10 mistakes to avoid when proofing a print project

September 11, 2019

You’ve crafted compelling copy, developed a dazzling design and added a sizzling special offer. All that’s left is to print and mail your next postcard or brochure campaign and wait for customers to respond.

Before you go to press, however, it’s best to proof your mailer to avoid costly mistakes that can doom your direct-mail marketing campaign. The following details common mistakes people make with print projects, and explains how to proof before you go to press.

Mistake 1: Misaligned layout

One of the most common errors novices make is a misaligned layout. Your design should align with three layout guidelines: bleeds, cut lines and safe areas.

  • Safe area: Everything in this area will be included on your final printed piece. Make sure all text, images and graphics are within the safe area
  • Cut lines: This is where your printed piece will be cut after printing
  • Bleeds: Backgrounds and borders should extend beyond bleed lines to ensure there is no unintended white space around the edges of your artwork

The best way to ensure proper artwork alignment is to download a free print layout template before you begin designing. Once your artwork is complete, be sure to get a proof from your printer so you can double check your design layout (more on that below).

Mistake 2: Improper pagination

If you’re printing a multipage booklet, brochure or catalog, you need to ensure your pagination is correct. Otherwise, your pages could be out of order  a problem that’s confusing to customers and costly to fix.

Two-page spreads and brochure folds can make layout complicated for inexperienced designers. Professional design software such as InDesign can help you layout files in sequential order, then export (or impose) your files in printer spreads, which rearranges the pages for printing, folding and binding.

The best way to avoid pagination issues is to consult your printing company. They can tell you how to set up your file and even provide free templates to make your job easier.

Mistake 3: Low resolution files

Low resolution files might look good on your computer screen but come out blurry on the printed page. The problem is more common than you think, primarily because novice designers use low-res images they find online or that are taken from text messages and other sources.

In most cases, your print-ready file must have a 300 dpi (dots per inch). Many online images have a 72 dpi. When 72 dpi images are printed at 300 dpi, they’re blown up and look blurry.

Avoid the issue by setting up your artwork in the proper resolution (use your design software’s settings) and using 300 dpi images. Never enlarge images to fit your layout, though it’s perfectly fine to downsize images. Get a hard copy proof to double check your artwork before you go to print.

Mistake 4: Poor color reproduction

Color reproduction can be a major problem, especially if your finished printed piece does not accurately represent your brand colors. It’s important to note that colors look different on your computer screen than they do on paper, so you can’t expect an exact match based on your design software alone.

Computer screens render color in RGB format, while most printers use four-color process (CMYK). And many brands use the PANTONE color system to ensure accurate color reproduction. Confusing, right?

Ensuring color accuracy is a multistep process:

  • Set up your file in CMYK format and adjust your software working space to a G7 specification such as GRACoL7 or SWOP 2006
  • You can convert PANTONE to CMYK, but understand it might not be a perfect match (alternatively, ask your printer about spot color printing for your branding)
  • Calibrate your monitor (here are some tips)
  • Print with a G7 Master Certified Printer, which calibrates presses according to standards that ensure accurate color matching throughout the design and printing process

Even with these measures, the only way to absolutely guarantee color replication is to get a hard copy proof so you can double check colors against any swatches you’re using. If perfect color matching is critical, ask your printing company for help before you start designing.

Mistake 5: No FPO file

FPO means “For Placement Only,” and it refers to a separate file created to indicate where print finishing elements should go. For example, you can use FPO files to show your printer where to place:

  • Die-cuts
  • Perforations
  • Foil stamps
  • Drilled holes

Ask your printing company for help with FPO file setup so your post-production finishing properly aligns with your design.

Mistake 6: Poor ink registration

This one’s on the printing company, but you need to check for it before you print and send your postcards, brochures, catalogs and other marketing tools. When your materials are printed, each color is applied separately. If the press has calibration issues, the ink can be misaligned. This results in blurry images and text.

You can check a hard copy proof for ink registration issues, but that won’t necessarily guarantee the final print job won’t have errors. Fortunately, good printing companies perform their own quality checks to ensure their presses are properly calibrated to avoid ink registration issues.

Mistake 7: Failure to flatten transparencies and outline fonts

Transparencies must be flattened and fonts must be outlined to avoid graphics dropping out of your artwork. If you fail to flatten and outline, your final printed piece could be missing graphics and text.

The good news is design programs such as InDesign and Illustrator make it easy to flatten and outline fonts so you can avoid the issue. Get detailed instructions on how to flatten transparencies and outline fonts here.

Mistake 8: Forgetting the mailing area

If you’re printing a mailer, don’t forget to include a mailing area and indicators that adhere to U.S. Postal Service guidelines. Study the guidelines to set up your file dimensions and mailing area before you begin your design; that way, you can design around the mailing area and ensure deliverability.

Want an easier way? Download free postcard templates and templates for other mailers. PsPrint’s templates include mailing areas to take the guesswork out of file setup.

Mistake 9: Failing to proofread

It should go without saying, yet spelling and grammar mistakes are rampant in the print marketing industry. Double check your artwork for mistakes, triple check, then enlist the help of others to catch errors you’ve missed.

Even a simple mistake can jeopardize your credibility and cost sales, so make sure your copy is accurate and you haven’t left any template or layout marks in your design file.

Mistake 10: Settling for a digital proof

You can order two types of proofs: digital and hard copy. Many marketers settle for digital proofs because they’re free and clearly display safe areas, cut lines and bleed lines. You should check your digital proof for layout issues, but the only way to ensure your mailer looks exactly as you intend is to order a hard copy proof.

Hard copy proofs aren’t expensive, especially given your total campaign investment, and they can help you avoid costly mistakes. They’ll also show you how your finished project looks and feels on your selected paper stock  something a digital proof can’t do. Order a hard copy proof and share it with employees and co-workers to make sure your piece is perfect before you go to press.

Use these tips to ensure your next print marketing project is primed for success. Want more tips? Check out PsPrint’s 20-point print quality checklist. Then, save money with premium printing at discount prices!

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The PsPrint Blog is a resource for graphic designers, freelancers, small business owners and fans of print marketing. You'll find helpful techniques on printing everything there is to print, including business cards, postcards, brochures, stickers, invitations, greeting cards, door hangers, magnets and more. The PsPrint Blog shares creative ways to improve your design and layout skills, and useful tips for marketing your business in any medium. We also like to have a little fun, sharing design inspiration and spotlighting some our favorite customers' printed pieces in our "Hot Off the Press" series.