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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: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing

July 22nd, 2018

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The first rule of commercial printing sales is to listen to your customer’s needs. Needless to say, when a print brokering client of mine came to me with her new client and a new project, I was very excited. My client is a graphic designer, and her new client is a restaurateur who needs die-cut hang-tags for his packaged Asian food (which complements his individually prepared restaurant food).

When I received my client’s email, which included a PDF mock-up and specifications, my excitement got a bit ahead of me, and I made some suggestions. We were planning to meet by phone two days later, but I wanted my client to think about a few things before our meeting—since she had asked my opinion on custom printing paper choices.

Job Specifications, and What I Suggested to My Client

My client had asked about using either uncoated 100# text or satin coated 100# text. She said her client would be hand-printing the hang-tags with rubber stamps, even though they would already have the branding of the restaurant offset printed in ink (i.e., a preprint of the logo plus the restaurateur’s hand-printed Thai glyphs above the logo).

My client was worried that a gloss coated sheet would make the hand-printed ink more likely to smear, and I agreed. However, I went further, as noted above, and suggested a thicker sheet than 100# uncoated. I said that 130# or even 170# DTC (double-thick cover) would make a hefty hang-tag, one with weight and gravitas. I also said that an uncoated sheet would have an earthiness that might complement the brand of an Asian restaurant.

I encouraged my client to even consider such unique substrates as hand-made paper with speckles or even bits and pieces of plants. If she really wanted to go all the way, I said she might even consider letterpress (which would impress the logo slightly below the surface of the paper, and give an even more sculptural feel to the piece). Of course, I did also encourage my client to make sure this was congruent with her client’s brand image and collateral paper stocks. After all, a really nice letterpress-printed hang-tag on hand-made paper would not fit the style of the restaurant if the menus had already been printed on a corporate-looking gloss paper.

When my client and I finally spoke on the phone the next day, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself. My client’s client needed to be able to tape the hang-tags onto some packed-up food boxes and tie some hang-tags onto other food items. So they couldn’t be too rigid. The 130# and 170# cover stocks were out. (This is why client meetings are so useful.)

Moreover, the hang-tags couldn’t be on a super-expensive stock, since they would need to be reprinted regularly. They were to be a staple of my client’s client’s business, presumably to be attached to all outgoing orders. So a special-order paper with a minimum purchase amount was not an option (i.e., no hand-made paper with bits and pieces of flowers and plants).

I was sufficiently chastened for my over-enthusiasm. However, after the meeting I had all specs in hand plus the PDF proof. In our conversation, my client and I had agreed that I would initially approach only one printer for pricing to give her (my client) a quick turn-around on the cost of the custom printing job. This particular printer fit the job specs (had the right equipment and tended to provide lower than usual pricing). We could always get additional bids after my client had discussed our budget with her client.

To put this in perspective, at this point the specs reflected a 10,000-copy press run on 100# white smooth uncoated text paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

    1. If you’re doing a job for a client, make sure you get all the facts before you get too excited. I didn’t have all the facts. In my case the hang-tags had to be more pliable than a 130# or 170# DTC (double thick cover) stock would have been.


    1. Do think about the intended use, in terms of ink. In my case a gloss coated paper would have been too slick a surface for hand-printed stamp ink. The ink would have smeared. In your case, if you’re designing hang-tags, your client may need to write on them with ballpoint pens. A gloss coated stock wouldn’t work for this use either. So the thing to remember is that the final function of the piece takes precedence over aesthetics.


    1. In my client’s client’s case, since the hang-tags will be used alongside food preparation, another useful question will be whether an uncoated stock will absorb oil from the food (or anything else on the food preparer’s hands).


    1. If the printed inks will be near food, will my client need food-grade inks? Consider this if you’re designing any packaging that may come into contact with food.


    1. When you’re designing one printed item for a client, make sure it will be congruent with other printed items your client will use. Chipotle does a good job of this, and I would encourage you to check out their printed collateral. Everything I’ve seen is printed on brown uncoated paper using black ink. Overall, it has a simple, earthy feel. This matches Chipotle’s brand values, as I understand them. When you’re designing something even as simple as a business card, visit your client’s business location. Make sure that the paper, ink choices, and everything else about your printed piece fits in with the client’s décor, printed collateral, and overall ethos.


  1. My client will print her hang-tags in one color: a dark green. On the uncoated press sheet, this will give an earthy feel to the product (congruent with the brand), but it must also be a consideration for custom printing technologies other than the offset lithography used for these 10,000 hang-tags. For instance, if my client’s client later needs a very short run of some product, this printer’s HP Indigo digital press might be more cost-effective than offset lithography. In this case the commercial printing supplier would need to “build” the signature green color out of process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The question is whether the printer could then match the PMS green color with a process-color build. That’s something to think about if you are designing a printed piece and you need the corporate colors to match across all printed products.

So you see that even for a job as simple as a hang-tag, there are a lot of considerations that make the commercial printing job appear less and less simple. You have to consider the physical use of the product, custom printing ink durability, and aesthetics across the entire brand (from business cards to interior design). Wow. It’s a wonder that anyone prints anything.

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Book Printing: What Is Library Binding?

July 15th, 2018

Posted in Book Binding | Comments Off on Book Printing: What Is Library Binding?

A few days ago when my fiancee and I were at the thrift store looking through print books of paintings and drawings for our art therapy classes, another teacher approached us. After a brief discussion of our respective work, she gave us a number of books she was about to donate. Not only were they a great overview of the history of art (in about fifteen volumes), but they were also very nicely bound.

As a printing broker and a student of commercial printing, I’m always looking at the quality of a print product. These books were case bound in heavy cloth with an acrylic that permeated the fabric. They were also sewn. It looked to me like they had been case bound for serious use over a number of years. Beyond the content of the print books, this is what attracted me to them. And they reminded me of books I had seen in the libraries when I was in elementary school.

So I did some research and came upon the term “library binding.” Here is what I learned:

    1. Library bound books are either bound this way initially (“original,” for use in libraries) or rebound by the libraries (through outside vendors) after many years of use in order to protect them. The latter are called “after market” library bound print books.


    1. After market binding can be used for binding serials (these would include segments of a longer work of fiction or anything else that is published in segments). It can also be used for binding paperbacks and hardback books.


    1. An alternative to library binding for paperbacks is the “stiffening” process. This process involves the adding of fabric or Tyvek tape to the inside joints of the book, and then adding stiff paper board to the inside front and back covers. This process is easier and therefore cheaper than library binding. It does not involve either rebinding or sewing, but it will lengthen the lives of paperback books and allow them to stand up on the library shelves.


    1. Actual library binding includes sewing the pages into place. The technical term is “oversewing.” First the book spines are ground off (milled) or cut off, leaving a collection of loose pages. These are then grouped into signatures and sewn with an overlock stitch. After this, the signatures are sewn together to create a complete book block. To add further support, the binder glues a piece of linen to the spine, and then sets the book block into a heavy, durable case, either rounding the spine and backing it to prevent its caving in or (if the pages are too fragile or the book block is too thick) leaving a flat back. As with other case-bound books, a library bound book is then set into a rigid case, and end papers are added in the front and back of the print book.


