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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: How to Design a Promotional Poster

May 5th, 2016

Posted in Posters | Comments »

I got an email the other day from a dear friend from college, a print book designer I’ve written about numerous times in this blog. I was just entering the grocery store. “Help,” the email said. “I’m designing a poster, and I’m scared. I don’t know how to do it.”

So I called her on my smartphone as I walked past the fruits and vegetables.

The Backstory

It turns out that she had no copy, five hours to press time, and only her client’s direction to use the infographics she had designed for a related textbook. This got me thinking. Having an initial product from which to draw design information would be a good starting point. Here’s what I proposed as her first steps:

  1. I told her to pull images, a design grid, and typefaces from the prototype (the initial print book that she had already produced). I said that these common elements would give the textbook and the poster a common “look.” Conference attendees (apparently the poster was for a conference) would see the similarity and associate the print book with the poster. Even if they did this subconsciously, it would still make for “brand awareness.” (Think of the Starbucks logo, which is immediately recognizable even in small grocery store kiosks surrounded by a multitude of other signage.)
  2. I said that if she had no copy, she should write some. I told her to think in terms of “who,” “where,” “why,” “what,” and “when.” “Your client can always change it later,” I said.
  3. Unlike a print book, a poster is meant to be read from a distance. I told my friend to make the type big as well as short.

Then I proceeded with my grocery shopping.

My Friend’s Poster Design

When I got back home, I called the print book designer for an update and to help further. She had called up another designer and had asked for a quick and dirty product (i.e., she had subcontracted the work). Interestingly enough, my friend the book designer had then taken her associate’s work and had revised it. Here’s what my friend did that worked beautifully:

  1. As I had expected, the typefaces had been drawn from the client’s textbook. Starting with the top of the poster, the initial design included a rather long headline in all caps set flush left. The book designer took this headline and centered it, running it all the way across the top of the poster and placing a brown rule line all the way across the page immediately under the headline. This separated the headline from the text. It made the headline a single chunk of information (easier for the reader to absorb). The rule line also provided a “hook,” like a clothesline, from which all other elements of the poster could hang.
  2. In the same brown color as the rule line, my friend the print book designer placed the single-word headline of each of three charts on a 45 degree angle. One above the other, these three heads drew the reader’s eye down the page. To the right of each was its chart. All three charts were formatted alike, so the reader would know to approach them as “similar” or “equal.” The charts all looked alike except for the three heads (three countries in Africa). My friend used green and a lighter version of the dark brown to give a sense of cohesion to the piece. The green also appeared as the color of a huge initial cap starting the text paragraph on the left column of the poster.
  3. The text and bullets ran down the left-hand side of the poster, set flush left with an initial cap five lines deep. The book designer had initially made the initial cap light green (matching the infographic images in the three charts). I suggested that she make it dark green. It then matched two green (highlighted) words in the poster headline. I knew this would make the reader’s eye jump from the headline to the initial cap.
  4. After reading the text in the left column, the viewer would know to jump to the three chart titles and then scan the charts. The colors would reinforce these intuitive connections.
  5. My friend the print book designer then used large, light brown numerals and percentages to distinguish each chart from the others. Presumably, if the reader saw nothing else, he/she would know that the poster was about the gender gap (in three African countries) based on two bold, highlighted words in the headline, and a little woman and man icon set. The percentages and the three African country names would then clarify the differences among the charts.
  6. Within the text on the left-hand side of the poster, the book designer had made certain words all caps, in a bolder and contrasting typeface, and in light brown. If the viewer read nothing else, he/she would still get the gist of the poster’s content. And the light brown color would tie the text on the left to the charts on the right. The chart heads would also act as an anchor, leading the eye right down the page.
  7. Below the text and charts, the book designer had placed another horizontal rule all the way across the page. It matched the rule just below the headline, creating a frame for the central portion of the poster.
  8. Below this rule line, she put another head: “Three lessons learned.” She typeset the word “Three” in brown ink. (If you scan articles on the Internet, you’ll find a lot of short, pithy articles that start this way: “Three ways to do this or that.” It catches the reader’s attention. He/she knows the level of time commitment needed to get answers to so many of life’s questions.)
  9. Horizontally, below this headline and initiated with large numerals, the book designer put the three lessons, each in its own column (of equal depth) with a small illustration using the same male and female icons she had created for the charts above, and in the same colors.

Because of all these design choices, the reader’s eye knew exactly how to progress through the chart. The final product was even better than the quick-and-dirty mock-up the print book designer’s associate (the poster designer) had provided.

I made one final suggestion. I reminded my friend, who was used to designing for the 8.5” x 11” page, that a poster was to be read from a distance. No matter how good it looked on the computer screen, I encouraged her to print out a tiled copy, in color, tape it together, and put it on the wall—just to see what it would look like.

What You Can Learn from My Friend’s Poster

Consider these steps when you design your next poster, particularly if you’re new at poster design, or if you get stuck in the process:

  1. Relate the overall look to previously designed materials for the subject (books or collateral), using the same typefaces, design grid, colors, and images. This will ensure that the poster reflects your corporate identity.
  2. Determine how you want the reader’s eye to move through the poster, and use color, type, and rules to structure the content for easy reading.
  3. Always check the design from a distance.

