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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: New Digital Equipment Is a Game Changer

July 26th, 2016

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments »

A commercial printing vendor I’ve been working with for about a year just hit the trifecta. They installed three new pieces of digital printing and finishing equipment, and I think this will be a game changer for this firm. I just received their press release, and I want to share the information with you and then explain why each piece is a step forward, both for this particular vendor and for the industry as a whole.

The HP Indigo 10000

I have written many times about my high regard for the HP Indigo press. For the first time, I strongly believe that with this particular technology digital commercial printing can match or even exceed the quality of sheetfed offset printing. That said, up until recently the maximum sheet size for the Indigo was approximately 13” x 19”. This left out many jobs otherwise ideally suited for digital printing (such as short-run pocket folders).

In contrast, the HP Indigo 10000 that this particular printer just installed takes a B2 sheet. This makes the press competitive with other 29” sheetfed presses, allowing for digital production of short-run or versioned pocket folders, large-format brochures with multiple folds, etc.

In addition, due to the liquid toner technology of the HP Indigo, this digital press has no dot gain to worry about, and there are no problems with trapping (printing one color slightly overlapping another, in order to avoid gaps between colors). The ElectroInk dries instantly, so wet-trapping is unnecessary, and all trapping is dry-trapping.

And with the extended inkset (up to seven colors, including ElectroInk white), the Indigo can accurately match the greater majority of Pantone colors. Therefore, PMS colors used in corporate identity logos can be faithfully simulated.

The HP Indigo 10000 can print on substrates ranging from 45# text to 150# cover. The press will accept coated and uncoated sheets, as well as colored and metallic papers, and stock used for folding cartons. In addition, the Indigo 10000 will print both sides of the sheet at once (which is known as duplexing).

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

  1. First of all, this commercial printer will now be able to compete with sheetfed offset printers using 29” presses. The trim sizes of their jobs can be much larger than with the prior generation of HP Indigo digital presses.
  2. This commercial printing supplier will be able to offer quality equal to or better than its competitors who are using offset equipment.
  3. Since the HP Indigo accepts a much wider selection of paper than many other digital presses, this commercial printing vendor will not be limited in choosing printing stock. If a designer specifies a particular press sheet, either the printer will be able to use the name brand stock or substitute a comparable press sheet.
  4. This commercial printer will be able to help its clients better target marketing prospects. Because every piece produced by the HP Indigo can be customized, it will be possible to personalize each product and tailor the content to a specific audience (or even to individual prospects). In the long run, this will save money in postage. It will also increase the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

The Horizon Cross Folder AFC

The custom printing supplier I work with also bought a Horizon Cross Folder AFC, which is an automated folding and cutting machine. Here are some of its features:

  1. The folder has a 15-second set-up time. An operator can set up any of 17 pre-programmed folding patterns from a touch screen console.
  2. The Horizon Cross Folder AFC will accept a wide range of paper stocks and will operate at up to 42,000 sheets an hour.
  3. The folder will even set the paper roller gap automatically based on the thickness of the paper inserted into the machine.
  4. The folder rollers are made of steel and polyurethane, which will ensure both longevity and a good grip on the paper, which will produce accurate folds.

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

Basically this translates into speed and accuracy. The equipment will do an excellent job, but it will do it faster than older folding equipment and with less operator intervention. This will therefore translate into lower production costs, and that will allow for shorter production schedules that will cost less money.

The Horizon StitchLiner

The printer I work with also bought a Horizon StitchLiner. According to the press release, this saddle-stitching equipment performs flat-sheet collating, scoring, folding, stitching, and three-knife trimming in line. What this means is that magazine and book signatures don’t need to be folded on one piece of finishing equipment and then taken to another for stitching and trimming into booklets. All processes can be done using one piece of finishing equipment.

Not only is the equipment comprehensive, but it is also fast. According to the press release, each station on the stitcher can be set up in less than 30 seconds (from 8.5” x 11” to 5.5” x 8.5”). The operator can do this on the touch screen by noting the sheet size and booklet size. Make-ready can be done in less than 60 seconds.

In addition, the operator console will save up to 200 different pre-programmed jobs, and the equipment can stitch and trim up to 11,000 two-up booklets an hour.

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

As with the Horizon Cross Folder, this stitcher will speed up production, reduce operator intervention, and lower consumer prices. At the same time, the equipment will allow this commercial printing vendor to meet or exceed the quality of prior work.

A Few More Observations

Moreover, what I personally find interesting about this equipment is the recent move by equipment manufacturers toward digital finishing. Prior to this, jobs produced on digital presses had to go through traditional folding, stitching, and trimming equipment. This push to automate finishing and to group together multiple finishing operations bodes well for the industry.

All of this equipment is ideal for packaging work, and this alone implies good things for the packaging and folding carton arena of commercial printing.

As mentioned before, in the realm of digital printing, the move toward larger sheet sizes also positions digital printing to compete head to head with offset. Clients and printers will be able to choose the appropriate technology—digital or offset—based on the length of the press run and the need for personalization.

Finally, these advances have spurred new developments in equipment for traditional offset printing.

This is an exciting time for both digital and offset custom printing.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: Working with a New Printer

July 21st, 2016

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

When you decide to work with a new printer, a moment comes when you just take a leap of faith. At this moment, and in the time leading up to it, what can you do to ensure success?

Backstory: A Case Study

I recently priced out a 4- or 8-page self-cover booklet to a printer I work with regularly. It is a short run (250, 500, or 1000 copies) of an almost square job (8.5″x9.5″ folded), so the printer has priced the booklet on his HP Indigo digital press. Based on the client’s description of the piece, I gave the printer the option of running the job using offset equipment (as a 2-color job) or digital technology, and he thought digital printing would be more cost-effective.

His prices were great and very much in line with my expectations. Given that this custom printing supplier is usually the low bid, I didn’t bid the job to any other commercial printing vendors. My client was happy with this plan.