    1. The fabric used in library binding is called “buckram.” It is made from thick, 100% cotton cloth. Because of the acrylic added to this cloth, the binding is especially durable. It is also resistant to mold, insects, water, and UV light. So it will last a long time. In addition, because of the oversewing, the books bound in this manner are not only strong but also easy to open, and they can be opened flat to allow for photocopying.


    1. After books have been bound in this manner, they can be hot foil stamped with any necessary identifying information. For ease of identification, serials are usually bound in the same color of buckram.


    1. A lighter-weight option for binding is c-cloth, which may or may not have an acrylic coating.


  1. Due to the kinds of finishing operations needed for library binding, the books are collected and then processed in bulk by a limited number of library binding vendors.

Why You Might Find This Interesting

First of all, the purpose of library binding is to create a printed product that is both durable and easy to open and use. But more than this, the process ensures the longevity of the content of the books: the knowledge itself. Moreover, it is also a conservation process, in that library binding can be used to repair books that otherwise would be in bad enough shape to discard.

Secondly, it reflects a partnership between the libraries and the few bookbinders that do this kind of work. Granted, the bookbinders make money, but in this case they also repair and preserve the books, both for their content and their archival value (since some of them may be quite old).

If the interior text pages have become brittle (which happens over time, particularly if there is a high acidic content in the paper), library binding may not be in order.

In addition, if the book will have value as an artifact (that is, if it will hold more value in the original binding, as a work of art in and of itself), a library may choose not to bind it in this manner. (That is, if it is valued for its physical attributes as well as its content, then library binding may not be in order.)

Finally, a library might not choose this option if the damage to the book is slight and can be repaired quickly and easily in-house by library staff.

When you think about it, a rare book is a work of art. And just as a museum might have an entire department devoted to cleaning and repairing oil paintings on canvas or prints on paper, a library may take a comparable approach to the conservation of its works, in order to ensure their existence for many decades to come.

What I like about this is that it shows respect for a number of things:

    1. The content of the books. A library that chooses to rebind books in this manner is showing a commitment to the availability of the print books and their ease of use.


    1. The historical value of the books (in addition to their content).


  1. And finally the artistic value of the books (in addition to their content).

This is not an inexpensive process, as with any case binding. So in my estimation it reflects a library’s commitment to and respect for the bound volumes on its shelves.

Posted in Book Binding | Comments Off on Book Printing: What Is Library Binding?

Custom Printing: Bleeds and Multi-Signature Printing

July 10th, 2018

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Two of my print brokering clients came to me with similar questions/problems this week. Both are producing print books, but the issues in question would be equally relevant whether they were producing catalogs, magazines, or any other multi-signature custom printing jobs.

First of All, What Is a Press Signature?

A press signature is a collection of pages that the printer imposes (positions in a computer file so all pages will be imaged onto a large custom printing plate and then printed onto a large press sheet). For offset printing, the press sheet sizes might be close to 25” x 38” or even 28” x 40” or larger depending on the printing press. All of these pages are then printed at the same time (often with four book or magazine pages lined up above four other book or magazine pages on one side of the press sheet, and with the same configuration on the opposite side of the press sheet). (Many presses will only allow for printing one side of the sheet. Then, after the ink is dry, the opposite side can be printed.)

When the pressman has printed both sides of the sheet, he can fold the sheet multiple times at right angles to come up with a booklet of folded and attached pages that can be perfect bound or saddle stitched into (potentially) a much larger print book, magazine, or catalog. These folded signatures are either nested into one another (and then stapled) for saddle stitching or stacked (and then glued into the spine of the cover) for perfect binding.

Since this is a very visual process, I would encourage you to research press imposition and press signatures online, and look at the photos on Google Image. You can do the same thing by folding an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper in half, then in half again (at a right angle), then in half again (at a right angle). This will show you how a flat press sheet can be folded (by the folding equipment in your printer’s post-press, or finishing, department), and it will also show you why you need to prepare bleeds according to your printer’s requirements.

What Are Bleeds?

Images or text on your two-page “reader spread” (any facing pages you see when the print book is open in front of you) can extend off the page on the top, sides, or bottom. Or they can bleed across the gutter (the vertical line between the two facing pages in the page spread). If they extend off the top, bottom, or sides of the paper, these “bleeds” must also be extended (usually 1/8”) off the page in the InDesign art file, so they can print beyond the trim lines and be trimmed off after printing without any white edges showing.

This is because trimming equipment is not always precise. If you have a photo that just comes to the edge of the press sheet and is trimmed inaccurately, there will be a visible white line at the edge of the paper. “Bleeding” an image or solid color off the edge of the paper and then trimming the sheet on your printer’s trimming equipment avoids this error.

All of this would be easy to grasp if not for the fact that a “printer spread” (two pages side by side on a press sheet) is not the same as a “reader spread” (two pages side by side in a printed book). If you look at press impositions online, you will see that book pages next to one another on a press sheet are in fact not usually consecutive or even near one another. To turn a flat press sheet with non-consecutively positioned pages into a folded and trimmed 8-page or 16-page press signature, your printer’s imposition software (usually) places individual PDFs of each page in a specific location such that once the 16-page printed press signature has been folded and trimmed, only then will all pages be consecutive.

Because of this, setting up bleeds in an art file for a multi-page (or multi-signature) printed product can be a challenge.

This was the problem my clients were having. Both were producing print books with bleeds.

Bleed Issues with My Client’s Books

One of my clients is a “fashionista.” I have written about her color swatch print books before. They are small books that help women choose colors for fabric and make-up based on their complexions. The color books themselves are like the PMS color swatch books used for graphic design and custom printing. In my client’s books, each page has a color on the front and text on the back. All pages are drilled and then attached with a screw-and-post assembly.

My client was comfortable preparing bleeds for this print book in InDesign because all pages were separate and could therefore bleed on all four sides. There was no “gutter” between pages. But now she is producing a 116-page perfect-bound book with bleeds and crossovers (the technical term for bleeds that start on the left-hand page and extend onto the right-hand page). So she’s not sure how to proceed.

The other client just received an online proof of her client’s 8.5” x 11” perfect-bound book, which has bleeds around the top, bottom, left, and right trim margins as well as crossovers. The first online virtual proof she saw had problems with parts of bleed elements appearing on other pages or otherwise appearing to not bleed correctly.

So both clients were frustrated.

How We Addressed the Issues

The first client’s problem was easier to manage than the second’s. I simply told her that for any pages bleeding on the outside trim margins, she should extend the photo boxes in InDesign 1/8” off the page. For anything that didn’t cross over the gutter margin between facing pages she should stay in the “live matter” image area (i.e., within the visible columns on the InDesign page). And for anything that needed to cross over between pages, she should start the photo on the left-hand page within the image area, and end on the right-hand page within the image area. For an image that would bleed into the gutter and then stop, she should just end the photo box at the gutter margin. (Why? So a sliver of the image would not show up on the facing page or—based on the description of press signatures I presented earlier—on a page elsewhere in the book. This could be a disaster.)

