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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: Ensuring On-Time, Accurate Delivery

August 19th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

“We uploaded the art files to the printer only a day late. Why can’t the printer make up the time? Don’t they want our business?”

A print brokering client of mine asked these questions recently, reminding me that their print books needed to be in the book distributor’s possession on time, and not even a day late. (To be completely honest, I have exaggerated my client’s actual questions a bit in order to make a point: Schedules matter.)

It is important to remember that your commercial printing job (and in most cases your schedule, or drop-dead delivery date) is of utmost importance to you, but at the same time your print provider has many clients who feel exactly the same way about their projects. Some of these will flow smoothly through the process. They will arrive on time and then proceed through all the various stages of the process (prepress, printing, finishing, packing, and delivery).

Others will hit snags. Maybe your files will not pass preflight (perhaps there will be problems with the resolution of the photos). Maybe, when you receive the hard-copy proof, you’ll catch an error or two.

Errors like these, the ones you have inadvertently introduced into the process, will slow you down. These are different from errors the printer introduces into the process (such as a broken saddle stitching machine that slows down his bindery work, perhaps necessitating overtime work to compensate).

Error-Free Files

I had a client earlier this year who submitted three 5.5” x 8.5” print books to press. There was a simple editorial correction needed on one of the book covers. Because of this, the printer put all three books on hold while the cover designer made and uploaded corrections and while new proofs were generated and approved (fortunately they were PDF proofs, so no further time was lost mailing proofs to the client and then back to the book printer).

This revision process (for as small a correction as was needed) added a week to the overall production schedule. Did the printer need to take this much time? After all, the book printer’s actual production time was probably only minimal. While it’s true that fixing the problem most likely took very little time, it disrupted the overall workflow of the book printing plant. To minimize this, the printer focused first on the clients who had provided accurate, error-free files—on time—and then came back to my client’s three print books.

Not all printers are like this. Printing is a business, and different printers have different business models. The one in question has rock-bottom prices but provides stellar-quality products. Therefore, they are always booked. In fact, since the overall volume of book printing has been increasing year over year in the recent past, the turn-around time this book printer now offers is much longer than even a year ago.

Other Options

My client could go elsewhere. A reasonable choice. I work with another printer that’s huge. They are a consolidator. They have branches all across the country. They also do digital printing (which my client needed for these three titles due to their short press runs). But this printer’s business model involves limiting the choices for digital binding to keep their machinery costs down. After all, if they offered all types of binding (French flaps on the paperback covers, for instance), this would require additional machinery, which would require additional expense, which would drive up the costs the printer must charge customers.

A third book printer will do almost anything I need. They’re great. However, I have to pay a premium for this. Some of my customers prefer this treatment and are willing to pay for it.

So my client made his choice. He chose two of the three manufacturing goals (quality, price, but not speed). In effect, we paid for the discounted price.

Some will say that clients now demand more, and it’s possible to hit all three goals (quality, price, and speed). That sounds good, but in reality those printers who over-promise eventually go out of business.

For instance, I’ve had clients leave for other printers who promise more only to find that their schedules were not met or that the printed jobs were not of the highest quality. These clients then came back to me. In my case, as a printing broker, I try to advise clients not to do this because it takes time: going out, finding a new printer, having problems, and then coming back. This can also waste a lot of money.

Now I want to make it clear that the situation I’m describing is very different from working with a printer who is slow, sloppy, and/or inaccessible. Most are not. Some get into trouble precisely because they are trying to be all things to all people. They are charging less than the competition, taking in too much work, and turning it around with too few staff. Eventually they go out of business.

How do you know what’s really happening with a particular printer? You don’t. This is where experience comes in. If a long-standing relationship with a printer who has been a good partner hits a bump in the road, you can discuss matters, be frank, and come up with solutions. But if you’re working with a new printer, it’s usually smart to start slowly. Make your first few jobs small ones with flexible deadlines. Then you can build up to large, deadline-critical custom printing projects.

The Solution

After the first set of this year’s print books came too close for comfort to my client’s drop-dead delivery date, I came up with a solution for the next set of three jobs. I asked for the printer’s longest projected time frame for each component of the schedule based on the printer’s workload at that particular time (which was heavy). Then I listed them:

  1. Prepress and proofing
  2. Printing
  3. Binding
  4. Shipping and delivery

Then I added a week to the estimated prepress and proofing stage. Then I added a week to the shipping stage. Then I added a week to the whole process just for safety’s sake. Would I have done this for all printers’ schedules? No. In some cases my clients want to go go with the more expensive printers I frequent, and these book printers don’t often present this problem.

So in the simplest terms, I acknowledged reality. Then I made a conservative schedule. Not just a realistic schedule, but a conservative one, with wiggle room. With this in hand, I approached both my client and the printer, received their approval of the schedule, and made sure everyone had a final copy. This was our agreement. At this point it was set in stone, but I sweetened the pot by arranging prepayment. The printer needed half of the cost up front, but since my client “got it” (he understood human motivation), my client offered to pay for the entire order at once, up front.

Keep in mind two important things. My client had been exceptionally pleased with this book printer’s prior work. All books delivered for several jobs had been gorgeous. Also, this printer (and most others) require cash-only clients (as opposed to credit clients) to pay the first 50 percent prior to the onset of the job and the final 50 percent prior to its shipment. This is the norm (an accepted trade custom in commercial printing). So by paying both 50 percent, up-front payments together, my client showed good will, made it clear that the job was a real job, and didn’t pay any more than was required (he just paid it earlier).

Final Check of Art Files

When the text designer sent me final art files for the three print books, I carefully checked the individual pages in the PDF file and also the trim size (format) of the books. Two of the three had the correct format. One was slightly off-size–in error. I brought this to the text designer’s attention, and she quickly fixed it. (If I hadn’t caught this error, the printer would have caught it in preflight, and this would have used up precious time in the schedule. In fact, all three books might have been put on hold until the problem had been fixed.)

My client also caught errors on the cover of one of the three books. He asked whether I thought it would be better to upload the files now (one day past the submission deadline) and make corrections at the proof stage, or whether he should take the time to correct the files first. My response was that it was definitely worth taking the time now.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make a schedule. Pad it. Then get everyone’s buy-in. Then, don’t deviate from the schedule. Remember the consequences of missed deadlines.
  2. Realize that you can have any two of the following: quality, speed, price. Any vendor can make wild promises. Choose printers that under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect printer. It’s more than likely that you’ll spend a lot of money and time, and wind up back at your first printer’s door.
  3. That said, develop relationships with printers prudently. Start with small jobs and then build to larger ones.
  4. Have more than one person check your art files. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s always better to fix them before submitting files. Don’t wait until the proofing stage. You will not make up lost time.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Pearson Shifts from Textbooks to Digital

August 11th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I spend a lot of time in thrift stores with my fiancee. She looks at the clothes; I go for the print books. In fact, I’ve collected quite a library of textbooks, which I have used since graduating from college to augment my education (and particularly my knowledge of commercial printing, art, and business).

So I’m familiar with the name Pearson, a mammoth United Kingdom publisher of textbooks. I have many of their titles on my bookshelves, all purchased second hand.

Pearson’s Move from Print Books to “Digital First”

Given my predisposition to learning from print books, and my work as a printing broker, I was surprised and a bit saddened by the news that Pearson will be “ending all regular revisions for its print college textbooks.” (I took this quote from an article I found today entitled “Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy,” published on 07/16/19 by Sarah Min of online Money Watch.)

According to Min’s article, Pearson will “focus on updating its digital products more frequently, offering artificial intelligence capabilities, data analytics, and research.”

This has to be taken in context, I think. The price of textbooks has been soaring, costing as much as $200 to $300 for a single print book. In contrast, e-books are closer to $40 each.

In addition, students, most of whom are on a tight budget, have been motivated to approach the secondary market to buy used textbooks, thus reducing the revenue of textbook publishers like Pearson. And this is not a situation affecting only Pearson. Other textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have been moving in a digital direction for a while now, investing heavily in artificial intelligence (as it pertains to textbook material, such as online audio, video, etc.).

