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

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Custom Printing: Shoe Boxes as Promotional Art

March 22nd, 2017

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

My fiancee and I stopped at a local upscale outlet store this week, a number of times, to collect designer shoe boxes for our autistic students. In art therapy we have been creating small shadow boxes (also known as dioramas), or miniature rooms decorated for Halloween. We’ve had our autistic members combine miniature skeletons (some wrapped as mummies), gauze, paint, Halloween stickers, and any other sculptural elements we could find.

All of that aside, my fiancee kept about four of the shoe boxes for herself—just because she liked them. And as a commercial printing broker and student of custom printing, I found her behavior intriguing. I surmised that:

  1. Product packaging sells product (and is a powerful and persuasive sales force).
  2. Product packaging sells itself. I think people buy in part because they like the feel of the packaging as well as its look, and as well as the look and feel of the product in the box (in this case, shoes).
  3. Based on comments my fiancee made, this is especially true for shoe boxes, since a lot of people store their shoes in the boxes after buying them and bringing them home. So unlike a blister pack that you cut or tear away from a product and then discard, shoe boxes can be an ongoing extension of the “brand.”

Sample Box #1

I just went into the art studio in our home and chose four sample boxes that had not yet been used by our students (the art project was so well received that we’ve offered it in four of our classes over the last few weeks).

Under a good light and with access to a printer’s loupe, I see that the first box has been printed on a thick, glossy cover stock prior to being folded and glued into a three-dimensional shoe box. The exterior walls of the box are covered with purple, red, and dark blue squares and other geometric forms. In contrast, the inside has been printed solid orange. It provides simplicity and stark contrast to the exterior.

If you look closely, you can see that the sides of the box are composed of double walls made from the flat, cover-stock press sheet. The box converter assembled the folded press sheets and hot melt glued sections to produce four vertical sides and a bottom. In the same way, the converter created a smaller box cover.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

I’ve said it in earlier blogs, but closely observing how product packaging goes together, how it is “converted” from a flat press sheet into a three-dimensional product (with its own value) is fascinating, and it casts light on a skilled and often overlooked aspect of “finishing,” the activities that occur after the ink has been laid down on the flat press sheet.

In terms of design, this product packaging shows that bright colors and active geometric imagery will appeal to a certain clientele when selling a certain product. The packaging is not sedate. Then again, it shouldn’t be sedate if the shoes in the box are flashy and upscale.

Sample Box #2

The first thing I notice about the second shoe box is that it is composed of thick gloss text paper laminated to fluted cardboard.

In contrast, the first box is composed of just two layers of thick cover stock with a dull coating (perhaps a dull UV coating). The walls of the second box are much thicker than those of the first box, but the two boxes weigh just about the same. This shows one benefit of corrugated board for product packaging: It is light but durable.

However, there is a marked vertical pattern of the fluted ribs visible on all sides of the box (even through the litho printing paper that has been laminated to the fluting). The ribbing is visible through the solid yellow exterior of the box and the yellow, green, and black interior ink.

Like the first box, you can see that the second box started as a flat sheet, was die cut, and then was folded up into a three-dimensional physical product, held together with glue or with folded tabs inserted into slots.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

Like the first box, the second has a simple design. All images are line art, but they didn’t have to be. Since the press sheets that had been converted into both boxes were either laminated to fluted board (in the case of the second box) or converted into a box without fluted board (as in the first box), offset lithography could have been used for either box.

Why? Because no fluted board would have been in direct contact with the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers.

In contrast, printing directly on fluted board must be done with flexography. This process avoids the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers. However, it also requires simpler custom printing designs.

In terms of design, this particular box shows that kinetic artwork combined with intense primary colors (the yellow of the box exterior) will capture the interest of presumably young, fashion-conscious clientele.

Sample Boxes #3 and #4

These are really two variants on the same theme: minimalist boxes produced on brown fluted board. They are simple, but they are actually quite elegant, and they present less of an “in-your-face” style and more of an “earth-friendly” vibe.

Both boxes (in slightly different ways) have been die cut from single printed sheets of fluted cardboard. Then, using folds, tabs, slots, and hot-melt glue, both have been converted into product packaging.

The first has been printed with both white ink and black ink. You can see with a loupe that the ink film is thin (i.e., not custom screen printing but flexography, the other option for adorning fluted cardboard without squashing the ribs of paper). But this doesn’t make the box look any less attractive, just more functional (i.e., “functional chic”). The short side panel of the box is actually a halftone (lightly inked) of a mountain climber (or camper) holding up a sign with the brand name in large letters. For climbing shoes, this is a much more appropriate approach than the heavy ink coverage and glossy look of the first box, produced on cover weight press stock. Overall, the box design underscores the functional nature of the shoes it contains.

Sample #4, the second box produced on unbleached corrugated board, works in exactly the same way. It has even less adornment than Sample #3: just the logo printed on the four vertical exterior walls of the box (in black and a light, transparent yellow over the uncoated, fluted cardboard), plus the impression in black ink—inside the box—of two shoe soles. It looks like the designer had dipped the shoes in black ink and then pressed them against the interior floor of the box.

What We Can Learn from These Two Samples

Humor sells. The interior of the box, which is most of the custom printing, looks like ink has been tracked in on the wearer’s shoes—or mud has been tracked into the house, if you will.

Simplicity also sells in this age of environmentally friendly, sustainable packaging. For practical shoes, this approach works.

Appropriate treatment (in terms of design, as well as the physical substrate used to build the box) makes the biggest difference. Selling shoes for an evening dance in unbleached corrugated board would miss the opportunity for the box to reflect the tone of its contents. Conversely, putting athletic shoes in a frilly box would dilute the brand, confuse the buyer, and miss the opportunity to align the product packaging with the product it contains.

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Why Not Print Your Book in Asia?

March 16th, 2017

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I believe in synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences,” as described by psychologist Carl Jung. Sometimes important things just seem to happen simultaneously, and if I’m aware at the time, I can learn from them.

Within this past few weeks I have had three experiences that have pointed me in the direction of actually producing a client’s print book in the Far East, which for me would be a first. (I’ve always felt more secure contracting work to local commercial printing vendors.)

  1. The first event was meeting a prospective client who was in the process of producing an important coffee-table print book at a Chinese printer. She seemed very knowledgeable about book printing, and she had produced a number of books in Asia.
  2. The second was having a Midwest US printer ask me if I and my client wanted them to produce the book in-house or broker it to a Chinese print vendor. On the one hand I was surprised. (I didn’t see a reason, as a broker, to go to another broker.) On the other hand, I was intrigued. I was seeing a pattern.
  3. The third incident actually involved using the Printing Industry Exchange server. I listed a job on the PIE website, and a number of Asian vendors sent me bids—immediately. Faster than printers in the US. I was starting to open my mind. Granted, seeing prices that were dramatically lower than those of the US vendors made a difference.

