CATALOG DESIGN: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PRESS CHECKS
Hundreds of hours designing, thousands of miles traveled sourcing, and boatloads of money invested into manufacturing, and this is what it all boils down to: CMYK color on paper that acts as the sales tool which your sales force will use to drive the bottom line. Does your catalog design deliver what you expected?
Despite 2 decades of experience with designing catalogs for brands, it never ceases to amaze me how often I hear about the important process of press checking being passed over by others. A factor in this is most likely the way that digital media is taking over and replacing print media as the primary communications vehicle for product marketing. The art and science of color on press is becoming a rarity. The number of quality print companies is dwindling, but those that are still thriving are doing so because they deliver the highest standard of color you can achieve on paper. Very importantly, the designer needs to be there to help push that catalog across the finish line. Here’s why.
When a catalog design goes to print, and after you have reviewed color proofs of the photography, illustration and catalog designs, those electronic files go through a RIP (Raster Image Processing) and get etched into printing plates with a laser. Next, a 100% physical process begins of transferring inks to those plates, then the plates pass the ink to paper at high speeds. The layering of CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black – yes K stands for Black – don’t ask, it doesn’t make much sense) requires an artistic skill on press to deliver the color you desire. Quality press operators will do a great job at matching the color proofs. But then, that may not be sufficient. You see, CMYK color cannot perfectly resemble many of the inks, paints and dyes used in manufacturing for most products. Printing can get pretty close, but it takes the eye of an artist to make finely tuned adjustments on press and raise or lower color intensities to more accurately match your product. Sadly, many designers and their clients ignore the opportunity of a press check and just figure that the work must be finished when a job goes to print.
I think about the groups of designers, sample makers and manufacturers that work so hard to nail the perfect colors, textures and stylings. I feel a responsibility to honor their creative work by reproducing it as accurately as possible. So, I always bring physical product samples along with me to the press check. I try to push the limits of ink on paper to accurately reflect the work of these professionals. During the many page forms I press check for my clients, occasionally there are forms that have large color photos of products that are just not close enough to the real thing for my taste despite all the proofing and approvals that go on. When this happens, I instruct the press operators to adjust the ink flows for the CMYK color decks in particular areas of the press sheet to bring those photos back to more closely portray the real products. Sometimes, we have to make adjustments 3-4 times to get it right. That’s the art of it.
I know how it feels to have your creative work end up looking disappointing on press when color values are not up to par. Buyers are potentially making decisions for tens of thousands of dollars based on these catalog photos. I aim to make them to be the best they can possibly be. Sometimes, all it takes is dedicating an extra few minutes to adjustments on press to deliver that catalog design color that will boost your sales through the roof.
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