A Census Form Journey

The 2016 Census Form – Design to Delivery

Have you ever wondered what’s involved in producing 2 million copies of the census form? There are a lot of steps and the whole process from design to delivery takes about a year to complete.

In the beginning…….

Census 2016 is being run as a “no change census”. This means that the questions in 2016 are the same as those in 2011. The only exception is Question 5 (marital status), which had to be updated to take account of the introduction of civil partnerships. {Note: The census forms were printed before the outcome of the same-sex marriage referendum was known}

From Word to Corel

Once the questions were finalised the layout of the 2016 form had to be designed. The layout is similar to the 2011 form. Our in-house typesetting section transformed the original Word document into the layout you see today using the Corel X3 design package.

Space is always at a premium on a Census form so a lot of time was spent deciding on the best possible layout with many changes to spacing and placement of words.  Finally we had a fairly good representation of how the Census Form would look.  This was then sent to the printers to prepare.

Checks, checks and some more checks

As the printing company began to prepare the Census 2016 Form, lots of different electronic versions were passed over and back for checking before the final version was approved.  Many revisions and refinements were made to ensure optimum compatibility with electronic data capture.

It’s all in the colour – varying shades of green

Traditionally the Census Form is green.  But there are certainly more than 40 shades of green and all shades are not equal! Different shades and densities of colour were tested to ensure that the boxes were visible and the text legible.  Since the 2002 Census, all forms are scanned and the data is automatically captured so it was also important to make sure that the colour would not affect the scanability of the form.

Wet-proof sign off

When the content and colour of the form had been finalised the printing company produced what are called ‘wet-proofs’.  These are basically a finished, paper version of the form which is produced before the beginning of the big print-run.

Sample checks

In advance of the printing a detailed print quality plan was agreed with the printing company. Once printing had begun the printing company sent us daily samples from the reels being printed.  These had to be checked every day and any problems or issues had to be dealt with speedily as the print run was already under way.  Checks were done on the text, layout, barcodes, and colour to see if any marks or blotches were present.

Receiving 2 million forms in CSO

Thankfully two million forms did not arrive in our warehouse at once!  Pallets containing boxes of forms were delivered as they were completed by the printer.  240 pallets containing boxes of Census forms arrived over a two-month period. Samples of the forms were taken from each pallet and checked again.

Census forms are printed on A4 paper and contain 12 pages with double sided print.  It takes about eight hours for a form to get through the printing process from start to finish. Of course they are not printed one at a time! In fact every eight hours over half a million pages are printed and converted into finished books.  If all of the forms were laid side by side they would cover the area of 476 football pitches. Laid end to end, they would stretch along one third of the circumference of the Earth.  The total weight of all the forms is just over 300 tonnes.

As Gaeilge, le do thoil

The Census forms are all printed in Irish as well as English, and the Irish language forms go through all the same processes for printing and quality checking.

Different Census Forms

There are several types of Census 2016 forms, including the 24-page Household form, the 4-page Individual form and the 4-page Listing form which is used for hotels and other establishments. These forms were printed in Ireland and were printed in both Irish and English.