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  • Writer's pictureREBECCA RAUSCH

How to sound like a PRO

Unless you are passionate about printing and design, you may not know some of the terms and lingo. Don’t have your printer/designer rolling his/her eyes because you have no clue how or what to ask. Here is an easy-to-understand cheat sheet, so you sound like a rockstar.

First and foremost

In today’s day and age, many of the rules of old are no longer applicable. Full color is the norm. A logo does not have to be one color. Multicolor is acceptable for the primary logo; it just needs to convert to one color if needed for screenprinting onto a pen or similar application. These days, you may not need to print letterhead, envelopes, or even cards. The digital age has changed everything.

However, print is not dead. A good direct mail piece stands out now that our mailboxes are less competitive. So what do you need to know to explain your needs to a printer or designer? Even your digital files have specifications and parameters that you should understand and be able to discuss intelligently.

Color palletes with magnifying lense

Basic information:

  1. Where and how will it be used?

  2. The quantity needed.

  3. What size is needed?

  4. If printed, will it have a bleed?

  5. Will it be a self-mailer or go into an envelope?

  6. Will it fold?

  7. Who will be receiving it?

  8. Budget.

What is RGB? These represent the colors used online.

RGB is when red, green, and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. The name of the model comes from the initials of the three "additive" primary colors, Red, Green, and Blue. RGB is primarily a digital model and ideally not used in print.

We will be speaking of PRINT today.

What is CMYK? These are the inks used for print. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K (Black). These are the industry standard process colors used in full-color offset printing. The combination of these four colors can produce a broad spectrum of colors. Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow combine to create the color, and Black is used to change the shade of the color. Grab a magazine or newspaper near you, look very closely. You will see that it is made of dots. Those dots overlap in ways to produce nearly every color imaginable.

PMS Colors

The Pantone Matching System has nothing to do with your daughter’s cranky mood. It is a color system used to ensure a brand style color will be the same regardless of Print, Web, etc. It is by far not exact. Think of it like paint. It is a unique mixture of inks to make a “can” of your color. It is then put down as a flat spread of color, very much like paint.

It is not made of dots when used as a PMS in print; it is a specific recipe that printers know how to follow and can match exactly. However, be aware, the CMYK and RGB versions of the color may not match the pure ink version as they are made of dots/pixels. They’ll be very close, but it is a different medium and method and will always have a slight difference. Using PMS ink is not the norm as it was “back in the day.” Today, it requires the printer to either have a 5th inkwell on their press or clean out the wells to load the PMS ink and then clean it again to go back to CMYK for other clients. Some larger printers have a dedicated press for one-two color projects and can do it cost-efficiently, but if your printer is primarily 4/c, you will most certainly pay more for PMS than you would for CMYK.

What is bleed? A bleed is when an image extends beyond the trim edge of the product. If your image is not white on all four sides, you will want to include bleeds in your files. Add 1/8” (.125”) to each side of the file. For example, for a 2” x 3.5” business card with full bleed, the image size should be submitted at 2.25” x 3.75”.

Why do I need a bleed? When a printer produces a product, they generally print designs onto larger sheets of paper before trimming them to size. If not, the ink would run off the edge and beneath the paper. If you attempt to use color up to the edge but not have a 1/8” color extension for bleed, you will incur a “hairline” of white. printing is not an entirely exact science so that “hairline” will take an excellent design down to amateur on a glance. Adding a bleed combats this by extending graphics and colors beyond the edge of the paper and trimming the edges to mimic a flush edge/color. What is the safe zone? The safe zone is the 1/8" to 1/4” space that is required between the edge-aka crop/trim line and your text. This is not the same as the bleed. The “crop edge” is the line where the paper is trimmed as mentioned above. Any important imagery or text should be a minimum of 1/4” inside of that crop line so that if there is any jostling of the machinery during the cutting and trimming process, you do not cut through your text or imagery. Coated, Non-coated? There are different types of paper, thicker, thinner, made of different materials, and also different coatings. Think of shellac on a table; paper can be matte (not glossy), gloss, UV (super gloss), and flat (no coating at all). Depending on the “feel” you wish to capture, knowing the difference can make all the difference. You can even have items spot glossed or raised UV, meaning only certain parts of the product are glossy and/or raised. At NLC, we love us some silk-laminated stock with raised UV. It’s substantial, it feels so fabulous in the hand, and the raised UV gives elegance and air of a much more expensive process called embossing. That first impression can last and subconsciously tilt a prospect in your favor. Quality is infectious.


Most folks know of the standard brochure fold. Referred to as the letter fold, this folding style is the most common. Big print houses churn tri-folds out as a standard, and because most people don’t realize that there are variations such as zig-zag-style-folds, short-folds, and more. Do a little investigating and find a fold that is cost-effective but a bit unique. “Novel anything” helps your brand retain a bit of real estate in the brain of your prospect.


Score relates to the fold. Some papers are very thick and cannot be put through the folding machinery. Some projects with darker solid swaths of ink can crack along the folded edge during construction. Scoring cuts a thin slice along the fold, yet not all the way through, to allow the paper to fold easily and maintain a sharp, clean edge of color.

Digital vs. Offset

There are several types of print machinery. One works very much like your inkjet printer in your office, just a higher grade. Ink shoots down and sits atop the paper’s surface. For low quantity projects, it is a cost-effective and easy choice. However, it has its drawbacks. Being that the ink sits on top of the paper, it does scuff and scratch. Dark bleeds will most certainly crack; scoring can help, but it is never as clean an edge as offset.

“Offset” is when a plate is made, ink is spread onto the plate and pressed onto the paper. The ink soaks in and is usually creates a more attractive and professional finish. Paper choice, coatings, and design make a huge difference in how your project will emerge, but whenever possible, use offset. It is simply a superior quality solution. The main difference between the two methods are the setup fees. Digital requires minimal setup. Printing a few is not a big deal. Offset requires extensive setup and costs, so printing a minimal amount is costly. With either method, the more you print, the less it is per item, as the setup fees remain the same regardless of quantity. If you are choosing offset, plan on printing quite a bit — preplan and design for longevity. Your investment will then have more staying power and not be outdated in a year or two. There is little more disheartening than having to dispose of thousands of costly brochures.

Self-mailer vs. Not

A postcard is a self-mailer. Some catalogs, magazines, even brochures are self-mailers… but what does that mean? Essentially it means you can mail it with no need to use an envelope. The postal service is pretty picky about how it is designed for their mail readers, so be careful. God forbid you put a ton of money into it to find it back at your doorstep because it didn’t meet regulations. Overall though, self-mailers are cheaper, often can be used to stand out in the mail. They do not require the extra step of opening an envelope to get your main message across and makes the entire process more efficient. But… unless you plan for self-mailing, your precious communication can get scuffed, bent, or mangled in the postal service machinery. It is a risk, but a reasonable one as most recipients have a short attention span (thanks internet), and if you don’t grab them right away, they may round file rather than take the time to open.

There are many areas of design, print, and production to learn. The mini-course above will help you sound like a rockstar-veteran-of-design so that you can communicate clearly and speak the jargon of the printing realm!

©Neon Lizard Creative 2021 | Rebecca Rausch | | 952.452.0168


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