Offset printing 101
May 20, 2005 4:24 AM   Subscribe

I will soon need to submit my first offset jobs, and I know enough to confuse myself, but not enough to make things easier. The jobs will be short-runs (500 copies), primarily b/w photos, 20-40 pages. Questions abound, here are a few.

Duotone vs. CMYK: Which is going to be cheaper? I've read that CMYK is so much more widespread, that the pricing will be more competitive, even though Duotone printing is ostensibly more simple.
Am I really going to find significant price variations for such a small job, and if I do find a "deal", will I most likely pay via repeated proofing, poor quality control, etc..?
Is doing this work myself feasible, or should I just find an experienced prepress person and stop pulling my hair out? If so.. Where to look besides Coroflot and the AIGA?
posted by Jack Karaoke to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
Based on my UK-based knowledge:

Duotone will be cheaper - you're running 2 colours on a small press not 4.

However, have you looked into digital printing? Ideal for short-run jobs & none of the faff of offset. Depending on the printer 500-1000 is the tipping point for digital being less cost-effective. Proofing is a lot more straight forward with digital & the number of colours is immaterial.
posted by i_cola at 5:42 AM on May 20, 2005

I was a printer in a previous life, but it's been quite a few years so I'm not totally up to date with the current processes.,That said, unless you're talking super-slick stock it seems a job this small would be better suited for a color copier. I don't know what your binding requirements are but a better copy shop can handle at least folio sized stock on their equipment.

If you go the offset route, I would imagine duo tone would be cheaper than 4 color process. The job might be run on the same press either way but setup for a 2 color job would be easier.

As for farming the work out, it depends. Will you ever need to do this again? If the answer is yes, it might be worthwhile to be more involved, if only to educate yourself for the next go-round. That said, it's important to find a printer you can trust. If they can't give you plain english answers to your questions before the job is run, find somebody else.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:42 AM on May 20, 2005

Pretty much what i_cola said, except without the UK accent.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:44 AM on May 20, 2005

There will hopefully be many similar jobs, with increasing # of copies.. point taken.
I want the quality of offset, and I've found laser to "sit" on the paper, and not wear very well.
Hopefully I'll be able to afford RepKover or Otabind lay-flat bindings, this has to look good.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:57 AM on May 20, 2005

You're right about the 'sitting' although I found that more with glossy stock. Try an uncoated or matt paper or get a potential printer to let you go thru some printed stock samples.

Feel free to ask your printer lots of questions about the process, terms used and so on. They're the best people to learn from and it's easier for them to educate a client to supply good copy rather than fix junk themselves.

How are you thinking about supplying your documents? Here in the UK Acrobat PDFs have become the standard and AFAIK the same applies in the US. (I've used nothing else to supply for print since 2001.) It's a little bit of work to set up in the beginning as you need to make sure you're using settings that your printer uses (they can supply their Distiller joboptions settings) but if you're going to be supplying lots more jobs it will make life very easy. Emailing a single file is so much easier than collecting files & fonts & then getting a CD out of the door...

Big important piece of advice: Get someone else (i.e. not the person who produced the documents) to proofread your final version just before it gets passed to the printer. You will *never* be able to catch all of your own mistakes & there is nothing more painful than spotting a mistake on delivery. Especially if is is something really important like contact details. Saves on proofing time/costs too.
posted by i_cola at 6:21 AM on May 20, 2005

Also, a lot of printers will supply a PDF (electronic) proof. You can print it out yourself & check it. However, not suitable if your job is colour-critical.

[I'm currently spending a fun Friday afternoon proofing a bunch of printer's PDFs the original Word documents (Word!!!? WTF?!!) for a massive finiancial mailing in umpteen different languages. Feel as jealous as you want...]
posted by i_cola at 6:26 AM on May 20, 2005

that'll be:

...proofing a bunch of printer's PDFs against the original Word documents...
posted by i_cola at 6:28 AM on May 20, 2005

Wanting to go offset is the most expensive option, but you do get the best colour control. Since you mentioned it as your preference, I'll give you advice on offset.

At 20 - 40 pages (you should pick a page count, it makes a difference), 500 copies, that's 1000 - 2000 pages. What are your page sizes? If you pick a good offset printer with a 2 colour press, and design your page size to suit his press, you'll maximize your savings.

As far as setting up the document is concerned, that again depends on complexity. If you're doing a basic type and image job, you can probably do it yourself. If you want duotones and lots of layered effects, you should use a professional production artist or typesetter. Beware of anyone that tries to build your document in Illustrator or PShop (I'm encountering those people more and more). They should know Quark or InDesign inside out if you're going to pay them.

Setting up page templates and flowing the type will make things relatively simple for you if your design is basic.

Price doesn't always reflect quality. Talk to printers and find out what they specialise in. Some will tell you they can do any type of printing. That's just wonderful. Hang up the phone. Find someone with a 2 colour press, preferably smaller size. I don't think you need CTP or stochastic, from the sounds of it. Have the rep show you samples of the work and find out who they do work for.

Find 2 or 3 printers and make sure they know they're in a competitive bid (don't tell them against who). Make sure all quotes are apples to apples, same paper stock, bindery options, etc). One of the reps will stand out in terms of response to you and the printer's background, and that will be someone you can work with.

(i_cola, I know I shouldn't be happy to know that someone actually has it worse than me, proofing wise. But I am happy. Schadenfreude is a bitch.)
posted by Salmonberry at 2:41 PM on May 20, 2005

From experience, finding a kwik printer who can get a duotone to look the way it looks onscreen is tough. On short runs, digital is infinitely less hassle (but quality can suffer). You will be a kwik printers worst nightmare, a demanding customer with a small budget. Reps promise you the earth, they don't know what a duotone is, or what it takes. Keep talking about the bigger jobs and the longer runs, they'll do what it takes to get it (nearly) right at a good price to keep your business, but it will be a hassle, and you'll have to watch them like a hawk. Or go to a good, long established printer, with experience in the kind of quality work you are looking for. They are rare, and getting rarer. You will have to pay for good workmen, good equipment, long, careful setups for short jobs. They can't compete with kwik printers on price but the difference in quality will be worth it.
posted by aisforal at 4:40 PM on May 20, 2005

I'd go CMYK and deliver it as Quark or InDesign files--with pdfs or printouts with any special instructions. And don't forget to collect it all, using Flightcheck or something like it (InDesign has a built-in collector)--make sure you give them all the fonts and hi-res (300dpi) images. (and Epson proofs are cheaper than Kodaks if you're going to be getting paper proofs.) Are you doing any color-correcting on the images or will they be doing it?
posted by amberglow at 8:36 PM on May 20, 2005

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