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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: Fashion Color Book Reprint–Already

February 22nd, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I always learn something from my clients, and the creator of both the color fashion swatch book I’ve been working on for the last year and a half and also of the color system underlying this product, is already reprinting the book.

So the initial copies have been received remarkably well.

How to Approach a Reprint

Here’s a short recap of the specs: There are 22 versions of the color books. Each is approximately 3.5” x 1.5”, with 55 color swatches and front matter. (In many cases, the colors differ from print book to print book, based on the complexion of the individual in question. The purpose of the books is to help clients choose appropriate fashion colors based on their hair color, eye color, and skin tone.

Needless to say, in order to keep my client’s initial expense under budget, she only printed a limited number of copies of each of the 22 original print books (ranging from 7 to 24 copies, depending on the expected popularity of the individual books).

At this point, some have sold better than expected and are almost ready for reprinting. What to do? And how to keep my client’s clients happy? After all, even though they are willing to wait (the books are that popular), it would be preferable to fulfill the orders immediately.

The Initial Plan

My client has a limited reprint budget since she pays all costs out of her own pocket. She wants to spend $1,000. She has asked me how many print books she can get for this amount. In this way, she has options. She can decide to reprint now; or she can wait, take more orders, collect funds, and reprint a larger batch in a few months.

I contacted the printer and was asked for my client’s list of specific books to reprint (a wish list, containing four titles, three of which were essential, and one of which would be reprinted if the funds allowed).

The whole estimating task was somewhat complex, since pages of the print books would need to fit on an Indigo 10000 press sheet (approximately 20” x 29”). The good news is that the sheet size is unusually large for an HP Indigo or any other digital press. In fact, according to this printer’s website, their HP Indigo 10000 sets this printer apart from other commercial print vendors in the mid-Atlantic area.

Based on the particular titles (the 4 books out of 22), the printer gave me a target of from 6 to 10 copies of each. This total would come in under the $1,000 budget. The reason the book totals were vague is as follows: This is an especially short press run. Therefore, it will depend on the makeready used for the laminating, collating, trimming, and round-cornering processes as to what quantity the printer will get. Six copies would be the appropriate quantity for the $1,000 cost, but the printer will need to run more sets to allow for spoilage within the other processes. Therefore, the printer’s customer service rep thinks we could get closer to 10 of each.

Plan B, for a Larger Custom Printing Run

Even though digital printing on the HP Indigo is a quick process, it still does require some makeready, so continually reprinting a job in small batches would start to become expensive and eat into my client’s profit. More specifically, the $1000 press run would yield 24 to 40 books at approximately $41 each (worst case scenario, assuming 6 copies per print book title), in contrast to the initial printing (which yielded between 7 and 24 copies per original, depending on the specific book), which cost closer to $18 per copy.

The challenge would be to keep the unit cost down (after all, the price charged minus the cost of the book would be my client’s profit, and a $20 difference per print book could add up quickly in lost profits).

Conversely, not reprinting in batches could have a cost as well. If my client’s clients paid up front and then waited longer then they might like for the books to be reprinted, my client could lose customers.

So Plan B is to secure another backer (I believe “angel funding” is the term these days). If my client can secure a loan from a partner, who would add approximately $5,000 to the pot in return for a percentage over the initial outlay, within a specified time, the total budget would jump from $1,000 to $6,000. For this amount, my client could get 7 to 24 copies of all 22 books, or even more (the same as in the initial printing), and fulfill her client’s orders immediately.

Although this is not a printing issue, per se, it is an interesting view of how both large businesses and entrepreneurs must operate. They must commit funds with the expectation of selling enough of a product to not only recapture the initial outlay but also reap a profit.

Digital Printing Benefits

What makes this a special case is twofold:

  1. Before the advent of digital printing, my client and I would not even be having this conversation. Doing a short run on an offset press of so many originals would have been cost-prohibitive. Digital printing has made printing a handful of copies of 22 books a possibility, not just for a business but for a single-person shop, an entrepreneur. And the quality is superb. My client could not otherwise sell color-critical books of fashion color swatches.
  2. The size of the digital press (approximately 20” x 29”) is unusual. Most digital presses accept 13” x 19” sheets. Therefore, the unit cost for my client’s books will be more reasonable (even if they are now approximately $41 each). Laying out 114 pages plus covers (the 55 swatches, front and back, plus front matter) would require significantly more press sheets on a smaller digital press. In short, most other printers in the mid-Atlantic region could not do this job this effectively at the moment.

So we’ll see what happens.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: How to Approach a Small Poetry Booklet

February 15th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

A poet was referred to me recently by a husband-and-wife publishing team for whom I do print brokering work. The couple publishes fiction and poetry, and they wanted me to help a friend of theirs produce a print book of poems about her recently deceased husband.

So I called her and worked up specifications for her book of poems (called a “chapbook”), a very simple design with a small format of 4.5” x 6”, saddle-stitched, on 70# cream text stock with a 10pt. cream cover, and comprising only 28 pages plus covers. She only needed 20 copies for her close friends.

Clearly, due to the press run, it would require custom printing on a digital press, so I sent the specs to two vendors with HP Indigo presses. One printer’s price came in at almost $800. The other barely exceeded $200. It was a clear choice.

Interim Thoughts

At this point there are two interesting things to note:

  1. This client was self-publishing her work. And her press run was very small: 20 copies. As I noted in an earlier blog, many of my clients are now self-publishing their work. I think it’s a growing trend, and it necessitates access to quality digital commercial printing equipment.
  2. My client had never produced a chapbook, so she didn’t know how to get her poems ready for the printer. She had used MS Word comfortably, but I told her that many printers will not accept MS Word files because they can be problematic. (They prefer InDesign files or PDFs.) Since my new client didn’t know about preparing press-ready PDF files in InDesign, I offered her my design and production services.

The Design of the Print Book

I approached the job as follows. It was small and required only a few hours of design work. However, since I no longer do more than about one design job a year (I used to be a print designer and then an art director), I was more conscious and conscientious about the steps. They were no longer second nature.

I thought that you, as designers, might benefit from my approach to the layout process.

