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Lesson 6: Hard Copy: The Final Frontier

Graphic Design for Non-Designers

Table of Contents

The Golden Rule: Know Thy Stuff

I feel a pep talk is necessary for an introduction to printing. Service bureaus, print shops, and designers have not always had the best reputations with each other. Each group thinks it knows more than the others. However, in all honesty, I have found that service bureaus and print shops know what they are doing. Ask them questions and trust their answers. Here's some information to get you started on the right foot:

  • What's the difference between a service bureau and a print shop? The basic difference is that one uses computers and the other uses printing presses. Service bureaus basically take your file and print it out to a high-resolution printer -- called an imagesetter -- that prints to either photographic paper or negative film. If you are going to be printing to an offset press (for a magazine, newspaper, or book, for example) you would then retrieve the negative or print and take it to the print shop, which then creates negatives (if the service bureau didn't), plates and, finally, the final print on paper. These days, the line between the two kinds of businesses is disappearing and oftentimes either business does every step in the process.
  • Help them help you. I know this sounds cheesy, but it's the absolute truth. When you visit the service bureau or pint shop, know your stuff. Designers sometimes have a bad reputation because, more often than not, they go in with a holier-than-thou attitude. Service bureaus and print shops can have a bad reputation because, at times, they treat designers as artsy-fartsy flakes. I speak from experience on both counts!
  • Shop around. Look in your Yellow Pages for options. I looked under "service bureaus" and ended up looking at a blank spot between "septic tank inspectors" and "service station equipment." Needless to say, I didn't find "service bureaus" there. Then I tried looking up "printers" -- lo and behold, two full pages of options. The phrases "desktop publishing" and "graphic design" might help you in your search also. To narrow down a choice from here, I would talk to other designers, or anyone who does business with printers and service bureaus in your area, go to an AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) meeting, call your local Chamber of Commerce for suggestions, or follow my next tip and interview the candidates!

    Check Out These Resources

  • Go with your gut. How do you choose other people with whom to work? You interview, right? I suggest calling or, preferably, going into the service bureau/print shop and talking to them. Are they receptive to your questions? Do they answer them fully? How do you feel about them? Are they someone you want to work with closely?

Printing can be a confusing process because there is so much information out there. But I have one final piece of advice: Don't worry about it. Know as much as you can and just ask questions if you don't know. Be informed and be willing to listen. This process will be much more pleasant for both you and the people you work with if you start with an open mind and ready ear.

Speak the Language

When you are dealing with service bureaus and print shops, it is to your advantage to understand the language of their business. Depending on how you plan to publish your design, you will be presented with different requirements. Output can be black and white or color copies, ink jet prints, offset printing, and a whole array of other options. The service bureau or print shop can help you decide which is best.

Color Mode

You will often here two color modes, RGB and CMYK. RGB stands for red, green, and blue, the colors that are used in monitors and TVs (Figure 6-1). CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, the four colors used in printing presses (Figure 6-2). CMYK is also referred to as four-color process and process color.


A gamut refers to a color mode's range of reproducible colors. RGB can reproduce millions of colors and has a larger gamut than CMYK, which can reproduce only thousands.

Figure 6-1: RGB colors are the basis of your monitor's and TV's display.

Figure 6-2: Notice that when the CMYK colors overlap, you get the RGB colors.

Offset Printing

If you decide to choose offset printing, which is most often used for magazines, newspapers, and books, it would be helpful for you to be familiar with some more terms.


An offset press is a huge printer that prints each color of the document, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, separately to create the full-color document. In order to do this, the file has to be separated, or in printing terms, a separation must be created (most often done by either the service bureau or print shop).

If you have a color in your document, it must be separated from the black in the document for printing on a press. Figure 6-3 shows a picture and each of its separations for printing it with four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. If you want to read more, there is a great explanation and experiment on pages 122-123 in Non-Designer's Scan & Print Book by Sandee Cohen and Robin Williams.

Figure 6-3: A picture and its four-color separations.

How it Works

Here's the process of printing to an offset press:

  • The image on screen is turned into a negative (either by photographic methods or by sending the document to a negative printer). There is one negative per color; that is, one negative each for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
  • The negative is burned onto a plate (usually metal) -- again, one plate for each color.
  • The plate is inked.
  • The ink is transferred from the plate to a rubber "blanket." The blanket picks up the ink and then transfers the ink to the paper.

This site has a good explanation of offset printing:


A printer's resolution is measured in dpi, which stands for dots per inch. The more dots the printer can produce per inch, the higher-quality image it can produce. :::Adobe+Photoshop:::


If you want to put pictures into your document, you often need to scan them to get them into your computer. Here is some handy information to have before you begin scanning.


While a printer has a resolution measured in dots per inch (dpi), an image has a resolution measured in pixels per inch (ppi). Your service bureau or print shop can tell you the resolution at which you should scan your image or you can figure it out using this formula:

Resolution = 2 x lpi

You need to ask your service bureau/print shop what the necessary lpi is -- lpi stands for lines per inch. A document's lpi is the dot pattern that appears when it is printed. This dot pattern isn't visible without a magnifying glass or loupe (a high-powered magnifier used by photographers and jewelers).

Bigger is Better

The next step before you actually scan the image is figure out what size you want your picture to be in the document. If you're not sure what that size should be, scan the image larger than you think it will run. This ensures that you have enough data in the image in case you need to resize it in your layout program. The golden rule of scanning is: your scanned image should be the actual size that you are going to output the image, if possible; otherwise, it should be larger than you think you need.

Figure 6-4: A 4x5 image is scanned at 200 percent to be output at 8x10.

Let's use Figure 6-4 as an example:

  • You have a 4x5-inch photograph original (many scanners refer to this as source )
  • Your service bureau is going to use 133 lpi (you know this because you asked them!)
  • Calculate the resolution (ppi) for your image. Resolution = 2 x 133 = 266 ppi
  • You want to output the image at 8x10 (many scanners refer to this as target ). This is twice, or 200 percent, of the source.

When you scan, input 266 as the resolution and 200 percent (or 8x10) as the target and you will get a wonderful scan.

Whew! So far we've learned about grouping and aligning elements; contrasting ideas, colors, and typefaces; and repeating elements so that they stick in the viewer's mind. We've covered typography basics and a brief introduction to the world of printing. So, now you are ready to beautifully design and print your newsletters, ads, flyers, or whatever comes your way. Have fun!

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