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Talking to Clients and Printers: A Graphic Designer Explains

I have had in the past and present, clients who have come to me as a last resort. They were confident that they could get their book cover or brochure printed but had a few obstacles. Many people on the creative side of production haven’t the first idea about what is necessary to professionally print a document, be it for office use or a published book. In this article, I have outlined what you as a client should always ask the printer you have selected far before you select a designer or attempt to do it yourself.

Always Ask What File Format Your Printer Prefers

Usually they will tell you to have a pdf (portable document format) in at least 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Some people who are not properly trained refer to “dots per inch” which is a dead give away for an amateur, but is an acceptable term since many people make this mistake. For a heavily detailed image like a fine art photograph I would suggest 450-500 ppi resolution. An image that is text-based will print fine at 300 ppi.

What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

Recently I stumbled upon a job posting that requested the final file for a book cover be delivered as a tiff. A tiff file is a large file format used to store images or comprehensive line illustrations. Unfortunately in my own experience as a student, I gave a tiff file to a printer and crashed his computer, which was linked to his direct to plate system. Needless to say he was rather unhappy and reluctant to work with me in the future. I must admit I have a bad habit of over-explaining things to clients. Some seem to think I am talking down to them when I am trying to explain what could go wrong if they insist on an alternate file format. Sadly, some people need to learn things the hard way instead of learning from my mistakes.

How Can I Transfer Text from Microsoft Word into a Press Release?

As a designer I have stopped using Microsoft products due to the fact that they slow down my computer. I can only speak from my own experience. I have received .doc files from clients and have simply copied and pasted the text into an Adobe Illustrator file (.ai for short). I find it easier to control columns and other formatting needs for type-intensive projects, such as kerning and leading adjustments.

Why Can’t I Print Images from the Web?

The file size of online images are 72 ppi, which is too small a file size to ensure quality of printing. Some websites protect their images by dividing the image so you cannot easily click and drag an image to your word processor document or desktop. Images at 72 ppi will print fuzzy and type will always be illegible.

Why Can’t I Use Web Images for my Personal or Work Projects?

Often illustrations, photographs and logos are copyrighted, even if there is no ™ or ® or © symbol attached to the title of a work. If a piece of art, commercial or otherwise, is produced by an employee working for an employer, unless there is an explicit agreement saying otherwise, that image is owned by the employer. If an image is created by a graphic artist by contract, if it is stated in the contract that the employer has bought first rights to the work, the creator of that work can sell that image over and over again.

Within the USA, if a person uses an image unlawfully, they can be prosecuted under federal law. Other countries such as China or the Philippines have a lax stance on copyright infringement. Often I have had to explain this to clients when they present to me an image of an undetermined origin to be used in their marketing materials. Frequently I tell them not to put my name on the final document if they insist on proceeding with the image use.

What is Full Color? What is Four Color Process? Are They the Same?

Full color is using the four color process. Using the four color process creates all colors in print. Plates or screens of cyan, magenta, yellow and black are layered to create images. Black is often printed first as a guide and last as an over print to make the darks strong in the graphic. There is also the six color process, which may include overprinting black and a gloss, or a gloss and a metallic. The more colors you print, the more expensive the job.

How Do I Describe My Brochure to a Designer or a Printer?

Ask them! State what you have in mind and they will help you. For instance, in the past I have designed a four-page brochure with a back and front cover. This was a double-sided 8.5 x 11 inch standard sheet of paper (2/1 will appear on your job ticket; it means two sides printed on one sheet of paper), folded as an accordion to create six pages. If you want the whole sheet, say to be used as an annual report, in the form of a four-page booklet please don’t be afraid to say so. Our job as designers and printers is to make sure you get what you asked for.

What About Delivery and Assembly?

A designer will include these elements of post press work in their bid. If you purchase an indicia (a pre-paid mark from the US Postal Service for your business or not for profit organization) and it is used in the job, such as on a promotional post card or brochure, you can instruct the printer to mail out these materials for you. You can ask for the brochure to be folded by the print shop, or perhaps it can be assembled within the press. The more you ask for, the more your job will cost. Often one has to choose between what their time is worth, messing it up themselves, or hiring a professional to do it.

A Good Pressman/ woman Will Save You Money

As a designer and a small business owner I do depend on my printer for knowledgeable suggestions and helpful cost-saving tips. If you have used a printer over the period of three jobs of high volume and have not received a discount or an invitation to have your job printed at lesser cost while a similar job is printing, you may want to shop around. If a job is printing that is the same dimension and number of plates, it is less work from the printer because the press is already set up.

I hope this overview will save many people the aggravation and money spent on making mistakes on their own. Never be afraid to ask a question, it is your money after all. Happy clients mean happy designers and printers.

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