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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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Book Printing: A Bold and Unusual Print Book Design

June 13th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing, Hardcover Book Printing | Comments »

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

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

The Reclining Nude As Art

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

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

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

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

Printing Decisions Within the Book

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

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

An Oblong Book Format

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn From This Book

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Book Printing, Hardcover Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing Design Before the Ink Even Hits the Paper

June 6th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

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

Physical Description of the Books

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

The First Book

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

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

The Second Book

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

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

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

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

Cover Coatings on Both Books

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

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

Press Scores on Both Books

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

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

The Subconscious Effect of Paper Choices

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: What to Look for in Digital Print Bids

May 29th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book Bids

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

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

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

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

What Did I Learn From This Series of Bids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn From This Experience

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

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Custom Printing: The Euclid IIIC Digital Cutter/Creaser

May 22nd, 2018

Posted in Digital Finishing | Comments Off

A colleague and friend sent me a press release this week for the Highcon Euclid IIIC, a digital cutting and creasing machine that accepts thick enough stock to be used for folding cartons and even fluted, corrugated stock.

Let’s look at what this means and at what it implies for commercial printing in general.

Cutting, Scoring, and Creasing

Up until recently, cutting (or die cutting) was done with metal cutting rules inset into flat blocks of wood, using a separate custom printing press (often a converted letterpress). If you’ve ever taken apart the glued pockets of a pocket folder and laid it flat on a table, you have seen that it is not a perfect, rectangular sheet of paper. Portions of the flat sheet have been cut away to create the pockets and the glue tabs that hold the custom pocket folder together. Metal die cutting rules are responsible for this ingeniously functional, irregular shape. The same goes for cosmetics boxes, food packaging, cartons for medicine, etc.

Unfortunately, creating custom metal die cutting rules costs a lot of money (hundreds of dollars, sometimes, for even simple cutting rules). It also takes extra time and is usually subcontracted work. Because of this, it is prudent to create a die cutting rule for only a long commercial printing run: not one copy or five or 100.

Now, what is creasing? Creasing, which is an alternative to scoring, presses a channel into the paper substrate, allowing for easier folding without breaking the paper fibers, causing a badly-placed fold, or creating any other problem that would reduce the precision of subsequent folds. Scoring is done on finishing equipment (often along with other operations, such as folding and gluing) using a rotary wheel, while creasing is done with a metal creasing rule. Creasing is more precise. It is also slower than scoring (https://graphicartsmag.com/articles/2011/02/folding-vs-creasing/).

Basically, all three operations–die cutting, scoring, and creasing–require custom made rules that must be individually created.

All of this is what has existed in the analog world. Now, with Highcon, we have digital cutting and creasing.

The Highcon Euclid IIIC

According to my research, Euclid was “the father of geometry,” and according to Wikipedia, “His Elements is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics,”

So Highcon is clearly positioning the Euclid IIIC as transformative technology.

Over the past years I have read a lot about Highcon. Digital cutting and creasing is not a new technology for this manufacturer. What is intriguing, though, is that the Euclid IIIC’s ability to cut and crease larger press sheets (and thicker press sheets) makes it ideally suited for work on folding cartons and corrugated board. That is, the Euclid IIIc is perfectly positioned for package printing work.

To give you some specifics, the Euclid IIIC will work with “single ply paperboard, laminated stocks, and N, F, G, E, and B-flute corrugated from 1mm to 3mm in thickness (40-120 points)” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018). This directly addresses the packaging market by using the new equipment to create “small but sturdy boxes for cosmetics, consumer electronics, and home furnishings” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

How Does It Work?

The cutting and creasing functions of the Euclid IIIC are digital, not analog. That is, the machine does not require custom metal cutting and creasing rules. Rather it creates the creasing matrix from digital information using proprietary Digital Adhesive Rule Technology (DART) that involves jetting a polymer onto a foil base and then curing the material. The cured, jetted polymer forms a matrix of slightly elevated rules that can then be used to crease the substrate as it passes between the DART cylinder and a drum.

This is done in one pass. The second, separate process is the cutting, which is done with CO2 lasers, again based on digital information. Thus, both the creasing and cutting functions are driven by digital data without using metal cutting and creasing rules, so they can be infinitely variable. You can crease, change the creasing matrix with new polymer, and then cut subsequent sheets with the laser in infinitely variable ways for much less than the price of a metal cutting or creasing rule.

According to Tatro’s article, all of this can be done at a speed of 1,500 sheets per hour, using B1-sized press sheets. This means the process is done at a respectable speed (relative to analog finishing equipment—for instance, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 sheets per hour for analog die cutting). It’s also very precise, and it can therefore be used for “special effects including variable cutouts, perforations, etching, and possibly others” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

Moreover, in 2015 Highcon installed a Euclid IIIC at LxBxHx in Kirchberg, Switzerland, and through box compression tests, it was found that the digitally produced boxes and cartons were actually stronger than conventionally produced boxes. This meant that less packaging material could be used to achieve the same strength at a potentially lower cost. Additionally, lighter boxes would reduce postage costs.

