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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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The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) staff are experienced individuals within the printing industry that are dedicated to helping and maintaining a high standard of ethics in this business. We are a privately owned company with principals in the business having a combined total of 103 years experience in the printing industry.

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Book Printing: Disc Binding, a New Bindery Option

June 24th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

In commercial printing, I’m almost never surprised by new technologies, whether these involve closed-loop sensors that use computer feedback on a press to keep color accurate, or new printing technologies such as the ink transfer method called Nanography. I’m always excited by these things. But in post-press finishing and binding equipment, I’m more surprised by new technology. Somehow I expect to always see the perfect binding, saddle stitching, velo binding, tape binding, GBC (or plastic comb) binding, post-binding, and plastic coil binding I’ve grown used to over the past 40+ years.

But I’m happy to be wrong.

A friend and colleague sent me an article this week about a new binding technology called disc binding. I have actually seen samples before in stationery stores, but until now I haven’t looked at the new technology closely.

What Is Disc Binding?

If you can picture a disc with an extended rim, like a wheel, that extends beyond the central disc on both sides, you’re well on your way to grasping this concept. Disc binding is similar to the three-ring binding of a notebook, but the rigid wire loop has been replaced by a series of solid discs with extended rims.

To bind a notebook with this new method, you hook pre-punched pages onto the ridge on the disks. The pages, when punched, have holes and little tabs that will grasp the ridge of the discs, which can be applied one by one, every inch or every few inches down the length of the bind edge. Even though this sounds like a lot of work to set up, it is similar to a binder in that you can easily remove pages and reorder them within the notebook.

Presumably, you would then add a cover at both ends of the stack of pages. Just like the interior pages, the covers are also pre-punched with little tabs that grasp the extended ridges of the disks.

If you want to add your own pages, you can buy a notebook hole punch that will match the pre-cut holes on commercially produced pages.

What Are the Benefits?

When I first saw these little books in the stationery store, I could see some benefits. Compared to a three-ring binder (even a small one), a disc bound notebook is slim, compact, and attractive. Clearly the designers wanted to make this an aesthetically appealing product.

You can also fold back the covers, which you cannot do with a three-ring binder. Therefore, writing in a disc bound book takes a lot less space. (Your “footprint” on the desk, if you will, is much smaller.) Of course, you can also do this with a spiral bound book, a Wire-O bound book, or a plastic coil bound book.

Unlike a spiral bound book, however, facing pages of a disc bound book (when laid open, flat on a table) exactly align with one another. If you have any image or text extending from a left-hand to a right-hand page, this can be a benefit. (It’s impossible with a spiral wire book because of the ascending/descending nature of a spiral. Facing pages will always be just slightly out of alignment with one another.)

With traditional mechanical binding methods (which include GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, spiral, velo, tape binding, and notebook ring binding), you often have size limitations. If, for instance, you have a long print book, the page count may exceed the capacity of the binding method.

Let’s say the book printer tells you your 400+ page print book won’t fit the minimal binding capacity of a plastic coil. In this case, even though the plastic coil is more aesthetically appealing, you may need to move to GBC binding (which is a plastic coiled comb that curls through the holes punched in the collated paper sheets of your book). In my experience, this binding method can cause problems, since pages often come unhooked from a GBC bound print book. It’s also a very cumbersome process to unhook the plastic comb and then add sheets of paper to the print book.

If you’re using the disc binding system, it is much easier to expand the capacity of the rings. You can just replace them (swap out .5” rings with 1.5” rings, for instance). This is easier and more aesthetically appealing, and it allows you to add, remove, or reorder pages when you swap out the rings. So overall, assembling the disc bound books is an easier process than assembling traditional, mechanically bound print books.

Unlike some other mechanical binding methods, disc bound books also lie perfectly flat. This isn’t even true about most perfect-bound books, not to mention print books with mechanical bindings, like post binding, tape binding, and velo binding (all of which grip the pages with enough pressure to limit your ability to open the book so the pages lie flat). With disc binding, you can easily lay your book flat on the table, making writing in it a breeze.

Another benefit is the variety of cover materials, including textured, leather, and poly. Presumably, since the process is easy and the styles are standardized, you can swap out these covers at will.

Is It Ready for Primetime?

As with all new technology, from Barry Landa’s Nanography to the science behind the HP Indigo press (light years ahead of its cousin, the photocopier), things take time to become useful.

Currently disc binding does not come in all sizes. I’ve seen reference to 5.5” x 8.5” and 8.5” x 11” formats. In contrast, you can make a spiral bound book almost any size you want. Then again, three-ring notebooks also only come in standard sizes. But unlike three-ring binders, disc binding is based on adding a new ring every inch or every few inches based on the length of the book’s spine.

It seems to me that you would have a lot more flexibility with this overall concept than with the three-ring binder model. After all, the rings in a ring binder are attached to a metal strip running down the book’s interior spine. This has to be a fixed length. In contrast, with disc binding you can add more or fewer discs as needed (based on spine length), and there’s no need for the fixed-length “metal” (as the mechanism holding the binder rings in a three-ring binder is called).

Another problem is that disc bound books have no spine on which to print a book title. Now this doesn’t need to be a problem. After all, only a few of the mechanical bindings I have mentioned have spines. These include the three-ring binder (onto which you can screen print a title) and GBC binding (plastic comb binding), which also provides a screen-printable spine. In contrast, Wire-O, spiral wire, velo-binding, tape binding, and plastic coil binding do not have printable spines.

Final Thoughts

I realize that disc bound books, at the present moment, are high-design novelties you can buy one at a time at stationery stores. That’s their current purpose: a one-off product. That said, I personally look at the technology as a book printer might and ask how these can be used for long runs of print books.

In my experience, mechanical binding has always been the choice for short-run products (prior to the advent of digital commercial printing and short-run binding). For instance, a corporation hosting a seminar might produce 100 bound reports or workbooks for an event, and the technology of choice might be GBC binding.

For longer runs, mechanical binding has never been quite as efficient (i.e., it costs more per unit) because mechanical binding is usually labor intensive (i.e., it requires a lot of hand work). It also does not look as crisp and professional as the automated bindery methods (such as perfect binding).

That said, I can envision a seminar leader passing out disc bound workbooks. Since they’re so futuristic in design, this would even reflect well on the company brand. In fact, I can see disc binding potentially replacing many of the other mechanical bindings due to its ease of use.

When it comes to competition with long-run automated binding, such as perfect binding and saddle stitching, I don’t think this technology is ready for prime time yet. However, I could be wrong. All it would take would be a robotic assembly system that could add all the binding discs to a book at the same time. And that is within the realm of possibility.

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Book Printing: A Cover and Page Design Analysis

June 17th, 2019

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A consulting client of mine is a print book designer. She does work for government organizations like the World Bank and NATO. About five times a year, when she hits a snag in her book design, she brings me in to offer design suggestions. Having been a book designer myself at one point as well as an art director–and now working with my fiancee doing art therapy with the autistic–I can offer my consulting client (and long-time friend) a unique point of view.

My client’s strengths include her ability to balance simple page geometry (crisp, sparse design) with intriguing font usage, ample white space, and integrated color schemes. Keep in mind that the content of the print books is often rather dry, focusing on economic and social conditions in countries across the globe. So an approachable design that promotes readability is a major asset. This my client does well, and periodically I help.

The New Book Cover Design

In this instance, the print book addresses the ecology of a small African country, Malawi. My client sent me a PDF draft of her page design, including the cover and all interior text pages. She requested my design feedback since she felt the overall look could be improved.

