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Paper dummies

Sep 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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Tips for accurate print project prep

Often, I am asked to give talks about printing on uncoated papers. I vary the talk for each audience, but the general focus is on uncoated. I call it the “Printing on uncoated papers presentation” (or, “How to still like the press sheet in the morning”). At least I usually start out by getting a good laugh.

The talk covers the essentials you'd expect: the importance of printer communication; the value of draw downs, paper dummies and press tests; dot compensation and uncoated curves; press okays and ink tips; and the importance of speed on press.

I always try to share what I learn from others, having worked with some of the most imaginative designers and printers in the country. Sometimes insight comes from intelligence, sometimes from experience, and other times it comes from mistakes — and we all know that mistakes do happen. One of the steps I always stress is the importance of making accurate paper dummies. The key word here is accurate. Here's a story about one project in which I failed to take my own advice. It haunted me every step of the way.

A challenging project

Each year, we produce a Mohawk “Show Catalog” of all the winners from our annual design competition (see photo above). The 2005 issue was designed by a wonderful art director, Jeremy Hoffman, associate partner, Pentagram (Baltimore). It was perfect bound and featured a solid black front, back and spine; as well as other full-bleed solids, metallics, embossing and die-cutting. The design also called for five (yes, five) consecutive double gatefolds placed near the front of the book.

For the text, we could not decide between a lightweight cover stock or a heavy text-weight stock. We requested a paper dummy in both weights. This would give us a sense of the overall feel of the book and enable us to determine the point size of the “title” type for the spine. I didn't include the five gatefolds in the dummy request, because I figured they wouldn't affect the spine thickness.

Big mistake.

We chose to go with the lightweight cover stock. Jeremy spoke with the printer — Lithographix (Los Angeles) — about the adjustment for grind off, for the perfect-bound crossovers. The designer released the files, and all was well.

Back to the drawing board

When a project reaches this stage, I set up a three-way conference call between the printer, the designer and myself. This is when everyone has the opportunity to raise red flags, make last-minute ink choices, and discuss proofs, scheduling, photography, etc.

This time, the bindery supervisor on the call advised us that due to the five double gates, we could not perfect bind the book the way we had intended. He shared the story of a similar project that had failed in the past. The problem: The width of the outer edge, or face, of the book (due to the five double gates) was substantively thicker than the spine. This extra thickness creates extra stress on the spine during bindery; the supervisor predicted it would fall apart. The printer could not guarantee the perfect binding would hold. They felt that even PUR glue would not keep the cover from pulling away from the text.

The solution was to change the binding. The bindery choices were rivets or grommets, side stitch (French stitch), side sewn, spiral or wire-o. We chose rivets. Now, the area we had lost at the spine had more than tripled to compensate for the width of the face of the book. The live area on the page had changed. Due to this bindery change, we also changed the overall trim size of the brochure. On Monday morning, I called to check in with the designer. He explained he had worked all weekend to re-layout all pages for the new size, moving artwork out from the spine and reworking crossovers.

A new quote came. The economy of creating a perfect-bound book had disappeared. The project would now cost more and take longer. I approved it, reluctantly.

Smiles and frowns

The job printed beautifully and was then readied for bindery. A bindery dummy was prepared and approved. I asked the printer to send a preview carton before the project was shipped to Mohawk paper distributors all over the world.

When the preview carton arrived, the first thing I noticed was little “smiles” (dents) on the outer edges where the rivets were catching. And the spine, with two hits of solid black ink to match the cover, had tears in it. The rivets had pulled the paper too tightly. White paper showed, and it looked like a bad print job.

We slip-sheeted the brochures to prevent the rivet smiles on the outer edges. We then lightened up the pressure on the rivets to eliminate the tearing. The additional time and expense were approved, and I asked them to please send me a new preview carton.

I almost didn't want to open this next carton. Sure enough, this time the spine was tearing at the bottom edges because the books were stacked on end in the cartons. There was still too much stress on the spine of the book. “Let's try laying them flat,” I suggested, “and please send me another new preview carton.”

Two new preview cartons arrived. The first had shrink-wrapped packs of five books with slipsheets between each of them, stacked back to front. The other carton had shrink-wrapped packs of 10 — five placed in one direction and five placed in the other direction. The first box was the winner. But, the shrinkwrapping cost double because we estimated for 10-packs.

All of this happened because I didn't request those gatefolds in the original paper dummies. Mistakes happen. Happily, mistakes like this do not happen often!

Pam McGuire is print production manager for Mohawk Fine Papers. For the past 10 years, she has been responsible for overseeing the production and printing of Mohawk's promotions and swatchbooks. Contact her at

Prototype 101

A paper dummy is an unprinted mock up of the finished piece, made from the same paper stocks (finishes and weights) that will be used. It is created to simulate the final product before the job is printed. A paper dummy can be prepared early in the process by the paper mill, paper merchant or printer.

What a paper dummy reveals

  • The overall look and feel of the finished piece.
  • How the piece will open and close.
  • The size.
  • The thickness (spine, type, binding specification).
  • How different colored or textured papers look together and where the stock changes occur.
  • If the paper weights you chose work as intended.
  • The functionality of gatefolds, inserts, short sheets, etc.
  • Specialty process considerations (e.g., back of emboss on front cover).
  • How the binding might or might not work.

Plan ahead with a paper dummy

  • Use as a guide for ordering envelopes.
  • Use to determine postage or shipping costs.
  • Use as you design a slipcase or outer housing.
  • Test packing.
  • Anticipate special scoring needed.