Print Production


Final production is just as important as concept development. If you spend hours upon hours of perfecting a project, the last thing you want as a designer is for your piece to be poorly printed for a presentation. While the role of a designer is to create, it is also important for designers to be knowledgeable of how their project will be brought to life. A designer must adequately prepare their files and be diligent about communicating their needs to the party responsible for printing. This means:

-Checking the document content for correct resolution settings of images and making sure they are set at 300dpi for print (72 for web).

-Making sure the color mode of all content has been converted to CMYK

-Ensuring the document has the correct bleed setting

-Checking to make sure all font choices are accurate and any font done in illustrator has been converted to outlines to retain consistency.

-Create a file with all document images

-Create a file with all document fonts

-Include a detailed dummy comp

-Write a detailed note regarding printing instructions you can attach to your document for production.

Another important aspect of a final design is the way in which the audience will experience and interact with the printed material. This means making educated decisions about the kind of paper or material the piece will be printed on, and how the different kinds of inks will interact with that materials surface. Always do several comps of different weighted and finished surfaces to see which will give you the effect you desire.


This article is an interview conducted in 2010, with a professional who specializes in print production for high-end photography and design publications. The interview covers the print and design process before computers and provides some really interesting insight into what print production looked like prior to the technology boom of the late 1990’s/2000’s.

I found this article really intriguing, because while reading the unit on Print Production in, Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design by David Dabner, Sandra Stewart and Eric Zempol, I realized how much we as designers, and creators in general, rely on technology instead hand production. I know we now live in an age where time really does mean money, but I feel we have lost key tools and concepts that are better understood by doing production by hand.

Before computers, and all of the high-tech design software and high-speed internet, all design had to be done by hand. Proofs, type, image setting, margin and grid structures, everything was done by cutting, pasting, and photography. Design projects were done by several people, each contributing in an area of design or production in which they were the most skilled, and having a publication printed was much more complex then just compressing a file and emailing it to a print shop. According to the article, this is how a file was formatted to be sent for printing:

“The printer actually got a mechanical, and each mechanical would represent a page in the book and would be to size. So if you were working on a 9.25 inch by 11.75 inch book, that mechanical would be that size and on a cardboard or a stiffer paper. You would actually have these photostats that were pasted down onto the mechanical that would indicate to the separator exactly the size, the placement and the position of each image. And let’s say there was a rule that reproduced on a page, it would be drawn as a hard rule, right on the mechanical around the photostat. And if there was type, it had to be sent out to the type place, and you would get photostatic type art back and that had to be pasted down exactly to size and where it was supposed to reproduce on the page.

For a 500-page book, there’d be 500 mechanicals, and they’d take a picture of each of those mechancials, and then they’d take the transparencies or the flat art and have to scan it. Then they’d get four pieces of film back from the scanner for the magenta, yellow,  black and cyan — each of the four colors, and then they’d have to strip all of that up for different layers to match that mechanical.

So each of those 500 pages had physically four sets of film that would then make plates that you could make proofs from. The color ink proofs would go back to the client, and the client would make corrections and changes and then the designers would have to start all over again: revise that mechanical, maybe make a new photostat if the positioning was wrong, and send it back to the separator. They’d rescan the same image but at a different percentage, redo the film, redo the plates and send another ink proof back. It was incredible the kind of labor and steps that went into that. It was all film and it was very very different.”



This is a photograph of a color proof from before you were able to use software to “spec” colors in a document.


This is an example of a “mechanical”. You can see the image is set, as well as margins indicated by the tape, and there are some kind of instructions written out for the printer to follow.


This is a photostat being used to copy images of the “mechanicals” that have been put together by hand. This is like a modern day xerox machine .


These pen-like tools are called rapidographs. Before the “pen tool,” these pens were used to create grids and margins on publication document.


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