Posted in Posters | Comments »

Custom Printing: A Commitment to the History of Print

April 28th, 2016

Posted in Printing | Comments »

A friend and colleague within the commercial printing industry just forwarded me an article regarding a sizable donation towards preserving the history of printing.

The article, entitled “Graphic Communication Receives $2.3 Million to Preserve Printing Industry History,” issued as a press release on 11/23/15 by California Polytechnic State University, notes that “Well known printing industry expert Raymond J. Prince has donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department to preserve the history and knowledge of the printing and imaging industry.”

I found the article very encouraging as well as supportive of the future of custom printing.

Here are the four areas funded by the donation (italics are mine), as noted in the press release:

“The first is a named endowed scholarship honoring Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Gary Field, a highly regarded imaging scientist, professor, writer and speaker on issues of color management and related topics.

“The second is a named endowed scholarship honoring Professor Brian Lawler for his lifelong work advocating for the importance of print as a creative and influential communication medium surviving more than six centuries.

“The third area is a cash donation to supplement funds already raised to support what has become the world’s largest library on graphic arts technology and management. The library, already named the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Collection, is housed in Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department and includes more than 30,000 volumes.

“The fourth is a bequest that will perpetuate the ongoing growth and development of the library’s collection and graphic communication education at Cal Poly.”

Why This Is Important

After reading the article, I carefully considered exactly why I found this donation to be important. Here are my thoughts:

  1. This is a time in which many people have proclaimed the imminent death of print. In this light, for a major technical university to develop and maintain such a printing knowledge base demonstrates the value the university places on commercial printing. Clearly Cal Poly believes custom printing is relevant in this world.
  2. The focus of the grant extends beyond printing to communications in general. Cal Poly understands the goal of printing is to foster communication.
  3. The donation confirms a commitment to maintaining the knowledge gained in the six centuries since the birth of printing. This unbroken lineage will in turn benefit the future of printing in particular and communications in general.
  4. The donation confirms a belief that preparing young people for jobs within the printing field is important, that the industry is not dying but just changing. Moreover, providing the best education possible in commercial printing will ensure continued technical innovation. Preserving knowledge of what has gone before is the best way to give students a base on which to build the future of commercial printing technology.
  5. The press release notes that a broadly maintained library of all aspects of the history of printing will allow for “patent development and challenges.” This will ensure a well-ordered experimentation in, and development of, new technologies for printing. Both faculty and students will benefit. The university values both the future leaders of the commercial printing industry and its current experts, the faculty. Continued innovation will improve the equipment, processes, and workflows used on a daily basis in commercial printing establishments.
  6. In the press release, Douglas Epperson, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, notes that “Because of Ray and others who continue to donate to the collection, our students, faculty, scholars and industry personnel can access the world’s largest collection of graphic arts resources and materials.” (I am reminded of the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most comprehensive libraries of the ancient world.) Such a diverse collection of materials on custom printing will benefit those in the printing field who build upon its wisdom and insight as well as others around the world.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Branded Grocery Signs and Products

April 13th, 2016

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

Every week I shop at Harris Teeter, as well as a few other grocery stores. And over the last several years–being a student of commercial printing, marketing, and design–I have paid close attention to store branding. I’ve been very impressed with Harris Teeter’s presentation. There’s nothing like visiting local businesses on a regular basis to get a sense of just how store design and product design interact and work on the buyer’s conscious and subconscious awareness. When done well, this makes people want to shop more and buy more. I can appreciate the skills and knowledge required.

A Sample Product: Boxed Egg Whites

Harris Teeter is owned by Kroger. Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing focus on store brand merchandise. The quality of organic produce and even canned and bottled goods has increased, as has the number of organic products available.

This last week my fiancee took photos of one product in particular to make sure I would look closely at its packaging when we got back home.

The product is HT Traders Cage-Free Pasteurized 100% Liquid Egg Whites, and here’s what I can discern from the product packaging:

  1. Unlike all of the other packaging I saw, this one had a photo of an egg with all of the type (excluding the HT Traders brand logo) hand written on the curved eggshell. First of all, this is unique, as most other packaging separates its typography from the images. Even if the type has been surprinted over an image, it’s still separate. It’s not written on the product.
  2. Since the egg has a curved surface, the curvature of the hand-printed product information makes for a unique presentation. All other typography is flat; this typography is curved and therefore intriguing.
  3. The hand lettering creates a casual tone. Moreover, you could say it creates a tone of honesty and directness, and this heightens credibility. In fact, it’s almost like the farmer has written on the eggs with a Sharpie marker at a farmer’s market. The tone suggests freshness, healthfulness, integrity, perhaps even a focus on sustainability and local produce—all the good qualities of a healthy meal.
  4. The lightness (almost a beige pastel) of the background color of the box (which is structured like a pint-sized box of milk) gives an almost porcelain appearance to the product, while echoing the colors of the early morning.
  5. Even the printed logo (typescript as opposed to hand-lettering) is done in a fun, bouncy typeface in which the baseline of the letterforms moves up and down, providing an almost childlike immediacy and enthusiasm to the packaging. Along with a hand-drawn apple, fish outline, and loaf of bread, the logo is friendly and approachable. The overall appearance makes you trust the HT Traders product.

