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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Book Printing: Students Prefer Print Textboks

May 5th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I was overjoyed to find an article on www.washingtonpost.com entitled, “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right,” by Michael S. Rosenwald. I was even happier to find the same article on my list from the Goggle Alerts aggregator. And when I Googled the first few words of the story, I found (what turned out to be an Associated Press story) in about six Google pages of listings.

This AP article had made a significant impression. Obviously. After all, this entire list of publications across the country had run the same AP story.

Even those who have grown up with an iPhone, iPad, or whatever other electronic device in their hands still find reading a textbook printed on paper to be a more efficient way to learn than reading the same material online on on an ebook reader.

Here are some of the reasons:

The Physical, Tactile Experience of a Print Book

According to Rosenwald’s article, students gain value from the low-tech nature of the textbooks. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.” (a response from Frank Schembari, a 20-year-old American University student quoted in the article). Apparently in a world where almost every minute is spent switching from one electronic device to another, consuming bits and bytes of information, learning from a silent, simple device (a print book) provides a wholly different experience than the norm.

Apparently, Shembari is not alone. Rosenwald’s article notes that “a University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.”

Print Textbooks Support Mental Focus

Rosenwald includes in his article a quote from Naomi S. Baron’s “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Baron is an American University linguist who studies digital communication. According to Rosenwald, Baron had found that “readers tend to skim on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers.”

Studies note that the ability to multitask is a fallacy. Apparently, people can switch from one task to another quickly, but they can’t do two things at the same time. And when they shift from one to another, there is a time lag. The brain has to refocus. In studying, this retards comprehension. So watching cable TV while studying and talking and texting on the smartphone is not the best use of study time, and students are beginning to understand this. They are often paying a premium for a textbook to supplement their free ebooks.

Again, this is not an isolated experience. Rosewald’s article notes that “Pew studies show the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.”

Awareness of the Physical Location of Information in a Print Book Aids Retention

Apparently there is something to be said about physical location in a print book. As Rosewald’s article notes:

“Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension.”

Since readers jump from one Web page to another, they don’t read word for word. They skim, and the awareness of a particular concept on a particular physical page of a book is lost. Readers are more scattered in their approach, even when they read long-form documents on their electronic devices.

This distracts students and diminishes comprehension.

Interestingly enough, Rosewald’s article includes Baron’s findings that “students were more likely to multitask in hard copy (1 percent) vs. reading on-screen (90 percent).” Students jump from an article they’re reading to their email to Facebook and then back to the article.

Benefits of Used Textbooks and Writing in the Margins

Rosewald’s article points out that many students had bought used textbooks pre-underlined and marked with the handwritten notes of prior owners. There’s just no immediate, easy way to do this on an e-reader. There is definitely something to be said for reviewing not only the text but also other people’s responses to the text scribbled in the margins.

The Benefits of Digital Textbooks

“Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right” lists several situations in which students do prefer digital texts:

  1. For technical information in which an electronic link to supplemental material can make understanding a concept easier, a digital text is ideal.
  2. For subject matter in which locating information is key, digital texts are ideal. Print books don’t have a “search” function (like Google). Nor do they have a “find” key to immediately lead the student to all instances of a particular term.
  3. Compared to a free or almost-free ebook, a physical textbook is expensive. Rosewald’s article notes Baron’s findings that the price of textbooks had risen 82 percent in the decade from 2002 to 2012. Rosewald states that “if price weren’t a factor, Baron’s research shows that students overwhelmingly prefer print.”

From the School Administrator’s Point of View

School administrators love that e-textbooks are cheap and can be updated, according to Baron. They are also interactive, and they weigh less, leading to less back strain for the students. However, since students are having a harder time accepting long-form reading, Baron believes that administrators’ pushing laptops, e-readers, and tablets for study may have far-reaching negative effects on American education. Administrators are rushing into electronic media “with little thought for educational consequences.”

How This Relates to You and Me

If you’re designing print books, it looks like you’ll have a continued market for your product (and design skills) for years to come. After all, these are today’s students the article is describing.

If you’re reading books, you’ve got some serious thinking to do about the benefits and liabilities of digital texts.

From my point of view, it’s not an either/or question. Choosing the right tool for learning new material–whether it is a digital book or print book or both–reflects wisdom.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Reviewing Magazine Printers’ and Book Printers’ Samples

April 27th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

I just received three boxes of samples from commercial printing suppliers. Somehow the boxes look bigger in the condo than they used to look in the house, where I had a whole room for samples.

The three boxes contain specific samples from three separate printers for three separate print brokering clients. Here’s why I requested them, what I’m looking for, and why they will be beneficial to my work.

In your own print buying work, you might also want to request samples from your printers before choosing a particular supplier for a job.

The Magazine Samples

One of my clients is producing a graphic novel. After negotiating an attractive price for the job and requesting a list of references, I asked for printed samples. However, this last part I did after receiving from my client a few samples of printed jobs she liked.

My client had sent me an old copy of Glamour magazine, and I had sent a few pages of the cover and text paper stock to my printer, asking for comparable press sheets he had printed.

I received sample magazines with notations of all paper contained in the books. These included 40#, 45#, and 50# text sheets as well as covers printed on 60# and 70# text sheets. These commercial printing papers included #3 sheets, #4 sheets, and #5 sheets (reflecting gradually diminishing brightness).