According to “Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy,” Pearson considers this shift to digital first to be a win/win for students and publishers. The students get the enhanced learning capabilities of online media, and the publishers can eliminate the direct materials costs associated with book printing (all the paper) as well as the costs of storing printed books and fulfilling orders for print textbooks. In the long run, publishers will make more with this business model.

According to Pearson CEO John Fallon, as quoted in Min’s article, “ Students are getting more comfortable with e-books as the functionality gets better” (“Pearson Ditches Print Textbooks for College Students in Digital First Strategy”).

The Other Side of the Coin

Being a print broker and a lover of print books, I was not sold on this approach, so I did some more research.

I found an article entitled “A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?” that provides a different view. It is from The Science of Learning and is dated 08/23/17. It was written by Claudia Wallis.

I was not deterred by the date (approximately two years ago) because of the scientific evidence it presents, which I don’t think would have changed in two years.

The gist of Wallis’ argument is the following:

  1. Students learn better from a print book, in part because there are fewer distractions, in contrast to the multi-tasking approach of the Internet.
  2. Students learn better when they can make notes in the margins of a print book. It has not yet been proven whether copying and pasting text electronically from source material works as well as underlining and hand-note-taking in fostering reading comprehension and the retention of facts.
  3. Wallis references the work of Patricia Alexander, a University of Maryland literary scholar, whose research from 1992 to 2017 uncovered only 36 studies (out of 878 potentially pertinent studies) that directly addressed whether online learning was as effective (in terms of retention and understanding) as learning from a textbook. So the bottom line is that more work needs to be done regarding how people learn and how online resources and print books compare in this regard.
  4. Wallace references the work of Patricia Alexander in Review of Educational Research, which confirms that, for longer works (above 500 words), reading on a digital device reduces comprehension when compared to a print book. (Apparently this is due in part to the flickering of the screen, the scrolling, the glare of the screen, and the fact that we are accustomed to multitasking on a digital device instead of focusing intently in a linear manner on the subject matter.) According to Alexander’s research, digital book readers have more confidence in the depth of their learning (due to the perceived increased reading speed on digital media) but had lower actual comprehension and retention. Apparently, readers of print books absorbed and retained more details.
  5. Regardless of the medium, the most powerful approach to education is one that involves students’ “deeply questioning the text” (“A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”).
  6. Some texts (and some subjects) are linear and lend themselves to print books (as Wallis notes, based on findings by Joost Kircz, a Dutch scholar on this subject). You read them from beginning to end. Other subjects and books lend themselves to a less linear approach. These might benefit from the added videos and audio tracks accessible through online media. According to Kircz, these enhancements might include links to “annotation, elaboration, contrary views, media, etc.” (“A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”). One benefit of digital media is “in a digital environment we can easily enable a plurality of reading paths in educational and scholarly texts.” (Joost Kircz and August Hans Den Boef in The Unbound Book). “Not all information is linear or even layered.” “The question is to what extent can we mimic human understanding” (Joost Kircz in “A Textbook Dilemma, Digital or Paper?”).

The Takeaway

So, from my perspective, the question of whether to choose digital or print books involves the following issues:

  1. How do people learn? We need to better understand the mechanics (i.e., the brain functions) involved in the comprehension and retention of new subject matter.
  2. Do some kinds of subject matter lend themselves to one medium or the other? For instance, can a novel (a linear text, presumably), work better as a print book? Can the digital enhancements of online video and audio hyperlinks improve one’s ability to learn other kinds of subject matter?
  3. Do all people learn more efficiently and effectively from the same media, whether online texts or print books?
  4. Are we making decisions based on the effectiveness of the medium or its cost (from the point of view of the student), or its potential for revenue generation (from the point of view of the publisher)?

My educated guess is that “digital vs. print” will eventually be like the “radio vs. television” dilemma. People thought images would replace words. Now we have both. I think some people will learn better from printed books while others will learn better from online media. And I think this will change based on the kind of subject matter in question.

I think print books will be with us for a long time, although I think the ones that remain will incorporate the higher production values (for example, intricate die cuts or nuanced cover coatings) that set print books apart from digital books.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: A Fanciful Journey Toward a Print Book

August 5th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

I am a pushover when it comes to romance and swashbuckling. I must have been a pirate in a former life. So when I had the opportunity to join a Facebook group connected to a print book a client of mine was designing for a friend, I joined.

My client’s friend apparently is writing a book, a journal of sorts, describing his early life, many years ago, in the cannabis trade. Now I know this is less highly charged now, and I neither oppose nor condone its use, but this sounded like a good story.

So when I reached the Facebook page and joined, I first assumed that all of the Facebook members—who made me feel quite at home with their welcome—lived together on a beach in some Caribbean land as ex-patriots presumably fleeing the law. I further assumed that if they were keeping on the low down and engaging in legal professions, they were probably digital nomads writing or designing articles and books, and then submitting files over the internet while lounging in their beach huts.

(I have since discovered from my friend that almost all of them are in fact scattered–separately–across the United States. They are middle aged or older, and they presumably all have day jobs. Oh, well.)

The Tone of the Journal

To protect the innocent, I will not get specific about the content of the print book. At the very least, this is because it has not yet been published. So for now we’ll assume it is like Miami Vice set in Tahiti, full of smuggling and theme music for all the main characters. (One of the inhabitants told me he was homeless, but upon further reflection as to how this might be true if he was writing to me on a computer, I asked my friend. She told me he was renting lake-front property. He just didn’t own a house.)

That said, the exposure to the Facebook page has given me a wealth of information on the tone of the print book to come, such that I can now make cogent suggestions regarding its format, paper, binding, and perhaps even design (hopefully without stepping on my friend’s, the designer’s, toes).

Magic Translated Into Print Book Production Values

Having reviewed and considered the photos on the Facebook page along with the writings from both the author and the other group members, and having been told by the author that he wants to charge more than usual for the book, I had some thoughts.

First of all, I agree with a Dr. Who (on television) t-shirt I have that pretty much says that in the end we’re just stories. In my own view, someone who can tell a good story full of concrete, evocative details that engage the reader emotionally can charge almost anything. People love stories. Good marketing is even based on telling stories, on engaging the reader’s emotions. Particularly if the stories are believable—as was the story I gleaned from the Facebook page.

How this filters into print book production specifications is what this blog article is really about, and I think that as designers and print buyers each one of us needs to be able to understand the story, whether the printed product will be a book, a brochure, a sign, or anything else. Then, each one of us has to translate this story into a printed product using the aesthetic building blocks of design and the physical building blocks of commercial printing.

So these are my thoughts, which I have already started to share with my friend who will be designing the print book:

  1. If the author plans to charge a premium, it will be important to make the book presentation unique.
  2. This may include such attributes as an unusual size (not the traditional 6” x 9” or 8.5” x 11” of contemporary trade books, which cost less than what my friend’s client plans to charge). Perhaps a square, large-format book would be intriguing to the reader.
  3. It may include such trappings as French flaps. These are the extensions to the paperback cover that fold back into the book and extend 3” or 4” across the interior front cover. They make the book look like it is a hard-cover text with a dust jacket. These are very popular, apparently, in Europe, so they lend an international sensibility to the book: perhaps an air of mystery or opulence.
  4. Since the subject matter involves cannabis, I plan to suggest a more earthy approach, involving an uncoated, heavily textured paper for the interior pages of the print book. I can acquire paper samples from my printing suppliers when the time comes. I may even suggest a toned paper, perhaps an off white or a light gray or green. Anything that has a crunchy granola feel.
  5. Given the subject matter, I may also suggest an uncoated cover stock. I need to be very careful, though, because uncoated paper does not necessarily age well. Readers may easily crush or dog-ear the cover paper, inadvertently, through heavy use. Even if the paper holds up, the ink printed on the cover may smear unless it is coated, which would defeat the purpose of having an uncoated cover stock in the first place.
  6. Granted, I have seen designers use a light varnish to seal ink on an uncoated stock, even though it’s a little like painting a sponge. You protect the ink but you can’t see any gloss. Also, ink laydown on a textured cover stock with a “tooth” (uneven surface) may be a bit uneven, with pinholes, so the design of the cover art will be of prime importance. It must be printer friendly as well as attractive. The custom printing technology (offset vs. digital) will also be important in order to ensure good ink or toner coverage on the cover paper.
  7. Readability. This is not a printing consideration, but since the writer already noted that he likes Comic Sans for a font, I checked this typeface out on the web. I went to Google Images and found the whole alphabet. It is attractive. It seems to be casual and quite appropriate for the storytelling tone of the print book. However, I’m not yet convinced that it will be easily readable over the course of 200 to 300 pages, especially by older readers. So I suggested to the designer that she increase the point size, increase the leading (space between lines), and make the copy flush left/ragged right. The typeface will echo the tone of the book, but it must be readable.