Overall, this is a well thought-out design for a house-brand product. Granted, the product itself (or at least other products I’ve tried at Harris Teeter) is of high quality. Appearance alone without substance would detract from the brand and the store, but quality promotion of a quality product enhances its perceived value and encourages shoppers to buy. To me, this is success.

In-Store Signs that Reflect the Company Values

The second photo my fiancee took that night was of a refrigerator sign. I was immediately struck by the similar tone of both the egg-white product and the store signage, until I saw the “My Earth” logo with the same hand-drawn loaf of bread, apple, and fish as the Cage-Free Pasteurized Egg Whites box.

So My Earth and HT Traders products are visually related both through the apparent hand-drawn letterforms (possibly a hand-drawn typeface on a computer) and the image portion of the logo (the fish, bread, and apple).

The sign on the refrigerator notes how Harris Teeter increases refrigeration efficiency and reduces the cost of utilities with this particular technology. Although Harris Teeter has chosen to minimize energy use, it actually helps the branding to make this fact known to shoppers. An increasing number of people value sustainability, and are therefore more likely to buy from a business that shares this goal.

And presenting this information in a hand-drawn font visually connected to HT Traders underscores the low-key approach of the store. You know that this is a house brand (a reflection of the values of those who choose what products to include on the shelves). And you also know that the management is approachable, friendly, not stodgy.

All of this is reinforced by the consistent visual presentation, in both the store signage and the house-brand product packaging. In fact, as a shopper, I personally am more inclined to try a number of the dry goods, canned goods, and bottled goods in the store that have the “look” of the signage and the egg white packaging. I think others will be, too.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

It used to rankle me whenever I heard the catch phrase, “Image is everything.” I think that’s because it implied dishonesty, that you can sell low quality goods if they’re packaged well. Now I prefer to think that if a product or service is of the highest quality, this can be better communicated to prospective buyers with effective branding. Effective branding communicates and reinforces the values and quality of the brand whenever the prospect sees the logo, signage, or product packaging.

As a graphic designer or marketing professional, you have the power to communicate this quality to your prospective buyers through a well-crafted, consistent approach to your commercial printing materials: your signage, product packaging, and collateral.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: Useful and Stylish Promotional Items

April 5th, 2016

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

I’m a sucker for free promotional items. I understand how they work. I know they keep the brand in front of me as I use the items on a daily basis. But, guess what? They’re useful and they look good. So I still like them.

Here are some thoughts on promotional items you might want to include in your arsenal when you go to a trade show. They’re also good for just sending to your clients as a reminder of who you are. After all, they keep your brand name in front of your prospects (and your business “top of mind”).

Branded Folding Box Cutters

This is useful to me as a commercial printing broker. I need to open boxes of printed products and samples on a regular basis. I have a folding box cutter with Epson’s logo and tag line (“Exceed Your Vision”). It’s silver and it sparkles, with the branding in what appears to be white custom screen printing ink. At least this is what would have been the most efficient way to produce such a “tchotchke” (another term for promotional items). A third descriptive name is “swag.”

This kind of promotional item is sexy because it looks sharp, it comes in a black velvet bag, the branding looks dramatic, and, most importantly, it’s useful. I can even change the blade.

Apparently, research has shown that this kind of product is kept for many months and yields hundreds of “impressions” each month. That is, every time I use the box knife, I see the logo and think of Epson.

Branded LED Flashlights

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I find flashlights just as useful as box knives, and Epson just sent me one of these, too. It’s a nine-bulb LED, and it works the same way as the box knife (the marketing part, not the flashlight part). It says “Epson: Exceed Your Vision.”

The thing is, a few times a year I get a print promotion from Epson referencing its inkjet products. Given my work in offset and digital commercial printing, I find this information useful, so I always return the business reply card and get the promo items and the samples. Granted, the large format printing samples are of equal value to me in understanding and promoting the technology.

After all, I need to know what’s going on in the industry. But between the values of quality and innovation associated with the Epson brand, and the flashlight and box knife that keep the Epson brand in front of my eyes on a regular basis, Epson’s marketing unit is doing a superb job.

And, by the way, under my high-powered loupe, it looks like the flashlights were also printed via custom screen printing, given the thick silver ink film.

A Few More Promotional Items

In a marketing journal I recently saw a few more “tchotchkes” that appeared to be useful and effective promotional items. In addition to all the imprinted hats, cups, mugs, chairs, messenger bags, pens, and such, I saw a Post-It dispenser. It had the company’s logo screen printed right where you reach for a Post-It. What could be more useful? You need to make a note. You reach for a Post-It, and you see the company branding, again and again and again. There’s no better way to reinforce this brand image in the mind of the Post-It user than these constant “impressions.” Impressions that go right into the subconscious mind. And, like the box knife and flashlight, a Post-It dispenser is useful.

How Are They Made?

Just in case you want to produce these “tchotchkes” for your own business (as either an entrepreneur or a member of a large firm’s marketing unit), you should know how these products were imprinted.

