10 Questions Designers Should Be Asking Their Printers

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Creating print that wows your audience requires partnership. It’s a collaborative effort built upon the sharing of knowledge and ideas. The most successful designers understand how the printing process works and have an open line of communication with the people who will ultimately make their designs a reality — their print service provider team. 

These designers view their printers as a fountain of experience and insight to help troubleshoot potential problems before they become costly errors.  

“Most companies in the business of producing print will handle more projects in a month than the typical designer will handle in a lifetime,” write Elizabeth Gooding and Mary Schilling, authors of The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition. “Chances are, they have some expertise that can save you time and money.” 

With this in mind, let’s look at 10 questions designers should be asking their printers to help ensure productive communication and collaboration that results in high-quality digital print. 

What papers and other media are available for the press I want to use?

The relationship between your choice of paper and print device is crucial for the final outcome of your design. For example, inkjet treated sheets are specifically formulated for more aqueous inks used in digital inkjet printing, which would make these sheets incompatible with the inks and processes commonly used with traditional offset presses. 

Understanding the connection between the type of paper and kind of press at the beginning of working with your printer can change your design concept, or push you to explore a different marriage of paper and press to successfully print your piece. 

What are the available roll widths and sheet sizes?

Communicating with your printer about the available roll widths and sheet sizes will provide a better understanding about the maximum amount of print area for your piece. This can impact the layout of your design, and it can also affect the kind of finishings you can use to help take your print to the next level of creativity. 

Do you have standard templates?

Some printers provide standard templates that show key guidelines for applications like direct mail postcards or self-mailers, business cards, flyers, book covers, and even different types of transactional print like account statements or invoices. These standard templates can help you save time and money by designing print that aligns with what your printer deems to be best practices. Plus, these templates can actually serve as inspiration to help you get your design started. 

Can you provide press samples on a variety of different papers or media?

With digital inkjet, you may find a different range of options than you’re used to working with in an offset or toner environment. And while it may seem obvious to look at print samples from the target equipment on your selected media, not all print samples are created equal. 

“Always talk to your print provider about the paper types, sizes, and weights that will work best for your project, and don’t assume that what you have seen elsewhere will work with a different press or perform the same way,” write Gooding and Schilling. “Keep in mind that your choices may not be restricted to paper-based media. Some inkjet environments support substrates like synthetics and fabrics in addition to paper.”

Do you have a reference chart?

A reference chart will help you evaluate the print quality of a particular sheet on a specific press, and it will also help you determine boundary conditions for your design. Important elements to evaluate to help ensure compatibility between your chosen media and inkjet device include color space, minimum text and line heights, halftones, solids, color fidelity, and showthrough. As such, it’s important to ask for a reference chart for each substrate you’re considering for a specific job. 

Can you provide a tint book?

If your design requires any type of Pantone® or other spot-color matching system, it’s good practice to ask for a tint book to help ensure consistent, stable color when your design goes to print. It’s also important to note that if you’re using a post-coating, you want to request a coated tint book as the coatings can affect the color in the finished product. 

“If you’re working on a project that will use multiple technologies, request a tint book on all the presses that will be part of the finished piece to support color matching,” write Gooding and Schilling.”


What resolution should be used for bitmap images?

 This is a two-part answer: 

  • If your design uses variable content with lots of variable images and significant data requirements, your printer may require images to be provided in 300 dpi or lower. For some press and media combinations, file sizes above 300 dpi may not deliver the best quality results.

  • In some cases, your printer may require detailed images and barcodes at 600 dpi, particularly if your design uses very little variable content and images.

What color space should I use for saving my bitmap images?

Not every printer will require the working color space of the photo image to be in CMYK. Some printers may prefer that all photo images be saved as CMYK rather than RGB when it comes to bitmap images. However, others can convert RGB data to CMYK color space accurately. This is because the workflow of each inkjet device rasterizes the file differently through the RIP software. 

If you’re matching CMYK color spaces across multiple inkjet platforms or devices, make sure your printer can maintain the target color space for your images regardless of device or press. 

How should I indicate bleeds and gutters?

Understanding the bleed and gutter requirements when selecting your print media is important to help minimize waste. Your printer’s minimum bleed requirements will add to the overall flat size of your piece, and some inkjet presses do not support bleeds on all sides. The minimum gutter space can vary by printer and device, and it will add to the overall image area when the job is nested. Gutters are often used for quality control and will be trimmed from the final print. 

Do you prefer native files in addition to the PDF?

The goal in asking this question is to ensure that your images are processed correctly to the specified destination color spaces. It’s important to ask this question each time you submit a design for print because some settings may depend on your print and finishing requirements. You can help streamline the process of submitting files to your printer properly by using the package command within the Adobe program. 

Asking these kinds of questions is a good start on the journey toward making your printer a true partner to help ensure high-quality print. Download The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet, 3rd Edition to learn more about what you should ask your printer to create a collaborative, productive print relationship.