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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Custom Printing: Design Boxes with Folding Tolerances in Mind

July 27th, 2015

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

A commercial printing client of mine just received her job, which consisted of twelve short, saddle-stitched print books in a box. The books are 6” x 9” in format with four-color covers, and the slip case box they fit in is a four-color press sheet laminated to corrugated board.

I asked my client how the job looked when the samples arrived, and she expressed pleasure with the books but regret for the slightly off-center art on the box. She had received one sample of the job. The printer had mailed out all other sets to the address database list my client had provided.

Ouch. Few things bother me more than an unhappy client. So I asked her to send me photos of the box showing the art off center. I then sent these on to the commercial printing vendor who had done the work.

(First of all, I asked my client for photos rather than the box itself so I could immediately communicate with the printer. Picking up the box would have taken time. Sending the box to the printer would have taken additional time. Requesting photos as email attachments was much more immediate.)

A Description of the Corrugated Slip Case

To give you some context, the slip case is a little over three inches wide to accommodate twelve short print books. In the back it is a full 9” high, but this slopes downward in the front to about 6” to afford easy access to the books.

On the sides of the box are the front and back of a print book with text and photos promoting the books in the box (individual chapters from the larger text book). I could see that the covers were not exactly centered and were slightly tilted on the background PMS color. On the front of the slip case box, my client had included the title of the series; a list of the separate, bound chapters it includes; and the company logo (all in reverse type). The vertical axis of this centered list had not been precisely centered on the box panel, and all type was slightly tilted as well.

I could see why my client was not happy.

The Dieline of the Slip Case

To figure out what had happened, I checked the combined dieline/PDF proof of the box. This PDF image showed all paper flaps that would be folded in and glued to fabricate a completed box. It was incredibly complex with all of its flaps and glue tabs. The proof showed the exact placement of the images (front and back covers of the main book) on either side of the box, plus the art for the taller back panel and shorter front panel. I could see where the art should have landed (after printing, laminating, diecutting, folding, and gluing).

The Printer’s Response to the Photos

I want to note here that this custom printing vendor has always been candid with me. He has also always produced stellar products under unbelievably tight deadlines.

Because I trust the printer, I listened closely to his response. This is what he said after doing some research:

  1. Although he could see the lack of precision in the photos of the sample box, the other samples he had checked at the print shop were not off center or tilted. Probably the other 250+ boxes were ok. This was not a guarantee, however.
  2. The (separate) box printer/converter had had problems with the press run and had pulled out (and given to the main printer, my trusted associate) a number of rejects. Some were not that bad. My printer would make these available to my client if she received complaints and needed to send a new box or two to a dissatisfied client (i.e., the end user).
  3. And this was the sobering information the printer offered:

  4. Tolerances for box manufacturing are not as tight as for offset custom printing. Whereas an offset printer might provide a piece with a 1/16” or 1/32” leeway from perfect positioning of a printed element, a box manufacturer might have a 1/8” or 1/4” leeway, which would still be considered acceptable. Why? Because all of the die cutting, folding, and gluing operations will actually magnify and exacerbate the slightest deviation from perfect positioning. The multiple operations needed for box conversion will make a problem worse and worse.
  5. In future box designs, the printer said it would be safer to not place a rectangle (the book cover) in a position that would be obvious if there were any deviation from perfect placement.

Even though I was not happy, I could see the printer’s point. In book printing, this might be like placing a 12pt rule all the way around the perimeter of a book cover. Anything but the most precise trimming of the cover would make the printed rule around the cover look uneven. Since commercial printing is a physical process, and all printing and post printing (or finishing) operations magnify errors, it is wise to design with the limits of both offset lithography and post-press finishing operations in mind.

Granted, some boxes–perhaps most boxes–were closer to perfect, particularly after the box printer had removed the problematic slip cases. It was unfortunate that my client’s sample was not perfect. But just as I could see errors in printed maps becoming worse and worse as the multitude of folds magnified any errors in placement, I could see my printer’s point. But if I had not developed such a long-standing relationship with him over the years, I (and my client) might not have had such faith in his response.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. For complex jobs, only work with a printer you trust completely. If anything goes wrong, he will be more likely to tell you honestly what is the printer’s fault and what is considered acceptable, or within tolerance, for particular commercial printing and finishing operations.
  2. Expect box printing to not be perfect, due to the number of individual steps in the process that will magnify flaws. Design your printed product accordingly to minimize the effect of any misalignment.

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: A Striking Standee Design

July 24th, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Standees | Comments »

Having traveled in both the world of fine arts (my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic) and the graphic arts (as a designer, art director, and consultant, to name a few), I have come to firmly believe that a few principles of good design pertain to both.

In this light, I was struck today while installing one large format print standee at a movie theater by the design of another standee. It was unique. I had never seen anything like it, although it was simple. There was no artifice about it. It was simply good art.

The Standee

The standee was a three-dimensional collection of five cartoon characters from the movie Inside Out surrounded by the contour of a head. The contour of the head acted as a white frame around the activity inside. The frame was stylized and very sparse in its detail, in contrast to the strong primary colors and activity of the characters inside the frame.

Even the logotype for the title of the film was brassy and set on a slight angle. In contrast, the dominant white contour, which included almost no printing (just the date of the film) was massive (about a foot wide and a foot deep, extending all the way around the standee).