However, my client’s client asked for a second bid (for due diligence), so I bid out the job to a new printer. I had been referred to this particular commercial printing shop. The reference had been stellar, but in my prior attempts to start working with this printer, his prices had been too high.

I therefore expected the second printer to come back with prices that were higher than the first printer’s bid. But they were significantly lower, and they were based on offset custom printing (2-color offset).

What could I do? I actually wasn’t prepared for success. This had been a perfunctory second bid.

Factors in Choosing a New Printer

As a printing broker, I had to decide whether to encourage my client to consider this new printer. The price was right (several hundred dollars lower). The associate of mine who had recommended the printer had done a lot of work with him. The printer was therefore a known quantity. I felt I could depend on him.

Still, I emailed the printer and asked for samples of comparable work, something in line with my client’s specs. Based on the samples, I’ll decide whether to share the new printer’s bid with my client. I will look for such things as even trims, pleasing color, and tight register (which will be visible under my 12-power loupe).

And then presumably I’ll have to take a leap of faith. Granted, it is a reasonably small job, and I usually like to start a new printer out with something relatively small and easy, and develop trust from there.

Other New Printers I’ve Chosen This Year

I have also thought about the two other new printers I have added to my list this past year. Here’s how I made my decision to hand over a real job, to take the leap of faith:

Printer #1

The first one, a book printer, had been courting me for a year. I had seen samples and had liked them. The pricing was good, but for almost a year I didn’t have a live job that fit this printer’s equipment. I had spoken with the sales rep on the phone numerous times, and I trusted her. Again, it was an intuitive thing, a gut feeling. But the book printer’s website, equipment list, samples, and references were good. Even though the printer was halfway across the United States, I eventually had an appropriate job and gave it to this printer. In some ways I think the sales rep made the ultimate decision easier. I liked and trusted her. I had based my decision on the quality of the samples and the pricing, but I think on some level we all choose vendors based on our feelings of trust and connection with them. I was very pleased with the final print job, a digital print book with a case binding. I plan to go back to this book printer as soon as I have another appropriate job.

Printer #2

I chose a second printer last year based on a 17-year business relationship with the two principals of the commercial printing firm. At the time, they had been working for another print vendor, but I had developed a high level of trust with them over the prior 17-year period. Granted, I also visited the new printing plant, solicited a number of bids on selected jobs, and closely checked a number of printed samples. But on a certain level, I was willing to take the leap of faith and send the printer a live job (a rather complex one for a first job) based on the personal and business relationship I had developed over the years with the two principals (i.e., the level of personal trust).

I think that ultimately, after I have vetted the samples, estimates (for completeness, accuracy, and attractive pricing), and references, I select vendors with whom I have a feeling of personal rapport and trust. That is the ultimate deciding factor, particularly when selecting a new vendor. It’s an intuitive decision, ultimately, but not one based entirely on feelings. Rather it is based on a mass of data that comes together in a gut feeling of either wanting to work with the vendor or not wanting to work with the vendor.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Start with measurable qualifiers. Check estimates carefully. Look for errors and omissions from the specs you submitted.
  2. Look closely at printed samples. Check the printer’s attention to color register. Are all the plates aligned? Is the folding neat and precise? Are trims and margins accurate? If any of the samples are problematic, bring this to the sales rep’s attention.
  3. Check references.
  4. Consider visiting the printing plant. Look for happy workers and a clean pressroom. It’s a good sign if the presses are running rather than idle, and it’s also a good sign if the lighting is good, the workflow of the machinery makes sense, and there is an attention to cleanliness and order.
  5. Think about how you would feel working with the sales rep. Do you trust her/him? Answer this carefully, since he/she will be one of your prime contacts at the plant: i.e., your lifeline. Do the same with the customer service rep.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Coordinating All Aspects of a Print Job

July 10th, 2016

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I’ve been asked by a client of mine to not only find a suitable book printer for her 488-page plus cover, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound textbook but also handle the warehousing and fulfillment. She has also asked me to research e-commerce options for these tasks.

This is how I’m approaching the job.

Determining the Custom Printing Parameters

The first thing I did was review a PDF of the book to determine its specs. It seemed to me that starting with the finished product, as well as the press run and budget, would be the best approach. Then I could consider storage and fulfillment issues.

I had been given a book printing budget of $10,000. In reviewing the PDF of the book, I saw that it was very long (essentially a textbook) and that it would need to be printed in 4-color throughout (very expensive).

Two years ago I had actually solicited bids for this job (which had never been printed but only formatted for the organization’s website). Here it was again, and the book printing budget was about a sixth of what it had been. (That is, I realized that the approximately $6.00 unit price from the prior year’s estimate would go up dramatically as the overall cost dropped by $40K.)

I started by approaching one of my favorite book printers. I knew this firm had in-house binding and that it was in the Midwest (where pricing is much lower than here on the East Coast). I had assumed a press run—based on the budget—of no more than 1,000 copies. Nevertheless, based on my client’s preferences, I requested pricing for 1,000; 1,500; and 2,000 print books. I also requested warehousing and fulfillment information and fees.

A Rude Awakening

When the estimate appeared in my email, it was more than twice the budget. So I called up the sales rep. She noted that the quality of her vendor’s sheetfed printing was outstanding, but for the lower price I sought, I needed a heatset web offset printer.

With this thought in mind I went back to the prior year’s estimates, since two of the vendors had been heatset web book printers. Granted, the pricing was lower, but it was clear that a revised bid for the lower press runs would still exceed the budget.

An Alternative

What to do. So I contacted another, local vendor with an HP Indigo 10000. I knew this commercial printing vendor had just purchased this digital press and was excited about its use. I also knew it accepted a 20” x 29” press sheet (unlike smaller HP Indigo presses), and I thought this would make the process (a short press run of a long print book) more competitive. The request for quote is in this printer’s hands. We’ll see what happens. That said, the plant manager offered an intriguing suggestion for producing the book. Since my client has $10,000 to spend, this printer could digitally print an initial press run, and then follow up with an additional press run after my client has sold the books and reaped the profits. Given that this would be a digital press run, setting up the job to print a second time at a later date would be less expensive than if it were an offset printed job (since there would be far less make-ready work involved).

