Print: Everything You Need to Know

Having beautiful print products can seem like an overwhelming task at first, because let’s be honest who actually knows anything about the printing processes?

There are so many different aspects and stages to get into that the task can seem overwhelming. However, having print products for your business can be a powerful tool to drive sales and bring in leads.

Some of the popular items that businesses print include business cards, magazines, posters, labels, leaflets, portfolios, brochures, catalogues, presentations, etc. All of these products have different components and aspects that will differ with their printing properties.

From color, to binding, and choosing a finish the printing world is full of interesting components that help to give our world beautiful print products. Printing services offer different services and finishes, so it’s important to understand all the different jargon and terminology.

This guide will help breakdown many of the major aspects of printing that seem a mystery to the world outside print publishing companies.


Let’s Talk Color

One of the first things to know when dealing with color in print is to always make sure to work with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key/Black).

Most applications will automatically switch to RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) which is better suited for computer display.

However, when designing items for print, the color mode must be set to CMYK.


The CMYK & RGB Color Models

CMYK is a part of the subtractive color system, whereas RGB is a part of the additive color system.

By using the subtractive system with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key), the hues are becoming darker when mixed and added to other colors. This affects the tints and transparencies used throughout the design.

It is important to note how these different systems work and how hue saturation and brightness will be affected in printing.


So what is the real difference between CMYK and RGB?

Most people are more familiar with RGB because these are primary colors.

In addition, RGB is highly recognizable because the colors are used for digital communications. This means that RGB gets used for things like televisions, websites, cameras, computer monitors, etc, whereas CMYK is used primarily for full color in print application.

Typically, people use color converters to change a RGB scheme to a CMYK scheme in order for the piece to be printed with the correct color system.


How PMS and Spot Colors Figure In

Color is one of the very first stages in the printing process. When CMYK cannot create the exact color many designers and printing services alike will use spot colors. These Spot Colors are often used when other color schemes cannot create the desired color.

Offering an incredibly wide range of colors, Pantone Inc. is used in a variety of industries, primarily in printing and photography and is by far, the world’s most renowned authority on color.

The PANTONE® name is known worldwide as the standard language for full color communication, from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer. The colors will be the same across various print methods and substrates, making for a value that ensures vivid breathtaking colors.

The Pantone system creates a specific name and number for every color to ensure that the right image color is transferred to the print document. Even though the color may look different on the monitor, Pantone gives assurance that the color will be the same on the print piece.


How Many Variations of Black can there Really Be?

Now, in terms of black, there is a wide range of different hues of black available for use.

Two of the most popular are Rich Black which should be used for printing with blocks of black and 100K Black which is primarily used for body copies and barcodes.


But What’s the Real Difference between Rich Black and 100K Black?

When plugged into the CMYK color code, Rich Black contains all four of the color values (C-100/M-100/Y-100/K-100), whereas 100K Black will only contain the hue Key instead of a combination of the other four main color values (C-0/M-0/Y-0/K-100).

These definitions may have slight variations depending on the printing services and printers being used so be sure to ask your printing provider.


Don’t Manage Image Resolution and You’ll end up in Big Trouble

One of the most common mistakes made when dealing with image resolution and printing is sending a document to be printed, and it has too small of a resolution, Oh no!

If the issue is not corrected before final printing, then the end image can turn into a fuzzy nightmare that’s lacking in resolution and clarity. This mistake can result in a large loss of money and can eat up an entire printing budget.

It’s imperative to create an image document that has the correct number of pixels needed to avoid embarrassingly low image resolution that end up on the fuzzy side. We didn’t spend all that time on color just for the image to come out fuzzy!

Printing can be difficult and without the appropriate precautions a color, layout, or font may get terribly messed up. Something that looks magnificent on the computer screen may end up looking like trash once it’s printed in a large scale format.

Don’t let yourself be dragged down by these printing mistakes, learn more about image resolution to ensure that these fatal mistakes don’t happen.


Pixels Per Inch

PPI (Pixels per Inch) is the amount of pixels or little tiny dots that make up an image. The higher the PPI count the better the image resolution of a digital image will be.

The more individual pixels there are, the more detail can be squeezed into a document to create a higher quality image resolution. By maintaining a high PPI count an image will be displayed with higher resolution.


Why is the Print Layout even Important?