What Are the Implications?

Here are some thoughts regarding the Euclid IIIC’s implications for commercial printing in general:

  1. Package printing is a quickly growing arena of commercial printing, unlike publication printing, newspaper printing, and book printing. There will always be a need for folding cartons and corrugated packaging. The Euclid IIIC will benefit significantly from this market growth.
  2. Brands are demanding shorter press runs, quick turn-around, and personalization. The Highcon Euclid IIIC can produce even one item (a prototype, for instance) or a short run to support a seasonal product. If the prototype requires changes, these can be made quickly and inexpensively (unlike the analog die cutting and creasing process), and a new prototype (or the final press run) can be produced.
  3. The increased strength of the cartons made with the Euclid IIIC may reduce materials costs and shipping costs without reducing box quality.
  4. The Euclid IIIC will not supplant analog die cutting and creasing. These will still be appropriate for much longer, “static” print runs (those with no versioning or personalization), since for this kind of work analog cutting and creasing is faster and more cost-effective (i.e., once the cost of the cutting rules has been spread over the individual units in the longer press run).
  5. The Euclid IIIC eliminates the need to produce long press runs and store extra cartons (involving storage and inventory costs, as well as potential waste if the stored cartons become obsolete).
  6. The lasers can be used to etch serial numbers and other variable-data information on the cartons.
  7. Digital laser cutting is more precise and cleaner than the same analog process, which affords easier carton opening by the customer.
  8. The larger format (B1 and B2, or approximately 28” x 40” and 20” x 28” respectively) accepts sheets from conventional presses, making the Euclid IIIC fit nicely into commercial printer’s’ workflows.

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Commercial Printing: A Spectacular DVD Package Design

May 16th, 2018

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off

Seeing a sample of quality design and commercial printing can be a moving experience. I know this is just custom printing, and I shouldn’t get carried away, but I recently saw a video box at my fiancee’s mother’s house that was simply in a class by itself. I thought it might be of interest to you from both a design and a production standpoint.

A Description of the Video Case

My fiancee’s mother is 99, and one of the things my fiancee and I like to do is find movies for her in thrift stores. Her mother loves watching videos. We recently found a DVD for To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck that had a beautiful, classy CD case.

The first thing you notice when you pick up this DVD case is its heft. It’s heavy and well crafted, and this gives a sense of dignity and seriousness to the box. The interior presentation is a triptych, with the left and center panels covered with two thick, transparent plastic disc holders, thermoformed with recessed wells to hold the two DVDs. Even the four wells around each DVD, included so the viewer can easily grasp and lift out the discs, are sturdy. There is nothing flimsy about this case.

The CDs are nicely but simply printed, presumably via custom screen printing, since the ink is thick and has a bit of texture. The three-color treatment is subtle but effective. The main text is black over a white background with a pattern of lighter, gray type that seems to have been taken directly from the print book version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

On the rightmost panel is a sleeve that wraps around vertically. It is open on two sides (left and right), and it is attached to the base art. The sleeve contains an envelope in which 4-color promotions for other videos have been inserted. These have been printed on thick cover stock, continuing the overall air of opulence reflected by the entire DVD package. Moreover, the designer included die cut thumb tabs to allow the viewer to reach in and easily grasp and remove the envelope.

Under the two plastic DVD holders is a full-bleed, sepia-toned montage of images from the movie. This provides a dated look to the package, which is appropriate given the subject matter. At the exterior margins (the perimeter of the box), this photo montage covers the turned-edges of the fabric on the three exterior panels of the DVD package, giving a rough feel to the overall box presentation. But interestingly enough, the product designer has used extra-heavy binder’s boards under the turned edge cover fabric. When all panels are folded up, the DVD box has heft. It feels good in the hand, since it weighs about as much as a case-bound book. This seems particularly fitting, since the movie includes trial scenes, and the overall packaging of this DVD case has the feel of a law book.