The Next Steps

I actually received a number of bids from Asia: one from Korea, the rest from China. One of the things that opened my mind to doing business overseas was the immediate follow-up on a bid from the Korean printer.

I’m a night owl, so curiously enough I found myself emailing the printer and receiving immediate answers at 2:00 a.m. (After all, even though it was 2:00 a.m. here, in Korea it was obviously the middle of the business day.) I liked the printer’s (or in this case the printer’s sales rep’s) attentiveness to my needs and questions.

With an especially attractive bid for my client’s project, an associate’s good words about a Chinese printer she was currently working with, and the customer service of the Korean printer I was becoming acquainted with, I felt comfortable moving forward.

So I asked for printed samples, an equipment list, and references from the Korean printer (all standard practices, just the same as if I were becoming acquainted with a local print shop). I was surprised to receive the sample box two days later, along with real-time messaging of exactly when to expect the delivery.

Even without opening the box, I had learned two things:

  1. The Korean printer wanted my business enough to spend a significant amount of money to send about twenty pounds of print books to me in two days, all the way from Korea. Moreover, he wanted me to contact him once I had received the samples to give him feedback. In short, I felt he valued my potential business.
  2. I started to let go of the preconception that Korea was inaccessible, in spite of its being far away. The printer said I would receive all proofs of any live jobs via DHL with the same speed as the samples.

The Samples

When I opened the box, I saw about ten of the nicest sample print books I had ever seen. The case-bound books were all flawlessly bound. The heavy ink coverage on the pages of the three graphic novels he had sent was beautiful. All of the perfect-bound books looked great (both the printing and binding work). I was very pleased. He even sent Korean copies of Allure and Vogue.

This is what I learned from the samples:

  1. Any printer that Vogue and Allure will allow to display their branding must be good. Why? First of all, color-critical work usually includes the following: food, beauty, and automotive imagery. Vogue and Allure fit right into the beauty/cosmetics genre. Moreover, magazines are repeat work. Presumably these were not the first and only issues this printer had produced for Vogue and Allure. Finally, the printer had included magazine issues with foil stamping on the cover (primarily type, and small type with serifs to boot).
  2. The three case-bound graphic novels could have been a mess, given the amount of ink on all pages (four color, full coverage). Instead, they were crisp, evenly inked, gorgeous. And so was the binding.
  3. The printer’s sales rep was clearly knowledgeable, or he would not have selected these specific printed samples to showcase these specific, and challenging, aspects of commercial printing and finishing. This went a long way with me, since I need to know I’m communicating with someone who understands custom printing—thoroughly and in depth.

References

Anyone can give a stellar reference, just as anyone can send someone else’s samples. Granted, most people have integrity, but we’re talking about my advising my clients to spend serious money for print book production.

Since I have known the CEO of the Printing Industry Exchange for 25 years, I asked him outright about this book printer. He told me the printer had been a PIE member since 2001 with no complaints. (I guess it’s like checking with the Better Business Bureau and finding an “A” rating.) I felt completely secure.

What’s Next?

While I’m not always comfortable with change, I will admit that I have sent work to Canada—successfully. So I’m at least keeping an open mind here. These are the issues I will need to address before I encourage my client to buy her print book from a vendor in the Far East:

  1. The schedule will be important. Given the kind of product my client wants (a book that is not time sensitive), this may be an appropriate job for printing in Korea. Then again, I’m hearing from other sources that some Far East printers can even come close to the schedules US printers offer.
  2. Will shipping be prohibitive? Or will it be worth paying more for shipping since I’ll be paying less for printing?
  3. Will language be a barrier? I’m reading the emails closely to make sure I get the answers I need, and the technical specs my client needs.
  4. Will I get enough proofs to avoid any surprises? In my client’s case, for this particular print book, I will need to see high quality proofs of the photos as well as the digital book blues and contract-quality cover proof. I’ll also want to see F&Gs (folded and gathered—but not yet bound—book signatures).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Go slowly. Ask questions. Get samples and references.
  2. Make sure someone you know well and trust gives you the references. Preferably someone who has been doing multiple jobs in the Far East. Find out what the printer does when problems arise.
  3. If you can, start with a small job—as you would with any US printer.
  4. Make sure your job is appropriate for long-distance printing. A print book with no fixed deadline may be ideal. More timely material may not.

As with anything else in life, at some point you have to take a leap of faith. I’m not quite ready yet—but I’m getting very close.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Transformative Technology of 3D and 4D Printing

March 5th, 2017

Posted in 3D Printing | 2 Comments »

I hadn’t done much research into 3D custom printing recently, so I thought I’d check out the current state of the technology. I was pleased to find that it is very much alive and thriving. I found three articles I’d like to share with you.

First of All, What Is 3D Printing?

An inkjet printer’s printheads move from side to side as the paper feeds through the machine producing a two dimensional copy of whatever is in your computer file. In much the same way a 3D printer has printheads that move not only from side to side but also up and down. Such printers use plastic resins (instead of ink) to build up layer upon layer of material to create three-dimensional products.

This approach, also known as additive manufacturing, is a step beyond traditional manufacturing, which involves either grinding down some material into a usable item (or part of an item) or injection molding an item, which involves making a hollow form into which plastic, molten metal, or some other substance is injected. When the mold form is removed, you have your item (or component part of an item).

Injection molding requires making molds, which is slow and expensive. In contrast, if you have a 3D printer and a computer file, you can easily and cheaply make one item (or parts for an item that you would then assemble).

The Articles on 3D Printing

I would like to preface this by saying that many of the articles I had been reading during my prior study of 3D custom printing had involved using additive manufacturing to print hamburger-like meat (which I thought was interesting, albeit very expensive) and handguns (which concerned me). However, I had also been pleased to read about attempts to 3D print replacement body parts (out of biological matter).

Interestingly enough, over the past few years I have also noticed computer vendors such as Micro Center selling these 3D printers for a reasonable price.

A Prosthesis for a Tortoise

The first article I read was entitled “Injured Tortoise Gets a Second Chance at Life Through 3D Printing.” It was written by Luke Dormehl and uploaded to www.DigitalTrends.com on 8/22/16. The article references a veterinarian, Nicola Di Girolamo, who treated a tortoise that had lost a leg to a rodent attack (one leg had been so badly damaged by the rodent that it had required amputation).

The vet contracted with Roma Stampa, a 3D custom printing vendor, to produce a prosthesis for a tortoise. It was essentially a two-wheeled cart that could be attached to the tortoise’s shell using two neodymium magnets. What makes this different from other two-wheeled carts for animals is that it was produced precisely to the dimensions needed by the tortoise. In addition, because of the magnet attachments, the cart could be removed during the long annual hibernation period (up to six months) of the tortoise so it didn’t confine her.

So, you may ask, what makes this custom printing?

When you inkjet print a brochure, you are using a computer to digitally create a presentation of information and concepts. You are using printing ink and a horizontal and vertical matrix to create the reader’s internal “experience” and hopefully to empower the reader to think and act.

