Production: Maintain Print Quality By Following These Simple Steps

Paper and personnel are the two most costly areas in any operation. Making certain to do things right in the first place can prevent companies from having to pay twice for these expenses.

Think about the last time you were unhappy with a purchase. Perhaps you ordered an item online and matched the color perfectly to your home décor, but when the item came in it was three shades darker than it appeared and had a black mark across the middle. You’d probably felt like you were shortchanged, didn’t get what you paid for, angry or at the very least disappointed? Welcome to the mind of your advertisers.

So how do you ensure that you’re doing all you can to meet the expectations of advertisers and readers? Start by reviewing your internal processes, test those processes and perhaps most importantly communicate with your advertisers. The only thing worse than a poor end result is not addressing and solving issues with your customers.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of dollars (and your reputation) at risk here. First, run a poor quality ad in your publication and you’re stuck explaining to an unhappy advertiser what might have went wrong. Of course they don’t want to hear your problems, they just want results and they didn’t get them. Every potential customer of theirs who doesn’t come into the store to purchase what was advertised is henceforth your issue (as far as the advertiser is concerned). Regardless of if the advertiser’s sale goes well or not, you are the one responsible. Sound familiar?

Of course all the backpedaling and apologizing will come from the unfortunate salesperson who sold the ad while the production folks have moved on to their next challenge (sorry production; I’m only speaking the truth).

Then comes the money part. The unhappy advertiser either demands a credit, a make good/rerun (free of course), or just refuses to pay altogether. All of these options stink, but what’s the salesperson to do, the proof is right there on the printed page. So, depending on the size of the ad, color and other particulars, and the circulation of the publication, we write off a few thousand dollars. Not a great long-term business plan.

And if you think the dollars stop flowing there you’re very wrong.

Internal costs can add up to significant dollars as well. Depending on print quantity and other factors you can easily run into thousands of dollars of internal losses. Paper, ink, plates, sales efforts, ad prep/prepress labor, press labor, overhead, etc., not to mention doing it all over on a rerun—as you can see the dollars add up fast. An average $500 ad (revenue) can easily end up costing five times that much in the long run.

So let’s recap where we’re at—we have an angry advertiser who feels shortchanged, we have a salesperson who perhaps put in a ton of effort into the sale and is now in a bad position with the advertiser, and a publisher who is most likely not the a happiest person in the business.


Vision benders that accurately register and align plates can help to improve registration on press and deliver quality results to advertisers.

Achieving Better Print Quality

There’s a very successful automobile manufacturer who lives by the slogan “Quality is job one.” Until we instill this belief in each and every one throughout operations, we don’t stand a chance of success. If you have employees who don’t want to participate or don’t understand the importance quality plays in the newspaper industry, you will not be able to achieve the desired results. It’s that simple. People are our greatest asset, but the wrong ones can also be your biggest liability. Work hard to develop your people. When the light comes on, it can be very rewarding to both management and the employee. If the light doesn’t come on, change the bulb.

Develop strong and trusting relationships with both ad sales and advertisers. Salespeople work hard and newspaper advertising isn’t as easy to sell as it used to be. Advertisers are more particular than ever about reproduction in ROP advertising, and they have the right to be.

Your sales force has to know production has got their back. They have to believe that when poor quality slips through that you’re going to be as invested in finding a solution to the issue as they are. They have to be confident in your abilities and concept of quality. Without this trust, they’re not going to have your back when you need them—and the time will come when you need them, trust me.

Now, let’s get down to fixing the basic core of the problem: print quality.

Following a series of simple steps and staying within specifications for offset printing at your facility will allow you to deliver the best quality to your advertisers and readers. It sometimes amazes me that production will complain about incoming files but never communicate specifics to the salesperson or the advertiser. If there are issues and you truly understand how to make things better sit down with the salesperson and talk it out, offer to work and communicate with the advertiser. I’ve spent countless hours helping advertisers understand the processes that can benefit them, always with positive results. It is well worth the time and effort.

Here are some guidelines you can discuss with both your ad sales staff and clients to achieve better print quality.

Printing a full color blending chart allows you to show advertisers what your press can achieve and provides predictable end results for color offset printing.

Basic color offset printing: Our process uses CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black inks); this is the standard for offset web reproduction. Remind your advertiser not to submit RGB (Red, Green, Blue) files, Pantone or similar full or spot color images. If their product is printing in full color, it is necessary to convert all RGB to CMYK. While software is available at most newspapers to make this conversion, it is most effectively done on the front-end and allows advertisers a more accurate representation of their ad.

If the ad is created in color and going to run simple black and white, it should be converted to grayscale on the front-end.

File formats: As a rule, high resolution, print quality PDFs with embedded fonts will reproduce well. Low res or bitmapped images will not deliver satisfactory results. PDFs should be created in Acrobat Distiller, Adobe InDesign or other professional quality page layout programs.

Resolution: Files should be a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) at 100 percent image area. Many graphic artists feel 200 dpi is sufficient; yet most printers recommend 300 dpi to improve reproduction quality. Higher resolution photos will simply increase file size and will not reproduce better. Images lower than 150 dpi will reproduce poorly, with low resolution images of 72 dpi (somewhat common from advertisers) reproducing exceptionally poor.

