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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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Custom Printing: The Power of Integrated Media

September 20th, 2014

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments »

I had lunch today with the CEO of a local commercial printing shop. We discussed cross-media marketing. He really “gets it” in a lot of ways and has positioned his business accordingly. Specifically,

  1. He believes that printers cannot survive by merely putting ink on paper. Rather, they must become marketing advisors, teaching clients how to use offset, digital, and variable data printing in tandem, along with social media and other electronic vehicles to broadcast their message and spark customer interest. He gets “multi-channel marketing.” Furthermore, he understands the role of the printer as a “consultant,” not just copying and distributing a print job but actually helping clients identify, target, and interact with their markets.
  2. This filters down into this printer’s choice of press equipment. In addition to the traditional sheetfed offset presses, he has large-format and grand-format inkjet presses, as well as roll-to-roll and roll-to-sheet digital laser presses (both color and black/white).
  3. He and his staff integrate the output from these presses with access to digital storefronts, web-to-print, and social media, to integrate the marketing benefits of both custom printing and digital communication. He knows that print is not dead.
  4. In addition, using the variable data capabilities of his digital custom printing equipment, this printer tailors the printed products to the end-users. He can provide both personalized content (specific descriptive text, offers, and pricing that are focused on individual buyers, based on demographics) and personalized address information for match mailings. Therefore, the content chosen for those who actually get the printed products in the mail can be sent directly to them.
  5. This printer also understands the value of market research. He and his staff don’t just base their suggestions for a client’s print marketing and Internet marketing campaign on their own intuition. They base their strategies on demographic data and web analytics, making their market research a science as well as an art.
  6. The printer has brought an additional medium into the fold: video. YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. This is profound. And I think it’s particularly effective, since people can see what they’re buying being used rather than frozen in a static image. If the video portrays a spokesperson describing a product or service, it can more easily elicit the viewer’s trust, as well as an affiliation with the product or service and its brand values.
  7. Finally, this printer understands that even in the excitement of embracing a new technology—video—it is better to know when to use a particular medium than to become fixated on it. Video is great for many reasons. Knowing when to use it and when to use social media or custom printing to communicate with clients is even better. That’s why this printer is a consultant. He provides knowledge and wisdom in combining these media into a coordinated marketing message.
  8. Then he knows to always test and test again. Only by analyzing the results of a campaign can this custom printing vendor really provide a service to his clients, and this is what distinguishes him from his peers.

What This Means to You

  1. You may produce content for one or many of these technologies: print, large-format inkjet, variable data digital, social media, or video. Or you may be engaged in digital database management or marketing. The more you understand their interactions and their individual strengths (and this means becoming a student of art, business, psychology, and marketing), the more effective you will be, whether you’re designing a campaign or searching for vendors to help you.
  2. The custom print vendor I have described is not alone. There are many others out there you can approach who “get it.” Granted, there are many who don’t, and the last several years has seen many of these absorbed by other companies or forced out of business altogether. Keep your eyes open for such a resource, and make him a partner and advisor.
  3. If you approach commercial printing as one component (a vital, extremely effective one) within a matrix of communication venues, and if you understand how these media can be combined to increase buyer interest–or to touch, educate, or persuade individuals–you will become increasingly valuable in your particular business. You will become the “go-to” resource for your peers.

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: Fooling the Viewer’s Eye

September 15th, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

My fiancee and I were driving back to our apartment tonight, when she noted a large format print banner hanging from the side of a multi-tiered parking lot. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the neighborhood (we’re still displaced from our burned-out house), I saw what I expected to see: a graphic image with a type treatment hanging above a section of the parking lot wall composed of bricks.

“Since when do bricks have creases and folds?” my fiancee noted. I looked again and realized I had been fooled. The parking lot wall was completely white concrete, and the bricks had been included on the large format print signage. Wow.

The French have a term for this: “trompe l’oeil,” which according to Wikipedia means “deceive the eye.” Wikipedia goes on to describe trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”

Now this is a term I had heard a lot in my prior studies of the fine arts, both drawing and painting. Until today I had not really seen this artistic technique used within the commercial arts field. So I was particularly pleased.

Trompe l’oeil most often (at least in the paintings I have seen) refers to a still life of either flat objects against a flat background or three dimensional objects against a flat background.

If you check out Wikipedia, you’ll see a painting by William Harnett called Still Life Violin and Music and another painting by Evert Collier, simply noted as Trompe l’oeil painting.

The former includes such items as a violin, sheet music, and a horse shoe hanging up against a wood door with metal hinges (the key is the flat background, which acts as a bulletin board of sorts).

