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New Options for Color Printing

Printing from a black and white laser original has been a great money-saver since the start of desktop publishing. But once in a while a special project demands full color, and four-color process printing has been out of reach of most small businesses and non-profit groups. The costs of scanning, color correction, color separation, proofing, film and the color printing itself add up to double or triple what a two-color design would cost. Plus, the economies of four-color process printing usually rule out quantities less than 1000 pieces—and your printing job starts being most cost-effective when you order 5000 or more.

Suppose you want to send a newsletter to 100 members of your non-profit group and use color photos. Or you want to introduce a new product to your customers with a full-color brochure, but your marketing strategy calls for testing the water first, with a smaller mailing to a selected group. Recent developments in color scanning and digital offset printing make it worthwhile to reevaluate your design and printing budgets. New options for color printing, available locally, might cost less than you expect.

Cheaper Scanning
Scanning and color correction, once the province of million-dollar plus equipment and $200 per hour console operators, can now be accomplished for less than half of what you might have paid five years ago—and even much less than that for an uncorrected Kodak PhotoCD scan. The key to getting good color from scanning on through to printing is calibration, the means whereby each process in the chain is made reliable and predictable, requiring much less involvement by highly trained operators.

Once you have a good quality scan, you need to see it as it will print on paper—preferably as part of a complete color layout. The traditional solution, a laminated color proof, is still needed as a final step before going on press. But digital color proofs, such as the IRIS or 3M Rainbow, cost considerably less. These provide an intermediate proof, giving you the visual information needed to make final adjustments to a scan. Combine calibrated scanning with high-quality and reasonably priced digital color proofing, and you’re looking at real savings.

Gang-run Printing
One way printers have offered savings to customers is by ganging several print jobs on one large press-sheet—like sharing a taxi ride. You send artwork off to the printer as finished film or a computer file, and provide either the photos to be scanned, or completed scans, and receive back a color proof for approval. The streamlined process does not allow for much change at this point—if the color is reasonably close to the photo originals, you’re expected to approve it as-is. Once you OK the color proof, the printer runs the piece when enough other jobs are ready, and you can’t check the job on press. So in exchange for considerably less control and longer turnaround times, you save a good deal of money.

Skip the Presscheck
In most color printing, the presscheck is an essential final step in getting a consistent result from scanning to proofing to putting ink on paper. But, by taking advantage of new calibration technology, color separators and printers are achieving consistent high-quality results. So much so that some are able to offer big savings by taking film and color proofs they know are calibrated to their press, and running the job without a presscheck. Choose vendors who’ve worked together on many projects and who have open lines of communication with each other—you may be able to skip the presscheck and save an hour or two of designer’s fees, on top of a price break from the printer.

Digital Presses
For quantities below 500 pieces, the new “digital direct-to-press” technology offers quick turnarounds, can be very cost-effective, and yields quite good results. Again the key to getting the most from the process is communication. Your color files must be carefully calibrated to the press—make sure everyone from your staff printing coordinator to the designer, color house, imagesetting bureau and printer have discussed the job and know each other’s requirements. You’ll pay much more per piece than you would on a 1000-piece-plus print run, but the result will be real two-sided offset printing, not washed-out laser or inkjet sheets. Fifty color brochures to announce a special sale or conference—no problem!

How to Get Started
So how do you take advantage of these new options? Start with smart color design. If you’re considering full-color printing, talk to your designer and other vendors to get help in planning and organizing your project. Show them your photos as soon as you have them, get their advice on the best scanning options to use for the results you want. And have them talk to your photographer ahead of time if possible. Invest in top-quality photography. The better the original image, the more you’ll save on scanning and color correction. Once you’ve worked with vendors who meet your needs, hang on to them! Build a solid business relationship with them, open lines of communication and they’ll come through for you with consistent and reliable color.

Give us a call for further assistance, 206-523-0872.

copyright 1998 Karen Seymour

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