Printing is a completely different imaging process than proofing. As a result, it is not always possible for the presswork to perfectly "match" the proof. Unfortunately, there is no objective, practical, way of defining what is an acceptable variation from the proof that still constitutes an acceptable pressrun. The role of the press check is to enable the customer, or their representative, to directly communicate their presswork concerns and acceptance, with the press operator, so that a successful pressrun can be achieved.
The customer should be able to go to the press and speak to the press operator directly. Working through an intermediary like the pressroom manager only slows down the process and causes communication errors especially when if they are managing multiple press checks at the same time.
Press check basics for the printer
• The customer should not be press side during initial make ready. Ideally you would have a comfortable holding area/lounge where customers can wait until the press operator has a sheet ready for inspection.
• An initial make ready sheet marked clearly "For Content Only" could be given to the customer so that they can check the sheet for content issues like substituted fonts, low resolution images, missing graphics, etc. This reduces time wasted at the press when doing the color approval. Also, if content errors are discovered then the job can be halted soon enough to avoid excessive make ready wastage.
• The press operator should be told ahead of time, by the CSR or sales representative about issues, concerns, and critical success goals the print buyer has for the job. For example, if a particular blue in a product image is important to the customer - the press operator should know that fact. Having this knowledge shows the customer that the shop is personally involved in the success of both the press run and the customer. It also helps establish better communications, if any color adjustments need to be made.
• When the press operator is satisfied with the color then a press sheet should be pulled and filed as "first press operator OK." Press operator OK'd color sheets can be used later by the printshop to identify and evaluate print manufacturing issues from prepress through the pressroom.
• When the customer arrives at the press, the press operator should introduce themselves.
• When the customer is at the press the press operator should stand aside and allow the customer "breathing room" to examine the press sheet against the proof.
• Tools such as Pantone swatchbooks, ink draw downs, loupes, note paper and pens for customer use should be readily available.
• The press operator should try and use correct terms and use them consistently. For example, do not use the term "blue" if you mean "cyan."
• Encourage the customer to explain what concerns they have rather than tell you how to fix them. Their role is to identify the problem - your role is to know whether, and how the problem can be fixed.
• If you make a press adjustment to fix an issue, tell the customer what you will be doing and how you feel it will fix the problem. This helps confirm to the customer that you correctly understood their issue and it also helps educate them which, in turn, will make future press checks go quicker.
• If there are any issues that you have with the press to proof match - let the customer know that right away rather than have them discover it themselves. Doing so tells the customer that you are not trying to hide anything from them. It also helps establish a mutually respectful environment.
• Be aware of time - every minute the press is idle the company is losing money. Remember, you can get press sheet sign-off with notes to cover some issues (e.g. "OK for color - but must remove all circled spots and hickies). Don't rush the customer, but don't let them dally at the press either.
• Some shops will have a "light room" where customers can take the sheet to view it under "standard" office lighting. This helps mitigate metamerism and substrate fluorescence issues.
• Make sure that the OK press sheet is signed and dated by the customer, the sales representative/CSR, and the press operator. Any continuing issues to be dealt with later should be noted on the sheet.
• Have a cardboard tube ready so that OK'd press sheets can be taken away by the customer.
• Thank the customer for attending the press check.
Press check basics for the print buyer
The role of the print buyer at the press check is to directly communicate their presswork concerns and acceptance with the press operator in the presence of the sales person to help ensure that any color issues are dealt with according to the customer's requirements.
• Once you get the call from the printer, gather up any material related to the job, samples, proofs, spot color draw downs, paper samples, mock-ups, folding dummies, etc. Also, make sure to bring loupes, color swatchbooks, scissors/x-acto knife, pens and notebooks.
• It's a good idea to get an imposition proof from the printer so that you can check three things; are there any potential inline color issues, are pages on the press form imposed the same way as they were on the imposition proof, and finally when the sheet is backed up on press do the pages back up correctly.
• Arrive at the printshop on time. Identify yourself at reception and explain why you are there. Then wait for the sales rep or CSR to be escorted to the waiting lounge or press floor.
• If you are part of a group attending the press check, identify which single individual will be the lead. That is the one person who consolidates the opinions of the folks attending the press approval and therefore the one who speaks for the group to the press operator.
• While waiting to go out to the press floor, ask for an initial make ready sheet that can be checked for content issues like substituted fonts, low resolution images, missing graphics, etc. This will reduce time wasted at the press when doing the color approval.
• At the press, introduce yourself and your team to the press operator. Wait to be invited anywhere near the press console.
• Do not touch or use any equipment at the press unless you specifically ask permission first.
• When you are offered the sheet for examination, ask the press operator if they are happy with the sheet and if they have any concerns/issues with it.
• Engage your sales representative for input and guidance with any thoughts/concerns you have. Tap into their experience.
• Recognize that time equals cost so be focused on the task at hand. If you are working with a team, assign checking roles to each. For example, someone checking registration, another checking for hickeys/specs, low resolution photos, swapped or dropped fonts, etc.
• If you are alone, have a written, organized, step by step yes/no, pass/fail procedure to checking the press sheet . Typically the process goes like this:
1) Is it printed on the correct paper? If a specific paper grain direction was required ensure that it is running in the correct direction.
2) Is it in register?
3) Over all, does the press work color align with the proof? Are there any obvious color issues?
4) When critical color alignment is required, cut the press sheet through the important color and overlay that section of the press sheet on the proof. Colors that may appear correct when compared side by side may appear different when directly overlaid.If you cannot clearly see where the press sheet ends and the proof begins you know you have a critical match.
5) Use your reference material to confirm the correctness of special/spot/brand colors.
• If you have any color concerns/issues, try to describe them clearly and unambiguously. Then describe just as clearly and unambiguously what you want to see. Do not tell them how to fix the issues. Your role is to identify any problems - it is the press operator's role is to know whether, and how any problems can be fixed. You can ask whether a solution you thought of might solve the problem. For example, you could say: "I think this area is too red. Would reducing the Magenta a touch fix it?" Phrasing a suggestion as a question can also help your press operator better understand your meaning according to how you describe the problem.
• Try and use correct and unambiguous terms and use them consistently. For example, do not use the term "blue" if you mean "cyan." Try to avoid terms like: "This area is too hot" or "Can you punch it up a notch?"
• If a press adjustment is made to fix an issue, ask the press operator what they are doing and how they feel it will fix the problem. This helps you to better understand the print production process, and its limitations, better.
• Most press operators will try very hard to achieve what you’re looking for, however, once they've made their press moves and you are still not satisfied it will be up to the sales rep to authorize trying anything else. If it's a really serious issue, the sales rep may stop the press and pull the job.
• Keep in mind that the start/stop/start/stop press cycling during a press check means that the press is not yet running in a stable fashion. Once the press OK is complete and the press is running at optimal speed, some small color issues will clear up by themselves.
• Be aware of time. Respect the printshop's need to maintain their production schedules. Remember, you don’t need to remain until the sheet is absolutely perfect. Just mark it as “OK with changes as noted.” (e.g. "OK for color - but must remove all circled spots and hickies).
• Some shops will have a "light room" where you can take the sheet to view it under "standard" office lighting. This helps mitigate metamerism and substrate fluorescence issues.
• Make sure that the OK press sheet is signed and dated by the person in your team who has authority to take responsibility. Any continuing issues that are to be dealt with later should be so noted on the sheet.
• Ask for a few copies of the OK'd sheet to take away with you for your records.
• Thank the press operator and crew for their performance during the press check. They really appreciate it and will remember you in a positive light during your next press check.