The latter painting includes various printed scraps of paper and a quill attached to a wall with leather straps. Again, the wall is integral to the design, as it is in the first painting. In both cases, the fact that the background is flat, facing or parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the still life all contribute to the illusion of perspective that makes these paintings intriguing to the viewer.

How Does this Relate to the Large Format Wall Banner of Bricks?

Once I had realized that the bricks in the large format print signage had been inkjetted onto the vinyl substrate, and that they were not a part of the parking lot, I was intrigued. How, I asked myself, could these appear to be so real?

First of all, like the trompe l’oeil paintings shown in Wikipedia, the background of bricks was flat, parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the design on the signage. One thing I would add is that the image of the bricks was patterned and regular, like the door in the Harnett painting Still Life Violin and Music and the board with leather straps holding pieces of paper and a quill pen in Collier’s painting.

In both of these paintings and in the brick images on the large vinyl mural, the regularity of the background pattern, across the viewer’s immediate field of vision (as opposed to being set into the background of the painting), tricks the viewer’s eye and makes this element of the painting seem real: whether it be a door, a board, or bricks. The manipulation of perspective in each case deceives the viewer.

What You Can Learn for Your Own Graphic Design Work

Good graphic design draws upon many elements of the fine arts, not the least of which are subject matter and perspective. The main difference between the large format print signage on the side of the parking lot and the two paintings in Wikipedia is that the former is selling something: in this case it was selling homes in the new development for which the parking lot had been built. Commercial art is still art.

So as you prepare your graphic design pieces for commercial printing, be mindful of the fine arts. You may find inspiration in their techniques or subject matter.

Another thing to consider is that good commercial art grabs the viewer’s attention, and playing with perspective (such as photographing the subject of an advertisement with an intriguing perspective or from an unusual vantage point) will catch the viewer’s interest.

Moreover, many people find humor in trompe l’oeil. This is because they think it is one thing at first glance, but then it turns out to be something entirely different. (In just this way, what I thought were actual bricks in a wall caught my attention once I saw the folds in the banner and realized they were only images of bricks inkjet printed onto signage.)

In short, humor and the unexpected can make your graphic design work stand out. If you can intrigue the viewer, you will get him/her on your side, and he will be more open to the message your large format print signage conveys.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: Inserting Gatefolds into Magazines

September 7th, 2014

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

A print brokering client of mine is producing a magazine. Actually, it is a graphic novel that initially was to be a perfect bound product, but my client has been increasingly interested in saddle stitching the book.

To give a brief overview of the specs, it is 8.5” x 10.875”. It was initially 150 pages (which I increased to 160 pages to equal five 32-page signatures—i.e., a more efficient custom printing sequence with fewer, but longer, press signatures).

Due to my client’s interest in saddle stitching the product (for the overall “magazine” look), the white gloss paper stock had to be 50# text (or thinner) for the printer to be able to saddle stitch the magazine. (Normally a 160-page book would be too long to saddle stitch if the paper were 60# gloss text or thicker.) Therefore, the job had to be produced on a web-offset press to accommodate the thinner press stock.

My client had initially requested a 9” x 12” page size. While this is not out of the question, it will be significantly more expensive to produce than an 8.5” x 10.875” format (fewer pages in each press signature and therefore more press runs needed to produce a 160 page book). The 8.5” x 10.875” format is ideal for a full-size heatset web press.

Why Is All of This Preliminary Information Relevant?

This preliminary information is relevant for the following reason. Initially, I had approached a large commercial printer with numerous printing plants across the country for a bid on the job and for advice on its design and production. Due to the initial plan’s having been to perfect bind the book, my customer service representative at this large commercial printing firm had approached his company’s book division for a quote.

This was fine, at first. But as my client shifted to wanting a saddle-stitched product and added three gatefolds to the design, the books division “no bid” the job. This division said the page count of the print book could not exceed 120 pages to be saddle stitched, and the book could not have a gatefold in the center spread.

Why the Books Division Set These Limitations

The printer’s books division said that gatefolds in the center of saddle-stitched books tend to fall out (come unhinged from the saddle stitches). Also, the books division said that even with 50# gloss text stock, a saddle-stitched book longer than 120 pages would be hard to bind and might come apart or lose some of its center-most pages.

I knew of all these pitfalls, but I had also grown up reading Playboy magazine, and had seen 150-page or longer magazines with gatefolds in their center spreads.

Moving from the Books Division to the Magazine Division

The CSR I work with at this large printer noted my client’s desire for a saddle-stitched product, and he too had seen longer saddle-stitched magazines with centerfolds. So he offered to discuss the print job with the magazine division of his firm.

Now this in no way implies that the books division lacks competence in binding. Rather, it implies that the magazines division has bindery equipment more suited to the task. It also shows the benefits of working with a commercial printing supplier with multiple plants and a huge amount of varied equipment.

