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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: A Map Maker or a Printer, or Both

March 23rd, 2015

Posted in Printing | Comments »

In business, it is a truism that if you can do one thing really, really well, you will be successful as long as that primary service or product you offer is a necessity. Techna-Graphics, Inc., in Washington, DC, seems to fit this business maxim to a “T.”

Is Techna-Graphics, Inc., a mapmaker, a commercial printer, or perhaps both?

In this service provider profile, I would like to showcase a unique custom printing supplier that excels in producing physical, printed maps for pilots, government agencies, and a host of others.

You might ask yourself, in an almost totally digital world, with GPS devices everywhere you look, who would need a physical, printed map? You’d be surprised. If you’re a pilot and you experience an electronic glitch, you need a physical, paper map immediately. And it has to be accurate.

The Techna-Graphics, Inc., Aeronautical Chart Division

Techna-Graphics, Inc., a private corporation owned by Joseph W. Caccamise, includes a DC commercial printing shop and a cartographic division in St. Louis, MO, that produces aeronautical charts for approximately 27 state bureaus of aviation on a bi-annual basis. The company employs 30 staff members in the DC location and 8 staff in St. Louis, MO.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., produces all 37 U.S. Visual Flight Rules Sectionals for the Continental United States, including 11 U.S. Terminal Area Charts. (This leaves 19 Terminal Area Charts for Techna-Graphics, Inc., to create.) The company prints and distributes these charts to pilots in the United States under the trade name DuraCharts.

As Techna-Graphics, Inc., promotional literature notes, “When you are flying at 10,000 ft. and your aircraft’s avionics decides to quit on you, a low-tech printed paper chart is your navigational guide and lifeline to the nearest airport and a landing that you can walk away from.” Think of the charts as a “low cost flight insurance” policy.

More Techna-Graphics, Inc., Charts and Maps

In addition to aeronautical charts, Techna-Graphics, Inc., produces state highway maps. The company just submitted a bid for custom printing all 1.2 million copies of the Alabama State highway map. Techna-Graphics, Inc., will also print 500,000 highway maps for the State of West Virginia as well as 350,000 highway maps for New York State, and 10,000 maps for Wayne County, Ohio.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., has also produced trail maps, park maps, marine charts, and other thematic map products for federal, state, county, and municipal agencies, and for commercial map publishers across the United States.

Since 1984, Techna-Graphics, Inc., has produced more than 300 million maps for the federal government. Its products range from black and white maps to multi-colored maps. Services range from cartographic research to map design; map printing, finishing and folding; and delivery, storage, warehousing, and fulfillment.

Large-Format, Non-Map Commercial Printing

Because of its large-format 44” X 60” offset lithographic sheet-fed presses and folding capabilities, Techna-Graphics, Inc., is ideally suited to large-format, non-map printing as well. One past job involved a 36” x 36” (folded to 12” x 12”) process color and aqueous coated record album jacket insert for Erika Records. Using its unique, large-format folding equipment, Techna-Graphics, Inc., was able to handle the critical folds for this 5,000-copy press run.

Techna-Graphics, Inc., Printing Capabilities

Techna-Graphics also has traditional printing capabilities in Washington, DC, where all press work, finishing, and shipping take place. The plant equipment includes 44” x 60” Harris sheet-fed presses, 87” and 63” Lawson flat cutters, and a selection of large-format Stahl and MBO folders.

Techna-Graphics’ 43” x 60” MBO folder includes four folding sections (6-6-4-2) capable of making up to 12 continuous accordion folds. And the company’s custom aeronautical chart MBO folder (26” x 60”) includes two folding sections (12-4).

Due to its specialized mix of custom printing and finishing equipment, Techna-Graphics, Inc., provides folding capabilities for finishing the work of a number of regional printing companies. Some of these also depend on Techna-Graphics for their commercial printing needs.

New Equipment for Techna-Graphics, Inc.

At the moment, Techna-Graphics is researching options for a large-format, solvent-based, digital plotter that will print 12” per second. This roll-fed plotter would accept standard printing papers in weights and finishes Techna-Graphics already uses for its offset printing work. Jobs could be printed (both perfected and sheet printed) and then folded off-line. This would be an adjunct to the company’s core business to be used for low-quantity press runs. Techna-Graphics, Inc., plans to install this equipment within about six months.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Printing on Food for Valentines Day

March 21st, 2015

Posted in Printing on Food | Comments »

Food is the quickest way to my heart. I think I’m not alone. Since Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away, I thought I’d take a look at the technologies used for custom printing on M&Ms, Sweethearts, and sheetcakes. After all, the only thing more intimate than shared food is personalized food.

