Ghetto Tutorial: Signatures

We are aware of the poor design student stereotype, so here is an informal guide to printing a multi-page document the cheap way. This is a short list of guidelines for producing a production-quality book or brochure with a typical tabloid sized laser printer. It includes file preparation, double-sided registration techniques and a few other pointers.

In the commercial world of design, designers focus on design, and pre-press studios or printers deal with the production end of things. In the world of a student designer, they are called upon to design, produce, photograph and edit almost all of their projects. This is a lot to ask of one person, given that there are full time jobs for each of these tasks, but a student must be able to work with what they have available to them.

Step 1: Determine Variables

After selecting the size of the book and type of binding, (most of the time, you will need to know this prior to designing) you will need to set up the document accordingly. Many people that do not know how to print double-sided effectively, or simply wanted a thicker book produce the french fold style binding which only requires one sided printing. Some things to consider when making your own book is the paper weight. Many people want to have a thick book, and choose a paper to heavy for their purposes. I recommend 60 lb. cover at the heaviest for signatures. The benefit of signatures is a book that looks good and lays flat, but it will not make your book look thicker than it really is.

Step 2: Type of Printer:

There are essentially three types of printers that one would use to print a book. Offset lithography or digital presses are the two most popular commercial options, but for a student on a budget, you have two options: A large format inkjet printer or a laser printer.

Inkjet Printers – Large format Epson or Canon printers are capable of excellent color replication and full-bleed printing up to 13×19 inches, but are slow and expensive as far as ink goes. Nicely weighted paper is a must (so ink is not visible on the other side) and typography smaller than 10 points tends to fill in.

Laser Printers -  Typically laser printers are much faster, and usually cheaper than inkjet printers in the long run. The trade-off however, is the color replication and overall quality of the print can suffer at times. The size limitation can also sometimes become an issue, the largest being 12×18 paper size (meaning 11.5×17.5 printable area accounting for the 1/4 inch rollers on each side). Usually, high quality paper increases the quality of the print.

Step 3: Efficiency & File Preparation

Usually when printing extensive double-sided documents the tendency is to print one side at a time, switching from front to back for each physical page of the document. This amounts to much more time then doing a few tests and printing all of the odd pages, and then the even pages in two seperate print commands.

I am assuming Indesign is the program of choice as it should be (Sorry Quark users) for multi-page documents. There is a feature under the file menu called ‘Print Booklet’ formerly ‘Inbooklet’ that will allow for automatic rearranging of pages depending on which type of binding is desired (saddle stitch, signatures etc.)

You will want to run Print Booklet and set your Printer to your postscript PDF. You will need your crop and score marks visible, but avoid printing a slug, color bars or any other unnecessary information. You will now have a pdf file of all of the pages arranged as they need to be printed for signatures.

Step 4: Timing is Everything

Typically, school printers or shared tabloid printers are constantly firing off random files from different computers, and if you are in school at peak hours, the chances of you printing a large multi-page document without problems are pretty slim. When in school, I printed during off hours, mostly during the middle of the night (when there was less chance of someone printing a page right in the middle of my book).

Step 5: Testing

This is obviously a big step, especially if you have really nice paper or have to pay per sheet as a mistake can be costly. My advice is to test a few pages for color or some other output abnormalities, and depending on the size of your book, determine how many pages you want to go for at a time. You will want to print your PDF file from Acrobat as this will be the fastest for a printer to handle, and has the options you will need to get proper registration. Print off a blank sheet and mark it up so you can figure out what orientation you will need to place the pages into the printer after you print one side.

Step 6: Getting the Best Registration Possible

There are a couple of variables to consider when dealing with registration. The best registration will come from the interior trays, but the slightly larger size paper can fit in the manual feed tray, and it is usually easier to determine the paper orientation. The main rule of thumb is that whichever tray you use, the same foredge of the paper needs to feed into the printer.

Let’s say that you have printed all of your even pages and have the stack of one-sided prints ready, you will need to flip the orientation in acrobat (so the back side doesn’t print upside down when you put the same edge in). There are a few ways to do this, one being to simply rotate the pages 180 degrees. (Remember to only flip it on the 2nd side!) In addition to changing the orientation, you will need to print with “Reverse Pages” checked so you do not have to shuffle your stack of paper.

One last thing to note, your crop marks are not all going to be perfectly registered front to back, but as long as they are pretty close (within 1/8 of an inch) you will not notice it once it is bound and cut. Most binders will need you to score every page and put the signatures in order, so keep that in mind.



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