Print Production: the Essential Skills

Topics and Questions:

A list assembled with help from Lawton Printing

These topics are the common language of print designers and printers.

A graphic designer working with printed materials has more to consider than concepts, design principles, and pleasing layouts.

A print job is a manufacturing process; it requires specialized craftspeople, elaborate computers and machines, environmental impact, specification of materials, scheduling, and contractual agreements. The designer may play the role of a general contractor or a subcontractor in the process.

Be prepared to work with a variety of specialists:

You may be involved in contract negotiations, payment plans, shipping and warehousing, quality control and proof sign-offs, and “press checks”.


What is main ingredient in typical printing paper?

What is paper's impact on the environment?

Identify or explain sustainable forests and fiber sources; recycled fiber content, and the method of recycling.

What is the Forest Sustainability Council, and what is the value of a FSC certification?

How is a giant vat of 98% water and 2% fiber transformed into an immense roll of paper?

What type of trees provide the fiber for a newsprint?

The degrees of finish and quality affect the cost and printability of paper. What are some terms to describe the finish? (bonus question: what are some terms to describe the Finnish?) What are some common paper grades?

What is a house sheet?

Can you explain some economic trade-offs in specifying paper; using house sheets, looking for bargains, choosing popular and readily-stocked sheets?

What are these physical factors?:

Describe the differences of paper used for digital versus offset printing methods.

Describe the personality (“feelings”) of these paper finishes: laid, felt, linen, smooth, matte, gloss, supercalendered.

How is the paper weight in pounds of a cover stock calculated?

How is the paper weight in pounds of a book stock calculated?

Explain the “interesting” system we use in the USA to measure and categorize paper size and weight. Define basic sizes, basis weights, and how they are calculated.

What are the basic sheet dimensions of cover, bond, text, and book, and how do they relate to the basis weights?

Explain the ISO metric sheet size and grams per meter weight system used by the rest of the world.

How do the A sizes work? How do they describe paper weight? (You may work with a printer outside the US.)

What is caliper?

What are “points”?

Press Knowledge

Describe how ink is transfered from a plate to paper in offset lithography, in letterpress, and gravure printing.

Describe how ink is transfered from a plate to paper in digital printing methods.

What is registration?

What is the gripper and why do you need to know about it.

What is the maximum printable image on a press sheet?

What is bleed, and how do you apply it?

What are crossovers? How are your designs affected by the realities of crossovers.

What are the functions of ink rollers and ink fountains?

Describe lithography’s plate cylinder, blanket and blanket cylinder, and the impression cylinder.

What is the path of paper through the press?

What does a delivery unit do? What steps can be taken to prevent wet ink from offsetting?

Describe the general differences between sheetfed and web presses. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

How do you describe quality in a print job? What are your requirements for registration, backup and crossovers; ink density, and consistency page-to-page and signature-to-signature?

How do you approach ink coverage in large solids and screen tints? Consider rich blacks?

What is ghosting? How does the inking unit configuration affect ghosting? How can your design create ghosting problems?

Do you know the difference between ink trapping and the trapping applied in prepress to compensate for registration tolerances? (A question printers may ask)

Describe these other common problems: hickies, picking, set-off (or offset), gas or chemical ghosting, and scumming.

Describe how to prepare a file to include a special operation; a spot varnish, die cut, emboss.



After a job is printed on a press, there are folding, binding, and trimming operations to consider. Also, die cutting, foil stamping, embossing, numbering, etc. These operations may be done by your printer, or subcontracted out to a trade bindery.

Describe how a steel rule die is constructed? What type of machine is used to do the die cutting? How do you create the die line artwork for the printer.

What is the process to emboss and deboss and image onto paper? What is “blind embossing”? How do you create the embossing artwork?

How is foil stamping done? What advantage does foil have over a printed ink? How do you create the artwork for foiling?

Describe the paper cutting machine used by print shops.

What are scores and perforations? At what stages in the process can scoring and perforating be done?

If your job is printed on a large sheet and it folds two times to reach the finished page size, how much deviation can be expected in the folding and finishing operations? This is called “creep”.

If your job is printed on heavy paper, what extra operation may need to precede the folding?

How does the collating operation vary between saddle-stitched books and case-bound books with square spines?

Describe your options for applying a protective coating to your printed product for appearance, for durability. Which coatings can be printed into controlled areas; which are flood coated?

What is the toughest, but most expensive, coating you can order for a printed sheet?

What is tipping-in?

Describe what paper finish and which grain direction should be AVOIDED when perfect binding is used?

What is grain? How does it affect the function of the printed piece?

How does grain affect folding?

Can you make drawings or folding dummies of the following document layout options?

How do you layout artwork for jobs such as envelopes, pocket folders, or folded boxes and cartons?

What is case binding, and when is it used?

Describe converting, the process of cutting, folding, and gluing a box or envelope.

Color Management

Is your printer’s work flow color-managed?

Color Profiles: does the printer want profiles?

Which profiles should you use?

Who will convert RGB files to CMYK? Which CMYK variety?

Does the printer ask for native files, with images and fonts?

Does the printer prefer a PDF work flow?

PDF job options: does the printer have a custom set of options, or recommends a standard set?

File preparation

Is your software compatible with the printer's software?

Do you have a logical folder and subfolder structure for your project?

Will anyone opening your project be able to find the native files, print-ready PDF, images, working files, etc.?

Do your graphic files have logical, named layers? Are they easy to understand and edit?

Are your text frames on a layer above the graphics to prevent type rasterizing?

If your printer needs native files, do you have all the supporting images and fonts collected?

If your printer needs a press-ready PDF, have you created one with the printer’s required job options, such as PDF-X1a? Did the printer specify a particular color conversion, such as U.S. web coated (SWOP) v2 or coated GRACol 2006?

If your job has a bleed, have you created it; and, in the PDF, did you turn on the bleed? (The default is usually off.)

Have you corrected the color in your images?

Have you prepared images to meet the output requirements. This may be include resampling/resizing, rotating, and converting to CMYK. With newer RGB work flows, you may need to leave the images in native RGB form and let the final PDF conversion do the resampling, scaling, and color conversion.

Describe how to prepare a file for a job containing a special operation; a spot varnish, die cut, emboss.

Are you legal?

Do you have the proper rights for the images you are using?

Are your font licenses in order? Do you have font licenses for every workstation, and rights to embed fonts or loan them to the printer?