These are just some initial thoughts. In fact, when we get closer to publication, I’m going to ask the printer for samples of uncoated, printed cover stocks. I may also ask the paper merchant to create a mock-up of the entire print book on the selected stock to give the reader an idea of what the final book will feel like in the reader’s hands. A good story, written by a charismatic storyteller, skillfully designed, on substantial paper with special flaps, should fetch a premium. It all comes down to the same magic I felt on the Facebook page, when I thought all inhabitants of The Crew lived on the beach of the same Caribbean island and were not in fact retired men and women scattered all across the United States. Magic sells.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Anything from a book to a brochure must captivate the reader. This is a magical act. It is based not only on the story (referred to in the popular media as “the narrative”) but on the design and printing values.
  2. First, understand the tone of the book. Breathe it in. Let it sit with you, and then turn this into a design based on all the traditional tools: page geometry, font, color, imagery, etc.
  3. Turn two dimensions into three. The writing is abstract. The design adds the visual cues. Now add the tactile element: the print book production values.
  4. Acquire related print products, then consider unusual treatments that will set apart your printed product from all others. This includes paper, trim size, binding technology and materials, perhaps adornment such as foils, cover coatings, and such.
  5. Make sure all of this is congruent: writing, design, and paper. Even the commercial printing technology is important. Maybe a print book about pirates should be printed via letterpress, not offset lithography. Maybe it should be printed on a faux parchment with a mottled paper surface.
  6. Get samples: printed samples and paper books. It’s great to visualize something in your own head, but if you’re going to see how it’s really going to look—and feel—nothing beats a printed sample. It also helps you communicate with the author and the printer. Use the paper sample books not only to select paper stocks but to make sure they are current. Papers come and go. Check the dates on the paper swatch books. Make sure your printer can get the paper. Moreover, make sure the paper is reasonably priced and doesn’t require a special order or a minimum amount.

Use everything you know about paper, design, and commercial printing, but go beyond these and consider reader psychology, marketing tactics, and even the art of storytelling. To misquote Dr. Who (from British television): If it’s all a story, let’s make it a good one.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Commercial Printing: The Marriage of Print and Digital

July 28th, 2019

Posted in Integrated Marketing | 4 Comments »

Articles in the media touting the marriage of print and digital always make me happy. Not only because I’m a firm believer in the place of custom printing (and because I’m a printing broker) but also because these articles mirror my own experience. Print and digital amplify each other’s strengths. They don’t have to fight, and one doesn’t have to replace the other.

So here’s what I read just recently. You may find it interesting. The article is entitled “Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World.” I found this on www.piworld.com on 07/02/19. It was written by Barbara A. Pellow.

To put this in context, I’ve been reading (for many years now) about multi-channel marketing (here referred to as “omni-channel” because it encompasses all channels). Ostensibly, when a brand interacts with potential customers through many, or all, media, including print marketing, email, perhaps even large-format signage on the facades of buildings or glued to vehicles, and/or even the printed QR codes (or other patterns) that send your smart phone to a related website when you point your phone at it—the brand can expand its presence and enhance your experience. It can do this very effectively, far more so than if the brand only sent you a postcard or an email.

More exposure equals more sales, if and only if the exposure benefits the potential customer. The process has to be enjoyable, immersive, and valuable in terms of the potential customer’s buying needs.

The Thesis of Pellow’s Article

So in this light, here’s what the article says. First, it notes that printers today are expanding their services to stay relevant. They do have competition, and there is in some cases less business to be had. Or, more specifically, there is less business in terms of putting ink on paper or toner on paper. Pellow’s article notes that printers who once offered only offset lithography are now also offering digital printing, design services, direct mail, large-format signage, and expanded finishing capabilities.

(In this vein I would add such digital enhancements as digital foiling and digital die-cutting. I would also add strategic marketing advice. Printers no longer just do what you ask in terms of printing. They also advise you on how to expand your market share using their commercial printing services.)

“Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World” goes on to define the “fan experience.” (This is just one example of the benefits of multi-channel, or omni-channel, marketing, but I think it’s a good one.) Specifically, the author notes that sporting events have gone up in price, and the attention span of most people (including sports fans) has gone down (presumably due to competing ads and the ever-increasing demands of contemporary life).

This is a bad situation. So marketers have to step up and provide “a more seamless, entertaining, engaging fan experience” (“Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World”). This is what I personally call the “Wow” factor. Marketing interactions have to be great now, not just good. Otherwise, the consumer will just filter them out. But the good news is that truly great marketing initiatives absolutely will engage the potential client.

Barbara Pellow then goes on to define “clickable paper” as “an interactive print solution that bridges the traditional offline-online gap. It connects print and digital with cloud-based intelligent image recognition software” (“Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World”).

In layperson’s terms this means that you can download an app to your smartphone (Apple or Android), and when you point the camera phone at an image on a printed surface (printed page, large-format sign, poster, vehicle wrap), you will be transported to an online experience. The image recognition software will make the link between the printed page and the online content. The marketer can curate this experience, ostensibly based on a two-way conversation between the brand and the potential client. (After all, once you’re online, you can experience something and then respond to it in real time, and the online software can then tailor the ensuing experience to your needs and requests.)

In short, then, Pellow’s article says you can “enhance the fan experience by creating an interactive experience with signage and event programs” (“Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World”). These static printed pieces become a doorway into a two-way conversation based on a multi-sensory experience. “The event programs could take attendees on instant journeys from the printed page to photos, videos, statistics, and historical performances of their favorite players using a clean, markless method” (“Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World”).

What makes this especially effective, as Pellow notes, is that brands can then monitor sports fans’ online responses to the digital content and then tailor successive marketing campaigns based on this user feedback. And it is a truism that the more a brand learns from a potential client through such interaction, and the more relevant the brand can therefore make all subsequent interactions, the more likely a prospective customer will be to buy the brand’s product or service (in this case perhaps the tickets for a future sporting event).

The Take Away: What You Can Learn from This Article

I think “Clickable Paper: An Alternative for Opening the Door to the Omni-Channel World” holds far-reaching implications for all brands in all sales sectors, not just sporting events. Here’s my logic based on Pellow’s article:

  1. Events, products, and services are in many cases getting more expensive. This is true for both necessities and entertainment.
  2. People will still pay for an engaging, emotionally satisfying experience.
  3. The marketing materials (i.e., commercial printing products) have actually become part of this experience, just as an enjoyable, in-store interaction when buying a television in Best Buy can increase the buyer’s total “spend.”
  4. Therefore, as a marketing professional, your goal is to create an engaging, memorable event.
  5. You now have more tools than before, including both custom printing products and digital technology.
  6. If you blend the two, playing to the strengths of each, your chance of “Wow’ing” your clients increases, in part because you are involving more of the potential customer’s senses (not only the tactile sense evoked by commercial printing but also the visual and aural senses engaged by online media).
  7. Blended media (multi-channel, or many-channel; or omni-channel, all channel) works better than either print or digital alone. Your chances of intensely engaging the potential consumer increases significantly if you carry your brand message across multiple media.
  8. To go beyond Pellow’s article, I would say that her paradigm for omni-channel marketing will enhance not only marketing for sports events but pretty much for anything you can imagine.
  9. I think the next step, which is already under way, is to bring virtual reality into the mix. After all, now that I’m seeing more VR headsets in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent, it seems that virtual reality is becoming more commonplace. And up to this point, I can’t think of any experience that’s more immersive than virtual reality.