  1. The first thing I did was design a sample page spread for the text of the print book. I used master pages, and considered such things as margins, treatment of poem titles, and treatment of folios. I gave my client two options based on her stated preference for Palatino type. (I chose Palatino for the text and heads, and then Garamond as an option.) I selected Garamond because of the serious nature of poetry about a deceased loved one. I also set the poem titles in all caps, again due to the gravity of the subject matter.
  2. My client had noted a preference for 11pt. type to ensure readability. Based on the length of her lines of poetry, I made the outer margins of the booklet slightly smaller than usual. I didn’t want any line of poetry to wrap onto the following line.
  3. I didn’t take the easy way out. Instead of just coding the type, I created style sheets in InDesign, knowing that I could later apply these to all poems in the book. Time spent in preparing style sheets would be worth it later when I could just apply these to all poem titles and text blocks.
  4. When my client had approved the typeface (Garamond), I produced all pages of the text based on her MS Word file.
  5. Then, for the cover, I used a similar type treatment (all caps for the most important words in the print book title). I wanted the tone and appearance of the cover to match the tone and appearance of the text and poem titles inside the book.
  6. In spite of the fact that my client had specified a 32-page book, I noticed that the laid out book actually came to 26 pages. I told my client that it would have to be 28 pages (for a saddle-stitched book, binding would necessitate 4-page signatures for the staples to hold the pages together). So my client added some back matter and an extra poem.
  7. Early in the process I had suggested a cream white 70# text stock. I said this would look somewhat subdued. My client had suggested a russet brown solid color for the cover, with the book title reversed out of the solid. Without thinking, I had initially specified a 10pt. white cover stock (C1S, or coated one side). I thought the uncoated, interior side of the cover would match the texture of the uncoated interior pages. However, I had not initially thought about the color. Having a white interior book cover followed by a cream text stock would look odd. Therefore, I asked the printer for his suggested cream cover stocks (both coated and uncoated). He suggested a 100# cream uncoated cover stock.
  8. By this time, I had designed the cover, and my client had approved it. (It was a type-only design reversed out of a full-bleed reddish brown background.) I had built the brown out of 4-color process toners since the print book would be a digitally printed product. If my client had needed 500 books, the printer would have offset printed the job, and we could have used a PMS color for the brown, but since the job would be digital, the brown had to be built out of the HP Indigo’s 4-color process liquid toners.
  9. The printer had suggested a dull film laminate over the front and back covers. I was a bit concerned, because at this point I thought an entirely uncoated book (text and cover) might be nice. That said, the printer confirmed that the heavy coverage of liquid toner on the front of the print book could be scratched unless it was coated in some way. So I shared this information with my client, and she agreed.

As of today, this is where we are in the process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Apply good habits to all jobs. This is just a small, text-only booklet of poems. But using InDesign style sheets and master pages is a good practice whether the book is 28 pages or 500. It will ensure consistency, make the overall production process go more smoothly and quickly, and allow you to easily make global style changes (fonts or point sizes, for instance).
  2. Think about the paper as well as the design. If possible, get a paper dummy so you can see how it will feel in your hands. Consider the paper color. Be wary of using a white cover on an off-white text.
  3. Consider the coating you will apply to the book covers. Some printers have aqueous, some UV coating, some film laminate. If your book printer thinks the inks or toners will scuff, make sure you add one of these coatings. They come in dull as well as gloss. If you want an uncoated cover, make sure your printer sees a sample PDF of your art to ensure that scuffing won’t be a problem.
  4. In fact, it’s a useful practice to send a PDF of the book to your printer early in the job (as you’re specifying the parameters for the print book). If he sees anything that might be problematic, he can tell you.
  5. Look at print book design as a fluid process. I changed both the page count and the cover paper stock as the design progressed and then requested updated pricing for my client.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Interpreting Fabric Printing Problems

February 9th, 2018

Posted in Fabric Printing | 2 Comments »

For a number of years, a client of mine has been periodically printing a small color book (similar to a PMS swatch book) for fashion. It helps women choose colors for clothes and make up that will complement their complexions.

Recently my client has branched out into garment printing based on her proprietary color formulas. Even though these clothes will be fashionable, what will make them stand out from their competition is the specific colors my client is selling. That is, she’s really not just in the clothing business. She’s in the “color-as-fashion” business.

That said, my client has been choosing vendors to produce her garments. Many of them are online commercial printing establishments. I have been helping my client with these choices, giving her feedback and suggestions. In one case recently with a new vendor, my client sent in a color pattern for printing on a polyester chiffon fabric.

It was just for a one-off sample, but she selected the sample pattern without confirming the colors. Or, rather, she made her color decisions based on the appearance of the art on her computer screen rather than the colors in her color swatch book. Oops. The yellow scarf sample came back with a slightly greenish gold cast. My client and her financial partner were not pleased. So my client came back to me to ask what had happened.

Color Monitor vs. Color Swatch Books

The first thing I said to my client was that the problem with the scarf was “information,” not a “failure.” I remember when I learned this lesson almost thirty years ago, when a cover matchprint proof for a book had looked horrible. An associate of mine said that the proof had saved me from a printing error, and therefore it was a success. That comment had permanently changed my point of view.

So I encouraged my client to learn from the experience. I reminded her that color created with light on a computer monitor is not the same as color produced with ink. This goes for fabric custom printing as well as offset printing. Therefore, I encouraged her to send in new art for a second test (if she liked the vendor’s pricing and customer service). I asked her to use her color bridge (a Pantone product that puts PMS colors alongside their nearest CMYK match) and select a color that fit her proprietary color formula for fashion.

The Substrate and the Commercial Printing Process

I’m new to fabric printing, but I know that, in printing, the substrate always affects the colors perceived by the human eye. My client had also mentioned that polyester chiffon reduces the saturation of a color. Her dissatisfaction arose from the color’s being too much of a greenish gold rather than a true yellow. My thought was that the fabric had contributed to a problem that had started with the choice of a color on the monitor rather than from a swatch book.

Polyester chiffon is one of a number of popular synthetic fabrics. Since it is a polyester, the printing method of choice would be dye sublimation. While I am not sure of the exact cause of the problem, I wonder whether there are any color shifts, perhaps within certain color families, that can be caused by either the specific fabric or the digital printing method itself. Moreover, since the garment in the photo my client sent me (a fashion scarf) is very sheer, my next thought was that the transparency of the fabric might have contributed to the problem. After all, my client had noted that polyester chiffon reduces the saturation of a color.

The implications of these questions are twofold:

  1. For the next sample, if my client can create an art file with an acceptable color percentage build that matches her Pantone color bridge, she will be able to communicate her wishes to the fabric printer. There will be no question as to the goal. It will then be up to the vendor to match the color with the specific digital custom printing technology and the specific fabric substrate—or to explain why this cannot be done. A printed color swatch will eliminate any miscommunication or guesswork.
  2. Furthermore, a dye sublimation printed color matched to a printed swatchbook will remove the fabric substrate and the inkset and printing process as variables. If a problem arises, my client will know that the problem is not due to the equipment or fabric.