Gatefold Options—Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

At this point my client potentially has two options for binding the print book: saddle stitching and perfect binding.

If the book is perfect bound, the five 32-page signatures will be stacked (one on top of the other) before binding. If it the book is saddle stitched, the signatures will be nested (each signature placed in the center of the preceding signature and then stitched in the center).

The gatefold in the center spread of the saddle-stitched option would be bound by the staples. The other two gatefolds would be bound between signatures. Therefore, for a six panel gatefold (three on each side of the sheet), two pages will either stick out (and need to be folded in) in front of the center spread (with the remaining panel–two pages, back and front–in the back of the book), or this will be reversed, and the single page will be in the front of the book and the remaining pages will come after the center spread.

If my client opts for a perfect bound book, the gatefolds will simply be bound between signatures. This is because there is no center of a print book in a perfect bound product in the same way that there is a center spread in a saddle-stitched book with nested signatures.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to develop long-term professional relationships with your vendors. Then you can draw upon their extensive experience and knowledge.

In addition, keep an open mind. There’s usually more than one way to achieve a desired result in custom printing.

Finally, show the printer samples of the effect you’re after. Nothing communicates your goals like a sample printed product.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Look Books and Branded Furnishings

September 1st, 2014

Posted in Printing | 6 Comments »

My fiancee and I just installed a cosmetics display and related signage at a major department store, and on the way out I collected a few print marketing products to take home. Needless to say, I was most pleased to see print media used in tandem with web promotions and interior design.

Hooking the Consumer—Make Them Want to Buy Something

On the way home in the car, my fiancee and I discussed what we had seen.

First, we agreed that custom printing still held a place of power in the marketing mix in this particular store. We had seen brochures, a tabloid newspaper showcasing people and products from Shinola, and Nordstrom look books (print books used to showcase style but without price notations). Their overall mood and design complemented the signage in the department store as well as the labels and tags attached to the merchandise. Custom printing was alive.

We also agreed that the goal was a specific “look” that defined and promoted the brand values. Although this sounds like marketing voodoo, the approach made sense when broken down into its component parts. Showcasing attractive young models engaged in everyday activities while clad in clothes and accessories from the major brand, the tabloid, brochures, and catalogs played to the viewer’s need for affiliation.

Perhaps the reader would think subconsciously about the models in the look books, and want to be like them, share the finer things in life, pursue the same sports, promote the same causes. Perhaps they would start by dressing like the people in the look books and decorating their homes in the same way. My fiancee and I saw items in the store such as vases, wall hangings, and cooking supplies that would complement the shirts, pants, dresses, and accessories in the store as well as the large format print and digital signage that echoed the same look.

We noticed that in the home furnishing section there were many items that spoke to the prevalence of words in our culture. There were individual letters cut out of print books with either lasers or mechanical cutting devices. An entire hard-cover book, for instance, had been cut into the letter “G.” Then there were relief metal letters affixed to a wood backing. These could be arranged to make words: the design equivalent of scrabble.

Vases made by Lenox had entire quotations printed on their sides in what looked like handwriting, perhaps using a UV ink cured by light rather than heat. All together these items reflected the sophistication of a culture with a love for the design of typefaces, the manipulation of the letterforms themselves, and their ultimate goal of expressing lofty ideas.

In the global scheme of department store design, it was not lost on my fiancee and me that this housewares section was right across the aisle from large format prints of glamorous women and men in the branded attire.

In short, if you dressed like the models (and the attendants at the counters), wore watches, rings, and necklaces from the jewelry counters, and thought the deep thoughts printed on the Lenox vases, you would be like the people in the look books.

In fact, you could even take the look books with you when you left the store, to take home a memento of your aspiration to this look, this culture, this lifestyle. At home you could meditate on the ethos you would bring into your own life.

Not bad for a little money spent by the advertisers on selected tabloids, with gritty photographs, all-caps headlines with ample leading, condensed typefaces, famous sayings bracketed with oversized quote marks, and images of people, nattily attired, with quizzical or wry expressions, who make you wonder what they’re thinking and where they will be going next.

What You Can Do with this Information

Good design has purpose. It does more than look good. It reflects values and shows the viewer what to think, how to feel, and how to look. It is persuasive speech. It’s up to you to make it convincing, to capture the imagination of the viewer by hooking into his or her dreams and aspirations, his or her need for affiliation–using words, images, and all the other tools of copywriting, design, and marketing.

That’s powerful. Sort of makes you want to go out and buy something.

Posted in Printing | 6 Comments »

Book Printing: Showcasing a Superb Cover Design

August 25th, 2014

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

My addiction of choice is frequenting thrift stores with my fiancee. I get lost in the print books, and time disappears.

