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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Commercial Printing: How to Approach New Design Jobs

I received three design jobs today from a client of mine. I will be brokering the commercial printing as well as designing the artwork and producing the final, press-ready files. So, as a teaching tool, I’d like to share some of my thoughts as I approached the job today and created the first set of proofs.

Custom Printing Specifications for the Jobs

The jobs were small. One was a 4-color, two-sided business card. One was a two-sided oversized postcard (5.5” x 8.5”). And one was a 4′ x 8′ banner. All three jobs had to go together. They had to have a similar “look,” so the attendees at the trade show for which my client was preparing the materials would see them as a coherent branding package.

My client had initially created a new logo online, using a web-to-print site. She was not satisfied with the results, so she had come to me the prior week. My client had wanted me to enlarge her logo so it could be used for custom screen printing a canvas totebag.

After upsampling the logo in small increments (a trick that sometimes works), I had recreated the logo from scratch in Illustrator (the right way to do this). Since I assumed the custom screen printing vendor would use two printing inks, I created the logo as a two-color job (i.e., with spot colors rather than process colors).

Digital Custom Printing Would Be the Most Appropriate Technology

In rereading my client’s email, I noticed that the business cards would be a short run job (500 copies with printing on the front and back of the card; 500 copies with printing only on the front of the card). The oversized postcard would also be a short run (300 copies). The banner would be an edition of one copy.

Given the short press runs, I decided the printing equipment most appropriate for the job would be an HP Indigo digital press rather than an offset lithographic press. Therefore, I adjusted the logo I had recreated to make it a screen build of 4-color inks rather than the two spot colors. The digital press would only use process colors, unlike the custom screen printing vendor’s equipment for producing the totebag. I also knew the 4′ x 8′ banner would be produced on a large-format inkjet printer. This would also be a 4-color job, so the revised logo would be appropriate for all three pieces.

Approaching the Initial Design of All Three Jobs

I created three files (business card, postcard, and banner) in InDesign. I chose the standard American business card size (2” x 3.5”), found an online printer and looked up oversized postcards (and chose 5.5” x 8.5”), and then found a banner maker online and chose a banner size (4′ x 8′). Since my client had not specified sizes for the jobs, I felt these would be good starting points. She could always request changes.

I placed the logos in all three files (and using “separations preview” I made sure all three jobs would separate into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, rather than into any spot colors). I added all text my client had provided, and then I started playing with type sizes to see how I could make everything fit while at the same time giving the proper emphasis to certain words and phrases. I chose a typeface for the text and headlines that would be compatible with the type used in my client’s logo.

Then I turned to color, and in order to emphasize certain elements of the design I added the accent color used in the logo (a light blue) to a few other elements of the design. Again I checked the “separations preview” screen to make sure any new elements within the jobs would separate into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Using common colors and typefaces, as well as my client’s logo, I came up with three designs for the business card, postcard, and banner that would provide a coherent “look.”

The Specification Sheet for the Three Custom Printing Jobs

I actually began to create the specification sheet for all three jobs while I was doing the design work. I have two monitors and two computers on my desk, and I worked back and forth, adjusting the specification sheet for the three jobs as I adjusted the design of the jobs themselves, noting size, paper, number of colors, bleeds, number of copies. I also specified the printing equipment (inkjet for the banner and electrophotography—HP Indigo–for the other two jobs).

Since I wasn’t sure about the paper stocks (my client might want a coated or uncoated sheet for the business cards), I chose 110# Finch Opaque white cover and also 14pt. white gloss C2S cover as an alternative. I checked online to make sure they were of approximately equal thickness. I will also ask the printer for his suggestions.

For the banner, I was also unsure of the ideal material, so I did some research online and came up with a fabric option and a vinyl option. I will also ask my printer’s opinion in this matter.

To be safe, I sent my client PDF files of the three initial mock ups of the job along with the specification sheet for feedback. I also sent the specification sheet to my printer for feedback and pricing.

Once I hear back from my client and the custom printing supplier, I will make design and technical adjustments as needed, pulling together all information from both my client and my printer, to provide the most attractive, as well as the most economical, printed products for my client’s trade show.

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