Using a commercial printer — an overview

Of course, I’m assuming readers of this site will be using their shiny desktop publishing kit to send jobs to commercial printers. It makes sense – as soon as you get into volumes over a thousand, the savings compared to colour copying and photocopying become obvious.

Here are some things to bear in mind.

Your printer is your friend

Printers are always touting for work, so use this to your advantage. By this, I mean you can get representatives to visit your office to discuss specifications and paper stocks, get them to put together mock-ups of projects and ask for assistance with your technical settings, such as PDF output and bleed.

Also, what goes around comes around. The people in the print room will appreciate it if you send hassle-free jobs. If there isn’t a binding deadline on a job let them know, as it will help them plan their schedules more effectively. Save up some favours for when you genuinely are in a hole and you need genuine help with a tight deadline or a sudden change in the job specs.

More than one way to skin a cat

There are realistically three options around how you send a job. This is dependent on which version of Quark you’re running.

Send native Quark files

Here, you use QuarkXPress’s Collect for Output feature, which will output native files with all appropriate images, illustrations, fonts and Xtensions. This was the usual option years ago and it can still be done, but bear in mind the following:

  • It’s probably the most time-consuming option
  • Your printer may charge you extra to process the files
  • If you’re using a PC and your printer is Mac based, there is the possiblity of incompatibilities
  • You may end up with several very large files, which may be too big to email or take a very long time to upload to a printer’s FTP site, if they have one. You may possibly have to put the job on a CD and physically send it to the printers.

Having said that, if your volumes are fairly low and your jobs are simple and predictable, it’s still an option.

Use Quark’s PDF generator

I think this feature first appeared in version 6.0. Now, I personally avoided for several reasons – I already had Adobe Acrobat, I’d heard indifferent things about it and one of my printers warned me it had caused problems for them.

Having said that, I have heard that this capability has improved somewhat in version 7. My honest answer is that I don’t know – my recommendation would be to check out some discussion boards and ask your printers what their experiences have been. Maybe someone will post a comment below. (Note: I posted this question on Planet Quark, who provided a helpful reply. Again, it’s something to check with your printer.)

Use Adobe Acrobat

This is my preferred option – the ubiquity of PDFs means that it’s a very difficult program to do without anyway. It also gives you a lot more control over the outputted job, has several useful features for optimising publications for the web and several useful file conversion options.

I personally use Quark to generate PostScript files, then distill them to PDFs using preloaded settings sent to me by my printers. It works well for me and I’ll go into more detail in later posts, but it’s not the only way to do it.

Paper and colour

Paper stocks, weights, coating and binding options are best discussed with your printer. If you’re spending enough money, you may even get a free lunch into the bargain.

Colour takes a lot more thought. The most likely options for printing are one, two and four-colour.

One-colour printing

This is almost always going to be black ink, and therefore one plate at the printers, so the cheapeast option. It’s also technically the least difficult. If you’re only ever giong to print in black and white, then it’s unlikely you’ll actually need to buy any expensive desktop publishing software at all – you could probably manage with your copy of (gulp) Microsoft Publisher that comes with Microsoft Office and send the jobs as PDFs.

Two-colour printing

My preferred option for standard publications. This is realistically black plus a single Pantone colour (although other spot colour models are available). I think, done well, two-colour printing greatly adds to the visual appeal of bog-standard publications and is worth the extra money over one-colour printing. Or a two-colour cover can brighten up a book with only black insides.

Two-colour work is also the most technically fiddly in my experience – especially if you’re bringing in photos and illustrations from other programmes – although later tutorials will give suggestions to try and make it as painless as possible.

Four-colour printing

Full colour – cyan, magenta, yellow and black plates. Nice, of course, but also the most expensive.

Realistically, you’re going to want to confine full-colour to things such as leaflets, brochures and newsletters, along with book and document covers. Remember, there’s nothing to show off your design ability (or lack of) like filling a page with colour.

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