Viewing Color in Different Light

One property of color is that it looks different in different light. Fabric printing is no different from printing ink on paper. So I encouraged my client to review the printed sample (and any revised samples) under a number of different lighting conditions.

I noted the difference between incandescent light (now called the Edison light), fluorescent, LED, and sunlight. I noted that printers use 5000 Kelvin light (which is the color “temperature” of sunlight) as a standard for the pressroom and specifically for viewing booths.

I also told my client a story about my fiancee’s and my recent trip to the fabric store for felt for an art project for our autistic students. When we had chosen a bolt of a neutral white felt, it changed color slightly as we carried the fabric past each ceiling light on the way to the cutting table. For this reason, I noted that the particular color my client had chosen may have taken on a color shift due to the light, and perhaps this may have been worsened by its already being a desaturated color.

So the take-away was that my client should use standard lighting and note any color shifts.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If your proof is not right, be grateful. It’s better than having the final printed run not match your expectations. Learn from the problem. Identify the cause by separating out all the variables.
  2. Never choose a color on the monitor. Remember that in the moment you’re creating an art file it’s easy to forget this rule. It’s human nature. So make sure you go back after you have created the design and check the colors against a printed swatch book.
  3. Keep in mind that printing ink on paper via offset lithography, printing toner on paper via digital printing (electrophotography), and printing ink or dye on fabric all share things in common. The substrate will affect the printed color. In addition, the custom printing process itself may affect the printed color. Regardless, the final arbiter is the appearance of the color itself. Does it look right to you—and perhaps a few other people as well?
  4. There is no better way for three people to agree on a color than to use a printed color swatch book. Unless you’re doing work for the Internet only (which creates color with light rather than ink), use a recently printed PMS book, CMYK build book, or PMS to CMYK bridge. Even though they’re expensive, they are well worth the price.
  5. Keep in mind that no two people will see color exactly alike. Color is a function of light and the human eye. Women see color better than men (which is true, not sexist). So, again, use a color swatch book to communicate your color needs.

Posted in Fabric Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Make Plans for the Delivery Early

February 6th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

A husband and wife publishing team to which I broker printing just sent a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. Even though they haven’t even seen a proof, now is the time to consider delivery. Now, not at the end of the process.

Why? Most importantly, the printer will need to make some decisions regarding packaging the finished books and labelling the cartons and freight pallets (skids). The sooner the book printer has the delivery information, the more immediate and more accurate the results will be. Doing all of this at the end of the printing process risks major screw ups.

What the Book Printer Will Need to Know

I just found an old delivery form these specific clients and I had produced for a print book they had published several years ago. I sent the spreadsheet back to my clients just now, suggesting that they revise it for the new book. Here are some of the issues it addressed.

Number of Copies, Destination, Carrier, Due Date

This is a list of the categories on the spreadsheet. It pretty much speaks for itself. It actually prompts the client to think of all possible deliveries. In my client’s case there are two book distributors involved, so there are two main destinations for the bulk of the 1,500-copy press run of the 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book.

However, there are also deliveries to my clients’ publishing office, and this year there will be an additional delivery to their assistant’s house. The benefit of a spreadsheet like the one I’m describing is that you can update it as needed, and all of the information will be in one place. In my case, I find that reviewing such a spreadsheet periodically during the job will jog my memory regarding additional delivery information that must be communicated to the book printer.

“Carrier” is an important line item for each delivery because in the case of my client, one book distributor prefers to send their own truck to pick up the books. The other book distributor doesn’t care how the books come, so I usually leave it up to the book printer. More specifically, the sample distribution spreadsheet I have asks the printer to ship via the “best way.” This means that he is responsible for finding the fastest and least expensive option and ensuring accurate delivery. Therefore, my client doesn’t need to worry about freight contracts.

As a point of information, when you read a printer’s contract, you will in some cases see the words “FOB printer’s plant” or “FOB destination.” The former means the printer’s liability ends before your freight carrier picks up the books at the printer’s plant (for delivery to you). The latter means the printer is responsible for shipping the books (as well as for their safety) until the books have been delivered to you.

Addresses and Contact People

This also seems self-explanatory. However, most book distributors, warehouses, and fulfillment houses must know in advance when a delivery will arrive. Think about it. Even if only one skid of print books will be arriving, unloading the truck and moving the skid into place in the warehouse requires time and labor, so advance notice is a must. Therefore, complete addresses, contact people, and phone numbers are essential. Anyone involved in moving the (usually) heavy delivery will be grateful.

Site-Specific Information

When you’re crafting a delivery spreadsheet such as this, after the general information noted above, it’s important to include all of the requirements provided by each delivery address.

For personal homes and office buildings the specifications are often simpler (but harder to actually achieve). For instance, if the truck driver must break down the skid and carry a number of boxes up an elevator to an office (or into a personal residence), it’s important to note on your delivery form that you need “inside delivery.”

Inside delivery is the alternative to a “dock-to-dock” delivery. A dock-to-dock delivery is much easier, since your freight carrier is moving a much heavier, shrink-wrapped skid (or several skids) of books using a motorized pallet mover. A wrapped skid also actually protects the cartons and their contents, which can be more easily damaged if the cartons are shipped without being “palletized.”

The motorized pallet mover allows you to lift and move multiple hundreds of pounds of print books all at once instead of breaking down a skid of books into individual cartons. An inside delivery is more expensive than a dock-to-dock delivery. Therefore, you need to note this on the manifest you are creating.

Other site-specific information involves the labelling of the pallets of books. This information usually includes the publisher’s name, title, ISBN number, number of cartons, number of books per carton, carton weight, etc. The information may need to be both in “readable form” and in “barcode form.”

In addition to the labelling of the individual cartons (and the individual skids), your book distributor will probably request a delivery form that summarizes the entire order.

In some cases, the distributor will also have physical specifications, such as the weight of the cartons, overall weight of the pallets, and even the height, width, and length of the individual pallets. (All of this depends on the storage space within the warehouse and the requirements of equipment used to lift and move the pallets.)

Your print book distributor, fulfillment house, or warehouse will provide a list of requirements, which you can then send to your book printer. These are firm requirements. You will incur an extra charge if they are not followed. Although this sounds arbitrary, it actually facilitates inventory management, which ultimately benefits you, the publisher.

The Take-Away from this List of Requirements

Ultimately, the easier you make it for your book distributor to receive, store, inventory, and fulfill requests for your print book, the cheaper your overall cost will be. In addition, the control of the inventory will be more precise and therefore more accurate. You will know exactly how many books you have in storage at any given time, and your customers will get the right books in good condition in a timely manner.

