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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 and Design: Contrast and the Element of Surprise

March 3rd, 2015

Posted in Design | Comments »

Have you ever seen a printed photograph of a sunset, perhaps in a wall calendar, and wondered just how the printer got the sun to appear so bright?

If you think about printing such an image from the perspective of a custom printing vendor, the sun cannot be brighter than the white paper on which the calendar was printed. And yet, the sun seems to radiate off the page.

How Does This Work?

What is actually happening is that the much darker hues of the background, as your eye moves away from the central solar image, create contrast with the fiery yellow and red sun. This makes the dark tones appear darker and the light tones of the sun appear lighter.

(In addition, the reds, oranges, and yellows in the image are warm colors in that they appear to jump off the page, while the blues and purples of the darkening surroundings are cool colors, in that they appear to recede from the viewer’s eye.)

A good rule of thumb to take away with you from this example is that nothing in design or commercial printing exists by itself. Everything–whether it is a color, a shape, or a block of type–exists in relationship to something else. And if you can create contrast between colors or shapes, you can catch the viewer’s attention.

Finally, if you’re going to contrast two design elements, make the contrast “big.” That is, be dramatic.

What About Type Treatments?

It is a rule of thumb (albeit one made to be broken) that a serif typeface in the text works well with a sans serif headline. The opposite is also true. Choosing a heavy, serif typeface for a headline and placing it over body copy set in a sans serif typeface creates an interesting contrast.

In either of these cases, the contrast between the headline and the text gives the reader immediate information as to what is more import and what is less important. If she or he has time to only read the headlines in a news story, for instance, it is helpful to know instantly where they are.

Granted, even if you’re a sophisticated designer and you understand how to pair one serif typeface in the body copy with another serif typeface in the headline, you’re probably still conscious of using two typefaces that are different in some way—to increase reader interest. Here again, contrast is a key rule of design.

Contrast Between Type and Surrounding White Space

Those of you who remember the 50s and 60s may remember Helmut Krone’s and Julian Koenig’s “Think Small” VW Beetle campaign in 1959 for the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. Unlike every other ad in the newspaper (presumably), the “Think Small” Volkswagen ads pictured a tiny image of the VW Beetle surrounded by a huge amount of white space. The ads immediately grabbed the reader’s attention because of the contrast between the copious white space and tiny image. Moreover, it worked because it was unexpected. (One would usually expect a small amount of white space surrounding the more important image of the car.)

Beyond the optical trick, based on unexpected contrast, the concept worked because the goal was to position the VW Beetle in a minimalist way as a small, simple, no-frills car. The concept matched the design treatment.

Contrast in Size of Typefaces

I recently saw a sample print ad in a book by Robin Williams entitled Design Workshop. The vertical ad treatment included a huge whisk and spoon alongside a small block of copy and a small logo of a chef in a white chef’s hat.

First of all (and consistent with my earlier comments about how a strong contrast maximizes differences between two design elements), the huge cooking tools make the chef look even smaller than he would have looked otherwise.

Secondly, the particular choice of contrast contributed the element of surprise to the ad. That is, normally you would think of a chef’s head as being larger than his cooking tools; therefore, a reversal of this expectation is more likely to focus the reader’s attention on the ad.

Robin Williams takes a similar approach to a type-only ad in the same chapter, enlarging an all-type logo (apparently set in the “American Typewriter” typeface to look like type script), screening it back to a mid-tone gray, and then positioning it behind a reversed block of ad copy. The logotype looks like it was produced on an old manual typewriter, so the contours of the letters are interesting (a design element in themselves), and the larger than usual type in the background creates a layered effect. Finally, Robin Williams tilted the ad copy. All of these unexpected design elements work together to interest the reader.

What to Remember

The most important thing to remember is that contrast creates visual interest, and the most effective contrast is a dramatic contrast. Think big—or small.

Posted in Design | Comments »

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Spine Design for Books, Catalogs, and Magazines

February 28th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

While I was on the phone today, on hold for a half hour waiting to speak with a health insurance agent, I had plenty of time to look at the walls and ceiling. My gaze also fell on a collection of print book on a shelf, and more precisely on their spines.

I thought about the design of a book spine and about how important this is. In fact, in many cases, people decide whether to pick up and read a print book based on the design and content of that small strip of paper. (Sometimes that’s all they see, if the books are all on a shelf.)

I thought further, noting that both magazines and catalogs (those with spines) fell into the same category as print books and required the same attention to spine design.

I thought about which of the twelve books on this particular shelf appealed to me and why. I think I can break this down into a few concepts that you might find useful in your own book spine design, keeping in mind that you may only have a few seconds to interest your reader.

Even in choosing the color and typeface for the spine of a textbook, we’re still ultimately talking about marketing. No one will read your book unless you can pique their interest.

Choosing the Color of the Spine

Of the twelve books on my shelf, four had white spines, five had blue spines, one was black, one was completely red (burgundy), and one was half burgundy and half blue.

The white print books were the lightest (in value), and they stood out the most. Of course, the widest of the white spine books stood out more than all the others. Ironically, even though the 1.5” (approximately) spine was the most visible, the type was light and thin, all capital letters, and printed in black ink (in Roman type, not bold). The type was also letterspaced.

The author’s name was at the top of the spine reversed out of a horizontal black bar. It was more readable than anything else on the spine. Ultimately, I think the author’s name was less important than the title, which was much harder to read, particularly at a 90 degree angle to the reader (i.e., rotated to fit on the spine).