Who knows, in the very near future you might strap on a VR headset, slip your camera phone into the goggles, point your phone at a QR code on the side of a building, and be transported into a mind-bending VR experience—for a football game, or for anything else you can imagine.

Smart marketers will take note.

Posted in Integrated Marketing | 4 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Added Paper Coatings

July 22nd, 2019

Posted in Paper Coatings | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Added Paper Coatings

I received an email link to a commercial printing website this week. Being curious in matters of custom printing, I followed the link to a blog about this vendor’s options for cover coatings, or, more specifically, UV coating options.

This motivated me to do some more research into cover coating options. Here are a few things you might consider when specifying cover coatings.

Coated and Uncoated Paper

First of all, commercial printing paper can be categorized as either coated or uncoated. Coated paper has an extra transparent coating over its entire surface that is composed of such materials as calcium carbonate, kaolinite, and talc. This coating keeps printing ink up on the surface of the press sheet rather than allowing it to seep into the fibers of the paper. (This is called “ink holdout,” and it allows for crisp, heavily coated ink solids, precise type letterforms, and detailed photos.) Such paper coatings come in various surface textures: dull, matte, satin, and gloss. Gloss coating makes photos “pop.” Matte coating or dull coating makes text easy to read.

The other option, uncoated paper, is ideal for text-heavy print books or even annual reports, particularly if your goal is to present an environmentally friendly tone. Uncoated paper feels softer, and photos printed on uncoated paper will be a little less crisp (softer) than the same images printed on a coated press sheet. This is because the ink seeps into the underlying paper fibers.

So there are good reasons to choose both coated and uncoated printing paper. It all depends on your design goals.

Additional Paper Coatings

Once you have selected a press stock for your job, you can also choose to add an additional paper coating. For the most part, however, you would choose to do this only if you’re using a coated press sheet. This is because surface coatings seep into uncoated paper, leaving the surface either looking like it has no coating or looking unevenly coated.

(To understand this, think about what it would be like to paint on a sponge. You would not end up with an even, coated surface. The paint would just be absorbed into the cellulose fibers of the sponge.)

If you choose to add a paper coating to a press sheet, you have a number of surface textures to choose from and materials with which to do the coating, and you can produce a number of artistic effects with the coating.

To start with the goals, you would usually coat a press sheet to protect the printed ink. For instance, if you have heavy ink coverage on the cover of a print book, you might want to add a cover coating to protect the ink from scuffing. Scratches, or even fingerprints and other damage from the oils in your hands, can diminish the pristine quality of a printed piece. It can look old fast. A cover coating can minimize this damage, even over time and under heavy use.

Another goal might be to highlight elements of a design. For instance, if you print your job on a matte or dull press sheet and then “spot” coat the photos with a gloss coating, your photos will appear to jump off the page. You can do the same thing with type or a solid block of ink. (For instance, you might want to spot gloss coat a large initial capital letter on a page of your printed job.)

Regarding materials, you have a number of options for coating paper: varnishing, aqueous coating, UV coating, and laminating. In most cases you would choose one of these based on the surface texture you want, the overall cost (some options are more expensive), and the level of durability you need.

Varnish is similar to commercial printing ink without color. It is transparent. You would print a varnish using one of the printing units on your offset press. Therefore, you might choose to either flood the press sheet with the gloss or dull varnish (for protection or a particular sheen or smoothness), or you might choose to spot coat the sheet (to highlight only the photos, for instance).

On the downside, however, over time a varnish can yellow, changing the perceived color of the paper it covers. Varnish is the cheapest option, but it may be wise to use it primarily for items that do not need to last very long (such as a postcard that will be read and then discarded).

Your next option is liquid aqueous coating, which is applied with a coating tower at the end of a commercial printing press. (This is called “in-line coating,” as opposed to “off-line coating,” which refers to coating added after the job has been printed and has dried.) Being an aqueous product, aqueous coating is environmentally friendly. However, you would use aqueous coating primarily as a “flood coating,” in part because its application is not as precise as the application of a varnish. However, by using an aqueous coating, you avoid any problems with yellowing that varnish can present. Aqueous coating is also more durable than varnish.

UV coating is a third option. This liquid is usually applied “off line,” after the printed job has dried and on different coating equipment (sometimes by a different vendor altogether). It can be applied as a flood coating or a spot coating, and it can be one of the shiniest options you can choose (it can be glossier than varnish, for example). UV coating dries instantly (this is actually called “curing”) once it is exposed to UV light. Once cured, UV coating is inert (and therefore environmentally friendly).

A fourth option is lamination (think of menus in a pancake house, which must take a lot of abuse and be wiped clean with a wet sponge repeatedly). Lamination is applied off line. It comes in a number of thicknesses (from 1.2 mils to 10 mils or more). Lamination is expensive. (UV coating and aqueous coating are less expensive, and varnish is cheap.) If your print job has a long press run, lamination can add a considerable cost. It can also add considerable weight to a printed product, which can drive up mailing (i.e., postage) costs.

Things to Consider

Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a paper coating:

  1. Varnish can be tinted with a little ink. This can provide a film of transparent color, which can be used for subtle, ghosted images. However, as noted before, it will yellow over time. The yellowing is more noticeable over unprinted paper than over process inks.
  2. Aqueous coatings have a higher abrasion resistance than varnish. They can also be smoother and shinier than varnish. Because they seal the underlying press sheet entirely, they can keep air away from metallic inks, keeping them from tarnishing. If your printer can specially formulate the aqueous coatings, you can write on them with a No. 2 pencil or overprint them with a laser printer. (Otherwise, you need to “knock out”–or omit varnish or aqueous coating from–any area that must be written on or mechanically addressed.) Finally, aqueous coatings are best on thicker press sheets. Thin press sheets (one article says less than 80# text) may curl or wrinkle.
  3. Aqueous and UV coatings can chemically interact with the underlying inks (certain hues like Reflex Blue and Rhodamine Violet have changed or burned out or bled, according to some of the articles I read). Time, heat, and exposure to light can cause these changes to occur, sometimes suddenly, up to months or years after the press run.
  4. UV coatings come in a lot of different surface textures (as noted on the printer’s website I mentioned at the beginning of this article). The particular custom printing vendor who sent me the link includes “soft feel,” “rubber feel,” and “sandpaper” among their offerings. This can be especially exciting depending on how it is used. For instance, no online advertisement can be as dramatic as a print ad for an oceanfront property with a spot sandpaper UV coating over the sandy beach in the photo. That said, UV coatings can be tricky. Some printers want to only use them with UV inks; others require that the underlying inks be wax free and be allowed to dry completely before the application of the UV coating. Some recent ink developments involve hybrid inks that minimize drying problems and surface texture problems when used with UV coatings.

The Takeaway

Ask your commercial printing supplier for samples of any paper coatings you are considering. See exactly what they will look like before you commit to one coating or another.

Ask about any potential liabilities (drying problems, yellowing, etc.).

Ask about the potential for cracking if the print job folds and the coating extends across the folds.

Consider the cost (and the press run length). Choose an option that fits your budget.

Also consider any weight a thick coating (like laminating film) can add if you plan to mail your printed product.

Posted in Paper Coatings | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Added Paper Coatings

Book Printing: Read the Fine Print in the Contract

July 14th, 2019

Posted in Printing Contracts | Comments Off on Book Printing: Read the Fine Print in the Contract

It could be argued that nothing is more boring to read than a contract, except perhaps an insurance policy. However, if you buy commercial printing for a living, it behooves you to at least skim the contract looking for a number of key agreements between you and the custom printing vendor. It will save you money, undue surprise, and overall stress.