To achieve this goal, your book distributor has developed effective guidelines, which will involve your printer’s preparation of the delivery (packaging and labelling). Therefore, the earlier you can get the required information from the distributor to the printer, the better. And the more lines of communication you can provide between the printer, the shipping carrier, and the delivery point, the smoother and more accurate the delivery process will be.

So it is prudent to start early crafting a single comprehensive delivery spreadsheet to which all interested parties can refer.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: Paper Choices for Direct Mail

February 1st, 2018

Posted in Direct Mail | 2 Comments »

I received two pieces of direct mail this week that piqued my interest. In fact, I decided to keep them, and not just for this article. I wanted to think about why I found them unique.

Ironically, as more and more people have moved their marketing efforts from physical, paper based commercial printing to the more ephemeral Internet, those direct mail marketers who have stayed the course have found less competition for the reader’s attention.

In many cases, there’s less mail in the mailbox. What this means is that you have fewer pieces to review. But studies have shown that people still do take time to read their physical direct mail. In contrast, emails seem to be increasing every day, so I personally find myself reading fewer and fewer of the promotional ones. I look for a reason to delete them since there are always so many.

In light of this situation, I received the two physical mail pieces this week, and it was actually the paper choices more than the design that caught my attention.

Again, ironically, it was one of the major differences between email marketing and physical, print marketing that made these two pieces stand out. After all, you can’t touch a website or an email.

Paper Choices: The First Fold-over Card

The first piece is marketing collateral for a bank. The folded size is 6” x 9”, but it opens up into a 6”x 18” flat size, which in itself is unique. It feels big, and its dramatically lit images and ink solids with reversed type echo the feeling of space and abundance.

But what makes it really memorable is the feel of the custom printing paper stock.

Keep in mind that two functional (and useful) characteristics of paper are its weight and its surface. In this case the paper feels heavy (probably 80# cover), but this weight is doubled, since it is a fold-over card. The first thing you feel is the double thickness of the paper before you open the front flap upward to reveal the tall and narrow format.

Secondly, the commercial printing vendor coated the entire card–both sides—with soft-touch UV (or possibly reticulated varnish). It has a rough but consistent pattern, and this makes it feel soft as I run my finger across its surface. Combined with the thickness of the custom printing stock, the slightly uneven surface of the paper makes holding the marketing piece a tactile experience. The designer used one of the main benefits of paper—its physical, tactile nature—to its best advantage.

One reason I would probably guess that this is soft-touch UV coating (in addition to the soft feel) is the contrast between the soft background and a few items highlighted with a spot gloss effect (also probably a UV coating). The gloss coating covers the logo and some of the reversed type. Under a bright light, the contrast between the matte, pebbly finish covering most of the printed product and the smooth gloss effect over selected large headlines and the logo makes the display type and logo stand out more than usual. Under bright light they have a high-gloss reflective sheen.

All of this affects the viewer long before the large photos, page design, and text of the marketing piece. These qualities happen to be stellar as well (a simple but bold design reflected in the typeface, reversed type, and dramatically lit and well-balanced images). However, the very first thing the reader notices, upon pulling this marketing piece out of the envelope, is the texture and feel of the paper, a subtle element of design that works on a subconscious level. The reader may not consciously know what is going on, but the feel and weight of the paper are working their magic upon her or him.

Paper Choices: The Second Fold-over Card

Interestingly enough, this is a fold-over card, too. But it opens from side to side. (It is horizontal rather than vertical.) So the effect is more traditional. However, the paper is a very thick, uncoated and blue white stock. So before you open the fold-over card, the paper feels especially heavy. And this registers as “important information” when you pull it out of the envelope. It’s “weighty,” so to speak.

The uncoated surface of the paper combined with the full-bleed photos on all four panels gives a soft, subdued feel to this marketing piece, which is an introduction to a new series of town homes near my fiancee’s and my house.

The front panel shows about ten of the townhouses, all touching, at dusk. The sky is a subdued blue (as is the headline type, which is slightly darker), but you can see the reflection of the sunset in the windows, and some of the house lights have been turned on. The touches of orange sunlight in the cover image provide a nice warm contrast to the predominantly cool colors of the overall image. And the softness of the image at day’s end is consistent with both the soft feel of the uncoated paper and the softness of the printed image (in contrast to an image printed on a gloss or even a dull coated commercial printing sheet).

Inside the fold-over card the solid ink areas and reverse type provide an austere counterpoint to the large image of a kitchen in one of the row houses.

Overall, the effect of the marketing piece is one of substance (due to the thickness of the paper) with a casual, relaxed flair (due to the soft, uncoated paper surface).

Paper Choices: A Thick Business Card

My fiancee just handed me a business card from a fine artist. It’s actually perfect to round out this series of marketing pieces enhanced by shrewd custom printing paper choices.

There are three elements that distinguish this business card from its peers. First, it is thicker than usual. It is 14pt. For comparison, that’s just under 120# cover stock. To put this in perspective, when I was a graphic designer I used to specify 80# cover stock for business cards. So this paper feels much heavier and rigid. Like the two fold-over cards noted above, this business card has substance and (psychological as well as physical) weight.

One side of the card is a montage of the artist’s paintings, many of which are at sunset, so the contrast between the oranges and reds of the sun in the clouds works nicely against the dark silhouettes of the buildings. The colors are dramatic even in this small size with this many images in the montage. You don’t really see the individual paintings as much as their unifying color scheme.

On the front of the card is the artist’s website URL, hand-written in three lines (white reversed out of a black background that bleeds on all sides). So it’s simple. One side has the web contact information, and one side has a smattering of the artist’s images.

And because of the thickness of the commercial printing paper stock (and its rigidity), the overall effect is one of importance: an importance conveyed by the paper choice even before the reader can consciously address the graphic design or the marketing message.

Posted in Direct Mail | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Tips on Preparing Book Cover Art

January 26th, 2018

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A book printing client of mine is about to send a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. She and her husband, a publishing team for literary books of prose and poetry, have circulated “galley-proofs” (lower production quality versions of the book for editors and reviewers to use for commentary), and the reader suggestions will have been introduced into the final-copy art files shortly.

What this means is that the page count is in flux. And that in turn affects the overall price of the book (and the dollar payment my clients will need to send before the production work begins), plus the width of the spine is also in flux, so the cover designer is in a wait-and-see mode at the moment.

Regarding the last comment above, here’s the rub. The designer will need to create a single file with the back cover on the left, then the spine, then the front cover, all side by side. For this particular print book, there will also be French flaps (3.5” extensions on either side of the back and front cover). When folded in, these French flaps will provide a little interior space to print an author bio, reviewers’ quotes, or marketing blurbs. They will also make the paper-bound book look more like it has a dust jacket (like a hardcover book).