Positioning the flat mesh screen of a custom screen printing press onto the flat side of the folding box knife is relatively easy to visualize. The knife is irregular in shape, but screen printing equipment can be placed against anything from a knife to an interior wall of a building (think of the printing on the wall in an art exhibit) to the brim of a golf hat.

Printing on the side of a cylindrical flashlight would be a bit harder to imagine, since the custom screen printing mesh frame is flat. However, in this case the curved side of the flashlight can be rolled under the flat screen mesh and ink can be forced through using a squeegie, yielding a printed image that curves around the aluminum frame of the flashlight.

Screen printing a logo on a Post-It dispenser again just demonstrates how irregular an item can be and still receive a screen printed image. I did a little research online and saw videos of small stands built to hold items rigid throughout the custom screen printing process. All it takes is a little ingenuity.

And in all of these cases, once the extensive set-up work has been done to prepare the ink and the screens, the custom screen printing process itself, albeit slower than other forms of custom printing, is quite economical for longer runs.

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Ways to Pay, If You’re an Entrepreneur

March 29th, 2016

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

As I think back over the last several years years of print brokering work, I realize that a rather large percentage of my clients have been self-funding their commercial printing projects. They’re entrepreneurs.

When I sell printing to a for-profit, or non-profit, organization, I’m dealing with a complex bureaucracy usually, but the money is always easily available to pay the print bills. And sometimes the bills are huge, for case-bound print books and longer runs of perfect bound books, for instance.

An Entrepreneur’s Project: The Holocaust Book

In contrast, for an entrepreneur the job may be a self-published book (perhaps for a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah). A few years ago I brokered a large print book about the Holocaust for a family with many relatives who had survived. It was a large-format memorial to their tenacity set forth in photos and text. In this case the books were not sold but rather given out at family gatherings. The last I heard, however, was that the book was so intriguing that the author had considered shopping it around to various synagogues and other Jewish organizations, so their members might benefit from the book as well.

In this case, the print book was produced on an HP Indigo, or at least the text was produced in this way. As I look back at my notes I see that the covers were offset printed and then laminated. For a short run of 65 books, this 180-page, 9” x 12” format, perfect bound book was an ideal candidate for the HP Indigo. It was too short for conventional offset (too short for this option to be economically feasible, that is), but doing a short offset press run of the covers ensured their highest quality.

In this case, as I’m reviewing the notes, it looks like my client did a wire transfer from his bank to the printer to prepay for the commercial printing services.

For the entrepreneur, in many cases the only payment options available are charging the custom printing to a credit card, prepaying by check (with the printing job being put on hold until payment clears), or transferring funds by wire from the bank. Unlike a larger organization (like an educational foundation), many sole proprietors don’t want to undergo a credit check, which would be a requirement for being billed after the job has been printed and delivered.

In fact, in many cases, since commercial printing necessitates the printer’s buying supplies before the print run (such as paper and ink), and doing a large amount of work before delivering the printed product, it’s very much the norm for a print supplier to expect payment before the printing has begun. One of the printers I frequent even requires 110 percent of the cost up front to cover any overage produced during the press run.

Again, large businesses usually sidestep this issue by applying for credit with the commercial printing vendor.

Another Entrepreneur’s Project: The Fashionista’s Color Book

I’ve written many PIE Blog articles about a “fashionista” who is producing a color swatch book with each page a different hue, like a Pantone color book. The colors correspond to particular complexions and help women choose flattering wardrobe colors.

My client initially had secured funding through a partner. This particular job (22 originals multiplied by so many copies of each book) would cost about $5,500 to print digitally (again, the HP Indigo was to be the perfect commercial printing solution, since the ultra-short-run nature of the job lent itself to electrophotographic, digital technology).

Unfortunately, my client recently had a falling out with her source of funding. People have differences of opinion, and in the case of entrepreneurs, gaining seed money often entails giving up control over one’s work. Often the partner not only wants the money back after the product has been sold, but also desires control over the focus and direction of the business during and after the production of the job.

My client would have none of this, understandably. After all, the product was her creation, the fruits of her hard work. I don’t blame her. So she and I came up with a plan.

Making a Prototype of the Color Book

Digital printing, either electrophotography (laser printing) or inkjet printing, lends itself to a “print run of one copy.” It’s expensive, but it can be done. In contrast, to offset print one copy of my client’s color book would be astronomically expensive.

So here’s the plan. For approximately $500 (it may go up or down), the printer will produce a single copy of one original book (approximately 1.5” x 2.5”, 114 pages drilled in one corner and bound with a single screw-and-post assembly, printed on 12 pt gloss stock with 18 pt covers). The pages will all be collated and cut down to size. They may even be UV coated. But they will not be round cornered because this is an analog process, which, like offset printing, would be exorbitant for one copy of one book.

That said, my client’s goal will be to take this print book to her clients, sell them on the concept, and take orders and prepayment. Fortunately, she already has a number of interested clients because she has produced this series of color books before. If her clients prepay for the books, one by one, my client will have the funding to compensate the printer without ceding any control to a silent partner.

How else could she have done this? She could have gone through a “crowdfunding” website for entrepreneurs, such as Kickstarter. I’m sure there are other ways as well (such as gifts or loans through family and friends).