To start with the cover, the design was based on a central photo of several people seated in a small boat. A man standing in the rear of the boat guided a long paddle back and forth to move the boat forward. Above this cover photo, my client had typeset the title of the book in an informal font that looked hand-drawn, and had then (for contrast) typeset the subhead in an austere, sans serif typeface.

One of the elements of the design that I felt worked well was the color scheme. This she had taken from the colors within the cover photo, the browns and greens and mustard color of the foliage behind the boat in the water. All together, these colors evoked an earthiness that was also reflected in the informal headline type. My client used a yellowish brown and then a dark brown (to emphasize words) in the coloration of the headline type, and then switched the placement of these two colors in the subhead (using the yellowish brown this time for emphasis).

What she achieved was the following. By using hues sampled from the photo to add color to the head and subhead, she unified the cover design. The type and photo shared a color scheme, providing a sense of balance and unity to the cover. For contrast, the bright green of some of the foliage in the photo stood out against the reds and browns and yellows (in both the type and photo). This is because green is the complement of the predominantly brownish red of the dark headline type. And because complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel, each of these hues will intensify the other when they are placed in close proximity.

In addition, the blue of the water was aesthetically pleasing next to the green of some of the foliage. (This is because green includes blue and yellow hues, so the two of them together create a sense of unity.) At the bottom right of the cover, my client placed the logos for the organization, which include bright blue elements. (These also fit nicely with the blue water and the green foliage.)

Moreover, the image of the boat on the water, the earth tones of the foliage beside the river in the photo, and the informal typeface for the headline all work together to create a natural, relaxed feel to the cover. Not only does this work on an aesthetic level, but it also makes what would otherwise be a dry textbook appear more inviting.

Inside the Print Book

My client then continued the color scheme of the cover within the book’s interior, using the yellowish brown and the dark brown in the heads, subheads, and callouts of the text. This unified the design of the cover and the text, particularly since my client also brought the casual cover headline type and sparse sans serif subhead type of the cover into the design of the print book’s interior.

To make the interior text approachable, my client used the sans serif typeface from the cover as the main typeface for the text. She created a page grid comprising either one or two columns (slightly offset toward the center of the book, leaving a larger scholar’s margin to the outside of the book pages). Within this scholar’s margin, my client placed the folios (page numbers) reversed out of what appeared to be a horizontal stroke of yellowish brown paint (with jagged edges like a brush stroke) in the same color she had used on the cover. And under any large heads at the top of the page (section headlines, for instance) she placed a rule made in the same fashion (like a swoosh of paint). The distressed and reversed type of the folios and the horizontal rule at the top of the page added to the approachable, informal feel of the print book while unifying the design of the interior pages and the cover layout.

As noted before, my client is very good at simple page geometry. She groups all related elements into simple geometric shapes to make their relationship immediately clear. In this case, my client did this by setting type in justified columns, in the sans serif type noted above, and with generous leading (extra space between lines of type). She also included generous amounts of white space around the columns of type (this allows the eye to rest periodically; it also helps the reader’s eye group the columns of type together visually and cognitively as being related).

As I now look at a string of my client’s book pages along the left panel of my computer screen, with the large book page in the adjoining window of the PDF page image, I can identify everything in the approximately 1” x 2” thumbnail images. By color, relative size, and placement in the generous surrounding white space, I can see what is a headline, a subhead, an initial capital letter, a run-in subhead, and text copy. Because the images are so small, I can’t even read the largest headlines, but I can identify the purpose of each chunk of type and each color. That is good design. Why? Because it leads the reader’s eye through each page. The reader never has to wonder what to read next.

And because the overall “look” of the cover is echoed throughout the text of the book, there is a sense of unity. The reader can be carried onward, from the cover to the front matter to all interior text pages of this print book.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Although I have read many books about book design, and design in general, what has taught me the most about the craft of design is actually looking at printed samples I like and learning to articulate why I like them. I would encourage you to do the same. Keep a file of brochures, books, and posters, or any other commercially printed items that appeal to you.

Then look at the typefaces, color usage, page layout grids, and paper choices, and think about how these were chosen to give a sense of visual unity to the printed piece.

Then consider the use of white space. White space is anything that is not subject matter (not images or type). Nevertheless, white space is just as important as the subject matter in conveying to the reader what visual elements are related as well as their levels of importance. Ideally, when you look at a print book or brochure, you should be able to identify the hierarchy of importance for all visual elements, even if the printed piece is in a language you don’t read or speak.

The best way to learn this craft is to study the design work of those who are better at it than you. That’s how I learned. In fact, I often look at this client’s design work and say to myself, “I wish I had done that.” She’s that good.

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Book Printing: Considerations for Perfect Bound Books

June 10th, 2019

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A print brokering client of mine is a husband-and-wife publishing team. Each year they give me titles of poetry and fiction books to bid on, along with readers’ galleys for each new print book. The galleys are perfect-bound, 5.5” x 8.5” print books, and the final books have French flaps, deckle edge text paper (faux deckle edge, actually), press scores, and lay-flat soft-touch film laminate. In other words, the first set of books are for my client’s readers to review and critique, and the second set of the same titles are salable print books with superior production values (all the bells and whistles that set print books apart from their digital cousins).

The reason I bring this up is that I just bid out three sets of these books, and a number of issues arose that you might find interesting as either a print book designer or a print buyer.

The Trim Size and Page Count of the Books

Based on specs I had not yet adequately updated, I bid out the final books and the galleys with the same trim size: 5.5” x 8.5”. When the bids on the final books came back, the printer had changed the trim size to 5.75” x 8.5”.

This is not unusual. It just means that one has to read closely and match the specs of one’s project to the specs the printer provides in his estimate. Seeing the discrepancy, I questioned the sales rep, and he said the book had to be 5.75” x 8.5” due to the deckle edge.

To begin with, a true deckle edge was created (actually as a flaw) on the oldest paper-making frames. These feathered edges were often trimmed flush. Later, certain paper-making machines simulated this feathered effect.

In my client’s case, the deckle edge is really a rough-front face trim. That is, the outer side of the pages (the long dimension parallel to the spine) is uneven (some pages longer, some pages shorter), a quality achieved (as I understand it from several printers) by turning off (or adjusting) the trimming knife that chops all pages flush. When I was growing up in the ’60s, most of my family’s hard cover books had this uneven face trim. It added to the tactile quality of the pages, and I found that it actually made grasping the pages a little easier. For my client, it just adds to the overall feel of the perfect bound print book as a quality product that readers will want to hold.

The point of this is twofold. When you’re specifying the trim size for a book, discuss with your printer the following issues:

  1. the most efficient size (that will fit his particular press equipment)
  2. and the physical requirements of the binding process (in this case, to ensure that the folded French flaps cover the rough-front trim, and to ensure the accuracy of the rough front trim)

In my client’s case, there were also changes in the page count. For one book, my client specified 100 pages; the printer bid on 104 pages. For another, my client specified 250 pages; the printer bid on 256 pages. In each case the printer changed the page count to the nearest number either divisible by 32 pages (ideally), 16 pages, or 8 pages, but not 4 pages. This was to ensure a fit (compatible press signatures) with his particular press equipment. The ideal was a 32-page signature (for example 256 pages = eight 32-page signatures). In your own print buying, remember to discuss this early with your printer.

The French Flaps

French flaps are part of a book’s cover. They extend 3.5” (more or less, depending on the book design) beyond the face trim of the book and then fold back part of the way over the blank (or printed) interior covers (front and back) of a book. They make a paperback book look and feel like it has a dust jacket. These, apparently, are very big in Europe. I think they add a cosmopolitan feel to a book, and since these particular clients of mine publish books of fiction and poetry, the French flaps are ideally suited to the ethos they want to project.

