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Archive for December, 2011

Commercial Printing: Making Corrections to Your Files at the Proof Stage

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I recently received a digital proof for a small poetry book I had designed for a client. The following paragraphs describe the items I looked for in checking the proof. You may want to take a similar approach in reviewing your proofs.

The Proofing Method

First of all, my proof was a single copy produced on an HP Indigo press as a prototype for a longer press run. The Indigo is a xerographic digital press. Think “ultra-high-end color xerox.” The commercial printer produced the proof on this equipment because the rest of the run would also be produced on this press. It was a prototype, exactly matching the remainder of the run.

In your case, you may (or may not) be printing via offset lithography instead of digital technology. If this is true, you will most likely receive an inkjet proof instead of a xerographic proof. In either case your custom printing vendor will have “fingerprinted” the proof to the final press output. That is, the two will match as closely as possible. In the first case, the digital xerographic proof from the Indigo is exactly the same as all successive copies of the press run. In the case of the offset job, the inkjet proof closely resembles the final output from the offset press.

The Substrate Used for the Proof

“Substrate” is printer’s lingo for the paper on which the job will be produced. If you are printing a digital job on an Indigo or other xerographic press, you can request that your commercial printer produce the proof on the exact stock on which the final job will be printed. This is prudent. For instance, if you decide at the proof stage that the job would look better on a coated or uncoated stock, or perhaps a heavier stock, you can make these changes without incurring additional expense.

If your job will be printed on an offset press, your proof will probably not be produced on the same stock as the final job. Commercial printers usually have only a limited selection of paper stocks for their inkjet proofing devices. Often you can request a coated or uncoated sheet, but the proof may not be provided on a paper that will be as thick as the stock used for the actual press run. Don’t worry. Just bring it to your custom printing supplier’s attention, and he will explain whether it is a mistake or just an example of the limits of the proofing device.

How to Check a Proof

  1. Check for complete copy. Match the proof to your final laser copy to make sure nothing has been inadvertently lost.
  2. Check the photos. Make sure they are neither too light nor too dark. Check their cropping. Check their color accuracy.
  3. Check the margins, page numbers, and running headers and footers. Is everything placed on the page as you had intended? Do images bleed as intended? Are the pages in the proper order?
  4. Check any solid colors or screens. Should the type be in color? Is the color accurate? Compare the color to your PMS swatch book. Keep in mind that a digital proofing device will print spot colors as 4-color process builds. Therefore, the color may differ from a PMS ink mixed for an offset press run. If there are problems with color on a digital xerographic proof used for an Indigo press, that’s important to note, since your proof is exactly what your final job will be (and since both the proof and the final job are usually produced with only cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks rather than PMS colors).

Usually your proof will flawlessly match your last PDF of the job. (In fact, it’s wise to send a PDF of the job to your custom printing vendor along with the native InDesign file. This way your commercial printer will know exactly how you want the final job to look.) However, if there are any glitches introduced inadvertently by the printer’s equipment—or if there are any emergency edits—now is the time to make corrections.

If you have sent your commercial printer a high-res PDF of the job instead of a native InDesign file, it would be extremely rare for this file not to print exactly as expected. Occasionally, however, things do happen—hiccups during the RIPing process (the conversion of PostScript code into into a grid of printer dots imaged on the proof or the printing plates). Don’t assume anything. Check everything carefully. Once you have signed off on the proof, any errors you missed are your responsibility, not your custom printing supplier‘s. If you waive the option of a proof altogether, any error is your responsibility.

Uploading Corrections

If you catch errors, make corrections in your native file. Save the file under a different name (“File v1,” “File v2,” and so forth, to indicate different versions). Or, use another naming convention as long as it is clear that you are submitting a new file.

Ask for a complete second proof (not just selected pages). Probably a PDF will suffice. After all, you will have seen the photos, solids, and area screens on the first proof. However, if your corrections involve photos (particularly color photos), you will probably want a hard-copy proof of these individual pages. But still ask for a complete PDF proof as well. Why? Just to ensure that no other errors have crept into the process. If you get a PDF of the entire job for the second proof, you can be sure that all pages are in place and accurate in the second proof as well as the first. You never know. It’s better to be safe.

Custom Printing: Preparing Your Printing Job for Commercial Printers

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

You have found the custom printing vendor‘s FTP site and you’re about to send your files to press. With bated breath, you hope that you caught all the errors, formatted all the files correctly, and didn’t make any mistakes that will be expensive to fix. Before you push the send button, here are some things to check.

