There are common problems that resurface almost daily with graphic design file submissions. The accuracy and completeness of those files are the responsibility of whoever prepared them. Recently, a new industry study confirmed what printers already knew: over 70% of files fail preflight. In the previous study, some 6 years ago, the figure was 75%. Why is this still happening? First and foremost, many graphic designers simply lack the adequate training and experience to understand and apply the software applications they are using. Simply put: they are not really professional graphic designers (let’s be honest: many are free-lancing and not on the permanent staff of anyone, which lends to less accountability). A professional knows their craft, its’ responsibilities and is able to perform their job with a clear understanding of how their job and the work they perform affects others. For example, a framing carpenter has to check the squareness of their work (using a calibrated level or laser), even when the human eye would not notice any degree of imperfection? Why? Because he can create a nightmare for a dry-waller who has to deal with walls that are not plumb.
Print designers have to realize that the final product is ink (oil based) on paper (less expensive than proofing paper), not toners on cast coated substrates. They must also realize (and accept the responsibility for) the way in which they do their job affects the final results, and the printer (hopefully ) has a much more sophisticated and expensive calibration method and equipment than the designers does, or should need. We have over $26,000 alone invested in spectrophotometers, densitometers, monitor calibrators, and G7 calibration (the international proofing standard) costs. Not to mention that 3rd party contractors monitor and audit our proofing system to the same international standards.
In addition, the fundamentals of Offset Printing, color theory and many other technical issues in printing are no longer taught in design school, or even by employers in the industry. The digital age has made it so easy to create files that the fundamentals are not understood. Let me give you a simple example: when reviewing color proofs, designers will often question why the printers’ proofs do not match the one they created on their office output device. The primary reasons for this are: calibration, the proofing device(s) used, and the inks or toners used for the proof. They are comparing the proof created on a $500 printer with that created on a $10,000 device. Why is the price important? Because a $500 device cannot be calibrated as accurately and produce proofs as consistently as a $10,000 device. Secondly, the designer simply has to attempt to create a proof that they like, without regard for the actual color gamut that is achievable with a given set of process color inks. It is that gamut that determines what the final product (ink on paper) will look like. But how many designers actually know what the color gamut is? Or how can it be increased? Unfortunately, not very many…
This is an illustration of the various color gamuts achievable with our human vision (the color capabilities of the cones and rods in our eyes), what offset inks can reproduce, what a monitor can reproduce and what PMS color capabilities are. ie. just because I can see it on a monitor does not mean that it is reproducible with offset inks; nor are all proofs (in an uncalibrated system) reproducible using only C-M-Y-K.
Various Colors Achievable, Depending on the Media Used
A proof that is made from a high quality (expensive) inkjet proofer is generated from either a dye-based or pigment-based ink. The ink used on the actual lithographic printing is an oil based pigment, with a vehicle, pigment and additive components. So, the job of the printer is to CALIBRATE their shop conditions to the type of proofing paper, inkjet inks, job stock and process color inks so they all match (in addition to their monitors in Prepress). If I am a designer, I can (unfortunately) simply color correct and use varying levels of saturation on my proofer and in Photoshop in order to achieve ONE COPY of what I like. Is it reproducible accurately? Who knows? It is like creating a copy of the Mona Lisa using acrylic paints on a canvas, handing it to the printer and saying, “I want 10,000 exactly like this” – and by the way, you cannot use acrylic paints or a canvas substrate”. See the problem? Two very different worlds: The creativity and labor of a “one-off masterpiece” vs. the needs for an appreciation of the technical aspects of mass production on an economical scale.
The industry will continue to be required to train customers in the technical aspects of lithography, which is still both art and science. While the science may not be as interesting to someone who is creative, without an adequate knowledge of it, the designer will become frustrated and often disappointed in the results. My suggestions?
1. Make sure your salespeople understand these issues, and can explain them eloquently.
2. Tell your client what color profile to use in their desktop applications, or provide one for them to use.
More to come …