The second client’s problem was harder to diagnose. Keep in mind that both clients (depending on what the particular printer needed) would most probably export a press-ready PDF from the InDesign file in which they had created their respective books. And even though they were creating the books with “facing pages” to better see how their double-page spreads would look upon completion, their printer most likely would have asked them to export the book as a PDF with single pages (not two-page spreads). These single pages would then be imposed into the press signatures of their respective books (for instance, each of the 16 pages in one press form would be individually imposed as single PDFs onto a computerized version of the press form, which would yield four printing plates to produce the 4-color press sheets).

When my second client saw her virtual proof with parts of photos extending onto other pages and what appeared to be missing sections of other bleeds, she panicked and called me. After my encouraging her to call the prepress technician at the printer directly, we discovered that the PDF proof had no trim marks. Therefore, extraneous images (and parts of images) that would have been trimmed away on the post-press trimming machine all showed up on the proof. That is, all of what appeared to be errors would have been removed, and the final print job would have been perfect. However, without the printer’s trim marks on the proof, there was no way to know this.

What We Can Learn from My Clients’ Jobs

    1. Most importantly, ask your book printer how he wants the InDesign files prepared and whether he wants to receive the final job as “native” InDesign files or as a press-ready PDF file. If it’s the latter, ask for his specifications. Not all printers have the same imposition software or the same workflow, so not all printers want their files set up in the same way.


    1. Particularly ask about how to address bleeds that extend only to the gutter. You don’t want part of the image on a two-page reader spread early in the signature to show up on a page later in the signature. (A good printer would catch an error like this, but you want to to make things as easy as possible for your printer.)


    1. Keep all text, images, or color solids either within the live matter image area or bleed them 1/8” off the page (top, bottom, right, and/or left).


    1. When distilling a PDF file of your InDesign artwork, make sure you set the export function to include the bleeds, or they will disappear at the trim marks and not extend off the page.


  1. When you have questions about any of these items, which are complex and often addressed differently by different book-, catalog-, or magazine-printers, ask for the head of the printer’s prepress department and voice your concerns. Your printer will appreciate this proactive stance, which will avoid later problems.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Ricoh’s Advances in Inkjet Printing

July 5th, 2018

Posted in Digital Printing | 4 Comments »

I received a press release from a colleague and friend this week about new developments at Ricoh in production-level digital inkjet printing. I found this intriguing. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that an inkjet printer sat on my desk and printed somewhat muddy colors on uncoated laser paper. The product was good enough for a color mock up. It would help me visualize the final printed results of a job if I used a little imagination. I didn’t need, or expect, much more.

Now the press release from Ricoh, “Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” (Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18) addresses some of the issues in the new and expanding realm of production inkjet.

As I understand the term, “production inkjet” refers to the evolution of inkjet commercial printing from my initial memories noted above to a technology that is seeking to rival the speed (efficiency) and quality (resolution and color gamut) of offset printing on the huge offset lithographic presses that run 24/7.

Implications of Ricoh’s Advances

Volume and Speed

Ricoh’s press release notes that the CV70000 was built to “accelerate the transfer of offset print volumes to digital.” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

So a lot of what’s happening is a dramatic growth of inkjet press efficiency.

Not that long ago, you would choose an inkjet printer or digital color laser printer if you wanted to produce 500 brochures (or another, low press run), because all of the make-ready (preparation work) to get an offset lithographic press up to speed would put the initial entry point (cost) of the short job at the same level as the cost of a much longer offset run. Another way to say this is that you would pay a bit less for 500 digital copies than for 1,000 offset copies, but the unit cost would be higher. Plus, you could personalize them.

Now, the efficiencies of production inkjet allow for much longer runs on a digital platform. For instance, the press release notes that the RICOH Pro VC70000 can produce “nearly 130,000 A4/letter impressions an hour” (492 feet-per-minute).

(Keep in mind that if you want 1,000 copies of a 500-page book, that job involves custom printing 500,000 book pages. Of course, this number rises exponentially if you’re producing 100,000 print books.)

This takes time on any press. To put this in perspective, an offset lithographic web press might run at 3,000 or more feet per minute, which is much faster than a sheetfed offset lithographic press, which might run at 12,000 sheets per hour. So, while production inkjet is still slower than offset commercial printing, the increased efficiency still makes it a game changer. (And the speed will continue to improve as the technology matures.)

Quality of the Printed Product

As I noted at the beginning of the blog posting, inkjet custom printing used to provide marginal color fidelity and detail. (In fact, back in the day, I used an inkjet printer only to visualize color placement. For everything else I used a laser printer.)

Now, according to Ricoh’s press release, the RICOH Pro VC70000 provides “1200 x 1200 dpi resolution on uncoated, offset-coated, inkjet treated or inkjet-coated papers” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

This tells me a number of things. First of all, the resolution and therefore the detail in the images printed on a Ricoh press are startlingly crisp.

Furthermore, the ability to print on so many different paper stocks means commercial printing vendors will have flexibility (and therefore more control over price) in choosing custom printing papers to stock.

In addition, since acceptable substrates include coated papers, Ricoh’s press release also implies that printers can now digitally produce crisp graphics in color on superior paper that will reflect the kind of detail and color vibrancy that didn’t exist a short while ago. And this is at production-level speeds.

More specifically, this implies that Ricoh has addressed issues of ink drying speed in its new press. (This is because the new production level inkjet presses need to be able to dry ink immediately on a coated press sheet, and since the ink needs to sit up on the coated surface of the sheet.)

This quick ink-drying ability will avoid the wet, rippling paper I used to experience on inkjet printers, while accommodating coated press sheets comparable to those used on an offset lithographic press. (Another way to say this is that you can now print high-end catalogs and magazines on an inkjet press.)

Color Gamut

Color gamut is also a function of quality, but I’d like to address this separately. As I’ve noted before, having access to more ink colors makes an incredible difference in the color range and color fidelity of a printed piece. And inkjet presses, in my experience, usually have the capability of expanding the color ink set by multiple hues.

This is not alien to offset lithography. Back in the 1990s I worked with a commercial printing vendor who offered High-Fidelity Color (which he also referred to as Hexachrome). These were probably proprietary names, as well, but the gist of the technology is that instead of separating images and text into the four process colors, this printer separated them into six: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, green, and orange—or occasionally purple, as I recall. By adding extra inks, he could match more PMS colors, and he could achieve more vibrancy in the images because the color gamut was larger.

Other commercial printing suppliers were doing similar things by adding touch plates, or kiss plates, that “bumped up” overall color in the offset lithographic CMYK spectrum by accenting specific areas of photo imagery with the ink on the touch plates.

Being able to do this on an inkjet press means that you can achieve the expanded color gamut without all the extra ink units, plates, wash-ups, blankets, and other expensive make-ready supplies and labor.

So the color quality enhancements within the production inkjet presses also make me optimistic.