How This Relates to You

Hopefully it doesn’t and never will, if you work for a large organization. In this case it may just open up your awareness to include those who do it all on their own. But if you’re starting a business and need to pay the printer, perhaps these two stories will get you thinking about alternative sources of funding. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Large Format Printing: You’ll Go Nuts for this Printed Carton

March 22nd, 2016

Posted in Packaging | 2 Comments »

On our way home from a standee installation at a movie theater last week, my fiancee stopped the car abruptly and jumped out. She grabbed a cardboard box covered in what appeared to be hand scrawled black Sharpie lettering and drawings. After commenting that I didn’t want to go to jail for stealing garbage, I put the box in the back seat, and we sped off. Needless to say, the box now lives in our front room, an example of pop art and corrugated board printing.

Why? What makes this box so special?

The Product

First of all, the box is different from most other boxes. It is covered in black Sharpie (or so it appears). The company website (it is a nut company) is displayed prominently and underlined. It also appears to be hand lettered (albeit in white). There is almost no place for the eye to rest on any of the four printed sides of the cube (the box is of almost equal dimensions) because there is writing everywhere.

Most of the writing comprises puns, and comments about how delicious the nuts are and how this is a family business. The marketing copy exudes an almost childlike innocence, a sense of wonder and energy and fun. You want to read every word. Then you want to eat the nuts and keep the carton. There are even several cute drawings of nuts with faces, feet, and a hat.

From a marketing point of view, what makes this special:

  1. First of all, it is very personal and friendly in tone, in contrast to most printed carton art. It draws the viewer into the world of the nut-maker by appealing to his/her sense of humor.
  2. It also stands out from almost all other packaging art in that it appears to be hand lettered. Clearly it has been printed. However, only when you think of the labor involved in hand-lettering thousands or hundreds of thousands of boxes do you start to think about how it was printed.
  3. The overall “feel” is of a local food co-op. The box is brown corrugated board. The writing is black ink, except for the white logo, so there is a bit of an environmentally-conscious vibe going on here. It’s casual, approachable, anything but corporate.

The Process

So how was this produced?

Creating the art was easy enough. The graphic designers either produced a hand-lettered original, which they then scanned and brought into the page composition software, or they drew the lettering and images of nuts with faces and legs with a tool like the Wacom Tablet and a stylus (i.e., they created the art within a drawing or painting program).

Producing the carton could have entailed one of three commercial printing processes: inkjet, flexography, or custom screen printing.

Custom screen printing would have been ideal if the press run were large enough. Setting up the screens and ink is labor intensive, so only a long run will justify the make-ready cost. When I look at the box with a high-powered loupe, I don’t see the thick ink film I’ve come to expect from screen printing.

Flexography would have been optimal for shorter press runs, since offset printing would have crushed the fluting in the corrugated board. The rubber plates used for flexography would have printed the artwork on the carton without damaging it, and for small to mid-sized press runs, the process would have been economical. (You’ll find a lot of package printing done via flexography, particularly frozen food cartons, milk cartons, etc.)

When I look closely, I see faint outlines around the lettering. The ink is rather thin and transparent, so you can see not only the fibers of the cardboard, but you can also see that the density of ink within the letters is lighter and the outlines of the letters are a bit darker. This is indicative of flexography.

The third option would be inkjet. This would be great for very short runs or variable data custom printing, in which each box would be slightly different from the others. Since inkjet print heads don’t actually touch the substrate, the process is also great for corrugated board because it won’t crush the fluting. But when I look at the type and images through my high-powered loupe, I don’t see the minuscule ink droplets indicative of inkjet printing.

So I’ll vote for flexography as the process used. That would be my best guess.

What You Can Learn

Here are a number of things to think about:

  1. If you do something totally different, it will stand out. In a world full of standardized cartons, this one really catches the eye.
  2. Consider your audience. Crafting a personal tone and casual appearance works for this nut company. It would usually not work for a computer company (although I have seen some simple black ink-on-corrugated-board marketing work from Apple over the years).
  3. Consider the most appropriate commercial printing technology. Offset printing crushes corrugated board. Screen printing, flexography, and inkjet printing do not. Be mindful of both the economics of custom printing (the most efficient and cost-effective way to print) and the functional requirements of a print job.
  4. From time to time, take a chance. My fiancee loved the design. That’s why she took it as pop art (think Andy Warhol in the ’60s). Some people won’t like it because it’s so outlandish. Great design doesn’t play it safe.

Posted in Packaging | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Gloss UV vs. Clear Foil Stamping

March 14th, 2016

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

My fiancee brought home an intriguing circus print book from a thrift store yesterday. In addition to being all in French, which adds an air of romance to the already beautiful images of horses and costume-clad performers, the book includes the handwritten signatures of a number of the actors in black marker, on their individual pages. The 8” x 10” format, saddle-stitched book also has a striking front and back cover treatment: a gloss coating on the horse and circus name (on the front cover) and two silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover, also gloss coated.