Why It Worked

I thought long and hard about why this standee appealed to me, as I assembled the three graphic boxes of the Fantastic Four large format print standee. I knew the answer rested on a few simple principles of art and design.

Here are some thoughts:

The Unique Format

The simple white outline of the head was sparse in design compared to the interior. This created contrast and tension, which capture viewer interest in a piece of fine art or graphic art. The stark white of the contour of the head also echoed the white of the movie title and tied the two together. (Repetition is another useful tool in both fine art and graphic art.)

I even saw similarities between this standee and the unprinted areas of a blind embossed design. In this case as well, a section of unprinted graphic can stand in dynamic contrast to its surroundings even without an image. This reflects the physicality of print. On the standee (as in an embossed design), the foot-wide and foot-deep contour both contains and balances the interior four-color image of the five chaotic characters. It acts almost like a wall, a definitive boundary, in its large size and simplicity.

The Contrast of Color Against White

Usually four-color imagery would be more dominant than a white area within a graphic design or fine arts painting. But the size and design of the white contour of the head invert this expectation, evoking interest and making the standee unique.

The Simplicity of the Form

From across the room, the first thing you see is see the outer contour of the head. At first sight, the overall design is simple, contained, almost rigid. The contrast between the noise and activity within the head and the solemnity of the head itself creates tension, which is a key element of a compelling design.

The Form Echoes the Meaning of the Movie

Form follows function. This is another element of good graphic design and fine art. A picture (painting, poster, or large format print standee) should be more than attractive. It should say something, and all graphic elements of the design should support this message.

I did some research into Inside Out. In Wikipedia the plot description notes:

“Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley and everyone else are guided by their emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The personified emotions live in … the control center inside Riley’s mind …. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues ….”

So, essentially, the rigid outer wall of the head contains the tumultuous emotions of the main character. And the structure of the design reflects this completely. That’s good art.

How You Can Apply This to Other Graphic Design Work

Here are some rules of thumb to consider:

  1. Make sure the design you create (everything from the overall form to the color usage to the typefaces to the imagery) supports the message. Whether you’re designing a brochure, a large format print poster, or a print book cover, you’re saying something. You’re making a statement. Make sure all elements of the design support this statement.
  2. Try something different. Color usually dominates white surroundings. Consider inverting this expectation to make your design unique.
  3. Consider sculptural ways to make your design stand out. The contour of the head acted as a frame or cookie cutter, with all of the action taking place inside the frame. You can do something similar with blind embossing or perhaps die cutting, or some other physical design process. Make your design a tactile experience. Consider making it three dimensional.
  4. Realize that a rigid structure containing a chaotic image creates tension and intense energy within a design (either fine art or graphic design). Consider ways to use contrast to create such energy.

These are a handful of simple design elements and tools for both fine art and graphic design. Used well, they can make your work stand out and shine.

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Standees | Comments »

Commercial Printing: Format Surprises Grab the Reader

July 21st, 2015

Posted in Greeting Cards | Comments »

One of the major attributes of good commercial printing design is that it surprises the viewer in some way. It tricks your eye or gives you something you didn’t expect.

The Mother’s Day Card

This concept came to mind as I was looking through the Mother’s Day cards at the grocery store, searching for something new for my fiancee’s mother. What I found was a card that broke the traditional mold of greeting cards. I’ll have to admit that the format is what did it. I don’t recall the content of the card, but I do remember the format.

Specifically, I have always seen and expected to see approximately 5” x 7” cards, give or take. Occasionally I have found huge cards (measured in feet rather than inches), but how do you mail something like this?

What I found in the grocery store was a traditionally sized card with a cute comment on the front cover and inside back cover, and then an arrow pointing to the bottom of the card along with a drawing of fingers, indicating that I should lift up the bottom of the page. The interior of the card, glued to the interior left and right pages, was a French-folded sheet that opened up into a mini poster. It got me. I had never seen anything like this. The design of the poster I had just opened grabbed my attention.

Unlike the huge greeting cards I had seen many years ago, and perhaps the three dimensional cards that contained objects (a miniature leather jacket attached to one such card), this mini poster had been one of the more original format designs. I thought it could be used for practically any holiday. It provided ample space for a powerful message. What made this original was the unexpected. Even when I lifted the flap I didn’t expect a poster twice the size of the original card.

Oblong Pocket Folder, Another Surprise

This concept also applies to the oblong pocket folder/brochure I have discussed in a few recent blog postings. My custom printing client chose a landscape (or oblong) format instead of the usual upright (or portrait) format. She did this because most of the collateral she had designed for her client had been horizontal, but when she asked my opinion of the design, I noted that for the pocket folder in particular, this would catch the reader’s attention because it is unusual. Most pocket folders are vertical. This horizontal format will stand out and attract attention.

Vertical Business Cards

The same holds true for business cards that are vertical rather than horizontal. We have been trained through the years to expect to see horizontal business cards. While this is fine (and we can easily process the information), the unexpected surprise of a vertical business card will make it memorable (if the design is striking as well). Fortunately, since we no longer use Rolodexes, this format will most likely not cause problems in saving the card for future use. (After all, how do you insert a vertical card in a Rolodex–i.e., on its side–and still read it easily thereafter?)