The burgundy books both had orange type knocked out of the burgundy. They also had reverse type (white on the red), which was much easier to read than the orange on red.

The blue books were the easiest to read, probably because they all included spine type that was white (reversed),

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Color matters: not just the color of the background, but also the color of the type; or, rather, the interaction between the color of the background and the color of the type.

Fewer colors, and contrast between the background color and the text color, make for good readability. Simplicity also makes for good legibility. And legibility trumps aesthetics when you’re trying to interest a potential reader.

Selecting the Typeface(s) for the Book Spine

The most readable spine type was a simple sans serif type set with normal letterspacing (not spread out) in uppercase and lowercase letters. For added flair, the designer had changed the “of” in the title from roman to italic type.

As noted above, the letterspaced, all-capitals treatment of the title of the print book with the white spine (particularly given the lower contrast of background to type), made for tougher reading. Had the book title been set in a bold typeface, the contrast would have been a little more dramatic, and this would have increased the readability of the title.

Another book, also with a white background, had an all-capitals treatment of the title in a tall, narrow, modern typeface. It was gorgeous, sophisticated, and not particularly readable. Squeezing the type (too narrow for its height) lessened readability, as did the dramatic contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the modern, serif typeface.

A book with a black spine from which the title had been knocked out and printed in gold, worked well for a textbook on finance. The gold seemed relevant. The subhead was in white, in a narrow sans serif (gothic) typeface. It was squeezed up a bit, but it had been set in capital and lowercase letters. Even the title set in gold in all capital letters was readable because the words were actually in small caps. (That is, only the initial letter of each word “read” as being uppercase. You could recognize each word because it had a distinctive “shape.”

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Type selection and (lack of) manipulation matter as much as color. Upper and lowercase letters are easier to read than all uppercase letters. Failing that, “caps and small caps” are easier to read than all-caps. The shape of a word created by the uppercase letters and lowercase letters, by the ascenders and descenders, allows the reader to recognize the word without having to read it letter by letter.

That said, making type narrower than its design warrants, or spreading it out more than expected with increased letterspacing, slows the reader down, even if the type looks elegant and sophisticated. Readability is more important than aesthetics.

Finally, when you need to turn type on its side to fit it on the spine of a book, it becomes even more important than usual to make the words easy to read.

If you lose your reader’s attention, or if you make reading unpleasant, you’ve lost your only opportunity to capture your reader’s interest.

Parting Thoughts

In design, nothing works like a physical sample. It lets you see exactly what to expect of the final printed piece. So consider creating a mock-up of the cover and spine of your print book using an inkjet printer. Paste these onto an actual book, and put it up on the bookshelf with a number of other books. If it stands out and the title is readable, I think you’ve got a winner. It’s easy to do, but if the samples on my shelf are any indication, not everyone does this.

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: More Info on Hard- and Soft-Proofing

February 26th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

A book printing client of mine, whom I have written about recently, just downloaded an InSite proof of the text of her and her husband’s print book. She also received hard-copy proofs of the photo section of the book and a color Spectrum proof of the cover. Some questions arose, and I wanted to share these with you. I think they may be helpful in your print buying work.

The InSite Proof

First of all, the InSite proof my client received was actually a low-resolution PDF of the 464 text pages. The InSite proofing portal would have allowed my client to review individual pages, spreads, or the entire book (which she could have paged through like an on-screen version of a book or magazine). However, InSite requires a bit of a learning curve, so the printer sent my client a low-res version of the text. This proof my client and her husband could review more easily.

Like the InSite version of the text, the PDF included a dashed rule line just outside the page trim. This reflects a 5.5” x 8.5” trim size for the text plus a 1/8” margin for bleeds. In my client’s case no design elements actually bleed off the edge of the page, but in other cases, this would be a very useful tool for confirming adequate bleeds.

The PDF also included a larger, interior margin noted with a dashed rule line. This margin, which seems to be approximately 1/4” from the 5.5” x 8.5” trim, reflects the limit past which no copy or other design elements should go unless the designer had intended them to bleed. Anything closer risks being trimmed off.

The PDF of the InSite proof also includes printers’ notes, such as the text dimensions, ink colors (black ink only), and, of course, all copy in its precise position.

As a position-only proof, this PDF doesn’t need to be any higher resolution. Low-res is fine. It works for checking line art copy (i.e., text) for accurate position, completeness, and accuracy.

My client can request a hard-copy version of this proof, and she and her husband have a few days to make this decision without affecting the book printing schedule. But it really is not necessary, and my client will incur postage costs for shipping the proof.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you’re only checking a proof for position and not for color or image resolution, a screen proof, such as an InSite proof, is fine.
  2. In addition, if you’re concerned that an online proofing portal, such as InSite, will be too complex to use, you can always request a PDF proof of your job.
  3. In a position-only proof, remember to check any bleeds and make sure no copy is too close to the trim. Trimming operations are not perfect. Art or type placed too close to the trim may be cut off inadvertently in the finishing process. It is ideal if your on-screen proof includes both bleed lines and live-matter lines clearly marked along with the trim size of your printed product.

Proofing Paper vs. Final Printing Paper Stock

While my print brokering client was proofing her, and her husband’s, book, she emailed me, expressing concern about the Level 2 proofs of the photo insert (an 8-page insert placed between text signatures). In addition to the low-res version of the InSite proof, my client had received this hard-copy proof of the photos and a much higher quality Spectrum proof of the cover.

