Basics of Printing

It is necessary to understand the basics of printing when it comes to translating your art and ideas into successfully printed projects. Properly prepared art makes it easier to keep your deadlines and avoids costly art charges and re-proofs.

Color

RGB

The term RGB refers to Red, Green and Blue - the colors used to generate the images you see on your computer monitor or digital camera. RGB is the default setting for many software programs, but is not suitable for printing applications. Therefore, you'll need to convert all artwork and images into either spot or CMYK color. It is also helpful to understand that the RGB colors you see on your monitor are NOT what you should expect to see in a printed piece. For accurate color matching, check a swatch book (such as PMS - Pantone Matching System) that more closely reflects printed spot and process colors.

Spot Color

Spot colors are simply colored inks (as opposed to colors created by mixing ink dots in the printing process as in CMYK). Each spot color is output to a separate plate and printed without combining colors (simple gradients between spot colors can be printed, but they will not be as smooth as those printed in four color process. Spot colors are typically brighter and crisper then process colors. Additionally, there are some colors that cannot be attained by four color process. You will want to use spot colors for any project that has less then 4 colors. Spot color is ideal for applications in which color must be very consistent from one printed piece to the next (such as letterhead, envelopes and brochures). Using spot colors also helps maintain consistency of color when pieces are printed months apart or by different vendors.

Four Color Process (CMYK)

Unlike spot colors which use premixed ink for each printed color, four color process printing uses four standard inks and mixes them to create a huge range of printed colors. The inks used are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (C - a bright blue, M - similar to fuchsia, Y - yellow and K - black). One of the most common uses for process printing is color photographs reproduction. In four color process printing, color images are broken down into onto CMYK plates. When the four colors are printed on top of each other (using tiny dots), the color image is reproduced on the page.

A vast range of colors can be reproduced using process color, but there are limitations. Not all spot colors can be attained by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Additionally, while appearing very close to it's spot color counterpart, process matches to spot colors are typically less vibrant in appearance. While four color process and spot color can be printed in the same job, savings can be realized by converting spot colors to process colors when possible.

Four color process printing is ideal for tints, screens and gradients. Tiny type or objects and very fine lines are best reproduced in spot colors.

Why is getting the correct color in my artwork important?

In our preparations to print your project, we create plates - one for each spot color or four plates for four color process printing. It is also possible to print a project in four color process plus spot colors. Here's the catch: plates are expensive!

If you are printing a high end wine label, it may be worth the expense to print a lovely vineyard picture in four color process, while adding spot PMS 872 metallic gold and spot PMS 208 (burgundy) for the logo and description of the wine. Then, you may choose to add a varnish for lustre and durability. All those colors adds up to a eye catching label, but at a cost. You would be paying for 7 plates (1 - cyan, 2 - magenta, 3 - yellow, 4 - black, 5 - PMS 872 metallic gold, 6 - PMS 208 burgundy, and 7 - varnish). The extra expense is well worth it for a high end product, but probably not for a simple label that will be applied to a shipping box.

You can save money by getting the color right before you send the files to us. Often, we can fix colors for you, but that requires an art charge - another expense you can avoid with a bit of planning. It is always helpful to know how the label will be printed when you begin the design process. Remember, most software programs default to RGB, so you'll need to change the document color type to CMYK (for all projects that will be printed - even spot color projects). For spot color, make sure the name of the spot color stays consistent from the illustration program to the page layout program. If you used PMS 109 CVC (bright yellow) in your illustration program, make sure the yellow type, rules or boxes added in the page layout program also use PMS 109 CVC. Additionally, white that prints (such as underprints on clear substrates) is a spot color and must be added to the art file and output to a separate plate. It is fairly simple to print separations to your desktop printer to verify the colors are set up correctly.

File Types

Vector

Vector is a resolution-independent, scalable format composed of individual objects made up of paths and points that can be defined by mathematical and numeric data. Vector images can be resized without loss of quality, making them an ideal format for initial design of logos and illustrations. Illustration programs, such as Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw create vector art. Vector images can be utilized in any type of printing.

EPS (Encapsulated Postscript)

Based on the PostScript language, EPS is a vector format designed for printing to PostScript printers and imagesetters. It is considered the best choice for high resolution printing of illustrations because it is resolution independent, as opposed to TIFF. Vector artwork is often saved in an EPS format.

Bitmap

An image formed (or appearing to be formed) by a grid of pixels. One color bitmaps can be printed as a spot color, but most bitmaps are suitable only for four color process and are lower resolution than vector artwork. Enlarging bitmap art reduces the quality of the output.

GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)

GIF is a low-resolution bitmap graphic format that supports transparency and animation. The vast majority of non-photographic images seen on Web pages use the GIF format. GIFs are suitable only for four color process printing and are lower resolution than vector artwork.

JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

A file format for photos, typically used for its ability to compress files (saves a smaller file than TIFF). Used mainly on the internet; most printers prefer TIFF files over JPGs. Most suitable for four color process printing.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

A PDF is a file saved in the PostScript printer description language that is highly portable across computer platforms. Many PDFs can be printed as spot color or four color process (when exported and saved properly). Embedding fonts and graphics when saving a PDF file eliminates the need to collect fonts and linked graphics when preparing the artwork to send to the printer.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

One of the most commonly used and versatile graphics formats in printing, TIFF is a bitmap graphic format that is ideal for high resolution printing to PostScript printers and image setters. TIFF images support both embedded paths and alpha channels which can be used to create transparent backgrounds for images in a page layout application. TIFF images are best printed as four color process. Unlike vector graphics, enlarging TIFFs reduces the quality of the output.