An Accordion Fold Greeting Card

About thirty years ago with the help and encouragement of my boss, a designer, I produced a card that was about 27” long and 4” high. It had six panels, three on either side. When you opened up the accordion fold, you saw the Washington Monument on its side, extending the entire length of the card. The card was an invitation to a business party, and right at the tip of the horizontal Washington Monument I printed the RSVP information for the party. People liked the card and a sizable number of participants RSVP’ed. I like to think it was due to the uniqueness of the card. Who would lay a traditionally vertical icon on its side? Clearly it surprised the reader and grabbed his or her attention.

What You Can Learn from These Examples

  1. Design for commercial printing can be a form of play. Try different things when you’re working on a greeting card, a business card, or anything else. Look at the process as a series of experiments. Discard those that don’t work, and keep a few that do. You can make a final decision later.
  2. Make a physical mock-up. Don’t just create your design on a computer. Print is a tactile medium, and particularly when you are playing with expectations regarding the format or shape of a design piece, it helps to be able to hold a paper dummy or printed mock-up in your hand.
  3. Hand off your mock up to a number of people. Get feedback. Some will like the change in format; some will not. Try to get people to be specific about what they do and don’t like and why.
  4. Involve the Post Office. If the final finished size is out of the ordinary (such as a square card in an envelope), the Post Office may have specific formatting rules, and (with square cards, for instance) the Post Office may charge a postage premium. Business analysts at the Post Office will review your design (online or in person) and give you technical feedback.

Posted in Greeting Cards | Comments »

Custom Printing: Finishing Tools for Digital Printing

July 14th, 2015

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I always find it intriguing to watch the developments in digital custom printing. There’s a lot of activity in this arena, and the offerings point to the future, making it crystal clear that print is not dead.

In this light, a colleague sent me some promotional literature from Xerox today describing several pieces of equipment for digitally printing and fabricating folding cartons.

Now before I describe the various commercial printing and finishing tools, I want to make two points:

  1. Growth in the manufacturing of digital packaging (referred to as “folding carton”) equipment makes it clear that package printing is also experiencing explosive growth. Here’s a web link from Smithers Pira (entitled “Global Packaging Market to Reach $975 Billion by 2018”) to give you some background information:

  3. The coming to market of finishing tools for digital commercial printing establishes laser printing (along with inkjet) as a viable alternative for “real” print jobs. The field of electrophotography is taking giant leaps beyond cut-sheet printing into the printing, coating, and die cutting of paper board for packaging.

A Review of the Equipment

The Xerox promotional literature describes six pieces of equipment that fall into four categories:

  1. The Digital Presses: The iGen4 and iGen 150 electrophotographic (laser printing) presses provide extraordinary color as well as PANTONE certification. Unlike most older machines, they can print on packaging board material up to 24 pt. in caliper.
  2. The Coaters: Xerox has recently brought to market the TRESU Pinta Coater and Epic CTi-635 Inline Coater, which deliver matte or gloss coated sheets that are dry and immediately ready for diecutting or other finishing operations. Both machines can coat press sheets with aqueous or UV approved coating materials. In addition, both will process 14.3” x 26” press sheets. They can be set up to run inline or offline, providing flexibility in production. In addition, they both use anilox coating technology (which allows for a higher volume of coating, better surface transfer, and higher precision).
  3. The Stacker: Xerox has also brought to market the KAMA Buffering Stacker Line, which allows for continued printing whether or not the die cutter is up and running. This equipment stacks printed jobs up to 24” in height in preparation for subsequent die cutting steps, organizing the printed stacks job by job.
  4. The Die Cutters: Xerox’s KAMA DC 58 Die Cutter and KAMA DC 76 Die Cutter round out the complete digital package production suite. From the marketing literature it seems that the main difference between the two is the cut sheet dimensions: up to 24” x 30” for the DC 76 and up to 15.7” x 22.8” for the DC 58. In either case these dimensions allow for respectably-large packaging, including all glue flaps. In addition, the KAMA DC 76 can be used for braille, embossing, hot foil stamping, and holograms.

In all cases the modular units can be adjusted quickly as job needs change, and they can be used either inline or offline.

Features and Benefits of This Finishing Equipment

  1. All equipment comes from one source, Xerox, so everything will work together.
  2. Jobs can be ready for market quickly, since the individual machines have been designed to work in tandem and to be adjusted quickly in preparation for successive jobs.
  3. Since the printing and finishing products have a “modular architecture” (as per the Xerox literature), they can be scaled up as a print provider’s needs change.
  4. Transferring short-run package printing from larger offset presses to this suite of digital equipment will speed up production while freeing up the offset presses for longer press runs.
  5. This suite of Xerox products makes shorter runs cost-effective.
  6. The iGen offerings can print variable-data, anti-counterfitting information and individual item-tracking information, all while allowing for less inventory and less waste than a comparable suite of offset printing and finishing equipment.

The Implications of This Equipment

What all of this really means is that printers can produce prototypes of packaging; or short, versioned runs that accommodate different languages, smaller brands, test marketing, or specialized or regional interests.

Printers can quickly turn around time-sensitive pieces, taking advantage of the variable-data capabilities of the iGen, and going beyond the limits of cut-sheet printing to add the diecutting, embossing, and foil stamping capabilities needed for the burgeoning flexible-packaging market.