I find that I often gravitate toward books with a dull coating or laminate on their dust jackets or covers. They seem to fall into my hands, and I want them, as much for their tactile qualities as their content.

A few days ago I came upon a business book entitled ReWork, written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and I was gratified by both its design and its production qualities.

Why Analyze a Book’s Design?

Given all the books in existence, particularly in this age of electronic books, it is perhaps helpful to be able to articulate why a print book is particularly appealing. If you can isolate those qualities that make a book design “work” (both from the point of view of graphic design and commercial printing), you are at an advantage as a designer. If these qualities appeal to one person, they may also engage many readers, and this is the essence of an effective print book dust jacket or book cover design. It makes you want to open the book and read it.

Why I Like This Book

At first glance, ReWork has a black and white cover. But, once you look closely, you see the restrained use of an intense match red (no halftone dots under the loupe) for the word “Work.” Your eye goes right to the word “Work” and then backwards to the “Re” printed in match silver.

On second thought, the eye actually goes first to a crumpled piece of paper in the center of the book, a dramatically lighted ball of paper. You ask, “Why a ball of paper?” and then you see the red “Work” and then the “Re” before the “Work.” ReWork. Then the cover makes sense. And then it makes you smile, because almost everyone has crumpled up a sheet of paper into a ball in frustration before starting a job anew.

When a visual icon, the crumpled ball of paper, first elicits interest, then raises a question, then answers the question—that’s good design. Upon grasping the concept, the reader can then go on to the ancillary text: “Ignore this book at your own peril,” the by-line, etc.

Why This Works

With a visual motif that’s intriguing, simple, and powerful at the same time, this print book grabs the reader with more subliminal production qualities as well:

  1. The black background is a four-color black, which adds richness as well as complete opacity to the heavy black ink coverage. The black ink seems to have been spread over the cover with a knife, it is so rich and thick. Then again, it’s also covered with a dull UV coating, and the paper ball is not only a process color mix (with highlights of yellow and blue, if you look closely); it has also been highlighted with a spot gloss UV coating. The effect of this contrast is to dramatically separate the crumpled paper from the black background. It jumps out of the design, as though it had been thrown at you.
  2. Not to stop here, the print book designer chose to highlight the title, ReWork, by embossing the words and by covering the “Re” with a dull UV coating and the “Work” with a high-gloss UV coating. Again, the designer’s stark contrast between two visual elements makes the cover even more dramatic. (And it works just as effectively for the type as for the distinction between the glossy crumpled paper and the background of rich black ink.)
  3. The design succeeds because it’s bold, perhaps even loud. The type works in a similar vein. Set in all caps (on the Internet, this is considered shouting), it has been designed using an uncompromising, geometric, sans serif typeface.
  4. Finally, in all of my studies of graphic design and custom printing over the past three (almost four) decades, I have learned the value of understatement. A little bit of red, for instance, is stronger in its contrast with its surroundings than is an excess of red (or any other highlighting color). On the front cover, spine, and back cover, the ReWork print book designer has demonstrated the power of a restrained amount of red ink set against a mostly black and white background.

Consider such a book jacket as being analagous to the gilded wood frame that displays a fine painting (or, in this case, the interior text of the book).

Moreover, consider this dust jacket as a stellar example of those print design qualities that cannot be replicated in an e-book.

Why You Should Care

  1. If you design print books for a living and want to remain relevant, look for design solutions that cannot be incorporated into a digital product. Play to the strengths of print.
  2. Use graphic elements to make the reader look once and then do a double take. These can include contrasting a gloss coating against a dull coating, or making a design element appear black and white until you look closely and see its subtle coloration.
  3. Use the tools of design (type, positive and negative space, contrast) to reflect the meaning of the title and the content of the book. Don’t just design a “pretty” cover. Make it relevant. It’s harder to do, but it can make the reader love your print book.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: How to Approach a New Magazine

August 18th, 2014

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

I have a new print brokering client who wants to produce a magazine. The product will be 9” x 12” in format with a press run of 5,000 copies and a page count of 150 pages. She came to me for suggestions and assistance.

Preliminary Specs for the Job

A number of years ago, I had coordinated all printing activities for a magazine detailing the workings of Congress, so I felt qualified to make suggestions on paper stock in my initial phone meeting with my client. The magazine had been produced on a web-offset press on 60# text stock for the interior pages and 100# text stock for the exterior eight pages. So this is where I started with my client.

My client seemed open to the paper specs, although she requested an off-white stock to make the magazine look dated. She wanted it to have an older “feel.” The first custom printing vendor, a sheetfed printer, suggested 60# Utopia off-white coated stock for the text, so that is what I will have him price. Since these are only initial specifications, we will have time to change direction if need be.

