Printing & Design Tips: September 2004, Issue #38

What is Fluting?

A magazine publisher recently lost a long-term advertising client because the paper on which the ad was printed looked wavy and therefore cheap. It looked as though evenly spaced parallel ripples ran vertically along the magazine cover. What happened, and what can the publisher do about it?

The technical term for this flaw in printing is "fluting." After a lengthy study of this phenomenon, the Web Offset Association has confirmed the following:

  1. Fluting occurs in web offset printing because the moisture absorbed by the paper during the inking process is evaporated unevenly by the driers as it passes through the press ovens. The paper weight, paper type, and design (i.e., ink coverage and placement) significantly influence the presence or absence of fluting.

  2. Nothing can be done to eliminate this problem, although over time the waviness relaxes somewhat and the paper lies flatter. Nothing can be done once fluting occurs; and, until the job is on press, there is no way to know whether fluting will occur.

These are rather forbidding findings. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize fluting, so keep the following in mind as you design your web offset publication:

  1. Lighter-weight paper shows fluting more dramatically than does heavier-weight paper (although the magazine noted above had more fluting on the heavier cover signature, but for other reasons).

  2. Heavy ink coverage on the front and back of a press sheet shows the most fluting (the ad in question was a full-page bleed with heavy coverage on the inside front cover of the magazine; the front cover was also a full bleed with heavy coverage). If you print heavy coverage four-color process work on one side of the sheet, consider limiting the other side to one color.

  3. Uncoated stock shows fluting more than coated stock.

  4. Position heavy coverage pages in line with one another. Areas of heavy ink coverage above or below blank pages of a publication (as viewed when looking at an unfolded, cut press sheet--one side of a signature) will increase fluting..

Don't Skimp on Overs

Every mechanical operation in printing involves waste, or spoilage. If your mailing list includes 20,000 prospects, for instance, and you have a letter, an outgoing envelope, and a business reply card as a response vehicle, you would need to print more than 20,000 of each.

This is because each successive manufacturing process--including printing, personalization, data processing, etc.--renders a certain percentage of your total press run unusable. Some of these processes require as much as 10 percent over your targeted total mailing (referred to as ten percent overage).

Skimping by ordering minimal overage is not smart. In fact, it is much cheaper to throw away 5,000 sets of overs than to go back on press because you underestimated the press run. Ask your printer and your mail house for estimates of necessary overage to account for spoilage at each step of the production process.

Discounts for Long-term Printing Contracts

If you produce a periodical with a regular publication schedule (and, of course, if you are satisfied with your printer's work), consider signing a long-term contract with your print provider. Such a contract could save you money.

By committing to a contract--of three years, for instance--you ensure that your printer will receive regular work within a mutually acceptable schedule, and you can often receive significantly lower pricing in exchange for this commitment. With such a contract, your print provider may also be able to get better lot pricing on the paper for your magazine, particularly if it is a specialty item and not a house sheet.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]