Surtex2015 Recap:

Ten Rules for Commercial Printing (or, do as I say and not what I did!)

So Surtex 2015 is over!!! Sigh of relief… All that planning and fussing and now I have at least six months before I need to start again.

One of the major things I did for Surtex this year was to create a branded giveaway packet in the hope that by spreading some free goodies around, I would also generate some after-the-show interest in my website from those buyers who took home a packet.

My trials and tribulations in creating that packet is the real subject of this blog post in the hope that I can make easier for you if you ever decide to create branded giveaway packages.

I wanted to give away something that had both my company name and some pattern design on it so I needed to search for a product that that could be printed in full color and hopefully full-bleed as well. If you have no clue what I mean by bleed, then this article is really for you!

After considering my options, I settled on having packs of post-it notes printed. I could put three different designs into each packet and even though the minimum quantity was 500 units, the final price was within my budget and there was no setup fee for preparing the printing plates (always ask!). Then the “fun” began.

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I tried to download a product template. No template. No instructions. I had the final image size and somehow I decided that that was the print size and not the trim size. Let me explain…

When you send something to a commercial printer and you want the image to cover the entire printed area from edge to edge, you need to start with a file that is larger than the size the product will become. Printers can’t print to the edge of paper—they need room. That extra room is called bleed. If you have an image with no bleed, then you are likely to end up with uneven margins since the trimming process to cut the paper down to size isn’t exact. That is why there is bleed. You add more image so it doesn’t matter as much where it gets cut.

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I have a background in prepress. I also taught it for several years at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, my brain shut off. In the absence of a template provided by the manufacturer and the instruction to send a file that was 3 inches by 3 inches for the 3×3 product, the idea of bleed went out of my head. VERY BAD MOVE… Do not let this happen to you! Rule 1: Always leave ¼ inch for bleed around an image and fill it with artwork as well.

The next place that ‘caught’ me was the “safe area”. Because the bleed adds about an extra ¼ inch to each side of the image, it’s easy to forget that some of this will get cut off—therefore making the margins on the image smaller. Products look very odd if you add type and the type ends up too close to the edge of the cut product. So, Rule 2 is: Always work inside the safe area—the area that won’t get cut and is far enough inside the final product size that type doesn’t jump off the sides. With no template, I forgot the safe area as well.

We could possibly add a Rule 3 here: Always insist that the printer give you a product template that includes bleed and trim and shows the safe area.

So, after my blunders, it isn’t surprising that things would go wrong, but in the “going wrong”, the printing was messed up in a totally baffling way.

I sent in my file as an editable PDF—just in case something needed to be changed. That was “bad move” number 4. I did not know anything about the company doing the printing (which in itself was a bit of a problem), however, by sending them an editable PDF, I was practically inviting trouble. Of course, if they had simply printed what I sent them, some of the issues would not have occurred. So, Rule 5: Send your PDF files to the printer in PDF/X1a:2001 format (from either Photoshop or Illustrator—or InDesign). This is a flat format. It does not have anything editable in it. That includes the type as well. I had wanted to make sure that the type printed well so I simply opted to use a different PDF format and to embed the type.

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Did you notice I skipped rule 4? It comes before rule 5. Convert your type to outlines. Always. Don’t worry about precise hinting for the font spacing as I did. Just grit your teeth and save the live type as outlines.

Rule 4: Always change your type to outlines before you send a file.

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This was, prior to the advent of the PDF format, the only way to avoid sending the actual font file which you usually don’t have the license to send legally. It allows the print house to print your file without their needing the exact font. Did you know that if you buy Helvetica, for example from one type foundry and your printer has a different foundry’s Helvetica, that the layout of your document is likely to change? “nuff said! Always make outlines.

Next comes the proofing stage. Rule 6: Make sure that you get a digital proof on which you must sign off before the product is printed.

The company was sort-of good about that one. The day after I send the artwork, I got back the first proof. It had my designs on it—and the original fruit! The fruit is a nice graphic but I certainly hadn’t planned on having it on top of my own patterns. I called the sales rep and they sent the artwork back for try 2. So far so good.

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My logo (for prancingpixel) consists of two letter P’s on different blocks of color. One P faces in the normal direction and the other one is flipped horizontally. However, they are parallel to each other and the same height. When I got back the second proof, all I really checked for was to make sure that the fruit was gone. In my eternal optimism, I knew the file I had sent so if the fruit left the design then only my original artwork would be there and it was print-ready (I thought) so what could go wrong???

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Rule 7: Always go over the proof with a fine tooth comb and compare every part of it to the original artwork you submitted.

Here is the full size of the proof I approved. It was so small that I could not see what I was approving. This leads to Rule 8: Insist on a large enough proof that you can read it all clearly (even on a tiny product) and don’t approve anything too tiny to see.

blogimage7So, the artwork was approved. The next step was to wait for delivery. It came quickly—about 4 days after the order was placed and with no notice that the printing had been done and something shipped.

Rule 9: Always ask to be sure that you get a shipping confirmation and a tracking number.

I opened the packages with great anticipation and happily took photos to post on Facebook to the groups to which I belong. It was then that I noticed that my prancingpixel logo was prancing! The two Ps of the logo were now in an up and down order like a merry-go-round at a carnival. I looked at it in disbelief.

blogimage8I then opened my PDF and tore through every single layer in the file to see how that could have happened. There was no way it was a possible for this to have happened—but there it was, right in front of me. I felt really ill.

