10 pro tips for being perfect in print

From paper stock to logistics, follow our essential print checklist to add extra zing to your design work.

Whichever bright spark first uttered the phrase 'print is dead' (often attributed to a sexed-up misquote of media philosopher Marshall McLuhan and even a line Egon delivers in Ghostbusters) they might want to eat their words.

For although the media landscape has changed dramatically since Tim Berners-Lee's little invention called the internet took hold, the physicality of print is as sought-after as ever before.

Croatian studio Bruketa&Žinić OM, for example, are famed for their annual reports, which breathe life into this usually quite dry sector by pairing the content with apt but show-stopping innovations.

For Adris Group's 2102 annual report, named In Good Hands, the studio designed a tree-inspired cover that sprouted leaves and flowers when heated by warm hands.

It also developed (over four years) an invisible, thermodynamic ink for cooking company Podravka, which only revealed its writing when the booklet was baked in the oven for 25 minutes.

Tangible experiences

"Don't think about the technique first," says Bruketa&Žinić OM's creative director Davor Bruketa. "Think of the story you're telling. Sometimes the story will force you into an innovative production, but it's not simple or cheap."

"Interactivity is by far the best way to engage deeply with consumers," says Lisa Portman of digital production company Grand Visual, which in 2014 produced PepsiCo's Unbelievable DOOH campaign, using built-in cameras, motion sensors and augmented software to transform a six-sheet bus stop poster into a surreal experience.

"We've seen a definite change in the last 12 months," adds Portman, "with more brands than ever before shifting to make their interactions with customers more tangible and memorable."

"Get to know the processes you wish to employ and learn about their production requirements," concludes Jennifer Blanco from US studio Spindletop Design. "The more limits that exist in your knowledge, the more limits that will exist in your design."

Got all that? Now here's a 10-tip checklist to ensure all your print projects are perfect…

01. Avoid gimmickry at all costs


The need for the process has to be baked into the concept. Gimmickry sounds like a dirty word but sometimes that's exactly what you need, just make sure it's relevant to the idea.

02. Add the unexpected

When possible convey several layers of meaning, or add something unexpected. That said, try to combine a strict rational approach in defining a communication strategy with an open-minded, human touch.

03. Strip the concept back

Even if you're working on a self-initiated project, strip it down to the bone and distill it into one word, an image or a even a video clip. Go back to it during the process to check if you're are on the right track. If the concept strays from the essence, scrap it.

04. Keep your clients informed

Generally, the discovery of new finishes comes with each new project. Mock things up as best you can in-house to present to the client. It will get them on board with your concept while you work through the actual production with your printing partners.

05. Know where you can reduce spend


Unusual printing techniques will most of the time mean higher costs. Research isn't just about exploring these fancy finishes, use it to investigate reducing spend elsewhere by using fewer colours, different paper or other binding methods.

06. Tap your printer for knowledge

Ask printers for information on their process. Look for examples of what went right or wrong when using a process. Most importantly remember that special finishing should serve to enhance, not distract from design.

07. Put your printer's advice in context

Always talk to the printers and paper manufacturers beforehand. Listen to their advice, but know that printers have different standards. A result that makes your printer weep might actually look very interesting to you.

08. Think logistics and delivery

If you want to push boundaries but your audience is international, it can cause problems with customs when shipping things around the world – take Google Think Quarterly's Inspiration issue, the magnets of which kept setting off alarms.

09. Familiarise yourself with the printing process

If you're stuck, slow down your thinking process and examine the potential ramifications of every decision to ensure the production could be adapted to accommodate it. Part of this is being familiar enough with the printing process to predict any potential pitfalls.

10. Consider paper as well as finishes

Depending on the technique, its colour can change, the foil won't stick or the paper cracks and breaks when heated in a certain way. Precision is important – sometimes a millimetre can make all the difference.

This full version of this article first appeared inside issue 239 of Computer Arts, the world's best-selling creative design magazine. Get up to 55 per cent off a subscription to CA here.

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