Fulfillment Issues

At the same time, I’m researching online vendors, for both book printing and fulfillment. Having worked with local and out-of-state brick-and-mortar shops, I’m somewhat hesitant to choose an online printer. I have a cadre of vendors with whom I have a history and level of mutual trust. That said, I will keep an open mind. At this point, I have the per-page cost from one of the online print shops (I’d call this a web-to-print vendor). I can now compare the $.07 per page cost to whatever pricing my usual vendors offer.

The same online vendor will unbundle the job and offer fulfillment without printing. If my client chooses this option, I would have the job printed traditionally at one of my brick-and-mortar shops, and then send all books to the fulfillment house. One of these has an online presence, so I could choose and bid on keywords, set up a pay-per-click ad account, and in this way entice potential readers to buy my client’s textbook. The company would then handle orders, pick-and-pack fulfillment, billing, warehousing, inventory calculation, and any returns.

I have listed all of these functions: printing, delivery, online marketing, warehousing, fulfillment, and returns, and will get multiple bids from both web-to-print and traditional brick-and-mortar shops. Then I’ll devise a pricing grid to compare the costs. I’ll also have a list of expenses to deduct from my client’s selling price, reflecting her potential profit on the print book sales.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This is a learning experience for me. I would encourage you to approach it in the same way. Consider the following:

  1. Break down the printing and distribution process into all of its component parts: printing, finishing, delivery, warehousing, inventory management, marketing, order fulfillment, returns, etc. Then set up a spreadsheet to compare all estimates.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons of whether to have an online vendor or a brick-and-mortar printer complete all of these tasks. Consider the cost, but also consider your level of trust in the vendors. Remember that one shop does not need to do all of these tasks. You can split printing and fulfillment between two vendors, for instance.
  3. Consider the appropriate printing technology for the job: offset or digital. Talk to various printers about the length of the book and its press run to see what the cut-off point would be to make one technology more or less economical than the other.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Post Mortem on Color Swatch Book

July 4th, 2016

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off

I just received printer samples of my client’s color swatch book. To recap, I have been working on this job with my client for almost a year and a half now. It is a series of 22 swatch books not unlike PMS color pickers used in the graphic arts field.

However, in this case the print books help you choose fashion colors based on your complexion, hair color, and eye color. It seems rather scientific, although I couldn’t explain it when my fiancee praised the samples and asked how to use them. In addition to having different complexioned faces on their covers, all I see is a 60-color selection (per book) of swatches that seem to differ (from book to book) in terms of their color choice (for example, earth tones vs. bright warm tones) and intensity (saturated colors vs. more neutral colors).

The books look superb. Since I am a print broker, that’s what really matters to me. That the commercial printing supplier had sent me printed samples of the job made my follow-up conversation with my client much easier. After all, she lives almost halfway across the country. Fortunately, when we spoke, I learned that she thought the books were gorgeous.

Good Choices During the Production Process

Choice of Design/Production Workflow

My client was on a tight budget, and the initial pricing from the graphic designer was far too high for my client’s resources. So I suggested that she buy a month-to-month license to InDesign and learn to produce the art files herself. I made her a template to use, and then talked her through a number of rough points. But she did do it herself. My client made sure everything was exactly right, and saved a lot of money in the process. Of course, success in this area reflects her commitment to her work and her ability to learn new things quickly. Even though she had never done any design work, she did have an art background.

Choice of Printer

I had initially chosen another printer with a Kodak NexPress. Close to the beginning of the job, the printer confessed that his estimator had made a mistake. He had underpriced the job. It would cost at least twice as much. The estimator had been fired, but where did that leave me and my client?

Fortunately, another printer had been looking to me for new business. I listened to the sales rep’s pitch and also reflected on the fact that I had known her and another principal at the new printer for 17 years. Moreover, she was continuously offering suggestions on the other jobs I was sending her for estimates. When I made the switch from the first printer to the second (who also could meet my client’s budget), I thought it would be a good move. Looking back now, I think it made all the difference.

Proofing Continually

In producing the prior edition of the fashion color swatch book, my client had had a bad experience with an overseas printer. Among other things, she had not seen adequate proofs, and the final printed colors had been wrong. To remedy this, I made sure the new printer provided samples and proofs at all stages of the process: samples from the Indigo digital press, samples of the lamination, and samples of the binding materials. I didn’t want my client to have any surprises.

Fortunately, the printer was willing to slow down the process a bit to allow for the proofs. (Interestingly enough, my client only changed one or two pages, but seeing the various proofs and binding and coating materials gave her the confidence that the final product would satisfy her and her clients.)

What Went Right with the Job?

I’m going to start with the most recent choices, because these small details have made a big difference.

Round Corners

The client, the printer, and I chose 1/8” rounded corners instead of 1/4” rounded corners for the print books. This part of the process required making a metal die to cut the finished swatches after they had been printed on the HP Indigo digital press. Initially we had planned for 1/4” round corners, but the printer’s rep had seen samples and had thought that for such a small color book (approximately 1.5” x 3.5”) the 1/4” corners looked huge. To save time, she “texted” me photos of both options. I agreed with her assessment, and so did my client. Prior to text messaging, this step would have required several days to mail, receive, and check hard-copy proofs.

Lamination Instead of UV Coating

At the proof stage I had the printer send out samples of my client’s actual job produced on the HP Indigo press. The printer had also added a UV coating for protection. However, when my client ran her fingernails across the printed sheets, she could mark the printed color swatches below the UV coating.

My client’s clients would be paying a lot for these little swatch books, and anything that made them look old quickly would be a problem. So to remedy the situation the printer’s rep suggested 1.2 mil lamination instead of a UV coating. She sent me samples, and it seemed to be a much more durable option. I sent the samples on to my client, and she agreed. As I review the finished print book samples now, I see that this was a good choice.

