|PSPRINT ONLINE PRINTING GUIDE
Dealing with colors
Online printing is a very convenient service that gives a low cost solution to everyone who needs to have their business cards, custom flyers, personalized posters, brochures and any other type of print done quickly and effectively. You simply upload your files through the Internet, make your paper, color and design choices, and have your printed materials delivered to your door.
Even if you do not have previous experience with online printing, getting your prints to look exactly the way you want is simple and intuitive. To make this process easier for you, we have developed this PsPrint Online Printing Guide.
This Guide aims to help you discover everything you need to ensure your print will be exactly what you want, in terms of colors, paper and all the different aspects that are vital for a top-quality, vivid “on-paper” version of your requirements.
We hope you enjoy reading this guide and find it clear, educative and, most of all, useful.
DEALING WITH COLORS
CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These are the basic colors used in four-color process printing. They are combined to produce a wide range of final colors, and, believe it or not, these four colors can accurately represent high quality, colorful images and designs such as, for example, a vivid photograph.
The way this combination works is very similar to the way an image is generated on your computer’s screen: each color is formed by mixing certain quantities of the basic colors. The main difference is that, for your PC’s monitor, the basic colors are RGB (Red-Green-Blue) instead of CMYK.
In order to effectively obtain the desired printing results, every image on your screen must be converted from the RGB color system to the CMYK color system before printing. This will ensure that the color combination will be the best possible, as the ink-mixing is calculated by your graphics software rather than the printer. RGB is less accurate than CMYK and doesn’t handle the heavy routines necessary to process and generate accurate conversions on the fly.
Sometimes you will need a specific color on your printing, not just an approximation. This is particularly true when you need to accurately reproduce a business logo or a representative image or design that needs to match other printed designs.
Selecting a specific color is a task that cannot be left “to the eye”, since the same color sometimes looks different on different screens, or under different light conditions. Besides, on-screen colors are made of RGB values, not CMYK. For this reason, a matching system is required to ensure that the printer will effectively produce the exact same color that the designer wants.
The most widely known and used system is the Pantone Matching System, or PMS. The Pantone color library is a big table containing thousands of colors, each one with a specific name.
Generally speaking, both spot color printing and CMYK printing have their own pros and cons. CMYK is a low cost solution to achieve a really wide range of colors, although many of those colors are just close approximations. In contrast, Spot colors give you the possibility to match a specific color exactly. However, the extra ink is an added cost and might not suitable for brochures, flyers or other prints that need to be produced at low-cost.
If you take a close look at a magazine, book or newspaper picture, you’ll see that it is made of tiny little dots of different colors, arranged so close together to give the feeling of more or less color strength. This is more noticeable on grayscale pictures, such as those on newspapers, in which the image is produced in several shades of gray despite that only black ink is used.
Halftones are useful to print color dithering, and to simulate shadows. Taking advantage of paper color, halftones are a great way to produce nice printing effects.
Duotones are halftone images made with two colors. Typically, one of the colors is black. By varying color intensities, the duotone image can be way better than a plain grayscale image. Similarly, Tritones and Quadtones are halftone representations using three and four colors respectively.
The general (and obvious) rule, the more colors in the halftone, the more realistic the printed image will be, but of course the more expensive too. If cost is an absolute priority, you can go with a Duograph (known as a “fake duotone”). A duograph is in fact a one-color halftone printed on top of a solid color background, in a way that simulates a true duotone. However, the image quality is highly inferior to that of a duotone.
If you are thinking of using a quadtone, you should consider a full CMYK printing, as it uses the same amount of colors (thus making the costs very similar) and allows for more accurate and defined images and designs.
In addition to the amount of ink colors used, the color of the paper should be chosen carefully, as it can heavily change the way a completed project looks. If chosen correctly, the right paper color can allow a designer to “play” a little, producing great effects due to color contrast. However, a bad color paper choice may make the printing much less appealing to the eye.
Most designers will choose white paper for their jobs, especially for projects involving photographs. This is because everything that is white on a design will end up being the same color of the chosen paper, which can severely affect the way a photograph looks.
