SKT-III Production: Redoing the Digital Proofs

We got the digital proofs in from our printing company, but I’m going to have to make alignment adjustments and re-submit. So, in other words, delay.

The red lines you see in these digital proofs shared here are where the cards will be cut, so everything inside the red lines are what you’ll see on the actual card. There is about 10 pixels (that’s 0.169 cm or 0.0665 inches) too much around the perimeter, more than I had wanted on the card faces and about 18 pixels (that’s 0.305 cm or 0.1201 inches) too much around the perimeter of the card backs.

The test print samples I got done myself with a print-on-demand service cut the margins exactly where I wanted, so sadly, I thought I was good to go. But I’m not. The way my actual printing company cuts the cards or gives the margin specifications is a little different. Which is totally normal. Which is why we do these digital proofs first before physical samples are printed.

Here’s a close-up of the Six of Swords from the digital proofs sheet my manufacturer sent me. Another thing concerning me that I’ll need to talk to them about is the resolution. Is this just because they reduced the file size of the proofs so it could be e-mailed to me? Is there any cause for concern here?

I intentionally did the digital art at 500 dpi and then individually, the details (where I did the artwork separately then pasted it into the composition) were done at 600 dpi. On my own computer, when I zoom in super close to my original files, everything looks sharp. I’ve printed these images at 8.5″ x 11″ size art paper at home and the resolution quality is lovely. So……….

Above left is the actual digital image file I submitted, with the added bleed margin of 3 mm, as instructed by my manufacturer. Above center is from the digital proofs I got. Here, focus on the borders and how much spacing is there. Not bad, but if I’m going to get picky, what you see above right is the actual spacing I wanted for the borders. I measured it digitally and the proofs are about 10 pixels too much in spacing around all four edges than my ideal amount of spacing.

From the 2019 Vitruvian Edition

Also, remember that the as-is digital image files shared on this blog post are significantly lighter than my intended print color values. If you’ve been following the last few production status updates, it’s because the actual cards consistently print darker than the digital image files submitted. So to compensate, the digital files need to appear lighter to me than what I want, for it to print exactly how I want.

From the 2019 Vitruvian Edition

Revisiting a compare-contrast Vitruvian card I shared in the previous status update, not only will the actual card print darker, but also print less saturated, so I need to account for both factors when preparing the digital image file. Hence, the digital image files in this blog post will look way lighter, like wayy lighter than how it should print. (If all goes well…. honor to thy gods please watch over me and the progress of this endeavor…)

I pulled up my old 2019 digital proofs for the Vitruvian Edition and compared one of the card proofs (above right) with the actual printed card from the deck (above left).

With that as my frame of reference, I have to go back to the Revelation digital proofs and adjust the margins accordingly.

By the way, cost of paper products have shot through the roof. Cardstock is more expensive and the manufacturers of the cardstock are maintaining tight control over the supply. That means card printing companies, like the one I work with for printing the SKT decks, are having a much more difficult time getting the quality cardstock they want. Their prices for raw materials have gone up, and they’re passing the hike on to us deck creators.

Some factories have resorted to less than transparent practices, such as a bait and switch of the cardstock type you’ve ordered. Apparently, there are ways for factories to fudge the gsm (grams per square meter). Seriously if humankind put as much effort into innovation as we do into counterfeiting for profit, we’d have intergalactic travel by now.

The card back (again, with the card back drama, SIGH…) is where the discrepancy is most pronounced. The center image above is the digital proof I received. Where you see the red lines are where the card is going to be cut. Above right is where I thought the card was going to get cut, so the final printed card that you see should look like the above right. The difference is about 18 pixels all around, or 0.305 centimeters too much.

The process of self-publishing your own deck is anxiety-ridden, no matter how much experience you think you have, no matter how many times you do this, no matter how careful and diligent you think you are.

From 2018, for each printing, I took meticulous notes in my journal on the exact measurements, specifications, what I did, step by step, right down to the pixel count, and still there are mishaps.

From the initial concept in my imagination to the physically printed deck of cards in your hands, there are myriad steps and an infinite combination of ways that something can go wrong at each and every one of those steps.

So. Production status update: That physical test sample (physical proofs) I talked about in the previous update? Slight delay, because of what we see in these initial digital proofs. My margins and bleed lines are off, so I need to readjust every image file, the 80 card fronts and the card back design, and re-submit to the printing company. That’ll be my project for the rest of this week.

6 thoughts on “SKT-III Production: Redoing the Digital Proofs

  1. Kathleen MuirWoo

    I am concerned that the prints you get back from the official printer will not look like how you want because it will be from a different physical printer with a different paper. The optimizations for the printer at the print-on-demand company won’t necessarily translate to the manufacturer’s printer.

    Could you get a printed proof from the manufacturer? It may slow things down, but this is so important to you that quality should be a higher concern for you than timing. You’ll feel worse for a longer period of time if the quality bothers you than if your timeline slides. Of course then you’ll get slammed in the face with social anxiety by moving the timeline back. But if you try to do it all your anxiety could cause you to pop, and STILL end up with something wrong with the final print.

    Do you know anyone in the manufacturer’s country? Or you could find an artist in the country and just pay them to help you (an artist will have the tools and know-how, while also willing to do a side gig for extra cash). The manufacturer could mail the printed proof to them and then they could scan it and email it to you.

    Can you get a printer profile from the manufacturer? Then also get a monitor calibrator. Then you should really get super close to knowing exactly how it will print.

    As for the digital proof, yes they probably reduced the file size to email you. BUT, their printer may actually have a maximum resolution it can print at. And they probably make that proof at that resolution. They may even be doing some resizing of the files on the fly as they set up a file to print from. This is very likely happening. As we all know, image resizing doesn’t always come out perfect automatically. So you should find out what resolution they are printing at and provide them images at that exact resolution.


  2. Terri

    I was a creative director for two music labels and managing editor for a music magazine. I know and feel your pain. Also card/paper stock has always been a problem! Print production is a challenge.


  3. I much prefer the narrower borders you asked for; they allow the images to really stand out as they should. As for the resolution, I’m by no means an artist, but it does look like the resolution in the Vitruvian digital proof (shown above) was not as crisp and clear either, so maybe that’s just a byproduct of the process; the actual Vitruvian card in contrast looks crisp and clear. I’m hoping that’s one less thing for you to worry about! We’re all here for you on this wild ride, so just do what you need to do and we’ll be here waiting in the wings with the smelling salts. :c)


  4. Shadowrose

    Intergalactic travel… lol – though it’s actually sad and sooo true!
    My first thought was that the actual cards would become a little bit smaller than the red lines in the cutting process, so it would indeed fit your intended measure. But when I saw your comparison with the vitruvian edition, it seems the cutting edge is exactly on the red lines.
    Like Kathleen said – it might be helpful in that case to get a printed sample for just one card to check.
    Concerning the resolution I got the impression that they rather used a sharpening filtre (some do this by default). For it doesn’t look more blurry but less smooth too me. Not the vitruvian edition, though – there I agree with gremlyn.

    Well, I keep my fingers crossed for you.

    By the way, for color correction and adjustment, you could also sample certain pixels of your graphics and determine their exact color value. Then the printing service can use that as calibration. It’s much like color standard institutes (e.g. pantone) do this. Or like you would correct white and grey values in photographs.


  5. Karen

    “Seriously if humankind put as much effort into innovation as we do into counterfeiting for profit, we’d have intergalactic travel by now”… this quote says so much…appreciate these updates and your sharing of the creative process. So many details.


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