Determining How the Designer Created the Gloss Effect

The gloss coating has an almost mirror-like brilliance, and the remaining background of the front and back covers has a more muted, satin-like coating for contrast.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the effect had been achieved, so I considered the possibilities:

  1. The gloss coating was too shiny to be varnish or aqueous coating. It also had a bit of a raised feel.
  2. The gloss could have been a clear foil stamping, but I knew this would have been an expensive way to approach this design problem, since a die would have been required for the foil stamping process.
  3. I knew that flooding a background with a dull or satin UV coating and then highlighting certain elements within the design with gloss UV coating was currently in vogue, and that it would have produced just this kind of effect at a lower cost than clear foil stamping (because no die would have been required).

Under the circumstances I made an educated guess that the UV option was the likely technology in use. I also checked online for images of gloss UV coating paired with satin UV, and the photos confirmed my assumption.

Other Things I Learned

I also learned some other things in my review of the online imagery as well as the descriptions of the process:

  1. Clear foil stamping seems to be used more for logos and words on a dark, uncoated but textured substrate. For instance, a lot of the clear foil stamped products were custom pocket folder covers or invitations with a few words on a blue or black linen sheet. The effect was similar to the UV gloss coating, but the clear foil stamping technique seemed to be used less as a coating (over imagery) and more as a design element in and of itself.
  2. The darker and more subdued the background, the more the gloss UV stood out. The gloss UV type on a satin UV background didn’t really need any other imagery. On it’s own, it was quite dramatic. In fact, some of the photos I found online were of business cards and postcards with just gloss type on a muted background. (Presumably, though, the fact that UV coating needs no die made the process cheaper and less time consuming than the clear foil stamping option.)
  3. I already knew this, but I also found descriptions of how UV light instantly cures the coating, allowing follow-up steps to be performed immediately, and how this process consumes less energy since it uses light rather than heat to solidify the liquid coating material.
  4. I learned that foil stamping (including clear foil stamping) works best on thicker paper stocks. This probably accounts for the use of clear foil stamping for invitations on a thicker felt paper substrate. One article I read noted that coated papers are seldom foil stamped since the coating traps gases and may cause bubbles to appear under the clear foil. For this reason, I felt even more certain that the circus print book my fiancee had brought home was created with a gloss UV coating and a satin UV coating rather than clear foil stamping. After all, the paper stock used throughout the booklet was coated.
  5. Another article I read, by a printer, noted the two best uses for gloss UV. The first is for highlighting imagery (like the gloss coating used on the front-cover booklet title and horse, as well as the silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover). The second is for creating the text or image itself, without any other artwork, since the glossy words can be read when the light hits the design (because of the contrast with the dull background).
  6. The article noted that such a UV coating is primarily added for its aesthetic properties and not for protection (as might be the goal of adding an overall flood varnish, aqueous coating, laminate, or UV coating).
  7. Gloss UV seems to be appropriate for a wider range of paper stocks than clear foil stamping: from lighter 100# text stock to thick card stocks.
  8. And UV coating seems to be safe for the environment, emitting no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and containing no solvents.

What You Can Learn

  1. You have a lot of options. In fact, you can even create similar printed products using different technologies (such as clear foil stamping and spot gloss UV coating).
  2. However, some of these techniques take longer than others (the time needed to make a metal die, for instance) and are therefore more expensive.
  3. If you like a particular effect, ask your commercial printing supplier or a paper merchant for printed samples. Then ask how they were created. There’s no better way to learn—or communicate your goals to your printer—than with a printed sample.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Postponing a Job That’s in Progress

March 8th, 2016

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I can’t remember the last time I canceled or postponed a commercial printing job mid-flight, or at least right before the job went to press. It’s demoralizing, but depending on why it’s done and how it’s done, this doesn’t have to be either the end of the project or the end of the relationship with the printer.

The Back Story on the Print Job

PIE Blog readers may recognize the story of the fashionista and her color swatch book, akin to a PMS swatch book but for use in choosing clothes based on colors relevant to one’s complexion.

I had encouraged my client to buy an ongoing Creative Cloud license for InDesign. I had then created a template for her print book, and she had produced 22 different versions (master copies for her short-run job). Due to its run length, the project was to be printed on an HP Indigo digital press. And due to it’s short run length (it would be reprinted regularly as new clients bought copies), the job has been the poster child for “just in time” digital printing.

Well it crashed and burned this week due exclusively to a break up between the entrepreneur and her source of funding.

Personally, I think this is a short-term setback and not a permanent end to the job. (Granted, that’s easy for me to say.)

Future Directions for the Job

Under the circumstances, however, I have taken the following track:

  1. I alerted the printer today. The prior printer, who was going to do the job on a Kodak NexPress, had misquoted the project and had offered to either reprice the job (for a significantly higher price) or to back out of the process. The current printer had stepped up and had produced a single-page ganged-up test sheet including a handful of color swatches from the job. He had printed this test on the chosen paper stock and had UV coated the sample to show my client how a cover coating might affect the colors in the print book. Needless to say, both printers had invested a lot of time in the project over the course of a year.
  2. I asked the current printer to calculate how much the work done up until now would cost. I made it clear that my client planned to come back once she had found funding for her entrepreneurial efforts. I said I knew the printer’s time was valuable, and I wanted him to be adequately compensated. He is looking into this.
  3. I told the printer to expect full funding when my client came back. She would provide the entire cost with a check or credit card before starting the job. This demonstrated good will, respect, and an intent to postpone but not cancel the job.
  4. I asked the client to review the single-page test sheet very carefully. It would be the starting point for the new job once she had secured funding. I asked her to note on the test sheet the CMYK percentages of each color swatch, the target PMS for each swatch (if she chose to match them on the Indigo), and any comments she had concerning the color fidelity of each swatch. This reflected my conviction that the job would in fact continue in several months.
  5. I reassured my client. I told her that neither the commercial printing vendor nor I would abandon her due to this unfortunate experience. We both planned to continue the job in the near future.

