The Printing Process

Everything you need to know about the printing process is here at your fingertips. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 617-623-3047

1. Cost estimation

Let’s begin with cost estimation. This can be the most crucial step in developing your printed piece. To evaluate the estimated cost, you must know finished size, quantity, how many colors (inks) will be used, whether or not the inks must be laser printer compatible, paper weight and color, number of folds, scores, bleeds, number of finished size pages (for booklets or newsletters), binding type, and the way it will be supplied to the printer (i.e. disk format, negatives supplied or camera ready).

You should also check ahead with any organizations that will be handling the piece to coordinate a schedule and ask for recommended preparation. This includes designers, printers, mailing houses and the Postal Service.

We always suggest calling your printer to coordinate your design with standard paper and press run sizes. This will allow you to get the maximum value for your dollar.

If your pieces will be mailed, you must follow current postal regulations. Using non-standard dimensions or materials can mean the difference between 33 cents and 44 cents per piece, or could result in the rejection of your mailing.

Check current mailing regulations at the US Postal website,  

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2. Design

Now that you have contacted all of the involved parties to insure smooth sailing in the final steps, you can begin designing. Remember to use the dimensions that will yield the most efficient results. When designing for print there are two ways to set up the artwork: camera-ready or electronic file.

For camera ready you can give the printer clean black and white artwork or paste up. Bring a mock-up to indicate the color separations, if any. When you have a multiple-color piece you must contact the printer about trap allowance. Trap is the spread or choke of the lighter color of two touching colors to allow for misregistration without unwanted paper show-through.

For electronic file preparation, make sure that your printer has the application you are using and can accept whatever form of disk you are supplying (Zip, SyQuest, etc.). Then, include all of the fonts, graphics, and layout files on the supplied disk. If any images have been used be sure that they will reproduce at the proper resolution. Contact your printer for specifications.

3. Outputting

The next step is to get negatives from your artwork.

If you have given the printer camera-ready art, the image assembler will simply shoot it with a large-format camera, to get one negative for each color.

If you have supplied a disk, the outputting department will have to produce color separations from your file. Here again, the desired result is one negative per color, containing the images for each page.

4. Image Assembly

The image assembler must now arrange your negatives to register or align perfectly on their respective plates. Like the negatives, the desired result is one plate for each color. The image assembler controls the use of light to burn your images into the photosensitive emulsion on each color’s plate. Then the plate is run through a processor which cleans any unexposed emulsion from the plate’s surface.


5. The Printing Press

The metal plate is now wrapped around a plate cylinder on a printing press. Each offset printing press uses a careful balance of ink and water to achieve accurate results. Wherever there is non-image area on the plate, water will gather and ink will repel. The image area repels water and gathers ink. Too much water means that the images will appear light; too much ink means that images will appear dark. The plate image makes direct contact with a rubber blanket which makes direct contact with the paper.

Each printing unit on a press can print one ink or color at a time. Therefore a single color press only prints one color at a time, while a two color prints two simultaneously.

Photo quality images are achieved through a four-color process. If you can look at any printed color photos under a magnifying glass, you will see cyan, magenta, yellow, and black dots (CMYK). Combinations of those four colors can produce representations of almost any color.

Varnish is a clear ink that can be used to protect images while adding a slightly different finish. Varnishing is done by applying a clear varnish coating in the same way as ink. Scoring, perforating and slitting can also be done on an offset press using raised metal rules instead of ink impression.

6. Die Cutting

Most often, unusual shapes cut or impressed into the paper are achieved by die cutting. This requires creating a shape out of a metal strip with a sharp edge, called a die. This die is then impressed into the paper using a special press. But remember to ask your printer about standard die shapes that they may already have on hand before designing (and incurring the cost) of a new die.

7. Bindery and Finishing

Large machines are used to cut, fold and bind your materials.

Each fold is machine made for preciseness. Ask your printer about the equipment’s capabilities before designing any folds.

There are many different kinds of bindings. Stitching (stapling), saddle stitching (staples through the binding), wire-o (curled wire through multiple holes on the piece’s edge), GBC (curled plastic through multiple holes on the piece’s edge), perfect binding (the process used for most paperback novels involving glue), etc.

After each piece is bound the final trimming is done for clean square edges.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 617.623.3047. Our Experienced Pre-Press Department will be glad to help you prepare your file for printing.