Category Archives: Prepress Desk

Prepress Desk – Creating the Wow with Varnishes and Coatings

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Everything that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s varnish or UV coating. Due to its physical nature, print marketing offers an opportunity to engage with an audience like no other media. And, with great opportunity comes great creativity.

Printed media has a long history, almost as long as the story itself. It is a well-trusted form of media because of its historic use in communication, physical attributes, and the ability to be retained and recalled. Print is known; it is comfortable and expected. Print does not interject itself in our busy schedules. It can be enjoyed at one’s leisure. Print can be touched, held, folded and interacted with. Print can be saved, read and reread. All of these features create an environment that is real and offers communication at one’s own pace. This creates trust; trust in the message and trust in the brand.

Even with its remarkable track record of being a trusted form of communication, print media sometimes needs a little more to cut through the crowd, something more than just ink on paper. One option for taking print to another level is to add finishing techniques like varnishes and UV coatings.

Though ink on paper can be beautiful in itself, a varnish or UV coating can add that wow factor. There is a difference between varnishes and UV coatings. A varnish is applied with the same press that prints the image; one of the printing units contains the varnish and applies it to the sheet just like ink. It can be applied during the same print run as the image, referred to as inline, or can be applied to an already printed and dry sheet, referred to as dry-trap. Applying varnish inline is more efficient because the printed image and the varnish are applied on the same press run. However, inline varnish tends to not have as strong of an effect because the varnish mixes in with the wet ink before it is cured. A dry-trap varnish incurs another press run, but the effect can be a lot stronger because the varnish is applied on top of an already cured printed image. This scenario is assuming the press is running conventional printing inks, which are cured slowly by air-drying. If a press runs UV inks which are cured instantly with a UV lamp inside the press AND there are UV lamps after each unit, it is possible to produce a dry trap varnish effect in one press run. However, UV curable varnishes don’t always have the same finish as conventional varnishes. Varnishes are generally used to create different sheens like gloss and dull. By combining different varnish finishes one can create high contrast effects.

UV coating is not the same thing as UV curable varnish. A UV coating is applied in a separate press through a direct printing process using a screen. This is a similar process to what is used to print T-shirts or high-volume signs. The coating is applied directly to the substrate through a screen that contains tiny holes forming the image or area to be coated. The coating is then cured with a UV lamp. Because the coating is applied through a direct screen-printing method it is possible to apply a lot more coating in one pass. UV coatings offer a variety of different options including high-gloss, matte, textured, glitter, raised or reticulated. It can be applied as a flood, which covers the entire sheet evenly, or as a spot, which is only applied to certain areas of the graphic. UV coatings can create more extreme contrasts in sheen and texture than varnishes. However, the edges of the coating are not as defined as with varnishes due to its screen-applied method. Therefore, intricate graphics and tight register applications are not recommended.

Creating an impact with gloss and dull sheens or different textures is easier than you may think. Often the printer can handle setting up the files for the additional varnish or coating layers for you. You can often just instruct the printer where you want the effect to be applied and prepress can create the shapes and assign the desired effect.

If you have a print project with a graphic that needs that extra wow factor, try adding a varnish or coating. It can make the difference between a beautifully printed piece and solid gold.

Prepress Desk – The Usage of Black

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Prepress 2_Header-01As the most combustible rock band of all time so eloquently pondered, “How much more black could this be? And, the answer is none, none more black.” There comes a point when doing more is, well, pointless.

Not all design is created equal. A graphic that is designed for web may not necessarily be suited for print. Graphics for web are usually intended for an RGB color space as produced on a monitor, where color is created using emissive light. Graphics for print are usually intended for a CMYK color space as produced by 4-color process, where color is seen with reflective light. Although the end result of the graphic may be visually similar, the way that the colors are built can be vastly different, particularly with dark colors.