My client’s Level 2 proof had been inkjet printed on gloss stock, but my client had requested a matte press sheet for this 8-page photo insert. I told her I was certain it was just the particular stock used for proofing, but I also said I would have the printer confirm this.

(In addition, I wanted to make sure that there would be no difference between black-ink-only halftone images simulated on a gloss proofing stock and those actually printed on a matte printing stock. I say simulated because the Level 2 proofs, like other inkjet proofs, may well be continuous tone only, and may therefore not show the halftone dot structure that will appear on the final printing plates—and in the book itself.)

The printer did confirm that there would be no discernible difference between the proof and the printed photo signature other than the gloss sheen of the unprinted paper.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If something looks odd in the proofs, always bring this to your customer service representative’s attention. This includes any apparent changes in paper stock.
  2. That said, don’t be surprised if your printer does not plot a proof on the exact same paper on which your final job will print.
  3. If there is a difference, however, between the proof paper and the final printing stock, ask your printer how this will affect the final “look” of the printed piece. At the very least, make sure the proofing technology will accurately show the tone range of images (the lightest light and darkest dark, plus the tone levels in between). This kind of proof needs to reflect the detail you can expect in the final printed halftone images.

Final Thoughts: The Cover Proof

This is short and sweet: Never skimp on a cover proof. Buy the best you can. Make sure it shows accurate color, a good simulation of the paper stock, and ideally even the halftone dot structure of the final printed images. If your book printer cannot show the cover coating, paper stock, or anything else, make sure he can show you other printed samples reflecting the exact “look” you’re after. Leave nothing to chance.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Paste Binding Web-Offset Booklets

February 20th, 2015

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Have you ever received a financial statement in the mail, perhaps a short (8- to 16-page) prospectus for a mutual fund, and noticed that it was not saddle stitched, perfect bound, or bound in any other usual way? The nested pages just stuck together and didn’t fall apart. This is called paste-binding, and for the right commercial printing jobs it’s a wonderful way to save money and time.

The Usual Binding Methods

Usually, when you’re producing a short publication, you will saddle stitch the printed product. That is, you will bind it with staples through the fold, and all the pages will stay together. This is good for printed products up to about 80 or 96 pages (depending on the weight of the press sheet). In some cases (usually magazines printed on relatively light text stock), you may even see saddle stitching done on much longer printed products, although there’s always the possibility that pages will fall out if you try to saddle stitch too long a print book, magazine, or catalog. (Your printer can provide you with guidelines pertaining to his specific binding equipment.)

Another way you might bind a short publication is to side stitch the printed product. Like saddle stitching, this uses lengths of binding wire (that look like staples), but these are inserted down through the pages rather than sideways through the fold.

When to Request Paste Binding

If your printed product fits the following requirements, consider the alternative of paste binding instead:

  1. Your booklet is very short (say 8, 12, or 16 pages)
  2. It is printed on a thin paper stock (like 50# or 60# text–or an even thinner stock)
  3. Your press run is long enough to require a web press (a roll-fed press instead of a sheetfed press)

What Is Paste Binding?

If you are printing press signatures on a heatset or coldset web press that will later be saddle stitched, this process requires two separate operations. The web press delivers folded signatures, but these must then be transported to the finishing department. Here they can be saddle stitched and trimmed into your final product on equipment separate from the printing press.

In contrast, if your printed product is short enough for paste binding, a pasting unit on the web press itself will apply a bead of glue to the fold of your printed product and then seat the successive pages of the print job on this glue. This can be done for products with 8, 12, or 16 pages. Beyond this number, the glued pages won’t stay together and might fall apart.

So you can visualize this paste-binding process, on a heatset web press there are four or more inking units through which the roll of commercial printing paper travels. These inking units are followed by an oven that flash-dries the solvent and binders in the ink so the pigment of the ink will sit up on the surface of the paper. After this, the paper travels through the chill rollers, which reduce the temperature of the heated paper and complete the ink-setting process. It is at this point (just before the delivery end of the press) that the folding, pasting, and trimming processes occur, delivering stacks of complete printed and bound booklets for the press operators to carton pack.

The bottom line is that the printed products coming off the web press are collated, paste-bound, folded, and trimmed into finished products ready for use. And all of this happens in a single pass through the web offset press.

The substantial cost savings and time savings make this process especially attractive. Obviously, the actual savings will depend on the length of your press run, the number of pages comprising your booklet, and such, but you won’t be paying for a separate finishing operation. This will save you makeready costs on the binding equipment (perhaps $500 or more, plus the run length cost—the price per M—which might be several hundred dollars or more). This could add up to a material savings. And bypassing the finishing department will shorten the production schedule.

The Main Determining Factor

Remember, this is not a panacea. Not all jobs will qualify. Your job has to fit on a heatset or coldset web press (i.e., it has to have a long press run). It has to comprise only a few pages (8, 12, 16). And the paper must be relatively thin.

That said, if you’re producing jobs like a prospectus for a financial instrument (such as a mutual fund), or if you’re printing a multi-page advertising insert for a newspaper, this might just save you some serious cash.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Evaluating Printing Estimates

February 17th, 2015

Posted in Printing | Comments »

I spent some time yesterday reviewing a detailed printing estimate for a brokering client of mine. It was for a print book, but it just as easily could have been for a brochure, booklet, poster, or any other job.