The Take Away: What We Can Learn

  1. Sometimes things go awry. Cutting ties in a case like this would have been counterproductive. After all, my client had created 22 press-ready print book files in InDesign. She had shown good faith and an intent to proceed. I do not know exactly when the job will start up again. However, if I had cut ties with the client, or if the printer had cut ties with me, there would have been no chance to pursue the job—which could easily grow into an ongoing project with periodic reprints.
  2. Not asking the printer for a bill for services to-date would have shown a lack of respect for his time and effort. I might have gotten away without paying, but it would have damaged the relationship. Furthermore, when the job resurfaces, this printer would have had less inclination to work with me, or my client.
  3. Not asking my client to analyze the single-page test job and provide feedback—even at this point–would have been to miss an opportunity to plan how to proceed after she has secured funding. After all, the job (and her reactions to the sample file color swatches produced on the HP Indigo) is still fresh in her mind.
  4. In your own commercial printing work, a situation like this may come up—perhaps once or twice in a career. I encourage you to think before you react. Sometimes apparent failure just means that you need to change your direction a bit and then start again.

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Custom Printing: Pairing Magazines with Virtual Reality

March 3rd, 2016

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A friend of mine let me know this week that he had just bought the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated but that he had only bought it for the articles, not the pictures. He’s a former athletics coach.

When I learned that there were three (at least that I knew of) different covers of this particular issue, I asked my friend the coach if he had bought all three versions, or was one version (with one cover) enough for him to read and not look at the pictures.

Items of interest come in multiples, so I was not surprised to receive an article from another friend and associate noting the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality. It focused on the same magazine.

Apparently 500,000 newsstand copies of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated include a virtual reality viewer, a pop-up cardboard device that attaches to your smartphone. When you download an app, you can experience content beyond that in the swimsuit issue (“’intimate access’ with five featured models,” according to the article) in a fully immersive way.

I urge you to look up the article online. It is entitled “Quad/Graphics Enhances 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with Virtual Reality Viewer.” It was written by Elise Hacking Carr and published on February 23, 2016, on the Print+Promo website.

Why This Is Important

According to Carr’s Print+Promo article, the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality is important because it extends the reach, creativity, and effectiveness of marketing. Carr notes that, “advertisers are able to brand and print four-color process on the unit’s [the virtual reality viewer's] outer shell for increased brand visibility.” She also quotes Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics:

“Publishers are looking for new and innovative ways to connect more with their readership.

“The QVR Viewer allows them to provide enhanced digital experiences that complement and extend their brand, or advertisers’ brands, beyond traditional print or digital content.

“Compared to other paper viewers, the QVR Viewer is an economical way to reach readers and consumers with a fully branded gateway to digital content.”

My Take on the Technology

I learned the following from my interaction with the sports coach and from the article I received from my other friend:

  1. Unrelated to virtual reality, the concept of having multiple versions of a cover for a magazine shows how publications can be targeted to their readers. While this could be done before the advent of digital commercial printing (selective binding of the same publication using variations on the cover), it’s nevertheless much easier now with the new technology. After all, on a digital press you don’t have to just print a handful of different covers. You can print a different cover for each copy as well as different text/photos throughout. Mass personalization means advertisers can directly target small groups and even individuals with their advertising messages.
  2. Multi-channel marketing is powerful. If a potential client sees an advertising message on different platforms (email, signage, a periodical, and virtual reality, for instance), the marketing message will be exponentially strengthened.
  3. More and more, I’m seeing this concept put to use with increasing technical savvy (for instance, printing a poster with a near-field communication chip that ties into your smartphone). So the pairing of virtual reality glasses and a print magazine not only doesn’t surprise me. It intrigues me.
  4. Nothing sells like sex, so choosing the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated for the virtual reality viewer seems like a “no-brainer” to me.
  5. Paper folds, plastic doesn’t. So I am intrigued that Quad/Graphics was able to produce a foldable paper virtual reality device. Moreover, using an already existing base of smartphones in the marketplace and only providing the headset and lenses works on a financial level. Basically, the marketing prospect doesn’t have to buy anything. He/she only has to download an app and then use his/her existing phone to experience virtual reality.
  6. A paper structure for a virtual reality device provides ample space for a marketing message. It can also be printed flat and then assembled (much more easily than printing on a rigid, 3D molded plastic virtual reality headset). And it can be delivered to 500,000 readers far more easily and cheaply. So the designers of the product thought ahead to make the process easy for the printer as well as the user of the device.
  7. Hard-copy magazines reach an established reader base. Using print publications as a jumping off point into the virtual world is just good psychology and good business.