So far, French flaps have worked just fine on the 5.75” x 8.5” format of my client’s print books, but if you decide to incorporate these into your own print book design, discuss the size with your printer to make sure everything works on his printing and finishing equipment.

One additional thing I have found over the years is that for these flaps to fold in and still extend over the face trim of the book, the book must be trimmed twice. That is, the face trim of the book’s text block must be trimmed separately from the covers. If the folded front and back covers with the attached (and folded in) flaps were trimmed at the same time as the text block, the flaps themselves would be chopped off at the fold. Instead, the folded flaps must either be trimmed too short (they must not reach the edge of the text paper) or too long (they must extend over the edge of the text paper).

(If you look at the perfect-bound magazines in the grocery store, you’ll often see some space between the face trim of the magazine and the folded covers. The folded magazine covers with their French flaps–used to add space for an additional fold-out advertisement attached to the cover–often end about a half inch–more or less—short of the the trim of the interior magazine pages.)

The take-away from all of this is to discuss with your printer—early in the process–any French flaps or other cover extensions or modifications.

In the case of my client’s reader’s galleys that precede the final, salable books, the book trim size can actually be a true 5.5” x 8.5”, since the reader’s galleys have no deckle edge and no French flaps.

The Reader’s Galleys

Let’s get back to the reader’s galleys. These are probably even more unusual than a print book these days. When I was in college in the ’70s, I first came upon a reader’s galley at a thrift store. It was taller than a usual book, and it had no pictures, just text. The cover was simple. Later, when I learned to set type and do paste-up (a manual process that has become fully computerized in the last thirty or so years), I would cut up the long rolls of typeset material to paste up into book pages. Presumably, the galleys of this particular time period were taller than usual to allow for fewer book pages to print. After all, the sole purpose of this printed galley was as a final proofing tool. Publishers produced galleys so that authors could see their books typeset and make any final corrections to the text prior to the final book printing run.

(Advance reader’s copies are similar but a little more polished, since they are used for book reviews and marketing purposes.)

In the case of my clients, the 5.5” x 8.5” versions of the books (actually used as both galleys and reader’s copies) without French flaps, hinge scores, soft-touch lamination, or faux deckle edges just give reviewers an extra look at the text for their final suggestions.

In the age of the digital book, what I find interesting is that my client still wants a good number of galley copies prior to the final print run. This year the husband-and-wife publishing team asked for 75 galley copies of each title instead of 50. The reason I think these are popular with my clients’ reviewers is that you can easily write in a physical print book. My clients’ readers can easily annotate the text with all of their suggested corrections and comments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Consider the small additions that make a print book a joy to hold, those qualities that add to the tactile experience. In my clients’ case it was the faux deckle edge, the French flaps, the press score, and the soft-touch laminate. Remember that holding a book is a physical experience.
  2. Discuss all of these variables with your printer to make sure that you understand the requirements of his press and finishing equipment as well as the cost.
  3. Ask for samples. Nothing speaks to the quality of a printer’s work like a physical sample, and nothing makes it easier to tell a printer how you want your book to look than a sample book with a comparable printing, finishing, or coating effect.

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Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

June 3rd, 2019

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I received an email today from a reader who had taken issue with a few of my comments on choosing paper for a book project I was brokering. Needless to say, I felt a bit chastened, but I was also very excited to know that people were carefully reading the PIE Blog, and that someone in particular had taken the time to draft a long email.

I write about a huge number of custom printing subjects, ranging from paper characteristics to various printing technologies to graphic design to marketing. I am a student of printing, not an expert. Since everyone has room to learn and grow, I took this as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge.

In that vein, I want to share with you what I had written in the initial PIE Blog article and what this particular reader had presented as an alternate point of view.

Moreover, this is a good opportunity to reiterate that no one knows more than your printer about how to put ink or toner on paper. This particular reader has been in the field for 23 years, working directly with equipment I have only read about and seen in custom printing plant tours. In your own work, as a designer, print buyer, print sales professional, or whatever other aspect of commercial printing you pursue, it is wise to learn from those who actually perform prepress, printing, and finishing operations themselves. They have learned the hard way by making (and correcting) mistakes on the job.

Choosing a Coated Stock

In a prior PIE Blog article I had said, “If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.”

I had written about how light is reflected off a gloss sheet directly back to the reader’s eyes and about how matte or dull stock scatters the reflected light, sending the light rays in different angles rather than directly back to the viewer’s eyes. I had said that this makes photos printed on gloss stock “pop” but tires the reader’s eyes if the book is text heavy.

The reader who wrote to me noted that on his equipment in his shop (mainly Xerox digital presses), a glossier effect can be achieved by printing photos on matte paper rather than on glossy stock. Over the reader’s 23 years’ of experience, he has also used other digital equipment to the same effect. He now specs matte stock whenever possible to ensure the customer’s satisfaction with the photos.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Always ask the printer’s opinion. If your job is a photo-heavy print book, tell the printer you want the photos to pop. In contrast, if you’re worried that your text-heavy print product might tire the reader’s eyes on a certain paper, voice this concern as well. It is often prudent to describe the results you want and then ask the printer how best to achieve them.
  2. Consider the technology in use. When I learned what I believe about gloss and matte stock (for photos vs. text-heavy content), it was the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the work I did (almost all of it) was traditional offset lithography. It would be my best guess that toner-based printing technologies (the ones the PIE Blog reader references with the Xerox printer) may yield different results from offset lithographic presses (regarding making photos “pop” on certain paper). It’s always best to talk with your printer and request printed samples to help you choose the right commercial printing stock for your job.

Choosing a 100# Gloss Coated Stock

The PIE Blog reader noted that he would have steered the customer away from such a heavy, glossy stock for such a long print book. He said it would have made the book heavy and unwieldy. I actually agree.

My own customer was initially wedded to the idea of a gloss coated paper stock, so I provided an estimate on this paper. She had wanted the feel of a coffee-table book, which is why I had initially suggested 100# gloss text. For a gloss coated stock, the PIE Blog reader who wrote to me suggested a 70# or 80# stock rather than a 100# paper, which I do agree would have been adequate.

However, once I had seen the PDF of the print book and had noted that there were only about ten photos scattered across more than 400 pages, I suggested a 60# uncoated text stock.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Again, ask your print provider for his opinion. I tried to give the customer what she wanted. Perhaps I should have been more direct initially with my reservations. Fortunately, over time we changed the printing paper from 100# gloss to 60# offset. Once I understood the content of the print book, it was easier to offer advice on the best paper stock.
  2. So in your own work, consider the content of the book when choosing paper. If you’re producing a coffee-table book of photos, I’d still suggest a matte, dull, or gloss stock (depending on the printing technology). But, as the reader suggests, I’d also consider the length of the book (100# stock is still heavy if the page count of your print book is high).
  3. If you’re unsure of the results, request printed samples on your paper of choice. Or, you can ask for an unprinted paper dummy (a bound, blank book made with your chosen paper stock). The paper merchant will make this for you. Your printer can coordinate this. Requesting a paper dummy is based on the belief that nothing is as good as a physical sample. You’ll know exactly how the book will feel in the reader’s hands. (For example, the reader’s comment that a high-page-count book produced on 100# gloss stock would be unwieldy would be proven to be true with a paper dummy. The book would be very heavy.)