Check the Fonts and Links

Make sure that you are using the proper fonts. Specifically, use the bold or italic font for a particular type family. Don’t use the (pseudo)-bold or (pseudo)-italic button to alter the type.

In InDesign, you can go to the “Type” menu, then go to “Find Font,” and you will see a list of all the fonts you are using, including the font family, weight, and whether the type is condensed or expanded (for example, Helvetica Light Condensed). You can also see whether the typeface is Adobe Type 1, OpenType, or TrueType. (Some commercial printers I’ve worked with have had problems with TrueType used on a Mac, so check with your custom printing provider before sending a file that uses TrueType fonts.) If you don’t like what you see in the list of fonts, you can do a “search and replace” from this menu item to change fonts, either one instance at a time or globally.

Also, check “Links” under the “Window” menu. It will show you any TIFF or EPS images you have placed in your InDesign art file. You can see the color space (RGB or CMYK, for instance), format (such as TIFF) and page number on which the image appears. If you have altered the original Photoshop image file, you can also update the links to replace the old version with the new version.

Color Space

Speaking of color space, make sure you have changed the images from the RGB color space to the CMYK color space if you will produce the custom printing job on an offset or digital press. You would only use RGB for a Web document that would appear on a computer monitor. As mentioned before, the color space is also noted in the “Links” window.


Make sure you pull the picture boxes 1/8” beyond the trim of your print job in InDesign (or any similar program). This part of the image must extend beyond the “trim” line of your document page, so your commercial printer can cut this portion away in the bindery to give the impression that the photo bleeds off the page.


InDesign calls the collection of fonts, images, and art files their “Package” function. This function can be found under the “File” menu. Quark has a similar attribute called “Collect for Output,” also under the “File” menu. Both programs allow you to collect in one folder all that you will need to send to the custom printing supplier.


The Package, or Collect for Output, function will create a folder on your desktop. If you are using a Macintosh, it is prudent to compress this folder to protect it in transit over your broadband connection to your commercial printer. Select the file folder and right click on your mouse. Drag down several menu items and you will see “Compress” and the name of your file or folder.

PDF or Native Files

Some custom printing vendors will ask that you send them native InDesign or Quark files, particularly for book covers and other complex art. Others will request PDF files. Native files are easier for the commercial printer to alter in an emergency. Although tools do exist to edit PDFs, these files are essentially “locked down.”

If you send PDF files, ask your custom printing provider how he wants the files created. There are a lot of options, and different commercial printers will ask you to set the multitude of preferences differently.

Use the Printer’s FTP Site

When you upload a large document, such as a book with a number of photos, you are transferring a huge amount of data to your commercial printer. Attaching a file to an email won’t work for these large files. (Even after compression, a small booklet with its corresponding 4-color images might be well over 60 MB). Find someone in your printer’s prepress department to help you with this, since you may need a user name and password. Other commercial printer’s websites may just let you upload files without a password.

Email Your Printer to Let Him Know That You Have Uploaded a File

Many people forget to do this. I’ve been guilty as well. When you upload your job to the commercial printer‘s website, send him an email with the name of the files you have uploaded. It wouldn’t hurt to also include the printing specifications for the job in this email. Otherwise your printer may not know to look for your job on his FTP server.

If You Send Corrections

If you send corrections to the printer after reviewing the proof, rename the file. Something as simple as “PrintJob” and “PrintJob v2 (version 2) will help your commercial printer know which version of the file(s) to use.

Custom Printing: Paper Choices Case Study

Friday, December 16th, 2011

A client of mine runs a small publishing house for literary works: poetry, fiction, memoirs, and such. She has recently sent a book to a commercial printer for a short run of 100 reader copies. These are also called “galleys.” Reviewers will read the copies and make suggestions, then the author will update and correct the text. After this step, a book printer will produce between 2,000 and 3,500 copies of the final edition. The commercial printer will produce the short run digitally on an HP Indigo press. The book printer will run the job on an offset press.

The galley is essentially a proof. It needs to look good, but the final book printing run must be spectacular, since it will be sold in bookstores.

That said, I will meet with my client in about a week to discuss paper choices. You may find it useful to learn how I’m preparing for the meeting. It may help you choose book papers for yourself or your clients.