A Metal Screw and Post Assembly

My client had mentioned that in a prior printing of this job, the print vendor had used plastic screw-and-post assemblies to bind the loose color swatches. Because my client (and her clients) had in some cases needed to disassemble the books to add or remove color swatches, these plastic screws had in some cases broken or become difficult to use. I had suggested metal assemblies for this second printing of the job. Now, looking at the finished product, I think that, in addition to the increased durability, the metal binding screws just make the job look more substantial. (And, again, for a high-cost product, a quality appearance goes a long way.)

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, do a post mortem on all jobs. Even if this just means that you reflect for five or ten minutes on what worked and what didn’t, you’ll learn a lot, all of which will contribute to the success of future design and print projects.
  2. Choose a good printer. Find someone interested in your job who will make suggestions and be flexible. In short, choose a partner, not a vendor. In many cases, it’s better to scale back the project goals to lower a printer’s price than to choose a low-cost printer just because he can meet your budget. After all, you get what you pay for.
  3. Ask for samples. Before you choose printing and binding processes and materials, it helps to actually see and touch them, to see how they work and feel. (After all, both printing and binding are physical processes.)
  4. Ask for proofs. Proof early and often. If something isn’t right in a proof, be thankful. It’s better to find the error at the proofing stage than to find it after your job has been delivered.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off

Book Printing: I’m Thrilled with the Printed Samples

June 24th, 2016

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

A few weeks ago a client of mine took delivery of a short run of case-bound books. I didn’t get mine until today, and I was thrilled with the results. Particularly since I was using a new printer in the Midwest that had been courting me for over a year. I had liked the pricing and samples, but this was my client’s work. It had to look great. The printed sample made me glad I had chosen this book printer.

Backstory on the Print Book

To provide some context for the printed sample, let me describe the product. It was a 650-copy print run of a 536-page, 8.5” x 10.875” case-bound textbook. In prior years the job had been the same length but the press run had been over 1,000 copies. Unfortunately, the prior year’s vendor needed to print 1,000 or more copies to make its heatset web press profitable, so I was on my own to find a digital book printer. Fortunately, I was able to do so.

Now the prior year’s printer could have produced the book digitally, but it would have potentially cost more. Also, the prior year’s printer offered only limited binding capabilities. The binding would have been subcontracted, and the options for binder’s cover cloth would have meant not matching the prior year’s book. This was not an option, since my client’s clients had been purchasing issues of the textbook year after year for some time. A lesser quality binding would have diminished the overall quality of the job. Furthermore, my client’s clients paid a handsome price for the print book year after year, so the quality and especially the consistency of the books with prior years’ editions were non-negotiable.

The New Printer

The new book printer had provided an estimate slightly lower than the prior year’s price for an offset-printed book. For a book of this length (albeit one with a low press run), this was surprising. When I learned that the printer had in-house case binding capabilities, I understood the low price.

(As a point of information, most book printers cannot do their own case binding. They don’t have the volume of work to justify the cost of the equipment. So outsourcing is a necessity, and this can drive up prices and lengthen production schedules.)

Furthermore, this printer was in a geographic area with a lower overall cost of living (when compared to my own and my client’s). Therefore the printer could offer lower prices than many other vendors.

In addition, having in-house case binding capabilities made a huge difference. The schedule and pricing were especially attractive, and the book printer could provide more options than the much larger book printer I had sent the job to in prior years.

The printer was able to offer the same Arrestox B deep green book binding cloth with Rainbow Oatmeal flyleafs and endsheets. (Basically this means the cover cloth and the color, texture, and speckled finish of the endsheets were exactly what had been used for prior offset-printed editions. Had the prior year’s vendor done such a short, digital press run of this year’s book, the cover cloth and endsheet material would have been more generic and would not have matched prior editions of the book.)

The new book printer was also able to foil stamp the covers in-house (approximately 30 square inches over the front and back cover and spine).

What Was Missing?

Of course, nothing is perfect. I can live with that. In this case, the new book printer was unable to offer headbands and footbands (the little cloth attachments that give color to the binding where the stacked press signatures come together at the spine). This was a nicety, not a deal breaker. In addition, the print book was square backed and tight-backed (unlike prior editions). That is, the spine of the book was not rounded, and there was no opening between the folds of the book signatures and the spine when the book was open on the table (allowing the book to lie flat more easily). Again, this was noticeable but not a deal breaker. Only an experienced printer or bookbinder would see the difference, and the overall look was not “wrong,” just different.

How Was It Done?

Due to the short length of the press run (650 books), even though the book was a long one (536 pages plus cover), the job lent itself to digital laser printing (electrophotography) rather than either sheetfed or web-fed offset printing. Upon receipt of the book, however, I did ask the vendor what equipment had been used (I have not yet heard back). The book printer’s website unfortunately did not have an equipment list. Presumably it was a high-quality press like an HP Indigo. I was pleased with the consistency of the printed area screens and the quality of the halftones. (I didn’t see banding or artifacts in the screens.)

For such a short press run, I assume a table-top binder had been used for the case-binding work, although I may be wrong. In most cases this would be far too short a run for a large, production-quality case-binding set up.

Regarding the 4-color dust jacket, I’m not quite sure how it was printed. Under a loupe I see what looks like the traditional rosettes of offset halftone work. This would actually make sense. A 650-copy press run of a single sheet (the dust jacket) would not be cost prohibitive, and it would be slightly better than even the highest quality digital printing. Moreover, the image size for most of the higher-end digital presses is still close to or slightly above 12” x 18”. Since the spine was close to 2”, this would have left no room for the front and back covers and spine plus flaps plus bleeds. I asked the printer and haven’t heard back yet, but I won’t be surprised to learn that it had been offset printed. (If it had been printed digitally, the size of the press sheet would have required one of the largest sized digital presses.)