Rebidding the Job to All Printers

The reader who wrote to me said he would have rebid the job to all vendors after having changed the paper specs. He noted that some printers that had been competitive on one paper stock might be either more competitive or less competitive on another. That is, one printer’s prices on 100# gloss text (if the printer’s prices are low relative to the other printers who provided bids) might not be in the same position (low bid) after a change of paper to 60# offset.

I agree with this. In my own case, I was actually only getting a ballpark price at the early stage of production to see how the overall cost might change based on the new paper spec. I had approached maybe four printers, and I knew there would be more rounds of estimates in the future.

Furthermore, I knew that print estimating takes time and effort (unbillable by the printer), so I wanted to minimize my requests for pricing. (I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with multiple printers.) So I chose one (who had been low bid on a number of similar jobs) to get the initial cost of such a dramatic change (from 100# gloss to 60# offset).

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you want to do what I did (get an interim price to see if you’re going in the right direction with a major change, whether it be a change in paper, book format, or whatever), start by asking your printer. He may give you a ballpark idea (for instance, maybe a 20-30 percent price hike because the change affects a major element of the price, like paper in a long print book). Or he may choose to defer to the estimator.
  2. That said, once you know what you’re going to do (once you’ve decided on the final paper stock, for instance), it is wise to go back to all the vendors for revised pricing, keeping in mind what the PIE Blog reader said, that different printers may well change the relative order of their overall prices once you make a major change in specifications. This applies to paper, format, post-press operations like die cutting, etc. Don’t just assume the printer with the lowest bid will stay in that position.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that the PIE Blog is always grateful for readers’ comments. If you read something and really like it or really hate it, put your thoughts in an email. We welcome a healthy dialogue. It makes for better articles that are more useful to readers.

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Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

May 29th, 2019

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A client of mine regularly prints decks of small fashion color cards that are bound with a screw and post assembly. They are very much like a PMS swatch book. My client’s clients use these small books to help them choose clothing and make-up that match their complexion. My client reprints this job maybe four times a year, and I have brokered this commercial printing job for almost five years.

So this is a nice little job for my client, the printer, and me (as the custom printing broker).

Just recently my client decided to expand her offerings based on her proprietary color system. She now wants to print color chin cards with little curved notches die cut for the chin. This will essentially place the 8.5” x 11” color swatch sheet (huge in comparison to the original, approximately 1.5” x 3.5” color swatches) up against the subject’s face, where it will be easy to determine whether the color does or does not “work” for make up or clothing.

In each set, there will be 66 colors. On the front of the card, the digital press will print the full-bleed color swatch, and on the back of each card there will be a description and any other information my client wants to add. Unlike my client’s small color swatch book, these 66 sheets will not be bound. They will be loose but collated in a specific order.

Following, here are some of the issues that are arising as the job progresses. I thought they may be object lessons for you if you ever do similar design and custom printing work.

How to Spec Loose Pages

My client’s color swatch book is bound with a screw and post assembly. In contrast, the color chin cards are not bound at all. When I listed specifications for the swatch book, I noted that it comprised 118 pages, with 4-color process ink on the front and black-ink-only on the back. In contrast, for the chin cards, this is how I specified the job: 66 leaves (front and back, printed with 4-color process ink on the front and black on the back). The word “leaves” implies one piece of paper, front and back. If you are printing anything like a book that will not be bound, use this language in your spec sheet. You may also want to add the words “loose sheets” and “unbound.” In short, the more precise you are, the more accurate your printer’s estimate will be. In contrast, if you’re specifying the page count for a bound print book, each side of each “leaf” is one page (a right-hand page is called a “recto” and a left-hand page is called a “verso”).

Laminating Both Sides of My Client’s Chin Cards

The chin cards will be much larger than the 1.5” x 3.5” swatch cards. In addition, they may be used in damp environments such as bathrooms. If the back of the tiny color swatch book pages were to get a little damp, it is unlikely that they would curl, even though they are laminated on only one side. After all, when the book is not fanned open, all of the pages press on each other due to the tension of the screw and post binding. In contrast, the 8.5” x 11” chin cards are all loose, large, and potentially not laminated on one side. In spite of my client’s requested specification (to laminate one side), I suggested that she still ask for an additional price to laminate the back of each card. This extra lamination would seal up each individual color card. No moisture would be able to get in to the paper, so even if the collection of 66 pages is used in the bathroom to choose make-up and clothes, there will be no chance of curling. I expect this will cost an additional $250-$300, depending on the overall press run (how many sets of 66 cards she orders).

Producing a Prototype (Sidestepping Potential Problems)

This job will be printed on an HP Indigo. I already have preliminary estimates from three printers. One of them will print one set for $100. Another will print one set for $400. You would think this choice would be a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, I have reminded my client that the printer with the higher price has successfully produced the smaller color swatch books for a number of years (for a reasonable price). This printer’s color accuracy and color consistency from reprint to reprint have been excellent. In contrast, the printer offering the $100 price has had color problems in the past. In addition, there have been bubbles under the lamination (gassing off of the HP liquid toners trapped under the lamination).

You might argue that my client should buy the prototype from the lower-prised vendor and then the final press run from the higher priced vendor (to ensure the quality of the final press run). I would disagree. After all, what good would it be to have an inexpensive prototype that might not match the color of the final copies?

So there are three object lessons here:

  1. Not all color digital presses at all printers produce exactly the same colors. This is even true when you compare output from the same brand of digital press located at different printers.
  2. Therefore, printing a prototype at one printer and then printing final copies of the chin cards at another printer might lead to inconsistent color.
  3. Always start with a hard-copy proof of a job. Screen proofs do not reflect accurate color. There are too many variables, including the commercial printing technology you’re using (digital vs. offset), the ambient light around the monitor on which you are reviewing the screen proofs, etc. Once your printer has produced a color-accurate proof, you can use screen proofs (virtual proofs, PDF proofs) for all subsequent reprints of the job.

Making a Mock Up for the Printer

Finally, my client’s job has a die cut space for her client’s chin. In a case like this, a printer will ask, “Where should the die cut be positioned?” and “How large should it be?”

I suggested that my client use any program she preferred (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) and draw a mock-up showing exactly where to start the die cut (2.5” from the top of one long side), and how wide (6” in diameter) and how deep (2.5”) it should be. This will be invaluable to the printer. It will leave nothing to the imagination.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It always helps to have a physical mock up. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Also, when you’re making the mock up, sometimes issues will arise that you hadn’t thought of before. For instance, if my client makes a physical mock-up of a chin card and it feels flimsy at that particular size, then she can adjust the paper specification (avoiding being disappointed with the final print job). (In my client’s case, we increased the paper weight from 12pt–which was the thickness of the swatch book cards–to 14pt. In addition, laminating both sides of each sheet will make her printed pages feel thicker.)
  2. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. The cheapest printer may not do the best work. Also, shifting from one printer to another for different components of a job might result in inconsistent color (particularly if some components of the job are printed digitally and others are printed via offset lithography). Usually you get what you pay for.
  3. Consider the ambient conditions in which your printed product will be used. My client’s chin cards are not unlike a menu. Both are used in damp conditions (the first with water, the second with food). Moisture can cause single-sided laminates to curl (think about print book covers you’ve seen). Paper is like a sponge, so consider sealing it up entirely by laminating both sides of certain print projects.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

May 21st, 2019

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

As with anything else, sooner or later you have to pay the bill for the commercial printing services you have purchased. Since printing involves both services and materials, there are certain established rules for payment as well as preferences among certain vendors. In your own print buying work, what is reasonable?

An Example

As a custom printing broker, I regularly negotiate payment terms for my clients with the printers I frequent. Most payment agreements are similar, but some are very different.