A Web-Offset Option for the Magazine

I thought further, and since my client wanted a more “pulpy” look, in which the color was less important than the imagery, I thought about making the paper thinner and of a lower quality, perhaps a 45# commodity grade. So I sent the same specs to a web-offset printer, noting my client’s goals, and asked for his suggestions.

I knew the 45# paper would provide the “feel” of a lower-quality publication, but I also knew that a sheetfed press could not handle a 45# text sheet. Hence I brought the web-offset printer into the discussion. (For such a thin press sheet, you need the high tension of the printing stock running through a heatset press as a single ribbon of paper.)

Granted, the web-offset printer will need to use less ink than the sheetfed printer (open up the image separations) since the magazine will be image-heavy, and since too much ink (particularly on a lower grade press sheet in 4-color process ink, considering the higher pressure of a web press) would just create a thick, soupy mess. But I’ll let the printer address this himself when he responds to my specifications.

Where to Put the Inserts

My client wants several inserts included in the magazine. She had asked about saddle stitching the product, but I steered her away from this option. Although I have seen saddle stitched magazines that exceed 100 pages in length, they really don’t lie flat, and sometimes the center pages fall out. (And this will be a 150-page printed product.)

Also, a problem called “shingling” occurs in commercial printing in which pages closer to the center of the magazine are trimmed closer and closer to the live image area. Sometimes the trimming can cut into images or folios.

So I specified perfect binding, and my client agreed.

To go back to the inserts, this choice to perfect bind the magazine gave my client multiple positions in which to bind the inserts (a gatefold and two single-page products). In a perfect-bound magazine, she will be able to insert them between any of the signatures.

Now since 150 pages will not be divisible by 16 or 8 pages, I will suggest that she make the magazine 152 pages (nine 16-page signatures plus an 8-page signature) or ideally even 160 pages (five 32-page signatures). The bigger the signatures, the fewer the press runs and the more cost effective the job.

That said, she’ll be able to add the three inserts between these signatures.

Finally, she wants gold ink in addition to the four-color process inks on one page spread. I know this will add to the cost. Maybe there is a way to get the gold on one side of a press sheet (cheaper than two). I’ll discuss this with my client.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to ponder:

  1. Start early. Design your magazine using a page production application like InDesign, but also design it as a physical product using a specification sheet, considering the physical necessities of offset custom printing.
  2. Think about whether you will want a web-offset product or a sheetfed offset product. The web is for longer runs (your commercial printing vendor will help you determine optimal page counts, page sizes, and press runs for this equipment). In contrast, sheetfed offset usually costs more, and provides a slightly better product (color fidelity and such, although web-offset now comes very close).
  3. Think about placement of any supplied items, such as gatefolds and perfume inserts. Small cards can be “blown in,” or placed randomly, but they may fall out, particularly if they weigh much at all. Other items will usually need to be placed between signatures. Or you can sometimes “tip” them onto another sheet with “fugitive glue.” However, this would still be between signatures.
  4. When in doubt, ask your commercial printing supplier. He is there to make your life easier. Also, always ask for a blank paper dummy to see how the final printed product will feel in your hands.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

Business Card Printing: Ganging Up Jobs to Save Money

August 13th, 2014

Posted in Business Cards | Comments Off

A client of mine is buying some business cards, a brochure, a table runner, and a retractable banner stand for an upcoming convention.

I gave her prices for the items, suggesting an alternate paper stock to bring down the cost, and I think we were both pleased with the results. In fact, a simple paper substitution brought the price of 1,000 business cards two dollars below the prior cost of 500 business cards.

In addition, I provided pricing for 250 and 500 brochures. My client had thought these prices were a bit high.

Background on the Jobs

To give a little background on the two jobs, the brochure is a two-color, 8.5” x 11” piece wrap folded to 3.66” x 8.5” on 100# Finch Fine text, and the business cards are the standard size, printed on both sides on 130# Finch cover, with a bleed on the back of the card.

Both jobs had started out with short runs (50 copies of the brochure and 500 copies of one business card). Therefore, they were initially bid as digitally printed jobs to be produced on the commercial printing vendor’s HP Indigo. Although the viewer would perceive them to be two-color jobs, the business cards and brochures would really be printed in 4-color process liquid toner. In prepress, the printer would convert the PMS colors to their nearest process color builds, and then the jobs would be run as process color work. (If I understand correctly, the color conversion may even be made on the fly in the HP Indigo press.)