Finally, there is a tip-on page attached to the back panel. It contains supplementary promotional information printed on a thick, gloss coated sheet (probably 100# text), affixed to the main box with fugitive glue.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. More than anything, this DVD package exudes quality, seriousness, and durability. So I would encourage you to consider the relationship between form and function in whatever you design, be it a print book, a brochure, or a product package. If the subject matter has an air of gravitas, make sure this is reflected in both the creative design and the materials from which the printed case is made. Subconsciously, the feel of a product tells the reader or viewer as much as the creative print design.
  2. This goes double for any promotional product. The To Kill a Mockingbird DVD case is essentially an advertisement. How it looks and how it feels will either sell the DVD or not. If it feels flimsy, it probably won’t pique the viewer’s interest as much, and a sale will have been lost. In your own promotional custom printing work, keep the sales goal in mind. Make sure the printed package reflects the quality of the item it contains.
  3. A DVD box has to be durable. Presumably, the viewer will want to keep the DVDs for years. Using binder’s boards that will not warp and plastic DVD holders that will not crack or chip makes good business sense.
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird was a print book before it was a movie. Therefore, it makes good design sense to have text on the cover art for the DVD discs themselves. In your own package design work (or any design work for that matter), find ways to tie the design into the meaning/tone/purpose of the printed piece. Consider color, typefaces, paper surfaces, and paper coatings. Each of these will either reinforce or detract from the meaning or purpose of the product. Make sure the tone of the subject matter and the design presentation are congruent.
  5. Product packaging is an advertisement. If it is well done, it will sell the next set of discs as well as the first. Keep this in mind when you’re designing anything. The look and feel of marketing materials either supports or detracts from the “brand.”
  6. Use appropriate printing technology. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, the custom screen printing on the DVD discs themselves gives an air of opulence to the product because of the thick, tactile ink. Other approaches to decorating the discs might have used thinner ink, which would have detracted from the overall effect. Keep this in mind when you design anything. Think about the difference between an inkjet printed garment, for instance, and one that has been decorated with thick, custom screen printing ink. The ink sits up on the surface of the product. You can feel it when you run your hand across the t-shirt or hat. Even a print book with a soft-touch cover coating that feels good to the reader’s hand will make an impression.
  7. People like to participate in a design. The tip-on advertisement on the back of the DVD case can be peeled off and repositioned because of the fugitive glue. Most people like this sort of thing.
  8. Be opulent where appropriate, but make sure you also understand the overall cost plus your budget. Clearly this product package was expensive to produce compared to a simple plastic case. But it will last through many viewings, and each time it will make a favorable impression. You have to ask yourself whether it’s worth it. In many cases the answer will be yes. In some cases, no.
  9. Complex print jobs like the To Kill a Mockingbird DVD case cannot be printed by all vendors. Make sure your print vendor has the right equipment and knowledge to successfully execute the specialty binding work, die cutting, or coating work. Ask your commercial printing supplier for product samples to make sure you’re satisfied with his skill and to ensure the success of your custom printing project.

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Brochure Printing: Producing a Gatefold Brochure

May 14th, 2018

Posted in Brochure Printing | 4 Comments »

A print brokering client of mine who is a graphic designer has a new client, a local restaurateur. That means I, too, have a new client. The first commercial printing job I won from this new client is an eight-page gatefold brochure selling the food and service for the restaurant. I’m excited.

The Brochures

This particular client of mine, the designer, is very easy to work with, in part because she is so complete in her descriptions of her jobs. To begin the bidding process she sent me not only written specs for the job but also a PDF version of an early draft of the brochure showing color and type placement, bleeds, and folding.

The job is 16” x 6” flat, folded to 4” x 6” final size, with the two outer flaps folding in to the center. This is what makes it a gatefold, just as the name implies. After some discussion with the commercial printing vendor, my client and I decided to put the job on a white, uncoated press sheet (Accent Opaque). Specifically, we chose this stock over a fancier paper to ensure that, with the complexity of the folds, the paper would not be likely to crack (as might have been the case with an eggshell or felt finish paper stock).

We decided the paper should be 100# cover stock to ensure that the folded brochure will be thick enough to meet the US Postal Service regulations for automation, to make sure the overall heft of the folded brochure will project a serious and opulent tone for the restaurant client, and yet to make sure the weight of the folded piece will not unduly raise the cost of postage.

My client requested pricing for 1,000; 1,500; and 2,000 brochures.

What makes her mock-up so useful is that it shows the amount and placement of process color on her client’s gatefold brochure. You can see in the PDF sample that the interior of the brochure will have a white background, a row of small color photos across the bottom of the four panels, text, and scattered headlines reversed out of slanted strips of color. The two outside, or rear-facing, panels of the brochure will be light brown, with all brochure cover copy and the back mailing panel printed in black type with black line art. Finally, the fold-in panels of the gatefold are light blue with black surprinted text and line art reversed to white.

With this unfolded visual representation of the brochure as a PDF, I could visualize the final printed and folded brochure, and the offset printer could do the same.

Considerations for the Print Job

I have already mentioned the reasons behind the choice of the paper stock, regarding the physical requirements of the Post Office (size, folding, and placement of the address and other postal information). In your own print design and print buying work, to ensure adherence to postal regulations (i.e., to make sure that the Post Office will mail your job), it is wise to have a business reply mail specialist at your Post Office review a mock-up of your job. He or she can make sure it will be the right size, aspect ratio, and thickness when folded; that the folds will be in the right place to ensure machinability; that the wafer seals or fugitive glue seals will be in the right place; and that there won’t be any surprise surcharges (or worse) due to design or printing problems. It’s always best to get the blessing of the business mail specialist before you print the job.