As much as it requires me to pay particular attention to detail, and check and recheck math computations, I am actually pleased when I receive a line-by-line custom printing estimate because it leaves nothing to interpretation. I know that the printer has either addressed every nuance of the job specifications I provided, or he has omitted something that I need to address. It is right there in front of me.

Since analyzing commercial printing estimates is something all print buyers must do, I thought it prudent to share this book printer’s bid with you and discuss some things to look for in your own work.

The Client’s Project and the Estimate for the Job

First of all, the job in question is a 5.5” x 8.5” print book, perfect bound with French Flaps. I have mentioned the project in prior blog articles. It has a press run of 3,000 copies. The book will be printed on 55# Sebago Antique text stock, 80# Somerset Matte text for an 8-page photo insert, and 12pt. Tango bristol stock for the cover.

The estimate I received from the commercial printing vendor describes all aspects of the project, including trim size, page count, quantity, preliminary work, proofs, paper stock, presswork (ink colors), binding, terms, and distribution (extra freight costs). These are broken out in detail in the first half of the estimate.

After the descriptions, all of this information is further broken down into a pricing grid. (This is the vertical axis of the grid, reading downwards):

  1. Preliminary
  2. Plates
  3. Presswork
  4. Paper
  5. 1-color Insert
  6. Covers
  7. Binding
  8. Total (exclusive of freight)

Reading horizontally, across the pricing grid, are the following headings:

  1. Makeready
  2. Run/M
  3. 3,000 copies

Analyzing the Printer’s Estimate

Conceptually, the estimate comprises the following: labor and materials, of course, but also preparation for the printing and finishing processes plus the actual runs of the press and postpress operations. (That is, makeready costs are separate from—and in addition to–the costs of the production operations themselves.)

Preliminary work involves taking my client’s art files for the cover, insert, and text (in PDF format, as stipulated earlier in the estimate), preflighting them, and imposing the pages into press signatures.

Preliminary work also includes proofing, which is defined earlier in the estimate as a Spectrum proof for the cover (the highest level of color proof the printer offers), a Level 2 proof for the b/w photo signature, and book blues (position only proofs) for the black-only text.

On the pricing grid, preliminary work is separate from plates, but both line items are only noted in makeready costs. This is because no matter how many copies of the print book are produced (at least at this short run-length), these costs will be the same. The prepress processes are done once for the whole job, so the cost for makeready is the same as the total cost for 3,000 copies.

Presswork and finishing operations, on the other hand, have a makeready charge, a cost per M, and a total cost for 3,000 copies. So do all the other line items: 1-color insert, Covers, and Binding. In all of these cases, printing equipment or finishing equipment must be set up before the actual operation can be completed. So a computation of the total pricing for one line item is as follows: the makeready cost + [cost per M, or per thousand, for the run length x 3 (for 3,000 copies)]. Of course, all line items must then be added along with the freight cost to get the total estimated job cost.

What the estimate doesn’t tell you is that the printer can deliver 10 percent overage or underage–over or under the 3,000 total. This is noted later, in the boilerplate contract following the pricing, although it is a “trade custom” and therefore reasonable and to be expected. It does, however, vary from printer to printer, up to this 10 percent total amount.

In the case of this bid, paper is listed and described earlier in the estimate (not in the pricing grid) at a particular price at a particular date. This is because paper prices go up and down like the stock market. Printers don’t want to lose money, so their estimates reflect the cost they paid (or will pay) for the paper used for your job only. If your bid goes “stale” (i.e., is several months old), your printer can re-compute the paper pricing at the then-current price. Usually this price adjusting only pertains to direct costs (such as paper).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This is actually an ideal custom printing estimate because it is so thorough. Everything is spelled out, including where the printer’s responsibility for the job ends: “FOB printer’s loading dock.”

Not every estimate will be this explicit, although (more often than not) print book bids will usually be spelled out in this detail. Some estimates for smaller jobs may just appear as a total cost typed into an email reply to your request for a commercial printing bid.

I urge you to do the math yourself, working out the “makeready cost” plus the “run cost per M,” since in my experience many bids have errors. If you find an error, bring it to your customer service representative’s attention immediately.

Finally, remember to review the boilerplate contract following the job description and pricing breakdown. It will describe what kinds of art files you can submit (and what the printer can charge you if your files are not press-ready), overrun/underrun limits, payment and credit terms, etc. It is a contract. Once you sign it, it’s binding.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: End-Game Process for Book Production

February 13th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

A print brokering client of mine is just finishing up an anthology of poetry and prose, getting it ready for the printer. This small business local literary publisher and I are going through a few last minute checks that I think you might find useful and enlightening if you produce print books of any kind.

The Specifications for the Print Book Job

First of all, my client’s literary anthology is one of many publications that came out this year, so keeping the specifications consistent among my client’s various projects is important. This way all products this publisher sells will have an identifiable look.

Like their other projects, this husband and wife team are now producing a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound book with French Flaps (gatefold flaps that fold into the book to make it look like it has a dust jacket). In addition to looking sophisticated, this set of cover flaps provides ample space for promotional photos, descriptions of the book, and reviewers’ quotations.

The text of the book will be printed on 55# Sebago Antque text, which has a substantial, rough feel comparable to a 70# uncoated text sheet. Since it has not been overly compressed by the calender rollers in the papermaking process, it feels like a much thicker paper.