When working with your print layouts it’s crucial to have these aspects planned out between the designer and the client. You must have a page orientation, live space, trim space, bleed area, and crop marks.

These are the basic essentials that any business looking to have high quality print will need to remember for document setup. All these terms may sound daunting but really, most of them are common sense once broken down.


The Orientation of Your Layout

First, decide whether your piece is going to be vertical or horizontal. A layout can either have an odd number of columns or an even number of columns. Always use a layout grid for design projects, no exceptions.

Things will look inconsistent and lack harmony if the projects aren’t following a set layout grid. It gives visible structure to a piece and holds everything in its proper place.

Use composition rules to help with layout such as the Rule of Thirds, The Golden Spiral, and The Fibonacci Spiral.


The Live Area

Within a document the area that will display the actual art or design is referred to as the live area. It is the area within a print document that is considered safe to keep any important information within.

If an ad’s trim size is set at a standard of 8.25 in x 10.25 in, then the live area within the document might be measured at 7.75in x 9.75 in.

By doing these measurements it allows the designer to know which image areas on the space may be cut off due to cropping or binding.


Gutter Space

Another term used in publication is gutter space, this is the blank area between two facing pages.

The extra space on the pages is typically used to accommodate book bindings in publications.

The crop marks will indicates on a document or image where to cut the paper.


Trim Area

The idea behind the Trim area is to ensure that no matter what happens, no important content is ever trimmed from the design image area by accident.

When an image is created with trim space and the image is sent to print, whatever crosses the trim line will be cut off. This creates a seamless and professional high quality looking document.


Bleed Area

Outside of the trim space is the Bleed Area. In the publishing world, the more bleed a document can offer, the better. The minimum bleed you need for a printed piece is 0.125 in (1/8 in) but some documents will require more space than that to accommodate for the bleed area.

The bleed space is found on the edge of a paper and will provide a safety blanket for the rest of the design composition.

Always keep in mind the areas that will need extra attention in order to maintain a solid area of bleed space. The bleed area is there as insurance, to prevent your design from looking ugly and unprofessional.


Let’s Export the Document!

While it may seem like a silly thing to cover, some of the biggest mistakes can happen during exporting. Make sure to lock all work on whatever platform being used to ensure that all designs and artwork won’t budge during the exporting process.

Double check that everything is correct in terms of contact information, should the print piece be something personal for a business.

A common step that many have to go through is collecting files otherwise referred to as packaging. This packaging will tell the computer which spot colors are used throughout the document. Additional information provided through the packaging is the font size and bleed size. At this stage of the printing process, the designer will want to double check the PPI resolution, sizing, and coloring. Also remember to check all the page layout features. Ensure that there is enough bleed and trim area.


When Print Folds can Elevate Your Document

When considering certain types of print folds always keep in mind that you must fold with the grain of the paper.There are different folding techniques that can be applied to produce different looks.

The most common types of folds are the Parallel and Cross fold.


Parallel Folding

The parallel folding technique is mainly used for processing leaflets and printed advertising materials for a wide diversity of requirements. A parallel fold is always made parallel to the preceding fold.


Cross Folding

Cross folds are primarily used in brochures or book work. A cross fold is made at right angles to the previously made fold. In this way, for example, a 3-break cross fold generates a 16-page signature


The Effect of Thicker Paper on Folds

The scoring and folding of certain papers correlates with the thicknesses of the print material. Thinner papers will crack more compared to thicker papers. A thicker paper will allow for a more gradual fold and less cracking when scored.

Varnishes, aqueous coating or UV coating will not stop the print fold from cracking. The only way to totally eliminate cracking is to apply a film laminate to the surface. The laminate covers the surface of the paper and will not allow any cracking.


What Is Scoring?

The Scoring of a document is produced by a depression in the print material that is typically linear.

This depression will enable the material to be bent or broken along the line of the score. This break in the material will allow for the folding of the document.


How Cracking can Ruin a Fold

In terms of the cracking of a document, there are two common cracks that tend to happen. This includes fold cracking which is the tearing and bursting of a part of a paper and the fold seam because of a loss of strength.

The other cracking term is coating cracking which is the paper breaking through the stretching of the document along the folded seam.


Selecting the Right Paper for Your Print Project

Choosing the right paper can make or break a digital printing endeavor. You want to choose the right paper that will bring out the visual and textual contents of your publishing project. The choice will vary depending upon the type of product being printed.