As with all digital custom printing, this suite of products can customize imagery, text, and color to target each printed and finished item to a specific market.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: A Few Options for Branded Clothing

July 9th, 2015

Posted in Fabric Printing | Comments Off

My fiancee and I went mattress shopping today as one of the final shopping trips of a year-long hiatus from our home due to last year’s house fire. At one point in the trek through the main part of the furniture store and the clearance section, my fiancee noted the difference in the clothing worn by the sales reps in the two parts of the store. Her comments addressed both the image and branding attributes of the various “uniforms,” and the technical, commercial printing aspects of the clothing design.

Clothing Image Differences Between the Outer Store Sales Reps and the Clearance Sales Reps

Wherever you go there are hierarchies. In this particular store, the sales representatives responsible for the new merchandise wore suits and ties. In fact, the sales reps in the clearance center referred to the other reps by their dress, as “the reps with the suits.”

In contrast, sales representatives in the clearance portion of the store (the same store, separated only by the clearance sign) wore brightly-colored polo shirts emblazoned with the company’s logo. Some also wore hats with the same color scheme and logo identification.

Ironically, the sales reps in the clearance center, who were presented as “warehouse staff,” were in some ways more identifiable by their branded clothing (more of a consistent uniform than the various colored suits and ties of the outer sales staff). In addition, they were more knowledgeable regarding the composition, features, and benefits of the merchandise.

In fact, the first sales rep we spoke to (dressed in a suit and tie) sold us one of the highest priced discontinued items without really understanding our needs. After a sleepless night on the overly firm mattress, we returned the item and spoke with a woman in the clearance center who explained the composition of the mattress and fit the proper firmness to our needs. We also lay down on the mattresses and tested the merchandise.

What This Means to a Designer

Image creates a powerful impression, even on those who have studied marketing and can identify its subtle messages. In this case, we initially assumed that the more slick and polished sales reps, who wore suits, would identify superior products that would meet our needs. Instead, the more casually dressed warehouse staff with their red polo shirts and company branding did a far better job.

A savvy designer of corporate identity clothing, be it branded hats and shirts, or any other item of clothing, can structure an overall look for a sales staff that makes representatives look professional and knowledgeable, worthy of your attention. This is artifice. However, in some cases there is true knowledge and sensitivity within the people wearing the branded clothing, but this is distinct from the corporate “look,” which is based on colors, fabrics, and fashion design.

Another thing a knowledgeable fashion designer must keep in mind is the prejudices of the potential clients. For instance, the sales reps in polo shirts were presented as being less sophisticated and knowledgeable than those in suits, but in reality the opposite was true. Think about the appearance of the sales staff in an upscale clothing store, for instance, or a store that sells jewelry or cosmetics. Here the colors, fabrics, and fashion design specifically attract those with large amounts of disposable income and a sense of luxury.

The Furniture Store Polo Shirts and Hats

I asked my fiancee how the shirts and hats she saw had been printed. (I had been more interested in the mattresses and free ice cream than the branding on this particular buying trip.) She said they had been sewn.

For the fashion designers and students of custom printing, I wanted to identify the various options, which are in the process of expanding as the field of digital commercial printing develops and matures.

Logos on these particular shirts and hats had been sewn rather than printed. Based on my cursory awareness of automated, digital sewing machines that can produce intricate images based on computer data, I would say that the hand-sewn garments with corporate identity markers are gone, replaced with unattended, computer-driven sewing programs.

What these particular branded items offer is the raised imagery of the sewn logo, which has an even more tactile sensibility than custom screen printing. In another store, the design manager might have opted for the thicker ink of screen printed fabric decoration, although given the large amount of make-ready work, this would have been cost effective only for a longer run of branded shirts and hats.

Two more options for shorter fabric printing runs (or variable data imagery) would have been inkjet and dye sublimation printing. For polyester hats and shirts, the dye sublimation process would have yielded a better result, and for cotton fabrics, the inkjet process would have been more appropriate. Nevertheless, in either case, the printed fabric would have had less of a sculptural feel in the logo and name of the company. Neither ink nor dye would have adhered to the surface of the fabric as well as the custom screen printing inks (which have the consistency of thick paint) or the even more tactile sewn images.

What This Means to a Designer

The savvy designer might also apply this awareness to other fabric printed items such as canvas messenger bags, or even the back panels of canvas director’s chairs or folding lawn chairs. The two most effective and dramatic options for imaging the fabric (sewing and screen printing) are unfortunately also the most expensive, but in some cases it’s worth the cost to reinforce certain brand attributes in the attire of the sales staff.

Posted in Fabric Printing | Comments Off

Brochure Printing: Considerations for a Pocket Folder Brochure

July 6th, 2015

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments Off

A commercial printing client of mine is designing a cross between a brochure and a pocket folder to showcase her client’s business. My client, who is a designer, came to me for suggestions for a piece of marketing collateral that will be a brochure, or short booklet, in the front, but that will have a pocket on the interior back cover into which the end-user can insert multiple 8.5” x 11” single sheets of marketing material.

Physical Considerations for the Pocket Folder Brochure

Overall Size of the Brochure

I encouraged my client to consider a 9” x 12” pocket folder if the inserts that will go in the back brochure pocket will be 8.5” x 11”. This will allow room for comfortably inserting and removing the sell sheets.