There is also a photo insert. I advised my client to print the images on an 80# Somerset Matte text. Normally, I would have suggested a gloss text (to make the photos “pop”), but some of the photos are of snapshot quality, and the matte sheet will be more forgiving than a gloss sheet.

Preparing the Book Pagination

The 464 page book breaks down into fourteen 32-page signatures and one 16-page signature, plus the 8-page photo signature and the cover. I set up the book pagination this way because the optimal signature length for this printer’s heatset web press is a 32-page signature. However, 16-page signatures can be produced for a little more money, but they are not as pricey as an 8-page signature (which would require handwork). In fact, the 8-page photo signature (considered an insert, since it will be printed on an alternate paper stock) will require handwork, but the text itself will not.

The first task, then, was to place both the 16-page signature and the 8-page insert among the 32-page signatures. My client wanted the 8-page insert to fall close to the center of the print book and to be positioned either between poems or within a short story (so as not to be disruptive or confusing). Therefore, I carefully counted out the pages for the first 32-page signature (Roman numerals I to XXVIII) and the first four Arabic numerals (1-4). Successive 32-page signatures went from page 5 through page 36, 37 through 68, and so forth (in 32-page increments).

When I got about halfway through the book, I added the 16-page signature. The first time, it didn’t work. At the halfway point in the book I wound up in the middle of a poem, just where I had wanted to put the 8-page photo signature. So I swapped the 16-page signature with another 32-page signature and tried again. This was all arbitrary, a random process. I got lucky on the second attempt, and I was able to put the 8-page photo insert signature between folios 212 and 213. That is, I stacked seven 32-page signatures side by side, then added a 16-page signature, then added the 8-page photo signature, and then finished with another seven 32-page signatures. The total book length, including Roman numerals I through XXVIII plus Arabic numerals 1 through 436, comprised the 464-page book plus an 8-page insert plus a 4-page cover.

Then, I checked my math (and the page numbers) and had my client and the printer do the same. I wanted to make sure my client liked the aesthetics of the signature placement, and I wanted to make sure the printer approved of the technical aspects of the pagination.

Providing PDF-Creation and InSite Upload Information

I made sure the book cover designer (who was producing the covers in Photoshop, with 4-color on both the inside and outside covers plus a dull film laminate on the outside covers) and the text designer (who was producing the text in InDesign) both understood the book printer’s file preparation requirements. I also collected the printer’s FTP site information (actually an InSite portal that would allow for on-screen proofing) so both designers could upload press-ready art files.

Final Specs from the Client

Tomorrow is the key deadline, set to support a February 15 ship date. It allows for paper purchase, prepress, and post-press within a period containing two major national holidays. All of this had been worked out months prior.

Last week the main deadline was for my client’s transfer of funds to pay for the print book production. This week the major objectives are:

  1. Uploading all art files (text, cover, and photo insert).
  2. Confirming the press run and page count (this deadline is known as the LDC date, or last-date-to-change project specifications).
  3. Buying the paper (early enough so it will be on the pressroom floor, conditioned and ready to go, when the presses are ready).

Next Steps for the Job

This is what will happen next:

  1. I will get a revised printing and delivery price for my client.
  2. The printer will provide physical proofs (Spectrum for the cover, slightly lesser quality inkjet proofs for the black and white photo insert, and position-only proofs for the text). The book printer will also offer on-screen proofs through the InSite portal, and F&Gs (printed but unbound book pages provided for approval prior to the perfect binding step).
  3. My client will provide precise information for all deliveries.

Then we will make sure everything happens as planned.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

Make sure you negotiate all of these steps with the printer if you’re producing a print book. Give thought to what kinds of proofing you will need (I believe in proofing early and often to catch all errors). Don’t forget to discuss delivery requirements as well as scheduling. Get everything in writing, and keep in close touch with your book printer, discussing all costs, schedule dates, and job progress periodically throughout the book production process. Leave nothing to chance.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Commercial Printing: The Skinny on Newspaper Inserts

February 8th, 2015

Posted in Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

This time of year, wherever you look, you’ll see newspaper inserts promoting everything from sporting equipment to jewelry in a frenzy to sell, sell, sell before the holidays. I’ve always enjoyed paging through these circulars, whether or not I end up buying anything.

As I received a new stack of inserts in my mailbox recently, I thought about how these newspaper products are produced. I wasn’t absolutely sure, so I did a little research. Here are my findings.

Printing Inserts on Thin Paper

First of all, you’ll probably notice that the inserts are printed on incredibly thin paper. In addition, they are usually printed in full color.

If you look at the online advertiser rate card for USA Today, for instance, you’ll note that their minimum acceptable paper thickness for advertising inserts is 30# newsprint within a minimum 8-page signature. This sets the lower page-weight limit, and I have seen 35# and 45# as well for thicker inserts.

Paper of this basis weight is much too thin to travel through a sheetfed offset press without being creased, mashed up or folded. Therefore, an advertising circular of this kind must be printed on a web-fed offset press.

That is, the tension of the roll of printing paper traveling through either a dedicated newspaper press or a commercial web press allows much thinner printing paper to keep its dimensional stability throughout the press run.

Heatset vs Coldset Web Offset Printing

If you look closely at a newspaper advertising circular, you’ll see that it is usually either full-color printed on newsprint or full-color printed on a gloss stock.

In the former case, the insert printer can produce the job on a cold-set (or non-heatset) press. Ink printed on such a press dries through the evaporation of its solvent and through the absorption of the ink into the paper fibers. This takes time.

