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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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Book Printing: Preflight a Print Job to Avoid Headaches

I received an InSite preflight report for a client today. I thought it might be helpful to share it with you, and to describe the feedback it presented as well as my response to both the book printer and to my client.

First of All, What Is InSite?

With the advent of on-line proofing, services such as Rampage Remote and InSite have become increasingly popular. They reside on your printer’s IT system and allow you to upload files (like a printer’s FTP site). Then they allow the printer to preflight the files (run a series of tests to identify potential errors in formatting, image resolution, font availability, and such). Then they provide client access to an online proof.

The Format for the Print Book

In the case of my client’s print book, (an annual 8.5” x 10.875”, 576-page, hard-cover publication with a press run of 1,000 copies), I had advised my client to upload files to InSite rather than to the printer’s FTP site because she had already gone through this process the previous year. She was used to the procedure, and I knew she would get a comprehensive preflight check in the process. My client requested hard-copy proofs in addition to the on-screen proof (she was more comfortable catching errors on paper than on a computer screen), and the book printer was happy to oblige.

What Issues Did InSite Identify?

The art files passed almost every test, but the preflight software did note that the space for the gutter margin (the space extending from the text into the binding) was smaller than optimal. The software noted that the art files had a gutter margin of .5” whereas the book printer preferred a .625” gutter margin for such a book (notch perfect bound within a hard-cover). The report asked whether my client wanted to resubmit the files or proceed to print with these margins.

Before contacting my client, I called the printer’s prepress department. I asked about the .125” difference between the gutter margin in my client’s InDesign file and the optimal gutter margin. The prepress operator told me the difference would not be a problem. I also learned that the prior year’s print book had been created with exactly the same gutter margin. Since my client (and her readers) had been satisfied with the prior year’s book, there was no reason to reject the proof and produce new files. I then contacted my client and made sure she agreed. She also confirmed that she had in fact created the new print book with the same gutter margin as in prior years.

Another issue flagged by the preflight application concerned rich black text within a black-only book. A rich black is an ink composed of black plus halftone screens of the other process colors (magenta, yellow, and cyan). This technique produces darker blacks in a printed piece or gives a warm or cool tone to the black ink. This is appropriate for a process color print book but not for my client’s project, which had a black-only text block.

Nevertheless, in prior years there had been problems with the proofs’ containing rich-black text on certain pages. On the proofs, the letterforms of the text had appeared with slight halos. I raised the issue with the printer’s prepress operator and was told that the preflight errors had been inaccurate. Rich black text would not appear in the final printed piece. Nevertheless, I asked my client to review the hard-copy proofs carefully, looking specifically for any halos, since they had appeared in the prior issue’s hard-copy proof. I told her that I did not expect the problem to show up, but given the preflight server’s notation, it was worth a close look.

Finally, the preflight application noted that the book was 8.5” x 11” rather than 8.5” x 10.875”. This might have been due to a prior year’s issue of the book, which had been initially uploaded in this larger format. (The smaller format indicated that the text would be printed on a heatset web press rather than a sheetfed press. This is because the slightly smaller print book size allows press signatures to fit better on the heatset web press sheet.)

Apparently, my client had adjusted the format this year to meet the 8.5” x 10.875” size requirement. In the prior year’s book, rather than having my client adjust and resubmit the book art files, the printer had merely trimmed the press sheet smaller on the top and bottom (head and foot margin). The head and foot margins were both slightly tighter than originally intended, but the quick fix was acceptable and avoided reflowing the text within the entire book.

To be safe, I asked the book designer to confirm that she had in fact provided this year’s files as an 8.5” x 10.875” document.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider in your own design and print buying work:

  1. Virtual proofs such as InSite and Rampage Remote bypass the delivery of hard-copy proofs and can therefore shave time off your schedule. For simple black-only bookwork, you might consider them (i.e., when no color proofing is required). If your computer monitor is precisely and regularly calibrated and your design studio ambient light is controlled, you might even consider virtual proofing for color work. Or, like my client, you might just use the system for uploading and preflighting art files, and then request a hard-copy proof.
  2. If the virtual proofing system flags anything, ask the printer’s preflight expert what to do. Even if he/she says the problem is not really a problem, confirm this on a hard-copy proof (to be absolutely safe).
  3. The preflight operator in your printer’s shop is an invaluable ally. He/she has knowledge that will save you money and ensure an accurate printed product. Learn from him/her the best practices for creating error-free InDesign files.
  4. Before you design a print book, find out what kind of press will print the job (sheetfed offset vs. web offset). Then ask your printer for the optimal page sizes for this press, so you won’t have to adjust or reflow an entire book at the end of the process.

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