When designing for web one may take into consideration the resolution, video support, transparency, scaling adaptation, and device differences. Color builds or limitations are not really a factor because the RGB color space is very large. Although the human eye can see more colors, L*a*b* and RGB gamuts are the largest that can be produced by most media devices. Though there are limitations in what an emissive light device can produce due to its resolution and components, there are virtually no limitations in what an emissive light device (monitor, TV, etc.) can “attempt” to produce. Therefore, there is no real concern of whether a color is too vibrant or too saturated. The monitor will produce that color to best of its ability. There is some consideration for consistency, however. When it comes to branding, given the fact that the same color can be reproduced many different ways depending on the media, designers should take into account color conversions when choosing brand colors. To help manage the consistency of a brand across multiple channels, designers should consider colors that convert from Pantone® solid colors to CMYK and RGB well; and be diligent in using the proper HEX, spot colors, or CMYK builds when designing for different applications.

When designing for print, one must still consider the resolution and media application, but also how the colors are going to be reproduced. Printing involves physical components–ink or toner being applied to a media surface like paper or plastic. In lithographic printing this is typically ink on paper. Each of these components has its limitations and tolerances when it comes to their contribution to the end result–that being the finished printed product, and in particular, the color. Ink has limitations in its pigments and density (how much ink that is applied to the paper). Most full-color printed media is printed using CMYK process. A CMYK process ink set consists of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These four colors are combined in different percentages to create all the colors we see on printed products. For instance, yellow and magenta make red, cyan and yellow make green, etc. Some printing devices use other colors in addition to CMYK such as orange, green, and violet to produce an extended gamut, but at the core of full-color reproduction, and what most printing devices and large presses use, is just the primary four process colors.

Prepress 2_Figure 5The four process colors are combined in percentage and measured in whole by total ink limit. With each color in the 4-color process at 100% the total ink limit is 400%. This is the maximum ink limit that can be produced in CMYK process. However, actually printing 400% ink coverage is usually a problem. That is more ink than most paper can absorb. Most offset presses typically have a max ink limit of around 300%. If the amount of ink on the sheet is much more than that it starts to cause issues like setoff. Setoff is where the uncured ink transfers to the back of the sheet on top of it as it sets in a stack. In a UV press, where the ink is cured with a UV lamp, too much ink can cause it not to cure completely. Most print shops will run an ink limit of around 260% to avoid any problems with setoff or curing. Even a 260% ink build can cause problems depending on the total ink coverage on the sheet and other factors such as water/dampening settings, ink manufacturer, and paper type.

Generally, a 280% ink build or more is black, though there can be some dark green, burgundy or brown colors that are more than 280% ink. These dark colors are typically adjusted to a lower total ink percentage in prepress through the use of GCR (gray component replacement). GCR is part of a color profile that takes the shadows created with cyan, magenta, and yellow and replaces them with black. Where a dark brown color may be originally built as C70 M100 Y90 K40 (300% total ink), GCR would convert it to something like C20 M75 Y60 K80 (235% total ink). This allows virtually the same color to be reproduced with less ink.

Prepress 2_Figure 1When it comes to black there is usually a point where adding more ink does not necessarily make it darker. Adding varying percentages of CMY to 100% black ink can create different hues of rich black, but at around 260% total ink, any additional ink just creates saturation without adding any depth to the color. We recommend a mix of C35 M25 Y25 K100 for a rich black build. This produces a dark black at 185% total ink with a neutral hue in the gradients and tints.

Prepress 2_Figure 2Most of the time it is preferred to run only 100% black ink in graphics and text unless there are large areas of coverage where a rich black build would help with richness and consistency. This is especially true with small text. All small text that is black, close to black, or gray, should be created with only black ink. This is recommended primarily to ensure sharpness in small text. If small text or graphics are created with a rich black build there is the risk of visible registration issues. This occurs when all four process colors are not exactly in register with each other. This can cause the text to look thick or blurry. Colors being out of register on at least some areas of the sheet can stem from several minute things in the print production process, such as paper stretch, and is not always avoidable.

