Design Advice & Tips: Pressed Discs

The following advice and tips relate specifically to artwork for pressed discs with litho-printed packaging. CLICK HERE for advice and tips relating to artwork for duplicated discs and digital print packaging.

Computer-to-plate: Overview

CTP stands for ‘Computer To Plate’. This is the process whereby the plates used for litho printing are made directly from computer files. These days we take the artwork and make it into digital files in a very specific press-ready PDF format. This has superceded the traditional process of running the artwork out to colour-separated film. To create these files correctly requires an equally high level of reprographic expertise and knowledge of the print process - and consequently we have to charge for it, just as we did for running out film.

Supplying your own press-ready PDF files

This is what we need…

  • Press-ready PDF/X-1a compliant files, on our templates, and conforming exactly to our dimensions and specifications.

...so the first thing to do is get the correct template - you can Download CD & DVD Artwork Templates here. You'll find templates for the most common types of packaging, but if you're after a packaging format that isn't covered there, then call us and we'll get the correct template for you.

Graphics professionals should be familiar with the concepts involved in working with these templates and specifications, but others may end up having difficulties. If that happens, then it probably means that you shouldn’t be doing it! Not everyone can be an expert in everything, and you may well find it will save time and effort in the long run if you leave it to us. We can accept pretty much any artwork (see Artwork File Formats below), although we will have to charge our very reasonable studio rate for knocking it into shape!

Studio rates for creating pre-press PDFs from your artwork

We will add our standard ' PDF Checking' charge to any new job where artwork is involved. This charge covers checking your supplied artwork for compliance to our dimensions and specifications, and making any minor changes required.

PDF Checking charge - £30 plus £5 per page (+VAT)

For example:
4 page CMYK booklet & single-sided backliner - £55
6 page CMYK booklet & double-sided backliner - £70

Additional work not covered under the 'PDF Checking' charge is charged at £50 per hour (£25 min +VAT). Typical operations are adding bleed where bleed has been omitted, adding a barcode graphic (see the 'Barcodes' paragraph below), converting disc label colours to Pantone, etc

If you are supplying artwork so that we can create the PDFs for you, please ensure that your artwork is supplied in one of the file formats listed below in the section, ‘Artwork file formats’.

The PDF checking charge: How it works
We will check any supplied press-ready PDF files for PDF/X-1a compliance and conformity to our other dimensions and specifications. As part of the charge we will undertake to fix any minor problems that we find. Graphics professionals who are confident that they can supply compliant files can choose to opt out of the PDF checking charge. However, if we find problems with the artwork, we will charge the full studio rate of £75 per hour (+VAT) if you then need us to sort it out.

Designing artwork for discs and packaging: General notes

Colours: For CMYK litho-printed packaging
Make sure all colour elements (images, vector graphics, text etc.) within your artwork have their colour defined in CMYK colour (not RGB, LAB, indexed etc.). Black and white elements may be defined as greyscale. Black text should be specifically defined as Black (beware of text imported from other applications, which can occasionally can come in as RGB black).

Colours: For CMYK picture-disc print
See paragraph above. CMYK on-disc printing for CD or DVD is only really intended for use when the design includes half-tone elements, like photos, that won't reproduce in spot colours. Solid areas of colour and vector designs will usually work better with Pantone inks (see below). The CMYK inks are usually printed onto a white ink base, rather than straight onto the silver of the disc. We will always print onto a white base unless specifically instructed not to.

Colours: For standard spot-colour on-disc print
For standard spot-colour disc label print, colours should be defined as Pantone Spot Colours.

Bitmaps: Colours
All colour bitmaps MUST be saved in a CMYK format (not RGB or Indexed colour). Black and white images must be saved in Greyscale format if they are to be printed on a black and white page (though there is some advantage to making them CMYK, but ONLY if they are going to appear on a colour page. The printed image ends up looking smoother, but the risk is that a small imbalance in the inks may leave the image with a coloured tinge).

Bitmaps: Size and Resolution
All bitmaps should be imported to DTP packages at the correct size that they will be printed at, ideally at a resolution of 400dpi, and not resized in page layout program. 300dpi will produce acceptable results if disk space is a problem.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Grey Component Replacement
This bit is a bit technical, but please try to understand it as it will help you avoid a potential problem. CMYK colour print is the process used to reproduce full colour images, and the image is made up of combinations of various densities of the 4 inks. The density of each ink can vary between 1% (so faint that you’d be pushed see it), to 100% (solid). Therefore, it is theoretically possible to have a 400% ink coverage (100% of all 4 inks). If this happened the total ink at that point would be so thick that it would never dry! In order to avoid this happening, the total ink coverage should never exceed around 275%.

