Large format print guidelines
A guide to follow when supplying print-ready files.
Large format printing is not like using the laserjet sat on your filing cabinet in the office. Doing it well requires a combination of correctly setup artwork, carefully selected substrates and ink and a deft touch by dedicated print professionals.
On the hardware side of things, printers are like any other large machines - they need constant maintenance to keep them performing consistently and occasional replacement when something better comes along, or a supplier suddenly decides to quadruple the cost of the ink.
Large format printing is not for the faint-hearted. The investment in equipment is pretty eye-watering, even if you only buy one machine. It starts to make more sense economically if you need a fleet of them, since you get economies of scale with the consumables, your staff and the possibility of higher output. Plus, repairing or calibrating a machine or trying out some new inks won't stop production.
The printers need to sit in an environmentally-controlled room, since variations in temperature and humidity affect the curing time of inks, and cause other annoying inconsistencies. Again, this is not something every print company properly considers at the outset.
We pride ourselves on both the quality and consistency of our print output. That entails careful management of resources, since trying to squeeze another job into an already full print schedule could lead to a dip in quality for some or all of those jobs.
There are, inevitably, occasions when output has to be cranked to the max, but we approach those periods with considered use of resources and management of client expectations. If you've built your brand on the promise of quality as we have, you'll understand why that is necessary and desirable.
Ever since the invention of digital print, this industry has become beset with something of an expectation mismatch. The potential for quick turnaround offered by the technology can lead people to leave things until the last minute. Emergencies aside, we would much prefer Marketing to sign off the artwork weeks in advance, colour-matching to be done with physical print proofs (rather than an emailed photo of an old leaflet!) and a little time for ink to cure before it has to be packed and dispatched.
A second expectation mismatch caused by the digital print revolution was the idea that colours normally printed on a litho press using special inks could easily be replicated out of CMYK process. This simply isn't true. Pantone colours can be 'aimed at' using a combination of their equivalent CMYK split and some careful adjustments during output. But some colours are simply unachievable, others can suffer from 'banding' if placed in a large block of colour or particular gradients.
So really, the designers of the artwork should be taking these things into consideration at the very outset. Large format printing is digital, so how can we get the best, most impactful result from digital printing? If you work with our design team, that kind of consideration is at the forefront of their minds.
Having said that, we understand that corporate branding almost always entails colour matching for some elements of your artwork, particularly logos, but sometimes larger areas or even entire graphic panels. If you have specific colour matching requirements, we can certainly help to achieve the best possible results, but extra time should be factored in for sign-off of physical proofs. CMYK is a very clever system that can replicate most colours from a combination of pigments, but accurate colour matching is still somewhat of an art form.
Please take a moment to download our large format print guidelines before setting up and submitting artwork to us, and feel free to discuss this important area with us. Getting things in the right format first time can really speed up a print job and reduces the potential for error. So at the risk of patronising a few experienced artworkers, this is essential reading.
One of the highlights to look out for is image resolution; whilst we only need the artwork to be a quarter of the final print size (our panels can be 3m in height, so a full-resolution image would have an enormous file size), it is important to submit your bitmap images like photographs at 300dpi. Any less and the final enlarged output will really amplify any pixelation. Of course, anything than can remain as a vector (a shape comprising nodes and curves), including text, will not suffer at all from this enlargement - it will look nice and sharp at any size.
Please also pay close attention to the requirements for bleed. Bleed is the 'overhang' of the artwork beyond the edges of the final graphic panel (represented by your software's page or art board). Without bleed, even the most careful guillotining work has the potential to leave a very thin white area at the edge, and it can cause other problems like ink cracking and flaking.
The vast majority of our large format print output is focussed on outputting excellent graphic panels for our own exhibition products - Curve, Twist, Link2 and Lumos - as well as elevating the appearance of the printed elements on counters and other systems like the more basic roller banners and bespoke elements within our custom build projects.
Graphic panels need to be rolled up in transit, either in a tube or within the cassette base of a roller banner. They are all intended to be used and reused, so they necessitate an in-built longevity and robustness as well as the obvious need for flexibility. That's why we continue to research and investigate new options for inks and substrates. Decades of experience have taught us not to sit on our laurels in this regard.
Lumos has a particularly unique application for our graphic panels. Since light is used to shine directly through the panels, we use special techniques, inks and substrates like clear acetate to achieve some really interesting effects. We highly recommend asking for a live demonstration to get the full effect and to fire your creative imaginations.
Over the years, we've played with all sorts of ink and substrate combinations for our graphic panels. Some ink applications require the protection of lamination, others look better and more vibrant on a glossier paper, whilst a more professional and distinctive finish can often be achieved with matt paper. It's really a question of taste and aesthetics, and should form part of your design considerations depending on the effect you're going for. If you're not sure, there's always a silk finish - a kind of everyday hero for the indecisive.
Our exhibition work has a truly global stage, but it still makes us all warm and fuzzy to work with Fibrelite, a firm based only a stone’s throw from our HQ in Skipton.