In addition, it’s always good to get the commercial printing supplier’s feedback regarding the foldability of the paper based on its surface formation in order to avoid any paper cracking.

But there are other things to consider as well.

For instance, the outermost panels fold in and touch in the middle of the brochure. For this to happen smoothly, the two outermost panels must be slightly shorter than the two innermost panels, or they will bump into each other when the brochure is folded. To be safe, in a situation like this, it is always wise to ask the custom printing vendor just how large to make each panel, to make sure the columns of copy fall in the right place (vis-à-vis the folds) and to make sure the folds are also appropriately placed.

Another thing to consider is the benefit of this particular format: the gatefold. In my client’s case, the first thing a recipient of the brochure will see is the gestural, freehand drawing of both the logotype and the restaurant image surprinted on the light brown background of the front cover. This will set a festive and casual tone.

Upon opening the two outer panels, the reader will see the two inner doors of the gatefold, and the light blue will provide a contrast to the outer light brown panels. Most probably the inner light blue will give a lightness to the piece after the more toned-down brown panels, and yet the similarity in style of the freehand drawings (reversed out of the light blue) will show a consistency of design style between the outer panels and the gatefold doors.

Finally, the reader will open up the brochure fully to display the interior. In this case the airy, white background will provide visual relief from the light, full-bleed brown and blue screens. And the slanted presentation of the headlines reversed out of the solids will provide a bouncy, informal tone to the interior, linking it with the exterior of the gatefold brochure.

This treatment of the headlines along with the horizontal line of photos along the base of the interior will provide contrast to the line drawings on the outer panels. But at the same time it will maintain the visual consistency of the brochure through its informal presentation.

With any luck, the reader will come away feeling hungry and ready to eat at this classy, upscale and fun restaurant.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. Carefully plan out the interior and exterior space of a gatefold brochure. Think about the order in which the reader will see each chunk of information (image or text). How will the reader’s eye fall when she or he sees the closed brochure, then when she or he opens the outer panels, then when she or he opens the other panels. Ideally, when the reader reaches the interior of the gatefold brochure, the four innermost panels will be like a wide billboard, offering 6” x 16” of horizontal marketing space (or whatever other dimensions you choose).
  2. Remember that the feel of the paper is important. Think about the appropriateness of coated or uncoated stock, but also think about the physical limitations of the paper. If the felt stock you absolutely adore will crack when folded, choose a more appropriate paper.
  3. Always include the US Post Office in your design decisions. If something is wrong (anything from the folded size, to the placement of the folds, to the aspect ratio, to the placement of the type), your job could be unmailable, or it could incur a surcharge. Find this out and fix it before you print.

Posted in Brochure Printing | 4 Comments »

Book Printing: A Few Tips for Approaching Book Design

May 9th, 2018

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I recently bid on a job for a local university publication: a collection of essays and fiction. Based on a standardized 6” x 9” format and a length of 100 pages plus covers, it looks like the pricing for the job was reasonable enough for the university administration to approve the print job.

The press run for the job is 40; not 400 or 4,000, but 40. Therefore, although the unit cost for the job will be high, digital custom printing on an HP Indigo will keep the overall cost low. Actually, it will cost less than $350.00 for the printing and shipping, which is meager when compared to any offset print job of any kind. That’s because the set-up for a digital print job is minimal when compared to make-ready for an offset print job.

That said, I consider this to be an especially good price since the book will be perfect bound. More than likely, the printer not only has perfect-binding capabilities in house (which is why the cost will be so low), but he probably also has a table-top perfect binding machine. This would be my assumption since most perfect binding runs far exceed 40 copies. In fact, 40 copies would be more like spoilage and samples for a long binding run rather than the bind run itself.

The Challenges in the Design and Printing of the Essay and Fiction Book

My client is a writer and a teacher, not a designer or a printer. Therefore, I plan to help her through the process of designing the print book, preparing the files, and uploading them to the digital printer. Fortunately she has access to a student who is a designer. Unfortunately, though, it is almost the end of the semester, and my client will only have five hours of the student assistant’s time.

So here are the challenges:

  1. I will have to vet the designer and make sure she/he can design a print book (to make it an attractive product that will satisfy my client). She/he will need to produce a mock up of the cover, front matter, and text of the book, which will include essays and fiction from my client’s creative writing classes. All of this will need to hang together visually, giving a cohesive sense to all aspects of the print book design.

  2. I will have to make sure the designer can also produce print-ready PDF files compliant with the book printer’s requirements. (Fortunately, I can request a specification sheet for PDF file preparation from the book printer.) The designer will also have to stitch together the front cover, spine, and back cover of the book into a file that will conform to the printer’s specifications (including accurate spine width and allowance for bleeds). The job will need to be done in InDesign, not Microsoft Word, to ensure consistency in fonts, spacing, and all the other typesetting nuances that separate a word processing file from an artistically typeset page of copy.