What You Can Learn

  1. First and foremost, if you are doing case binding, or even perfect binding, try to find a vendor that can do the work in-house. In many cases this won’t be possible, and it need not be a deal breaker, but your turn-around time and the cost of your product will benefit from this in-house equipment if you can find it. In fact, being open to vendors outside your immediate geographic area is a good way to find printers with in-house case binding.
  2. Be aware that digital printing often does not come with all the options available for an offset-printing run (no rounded spine, in my case). Think about what you do and don’t really need. A book printer with in-house binding will probably give you more options.
  3. Always ask for printed samples.
  4. Consider vendors outside your immediate geographical area, but also factor in the cost of freight. Books are heavy and cost a lot to transport.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Address Delivery Requirements Early

June 21st, 2016

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

I’m helping a commercial printing client of mine produce an 88-page-plus-cover perfect bound book of poems. It’s gratifying to assist in the creation of a literary work in a world where we seldom have time to pause and reflect.

The final details, prior to submission of InDesign files, have included such items as my client’s transferring funds to the book printer (to cover the paper purchase), confirming the book length and press run, and getting my client to think about delivery.

Delivery is usually not a concrete enough concept at this early stage, but it still helps to get my clients thinking early, since it will be all too real in about a month. Today I found a delivery manifest from a book printed for the same client about a year ago. I’m using it as a starting point. It actually raised some interesting issues I wanted to share with you.

Structure of the Delivery Form

When you think of the number of cartons needed for a 1,500-copy, or 10,000-copy run of a paperback book, it starts to make sense why you should draft a detailed delivery manifest. An error can require a lot of physical labor to fix.

In creating this delivery manifest the first items I added were the following four headings: “Number of Copies,” “Destination,” “Carrier,” and “Due Date.”

Number of Copies

Among other things, I made sure all of the deliveries added up to the total press run, no more, no less. You laugh, perhaps, but it’s easy to make a mistake here. This also forces you to think about the books (or other printed products) as complete, individual units. Prior to this, they may have been a collection of specifications including page counts, page sizes, paper choices, etc. Now they are individual units, and their distribution must be accurate.


Destination is a more complex item. Here I put not only the complete street address but also names and phone numbers of people responsible for taking delivery of the job. In many cases these contact people will need to know the delivery date and time prior to the truck’s arrival (by a certain number of hours or days).


In some cases the printer will want to deliver the print books. In other cases, the printer will want to hire a separate carrier to deliver them. For my particular client, based on the location of the printer, the fulfillment house (rather than the printer) will drive to the printer’s factory, pick up the books, and drive back to the fulfillment house. It pays to spell all of this out on the delivery form. (It keeps you focused on the details of all of the deliveries, and it provides a single document that all participants in the production and distribution process can refer to—repeatedly.)

I also like to give the book printer the option of choosing the best way to deliver the job instead of making this decision myself. This is particularly true if the printer is far away geographically. No one knows better than the printer’s customer service representative which local trucking companies are the best, what their routes are, and how the job has been prepared (i.e., the number of cartons and whether the job will require a full truckload or an LTL—less than truckload—delivery). If this sounds complicated, what it really means is that the customer service representative can get the best deals, so it’s prudent to let her or him do the research. Just make sure he or she lets you know the options.

Mostly, the choice of carrier will depend on the delivery location, due date, and number of cartons and/or skids of print books (or other printed products).

Due Date

If you look closely at a printer’s estimate, you’ll see that some printers include the date shipped while others include the date delivered. Your main concern will be when the completed job will arrive at your warehouse. So make sure you discuss the due date early and include it on the delivery form, where all participants can see it. In most cases, the fulfillment houses, warehouses, etc., will want sufficient notice as to the window of time in which the delivery will occur.

Extra Information

I always ask all of the freight carriers for their own specific packing instructions. These can include the following:

  1. Fulfillment houses may want all print books to have specific barcodes that display the U.S. price and ISBN.
  2. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may want the book cartons to be marked with the book’s title, ISBN, carton quantity, and carton weight in both readable and barcode formats.
  3. Warehouses may want shipments to be accompanied by a packing slip that indicates the quantity by title, the number of cartons on each pallet, and the number of pallets. They may want the packing slip attached to the pallet or inside an accessible carton marked “packing slip enclosed.”
  4. They may require shipments of more than a limited number of (for example, 10) cartons or a certain number of (for example, 300) pounds to be palletized and shipped by truck to avoid rough handling and potential damage. They may also require that pallets not be double-stacked in the truck.
  5. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may stipulate that shipping charges for books are the responsibility of the publisher, and that all shipments must be sent prepaid.
  6. They may have requirements for the size of the assembled pallet (for instance, 40″ x 48″ x 48″ high).

It is wise to do everything these warehouses and fulfillment houses request in order to ensure accurate shipment of the proper number of books, undamaged in transit, and accurately accounted for throughout the delivery process, the inventory, and the pack-and-ship fulfillment process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to be precise, comprehensive, and accurate. Once you have a delivery form like this, you essentially have a contract. All participants at your place of business (in marketing, new product development, etc.), as well as the printer and the distribution facility will have a physical document to which they can refer, and which they can amend if necessary.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: 3 News Items for the New Year

June 16th, 2016

Posted in Printing | 1 Comment »

I’m writing this blog post on New Year’s Day. Therefore, it seems fitting to discuss some new trends I’ve been reading about. It will be interesting to see how these come to fruition in the coming year.

Print Books Are Making a Comeback

A long-time associate and friend recently brought to my attention an article on the resurgence of print books. As a commercial printing broker, I was particularly glad to see it.

A 12/19/15 article published in Quartz ( and written by Amy X. Wang (entitled “Against all odds, print books are on the rise again in the US”) notes that “At least in the US, sales of physical books have experienced a renewed surge of interest, according to Nielsen BookScan, a data provider that collects data on roughly 85% of the print market.”

According to Wang, the Nielsen BookScan notes that in 2014 559 million print books were sold, and then in 2015 this number rose to 571 million. Apparently readers are buying print books by online celebrities, adult coloring books, and paperback and hardback copies of certain noteworthy titles that have already been released as e-books.

At the same time, according to Wang’s article (and supported by a PEW Research Center study), people are buying fewer e-readers (and therefore presumably fewer e-books).