In the case of full-color (4-color process) on a coated sheet, the only option is a heatset press. Such equipment includes an oven following the inking units. The heat of the oven instantly flashes off the solvent in the ink, leaving the ink pigment sitting up on top of the paper. After exposure to the high heat of the oven, the paper passes through chill rollers, which bring the paper temperature down again. By this time, the ink is completely dry.

How About Sheetfed Offset Printing?

I once worked with a commercial printing supplier that did not have a dedicated newspaper press. Instead, this vendor had a Didde cold-set web press that could run 50# uncoated Hi-Brite. The resulting offset cold-web product looked superior to newsprint, was thicker than other newspaper stocks, and had a brightness of about 80 (out of 100). Essentially, its brightness came close to that of an offset press sheet. But again, the Hi-Brite stock was too thin to print on anything but a web press.

Newsprint, Groundwood, and Supercalendered Stock

Many advertising circulars are produced on newsprint. Newsprint is a thin press sheet made by mechanically grinding wood into pulp. It has a lot of impurities, so the paper does not last long. It yellows and becomes brittle. It is, however, a good, cheap paper stock for an advertising insert that will be viewed once or twice and then discarded.

Groundwood is a larger category of paper that includes newsprint. Its name implies that the wood is mechanically ground into the pulp from which the paper is made. If you’re not using groundwood stock for an advertising insert, your alternative is a “freesheet.” A freesheet is free of the impurities of groundwood because it has been chemically pulped rather than mechanically pulped. Chief among the impurities removed in this process is lignin. Such paper is more durable (it has longer paper fibers), brighter, and longer lasting than groundwood.

Your other option is what appears to be a coated sheet, but which in reality has just been passed through sets of metal rollers to achieve a hard paper surface. This is called supercalendered paper. You can buy SCA or SCB paper (the “A” or “B” refer to levels of brightness).

Both of these papers would be good choices for an advertising insert with a more glossy look than newsprint. Of course you would still need to run the paper through a heatset web press to ensure that the web offset inks dried on the surface of the paper rather than seeping into the paper fibers, but a lot less ink would be absorbed into the paper fibers than if you had chosen a newsprint stock.

Because of this superior ink holdout (the ink’s sittting on top of a much harder surface press sheet), the colors would be crisper (and less muddy), and the shadow and highlight detail would be much better than if you had chosen newsprint.

Thickness of Supercalendered Custom Printing Paper

Supercalendered paper sold by one company I found online comes in paper weights from 28# to 45# with a brightness of 65 to 76. Again, this is not very bright (i.e., dingy compared to a white sheet in a print book), but the effect you’re trying to achieve in an advertising circular is totally different.

Why so thin? For one thing, weight makes a big difference when you’re mailing or delivering newspapers with advertising circulars. (Picture a newspaper that’s half again as thick as the one you receive.) For a printed product with such a short shelf life, thin paper works just fine.

Gloss Coated Options for Newspaper Inserts

Your advertising insert doesn’t have to be this thin. It just is a good way to save money. You always have the option of specifying a 50# or 60# gloss coated sheet for even better image reproduction. However, if the paper is too thin for sheetfed work, you will still need a heatset web offset press for your printed product.

Posted in Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: An Update on Nanography

February 4th, 2015

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I have often praised the HP Indigo in PIE Blog articles. I consider it to be state of the art in digital electrophotographic printing. When my brokering clients need the highest levels of color saturation and detail in images, and when the length of their press runs warrants digital custom printing, I always seek out vendors with HP Indigo equipment.

This particular technology was invented and developed by Benny Landa, an Israeli entrepreneur who has also been working to perfect “Nanography.”

The good news is that Landa’s new digital printing technology has been significantly improved and, according to trade journals, will be showcased at the upcoming Drupa, the international printing trade expo held in Düsseldorf. In fact, Landa has apparently increased the space reserved at Drupa 2016 for his technology.

What Is Nanography?

I found an instructive video on the subject called “The Landa Nanographic Printing Process,” by Landa Nano. It’s easily accessible through YouTube, and I would encourage you to see it. It’s short, but it gives you a grasp of the science behind Nanography.

In short, millions of microscopic particles of Nanoink are sprayed onto precise positions on a heated conveyor belt traveling through the press in order to form a color image for printing. The heat of the conveyor belt removes the water from the ink and lets the ink droplets blend into a flat, but incredibly thin, polymer coating (500 nanometers thick).

Because of their chemical properties, the resulting images of Nanoink on the heated conveyor can be transferred to any kind of paper or plastic. Due to its chemical properties, not only is the film of ink very thin, but it is also an incredibly strong polymer. Therefore, it not only transfers easily from the conveyor to the substrate, but it also forms a strong bond with the substrate and resists abrasion far better than other custom printing inks.

The process is also quite versatile in that paper does not need to be pretreated, and Nanographic presses can be fitted to accept either rolls or sheets of coated and uncoated paper, as well as labels and plastic sheeting for packaging (which would usually need to be printed via flexography).

Before the image is even transferred to the paper substrate, the Nanoinks have already dried, so sheets leave a Nanographic press ready for subsequent printing or finishing. This means the press sheets can immediately be backed up (printed on the opposite side of the sheet), or, if the press is so configured, both sides of the sheet can easily be printed at one time. In addition, press sheets are immediately ready for trimming, folding, or any other post-press process since no drying time is needed.