How Do They Print on M&Ms?

Have you ever wondered how they print M&Ms? When I went online today I was actually surprised. I had expected that, since M&Ms are easily crushed, they would not be printed with a technology requiring contact with the candies. I was wrong. The article I read described a process whereby the round M&Ms sit in little wells on a moving conveyor. Rubber printing plates on rollers print food dyes on the individual candies. Apparently, the wells keep the individual candies separate and at the same time minimize any crushing by the rollers.

That said, the description of the plates, in the online article, as being made of rubber suggests a flexographic process of some sort. (Keep in mind that flexography is actually a variant of letterpress, or relief printing. The rubber plates have a raised image area that picks up ink and then deposits it on the substrate—the food.)

The article did not use the word “flexography.” However, the reference to rubber plates sounds like the raised surface of a flexographic plate, which is also affixed to rubber rollers. In addition, such a process would involve minimal pressure compared to the metal rollers of offset custom printing.

For short-run, personalized messages, such as might be appropriate for Valentine’s Day, a trip to the Mars website (Mars makes M&Ms) yields information on inkjet printing with food grade inks. Presumably the short-run, variable-data nature of such personalized custom printing lends itself to inkjet technology, which might not be as cost-effective for the longer runs of printed candies.

How Do They Print on Sweethearts?

Another traditional holiday food for Valentine’s Day is the Sweetheart, the heart-shaped candy on which amorous sayings have been printed. How are these made?

I made the erroneous assumption again that the process would involve inkjet because I thought the pressure of any contact-based commercial printing technology would crack or crush the hearts. (Keep in mind that with inkjet printing, the spray nozzle never actually touches the substrate. It just sprays ink on the item—be it paper, ceramic, or whatever else.)

My research yielded the following information. The candies are actually mixed and shaped into hearts, and then printed with custom printing plates. The articles referred to changeable type, which suggests to me a relief process, like letterpress or flexography. The ink used is obviously food-grade pigment. Interestingly enough, the article noted that the candies are not baked but rather are left to sit and harden, along with their printed Valentine’s Day sayings.

I went to the NECCO website to see how custom printing orders are made. Based on NECCO’s reference to the number of lines and characters (“Custom Sweethearts can be printed with two lines of text with 9 characters per line, and each NECCO wafer can be printed with two lines of text with 11 characters per line.”), I would assume that even for short press runs a letterpress option is employed. If the technology were inkjet, I don’t believe there would be such a limitation on the number of lines and characters.

Presumably, this makes for consistent branding in the typeface and point size. Regardless, I would assume that some sort of carrier is used, much as the M&Ms travel through the printing press in plastic wells on a carrier sheet. And as with Mars M&Ms, both generic and personalized Sweethearts are printed with food-grade inks or dyes.

How Do They Print on Sheetcakes?

Another traditional holiday food for Valentine’s Day is cake (as it is for birthdays and Sweetest Day celebrations). Printing on sheetcakes is easy now with the advent of inkjet custom printing and food dyes. Unlike M&Ms and Sweethearts, however, the icing on cakes will be crushed by even the lighter (than offset printing) pressure of flexography or any other relief printing technology.

Therefore, inkjet is ideally suited to printing on frosting. However, in the past it was only possible to print food dyes onto carrier sheets. The images had to then be transferred to the frosted sheetcakes with heat, which sometimes yielded poor results (like a skinning over of the frosting). Now (according to food-printing blogs), inkjet printing can be used to print directly on the frosting with no intermediate transfer step. This is ideal.

Presumably, of course, the inkjet printers used for printing on cakes have the printheads suspended much higher above the substrate than the ink printheads of desktop printers used to image text and photos on paper.

Posted in Printing on Food | Comments »

Plastic Card Printing: A Supremely Effective Promo Tool

March 17th, 2015

Posted in Plastic Card Printing | Comments »

Over the last few years it seems like everyone has been giving me plastic cards as gifts–mostly food cards, since that’s the quickest way to my heart–but other kinds of cards as well. These seem to have become the gift of choice, not only for the recipient but also for the branded businesses for which these have become some of the best advertising opportunities available.