A New Wrinkle in the Jobs

My client wanted options and good prices. Who could blame her? She also didn’t want to buy more than she needed. Therefore, my client asked if instead of 1,000 business cards (with one name), she could have two sets of 500 cards (with two names). Presumably for the same price.

I said this was not possible. On a digital press, the jobs could not be ganged. I was wrong (and partially right, regarding price).

When I asked the custom printing supplier about this option, he said that he could in fact gang up the jobs, which would save money. However, the two jobs together would still cost more than one 1,000-copy press run because of the extra prepress work involved. (This last part is what I was expecting, but I was pleased that there would be a discount for printing both 500-copy sets of business cards simultaneously.) I knew ganging was possible on offset equipment, but I assumed the smaller format of digital printing would not allow this. I was pleased to be wrong. So was my print brokering client.

Still Another Wrinkle in the Jobs

The best price I could get on the brochures was about a dollar a piece for digital custom printing. The press run at both 250 copies and 500 copies was too small to move the job to an offset press. It would have not yet reached the point at which the unit cost would have been cheaper for offset than for digital.

My client asked about printing 250 or 500 copies of the brochure in English and 50 copies in Spanish. I said this would be two press runs, and the 50-copy press run would be expensive on a unit-cost basis.

Based on the printer’s stated ability to gang up digital jobs (business cards), I do wonder about ganging up the English and Spanish versions of the brochures. However, for 50 recipients of the Spanish version, my client opted to move this portion of the job to the Internet.

Since she still wanted to pay less than a dollar a brochure, I suggested that I request pricing for 250, 500, and 750 copies. This would allow my client to compare total costs and unit costs. At the 750-copy level, the job might even be more economically printed via offset lithography. I will leave that to the custom printing vendor to determine.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider:

  1. If you have received a printer’s price for 1,000 copies of one version of a job, changing the job and providing art for two separate versions will not cost the same total amount as the cost for one. This is because there is more prepress work involved, even if there’s space to gang up both jobs on one press sheet.
  2. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking about ganging up multiple elements of a job. This may still save you money.
  3. Printing 500 copies of a brochure in one language and then 50 in another yields two jobs, not one, even if the art (photos, design, etc.) is the same in both. This will be reflected in the price, but, again, there may still be a savings for ganging up the jobs. However, if your jobs will print digitally, remember that the maximum press sheet size is often much smaller on a digital press than on an offset press (approximately 13” x 19” vs. 25” x 38” depending on the digital and offset equipment). Particularly if your job will bleed, there may not be room on the press sheet to gang up the jobs.
  4. Always ask your printer about options. You might even suggest moving from digital equipment to offset equipment (or vice versa) to ensure the most economical custom printing process.
  5. If you’re splitting the components of your job between digital and offset equipment, remember that the former operates in a 4-color environment and the latter in a 4-color and/or PMS match color environment. If you produce a portion of your work using one process and the balance in the other, the two components may not match.

Posted in Business Cards | Comments Off

Book Printing: Knock Outs, Gold Ink, and 4-Color Blacks

August 9th, 2014

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

I picked up an older paperback at a thrift store recently. I had owned a copy of the same print book in the 1980′s, and the cover had changed, so I looked carefully at the design and custom printing of the new cover. Granted, it was used and dog-eared, and it was still about twenty years old, but I found the cover intriguing.

The Book Cover Design and Overall Printing

The title or even the subject matter is irrelevant. What is relevant is that most of the cover consisted of a photograph of a galaxy rendered as a high contrast positive and printed in a rust-colored match color and gold, with areas left white for highlights. Black type (the title of the print book), was surprinted over the galaxy image, and below this the designer had reversed the subtitle. Then, at the top and bottom of the cover, the designer had included a banner in gold to highlight a little more type. The banner and background image bled off the cover on all sides.

The Composition of the Inks

As I have mentioned in past PIE Blog articles, process colors are transparent. This is why they work so well to create myriad colors when printed as halftone screens overlapping one another.

The commercial printing vendor who had produced this print book obviously had printed the transparent black ink of the surprinted type directly over the gold in the background image of the galaxy, so the gold could be seen (faintly) through the black type.

Was This Intentional?

Was this intentional, and if so was it even a good artistic decision? I think this is a subjective call, actually.

What is interesting about the design is that the subtle hint of gold under the black type of the title actually gives a filmy appearance to the type, like a veil, and this is actually consistent with the tone of the print book. This treatment also allows the title type, which is quite large, to sit back a bit. It seems to be more a part of the background image of the galaxy, and this might just have been the look the designer had wanted. It may not have been a mistake.

Why Did This Happen?

First of all, as mentioned before, the process black ink is transparent. However, if this were the only reason for the show-through, the gold portions of the background image would not have been the only portion of the image visible through the black title type. You would have seen some of the match rust red color as well. Then again, the red is dark, so this might not have been evident. It might have been below the threshold of visibility.