New Developments in Nanography

Other videos I have seen online show the Komori presses that have been fitted for use in Nanography, and the state of the art consoles used to run these presses. The videos also discuss the enhanced inkset, which (in many cases) includes cyan, magenta, yellow, black, orange, violent, and green. Such a large color gamut allows for matching most PMS colors with the existing inkset.

The Benefits of Nanography

These are the implications of the Nanography technology and the feature set of the presses noted above. They are staggering:

  1. Landa Nanoink holds an exceptionally hard-edged, round dot. Unlike inkjet ink, it does not seep into the paper fibers. Rather, it holds its dot shape and sits up on the paper (i.e., it has superior ink holdout). Because of this, very thin films of ink will produce highly saturated, vibrant, detailed images and text, while allowing the paper substrate to reflect maximum ambient light.
  2. The Komori platform for the Nanographic printing process is a stable and well-regarded printing press. Komori has been a mainstay of offset custom printing for almost a hundred years. Therefore, one can rest assured that the press will feed, handle, and deliver quality press sheets even before Nanoink hits the substrate.
  3. The electronic console that controls every aspect of the process is state of the art. Therefore, quality imaging will be consistent, efficient, and repeatable.
  4. Nanographic presses are able to take B1, B2, and B3 sheets (or web rolls). Therefore, paper sizes ranging from approximately 20” to 40” are acceptable. This is a new development in that most digital presses have been in the (approximately) 13” x 19” page-size range. Larger acceptable press sheet sizes will allow Nanographic presses to compete with existing offset presses in producing much larger format commercial printing jobs, such as pocket folders and posters.
  5. Unlike offset printing, which only allows for reproducing multiple copies of a single original, Nanography is a digital process. Once the inked image leaves the conveyor and is bonded to the substrate, the conveyor is completely free of ink and can be used again. What this means is that Nanography will allow for variable data printing work (mass customization). You can make each image the same or vary each image infinitely. Therefore, it is possible to tailor each printed piece to the targeted recipient.
  6. Since there is no dot gain, and since the Nanoinks produce an exceptionally wide color gamut, the image quality of a Nanographic press is incredible.

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Custom Printing: Photo Quality in Printer Samples

February 1st, 2015

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

I sent a client two printed samples recently. Both were magazines. My client is producing a graphic novel, which is essentially a magazine with two gatefolds and some other inserts. I had requested printed samples from the periodical printer with the lowest price. I had worked with this vendor once before and had been very happy with the results, so I was confident in encouraging my client work with the printer as well.

The samples included numerous photos, text, etc., as is the case in any magazine. I had focused on the cover images in choosing the samples for my client. They were crisp, detailed, with a good tonal range and saturated colors. Unfortunately, some of the photos in the interior of the magazines were not quite as good as the cover images. My client was not pleased with their appearance.

What Happened?

  1. My client was displeased with the photos. She could not describe where they were lacking in printer’s terms, but she described the photograpic reproductions as limited in color range and very dense and muddy in the shadows.
  2. My client also commented on the slick covers (which appeared to be either gloss UV coated or film laminated). She said they were a lot shinier that what she was looking for. They made her rethink the term “gloss” that she had used to describe the paper she wanted.
  3. Finally, my client said she had a copy of a magazine that had more of the “look” she was seeking.

The Take Away from My Client’s Comments

  1. First of all, communication, even when it’s not pleasant to hear, is a good thing. My client noted what she liked and what she didn’t like. Fortunately, we are several months out from the press date, which gives us time to analyze commercial printing vendors, printing papers, and cover coating options.
  2. My client didn’t like the slick look of the magazines. This is useful information. It means that cover coatings less shiny than gloss UV coating and gloss film laminate would probably meet her needs better. These options would include matte, dull, and silk cover coatings (including aqueous, film laminate, and UV options).
  3. My client had a sample she liked. Nothing will help more than getting this magazine copy into the hands of the custom printing supplier, who can then look for comparable paper stocks and cover coatings.
  4. My client didn’t like the lack of tonal range in the interior photos. While my desire was to showcase the high quality of the cover images produced by this magazine printer, I had missed the photographic images that were less than stellar in the text of the magazines.
  5. This was an oversight. However, it is also true that often the images in magazines are not professionally photographed, and the lack of quality in these “snapshots” would be reflected in the printing. After all, images will not improve when printed. Rather, all images will actually lose some of their tonal range during the commercial printing process.

    But what I really needed to do was find a way to ensure that my client’s photos would be reproduced at their highest level of quality and to her satisfaction.

What Caused the Problem?

To ensure the highest quality of my client’s printed images, I let my client know the following:

  1. Photos will look their best on a gloss coated sheet with a high sheen UV coating (such is the case with the cover photos in the printer’s samples).
  2. They will look less crisp on a matte sheet without a UV coating, but they will keep their range of tones (highlights, midtones, and shadows).
  3. As the quality of the paper goes down (from a #1 sheet to a #2, #3, etc.), the paper will absorb more ink and the tones will get muddy.
  4. On another note, web offset press work will be close to, but not quite as good as, sheetfed offset work.
  5. Some printers will be better or worse than others in terms of printing quality (beyond the quality and tonal range of the original images submitted to the printer). Some printers that might produce better quality work might also have prices that are significantly higher than other vendors’ prices. Quality and price are often trade-offs.