Beyond the flat and folded size of the brochure, I asked my client to consider the need for a build for the pocket, the spine of the brochure/booklet, or both. For the brochure, the build would essentially be a spine. It would allow for a build in the pocket, which is essentially an extra piece of printing stock that will hold the pocket open (like a gusset), allowing for the inserting of multiple sell sheets. I have seen 1/4” or larger builds on pockets, but they are more fragile than pockets without builds, so if my client’s client only needs to insert a few printed sheets in the back pocket of the brochure, I’d encourage her to forgo the build. But it is something she has to address in some way.

Once the dimensions of the pocket folder brochure have been determined, it will be prudent to consider the shape of the rear-cover pocket. The pocket can be horizontal, allowing the inserts to be dropped in from above, or it can be vertical, allowing the user to slip in the sell sheets from the side. In either case, the designer can make use of the ability of the pocket to “hide” a portion of the first insert. In fact, the designer could even print an image on the pocket that continues onto the sell sheets.

Materials for the Brochure

For a job like this, I have suggested that my client choose a stock with a thickness of up to 130# cover. This would yield a substantial printed product. It would not feel flimsy. It would also accept lots of opening and closing over time, without the brochure‘s becoming worn or tattered.

Whether she chooses a stock coated on one side or two would depend on the ink coverage. If the ink prints on the exterior covers of the brochure (plus the interior back pocket, which is on the same side of the press sheet as the exterior covers), then a C1S (coated one side) sheet would be ideal (perhaps a 12-15 pt. C1S). If she will want to print on both sides of the press sheet, then a C2S sheet would be preferable (perhaps a 130# cover stock). For the sell sheets themselves, I would probably suggest a 100# text sheet (perhaps a dull or gloss commercial printing stock, depending on my client’s preferences).

As with any printed product that will receive heavy usage, it will be prudent to coat the exterior covers in some way. Options would include UV coating, aqueous, laminate, and press varnish. (Unfortunately, the last option, while inexpensive, can yellow over time or even alter the colors of the underlying ink. Therefore, it will be important to know how long the pocket folder brochure will be used.)

Approaches to Designing the Pocket Folder Brochure

Even before ink hits the page, it would be prudent for my client to request a paper dummy from the custom printing vendor. This will be unprinted, but it will provide a good idea of how the pocket folder brochure will feel in the hand, how durable it will be, and how the sell sheets will fit into the back-cover pocket.

In addition to paper dummies, I have suggested that my client look at pocket folders online. Some vendors that specialize in pocket folder printing will include a series of design options on their web pages, reflecting different sizes, different configurations and placement of pockets, even different shapes of the pockets (horizontal, vertical, scalloped, glued at the edges, with and without builds). It’s like an online “idea file.” With this information in mind, my client might then request printed samples to review options for both physical construction and graphic design.

The Dies for Cutting the Pocket Folder Brochure

Pockets such as these must be cut with metal dies. This increases the cost of the overall pocket folder brochure. In some cases, however, depending on the design, some printers may have standard dies on hand that have been used for other products. If my client wants a more unique approach, she will need to pay to have custom dies created for her design project. She will also need to build more time into the schedule for the die-making component of the job.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

You may find yourself designing a similar printed product. If so, start early by requesting printed samples and paper dummies from your paper merchant or printer. These will give you ideas for both the graphic treatment and the physical specifications of the project.

I would approach a number of commercial printing suppliers for a job of this complexity, since it will require printing, die-making, and converting skills, and since it will be a comparatively expensive project. More than with most jobs, a project like this requires specificity on your part, a printer you trust completely, and good communication with your vendor throughout the process regarding schedules, costs, and your expectations. On the positive side, you can experiment and develop a truly unique and powerful graphic product.

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments Off

Commercial Printing: A New Short-Run Perfect Binder

July 3rd, 2015

Posted in New Technology | Comments Off

It has become commonplace to be able to print just one of almost anything. Digital commercial printing has evolved to this level. It no longer surprises us, even if the one-off printed item is intricate and precise, perhaps with special cover coatings or digital ink treatments. Even operations that had relied on diecutting (such as embossing and foil stamping) have digital counterparts, allowing prototyping of even a single item, such as an ornate box for a new product.

That said, most post-press operations are still assumed to take a lot of preparation. For this reason (among others), operations such as perfect binding have been more appropriate for either long runs on large machinery or shorter runs done on tabletop equipment. But even this is changing.

Enter the Muller Martini Vareo

A colleague recently shared promotional literature with me that describes the new Muller Martini Vareo perfect binder. I found the concept of one-off perfect binding to be most intriguing, so I did some more research.

To quote from Muller Martini’s 4/17/15 press release, “The Vareo efficiently processes medium runs down to books of one with the highest quality of any perfect binder in its class.” What this means in practical terms is that with quick make-ready and a running speed of 1350 units per hour, this new perfect binder can be cost effective for even ultra-short runs.

Until just recently, a major characteristic of perfect binding rendering it cost-prohibitive for short runs was the ample make-ready time required to set up a perfect-binding run. In contrast, the Vareo can be ready to go immediately, “with the very first book being sellable.” (Muller Martini).