Type: Black text should be 100 percent black and not built with multiple inks (CMYK). Four Color (Rich Black) adds an unnecessary degree of difficulty to registration on press and can seriously affect the reproduction quality of the finished product. All fonts should be embedded and converted to outlines or paths before your document is sent/before you export to PDF.

Knockout/reverse four-color type: The minimum recommended size for any knockout type in a color background should be 12 point; this size differs greatly from site-to-site depending on the capability of both the press and operators. Even at this size, knockout type can present registration issues leading to compromised print quality and readability. If you must use knock-out type, it is recommended that you use a San Serif style.

Color proofing: Computer monitors are not an effective proofing device for offset printing. Although we repeat this time and time again to advertisers and individuals within our own organizations, most simply either don’t understand why or just don’t believe it’s true. If it appears on the computer screen then it must be possible to reproduce exactly like that, right? Wrong! This is one of the toughest things for advertisers to understand, so get your facts straight before even trying.

Monitors display in transmitted light and RGB format; they cannot be relied on to match newsprint with reflected light printed in CMYK. Be certain your monitor is properly calibrated at all times (tools are available or speak with your I.T. department). It may also help to turn down the brightness of your monitor when designing creatives for newspaper reproduction.

While I haven’t yet found a perfect proofing device, I’ve found the best to be a plotter and a roll of newsprint. It’s not exact, it’s a one off using toner rather than ink and water at 50,000 impressions per hour, but it sure beats a computer screen and false expectations.

Dot gain: The growth in dot size between a given dot and the size of the printed dot on the final sheet is not a fault, but is an inherent characteristic in the reproduction process. As a result, a dot gain of 20 to 30 percent (dependent on your particular press) should be allowed for in the production of digital artwork. While minimum highlight dot should be 3 percent in order to hold an image, a shadow dot of 85 percent or larger can fill on most presses. This should be taken into account when designing ads and pages. Midtones and shadows will appear flat and filled if the ranges of dots are too similar in size to each other.

Total ink coverage: The recommended total ink coverage for newsprint is 240 to 260. Staying within these parameters can help to minimize set-off of ink that can occur in the printing process.

Line screens: A line screen of 100 lpi (lines per inch) is recommended for offset printing (depending on preference and reproduction capability of your press). Screens with fewer lines per inch may appear grainy while screens with more than 100 lpi may fill due to press gain.

I strongly recommend that you put together a specification sheet for your advertisers and ad agencies detailing the specific guidelines for your processes. It will be appreciated by them; it will produce more predictable results (which is what everyone is looking for); and it will show your commitment to achieving the best quality possible for your clients.

Many presses have automated systems for ink coverage, color registration, roll splices and more. These automated systems can make press operators job easier while at the same time improving overall quality, but only if kept in proper alignment/adjustment.

Establishing a Program of Internal Quality

It’s important to establish the degree to which your equipment can perform. Not all presses are the same; dot gain can vary based on mechanical issues, ink/water application by press personnel, and the age and condition of your equipment. Color registration can be more challenging on a press with manual comps and side lay vs. one with automated cameras systems establishing and maintaining constant registration. Lack of maintenance, inferior paper stock, etc. can also affect reproduction.

What you need to do now is run a couple very basic tests. Most press operators will have run these in their career and they’re nothing new, but they are basic requirements to achieve predictable quality.

Some results will need to be relayed to your sales staff (color charts) and other results you’ll need to work on correcting internally.

A grid test: To establish accurate color registration, produce an image with multiple lines both vertically and horizontally throughout the image area; you may also use registration marks strategically within the area. Produce four plates from the same image and mount on your four color printing tower or other CMYK web lead. Zero all your units and run up at speed. This simple test will show you what’s in and what’s out and by how much; any good pressperson should be capable of making necessary on-press adjustments so that the lines eventually fall on top of each other (i.e. register). If after multiple adjustments your press is incapable of hitting dead-on due to a mechanical issue, you may have to adjust on the front-end. While this is not recommended, I have seen it necessary at times.

An on press color chart: Work with your prepress area to develop a page of various color values that produce the final desired /predictable result. The color chart should contain multiple color mixes. If an advertiser wants a kelly green, let them know what combination of cyan and yellow to use to achieve the end result. Once you’ve developed the color chart, run it up on press (CMYK) and when you set your colors on the solids (CMYK) to the desired density, you’ll have a handy color mix chart to send out to advertisers or for use by internal sales staff.

Your ink vendor can be a huge help in running the color chart. If you don’t have a densitometer, they can bring one in (but you’ll need one in the long run). It’s critical to set your solids per the ink vendor’s recommendations. Not only can they help run your test, but will possibly have a color chart template you can use.

The commitment we make to our advertisers and readers to produce high quality printed products must be met. Quality, reliability, predictability and consistency are all keys to our success. Meeting the expectations of advertisers and readers with clean quality printing and reproduction is paramount in our business. Falling short of this goal can cost us our reputation, our customers and of course, big money.

Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center with Morris Printing Services, LLC in Lubbock, Texas.

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