This is what happens when marketers take the time to understand their prospects’ interests, their custom printing suppliers’ capabilities, concepts of finance and cost analysis, the available cutting edge computer technology, and human psychology. More power to them.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Six Lay-Flat Paperback Binding Options

February 26th, 2016

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A book printing client of mine does contract work for a multinational world organization. I know this sounds like a plot for a movie, but like all government organizations and NGOs, this one produces a lot of printed material. For this I am grateful.

My client’s boss needs to print a handbook in Africa for local use. Having some questions about this project, my client has secured my services as a consultant on certain aspects of this book printing project.

The Book Project

Like most of the work my client produces for this government organization, the print book will be a medium format, soft-cover book of approximately 200 pages plus cover. It will print in four-color process ink throughout. Other than that, a lot of the production details are sketchy and open to review and revision.

My Client’s Initial Questions

My client forwarded an email to me today from the printer in Nairobi, Kenya. First of all, he wanted to know what text stock would be used for the book block (text pages without covers). He suggested 115 or 130 gsm, noting that the thinner paper would make the book less bulky (presumably a reference to a lower cost for distribution), and the thicker stock would make the book more durable.

First of all, it’s an eye opener to realize that most of the world measures physical items (including commercial printing paper) on the metric scale. Starting to do even a small amount of international business intrigues me as well.

With the metric information in hand, I typed the following keywords into Google: “paper weight conversion.” I find this kind of site supremely useful in comparing text weight printing stocks to cover weight stocks, or for converting paper weights expressed in pounds to comparable weights expressed in points (i.e., by paper thickness rather than by basis weight).

This particular chart (found at http://www.paper-paper.com/weight.html) also converts pounds and points to “grams per square meter” or gsm, the unit of measurement sent to me from the African printer. For 115 gsm and 130 gsm I found comparable text weights of approximately 80# and 90# respectively. Since I have often specified paper for posters as 100# gloss text, I thought either of these would produce a substantial 200-page book, and I told my client as much. For durability (rather than weight, thickness, and delivery cost), I also suggested the heavier stock, noting that for a 200-page book, the spine of the book would be just under 3/4” (since the caliper of the paper is .006”).

The Next Question: Binding Methods

The client also wants the print book to lie flat when open. This is not a bad thing. It just points toward the following binding techniques:

  1. The client can bind the book using GBC technology. This is a plastic comb that would fit through holes punched through all pages near the binding edge of the book. It is hand work and therefore very expensive for all but the shortest press runs (100s, not 1,000s). Pages also tend to come unhooked from the plastic comb. It’s not my favorite binding. Fortunately, the end-user client (the multinational government organization) didn’t like it either.
  2. The client could bind the book with plastic coil. A quick search on the Internet put the page limit for such a binding at 450 pages (so 200 pages would work just fine). I like this technology because the plastic coil has “memory.” If you try to squeeze or damage it, it immediately comes back to its original shape. Unfortunately, the client didn’t want this option.
  3. Spiral wire (or Wire-O) binding (which are separate technologies) would be two other options for this length of a print book, but both could unfortunately be crushed. That is, stepping on the wires would bend them easily, and the book would no longer allow for easy page turning. Accidents do happen. But the client didn’t want this option either, which was fine since mechanical bindings (such as GBC, plastic coil, spiral wire, and Wire-O) are all rather expensive and therefore more appropriate for short press runs.

The Final Option

Lay-flat binding is the final option. This is what I also consider the best option since it is more professional looking (and less similar to a notebook). In this binding method, the text pages (grouped as press signatures) are attached to thick gauze at the bind edge. The gauze, called a “liner” or “crash,” extends out from the spine on either side, far enough to be attached to the front and back covers just beyond the scoring made by the printer for the spine of the print book.

The binding side of the gathered press signatures never touches the actual paper spine of the book. The book block just hangs on the covers. This is in direct contrast to a perfect-bound book, in which the signatures are roughed up on the bind edge and then glued directly to the spine. Such a perfect-bound book will not lie flat; however, by attaching the book block to the covers but not to the spine, the entire book will lie flat.

If you look closely, you might see a similarity between a lay-flat softcover book and a case-bound book. In fact, you would approach binding a hardcover book in much the same way as a lay-flat paperback. In most cases (except with a “tight-backed” case-bound book), you would “hang” the book block on the front and back covers and then paste the book’s front and back endsheets over the extended “crash” or “liner.”

Lay-flat binding comes in several branded options. One of these is “Otabind.” When queried, the printer in Nairobi, Africa, noted that he doesn’t have Otabind capabilities. However, he does have “swing bind” capabilities. Another quick search on the Internet came up with relevant photos of this technology, which appears to be approximately the same. So we have the beginnings of negotiation, depending on the quality of the sample print books.

A Postscript: An Even Better (But Far More Expensive) Option

Interestingly enough, the client emailed me (after I had written this blog post) to discuss Smyth sewing. In this (sixth) option, the press signatures are stitched with string. Then the crash is glued to the binding ends of the signatures, and the extensions of the crash (or liner) are attached to the paper cover. This technology can also be used for case binding. The stitching makes the book pages lie flat, but it also makes the books extremely durable. You might find such a book in a museum gift shop.

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