What this means to me is that print books offer something e-books cannot replicate—a physical presence. Book-lovers have written on- and off-line for years that the tactile experience of the physical, print book makes a difference to the reader. I’ve wanted to believe this. I’ve believed it for myself based on my own preferences. Now it’s gratifying to see the love of the printed book reflected in both online and off-line surveys.

I don’t think e-books will disappear. Nor should they. There are things I prefer to read online, and there are other things I want to read on paper. Having access to both means being able to choose the appropriate medium for the occasion. I love books. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Apple Enters the 3-D Printing Arena

The same friend and colleague sent me another article about Apple, entitled “Apple Patent Application Reveals 3-D Printer Plans” (12/29/15, from Print+Promo, and written by Brendan Menapace).

Apple is entering the 3-D printing arena (also called additive manufacturing), having submitted plans for a patent in May 2014.

According to Menapace’s article, “The proposed printer would use fused deposition modeling (FDM), which involves a thermoplastic filament heated to its melting point and pushed out layer by layer to create the 3-D object.”

(In simpler terms, this is akin to inkjet printing insofar as the printing substance comes out of a nozzle, but unlike inkjet printing, 3-D printing builds up multiple layers of plastic to create the finished product.)

What makes Apple’s proposed printer different is that it colors the extruded plastic as the three-dimensional product is printed. One print head dispenses the plastic to form the item, while the other print head adds coloration. Most other 3-D printers add color after the printing stage. (Apple has also submitted plans for this kind of 3-D printer.) According to Menapace’s article, “There are a few others that can produce multicolored products, such as the Cube Pro and Dreammaker Overlord, but coloring the item as it prints would be a new addition to the industry’s technology.”

Having read this, I now see two important trends reflected in Apple’s plans. First of all, Apple produces products for consumers. It’s target audience is “regular people,” not businesses. Moreover, Apple has built a reputation upon making technology user friendly. My guess is that Apple’s new printer will be expensive but not unaffordable. It will also be easy to use.

Moreover (unless the product is altered before coming to market), since Apple’s 3-D printer will produce the item in the actual final colors, this will be a giant leap beyond other 3-D printers that may use colored materials for extrusion but that may still need to add the final, precise coloration at the end of the process. Apple’s products will come out of the printer looking lifelike. This will be a game changer.

Textile Printing Will Be Big

I just read two predictions for 2016 by Andy Wilson, joint managing director of PressOn, as published in PrintWeek on 01/01/16.

First off, Wilson has seen a trend this year toward longer digital press runs. According to Wilson, “We’re chipping away more quickly and getting more of a market share using digital print against more traditional methods. For example, we’ve seen bigger jobs coming though here that would’ve gone screen printing before.”

In addition, when asked by PrintWeek, “What do you think will represent the single biggest opportunity for printers in 2016 and why?” he replied that “There is a lot of interesting new technology in that fabric printing market. I think that market is going to open up for a lot more of us that haven’t previously specialized in dye sub.”

My take-away from the first comment is that digital commercial printing is becoming efficient at longer runs (and offset, based on my reading elsewhere, is becoming cost-effective at shorter runs). This will provide a number of options to print buyers. In addition, sheet sizes for digital presses are getting larger, allowing more options in imposition (and the printing of larger-format projects).

My take-away from the second comment by Wilson is that textile printing will be a huge market. People want immediate printing, shorter press runs, and the kind of variety and personalization you can’t get with custom screen printing. Going forward, I think digital printing will gradually erode the screen printing base in textiles.

Posted in Printing | 1 Comment »

Custom Printing: Drupa’s Focus on Industrial Printing

June 9th, 2016

Posted in Industrial Printing | 2 Comments »

I’ve been reading a lot about industrial printing recently. I’ve seen an expansion of printing over the last several years, growing beyond its traditional role in publications and marketing toward a greater role in functional or industrial decoration.

For instance, when you look at the keyboard of your computer, you see letters, numbers, and other symbols that make it easier for you to communicate with the computer but that are not in themselves decorative, educational, or persuasive. Yet they are nevertheless printing.

If you open your computer, you will see all the printed circuitry through which your computer sends electrons as it functions. When I was a teenager and pursuing my hobby of electronics, we made printed circuits by hand with etching baths (acid, essentially), and block-out solutions you could apply with a pen. The solution would keep the acid from biting through the underlying metal, leaving a pathwork of metal that became the base of the printed circuits (a process akin to fine arts etching). Now this is all done digitally, and the inkjet printing devices that produce the printed circuit boards are still doing a type of printing.

Or look through any home décor establishment, and you will see all manner of tiles and wall-covering materials that have been inkjet printed or dye sub printed with special industrial equipment. And all of this is still printing.

Enter drupa, the Printing Super-Tradeshow

What has piqued my interest is that the main printing trade show, drupa, to be held from 5/31 to 6/10 in Dusseldorf, Germany, will focus specifically on this aspect of printing: items and processes made to be functional first, and decorative second.

To quote from an article I just read about drupa 2016, “a strong focus at drupa 2016 will be the advances in industrial printing, specifically packaging, glass, textile, ceramics, flooring, laminates, wood, wallcovering and decorative printing, as well as printed electronics” (“drupa 2016 to Highlight Advances in Industrial Printing and Printed Electronics During Show,” source: Messe Dusseldorf North America, 1/22/16).

New Technological Advances and Their Implications

The article goes on to say that “packaging production and industrial printing applications are recognized today as growth markets.” (Werner Dornscheidt, president and CEO of Messe Dusseldorf). Considering the “death of print” meme circulating through the media during the last few years, it is encouraging to see that the markets for packaging (which is in itself functional because it contains and protects, as well as advertises, consumer products) and industrial building materials (enhanced by digital printing technology) are growing. This flies in the face of the “death of print” naysayers. It also provides opportunities for advancements in custom printing technology (for instance, finding the best ways to print on a flooring tile and then bake in the pigment so time, exposure to the elements, and foot traffic won’t wear it away).