First of all, if you’re buying a commercial printing job like the printing of a brochure, you may never see a contract. I regularly get pricing for small jobs in the body of an email. Granted, even this is a contract, but the more lengthy contracts usually accompany estimates for book printing. I’m not sure why, although I’ve noticed this for the past (almost) 30 years I’ve been buying printing. Perhaps it’s because book printing costs tend to be high when compared to many final bills for commercial (non-book) print jobs.

What to Look For

I received a book printing bid today accompanied by a section entitled “Terms.” “Terms and Conditions” and “Printing Trade Customs” are other phrases to look for because these address such issues as who pays for delivery, who is responsible for damages during delivery, what kind of “overage” you can expect to pay for, and other, similar issues.

First of all, anything entitled “Trade Customs” or “Printing Trade Customs” or any similar language will be broad in scope because it will usually pertain to agreements considered reasonable across the entire commercial printing industry. It may help you to contact your printer, request such a listing, and familiarize yourself with it.

“Printing Trade Customs” boilerplate language usually addresses such matters as who owns the intermediate work of a print job (after you submit files and before the job delivers). When negatives of book pages were produced (prior to direct to plate) and these negatives were stored, a printer’s policy on this matter would be useful to know if you, as a print buyer, ever required reprints of a job.

Now, in a completely digital world, it helps to know for how long your printer will store your electronic files. For instance, a print brokering client of mine regularly reprints selections from her 28-copy color swatch book series. These are fashion color print books (like PMS swatch books but specifically for choosing fashion and make-up colors). Each book is 118 pages plus cover in length. For my client, it helps that the book printer saves all of my client’s master copies on his digital storage drives.

To initiate this last reprint, all my client had to do was upload one revised PDF file of one page for one of the 28 master books, and then approve the proofs for all master books and release the job to print. If the printer didn’t have a policy for saving customer art files for a certain length of time, my client would have to resubmit the 28-master-copy job each time.

So issues such as these are often addressed in the boilerplate printing contract language, and it is therefore wise to familiarize yourself with the wording and its meaning.

File Submission Guidelines

To get back to the “Terms” section I received today with a book estimate, this particular document addresses file submission guidelines (how to prepare PDF files for the text and whether to submit native InDesign files for the cover of the print book job). The contract sent me to a website describing all PDF parameters and presumably offering downloadable “plug-in” files to set up the documents in ways compatible with the printer’s prepress workflow software.

The document also notes that the first half hour of system time the printer must spend to fix any problems in my file is free, but that additional time will be billed at $50.00 per hour. This is noteworthy for two reasons. It shows that submitting accurate, press-ready art files will save you money, checking the files a few times to cull out the errors will save you money, and retrieving any problematic files from the printer to fix yourself will save you money. Fortunately, this particular printer will notify you if file repairs will exceed one hour of their system time.

Printing Issues You Didn’t Mention in the RFQ

You may have forgotten to mention the heavy ink coverage or bleeds when you sent specs to the book printer and requested an estimate. It’s easy to forget this. But in this particular printer’s “Terms” section, the printer notes that upon receipt of the files, if there are any inconsistencies between your specs and the actual job, revised pricing will be sent to you before the job begins.

Granted, it’s better to know this before you get the final bill, but you can always avoid this surprise (sticker shock) by specifying all bleeds, heavy coverage, halftones, die cutting, foil stamping, and anything else that might cost extra money. If you’re not sure of what to include, then it’s smart to print out a laser copy of your job (selected pages, if it’s a book), mark these up with notations on color usage, cover coating, bleeds, and such, and then send the hard-copy sample to the printer.

You can also send a printed sample if you’re looking for a special effect, like a particular cover coating or perhaps a sculpted embossing job.

More Boilerplate Contract and “Terms” Language

“Materials prices are subject to the market rate” means that if paper prices go up, you cover the increased cost. A good way to control this cost is to keep your bids current. Most bids become stale (out of date) within a certain period of time. (The estimate I received today says the pricing is good for 45 days.) However, even within this time, if there’s a spike in paper prices, I’ll have to pay for it (or my client will). This is all “industry standard” language.

The “Terms” section also notes that I can be charged for 10 percent overs or credited for 10 percent unders. If I absolutely need a certain number of copies of a job (i.e., no unders), I’ll usually have to accept more overs than standard. (In this regard, 10 percent overs/unders is the norm.) Some printers don’t charge for overs. Others only charge for a lower number, such as 3 percent overs.

It’s prudent to discuss this with your printer early in the process, particularly if you can’t accept fewer than your requested number. (Let’s say you have a 3,000-name mailing list and you order exactly 3,000 brochures, but your printer shorts you by 300. That’s a problem—but it’s probably still industry-standards compliant. So discuss this early.

Also, look for the word “tolerance” in your contract. This is an important word. It means the acceptable amount of error for a trim, for instance. Post-press cutting equipment isn’t perfect. For this particular printer (according to the contract I received), a 1/8” error is acceptable. To you, this means that you should keep any page numbers (folios) or any other printed matter away from the trim edge. Or you might lose it or part of it to the trimmer.

Also, remember that for successive folds and trims, folding and trimming errors become magnified.

“FOB Printer’s Plant” means the printer puts the job on the freight carrier truck at his press plant, but then it is no longer his responsibility. Personally, I like to have the printer arrange for the freight. Then the job is mine only after it has been delivered to me or my client.

Usually under “Terms” (as is the case with the contract I received today), the printer notes the cost of using a credit card as payment. In this case it’s three percent. This just means he is passing on to me what Visa charges him.

Finally, this particular “Terms” contract notes that if something goes wrong, the printer is only liable for the print job, not lost sales or any other damages. This is how this relates to you: If your job has to be somewhere at a particular time or it’s useless (let’s say a particular marketing brochure), it’s up to you to work out a schedule that both you and the printer can meet. If the job is delivered late, you can’t sue for lost sales.

What You Can Learn From This “Terms” Document

Be forewarned. This is just a sampling of information that could probably fill multiple books on printing contracts. I just pulled a few terms from the contract I received this morning. The best way for you to be prepared is to request such a document from your printer and read it carefully. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to get several contracts from several printers.

Also, Google “Printing Trade Customs” online and see what comes up. Think of all this research as an investment, and expect it to be a process you spread over a number of years, learning a little bit at a time. But do make it a practice to learn the trade customs. It will save you money.

“Plan B” is to be proactive. Write everything down. Compose your own spec sheet and job description. Print out a complete laser copy of the job (as mentioned before) with notations for color placement, tabs, die cuts, bleeds, cover coating, varnish, etc., etc, etc. Then collect any relevant printed samples, and meet with your printer to discuss everything.

In fact, the best thing you can do to avoid surprises is to consult your printer early in the process and follow up often thereafter.

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Custom Printing: A “Look Book” for Choosing Illustrators

July 7th, 2019

Posted in Illustration | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A “Look Book” for Choosing Illustrators

My fiancee and I love thrift stores. In fact, there is seldom a question of what we want to do when we have free time. She likes the clothes, and I like the print books.

That said, my fiancee always looks for books relevant to our art therapy work with the autistic, and this week she found The Directory of Illustration 26 produced by Serbin Communications, Inc.

Granted, this particular edition is from 2008 (that’s what you get at thrift stores), but it illustrates (so to speak) a number of things about acquiring the rights to reprint images in your own publications work. It also provides good ideas for artwork, and it even says something about the persistence of print books.

A Description of the Print Book

The Directory of Illustration 26 is a case-bound volume, over 550 pages in length, full color throughout, printed on what feels like 80# or 100# gloss text. It is massive, almost two inches thick (given the combination of the luxurious paper and the ample page count). The binding indicates that it is also made to last.

Let’ start with the purpose of the book. Beautifully printed in full color, this is a “look book” for illustrators. When you are an art director or graphic artist, you may or may not be an illustrator as well. They are two separate disciplines, just as being a graphic designer and being a photographer are two separate professions. If you are designing magazine spreads, for instance, and you want to provide a visual interpretation of the editorial content, you might need an illustrator, particularly if your subject matter has more of a fantastical or interpretive nature than photography can capture.

