Yesterday Renee asked me a paper & printing question about my save the dates, and as I started to leave a very long comment in response, I thought maybe it deserved a whole post (and some more research on my part!)
I’ve tried to condense some basic info here – with the idea that this will be useful for people who work with a graphic designer and are just curious, or for people who want to take printing into their own hands. The trick is, to have a design printed you need to know more than just the basics to make sure your files are OK to print, and you probably need to have some software like the Adobe Creative Suite. (cha-ching)
But let’s start with paper. For the save the dates, I used Neenah Paper’s Sundance Warm White Felt Finish in 80lb. cover stock. I chose it for the color and texture. At work, we have lots of paper sample books so I was able to feel it before I bought it, but you can use their website to make some educated guesses and get advice about what might work for you. If you want your type & images to be their crispest and you’re printing digitally, it’s better to go with a smooth paper. In choosing a textured paper and digital printing, I probably sacrificed a bit of quality but I really liked the way the texture looked and felt. It’s just a balancing act.
For envelopes, I knew I wanted kraft paper (but nice) and I knew I could find that at French Paper.
So on to printing…To save a few hundred dollars (!), I decided to go digital with the save the dates. I used a cheap, local kinkos-esque printer. I thought it was a pretty good place to cut corners, and using nice paper masks some of the flaws. (The flaws being that if you look REALLY closely, there is a sort of halo around the finer type, and of course you can see the dots – since digital printers print with thousands of little dots that mix to your eye to create the color you see, rather than using mixed inks.) If you’re going to cut corners this way, you should definitely have the printer print one invitation so that you can do a color check.
Here’s a basic breakdown on some printing processes:
Offset printing includes spot color jobs and 4 color process jobs. For spot color jobs, you choose pantone colors so that you know exactly what color you’re getting. This may be important if you’re doing business cards, for example, so that your logo looks exactly the way the designer intended. 4 color process jobs are printed by using four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black – or CMYK) and the print is made up of little dots that mix to your eye to create the color you see. When you order something like invitations from a high quality shop, and you’re not getting letterpress, you’re probably getting offset printing. It’s pretty expensive, and the per-piece price is better if you aren’t getting small runs (i.e. anything under 500).
Digital printing quality and price varies greatly depending on who you use. Printing 250 cards for my save the dates was about $40, but had I gone to a high quality digital printer I might have paid hundreds more. The pros of using an on-demand digital printer is that they give a fast turnaround, they’re cheap, and they can print low quantities. The cons are that you get less accurate color matches, have limited paper choices, and limited quality (may be slightly better than the printer you have at home.) A high quality digital print can be a great budget option to offset printing.
Letterpress printing is a form of relief printing, like stamps. Given it’s popularity I probably don’t need to go into too much detail. Thicker, softer paper is used to create deep indentations where the metal type or plate is pressed against it. It’s beautiful, expensive, and has a long history. (you can learn more here.)
Screen printing is just like using a stencil. A fine meshed screen is partially blocked in some way (either with a stencil or photo emulsion) and ink is pushed through the open screen areas with a squeegee. The ink is very thick and you can print on almost anything – fabric, books, glass, etc. Think gocco!
Engraving is the opposite of letterpress, since the design is cut into a metal plate and the ink sits inside the grooves rather than on top. Since paper is forced into the grooves and thick inks are used, engraved type feels raised above the paper.
Thermography is a cheaper alternative to engraving. The process sounds complicated to me, but basically it is a combination of offset printing with heat-sensitive powders that swell to raise the printed surface.
Well, that’s officially the longest blog post I’ve ever written. I’ll be back tomorrow with less words and more pictures!