“drupa 2016 to Highlight Advances in Industrial Printing and Printed Electronics During Show” notes InfoTrends figures showing that “worldwide mass-production of decorative products accounted for just under half a trillion dollars in manufactured goods in flat glass, ceramic tiles, flooring/laminates, textile and wall coverings.”

With the improvements in dye sublimation fabric printing and inkjet direct to fabric printing it is easy to see how consumer demand is driving new developments in this custom printing technology. In addition, the growing desire for bespoke solutions (one-off print jobs) ideally positions the new digital technologies for mass-customization of interior design work.

Furthermore, although it’s not clear yet exactly how this will play out, additive manufacturing advances (3D custom printing) have allowed interior designers (as well as fashion designers) to add 3D components to their printed products.

What You Can Take Away from Messe Dusseldorf North America’s Article on drupa

  1. All of these functional printing opportunities existed before the advent of digital printing. The products were just produced using analog technology, such as offset, gravure, flexography, and custom screen printing.
  2. Producing these functional print jobs with analog technology required long press runs to make the work cost-effective.
  3. Now, with the rapid growth of digital printing, it has become economically feasible to create as few as one copy of a tile, window drape, bedspread, or printed glass window.
  4. As designers and print buyers, it behooves you to widen your definition of commercial printing. There are multiple opportunities beyond designing and producing print books, posters, brochures, and signage.
  5. The confluence of 3D printing advances, an increased interest in functional printing, and digital printing in general may forever change the paradigm of consumer buying. Instead of going to a manufacturer or retailer, you may just download a file, 3D print a physical object, and decorate or customize it with your own in-house custom printing equipment.

Posted in Industrial Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: You Had Me at Matte Film Laminate

May 28th, 2016

Posted in Magazine Printing | 2 Comments »

I received a journal on health from Johns Hopkins a few days ago. It came unsolicited in the mail. But even though I have no background in science and health, and very little personal interest in the subject (if truth be known), I found myself paging through the print book repeatedly. It felt good. I liked the format. In fact I actually started to read some of the articles. In my book (so to speak), that’s success in the intangibles. Or, rather, that’s success in the very tangible qualities of paper texture and appearance, paper brightness and whiteness, color fidelity, and page design. If a print book piques my interest in spite of the subject matter, there’s clearly something for me to learn by analyzing it.

Paper Qualities

The Johns Hopkins Health Review is printed on what appears (under good blue-white light) to be an uncoated, bright-white sheet. Under a loupe I can see the rough tooth of the paper, but it still feels very smooth to my touch.

There’s something very calming about the combination of an uncoated press sheet and the smoothness of the paper. It has an organic feel that would not be conveyed had the designer chosen a coated gloss paper. It feels more personal and less corporate. Given the subject matter in the journal—migraines, sex, and one’s immune system, among other topics—the personal, tactile nature of the paper is a good choice.

The paper also gives a softer look to the color photography, area screens, and numerous illustrations. In fact, I would say that the soft, smooth nature of the paper anchors the numerous graphics, giving them a cohesive feel that unifies the diverse media and styles of the images. On a smooth, coated sheet they might look more random.

Given the smooth, uncoated feel of the paper, I’m inclined to look for telltale signs of laser printing, but when I check the 4-color images under a loupe, I still see the rosette pattern indicative of traditional halftoning of offset printed materials.

Cover Coating

The interior and exterior cover images—all advertisements–seem to have been printed on a coated stock. They are much smoother than the text, and they have a glossy appearance under a loupe. The brightness of the cover stock makes the 4-color images really stand out, but it is the brightness and whiteness of the press sheet that make the imagery so bright and crisp. Having such a brilliant substrate off which the ambient light can be reflected makes the colors seem particularly saturated.

When I compare the interior covers to the exterior covers, I see that the front, back, and spine have been wrapped with what seems to be a matte film laminate. This dulls down the imagery, which echoes the uncoated look of the interior, while protecting the heavy coverage of ink on the front cover. On the back cover, the coating protects the advertisement. Interestingly enough, the designer went ahead and spot gloss coated the title of the journal (Johns Hopkins Health Review), which gives the words a bit of a glow in contrast to their surroundings.


Perfect binding the journal gives it a feeling of substance. It’s more like a print book than a magazine. There’s even a faint press score running parallel to the spine, about half an inch from the bind edge, which holds the cover tightly against the interior pages while allowing for easy opening of the print book. These subtle production qualities work subconsciously on the reader, providing an overall tone of seriousness and quality.

Imagery and Design Grid

As noted before, the images in the journal fall into a few distinct categories. There are the photos, many but not all of which are within ads. Their realism gives a nice contrast to the more stylized and in some cases whimsical illustrations. This treatment also lends itself to small images of book covers and to head shots of individuals.

The illustrations fall into a number of categories, including Infographics, color drawings to illustrate themes, and much smaller black and white line drawings of people. Again, the contrast is pleasing, and it makes for a natural rhythm throughout the book, as does the balancing of larger and smaller images.

Overall, the journal has a sense of cohesion and pacing. However, due to a judicious pairing of typefaces, even a shift from two-column layout (with a scholar’s margin) to three-column layout, to a larger type treatment introducing some articles, maintains the sense that all page designs belong to the same publication.

Moreover, the contrast in page design alerts the reader to levels of importance (such as when a new article is beginning; what material is an amplification of the text; and what material highlights the text, such as the pull-quotes). Your eye knows immediately where to go first, second, and third. And the ample white space affords an airy, uncluttered reading experience. Finally, full-bleed area screens set apart certain pages (definitions pages, supplementary material) in a subtle manner.

Even a judicious use of numerous short articles on selected pages to give brief insight into various topics or to provide short bits of information still does not create a cluttered look. I think this uncluttered appearance is also due to the uncoated book stock, which is easy on the eyes.

What You Can Learn from Such a Publication

I never went to design school. What I learned, I learned by observing. I think many designers have come into publication design the same way. I firmly believe there is no time better spent than in discovering a design you love and then determining why you love it. In my case it was in spite of the subject matter. (Actually, I am finding some of the articles interesting. Nevertheless, I still think the graphic presentation is what makes me want to read the articles.)