Technical Specs That Allow for Flexibility

Here are some of the selling points noted in the promotional literature from Muller Martini:

  1. Each of the three clamps in the binder has its own servo motor. What this really means is that you can feed different book blocks requiring different treatment (perhaps because they are composed of different binding materials), and each processing station in the binder can be adjusted appropriately, even for one book.
  2. The equipment can be configured to operate in-line, near-line, or off-line, for maximum flexibility.
  3. The Vareo can process print books with spines ranging from .0625” (1/16”) to 2.36”.
  4. The equipment can be set up with integrated book measuring and barcode scanning technology to ensure that the right book block is paired with the right cover and that the treatment is appropriate for the print book’s size and materials.
  5. The Vareo can be used with either a hot melt EVA glue pot or a PUR glue pot or glue nozzle. In fact, more than one gluing option can be used on the same run. By mounting the applicators on a trolley, the systems can be cycled in and out of position as needed.
  6. The Vareo can be equipped with a crash feeder (the liner attached to the press signatures) to allow for lay-flat paperback binding or traditional case binding. (In this case, the press signatures are glued to the crash, and the crash is glued to the edge of the front and back book covers rather than being glued to the print book spine.)
  7. Muller Martini’s new perfect binder can be used to bind either digitally produced or offset printed products. For instance, a printer might produce 4-page signatures with bleeds on an HP Indigo digital press and then bind the books on the Vareo, or he might produce 16-page signatures on an offset lithographic press and then use the same Vareo equipment to bind the run.
  8. In addition to being flexible (from binding run to binding run, and even within a single run), and in addition to being appropriate for multiple press room configurations (in-line, near-line, and offline, as mentioned before), the Muller Martini Vareo is comparatively easy to operate, using set-up wizards to facilitate preparation.

Ideal Products, and Implications for the Future

Off the top of my head I can think of a number of uses for which this binder would be ideal. These include prototypes of any printed hard-cover or soft-cover book, photo books for individuals or families, personalized catalogs, and high-end print collateral.

What this means on a global scale is that consumer demand for personalized and short run perfect bound print books has brought to market very flexible, and yet still precise, bindery equipment. In an age where publishers opt for multiple short-runs in lieu of longer runs with potential warehousing considerations, original equipment manufacturers are stepping up and filling the demand with outstanding products such as the Muller Martini Valeo. I will be most interested in seeing how this plays out in upcoming years.

Posted in New Technology | Comments Off

Brochure Printing: Analyzing an Effective Marketing Package

June 29th, 2015

Posted in Brochure Printing | 2 Comments »

Coordinating a marketing effort using all available tools (commercial printing, the Internet, and a telephone) would seem to be straightforward, but I think it is not often done effectively or with finesse. Or at least you could say that it is a supremely challenging assignment worthy of note when it succeeds.

The Sample Campaign

It has been over a year since our house fire, and my fiancee and I are just completing the rebuild of the house. At this particular point we are considering options for window treatments, specifically blinds.

In light of this rebuild, my fiancee recently received a marketing package from a blind and wallpaper vendor. I was quite impressed when I saw it, not necessarily with the edgy graphics and photography but rather with the usefulness of the package itself and with how easy this print collateral makes it to contact the store, select blinds, and order the right product.

Breaking It Down

My fiancee had ordered the samples: four miniature horizontal window blind slats that looked like thin, color-coordinated tongue depressors. The marketing package came to her in a synthetic 6” x 9” envelope, similar to Tyvek but with cross-hatched ribbing (like duct tape), presumably for strength. Clearly this envelope would protect its contents from damage or loss.

The custom envelope graphic, which contained a lot of information and visuals, included the following:

  1. The name of the company in an immediately readable size and sans serif font, along with the address and a large phone number. Upon receiving this marketing package, you would immediately know how to contact the vendor. This is not true about many marketing packages.
  2. A composite photo of about twelve different blind products, from flat slats to honeycombed blinds. In addition, the front of the custom envelope included a photo of the owner of the company.
  3. A star burst referencing a coupon, using reversed, all-caps sans serif type, as well as other large, reversed type referencing a guarantee for the lowest price. (An immediate offer of guaranteed low prices will catch the attention of any serious buyer.)
  4. A second copy of the phone number in large type, in case the reader has missed the first, along with an offer for the reader to call with any questions. The sincere nature of the wording (i.e., we’re here to help, not to sell you something you don’t need) also makes a difference.

This is just the front of the custom envelope. The back repeats the company logo, phone contact information, Internet contact information (website and e-mail address), photos of sample products, and a note (“Free samples inside!”) in bold type right on the flap of the self-seal, open-end envelope.

You cannot miss the important information. All of it is arranged logically, with color and type size clearly indicating the levels of importance, and color and type size used to lead the reader’s eye through the page. As much information as the envelope contains (i.e., you could argue that it is “busy”), you can immediately see all the facts you need.

The Product Samples

The sample blind slats are all labeled with the color name and number of the product as well as the product’s name and thickness of the blind slats.

In addition, each sample blind slat includes the name of the company, the phone number, and the website information.

The Brochure

Using type size and type color, as well as solid areas of color, to set apart chunks of copy and contact information, the brochure’s front and back covers repeat and expand upon the information on the custom envelope. In some cases, the designer even enlarged the first few words of a copy block to act as a running headline, again to draw the reader’s eye to a particular location.

On the front and back of the brochure, the company refers to its “100% lifetime lowest price guarantee,” to the reader’s immediate access to phone assistance and live chat, and to the company’s commitment to “your satisfaction.” (Nothing sells like a commitment to the customer.)

