There is often the misconception that once a piece of print work has been signed off, the final printed matter should be available in a matter of hours, let alone days. Like most things in life, there is more to print production than meets the eye. True, some modern print production techniques deliver astonishing results in a matter of hours. This article firstly talks you through the typical process of litho printing and then explains the other options, their benefits and disadvantages.

So what happens once you've signed off your project and the designer prepares the piece for print?

We'll use an annual report as an example and one that has a reasonably large print run and page count. A project like this (see spec below) will go to a litho printer to ensure the highest quality at the best value for money.

Our annual report is:
A4, full colour
120 text pages with a four page cover, often written like this: 120pp + 4pp cover (pp stands for printed pages)
PUR bound, this gives the report a proper spine that is a bit stronger than perfect bound
Our print run is 3,000 copies
We are printing on uncoated (cartridge stock), 135gsm text and 300 gsm cover
Our ink coverage is 'heavy', I'll explain why I mention this later

what happens next?

The process below outlines the stages and how long they typically take to go from sign off to delivery of the annual report.
1 day: Artworking – the designer will go through the report making sure overprinting settings are correct, photographs and logos are of high resolution, files are converted to CMYK and all elements that require bleed have been set. Bleed is the extra amount allowed at the edge of a page so that any item that goes beyond the page edge, when it is trimmed, no white paper shows.

1–2 days: Pre-press – once the printer has received the artwork file, usually a high resolution PDF in single pages, with bleed and trim marks, they 'RIP' the PDF. This is a digital process that prepares the files ready to go on press. Things can go wrong at this stage, it is rare, but there can be a corruption in the file that may mean coming back to the artwork stage and resupplying the files to the printer.

2 days: Proofing – there are a number of different types of proofing, the two most used are a PDF proof of the ripped files, that the designer will view and approve for the client usually, and the other is a digital hard copy proof that is sent to the designer/client for approval. These proofs give a more accurate render of how the final printed matter will reproduce, but they are not exact. The only way to get an exact proof is to ask the printer for 'wet proofs', these are actual printed sheets and they cost rather a lot.

1 day: Printing – firstly plates are made for each section and each colour (CMYK), then assuming a space on press is available (and you may have to wait) the job is printed onto flat sections called signatures. These contain a number of pages on one sheet, the more pages on a sheet the bigger the printing press. But no matter how big the press is, the pages (to view) will always be divisible by four.

1 day: Drying time – on an uncoated paper, with heavy coverage, the ink will take longer to dry than having a few words on a coated stock. So you have to wait for the ink to dry before doing anything else. Even with dryers, this can take more than one day, it depends on your job.

2 days: Finishing – the printed sheets, when they are dry, are put into a folding machine and the sections are gathered up to be bound. We have chosen PUR binding for our annual report, which gives it a proper spine, held together with a very strong glue. Once the glue has dried enough, the covers are put on and the document goes for trimming. The three edges are guillotined off and the final report goes for packing.

1 day: packing – the reports are packed into cartons (boxes) ready for despatch. At Navig8, we request to view a printed document before we agree to despatch to the client. This means that we see the final document before the client does and ensures that we are happy with the quality before releasing the product to them.

1 day: Delivery – most projects are delivered via courier on an over-night service to our clients.

So how many days did that take? 11 days and that is without any major issues. Of course things can be done quicker, but use this as a realistic timeline for a litho project of this nature.

How can I get my annual report quicker?

If your print run is shorter, say 300 copies (as opposed to 3,000 copies) or if you have the budget, our annual report could have been printed quicker by using a digital printer. These days the quality is comparable to litho print and the speed of production is halved. There is no need for plates and finishing is done on an item by item basis rather than the whole batch.

If your project has additional finishing, like lamination, foil blocking or die cutting, then you will need to allow longer, sometimes much longer as foil blocking is a hand finishing process. One project that Navig8 produces means printing in China is the best option. The results are superb, and the prices are excellent, but it takes a month to travel across the seas to get to you (assuming customs don't hold it up!).

A graphic design agency should advise their client's on the most expedient and cost effective way of getting the final product into their clients' hands. If they don't then you are talking to the wrong people.

We have extensive knowledge on Annual Reporting and printing. If you'd like to see how we can help you,