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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tips when dealing with print shops

Consider your options

Before ducking into your nearest print shop or scouring through the Yellow Pages for a local printer (seriously, why would you be looking at OTHER print shops? for shame!), it’s a good idea to check Google for one that does most of its business online. You’d be surprised at how easy it can be to deal with them, and amazed by the great variety of products they are capable of producing. In many cases, you’ll also find that the quality of the end product is as good as the one you would get from a local provider, but at a lower price.

Note that many printers you'll find via Google, are also local providers in their communities—maybe your community—so while you may want to support your local printer, consider the possibility that your local vendor also does business online (yep, we do tons of our business online!).

Know your files

The first important step toward a successful print job is sending your documents in the right format. Most online print providers have become adept at accepting a wide range of files—from Microsoft Word documents to bitmap images, but most of these formats have a number of pitfalls.

For example, Word documents only render properly if all the fonts they contain are installed on the host machine, which may not be the case for the computer your printer uses. Bitmap fonts, on the other hand, only support a fixed resolution and could make text and line art appear jagged.

The golden standard, then, is to use a format that leaves as little to chance as possible. In the past, this meant using something like Adobe’s Encapsulated PostScript (EPS), but, these days, almost every printer will accept PDF files.

Find the right paper

Choosing the right paper for your job is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

There are three important factors to consider. The first is the color of the paper—even “white” could mean a number of different shades and hues, with those tending towards yellow (like ivory or cream) being better suited to formal products, like invitations or greeting cards, while cooler whites are more appropriate for image reproduction.

The second element to keep in mind is weight. Heavier paper—made of thicker stock—is perfect for documents composed of individual sheets, like posters, pictures, or business cards. Thinner paper is usually better for multi-page documents, but the lighter the stock, the cheaper it will feel in your hands.

Your third choice will be one of shine. Glossy paper brings out the vibrance in colors, which makes it particularly appropriate for photographs and art. Matte paper, on the other hand, produces a more readable output by reducing glare and reflection, and is therefore better for text. Glossy paper also tends to be more difficult to write on—something to keep in mind if you’re printing things like reply cards or forms.

Understand how your documents are printed

Printers will typically print your documents using one of two methods: digital or offset.

Digital printing is performed using machines that compose each document directly from its digital representation—basically, the same way the printer in your office does. Obviously, print shops use professional equipment which produce better-looking output than your personal inkjet, but, generally speaking, a digital press trades quality in favour of speed and cost.

Offset printing, on the other hand, works by first etching your document onto a set of metallic plates (typically one for each primary color), and then using the plates to transfer ink onto paper in the right places.

Offset printers produce much better output then their digital counterparts, but are more complex—and, therefore, expensive—to operate. To put things in perspective, it’s not unusual for one of these machines to require hundreds of wasted sheets of paper to “make ready,” that is, to uniformly ink up all the plates so that they can be used for printing the final product.

Embrace the process

Armed with a little knowledge, going from digital file to fine printed product should be easy and inexpensive; with a little planning, the look of crisp, fresh ink on paper is just a few clicks away.