A valid alternative is using a white paper with a very light background tint printed on it. This will allow you to visually simulate a colored paper while preserving the photograph’s white color. However, this may not be an option if you need a more professional finish, because the background will be made of tiny little dots, which will be evident in a close look.
Believe or not, even white paper is colored. They come with a subtle shade of another color. Thus, you may find gray-shaded white paper, cream, green, blue or even pink shaded white paper. This shades are so subtle that, if examined separately, all of those papers look all white; however you will see the differences if you put different white papers one next to each other for comparison.
If you are unsure of what paper color you should choose, here’s a quick way to find out: print your design on your regular printer (that is, your computer “normal” printer), on a transparent sheet. Take that transparency to your paper shop and place it over your possible paper choices, and see which color suits your project best. This, of course, will not look exactly the same as your professional finished printout, but it will help you get an approximate idea of how it will look.
Keep in mind that colored paper is usually a bit more expensive than white paper, so if you need a large amount of printing (flyers, for instance), this can represent a higher total cost.
There are a lot of possible paper choices, and this can be overwhelming, especially if you have no previous experience in professional printing. However, choosing the right paper is not so difficult: the most important thing to do is to consider what you are printing.
The main difference between coated and uncoated paper is that uncoated paper is more porous, and thus absorbs more ink, than coated paper. This means basically two things:
Ink takes more time to dry on a coated paper sheet; and
The results will be less accurate on an uncoated paper sheet, because the ink bleeds into the paper due to its absorption, blurring the printed halftone.
Uncoated paper is usually less expensive than coated paper, which makes it a great choice for large jobs, especially if printing quality is not a very important issue. In addition, uncoated paper doesn’t irritate the eye when reading for a long time. Newspapers, books, flyers, forms and similar projects are typically printed on uncoated paper.
Coated paper tends to be more expensive, but makes printing jobs look more accurate and professional. Typically, coated paper is used to print business cards, brochures, postcards catalogs, and the like. There are many types of coating, depending on its brightness and texture. Matte, glossy and aqueous (water-resistant) are examples of coated paper.
The term “opacity” refers to the ability of a paper to stop light from passing through. Simply put, a low opacity paper will let the reader see what is underneath, and a more opaque paper will prevent that from happening. Typically, newspapers, books and photographic projects that would look bad if the reader could see what’s under the print are printed on high-opacity papers. Low opacity (i.e. more transparent) paper can be used for fine wedding invitations or similar projects.
Some projects, like postcards and business cards, will need to be printed on thick paper. Thick paper tends to be more resistant and heavier, and also more expensive. Books, magazines and similar projects that are printed on thick paper will seem to have more pages than they actually do. The right paper thickness depends on your specific project, but as a rule of thumb, postcards, cards and brochures will need paper that is thicker than that used for newspapers and flyers.
Although in some cases this may be not true, generally speaking the thickness of a paper is directly related to its weight. The weight of a paper is defined as the weight of 500 standard-sized sheets of paper, in pounds. The main aspect of the paper that directly influences its weight is its thickness; although it’s possible to find paper that is heavier than others while being less thick (i.e. coated paper is heavier than uncoated paper, so it’s possible to find uncoated paper sheets that are both thicker and less heavy than same-sized coated sheets.) Paper thickness is measured in points, and 12 pt. is considered very heavy cover stock.
The brightness of a paper is a measure of how well it reflects ambient light. Coated paper is brighter than uncoated paper. The right brightness will help your printing seem more vivid, especially photographs. Except for flyers, newspapers and other projects that don’t require a very high quality, a bright paper is usually a good choice; beware, however, of choosing a paper that is too bright, because this may make reading difficult.
The stronger the paper, the more resistant and durable it is. The strength of a paper is and indication of its physical properties, such as elasticity and flexibility. Special projects that will require a strong kind of paper include paper bags and big posters.
One of the key elements to consider for your project is the size of the paper sheets you will use.
Although paper sizes are standardized, with typical predefined sizes for business cards, postcards, brochures, books and more, there are differences depending on the standard you use. In the U.S., U.K. and Canada, the most common standard for paper sizes is the non-metric standard.