To make the paper analysis process easier, instead of sending all of these printed samples to my client, I chose one sample of each paper weight and grade and marked the specifications in back sharpie pen on each item. My client can now compare each paper weight to all other samples (in various lighting conditions).

She can also see examples of this particular printer’s offset printing skill on these press sheets. And she can compare the brightness of each press sheet to the others to determine the “look” she wants. After all, my client is seeking a gritty appearance for her graphic novel, so a #4 or #5 sheet (which might appear dingy to someone else) might be just what she needs.

We’ll see what my client says. Once she has identified the paper weight she likes for her graphic novel cover, text, and gatefolds, I’ll request more printed samples from this custom printing supplier, just to give my client an even broader awareness of the quality printing she can expect from this vendor.

Samples of a Print Book for a Small Literary Publisher

Another vendor just completed a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. It has a 4/4 cover (it’s printed on the inside as well as the outside covers), and it has French Flaps. That’s a lot of four-color imagery and text even before you start reading the literary anthology between the covers.

I wanted to review these print books closely before I spoke with my client to make sure everything was in order. The samples were beautiful. But here’s what I looked for in particular:

  1. I noticed that the cover had been printed with abundant but even ink coverage, and that it had a smooth matte film laminate and a square and even bindery trim.
  2. The type on the spine fell squarely in the center, as planned.
  3. The interior printing (black-only on both sides of the press sheet) was crisp, and the running headers aligned when I flipped the pages.
  4. The overall binding of the perfect-bound text was precise and evenly glued. It appeared to be sturdy.
  5. All halftones had a good tonal range, from the deepest shadows to the highlights.

With this information in hand, I felt comfortable approaching my print brokering clients, who said they loved the book. This I let the book printer know immediately.

Book Samples for Checking Paper Opacity

I’m bidding on the printing of an annual 576-page case-bound textbook with black-ink-only text. It has a lot of halftones and charts composed of various shades of gray as well as black rules and area screens. In this particular case the opacity of the paper is crucial in selecting a vendor.

I’m negotiating with a well-known book printer with a stellar reputation, but this supplier has substituted paper on the estimate. That is, the house press sheet is not what I had specified. This doesn’t need to be a problem if the paper substitution involves comparable qualities. In fact, it will yield quite a savings over the cost of last year’s print book.

This particular printer sent me case-bound and perfect-bound samples containing the paper stock (Lynx rather than the Finch Opaque I had specified). All printed samples include photos and charts. The charts include a range of tones from black to lighter shades of gray. By paging through the books I can see just how well this paper obscures images printed on the back of the page when I’m viewing the front of the page. In all cases I’m satisfied.

In fact, I’m ahead of the game because I can also see how well this book printer has case bound this particular sample. In addition, the other samples I received give me a good idea of both the binding capabilities and printing capabilities I can expect from this vendor. And I’ve also seen the 4-color work the printer can do, since he included the full-color dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound book.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here’s a short list of things to look for in book printers’ samples:

  1. Look for color fidelity in the full-color printing work. (Memory colors, such as grass and food colors, should be accurate.) Look for even ink coverage printed in tight register.
  2. Check out the interior printing of the books (look for even ink coverage and clear halftones with no plugged screens–or muddiness–and a good tonal range).
  3. Check the physical properties of the books. Are the pages trimmed squarely, and are all the pages aligned at the running headers? Look at the endsheets, as well as the spine and the head and foot bands. Has the spine of the book been rounded? Does everything appear sturdy and exude quality?

By reviewing the samples closely, you’ll quickly get a good idea of whether this particular vendor can meet your printing and binding needs.

Posted in Book Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

Catalog Printing: Views on an Upscale Bath Catalog

April 20th, 2015

Posted in Catalog Printing | Comments »

One of the major benefits of rebuilding a house after a fire is looking through all the print catalogs of things you might want to buy for the house. (Another is being able to see through all the wood studs with no drywall in the way—it makes the house look like one big room.)

One of the print catalogs my fiancee brought back to the condo took my breath away. And being a student of commercial printing, I had to deconstruct it and share with you exactly why I think it’s fabulous.

Description of the Catalog

First of all, the cover of the 8.5” x 11” print book is simple, perhaps even stark. The background is printed in full-bleed, luxurious silver (probably multiple hits of the metallic ink), with one rectangle of text for the title, subtitle, and branding (all nestled together in a tight geometric form). Interestingly enough, this block of copy falls below the center of the cover, almost at the bottom of the page. The effect is that your eye falls on the abundant silver ink first (this is the real subject of the cover) and then travels down to the text block.

“Bath” stands out in an austere, all-caps treatment using a thin, angular, sans serif typeface and abundant letterspacing. The word is reversed out of the silver and is about two inches in height. The tittle of the print catalog and the branding logotype are nestled above and below the word “Bath” to create the aforementioned rectangle of type.

In addition, the cover has a vertical press score about 3/4” in from the spine. On such an austere cover it functions as a vertical design element and also allows the cover to be opened without revealing the spine and binding glue. It is simple and elegant.

Treatment of Text in the Catalog

All explanatory mater at the front of the catalog is arranged in a simple, geometric grid with ample leading between lines of type. The sans serif typeface accentuates what first appears to be a Sweedish Modern ethos in the design of the catalog and the design of all bath fixtures within the catalog. Interestingly enough, the company is actually a Spanish firm with stores across the globe, Porcelanosa Grupo. The company specializes in ceramics and bathroom fixtures and furniture.