Inside the brochure the company has included a useful tool, a step-by-step guide to measuring windows for window treatments. It’s comprehensive, explaining ways to mount blinds either inside the window frame or outside the window frame.

Moreover, since the task seems a little daunting, the blind company includes a QR code. Readers can scan the code to get immediate access to help in measuring their own windows. Or, more specifically, the blind company has seamlessly leveraged QR technology, print design, and its website to help the customer easily buy window treatments.

The Coupon

To sweeten the deal, the blind and wallpaper company includes a coupon on laminated, thick card stock. It offers three levels of savings tied to three brackets of spending ($75-$124.99, $125-$174.99, and $175 or more). This just about covers any purchase. In addition to repeating the logo and all contact information in visually digestible chunks, the coupon makes the offer time sensitive (“coupon expires 7 days from today”). Nothing motivates a buyer like a sense of urgency.

The Take Away

Here are some thoughts to consider while designing marketing collateral:

  1. Make sure all contact information is immediately recognizable and repeated multiple times across the print campaign.
  2. Appeal directly to the customer. (Use the word “you” whenever you can.)
  3. Leverage all channels of contact with your client: print collateral, Internet (web and e-mail), and the telephone). Some people prefer one channel; some prefer another. Wherever possible, coordinate the various channels to present an integrated message and to use the qualities at which each excels (for instance, you can include a “live chat” option for those who prefer this to a conversation over the telephone).
  4. Include photos of your product and images of friendly, smiling staff to reinforce your message that contacting the company will be a pleasurable and productive experience.
  5. Look everywhere—especially in your own mailbox—for successful examples of integrated marketing campaigns like this, and then analyze, deconstruct, and study them. Learn from the masters. Better yet, if you receive print collateral in the mail and really, really want to buy the product, ask yourself why, and then consider all the methods the marketer has used to pique your interest.

Posted in Brochure Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: More Approaches to a Boxed Set of Books

June 25th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

I believe the term is “critical path” in project management speak. What this really means is that certain processes within the flow of production will take the most time, and everything else that depends on this critical sequence of events must conform and take this into account.

Print book production is an example of project management. It may not seem like it when you’re in front of an iMac designing page spreads, but every element of the process, from preflight to printing to finishing to shipping to delivery is connected and must fit not only within a specified budget but also within a specified time frame.

My Client’s Boxed Set of Books

Over the last few weeks I have been working closely with a print book brokering client to develop a set of 6” x 9” saddle-stitched booklets that will fit into a box sleeve. The booklets focus on individual topics in government education for high school students. Three copies of each of four originals will fit into each box.

Most of the time to date has been spent determining what the particular page count of the booklets will require in terms of the interior width of the box. We have discussed paper thickness as well, which has brought up such issues as the opacity (or show through) of the paper. On 70# Finch Opaque text stock, there will be less of a chance that photos printed on the backs of pages will be visible through the fronts of the pages than there would be on 60# stock.

But beyond the specific choices involved (paper, inks, bleeds), the print books have a due date. To be useful, the boxed sets must arrive in Florida early next month.

What This Means in Terms of Time

Working backwards from the delivery date, this means the boxed sets must leave the printer on 5/4. This will leave ample time for a 5/8 delivery.

Printing the books themselves can be done relatively quickly. Most printers can produce saddle-stitched books of this press run (about 3,300 copies of booklets ranging from 56 to 72 pages plus covers) in approximately seven to ten days, from uploading of art files through 24-hour proofing (presumably screen proofs), through printing and binding. Hard-copy proofs might lengthen this schedule by a day or two.

However, producing the box will take time–that’s the kicker–for two reasons: 1. It will involve a lot of steps, and 2. It will involve outside labor.

First the dieline must be created for the box. This is a flattened out drawing of the front, back, bottom, top, and sides of the box as they will fit on a press sheet (before being folded up into a box). It must be created precisely to size, since a metal die rule will be created to cut these box “blanks” out of the press sheet and the fluted corrugated board to which the press sheets will be laminated. Size matters. It must be precise, or it will need to be redone, and this will burn time and money.

The book printer responsible for all aspects of the job (including the subcontracted box printing and conversion) has committed to a fifteen-day schedule. Most of this time will be spent in die creation, box printing, lamination of press sheets to the corrugated board, diecutting the boxes and removing the scrap, then folding and gluing the flat box pieces into completed box sleeves. Of course at this point the books (which will have been printed on different equipment by the book printer, not the box converter) will have been printed and bound, and readied for insertion into the boxes prior to the final shrink-wrapping of the boxed sets. They will then be cartoned and shipped to the client in Florida.

Getting back to project management, it becomes clear that the most crucial portion of this job is the box production. Creating the die and printing, diecutting, and converting the boxes will make or break the schedule.

To Complicate Matters: Not Having a Firm Press Run Yet

Today my client finalized the page counts for the booklets. She laid them out in InDesign (text, photos, and charts) and then gave me page counts from which the printer will determine the necessary width of the boxes: three books each of 56 pages, 60 pages, 68 pages, and 72 pages plus covers. The width of all 12 stacked books inserted in a box will depend on the paper thickness. My printer and I believe a better product can be made on 70# than 60# text stock due to the opacity of the paper. At this point we will see how this factors into the actual box width.