In this standard, paper sizes are measured in inches, with weight preceding height. Thus, “12x18” refers to a paper sheet that is 12 inches wide and 18 inches high. There are many other standards, so you should ask your printer which one they use, and their non-metric equivalent.
When choosing the size of the paper, you should consider minimizing paper waste. Sometimes is better to choose a bigger size if it let’s you accommodate more designs on the same sheet, cutting down paper waste and reducing the number of required printed sheets.
Envelope printing can be tricky, but once you got it right it will be really easy. The key is to choose an envelope size that is much bigger than what you need to print on it. This way, you can prevent errors and unexpected costs.
Envelopes come in a variety of sizes and shapes, being the most common:
Announcement: Commonly used for postcards and invitations.
Baronial: Used mostly for formal invitations, i.e. wedding invitations.
Booklet: These are used for mailing catalogs, folders, etc.
Commercial: These are the most common. They are used to send letters, documents and all kinds of everyday mailing.
Catalog: These envelopes are used for sending magazines, reports, catalogs and similar material.
Bleeds are objects that go beyond the defined paper limits for cutting. Suppose you are printing a brochure or any other project that requires an image to be placed in contact with the border of the document, then you will need to use bleeds.
The process of cutting a sheet of paper may not be exact; many possible causes of error may cause your job to be trimmed the wrong way. Bleeds give some room for errors, preventing any inconvenience that an inaccurate trimming may cause.
Here is an image explaining bleeds.
Varnishing is a process that helps protect your final work by applying a protective layer above the already-printed job. Basically, it can be thought of as “non-colored ink”. Varnish makes your print brighter, and it’s better when applied on coated paper (because uncoated paper will absorb most of the varnish before it dries).
You should not use varnish on a paper that is already too bright, as the result may make it difficult for a person to read your page.
Depending on the nature of your online printing project, you may consider additional processing of your printouts, to make it look more professional and more useful.
You can do several things with your pages, depending on the intended use of your print job’s results:
Binding & Stitching: Booklets, calendars, notepads and similar projects will need to have all the pages joined together. This can be done by binding (a wire-spiral joins all the pages together) or by stitching (saddle-stitching is used mostly for booklets).
Perforation: Perforation consists on making holes on the paper, to allow people to separate it easily (usually by hand). This process is used mostly for tickets, as well as coupons. The holes are usually small, and can be round holes or have a dotted-line pattern.
Hole Drilling: This process is used for sheets that are intended to be stored into folders. Typically, hole drilling are used for personal planners’ and some calendar sheets.
Die Cut: Die-cutting is a process consisting in cutting a sheet of paper into a non-standard (i.e. non-rectangular) shape. Coloring books for children are typically die-cut. Many printers like PsPrint have readily available cutting dies that you can use; or you can make your own custom one for an additional price.
Scoring & Folding: This process is usually applied to postcards and similar projects, allowing them to be folder without forming unsightly creases.
Numbering & Secure Foil: This process consists on applying a hologram or another design on the printout, as well as assigning a unique number to each sheet. This is useful to make each ticket unique and to prevent it from being copies. Secure foil and numbering is used for concert or event tickets.
ONLINE PRINTING METHODS
Depending on your desired printing quality, there are many possible choices when it comes to printing methods. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, and of course each one may suit a different budget.
Offset printing is a technique in which the actual printing is made by a rubber blanket. This blanket has been transferred the printing image from a plate, and then is used to actually “stamp” the ink on the paper. An image setter is used to make the film that will be used to generate the metal printing plate.
It is usually combined with lithography, a process that consists on chemically treat the metal plates to accept oil while reject water, relying on the principle that water and oil don’t mix. Ink sticks to the plate where needed, and then the ink pattern is transferred to the rubber blanket.
This offset lithography printing method produces high quality printing and less deformation, because the rubber blanket adapts itself to the texture of the paper. This printing method also preserves the plates from damage, because they don’t come in direct contact with the paper surface. Offset printing is ideal for high volume printing jobs that require a good quality.