Why Loyalty Cards Work

First of all, whenever you open up your wallet and pull out the stack of cards, there they are, the loyalty and gift cards, along with all the health insurance cards and credit cards. The colors and images, even the typefaces, bring back memories of luxurious dinners, music, clothing. So they do what all good ads do. They touch the senses and evoke good memories, leading to a repeat sale.

In addition, they provide an opportunity to connect with the brand. As vague as this marketing-speak may sound, the concept is clear and powerful. The printed cards tell you that the food establishments and clothiers want your repeat business. They are reaching out and reminding you of past, pleasant experiences. They are also rewarding you with discounts.

To take this a step further, some of the more effective cards will point you toward a website, where you can further “engage with the brand” and see what’s new. Maybe there’s a new promotion, allowing your gift card to extend further and yield a bigger gift of food, coffee, or music to download.

From the point of view of the businesses, these Internet conduits can also elicit useful marketing database information. In exchange for premiums, potential customers and repeat customers alike can upload contact information and demographics that will help the businesses to provide better products or services, or to send out relevant information to selected prospects just when they need it. A smart marketer will coordinate multiple streams of advertising, using both custom printing and Internet media.

Somehow these cards seem more personal than cash as well, perhaps because they are tied to a particular establishment’s selling something you like. Gift cards also show that your friends have been paying attention prior to holiday gift giving. They know what you want.

Finally, they’re easy to use. You don’t have to carry cash. All you need to do is hand over the card. Clean, easy, good record keeping. What more could you ask?

Yes, But How Are They Produced?

Given the breathtaking graphics on my cards, I did some research to see how these cards are produced. After all, they are durable. I’ve never seen the images scratch off. Maybe it’s just me.

My research showed that inkjet is the method of choice (although I’m sure that for longer runs screen printing with solvent inks would work, too). Given the non-porous nature of the plastic cards, my assumption is that either solvent (or eco-solvent) inkjet inks are used, or LED UV technology is applied to cure the inkjet inks instantly. It seems that either technique would yield a durable custom printing product.

In addition, these cards can be further personalized with thermal printing (via heat transfer of inks) to apply barcodes, personalization, and QR codes to the printed plastic cards (usually but not always in black ink).

Another popular technology in use is embossing, which allows the card manufacturer to include raised letters and numbers (as you would find on a credit card). The surface of the raised letters and numbers can even be “tipped” with metallic ink (or other colors). These raised letters can be felt through the mailing envelope, increasing the interest level of the recipient.

Given the electronic technology available, plastic cards can include magnetic strips, QR codes, barcodes, and such, for encoding contact information, demographics, or financial information pertinent to the card (again, just like a credit card).

As an added lift to these promotional pieces, a marketer might also include a carrier wallet or a match mailing letter with the loyalty card or gift card fugitive-glued to the paper. This can provide further information, but it can also serve as a marketing opportunity.

When Would These Be Useful?

Much as the smartphone has become a person’s wallet, date book, cell phone, typewriter, communications device, video display, etc., the plastic card has become an additional conduit for commerce and communication.

Think about the options: These cards can be used as gift cards, key cards for hotels, loyalty cards, insurance cards, credit cards, prescription cards, or practically anything that needs to hold and transfer financial data and personalized information.

In all of these cases, plastic cards allow the retailer to create a miniature billboard with which to intrigue the customer or prospective customer. At the same time the retailer can capture data regarding customer buying patterns and schedules, and then target further advertising initiatives based on customer-stated interests.

Posted in Plastic Card Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: A Few Identity-Package Paper Tips

March 15th, 2015

Posted in Letterhead, Paper and finishing | Comments »

A print brokering client of mine just landed a new account. The client is global in its reach, which is particularly exciting. Now my client’s client needs an identity package to project its image around the world.

The Specifications for the Identity Package

My client came to me with four items to print initially: letterhead, envelopes, business cards, and a note card with an A-7 envelope. She wanted 500 copies of each item (with 500 copies of four names for the business cards) just to get the identity package moving.