Trouble is, when converting an RGB image to CMYK, or when designing a CMYK image from scratch in Photoshop, it is possible to exceed this limit without realising. That’s where GCR comes in. Basically, a high percentage of all four CMYK colours gives you a very dense black. GCR is a process whereby the percentage of the three C, M & Y colours is reduced, and the percentage of blacK is raised to compensate. So, for example, you may have an image where at a certain point the black is made up of 100% Cyan, 89% Magenta, 46% Yellow and 57% blacK - a total of 292% - over the limit! After GCR, this may change to 67% Cyan, 51% Magenta, 35% Yellow and 92% blacK - a total of 245% - inside the limit.

How does this affect your image? Well, the GCR process only applies to the places in the image where it detects a problem, and then it works out the percentages so that the end result looks as close to the original as possible. There may be a slight difference, but you end up with something that will print, instead of something that won’t!

Fonts:
You must include all of the fonts used in your artwork, especially if they are at all unusual. Charges will be made if we have to buy fonts that we cannot substitute with our stock fonts in order to get a job to run, and for any time taken to make any text changes.

When designing embedded items containing text, such as fancy titles or logos, try to convert all text to curves or outlines wherever possible. This avoids problems if we don't have the fonts you're using, and will keep all of the formatting exactly as you've designed it. Don't forget to save it as a new file and keep your original version in case you need to edit it in future.

Bleed:
When designing artwork for the printing of paper parts for packaging, where the inlay or booklet design includes some feature (e.g. a picture or line or box) that comes up to the outer edge, you must make sure that the image “bleeds” over the edge by about 3mm on the films. However, there must be NO bleed on CD/DVD label artwork.

Printers’ Spreads
A multi-page CD or DVD Booklet is made up of one or more sheets of paper, folded in the middle, printed with 2 pages on each side of the sheet and stapled together. If you are looking at an 8-page booklet, you can see pages 2 and 3 at the same time. Trouble is, they are printed on different sheets of paper! Printers’ spreads is the pairing of 2-pages together in the way that they are printed - not the way they are seen! So when supplying artwork for CD booklets it is vital that the pages that are printed together are paired together. For example – printers’ spreads for an 8-page booklet…

8 Page Printer's Spreads

Barcodes
Sounds Good can supply a UPC-A barcode from our own series for a customer to use on their packaging, subject to an administration charge of £25 + VAT (or free of charge if included as part of one of our Musicians’ Deals). This charge does not cover actually creating the barcode graphic or inserting it into the customer’s artwork. Any barcodes allocated by Sounds Good can ONLY be used on product that Sounds Good is manufacturing. The following wording MUST be included in the artwork adjacent to the barcode:

Manufactured in the EU by Sounds Good Ltd.

Whether the barcode is one of ours, or one from the customer’s own series, our artwork pricing is based on the assumption that if a customer wants a barcode on their packaging, then the barcode will be included in any artwork that the customer supplies. We will make a small charge for creating the barcode graphic and emailing it to the customer so that they can include it in their artwork, or for adding the barcode onto artwork already supplied.

Artwork file formats:
Please email or phone Joseph if you need information on anything not covered here.

  • MAC - Quark Express (up to V6); Photoshop (up toCS2); InDesign (up to CS2); Illustrator (up to CS2)
  • PC - Quark Express (up to V4); Photoshop (up to V8/CS); InDesign (up to V3/CS); Corel Draw (up to V11); Illustrator (up to CS); Publisher (V2002) (but read the paragraph below, "The pitfalls of domestic page-layout programs")

Media formats:
Files can be sent to us on CD-R or DVD-R disc, Iomega ZIP 100 or 250 disc. Files can be uploaded to our FTP site - click here for link. Files of less than 10MB can be e-mailed (phone us for the email address of your designer). Please make sure all discs sent are clearly marked, and try to include printouts of all files as a guide to the contents of the files.

Avoiding potential problems

Print showing through large white areas on the cover:
When printing on our standard 135gsm paper, it is sometimes possible to see what is printed on the other side of the page in large unprinted white areas. If your cover design, for instance, contains large white areas, and you want to avoid any risk of page 2 showing through, you can either not print anything on page 2 or get us to quote for a thicker paper stock, which is a little more expensive.

The perils of home inkjet printouts:
Your home Photo Quality Inkjet printer may produce lovely bright vibrant colours from your artwork when using Premium Glossy paper. Do NOT assume that it will look like that when run to film and printed on a litho offset press! See our Brief Guide To Colour Printing for further information.

