Outsource Solutions: Catalog Production
Avoid Press Check Pitfalls
When printing a catalog, the direct marketer and its print vendor ideally have the same goal: to create a quality product. But the realities of a vendor/client relationship are such that the printer also wants to perform the job quickly and economically—while the cataloger’s aim is to get the best printing, says Miriam O. Frawley, president of e-Diner Design & Marketing, a catalog agency in Highland Mills, NY.
To help you hurdle the potential roadblocks to a successful press check, consider the following six pieces of time-tested advice.
1. Discuss your expectations with your printer ahead of time. Obviously, the more details you talk about before the press check, the better. Two key areas to focus on are color matching priorities and color saturation.
Frawley encourages catalogers to ask the printer for an imposition, so they can view where the pages will fall in each form; this helps you scout for color-matching issues. For example, if you have a bright red sweater on the same form with a dark brown wood armoire, you’ll want to discuss with the press crew any options you have for preserving the color quality of each image. Then, before the press starts running, you’ll already have made some of your tough decisions.
It’s also critical to specify the kind of ink saturation you want. Printers that do a good deal of magazine and direct mail work tend to go easy on ink usage, resulting in a lighter proof, explains Dan McIntyre, production manager at McIntyre Direct, a full-service catalog agency and consulting firm in Portland, Ore. For catalogs, McIntyre prefers to view bright or saturated pages.
2. Ask the printer for a prepress proof. Electronic files corrupt easily, points out McIntyre, so it’s always a good idea to have the printer generate proofs for you just before the press check. These proofs don’t have to be high quality, he explains, just something to review for accuracy of the layout and basic color. Obvious mistakes can be caught early, before paper and ink are invested.
3. Show up early. You want to show up early, says McIntyre, not just to review the prepress proofs, but to work with the press crew to determine when the first pages off the equipment are at commercial grade color—and ready to save for binding. The printing company would like to reach this standard as soon as possible, for economic reasons, which might be too early in the press run for your print-quality expectations.
To ensure you’re at the plant early enough, Frawley advises catalogers to have their account reps call them at the make-ready stage.
4. Scan for big problems first. Look for the glaring errors on an entire form proof before fine-tuning each page in the form. You don’t want the presses to continue churning out sheets with a huge mistake on one side of the form while you fuss with color adjustments on the flip side, says McIntyre. Today’s presses run quicker, making your delays in finding problems more costly.
5. Take your sample press proofs with you. Whatever proofs you signed off on should stay with you during the press check—and go home with you at the end of the press check. You want these proofs for two reasons:
• They help you conduct a thorough postmortem back at your company, McIntyre notes.
• You want the quality of the first form proof you signed off on to match the latter form proofs for a consistent presentation across page spreads, says Frawley. You also might use these proofs as the benchmark for extra print runs of the same catalog in the future, says McIntyre.
6. Send the most qualified person to conduct the press check. Regardless of whether the person representing your company’s interests at the press check is from your catalog agency, production department, creative staff or another company section, be sure this person understands both your production and marketing goals, says Frawley. The strong presentation of your top-selling products needs to take priority over any other production issues, which is not always understood by a production manager.
One last tip: Both McIntyre and Frawley recommend that you take the time to build a rapport with your press crew. Your catalog literally is in their hands, so you want them to feel as invested in the final product as you are.