File Preparation

There are a number of ways to prepare files so that they will output properly.

  1. PDF - The preferred method. All PDFs must be saved as high resolution files with fonts and graphics embedded. You will also need to include any bleed necessary to produce the job when saving the PDF.
  2. Live Files - We can accept files from most layout or graphic programs. Many page layout programs have a "collect" or "package" function that gathers all fonts and graphics used in the file. If your software program doesn't have this function, you will need to manually gather all font and graphics linked to the file and send them along with your artwork. It is always advisable to compress (ZIP or STUFF) your files before sending them by either email or upload to our FTP site. This reduces the size of the files so that they transfer more quickly and also reduces the incidence of file corruption.
  3. If you don't want to send fonts and links, simply convert all type to curves and embed all graphics in your artwork. Once links are embedded and text is converted to curves, we can't make changes.

For a complete list of acceptable software programs and file formats, click here for our Art Specificatons.

Printing Methods

Screen Printing (or silkscreen)

Screen Printing uses a stencil-like screen to produce long-lasting printed pieces. The screen is made of mesh that ink can pass through. An impression is made on the screen that allows ink to pass through only the areas that are to be printed (the holes in the rest of the mesh are chemically treated so that ink is blocked). Ink is forced through the screen with a rubber squeegee onto the surface that is to be printed. The piece is then exposed to UV lights that cure the ink.

Screen Printing produces brilliant, glossy colors that are opaque. It is water and weather proof and can be used inside or outdoors. Resistant to chemicals and abrasion without lamination, Screen Printing is ideal for banners, t-shirts, poster, yard signs - anything that needs to be durable and lasting.

Flexography (or Flexo)

Flexography is a high speed printing process that utilizes flexible plates. Flexo plates have the image that is to be printed raised up. Ink is applied to the raised surface of the plates, then the plates rotate to press the image onto the stock. A wide variety of different materials can be used in Flexo Printing. Our Flexo presses have multiple stations, allowing us to utilize multiple colors on the final printed piece, including four color process.

One of the advantages of Flexography is cost - it is very economical. We are also able to die-cut decals in-line on our Flexo presses. Flexography printed materials are not weather-proof and are for indoor use only. The colors of Flexo printed pieces will not be an exact match to PMS spot colors or our standard screen colors.

Offset Lithography

In lithography (or offset printing), the printing surface is flat with both image and non-image areas at the same level on the printing plate. Lithography uses the fact that oil and water don't mix as the basis of the printing process. The printing plate is treated so that the image area attracts oil-based inks and the wet non-image areas repel the oil-based inks. The plate with ink is then pressed against the surface to be printed.

Offset Lithography is commonly used to print business pieces, such as newsletters, letterhead, newspapers, forms, greeting cards and tags and is most cost effective on medium to large runs. One of the advantages of offset printing is that quality is maintained even when printing on stocks with texture (such as linen paper). The inks in offset printing will not chip or flake off the printed piece. Offset can utilize spot colors or four color process.

Pad Printing

Pad Printing (product decorating) is ideal for printing directly on objects with irregular shapes or textures and can be used on a wide variety of different materials, such as metal, plastic, wood and glass. Pad printing is similar to stamping - the image to be printed is a raised surface on a stamp. The stamp is inked and then applied to the object that is to be printed. The end product is durable and long-lasting.

Pad printing is ideal for pens (or virtually any cylindrical surface) or parts. Pad printing does not require the item to be printed to be flat or run through a press, making it the best choice for many non-standard shaped objects.

metalphoto® (Durable Printing on Aluminum)

metalphoto® uses a photographic printing process on anodized aluminum to produce a sharp, clear image with very fine detail. This process resists fading and abrasion and offers 20 years of outdoor durability. metalphoto┬« can stand up to extreme environmental conditions, so it is ideal for information plates, plaques, wiring diagrams, signage, serial number plates, dials, scales or any application in a rugged environment. We offer a wide variety of surface colors, finishes, thicknesses and ink colors in metalphoto®.

Digital Printing

Digital Printing is produced on a high resolution inkjet or laser printer. The image is sent directly to the printer using digital files (such as pdfs and those from graphics and page layout software programs). There is no need for a plate with digital printing, saving you time and money.

All digital printing is four color process, so you are free to use as much color as you want. Digital printing is a great option for those times you only need a few printed pieces and fast turn-around. While it is suitable for many applications, the quality of digital is generally a bit lower then you will find with offset printing and we can't guarantee a match to spot colors or materials off other presses.

Vehicle Graphics

Vehicle Graphics come in a variety of styles and applications. Traditional graphics, often seen on vehicles, are cut vinyl (decals without backgrounds) - commonly logos, phone numbers and slogans. We also offer vehicle wraps that are large format graphics printed directly onto adhesive backed vinyl that is applied to the vehicle, covering the entire vehicle (we even have a product for windows). Vehicle wraps add color, personality and branding to your vehicles, turning them into moving billboards.