The Benefits of Press-Checking a Printed Publication

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with more than 25 years of experience designing materials for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

Today, press checks are often overlooked due to the better software and printing equipment which pretty much make the process “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG). There are fewer surprises on press than 20 years ago and proofs are much better. Yet, any surprise, unless it has an uncharacteristically positive impact, is usually something to avoid. I especially recommend press checking those jobs that are not the Fotolia_14739158_XS“run-of-the-mill” type of print project. Annual reports, press kits, automobile brochures, magazines, corporate reports and sales kits should be press-checked.  Generally the more expensive and the more complicated the job, the more important it is to do a press check.

Why it is important to attend a press check:
1) A press check provides for quality assurance. It’s the designer and the project manager’s last chance to check for color density, trapping and registration issues, as well as color consistency. During the press check, it is also a good opportunity to check crossovers, the application of tinted varnishes and the legibility of type against colored backgrounds.  Sometimes just a small shift on press can make a world of difference in terms of legibility of the type or how “plugged-up” a photo may appear.

2) A press check allows one to verify proper PMS color matching, bleeds, smooth gradients, and to check for paper “see-through.”  PMS matching is critical especially where a specific corporate color is required.  This is essential for corporate branding. Don’t be afraid to have the pressman make several “moves” on press to ensure that the color is “spot-on.” It is also the time to check the bleeds. While standing at the press, ask the printer to trim down a sample of a press sheet.  Make sure that the inks are fully saturated to the end of the sheet.  Make sure that gradients are not banding.  Finally, you will want to check for see through of image from one side of the sheet to the other.  Obviously it is too late to change the paper stock once the job is on press.  But you could have the pressman hold back or run lighter on the ink to help minimize this issue.

3) A press check allows the designer to learn the capabilities of the equipment and how much the pressman can push the machine. As designer, you can learn how far a machine can be pushed to create some outstanding special effects in terms of lushness of color. Some designs may require the additional of a 5th color plate or spot UV to accomplish dramatic effects with heightened contrast.

At a press check it is important to look for inconsistent ink coverage from one end of the sheet to the other. Certain equipment will work better with short-runs as opposed to long-run jobs.  Other equipment is better fitted to 6-color jobs, while 2-color jobs run more cost-effectively on a smaller press. Make sure that your printer is using the optimum equipment for the job.

4) A press check is an opportunity to learn the capabilities of the print vendor and their staff. Make sure that the printer can handle your job properly. Ask for samples of similar jobs. Ask to see a tour of the facility.  Make sure that they have a good pre-press department.  Make sure the shop is really clean.  It will make the difference between a quality product and a mediocre print job.  A “dirty” shop means that the end product will likely have dust and dirt marks.  Find out about the pressman and how long they have been printing jobs. You’ll know better for next time. Several years ago, I worked with a shop that would print many of my stellar award-winning annual reports, I would request a particular pressman who really knew his stuff.  He knew exactly how far we could push the press and how much of an effect we could achieve with spot and matt tinted varnishes. By working with this pressman, I was always confident that the job would turn out right.

5) With a press check, one accumulates a wealth of knowledge about the “dos” and “don’ts” of designing for print.  By experiencing the press in action and seeing the sheets come off the machine, one-by-one, the designer can learn firsthand what works in terms of the design and what would work better with a different print process. Maybe a varnish or an aqueous finish is not as pronounced as one might like.  Maybe the next time a spot UV coating would better produce the desired effect.

6) With a press check, one becomes more educated in the field of design.  In fact, the more you know about printing the better you will be able to successfully execute your designs. The more that you can absorb, the more likely you are to conform your designs to what produces the best result on press.

7) Attending a press check demonstrates your commitment to quality. To the printer, that means the designer really cares about the end-product. They won’t be able to simply “print and go.”  The printer will need to cater to your keen eye as well.  You know what you want and only you can convey it in person.

8) It also demonstrates that you are looking out for the client’s best interest. You are there to usher the project through and to oversee the process to prevent errors and drop-offs in quality.  The press check is your way to do it.

After all, once it’s printed, it’s basically in stone.  You can no longer change it, so it’s best to be sure.  Most of all, no one wants to absorb the cost of reprinting the piece due to some error.


If your company needs an innovative high quality publication, e-publication, or promotion, please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more please visit

Harlan West is the author of and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 25 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.

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