So when Roma Stampa produced the cart for the tortoise, it used an inkjettable material more substantial than commercial printing ink, a digital computer file, a 3D printer, and a three-axis matrix (length, width, and height) to create an object that empowered the tortoise to move and walk.

Creating 750 Human Hand Prostheses

The next article, “Volunteers Assemble 750 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands,” describes a 3D print run of all the component parts needed to assemble 750 human hands (22,000 pieces in all). The article was written by Beth Stackpole and published on www.rapidreadytech.com on 8/25/16.

According to Stackpole’s article, “Autodesk has teamed up with the Enable Community Foundation (ECF) and Voodoo Manufacturing to conduct what they say is the world’s first global hand drive for 3D printed hands.” The goal of the initiative was “to serve children and underserved populations around the globe.”

The reason this is noteworthy is the cost and the turn-around time. It usually costs tens of thousands of dollars and weeks or months to make traditional prosthetic hands. In contrast, each of the hands made in this initiative cost only $50.00. All parts were produced in a month’s time by Voodoo Manufacturing and then assembled by 10,000 Autodesk employees around the world.

By using a 3D printing process (approximately 160 small Makerbot Replicator2 3D printers), Autodesk, ECF, and Voodoo Manufacturing have empowered 750 people around the world by giving them functioning hands. And like a digital inkjet press, this 3D printer was cost-effective and faster than traditional, non-digital options.

The Fourth Dimension of 3D Printing

If 3D printing involves length, width, and height, then 4D custom printing includes time (i.e., movement or change). In the realm of the fine arts, sculptor Alexander Calder invented “mobiles,” which included the usual three dimensions but also moved (whether they hung from the ceiling or stood on the floor). This distinguished them from other sculptures.

The third article I read addressed the theme of movement within 3D printed products. It was entitled, “Forget 3D Printing – Here’s 4D Printing.” The article was written by Lucas Mearian and published on 8/24/16 on www.digitalartsonline.co.uk (DigitalArts from IDG).

To quote from the article, “Researchers have demonstrated the ability to 3D print objects that can then change shape, even folding and unfolding, when heated through an electrical current or with ambient air temperature.”

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California printed 3D items using “smart ink” composed of soybean oil, polymers, and carbon nanofibres. According to the article, the scientists “programed” these “into a temporary shape at an engineered temperature that was determined by the chemical composition.”

If you find the article online, you can watch a video of two small boxes made from this material. When heated, one opens and one closes. (That is, the material has “memory.” These “shape memory polymers” (SMPs) change, or return to an original shape depending on the temperature.

The article, “Forget 3D Printing – Here’s 4D Printing,” quotes Jennifer Rodriguez, a post-doctoral researcher in LLNL’s Materials Engineering Division and the paper’s lead author, as saying “You take the part out of the oven before it’s done and set the permanent structure of the part by folding or twisting after an initial gelling of the polymer.”

The LLNL scientists foresee using this 3D printing technique in aerospace and medicine. For instance, a collapsed stent can be made to open up when heated, or a child’s splint can be made to change shape and lengthen as the child’s body grows.

The Take-Away

It makes sense for us to open our minds to new technologies, whether they involve ink digitally printed on paper from a computer file or polymer digitally printed in three dimensions. Like ink on paper, three-dimensional items produced digitally can empower people and transform lives.

Posted in 3D Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Direct to Object Inkjet Printing

February 27th, 2017

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I read an article today in Print+Promo magazine about direct to object custom printing, and then I followed up with further research online. The idea intrigues me: printing directly on an object, like a mug, or a metal water bottle, or, as the article notes, even a football helmet. Label-less printing. The idea is not completely new to me. After all, I’ve seen videos of mugs and bottles (essentially regular cylindrical shapes) being spun around in a jig while images are screen printed onto the products. I know you can also use flexographic technology to print directly on objects.

However, Xerox’s direct to object inkjetting leaves room for endless personalization. After all, with a silkscreen or flexo press, you print the same image again and again, but with an inkjet printer, you can vary each and every image.

The Xerox Press Release and the Printer Specs

The article was entitled “Xerox Introduces New Direct to Object Inkjet Printer.” It seems to be a press release from Xerox. However, if you go searching for the article online you will also find useful product literature from Xerox to amplify your knowledge. The articles make some intriguing claims:

  1. The printer can “spray ink on objects as small as bottle caps and as large as football helmets.”
  2. The Xerox equipment can print on plastic, metals, ceramics, and glass.
  3. “The machine is able to print on smooth, rough, slightly curved or stepped surfaces at print resolutions ranging from 300 to 1,200 dpi.”
  4. The equipment is “compatible with virtually any type of ink chemistry, including solvent, aqueous, and UV inks.”
  5. The design of the object “holder” is such that it can be easily adjusted for different sized objects, up to one cubic foot in volume (irregular shapes, too).
  6. You can print an area 2.8” x 13” in dimension using ten inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white, plus five specialty inks).
  7. You can print up to 30 objects per hour.
  8. And as the final benefit, this is a “complete packaging solution [that] can eliminate the need for labels.”

(All quotes are from “Xerox Introduces New Direct to Object Inkjet Printer” or Xerox’s website.)

So, What Does This Mean For Printing?

Granted, this is relatively new technology, but the specifications promise a lot:

  1. The variance in the size of objects the printer can accept, along with the flexibility and ease of adjustment of the object holder, should make this printer easy to quickly configure for a multitude of objects.
  2. Since the printer will accept any kind of ink, you can eliminate problems with ink drying on a slick surface by using UV inks. Therefore, you can quickly print, dry, and hand off to customers items like mugs and water bottles—while they wait. This would be ideal for promoting a brand at a trade show.
  3. At 2.8” x 13”, the image print area is rather large, so your logo or message will be big and visible.
  4. This process can eliminate labels. This is a big one. On the one hand, everything I have read says that the growth areas in commercial printing are labels, packaging, and large format printing. Demand for these services is growing quickly year over year, and yet this technology might eliminate the need for custom labels. I’m not sure this would be true in all cases, but the technology is ideally positioned in a growth industry. In addition, this equipment will benefit the aesthetics of custom label printing, since printing directly on an object with no label leaves an integrated, elegant, and organic impression. The printed image becomes part of the object, not just a sticky piece of printed paper affixed to a product.
  5. In all the instances where I’ve seen custom screen printing used to decorate objects, the print surface has needed to be mostly flat (even if it is the round surface of a mug, you can still roll the cylindrical mug to provide a flat surface for the custom screen printing). However, according to Xerox’s product literature, the longer distance from the inkjet print heads to the substrate will allow for printing on irregular surfaces (the article references curved and slightly stepped surfaces). This will greatly expand the number and kinds of items onto which this direct to object inkjet equipment can print.
  6. The ability to use ten inks will extend the color gamut dramatically, presumably allowing designers to match almost any PMS color.
  7. The speed is respectable. Compared to screen printing (once the time has been spent to set up the process), digital printing can be rather slow. However, the ability to print 30 objects per hour makes this equipment more appropriate for longer digital production runs.