Net-30 is a common example—payment within 30 days. Some printers offer a discount for payment before the 30-day limit. (This would be for a credit account rather than a cash account, which is why payment can occur after the completed job has been shipped rather than before it leaves the printer’s plant.)

And here are a few other examples of negotiation terms (these terms, in contrast to those above, would be for non-credit accounts, which is why payment must be completed before the printer ships the job):

  1. 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, and the final 25 percent after viewing samples but prior to shipping
  2. 1/3, 1/3, and a final 1/3 payment at specific points in the manufacturing process, prior to shipping
  3. 50 percent before the printer starts the job and the final 50 percent before the printer ships the job

Establishing Credit

One of the services printers have offered my clients is the ability to pay up to a certain amount of time after delivery of the printed products (i.e., the printers I work with bill the clients directly). I will start with this option because it is the most convenient for most printing clients.

Although it is much easier once negotiated, this option requires a credit check. Some of my clients (particularly individual freelancers and small publishers, or even self-publishers) have chosen to forgo the credit check and just pay by Visa or electronic transfer of funds. (If they pay by Visa, they usually need to pay the 3 percent service fee levied on vendors by credit card companies.)

In contrast to the small publishers and self-publishers, most of my clients in large organizations operate on credit terms, and in some cases if they pay quickly they get a discount. Paying early, particularly for multiple jobs over a length of time, will also give these clients more clout with the printers. That is, the printers have more of an incentive to keep prices low to ensure repeat work, and to quickly correct any problems if a job goes south. After all, nothing beats a customer who keeps coming back with more work and keeps paying on time or early.

If you’re an art director at a large for-profit or non-profit organization, and you plan to do a lot of work with a particular vendor, you might want to look into this.

Alternatives to Credit

One of my clients always arranges for an electronic transfer of funds from his bank to the printer before the printer starts his job. In fact, a prior printer of his required 110 percent payment prior to the onset of the job. Is this reasonable?

To answer this question, consider first that a commercial printing supplier has to do a lot of work before sending the finished product to the client. This is a labor- and materials-intensive field. A lot of people need to get paid for everything from prepress work to binding to carton packing. Plus there’s the cost of shipping. But beyond all of this, a printer has to buy paper (and other supplies that will go into the manufacturing of the client’s project). If, for instance, the project is a long-run print book, the printer’s cost for paper might be sizable, and he might have to pay for this up front.

To get back to my client, the book printer required prepayment of 110 percent of the estimate to cover any overage. That is, a printer is usually allowed to bill for up to 10 percent more copies than you order (this is often negotiable). Printers produce more copies than needed to allow for spoilage in subsequent operations. That is, if they printed text blocks for exactly 1,000 books (of a 1,000-copy print run), and then 50 books were damaged in the bindery operations (spoilage), the total number of copies they could deliver could be fewer than requested. In most cases, if you read the small print of a commercial printing contract, you will see that there is a range (called overage and underage) that the printer can deliver and bill for. Industry standard is 10 percent over or under the requested press run.

So in my client’s case, he was paying 110 percent in advance to cover any possible overage as well as to prepay for the paper and for all printing and binding operations.

Now the printer in question could not arbitrarily overcharge, of course. At the end of the process, sometimes my client had a credit in his account. He could then have the printer send him the funds or keep them on account for the next print run.

Cash Customers Pay Before the Ship Date

In most cases, with most of my clients, who at the moment are micro-businesses and therefore are paying cash (rather than going through a credit check to “secure terms”), the printers (many of which I frequent for various jobs) all require a certain amount of money before any work starts and then the balance of payment, including freight, before any boxes of print books (or whatever printed product) leave the printing plant. This is the norm. My clients understand this and abide by it.

But Some Printers Don’t Work This Way

I work with another printer that just bills my clients. This is unusual. But it’s the printer’s choice. This vendor just takes my word that the client will pay. That said, this is a mom-and-pop operation, a very small commercial printing establishment. Presumably, they are willing to take the risk of nonpayment from time to time to bring in the business.

As you see, everything is negotiable.

Paying Earnest Money

Over the past several years I have been frequenting two book printers, one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast of the United States. Recently, both have gotten very busy. Their schedules have tightened up and their lead times have lengthened. During the same period I have brought in three titles from a small publisher. Based on price and the quality of prior jobs produced by these two printers, I have asked my clients to accept the longer than usual schedules. I have also asked that they sign contracts early in the process and even put up “earnest money” in the form of deposits on the three print books.

Is this reasonable? They think so. I think so. Some would say absolutely not; just go elsewhere. My approach, and the sales rep’s approach at this particular vendor, is that earnest money makes a job “real.” These three jobs can be put in the printer’s schedule early, and the printer will have an incentive to do a good job on time.

Keep in mind that this is not the first job for this printer. I have done a lot of work with this particular vendor, so I was able to pose this as an option and get both the printer and my client to agree. What makes this so important in this particular case is that my client’s (the small publisher’s) print book distributor will reject the book outright if the printer delivers copies even a day late. The schedule is firm and non-negotiable. In this case I think it’s reasonable to “sweeten the pot,” to give the printer the incentive to provide the best possible work within the schedule, when so many other customers have strained this printer’s capacity in the near term.

Others may disagree.

The Takeaway

Paying for a print job is probably one of the least glamorous or creative aspects of the job, along with perhaps arranging shipping terms. However, nothing gets done unless both the printer and the client are happy. So, in your own work, it behooves you to think like a business person and to consider your goals and the printer’s incentives to meet those goals.

Here are some further thoughts:

  1. Negotiate only after you have developed a good working relationship. Prior to this, I would just ask about payment terms and options. Everything is negotiable, but it’s easier to successfully negotiate with a long-term business partner than a vendor who has never seen you before—or may never see you again.
  2. This is a good time to ask about allowable overage and underage amounts. Don’t let this slide and be surprised by the extra costs on your final bill.
  3. Consider your goals. If the job deadline has wiggle room (unlike my client’s print books that will be useless if the delivery date slips and the distributor gets the product late), you may want to choose another printer rather than pay a deposit a month or so ahead of the job.
  4. Remember the hidden payments. A 3 percent fee to use your Visa can really add up if the job is an expensive one. An electronic transfer of funds (which is often, if not usually, free) might be a better choice.
  5. Get in the habit of reading the small print in the contract. If your printer doesn’t provide a contract, you may want to ask for one. I personally do a lot of business just based on emails. More often than not I just receive contracts for large book printing jobs for my clients. But I do keep all of the email threads, in which everything is clearly spelled out, from the project specs to the freight costs, from the overage specifications to the schedules. Be safe. Do the same in your own work.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

May 13th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

A commercial printing client of mine has been producing fashion color swatch books for a number of years through various printers with whom I have professional relationships. Recently she has expanded her product offerings beyond these small books (akin to PMS swatch books but for choosing fashion colors and make-up based on one’s complexion). She now wants to produce “chin cards.” These are similar to the color books but much larger (8” x 10” rather than the approximately 1.5” x 3” format of the swatch books).

My client’s chin cards are 14 pt. laminated stock with half-circle die cuts in the center of one 10” side. The goal is to be able to hold them up under the chin of a fashion client. The half-circle die cut allows the cards to be placed that much closer to the person’s face. This makes good sense, since the goal is to match the client’s skin tone and hair color to specific colors for clothing and make up. Unlike my client’s color swatch print books, which are bound with a metal screw-and-post assembly, these will be loose (with no binding at all). There will be 50 colors per set. Each set will just be printed, laminated, die cut, and collated.