Prepress 2_Figure 4Text unknowingly or unintentionally being assigned to rich black or registration color is probably the most common issue we see in prepress. Most prepress workflow systems can automatically recognize registration color and change it to 100% black. They can also usually give a warning if any small text is colored with rich black, but these systems are not foolproof. Transparencies, outlines, or other factors can cause problematic ink builds to slip through automated preflight systems. It is highly recommended that the black channel be checked using separations/output preview in Adobe programs prior to sending file to the printer. This check can be performed by turning off the black channel in separations/output preview and analyzing all pages of the document. If any small text or unusually dark gray graphics are visible then that indicates small text is assigned to a 4-color build or graphics are assigned to a higher total ink build than recommended. Separations/output preview can be found in InDesign under Window>Output>Separations Preview, in Acrobat under Tools>Print Production>Output Preview, and in Illustrator under Window>Separations Preview. The figure below shows the previous example with the black channel turned off.Prepress 2_Figure 3

If you have any questions regarding properly setting up your files for print, feel free to contact Phillips Printing prepress department by email or call 888-ask-phil.

Prepress Desk – The Mystery of Spot Colors

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Prepress 2_Header

If the word Pantone® conjures up thoughts of complex color theory, expensive swatch books, or a mysterious color system of which you’ve heard of, perhaps even used, but wouldn’t want to give a lecture on, don’t worry…you’re not alone. The truth is, understanding colors in the Pantone Matching System® (PMS) is relatively simple when you learn how they are created and how they are used.

Pantone began in the 1950’s as a printing company in New York. In the mid-60’s they began standardizing ink colors and creating reference books which ultimately became the Pantone Matching System; a system that designers and manufacturers can use as a reference to reproduce specific colors. The system has become an industry standard and primarily consists of printed swatch books for process and solid colors with a given ink formulization and L*a*b* target. L*a*b* is the widest visual color gamut and is used as the target due to common ink pigment and production variances. Though the Pantone library contains CMYK formulation references (process colors), most people reference the solid colors library (spot colors). Within these libraries, Pantone produces ink references on coated papers (C) and uncoated papers (U). The same ink will have a different L*a*b* value when it is printed on coated paper versus uncoated paper. They also produced a reference on matte paper for a short time, but has since been discontinued (guard your matte book well if you have one). X-Rite Inc. purchased Pantone in 2007.

In printing, colors are typically reproduced using one of two methods. First, and primarily, colors are reproduced using CMYK process (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). These four colors are combined to create all colors we see in graphics and images. For instance, cyan and yellow will make green, magenta and yellow will make red, etc. A similar process is used in your television or computer, which reproduces colors using RGB process (red, green, blue). However, RGB color reproduction relies on an emissive process where when more color is added the result gets closer to white. When more color is added in CMYK color reproduction, which relies on a reflective process, the result gets closer to black. An emissive process generates light whereas a reflective process requires an environmental light source. The second method for reproducing colors in print is with Pantone spot colors. The Pantone system currently uses a set of 14 base colors plus transparent white to reproduce all of the spot colors in the PMS library. These base colors include Reflex Blue, Process Blue, Blue 072, Violet, Purple, Rhodamine Red, Rubine Red, Red 032, Warm Red, Orange 021, Yellow, Yellow 012, Green, and Black. By using more base colors with a wider range of pigments the Pantone system can yield colors that are not achievable with CMYK process. A few colors in particular, like some oranges, blues, and greens, can be well outside the CMYK color gamut.

If Pantone spot colors have such a wider color gamut, you may wonder why we don’t use them all of the time. The reason has to do with practical production. A printing press is typically set up with CMYK process colors all of the time. Most jobs will be reproduced with CMYK in order to simply achieve most colors and CMYK is necessary to reproduce full color images anyway. Adding a spot color to the job involves making or purchasing the spot color ink, producing an additional printing plate, and setting up and washing up of another printing unit. All of this involves time and money. Additionally, if that Pantone color can be achieved with CMYK, meaning it is inside the CMYK color gamut, then it usually makes no sense to spend the time and money to run a spot color.

