Avoid Costly Printing Problems With Real World Tips


Excerpted from “Real World Print Production.” Copyright © 2007. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.

Getting ink on paper isn’t the end of the story. The printed piece must be trimmed to its final size and subjected to any required folding and gluing. Build it the wrong size in the beginning, and you’ll suffer the slings and arrows of irritated bindery operators later on. Layout repairs cost money and time. The mechanical alterations required to mend incorrect page size or configuration can be much more complex (and expensive) than just changing a font. Even if your artwork is perfect, you must keep in mind that trimming, folding, binding, and fancy finishing treatments such as embossing are all physical processes. Environmental influences such as temperature and humidity, coupled with the stresses of moving paper through printing presses, folding equipment, and trimming devices, can result in errors in the final piece. As a designer, you can’t control those physical processes. But if you take those possibilities into account as you prepare artwork and create page layouts, you may be able to minimize adverse effects.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Even if you don’t sew, you can nonetheless anticipate the unfortunate results of using a defective pattern. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” applies to any manufacturing process, whether it’s sewing or printing (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Careful planning when creating a pattern can mean the difference between being stylish (left) and facing public humiliation (right).
Building your files without considering the finishing processes (like trimming and binding) can cost you money and delay your job. Consequently, the more you know about folding, trimming, binding, and imposition, the better prepared you’ll be to correctly build files. Let’s start with two dimensions — width and height — and work our way up to the challenge of designing in three dimensions. Think of it as one of those fun, spatial reasoning games that you loved as a child. (Or maybe you didn’t. In that case, you’ll hate this part.) And all games have rules….
Rule Number One: Build to the Correct Trim Size
If you’re creating an odd-sized piece — say, a 5–by–4 inch invitation — don’t put it all alone in the middle of a letter-sized page. Create a custom page size that matches the final trim size of your piece. In a page layout program such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress, specify the size as you begin the document (Figure 2).

Figure 2. To specify a custom page size, enter the correct values in the Width and Height fields as you create a new file in InDesign (left) or QuarkXPress (right).
Slang Terms. There’s a lot of colorful language in printing, and much of it has to do with the arts of trimming, folding, and binding: creep, dummy, bleed, guillotine, jogging, nipping, perfect, shingle, twist, punch, bust… (I believe some of these were also dance crazes in the 1960s).
If you’re using a drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator or Adobe (formerly Macromedia) FreeHand, the page limits that you see are just imaginary paper. Only the actual drawing’s dimensions count. For more information on the way illustration programs handle page size, see Chapter Ten, “Illustrator Production Tips,” and Chapter Eleven, “FreeHand Production Tips,” of my book Real World Print Production.
Why is this important? Take a simple business card as an example. The print service provider doesn’t feed little individual 3.5 by 2 inch pieces of paper through a press to create cards one at a time. Your business card doesn’t float alone in the middle of a press sheet as in Figure 3. Instead, multiple copies of the card are printed simultaneously — imposed — for a press sheet, which is subsequently trimmed to final size. That’s why it’s important to supply artwork of the correct size (Figure 4). Prepress technicians need to position your artwork accurately in the imposed layout. If they have to modify your file to do so, it costs money — and threatens your deadline.

Figure 3. Incorrect: A single business card on an oversized page.

Figure 4. Correct: A single business card built to correct size: 3.5 by 2 inches.
If you supply business card art as a lonely card on a letter-sized page, a prepress operator will have to copy the card art into a new page of the correct size (or change the dimensions of the existing file) so it’s correct for everything down the line. In addition to requiring an extra, time-consuming step, this also introduces the possibility of error — not copying some little detail or moving something in the process.
Rule Number Two: Provide Bleed
Trimming is the finishing process that chops the printed piece to the correct final size. Since this is a mechanical process, it helps to have some margin for error in both the printing and trimming processes. Consequently, any time there is artwork intended to extend to the edge of the page, it’s necessary to provide bleed — extra image beyond the edge of the true page size. Commonly, bleed extends one-eighth of an inch (.125 inch or 9 points) beyond the trim line, but your print service provider may request a different bleed value. As with all issues, it behooves you to check the print service provider’s specifications as you begin the job.
However, Rule Number Two does not invalidate Rule Number One, which stipulates that you should build to the correct trim size. Start with the correct trim size, and then add the extra image (or flat color) beyond the trim limits by yanking on the edges of the appropriate frames. In a page-layout program like InDesign or QuarkXPress, it’s a simple matter to pull on the handles of image and tint frames to extend them beyond the page edges for sufficient bleed (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Extending artwork to provide bleed. The document is built to the correct final trim size, and the bleed extends beyond the trim.
In a drawing program, such as Illustrator or FreeHand, the visible page edge doesn’t necessarily indicate the limits of what you can draw. Depending on how you export your artwork from Illustrator or FreeHand, objects beyond that edge may be maintained, or they may be eliminated. This behavior is particularly confusing when you’re trying to make sure that you’re building your artwork to the correct size, with appropriate bleed. For specific information about handling this issue, see Chapter Ten, “Illustrator Production Tips,” and Chapter Eleven, “FreeHand Production Tips,” of Real World Print Production.
Rule Number Three: Stay Away From the Edge
You may have your heart set on that adorable doggie paw print border, but placing it too close to the edge or fold may result in disappointing results if there’s any error in printing, folding, or binding. The closer your artwork is to the trim edge, the smaller the margin (literally) for error, and the more obvious any inaccuracy will be. What to do?
Don’t place artwork perilously close to the edges (both internal and external). But, if you just must, make the margin as wide as possible to camouflage any problems. A small trimming error is less obvious against a larger total margin (Figure 6).