Choosing a Printer

My client gave me the specs for this job recently and asked me to find a custom printing supplier. She wanted to know what it would cost to produce one full set (as a prototype with which to sell her concept) and how many copies she could get for $1,000.00.

This is what I learned from two of the three printers I approached. (The third printer’s prices were much higher than the prices of the other two.)

One printer could produce one set as a prototype for $101.00. Actually, this really surprised me, since I knew the die for the chin cut-out should cost about $300.00. I can only assume this printer has a similar die from another job.

The other printer would charge $433.00 for a single copy, more than four times as much as the first printer. To put this in perspective, the third printer, which had been high overall and higher in general on many other jobs, didn’t even bid the single prototype but did estimate a five-set press run (50 copies x five sets) for slightly over $1,000.00.

These were my thoughts in response to this information:

  1. The $101.00 price could be wrong, or, as I mentioned, it could be based on the printer’s already having the metal die. Plus, if the price is in fact wrong (I will probably ask, to avoid surprises), then the revised price may still be much lower than the second printer’s price of $433.00.
  2. Reviewing the pricing for the multiple sets (from all printers) was very instructive. The same printer that offered to produce the prototype for $101.00 could produce 20 sets of 50 chin cards for $1,000.00. In contrast, the printer that would produce the prototype for $433.00 could produce 25 sets of 50 chin cards for $826.00 ($174.00 less than the first custom printing vendor would charge for 20 sets). So this was a good deal. Unfortunately, it also meant that if my client wanted a single prototype and then shortly thereafter wanted a full press run (presuming the chin cards were a hit with her clients), she would be printing one job at one printer’s shop and the follow-up 25 sets at another. That is, to keep costs at the lowest level, this would be the prudent choice.
  3. I didn’t think this would be a deal breaker, however. My client needs “pleasing color,” not “critical color.” This means she will tolerate a little variation. Since both printers have HP Indigo digital presses, there would be a good chance that the initial prototype colors would be very close to the follow-up press runs, even if the two jobs were printed on different digital presses by different printers. I also knew I could make color matching easier for the follow-up printer by handing off the prototype (once it was no longer needed for sales) as a “proof” for the commercial printing supplier to match.
  4. As a side note, to put the pricing in perspective, the third printer would charge over $1,100.00 for ten sets of 50 cards, so their pricing was much higher than that of the other two printers.
  5. I thought about why the low bid (which was actually from a book printer and not a commercial printing supplier) would be so low. Based on the specifications for the job, I assumed that the book printer would have die cutting capabilities on their premises for book production (their bread-and-butter business). I knew that if they had in-house die cutting, this would not eliminate the need for a metal die, but it would keep the prices low and their control over the process (and turn-around time) high.

The next steps are to wait for my client to review the pricing (which I just sent her) and then to share my thoughts, as noted above, and see how she wants to proceed. She may in fact want to have one printer do both components of the job (the prototype and the final press run). We’ll see.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you are doing a commercial printing job and you have a book printer with whom you’ve developed a close professional relationship, you may want to request a bid even if the job isn’t a print book. You may be surprised by the price, as I was. However, if your commercial printing job is complex, make sure the printer can handle it. Ask for samples.
  2. Even within the realm of commercial printing, not all printers are equally skilled in all kinds of work. Personally, I have a go-to printer whom I approach first if a client of mine is beginning a unique marketing project. After all, this is their bailiwick. None of the other printers I work with know more about this specific realm of printing. I also strongly believe in referrals from printers, if the printer I approach is not equipped to do the specific work I need done. Keep in mind that almost no printers have all equipment.
  3. On that note, think about the specific equipment that will be used for your job. My client’s job needs to be die cut. Many printers do not have this capability in house. If you can find a printer who does, the prices will be lower, and the schedule will be tighter.
  4. If you need critical color, it is usually wise to have the same printer do all components of a job, such as all elements of a marketing campaign. Others may disagree with me. After all, color has become more controllable and consistent over the years. That said, I personally am conservative in my approach. If you do want multiple printers (two or more) to participate in a multi-item print job, then provide a hard-copy proof as a color matching tool.
  5. If your job includes die cutting, keep in mind that if you reprint the job (or a successive year’s update of the job), you can use the same die (if next year’s version will be the same design as this year’s version). Therefore, you can back this price out of the total cost for successive years (although the cost for the actual die cutting will still be an expense, just not the cost for the die itself). And this could be a significant cost savings ($300.00 in the case of the die for my client’s chin cards, as priced by one of the vendors).
  6. Set aside time to do all of this preliminary cost comparison in a measured, thoughtful manner. Don’t rush. You could save yourself a lot of money while still ensuring a quality product.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Choosing a Printer for Chin Cards

Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

May 5th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

I read a lot about commercial printing every day. I find it interesting, and it supports my work in print brokering, graphic design, and, of course, my blog writing for PIE. Once in a while I find an article that encapsulates what I’ve been seeing on my own, particularly regarding industry trends.

I found just such an article this week, entitled “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” written by Kuldeep Malhotra, Vice President Sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, India Pvt. Ltd. I found it on the www.deccanchronicle.com website on 04/19/19.

Digital Printing Trends

“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry” captures in relatively few words the trajectory of digital commercial printing. This article specifically addresses digital fabric printing, but it applies, I think, to all digital custom printing.

To begin with, Malhotra’s article notes a striking statistic: “The global market for digital printing is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4.48% to reach USD 28.85 billion by 2023; digital fabric printing alone is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25%” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). That is significant growth when you think back several years to articles about the death of print. Without a doubt, custom printing is growing again.

Malhotra’s article highlights the position within the printing arena of newly developed technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation), and then goes on to explain how digital printing will benefit from these new technologies.

More specifically, Marhotra identifies five trends in digital custom printing that allow it to produce unique, personalized products quickly and cost-effectively:

  1. “Booming demand for personalization”
  2. “A shift toward sustainable operations”
  3. “User convenience and optimized operations through cloud connectivity”
  4. “Short-run and on-demand execution”
  5. “Elevated print-led brand marketing experiences”
    (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”)

Here is the gist of Malhotra’s findings:

Demand for Personalization

Personalization enhances “customer experience, loyalty, and retention” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”). Customers expect brands to address them directly and to provide a unique, personal experience. In other articles, marketers use the term “unboxing” to describe the experience of opening a package of a particular product. If customers feel valued and understood by a brand that reflects the same values they themselves espouse, these customers reward the brand with their loyalty. They buy the product, or other products, again and again. And marketing wisdom holds that retaining a customer is much easier than acquiring a new one.

So when marketers pair artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and automation with the variable-data nature of digital commercial printing, they can target each printed product to a particular customer in a far more efficient manner than would be possible with traditional analog printing (offset printing, flexography, etc.).

Feeding all of the data gathered through new computer technologies into digital printing processes makes marketing far more efficient (lowering the cost of acquiring new customers) and at the same time fosters “the robust growth of the digital printing industry” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

A Shift to Sustainable Operations

Malhotra notes customers’ increasing focus on the sustainability of everything from the manufacturing to the marketing of the products they buy. This is particularly true for millennials, a huge and growing market.

Digital printing uses renewable resources and consumes/produces far less toxic material than traditional analog printing methods. But it goes beyond this. By merging the computer data systems and faculties noted above with digital commercial printing, it is possible to reduce the volume of printing while increasing the effectiveness of each brochure or catalog (for instance). Digital printing based on comprehensive data makes marketing more efficient, and this reduces both emissions and waste. (For example, there’s no obsolescence in printed matter when it can be digitally produced as needed. There’s also only a limited need for storage and warehousing of digitally printed products.)