The Specifications

Together, my client and I compiled the following list of specifications for the book:

340 pages plus cover
Trim Size: 5.5” x 8.5”
Cover ink: 4CP + PMS match gold ink + dull lay-flat film laminate / 4CP; with bleeds
Text ink: K/K, without bleeds
12pt. C2S cover, white
Text stock: 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text, 364 ppi, or 55# Sebago IV Antique C/W, 360 ppi
French flaps on cover to extend over text (trim twice); score/fold for a 3.5” flap on front and back.
Deckled edges on the foredge of the text block
Perfect bind on 8.5” side with cover press score

Here are a few thoughts that come to mind when I review the specifications:

  1. The soft-cover book will have black-ink-only text, without bleeds, but the cover will be far more ornate.
  2. The cover will be printed not only with 4-color process ink but also an additional match color: gold, a metallic ink made with actual flecks of metal. Both the inside and outside covers will be printed, and the outside covers will be laminated.
  3. The cover will have additional flaps that will fold inward, simulating a dust jacket. This is popular in Europe, but it is also popular in the United States for upscale, trendy books.
  4. My client wants deckled edges on the text stock (rough edges rather than flush-cut, smooth edges).
  5. My client wants an off-white text stock with a rough surface to augment the tactile experience of reading this book.

To achieve the best possible look for this volume, I suggested a 12 pt. cover stock (thicker than many other perfect-bound print book covers that are often only 10 pt.). Thicker stock will probably be perceived by the reader (subconsciously) as being of higher value. I also used my caliper to measure the thickness of the cover stock on a sample given to me by my client. I wanted to make sure the 12 pt. cover paper I specified would actually match my client’s sample.

I also suggested a C2S cover (coated on two sides). In most cases, a book printer would produce a volume like this with a C1S (coated-one-side) cover. However, since the inside covers will also print (which is not always the case), I thought that a cover coated on the inside as well as the outside would provide a closer ink match between the inside and outside covers.

I also suggested a white cover stock, in spite of the fact that the inside text paper would be a cream color. Here’s why. The color of process inks printed on cream stock changes. It’s no longer the actual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Since process colors are transparent, the cream substrate alters the perceived color of the inks. Visually, the shift from a white inside cover to a cream text stock will be less jarring than having process inks that are off color.

I also suggested 55# Sebago IV Antique text stock. The book printer with the low bid had this on the pressroom floor. It will cost less than the 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text that I had initially wanted. However, as you can see in the specifications, 70# Finch Vellum Vanilla Text and 55# Sebago IV Antique are almost the same thickness (364 vs 360 ppi, or pages per inch). The Sebago has been calendered less (passed between metal rollers during the paper-making process). It is therefore thicker than usual. It is also rougher than usual since it is an “antique” sheet (one of the roughest surfaces on an uncoated press sheet). My client wanted rough cream stock. This fits both requirements.

What I’m Taking to the Meeting

When I meet with my client next week I will take the following:

  1. A printed sample with French Flaps.
  2. A printed sample with deckled text paper edges.
  3. An unprinted sample of the Sebago stock from the book printer, showing the paper color, surface finish, paper thickness, and paper opacity (light blocking power, which keeps ink on one side of the press sheet from being visible through the other side of the press sheet).
  4. The specification sheet for Finch Vellum Vanilla, showing that the specifications of 55# Sebago text stock come very close to those of the 70# Finch text stock. This will hopefully ease any discomfort my client may have in substituting Sebago for Finch.

It pays to do the research and to think through all the technical as well as design ramifications of paper choices. Often your paper merchant or book printer can suggest paper stocks with similar qualities (surface texture, color, thickness, opacity) that are nevertheless cheaper than what you initially had in mind. But it always helps to get samples from your custom printing vendor. Nothing can help your print buying work like actually seeing and feeling the press sheet.

Custom Printing: Digital Diecutting Transforms Product Packaging Workflow

Monday, December 12th, 2011

For decades, diecutting has been a labor-intensive, materials-intensive, time-intensive, post-press finishing process. Commercial printers have had to wait for outside vendors to create the cutting dies and then set up and operate a letterpress or diecutting press to accomplish the cutting work. Even the die-makers have had to store raw materials–wood, metal, and rubber–in warehouses along with the finished dies themselves, which are kept for future work. So the die-makers must absorb the extra storage expense, insurance expense, and other costs of holding inventory.

But this is changing. A new company founded by two former HP Indigo employees has brought the diecutting process into the digital age.

First of All, What Is Die-Cutting?

Unlike a beautiful custom printing job, a good die-cutting job is meant to be invisible, or to at least not draw attention to itself. If you see the results, something went wrong.

