready PDF which has been checked and signed off and make sure you send it to all the necessary parties involved such as your account manager, their accounts person and the production team.
  6. Set up a workflow process — Meet your printers and work with them to find out the best process to send artwork to them. Having a regular conversation and meet up with them to check how things are going and what can be improved works for both groups. Each of you want to get the job done right and well, keeping the communication channel open helps.
  7. Set up a cost matrix — If you print certain pieces of literature at a regular basis but in different amounts, try to find out if you can arrange for a cost matrix detailing the specifics of the project but in different quantities. It allows for your company to budget and also reduces the time for the printers to quote each time you need something printed.

I hope these give you some tips and ideas on how to improve your relationship with your printers, I know I will continue to learn more and add to this list as time goes on. Please feel free to comment and share your experience on best practice in the design and print process.

Originally published at on Aug 11 2015.