Posted 29 July 2019

Printers, process, positive relationships: five studios’ tips for sending to print

Ever made a spec-tacular mistake when sending files to print? It’s a common occurrence in the design industry, a problem that everyone from artworkers to senior designers can sympathise with. We asked five studios about their own spec fails, and to offer their own advice on how to avoid print hiccups in the future. From specifying paper grain, to nurturing a relationship with your printer, here are the dos and don’ts of print production.

Accept and Proceed’s Stephen Heath

Have a face-to-face chat with the printer
Print is a specialised craft and I don’t recall ever being given any instruction at university in writing up a print spec or dealing with printers (which can also be something of a specialism). I was very much thrown in at the deep end early in my career, when I was asked to spec up print jobs that often included processes such as foiling and varnishing; so it was inevitable that I would often get a call from a perplexed printer who was trying to decipher the mangled print specs I’d sent!

I quickly learnt that the best way to work out a spec was by having a face-to-face conversation with the printer. Let them know what you’re after by showing physical references and sketches. Also, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions, no matter how daft they might seem.

Accept & Proceed, using G . F Smith duplexed Colorplan paper in Ebony with black gloss foil, Dark Grey, Smoke, Real Grey, Pale Grey and Bright White

A Practice For Everyday Life

Make mockups and dummies
Whether we are working on a publication, an exhibition, a magazine or an identity, we always try to test and make mockups and dummies wherever possible, to make sure our print specs are accurate and that our suppliers understand what it is that we’re trying to achieve.

Nurture printer relationships
Building positive relationships with paper suppliers and printers is a really important part of this process – we always enjoy working with people who share our ambition to create thoughtful, well-crafted and unexpected pieces of print.

Test it!
As an example, for our recent exhibition design for Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican Art Gallery, we tested our approach to captioning extensively within the gallery. We chose to apply paper captions directly to the walls, and were keen to use textured paper rather than vinyl or dry transfer for the texts.

We worked closely with the exhibition team and printers to ensure that the paper would adhere strongly over a long period of time – we were able to arrange access to the gallery very early in the process, and applied test samples directly to the freshly-painted walls, which remained in situ for many weeks whilst the design of the project progressed. We were all extremely happy with how they turned out!

APFELS’s recent work for the Lee Krasner work at The Barbican Centre, using G . F Smith’s Takeo Tassel GA2

Studio.Build’s Michael Place

Check your overprint settings
We once designed an ad for a client which had a piece of copy that was white, reversed out of a colour. So far, so good right? No. We had set the white to overprint (printing one colour on top of another). Bad idea. White when set to overprint, does NOT print. It disappears like the abominable snowman in a snow storm. Not good. Luckily it wasn’t a key piece of information.

Now, before sending work to print is open the PDF in Acrobat, we bring up ‘Print Production’ and do the following: Print Production > Output Preview. Then check the box for Simulate Overprinting. This, as the button suggests, simulates overprinting. If your white type disappears, then you have white text set to overprint!

Work by Studio.Build for Harewood House, using G . F Smith’s Colorplan, 135gsm in Candy Pink, Factory Yellow, Powder Green and Azure Blue

Studio Makgill

When it comes to print, hard deadlines and a busy schedule can rumble good intentions, so process is everything. In our experience, some basic rules should set you up to avoid any painful mistakes, as it’s often the simplest of details that had been overlooked. Receiving a finished piece from the printer is a rewarding part of any project – until you spot that exquisitely foiled error!

Create a checklist
Unlike digital work, the permanence of print ensures mistakes are hard to fix. We have a well-structured process for preparing items for production that involves a pre-made checklist. This will offer some structure to your process and ensure nothing gets forgotten. The more detail, the better.

“Receiving a finished piece from the printer is a rewarding part of any project – until you spot that exquisitely foiled error!”

Let the spec lead the way
Start off with a detailed print spec for the quote with a printer. This will often get referred to right the way through the job.

Add info to the files
Add print specifications to every page of the digital files within the slug area of the artwork so the printer doesn’t miss anything.

Double-check everything
Get a second pair of eyes to check everything. If you’ve been working on the job, you’re probably so focused on the details that something glaringly obvious will be overlooked. Nothing leaves the studio until this has happened.

Work by Studio Makgill using G . F Smith Wild Brown 450gsm

Regular Practice’s Tom Finn

Be specific about paper grain
We’ve learnt the hard way that explicitly specifying grain directions of papers for a book is necessary – despite the fact that there really are no two ways about what is proper and what is not. All our print specifications now include a disclaimer saying that all grain directions must run in the appropriate directions.

As a speculative document print specifications aren’t particularly exciting – most printers are quick to point out things that they either don’t understand or that are unclear. A print specification doesn’t get really exciting until something arrives at your doorstep that is not as you imagined it. Then it becomes your contract with the printer.

A publication as part of Regular Practice’s identity for British Council in Safi, Morocco, 2018, using G . F Smith Extract paper (made from recycled materials) in Mustard, with a blind emboss


This article has been created in collaboration with G . F Smith. As a brand partner, G . F Smith has supported Lecture in Progress since the beginning. Their dedicated team of Paper Consultants have decades of experience in paper and print, and what a designer can achieve. You can discover more about their services and book a paper consultant visit at

Top image: Work by Studio Makgill, using G . F Smith’s Colorplan Mist, Sandgrain Emboss, duplexed with Coltskin Emboss

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