The text appears to be almost gray, but with a loupe you can see that it is black. It is the combination of the extra leading between lines of type and the thin letterforms of the sans serif type that gives the overall appearance of gray or silver type. The overall effect is an air of luxury. The type treatment extends throughout the following pages of bathroom fixtures. Who would imagine that a plumbing catalog could exude sex appeal?

Treatment of Photos in the Catalog

Overall, the color usage in the catalog is sparse. It looks either achromatic (only black, white, or grey) or almost a cool, upscale silver. If you look more closely, however, you will see an accent of color here and there. Each double-page spread showcases one item or fixture, and occasionally there will be a red highlight within the explanatory text, or perhaps a pink or green bottle of handcream, or a towel, in the photo. The effect is a subtle humor. “Find the color, if you can.” It also looks incredibly delicate, like trees covered in ice after a freezing rain. If you look closely you can appreciate the delicacy of the photography.

The Tonal Range of the Images

From a technical point of view, the photos are breathtaking because of their extended tonal range. Upon close inspection with a printer‘s loupe you can see that many of the photos that appear to be black and white only have been rendered in four-color process inks. These are also known as “quadtones.” What this technique provides is an extended range of intermediate tones within the images.

Whereas a one-color halftone (perhaps black only) can only focus on a narrow range of tones (perhaps the shadows and a bit of the midtones, or the intermediate tones and the highlights), a four-color rendering of a black and white image can showcase detail in the shadows, three-quarter tones, mid-tones, quarter tones, and highlights—the entire tonal range. Granted, in this print catalog the images are not quite black and white even in appearance. There are a few accents of color here and there. But the overall look is a monochromatic, or even achromatic, air of elegance with precise attention to detail.

It also looks as though the photos themselves were shot in extremely high resolution. You can see the individual water drops coming from one of the shower heads, and the mirrored reflections in the metal fixtures, as well as the icy white porcelain sinks and tubs, give a frozen look to the images.

The Paper on Which the Catalog Is Printed

As I’ve often said before, the paper on which a job is printed exerts a powerful subliminal force. It works on the reader’s subconscious. It either supports or detracts from the overall effect of the printed piece. It seems that the paper stock for the text of the catalog is a brilliant white, 100# dull text sheet. (The dull coating diffuses all light and has no sheen.) The cover of the catalog appears to be a thick, brilliant white, 100# dull cover sheet.

For me, the overall effect of using paper with such ample weight and stiffness is to echo the feeling of opulence suggested by the print catalog. The bright, solar white sheet reinforces this as well, as does its blue-white shade. “Icy” is the word that comes to mind—and “flawlessly precise.”

The Overall Look of the Catalog

What makes this catalog work for me is that all design elements, from the blue-white paper tone and heavy paper weight to the stark imagery; from the monochromatic hues to the extended tonal range in the photos; from the choice of typefaces to the attention to letterspacing and leading—all of this supports the overall tone of the catalog and the brand attributes to which potential customers might aspire.

Posted in Catalog Printing | Comments »

Brochure Printing: Deconstructing a Promo Brochure

April 16th, 2015

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments »

A friend of mine is a print book designer. She designs almost exclusively the multi-column, regularly spaced and formatted print books various government organizations publish to document their work. The consistency of her design is noteworthy, but she also has a flair for simple, elegant page construction that facilitates reading. When I was an art director, I would have hired her in a minute. And I am actually somewhat envious when she sends me page spreads to critique. She is that good at it.

That said, a client of hers needed a brochure recently.

My friend the print book designer had to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new approach to page design. When I saw her finished work, I was impressed. So impressed that I wanted to deconstruct the brochure design to share with you a number of things she did really, really well.

As a side note, I think the brochure design works primarily because it facilitates reading. When you look at the brochure, you know exactly how all elements should function (text, callouts, etc.). You know instantly what’s most important, then of secondary importance, then of lesser importance but still interesting. I think the designer’s success in creating a brochure reflects her breadth of writing and editing experience.

A Description of the Brochure

According to the PDF “properties” search tool, the brochure is a flat 11” x 18” document with six panels, three on each side. It will fold down to 6” x 11”. It is a four-color piece, with two full-color images, as well as area screens of blue and beige built from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The text is black, and some of the heads are reversed, as are the callouts. Finally, text and heads are set in various weights of one (or possibly two) sans serif type families, with some levels of headlines set in all caps and others set in caps and lower case, depending on their use.

It is a rather large brochure in format, since many similar brochures would be 8.5” x 3.5” when folded down, and would fit in a #10 envelope. This format provides a lot of space for the two images, one chart, callouts, and text. It allows for a feeling of roominess. Nothing seems cramped, even though there are a lot of design elements.

