“Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story...

I’ve conducted more press checks than I can count—small press, large press, digital and conventional, sheet-fed, web, letterpress.

Each has its distinctive peculiarities, but they all have several things in common.

Surprisingly, the secrets to successful press checks are not so much technical as they are cultural.

Over the years I’ve learned that a printing plant is a different world than the one I inhabit the rest of the time, with its own customs and language.

Try these practices at your next press check and see for yourself the difference they will make:

Know these press check basics

  • Arrive at the press at the appointed time and wait to be escorted to the press.
  • If there’s a delay, ask for a press sheet “reader” so you or your client can proofread the type while you wait.
  • At the press, introduce yourself and your client/team to the rep and press operator.
  • Step forward as lead consensus-gatherer and diplomat for your team, especially when it’s a large one.
  • Look to your rep for input and guidance. In most cases, she or he knows a lot more about printing than you do.
  • Be focused and efficient—don’t rush, but don’t dally.
  • Know your job’s hierarchy: What’s most important on the sheet? Next?
  • Know when you should and shouldn’t sign off. Wait to see the result of a series of major moves and corrections before you do, but don’t hang around until the sheet is absolutely perfect. Just mark it as “OK with the changes noted.” It’s going to look better as the press gets up to full speed anyway.

Follow this paramount press check rule

  • Never tell the press operator what to do, because he will then do exactly that, even if he knows a better solution (and he’ll rightly think you an idiot).
  • Instead, describe clearly what you are seeing on the sheet and describe just as clearly what you want to see. (This is similar to what to say when reviewing image proofs.)

The console area is the pressman's country. You may visit—if invited.

Adopt winning ways at press-side

  • Step back and let the pressman determine the best way to achieve what you’ve requested.
  • Think of the floor mat in front of the press as the press operator’s personal boundary. Don’t cross it unless you’re invited.
  • Don’t just grab the his loupe—bring your own, or ask before using his.
  • Believe it when you’re told, “This is as close as I can get.” The pressman will say it, but it’s the rep’s call whether to try anything else.
  • Trust that most press operators are very proud of their craftsmanship and will try very hard to achieve what you’re looking for—unless you’re a jerk.

Be the best kind of memorable

  • Be sure to thank the rep, the lead pressman (or presswoman!), the feeder, and anyone else who’s been working on your job while you’re there. I can tell you from experience that they won’t forget.

© 2010 Nani Paape. All rights reserved.