Each type of paper available on the market has a weight, a processing type, and a finish. The finish will determine a pages transparency, weight, thickness, feel and durability.

Paper is measured in pounds and GSM (Grams per Square Meter) which determines how thick the paper is.

Depending on your own needs, you don’t want your paper to be incredibly see-through. By looking at the thicknesses of the different papers you can tell how see through a page might or might not be.

The different paper types will give your products a certain quality, a thick study page will definitely give your print product a high quality feeling.


The Different Types of Paper

When dealing with paper types, there is a difference between weight and thickness. It is true that typically a heavier paper will correspond with a thicker paper, however there are a variety of materials and factors that can affect this.

GSM will affect how thick the paper feels, thick paper tends to be better quality, the higher the number the thicker the paper.

Paper weight changes based on the type of paper it is. When a company advertises the weight or pounds on a ream of paper it typically defines how much the ream weighed before being cut. Most manufactures weigh the paper with about 500 sheets at a time. The thicker the stock, the higher the weight. Here’s a few of the common weights and what they correlate to.

The Grades of paper can be broken down into Opaque and Offset papers, coated papers, and Text and Cover pages.


Opaque & Offset Paper

Text and Cover papers have the premium uncoated paper that are available in amazing full colors and finishes, the weight on these papers varies. Text and Cover paper is most commonly found on thick covers, brochures, and business cards.

  • Book Paper (30 to 115 pounds 130gsm): Suited to reproducing high quality colored images, this type of paper known as Book Paper is perfect for printing in glossy magazines, print books, brochures, posters, and folded flyers. This category of paper includes coated or uncoated paper with a wide range of thicknesses available. Resistant to aging and available to have either a matte or gloss finish.
  • Cover Paper (60 to 120 pounds 170gsm): Available with a gloss, satin, matte, or coated finish this relatively lightweight paper ensure perfect full color rendering. Most would identify this paper as cardstock because the paper is so thick and stiff. Ideal for printing catalogues, presentations, certificates, menus, and report covers.


Coated Paper

In terms of the cracking of a document, there are two common cracks that tend to happen. This includes fold cracking which is the tearing and bursting of a part of a paper and the fold seam because of a loss of strength.

The other cracking term is coating cracking which is the paper breaking through the stretching of the document along the folded seam.


Text & Cover Paper

Opaque and Offset papers are known for having high surface strength and dimensional stability, along with relatively good internal bonding. Specifically, offset papers have a finish that is smooth, or come with a vellum finish which is extremely rough. Ironically enough, Opaque pages are less see through than Offset Papers therefore they are more expensive than Offset pages.

The finishes coming on Opaque pages may include a very light clay layer giving it a high quality feeling. The finishes also include the options of satin, film coat, and thin coat.


How Weights Affect the Finished Print Product

When thinking about weights also think about how folds are affected by weight and finishes. For example, a heavy, gloss coated paper may not fold as neatly due to the density of the paper. Whereas a lighter uncoated paper will fold with ease.

Depending upon the document, different weights and finishes will make a substantial difference. If you plan for a document to be folded multiple times it would be wise to consider a thinner paper that will allow the paper to easily fold.

However, a heavier paper might suit a fold in some cases. Say, for example, you’re designing a greetings card that you want to stand up on a surface. A light-weight paper would fold up completely, and not remain slightly open, so it would not be suitable for a greetings card.


Choosing the Right Binding to Amplify Print Presentation

Moving along with the stages of the printing process, the next stage is the binding process. One of the more exciting stages of the printing process, the Binding of a printed document is commonly selected due to the function that the printed document is serving as well as the number of pages that the document contains.

When thinking about binding it is important to keep your budget in mind, as some of these bindings can be quite expensive. Depending on how many sheets of paper your print project has, a different binding method may work better than another.  


When to Use the Right Binding

Use this handy page count guide to give you a snapshot of what binding is best for the size of your document.

At the end of the day, your final design, quality, and budget will influence the finished product, but this is a good reference to start from:

  • Saddle Stitched and Loop Stitched:  8-80 pages
  • Stab or Side Stitched bindings:  2-300 pages
  • Sewn Bound:  8-24 pages
  • Perfect and Tape Bound:  50-250 pages
  • Screw Bound:  16-400 pages
  • Hardcover or Casebound:  6-400 pages
  • Plastic Grip:  2-250 pages
  • Comb or Plastic Bound:  2-250 pages
  • Spiral or Coil bound:  16-275 pages
  • Wire-O or Wire Bound:  16-275 pages


Saddle Stitching

Saddle Stitching is the most common and economical print binding method available. This book binding method is made by punching a wire through a documents outside spine, once the wire is bent over the centerfold it grips to all the pages. Many say that this method provides a similar look that staples have when stapled on a document.