What the Designer Did Right (in My Opinion)

  1. First the designer considered the flat brochure as a single design space, rather than approaching the panels as separate pages. This gave a sense of “flow” to the images and text.
  2. She then added a full-bleed, light blue background, which covers the front and back panel as well as the inner, fold-in panel. This distinguishes the exterior of the brochure from its interior (providing different places for small chunks of information). It also allows for visual contrast between the fold-in panel and the lighter interior of the brochure. This looks good, but it also divides the brochure into distinct “spaces.” And nothing facilitates reading (particularly in a promotional piece) like being given small chunks of information in an easy to follow format.
  3. When opened flat, the interior of the brochure has a full-bleed, two panel background of light blue on the center and right, and a light beige panel on the left. There is a full-color photo knocked out of the light blue screen. This division of space makes it clear to the reader that there are two kinds of information to read on the interior, three-panel spread.
  4. To create callouts, the designer reversed all-caps type out of solid boxes of blue, and then set the running heads (heads within the first line of text) within the callouts in a heavier weight of the same typeface. In some cases she also set a few important words within the callouts in bold type. Overall, the effect is to identify brief bits of important copy that will provide a summation of the entire brochure (everything else will amplify these few points). Since the background of these callouts is blue (principally cyan), they remind the reader of the full-bleed solid on the outside of the brochure, and therefore provide a visual continuity to the brochure.
  5. The designer varied the number of columns of text on the brochure panels (sometimes two columns; sometimes one). She did this consistently and with purpose in a way that reinforces the meaning of the individual text blocks. This provides visual variety, but having only two options within the design grid also gives a form and regularity to the brochure.
  6. The designer considered the activity within the photos when placing them. On the front panel an African woman in traditional garb is looking squarely at the reader. She catches the reader’s eye immediately. On the interior of the brochure, an African woman is shaking out a blue blanket. The image is on the right interior panel. It leads the reader’s eye off the page. At the same time, the blue of the blanket echoes the blue full-bleed solid background of the brochure’s exterior panels.
  7. While all of this may sound incredibly busy, it is not. This is because the designer set up only a handful of visual rules (everything from the grid to the color usage to the choice of typefaces) in a consistent way that groups the text into coherent bits of information.

Here Are Some Things to Consider in Your Own Custom Printing Design Work

  1. Approach the brochure design as a whole. Think about how you want to lead the reader’s eye through all the panels, Make sure the visual appearance reflects the logic, flow, and content of the brochure text.
  2. Use all design elements at your disposal (page grid, color placement, typefaces) as tools to group and present the textual information. Use these consistently, always for a reason.
  3. Choose samples of commercial printing work that you like, and then deconstruct them. Consider what the designer has done and how the visual choices support the promotional goals inherent in the brochure text. “It looks good” is not an adequate reason to make a design decision.

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments »

Printing Periodicals and Textbooks on Inkjet Presses

April 13th, 2015

Posted in Magazine Printing, Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

I read an intriguing article in Print Week India last night (an online printing-trade publication) by Rahul Kumar entitled “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility” (dated 2/6/15).

The thesis of the article is that unit costs of digitally printed newspapers in India must drop before the technology can compete with web-offset lithography.

The concept is straight out of Business 101: new technologies either prosper of fail based on the balance of their costs and benefits. But what intrigues me are the following implications for the digital printing of periodicals:

  1. Newspaper and magazine printing may be in decline but only when viewed through the lens of US business. In other countries—most notably China, India, and Saudia Arabia—newspaper and magazine printing is on the rise. (It is growing in the double digits in India.) This is in spite of worldwide access to online publications.
  2. There is an increasing worldwide need for economically feasible digital printing of such products as transpromotional materials, textbooks, and newspapers, with shorter and shorter press runs and tighter schedules. Both versioning and personalization are also in demand. Since the world is splintering into multiple, smaller populations distinguished by unique language and culture, this change lends itself to shorter, targeted press runs of newspapers and other periodicals.
  3. The need for faster and faster production of small, segmented newspapers and magazines has led equipment manufacturers to expand the accepted paper size, running speed, and paper-handling capabilities of both laser and inkjet printing equipment.
  4. Among these developing technologies, inkjet presses for printing textbooks (such as the Kodak Prosper S press and the HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press) and newspapers (such as the Xerox Impika and Fujifilm J Press 540 W) are gaining traction.
  5. The technology is available to duplex print (print on both sides of a sheet simultaneously). In addition, new inks are being developed that will work with multiple existing paper stocks (without the need for a pre-coating step); and print resolution and halftone screening technologies are improving, affording smoother halftones and graduated screens as well as crisp type even at small point sizes. Digital presses can now maintain the quality of high density ink coverage at very high press speeds. (In essence, digital custom printing is quickly approaching the quality of offset lithography.)
  6. Print Week India also notes the development of nanoparticle inks that yield exceptionally high color fidelity and saturation using thinner ink films than offset lithography.

Offset vs. Digitally Printed Periodicals in India

The new technology described above is, interestingly enough, less compelling in India since there is easy access to low-cost offset custom printing equipment and operators. It simply costs less to use the older technology in some countries. However, I believe the sea change in content consumption will change this, sooner rather than later, due to the following:

  1. Content is being targeted to specific regions, in India and elsewhere. Print volume is rising, but so is the need for versioning. In the United States this would be analagous to the smaller newspapers that focus on hyper-local, neighborhood content.
  2. Due to the growth of more, but smaller, press runs, there is an increased need for decentralized production and distribution. That is, instead of printing multiple thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of copies of the same newspaper in a single location, the trend will be to print multiple versioned editions in diverse locations closer to the readership. In this case the range of the distribution will be smaller. Therefore, inkjet custom printing will help reduce delivery costs.
  3. Hyper-targeted production and distribution will make the digital publications more relevant to the readers. This will in turn drive advertising revenues higher, since inkjet printed, localized newspapers can deliver a more certain audience to the advertisers (and therefore newspapers will be able to charge higher advertising rates). Inkjet-printed copies of newspapers can then drive traffic to the Internet, TV, or online gaming to nurture relationships with readers, providing even more opportunities for advertising.
  4. Totally unrelated to newspapers–but perhaps of high importance to printers committing to digital inkjet technology–is the flexibility of the digital inkjet process, which can be used not only for newspaper printing but also for transpromo work, print books, or even commercial printing jobs.