But you actually do see the results every day. A pocket folder has to be diecut after the commercial printer has printed the press sheet. And every product package in the grocery store, department store, and drug store also has to be diecut after the custom printing work is complete.

Diecutting is the finishing process (i.e, a process following the custom printing run) in which unused portions of a press sheet are chopped away and discarded. It is part of what is called “conversion,” turning a flat press sheet into a box.

For instance, a carton containing four sticks of butter was once a flat press sheet comprising numerous flat carton images printed side by side by a commercial printer. On a letterpress, metal diecutting rules inset into sheets of wood chop the press sheets into flat but unassembled boxes in much the same way as a cookie cutter chops dough into cookies. These flat boxes can then be folded, glued, and assembled into finished product packaging (i.e., converted).

The Packaging Market Is Huge But Segmented.

Product packaging is a huge market. Almost everything you see in all the stores you frequent requires product packaging of some sort, usually including some sort of diecut paper or board. The custom printing on this packaging involves branding and other marketing design work that will hopefully turn shoppers into buyers. So in the simplest sense, packaging influences buying, and packaging is therefore a large and lucrative market.

But the market is also segmented. More and more, marketers focus their product design on smaller segments of the buying populace. That means more custom printing runs (and diecut finishing runs) but also smaller press runs and diecut runs. This is problematic, because making the dies in the traditional way involves time, preparing the letterpresses to actually do the diecutting involves time, and doing the diecutting itself involves time. It’s a labor-intensive, time-intensive, and materials-intensive process.

But What If You Could Cut the Paper with a Laser?

“Direct-to-Pack” is a term coined to describe laser-based cutting. Lasers score and cut the press sheets that are then converted into product packaging, pocket folders, or any other formerly diecut product.

Two former HP Indigo employees have founded a company called Highcon and created a digital scoring and cutting machine that takes digital data from a design workstation to draw a digital dieline (pattern of cuts to be made on the press sheet) on a rotating drum. The image on the drum drives a laser that cuts away the unused portions of the press sheet to prepare the blanks that can then be glued and assembled into cartons—all without dies.

Digital diecutting is a potentially huge development, since it does not require the inventory of wood, metal, and rubber of which dies traditionally have been made. It also emits less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and uses no tree wood (important considerations in light of increased governmental regulation). The process requires fewer operators, minimal makeready (minutes rather than hours), and no storage of dies. Therefore, short runs are possible (even one prototype).

And this makes good business sense, since product packaging can be be ready for market faster, and since printing companies can produce more varieties of packaging for less money to target more markets in a more focused manner.

The new machine is called The Euclid. It can economically score and/or cut anywhere from one item to 10,000 items.

Custom Printing: InDesign and Photoshop Tips

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I have been doing more freelance design work recently, working in Photoshop and InDesign, preparing layouts for commercial printers. I have learned, or relearned, a number of tips and tricks that you might find helpful in your design work. Here they are, listed in no particular order but separated into two categories: Photoshop and InDesign.


  1. As I have noted in prior blog articles, don’t trust your computer monitor, particularly if you have not calibrated it and the ambient light in your workspace fluctuates. In addition, LCD monitors tend to make colors look lighter and brighter than they will print.
  2. To be safe, adjust your photos in the RGB (red, green, blue) as opposed to CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) color space. Use the “Info” window and eyedropper tool to show you the percentages of red, green, and blue. (Look for a neutral white registering 0 percent red, 0 percent green, and 0 percent blue.) This will yield an image without a color cast. If you see an imbalance, you can increase or decrease color in one of the three channels (R, G, or B).
  3. When your images look right on the screen, lighten them slightly using the curves or levels tools. Have your commercial printer check samples of your work to make sure the final output will be as you expect.
  4. Do your cropping, sizing, and rotating of images in Photoshop, not InDesign. This will allow the RIP in the custom printing vendor’s prepress department to process your files more quickly.
  5. When in doubt, send sample files to your custom printing service. It’s better to catch problems prior to hard-copy proofing. That said, it’s still cheaper to catch an error in a proof than to find it after the commercial printer has delivered your job (necessitating a reprint).
  6. Remember to convert your files from RGB to CMYK prior to placing the images in your InDesign layout. Your commercial printer will need four separate plates for offset printing. It’s better that you do the conversion and see any problems rather than have your custom printing vendor do the conversion. You will have more control over the results.


