Before Printing - What to Double Check
You've developed a solid, compelling offer that's certain to drive response. You've scrubbed the list, and you know it's the right demographic, psychographic and lifestyle profile. Creative has delivered a magnificent design that no one could resist reading, and, believe it or not, legal has blessed all of the copy and content. The printer and lettershop are queued up, just waiting to receive your files. At last, you're ready to launch your program!
What if your schedule is critical? For example, say this print campaign ties directly to broadcast events. There is zero margin for error. What could possibly go wrong at this point? You think you've covered everything.
Wouldn't it be great to have a final checklist of production necessities to review just one more time before your precious project leaves your capable hands? To make sure that dotted all your i's and crossed all your t's, here's a run-down of the important areas where a little slip-up can mean a big delay in getting your job produced.
Let's review the early design elements of the project:
* Your printer supplied you with a template that allowed you to yield the most efficient press layout while achieving the desired size. By the way, a slight modification of size early in the design effort, even as small as 1/8", can sometimes translate into thousands of dollars in savings. Collaborate closely with your printer in the design stages.
* Have you designed postal efficiency into the product? The finished dimensions of your self-mailer or outer envelope must meet the aspect ratio required by the United States Postal Service (USPS). Divide the length by the width to equal a ratio of at least 1.3 and no more than 2.5. This is necessary to qualify for postal automation discounts.
* You've passed the template along to creative to follow as they positioned the graphics and copy. This is a good time to double-check the creative against the template. All live copy should be 1/4" away from any trims or folds as indicated on the template. All bleeds should carry 1/8" into the trims.
* If you've developed a truly innovative, complex format, it's important to know that you won't be infringing on any patents or copyrights. Ask your printer to verify this.
Your printer should have supplied finished dummies of your direct mail package using several different paper options illustrating various weights and finishes to help with the paper selection decision. When you made your paper selections, you made sure that any response device, Business Reply Card (BRC) or Business Reply Envelope (BRE) would meet the minimum seven-point thickness (.007") required by the USPS.
This is a good time to review the press imposition with the printer to identify folds that might be laid out against the grain of the paper, which can cause crackingespecially on heavier basis, coated papers. When possible, work toward a layout that will allow all folds to be with the grain of the paper.
Don't Forget the Data
What about the data files? Of course you've allowed sufficient programming time in your production schedule. Five working days is a minimum for simple name, address and messaging; it could take as long as three weeks for complex data with numerous variables.
Are the files formatted to be compatible with your printer/lettershop requirements? Assuming your service bureau has performed all the necessary preliminary functions such as National Change of Address (NCOA), merge-purge, de-duping and address verification, the files must be formatted as tapes, cartridges or CD-ROMs. You may also have the option to transmit your files electronically, thus eliminating the need for tape formatting and storage; this option also eliminates potential compatibility issues.
A final check of the record layout will verify that all the variables are where you want them to be, and a dump of the first twenty-five records will provide you with a valuable snapshot of what is about to be produced.
The New Prepress Stage
At this point, you are probably getting ready to generate film or prepress files. Desktop publishing software programs now have the ability to check and correct common errors, especially where fit and traps vital to delivering a quality product are concerned.
Computer-to-plate technology has ramped up, and many printers actually see film for only a minority of their jobs produced. The ability to transmit digital prepress files via high speed phone lines or the Internet has had dramatic impact on the production process. Process steps that in the past provided a means for errors to occur have been eliminated. There is no longer a need, for example, to contact film from negatives to positives, and vice versa, to make corrections or accommodate plates peculiar to one printer.
So, what's left to worry about? If you've sent a digital prepress file to the printer, they will pre-flight the disk prior to outputting proofs or plates. However, it's critical for you to review proofs carefully at this stage, especially where digital files are concerned.
Are the high resolution images in position? Check the postal indicia to confirm that it is a live, valid permit number and not just a For Position Only (FPO). Have any last minute copy changes been included? Was the file that was sent the final, corrected version?
It's possible today to transmit digital proofs to a remote output device in your office. This will not be a contact color proof, but it will allow you to verify copy and position of graphics.
Clues for Getting the Right Hues
Speaking of color, have you verified that the number of colors you intend to reproduce is compatible with the number of printing units available at your printer? Have you included any PMS matches, metallic ink colors, coatings or varnishes? If your project is four-color process plus a PMS match and a metallic silver, and creative has added a spot varnish, you now have seven colors for your printer's six-color press!
Getting the Mechanics Right
Check the mechanical function of the piece(s) at this point. Are perforations and glue areas indicated in the proper locations? If a BRC is to be perforated out of a larger panel, is the BRC at least 31/2" x 5" to meet postal requirements? Does the brochure copy and graphics track properly as the piece is unfolded?
If your project is a multi-component package, assemble the contents in final proof format and perform a tap test of the contents. This insures that the name and address of the recipient can be read through the window in the envelope and that the postal bar code can be scanned to achieve automated sortation discounts.
Make sure that all internal components have an appropriate (closed) draw or feeding edge to eliminate any potential inserting problems.
Lay a postal template over the assembled or folded product and the business reply portions to check the position of FIM bars, clear zones and bar code scan areas. If the product is a self-mailer, remember it must be sealed (glued or tabbed) to meet postal regulations to achieve discounts for automated sortation.
Know Your Postal Requirements
Finally, you'll need to know the weight and thickness of the final product in order to calculate postage. By now you will have made decisions about postage discounts and levels of penetration. Your data tapes will be sorted to include carrier route breaks, and you will have evaluated the savings available if you take advantage of destination entry. This allows your mailing to be combined with other mail being transported via truck to the Bulk Mail Centers (BMC) or Sectional Center Facilities (SCF) to obtain maximum postage savings and get your message into the hands of your targeted audience in the fastest possible timeframe.
Well, you've run through this checklist. If all the elements of your project have cleared this process successfully, you're finally ready to put the job into the hands of your printer. Ship the film or click "send" to transmit the file!
Bill Mattran is Vice President, Sales, at Banta Direct Marketing Group in Elk Grove, IL. He can be reached at (847) 956-4190 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.