Here’s how I plan to proceed, based on what I know so far:

  1. I have asked the printer to find a printed sample of a digitally produced perfect bound book similar to my client’s job. I want her to see how the final print book will look when produced by that specific printer on that specific digital press (an HP Indigo). I don’t want any surprises. (After all, not all digitally printed work is of as high a quality as offset printed work, depending on the digital equipment used.) I want to make sure my client is happy.
  2. To make sure the designer produces a mock up that will please my client, I have asked my client to start looking for samples she likes. I’ve asked her to consider the cover treatment, the treatment of running headers and folios (page numbers) within the text pages, and any front matter, including the table of contents, copyright page, etc. If she can show the designer samples of what she likes, it will be more likely that the minimal time the student assistant can provide will be effective.
  3. I will request a PDF specification sheet from the printer to help the designer create a trouble-free, print-ready file. In addition, I will ask for a ruled-out template for the cover, showing bleed and trim dimensions for the file that will include the back cover art, spine art, and front cover art stitched together. In particular, the spine width will need to be calculated exactly by the printer. Otherwise, the type on the spine will not be centered exactly between the front and back covers on the final printed product.

Implications of the University’s Decision to Fund the Print Book

I don’t take lightly the university’s decision to print this book. At first, the budget was so low that the administration was planning to publish the book online only as a WordPress document. My client wanted a physical book that the students could carry around and read, with all the tactile qualities only a physical print book can offer. Apparently the university’s administration understood this. Moreover, their decision to print implies that enough students feel the same way about the advantages of a print book to make this undertaking a prudent one. I find this gratifying. Not only am I a print broker; I also am a lover of beautifully designed print books.

What You Can Learn from This Process

  1. If you are a designer, you can benefit from the fact that the market for books at the university level has not dried up. Based on my discussions with my client, students still prefer print books over digital-only textbooks on e-readers. This may change over the next decade or two, but for now you still have a market if you’re good at what you do and creative in finding the work.
  2. If you’re a designer, make sure you understand the physical requirements of the book: all of the specifications from the type of binding to the paper color, surface, weight, and formation. Make sure you understand the book printer’s specifications for creating and uploading the PDF files, including and especially any requirements for producing the cover art. Think like a production artist as well as a designer.
  3. If you’re a writer and you have little or no design experience, hire a professional. Review her/his samples and vet the designer’s knowledge base. Check references. That said, also be able to articulate what you like. Collect books that please you aesthetically. Consider the design, typography, layout grid, thickness of the paper, and even the coating on the book cover. Show the designer what you want. Nothing communicates your needs and desires like a physical, printed sample.

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Book Printing: Designing in a Multitude of Languages

May 7th, 2018

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Two associates of mine are a husband and wife print book production team. They do a lot of work for the World Bank and NATO, which means their publications go around the world and are printed in a multitude of languages, from English to Spanish to French to languages I’ve never head of.

This is exciting. But as I listened to one of my associates go through the process of changing a print book from one language to another, I realized just how complex a job this is.

Background on the Print Books

Periodically my associates ask me to critique and hopefully improve their layout or cover design, color usage, fonts, etc. So I have a grasp of the overall kind of work they do.

Most of the books are perfect-bound texts upwards of two hundred pages in length, with an 8.5” x 11” format (or the closest international page size). The book interiors are text-heavy, but they do include numerous charts and graphs as well as some photos.

When I was speaking to the husband (of the husband and wife team) this week, he told me how he had to remake the charts, graphs, and tables when recreating books he had initially designed and laid out in another language. He described the following steps:

  1. He had created InDesign style sheets and “tags” for the word processing document such that importing text into an empty duplicate of the initial book design (lets say in French) would yield a “mostly-accurate” version of the new text flow, with the headlines and body copy in the appropriate fonts and type sizes.
  2. His replacing and reflowing the text copy (let’s say in Spanish) did not include automatic, accurate formatting of “bullets” in lists. Therefore, he had to manually correct all of these in the new InDesign file.
  3. He had to replace all of the text blocks in charts and graphs. (Keep in mind that all but one of the languages are not his native tongue.) He had to do the same for the tables. Obviously, all replacement text had to be accurately placed, which was no simple task. Keeping track of which text blocks from the original word processing file (in any number of languages not his own) had to be placed in the charts and graphs (and in which order) was challenging.
  4. InDesign allows a designer to anchor photos and graphs to certain paragraphs. Clearly this is a benefit, since text in World Bank and United Nations print books often references graphics, making the proximity of the graphics to certain paragraphs of high importance.
  5. That said, it often takes either more or fewer words to say the same thing in one language than in another, so (in simplest terms) my associate’s print book text will often reflow (in the InDesign file) in rather dramatic ways when he replaces text of one language with that of another. This might mean that a table or chart that was on one page spread might migrate to another, either causing a disruption in the overall page design (balance of text and graphics) or separating a graphic from its associated explanation in the text of the book.
  6. Other languages often use other alphabets. For instance, the Cyrillic (used for such Slavic languages as Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Ukrainian) or Kanji alphabets (for Chinese and Japanese) don’t even vaguely resemble Engligh, and even French has certain diacritical marks or accents absent from English. All of this requires buying new software that totally remaps the computer keyboard. It also requires careful attention in reformatting print books from one language to another.
  7. Then there are the country-specific conventions and taboos. These might be as simple as a color choice. In some countries, the color white has certain connotations, whereas in other countries the cultural meaning of the color white could be the exact opposite. Moreover, something that might be harmless in one country (even on a merely visual or graphic level) might be an insult in another country.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study?

