A primer for creative geniuses

By Son Do

October 12, 2022

How to get the best out of your brilliant idea

Creatives today are faced with many new challenges. The path from initial design to final output has many steps and many pitfalls. New creation tools allow greater design freedom but sometimes hinder the print process. With ever improving printing technologies, there’s higher quality output, expanded color gamut, and a multitude of special effects. Changing roles blurred the traditional separation between designers and production, pre-press, and printers. In order to deliver a consistent quality product, creative workflow today must be a fluid and flexible multipath that takes into account all of these factors.

Communication is key

The single most important aspect to a successful project is communication. Most projects today are complicated affairs that include not only a printed campaign but also multimedia, social media and digital media. Since so many parties are involved, it is crucial for the creative teams and their vendors to discuss file delivery and preparation. Specifications must be agreed upon, from the beginning in order to ensure a smooth handoff between parties. A good workflow with standard operating procedures will eliminate errors and delays and, since every vendor is unique, good communication upfront ensures that all parties are in sync.

What are the many roles creatives play today??

Creatives are those people primarily responsible for the design of a project. These include creative art directors and designers. However, as the need to deliver projects on budget and on time increases, many creatives handle production as well as prepress functions. As such they must be aware of the technologies and standards specific to those functions in addition to their own design tools. To be effective, some processes, such as color management, must be applied throughout the entire workflow, from start to finish.

Got a good design? here’s how to create the best file for it.

Design Tools

Use the right tool for the job. Design and print are complicated processes. Not all applications support the file formats, functions, and features needed to create a successful print file. It is vital to use industry standard software in the design process. This ensures that vendors can handle the files appropriately and make changes when necessary.

This applies regardless of the file format. For example, although PDF is a universal file format used for file submission, not all PDFs are created equal. A brochure laid out in a word processing program and then converted into a PDF may have type reflow issues, low-resolution imagery and mismatched color spaces. It will not support spot colors and other print specific functions. It will not pass most preflighting systems and most often will have to be redone in a standard page layout program. This delays the project and adds cost.

Design Features

Transparency is a great application feature for innovative designs but can create headaches downstream. When the design is ready for press, a RIP converts the design to a format suitable for the printing. Different RIPs handle transparencies differently and unexpected print artifacts sometimes happen. Communicate with your print partners about which settings to use and ask them how to best prepare your file.

In general, when using a new feature for the first time, consider how it will affect the print process and communicate accordingly. A quick email or telephone call will prevent many problems at a time when mistakes incur costly penalties.

Multimedia, RGB and CMYK

Your project is not only going to be printed, but it will also go to digital distribution. An efficient workflow allows you to leverage assets and create a cohesive design that maintains a tight aesthetic between the multimedia output and the printed product.

To this end, design files should begin in an RGB colorspace. This allows the greatest color gamut and can then be repurposed for different intents later in the design process.

Find out early from your print partners if and when CMYK conversion should take place, and what reference print condition the CMYK should target. In the case of POS, trade show graphics, and other wide format uses, print partners may prefer the RGB files so that they can leverage the expanded gamuts of digital printers. For online web and tablet applications, RGB is mandatory for the best visuals.

Creatives today are faced with many new challenges. The path from initial design to final output has many steps and many pitfalls. New creation tools allow greater design freedom but sometimes hinder the print process. With ever improving printing technologies, there’s higher quality output, expanded color gamut, and a multitude of special effects. Changing roles blurred the traditional separation between designers and production, prepress, and printers. In order to deliver a consistent quality product, creative workflow today must be a fluid and flexible multipath that takes into account all of these factors.

Communication is key

The single most important aspect to a successful project is communication. Most projects today are complicated affairs that include not only a printed campaign but also multimedia, social media and digital media. Since so many parties are involved, it is crucial for the creative teams and their vendors to discuss file delivery and preparation. Specifications must be agreed upon, from the beginning in order to ensure a smooth handoff between parties. A good workflow with standard operating procedures will eliminate errors and delays and, since every vendor is unique, good communication upfront ensures that all parties are in sync.

What are the many roles creatives play today??