Time will tell, but I do think this may be a game changer.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Laser vs. Rotary Die Cutting

February 21st, 2017

Posted in Die cutting | Comments Off

I watched a video recently on YouTube. It showed a laser cutting machine producing a series of “kiss-cut” labels and then winding up the roll of labels while removing the scrap, or waste. I felt like it was the mid-’60s again and I was watching the original Star Trek TV show. The laser really has come of age.

First of all, a point of information. “Kiss-cutting” is cutting through the matte label stock while leaving the backing paper intact. To do this with a laser, which essentially burns rather than cuts the substrate, is impressive.

The YouTube Laser Cutting Video

Here’s a short description of the video, which can be found online. (I’m sure a number of laser cutting manufacturers have their own version.) First, a wide roll of preprinted labels unwound through tension rollers into a glass-covered tower in which a laser darted across the printed press sheet to trace the outline of all of the labels. You could see the bright flame as the laser burned through the paper stock, while a vacuum immediately pulled the smoke and paper dust out of the enclosure. (For the video, the cover of the laser console had been removed so you could see exactly how the laser worked.)

As the web of litho paper left the laser enclosure, it passed through more rollers, which removed the unprinted waste paper surrounding the series of labels. The rollers then wound up the web of paper onto the take-up reel.

I encourage you to find this or any other video demonstrating laser cutting. It’s really rather impressive.

Old and New Die-Cutting Processes

Prior to the advent of laser cutting, printers used rotary dies or dies on flatbed letterpresses. Metal rules inserted into wood on one side of the die cutter punched through the paper substrate and came to rest on the wood or metal beneath the paper. Then the waste material (anything not needed) was removed.

You could make anything from pocket folders to business cards to wine bottle labels this way. However, it took time and cost money to make the metal dies. Therefore, you couldn’t economically make a die for a single prototype. It was only cost-effective for long print runs of die-cut products.

Then, with the coming of laser cutting, commercial printing vendors could use digital data controlling a laser beam to cut anywhere from one copy to an unlimited number of copies of their finished product. Since laser cutting didn’t require metal dies, there was no need to pay for the dies, wait for them to be made by specialists, and store them carefully after their use.

Laser or Rotary Die Cutting: The Pros and Cons of Each

As with TV and radio, the advent of laser cutting has become more of an issue of options. Rotary dies are still used, and they offer benefits lasers do not. Here’s a rundown of when to use one vs. the other:

  1. Lasers can cut intricate patterns. Metal rotary dies cannot. So if you are die cutting a snowflake into a business card, for instance, you would want to use a laser.
  2. Lasers can cost-effectively cut one product, since no money goes into making the die. Therefore, if you want to produce a prototype of a fancy cologne carton with die cuts, laser cutting would be the technology of choice. If you then want to roll out a huge run of the same cologne carton, rotary die cutting might be advisable, since it is much faster than laser cutting. And at that point, you can spread the cost of the metal die across the entire press run.
  3. Speed to market is usually important for new products. If this is the case, a laser cut job is ideal because there’s no wait time for a die maker to create a die for a rotary press or flatbed press.
  4. Lasers don’t get dull like metal cutting rules. If you’re using metal rotary dies, they will eventually get dull and need to be replaced. This takes time and costs money. Laser cutting avoids this problem.
  5. Lasers are slower than rotary die cutting, particularly when cutting thick material. Thick paper (or any other substrate) slows down a laser cutter but has no effect on the metal dies of rotary or flatbed die cutting.
  6. If you’re using a laser cutter for 100 different cutting patterns, there’s no storage space, since the die specifications exist only in digital form on a computer. On the other hand, if you’re doing rotary die cutting and then storing 100 dies, you will need extra storage space to keep them safe and sharp.
  7. Not only the crafting of metal dies but also their use on rotary or flatbed presses requires skilled labor. In contrast, once you know how to use a laser cutter, the overall operation of the equipment is easier than rotary die cutting since it requires far less hand work.
  8. Laser cutting equipment costs much more to buy than rotary die-cutting equipment.
  9. Laser cutting equipment can be set up and then reconfigured for a new job far more quickly than rotary die-cutting equipment.

So a quick answer to the question of which to use is probably both: laser for prototypes and short runs where making quick changes is necessary, and rotary or flatbed (traditional metal die cutting) when the substrate is hard to cut and/or when you have a long run of die cutting to do. Ideally you would have access to both technologies.

Another Option: A Knife Plotter

I failed to mention one other option I have come across, which incorporates both metal cutting tools and the digital information of laser cutting. The machine is called a “knife plotter,” and some large format inkjet presses are configured with such a tool.

Basically a vertically held knife handle travels around a sheet of vinyl (above the preprinted labels, for instance), using digital information from the computer to precisely trace the perimeter of each label. Then the operator can peel off the scrap, leaving the “kiss-cut” printed label on the backing sheet.

The plotters I have seen online (Mimaki makes some of these) are small, slower than metal rule die cutting, but ideal for a small run produced by a small shop. In fact, it would be ideal for a commercial printing vendor who doesn’t want to commit to full-fledged rotary die cutting, has short-run jobs, and doesn’t want to subcontract the work.

Implications for the Custom Printing Trade

All of these options actually say a lot about the state of commercial printing, specifically:

  1. Creating labels is a large and quickly growing component of the world of custom printing. It’s big business, and there’s ever-increasing demand. Otherwise, manufacturers would not be scrambling to provide digital options for die cutting.
  2. The particular size of the die-cutting presses on the market (plotters and laser cutters) seems to precisely fit the requirements for label creation.
  3. It is clear that short, personalized runs are now the norm for labels, stickers, and such. The size, format, and economics of laser cutting all support the small formats, short runs, and personalization requirements of label and sticker production.

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Book Printing: Reap Savings with HP’s T410 Inkjet Press

February 12th, 2017

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I was helping a client recently with a high page count print book with a short press run: 500 copies of a 488-page, 8.5” x 11” perfect-bound book. The inside text was to be 4-color throughout. I assumed that due to the short run length, this would be a perfect fit for a digital press. Since I had worked closely with a printer with an HP Indigo, I approached my sales rep with the specs, but I was surprised by her answer.

She said the print book would be cheaper to produce via offset lighography due to the 4-color process work on each page. She said the “click charges” would be a killer when you factored in four clicks per page (C, M, Y, and K) for 488 pages. So she bid the book for me on her commercial printing company’s offset equipment.

What Are Click Charges?