  1. If you are placing a lot of images in your art files, you may like this little InDesign tool: “Fit content proportionately.” You can find it under the Object heading, under Fitting. If you place a photo and then use this command, the image will be enlarged or reduced to fit the photo box you have drawn.
  2. Don’t confuse this with “Fit content to frame” in the same menu. This will not adjust the size of the image proportionately, as the former command will do. What this means is that your photo may be the correct height, but it may be a little too wide or too narrow. The distortion could be slight. You might miss it at first, and then see a “fat” flower or a “skinny” person after your commercial printer has delivered the job.
  3. Here’s a quick way to create inside front and back covers that will complement the colors on the outside front cover. In Photoshop, choose a color that occurs infrequently on the cover image. Using the eyedropper tool and making sure the Info palette is open (look under the Window menu), you will see the CMYK percentages that are directly under the eyedropper. Write these numbers down. You can then open your InDesign art file, create a new color swatch using these percentages, and apply the color to the inside front and back covers. (You are essentially using a “digital densitometer,” similar to the ones your printing companies use on press. Unlike the monitor, you can trust the numbers provided by the Info palette. Learn to use this tool regularly.)
  4. Using the pointer tool, drag text (perhaps a headline) around the InDesign pasteboard as you decide where to place it. When you do this, colored alignment rules will appear from time to time alerting you when your text box aligns with other graphic elements on the page. This is especially useful when you are centering type on a page, since you don’t need to measure the distance to the right and left margins. InDesign does this for you automatically.

Book Printing: More Ways to Cut Costs

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In a few recent postings, I have been describing an ongoing book printing job. My client wants to reduce the cost, and she has therefore been considering various formats, bindings, and color schemes.

The way I have approached this challenge has been to identify the two lowest-cost book printers in whom I have developed a deep level of trust. I had bid the job out to four vendors initially and had chosen two printing companies with quality samples, knowledgeable account representatives who are proactive in offering suggestions and options, and low prices relative to the other commercial printers.

I requested bids for the following three options and disclosed the budget target: $4,500.00:

Option #1:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 56 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 8 1/8″ x 10 7/8″

Option #2:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 72 pages: 16 pages 4C + 56 pages black and white
Binding: Perfect-bind
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 5.375″ x 10.875″

Option #3:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 100 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 5.5″ x 8.5″

Analysis of the Options

  1. As you can see from the specifications, the press run had to stay the same: 5,000 copies.
  2. I had also reduced the cover paper weight from 100# to 65#, and the text weight from 60# to 50#.
  3. I offered three size options (from close to a standard 8.5” x 11” letter size down to a digest size of 5.5” x 8.5”). Obviously this affected the overall page count, from 56 pages to 100 pages. (The smaller format would require more pages to contain the same amount of information, although I also suggested to the client—respectfully–that reducing the amount of text or moving some information to their website would reduce custom printing costs as well.)
  4. I suggested two different binding methods: saddle stitching and perfect binding. I knew that if the book were over 64 or so pages, perfect binding might be necessary to avoid having a bulky binding job that might not lie flat.
  5. I suggested black-only text and an option for a sixteen-page color signature and the balance in black ink.
  6. In all cases I opted for a cover printed in full color on both sides of the press sheet.

This was the pricing from one book printing vendor:

Option #1:
56 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Trim size: 8 1/8″ x 10 7/8″

Option #2:
72 pages: 16 pages 4C + 56 pages black and white
Binding: Perfect-bind
Trim size: 5.375″ x 10.875″

Option #3:
100 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Trim size: 5.5″ x 8.5″

Clearly, none of the prices even came close to the $4,500.00 target. However, they still provided insight, specifically:

  1. On this vendor’s equipment, the length of the book seemed to make more of a difference than the color usage. (Note the difference between Option #3 pricing and the pricing for the other options.)
  2. From this I surmised that on their 28” press (which I learned about from their equipment list), more pages require more press signatures and therefore more press runs. Printing four-color or one-color text on a single press run seems to matter less in the overall pricing structure than the number of separate times the commercial printer must wash up and prepare the press for additional press runs.

This was the pricing from the other book printing vendor:

Size: 8.125” x 10.875”
Pages: 4-page cover + 56 pages of text
Cover: 4/4 (4-color process)
Text: 1/1 (black only)
Binding: saddle stitch

Size: 5.5” x 8.5”
Pages: 4-page cover + 72 pages of text
Cover: 4/4 (4-color process)
Text: 16 pages print 4/4 (4-color process); 56 pages print 1/1 (black only)
Binding: perfect bind

This book printer didn’t keep to the exact specifications but rather made suggestions that came closer to the target price of $4,500.00. This custom printing vendor has a 40” press and a press slightly larger than 50”. (Again, I learned this from their equipment list.)