Creatives are those people primarily responsible for the design of a project. These include creative art directors and designers. However, as the need to deliver projects on budget and on time increases, many creatives handle production as well as prepress functions. As such they must be aware of the technologies and standards specific to those functions in addition to their own design tools. To be effective, some processes, such as color management, must be applied throughout the entire workflow, from start to finish.

Color Management

Use color management. Within the design tools ofv the Adobe Creative Cloud, you can synchronize col-or management preferences across the entire suite, from a single interface in Adobe Bridge. It is important to synchronize settings throughout the entire creative team because, when files are exchanged, color fidelity is maintained not only between applications but also between designers.

The minimum settings are the selection of appropriate RGB and CMYK profiles, and how to handle color mismatches. In general, use embedded pro-files when available. RGB should be set to the most common profile among your assets. This is often sRGB especially if the project will have a multimedia component. AdobeRGB is also common especially in commercial photography. CMYK is the dominant print condition.

These settings are defaults and serve as a starting point for all new files. Individual files can have separate preferences as well that can tailor each project to it’s intended output. For example, although most projects may be targeting Gracol2006, an individual file may be targeted to SWOP.

Viewing Environment

Critical color evaluation benefits from a stable and standardized lighting environment. A calibrated monitor is useless if the surrounding environment is too bright or if the lighting creates shifts in color perception. Most creative environments are chaotic workspaces with mixed lighting that vary throughout the day. And that’s not good. Instead, use monitor hoods and dim lighting and, if possible, create a dedicated viewing workspace for truly critical color evaluation.

When evaluating hard copy, a viewing station ensures the truest perception of color. Color-correct lights at the proper illumination and color temperature ensure eliminate perceptual color drifts.. ISO 3664:2009 specifies the current standard viewing conditions and many professional graphic arts view-ing stations meet these requirements.

Preparing, preflighting, and submitting files.

Preflight

Most standardized graphic arts software include a preflighting function. Preflight allows you to check whether your file is correctly prepared for its intended application. For example, if your file is intended for an offset print process, preflight will check for image resolution and flag any images considered low resolution. This allows you to correct most common problems before the file is sent to your printer or before you create your press PDF.

PDF

PDF is the most common file format for file submission. It can be a self-contained file that contains fonts, images, and color information for output. Properly prepared, a PDF should print with minimal issues. Just submitting a PDF however, does not ensure that it is printable. PDF encompasses a wide range of features and some may not be compatible with all RIPs. So preflighting the PDF for your particular print process before you submit it to your printer will save time and money. The Ghent Workgroup (an industry association of graphic arts users, associations, and developers) develops best practices for creating, processing, and exchanging files for the graphics arts industry. Among those are preflighting profiles that can be used to verify that your PDF is printable under standardized conditions. These industry wide recommendations along with the specific parameters specified by the print partner ensure a hassle free RIP process.

Color Conversion

Here, communication is key. Depending on the printer and the type of printing you will need, , you will have to know whether to deliver RGB or CMYK files. . And, when CMYK is needed, which CMYK should RGB data be converted to? In the case of digital printing, most print partners prefer RGB data. CMYK conversion is done at the RIP stage and most often targets the widest color gamut available on most digital printers.

CMYK is needed for most traditional print processes. However, some print partners prefer to do the conversions internally. As long as the file has been prepared properly with embedded RGB profiles, then the conversion is fairly straightforward. Other printers prefer receiving converted files. In this case, they will specify the CMYK profile to be used, either a custom one for that print facility or a standardized reference print condition such as GRACoL. You can do the conversion when you create PDFs, either manually or with an automation software.

In conclusion, oh designer cum typographer, production and prepress person….

Your role certainly has expanded over the years. With advent of new tools and technologies, a more holistic approach is necessary in order complete any project. Your designer’s skill-set now includes a smattering of process control, color management, and prepress duties.

But that’s okay as long as you remember that the key is communication. Communicating with all parties before, during, and after a project is critical to its success because, when industry standard procedures and specifications are implemented and regularly verified, your work will be a fantastic success.


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