Operating Cost

Having access to multiple paper stocks makes a huge difference. Inkjet papers used to need pre-treatment. Therefore, there were fewer of them a commercial printing vendor could purchase. This tied his hands in two ways. First, paper vendors could charge more for these specialty papers, and, second, clients had fewer options for custom printing substrates. They couldn’t page through practically any paper swatch book, choose what they liked, and ask the printer to purchase and print on it. Ricoh’s approach means printers will pay less and their clients will have more options.

What This Means to You

Here are two thoughts:

    1. If you’re designing for print, keep it up. Companies like Ricoh would not be pouring money into the development of presses that produce high-end catalogs and magazines if they thought print books and periodicals will cease to exist.


  1. Observe and study the technology as it develops, but go beyond the promotional literature and request printed samples. Then compare the crispness of the text and imagery (resolution) and the color accuracy and vibrancy (color gamut) to that of offset printed products you admire. Compare printed output on both coated and uncoated press sheets. And check the detail in the highlights and shadows of the photos. Then, going forward, watch the technological developments across multiple digital platforms from multiple press manufacturers.

This is a most exciting time.

Posted in Digital Printing | 4 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Epson’s Label Printing Presses

July 2nd, 2018

Posted in Label Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Epson’s Label Printing Presses

I receive a lot of promotional mail from Epson, the maker of inkjet printers. Over the years I have consistently checked the box on the return mailer asking for samples. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from studying these samples close up with my loupe as well as reading the accompanying sales literature.

Yesterday I received two boxes of samples and data sheets, so I was in heaven. This is what I learned about the state of inkjet label printing from one vendor: Epson.

Points of Information (Noted in Epson’s Literature)

    1. One of the brochures referenced the Sure Press L-6034VW and L-6034V. These are Epson inkjet label presses that use LED UV-curing ink. What this means is that exposure to UV light “dries” the ink on the substrate instantly.


    1. Being able to dry ink instantly—instead of through evaporation, absorption, or oxidation—means printers can print on almost any substrate. The base material does not have to be porous because the cured ink will adhere completely to the surface of the substrate (rather than seep into the fibers).


    1. For label printing, it is therefore possible to print on clear and metallic films. Prior to the use of UV inks for labeling, a printer would use a flexographic press to print on such thin films (such as shrink sleeves or the plastic packaging in which loaves of bread are wrapped). Flexography is a relief printing process that uses rubber plates with raised type and images to print directly on labels and other packaging materials. Now, digital commercial printing via inkjet technology is a viable alternative for shorter or versioned press runs.


    1. Since Epson’s process uses LED UV light to cure the ink, the bulbs produce significantly less heat than conventional UV curing lamps. This means the UV curing bulbs last longer, and they don’t require extra air conditioning to compensate for the excessive heat that prior generations of UV curing bulbs generated.


    1. Instant curing of the inkjet inks means that no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the atmosphere.


    1. Because these inkjet label presses use LED-curing inks, the paper substrate does not need to be precoated (as with many other inkjet presses). This also means that off-the-shelf papers and films can be used (rather than substrates specifically created for inkjet commercial printing). This opens up the range of printable label surfaces considerably. It also allows for custom printing on heat-sensitive films and metallics.


    1. Epson’s proprietary inkjet technology reduces the spread, or scatter, of the ink particles. This allows for more precise placement of inkjet dots and therefore for crisper type, thin lines, and precise barcodes, even at smaller sizes.


    1. Epson has added a background white ink treatment to the inkset, which helps make the barcodes and small type especially legible, even on clear film labels.


    1. In addition to the white ink, Epson includes the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink). Moreover, Epson also includes both matte and gloss spot varnishes. Strategic placement of these gloss and matte coatings can create interesting contrasts and also highlight specific type or imagery.


    1. Epson’s LED UV inks have a strong surface when cured, and this increases their rub resistance. It also makes them durable when exposed to weather or chemicals. Therefore, labels printed on Epson’s label presses are ideal for outdoor use.


  1. The drum used in these Epson printers feeds the paper or film with a high degree of precision, maintaining the evenness of the color and also holding the dimensional stability of the substrate. (That is, the paper or film does not stretch, expand, or shrink, so conventional flexographic substrates can be used for the labels.)

But What Does All of This Mean?

First of all, these are just synopses of specs for two of Epson’s label printers. There were four more of these spec sheets in the two packages I received. Epson is putting a lot of resources into this specific printing arena.

Why? Based on my reading elsewhere, it seems that labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing, and large format print signage are some of the hottest venues within the commercial printing arena. And with more and more products on retail shelves, labels are of increasing importance to marketing.

Moreover, with a focus in the marketplace on quick turn-arounds, smaller press runs, versioning, and personalization, digital commercial printing is ideal for contemporary marketers who need labels. And being able to offer an alternative to flexography for these shorter runs is ideal, particularly since flexographic substrates can be used on the digital equipment.

All of this would not be relevant if the quality of the custom printing were not spectacular. Today’s versions of this technology can even surpass the color gamut of traditional offset lithography, particularly with the use of expanded ink sets. I was particularly impressed with the samples Epson sent me. The colors were brilliant, and the imagery was crisp. I was particularly pleased to see this level of quality produced on substrates ranging from clear film to paper.

How This Relates to You

If you design printed products (as opposed to websites), it behooves you to know where to find more work. As noted before, people who can design labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing art, and large format print signage are in demand. Understanding the relevant technology will help you immeasurably.

Also, this is a particularly good arena in which to express your commitment to the health of the environment, since the technology has a much lower environmental impact than traditional commercial printing methods. After all, none of the chemicals used in offset lithography and flexography are needed, and the new LED UV-curing lamps use very little energy.

If you’re not a designer, this is still a good area for you to consider, for everything from copywriting to sales to commercial printing and finishing work. In short, label printing is vital to commerce. That’s why Epson has established such a strong foothold.

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Custom Printing: Printing Ink, and Food

June 25th, 2018

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You might assume that all commercial printing ink is the same. In fact, both the composition and use of printing ink involve a lot of nuances.

For now, let’s start with two general rules to keep in mind. Printing inks differ depending on the equipment in which they will be used and on the intended use of the printed product.

The technology with which ink will be applied might include offset printing and digital printing, for instance.

Offset lithography “works” because oil and water repel each other. (You can test this for yourself by pouring both water and olive oil into a glass.)

Offset printing ink is an oily substance that is chemically produced to seek the image areas of a printing plate while avoiding the non-image areas, which are coated with water. In an offset printing press, a delicate balance between ink and water allows this to happen.

Only because of this law of chemistry (i.e., the fact that ink and water repel each another) can a commercial printing supplier use printing plates on which the image area and non-image area are both on the same level. (That is, they are neither raised above the surface of the plate, as in relief printing processes such as letterpress, nor recessed below the surface of the plate, as in fine arts intaglio printing.) And only because of the oily nature of offset lithographic printing ink does this process work.