From them we learn:

  1. It’s cheaper to print black text only in the larger format (closer to the standard 8.5” x 11” letter-sized sheet).
  2. But it’s more economical—i.e., a better value—to go with the smaller, digest size product, since you can print a longer book with both black text and a 16-page color signature rather than a shorter book with black text only (for only about $400.00 more).

Here are some considerations:

  1. All of this depends on the commercial printer’s specific equipment (check their equipment list). Not all printing companies have the same equipment.
  2. Remember to account for shipping costs. Some local printing companies will deliver your job to you at no extra cost, but commercial printers located several states away will usually charge freight, and this can add up (books, in particular, are heavy). In addition, shipping takes time, an important consideration if your material is dated.

Custom Printing of Photo Notecards: A Case Study

Monday, December 5th, 2011

A client of mine is a professional photographer. Among other items, she sells gorgeous, full-color photo notecards of a myriad of multicolored flower species.

Quality is paramount with this client—understandably.

She recently received digital (inkjet) proofs of eight of her cards from a commercial printer with a small-format 4-color press. The contract proofer had been “fingerprinted” to the vendor’s press, so the digital output my client saw would very closely resemble the final offset custom printing of her cards.

She was unhappy with six of the eight prints. “Too dark,” she said.

Fortunately, this client is a consummate professional. She had submitted 8-bit TIFF images in CMYK color space, which I had placed in InDesign files and then distilled into “press-quality” PDFs. My client took responsibility for the error and requested second proofs prior to printing. She looked closely into the process to determine exactly what had happened, prior to adjusting the files and resubmitting them to the custom printing vendor.

Possible Causes of the Problem

First of all, the highlights and mid-tones were acceptable. Only the shadows of the photos concerned my client.

My client works in her basement, so she can control the ambient light in the room (i.e., the room light does not change as the sun rises and sets). She also calibrates her monitor regularly to ensure color fidelity. Both of these steps are essential, but most people (I would venture to guess) do not do either with the necessary frequency and precision.

As an additional consideration, LCD monitors, which most designers possess, “run hot.” This term, provided by a commercial printer with whom I used to work, means that colors on an LCD monitor appear lighter and brighter than they will appear in an actual custom printing job. It is all too easy to forget that an image on a computer monitor created with red, green, and blue light will not exactly match the image printed with ink—or even toner—on paper. However, knowing that images on an LCD monitor will print darker than they appear will help you avoid mistakes.

Using her knowledge of color and light, my client determined that the problem had occurred in the conversion from the RGB color space to the CMYK color space prior to her sending me the photos. For whatever reason, the color shift appeared most intensely in the shadows during the translation from RGB to CMYK. It is good to keep in mind that scanners usually capture images within a Red/Green/Blue (light-based rather than ink-based) color space. This is not as large a color space (does not include as many distinct colors) as “all visible color,” but is is larger than the Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black color space. It has a larger color gamut (number of reproducible colors).

For the most part, designers and photographers work within the RGB color space up until the last possible moment, and then convert the image to CMYK just prior to sending the job to the commercial printer. Colors that exist within the RGB color space and the CMYK color space transition without a problem. Colors that exist within the RGB color space but not within the CMYK color space shift to the nearest color match. This often causes a visible color shift.

Color Corrections and Final Proofs

My client determined that the problem had occurred during the color conversion. Therefore, she lightened the shadows in the RGB color space, converted the images to CMYK, and re-checked them to make sure the final CMYK output would be acceptable (accounting for the tendency of the monitor to lighten colors, and having confirmed the accuracy of the calibration of the monitor).

I received the amended 8-bit TIFF CMYK photo files and repositioned them within the InDesign art files for the photo notecards. The difference was dramatic. The images were lighter—but only in the shadows.

When the second set of proofs arrived, my client was happy. She approved them and released the job to the custom printing vendor for final production.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. Always color calibrate your monitor. Do this regularly.
  2. Control the ambient light in your computer room. The surrounding light will alter your perception of the color on the monitor.
  3. Assume that the final image will print darker than the image on the monitor. Ask your prepress provider at your commercial printer how to compensate for this using Photoshop’s “levels” and “curves” commands.
  4. Make your own inkjet proofs. Then, if these are ok, have your commercial printer make proofs. Adjust your files as necessary. It’s better to make—and pay for–multiple proofs than print the job too dark, too light, or with a color cast.

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