After receiving my client’s email, my initial goal was to flesh out the specifications for the custom printing supplier, so he could provide an estimate. For the business cards, my client specified “heavy matte stock” in her email. She said she thought the note cards could be slightly different, since they would be sent out individually, probably without a business card, letterhead, or #10 envelope. She wanted to consider a textured sheet for the note cards, perhaps one with a linen finish.

My Initial Contact with the Printer

I started the discussion with the commercial printing vendor by focusing on the paper for the four print jobs. It was pretty much a given that for a 500-copy press run, the best custom printing technology would be digital. All jobs were to print in 4-color process inks. Therefore, I had approached a printer with an HP Indigo digital press. I felt this press equipment would do the best job of showcasing my client’s client’s new professional image, at an economical price.

Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure both the paper and the toner would be durable. These were my concerns:

  1. I wanted to make sure that the toner would adhere evenly to the linen sheet. Since a linen texture has an uneven surface (hills and valleys, for the warp and woof of the linen pattern), I wanted to make sure the layer of toner would not have white spots where the toner did not adhere to the paper. The printer assured me that his suggested paper options, Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen, were both certified for the HP Indigo.
  2. I also wanted to make sure that my client’s client could run the letterhead or envelopes through a laser printer (for text imprinting, after the 4-color digital printing of the logo and address). Would an additional paper coating be needed, or would there be a risk of the toner particles’ melting in the heat of a laser printer?

The Overall Look of the Identity Package Items

My client was very precise, noting that she wanted a bright white press sheet. She also didn’t want to buy the most expensive paper for the job. She wanted to contain her client’s costs. This is what I found out from the printer:

  1. The Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen paper lines are not expensive sheets. Compared to other stationery papers (those provided in weights and finishes appropriate for a coordinated set of business cards, letterhead, and envelopes), they are quite affordable.
  2. I also wanted to confirm that the commercial printing supplier would not need to buy an entire carton of paper for this job (some papers have minimums; you need to buy the minimum order no matter how little paper you use). Since the jobs are small (500 copies of the letterhead, #10 envelopes, and note cards; plus 500 copies of each of four names for the business cards), this might have been an issue. The printer assured me it was not.
  3. For such a short run, I believed that the paper component of the job would be only a minimal amount of the total cost, no matter which paper was chosen. The printer assured me that this was true.

A Coordinated Look for the Identity Package

The reason I wanted to specify all paper from one dedicated stationery vendor was that I wanted to present a unified look for the new company’s identity materials. The Neenah paper lines included the multiple paper weights needed for all of the corporate identity elements (letterhead, business cards, and stationery), but it also provided the linen finish my client wanted for the note cards and A7 envelopes. My client felt the linen paper for the note cards would showcase the “hatched lines” of the logo, and I was confident that the paper’s brightness, whiteness, and surface formation would be consistent enough in both the Neenah Classic Crest and Classic Linen lines to still look like they were created for the same business firm.

Choosing Paper Weights for All Items

All that was left was to determine the weight of the paper. My client wanted a heavier than usual business card. The printer suggested a 120# cover stock (since 80# cover stock has often been the norm for business cards). This would give an appealing stiffness and snap to the card.

My client had specified 28# #10 envelopes. Usually 24# is the norm. Given the heavier than usual paper stock for the envelopes, I suggested a 70# (rather than 60#) text paper for the letterhead, again to give a sense of solidity and opulence to the client’s new business.

Finally, for the note cards the printer suggested a 100# cover stock. He felt this would be adequate. The cards didn’t need to be any thicker. These flat note cards would have no embossed panel around the edges. They would be flat, modern, and simple in design.

The printer felt all of this would provide a unified look for the new business and that the Indigo would present the best possible printed image (for the price) for the short-run jobs. My client agreed. Now, all we need to do is wait for pricing.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

All of the specifications in this sample identity package bear close review and consideration. Paper weight, surface texture, paper color and brightness—even before ink or toner hit the surface of the paper—all either promote or damage an image (yours and your client’s). Make sure your paper choices are congruent. The best way to do this is to choose paper for all elements of an identity package from a paper supplier such as Neenah. Crane and Strathmore are two more lines to investigate. And always involve your custom printing supplier in the decisions regarding paper runnability, availability, and cost.

Posted in Letterhead, Paper and finishing | Comments »

Custom Printing: A Few More Text-Design Tips

March 11th, 2015

Posted in Design | Comments »

Design Basics Index by Jim Krause has always given me food for thought regarding the fundamentals of effective publication design, including anything from posters to brochures. Since I’ve always considered it valuable to constantly practice the fundamentals of any craft, I get a lot of pleasure just dipping into this print book periodically, just to learn “one more thing.”

