Be on the same page

Working in prepress can be challenging, but what can complicate matters is poor communication.

To illustrate how instructions can be misinterpreted, it is important to illustrate what happens to instructions once given to the sales representative of a commercial printer:

  • client to sales representative, then;
  • sales representative to production manager; then
  • production manager down the line to prepress manager and prepress operators;

Write it down

Anyone familiar with the term “chinese whispers” will understand when instructions are relayed again and again from different people. On that note it is important to make sure that any communication with the printer is clear, easily understood, and documented.

Ask questions…

There is no such thing as a stupid question. Prepress staff would rather hear and answer a “stupid question” instead of having to fix an enormous problem which could have been avoided. One suggestion that i’d give people though would be is before asking a question, have two answers which could possibly answer the question first.

… But read the manual first!

While a prepress operator uses a computer in their line of work, that does not mean they are experts at using computers, building computers, or identifying software or hardware faults. When having problems with software or hardware, please try to remedy the problem with the troubleshooting guide of the manual which came with the software/hardware, contact the manufacturer’s telephone support line, or visit the manufacturer’s website.

Tunnel vision

After working in prepress for a while, it’s easy to get “tunnel vision” or “mac-blindness” and forget that clients submitting files are not necessarily as familiar with the design software or prepress concepts as we are. With this mindset, it is easy for a prepress operator to go off in a world of jargon such as JPGs, TIFFs, RIPs, CTP, etc. On the other hand, it is easy for a client to forget that a prepress operator is not necessarily as familiar with the artwork as they are. Ultimately it is important that both parties communicate clearly, politely and professionally.

Correction Marks

If providing alterations for artwork, please try to use metric or imperial measurements when referring to distances. Colloquial measurements such as “tads”, “whiskers”, “smidges” and “bits” are open to wide interpretation and could see artwork constantly being reproofed (and billed!). Similarly, measurements should also be used to identify any increases in size of fonts (e.g. make the heading 20pt Palatino-Bold, 100% Black).

In a perfect world, recognised printer’s correction marks would be ideal on proofs but in general, so long as the corrections are clear enough to be understood and are written in a sensible and legible fashion, they should acceptable.

For those interested, a list of proofreaders marks can be found at here.

Nobody is Perfect

One detail that no business will ever admit is that they have made mistakes in the past or that they have run late from time to time. Just like any other business, printers and bureaux are not infallible. Their machinery can break down, may require colour calibration, may run out of materials necessary to complete the artwork, have staff on leave, etc. Prepress operators do make mistakes and are not necessarily familiar with all prepress applications on the market. Just like any other work environment, breakdowns of communication do occur between staff and clients (or indeed between staff) and things do get misplaced or lost. There is no doubt printers/bureaux do attempt to prepare artwork by a set deadline but it is important to remember that they are not perfect.

Keep Your Cool

Prepress operators are constantly under stress from their managers and customers to meet deadlines; trying to determine prepress issues preventing a file from successfully printing; attempting to fix, repair, maintain or calibrate machinery necessary for the output of films or plates; and in some cases having to answer the phone and the reception desk. The majority of prepress operators do their best to keep their emotions in check, but just like anybody under stress, they have their limits. These are normally stretched to breaking point by yelling, swearing or insults, threats (e.g. “i’ll take my account somewhere else!”) or constant interruptions (e.g. telephoning every 10 minutes to see if the artwork is ready for collection).

Tell The Customer What’s Going On

It is not uncommon for sales representatives to instruct prepress staff to correct known errors in artwork in an effort to save the customer any inconvenience or delay in the output of their artwork. Often done without the knowledge of the customer, this can be anything from fixing an emboldening issue to replacing all of their low resolution graphics with high quality EPS images which are stored on the printer/bureau’s computer archive.

This is a dangerous practice as it often gives the customer the illusion that their artwork is flawless (and hence they will keep making the same mistakes time and time again and potentially not billed for it). It also relies on the same personnel at the printer/bureau to be aware of the alterations, given that any absence or turnover in staff may see the alterations not performed, performed incorrectly or may even inform the client of inhouse procedures which would normally be kept confidential.

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About colmin8r
A prepress operator since 1997 specialising in Adobe InDesign.

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