Most printers lease their digital printing equipment. They don’t own it. Therefore, digital press manufacturers charge printers a fee (a per-click charge) to cover the cost of maintenance (repairing equipment on-site to keep “down-time” to an absolute minimum) and sometimes consumables (liquid toner, for instance). This click charge is usually added on a per-page and per-color rate (i.e., the number of impressions made by the digital press). Therefore, the commercial printing supplier passes this cost on to the customer.

So the printer to whom I had bid my client’s job was saying that assuming 500 copies of a 488-page book with four click charges per page for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, the price would actually exceed the cost to print the job via offset lithography.

How Does Digital Printing Compare to Offset Lithography?

A digital press (the HP Indigo in the case of the commercial printing vendor I was working with) produces four individual images (layered on top of each other) to create the full-color image on a blanket cylinder and then transfers the image from the blanket to the printing paper. Electrostatic charges hold the liquid toner (ink) on the blanket until it is transferred to the paper.

In a similar manner, an offset press prints an image, color by color, as the paper travels through the press, from inking unit to inking unit. The four printing plates (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) produce an image on each press blanket, and the blankets transfer the four process images onto the substrate (one on top of the other). Once the press sheet has traveled through all four inking units, the paper has received images in all process colors laid over one another. (Keep in mind that process colors are transparent, so the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black images don’t obscure one another. Rather they work together to create and enhance the full-color images.)

You could say that digital and offset commercial printing are similar in that both transfer the final printed image onto a blanket and from the blanket onto the printing paper. Therefore, it didn’t surprise me that a bid on the HP Indigo digital press for my client’s four-color, 488-page book would be high and would actually cost more than an offset lithographic press run of the job.

What’s the Alternative?

With this in mind I was pleased to hear from a colleague that custom printing work priced for the HP T410 digital press was based on the actual use of printing ink rather than on a per-click charge.

So I did some research. The HP T410 is a large-format, roll-fed book press. Essentially it is a web press (much like an offset web press). But in this case instead of using printing plates, the digital press prints book pages via its array of inkjet print heads (like a huge, roll-fed version of a desktop inkjet printer).

When you compare the literature describing these two presses (HP Indigo and HP T410), you will see that the drying of the ink is handled differently on each machine. On an electrophotographic digital presses (the HP Indigo, for example), the image is already dry when it is transferred from the blanket roller to the substrate (all four colors transferred at one time). Therefore, there’s a lot of flexibility in what printing substrate you can use, because the dry image won’t seep into the paper fibers.

In contrast, on the HP T410, an inkjet press, the specification sheet references float infrared (IR) scalable dryer zones as the drying method. So basically a specific frequency of light will cure the ink (presumably instantly, as with UV inks, which are cured under UV light).

Why Does This Matter?

My colleague noted that there were no click charges for this digital printer, that clients only had to pay for color by the square inch. With this information, I did more research. I verified his claim (the product literature confirmed that you only pay for the ink you use).

Now this is a novel and rather dramatic claim for the following reason. In offset lithography, if you put any process-color images on even one page, you are still paying for 4-color on all pages on that particular side of a press sheet. (This may be 8 pages of a 16-page press form or 16 pages of a 32-page press form.) In short, you’re paying a lot to “open” a side of a press form to process color. So if you’re wise, you’ll take advantage of the expense and put process color on (many) other pages of this particular side of the press “form” (one side of a press sheet that will eventually be folded into a press “signature”) in order to distribute the cost.

In contrast, on the HP Indigo, if you print any process color on any individual page of a book, you’re charged for all four colors (four click charges). This is true even if your 4-color image is a small logo.

But based on HP’s literature, if you’re using the HP T410, your charge for the same process color distribution will be higher or lower depending only on the size in square inches of the color printed image.

For my client’s print book, pricing the job based on the amount of color rather than on the number of color pages may yield a huge savings. We shall see.

What I Would Need to See First

My assumption is that not all printers have the HP T410. In fact, I would assume that relatively few printers do. After all, the concept of printing books on a web press using inkjet technology is relatively new.

However, if I can find such a commercial printing supplier, and if the samples of inkjet printed work produced on coated paper compare favorably to the electrophotographic digital printing of the HP Indigo, I will be pleasantly surprised.

And the cost may just make the difference for my client.

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Custom Printing: Making Car Parts with a 3-D Printer

February 6th, 2017

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A close friend of mine is a car aficionado. He recently brought to my attention an article in the March issue of Motor Trend magazine that describes advances in 3-D printed car parts. I’ll have to admit that I was skeptical, as I was in the 1970s when I took a ride on my step-brother’s plastic motorcycle. But I was wrong then (it was a good bike), and in doing some reading now on 3-D printed car parts, I’ve become intrigued by the benefits.

The New Technology

The article my friend sent me was a column by Frank Markus entitled “3-D Classes: Showing the Industry a New Way to Design and Build Cars” (Motor Trend, March 2017).

The article addresses the work of Kevin Czinger, who researched the environmental impact of gas and hybrid automobiles due to his concern for the planet. He found that manufacturing the vehicles and the fuel accounted for more than 75 percent of the vehicle’s environmental impact (according to Argonne National Lab’s life cycle GREET model data). So he began to look for alternatives to metal stamping and welding car parts.

Czinger therefore founded Divergent 3D in Gardena, California, where he uses “off-the-shelf carbon-fiber tubing and sheet goods,” along with 3-D custom printing, to create an auto chassis that is cheaper to manufacture and significantly lighter in weight than a traditionally produced product. It will “accommodate any type of body, powertrain, and feature content” (“3-D Classes: Showing the Industry a New Way to Design and Build Cars”).

According to the article, Czinger’s process for a “prototype Blade uses 69 nodes, each of which are 3-D printed by laser sintering powdered aluminum to connect an intricate web of carbon-fiber tubes and honeycomb-aluminum or carbon-fiber sheer paneling—all off-the-shelf commodity parts” (“3-D Classes: Showing the Industry a New Way to Design and Build Cars”).

(As a point of interest, laser sintering is one of a number of processes, including direct metal laser sintering, selective laser sintering, and electron beam additive manufacturing, that use a laser or electron beam to melt and fuse powdered metal or wire into a usable—and stable—3-D form, building up the substance layer by layer from a 3-D computer aided design model.)

Frank Markus’ article then notes the bottom line: a “drastic drop in manufacturing cost and complexity.” And, by inference, if there’s a drop in the complexity of manufacturing, there will be a lessened effect on the environment.