So reading from left to right, the final art for the cover will include a 3.5” French flap followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” back cover followed by a spine (indeterminate size at the moment) followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” front cover followed by a 3.5” front cover French flap. To this the cover designer will add bleeds for this four-color printed product (the interior of the book is simpler: black text throughout, with no bleeds).

All of these components need to be stitched together, but more importantly they must be of the correct measurements, or the spine art will end up wrapping onto the front or back cover and looking just plain ugly.

Fortunately the caliper of the interior text paper is known: 400 ppi. For the ease of the math, that means that if my client’s book winds up being 400 pages, the spine will be one inch. In actuality it will probably be 256 pages (it has ranged from about 264 pages down to 250 pages—for the digitally printed “reader’s galleys”). So the spine will be more than half an inch and less than an inch (.64”), but the exact size cannot be finalized until the page count is firm. That means the Photoshop file (the cover designer likes to work in Photoshop rather than InDesign) will need to be fluid, and the final press-ready PDF cannot be distilled until the text pages have been finalized.

In your own print buying work, there are three take-aways from this case study to consider:

  1. Understand the concept of paper thickness or caliper, and get this information from your book printer once you have chosen a paper stock. To be safe, after you have calculated the spine width, have him confirm your math. It’s better to be safe.
  2. Learn how to stitch together the various pieces of a book cover, making sure the overall size is correct, with or without bleeds, and the pages are in the correct order (back cover, spine, front cover).
  3. Send your book printer both the native Photoshop or InDesign file (to his specifications) and a press-ready PDF (to his specifications).
  4. Don’t be surprised, or upset, if your book printer needs you to make some final technical adjustments and resubmit these files. This is complex work.

Further Thoughts

Here are a few more things that I do when I design a print book cover. You might find them useful.

The Color of the Paper

The clients noted above often print the text blocks of their books on a cream stock. That is, the color of the paper is tinted slightly yellow, in contrast to bright white sheets that are tinted slightly blue. (The blue-white is less noticeable. It just looks like a very bright white.)

When my clients add a 12pt C1S cover to this text block, it is usually blue-white rather than natural, cream, or warm white. Usually, my clients print the inside front and back covers as well as the outer front and back covers and spine. The difference between the bright blue-white of the interior covers and the cream white of the text is not visible to the reader at this point because of the ink on the interior covers (it distracts the reader). However, if my clients choose to print a book on cream stock and they have nothing printed on the interior covers, the difference in paper shade between the blue-white interior covers and the cream white text block will be visible.

In cases like these I have often encouraged them to choose a bright white shade for the text as well as the cover.

As an alternative, could my clients print the covers on a cream-white cover sheet? Presumably. However, printing four-color process imagery on a yellowish tinted paper will change the tone of the inks. Remember, process inks are transparent, so the substrate will affect the perceived color of ink printed on an off-white substrate.

So it’s a trade-off. Depending on the colors, my clients may actually either have a bright white cover and cream white text, and live with the difference, or they might print four-color imagery on cream cover stock—depending on the colors in the images. It’s usually not good to print flesh tones on a cream substrate, since facial coloration can look odd (i.e., jaundiced).

Coated One or Two Sides

On a related note, when my clients do print on the interior covers, I always specify a C2S paper (coated two sides). Many coated cover sheets are specified this way: as 80# cover, for instance, rather than 10pt C1S. It can be assumed that cover stock paper has coating on two sides, since this is not specified, whereas C1S paper specified in points (10pt., 12pt.) is coated on only one side because the notation says it is.

I encourage my clients to do this for the following reason. Ink behaves differently on a coated, vs. uncoated, surface. Ink sits up on the top of a coated surface, but it seeps into the paper fibers if there’s no coating. Because of this, four-color imagery printed on the front of a C1S (coated one side) sheet will have a completely different look than four-color imagery printed on the uncoated interior covers (front and back). Ink on the interior covers in this case would seem dull in comparison. If you want that look (a softer, crunchy granola look), it fine if it’s done throughout a book, but it looks odd if it’s done on the inside front and back covers only.

(On a related note, keep in mind that all of the text blocks of this particular client’s books are printed in black ink only on uncoated paper stock. Everything I’m saying would become far more complicated if my clients were to shift to four-color interior text blocks. In fact, at that point, I’d suggest that they either print both the cover and text on coated stock or print the cover and text on uncoated stock, depending on the effect they were seeking.)

Print Out a Hard Copy

One thing I always suggest for my clients’ book covers is that they print out a hard copy on paper with crop marks and printer’s bars. They may need to tile the pages and then tape them together. But the idea is for them to have a full-size physical representation of the cover, ruled out to show the bleeds. This will make it abundantly clear–in ways that often elude the viewer who only looks at the cover on-screen—as to whether everything is correct.

You can see where the type falls on the spine: whether it is centered vertically, or whether it is too high or low. You can see whether the front or back cover art is centered on the page (exclusive of the bleeds, which can be misleading, because once you draw pencil marks–“rule out the cover”–to connect the trim marks, you can see what the cover will look like after it has been printed and trimmed to size).

All of this is visible on a computer screen, granted. Maybe I’m just “old school.” But I do find it easier to see the flaws when the entire front and back cover and spine are before me in actual size (not enlarged or reduced– zoomed in or out). You can always catch the errors at the physical proof stage (and I would encourage you to request a hard-copy cover proof rather than depending on a virtual proof for a print book cover), but why pay to fix errors you can catch by just printing out and taping together a cover mock-up?

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Custom Printing: More Info on Print and Virtual Reality

January 17th, 2018

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I recently had the opportunity to try on a virtual reality (VR) headset for the first time in a computer store. It was a transformative experience. I totally lost awareness of the actual world around me as I explored a realm that seemed equally real. It was like a dream.

In this context, I was particularly intrigued to find an article on www.adweek.com about the marriage of augmented reality (AR, which is slightly different from virtual reality) and commercial printing. Entitled “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality” (published online on 1/8/18 and written by Tim Carmody), the article addresses some of the issues and concerns in this expanding link between print and digital communications.

The article begins by noting that for the first time in its 94-year history, the prior issue of Time had been guest-edited (by Bill Gates). I think this is a very big deal, since Gates is clearly one of the most influential names in the history of personal computing. At the same time, this particular issue contained “activations” (links to) four separate augmented reality experiences accessible with a smartphone app created by Time’s Life VR.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

To understand the difference in the terms referenced in the article, I did some research on virtual reality and augmented reality. Both are computer generated, usually incorporating a headset with a screen that covers the viewer’s entire field of vision. In my own experience trying this at the computer store, the headset itself also eliminated ambient light to further focus my attention on the screen (some virtual reality experiences use screens in an actual, physical room).

