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How to Manage a Press Check

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Managing a press check is not an easy feat—it requires a solid plan in order to run successfully. Fortunately, we’ve been there before, and can offer up some advice.

Make sure to follow these Do’s and Don’ts to manage a successful print project.

Before going to the printer:

TIMING: Be flexible on timing/availability

If you can't, then ask for first AM press check several days ahead of time, if possible. This will allow you to become more of a priority in the print vendor’s scheduling.

DISTRIBUTION: Have all shipping and distribution in place with all questions from the printer answered before going to press.  

Ensure that all shipping account numbers, purchase order numbers, job numbers, quantity distribution breakouts, and special shipment requirements are in place as needed.

PROOFS: Let the printer’s proofs, composed color proofs and color swatches be your guide.

Bring all final proof copies that have notations of every adjustment to confirm the changes are included on the press sheets. This is your ‘last chance’ to ensure all changes have been made; however, this is not the time to proofread the entire project.

TEAM EFFORT: Introduce yourself to the printing press team—the people who are responsible for producing the printed product with your name on it. Remember their names, they will appreciate the personal touch. 

After all, they are the specialists with years of experience and a trained eye for color. They can make or break your press results. Be appreciative and respectful, ask their opinion, ask them what they see and how they would adjust color to optimize the results. Another tip is to always be upbeat and optimistic. I always find out something about the press person(s) and when I sign my OK to print, I like to write a personal note of thanks on the press sheet.

ON PRESS: Think of it as a journey! 

Printers will often initially provide you with a “reader sheet,” which does not have full color saturation. This is the time for you to review and confirm that all content changes have been made, especially if you have not had the time to see a final final proof of last minute content changes. At this point, do not pay attention to color (because it is not accurate to what the final printed product will look like and it might even be out of registration). Here are a few items to review with this first press sheet:

  • Type fonts
  • Content heads/subheads
  • Folios (page numbers)
  • Numbers properly aligned in columns
  • Bullet points
  • Rules (lengths & thicknesses)
  • Graphs
  • Replacement photography (again, not for color, but to ensure that it has been properly corrected, positioned and cropped)
  • Confirm specified paper(s) and paper weight(s).

COLOR ADJUSTMENTS: Printing is both an art and a science.  

When the pressman has brought you the first sheet that is “up to color,” it is best to convey your thoughts on color moves in “global” terms. Don’t talk about what colors to adjust, but how the press sheet feels, as in these examples here: 

"Too warm" or "too sallow" / "Needs more warmth" Too much yellow / Needs more yellow
"Too dense, not enogh contrast" / "Feels flat, feels muddy" "Too much black" / "Needs more black"
"Too cool" / "Too warm" "Too much blue" / "Needs more blue"
"Too warm" / "Too unrealistic" "Too much magenta" / "Needs more magenta"
"It doesn't feel sharp, density seems off" "Out of Focus"
"Not enough density or richness" "Not enough ink"

These directives let the press experts know how to ‘move' color to your liking. You won’t realize how much of a difference a slight adjustment of the colors will make, but pressmen have experience to ensure a swift and proper adjustment to your liking. 

Look at skin tones, check for broken type, blemishes and other imperfections. Registration, trapping and “creep” are things the printer can guide you to look for. Some folks will even take a press sheet and quickly review it outside in natural light or under different lighting. Stick around long enough to ensure that the proper coating (gloss, dull, varnish, aqueous, other) has been included, especially if this process is being done “off-line.”

Potential sacrifice: Knowing that ink on paper will not be an exact match to the printer proofs, some decisions may have to be made. Understand what can be “sacrificed on press’ before going to press. For example: is it more important to have the CEO’s skin tone look healthy vs. the grass look greener in a photo of a location? Sometimes one has to make decisions about color based on the imposition and the way the job is run on press to account for crossovers, color balance, etc.

Before OK’ing each final press sheet:

Always ask for the “rule out” with each press form—a rule out is an “inked” line-up of crop marks, trim marks and fold marks that let you know the press sheets have been laid out properly. (Terms like creep, crossovers and “ghosting” may come into play.)

Bring OK’d full size press sheet samples back with you:

Build time into your schedule to show applicable colleagues/clients the press sheets before any bindery begins. It is much cheaper to reprint one press form vs. reprinting the entire job.

Another reason to do this is if you notice a drastic difference from your approved press sheets to the final product, you have record of it.

After the job is “OK to print:”

Always ask for a “hand cut” folded sample, even if the sheets are wet, to bring back to your office. It will be a rough representation, but can prove helpful to determine mailing costs.


I like to express my personal thanks to every pressman who has worked on the project (including the person who is loading the paper into the press). With everyone working towards your print goals, why not express appreciation, perhaps influencing them to want to give your project their undivided attention?

Have you managed a press check? What are some of your Do’s and Don’ts?