Expert Advice for Press Checks

Checking color on press is the last step in ensuring the job will deliver perfectly. Looking at color fidelity is at the heart of it, but there are many small details to oversee as well. The following is a compilation of advice from experienced printers, designers and printing websites. Feel free to add additional comments or advice below.

MAKE A PLAN AND BE PREPARED

  1. Talk things  over with your print rep beforehand. Confirm the schedule, get names of people in the plant, ask for directions and suggestions for hotels if needed, etc.
  2. Go over a checklist of concerns with them and bring it with you. If the project is critical with demanding images, ask to run the most difficult form first. That way, you’ll confirm the paper, profiles and other settings are optimal for any form that follows.
  3. Make sure you include post-press operations and bindery in the plan. The job should be reviewed at each step of the process.
  4. It’s wise to invite your client to attend. If they can’t, make sure they are available by telephone to discuss any issues that come up.
  5. Press schedules are dependable, but be prepared for surprises. Your job can move forward or back and you may need to be at the press in the middle of the night. Bring work or a book to read during down time.
  6. Most printers have comfortable conference rooms, but let your sales rep know if you need access to the internet or other resources. If your client will attend the press run, tell your rep so they can make sure the accommodations are ideal and they are welcomed by management.
  7. On the day of the run, be respectful and arrive by the requested time.

BRING TOOLS AND REFERENCE MATERIALS

  1. Bring the latest version of color proofs, die-lines and composites. Also ink draw downs, paper dummies and other samples  approved by the client.
  2. Include corporate style guides or Pantone chips. Don’t rely on the printer’s book as it may be older or newer than yours. Where possible, always refer to the actual sample the client approved.
  3. betamag-12xIf you bring your own loupe you will gain a measure of respect from the pressman. If you plan to do a lot of press OKs, you might want to invest in a high quality 12X folding loupe like a Betamag.
  4. If the project is part of a series, consider bringing a copy of a previous edition to compare color, paper, trim size and binding.
  5. A utility knife or razor blade is handy to slice sections for side by side comparison.

REVIEW SHEET CAREFULLY

  1. First see if the right paper arrived. Check the specs and quantity. Compare the sheets to a swatchbook or sample to be sure. The printer should have a micrometer if there’s a question about the weight/thickness.
  2. You want to look at three basic areas: 1.) content; 2.) appearance of color; and 3.) print quality.
  3. Wait until the pressman finalizes adjustments before looking at color. In the meantime, review the sheet to ensure there are no errors.
  4. Confirm that final corrections were made. Double-check all elements and look for gaps or misaligned edges. Check for proper fonts and text flow. Look for out-of-place line breaks.
  5. When the pressman finally presents a sheet, step back and take a fresh look, noting your first impression. Then look closer at the different areas of the artwork.
  6. Take your time and make notes. Number each sheet with the time and whether it’s the top (felt) or bottom (wire) side of the sheet. Make only one or two adjustments at a time and note what moves were made.
  7. Assess the overall color balance across the sheet, and look at the smoothness and uniformity of solids.
  8. Check the weight and legibility of text, and for plugged or broken type.
  9. Check for smooth gradations, and modeling of flesh tones. Also look for noise in images or moirés in fine patterns.
  10. Look for flaws such as specks or voids in solids, streaks or ghosting in print, and marks or discoloring in unprinted areas.
  11. Check the alignment of elements across pages by asking the printer to fold and trim the sheet as it will be delivered.

EVALUATE COLOR FIDELITY

  1. Your objective is to achieve color that’s equivalent to the proofs the client approved. Do not expect to improve the images on press. If you aren’t happy with the proofs, don’t proceed to the press run.
  2. Before making comments, ask the pressman to take you through the sheet, making observations. They usually have a good sense of what needs improvement. Let them know you are relying on their counsel and expertise.
  3. The best printers calibrate proofs exactly to the press, but there are many variables in the print process and an absolutely perfect match may not be possible. Focus on achieving pleasing color and meeting your client’s expectations.
  4. Remember that ambient lighting affects color. Light booths at the press are calibrated at 5000° kelvin, which might differ from your office. If you have a concern about color matching, review the sheet at a window or under other lighting.
  5. Where the art crosses over from one sheet to another, slice a section and place it against the other to see if they match.
  6. It’s good practice to test the flip side of the paper to see if the print varies. This is a signal that printer may need to run a different curve for that side.
  7. If there is show-through from one side of the paper, place it against a printed page to see if it’s still objectionable. It is a relative phenomenon, less visible in a trimmed and bound brochure.
  8. If the job is run with conventional inks, be aware of “dry-back” where ink can change subtly as it dries. You can simulate this somewhat with a hair dryer, but only as an approximation. Dry-back is not an issue on UV presses.
  9. Once approved, have the client sign and date three sets of the approved press sheet – one each for the printer, client and yourself. Keep yours with you for reference.

ADDITIONAL ADVICE

  1. Make observations and ask questions rather than giving specific instructions. Evaluating color is somewhat of an art, and understanding how to adjust it on press takes experience.
  2. press-check-registrationSpending a lot of time chasing minor tweaks on a sheet that looks great may not be the wisest use of time and resources.  But of course, if the color is quite different, ask the printer to look into possible solutions.
  3. Presses are extremely sophisticated and matching density readings is the best way to ensure accurate color. However, printing is a creative art and in the end, the craftsman’s eye is the best judge.
  4. Treat everyone at the plant as a valued member of your team. Bringing a box from Krispy Kreme is never a bad idea, especially at late-night approvals.

CONSIDER A PRESS TEST

  1. The only way to really predict print results is to do a press test, combining critical images on a sheet and running them under the same conditions as the job. There is a cost to this, but it is minor compared to pulling the job off press or re-running it if the client is unhappy.

 

Click on the link below for a printable Press Approval Checklist.

ChecklistButton

 

LEARN MORE

If you’re going to a press check for the first time and want an insider’s view of the process, Claudia McCue’s video overview of the press check is one of the most informative tutorials you will find.  You can find it at this link on Lynda.com: Life in the Pressroom

Additional Reading and Resources

Printing Partners

PrePressure.Com

GraphicDesign.Com

Broudy Printing

Gordon Pritchard / The Print Guide

Design Mentor

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