Residence buildings adjacent to Fremont Street provide a great view of the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall and attraction, is a five-block entertainment district for locals and tourists to explore. (Image © Jain Lemos, Las Vegas, NV; 2014.)

After months of dedicated work on your book project, going on press can be one of the most rewarding steps. This is where the action is! Here are some pointers from my press check experiences as I continue my blog series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books.

There is a slight intimidation factor watching your book churn hot-off-the-press. The pace of work is astounding. Depending on the size of the plant, yours won’t be the only project taking up the staff’s time and equipment, but a good printer will make you feel thoroughly welcomed. Actually, there is a lot of attention coming your way because you are under pressure to make instant decisions. As signatures come off the rack, the press operator, your rep and various other key personnel will be standing there, literally peering at you, waiting for you to okay the sheets so the run can continue.

On my first press check at a plant in Florida, one of the principals ushered me into a large conference room to set up. I met so many people in the first twenty minutes I completely forgot who was in charge of what. Staff members also used terminology that I wasn’t completely familiar with but soon enough everything became clear. I was informed the ink was being run up to specs and that the first sheets would arrive in minutes. When they efficiently set them down in front of me, I felt the pressure mounting. I quickly grasped the routine and settled down to business, making sure I paid attention to my reason for being there.

Here are some tips:

  • Arrive as early as possible to arrange a station for working. Bring sharpies, pens, post-it notes, scratch paper and business cards.
  • Get Wi-Fi access, set up your laptop and open the final InDesign files.
  • Set out the final color proofs along with any paper swatches, samples or dummies.
  • As sheets arrive, start with an overall impression. The printing should immediately look terrific and then drill down into particulars.
  • Make sure the paper matches the samples and the opacity and brightness are correct.
  • Circle any flaws or printing imperfections caused by their equipment. This could be evidenced by terms known as broken type, pinholes, mottling, hickeys or ghosting.
  • Spot loupe all images and circle any spots or bad pixels. There shouldn’t be many if the proofs were corrected properly.
  • Know the difference between trapping and registration. Trapping is how the paper accepts each ink layer and registration is how the inks line up over one another.
  • Check spot varnishes, fifth and sixth colors if added and any spot ink colors.
  • Make sure every type treatment style is crystal clear and the color is accurate. If a font is not reading well because the color is too light or dark, now is the time to make adjustments.
  • Ask to have the sheets folded into a dummy so you can look at the gutters and make sure all photos are aligned properly.
  • Crossovers are how the colors match on any images that cross over a spread when the signatures are folded. The staff will be beaming if you say, “Wow, great crossovers!”
  • As you get tired, remember to stretch often and drink water (and coffee!). Colors will start to take on a new life and it’s easy for your eyes play tricks. Keep referencing your press proofs for color comparisons because those are the colors you have already approved.

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that any virtually any changes you ask for at press time will cost you extra money. Be absolutely clear about who is paying for changes as they occur and sign off on those, too. It won’t be pleasant if you get back home and a new invoice arrives with dozens of charges for little press changes you thought would be included.

There are many other nuances of a press check. If it’s your first check and it’s possible to bring a veteran along to help you learn the ropes, by all means. Don’t mix a vacation with a press check, either. Well, a little shopping in Hong Kong is allowed. Rest, rest, rest beforehand because you are going to be wiped out when it’s time to go home.

As the project finishes the rest of the manufacturing phases, Shipping Books will be the next hurdle. I’ll be covering that in Part 29. Speaking of Hong Kong, I would like to see these designer elephants!