I found a few choice nuggets this evening, which I’d like to share with you, all of which pertain to text design. Somehow I think it’s easier to make something look good when your central focus is a photograph, but I think these few type-only suggestions will make what is usually a challenging design task just a little bit easier.

Unique Treatments of Paragraphs

Krause suggests the following two approaches to formatting paragraphs in novel ways.

In most cases you might either indent the first line of a paragraph to set it apart from the preceding paragraph, or you might set the paragraph without indents as a block of copy. Then you might separate it from the preceding and following paragraphs with extra space. While this works well, it is purely functional. It is also invisible to the reader since it lacks any design flair.

In contrast, if you’re setting up the opening pages of a magazine article and need to distinguish paragraphs in a large block of copy, Krause suggests using “dingbats.” These miniature images, also known as “printer’s flowers,” would include such marks as stars of various kinds, crosses, bullets, ornate leaf forms, the reversed “P” paragraph symbol, and various other simple glyphs.

These have a long history in the printing trade, and they make a visually interesting variant for separating paragraphs. You might even want to add color so the dingbats will stand out from their surroundings.

Personally, though, I would use these with restraint. I think they are perfect for an introduction (perhaps one you have set in a larger point size), or other important block of copy, but for lengthy text they will reduce readability. For lengthy copy, I favor non-indented paragraphs separated by extra space. This works well to break the copy into smaller, digestible chunks.

Another suggestion Krause poses in his treatment of paragraphs is to separate an important paragraph from its surroundings not with space but with color, or a change in typeface. Going back to the preceding sample of an introduction for a magazine page-spread, setting apart a paragraph in this way may give a contemporary “look” to your design piece.

Of course, moderation is important in this case as well. It would be more appropriate for a very short magazine-spread introduction, for instance, than for anything longer. In addition (in my own opinion), it is wise to consider the accent color carefully. If it is red, for instance, the paragraph will look more important than the surrounding paragraphs. If it is blue or another cool color, it will look different from, rather than more important than, the surrounding paragraphs.

Ways to Emphasize Text and Heads

I think Krause’s most useful suggestion in this section on emphasis involves breaking out of the text grid by starting the headline in the scholar’s margin (the non-text gutter to the outside of the text column). This catches the eye immediately for a few reasons:

  1. The headline is larger than the text.
  2. The headline is in a different color from the text.
  3. And the position of the headline is unexpected, since it breaks out of the column of text.

Let’s focus on the third reason. If you set up your 8.5” x 11” page with a 6”-wide text column, the reader expects all copy to fall within this space. This expectation makes reading easier. It also can make the page visually boring. If you need to draw attention to a design element, like a headline, breaking this pattern will emphasize it.

To illustrate this point, Krause’s Design Basics Index positions a one-word headline flush-left at the outer edge of the page. The headline extends into the column of type, which runs around the word. Five lines of type are indented by about an inch to achieve this “run-around.” This design treatment works well for such a one-word headline.

If your headline is larger, consider setting it in a smaller point size in multiple lines, with the run-around (indent) extending all the way around this type. Another option would be to start the headline in the “scholar’s margin” (near the outside of the page) and have it break into the column of type without running text around it. This might result in a looser, less cramped look.

Krause includes several more design suggestions I’d like to share:

  1. Put a short quote, callout, or pithy sentence in the outer margin. Your reader’s eye will go right to this copy, just as it went right to the headline that broke into the scholar’s margin.
  2. Use a simulated handwriting font for a short piece of copy. The reader’s eye will go right to this design element.
  3. Surround text with a color rule to capture the reader’s eye. Placing copy in a simple, solid shape like a circle will do the same thing.
  4. Color will always grab the reader. However, too much defeats the purpose. An accent color works because of its contrast with its surroundings. Err on the side of using too little.
  5. Larger type will emphasize a design element.

The Take-Away

Design can be learned. It is an art, but it has rules. Learn the rules and then break them—always for a purpose. The best way to learn design is by observing and deconstructing graphic design that you like: large format print signage, business cards, brochures, print books, etc. And having a few design textbooks on hand, like Design Basics Index, can make a huge difference as well.

