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Athena Herrmann

Athena Herrmann

Akendi Alumnus

Doing a Press Check – it’s your Last Opportunity to Get it Right

Even in this digital age, print collateral has its place. There are many conversations about the value of print happening right now. One website, created by Domtar paper, talks about how print and digital can effectively work together. Ensuring the quality of the print materials you decide to invest in is critical in presenting the right image of your company and your brand. Conducting a press check is a great way to make sure that what you designed comes out as intended. A press check allows the designer to ensure that the printing process is proceeding as intended. It occurs after the printing press is set up but before the final print run has started and is your last chance for quality assurance of your print job. Take the time to get it right. You’d be surprised at how often even trusted vendors make mistakes.

What to Bring to the Press Check

  • The proofs you received from the printer
  • A mock up made from the final, signed off document
  • PMS/CMYK colour chips
  • Any sheets and/or final pieces from previous runs
  • Paper swatch books and/or dummies from the paper mill

What to Expect During your Press Check

When you arrive at the print shop, your sales person or account manager should make you feel at home. Often, they have special rooms with a table or desk and comfortable chairs or a couch. A professional printer will offer you a coffee or tea, give you access to WiFi and (if you are reviewing multiple sheets) set you up with TV access and reading material. Bring your laptop and get comfortable, you might be spending a significant amount of time there. Depending on timing, your account manager may also give you a tour and tell you more about their services, equipment and capabilities.

Once your sheet (or form) is ready you may be brought into the press room and be given the opportunity to talk directly with the press operator. In other places your account manager will bring a sheet into the room you are in and put it under a lightbox with controlled lighting and listen to your concerns there. They will then liaise with the press operator to get your sheet approved.

Conducting a Press Check

Below is a step by step process to follow once you begin your press check. Once the operator or account manager puts the sheet in front of you, the first thing to remember is to take a deep breath and not be intimidated by the people surrounding you. Then shut out the chaos and noise and concentrate on the task in front of you. Do not feel pressured to give a quick approval. If you are speaking directly to the press operator, keep in mind that they are experts in getting the most out of the press. Respect their opinions and ask for their recommendations. But remember, you know your project and client best, so do what you think is right.

  • I recommend that the first thing you check is the paper stock. Look at the stock, the undertones of the sheet, feel the texture and weight of the paper. Make sure that the stock that you ordered is actually being used. Paper bait and switch doesn’t happen often, but is a possibility. There could also be confusion on the floor or the paper merchant could have mislabeled or sent the wrong thing.
  •  The next critical thing to ensure before going any further is that there aren’t any mistakes in the text, artwork or photographs. The sheet should match the proof and your mock up. Read as much of the sheet as possible, check rags on the text to ensure that the text hasn’t reflowed and look at all artwork. By this point in the process there shouldn’t be any surprises, but it’s better to find it now then when the pieces are completely finished. If you do find an error, make sure that it is a critical mistake and not something that only you will notice. If a change is required, it may mean that multiple plates will need to be re-output. This will take time and will cost you at least the cost of the new plates but also potentially for the time that the press is inoperable.
  • Ensure that the press is in registration. Bad registration can make your images look blurry or make text look like it has a glow or shadow. If the plates aren’t in register, the edges won’t look crisp. Ensure that the crop marks look solid black and don’t have any tiny edges of other colours showing. Check positioning of trim and fold marks to ensure that when the final piece is made it will be correct.

Number the sheets as you receive them so you can keep track of your progress. Be specific in what you want fixed and try to be thorough so as to try to limit the amount of sheets pulled (and time where the press isn’t operating).

  • If all of the above are correct, the next step is to ensure colour accuracy. Check all colours, especially solid areas, against your colour swatches. The sheet may be uneven so be mindful of where you are comparing your chips to. To start, all colours should be in the general range of your intended colours. Look at your photographs to ensure that the flesh tones aren’t too “hot” and that people look healthy. Look at the logo and brand assets to ensure they are accurate. Check contrast and quality of any small text or text that is sitting on top of another colour or an image. If there are and mistakes in these areas now is the time to deal with major discrepancies. If there is a major problem, it may require new plates in order to fix the problem.
  • Now check for evenness across the sheet. Pull one side of the sheet to the other to compare colours in any solids and compare the colours in the colour bars. If there are multiple pages up on one sheet, compare the solids of one to the other. If there are any cross overs, cut out the solid of one with a razor blade and set of top of the other. Once the piece is put together discrepancies in the colour of cross overs becomes very obvious. Remember that if you alter one sheet it needs to be replicable on any other sheets. This can be more of an issue in cross overs and large solid areas.
  • Check for “ghosting”. Ghosting is when the amount of ink on a certain area of the sheet is affected by ink coverage on other areas on the sheet. For example, if you have a large area of solid colour on one part of the sheet you can have a “ghosted” image that is carried over to another part of it. It’s a phantom image of an image, object or solid area. It is caused when there isn’t enough ink to compensate for the ink pulled into that solid area on the adjacent part of the sheet.

Remember, if there are multiple sheets being printed, you can cut them out and make a dummy to check that all the elements align, check creep in the gutters and to give a general once over.

Keep in mind though that by the time you have all the sheets, there is little you can do if you find a problem.

  • Once you ensure that there aren’t mistakes and you’ve gotten the colour settled, the next step is to check for “cleans”. Cleans are any imperfections on the sheet that may be caused from scratches on the plates or hickeys (bits of ink or dirt that show up on the sheet). There can also be tiny spots where there is no colour (if your paper is white they may look like white dots) that comes from paper dust. Look for the spot or imperfection repeating on multiple sheets in the exact same location. If the spots are not repeating and are more random it could be imperfections in the paper itself (especially when using a recycled sheet) or from paper dust. If the spots are repeating, a clean up before getting into the final run should fix the problem.
  • The last step is to sign the sheet. If there are any imperfections or issues still showing on the sheet, sign the sheet “Ok, with cleans”, for example, to ensure it’s clear that you approve of the sheet once the issues are fixed.

In Closing…

Now that you’ve gotten the sheet(s) how you want them, have the press operator give you a fresh sheet. Bring it back with you so you have a record of what you signed off on. If there were any other changes that the operator was going to take care of after you leave, you can make a note on the sheet so you have it in case you need to refer to it when you receive your final job.

Any designer creating designs for print should know and understand this process as well as the basic principles of printing. Your efforts will have made all the difference in the quality of your final print piece and will affect the impression you leave your audience. That positive impression is well worth the time and energy that you’ve spent at the printer.

Once you get your final delivery, remember to say thank you for a job well done and pass on any positive comments from your clients or colleagues. Consider your printer a trusted partner in your success.

Athena Herrmann

Athena Herrmann

Akendi Alumnus


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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.