Implications for the World Printing Trade

As the unit cost for digital inkjet printing drops and the quality improves, it will be possible to use the technology to turn a profit while improving production values and delivering a higher return on advertising dollars.

But in India, it’s not prime time yet. According to Kumar’s article, “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility,” “the cost per copy is still on the higher side compared to offset.”

For all the reasons Kumar notes in his Print Week India article, I think the transition to digital inkjet for print books, transpromo, and newspapers might actually occur here in the United States first.

Posted in Magazine Printing, Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

Book Printing: Short-Run Perfect Binding Equipment

April 10th, 2015

Posted in Book Binding | Comments Off

I just saw a video of the new Muller Martini Mitabook, a short-run digital perfect binding machine. I personally think it’s the wave of the future. I think it also says a lot about what we want in our print books at this juncture of publishing.

First the Specs of the Muller Martini Mitabook

To reference Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Mitabook is not for ultra-short, hand-bound binding runs or semi-automatic short binding runs. Nor is it for long runs in the thousands or multiple thousands of case-bound books. Rather it is squarely aimed at the “in-between runs.” That makes the Mitabook ideal for yearbooks, photobooks, books for young readers, and for some adult books as well. The Mitabook provides the perfect solution for this particular niche market.

Muller Martini will showcase this technology at Dscoop, which the Muller Martini promotional literature describes as “an influential cooperative of HP graphic arts professionals.” The event will be held from March 5 through March 7 in Washington, DC.

Here are some specifics:

  1. The Mitabook can process seven books a minute. That works out to 350 to 400 books per hour,
  2. The Muller Martini Mitabook uses hot-melt, PUR glue, which hardens instantly. The glue transport system does not need cleaning and does not clog if the machine must sit idle.
  3. The Mitabook does not require hanging the book block and cover on a wing (a little like a saddle for a saddle-stitcher). Therefore, the Mitabook avoids the scratch marks on interior images that can occur during case binding.
  4. The Mitabook system will match barcodes on the print book text blocks with barcodes on the covers. If these do not match, the machine will not bind the book. This significantly reduces waste.
  5. The Mitabook does all the traditional casing-in tasks, including making the crimped joint between the cover boards and the spine.
  6. The Mitabook has a very small footprint. Not only does this help in placing the machine on the pressroom floor, but it also means that only one operator is needed to feed the covers and text blocks into the machine and remove and check the completed print books.
  7. A touch screen console makes set-up quick and easy. It also makes size changes for multiple book formats a quick operation.
  8. Muller Martini has also developed a companion product called the Mitacase, which is good for short-run case-making.

How The Mitabook Looks When Up and Running

Here’s the URL for a video on the Muller Martini Mitabook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6peAslrF8zQ. I would encourage you to copy the URL into your browser and watch the short video, which shows how small the Mitabook really is, how quickly it operates for such a short-run case binder, and how flawlessly it runs with only minimal operator attention. It’s quite revolutionary.

When I saw the video on the Muller Martini Mitabook, its operation seemed smooth, easy, and accurate, with little or no waste. All of the books produced during the video (i.e., after set-up) looked perfect, with the case boards and spines aligned precisely with the text blocks. And changeovers for alternate sized case-bound products appeared to occur in seconds, with the operator using minimal touch screen commands.

What This Development Says About Print Book Publishing

  1. First of all, throughout my years in commercial printing, I have always seen OEMs quickly develop equipment to meet consumer demand. Clearly, there are a lot of people out there who need more than a few hand-case-bound books (or semi-automatic case-bound books), but who don’t need thousands of copies.
  2. Self-published authors who opt for physical print books rather than e-books fit this category, as do children’s book publishers.
  3. Paired with digital printing technology that can individually personalize each text block, this kind of short-run case-binding is ideal. It is a big step above a perfect-bound book, and the product will last for multiple decades. Short-run case-binding also reflects the growing desire for mass customization. People want books that are personal, unique, and durable.
  4. The existence of the Mitabook points to the value placed on photobooks: for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like. People are not satisfied with digital-only photos viewed on their smartphones and tablets. They want a personal way to record life-changing events and rites of passage for future generations to see, but they also want an attractive, physical product to showcase these images.

