Hot Tips for Cool Print Design

Designing for print involves countless and complex considerations. But experts agree the most essential among them are these two points. First, designers must involve printers as early as possible in the process, and second, communication flow between designers and printers must be as clear and upfront as possible.

The most successful designs are those that come in on budget and get results, says Michael Reiher, product manager for Enfocus Connect. Enfocus software is, of course, widely used in the industry for PDF pre-flight and PDF editing tools, while Enfocus Connect blends PDF creation with quality control and file delivery, specifically targeted at the graphic arts industry. “Many designers forget it’s more than just a pretty printed piece,” Reiher says.

“If your print design is going to be effective, it’s got to be reproducible downstream. So the easier you can make it for those downstream, the better it is for everyone” he observes. “If you comprehend what your piece will become, you’ll better understand your design limitations. You have to design to your budget. A lot of people waste time designing, only to learn it won’t fit in the budget.” If the designer can pass to the printer what the latter needs the first time out, it helps ensure the piece is produced much more quickly, keeping the project on budget. “Designers tend to throw things over the fence, and the printer has to go back and forth with many surprises,” Reiher says. “For any effective communication, you have to understand where it’s going, and whether it’s meeting your budget and your time frame.” The issue actually involves twin considerations, he adds. On one side is the problem of the piece’s technical aspects. Is it a tri-fold? Where do the folds fall? Is it a die-cut? Second, there’s the technical end. What kind of file is needed to produce that job? Will it go to a digital press or an offset press?

“Communicating that aspect tends to be the challenge,” Reiher says. “Knowing what color model to use, how to put in the bleeds, resolution of the images, and all that becomes a tough thing for a designer to grasp,” he says.

Enfocus Connect takes responsibility for the technical aspects of the file format, which today is typically a PDF, Reiher says. It takes all the technical knowledge away from designers, and gives it to the printer. “The printer doesn’t have to communicate back to the designer to make sure, for instance, that all images are CMYK and 300 dpi,” he says. “They can control those things for customers in a remote control fashion.”


Who Designs?

Reiher doesn’t feel printers should suggest more effective design ideas. More to the point is the need to communicate several options to the designer, conveying that you may not be able to do what she wants, but if her budget is X and her time frame Y, she should consider these three different options. “For printers, customer retention is essential,” he says. “They’re no longer competing with the guy down the street; they’re competing with someone across the country. Make it easy for your customer to get a piece that’s on time and on budget, and is easy for them, and they’ll come back.” Along the same lines, it’s not as important for printers to have creative designers on staff to work with customers as it is to have creative problem solvers on staff, Reiher believes. That problem solver must be someone who can help the customer look at her options, and creatively examine what issues to address and how to solve them. “That means having someone who is good on the technical side and has a good eye for design,” he reports. “It’s someone who can think on both sides of the brain.

“Would having a good designer [on staff] be a good thing? It couldn’t hurt, but having a good problem solver is the way to go. It comes back to the whole thing about making sure your customers have options and that they feel they’re being taken care of. If they have that, they will come back.”


Making Clients Comfortable

At New York City-based Ideas on Purpose, a brand communications firm specializing in corporate reporting, brand systems, and interactive media, principal and creative director John Connolly reports his firm does a lot of image-based work, so image translation to print is crucial. “There’s a lot of work on the part of the printer and designer to get that to work well,” he says. “It requires a lot of collaboration, because the printer has to take our files and do retouching work to make the files appear the way we envisioned them to appear, and then have the capacity to run a lot of ink and have beautiful color saturation.”

As for effective communication, Connolly says he and his colleagues rely on printers to be able to show examples of technique, papers, and certain inks. All of that is required to make clients of Ideas on Purpose comfortable, especially if a sizable financial investment is being considered. In addition, his company has to build in a budget for press proof and testing. “Clients are not comfortable with a big leap of faith,” Connolly says. “They need to be made comfortable.”

Ideas on Purpose begins with verbal concepts, addressing a client’s problem long before the design stage ever commences, he adds. “That enrolls the client in the idea very, very early on, and they’re less likely to come in with preconceived ideas.” Connolly says. “They almost feel ownership of the shared idea we approach them with.”

Connolly hasn’t interfaced with on-staff designers at printers with which his company has worked. Some have staff designers, but he’s never sought their services. “But the print reps I work with are creative problem solvers and do bring solutions to the table,” he says. “I don’t need to talk to a designer on staff at a printer. But we do have to bounce ideas off the printer through the rep, and also get a sense of—if we’re thinking outside the box—how far out can we go?”


Early Communication

The customer service representative serves a key communication role at Trends Presentation Products of Washington, MO, which won a major award in the 2013 BIA awards for its cherry starburst design, created for Cherry Coke.

“Communication is key,” says sales manager David Inman. “We’re a custom shop, doing these short-run, challenging pieces. Our customer service rep, who has an artistic background, works with the customer directly. It makes it so much easier when she can see the concept and bring it to life. She has to take if from the customer and bring it to our in-house engineering department, which in turn takes that concept and brings it to life…Right away, she can identify problem areas, related to the art the customer is bringing in.”

Early communication between designers and printers is especially crucial in the book printing industry, where it’s essential to consider finishing and/or binding right from the design stage. Dennis DeHainaut, vice president of sales at Nashville’s Bindtech, Inc., one of the country’s largest privately-owned trade bindery and book manufacturers, says designers must communicate with the customers as well as the finishing company, so those stakeholders know what the end product will be before any design work is done.

“That way, we can provide the designer with specification sheets that will give that designer the various layouts for the various binding styles,” he says.

Without communication, problems can occur. The designer may lay out a page without realizing this will be a mechanically bound book, and “when we’re punching the text, we’re actually punching into the copy,” DeHainaut says.

Or the designer may design a page layout for a perfect bound book that has a grind-off on the spine, and when the book comes to Bindtech, the publisher has decided this will be a Smyth-sewn book, which has no grind-off.

When Bindtech is talking with a customer in the design stage, “we will get the concept they are trying to achieve, get what the book is about, and in many cases we will pull books out of our own library of books we’ve done in similar fields. That will give that designer a number of options to review.”

The designer will also be encouraged to visit Bindtech’s website, which includes many photographs of products the company has produced over the years. “That would give them ideas of different styles or looks they could achieve, in multicolor foil stamping, of embossing, of onlays and more,” he says.

The story’s moral is that problems must be caught before they’re printed. “We can be a second set of eyes for the designer,” DeHainaut says.