How Can I Catch More Errors in My Print Design Documents?

This week I received a nice marketing email, and I followed a link in the email to a blog post. I didn't read the whole blog post, but this I did get out of it: the writer had written "check" where it should have said "cheek" — and that was my main takeaway. Probably not the takeaway that the author was intending. 

We've all been in those situations where a typo slips by us. When you are preparing files for print, catching typos and mistakes is even more essential than when preparing text for online media, where content can be corrected with just a few clicks. (I wrote back to the company who had sent me the marketing email, and within half an hour the typo was corrected.)

I won't claim to produce completely error-free print files, but here are a few tricks I've learned to get as close to perfect as possible.

Photo by  Jonas Jacobsson

Edit text in software that has automatic spelling and grammar check (and make sure it is turned on). 

If you're typing or writing more than just a few words, make sure to start in a program or browser that provides basic spelling and grammar check. This sounds obvious, but it's easy to start typing in a software that's not flagging any errors. This is your first and easiest error safety net.

In higher-end design software, the option to automatically underline misspellings or grammar mistakes is not necessarily activated. In Adobe InDesign this has to be turned on under Main Menu > Preferences > Spelling. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop are not text editing programs, but some people use them that way. They do not provide the option to automatically flag misspelled words; you actually have to manually run a spellcheck (Edit > Check Spelling).

The best option is to always start your typing in a program or software that provides spelling and grammar check, especially if you are not a native speaker of the language in which you work.

Get your computer to read your text to you.

Another helpful tool for catching mistakes in your text is getting your computer to read the text to you. If the author of the blog post I mentioned in my opening text had listened to her article, she definitely would have heard the difference between "check" and "cheek", but it was not a mistake a spell check could have picked up. I have used the free version of the software Natural Reader for this, but usually I just highlight the text on my Mac, right click, and select Speech > Start Speaking. I did it for this blog post, as well, and definitely caught some of those tricky typos.

Proofread a printed version of your document. 

I've heard that we notice 25% more errors when we proofread printed documents than when we proofread on screen, and I believe it. Printing out your document also helps you notice formatting issues — like a font that is too small, or text that is printing too close to an edge that will trim. When I lay out books for my clients, I often encourage them to print out the full proof and read it over in print, no matter how many times they've already read the manuscript over on screen. (And when you're done with that printed proof, please, recycle the paper.)

Ask at least one "uninvolved" person to proofread.

When deadlines are tight, it can be tempting to overlook this step. But any document can benefit from being looked over by another set of eyes. Sometimes you need to outsource the proofreading to a professional. Or just ask someone else who is a bit less involved in the project to read it over with fresh eyes. Last year, at the last minute a team member who had not been very involved in an important project was asked to help with the final proofread. He noticed that the text on the spine of our book was running in the wrong direction — an important detail that four or five of us who were more involved in the project had missed. 

Order a printed proof from your printer. 

While small or low-cost projects might not necessitate ordering a printed proof, for any print project with large amounts of text or that costs a lot of money, it's good to build enough time and money into the project to order a printed proof (in addition to the now-standard PDF proof). The printed proof can help you to recognize technical, visual or formatting issues that would never have come to your attention in a PDF, as well as any proofreading errors. For example, on a recent $10,000+ print project, I was so glad when the printed proof showed us that there would be a score line on the cover that would go directly through the company's logo. This gave us the chance to adjust the position of the logo — it was the only change we made after seeing the printed proof, but a change that made a big difference in the quality of the final product. 

No one's perfect! But the closer you can get your printed piece to perfection, the happier both you and your team or client will be! I hope these tips give you a few new ideas for catching errors in your writing and designing for print, before it goes to press!

Are you writing a book or preparing a document for print? Ask me a question through my Contact page.