One area in which this is particularly evident is ink production for digital printing. UV inks are environmentally friendly and cure (dry) instantly under UV light. They are therefore suitable for printing on everything from fabric to plastic (i.e., both porous and non-porous substrates) while retaining their vibrant color. This allows printers to “meet their sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint” (“Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry”).

Cloud Connectivity

More and more of the data-acquisition, data-management, and even print production functions have been digitized and have also migrated to cloud computing. This means everything is accessible from most devices, and communication among participants in data management, marketing, and custom printing can be seamless and not based on time or location.

Marketers can update print materials from any computer at any time (even with multiple people collaborating on the same document simultaneously) and then send the jobs seamlessly to press.

This allows printing processes to be automated and to occur around the clock as needed, enhancing work flow efficiency as well as print product quality.

Short-Run, On-Demand Printing

Marketers are finding that they can send fewer print marketing materials to fewer prospective customers while at the same time increasing their response rate. They are marketing more efficiently, spending less (and creating less waste) to make more money. Because of this, customer demand has driven down the average print run. This is also true because marketers are finding it more effective to marry Internet marketing and print marketing, producing cross-media campaigns rather than just print- or Internet-based promotions.

Digital printing is ideally suited to these shorter runs. Since there is only minimal make-ready in digital printing, printers can reduce set-up costs and waste. At the same time, the marketing writers and designers can make last-minute changes far more easily on a digital printing platform, and this makes it possible to send customers the relevant, time-sensitive material they need.

Print-led Brand Marketing Experiences

According to “Reimagining Print: Five Key Trends in the Digital Printing Industry,” “new-age consumers do not just consume; they tend to rate products or services based on the entire experience, from ownership to usage.” To current and prospective customers, the buying experience is important, and they tell others when they’re happy or displeased with this component of their purchase.

To benefit from this awareness of current consumer behavior, marketers are incorporating AR (augmented reality) into their marketing materials. A consumer can scan a print ad and go to a brand’s Internet site that provides an experience of “virtually” using their products. This technology can work seamlessly with both the immediacy and the personalization capabilities of digital custom printing. And marketers are learning that providing the same brand message across multiple channels (print, Internet, signage, podcasts) both enhances and reinforces the message for potential buyers.

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. The better you understand how information technology, big data, marketing, consumer behavior, and digital printing work together, the more likely you will be to find your own niche in this expanding, profitable world. This is true whether you are a designer, a print buyer, or a printer.
  2. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to read everything you can get your hands on regarding these individual subjects and the ways they interact.
  3. I personally have found that Internet aggregators (Google has one) provide a broad selection of articles on whatever interests you. Every night Google sends me one group of articles on digital printing and another set on offset printing. Even if you just read the headlines each day, you’ll learn something. And as they say, knowledge is power.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Future Directions in Digital Printing

Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

April 29th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing, Digital Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

A print brokering client of mine is a husband and wife publishing team. Usually they print one or two new titles a year, mostly books of poetry, fiction, and essays. I’ve written about them in these PIE Blog articles before. They both appreciate the finer points of a physical print book, so all of their projects include French flaps (extensions on the front and back covers that are folded inward toward the inside front and back covers). They also have soft-touch laminated covers (a coating that gives a nice rubberized feel to the matte cover), a press score running parallel to the spine, and faux deckled edges on the text block (actually a “rough front” trim).

This client team appreciates quality.

Another way they show this commitment to quality is to initially print 50 or 75 copies of a “galley” proof of each print book (prior to the final run with the French flaps and such). The galleys go to “readers,” who review the books and make suggestions, which can then be incorporated into the final print books.

The Pricing (and Then the Revised Pricing) for the Print Books

Just recently, I requested pricing for 75 copies of each book and provided this to my clients as a benchmark prior to the actual design and layout of the books. Keep in mind that these are 5.5” x 8.5” format, perfect bound books: relatively standard, with standard 70# offset text paper inside and 12pt. covers. The text blocks are black ink only without bleeds. The covers are 4-color process with bleeds.

After I provided my clients with their pricing for the three galley books, their book designers (a different designer for the text and the covers) produced the book art files. In all three cases, the page counts increased significantly (upwards of 100 pages in one instance), and the press runs dropped from 75 readers’ copies to 50 readers’ copies.

I collected this new information, revised the specification sheets, and went back to the book printer’s sales rep for revised estimates. When the prices arrived, the sales rep and I were both surprised by how much the prices had jumped. In fact, the unit costs were almost double those of the first estimate.

Why Did the Prices Go Up So Much?

After the initial shock, this is what I did. I took one of the three book estimates and analyzed the pricing. I multiplied the initial press run (75 copies) by the number of pages (256 pages) and came up with 19,200 pages total. Then I multiplied the revised press run (50 copies) by the the revised page count (382 pages) and came up with almost the same number of pages (19,100 total book pages printed).

This was a bit of a happy accident, because it showed that even though the book was much longer, the total amount of digital press work needed would be about the same. Almost exactly, actually.

Then I compared the initial price ($462.00) to the revised price ($727.00), and determined that the first estimate for 75 copies would cost $.024 per page while the revised price based on the lower press run and higher page count would be $.038 per page.

At this point I asked the sales rep to have his estimating department explain the discrepancy (to his credit, the sales rep had initially called me and offered to do this). We agreed that we wanted to know whether the pricing was accurate (or a mistake). And, if it was accurate, why was it so much more than the initial bid? All of this would occur before I went back to my client with the revised pricing.

Possible Answers

Here are some possible reasons that the increased cost per page might not be either an accident or an unreasonable charge:

  1. Due to the short press run, these three books will be printed digitally, as opposed to by offset lithography. This is true even though the text block of the example discussed above (one of three books) is almost 400 pages. In spite of this book length, the press run is only 50 copies for initial reader review.
  2. Offset commercial printing requires a huge amount of make-ready: that is, preparatory work to get the printing, binding, and any other operations in print book manufacturing ready. For each process, the make-ready precedes the actual run. It contributes to the overall cost, but since offset printing runs are usually very long (perhaps 5,000 or 10,000 copies or more rather than 50 copies), this larger amount of money attributable to make-ready can be spread across the 5,000; 10,000; or even 100,000 copies of the press run. In fact, the longer the run, the less each copy costs, and the less impact the make-ready charges have on the cost of each print book.
  3. In contrast to offset printing, digital printing has relatively little make-ready. But it still has some. The prepress operators and pressmen still have to set up each individual step in the process: everything from producing the digital proofs (if they are printed on an inkjet or laser device) to printing the actual run of pages to all binding, trimming, and packing operations.
  4. This make-ready expense is increased if multiple finishing operations are necessary (anything that follows putting ink or toner on paper). In addition, there is the spoilage that occurs during these extra steps. For instance, after the pages have been printed, the books need to be perfect bound. And to complete all manufacturing processes with a total run of exactly 50 books, more text blocks and covers must be produced to allow for spoilage (in this case, books damaged during the perfect binding process). The same potential for spoilage exists during all printing and finishing operations, and addressing this inevitability (by initially starting with enough copies to accommodate the loss) drives up the overall print book manufacturing cost.
  5. In my client’s case, the page count for each of the three print book titles went up, but the press runs dropped from 75 copies to 50 copies. What this means is that the cost of make-ready (time spent setting up all pre-press, press, and post press operations) and spoilage (books damaged during production) is above and beyond the cost of the actual 50-copy press run (referred to as “make-ready” vs. “press run” on some estimates).
  6. In my client’s case, this cost of preparation or make-ready will now be spread over 50 books, whereas this cost initially (on the first book production estimate) was to be spread over 75 books. When you compare this process to a 10,000 copy press run (or more) of an offset printed book, you can see that a much greater portion of the make-ready cost gets allocated to the unit cost of each of the 50 copies (produced digitally) vs. each of the 5,000; 10,000; or 100,000 offset-printed copies.
  7. This is a hypothesis (albeit a legitimate, potential reason for the increased cost). Plus, the books will be significantly longer than initially expected.
  8. That said, the only way to know for sure is to have all three revised estimates re-checked, which is what the print sales rep has offered to do.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. The initial human response to something like this is disbelief and possibly anger. But that’s not productive, so if this happens to you, just ask for a check of all specs and pricing and an explanation of the increased unit cost. After all, your printer is a business partner, not an adversary.
  2. The more additional operations you must do (prepare files in prepress; print the job; fold, trim, and bind the job; etc.), the more money will go into make-ready. If you need die cutting as well, or foil stamping, this make-ready portion of the job will increase even more.
  3. The more steps in the process, the more spoilage will occur (and the more copies will be needed to compensate for this spoilage). Some processes, like perfect binding, may also cause more spoilage than others.
  4. When in doubt, ask your printer to break down your cost by “make-ready” and “cost per run.”
  5. Without printing more copies than you actually need, requesting a higher (vs. lower) print run will reduce the cost per unit of the make-ready portion of the total expense.

