The quality you get out of a digital press is only as good as what you put in. It can be easy to blame the printer for a poor looking file, but it could actually be the result of a file designed incorrectly for digital technology. Below are seven keys to help you maximize the full potential of digital printing equipment, and ensure your files are printed right the first time.
1. Think finishing first
If your printed piece will require any form of finishing—folding, trimming, die-cutting, binding, etc.—working backward from a finished “mock-up” will help you set your document up properly for all the necessary steps after print output.
For example, one concern with digital (electrographic imaging systems) is cracking in heavy coverage areas. Fused toner sits on the surface of paper and during the process of folding this heated, fused coating must break. Even with scoring, the break will not always be smooth or even. To reduce the possibility of cracking, design your piece with less coverage on areas intended to be folded.
There are many factors to consider with each finishing option, so ask your print provider for a mock-up of your intended final product, and any relevant suggestions they have.
2. Choosing the right paper
Not all papers are manufactured to run through a digital press or accept toner to their surface. For this reason, each digital press manufacturer evaluates and recommends paper selections (coated and uncoated) for their line of equipment. So choosing a paper that is guaranteed by the printing company is important to achieving the best quality on your digital projects.
3. Importance of bleed and margin
With digital printing there is a tolerance level for registration, which increases the importance of bleeds and margins. The document should bleed at least 1/8” past trim where color is expected to reach the edge of the piece. This will ensure total coverage after it is trimmed to finish size.
A 3/16” margin is equally important for non-bleed elements within the document to ensure they are not cut off at finishing. The bigger the margin, the more variation can be hidden. For example if you have a rule inset 3/16” around your piece, it will be easier to see the margin shift as opposed to an inset at even 1/4”.
Registration presents further concerns for bound pieces. Avoid designs with any crossovers between pages.
4. Large areas of color
Digital presses that use toner don’t produce large areas of solid color well; some banding or blending problems can occur during a print run. If the design calls for several square inches or more of solid color, introduce a pattern into the solid area with a texture, subtle graphic or simple noise. By naturally breaking up large areas of color, you’ll be taking advantage of one of the strengths of digital presses—the ability to reproduce high-quality, full-color images.
This same issue can be seen in long gradations. For best results, limit the blend to higher value percentage change and avoid blending from a color to white.
5. Kinds of color
Digital presses print with CMYK values. To ensure your final output accurately represents your intended design, convert all spot and RGB colors/images to CMYK. It’s better to control the conversion process yourself rather than letting the digital equipment convert, which may produce a different outcome than you had intended.
Black can often be a concern as well. Traditional offset printing recommends a mixture of CMYK to produce a rich black, but for digital printing it has been our experience that this tends to “tint” the black. Instead, 100% K produces a true solid black with no hints of magenta or cyan peeking through. Results could vary with each digital print equipment, so be sure to consult your service provider on what is best for their machine.
6. Image Resolution/Compression
Image compression and low resolution may be ideal for storage and Internet download speeds, but the permanent loss of valuable image information will impact the quality of a printed piece. When working with files, use the uncompressed PSD, TIFF or EPS formats and avoid editing compressed files, such as JPEG. To achieve the best quality print, images should be produced at a minimum of 250 ppi and line art graphics at a minimum of 600 ppi. If your original image must be scaled to fit the layout, limit enlarging more than 10-15 percent from the original dimensions. Enlarging images more than the recommended percentage will leave too little data for printing equipment to fill in the space, resulting in print quality issues.
On a side note, higher level ppi will have minimal effect on the final output, but requires more memory to process, and consequently longer transmit and print time.
7. Keeping text legible
Resolution, font selection, color, background values, and size are all factors that can affect type legibility. Very small type in particular challenges digital print systems, especially when set using process color combinations and tints. If your design calls for small type, avoid using smaller than a 4 pt size and use only one of the process colors—C, M, or K—set to at least 80 percent.
Perhaps the biggest key to ensuring quality digital print is communication with your print provider before starting design or uploading files. They know their equipment and can offer valuable recommendations to achieve the best print results. Not taking advantage of their experience could be the difference between a project that is just “good enough” and one that is “excellent”.
Many print providers also offer preflight services designed to check some, or all, of the elements above. Mitchell Graphics now offers online preflight and proofing for digital orders via our new online storefront. Select your product and quantity, upload final print files, and receive instant preflight verification and PDF proofing. You’ll save time and money with the ease of placing an order at your convenience. Of course, our customer service and sales representatives are always available to answer questions and offer assistance.