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Again, I called the company. This time I was sure that I would have to pay again for a reprint since I had actually approved the mess. The company was amazing and said no, it was clearly their mistake and they would reprint for me and ship with no charge. I am not naming the company, but they were very good to work with about this.

However, I felt a burning need to figure out how it was possible that a logo of flat art with no live type in it could prance around. I got hold of an art manager and when I told her that all they had to do was to print my file, she said “Oh no,  we don’t trust PDF files so we open them in COREL DRAW and redo them…” Though I still think that Corel Draw needed human help to make such a botch of my logo, I was totally nonplussed. What professional company uses Corel Draw to open and proof PDFs???? I have never heard such a thing—even when the company boasts that they can print anything sent to them including logos that come in on the back of napkin

Rule 10: Ask what they will do with your PDF and if the answer contains anything but “print it”, run in the other direction as fast as possible!

I asked to see a proof again and this time I intended to read every bit of it. It was even smaller than the first proof (the proof images on this blog are the actual size of what I saw!)blogimage10Having learned though, I complained (again) and finally got a large proof so I could check it all. It was at that point I discovered that my type had been reset (good thing considering I had no bleed) but in the process, my patterns were no longer the same size as the ones I had sent. They were much larger in scale. I am a bit unsure how one can shrink the type and yet enlarge the patterns (or why) but at that point, I decided I could live with it. My logo did not have the same lovely curves as the original but again, since I had sent live type and it was not a common font, I decided to live with that as well.

blogimage11So, there you have it. Ten rules to follow that I know by heart and totally forgot in the excitement of my first Surtex display. Don’t do what I did!

Oh, there is a Rule 11 also, but I will talk about that one in my next post!

I got the new post-its in plenty of time to make my little packets, as you can see below. And it was a sort-of “happy ever after” but I was not at all happy about how I got to that point! Please follow my checklist the next time you need to print and save yourself a whole lot of grief and aggravation!

blogimage12In summary, here are the “rules” if you get the urge to get something printed for a trade show.

Rule 1: Always leave ¼ inch for bleed around an image and fill it with artwork as well.

Rule 2: Always work inside the safe area.

Rule 3: Always insist that the printer give you a product template that includes bleed and trim and shows the safe area.

Rule 4: Always change your type to outlines before you send a file.

Rule 5: Send your PDF files to the printer in PDF/X1a:2001 format unless told otherwise.

Rule 6: Make sure that you get a digital proof on which you must sign off before the product is printed.

Rule 7: Always go over the proof with a fine tooth comb and compare every part of it to the original artwork you submitted.

Rule 8: Insist on a large enough proof that you can read it all clearly (even on a tiny product) and don’t approve anything too tiny to see.

Rule 9: Always ask to be sure that you get a shipping confirmation and a tracking number.

Rule 10: Ask what they will do with your PDF and if the answer contains anything but “print it”, run in the other direction as fast as possible!

 

Meet the Author

Sherry London
9 comments… add one
  • MaryJane Mitchell May 27, 2015, 11:56 pm

    Sherry What a great blog post. Thanks for the 10. On another note, How was Surtex for you?
    love
    MJ

    • sherry_london@yahoo.com May 28, 2015, 4:56 pm

      MaryJane, thanks! I am glad that you liked it. Surtex was a learning experience and too soon to say what might come from it (grin)

  • Silvia May 28, 2015, 1:32 am

    Or skip any rules and go to a printer who knows what he is doing. And then make sure you know what they recommend and stick to them. Advising people to make a bleed of 1/4 or use setting PDFX1x/2001 is calling for trouble when this is not what your professional printer recommends. 1/4 inch of bleed is massive. My own professional printer uses 1 mm and PDFX2004. But they would not have the idea to open files in Corel Draw to redo them.

    • sherry_london@yahoo.com May 28, 2015, 4:59 pm

      Silvia, I don’t think any professional service bureau should be using CorelDraw in this day and age. However, I have been doing prepress for a lot of years and 1/8 to 1/4 inch bleed is standard with all of the printers with whom I have dealt.

      The best thing is of course for the print shop to TELL YOU what they need to see. What should have happened here is that the company should have told me that I needed to recreate and resubmit my file–not redo it for me to something that was really odd…

  • Suzanne Washington May 28, 2015, 3:49 am

    Great post! ha ha I feel your pain which is why I really don’t like product development much…anything that asks for ‘print-ready’ artwork gives me chills! Thanks for all the tips!

    • sherry_london@yahoo.com May 28, 2015, 5:00 pm

      Suzanne, thanks. I totally understand. My next post will be about working with Moo–which was a totally difference experience and they did everything right!

      You do need be able to talk to the printer to get the specs that THEY need.

  • Monna May 28, 2015, 7:52 am

    Great advice. I also taught prepress at Moore College of Art.

    • sherry_london@yahoo.com May 28, 2015, 5:01 pm

      Thanks! I taught there at some point in the early 1990’s and certainly a lot has changed since then!

  • Teresa May 29, 2015, 2:47 pm

    very helpful posts. Scares me into submission with the checklist. Hope Surtex was favorable experience that rains prosperity and delight for you.

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