The first thing I would learn would be to avoid this work. However, my two colleagues have been doing this happily for a long time, and they find it quite lucrative.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, consider the following:

  1. Proofreading is essential. It wouldn’t hurt to do it the traditional way, with one person reading the text out loud to another. After all, you can easily get hypnotized by the work and make an error without realizing it.
  2. Make sure your client has submitted a clean word processing document. In all cases, highlight and then copy and place text. Avoid retyping text. This is where errors occur.
  3. Expect to buy additional software to support your client’s work.
  4. Assume that extra characters, from accents to typographic ligatures (two characters that are smooshed together) may not come across correctly in translation from the word processing document to the InDesign document (i.e., when you “place” the copy). (This means you should look for errors in places they will be most likely to occur.)
  5. Initially, place or reflow all the copy in the book or in a chapter to see where any “anchored” graphics will fall (that is, those graphic elements that are tied to a particular paragraph). Expect to massage the design a little, making some photos larger or smaller to ensure a pleasing balance of text and graphics on the page (when compared to an edition of the same book in another language). Expect the work to be in flux for a while. Expect to make changes. However, don’t be tempted to change spacing between paragraphs and sections just to make everything fit.
  6. Always use “style sheets” available in InDesign. This will ensure consistency and accuracy, but it will also make it easier for you to fix any errors.
  7. Find someone who understands the cultural norms and taboos of the country of origin. If you’re transferring the overall book design and text from a French to Spanish treatment (for instance), it will help to have a colleague who understands the culture check your work (graphic treatment, cover design, color usage, and so forth).
  8. Expect this to be really, really tedious work (as my associates have noted). They make sure they take breaks, go outside, walk around, and listen to music. Beyond their own comfort and sanity, this avoids their falling into a hypnotic state (like the highway hypnosis you slip into when driving long distances on the Interstate late at night), and hence it minimizes errors.
  9. Expect to get paid a lot for this kind of work. Consider it hazard pay. Unless of course you like it. Then, more power to you. It is necessary and highly valued work.

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Custom Printing: Entrepreneurial Digital Printing

May 2nd, 2018

Posted in Digital Printing | 6 Comments »

As a commercial printing broker, I look for trends. I’m always studying. Always observing all things related to custom printing. And over the last several years I’ve been noticing that the majority of my clients have been entrepreneurs. I think that’s rather exciting.

Here’s a rundown:

  1. I have one client with whom I’ve been periodically discussing a reprint of a public domain book located solely online. It is a book about the space program. She thinks she can sell it as a print book.
  2. I have another client who produces color books for fashion. She is a “fashionista.” Her print books are like small PMS swatch books. People use them to choose clothing and make-up colors based on their hair and complexion. She is expanding and adding a clothing line based on her color system. Therefore, I’ve been studying direct-to-fabric printing in order to help her prepare her initial Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. For this campaign she will only need a few digitally-produced prototypes.
  3. A few years ago I had a client who produced graphic novels. They were essentially perfect-bound print books. Their subject matter was an intensely emotional, dramatic, photographic portrayal (with limited text) of human relationships. To me it was a cross between high opera and an adult comic book. This client also crowdsourced her work, getting small donations from a number of people and drastically limiting her press runs.
  4. I had a recent client who wanted to produce a 500-plus-page book with heavy 4-color coverage and bleeds but only a 100-copy press run. My price was too high for him, so he first considered buying a Xerox color copier for the text and outsourcing the binding. Then he opted for a 30-copy press run produced by a local printer to test reader interest and secure funding for a longer run.
  5. I had two poets contract with me to produce very limited runs of poetry print books. In one case, my client only wanted 20 to 30 copies of a 32-page book (plus cover).
  6. I had another client who produced a 200-plus-page print book on the Holocaust for family members. If I recall correctly he produced only about 40 copies. I had a digital print book vendor produce the text digitally and then offset print the covers (to ensure their quality), since the press run was so small.

The list goes on.

A Learning Experience

That said, here are some things I learned from all of these experiences.