Gold ink is also hard to print. It has flecks of metal in its composition, and drying can be problematic. Usually, a printer would print gold ink over another color, rather than beneath it. Or (and more likely), he would also knock out any type or image below the gold ink, so the gold would sit directly on the substrate.

So perhaps this was intentional. And, if so, the real question to ask would then be whether he was successful in achieving the visual goals of the designer. And this would become a subjective question potentially yielding many answers.

What Could Have Been Done?

If the designer and printer had wanted the black ink to be completely opaque, what could they have done? And what would the effect have been?

The second question is more easily answered. The large title type would have looked heavier, since it would have been totally consistent in its appearance. It may even have looked too heavy, or too big.

Regarding the first question, the designer and book printer could have created a rich black (black ink combined with some cyan, magenta, and yellow). This would have made the overall look of the black ink thicker, heavier, and more opaque.

The designer and printer could have knocked out (or reversed) any type and any portion of the galaxy image that would have printed beneath the rich black of the title type.

And/or the designer and book printer could have made sure that no gold ink would have been printed under any other ink. Instead, the gold would have been printed on top, after the underlying inks had dried, or perhaps (and more likely) any other ink under the gold ink would have been knocked out to allow the gold to sit only on the blank background substrate.

What You Can Learn From This

Think about the opacity of the inks you use, as well as their problems with printing or drying (like the gold ink), and also consider the order in which the custom printing inks are laid down on the press sheet. Your printer can help you with all of these issues and decisions. But keep in mind that the technology of commercial printing is only a tool to achieve a graphic design goal. So decide first what effects you are trying to achieve.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Large Format Printing: Making Final Banner Art Files

August 7th, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 2 Comments »

I’ve been working with a print brokering client recently to produce a large format print banner stand. When she asked me about specifications for producing the final artwork, I brought her question to the printer who will produce the job. However, I also did some outside reading on the subject.

Specifications for the Banner Stand Art

Choosing the Appropriate Design Application

For a single page product like a banner stand, you can use InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop. Different designers will swear by any one of these for a large format print. Keep in mind that the individual programs have limits on the size of the final document (216 inches in InDesign, for instance).

Choosing the Final Trim Size for the Art File

I designed a banner stand last year. Since it was smaller than 216 inches (i.e., it was approximately 32 inches x 84 inches), I created it at the exact size in InDesign (because I’m most comfortable with this application).

I will say that the file size was very large, even considering the small size of the banner stand I was designing. This slowed down InDesign functions such as as saving the file, opening it, and closing it, particularly when I added a graduated screen behind the images.

An even larger image, such as a billboard, would exceed the maximum size limitation of the design software and therefore could not be created fulle size.

In such a case, you would need to create the art at a smaller size and ask the commercial printing supplier to print the file at a larger size. (What this means, for instance, is that you would create the banner stand art at 25 percent or 50 percent of the final size, and the printer would scale it up by a multiple of four or two. In this case you would need to multiply the resolution of the images by four, or two, respectively, in the smaller art file. That way they will be the proper resolution once the art has been enlarged. (Remember that enlarging a TIFF image file reduces its resolution commensurately.)

Choosing the Proper Resolution for Any Placed Images

In my client’s case, the printer said she should produce art for the retractable banner stand with 300 dpi images. This is because this particular kind of large format print will be seen from up close as convention goers mill around the exhibit table.

In most cases, viewers would be farther away. Consider a billboard, for instance. If you were to get really close to one, you would see that its photos are only 9 or 10 dpi. Seen from a distance, though, the billboard images will appear quite crisp. The limitations of your eyes will make everything appear right.

Some online resources say the resolution of the images can be closer to 200 dpi. Therefore, discuss image resolution with your print provider rather than making assumptions.

What all of these sources seem to be saying is that for a large format print retractable banner stand, you should keep the images at approximately the same resolution as, or at a just slightly lower resolution than, you would for a job like a print book, brochure, etc. For a poster, vehicle wrap, exterior building wrap, etc., you can afford to lower the resolution of the images since the art will be seen from far away.

Handling Type to Ensure Crisp Letterforms

Most of what I have read and heard from custom printing suppliers encourages designers to convert the type into outlines, since these can then be enlarged without degradation. A good rule of thumb is that bitmapped art becomes fuzzy as it is enlarged, while PostScript curves (vector art) can be enlarged without any degradation.

If you read the documentation on Illustrator and Photoshop (regarding vector layers in particular), you can learn how to process type for large format print graphics. Always remember to involve your printer, however. He may prefer to receive art at a certain size or resolution.

