We get a lot of questions in regards to what should my file spec be, what should I do with X and Y, how should I do my black etc. etc. and a large majority of the time we suggest to ask the printer which is an accurate assumption. Even though I think this is an accurate answer I think we should have a question that would help educate designers on what questions they should ask the printer. Knowing the right questions can help determine if the printer is professional and if you can meet the requirements. So my question is when print designing what questions should I ask to make sure my designs are compatible and high quality for print?
Ask them if they have a template?
At our print shop we offer a full template selection that allows designers to enter in their desired output and it will email them a template file. We did this because many questions and files we received proved to be an issue in regards to accurate bleed, trim, and non-print elements.
What black do you guys print?
Registration black is 100% CMYK which is an inaccurate black and should never be used as other than registration marks and our prints vary by the printer we use.
What are the desired file type?
Some shops hate
What are your bleed settings?
Most shops typically have the same bleed but some shops try to cut costs and can reduce the amount of bleed to save on material waste.
What is the stock being used?
Knowing the stock that will be printed on (such as gloss or matte) can render different color outputs. If this is the case you can address this with the client and make the proper adjustments for accurate color.
Are there certain stocks for BW printing apposed to full color printing
Some print shops will limit the stock used in either black and white printing or full color printing due to costs.
Ask if a few color interior pages in a BW job would classify the job as full color
Some shops would rather run a BW job in CMYK if a few interior files are in color or insert based on the quantity.
If I send in a PDF what should the settings be?
We recommend a certain
For PDF delivery, spreads or single pages?
Single page PDFs are customarily preferred, however some shops require printer imposed spreads in order to reproduce a multi-page publication accurately.
Do you offer black and white printing and what should the specs be?
Good question for shops that will be printing black as CMYK or just K.
How should my images be for black and white printing?
We require images for black and white printing to be converted to grey-scale but this may change based on how their black and white printing is done.
What is the lightest opacity I can use if CMYK printing?
Some people would like blockquotes to be as light as possible but still visible and some use a light color with a very low opacity. We require nothing less than 20% opacity but it may change on machine.
Can I get a proof and is it free or do I have to pay?
Before a large run its better to get a sample proof then risk dropping a lot of money..
Do you accept or convert Pantone colors?
At our shop we deny any prints with Pantones but some shops can print Pantones or charge to convert to CMYK. Depending on the printer some presses are set-up to have X color runs. Knowing if they can print CMYK plus a Pantone helps if a client has a targeted color for their brand but some newer machines only offer CMYK.
Do you offer CMYK,Lc,Lm for my photographic publication?
Some machines offer LC and LM printing options when it comes to printing photography because it extends the customary four color CMYK process, by adding light cyan (lower case c) and light magenta (lower case m). The light cyan and light magenta inks are essentially a washed out version of the cyan and magenta inks. Reference to Wiki.
I have a multi-page publication, what are the requirements for gutter, creep, and spine?
For publications with multiple pages the print provider may have a minimum gutter requirement in addition to any live area requirement. Creep can be a factor if a publication has many pages. Creep measurements and the width of the spine in perfect bound publications can only be determined by using the width of the stock to be printed on. Customarily the printer provider will be able to factor these measurements quickly and provide numbers.
Will my prints be consistent or will you notify me of a printer change?
This is a good question I currently ran into. After you send a print to a printer, they send you a proof, and you approve the print but the print quality and color accuracy changes if a new printer is introduced into the equation or they outsource regularly to different vendors based on availability. However, you already approved the print but they wont tell you they are changing the printer when you place a re-order.
In regards to screen printing:
Specific to screen printing
In addition to other answers, specific questions For advertising...
What is the live area of the advertisement?
What is the color breakout? If less than 4 color, what inks (spot)?
What are the file requirements?
Should bleeds and marks be included?
For advertisements in digital publications
All of the above in addition to...
If reproduced digitally, can live links exist in a supplied PDF?
Color space to be used?
The one question you should definitely ask is:
What are your pre-press document requirements?
I come late to the party so there is no much to add, but here are my humble additions:
My art uses overprinting. Will you be able to do so?
I have found that many printers get confused when art uses overprinting, because (apparently) it is not used very often. I always highlight this to them so they are aware that I will be using it. I often set the areas with overprinting to both overprint and multiply, just to make sure is not missed.
I am using unusual inks (such as metal inks). Do you have any suggestions on the order in which they can be printed or overprinted?
