Archive for the ‘Printing Dots’ Category

Do You Speak Printer?

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Every industry has its own language. If you are an attorney you use words like torts, writs, and injunctions. If you are a medical practitioner you use words like subdural hemotoma, tibia, and oxygen saturation. To the initiated these words are perfectly clear and immediately understandable. To the layperson, they can be intimidating and frustrating.

The printing business is full of its own words too. I wouldn’t expect a reader of this blog to get completely up-to-speed on printer talk by reading this, but I’m going to list some printing terms and attempt to describe them in such a way that you will be a little more comfortable with them.

In a previous blog Printing Dots and CYMK I discussed four color process printing. Here are some words associated with color printing that you will hear spoken:

  • Dots Printing is done with dots.  Not all printing dots are round, some are elliptical and others square (Stochastic).This one is easy to demonstrate.. If you look at any printed piece  under magnification you’ll see the dots. People’s faces are very interesting because all the colors of dots are there.
  • Screen A screen is a pattern of dots. Each color is angled differently to avoid some unintended Moire` patterns, which could show as wavy lines or blobs.
  • Registration When the colored dots are aligned perfectly on the printed sheet they are in register. If they are off they are called out of register. The easiest way to see if printing is in register is with magnification, or if your short range vision is very good, or the registration is horribly off, you’ll see blurry edges. Usually this can be corrected on press by moving the printing plates into better alignment.
  • Ghosting This term is more difficult to explain. Once you see it you’ll understand. You’ll recognize it most often when solid color borders are used on a page. Imagine a picture frame. It has four sides and an empty place where the picture goes. The frame is like a printed border. On the sides the border is continuous but in the middle there is for all intents and purposes nothing. When the paper passes through the press there is an ink buildup, when it comes around again the ink buildup has to go somewhere.  Your printed image will show a distinct color variation from one side of the ghost line to the other.
  • Digital Proof Most printers use digital proofs for color printing. These proofs come from the computer and are intended to be a close approximation of what you should see on press. As of this writing there is not a proofing system that will exactly replicate the image you are printing.  Close is all we can do.
  • High Res Proof and Low Res Proofs: Many printers will produce two proofs for your color job. The high res proof is more expensive to make, but is more color accurate. Low res proofs are excellent for booklets and any folded piece, and cost less. It is always a good idea to see a folded example of your job, otherwise it could be backed up wrong (upside-down) or have page numbers out of sequence.
  • Press Check: I’ve discussed press checks in previous blogs such as: If the printer doesn’t offer a press check and the piece is critical, be sure to request one yourself. It is the last opportunity for you to check it and gives you the chance to meet those who are producing it. I firmly believe that if they associate a face with a name you’ll generally get better work. It’s best not to be invisible. Plus with each press check you will learn something new.

This list is in no way comprehensive, but if you can these seven terms and use them correctly you will get more respect from the printer. They will feel like they are dealing with someone who has some understanding of what they do. I’ll drop in other terms on future blogs, so you can keep learning.

Printing on Black Paper

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It isn’t just black that creates a problem, any dark colored printing paper presents challenges. The biggest hurdle is that printing inks are transparent. CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, and Black) dots are meant to be seen through. Overlapping dots create the color variations, you know, blue + yellow = green or yellow + red = orange. So what happens when you print transparent ink on dark paper? Right, the stock overwhelms the ink and you either don’t see it or the image is so faint as to be useless.

“Why do the mills create printing papers that won’t work well on press?” you might ask. Ah, that is a good question. Those wily paper mills know what Graphic Designers want and bold colored paper is often the best choice for their project. Strong color adds drama that you just can’t get with pastel shades. Again, “Why use it if it won’t yield a good result?” Printers have more than one trick up their sleeves. There are other processes that can be employed to print on dark paper.

Reverse Image:

Reverse image and type

Reverse image and type

The simplest way to achieve a dark background with a light image is to print it. Print the background with solid black, plum, or forest green on a white stock. Leave a window for the images, and you can achieve almost any look you want. The difficulty here is that offset printing is done with dots, as we discussed in an earlier blog. Print the dots on a textured or soft paper surface and you’ll probably end up with streaky, or splotchy solids. The paper surface makes a big difference. Make sure you discuss these issues with your printing professional before you go to press. Streaky, splotchy surprises are not fun.

The  poster to the right for the Rhythm City Dance School is a good example of reversed images. The type is white, but the dancer is gray. White is the color of the stock and the gray was achieved by using a screen of black (separating the black dots).  The point is, that while this piece appears to be printed on black paper it is really printed on white paper with a lot of black ink.

Foil Stamp:

Most foils are made opaque on purpose. They will cover any background color. The problem is that foil stamping is more costly than offset printing because it requires a die, the foil, and equipment that runs slower. The good news is that foil is available in a wide spectrum of colors, and finishes. For example you can get gold foil in satin, flat, shiny, and really shiny. It also comes in many shades. Gold foils are available in yellowish tints, greenish tints, and nearly bronze. Other foils that work well are white, silver, or clear.

Blind Emboss:

An excellent treatment to employ using dark paper is the blind emboss. Blind embossing raises the surface of the paper creating an image that is perceived by its height. It’s like a white-on-white blouse. The color is the same, but the pattern is revealed anyway. Blind embossing will cost more also than offset printing. Dies can get very pricey depending on the number of levels in your image. Most blind embosses are one level, but I’ve seen sculptured dies with a face or animal that are very complex. Sculptured dies, as you might imagine, can get into the thousands of dollars.