Figure 6. In an ideal world, your cute little paw-print border will print and trim perfectly. But a slight misregister during printing, combined with binding and trimming errors, can produce disappointing results (middle). The effect is exaggerated for dramatic effect, but you get the idea. A larger margin (right) makes it easier to camouflage a binding error.
Which leads us to Rule Number Four.
Rule Number Four: Follow the Print Specifications
Your print service provider should provide folding and trimming specifications to guide you as you create your work, including such information as:

  • Minimum distance from edges and folds for artwork
  • Minimum amount of bleed (usually 1/8 of an inch)
  • Suggested sizes for panels in folded pieces

Folding: High-Speed Origami. Consider something as simple as a three-panel, letter-fold brochure. If all panels were the same width, the innermost panel would buckle, and the piece would never fold completely flat — the brochure would spring open or the oversized panel would crinkle when forced (Figure 7). You can demonstrate this for yourself by folding a sheet of paper into approximate thirds, as if you were going to stuff it in an envelope.

Figure 7. Wrong: a three-panel piece with equal-sized panels. The inner panel buckles, so the piece can’t fold properly.
The solution? Make the fold-in panel more narrow (Figure 8). Sounds simple, but think of the effect on your design: You have to build your design to accommodate the shorter third panel. The sanest way to do this is to build such a piece as a two-page job — one page for the outside and one for the inside. Don’t build such a piece as a pair of three-page spreads because this provides no way to create the narrower panel (page layout applications only allow one page size per document).

Figure 8. Right: three-panel piece folded so the innermost panel is narrower. Now the piece folds flat.
For example, if the finished, open flat width is 11 inches, build the file with two panels that are 3-11/16 inches wide and one panel 3-5/8 inches wide. Keep in mind that the inside and outside of the piece are mirrors of each other: The outside of the brochure will need the short trim panel on the left, and the inside of the brochure will need the short trim panel on the right (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Building a tri-fold brochure with a narrower fold-in panel.
Before starting, ask your print service provider what panel sizes they suggest, based on the paper stock to be used on the job, and the requirements of their equipment. Some folding configurations don’t require short panels (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Folding configurations such as the z-fold don’t require a short-trim panel.
How can you ensure that you’re laying out your panels correctly? Use guidelines to indicate the location of folds, and it will be easier to place artwork so it won’t be interrupted by the folding process.
Applications such as InDesign, Illustrator, and FreeHand allow you to numerically specify the position of guidelines. Although QuarkXPress doesn’t provide this ability, there are XTensions that add the ability to numerically position guidelines, such as Gluon’s Pro Grids & Guides, and XPert Guides from Quark (Figure 11).

Figure 11. The XPert Guides XTension for QuarkXPress allows you to numerically specify the position of guidelines. Of course, you may have to whip out a calculator to determine the correct value to enter.
When the guidelines are in place, use them to help you position artwork in the layout.
Additionally, all page layout and illustration applications provide some method of numerically positioning page elements. InDesign’s Control palette, Illustrator’s Transform palette, FreeHand’s Object Properties, and the QuarkXPress Measurements Palette all allow you to enter values for position and dimensions of selected objects.
If you’re aiming for a particular finished folded size, work backwards from that, following the same rules. For example, to create a three-panel piece that folds to a closed width of 8-1/2 inches, create the outside three panels in one 25-3/8 inch page (not three, letter-sized pages stitched together in a spread), as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. This piece will fold to a finished size of 8.5 by 11 inches. (Outside panels are shown here — the inside panels will mirror this configuration.)
As always, check with the print service provider early in the game, to ensure that your artwork meets their requirements. Note that thick paper stock may necessitate even greater short-trim values (that is, even more lopped off that short-trimmed panel) to compensate for the thickness of the folded piece.

© 2006 Pearson Education, Inc. Informit. All rights reserved.

Claudia McCue is the author of the book Real World Print Production with Adobe Creative Cloud, and the presenter for a number of print-related LinkedIn Learning courses, including “Learning Print Production,” “InDesign for the In-House Designer,” and “Acrobat Pro DC Essentials.” After more than 30 years in real-world print production, and 20 years of software training, she’s now retired, but still occasionally writes about printing topics.