The main difference between augmented reality and virtual reality, as I understand it from my reading, is that virtual reality presents a separate, completely contained world for the viewer to experience while augmented reality adds computer generated text and images to the viewer’s field of vision. It enhances reality rather than creating an artificial world.

I think both have their place, and I think they will both be very big in coming years. Carmody’s article reflects the same sentiment, noting that “…the right set of experiences have emerged…to make it mainstream.”

How This Relates to Commercial Printing

The article reminds us that Time has been around for 94 years. That’s a very long time when you think that our country has only been around for 242 years. And Time is positioning itself to benefit from this growth in augmented reality.

According to Mia Tramz, managing editor of Life VR (as quoted in “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality”), “In the way that VR was nascent a few years ago, I think AR is right now.” Because of this, Time Inc. plans to roll out augmented reality activations across its line of products and also both augmented reality and virtual reality experiences that will be stand-alone items (not linked to Time Inc. print products). That is, Time sees reader demand both for integrating print publications with AR and VR applications and for creating free-standing AR and VR experiences, which they refer to as “off the page” opportunities.

Why?

  1. Time sees opportunities for readers to both entertain and inform themselves using this growing technology.
  2. Photography has always been a key ingredient in the success of Time throughout its 94-year history.
  3. Time sees benefits to both the printed product and the digital experience by uniting print and AR/VR.
  4. Time sees a wealth of advertising opportunities coming from this union of print and AR/VR.
  5. Time is focusing more on augmented reality than on virtual reality because it does not want to limit viewers to a single, fictional world but rather to enhance the viewer’s experience of the real world.

To these benefits noted in Carmody’s article on www.adweek.com, I would add my own beliefs:

  1. Time wants to stay relevant. And the best way to do this is to gauge reader interest and the current state of AR and VR technology (both of which Time Inc. considers viable), and to give their readers what they want.
  2. A print publication such as Time magazine provides an ideal platform from which to experience the enhanced educational and entertainment opportunities of both VR and AR. On one hand Time magazine is a trusted platform for information and imagery. It is also a base from which to launch VR and AR experiences. Furthermore, the marriage of VR/AR and print offers more benefits than either print or digital alone.

The Challenge for Augmented Reality

The main challenge noted in Carmody’s article is to make the experience easier for viewers. (The article refers to this as its having less “friction.”) After all, a viewer has to have a smartphone (which most people have) and then download software (an app) to make the AR or VR activation work.

At this particular point in the development of AR and VR, notes Carmody, there are more options, such as the software in the Snapchat platform. People are more comfortable using something they are familiar with, and more and more people are familiar with Snapchat. Also, other platforms will presumably offer AR and VR connections in the near future.

In addition, Time Inc. offers its own smartphone app, Life VR (and presumably other publishers also offer or will soon offer similar apps). Granted, once a reader/viewer has downloaded the app from a particular publisher, the publisher must continue providing compelling VR or AR experiences, or the software on the user’s smartphone will just sit idle.

Examples of AR Success in Marketing

To make this more concrete, here are two examples of connections between marketing and VR/AR as noted in “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality”:

  1. Home Depot provided an augmented reality experience launched from a banner ad in which the smartphone-equipped customer could photograph a Christmas tree and then place it in a photo of his or her own living room.
  2. IKEA provided an augmented reality experience in which the viewer could place furniture in his or her house using a smartphone camera.

(Granted, the first example was launched from an online banner ad, but presumably it could have been launched from a print ad.)

So the takeaway is that a marriage between editorial and marketing or advertising could fuel the growth of AR technology, particularly since consumer interest/demand is present and since AR applications are becoming more “frictionless.”

What You Can Take Away From This Discussion

  1. Follow the advertising dollars. Advertisers see opportunities in the marriage of print publications and your phone using AR technology.
  2. Readers like the experience of VR and AR because they are immersive. They engage multiple senses and provide an emotionally pleasurable experience.
  3. There is a mutual benefit shared by both print editorial and augmented reality that makes AR a compelling proposition. Each enhances the other. In addition, print is a cohesive and trusted force. People have faith in Time magazine. This reinforces the credibility of the attached AR experience.
  4. As print designers and printers, you will still be relevant if you have broad knowledge and technical skill in both commercial printing and augmented reality/virtual reality.

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Book Printing: Different Approaches, Different Prices

January 9th, 2018

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A print brokering client of mine sells a small color book that helps her clients choose fashion and make-up colors. She is a “fashionista,” and her product is essentially a PMS color book for cosmetics and clothes. I’ve seen other swatch books for choosing wood paneling (in the hardware store) and still others for choosing paint (also in the hardware store).

My client’s print books are very small in format: approximately 1.5” x 3.5”. They comprise 114 pages plus cover, and they are attached on one side with a metal screw and post assembly. Each leaf (front and back of a page) has a color on the front and explanatory information on the back.

My client reprints every few months depending on her clients’ orders.

That said, my client has new financial backers who are interested in increasing the number of books printed and also adding color chips to the print books. So I’ve been soliciting prices based on various reprint totals for the 22 different versions of this book (since different facial complexions warrant slightly different color swatches).

Adding New Colors

About a week ago, I requested prices based on my client’s $2,000 budget for printing and shipping a selection of the 22 master copies of the print books. (In some cases, my client needed one, two, maybe even six copies of a particular original book, but for some books she didn’t need any copies since she already had inventory.)

According to the book printer, my client could get 99 books for her $2,000 budget. That said, she could also get five additional colors added to the end of each book for just $85 more.

This small amount would cover the printer’s adding the pages to the master art file (for each original of the 22 titles), printing the pages (5 colors x 99 copies), laminating them, round-cornering and drilling them, then assembling the pages into the new print books and individually shrink wrapping each bound book.

So essentially, the printer would do all of this for almost nothing. All my client would need to do would be to provide the five leaves (front and back of the pages) together as a single PDF file.

The big question is why would this be so cheap? Here’s the answer. Because almost all pre-press, press, and postpress operations would already be a part of the initial job (the reprint of the 99 previously printed books). Another way of saying this is that once the five extra pages had been added to each of the 22 master files, everything else (all other prepress, press, and post press operations) would be the same as if the books had been reprinted as is.

The Prior Bid: Extra Swatches Produced As a New Job

Prior to this plan, my client had asked about printing three sets of 300 copies. The printer’s estimate had been close to $3,000.

Now why would it cost so little to add five pages to the end of 99 books and so much to print three sets of 300 small color swatches?