To make matters more complicated, my client has a buyer who may want anywhere from 25 to 100 extra sets. Waiting to hear back from the buyer could compromise the schedule. Pushing the buyer could prevent the sale. What to do?

Suggestions (in Case This Happens to You)

  1. Give the buyer a little time to make the decision (based on the actual time needed for box creation: the critical path of the job).
  2. Realize that it’s cheaper to print too many copies of anything and then throw some out than to print twice. A reprint would be expensive.
  3. Consider the fact that making a commitment to the number of boxes must occur immediately, but printing the books could start at a slightly later date. It could ostensibly be on a different schedule and still come together with completion of box production in time to ship the sets of boxed books.
  4. Consider ordering a generous margin of extra boxes, and then either ordering the correct number of books at the later deadline, or, at worst, ordering extra copies of the books and throwing some away. This may still be a prudent decision. It will still be cheaper to throw some away than to reprint any portion of the job.

As you can see, it’s all a game of estimating costs and predicting future demand. But its vital to keep in mind the connections among the various portions of the job and the time it takes to complete each task in order to meet a deadline as well as to make the sale.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: More Ways to Shine Up a Logo

June 22nd, 2015

Posted in Design | Comments Off

I discussed logo design in a PIE Blog posting last week. Jim Krause makes a number of suggestions on this topic in Design Basics Index. He suggests starting with an image, transforming it into an icon, and then presenting it along with the business name in a dramatic way that reflects the essence of the company.

Tonight, I turned to another design text: Design Workshop by Robin Williams. She includes a number of logo creation suggestions in her print book as well.

“Tweak a Letterform”

One section, called “Tweak a Letterform,” illustrates ways to make a logo stand out by altering the type a bit. For instance, an italic treatment of the Goldfeather logo draws out the base of the “f” letterform into a swash (like a flourish with an ink pen) and then adds a feather to the top of the “f.” All of this is printed in gold, while the rest of the logo prints in black. What makes this logo treatment effective is the addition of an image that reinforces the company name.

Another sample Robin Williams includes is the Lightning Studios logo. In this case she replaces the second “i” in “lightning” with a lightning bolt. The lightning bolt prints in yellow, while the rest of the logo is black and beige. As a bright, dynamic color in contrast to the balance of the logo, the lightning bolt jumps off the page.

In another logo for Hamlin Garden Townhomes, Williams does much the same thing by swapping the letter “i” in Hamlin for a large tree with ample foliage.

The Take-Away

In all three examples, Williams’ logos work because they contain an element of surprise (the letter replaced with an image) and they use an image directly relevant to the company. The replaced letterform brings an associated image directly into the name of the company, a simple and elegant way to associate the name of a company with its actual business focus.

“Add Elements”

The next section of Williams’ Design Workshop expands the options for logo design by marrying a graphic to the name of the company (in ways other than replacing a letterform with an image). This might include adding clip art, illustration, and various stylized icons. (This is similar to Kline’s discussion of icons in Design Basics Index.)

A number of Williams’ sample logos appear to be for technology firms. Williams has added various swooshes and multiples of dots in bright colors, perhaps to indicate flashing lights on a console. The simplicity of the type choice in the five iterations of the ChromaTech logo, for instance, highlights the contemporary, bold nature of such a company.

Another interesting logo treatment for a company called Riverside Mall uses repeated, interlocked swooshes in various shades of blue to suggest waves. The five overlapping marks placed under the words of the logo provide a visual base while at the same time referencing the river (presumably) in front of the mall. Williams chose a modern sans serif typeface for the logo. Several of the letterforms have unique and unexpected strokes, and the thinness and grace of the letterforms impart a sense of elegance to the presentation.

The Take-Away

All of Williams’ logos include a visual element in addition to the type treatment. In all cases the visual elements suggest something relevant to the company but only in a stylized manner. For instance, the image suggests elegance or movement or a futuristic bent. Unlike the logo marks Williams includes in “Tweak a Letterform,” these logomarks seem more abstract. They suggest rather than state outright. However, in all of these cases the logomarks are simple and dynamic presentations of some actual item (computer indicator lights, waves, the rays of a sun).

“Add Clip Art” and “Add Illustrations”

Robin Williams includes two more sections on logo design, giving designers the option of adding some form of illustration beyond a simple icon.

The logo for the Soup Kitchen, for instance, benefits from an actual illustration in a way no icon could accomplish. The artistic style of the soup, the steam coming off the soup, and the glass of wine suggests a relaxed mood. The illustration is effective specifically because of its more complex rendering. In addition, the typeface Williams chose for the company is informal and playful, complementing the tone of the image.

Another example in this section of Williams’ print book is the Idea Swarm logo. Williams added a handful of lightbulbs (clip art) above the playful typeface to suggest a swarm of ideas, and then adjusted each of the letterforms so they would not be on the same baseline and so they would be tilted in some cases. This gives the logo a sense of movement—like a buzzing swarm of ideas. Finally, she moved one of the lightbulbs slightly away from the others to give it more prominence.

The Take-Away

Humor goes a long way to make a logo memorable. And an unusual treatment of the type in a logo (like the bouncing letterforms in Williams’ design) can complement the humor in the illustration. Also, don’t assume that clip art has to be boring or commonplace. It all depends on how you use it (multiple images in this case).

Posted in Design | Comments Off

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