Loop Stitching

Loop Stitching is similar to saddle stitching however it provides a different end look. The loops are made with wire along the spine of the document and is then inserted inside to secure the document, similar to how a 3 ringed binder would look. This is a great option for documents that provide a lot of information and leave the option open to add more paper into the document later.


Stab or Side Stitching

Stab or Side Stitching uses a wire that is quite literally stabbed into the front cover of the document, the wire is then pulled through the inside pages to the back cover of the print document. This method is often used to covered or hide the wire.


Sewn Bound

Sewn Bound is comparable to saddle stitching, however it uses a thread instead of a wire; hence the name Sewn Bound. The thread is stitched along the entire spine of the document and as more pages are added it begins to closely resemble a case binding structure, however it has no hardcover.


Perfect Bind

Perfect Bind is a book binding method that uses a section of folded pages often called signatures that have their spines trimmed and roughed up from scoring to improve the binding with the glue. All signatures are collected and glued to the cover. The cover is then scored on the front and back to ensure easy opening. This method also allows for less stress to be put on the spine of the print document.


Tape Binding

Tape Binding has an adhesive tape wrapped around the spine to hold all the contents in place including the cover. Typically, the pages need to be stitched prior to the taping of the pages to add reinforced strength to the book binding.


Screw, Stud, or Post Bound

Screw, Stud, or Post Bound documents have holes drilled through the entire document. A barrel post is inserted through the drilled holes and a cap screw is pulled through to the added post to hold everything together.


Case or Hardcover Bindings

Case or Hardcover Bindings have the most standard binding used for hardcover books. This type of bindings allows for several different techniques to choose from.  Commonly, this book binding will involve the inside pages being sewn together in different signatures. The signatures are then glued to end pages. The end pages are glued to the spines, securing all the pages.


Plastic Grip Binding

Plastic Grip Binding is one of the easiest methods used by printing companies. This method uses a three sided plastic spine that pries apart two vertical strips along the whole document. The plastic spine is guided through the document until it covers the full length of the spine.


Comb or Plastic Bound

Comb or Plastic Bound documents are bound in an economical method that is suitable for manuals paperbacks that lay flat when open. A popular choice, this option uses rectangular holes that go through the document and are then threaded. The page edges at the spine are covered by the plastic comb that goes along the spine.


Spiral or Coil Binding

Spiral or Coil Binding utilizes a smooth round coil to hold all the pages together. Similar to the Comb bind, this method allows for the document to lay flat. The wire is threaded through the document and the ends are crimped to prevent the wire from slipping off.


Wire-O Bind

Wire-O Bind is one of the most popular options that uses a formed wire to thread through punched holes. The book can lay flat when open and the wire loops are coordinated in color to match the book design.


Choosing a Finish

The Finishing on a piece of paper determines how the surface of the paper will feel. This process will take place after the document has been printed. Sometimes a document will feel smooth and glossy and other times it’ll feel rough and stiff.

This is all due to the different finishes and variety of materials that are available for paper. The two major aspects of paper finishes are whether a paper is coated or uncoated.


Uncoated Paper

Uncoated paper is a suitable choice for printing letterheads, stationery or lower-quality leaflets and flyers. The feel is slightly smoother and stronger than standard copy paper.

Although it can sometimes be harder to print, generally this type of finish is more absorbent of ink. It also tends to not be as smooth as other coated finishes would be.


Coated Paper

Coated Paper is known for having a glossy or matte finish, these two items are the main sub-groups of coated paper. This finish can be very smooth and either be very shiny or very matte. This type of finish will be more resistant to dirt, ageing, and moisture.

Generally, this finish is used in book covers, photos, art books, and magazine printings. The coating of the paper will restrict the ink from bleeding into the pages image area and allow the ink to stay on top of the page.


Miscellaneous Finishes

The coated paper does not take particularly well to pen ink or pencil, which is a factor to definitely consider depending upon your printing intent. The different types of coating can affect the overall feel of the paper, and the look of the document.