Again, it really has to do with the set up (or make-ready) for the various aspects of the print job, even if this is a digitally printed job (liquid toner printed on an HP Indigo press) rather than an offset job. For the three sets of 300 copies, all aspects of prepress from preflighting the PDF files to imposing the job (about 30 color chips will fit on this particular HP Indigo’s 13” x 19” press sheet) would be required. Therefore, ten separate press forms would be necessary (30 1.5” x 3.5” color swatch book pages per sheet multiplied by ten press forms), and the printer would need to print three copies of each press form.

And that’s just printing. Then the pages would need to be laminated, and all die cutting operations would need to follow (trimming, round cornering, and drilling for the screw and post assembly). As a stand-alone job, without the reprint of 99 copies accompanying it, even these 900 loose swatch pages would cost an incredible amount when compared to the $85 for producing 5 pages of fashion color swatches multiplied by 99 reprinted books (i.e., by doing both jobs together).

The Take-Away

All of this can be mind-numbingly complex. But the main thing to learn is that by ganging up all prepress, printing, and post-press finishing operations for the 99-copy reprint of my client’s color book–plus the extra five color swatch pages per print book (multiplied by the 99 reprinted books)–my client is almost getting two jobs for the price of one.

This is reflected in other aspects of the job as well. For instance, my client looked at an option to reprint 44 books before she settled on 99 books (various numbers of copies of the 22 master book files). In this case the estimated unit cost was almost fifty percent higher for 44 books than for 99 books. Another way of saying this is that it would cost two thirds as much to print 44 books as to print 99 books (rather than approximately half as much).

I’m not surprised when this happens in offset printing. After all, there’s a lot of make-ready in offset lithography that doesn’t exist for digital printing. In fact, most printers will tell you that the unit cost for digital printing is almost the same if you print one copy or 500 copies. But apparently in this case–probably due to the extensive laminating and die cutting work–it really pays to print more than you need rather than risk printing less than you need.

How This Relates to Your Own Print Buying

So, in your own print buying work, consider the following:

  1. If you’re doing multiple jobs, ask your book printer whether there is any way to gang up any of the individual prepress, printing, or post-press/finishing operations to reap a cost benefit. In most cases, the more complex the job (the more prepress, press, and post-press finishing operations needed), the greater the savings will be for ganging the work.
  2. Talk with your printer. Ask questions. Make it a habit to discuss various options for approaching a job. How you approach it may yield vastly different overall costs.
  3. Find printers who value saving you money to earn your business. Considering various options for producing a job takes time. Not all printers will approach a job as a consultant and take the time to consider alternatives. If you have found the kind of printer I’m describing, make him a partner, and nourish a mutually beneficial working relationship of trust. It will pay off.

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Book Printing: Resolving Printing Problems

January 3rd, 2018

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I got a dreaded email from a book printing client today, the kind that no commercial printing broker likes to receive. My client was unhappy with the printed product that had just been delivered.

(Ironically, she had been my assistant seventeen years ago when I was an art director, and I had taught her to be a hard-nosed print buyer, accepting nothing but the highest quality.)

My client’s print book is approximately 300 pages, 6” x 9” format, and perfect bound. It’s a government textbook for high school students. I used to design and typeset this specific book myself back in the early 1980s.

My client had two problems with the book:

  1. There was a visible shift in the paper within the final signature of the book. The last pages had a bit of a purple cast, faint but still noticeable.
  2. The type on the book’s spine was not centered vertically (between the folded edge of the front cover and the back cover).

How I Approached These Problems

I have two deeply held beliefs about problems in custom printing. The first is that problems will occur from time to time. After all, this is a multi-step process with ample room for error. It’s not whether problems will arise but how they are addressed that counts. And the second belief is that the first thing to do in a crisis such as this is nothing: that is, don’t react immediately, but rather observe and gather facts.

So I asked my client about the extent of the problem. She only had 200 office copies of the 3,000 total press run. I suggested that she spot check books in the small boxes she had received (twenty boxes of ten books each). (That is, I asked her to to check a few books in each box.) I assumed (just a hypothesis) that the problematic books would be together in several boxes rather than distributed throughout the press run.

While I was waiting for my client to spot check the print books, I called the book printer’s CSR (customer service representative) and the sales rep.

The CSR did some research and discovered that although the paperwork did not disclose this fact, the plant manager had changed paper lots at the tail end of the print job. That is, 30,000 press sheets of paper stock (for a sheetfed job rather than paper rolls for a web press) had been made and sent out at one time, and the remaining 1,200 sheets of press stock had been created at a different time. Because of this, there was a difference between the two paper lots (a faint purple tinge on the 1,200 sheets but not the 30,000 sheets).

So we had our first answer. Approximately 4 percent of the overall press run had this problem (1,200/30,000 sheets). I apprised my client. (Of course, this did not answer the question of why the difference in paper color had not been caught during the press run, but it does suggest that the difference was slight.)

I then called the sales rep and asked him to contact my client. I wanted my client to have immediate access to the actual printer, not just to me, the print broker. He and I also discussed the extent of the problem and the fact that my client had noticed that the type on the book spine was not centered between the front and back covers.

The sales rep did some checking into the spine issue. He found that the photos and solid colors on the front cover abutted exactly to the fold of the book spine. In addition, the type was also not centered on the digital proof of the cover. Nor was it centered vertically on the prior year’s edition of the book. Presumably my client had missed this. (We all look at a job more critically when we find one problem, so we often find other problems as well.)

That said, being right is irrelevant when the client is upset. My client had pointed out that she had spent good money on this job, with this printer, and the product was not up to the usual level of quality.

(To put this in perspective, I can understand my client’s view entirely, since this printer usually provides the highest, or one of the highest, bids of all the competing vendors for this job. So my client essentially has been willing to pay a premium for the usual high quality and service this vendor offers. However, in this case my client felt that she hadn’t received the quality she had come to expect from this vendor.)

Potential Resolution

I asked how my client wanted to proceed. I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted her future business. First of all, she said she needed the remaining 2,800 books to be delivered. So I made sure this happened immediately.

Her taking delivery of the balance of the job implied that, while below her level of expectation, the print books were still usable. She needed them in her warehouse immediately for this year’s government education students. However, since she was not completely satisfied with their quality, she wanted a discount. But she wasn’t sure how much was appropriate compensation.

When we talked, I suggested that she take a couple of days to consider her request. I told my client that the sales rep was doing further research into the cause and extent of the misaligned type on the book spines. (I did not tell her that the front cover art abutted exactly to the fold of the spine because I had not yet received all of the information on this problem from the book printer.)