The direct-to-plate printing method is similar to the offset method, except for one thing: the metal plates are made directly from a computer file rather than from film, which cuts down costs. The disadvantage is that, as there is no film involved, there’s no possibility to make a color correct proof before making the plate. Instead, you can get a digital color proof, which is less costly but also less accurate than a film color proof.
The elimination of the film-creation step effectively reduces costs, so direct-to-plate printing is a much recommended choice for those projects that don’t rely on exact color matching.
Digital printing is, in fact, a fancy form of color photocopying. It doesn’t vary too much from the regular printing that anyone can do in their home with their computers and an inkjet printer. Although, of course, the actual printer used is a bit more powerful and professional than a home, regular one.
In this method, the image is sent directly to the printer: no film, no plates. For low-quantity printings, this is the most cost-effective solution, although for bigger bulks offset or direct-to-plate should be used.
Although substantially cheaper, digital printing can only work with CMYK colors (i.e. no Pantone or other spot colors), and thus it may not be ideal for certain projects.
Before deciding on which method to use, you should ask your printer what options they offer, and also what is the minimum quantity. It’s not uncommon to find that a supposedly cheaper method is indeed more expensive for larger jobs.
With a working knowledge of how online printing works, you are now ready to you’re your designs to your printer. Before you submit your project, however, you should go through this checklist. If you miss one of these items, you may get undesired delays, or even end up with completely unusable printed pages.
Carefully check the files you will need to send the printer. Be sure no file is missing, and remember that you will need to convert your files to CMYK color format, as it’s possible that they are in RGB. Double or triple check everything before submitting, or you may regret it later.
Check your designs for special colors that CMYK might not reproduce. These spot colors might have to be added on top of the four main colors for extra cost. If possible, try replacing it with a shade that CMYK can replicate.
Be sure to specify the exact paper you need your prints on. If you use a colored paper, provide the exact color code to your printer, not just a descriptive name. Also, remember to tell the right paper weight and thickness, opacity and type of paper to your printer, to avoid any possible confusion. Don’t let them decide on any particular subject, instead, supply them with complete and accurate information.
The size of the paper is also a major consideration; make sure you know which standard they use for measuring paper sizes (i.e. non-metric vs. ISO), and supply them with the correct information.
If your project will require special post-print designs like drilled holes, die-cutting or perforation, be sure you are concise and clear when explaining this to your printing company.
Make sure you clearly understand the pricing scheme, according to the quantity of prints you need. Also, be sure that you have a clear understanding of the timing involved (time before color proof, time of actual delivery time, etc.)
The typical printing process is rather simple. It involves a few steps that are necessary to ensure the best possible results. The process can be summarized like this:
Submit designs: The first step, of course, is for you to reach an agreement with your printer and send them all your files and requirements, so they can start working.
Printer develops proof: Within a day, the printing company will be ready to make a proof-print. Luckily, this will be similar to how the completed project will look. They may check that proof themselves for any mistake they may have made, and reprint it if they find something that is their fault.
Printer sends proof: After 2 to 3 days, the printer will send the proof for you to check everything is correct. You should check it thoroughly, as once you approve it, the file becomes final. Check for color exactitude (if you chose to use spot colors), and make sure there are no typos.
After proofing: If you find that everything is in order, then you will contact the printer and tell them to proceed with the work. If you are not happy with the proof, make the necessary changes and re-submit it to the printer. Start over from step b) until everything is perfect.
Printing: After approval, your printer will start the actual printing process. Depending on the quality of service and the type of project, it may take up to 10 days for the printing to be completed.
Shipping: The printer will ship the completed job to you. Shipping costs will depend on the shipping method used, the weight of the final job, and the cost of the actual printing (usually printers offer discounts on shipping for large projects).
Receiving the printouts: After these steps are completed, you will receive the finished job. If you need to receive the results quicker, it may be possible to ask for express printing, which will allow you to get your prints within a week, but at an additional cost, or premium.
As you can see, getting the right online printing results is easy. Having your dream designs printed on paper is easy, may be much less expensive than you may think, help you deliver your message, and you will be pleasantly surprised.