  • Matte Coats will give off a smooth, non-glossy finish.This style of coating is considered modern and shows off an amazing depth of color.
  • Wash Coats can also be called the film coat and provides enough clay to the finish so that ink may holdout on the document.
  • Dull Coat can also be known as the suede or velvet coating. This heavily coated finish will provide a good contrast between the actual paper and the ink or varnish on the page.
  • Gloss Coat will provide a smooth and slightly reflective finish, giving your documents a glossy, high-end look. The gloss coat has the same amount of clay as the dull coat. The ink will sit on the surface of the coating which will enable to colors to appear more vibrant and rich.

Other finishes include:

  • Smooth Finishes
  • Column Finishes
  • Felt Finishes
  • Vellum Finishes
  • UV Varnish/UV Coating


Choose to Laminate for Extra Protection

The process of laminating is adding a thin durable plastic cover onto a printed piece. Laminating can add strength, integrity, and protection to a printed piece.

The lamination process can also enhance the printing product by brightening or darkening ink colors. The durability of the print material is one of the biggest benefits that lamination can provide, allowing the digital printing piece to have frequent use.

Working on a piece you don’t want smudge marks, fingerprints, or spills on? Then lamination is the perfect route to go! You work incredibly hard on a print project only to have it get ruined by a tear or spill.

By laminating a print project, a longer lifespan of the print material is all but guaranteed.  


The Two Main Printing Methods

Time to finally print the image! Now that our image has been prepared for final printing, there are two different printing options to consider.

Offset Lithography printing and Digital printing are the main two contenders when talking about printing. So what’s the real difference between the two? Easy, one uses a printing plate technology and one prints digitally. The real question is what does that mean?


Offset Lithography

Maybe one of the best printing options since the invention of the printing press the Offset Lithography printing otherwise known as Litho printing is a printing system that prints the images using printing plates. One of the most common commercial printing processes, suitable for printing high volumes. The inked image of your design is moved onto the metal printing plate often called a blanket. It then moves from this rubber blanket onto the actual print paper.

Due to the combination of lasers and chemical reactions the image is transferred from the rubber blanket to the printed page. The four printing plates used during the lithography process include the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key) color values, which we discussed earlier.

These colored printing plates help to transfer the coloring of the design from the rubber blanket onto the image being printed. When using the Offset Lithography printing method the printing is almost always going to have an amazing high quality.  

The process is cost-efficient at high volumes, so you can see why the Offset Lithography printing method is popular with commercial printing. If you’re looking for a safe and reliable printing source, then Offset printing is a pretty reliable and safe bet.

In terms of versatility, there are no restrictions with the Litho process, any type of media can be printed, even magnets. Perfect for fine lines and detailed drawing this printing option is sure to catch any customer’s attention.


Digital Printing

The Digital Printing technology uses something similar to an inkjet printer in an office or home, so the process is a lot less mechanical than the Litho process.

The digital printing process takes a digital file and produces the image onto a print format. Instead of using lasers and press plates this process operates much like a normal printer.

One of the main high points for digital printing is the ability to have a quick turnaround time. With less time to prepare the print, the job is done quicker. They also print with lower volume projects so the value is said to be better.

However, there are some drawbacks to this method as you are limited in terms of the paper thickness that is allowable in the printer. The size and finish of the project must fit within the ramifications of the printer’s digital printing capability.

While new technology is working on fixing this issue, unfortunately digital printing doesn’t do as well with coloring. Large areas of color are often separated by white lines running through the ink.


There is a Lot to Learn!

Don’t worry: errors do happen! Learning about the printing process can be an extremely daunting task. All this crazy jargon and terminology can be pretty challenging to get your head around. However, when all this information gets broken down and moved into different sub-genres it makes the whole printing process a lot more bearable!

Yes, there are so many different options and combinations when it comes to choosing different print options! Hopefully this guided has helped to make your decision-making process go by just a little smoother. Remember to have a solid understanding of the terms before rushing into the print press world, it can get a little messy out there!

These print projects are edgy and can make a business truly pop! Sending the design to the print can be intimidating but just makes sure you’ve laid out your proofs and gone over them to ensure minimal error. Plan out a solid strategy beforehand and discuss with your business which paper, finishing, and bindings will work for you.

Now that you have the knowledge to create any print masterpiece, get out there and start crafting to make beautiful print products!


Print: Everything You Need to Know