In contrast to the inks used in offset lithography (both in commercial printing and in fine arts printing), the ink in your desktop inkjet printer is water based. The process does not depend on flat (planographic) plates or an oil/water balance. You merely spray the ink onto the substrate through nozzles on your inkjet printer. The process is exactly the same if the inkjet printer in question is a large format inkjet press used to decorate corrugated board and folding cartons.

Food Inks and Toxicity

Inkjet printing is becoming the method of choice for a lot of custom printing these days, including corrugated cartons, flexible packaging, and folding cartons. You can Google these terms for precise descriptions, but for the sake of argument, these are the categories of packaging, and, as noted in prior blog entries, packaging is one of the hottest markets for commercial printing in general and digital printing in particular.

For makeup cartons, presumably, there is little concern about the toxicity of the inks, as long as the product is not ingested and as long as the makeup comes in glass or plastic tubes and bottles contained in the cartons. But for food products that will come into contact with product packaging, it is of vital importance that no toxic chemicals migrate (the technical term) from the printed container or packaging into the food.

There are numerous requirements and specifications for such custom printing inks, and organizations such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) publish these requirements for packaging companies and ink manufacturers. Other organizations, such as Intertek (in London), test the inks and certify them as conforming to the safety standards.

HP PageWide Inks

With the preceding information in mind, I received an article from a friend and colleague noting that HP’s T1100 and C500 PageWide presses (and particularly their ink configurations) had been passed by Intertek as being food safe for use in printing corrugated cartons. More specifically, according to the press release from HP, Intertek certified HP as the “first supplier to fulfill the Intertek Guidelines for the Safe Use of Printing Inks” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).

This is relevant for a number of reasons:

  1. HP’s large format digital inkjet printing presses and their inksets have been blessed by a respected standards and testing organization as being food safe.
  2. Package printing is a growing sector of commercial printing, and HP is a major player in this arena.
  3. In terms of marketing, Intertek’s blessing highlights HP as a trusted vendor. This approval will aid greatly in HP’s potential dominance of package printing.
  4. As the first vendor to receive this approval from Intertek, HP has a head start towards becoming the supplier of choice for digital inkjet package printing equipment and also for printing inks (these are not the same thing).
  5. Intertek’s approval was based on printed samples provided by HP using its proprietary water-based digital printing inks. To quote from the press release, “Intertek conducted detailed laboratory tests on these prints to measure migration limits and ensure safety requirements in accordance with global regulatory and industry guidance, including Swiss Ordinance, Nestle Guidance, FDA, EU Framework, and others” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).
  6. The specific approval granted by Intertek notes compliance for “printing primary and secondary corrugated packaging, which requires no additional barriers” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18). To put this in context, when you open a box of cereal, you reach in and take out a clear plastic bag containing the flakes or chips. The purpose of this bag is not only to keep all of the cereal from spilling out. It also keeps the food away from the ink (on the outside of the chipboard folding carton).
  7. Intertek and similar organizations also test for NIAS. This means “non-intentionally added substances.” What this implies is that when you’re making or printing ink, you don’t always know what other chemicals are produced, whether they are toxic, and whether they will migrate into the food. Therefore, this has to be tested and controlled.

What This Means to You

Mostly I think this is interesting rather than directly pertinent to a designer or print buyer. But it does mean that the closer you get to the supplier, the more important ink certifications will be. If you’re a printer, for instance, you want to make sure all of your inks are appropriate and acceptable, not only for the equipment you’re using but also for the end product, based on its use, and particularly if you’re producing packaging materials that will contain food.

Another thing to consider is that not all inks are the same. Not only are some more appropriate for certain printing technologies (for instance, offset lithography, flexography, thermography, gravure, digital inkjet printing, screen printing, letterpress…), but the final use of the printed materials makes a difference. If a printed product touches food, it has to be safe.

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Book Printing: Saving a Design Job in Mid-Flight

June 19th, 2018

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A client of mine works at a university. She teaches creative writing, and she wants to produce a 100-page, 6” x 9”, perfect bound book. She needs only 40 copies. I have mentioned her in prior blog articles, but, up until now, what she has needed has been only help with commercial printing knowledge and project management skills.

As a writer and editor, she has an almost complete manuscript of her students’ work. Unfortunately, she is not a designer. She has no book design experience and no experience in creating even simple projects in InDesign. A few weeks ago, she was able to persuade her university to fund her print book project, both the design and the book printing.

We have a budget, and the student designer even produced a first proof of the book within the five hours allotted to her work. Unfortunately, this is not a lot of time. In addition, the semester is ending, and everyone is going their separate ways. In fact, my client is also retiring.

With this as the context of the job, I thought quickly and offered my design services at a reduced rate, that is, a discount for an educational organization. I only produce a few (sometimes only one) design projects each year, and I thought this might be a nice one, since I usually prefer to design books of poetry and fiction.

How I Approached This Job

My taking control of this design project actually made things easier. I no longer had to offer suggestions to the designer concerning margins, running headers, and cover design. I know how to create final art for the cover based on the caliper of the 70# white opaque digital text paper. I can stitch together the back cover, spine (at the proper width), and front cover such that it will fit the text block exactly with allowance for bleeds. Sometimes it’s easier to do something yourself rather than explain to someone else exactly how you’d like it to be done.

The Design of the Book

My client’s 6” x 9” book includes no graphics of any kind. She had seen a poetry book I had designed, also without graphics, and had liked its appearance. The cover of the poetry book had been just a text treatment, with the relative importance of design elements achieved through typeface changes, type size changes, and changes from all-caps treatment to capitals and lowercase letters. On this book cover, the design hinged on the beauty of the individual letterforms.

Therefore, for this client I also created a text-only cover design based on the inherent grace of the typeface. I chose Garamond Pro, an Old Style typeface, because of its cursive letterforms and diagonal slant. I also knew it would be readable as both a display font (for the cover type and titles of the essays) and also for the text of the print book.

To give my client an idea of how we might proceed, I mocked up not only the cover but also the table of contents, title page, foreword, and two articles. I wanted her to see how the margins, the extra leading between lines of type, and the running headers would look. I used a “dingbat,” a printer’s glyph in the shape of a leaf, on the cover and in the running headers for a flourish, but overall I kept everything simple. I wanted the subject of the book to be the articles, not the design, so my goal was to make the text readable, easy on the eyes, and consistent. Any distinction I needed to make between one design element and the next (for example, the foreword head and text, and the titles of the essays and the essay text), I did only by varying the type size and the typeface from bold to roman to italic. Simplicity was my goal.

That said, I did carefully kern all the larger heads on the cover, and all heads in the print book’s front matter. I wanted the letterforms to nestle into one another with no gaps. I knew that the reader’s eye would move more easily from one letter to the next in the larger heads if I paid close attention to the proximity of each letter to the next.

Addressing Production Issues Early in the Process

Since the semester had just ended when I received the initial designer’s first proof of the print book, my client, the creative writing teacher, let me know that her prior sense of urgency was over. We now had time to do this right. So she attended to copyediting and proofreading the book (to ensure the cleanest and most accurate manuscript possible) as I worked on the design. After all, copyediting at the first proof stage could seriously bog down book production.