What I Suggested to My Client

  1. I asked my client to send me a sample of what she didn’t like in the samples (I asked her to just tear out the pages and circle the problems).
  2. I asked my client to send me a copy of the magazine she did like. I asked her to note which images she considers the best. I also asked her to note why she prefers the paper in this magazine to the paper in the printed samples I had sent her (paper color, surface gloss, paper coating, paper thickness, etc.).
  3. After receiving and reviewing the samples, I will forward them to the custom printing supplier. I will request more printed samples (not just to show the quality of printing but also to show the particular paper options and paper coatings the printer can provide).
  4. I will also request sample printed photos on the specific paper stock my client choose (or a comparable sheet).
  5. I will request an unprinted paper dummy from the printer (reflecting the exact paper stock) as we get closer to the press date.

The Bottom Line

All communication is useful in helping a customer meet her or his printing needs. Nothing facilitates communication like sharing printed samples. Finally, to showcase image quality, it’s best to specify higher quality papers (a #1 or #2 sheet rather than a #3 or #4 sheet). This will help maintain the detail and tonal range of the photos.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

Book, Magazine, and Catalog Printing: Printer Spreads

January 30th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments Off

A print brokering client of mine who is producing a graphic novel sent me a thumbnail-size layout of her print book a few days ago. The physical printing requirements of this 8.5” x 10.875” book, which will be produced on a heatset web press, were a lot easier to comprehend when all the pages were presented as a complete book, even in a small, low-resolution format.

I had mentioned in a prior blog that the print book, as provided in this low-res version, comprised 208 consecutive numbered pages. My client presented pages that would appear side by side as two-page spreads. For the two gatefolds, she presented sets of three connected pages (for each side of each gatefold). All pages were numbered consecutively.

The Printer’s Response

When I sent the PDF of the complete book to the printer, he responded by creating a signature by signature layout showing exactly how the job would be laid out on press. His layout included no thumbnail images of pages; rather, it just showed the numbered pages as they would appear on a press sheet.

More specifically, in contrast to the series of two-page spreads my client had provided (which is what the reader would see: i.e., each set of two pages side by side), the printer laid out the pages in 32-page signatures. His diagram showed which pages would be on either side of the press sheet for each 16-page signature that would be run simultaneously. (Two web rolls would be run at the same time. The first roll would run through the press inking units on the top of the press, and a second web of paper would run several feet below the first. Then, the two 16-page signatures would be combined into a single 32-page signature at the delivery end of the press.)

Comparing the Two Layouts

Essentially, these are two models of the same print book. I would even go further, saying that these are two approaches that you can apply to any press signature work, including full size case-bound and perfect bound books as well as smaller booklets and even catalogs and magazines. The key similarity is that all of these custom printing products involve press signature work.

Signature work essentially refers to a layout of 4-page, 8-page, 16-page or 32-page groupings (or in some cases even more pages) laid out on the top and bottom of a press sheet.

This pertains to both sheetfed printing and web offset printing. In all cases the signatures are folded and trimmed, and then either stacked on top of one another or nested together (one signature slipped into another for saddle-stitched binding).

In the case of my client’s graphic novel, the printer’s version of the layout separated out the 4-page cover and the two 6-page gatefolds (3 pages on either side of each gatefold) from the rest of the print book. This left 192 text pages that would be numbered consecutively.

When grouped this way by the printer, the book pages showed exactly where the breaks would be between each of the six 32-page signatures. My client can now place a gatefold or any other insert (such as a bind-in card) between these signatures. Using the printer’s layout, she can see exactly where these breaks occur.

Both my client and the printer can also see which pages fall in line on the press sheet, and since the print book will have heavy coverage ink on many of the pages, both my client and the printer will be able to see where potential color conflicts may occur. For instance, if a heavy coverage solid magenta background will be in line (in the direction the paper travels through the press) with a photo of faces (requiring less ink coverage), this might result in a reddish cast in the faces. A knowledgeable printer (and client) may foresee this early in the process and seek options for avoiding these problems.

How to Print the Covers

I asked the printer about producing the covers on a sheetfed press. A 5,000-copy press run of a print book cover would lend itself to sheetfed offset due to the low copy count, particularly when you consider that multiple copies of the 4-page cover would be laid out on the press sheet. In this case the printer only has web offset capabilities, so the covers will be printed on his web press. Due to the low number of covers needed, this will be a very quick press run.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Ask your custom printing supplier if he has web-offset or sheetfed-offset capabilities. Web presses are good for multi-signature catalogs, magazines, and books. If your printed product includes color and will be printed on a coated sheet, you will need access to a heatset web press. In fact, if you will have a lot of pages, it would be wise to look for a full-web press (as opposed to a half-web press). If you’re printing black ink only or process color on uncoated paper, you can look for a non-heatset web press (some people call this a cold-set web). Such presses have no ovens to flash dry the ink on the coated paper stock.
  2. Look at the printed product both as a printer would (with the pages laid out as signatures) and as a reader would (with pages laid out side by side in multiples of two pages). The former will help you identify potential printing problems; the latter will show you potential graphic design issues (since readers see two pages at a time).
  3. Discuss with your printer any inserts (such as bind-in cards) that you want to include. Talk about exactly where they can be placed. In some cases, you can split signatures in two, but this will require more press wash-ups and plates, so it will be a more expensive option. But if you need an insert to appear in a specific position in your catalog, magazine, or print book, it helps to have signature options.
  4. Remember that whether you’re printing a book, a magazine, or a catalog, you’re essentially approaching the job in the same way: as a series of press signatures that will be printed flat and then folded and trimmed.

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments Off

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