Design, Design, Design
One designers take on the current state of graphic design and the common shortcomings of many new designers.
I'm going to start this by giving the definition of Fundamentals:
Forming or serving as an essential component of a system or structure
Notice, if you will, the word ESSENTIAL. In relation to the design and print world, you can not achieve a printed piece without the essentials… unless of course you just get lucky.
For the past few years the graphics world has been turned on its ear. What used to be a very strict community of happy elitists who were very quick to scoff at any file that's not prepared and packaged exactly by the book is now populated by do-it-yourselfers who have figured out that with a cheap desktop computer and some pirated software, they too can be a graphic designer. “Never mind resolution, bleed, overprint, spot, process and post script,” they cry… “These things are meaningless and obsolete,” they proclaim. “We HAVE Adobe!” They're trying to tell you they have Photoshop, one of the many great products that Adobe Systems Incorporated makes. Referring to it as “Adobe” is the true mark of a DIY Graphic Renegade. They rant on, “with the click of my trusty mouse I can bevel or shadow ANYTHING!!!!!!” Now don't get me wrong, the growth in the design world, the addition of all this amazing software, the time it has all saved me personally… I find it all wonderful. I was always bothered by having to package up all my links and fonts, I LOVE that I can now export to PDF and be done with it… one file, bang, send it to press, print it, and make it snappy! So before I continue, if you are what I refer to as a DIY Graphic Renegade, please don't take offense, I'm only here to help. As easy as it was to use 14 simultaneous layer effects, it's just as easy to prepare your files correctly and make the entire process faster, and make your end product look better.
There are a million resources online to teach you the basics… ok, there are actually only 942, 558, but let's not split hairs. Anyway, a good place to start is www.about.com – and if they're too vague they'll probably have links elsewhere to help you further. I'm not going to get too far into teaching a lesson here, but I'm happy to give a list of things you should be looking at, along with anything else you stumble across:
Bleed – Your job won't cut right without it.
Resolution – No, you don't need glasses, it really does look that bad.
Overprint – Chances are you don't need this, but many programs will have it built into their default settings.
OPI – Much like overprint, it could be active and you don't know it, and again, chances are you don't need it.
Convert Fonts to Paths, Shapes, or Outlines: eliminate font issues by turning type into shapes.
And lastly, here's 2 bits of personal advice I'd like to throw out there that you might not find on any standard printing site.
1. Round up your copies of Publisher, Paint, Word, or anything with “Wizard” in the name and eliminate them. Recycle the boxes they came in, use the CD installers as Christmas Tree Ornaments, whatever makes you feel you still got something for your money. Word is fine for what it was meant to be, a WORD PROCESSOR. It's not a design application. There is a reason programs like Photoshop, Freehand, InDesign, etc. cost what they do; they work.
2. Designing for the internet and designing for print are not the same thing. Different rules for different games. Yea, football and baseball both have “ball” in the name, but if you tackle the short stop then proceed to do the Icky Shuffle they will throw you out of the game. Not sure of the rules? Ask your printer first. Any printer that enjoys receiving payment should also enjoy explaining what they need to serve you properly.