At the same time, I was beginning to think about the production of the print book (as opposed to its design). Therefore, in addition to designing the front matter and several text pages, I printed out a set of these pages and ruled them out (in pencil, from crop mark to crop mark). I immediately could see that the running headers were a little large and a little close to the face margin of the book. I also created a composite cover (back cover, spine, and front cover, using, for now, an educated guess of the spine width)—just as a place-holder, to be amended later upon confirming the final page count. I also set up the master pages and the automatic page numbering for the book.

Since the designer had made it through a first proof of the entire book within her five-hour time allotment, I wondered whether I could use her InDesign file and build upon her work. I thought this might make things easier, but I also assumed she was using a more recent version of InDesign than I.

Since I use my old CS5 version of InDesign, I thought this would be problematic. After all, it’s usually easy to access older design files with newer design programs, but I thought it unlikely that my older version would access the student designer’s newer InDesign files.

That said, the designer was ahead of me. There is a work-around in InDesign. I knew about this and was pleasantly surprised at how it fit our particular situation. The designer saved her Creative Cloud 2017 InDesign file as an IDML file. This stands for “InDesign Markup Language.” I could open this file in InDesign CS5. I couldn’t access the new features of InDesign Creative Cloud 2017, but I could still open the designer’s file and alter the fonts, margins, and other design elements. For such a simple project, this would be ideal.

So that’s where we are now. My client likes the cover, and I have carried the look (type treatment) of the cover throughout the following front matter and interior book pages. Now I’ll sit tight and wait for the clean and corrected manuscript with which I’ll complete the next proof of my client’s print book.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, if you can design the print book yourself, it will save you the time needed to explain your ideas to another person, the book designer.
  2. For a simple project, you can depend on the beauty of the letterforms themselves as design elements. Think of the book design as a picture frame, and the content of the book as the work of art within the picture frame. If you’re producing a book, your goal is to make it easily readable. If your audience will be middle aged and beyond, consider making the type slightly larger than usual and making the leading (space between lines of type) larger than usual as well.
  3. Use type size and typeface (bold, italic, and roman) to indicate different levels of importance. This will show your reader what to look at first, second, and third. If you direct your reader’s eyes around the page, reading will be a more pleasurable experience, because nothing will be ambiguous or uncertain.
  4. Use simple elements (such as the running headers) as a horizontal line from which to (visually) hang the column of text, and leave generous space between the two. White space here, as well as between heads and text, will make the page less imposing. White space lets your reader’s eyes take a rest, as do paragraph indents.
  5. Design pages together and place print-outs side by side to make sure the design flows, from the cover to the first page, the table of contents, foreword, and text pages. If there is not a sense of the flow of the book, adjust the type size and spacing as needed. All of this is visually analogous to a written outline, showing clear distinctions as to how bits of information relate to one another.
  6. If you produce a mock-up of a handful of pages and your client doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s much easier to make changes at this point, before you have produced an entire proof of the print book.
  7. Use style sheets. In InDesign, you can manipulate a section of type to get it just right, and then highlight it and assign styles to what you have just specified. Then you can apply these styles throughout the book. If you do things this way and need to change fonts or the size of heads or text, all you need to do is adjust the style sheets, and the text of the book will change automatically.

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Book Printing: A Bold and Unusual Print Book Design

June 13th, 2018

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Since my fiancee and I do art therapy work with the autistic, among our other gigs, we’re always looking for new art projects, and the best way to get new ideas is to page through print books of paintings and collages by the masters. So in our travels to the local thrift stores, we always keep our eyes open for good art books.

This past week we found one that also showcases stellar print book design, in addition to its fine arts content.

The Reclining Nude As Art

This is a book containing nothing but paintings of reclining nudes by all the master artists through the centuries. Entitled Reclining Nude, by Lidia Guibert Ferrara, at 8.75” x 12” this is already an interesting size, taller than usual for its width. Although this does not exactly match the “A” sizes common in Europe, it is still different enough from common US print book sizes to give this case-bound book a somewhat European feel.

Even before you get to the content, the physical design of the book is intriguing. First of all, the book has both a printed cover (a printed press sheet laminated to the binder’s boards) and a dust jacket. The book cover image is a duotone of a reclining nude printed in a metallic blue and black. (It is actually a “fake duotone,” since the metallic blue is a solid color and only the black printing plate is a halftone.)

Unlike most books, Reclining Nude has no writing on the front cover, although the title, author, and publisher are noted on the spine. This allows for the reader’s total focus on the image. This approach continues throughout the print book; that is, once the writer has presented the subject matter in the introduction, the following book pages have no text, except for artists’ names in small type next to the folios.

Even with no explanatory text, you can actually learn a lot from the sequence of nudes and their styles, ranging from the French Romantic approach of Delacroix to the surrealism of Magritte to Picasso’s Cubism and Wesselmann’s Pop Art. Only when you get to the very end of the book do you see the list of illustrations, noting the title of each piece, dimensions, medium, and location of the work. But as you turn the pages, you still learn the differences in the schools of art, their approach to brushwork, composition, line, and color. Even without descriptions and analyses–on a pre-verbal level—you understand the elements of design and the history of art as they work together in a creative response to the reclining nude.

Printing Decisions Within the Book

From a commercial printing supplier’s perspective, here are some things to consider. The paper stock is 100# text, a smooth, dull sheet that is a very bright, blue-white shade. Then, to highlight the images, the printer has spot gloss varnished the photos of the oil and acrylic paintings.

To return to the cover presentation, there is a dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound cover. The dust jacket repeats the photo on the front case-bound cover (with the same positioning and cropping of the image). However, it is printed in the four process colors rather than as a duotone. The book title (which does appear on the dust jacket) is printed in the same metallic blue ink as was used for the background of the hardback book covers. This creates an interesting visual link, based on both the hue of the ink and its metallic sheen. I think it also creates an interesting effect to have only a small amount of metallic blue for the dust jacket title and then a large amount of metallic blue on the actual laminated covers.

An Oblong Book Format

One thing that sets this book apart from most other books is its orientation. It is oblong, but then again it’s not. When you open the book, all reclining nudes are horizontal. However, instead of being a horizontal print book with two paintings side by side, it is formatted like a calendar. The images are above one another. You have to turn the book on its side. (It is still bound on the longer dimension, though, unlike a true oblong book).

With the book in front of you and the book cover closed, you have a “portrait” format with the title set in letterspaced, all-caps text, with the first line (“RECLINING”) just above and just touching the second line (“NUDE”). (Ingres’ Odalisque is the background art.) But as a harbinger of the interior design of the print book, the author’s name, reversed out of the dark background, is rotated counterclockwise 180 degrees to be at a right angle to the book’s title. When you open the book, you have to turn it around so the even numbered pages are above the odd numbered pages (as I noted, just like a calendar).

Oddly enough, this presentation works perfectly, because the book is entirely about the experience of the art rather than an analysis of the art.