Choosing the Proper File Format

Save your files as InDesign native files, AI or EPS (Adobe Illustrator Files) or TIFF files (Photoshop). Presumably you can also hand off a high resolution PDF to your printer. That said, the safest thing to do is give your commercial printing vendor an editable art file with associated images and fonts (even if you also include a high-res, printable PDF) and also a low-res PDF to show him how you want the final job to look. The benefit of doing this is that your printer can make any changes needed to output the file to your satisfaction.

Regardless, remember to save all images as CMYK rather than RGB files. (RGB is for screen imaging: computer monitors, digital signage, etc. CMYK is for offset and digital printing.)

What to Always Do Whenever You Design Large Format Print Signage

The first rule of thumb is to always consult your printer. Always, always, always. Particularly if you need to create art for large format print signage.

It will ease your mind, and you won’t have to wonder whether to create the art at 25 percent of the final size with image resolution at four times the normal 300 dpi resolution. It’s enough to give you a headache.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 2 Comments »

Large Format Printing: Banner Stands and Table Throws

August 4th, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 4 Comments »

My print brokering client has branched out. She started with business cards and then a brochure. From there she has extended her order to retractable banner stands and table throws, and she may even need custom screen printing for t-shirts.

To prepare myself for discussions with both my client and various commercial printing vendors, I went to school on the subject. Here is some of what I learned.

Retractable Banner Stands

Consider whether you want fabric or vinyl as a banner substrate for this large format print graphic. The base is a metal container that holds a spring loaded, rolled up vertical banner. The graphic effect is dramatic, and it draws the viewer into the convention booth. These banner stands come in various sizes and work as follows.

You extend the telescoping pole vertically, then pull the graphic out of the base and hang the metal pull tab from the extended pole. Just under the pull tab, a horizontal brace attached to the banner holds the graphic open and taut, while the base gives the graphic dimensional stability from below. This way, the extended banner presents as a tall and narrow rectangle. If you want a larger image, you can set two or more of these side by side with large format print graphics that appear to cross from one banner stand to the other.

These retractable banner stands come with either vinyl banners or polyester banners. From my research online and from speaking to printers, it seems that the polyester banners may have less likelihood of curling at the edges. Curling may be a problem for vinyl banners, so you may wish to do your own research.

The custom printing technique of choice for vinyl banners is inkjet, and for a polyester banner you would use dye sublimation digital printing. Ask your suppliers which would be better for indoor vs. outdoor displays, which will last longer, and which will be less affected by sunlight, fingerprints, etc.

Keep in mind that these are not inexpensive (i.e., several hundred dollars or more), so you will want to protect the banners from degradation and the retractable banner stands from wear and tear in transit. Make sure the banner stand comes with a hard or soft case that can withstand air travel and baggage handlers.

Fortunately, the banners can be removed from the metal display and replaced with new large format print graphics.

One thing to keep in mind as you design such a presentation is that convention goers will be close to the banner stand. Therefore, the resolution of the images needs to be be higher than you might expect. For a poster seen from across the room, slightly lower resolution images are fine, but retractable banner stand images will look fuzzy if seen up close. So keep to the usual 300 dpi rule of thumb (or twice the halftone line screen).

Table Throws

The most interesting thing I learned from a printer with whom I discussed these products was that a customer logo printed on the front might not be seen in a crowded convention. With hoards of people standing in front of the table, the most visible spot for the logo, according to this printer, is the top of the table. He suggests printing the logo on the back of 1/16” plastic sheeting and laying it on top of the table. Of course, branded signage would also need to be set up behind the table for passersby to see as they approach the table.

Another thing to consider is the length of the table. Usually they are either six or eight feet long. Some table throws are even convertible, folding up to fit either table length. This would be useful if you do multiple conventions with different sized tables. However, in most cases the tables will be eight feet long in order to fit in a standard ten-foot convention booth.

Finally, look into inkjet, dye sublimation, and screen printing for your table throw graphic. Screen printing is not cost effective if you’re only printing one table throw, but the inks are vibrant and durable if you can share the cost among three or four table throws.

The other two options, inkjet and dye sublimation, are used for cotton and polyester substrates respectively, although table throws seem more often than not to be made of synthetics.

Also ask for stain-resistant, fire-resistant material, and make sure you can wash the throws without reducing their lifespan.

In short, think of both of these products as investments, and make sure they will last a long time if treated well. Your printer can answer these questions for you, or you can find a large format printer online or through referrals.

Beyond their design and logistical qualities, consider these products to be advertisements for your brand. Just like a business card or a refrigerator magnet, the purpose of table throws and retractable banner stands is to reinforce your company image in the minds of prospective customers.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 4 Comments »

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