The Effects of the New Technology

  1. As I read the article, I am reminded of the LEGO plastic building toy I had in the ‘60s that let children build practically anything with a limited number of interlocking plastic parts. What Czinger seems to be doing is identifying those parts that need to be unique, producing these via 3-D additive manufacturing, and then using these custom-built car parts along with standard (albeit simpler and lighter than usual) parts to complete the car chassis building process. Simpler equals cheaper and less damaging to the environment.
  2. If the chassis of the car is strong but much lighter than usual, it seems that fuel efficiency will increase. For performance cars (like those in Motor Trend magazine), this will equate to faster speeds. However, it will also equate to a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency. Less fuel, as Czinger found in his initial research, will combine with less complex manufacturing to reduce the impact of a vehicle on the environment.
  3. Czinger’s Divergent 3D process apparently sidesteps the need for painting car parts. Markus’ article notes that the “unstressed composite body panels get molded in color or wrapped” (“3-D Classes: Showing the Industry a New Way to Design and Build Cars”). Eliminating a painting step in car production will dramatically reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), further lessening the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.
  4. From the point of view of manufacturing in general (as opposed to the auto industry in particular), combining digitally produced unique parts with off-the-shelf commodity parts will streamline both research and development and the final production of vehicles. More specifically, a prototype can be made in-house quickly, and then changed any number of times in response to testing. In contrast, without 3-D manufacturing, the parts for the prototype would need to be sent out for injection molding, which would be a subcontracted process taking a lot of time and money. In short, additive manufacturing would make vehicle design more “nimble” and therefore quicker, cheaper, and more easily adjusted in response to testing.
  5. Applying 3-D custom printing technology to car production would simplify the manufacturing process, minimize inventory, and make the “assembly-line” paradigm obsolete. For instance, the traditional approach has been to rely on a limited number of manufacturing plants to produce all car parts. These parts are manufactured on an assembly line in bulk, and them shipped out and kept in inventory for their final use. (For the most part this is because it is cheaper to stamp out or injection mold a huge number of car parts at one time and then store them.) In contrast, using 3-D additive manufacturing, a car parts manufacturer can produce only those specific parts needed at the time, and presumably eliminate or dramatically reduce inventory as well as waste.
  6. It is much less expensive to install 3-D custom printing equipment than to build production facilities for metal stamping and injection molding. Another way to phrase this is to say that the entry cost for car parts manufacturers is lower if they use 3-D additive manufacturing than if they need to equip a traditional manufacturing plant with tool and die machinery. Presumably, this can lead to the growth of a multitude of small businesses across the country producing car parts on an as-needed basis. Instead of having a “hub” system, with all components being sent out from a central manufacturer, the manufacturing would be based on a “cell” system, with the nearest cell manufacturing the car parts as needed.
  7. This implies a paradigm shift from valuing the car parts themselves to valuing the digital information from which the car parts can be digitally printed. The car parts themselves would become a commodity, but the proprietary intellectual value of the digital manufacturing information would rise dramatically. Other than the decentralization of manufacturing, I think this may be one of the more far-reaching effects of 3-D custom printing, not only for the car industry but for any number of other industries as well.

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Book Printing: Divining the State of the Print Book

January 30th, 2017

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I read two articles online this week that have reinforced my belief that the print book is still going strong.

“Book Reading 2016”

The first article is from the Pew Research Center (Internet, Science & Tech) website. Dated 9/1/2016, this article, “Book Reading 2016,” makes a number of claims about the state of the print book and reading in general, which it then supports with charts and statistics. (Over the years I have developed an unreserved trust in the Pew Research Center.)

Here are the claims the Pew Research Center made based on its surveys and analyses (as quoted):

  1. “Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audio books.” The article goes on to say that in the last twelve months more than twice as many people read a print book as read an e-book.
  2. “Nearly four-in-ten Americans read print books exclusively; just 6% are digital-only book readers.”
  3. “More than one-quarter (28%) of Americans read books in both print and digital formats.”
  4. “Some 38% read print books but did not read books in any digital formats.”
  5. “Compared with those who have not attended college, college graduates are more likely to read books in general, more likely to read print books, and more likely to consume digital-book content.”
  6. “…young adults are more likely than their elders to read books in various digital formats, but are also more likely to read print books as well: 72% have read a print book in the last year, compared with 61% of seniors.”
  7. “The share of Americans who read in order to research a specific topic of interest has increased in recent years.” This is in contrast to those who read to stay abreast of current affairs, those who study for school or work, and those who read for pleasure. Since 2011, “the share of Americans who read in order to research specific topics of interest has increased by 10-percentage points…, from 74% to 84%.”
  8. “Women are more likely than men to read books in general and also more likely to read print books.”

What We Can Learn from This Information

First of all, Pew Research Center statistics make it clear that print books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They are still way ahead of electronic media in terms of readership.

However, many people, especially younger ones, do read e-books as well as print books, for pleasure, to study for work or school, to stay abreast of current events, or to research topics of interest to them. But the ratio of print book readers to e-book readers is still exceptionally high.

The article also noted that although e-book readership increased from 2011 to 2014 from 17% to 28%, it has nevertheless remained stable since then.

Griffin Press, “the World’s Most Advanced Book Printer”

The second article was entitled “Griffin Launches End to End Digital.” Written by Wayne Robinson, the article was published on 9/7/2016 on www.proprint.com.au.

The article describes the hardware and workflow of a state-of-the-art book printer, noting the following (as quoted):

  1. “The company has installed a HPT410 monochrome digital printer.”
  2. It has “added a full Kolbus binding line onto the back.”
  3. “Covers–previously the stumbling block in attempts to create such lines–are printed on site on Griffin’s new HP Indigo 10000 and HP Indigo 7800 printers.”
  4. Griffin adds cover “embellishment on a Scodix Ultra Pro Foil.”
  5. “Griffin is looking to produce some 45,000 books per day or 16 million books a year, on the digital end-to-end line.”
  6. “It has two other HP monochrome reelfed digital printers.”
  7. Griffin “will keep its offset presses for long-run work.”
  8. Peter George, CEO of Griffin’s parent company, PMP, notes that “the entry of Amazon into the book market ‘changed everything’ and led to local publishers demanding rapid print and short runs.” He says that “Printed books are clearly here to stay. Kindle has plateaued.”

What We Can Learn from This Information

The article succinctly reflects the present moment in print book publishing. This is what I infer from my reading of “Griffin Launches End to End Digital”:

  1. For book printing, the most efficient equipment is a dedicated, black-only, toner-based digital press. To me, Griffin Press’ buying the HPT410 monochrome digital printer reflects the company’s view that the highest percentage of print book work will be for K-only text blocks.
  2. Conversely, there’s no better equipment for book covers than the HP Indigo digital press. In my opinion, nothing comes closer to offset-quality printing.
  3. That said, the demand for print books in general is high, as reflected in Griffin Press’ projected yearly output of 16 million books. (The HP T410 press–and HP’s latest T400 series presses–cost in the range of $2 to $3 million (depending on the press’ add-ons). This shows just how serious Griffin Press is regarding the future of “ink on paper.”
  4. Until recently, the focus has been on printing ink or toner digitally onto the paper substrate. Press sheets then went through traditional analog finishing operations. Now there are digital binders (the article referenced the Kolbus binding line). Press manufacturers have been developing end-to-end solutions that integrate digital printing and digital binding equipment. This reflects the manufacturers’ commitment to digital book production, and their awareness that consumers and businesses have shown a growing need for digital book printing.
  5. The reference in “Griffin Launches End to End Digital” to “embellishment on a Scodix Ultra Pro Foil” reflects a move from analog to digital equipment for die-cutting, foil stamping, embossing, and other processes that in prior years had required the making of metal cutting or stamping dies. Scodix has rendered die-making less necessary by inventing digital methods for building up 3D texture (coatings, foils) on a press sheet. This complements recent advances in laser creasing and cutting, which also sidestep the need for metal dies.
  6. Griffin Press’ purchasing additional reelfed monochrome printers implies that digital printing will also be essential for longer-run books, since rolls of printing stock are more economical than cut sheets for longer press runs.
  7. Griffin Press’ keeping its offset equipment implies that even though the bulk of book print jobs will be short run or variable data work, some publishers will still require longer press runs of books (black-text-only or multi-color-text).
  8. Griffin sees that the trend is toward shorter press runs and faster turn-around times, as noted by Peter George’s (CEO of Griffin’s parent company, PMP) comment that Amazon’s print-on-demand business model “changed everything.”
  9. As in the first article referenced in this blog posting, “Griffin Launches End to End Digital” notes that e-readers (the Kindle, as per the quote) are no longer displacing print books. The print book is still viable and will be for the foreseeable future.

At least that’s what I got out of reading the Pew article and ProPrint article.

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Custom Printing: A Print Book Design Make-Over

January 24th, 2017

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One of the many things I do in addition to writing is to analyze and help to improve clients’ publication design work. I help them with overall design, typeface choice, eye movement around a double-page spread, color, overall concept, you name it. I just did one of these sessions with a client who had hit a wall and didn’t know how to fix the design for her print book.

I thought you might find this case study helpful in your design work, in terms of how to approach a design and improve it.

The First Draft of the Design

First of all, what I received from my client was a PDF of a page spread from a government report on water and dams in developing countries. The print book format was 8.5” x 11” (or actually slightly larger, since the agency is global, and they work with an A3 page). My client, the designer, had a four-color palette to work with, but beyond the photos, she had chosen 4-color builds of a blue and a beige for accent colors.

I noticed right away that the initial draft page spread looked washed out. There was nothing dramatic to look at. The image was of a man standing on a support in a reservoir adjusting a pump. The colors were all earth tones, but the photo appeared to have been taken in the hot afternoon, and there was an overall greyness, or haze, in the photo.

This photo, which was on the left-hand page of the spread, was horizontal. Above it there was a solid area of blue bleeding on the left and top and extending to the gutter on the right. Below the photo there was a repeat of the blue solid with the opening chapter headline reversed out of the color. At the top left of the photo there was a circular cut-out into which a large “8” had been placed (presumably this mock-up was the introductory page spread for Chapter 8). The “8” extended up into the blue solid, and my client had reversed the “8” out of the blue color.

On the right-hand page there were two columns of justified type with an overly light initial cap to start the first paragraph. Below the two columns there was a box of type surrounded by a rule line. This was actually something I liked about the sample page spread. My client had chosen a condensed sans serif typeface for the headline. She had also reversed the words “Box 8.2” out of a little blue solid bar she had suspended from the top of the rule line surrounding the box (as a “tag,” to identify all boxes). What I really liked was that the headline was flush right instead of flush left. It was unexpected and daring, but it was quite readable in the sans serif face. I also liked the tight leading of the two-line heading. Finally, my client had made a few words in the text blue and bold for emphasis (and to distinguish between the two countries referenced in the text).

I told my client to start with the ruled box. I said it “worked.” She should understand why it worked and apply the design concepts to the rest of the page spread.

The Problems with the Design

I noted the following problems:

  1. The initial cap starting the first paragraph on the right-hand page was too light. It didn’t attract the reader’s eye. The reader’s eye had to go to this point to start reading, so the visual cue had to be more prominent.
  2. The headlines and subheads (other than those in the text box) were too light. This gave an overall greyness to the page spread (i.e., little distinction between the heads and text, and no immediate cue for the reader to go to the subheads). In addition, the headline typefaces in the text box were exceptionally close to, but not exactly the same as, the subhead typefaces in the main columns of text.
  3. The “8” that designated the chapter of the book was too light. In addition, the curve of the photo (knocked out to allow for the positioning of the “8”) seemed superfluous and cute.
  4. The justified text columns seemed too rigid. They also did not allow for an interesting contour around the columns of type (that is, the columns of type were just two tall rectangles providing no complexity or visual interest).
  5. The photo seemed boring since it was so monochromatic and since there was no action reflected in the image.
  6. There were too many visual points of alignment. That is, too few of the graphic elements (heads, subheads, photo, folios, etc.) aligned with one another, creating a chaotic look. The chaotic look worked against the simplicity needed to lead the reader’s eye through the page spread.
  7. The overall greyness of the page gave no direction as to how the reader’s eye should travel through the page spread.

The Design Solutions

I realized this was plenty of criticism to offer my client, so together we discussed options that wound up improving the two-page spread significantly. My client also created an additional page spread (an interior spread for pages following the chapter opening). With these two spreads I knew my client could create the remainder of the 48-page book, applying all of the design decisions (page grid, typeface choices and sizes, box rule lines, and so forth) to all successive pages of the book. All of the visual decisions had been made, allowing for creation of a coherent design product.

Here are the design decisions and why they helped:

  1. My client made the photo abut to the center gutter and bleed on the left. This gave it a sense of expansiveness. Immediately above it she placed the same light beige screen that she had used as a background for the text box on the opposite page. (She bled this screen off the top of the page above the 4-color photo.) Most importantly, she aligned the top of the photo on the left-hand page (which rested at about the two-inch mark below the top of the page) with the top of the two columns of type on the right-hand page. This created a visual “axis” (or alignment) running all the way across the two-page spread. It simplified the geometric, visual shape created by the photo and the text.
  2. Above the photo on the left, my client placed the “8” of the chapter head. She made it huge for emphasis. She also made it orange. (This kept it from being as “heavy” visually as an “8” printed in black ink.) On the opposite page, she also made the subhead orange, and she made the initial capital letter of the first text paragraph bolder, and orange as well. (This would make the reader’s eye jump from the chapter number “8” to the initial cap to the subhead. In general, knowing what to read first, second, and third puts the reader at ease and makes reading pleasurable.)
  3. Including the entirety of the photo (without cutting away a semicircle for the “8”) highlighted the beauty of the entire image. It made the reservoir and dam seem more expansive and interesting.
  4. My client made the heading at the bottom of the left-hand chapter-opening page much bolder than before and set it flush right to make it stand out (readers usually expect flush left heads). This gave a visual precedent for the flush right head in the text box on the opposite page. The heading was bigger, bolder, and the two lines were tightly set one above the other, as my client had done in the text box on the opposite page. (It is a useful rule of the graphic arts that consistency in the treatment of visual elements simplifies the design. This makes reading easier and more predictable.)
  5. My client placed a thin, vertical rule between the two main text columns. She also added folios (page numbers reversed out of a blue box). For interest, she raised them above the center line. She also aligned them with the top of the photo and the two text columns. The blue solid with reversed type echoed the treatment of the text box label (“Box 8.2”). The repetition made for easy identification of these visual elements. It also gave more coherence to the page within a simpler grid, or structure.
  6. Setting the subheads within the text in an orange color made them seem different enough from the head in the text box that I no longer minded that the two typefaces were close but not exactly the same.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