  1. It used to be that a writer would produce a book and then find a publisher. The publisher would pay to print, market, and sell the print book. Then he/she would pay the writer a percentage of the profits. This meant that only a limited number of authors would get published. Beyond the financial implications, this meant that only a limited number of writers would get their product to a wide audience—or to any audience.
  2. Then there came digital custom printing, the country-wide increase in freelancing, crowdfunding, the “sharing” economy (like Uber), etc. Writers realized they could “do it themselves.” They could produce a limited number of any kind of publication, shop it around, talk it up on the Internet, maybe sell it on Amazon, and get a percentage of the profits. If they also sold it themselves (rather than through Amazon or any other web-to-print site), they could keep significantly more of the profits.
  3. This redefining of publishing (which in the 1970s was called “vanity printing”: i.e., funding your own print job rather than convincing a publisher to do it for you) democratized the industry. It made everyone a potential publisher.

Implications for Digital Custom Printing

The democratization of printing, which I would put up there with Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in Europe (as opposed to in China, where it happened earlier)–and which led to the democratization of information–also had implications for how print buyers bought printing. Here are some thoughts:

  1. I just received the first bid for my client whose 32-page book of poems I’m shopping around. The cost of 20 copies or 30 copies is almost the same (about $5.00 apart). What this means is that almost all of the money is going into preparation (no matter what they say about digital printing’s not having any prep work). My advice to her is to buy 40, 50, or 100 books and give them away through writing schools, her website, and other venues. She could consider it a marketing expense. The unit cost would drop precipitously, but the overall cost would rise only slightly.
  2. My client who printed the Holocaust book text via digital printing and the covers of these books via offset lithography benefited from the following technical “facts”: a) For heavy-coverage solids, offset printing is better than digital. b) For black-only text on a nice, textured, off-white printing stock, digital printing is fine, especially since the photos were old and of of marginal quality. c) And an offset printed cover with a film laminate coating, a press score, and a nice perfect binding can make a digitally printed book look spectacular. d) Plus, a press run of 300 covers is cheap when compared to a print run of 300 entirely offset printed books.
  3. There are online vendors willing to do any of these jobs. Personally, I’m more comfortable going to vendors when I know the management and can visit the shop if something goes wrong. You may have a different experience with online vendors.
  4. There are any number of vendors in the Far East who will do this kind of work. However, they’re far away if anything goes wrong. Also, if there are any problems with the shipping, customs, dock strikes, etc., what are you going to do? (You pay for your savings in other ways.) Also, they often have minimum runs—like 1,000 copies.
  5. In general, many printers have minimum runs. Most of my clients’ jobs could not meet these minimums. That means needing to find a printer who can. It also means (see item #1 above) that most of the ultra-short press runs will cost about the same even if you double or triple the run length. I always tell my clients that it’s cheaper to print too many copies and then give (or throw) them away than to print too few copies and need to go back on press. This is sometimes true for digital jobs as well as offset jobs (see item #1 above).

What You Can Learn From This Multi-Client Case Study

  1. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to blend technologies such as digital and offset printing in one project.
  2. Think outside the box with funding. Look at Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites online.
  3. Consider repurposing your product, as my client did by expanding from color books to garments based on the same colors.
  4. Always get samples. For any job with physical requirements (such as garments), test the samples. Wash the sample garments. See how they “drape,” how they fit and feel, how they respond to sun and rain.
  5. Look at samples side by side. See what a heavy coverage, full-bleed cover looks like printed digitally vs. offset printed. Can you see a difference? Does the difference bother you? Is it worth the extra money?
  6. Find print vendors you can trust, and then listen to their advice on all of these subjects.

Posted in Digital Printing | 6 Comments »

Custom Printing: Discovering the Art of the Obi Strip

April 29th, 2018

Posted in Cover Wraps | Comments Off

Ever since I studied karate in my late teens, I’ve had a penchant for things Japanese. I like the exotic. So when a colleague mentioned that his commercial printing company had just produced a print book with an “obi strip,” I was intrigued. So I did some online research.

According to Wikipedia, an obi is:

“a strip of paper looped around a book or other product. This extends the term obi used for Japanese clothing; it is written with the same kanji. It is also referred to as a tasuki (襷) (another kimono accessory), or more narrowly as obigami (帯紙, belt paper).”

So there is a sense of formality and ritual in this device, somewhat like the tone of a tea ceremony. Apparently such bands are added outside the dust jacket of a book, or they may also be affixed outside a slipcase, if the print book is sold in a slipcase.

Interestingly enough, an obi strip may also be affixed vertically (according to photos on Google Images) around an LP album, a CD, DVD, or even a video game. The purpose is to:

“…provide the title of the product, track listings (if applicable), price, catalog number and information on related releases in Japanese. It is used by the consumer to determine what is included in the album or book, and the store can use the information for ordering.” (Wikipedia)

Of further interest to me was the fact that collectors of these products value the obi strip very highly, and an LP, for instance, with an intact obi strip will be worth considerably more than the same LP without an obi strip. (It sounds a bit like finding a Hot Wheels car in an antique store in its pristine packaging from the 1970s.)