Posted in Design | Comments »

Commercial Printing: A Few Bulk Mailing Postage Tips

March 7th, 2015

Posted in Mailing | Comments Off

If you design marketing materials of any kind, it will benefit you to learn as much as you can about the USPS rules and regulations. (Go online and read the United States Postal Service Business Mail 101 web pages, or visit the Post Office and ask for printed business mailing guides.) As a start, here’s some introductory information culled from the USPS website on ways to pay for postage.

Let’s say you have a 3,000-copy brochure print run ready to mail to clients. How do you pay for postage?

Stamps and Precanceled Stamps

If you are an individual, you put stamps on individual letters or packages. If you’re a business, one of your options is almost the same: the precanceled stamp. These stamps can be used on bulk mailings, but they require a permit, and there are regulations regarding address formatting and return addresses for the items mailed.

In addition, the face value of the precanceled stamp is not your total cost. You will have to pay an additional amount on the entire bulk mail drop.

The main appeal of this option is that precanceled stamps look like stamps, and direct mail marketers have found that people are more likely to open mail with a real stamp. It looks more personal. (Marketers also have found that hand-addressed mail is opened more often, which is why type fonts simulating handwriting are particularly suited to bulk mailings.)

The US Post Office recommends precanceled stamps for the low-volume mailer, presumably since they must be affixed to the letter or package.

Permit Indicia

The permit indicia is a much easier option than the precanceled stamp in that your commercial printing supplier can print the necessary information right on the letter, catalog, or package. You don’t need to affix anything as you do with a stamp.

In addition to the notation for bulk rate postage, the indicia includes the permit number and the city and state of the permit holder. As with the precanceled stamp option, you will need a permit. In addition, you will need to pre-fund an advance deposit account with the postage amount. The US Postal System will then debit the account to pay for postage on your mailing. You can also maintain funds in the account for future mailings.

This option comes with two other requirements. First, the indicia cannot be produced with a typewriter or be hand-written, and all items in the bulk mailing must weigh the same amount.

In addition, you need to bring the sorted bulk mail to the business mail entry unit for the specific indicia. You can’t just go to any Post Office.

You may want to choose this option, for instance, if you print a large number of self-mailer brochures to get a good printing price, but you plan to mail them over an extended period of time. The same indicia can be used for all mailings as long as the advance deposit account contains adequate funds.

Unlike individual letters and packages, though, you can’t use an indicia for a handful of brochures you drop in a mailbox. If you do, they will be returned to you, postage due. Like precanceled stamps, the indicia can only be used for bulk mailings.

Postage Meter Imprint

Postage meters allow you to buy a predetermined amount of postage and then print the exact amount needed right on the individual mail item. The imprint shows the amount of postage used and the date.

You can use a meter to pay for all your postage needs (except for Periodicals), but you will need to pay for a separate permit for bulk mail.

Once you have a permit for meter imprinting, you have various options for software and printing equipment (from very small options based on your computer, printer, and Internet service all the way up to equipment that folds, inserts, weighs, and meters the postage).

Fees for These Options

Do some research into costs and fees before you choose one of these options. Keep in mind that you may need to pay both a mailing permit fee (for one of the the various postage options, such as the start-up fee for an indicia) and an annual mailing fee if you’re doing bulk mailings. And in most cases the permits are tied to a particular commercial Post Office.

Posted in Mailing | Comments Off

Custom Printing and Design: Contrast and the Element of Surprise

March 3rd, 2015

Posted in Design | Comments Off

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

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

How Does This Work?

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

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

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

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

What About Type Treatments?

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

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

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

Contrast Between Type and Surrounding White Space

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

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

Contrast in Size of Typefaces

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

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

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

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

What to Remember

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

Posted in Design | Comments Off

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

February 28th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Color of the Spine

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

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

Selecting the Typeface(s) for the Book Spine

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

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

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

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

Parting Thoughts

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

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

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

February 26th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

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

The InSite Proof

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

Proofing Paper vs. Final Printing Paper Stock

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

Final Thoughts: The Cover Proof

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

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Paste Binding Web-Offset Booklets

February 20th, 2015

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

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

The Usual Binding Methods

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

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

When to Request Paste Binding

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

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

What Is Paste Binding?

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

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

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

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

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

The Main Determining Factor

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

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

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

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