Foil Emboss:

As you might expect foil embossing uses both techniques. The image is foil stamped and then raised via blind emboss. A combo die can be created for this effect. Combo dies, as you probably guessed, cost less than buying two separate dies.

Opaque Inks:

Most opaque inks are not as opaque as you would like them to be. Imagine painting a light color over a previously dark wall. If you’ve had this experience you know that one coat won’t be enough. You might have to do two, three, or four coats before the wall is right. It’s the same with opaque inks. To blot out a dark surface the printer may have to double-bump (hit the image twice with the same color) and that probably won’t be enough. Additional bumps should work, theoretically,  but with each pass through the press you risk slurring your image or ruining paper. Paper is not indestructible, you know.

Metallic inks usually work better for this purpose. Metallic inks are made with up to 70% heavy metals, but even with metallic ink you will probably have to double-bump the image. And, this technique is not recommended for large areas.Type works better than swaths  of color which may show up blotchy.


I’ve seen some excellent results with combinations of  black. For example, black paper on the market is almost always uncoated, which means that the color is a little flatter. If you use a black foil stamp or clear foil you can create a striking look by contrasting the paper surface with the shiny image.

Spot UV Coating:

It used to be that UV coating on uncoated paper was a no,no. There are new formulas that will allow spot UV, but aren’t guaranteed. Much depends on the paper you select. If you want to try spot UV coating, be sure to get samples from your local paper merchant, and have the printer test it.

Respect the Proof

Monday, March 16th, 2009

What do you look for on a proof? That seems like an easy question and it used to be a little easier to answer than it is now. The first thing you need to understand is that your signature on the proof releases the printer, or the broker, from all responsibility for the printed piece. By that I mean, if the product is a close match to the proof, but you don’t like it after all, or you found an error, the problem is yours.  Don’t blame the printers even if they were the ones who introduced the mistake. Proofs are your chance, often your last chance, to make sure everything is right before printing. I often hear customers say they don’t need a proof, or they don’t want a press check. That, in my opinion, is a big mistake. More than once I’ve seen jobs get  all the way to the press before the customer notices a critical error like a wrong phone number, or address.

wrong + wrong = right

Printing, in general, is an imperfect process. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating, you start with the premise that oil (ink) and water (fountain solution) don’t mix and proceed to make it work. It’s a case of two wrongs making a right.

Back to the question of checking a proof. What you look for depends on the kind of proof you received. Most printers are now using direct-to-plate technology. Direct-to-plate has revolutionized the plate making process. A print shop of not too many years past used to have large rooms with big light tables throughout. The light tables were used to strip the film. Now the tables are gone and the rooms are empty, leaving lots of space for an arcade, or shuffleboard. I’m kidding, but what do they do with the extra space? Maybe shuffleboard isn’t a bad idea. In the era of the light table and hand stripping proofs they were  either bluelines (for one color printing), or color-keys (for four color printing). You aren’t likely to come across these terms anymore, but you might, so I’m telling you about them. There were other kinds of proofs too like Matchprints, or Chromalins. No matter what kind of proof was presented to the customer there was always one flaw–the color proofs were good for four color process, but if you used a PMS color from the Pantone book, you had to guess at the result. Kind of like looking at a small  paint chip vs. painting a large wall. Most printers will provide a digital hard-copy proof.

What do I look for?

Generally you want to check a hard-copy proof for:

  • Color. Does it look like the color you expected to get? Remember though, the color that appears on your computer monitor might not be the actual color. Ripped (separating the colors into dots) color is different. Your monitor’s pixels are RGB (red, green,blue) and ripped color is CYMK (cyan, yellow,magenta, black). If the color is way off, you might have to go back and fix some things or have the printer help you fix it. If the color is close, don’t make yourself crazy, let it pass.
  • Size. If your image was supposed to be 8 1/2″X11″ and it comes out as 4″X6″ there is a problem.
  • Type. Because computer design is done in layers, it is very easy to cover a portion of your type block with a window. You may not see it on your screen, so you need to watch for it on the proof.
  • Reflow. This is becoming less of a problem than it used to be, but you should still watch for it. Reflow usually happens when the font you are using doesn’t match the font in the printer’s system. If you haven’t downloaded your fonts they will default to the printer’s defaults. Small sizing or kerning (the space between letters) can throw your document off. Particularly if you are using a PC and the printer is on Mac.
  • Missing or Added elements. I think this one is self-explanatory.
  • Bleeds. If you want your piece to bleed (ink goes to the edge of the sheet) did you allow a 1/8″ overhang beyond the trims?
  • Back up. Does the front back up correctly with the back? You might need a second low-res proof to see this, but unless back up isn’t important, be sure you get a folded proof.
wait til the press check

What to ignore or save for the press check.

  • PMS or Spot color. Ripped proofs are still using four color process dots to create approximate color. It can be way off. If you are concerned about the spot color, do yourself a favor and attend a press check.
  • Small dots. The computer picks up very small dots and reproduces them on the digital proof. A 1% to 3% dot may not appear on the plate. If those dots are important to the design be aware that they could disappear. If the dots are fighting your design the same is true. To be sure, go to a press check.
  • Paper. The proof you see will be different when ink touches paper, particularly if it is an uncoated sheet. All proofs are approximations. To know for sure you have to see the ink on paper.

Respect the proof. That might sound funny, but if you attempt to glance at the proof and give it a cursory approval, you are bound to have mistakes. Stop, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the proof. You’ll have fewer errors. And maybe, fewer times called on the carpet.

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He's available to help you with any of your printing, or publishing needs. Please contact him if you need a book, marketing materials, or anything else printed. His thirty-five years of experience, and thousands of happy customers is your guarantee of satisfaction.

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