Design Size

Written by Geoffrey Eisenberg, Vice President of Operations at Tidewater Direct

Web offset printing offers good flexibility to the designer, but misunderstanding its flexibility can be costly. The most critical error a print designer can make when devising a new creative to run on a web offset press is ignoring common press repeat sizes and standard paper stock widths. A lack of understanding of this critical design aspect may unintentionally increase the price of the piece significantly without increasing any impact the design delivers. By working closely with a printer, designers can gain a better understanding of common sizes so they may best utilize a press sheet. A good design should not only attract positive attention, but must also be designed for economical production.

One thing to consider for a design size is to understand common direct mail printing press cylinder repeat lengths. Common press repeats include 11”, 14” and 17” and multiples thereafter; for example, Tidewater Direct has presses with 22” and 28” cylinders. Keeping one dimension of the design at or close to these common repeats will help ensure that the piece can be efficiently printed.

The other dimension to consider is the web width. Most forms presses have maximum roll widths of 20.5”, while half and full web presses for generic inserts can accept rolls up to 38” wide. A web width can be infinitely variable within the limitations of the press, but if the piece may run in less than truckload volumes, ordering custom width paper can be costly. On narrower forms presses, 16” and 18” are standard widths, while 23”, 26” and 35” are common web widths for half web and full web press sizes.

Of equal importance is a “lock up”. A printing plate locks into a plate cylinder and its length becomes one dimension of an impression, less a “lock up”. A lock up is where the two ends of the plate meet on the plate cylinder, causing a small gap or non-printable area. Lock-ups, which are as large as .5”, generally affect pieces that “bleed” (when color runs to the edge of the image). A bleed requires a gutter of 3/32” in between images. A common fix for pieces that bleed is to undersize slightly, in order to accommodate full bleeds. Another remedy for creative that bleeds around the cylinder is to “lock up” in the middle of the cylinder, if there’s a .5” area across the image that doesn’t have ink. For generic inserts, Tidewater Direct has 17.75” and 22.75” repeats that allow full size reproduction of many common sizes that bleed. 8.5x11 and 17x11 are two common sizes that can benefit from these larger cylinder circumferences when they must bleed.

On continuous forms, .5” on each side of the web for pin feeds must be taken into account. It causes no harm to bleed into the pin feeds. Pin feeds are a common area to insert a client’s code or identification mark.

Tidewater Direct is more than happy to offer assistance in designing a piece so that it is economically producible; there is certainly a lot to remember. By planning carefully in the design process, Tidewater Direct can help you achieve an efficient design. We welcome any design phase questions that may arise during the bid process.