Graphic Design Presentations vs Reality: Part 1

Perhaps this has happened to you — you approve a brochure based on proofing a PDF file, but upon seeing the printed piece you notice the type is much bigger than you thought. Or the website comp you are viewing (a “comp”, or “comprehensive”, is designer-speak for a presentation of concepts for your project) looks entirely different on your co-worker’s computer monitor.

Welcome to the world of digital comps! In many ways what you see is more accurate than what a designer could show you before computers. Yet the apparent realism of the comp hides a number of pitfalls that may surprise you when you see the finished product.

Comps for print projects

A designer will probably show you print comps as output from an inkjet printer. For a print project, our firm typically shows 2 – 4 concepts. If you wish to see the range of ideas in a LevinsonBlock presentation, email us here and we’ll send you some samples.

There is big difference between inkjet output and commercially printed pieces.

  • Commercial printing uses a much wider variety of paper than inkjets. Inkjets print on paper with a special finish which is whiter and smoother than typical offset printing stock — it is unlikely your finished project will print on inkjet paper.
  • Inkjets use different inks and a different method of printing the ink on the paper than commercial printing. On the inkjet comp, this results in a different color gamut, (designer-speak for color range); and more saturation (designer-speak for color intensity). So colors of the final printed piece will typically look different. And if your project uses Pantone colors, which are a family of printing inks that are mixed much like house paint, the inkjet can only approximate the Pantone colors by using the inks it has.

We often show later versions of a print project as PDF files. PDFs have their own accuracy issues:

  • PDFs use yet another color gamut — you view a PDF on your computer monitor, which shows colors by mixing red, green and blue (RGB). Furthermore, unless you calibrate your monitor, there’s no guarantee it will show colors accurately. We have yet to meet a client who has the time to calibrate their monitors!
  • Type on a computer monitor typically looks smaller than it actually is. Or you may be viewing your PDF at 150% or 75%, which will also lead to type size misperceptions.

Here are some ways to avoid surprises when looking at comps:

  • Ask to see actual ink swatches, especially if the project uses Pantone or other special inksAsk to see actual paper samples — the weight, brightness and finish of the paper are important on a print job
  • Make sure you view PDFs at 100%
  • Print out your PDF–make sure you print it out at 100% and not “fit to paper”
  • If color is critical, go to the press check with your designer — where the designer OKs the job as it is running
  • If your project has a solid area of ink that must be accurate (for example, you need to match your brand color), ask for a “draw-down”– an actual sample of the ink printed before the job goes on press. The printer will charge extra for this.

We’ll talk about comping for websites in a later issue.



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