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Tips for dealing with professional print shops

Marco Tabini, | May 18, 2011
Working with a professional print shop can be a daunting experience, but the main trick is to properly analyze the job you want done.

The golden standard, then, is to use a format that leaves as little to chance as possible. In the past, this meant using something like Adobe’s Encapsulated PostScript (EPS), but, these days, almost every printer will accept PDF files. And this, of course, is great news for us Mac users, since OS X supports PDF natively, making producing perfect documents much easier.


Find the right paper

I’ve said this before, but let me repeat this important point: when it comes to printing, all things being equal, choosing the right paper for your job is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

There are four important factors to consider. The first is the color of the paper—even “white” could mean a number of different shades and hues, with those tending towards yellow (like ivory or cream) being better suited to formal products, like invitations or greeting cards, while cooler whites are more appropriate for image reproduction.

The second element to keep in mind is weight. Heavier paper—made of thicker stock—is perfect for documents composed of individual sheets, like posters, pictures, or business cards. Thinner paper is usually better for multi-page documents, but the lighter the stock, the cheaper it will feel in your hands.

Your third choice will be one of shine. Glossy paper brings out the vibrance in colors, which makes it particularly appropriate for photographs and art. Matte paper, on the other hand, produces a more readable output by reducing glare and reflection, and is therefore better for text. Glossy paper also tends to be more difficult to write on—something to keep in mind if you’re printing things like reply cards or forms.

Finally, you’ll have to decide whether you want your paper coated. Coatings make paper more resilient to scratches and scuff, ensuring that it continues to look better for longer periods of time.


Understand how your documents are printed

Printers will typically print your documents using one of two methods: digital or offset.

Digital printing is performed using machines that compose each document directly from its digital representation—basically, the same way the printer in your office does. Obviously, print shops use professional equipment which produce better-looking output than your personal inkjet, but, generally speaking, a digital press trades quality in favour of speed and cost.

Offset printing, on the other hand, works by first etching your document onto a set of metallic plates (typically one for each primary color), and then using the plates to transfer ink onto paper in the right places.


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