This was the overall direction my client and I took to improve her design. Each time you deconstruct and analyze a design the process will be different, but it always helps if you look at a few things each time:

  1. Does the reader’s eye know how to proceed through the page spread? What is most important, secondary, tertiary? If your reader knows where to look for important information, reading will be easy and pleasurable. If not, he or she will stop reading altogether.
  2. Is your photo (or are your photos) interesting? Are they cropped in such a way that they tell a story. Does the photo cropping make it easier or harder to know what’s important?
  3. Can you simplify the page “geometry”? That is, can you draw fewer imaginary grid lines to which you can anchor graphic elements? The fewer these “axes,” the easier it is for the reader to progress through the page design.
  4. Can you use color (a secondary, highlight color) to help your reader progress through the page design?

These are just some thoughts, but the best way you can train yourself to think along these lines is to look at brochures, books, posters, signage—every printed item you see–and consider how the color choices, typefaces, page grid, type alignment, etc., make the printed products easier or harder to read. Then start to apply the same set of rules to your own design work.

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Custom Printing: Infographic Shows “Print Is Everywhere”

January 16th, 2017

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Here’s a good example of multi-channel marketing. I just found an online article referencing an online Minuteman Press franchise advertisement that contains an infographic showing all the places you’ll find printed products on your travels through your business day.

The infographic is called, “Print Is Everywhere.”

“In Your Kitchen”

The Minuteman Press infographic begins in the kitchen and includes such printed products as a calendar, school stickers and schedules, birthday cards, menus, branded sports bottles, branded ceramic mugs, screen-printed t-shirts, promotional bags, and wine bottle labels.

Minuteman Press also includes statistics reflecting the ubiquity of offset and digital custom printing:

  1. “Americans buy approximately 6 billion greeting cards per year.”
  2. “53 percent of U.S. consumers own promotional drinkware.”
  3. “Promotianal bags generate more impressions (5,700+) than any other promotional item.”
  4. “Digital label printing accounts for approximately 33% of all labels.”
  5. “58 percent of U.S. consumers own promotional T-Shirts alone.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Even though we’re on the computer a huge portion of the day, we still have to dress, eat, drink, and carry stuff to our jobs. All of these activities involve potentially branded items (i.e., they require commercial printing services).
  2. Since we use our branded bags, cups, and t-shirts on a daily basis, we are exposed to their messages a remarkable number of times. In contrast, much of what we see online, I think, becomes background noise competing with other background noise since there’s so much of it.
  3. Digital commercial printing has captured a sizable portion of the label-making market. I personally hadn’t realized it was this high a percentage.

“On Your Way to Work”

The Minuteman Press infographic includes store signage, flyers, posters, and stickers in this portion of the day, and also includes these statistics:

  1. “50% of customers learn about a local store through on-site signage.”
  2. “Consumers get 11 hours of exposure daily to outdoor advertising.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

The take-away is that people buy brands they recognize. Granted, most people spend a lot of time surfing the web and reading peer reviews, but you need to actively search for brands on the Internet. In contrast, as you are driving around, or walking, or taking the bus, you are exposed to a huge amount of signage. In many cases this, along with what you see in the store windows, will interest you in a new store, product, or brand, and influence your buying decisions.

“In Your Office”

The Minuteman Press infographic includes printed checks, brochures, stationery, and USB promotional drives in this portion of the day, and notes these statistics:

  1. “The market for stationery products is projected to exceed $226 billion by 2020.”
  2. “18.3 billion checks were written in the U.S. in 2012.”
  3. “79% of brochure recipients either read, keep, or pass along to friends.”
  4. “45% of U.S. consumers own promotional USB drives.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

The take-away is that people do not just communicate over the Internet. A surprisingly large number of people still write paper checks, send physical letters in addition to email, and read and keep physical brochures. There is something permanent and perhaps more weighty about a print version of a letter or brochure. And regarding the USB drive noted in the infographic, any promotional product you use daily will put someone’s logo before your eyes again and again and again.

“When You’re at Lunch”

The Minuteman Press infographic includes printed menus, branded corporate wear such as uniforms worn by food service workers, table tents, and food packaging, noting the following statistics:

  1. “In 2015 corporate workwear was projected to be a $4.4 billion industry.”
  2. “52% of consumers are likely to make repeat purchases from a merchant that delivers premium branded packaging.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

Certain kinds of products cannot be duplicated online. As long as there are retail stores and food service workers, there will be branded uniforms, and this will involve commercial printing. In addition, anything purchased will need to be packaged in something (particularly food and pharmaceuticals), again involving commercial printing.

“On Your Way Home”

In this part of your day, the Minuteman Press infographic includes promotional writing instruments, branded sunglasses, printed drinkwear, and even branded power banks (to charge cell phones) and printed air fresheners (to hang from the car’s rear-view mirror). The infographic notes the following statistics:

  1. “The car air fresheners market in North America is projected to be $952 million by 2020.”
  2. “26% of U.S. consumers own mobile power banks.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

Between custom screen printing and pad printing, you can pretty much print on anything. So if you are a marketer, all you need to do is observe people’s habits. Watch what they do and what tools they use repeatedly, and then print your company logo on the product, whether it be an air freshener or a back-up charger for a cell phone.

“When You Get Home”

The Minuteman Press infographic includes catalogs and direct mail in this category, noting that:

  1. “In 2015, advertisers spent $46.8 billion on direct mail, compared to just $2.3 billion on email.”
  2. “90% of consumers use catalogs to learn and get ideas about things that interest them.”

What We Can Learn from the Infographic

Consumers are not just learning about products online. In fact, many people want to research potential purchases both online and in a catalog. Perhaps they like the luxury of paging through a physical book, something more tangible than a web page.

I’ve seen modern catalogs referred to as “look books,” and they may not always include order forms, but they are print products, and they inform potential buyers before they purchase an item they want.

The dramatic difference between the amount of money still spent on physical direct mail vs. online email shows just how important it is considered to be in the consumer’s buying decision (i.e., it may cost more to print something than to create an online ad campaign, but marketers are willing to pay the extra expense).

The Take Away

Even if you never want to become a Minuteman Press franchise owner, you can still benefit from seeing their infographic. Here is a link: http://bit.ly/print-is-everywhere. It will show you through thought-provoking statistics just how alive print really is. (The infographic also includes all sources for the statistics I’ve included.)

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