So how do you proceed? This book is, for the most part, broken down into groups of illustrators represented by specific agencies. The agents negotiate the financial terms, while the artists they represent focus on creating art. Essentially, you page through the book to select particular styles of illustration that appeal to you (based on drawing skill, style of rendering subject matter, color usage, overall creative vision—whatever criteria you choose). You may even choose based on subject matter. (For instance, if you are producing a medical journal, you may need illustrators well versed in both artistic anatomy—how to draw heads and hands–and the particulars of drawing internal organs, cells, and such.)

The key here is that not all illustrators do everything, just as not all designers are also illustrators or photographers.

Once you understand that this print book is a directory, you’ll understand why the paper is bright and heavy and why the binding is so sturdy. In essence, this is a book that will be used heavily for at least a year. It will probably either be in the design studio as a reference for all designers in a design firm or in the possession of only the art director. It is a reference book. Moreover, it is also an advertisement for each and every illustrator it represents. Illustrators make their money acquiring new clients through print books like this. And agents make their commissions representing them. Regarding the bright blue-white paper, the brightness and whiteness make the transparent printing inks “pop.” So the images jump off the page. And the thickness of the paper suggests luxury and opulence.

The History of Illustration Directories

But why not do all of this online?

Back in the 1990s, when I was an art director/production manager, all of the books like these were, well, books. When the photo editor came into my office and suggested that we acquire stock images (set-up shots he himself didn’t have time to do) on CD or via the Internet, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. As an art director, I was used to going to brick-and-mortar picture agencies (in physical buildings) and reviewing the 35mm slides they gave me based on my specific content requests. A new alternative at the time was to page through books, such as these, containing photos and illustrations.

Now all of this is online. You just type in a few words to search for specific content or styles, and you’re on your way. That said, I still think some graphic designers and art directors enjoy paging through well-designed “look books” (which are essentially portfolios of artists’ work) to make their decisions, particularly if their own work will show up in physical form. (After all, computer screens are backlit, so the images appear brighter than they do in print. Personally, I’d choose illustrators for print books from just such a print book—if these “talent directories” still exist.)

How to Pay for These Images

Back when I was an art director, we had in-house photographers. They took candid photos of the educational programs our business offered. But once in a while we needed more specific and perhaps more stylized images for print book covers. So we often staged these. We did photo shoots, with special lighting and perhaps a model. We created the image we wanted in a tailored way, in contrast to the candid images, which were more reportage than stylistic images.

Once in a while we needed photos from other parts of the world for the print book covers, to illustrate the global content of these particular books. This is when we approached picture agencies. Later, we choose photos from books like The Directory of Illustration 26 (in my case photography rather than illustration). Then you could buy generic photos and illustrations on CDs offered in stores or on the Internet. Now you would do the same thing by choosing images online.

But the key to all of this is that depending on what you would buy, you would pay on a different scale.

In the most generic sense of photos and illustrations, if you got it for free (or on a CD), the image was generic, and anyone could use it. Now, you can start your search for free images through Creative Commons (look online). Many of these images are specifically offered without royalties, but do be careful and read the fine print. If you break the copyright laws you can be sued. Understandably. Photographers and illustrators work hard to make these images, and they deserve payment.

Other images are “rights managed” or “royalty free.” When I was choosing images at picture agencies for book covers, the payment (royalties) for use of the images (because we didn’t own the images; we just had purchased rights to reproduce them in specific ways) were based on the following:

  1. How many copies were we printing?
  2. Was the image to be used in the text of the book or on the cover of the book?
  3. Was the publication intended for marketing use, or was it an editorial publication?

Most of what we bought at the time was “rights manged.” We had to follow the parameters noted above, but there was almost no chance that other people/marketers/organizations were using the same images. We paid a premium for this, and the reproduction rights were for a limited time.

In other cases we would buy an image that was more generic, with fewer use constraints, for far less money. In both cases we had to credit the photographer or illustrator in a particular way in the publication (very visibly), but we had more flexibility. In paying less money, we also knew that many other non-profit and for-profit organizations (our competition) were also using the exact same image.

What You Can Learn from This Illustration Directory

As a designer or art director, you can’t do it all. It’s often cheaper to pay to use images (either illustrations or photos) than to hire a staff illustrator or photographer.

Regardless of what you do, read the contracts carefully. (And ask about all options, not just rights managed and royalty-free contracts). Don’t assume that even old images from, let’s say, the Great Depression, are out of copyright, or that everything you think is “Creative Commons” is in fact free to use. Also, keep to the contract, to the letter, regarding how you use the image, whether you alter it and how, whether you use the image to sell something. In short, follow the contract.

And if you’re hiring an illustrator (through a book like The Directory of Illustration 26, or through an online contact), get several estimates, check samples, but also make sure the style in which the illustrator works (the overall look of the illustrations) matches the brand image you’re trying to convey. That is, choose a medical illustrator for medical images, or choose a more simplistic illustration design for a children’s book and perhaps a more realistic or stylized approach for a print book for adults.

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Book Printing: Why Skill in Typesetting Is Important

July 1st, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

One of my new clients is a “wordsmith.” She helps authors get their books into print and then promotes them. I have a lot of respect for her. Just recently, though, as I understand her situation, a new client of hers asked her to not only edit the text of his print book but also lay it out in MS Word. He wanted to save money by not paying a designer to lay out the text of the book (fortunately, he did pay for a professionally designed cover).

I want to clarify the direction in which my thoughts are going. My client referred to the text design of the print book as “desktopping.” This term, in itself, does not carry the weight of the skill and experience of the proper term, “book designer.” In fact, it is easy to assume that just because one can process the words of a print book, add photos, add a table of contents, and such, that this is of the same caliber as the product created by an experienced designer who understands typography, layout, page grids, the use of white space, and all the myriad of nuances that make a professionally designed book aesthetically appealing (and easier to read).

When I started in the field of publications management, back in the late 1970s, I would take the manuscripts for the magazine (I was the managing editor) to the typesetter. She produced galleys (a photographic process of setting each line of type on a dedicated computer). These were then physically pasted up on grid paper based on a mock-up of the design that I had created. (The key here is that the typesetter did nothing but set type. She was an expert in this aspect of publishing.)

Granted, this was before desktop publishing, which democratized publication design by making it “possible” for anyone to produce text. But the typesetter understood the various classifications of type, how the type letterforms differed, why to choose one over another, and how to “tweak” type with such precise controls as kerning and tracking. She also understood such elements of design as adding letterspacing (moving successive lines of type slightly apart to improve readability).

The designer who then pasted up the magazine also understood these elements of design. She knew exactly how to specify these type nuances and communicate directly with the typesetter such that both professionals could work together to create a readable, attractive magazine based on the paper mock-up I had taped together (using photocopies of the strips of typeset manuscript—the galleys). Everyone understood their own and everyone else’s job. Everyone could communicate based on this understanding. But since everyone’s respective job differed from everyone else’s and since each required a depth of knowledge not held by the others, it took all of the participants to produce a quality magazine.

Then, in the late 1980s, everything changed. At that point, everything could be done on a desktop computer. Granted, this made the publishing process faster, easier, and cheaper. Untrained staff could produce a newsletter for next to nothing. For certain things, that’s great. (I’m a great believer in doing what is necessary in a particular situation, neither more nor less. For certain publishing tasks, good enough is good enough. Most people won’t see the difference. When I started in the field, I couldn’t tell the difference.)