Consider all aspects of a publication: paper texture, surface, coating, brightness, and whiteness; treatment of imagery; typefaces; binding; and the design grid. Ask yourself why they work well together. Then ask yourself if the design and production values of the piece reinforce or conflict with the editorial message (a good designer knows how to pair the look with the message). There’s no better way to learn.

Posted in Magazine Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Will Digital Grow to Match Offset?

May 21st, 2016

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

A friend and colleague sent me a link to a “What They Think” video recently in which the CEO of Landa Digital Printing, Yishai Amir, addressed questions regarding the present state and future direction of digital custom printing. The video is entitled “What Will It Take to ‘Mainstream’ Digital Printing?” It was published on May 12, 2016.

The big question is what’s holding back digital printing. According to the video, “production digital printing is 25 years old, yet only 2.5% of all printed pages come from digital devices.” Why?

Amir starts his explanation by listing the drivers for the growth of digital printing:

  1. Personal customized printed material.
  2. On-demand, long-tail material, and
  3. Optimization of the supply chain.

Amir doesn’t completely explain the third driver, but here’s my understanding of the first two:

  1. Offset, flexo—all technologies but digital—can only print multiple copies of one original. Only digital can approach “mass customization” of marketing materials, changing each copy of each marketing piece so it will directly pertain to each recipient. Identifying individual wants and needs and marketing one-to-one is the strength of digital custom printing.
  2. The second point requires a definition of the term “long-tail.” This concept is based on the fact that most people want the same things (for instance, a clothing store will physically stock only the most popular designer shirts—i.e., only a handful of styles—but they will have stacks and stacks of the same item in different colors and sizes). In contrast, if you want something different, you are part of the “long tail” (the trailing edge of the graph of consumption, in which only a few people want the more exotic—and less “popular”—items).To bring this back to printing, digital custom printing can fulfill your need for an esoteric print book that only you and a handful of your friends want. You can get it on demand. Before digital printing, you’d be lost. You would only find easy access to the popular books and potboilers in your bookstore. (Amazon is a master of the “long tail.” You can get anything online because no individual manufacturer or outlet needs to store it.)

So these are the drivers, the benefits only digital custom printing can provide and the reason it has been around for 25 years. But, as Amir notes, it has captured only 2.5 percent of the printing business.

For digital printing to go mainstream, Amir notes that the following must happen:

  1. Digital must provide “offset” quality.
  2. Digital must print on any substrate, without a pre-coating step.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing.
  4. Production speeds must be comparable to offset printing, and
  5. The format must match offset.

To flesh this out a bit (the video is short), here are some thoughts:

  1. I would say that “offset quality” would constitute color fidelity; a comparable color gamut; smooth, heavy-coverage toner laydown; a lack of banding and other artifacts; etc. For Amir’s requirement to hold, liquid or dry toner laydown must “look” as good as offset printing. I’d also say that rub resistance (durability) needs to be comparable.
  2. For a long time digital papers were limited. They were specifically made to accept an even coating of toner particles. That meant that there were only a few uncoated sheets and a few coated sheets a printer could stock. A designer couldn’t just specify a press sheet she/he liked. In many cases, press-sheets had to be pre-coated, further complicating the process compared to offset printing. So Amir is referring to being able to use any paper for digital printing that you could use for offset printing.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing. Up until recently, if you had a short-run job (let’s say 500 brochures), it was cheaper to produce the job digitally than via offset lithography. That’s because you would need to go through all of the make-ready steps for a short offset run as you would for a long press run. In contrast, you could avoid most of the make-ready if you chose digital printing. However–and I think this is what Amir is getting at—you couldn’t favorably compare a 5,000-copy digital run to a 5,000-copy offset press run (unit cost to unit cost). The digital-printing unit cost would be much higher.
  4. Speeds vary from machine to machine, but for the most part digital printing is slower than offset. For instance, an Indigo 12000 can print 4,600 B2 color sheets per hour (according to HP’s product literature). An offset press can print closer to 18,000 sheets per hour (this is from a KBA press description). And for books, catalogs, and magazines, the offset presses can print more pages laid out (i.e., imposed) on much larger press sheets.
  5. The format must match offset. Up until recently, digital presses accepted only small paper. The press sheets were close to 12” x 18” (more or less, depending on the equipment). Some of the newer digital presses accept B2 sheets (which are closer to 20” x 29”). This approximates an offset 20” x 26” cover sheet but not a 25” x 38” text sheet or a 28” x 40” text sheet. Needless to say, if you’re producing a book, you can get more book pages on a 28” x 40” press sheet (that will all print at one time) than on a 20” x 29” sheet. So what Amir is saying is that for digital to be competitive with offset, the equipment must accept larger press sheets. (This is also a benefit for larger products like pocket folders that won’t fit on smaller press sheets.)

Amir then goes on to say that Nanography offers all of this.

My Take on This

My take is that we are in interesting times in printing. The focus is on shorter press runs and personalization. Digital is good at this. Offset is not. I’m seeing extraordinary color coming off digital presses nowadays. The digital press equipment is also starting to be constructed within large durable frames produced by offset press makers (like Komori) rather than in plastic cases that look like photocopy machines on steroids.

I think Landa’s nanography is one answer (inkjet printing onto a heated blanket that deposits the full image onto the substrate while holding an amazingly crisp halftone dot). It saves money in lowered ink usage, lower energy consumption, and lower paper costs (due to its ability to print on any stock).

I also think that the HP Indigo series is a good answer, with its larger B2 paper format and superior color (this is an electrophotographic process like laser printing).

Interestingly enough, even offset printing is becoming more efficient. Make-readies are taking less time due to the automation of color adjustment, plate handling, and other aspects of press work. So it’s becoming increasingly economical to do shorter offset print runs.

Truly this is an exciting time for all number of digital and offset technologies. What I’m going to do now is wait and watch closely.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

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