Every designer, illustrator and artist has felt the crushing disappointment of receiving materials back from a print service that’s just not up to snuff.

Whether you’re working with a large print house on a run numbering tens of thousands, sending a custom project to a local service bureau or using an online poster printer, it’s the quality of the end product that makes all your hard work worthwhile (or that makes you hold your head in your hands, then reach for the whisky).

One key to getting consistently great results is working with a print service that you have found reliable in the past, rather than assigning each job to the lowest bidder. Brighton-based studio filthymedia (filthymedia.com), who focus on music-related projects including album cover designs and label branding, say they always advise clients to use printers that are tried and tested.

Using a printer near you is often a good idea, too – not just because you’re helping local business. “We do it to ensure that the printer and ourselves can communicate in the best way possible,” says filthymedia’s Steve Gotts. “We use a select few printers in Brighton for specific job requirements.”

A locally based printer you can visit, to see how they work and what equipment they work with, can be a real godsend. Building up a relationship with one can allow you to tailor what you create, helping them and you deliver the best results. It can also help improve your knowledge of printer’s vernacular, a language rooted in the physical printing process that many designers – especially those who entered the industry post-DTP – find unfamiliar.

Above top A vector work by Simon Page using 256 colours Above Food and drink logo by Simon Above right Simon’s logo for a wedding photographer

“I would strongly recommend getting friendly with a printer,” says designer and illustrator Simon C Page (excites.co.uk), who is feted for his geometric poster prints. “A top printer [can be] be a priceless partnership for handholding you through new processes and for learning the lingo of printing.” He suggests asking around on Twitter to find printers that others rate – he personally recommends ripedigital.co.uk.

When you’ve found what would seem to be the perfect print partner, the secret to maintaining the relationship is – as in so many areas of life – good communication. Here, that means knowing what you want from your printer and giving them enough time to act on your instructions.

A print from Simon C Page’s Pipe Dreams series

“It is better to look for any issues and solve them in advance rather than everything being sorted at the last minute when presses are waiting,” says Stacey Newson of Wyndeham Roche in Cornwall (wyndeham.co.uk/companies/roche), printers of Digital Arts.

“Doing your research before calling a printer is useful,” says Steve. “Have a few swatch books ready for paper samples and Pantone reference books if the job requires it. This means you can throw ideas back and forth on the phone. If you don’t have these to hand, visit the printer and talk through everything face-to-face.” That face-to-face contact is essential when trying a print process that you’ve not used before, whether it’s hexachrome, embossing or just using a new Pantone colour.

It’s a hard truth that there are times when a printing error cannot be laid at the printer’s door or put down to miscommunication. Sometimes it really is your own fault. “One mistake that I have been guilty of is selecting the wrong paper or finish,” Simon admits. “It always pays to go with what your printer thinks is best for a given artwork, as they have greater experience and this helps cut down the amount of time proofing.”

A Batman/Spiderman/Wolverine mash-up by Simon

Stacey says that the most common errors they see in client’s files are incorrect overprinting settings, RGB images instead of CMYK, and PDFs not being centred. Other classic mistakes include inadequate trims or bleeds, not using rich black for large black areas and forgetting to convert fonts to outlines when you’re outputting to an RGB printer. For high-end work such as Simon’s posters, an artist’s proof is indispensable. When soft-proofing will do, you should pan around the RIPped proof at 200% to check for imperfections. Online print sale services such as Inprnt (inprnt.com) or Society6 (society6.com) don’t allow you to soft-proof. However, as both use RGB printers – so colours will appear as expected as long as your monitor is calibrated correctly – high-end media and require you to submit files already rasterised, there’s little chance of error.

If things do go horribly wrong, your first instinct may be, as Steve puts it jokingly, “Panic and move to Mexico”. Once you’ve got over the shock, though, it’s best to immediately ask if it can be fixed by a swift reprint.

“In reality, things don’t always come out exactly right the first time round,” he notes. “If [you have] reliable printers, they will usually reprint jobs until they get it to your request. Always make sure you have more time than you need to print large jobs, so if things don’t work out first time round, you have surplus time to get it right and delivered on time.”

Two images of stationery bearing filthymedia’s recently redesigned logos