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Commercial Printing: Deconstructing the Carton

April 7th, 2015

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Throughout my reading in the print and online trade journals, I have seen a handful of themes regarding the present state of commercial printing:

  1. Packaging and labels are two of the most rapidly growing niches within the trade. This includes short-run labels digitally printed either through laser technology or inkjet, flexible packaging (such as juice boxes and apple sauce bags), and folding cartons (chipboard and corrugated board, digital as well as analog).
  2. Ceramic printing, and the printing of flooring and other building products, are also growing exponentially.
  3. Fabric printing for fashion and interior design is growing.
  4. 3D printing, in every conceivable arena, ranging from shoes and jewelry, to weapons, food, and internal organs is growing rapidly.
  5. Magazine and newspaper printing isn’t dead. It has just migrated to other countries around the world, such as China, India, and Saudia Arabia. In some of these countries, people are demanding more and more printed magazines and newspapers along with their electronic media.

This short list contains my observations culled from (and echoed by) every conceivable media. For printers, print brokers, and buyers of commercial printing this is welcome news. Print is not dead.

In this light, when it comes to printing you can lay your hands on immediately, a good example is the common shoebox. Think about it. It takes marketing savvy, chutzpah, and skilled commercial printing vendors to create these works of art and at the same time command premium prices for their contents, the shoes.

Deconstructing the Shoebox

My fiancee came back to the condo with about twenty shoeboxes yesterday for a weaving project for the autistic students to whom we teach art. We will convert these to small looms by cutting slits in the cardboard and then stringing up the boxes with yarn. In art therapy, these boxes will be used for weaving fabric wall hangings.

Within the universe of these twenty shoe boxes, I saw an educational moment for print buyers regarding the construction of designer cartons.

Here’s a description of one.

  1. To me it was clear that a sheet of enamel custom printing paper (perhaps an 80# or 100# text stock) had been printed in three colors (metallic gold, burgundy, and black, with full bleeds) and then covered with either a liquid or film laminate before being glued to a corrugated board base.
  2. The printed boxes, which presumably had been laid out flat on a press sheet with their assorted tabs for gluing, were then converted.
  3. This conversion process involved first die-cutting the tabs and then removing all waste paper. Then, all the tabs were folded up and glued with spot glue (either cold applied or hot melt) to create a three-dimensional carton. The top and bottom of each box had a lip, an extension of the printed litho paper that had been folded over and glued into the inside of the box. From the outside of the box, nothing was visible but the gloss coated, full-bleed, printed graphic.
  4. On the inside of the particular box I have chosen to describe, one could see the fluting of the corrugated board with white paper covering the parallel ribs. Even with the paper covering, this fluting was still somewhat visible as a textural pattern.
  5. On one side of the bottom of the box a 3/4” hole had been drilled and a plastic grommet had been inserted. Perhaps this was to offer a glimpse of the leather boots inside this particular carton.

The whole effect of the printed carton was opulence, even for this particular “cowgirl” boot. On the side of the carton along with the boot size, color, and stock number, was a clear strip of adhesive acetate on which the UPC barcode had been printed, presumably either with an inkjet technology or a thermal printing appliance.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. A cynic might say that these boots cost more than they’re worth. However, to those who understand and appreciate the branding, the attention to detail even in the boxes themselves, owning these boots at any price might be reasonable.
  2. The graphic design of the boxes (the surface appearance without the physical, three-dimensional structure of the cardboard) clearly reflects an awareness of the buyer’s values, preferences, and lifestyle. One could see this in the choice of fonts and colors, and even in the choice of lamination materials to give the product a highly reflective sheen.
  3. The physical attributes of the box–including the materials, box design, and graphic design choices; the finishing of the carton from a flat printed sheet to a laminated press sheet; and the conversion of the press sheet on corrugated board into a diecut, folded, and glued box—all reflect craftsmanship. A savvy buyer would assume this craftsmanship extends to the product in the box as well.

All of this was contained in the box, for those who would observe closely and think.

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Large Format Printing: Standee Gluing Options

April 2nd, 2015

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I was on my hands and knees today assembling a standee (large format printed promotional display) for a new movie. It was a simple standee, just a flat card with an easel, but as I was carefully folding the corrugated board that had been spot glued to the back of the flat card to accept the easel backing, I thought about the importance of glue.

On this simple standee, the two banks of tabs that had been spot glued to the back of the board had also been scored to allow for easy folding. The tabs would be inserted into a separate cardboard easel attachment to make the standee stand erect.

As simple as this is, keep in mind that the glue holds the cardboard tightly and allows for folding, but occasionally, in dry weather, or if the spot gluing has not been applied correctly, the joined pieces come apart. In a pinch, several strips of hidden clear tape will make things right. However, even in the best of cases the tape will not hold as well or as long, or as cleanly for that matter, as the spot glue.

Not to belabor the point, but this very same spot glue holds together not only standee easel backs but any two pieces of cardboard that could not be produced with a single piece of cardboard or a single piece of printed litho paper laminated to chipboard. This is the case for attachments to the back of a printed “lug,” for example. Tabs on the backs of these diecut, printed additions are usually inserted into a large format print graphic comprising the front of a standee to give the image a sense of depth and dimension.

In other cases the tabs that fit into slots to hold the standee together are spot glued to other pieces of cardboard. If a particular portion of the standee is bent or curved during installation (to create a large channel letter, like the letter “O” or “R,” for instance), the ability of the glue to adhere to the cardboard and endure stress and movement is of paramount importance. Nothing is quite as frustrating as having a standee glue joint come apart during installation.

How Is the Glue Applied?

This question came to mind so I did a little research, only to find two methods. Spot glue can be applied through a nozzle attached to a hose through which the glue is drawn from a reservoir or container. It can also be rolled on in some way. However, one of the more important differences between glues is whether they are hot melt or cold applied glues.