As a final note, the title page is the only two-page spread in the print book. However, unlike all of the other images of the reclining nude, which require a horizontal format for their presentation, the double-page image on the title-page, while still a reclining nude, fits nicely in a vertical format, albeit at twice the size of the other images in the text. This large size and double-page presentation work well as an introduction to more than a hundred pages of fine art prints.

What You Can Learn From This Book

I have heard this meme in different ways: “Form follows function.” (Louis Sullivan) “The medium is the message.” (Marshall McLuhan). When it comes to print book design, you’re working with a physical object, a multi-page product with a certain number of pages in a certain orientation at a particular size. It is physical in that you have to open the book and turn the pages to experience the content.

When designing a print book, it’s wise to consider the subject matter and its presentation when you determine the size (8.5” x 11”, larger, smaller, or perhaps square), the format (upright vs. oblong), and even on which side the binding should be. These physical choices need to reflect the content of the book and also the author’s approach to this content.

Unlike many case-bound books, which have only a cloth cover and a title affixed using hot foil stamping equipment, this format benefited from the designer’s creative approach to both the book cover and the dust jacket. When you’re designing a book, think about how you want to present the dust jacket, the cover, the title page, the introduction, the divider pages, and then the text pages. Develop all of these in concert so they will be congruent in tone and appearance (so they will flow from one to the next). Together, all of these parts of a print book give structure and organization to the reader’s experience. They make it easier for him or her to understand how the author connects one part to another.

In fact you could say that all of this structural information must be resolved successfully first, before the layout of the text pages (and the content of the book) can be easily understood and absorbed by the reader.

Finally, let this structure grow organically from the subject matter, as it did in this book, Reclining Nude. If you let the subject matter inform your graphic design decisions and your custom printing choices (type of binding, paper selection, paper trim size, and such), this will give the reader a sense of “rightness” in the presentation of the book’s content, as well as an understanding of where to start the reading experience, where to go next, and how then to progress throughout the print book.

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Book Printing Design Before the Ink Even Hits the Paper

June 6th, 2018

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My fiancee picked up two art print books at the thrift store this week to get ideas for future art therapy projects for our autistic students. When I looked closely at them I noticed a few differences in their design and materials. I thought this would be a good way for me to discuss a few elements of book design that will make your print books look especially sharp.

Physical Description of the Books

Both books my fiancee bought are 8.5” x 11” format, perfect bound with fewer than 150 pages of text, and printed in 4-color process ink. They look alike until you check them closely under a good light.

The First Book

The first book has an 80# cover-stock cover. It appears to be a matte coated stock because the paper has a slightly rougher feel than a dull coated sheet and a bit of mottling (uneven coating). It is not unattractive, since the mottling looks intentional. It just looks a bit more distressed and edgy than the second print book.

Because the subject of the first book is making artistic journals incorporating collage, and since the overall tone of the imagery is bold and gritty, I think the choice of paper is appropriate. The interior stock seems to be 100# text, also a matte coated sheet. Both the cover and the text stock are a very bright white, which highlights all of the art in the print book. You could argue that a gloss coated paper might present the art in a more vibrant manner, but in my opinion, the artsy tone of the book and the matte coated sheet are an even better match.

The Second Book

The second book has a much thicker cover. It mics to 20 pt. on my micrometer. An online paper comparison spreadsheet I use says that this would be about 150# cover stock, which I think is rare. I am more used to 130# cover stock, which I often see as a substrate for thicker-than-usual business cards. It has a certain rigidity that gives the print book heft and a serious tone. It almost feels like a case bound book.

The paper used for the first book is actually more reflective than the paper used for the second, but this is because the second book paper is far smoother. It is a dull sheet, so it seems to absorb the light rather than reflect it. This dull quality, however, does not make the photos any less crisp, since the designer has specified a gloss varnish coating for the images. In some cases the coating covers the entire photo, but, for variety and emphasis, in other cases the designer has only spot gloss coated the silhouettes of the most important elements in the photos.

Interestingly enough, the subject matter of the second book is similar to that of the first. It is about hand-made gifts, but many of the samples in the photos are collages or assemblages (3-dimensional collages).

Overall, the dull text and cover paper make this print book seem more subdued and sophisticated than the first. Perhaps this is also due to the heavy weight of the paper.

Cover Coatings on Both Books

The first book about journal making has what feels like a dull film laminate on the cover. However, since the cover stock itself is matte coated, the dull coating seems to act as a lens to accentuate the uneven mottling of the original matte paper coating.

In contrast, the second book about hand-made gifts has a thicker dull laminate cover coating, and this accentuates the total lack of surface texture of the dull coated cover sheet beneath. Again, it seems to soak up, rather than reflect, the light.

Press Scores on Both Books

Both books have a press score. This is an indented vertical fold running parallel to the spine and slightly less than 1/2” from the spine. It allows the cover to open more easily and more evenly (like a hinge on a door). Moreover, I think it is also a reflection of the quality of the print book. In my opinion, it makes a perfect-bound book look more finished.

The press score on the first book (the one about making journals) is slightly less visible, and also slightly less consistent in depth, than the press score on the cover of the second book (the one about hand-made gifts). When I see the two books side by side, I like the deeper score better, and it makes me appreciate the overall design of the book a bit more.

The Subconscious Effect of Paper Choices

Keep in mind that all of these choices are probably invisible to most readers. Readers respond to these details subconsciously (but powerfully). However, they may never be consciously aware of just why a particular print book appeals to them. (These are also some of the tactile qualities that set a print book apart from a digital book on an e-reader.)

Moreover, the differences between the books based on the designers’ paper choices extend beyond the visual. There is a difference in the feel of the matte paper and dull paper as well as the dull film laminate on the covers of the two books.

In fact, I have often found myself gravitating to books with dull film laminated covers in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent. Sometimes I think the feel of the book in my hands makes as much of an initial impression as the subject matter or the graphic design.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

It’s always a good exercise to go to a used book store and collect a few print books that appeal to you and then try to determine why you like them. If you can articulate the reasons, you can often go on to apply what you have learned to your own design work.

Think of the paper choices you make as analogous to the choice of a frame for a painting. You could say the same thing about the graphic design of a book, since the look and the feel of the printed book contribute to the reader’s experience of the subject matter contained therein.

When choosing paper, keep the subject matter in mind and select paper that reinforces the content and tone of the writing. This may be a smooth white sheet or a textured, colored sheet. Think about the feel of the paper, its hue, its ability to reflect light with sufficient brightness. Also think about the thickness of the paper. If it is too thin, not only will images show through the paper (you will see what’s on the back of the page you’re reading), but the paper will also feel flimsy.

Think about the binding as well. In the case of these two books, both were long enough to warrant perfect binding instead of saddle stitching. But if the book you’re designing is shorter, you may still want to select perfect binding over saddle stitching because it looks more substantial, more like a book than a periodical.