Back to My Client

I don’t want to disparage my client. I think she is wonderful and highly skilled. However, in order to help her prepare the text for her client’s print book (with me working as her commercial printing broker), I have had to teach her to look closely for a number of things. Catching and correcting these errors will make her client’s book look more professional and be easier to read. If you are new to design, these are some things you might want to consider as well, whenever you design a print book:

  1. My client set the entire book—excluding the cover–in MS Word rather than InDesign. Some printers won’t accept MS Word files. When processed in prepress, some MS Word files can apparently develop problems. I believe these include reflowing of copy and/or potential inadvertent font changes. This may have been addressed and corrected in the recent past, but I was always taught by printers to use InDesign or Quark. Typesetting functions of these dedicated page composition software packages are more nuanced and more precise. In my client’s case, she will save the MS Word file as a PDF (which should eliminate problems, or at least keep them from creating unexpected results). However, I have asked the printer to check the files carefully as well. When my client reviews the hard-copy proofs of the print book, she will also be able to look for any anomalies (changed fonts or reflowed copy). But if she had used InDesign, there would have been far less opportunity for error.
  2. The Takeaway
    Always use a dedicated page composition program for laying out your publication, brochure, or any other commercial printing job. Don’t use Microsoft Publisher. Don’t use Illustrator. Don’t use Photoshop. Use InDesign or Quark.

  3. My client set the text of the book justified, without hyphenation. Therefore, MS Word either jammed words together (with too little word-spacing) or put too few words on a line (sometimes only three words with large spaces in between). This minimizes readability, because the spaces between words are so different from line to line throughout the 428 pages of the book. And minimized readability tires the reader’s eyes, making it less likely that she or he will continue reading. Moreover, if the type looks amateurish, people will question the accuracy of the content. It’s like a bad proofreading job. If your manuscript has spelling errors or errors in grammar, the reader will wonder whether the facts in the print book are also incorrect. It’s human nature. In fact, it may not always even be conscious. And at best, it slows down the reader’s progress.
  4. The Takeaway
    Avoid justified text whenever possible. Flush left/ragged right text is easier to read because the space between words is always the same. The reader’s eye gets used to this, and she or he gets into a reading “rhythm,” proceeding more quickly through the text. If you have to justify copy, use hyphenation to minimize differences in word spacing. But also carefully review the text (on a printout, not the computer screen) to identify problematic lines of type (which create a condition known as “rivers of white” running down the page).

  5. My client left some subheads at the bottom of pages without the paragraphs to which they referred.
  6. The Takeaway
    Make separate review passes through the entire print book text, looking for a number of errors and inconsistencies: in hyphenation, spacing between lines of type and particularly between typographic elements such as bulleted items (anything where the spacing is different from that of the running text). Make sure there are no “widows” or “orphans” (parts of words at the beginning or end of pages). Leave subheads with at least a few lines of the following paragraph, and start a new page with at least a few lines of copy.

  7. My client kept all photos as RGB images in a book text file that was for a black-ink-only print job. While the digital printer will automatically convert these to grayscale (black and white halftones), some of my client’s images will become too dark in this transition. So I have asked her to change the mode from RGB to grayscale and re-import the images. This way she will see how she can expect the final printed images to look. If they are too dark, she can lighten them before sending the job to press.
  8. The Takeaway
    Never send a color job to press with RGB images. Images for print should be CMYK (if the book is full color). For black-ink-only text blocks, always use grayscale, not color or bitmapped, images.

  9. On the title page, my client did not kern the letter pair “Wa” (in the word “War”). In large type, pairs of letters such as “Wa”–or, worse, “WA”–will appear to be too far apart. In my client’s case, this looked amateurish because of the size of the type (the title of the book on the title page). The type size magnified the flaw.
  10. The Takeaway
    In your own work, print out a copy of the text, and look for too much space in the pairs of letters, particularly in larger type. Learn how to tighten type using the “kerning” function (again, something like this will be superior in InDesign and Quark because these applications are intended for typesetting).

Why Is This Important?

Everything you design, print, and distribute is an ad. It reflects the quality of your work. If your type design looks amateurish, this will make your reader question the accuracy of the content, at worst, or tire his/her eyes, at best.

What’s the Most Important Thing You Can Do to Avoid These Problems?

Study typography. Learn the difference between Old Style, Transitional, and Modern typeface classifications. Learn to kern type. Make the study of type an interesting, lifelong pursuit. Understand how typography fits into the overall design of a printed piece. Look at printed jobs you like and try to articulate why they are attractive. Expect your knowledge base to grow and expand, but assume this will take time. If you don’t have the time, hire a professional designer (not a “desktopper”), and then focus on what you yourself do best.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Disc Binding, a New Bindery Option

June 24th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 6 Comments »

In commercial printing, I’m almost never surprised by new technologies, whether these involve closed-loop sensors that use computer feedback on a press to keep color accurate, or new printing technologies such as the ink transfer method called Nanography. I’m always excited by these things. But in post-press finishing and binding equipment, I’m more surprised by new technology. Somehow I expect to always see the perfect binding, saddle stitching, velo binding, tape binding, GBC (or plastic comb) binding, post-binding, and plastic coil binding I’ve grown used to over the past 40+ years.

But I’m happy to be wrong.

A friend and colleague sent me an article this week about a new binding technology called disc binding. I have actually seen samples before in stationery stores, but until now I haven’t looked at the new technology closely.

What Is Disc Binding?

If you can picture a disc with an extended rim, like a wheel, that extends beyond the central disc on both sides, you’re well on your way to grasping this concept. Disc binding is similar to the three-ring binding of a notebook, but the rigid wire loop has been replaced by a series of solid discs with extended rims.

To bind a notebook with this new method, you hook pre-punched pages onto the ridge on the disks. The pages, when punched, have holes and little tabs that will grasp the ridge of the discs, which can be applied one by one, every inch or every few inches down the length of the bind edge. Even though this sounds like a lot of work to set up, it is similar to a binder in that you can easily remove pages and reorder them within the notebook.

Presumably, you would then add a cover at both ends of the stack of pages. Just like the interior pages, the covers are also pre-punched with little tabs that grasp the extended ridges of the disks.

If you want to add your own pages, you can buy a notebook hole punch that will match the pre-cut holes on commercially produced pages.

What Are the Benefits?

When I first saw these little books in the stationery store, I could see some benefits. Compared to a three-ring binder (even a small one), a disc bound notebook is slim, compact, and attractive. Clearly the designers wanted to make this an aesthetically appealing product.

You can also fold back the covers, which you cannot do with a three-ring binder. Therefore, writing in a disc bound book takes a lot less space. (Your “footprint” on the desk, if you will, is much smaller.) Of course, you can also do this with a spiral bound book, a Wire-O bound book, or a plastic coil bound book.

Unlike a spiral bound book, however, facing pages of a disc bound book (when laid open, flat on a table) exactly align with one another. If you have any image or text extending from a left-hand to a right-hand page, this can be a benefit. (It’s impossible with a spiral wire book because of the ascending/descending nature of a spiral. Facing pages will always be just slightly out of alignment with one another.)

With traditional mechanical binding methods (which include GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, spiral, velo, tape binding, and notebook ring binding), you often have size limitations. If, for instance, you have a long print book, the page count may exceed the capacity of the binding method.

Let’s say the book printer tells you your 400+ page print book won’t fit the minimal binding capacity of a plastic coil. In this case, even though the plastic coil is more aesthetically appealing, you may need to move to GBC binding (which is a plastic coiled comb that curls through the holes punched in the collated paper sheets of your book). In my experience, this binding method can cause problems, since pages often come unhooked from a GBC bound print book. It’s also a very cumbersome process to unhook the plastic comb and then add sheets of paper to the print book.

If you’re using the disc binding system, it is much easier to expand the capacity of the rings. You can just replace them (swap out .5” rings with 1.5” rings, for instance). This is easier and more aesthetically appealing, and it allows you to add, remove, or reorder pages when you swap out the rings. So overall, assembling the disc bound books is an easier process than assembling traditional, mechanically bound print books.

Unlike some other mechanical binding methods, disc bound books also lie perfectly flat. This isn’t even true about most perfect-bound books, not to mention print books with mechanical bindings, like post binding, tape binding, and velo binding (all of which grip the pages with enough pressure to limit your ability to open the book so the pages lie flat). With disc binding, you can easily lay your book flat on the table, making writing in it a breeze.

Another benefit is the variety of cover materials, including textured, leather, and poly. Presumably, since the process is easy and the styles are standardized, you can swap out these covers at will.

Is It Ready for Primetime?

