How to do a Digital Press Approval

So you were asked to do a press approval and you have no idea what to look for? Relax, below is a list of things that you need to know. It is not as hard as you think and if you are a photographer or graphic designer, with a trained eye for detail and color, you can quickly learn the basics and handle the situation.

Unless there is a ‘show-stopper” of a problem, your work with the printer is a collaborative effort at trying to arrive at the best quality printing, given the capabilities of the press and press operator and your budget.

Make sure that you have the authority to “stop the presses” and wait for a correction or new file from your graphic designer. Since the printing is digital, you usually have the ability to print a small quantity and have the output approved by someone else.

Keep in mind that the list below is meant for a digital printing experience. An offset, flexo, gravure, silkscreening or stamping situation may share some of the same concepts, but will be different.

  1. Come prepared. Bring any file, proof or sample for color matching that you might need. Do not be late, because your printer may have other jobs that need to run on the same press.
  2. Make sure that the lighting in the room where you are checking the output is appropriate. Remember that the light source that illuminates your print sample influences the way you see color. Many printers have viewing booths, which enable you to view the output with an indirect light source that is properly balanced.
  3. Is the printer using the correct PDF? If you have different versions of the same file, with slight changes, check to make sure the output is the same as your file.
  4. Is there a color cast? Check objects that should be a neutral gray, but might be warmer or colder than expected. Look for memory colors. Memory colors are colors that you know from memory what they look like. You know what an orange or strawberry should look like and can detect a shift if they are outside of what your expectations are for that object.
  5. Is the job in register? A color print job is made of at least four colors; cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). They are normally printed in layers and they might be out of register. The black type is probably just a solid black, but photos and graphics will be made up of a combination of colors. There are registration marks on the corners of the page. Check to see if there are any colors not in register. Check all corners of the page. Look at the edge or inside white type to see if you see one or more colors. This can happen because the press is out of register or the substrate (paper) has stretched. If the printing is out of register, the printing will not look as good as it can. If you have thin white type inside a colored area, the thin type becomes thinner. When looking at output, printing on one edge of the page can be different from the far edge.
  6. The advantage of digital printing is that you can proof on the final substrate. Your proof should look like your final printed job, as long as they are going to print it soon after your approval. So check to make sure that the job is according to your specs. Did they use the correct paper? Is it the right weight and finish? If they are using a custom ink, is it correct? Do they need to add violet or orange ink in order to increase the gamut?
  7. If you are shown a finished piece, is the finishing correct? Check the lamination, coating, cutting, folding and stitching. Do the pages line up correctly? Is the pagination correct? Do the odd numbered pages appear on the right side of the book/brochure?
  8. Has the type, graphics or photos shifted?
  9. Are all the images high-res?
  10. Look at the solid areas of color. Are there any streaks or scratching? Is it consistent from page to page? Are there any gradients? Is there any banding? Is the gradient consistent from page to page?
  11. Look for jaggies at the edge of color areas. Sometimes a printer can switch a screen to prevent or minimize a jagged edge.
  12. Be patient and be reasonable. Sometimes you will have to make a choice between accepting something that is not perfect with waiting and trying again.