Many times, mistakes that show up on press can be traced back to the very first stage of the process: the artwork.
#4 Outdated Pre-Production Checks
Many shops, especially busy ones, don’t do enough production checks on art before sending it to the screen room and then the press. Production methods change, sometimes requiring different procedures in prepress. One common example is moving to a CTS system where the artwork goes straight to the screens, supplanting steps you used to take to review film positives to make sure they were correct before sending them to the screen department. Another issue with the new technology is that it can hold higher resolution dots that can show up in a test print or on screen unexpectedly.
How much testing is enough? The goal is to find a balance, ensuring you don’t slow your production team down while still spending enough time testing separations so that any major errors will be caught prior to outputting film or imaging screens. Develop some simple tests that will prevent on-press revisions for the majority of your separations, including:
• Black and white density/transparency;
• Halftone shape/size/angle;
• Dot gain compensation;
• Underbase spread (specific trapping on the underbase);
• Gradient overlap;
• Total ink volume buildup;
• Underbase density;
• And digital proof mockups (aligning channels to view a digital proof).
You don’t need to run all of these tests on every job, of course. Choose the most appropriate ones based on the type of artwork involved.
#5 Not Tracking and Reviewing Results
Once a client accepts a job, screen printers typically like to move onto the next one. They typically don’t spend a lot of time reviewing the completed orders to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is a mistake, and one of the most common ones I see.
Looking back at results is not just another dig through the scrap bin. The finished print is one of the best learning tools that printers and artists share. Even prints that turned out wonderfully can teach them what went right; often, even with great prints, you’ll see things that could have been done better. The point of reviewing the work, especially for difficult, highly detailed prints, is to discuss how things that were done on that order can be done again on future jobs with similar variables.
This review doesn’t have to become a beat-down or finger pointing exercise. Schedule them as though they’re a monthly party where everyone looks at the designs and each department contributes feedbacks on high and low points. The value of these meetings is the communication and problem-solving ideas the employees share about specific challenges they faced. Every time an artist gets to view their separations on the final print, they can make mental adjustments for how to handle the next order based on the quality and way the art was prepared. They can also take notes on things such as minimum effective coverage, color brightness, and the use of special effects, guides that will help them when they’re asked to do designs with similar challenges again. Over time, you should see improved success rates with your separations, higher quality and consistency, and better communication between every department that is involved in the meetings.
It’s sometimes difficult in the daily grind to take a step back and look clearly at problem areas that can be avoided in most shops. But, you will realize big gains in consistency and overall quality if you’re willing to invest in learning and developing your own best artwork practices.
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