I also reminded her that about four percent of the job had been affected by the book printer’s changing paper lots (which is standard industry procedure in such a case, although in this instance it had led to problems). I said that the four percent might be a reasonable starting point for a discount, plus whatever my client felt was reasonable for the spine type alignment issue.

At this point (only a day after the problem had been brought to our attention), the book printer’s sales rep drove up from the plant to meet with my client and her assistants to offer support and assistance. His goal was to assure them that the printer would do whatever was necessary to regain my client’s confidence and make her whole.

At this point nothing has been completely resolved, but things are going in the right direction.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Both the book printer’s sales rep and customer service rep made it clear immediately that my client’s distress was of prime concern to them. They wanted to remedy the problem this year and ensure that it didn’t happen again in successive years. Since there was no time to reprint (and since the errors were not of sufficient gravity to even warrant a reprint), they nevertheless wanted to make my client (and her company) whole again.

Not every printer will do this. In your own print buying work, this kind of printer is a “partner,” who wants to resolve issues to your satisfaction and then continue the business relationship. Hold onto a printer like this. And remember that things do go wrong in custom printing. The important thing is how the problems are resolved.

To reiterate, the problems were not severe enough to reprint. If you have problems like this, it is important to be realistic and to only ask for a reprint for an unusable product (made unusable by the printer’s error). So if you missed something in the proof, you might ask for a reprint “at cost,” but your sign-off sheet does say that you approved the proof, whether or not you missed anything problematic.

You can be certain that in a small fraction of the jobs you print, something will go wrong. A printer who will help you resolve the problems is a keeper.

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Book Printing: Digital Book Printing at Lightning Speed

December 26th, 2017

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A print brokering client of mine called me up early last week and asked whether I could provide a direct reprint of her prior year’s government textbook, 350 copies, 6” x 9”, 272 pages, perfect bound, delivered to Florida from Virginia in a week’s time. There was to be a meeting in a convention center on a university campus, and my client’s boss wanted the participants to have copies of the print book. Due to an inventory miscount, my client’s warehouse had run out of copies of the book before the next issue had been printed.

Fortunately, my client had been buying the printing for this book from the same printer for many years, so he had a strong motivation to do what she wanted, but I was still initially unsure that it was even possible. So I asked the sales rep.

What the Book Printer’s Rep Said

The printer said this was possible as long as he got a firm commitment that next day so he could purchase paper. The books would be produced digitally and then perfect bound. My client could have a PDF proof, but it was “confirming-only.” That is, the production process would not stop and wait for her approval. The proof was just a confirmation that the print book was a direct reprint from the prior year’s art files.

Now this news made my client very happy, but to be honest it both surprised and intrigued me. Almost forty years ago I had actually copyedited, typeset, and pasted up this very book for this same organization (three times a year). In fact, more than twenty years ago, I had hired and trained the woman to whom I was now brokering this printing (as a graphic designer), back when I was an art director. Back then, the book took six weeks to print and bind at a large book printer. So in my eyes producing 350 copies in one week was astounding.

Glitches and Resolution

Included in the one-week schedule was the shipping time from the book printer to the university. I did not know at the time, but a two-day delivery time from the Virginia printer to the Florida university actually required a third day for delivery. The print books would arrive at the university in two days, but the delivery service would have to arrange an appointment for final delivery (within the university) on the third day. In addition, the delivery would incur a surcharge since it would be made to a convention center. And it would be an inside delivery.

All of this is relevant because it shortened the time the book printer had available to digitally print and perfect bind the books.

The schedule proceeded as follows. My client contacted me on a Tuesday. She committed to the press run (it was still in flux at this time between 340 and 400 copies), and reviewed the proof, which the printer immediately provided as a PDF on Wednesday. Then the printer produced the pages (272 pages x 350 copies = 95,200 pages, so it wasn’t a short run) and bound the book in house, handing it off to the delivery service on Friday. The following Tuesday it arrived at the university, and Wednesday it was delivered to the final destination within the university.

My client was relieved, I was relieved, and the printer was relieved.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

First of all, this couldn’t have been done if the press run had been very long (thousands rather than hundreds) because the various analog steps of a true offset print run would have taken longer than book production on a digital press. (For example, since there are no custom printing plates on a digital press, there are none to image, none to hang on the press, none to wash up, etc. But even the digitally printed pages still had to be trimmed and bound, which took time. However, all of this was still possible within this time frame.)

Secondly, digital printing opens up a lot of options that had been unavailable when offset printing was the only technology. More specifically, back in the day, no one at the university conference would have received a copy. It wouldn’t have been possible. So they would have missed a learning opportunity, and my client’s boss would have missed a marketing opportunity.

Basically, this means that a bookseller (or in this case an educational foundation that provides books as part of an educational experience) can produce an initial offset book print run that’s almost right and then follow up later with a short digital print run if necessary.

Otherwise, to avoid running out of copies, such a book provider would need to always overestimate and overprint a job. And this would lead to excess inventory that presumably would eventually be thrown away. But before the books were discarded, they would take up space in the warehouse, and they would be counted during inventory. Essentially they would cost money to be produced and stored, but they would generate no income.

Not needing to do this saves a lot of money. So in your own work, even if you need to reprint a few hundred books now and then (and their unit cost was quite a bit more than the offset press run: about $10.00 per book for 350 rather than $4.60 per book for 3,000), the cost still is reasonable when you consider the avoidance of waste and extra storage costs.

What we also learn is that dedicated book printers have their own perfect binding equipment. This shortens the lead time for binding, since most other printers have to subcontract out this work. In fact, another (much smaller) press run of books for another client of mine will take a full week to bind because the printer in question is small and therefore does not have in-house perfect binding capabilities.

Granted, in most cases perfect binding equipment at a book printer is large and is intended for long press runs in order to be cost effective. However, some book printers have smaller perfect binders that are ideal for short digital runs.

The final thing I would like to point out is that even with a short press run, the text pages of a long perfect bound book still require a lot of post-press finishing work after the liquid ink or toner is on the press sheets. The pages still need to be bound and trimmed to size, then cartoned and shipped. So if you need to do a job like this, research all the shipping costs and physical requirements first. Make sure you know whether the delivery point is a loading dock or a location inside a building. Avoid finding this out at the last minute.

Finally, this is not the kind of thing every printer will do for you. In my client’s case, there was a long-term, mutually beneficial working relationship that kept my client coming back and motivated the printer to meet the requested schedule, no matter how short it was. When you buy commercial printing, you’re buying a process more than a product, so it is extremely helpful to know your print vendor is a trusted business partner who will cover your back.

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