Hot melt glues are perhaps the most familiar to those who do crafts as a hobby. Small glue guns that accept solid glue sticks are easily acquired for work with wood, fabric, or paper art. A hand-held spot glue gun can affix a bead of adhesive to almost anything, and the other piece of cardboard or wood will immediately be held fast as the glue quickly solidifies. Spot gluing with hot-melt glue in the creation of standees or corrugated cartons is analogous to this process. (In fact, hot melt glue is also often used in book binding. Again, it solidifies quickly as it cools, forming a tight bond between the spine and signatures of a print book.)

Another option, applied with a spray nozzle or roller, is cold glue. Unlike the cold glue found in craft stores for fabric work, bead work, or other crafts, cold glue for custom printing adheres quickly to corrugated board. This is used particularly in the making of corrugated board cartons, and presumably it can also be used in the making of movie standees, since they are composed of corrugated board and other materials. In fact, it is so strong that the application of a cold glue in the making of pre-glued corrugated cartons can proceed as quickly as 600 meters per minute (according to Bobst carton-making marketing collateral). So it’s not your basic white school glue.

Specialty Uses for Glue in Movie Standees

One of the more unique uses of spot gluing in many of the standees I’ve assembled is to reinforce fragile diecut pieces with a backing of chop sticks. For instance, if a movie character has an outstretched arm with a magic wand in its hand, and if a jolt of electricity is emanating from the wand, then this display might have a very thin piece of fragile material that must last for at least several weeks or months without sagging. In this case, if you look at the back of the diecut movie display character, you’ll see a series of chop sticks hot melt glued to the back of the fragile portions of the display. From the front of the standee, you see none of this. But the display will not collapse upon its own weight.

I’ve always pictured the inventors of this trick as frustrated standee installers at the end of a long night, who after eating take-out Chinese food with chopsticks had a eureka moment and glued them to the standee to support a fragile diecut character image.

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Custom Printing: Digital Inkjet Printing on Floorboards

March 30th, 2015

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I had mentioned about nine months ago that my fiancee’s house had burned. Now we are in the rebuilding phase after the house fire, so I am reviewing more samples of flooring than I really want to see. Ironically, many of them have looked like wood but have been a manufactured, inkjet printed flooring product.

The Flooring Samples I’ve Seen

At a flooring warehouse I visited, the flooring samples fell into a limited number of categories. Some were hardwood and contained planks with tongue and groove joints. That is, one side of each board had a recessed grove while the other side had a wood extension that fit into the groove on the next board. Tongues and grooves ran the entire length of each board. These planks, while differing in their length, were solid wood through and through. You could see the patterning from the planks cut from the maple tree, for instance, and they were visible on the front and back of the board.

My assumption was that these floors would outlive the house owner and could never be gouged enough (by accident) to damage the plank. Even with a deep gouge, the floor board would still look like maple, or oak, or whatever other hardwood.

At the other extreme were the vinyl floors. These were still printed to look like wood. They had the swirls and knots of the maple and oak woods. You could see the edges of the 3-inch, or 5-inch, or other width planks, but if you looked more closely, you could see that even the edges of the planks had been printed onto vinyl sheets that when glued to the floor would give the impression of wood planks. These had been printed via inkjet technology and then topcoated for durability.

When I looked closely at their edges, these planks appeared to have a rubber or plastic bottom sheet, then a manufactured layer (chipped or pulverized wood glued into a solid block), and then a thin veneer on which the flooring pattern had been printed. Clearly, if you had a floor like this in your kitchen and dropped a sharp knife, point downward, you would inadvertently cut through the part that looked like wood, revealing the fake under-layer.

Other flooring samples called laminates included thin sheets of real wood attached to a manufactured floorboard base. Manufactured (or engineered) flooring was completely man-made to look like wood. And finally there were the selected cork floors. Although the latter looked somewhat fragile when compared to wood, it still had a sense of being “natural.”

How These Floors Are Printed

An article on the Surface & Panel website (entitled “Digital Inkjet Flooring Perfected: A New Approach” and written by Suzanne VanGilder) explains the NextFloor approach to printed flooring. Although this flooring decorator goes way beyond simulating wood patterns in synthetic floors to include more creative, artistically dramatic products, it seems that the first step to a good flooring inkjet job involves preparing the substrate.

The first step is to coat the boards with a filler that seals and smooths out the surface to provide an even surface for the inkjet custom printing. It also seals the board against moisture. Next the operator applies a base coating to which the inkjet ink will adhere. A proper mixture will allow for ink absorbency into the coating but not for sideways ink migration. This base layer will also fix the ink after custom printing and protect the ink surface from sunlight. To complete the process, the bottom of the plank is also roll coated to keep out moisture.

Once coated, the flooring planks can be inkjet printed. Each printhead sprays one color (of the CMYK inkset) along the length of the board, followed by the other colors. Due to the digital nature of the process, there can be a much larger variance in the decoration inkjetted onto the floor boards than would have been possible with an analog process. (Granted, for NextFloor, the inkjet printing process often does not simulate wood but rather prints a dynamic graphic design on the boards.)

Such inkjet custom printing often employs a water based ink instead of solvent ink, an eco-solvent ink, or a UV cured ink. The goal at this point is to provide a surface that will be lightfast and resistant to water.