The Belly Band

Before I researched the Japanese product my colleague had mentioned, I thought it sounded a lot like the belly bands I had participated in producing and wrapping around periodicals back when I was a commercial printing consultant for a local political magazine publisher.

Although Wikipedia lists “belly band” as another term for the obi strip, I saw some differences. First of all, the obi strip seems to be primarily a vertical band of paper, of narrow width, that wraps around the print book, CD, DVD, video game box, etc. This makes sense to me because the Japanese writing is presented vertically, so the vertical format seems more appropriate as a design choice.

In addition, while the obi strip does obscure part of the underlying product packaging design, it does this to present (and perhaps highlight as well) information about the underlying product. It has an informational purpose.

In contrast, the belly bands the publisher affixed to the periodicals he printed were exclusively horizontal. They were wrapped, like a belt, around the “host publication.” For an 8.5” x 11” magazine with a white gloss cover, the belly band was approximately 8.5” wide (the same width as the magazine) but only about 4” high. In addition, it had a marketing rather than an informational purpose. It was tied directly to an advertiser, who for the most part also had an advertisement in the periodical (often on the back cover). The belly band was printed on a coated or uncoated stock (usually on an 80# or 100# coated text sheet). If the belly band was produced on an uncoated sheet, it was printed on 7 pt. card stock or 67# vellum bristol (very much like either a cover wrap or a reply mail postcard stock).

So the belly band was intended to obscure the underlying host publication and at the same time draw attention to itself as an advertising medium, first and foremost because the reader had to take action. To read the magazine, you had to tear off the belly band. And this strip of paper, the belly band, which was similar to a “sleeve” (which wraps around the whole magazine covering the entire back and front covers) was prime advertising space because the reader always saw it first.

Interestingly enough, a belly band had some requirements. First of all, it couldn’t cover the ad on the back of the magazine unless that ad was for the same advertiser. That makes sense. What advertiser wants to pay the premium price for a back-cover ad only to have it obscured by another advertiser?

In addition, the belly band had to extend over itself in the back of the magazine and be permanently glued into a closed loop, keeping the periodical shut. All of the periodicals produced by this particular publisher went out to readers in either polybags or envelopes, but according to my research, if the address label had been affixed directly on the magazine, the belly band would need to have been actually attached to the host publication in the back, if the publisher wanted to mail the periodical without a polybag. (The idea is to avoid the magazine’s opening up during the Post Office’s machining or delivery process, so the belly band had to stay closed and also stay attached to the magazine.)

If you paid close attention to the magazines this publisher sent out during the course of a year, you would see that other cover wraps of various kinds were used from time to time. Some were the complete flat size of the front and back covers and were stitched outside the magazine. Others were fugitive glued to only the front cover of the magazine. For the most part, all of these were printed on a cheap, uncoated presss sheet (postcard stock), and the idea was for the reader to tear them off after reading the marketing or advertising message (either for the magazine itself–perhaps a renewal–or for an actual advertiser).

In contrast, the goal of the obi strip seems to be more about communicating information about the product itself than promoting either the publisher or another advertiser.

Totally unrelated, but interesting as well, the colleague who told me about the obi strip noted that affixing an obi strip is hand work (time consuming and a bit pricey), and yet his printer could include such special effects as glow-in-the-dark ink and multiple tactile coatings (all of which would set a print book apart from an online book).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re designing a print book, think about whether you want to highlight information about the product by wrapping a strip of paper around the dust jacket. If you do so, you will immediately attract the attention of the reader. This may be useful if you have a quote about the book by an expert in the field or if the book has won a particular award.

If you’re producing a magazine, consider whether you want to promote an advertiser or the publication itself. However, in this case, since a magazine will mail out as either Standard or Periodical mail, you will need to conform in both the physical production details (size, placement, method of affixing the belly band) and the content/design (including specific printed wording about the periodical) to the requirements of the US Postal System. To be safe, I would provide the Post Office with a trimmed printer’s proof (not a laser proof, but an actual digital blueline or color proof from your print vendor) of the belly band attached to the magazine. It’s much better to have the Post Office request changes before the magazine goes to subscribers than to have the whole mail run stopped by the Post Office and ruled as being undeliverable.

To make this process easier (and more likely to succeed), before you produce the belly band or obi strip, ask the Post Office for both printed samples of successful belly bands and for their published list of printing requirements, which is usually either provided in printed book form or online. Then, when you’re ready, show a business reply mail specialist at your entry point business mail center the actual publication with an attached digital blueline of the obi strip or belly band. I’d also do this for a cover wrap, a sleeve, or any other wrap product that will be affixed to your magazine.

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