The pitfalls of domestic page-layout programs:
Microsoft Publisher is an excellent program for home users to design and print their own documents. However, although we can take Publisher files, there are issues involved with using Publisher for professional applications such as litho or screen print. The same applies to Word, which is a great word-processor, but not a design and layout program. It is often troublesome for us to use artwork created by these programs, and in most cases we have to spend time, and consequently charge for this time, in sorting out problems.

Likewise, simple label and inlay creation utilities, such as those provided with CD labelling kits or with Nero or Roxio disc burning packages, allow home users to create artworks for printing out on domestic printers. But they are not meant for creating files for professional print, and we can’t do anything with files made from these utilities.

A brief guide to colour printing

Overview: RGB vs CMYK
Most colour printed paper parts are printed in four-colour process, also known as CMYK, whereby any colours are made up of various densities of the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK inks (in combination with the white of the paper).

The human eye contains three types of colour detecting cone, which are sensitive to red, green or blue light. In combination with each other they make up all of the colours that we can see, white for instance, is made up of all three, whereas yellow is made up of just Red and Green light.

Televisions and computer monitors use this to display colours, which is why if you hold a magnifying glass up to one you can see small dots of red, green and blue light. This is also how scanners turn what it sees into something a computer can understand, by sectioning the scanned area into a grid, for which each segment has a value for how much red, green and blue light is reflected. Once inside the computer it is known as RGB colour (short for Red, Green and Blue).

Printed paper parts are different however, as they don't produce their own light, and instead have to work with white light reflected off them. As a result of this the inverse colours of red, green and blue (which are cyan, magenta and yellow respectively), have to be used in combination with the white paper they are printed onto. For instance white light reflected off a solid area of yellow will have all of its blue component removed, resulting in yellow light being reflected off.

In theory, if solid cyan, magenta and yellow inks were printed on top of each other, no light would be reflected, resulting in a black area. In practice however it doesn't, and looks like a brownish dark grey. To overcome this a black ink is added making up the four colours of four-colour process, a.k.a. CMYK (for fairly obvious reason, though whether the K stands for Key, or is just the last letter of black because blue already got the B is debatable).

To take a picture from a photo, for instance, and make it into the front cover of your CD, it must first be scanned, which will result in an RGB file on the computer. This file must then be converted into CMYK colour, usually in an image manipulation package (e.g. Photoshop). This CMYK file would then be placed, along with any text and other graphics, into a page-layout or graphics program. From this program the job would be turned into a press ready, high resolution PDF file, which would in turn be sent to a machine which creates a series of 4 metal printing plates, one for each ink.

Calibration and colour-matching
There are unfortunately limitations to both RGB and CMYK colour, which should be taken into consideration when using either. An RGB monitor cannot, amongst other things, display a pure cyan. Even worse for computer-based graphic designers, CMYK colour can't produce nearly as many different colours as RGB; vibrant blues for instance are right out. On top of all this there is the sad fact that unless you have a very expensive self-adjusting monitor, or you are a master of monitor calibration, the colours you see on screen when designing an artwork may very well not be the colours that will appear when the job is run to film and printed.

Also, you should beware of assuming that what comes out of your home desktop bubble-jet is what it will look like when printed. Home printers were never designed to produce proofs for artworks, and are not postscript compatible (postscript being the language in which a computer tells a professional plate-making machine or digital printer how everything should be laid out, and what colour it should be). Also they tend to contain all sorts of colour correction and enhancement features which make it easy to create an artwork file which will look beautiful when printed on your colour ink-jet printer, but may end up looking dull and lifeless when run to film and printed on a printing-press.

So how does anyone ever get their artworks looking how they want? Sounds Good's Reprographics department can easily give you colour laser prints of your artwork, that whilst not perfect, due to the inherent differences between laser printers and litho colour offset printing presses, are a good indication of final colour. Another way to show how a job will look when printed is to make a contract proof from the final artwork files before they go to the printers. This has the added benefit of allowing you to make sure that all the elements in the artwork are present and correct. These are relatively expensive, and making any changes after this involves running out another proof, but it's cheaper than re-printing and re-packing a job that hasn't turned out how you'd expected it to. This proof is sent to our printers along with the artwork and the printers use their skill and experience to try to match the colour as best they can during the print process. The printers will be printing other jobs on the same sheets of paper at the same time and they will be adjusting the colour to achieve the best overall balance.

If colour-matching is absolutely critical, the only way to be sure of the printed outcome is to go for a bespoke printing job with printed proofs made before running. However, this does cost an awful lot of money!

Design Advice & Tips relating to Duplicated Dics...
...with digital printed packaging and our 'Precision Laminate' on-disc print.