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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: 11 Suggestions for a Press Inspection

It has been years since I’ve been on a commercial printing press inspection. Between the computerized consoles that constantly monitor conditions within the press and adjust for any ink density variance or problems with register, to the on-screen proofs that allow multiple people at a client’s office to check proofs online, it is rarely necessary to check a job on press.

That said, sometimes it’s essential. Let’s say your job resembles any of the following:

  1. A print catalog in which photos of designer clothes must precisely match the color of the actual fabric
  2. A high-end gift box with intricate diecuts or multiple foil stamping treatments and a colored lining produced on special commercial printing stock
  3. Any four-color job related to food, fashion, or the automotive industry (i.e., critical color)

In these cases you may be called upon to attend a press check. If the job involves multiple signatures (a print catalog or magazine, for instance), your commercial printing vendor will probably produce these signatures sequentially, and you may be on press at 6:00 a.m., noon, 6:00 p.m., and so forth. It can be exhausting, and the decisions you make will probably be critical.

So here are some things to look for when you’re checking the custom printing sheets:

  1. Check the commercial printing paper (color, thickness, surface texture, etc.).
  2. Check the page imposition (make sure everything is there). Check the page size.
  3. Make sure any corrections from the printer’s proof have been made.
  4. Check any PMS colors against a PMS swatch book.
  5. Make sure the overall color is good. If the color looks off, point this out to the pressman, but let him determine how to fix it (i.e., whether more or less of a color is needed). Look for memory colors, such as flesh tones and green grass. Check the press pulls against the proof to make sure the color matches.
  6. Check the color images under a loupe to ensure good register (look for process color halftone screens hanging out beyond the edges of type and photos), but keep in mind that it’s more important for the job to be visually accurate than 100 percent exact under a loupe.
  7. Look for custom printing problems like hickies (caused by dust on a press blanket), ink in non-image areas, trails of ink on the type letterforms, and such.
  8. Use a pen and straight edge, or ruler, to rule out a page (from trim mark to trim mark) to make sure the dimensions will be as you expect, and fold the signature to make sure the pages are in proper order, that they will align (side by side), and that they will back up correctly (on the front and back of a press sheet). Be especially conscious of this if you have critical alignments that cross over from one page to another.
  9. Keep in mind that any changes you make due to your errors will cost you (more at this stage than at any other stage). So they should be absolutely essential. Weigh the cost of the corrections against the reality that all print jobs will have some flaws. Keep in mind that changes will also take time and may compromise the schedule (i.e., time is a secondary cost).
  10. For absolutely critical work, check the binding as well. This may mean coming back on another day, but if the job just cannot have any problems, it may be worth it. Failing that, it’s a good idea to have your custom printing vendor send samples to your office for approval before the balance of the job goes to the mail house.
  11. Keep in mind that the pressman’s comment, “That will go away when the press gets up to speed” (i.e., color problems or technical problems like hickies), may actually be correct. After all, he has a lot of experience with his particular press. However, in cases like these, it’s a good idea to wait around and have him pull a few copies for you from the middle of the job, after the press has gotten up to speed, just to make sure.

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