Printing and Design Tips: June 2015, Issue #167

When to Design a Huge Standee

I've mentioned before that my fiancee and I install standees, banners, one sheets, and other marketing materials in movie theaters. In addition to providing all manner of printed samples for me to examine, learn from, and then share in Quick Tips and on the PIE Blog, these installations teach me a lot about marketing.

Two installations in particular come to mind. Together, they reminded me that the purpose of promotion/marketing/advertising is to increase awareness of something among prospective buyers.

My fiancee and I were asked to hang a medium sized banner for The Hunger Games a few years ago. I was struck by how small it was. When I heard the movie was about to be released, I thought we would be asked to install a huge standee, not a small banner.

Not too long afterwards we installed a huge standee for another movie. It contained at least four strings of holiday lights. It was about twenty feet long, had eight back-lit graphic panels, and all-told probably took us fifteen hours to install over about four sessions. It was huge and heavy, and I'm sure it cost a fortune to ship.

I asked myself why. Why would a sequel to a major motion picture like The Hunger Games warrant only a small banner while the movie studio had paid so much to design, produce, package, ship, and install the large, back-lit, twenty-foot theatrical standee?

At a later date I asked this question of one of the managers at the theater, and he simply said that everyone had known The Hunger Games movie was coming. Hence, a small banner was enough.

So there you have it. Movie studios put a lot of money into creating standees, but the money goes primarily into expanding audience awareness of movies they don't yet know about, not movies they're already excited about seeing.

It makes perfect sense.

Looking for Problems on a Press Check

I was paging through Getting It Printed by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly, today. It's one of my favorite books on printing. I always learn something new whenever I open the book.

There is a sidebar in Chapter 7 on offset printing called “Defects Not Random.” It makes an excellent point, a common sense point that's easy to forget: Defects in printing are usually not random.

For example, if a color registration problem shows up in the press sheets your printer hands you, this problem will either be localized in the press run or it will show up on all press sheets.

If it shows up on all press sheets, that means the problem originated in prepress. The problem exists on the press plates, and you must return to prepress, make the correction, burn new plates, and start again on press.

If the problem is localized, it may very well be just a press problem. For instance, if the pressman adjusts the press to make the color accurate during the initial stages of make ready, and he keeps a few press sheets that aren't perfect but adjusts the color appropriately, then the printing errors will show up in a “cluster” (as Mark Beach and Eric Kenly say). That is, they will show up in only a handful of press sheets.

You can even see how many copies were affected by looking at press sheets printed close to that same time. If you look at other press sheets out of sequence from the problematic ones, (or if the job has been delivered and you cut open random cartons to check copies), you may miss the extent of the problem and think it's larger than it really is.

In short, look for problems where they are most likely to be.

When to Do a Press Check

I have not needed to do a press check in over a decade. But twenty years ago I was attending multiple press checks each year, many of which were at 3:00 a.m. Prepress and press work have become so computerized (and therefore consistent) over the past two decades that press checks are usually not necessary for most print jobs.

That said, there are reasons to attend a press check, and Beach and Kenly's book Getting It Printed discusses a few of these:

  1. You may have designed a job that must be showcase quality. That is, the colors (perhaps in a catalog) may need to not only match the original photos exactly but also the products from which the photos were shot. Or you may be doing an art book. In either case, pleasing color is not enough, so plan to do a press check to ensure premium color.
  2. You may be using a specialty paper or doing a printing or finishing process that is unfamiliar to you. Maybe you're producing an art book on a colored, textured paper, and the pages are tied together with hemp string. This would also be a good time to do a press inspection.
  3. You may be using a new printer for an important job. This is another important time for a press check, but to save yourself this stress, it might be prudent to start a new printer off with smaller, less critical jobs to develop a good professional relationship while making sure the printer can handle the quality levels you require.
  4. If you're at all worried about any part of the job, do a press check.

Keep in mind that the printer will probably run signatures consecutively (if you're printing signature work like books, catalogs, or magazines). You may be on press for 24 or more hours with a new signature ready for you to review and approve every six hours. Moreover, you might find something wrong that may require starting over in prepress. Press checks can be long ordeals. I have spent may nights sleeping in various printers' customer lounges. But for certain jobs this can't be helped, and on delivery day the finished product will make it all worth your sacrifice.

When you do a press check, remember to speak to the pressman in common, everyday terms to ask for the results you want. For instance, ask that the overall color be increased. Describe the goal, but let the pressman decide how to achieve the result (for example, running more of one color or less of another color).

Make it clear that you will need to do a press check early in the estimating process, and your printer will factor the cost into the overall price (press time costs several hundred dollars an hour, and your involvement will slow things down). So make a list of what you plan to check, and move quickly through the list.

Small defects like hickies will occur. This is normal. Your job won't be perfect. However, if something is seriously wrong (for instance, a photo in one of my jobs had a purple sky), point

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]