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Intro to Print & Production

3 May 2023

Discover more about the print and production behind the creation of your design with this introductory guide to some of the key stages, processes and terminology you’re likely to come across.

1. 'ARTWORK'

You’ll hear us use this phrase alot – this is where we prepare the signed-off design for print and production. This involves adapting the design to specification, with the help of any technical drawings or guides supplied, we create a flat layout of the printed area, input all the mandatory information you need to include on your product, and then separate each layer of print apart.

Good to know:
You will only have seen visual mock-ups of the design. The artwork can often look strange and use odd colours, as it’s more of a technical drawing than representative of the final result. Keep an eye out for a key on the artwork that will indicate what’s represented.

‘BLEED’: The bleed is where we extend the design a few millimetres past the cut area. This means that when the final design is printed and cut out, the ink runs right up to the edge.

2. Colour: 'Process' VS 'Spot'

These are the two ways to print a colour:

PROCESS colour uses up to 4 colours to re-create all colours within an image: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black) or ‘CMYK’. Under a magnifying glass, you can see the dot matrix used to mix colours.

SPOT: or ‘solid’ colour is just one, individual colour ink. Pantone inks are spot colours, and Pantone books are extensive catalogues of these colours (like a paint chart).

‘PMS’: (Pantone Matching System) colours are Pantone swatches that can be re-created in process colour, to help reduce the overall quantity of inks, but can increase the variety of colour achievable. PMS colours tell the printer the exact make-up for any particular colour, for example: C=40 M=10 Y=5 K=70 . 

 

‘COATED’ AND ‘UNCOATED’: As the paper stock used affects the colour, Pantone have separate sample books to show the same colours printed on glossy vs matte paper. Coated Pantones are referenced with a C (Pantone 123C) and Uncoated with a U (Pantone 123U). This helps to predict the visual outcome when we specify colours.

 

‘STOCK’: The substrate used: paper, card, material etc. 

Good to Know:
Printers generally don’t print white! – the white IS the stock. When printing on a darker material, it’s possible to add white ink specially, but on a light stock, white areas are simply reversed out of each layer of colour.

3. PRINTING

Here are the two key types of printing:

'LITHOGRAPHIC' (or 'OFFSET') PRINTING

These are big, industrial printers for handling large quantities. They have a lot of elements, but essentially, they use wet ink, plates and rollers, printing or ‘laying down’ each colour sequentially: K, M, Y then C to create a full colour print. (see our handy animation below roughly demonstrating the stages of litho printing)

As well as the classic CMYK colours, it’s possible to add solid ‘spot’ colours (Pantone inks). However, these should be carefully considered, and used sparingly.  

IMAGE CREDIT: KALL KWIK ST. JAMES

'DIGITAL' PRINTING

Commercial digital printers are ‘LAZERJET’ – they use a reaction of toner, ‘dry’ ink and lazers that lay the colour particles in the right place. Because it’s more immediate and flexible, digital printing is ideal and more cost effective for smaller printing quantities.

While Pantone inks aren’t possible, new digital printing tech uses additional colours, such as: indigo, orange, silver and white alongside CMYK to create a fuller range of colours, including fluorescent and metallic, specified using PMS (Pantone Matching System) references.

Image Credit: HP

4. 'SPECIALS'

Specials are any additional process applied once the design is printed. For example, embossing and foils. These require 3D blocks or plates to be specially casted from metal. These are carefully aligned with the print design and pressed into the paper/material using with the help of heat.

The design for the specials is often indicated on the artwork in jarring colours. As it looks out-of-place, this highlights to the printers that it’s NOT a print layer, but the design and positioning for a block or plate.

Follow this link for our recommended source of examples and more information on different special finishes available:

Print Technique Examples

5. 'DIECUT'

Once printed, the die, specially created to the correct size and shape of the design, creates an exact cutout.
The shape of this is indicated on the artwork as the ‘dieline’ ‘cutter guide’ or ‘cut’.

KEY LESSONS IN PRINT & Production

  • There’s a lot to prepare and consider at the production end of a project and attention to detail is key.

  • It can get complicated, there are still things WE have to get our heads around.

  • Give your designer as much info as possible before the Artwork is prepared.

  • It’s worth avoiding changes to the design once the artwork’s been prepared.

  • Digital printing is more forgiving to any changes, but once the plates and tools and inks have been prepared for litho printing and specials, changes are a more major operation.

  • A print will most likely look different to what you see on screen, as screens and printers use different colours.

  • The only way to know how a colour will look printed is to compare using colour books (like Pantone).

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