Unusual inks can be scary if they are not used correctly. I have seen boxes peeling off because the art was overprinted on a metal flood and it never cured. Highlighting to the printer that you are using the unusual ink and asking for their opinion is always a great idea. Sometimes different printers have different ways of working with the ink. This question might also raise flags that nobody had noticed. Metal inks might need extra curing time, which might move the deadline and/or add to the final cost, for example.
What types of finish do you offer/work with? Do they have any special requirements?
I notice that every time I go to print a project, there are a myriad of new finishes that I did not know existed. I always end up with a new swash book of finishes, which is great. They have sometimes special requirements such as extra curing time or incompatibility with metal inks, so it is always good to ask.
Can the finish be applied inline?
A finish that can be applied inline saves time. Not all finishes come in this style though, and not all printers carry all of them. Sometimes asking this question just allows you to learn that the finish you had selected was an old fashion one that needed for the ink to be 100% cured but they have a new one that can be applied inline and be done with it as opposed to waiting for the curing time.
Can the finish be spot-applied?
Not all finishes can be applied in only a spot (area). This depends on the actual finish and on the actual press the provider has.
Do you offer embossing? What types? How should I provide the art?
If either the embossing plates or the whole embossing task are outsourced then there might be different requirements to how you provide the art.
How accurate is the registration of the embossing? What is the maximum acceptable error margin?
Depending on the type of embossing and how old the provider machinery is they might not be able to assure the embossed area will be 100% registered with the art. It is always good to know so in advance to avoid surprises and adapt the art to their capabilities.
What is the maximum acceptable error margin for trimming?
If the trimming is not as straightforward as a rectangle (think a cosmetics box as opposed to a magazine spread) and if their machinery is old, then they might not be able to assure a very tight registration. It is good to know so and to adapt the art for trimming variations.
Do you offer barcode testing?
Certain inks (such as metal inks, for example) render barcodes illegible. Horrible thing to find when the product has already been delivered to the retailer. Most printers I have worked with offer the service of testing the barcode after is printed just to make sure it is readable. They offer this for free, but I often find that if I don't ask for it, they don't do it.
Is any part of the process outsourced?
Sometimes finishing, embossing and trimming are outsourced, because they require extra machinery that the printer might not be interested in buying. If you are adding another provider to the process it is always good to know so, particularly if you need to complain or fine tune. If the other provider is hidden behind the printer and your printer is not doing a good job on representing you, then it can get tricky and add time to the deadline.
Can you assure you will not edit my art once I send it? If you need to do so, can you please let me know what you are doing or, better, let me do it?
This sounds like an idiotic question, but sometimes some adventurous printers take liberties and move things around to fix production problems you might have missed or change colours because they think you made a mistake. Highlighting to them that you don't want them to do so is a good idea. There is usually more than one way of overcoming a production problem and their choice of solution might not be the one you might have preferred.
Can I come to a press approval?
I love press approvals because it is fascinating to see my digital work turned into actual plates and ink; I think offset presses are awesome (as in awe inspiring) and I also learn a lot from press operators. But besides my personal geeky fascinations I find that coming to the a press approval, at least the first run of a project, allows me to catch problems that would have been terrible to catch when the whole thing is already run (like misunderstanding overprinting) and sometimes make last minute decisions (like "OK, overprinting metal is not working, forget about the metal, make it black"). It also allows me to see how careful the printer is. Sometimes they can be sloppy if they are under tight deadlines (hickies much?). Make sure not to micromanage, though, (note to myself) and to trust they know what they are doing.
Hum. I am not answering the question you asked:
becouse as a designer it is my obligation to know how to send a proper file depending on my project.
I am answering this:
When I interview a new provider, what questions should I ask to find out if the provider is suitable for my quality and project needs?
This are not in a specific order, some are verey technical and the vendor probably dosen't know, so I ask permission to talk to the technical staff.
There are machines that print 1 color at a time, or 2, or 4 for a color selection, or more to print some spot colors on the fly. (lithography)
Normally I include my own color bars.
If they dosen't use one, they are only "gessing" the color comparing it to some sample. If they use a Swop color type they are controlling the color by "hand", and if they are using color patches, they most likley are using a densitometer or similar to control the color.
The 2 most important questions
This questions are only for the printed part of a process and mostly for offset printing, but gives a idea of some technical issues I need to know.