Posted in Book Printing, Digital Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Prices for Short Runs of Long Books

Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

April 22nd, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

A print brokering client came to me recently with a book project. She wants to print 300 or 500 initial copies of her 432-page, 6” X 9”, perfect bound book (potentially with our without such high production values as French flaps and deckle edges on the text pages). She plans to follow this initial press run with a print on demand contract through one of the online POD (print on demand) vendors.

The Paper Specifications for My Client’s Print Book

My client specifically requested 100# gloss text for the interior of the book. I suggested a 12pt cover (rather than a thinner option of 10pt). I noted that with or without the French flaps (an extended cover folded in on the back and front of the book, making the perfect-bound book appear to have a dust cover), the overall feel of the cover paper would be more substantial at 12pt. I said this heavier cover stock would be consistent with the heft of the text block (at 432 pages, as noted above).

So I sent the specifications to six book printers.

The vendors that offered digital printing all limited the paper choices, and some sent me an email restricting these paper choices to just an uncoated 80# cover stock and 50# or 60# uncoated text stock. Based on my knowledge of commercial printing, I believe the printers did so to keep prices down (fewer paper choices allow print suppliers to buy only a few kinds of paper in bulk, at a lower rate, while avoiding specialty stocks that would require costly minimum purchases).

In addition, based on notations on one of the estimates from one book printer (a reference to inkjet compatibility), it seems that paper choices are limited in some cases to ensure that the printer’s digital printing technology will be effective on the specific paper chosen for the job.

So, to summarize, paper limitations seem to reflect two things: the economy of scale in paper purchasing and the desire to choose paper that readily accepts either toner or inkjet inks.

In spite of these paper limitations, two of the printers agreed to bid the text of the job on coated paper: an 80# gloss text, closer to what my client had specified. This drove up the overall price by just under $1,000.00, even for the short press run (300 or 500 copies). Granted, the text was long at 432 pages, so the paper usage was substantial, but still nowhere near as high as for a 1,000-copy run one printer required to move the book from digital technology to offset printing.

One of the vendors who was willing to include an option for 80# coated text came in with exceptionally attractive pricing. So I asked him if he would produce the text blocks digitally, and then print covers with French flaps on an offset press, and marry the digital texts to the offset covers. He said he could not do this because the two printing plants (one digital, one offset, owned by the same printer) were nowhere near each other geographically.

So, in this case I learned that limits on hybrid book printing (marrying offset and digital printing technology), at least in the case of larger book printers, may be based solely on logistics. Since it’s cheaper to separate a large digital press installation from a large offset installation, marrying the output from each may be impossible (or at least financially imprudent).

To complicate matters, once the printers were already in the process of bidding on the print book, my client offered a description of the text. All text ink would be black, but, in addition, there would only be a handful of photos.

This last specification got me thinking. Why had my client specifically requested 100# coated text for the interior of the book? What was the purpose? So I asked. She thought it made for a classier looking book.

In response, I explained the reasons for selecting coated text paper. I said coated stock was ideal for a 4-color text, because the ink would sit on the surface coating of the press sheet rather than seeping into the paper fibers. Especially for 4-color images in the text, this would be essential. Gloss text is good for making photos “pop” (i.e., to appear as crisp as possible), while dull coated text would be better for printed words and other line art. A dull coating is kinder on the eyes than a gloss coating, minimizing reader eye fatigue.

The long and short of it was that my client agreed to a 60# white opaque text sheet. This will bring down the cost somewhat, and it will be thick enough (when compared to 50# white opaque paper) to minimize show-through of the photos. (This is the unwanted ability to see the photos on one side of a page through the back side of the same page.)

The one thing I should probably add at this point is that I did not immediately contact all of the printers and request adjusted estimates. Instead, I will compare all bids on 80# coated text. Then I will choose a few of the estimates I like (maybe two) and request updated estimates on 60# white opaque text paper. The initial bids on 80# coated text will provide a relative price comparison of all of the vendors. Then, by shifting one or two vendors’ bids to 60#, I can bring the price down a little. Any other approach would create chaos in the printers’ estimating departments.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

This project is still in flux, but here are a few rules of thumb you can use in your own print buying or design work as you narrow down the specifications for a book project:

  1. Consider an uncoated text sheet for a book that is text-heavy. You will save money, and your readers will probably be equally happy. I personally consider coated text sheets to be more appropriate for full color book interiors or photo-heavy texts.
  2. If your print book has a 4-color interior, or a lot of large photos, consider a coated stock. Ink has better “hold out” on coated paper. That is, the ink sits up on the surface coating rather than seeping into the uncoated paper fibers of an uncoated stock (which dulls down the look of the images). If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.
  3. Consider the weight and opacity of a commercial printing paper. A 60# white opaque press sheet is less transparent (less chance of show-through with photos) than a 50# white opaque sheet, and opaque paper in general is less transparent than offset text paper.
  4. Don’t assume an uncoated paper will always be cheaper than a coated one. I have found some premium uncoated papers that are more expensive than lower quality coated sheets. Be safe. Ask your printer.
  5. Start at 10pt (thickness) for a cover stock. For a weightier paper, choose 12pt. These are usually specified as C1S and C2S. The former means there is coating on one side, while the latter means there is coating on two sides. If you’re only printing on the outside covers, consider a C1S sheet. But if you’re printing on the inside covers, too, make sure you specify a C2S sheet. Otherwise the ink will look different on the inside and outside covers (because ink sits on top of the surface of a coated press sheet but seeps into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet).
  6. Some printers will specify cover stocks in pounds rather than points (80# cover rather than 10pt, for instance). I’d encourage you to stick to 80# and 100# cover stock, but, to be safe, ask for samples. You can even request a paper dummy, which is a bound, blank paper book created at your chosen page count with the text stock and cover stock of your choice. (Your printer can have the paper merchant make one for free.) It helps to get a sense of exactly what the book will feel like in your reader’s hands.
  7. Make all of your decisions based on what you see and feel with your hands (printed samples or paper dummies), because it’s all too easy to make a mistake if you only look at the specifications (paper weight, finish, opacity, coating, caliper or thickness, surface formation, brightness, whiteness, etc.). These specs are useful, but they ignore the fact that reading a print book is a physical, tactile experience.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Paper for a Client’s Digital Print Book

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