As with all new technology, from Barry Landa’s Nanography to the science behind the HP Indigo press (light years ahead of its cousin, the photocopier), things take time to become useful.

Currently disc binding does not come in all sizes. I’ve seen reference to 5.5” x 8.5” and 8.5” x 11” formats. In contrast, you can make a spiral bound book almost any size you want. Then again, three-ring notebooks also only come in standard sizes. But unlike three-ring binders, disc binding is based on adding a new ring every inch or every few inches based on the length of the book’s spine.

It seems to me that you would have a lot more flexibility with this overall concept than with the three-ring binder model. After all, the rings in a ring binder are attached to a metal strip running down the book’s interior spine. This has to be a fixed length. In contrast, with disc binding you can add more or fewer discs as needed (based on spine length), and there’s no need for the fixed-length “metal” (as the mechanism holding the binder rings in a three-ring binder is called).

Another problem is that disc bound books have no spine on which to print a book title. Now this doesn’t need to be a problem. After all, only a few of the mechanical bindings I have mentioned have spines. These include the three-ring binder (onto which you can screen print a title) and GBC binding (plastic comb binding), which also provides a screen-printable spine. In contrast, Wire-O, spiral wire, velo-binding, tape binding, and plastic coil binding do not have printable spines.

Final Thoughts

I realize that disc bound books, at the present moment, are high-design novelties you can buy one at a time at stationery stores. That’s their current purpose: a one-off product. That said, I personally look at the technology as a book printer might and ask how these can be used for long runs of print books.

In my experience, mechanical binding has always been the choice for short-run products (prior to the advent of digital commercial printing and short-run binding). For instance, a corporation hosting a seminar might produce 100 bound reports or workbooks for an event, and the technology of choice might be GBC binding.

For longer runs, mechanical binding has never been quite as efficient (i.e., it costs more per unit) because mechanical binding is usually labor intensive (i.e., it requires a lot of hand work). It also does not look as crisp and professional as the automated bindery methods (such as perfect binding).

That said, I can envision a seminar leader passing out disc bound workbooks. Since they’re so futuristic in design, this would even reflect well on the company brand. In fact, I can see disc binding potentially replacing many of the other mechanical bindings due to its ease of use.

When it comes to competition with long-run automated binding, such as perfect binding and saddle stitching, I don’t think this technology is ready for prime time yet. However, I could be wrong. All it would take would be a robotic assembly system that could add all the binding discs to a book at the same time. And that is within the realm of possibility.

Posted in Book Printing | 6 Comments »

Book Printing: A Cover and Page Design Analysis

June 17th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

A consulting client of mine is a print book designer. She does work for government organizations like the World Bank and NATO. About five times a year, when she hits a snag in her book design, she brings me in to offer design suggestions. Having been a book designer myself at one point as well as an art director–and now working with my fiancee doing art therapy with the autistic–I can offer my consulting client (and long-time friend) a unique point of view.

My client’s strengths include her ability to balance simple page geometry (crisp, sparse design) with intriguing font usage, ample white space, and integrated color schemes. Keep in mind that the content of the print books is often rather dry, focusing on economic and social conditions in countries across the globe. So an approachable design that promotes readability is a major asset. This my client does well, and periodically I help.

The New Book Cover Design

In this instance, the print book addresses the ecology of a small African country, Malawi. My client sent me a PDF draft of her page design, including the cover and all interior text pages. She requested my design feedback since she felt the overall look could be improved.

To start with the cover, the design was based on a central photo of several people seated in a small boat. A man standing in the rear of the boat guided a long paddle back and forth to move the boat forward. Above this cover photo, my client had typeset the title of the book in an informal font that looked hand-drawn, and had then (for contrast) typeset the subhead in an austere, sans serif typeface.

One of the elements of the design that I felt worked well was the color scheme. This she had taken from the colors within the cover photo, the browns and greens and mustard color of the foliage behind the boat in the water. All together, these colors evoked an earthiness that was also reflected in the informal headline type. My client used a yellowish brown and then a dark brown (to emphasize words) in the coloration of the headline type, and then switched the placement of these two colors in the subhead (using the yellowish brown this time for emphasis).

What she achieved was the following. By using hues sampled from the photo to add color to the head and subhead, she unified the cover design. The type and photo shared a color scheme, providing a sense of balance and unity to the cover. For contrast, the bright green of some of the foliage in the photo stood out against the reds and browns and yellows (in both the type and photo). This is because green is the complement of the predominantly brownish red of the dark headline type. And because complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel, each of these hues will intensify the other when they are placed in close proximity.

In addition, the blue of the water was aesthetically pleasing next to the green of some of the foliage. (This is because green includes blue and yellow hues, so the two of them together create a sense of unity.) At the bottom right of the cover, my client placed the logos for the organization, which include bright blue elements. (These also fit nicely with the blue water and the green foliage.)

Moreover, the image of the boat on the water, the earth tones of the foliage beside the river in the photo, and the informal typeface for the headline all work together to create a natural, relaxed feel to the cover. Not only does this work on an aesthetic level, but it also makes what would otherwise be a dry textbook appear more inviting.

Inside the Print Book

My client then continued the color scheme of the cover within the book’s interior, using the yellowish brown and the dark brown in the heads, subheads, and callouts of the text. This unified the design of the cover and the text, particularly since my client also brought the casual cover headline type and sparse sans serif subhead type of the cover into the design of the print book’s interior.

To make the interior text approachable, my client used the sans serif typeface from the cover as the main typeface for the text. She created a page grid comprising either one or two columns (slightly offset toward the center of the book, leaving a larger scholar’s margin to the outside of the book pages). Within this scholar’s margin, my client placed the folios (page numbers) reversed out of what appeared to be a horizontal stroke of yellowish brown paint (with jagged edges like a brush stroke) in the same color she had used on the cover. And under any large heads at the top of the page (section headlines, for instance) she placed a rule made in the same fashion (like a swoosh of paint). The distressed and reversed type of the folios and the horizontal rule at the top of the page added to the approachable, informal feel of the print book while unifying the design of the interior pages and the cover layout.

As noted before, my client is very good at simple page geometry. She groups all related elements into simple geometric shapes to make their relationship immediately clear. In this case, my client did this by setting type in justified columns, in the sans serif type noted above, and with generous leading (extra space between lines of type). She also included generous amounts of white space around the columns of type (this allows the eye to rest periodically; it also helps the reader’s eye group the columns of type together visually and cognitively as being related).

As I now look at a string of my client’s book pages along the left panel of my computer screen, with the large book page in the adjoining window of the PDF page image, I can identify everything in the approximately 1” x 2” thumbnail images. By color, relative size, and placement in the generous surrounding white space, I can see what is a headline, a subhead, an initial capital letter, a run-in subhead, and text copy. Because the images are so small, I can’t even read the largest headlines, but I can identify the purpose of each chunk of type and each color. That is good design. Why? Because it leads the reader’s eye through each page. The reader never has to wonder what to read next.

And because the overall “look” of the cover is echoed throughout the text of the book, there is a sense of unity. The reader can be carried onward, from the cover to the front matter to all interior text pages of this print book.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Although I have read many books about book design, and design in general, what has taught me the most about the craft of design is actually looking at printed samples I like and learning to articulate why I like them. I would encourage you to do the same. Keep a file of brochures, books, and posters, or any other commercially printed items that appeal to you.

Then look at the typefaces, color usage, page layout grids, and paper choices, and think about how these were chosen to give a sense of visual unity to the printed piece.

Then consider the use of white space. White space is anything that is not subject matter (not images or type). Nevertheless, white space is just as important as the subject matter in conveying to the reader what visual elements are related as well as their levels of importance. Ideally, when you look at a print book or brochure, you should be able to identify the hierarchy of importance for all visual elements, even if the printed piece is in a language you don’t read or speak.

The best way to learn this craft is to study the design work of those who are better at it than you. That’s how I learned. In fact, I often look at this client’s design work and say to myself, “I wish I had done that.” She’s that good.

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

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