There are times, however, when it makes sense to run a spot color. If there is heavy usage of a brand color throughout a piece like a book or large brochure it may make sense to run that as a spot color for consistency purposes. Since CMYK colors are produced using four independent printing units they rely on the consistency of each unit to maintain the same color build throughout the production run. A spot color is a premixed ink in a single printing unit, relying only on that one unit for consistency. Spot colors also tend to look more smooth or solid than process colors because they are single premixed inks, whereas process colors are made from dot patterns of each of the CMYK colors. Instances where a piece uses a color outside the CMYK color gamut it can sometimes be necessary to run as a spot color in order to not compromise the design. In all cases, the number of spot colors used in addition to CMYK is typically limited to one or two. Designing a piece with process images and six spot colors is not practical to produce given the cost and limitation of the number of printing units on most lithographic presses.

Graphic Designer At Work. Color Samples.When designing pieces for print it is okay to use spot colors even if the piece will ultimately be produced with CMYK; just make sure that spot colors are converted to process in the file so that your preview of the colors accurately represents what will be produced. In InDesign® spot colors can be set to process individually by double-clicking the color in the swatch pallet and setting the color type to process, or globally in the ink manager by checking “all spots to process.” Also be sure to use the appropriate solid spot color library, C or U, depending on whether the piece will be printed on coated or uncoated paper. This will help set expectations of what can be achieved in production. Pantone also produces “bridge” books that show spot colors and their equivalent process color side by side in both coated and uncoated formats–a must-have for any print designer.

If you have any questions regarding spot colors or designing for print, please feel free to contact us or call Phillips prepress at 888-ask-phil.

Prepress Desk – The Math of Folding Panels

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I know what you’re thinking­–math, no, anything but math! But, don’t worry; it’s not that bad. Truth is, math is used in everyday situations more often than people realize. From figuring out your monthly budget to counting your cups of coffee, it’s everywhere, and it doesn’t compromise.

Today, we’re not doing anything too complicated. I’m going to discuss a few basic principles of folding panels for printed pieces. Why do we need math to figure folding panels? It’s a matter of physics. When folding a sheet of paper we must take into account the thickness of the paper itself, the air or gap between the folded sheets, the bunching up of the paper where it folds, and the folding mechanism. Some papers and folds may require different panel measurements than others, but for most products there is a single measurement we can apply to figure each panel, and that is 1/16 inch, or 0.0625”. This can be adjusted to 0.06”, 0.065”, or 0.07” if desired, but for purposes of using an American standard ruler we will use 0.0625”.

When a sheet of paper is folded into a basic trifold format there are two different panel measurements. The two outside panels (the front panel and back panel when folded) are the same width. The inside panel (the one that folds in first) must be slightly shorter so that it does not bunch up against the opposite fold.

 Prepress 1_Figure 1

In this example of a 9” x 12” trifold brochure (Figure 1), the outside panels are exactly 4” with inside panel being 0.0625” shorter, allowing the piece to fold to 4” and making the actual flat trim size 9” x 11.9375”.


Prepress 1_Figure 2

Another way to fold this piece is to fold it to something slightly larger than 4” so that we retain the flat trim size of 9” x 12” (Figure 2). In this example the outside panels fold to 4.023” with the inside panel being 3.954”. This may seem like a simpler solution, however, it can be problematic if the artwork does not take into account the folding aspects and is designed with even panels. It is often simpler for production to trim the inside panel short rather than adjust or stretch the outside panel graphics in prepress to accommodate the fold.

There are times when one or the other of these solutions is preferred. Typically, for a standard 8.5” x 11” trifold we will keep the flat trim size at 8.5” x 11” making the finished folded size 3.6875” and adjust the artwork accordingly. For an 8.5” x 25.5” trifold we will usually trim the inside panel short so the piece folds down to 8.5” x 11”. For brochures with more panels that fold in formats like roll fold, double-parallel, gate-fold, or even iron cross, the general rule is that each panel be consecutively 0.0625” shorter than the next. A double-parallel fold would have the two outside panels the same width and the two inside panels the same shorter width. A gate-fold piece would have the two center panels the same width and the two outer panels the same shorter width.

In all cases the finished size will be determined by the artwork and the ability to adjust, if needed, in prepress. Adequate bleed and proper panel sizes allow the bindery to obtain proper folds and produce a quality finished product. Contact Phillips prepress if you have any questions regarding designing for print. We’re here to help.