The next step is to topcoat the floor boards both to protect them against wear and tear, and to provide a gloss coating that will give depth to the inkjetted design and coloration. According to VanGilder’s article, NextFloor coats the floorboards with “HotCoating PUR topped with acrylic UV lacquer.” The topcoating can even be textured (or embossed).

Why Inkjet Printing of Floorboards Is Noteworthy

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Patterns on the floor can be repeated less often, so with a judicious placement of the floorboards during installation, you can give the impression that the pattern never repeats.
  2. The process is eco-friendly.
  3. You never have to worry about warehousing large supplies of flooring. You can just create them as needed. There is only a minimal cost in getting the equipment up to speed for a print run.
  4. You can print photographs and text on the floorboards, so why stop with simulated wood patterns. If you can imagine it, you can print it on the floor.
  5. All of this expands the definition of commercial printing. Industrial digital inkjet printing is becoming valuable for flooring, tiles, wall-covering, drapes, bedsheets. You name it. And that’s just in the realm of interior design.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: A Map Maker or a Printer, or Both

March 23rd, 2015

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In business, it is a truism that if you can do one thing really, really well, you will be successful as long as that primary service or product you offer is a necessity. Techna-Graphics, Inc., in Washington, DC, seems to fit this business maxim to a “T.”

Is Techna-Graphics, Inc., a mapmaker, a commercial printer, or perhaps both?

In this service provider profile, I would like to showcase a unique custom printing supplier that excels in producing physical, printed maps for pilots, government agencies, and a host of others.

You might ask yourself, in an almost totally digital world, with GPS devices everywhere you look, who would need a physical, printed map? You’d be surprised. If you’re a pilot and you experience an electronic glitch, you need a physical, paper map immediately. And it has to be accurate.

The Techna-Graphics, Inc., Aeronautical Chart Division

Techna-Graphics, Inc., a private corporation owned by Joseph W. Caccamise, includes a DC commercial printing shop and a cartographic division in St. Louis, MO, that produces aeronautical charts for approximately 27 state bureaus of aviation on a bi-annual basis. The company employs 30 staff members in the DC location and 8 staff in St. Louis, MO.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., produces all 37 U.S. Visual Flight Rules Sectionals for the Continental United States, including 11 U.S. Terminal Area Charts. (This leaves 19 Terminal Area Charts for Techna-Graphics, Inc., to create.) The company prints and distributes these charts to pilots in the United States under the trade name DuraCharts.

As Techna-Graphics, Inc., promotional literature notes, “When you are flying at 10,000 ft. and your aircraft’s avionics decides to quit on you, a low-tech printed paper chart is your navigational guide and lifeline to the nearest airport and a landing that you can walk away from.” Think of the charts as a “low cost flight insurance” policy.

More Techna-Graphics, Inc., Charts and Maps

In addition to aeronautical charts, Techna-Graphics, Inc., produces state highway maps. The company just submitted a bid for custom printing all 1.2 million copies of the Alabama State highway map. Techna-Graphics, Inc., will also print 500,000 highway maps for the State of West Virginia as well as 350,000 highway maps for New York State, and 10,000 maps for Wayne County, Ohio.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., has also produced trail maps, park maps, marine charts, and other thematic map products for federal, state, county, and municipal agencies, and for commercial map publishers across the United States.

Since 1984, Techna-Graphics, Inc., has produced more than 300 million maps for the federal government. Its products range from black and white maps to multi-colored maps. Services range from cartographic research to map design; map printing, finishing and folding; and delivery, storage, warehousing, and fulfillment.

Large-Format, Non-Map Commercial Printing

Because of its large-format 44” X 60” offset lithographic sheet-fed presses and folding capabilities, Techna-Graphics, Inc., is ideally suited to large-format, non-map printing as well. One past job involved a 36” x 36” (folded to 12” x 12”) process color and aqueous coated record album jacket insert for Erika Records. Using its unique, large-format folding equipment, Techna-Graphics, Inc., was able to handle the critical folds for this 5,000-copy press run.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., Printing Capabilities

Techna-Graphics also has traditional printing capabilities in Washington, DC, where all press work, finishing, and shipping take place. The plant equipment includes 44” x 60” Harris sheet-fed presses, 87” and 63” Lawson flat cutters, and a selection of large-format Stahl and MBO folders.

Techna-Graphics’ 43” x 60” MBO folder includes four folding sections (6-6-4-2) capable of making up to 12 continuous accordion folds. And the company’s custom aeronautical chart MBO folder (26” x 60”) includes two folding sections (12-4).

Due to its specialized mix of custom printing and finishing equipment, Techna-Graphics, Inc., provides folding capabilities for finishing the work of a number of regional printing companies. Some of these also depend on Techna-Graphics for their commercial printing needs.

New Equipment for Techna-Graphics, Inc.

At the moment, Techna-Graphics is researching options for a large-format, solvent-based, digital plotter that will print 12” per second. This roll-fed plotter would accept standard printing papers in weights and finishes Techna-Graphics already uses for its offset printing work. Jobs could be printed (both perfected and sheet printed) and then folded off-line. This would be an adjunct to the company’s core business to be used for low-quantity press runs. Techna-Graphics, Inc., plans to install this equipment within about six months.

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