Once you have selected the paper, give careful consideration to the cover coating. Talk with your printer. He may only offer UV coating, film laminate, or aqueous coating. It’s always best to request and compare samples to make sure the finished look of the coating will complement the look of the cover stock you have chosen. Keep in mind that if you select one of these cover coatings and your printer does not have the equipment to apply it in house, he will need to subcontract the work, and this will increase the price and lengthen the production schedule.

Whenever you’re in doubt, always ask for a paper dummy to show how the individual sheets of paper will look and feel, and how the completed, bound book will feel as well.

And if you do opt for perfect binding, consider a press score. It gives a more pristine, finished look to the final product.

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Book Printing: What to Look for in Digital Print Bids

May 29th, 2018

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A new potential client just requested pricing for a 220-page print book with a press run of 30 copies. It is 6” x 9”, perfect bound, printed on 60# white offset text stock with a 12pt. C1S cover, black ink inside (without bleeds) and 4-color process ink on the front and back cover.

Thirty copies. That’s an ultra-short press run, especially when compared to the 60,000-copy press runs I used to buy for a local non-profit when I was their art director/production manager. Times have changed.

My initial goals with this new client are to win her trust and then win her business. She has other options, including and especially on-line commercial printing vendors that will take responsibility for printing her book—at their expense—as the orders come in. In addition, they will store and inventory any overage, and fulfill all book orders. Given their size, they are often the first choice of those looking to buy a book like my client’s. They have an extensive clientele with a high level of trust, and they can do all the marketing for my client’s book with their extensive reach.

Why would my client choose my services with a brick-and-mortar printer?

First of all, my client gets my hand-holding, my knowledge base of custom printing gained over a 40-year time frame, my advocacy with the printer should anything be unsatisfactory (I will make sure the printer corrects whatever is wrong), and, with some of the printers I frequent, my client will also get more choices (paper choices, for instance) than she might get from an on-line printer.

But there’s still the issue of money. After all, these on-line printers don’t necessarily need to be paid up front. They will foot the bill for the custom printing, secure interested clients, and then pay my client a portion of what they make on the print book (based on the price my client sets).

The use of other people’s money (in this case, the on-line company’s money) is a powerful incentive. Then again, not having total control over a job and not getting the entire proceeds of a print book sale may be a disincentive for others.

The Book Bids

Within this context, I started receiving bids over the past few days. I don’t have all of them, but there are enough to see a pattern and also to draw some inferences about both on-line and brick-and-mortar printers for ultra-short-run books like my client’s.

First of all, I expected the 30 print books to cost about $400.00 to $500.00 based on prior experience with a client with similar needs. The client in question is a book publishing team: a husband and wife who print a short run of reader’s copies (or galleys) first and then follow up with a longer press run of offset-printed books with French flaps, deckled edges, and such. They want their books to not only look spectacular but also provide a tactile experience. They want the books to feel good in their readers’ hands. This publishing team still believes in the art of the print book, as opposed to the non-tactile experience of reading an on-line digital book.

This husband and wife’s initial run of press galleys is very similar to my new client’s 30-copy press run of her 6” x 9” perfect bound book. In most cases the publishing team’s books are closer to 300 pages (as opposed to my new client’s 220-page book), but there is enough similarity for me to consider $400.00 to $500.00 to be a reasonable, educated guess for the target price.

When the bids came in, the first printer offered to print and ship the book for $345.00. The second bid came in at $541.00, and the third book printer came in at $530.00. The fourth printer no-bid the job because he did not have in-house perfect binding. The fifth printer had recently gone out of business. And the sixth bid exceeded $1,400. All vendors had bid the job on various sizes of an HP Indigo digital press.

What Did I Learn From This Series of Bids?

I learned the most from the printer that had gone out of business and the printer with the low bid.

To start with the printer that had gone out of business, I had done a lot of work with this vendor for a number of years since they had provided such good service and such an exemplary printed product. That said, their prices had been high. But for certain clients of mine who had complex jobs, it was worth the extra money for the extra attention (nothing good is free).

A few years ago I had visited this particular printer when they had bought a new, much larger Indigo. Their work was exemplary, but my fiancee was concerned that they would not be able to support their new purchase.

Interestingly enough, this printer’s bids for similar work were higher than most. Due to the high pricing, and since ultra-short-run print books like these are relatively easy to produce (very few variables compared to the other work I had sent to this printer), I had not awarded any black-only text and 4-color cover books to this printer. The pricing was just too high. With this in mind, apparently this printer did not have the client base to support the purchase of their new HP Indigo, so they eventually raised their prices. When this understandably didn’t attract more customers, they had to close their doors.

To move on, the low-bid printer actually surprised me. I didn’t expect their prices to be as low as those of the third printer, the one that had printed all the galleys for the husband and wife publishing team. The third printer is a very small, mom-and-pop vendor. They do excellent work, but they have to subcontract out the binding, since they don’t own perfect binding equipment. Apparently this was driving up the overall price for book production, as well as lengthening the book production schedule and taking away from the printer some control over the process. This was reflected in the fact that they were no longer the low bid.

The actual low-bid vendor is a much larger firm. They do yearbooks, so they have all of the binding equipment in house (which most printers do not). Even though their prior prices for similar work had been a bit high, their price for this 30-copy print run of my client’s book was right on the money.

Why? I think it’s because they see the value of capturing some of the on-line commercial printing business. They realize that to get the ultra-short print runs of the self-publishers, they have to provide pricing that’s close to what the on-line vendors offer. Based on this round of pricing, I think this vendor wants to do just this. Plus, of course, they have the in-house binding capabilities. Without this equipment in house, they would not be able to compete.

That the other bids are so close does not surprise me. It just confirms that I chose the right printers with equipment appropriate to my client’s job and with similar profit margins (which makes sense, since competition would encourage similar printers to charge similar amounts for similar products).

What You Can Learn From This Experience

  1. Take the time to collect and study printers’ equipment lists. Learn how to determine what kind of press is best for your particular job. (In this case, nothing beats an HP Indigo for an ultra-short color digital print job.) Usually this learning curve takes time, so it never hurts to send out bid requests to a number of printers. Then you can see which bids cluster together, study the printers’ equipment lists, and get a sense of what equipment will be appropriate. Also, it’s good to find gurus at the various print shops and ask questions. Finally, never stop reading and studying everything you can find on all aspects of printing.
  2. Collect all of the bids you receive, and after you have vetted them for accuracy and completeness, set up a pricing spreadsheet to identify the trends. There will usually be the low-ball price and perhaps a high bid, but most of the other prices will cluster together. Don’t trust the low bid. If you’re interested, ask pointed questions and request printed samples. Sometimes this vendor is charging too little. Perhaps they are doing too much work for too little profit per job. This can’t last forever. Sometimes the quality will suffer. Sometimes the vendor will go out of business. Also, note that the high bid is often not sustainable. This vendor may go out of business unless they offer something that sets them apart from the others (superior quality, special knowledge, and extra hand-holding during a job). Clients will need a reason to pay top dollar.
  3. This kind of awareness will come with time. The more you pay attention to the nuances, the more you will learn.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: What to Look for in Digital Print Bids

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