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

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Book Printing: Paper Prices Can Be a Killer–What to Do

April 15th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

A book printing client of mine is producing 300 copies of a long print book. At the moment it is 428 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect bound with a 12pt cover and 60# white offset text paper.

Initially my client had asked for 100# gloss coated text stock, so I had the book printer price this paper. However, when I saw that the book was text-heavy with no screens or solids and only ten halftones, I made a suggestion to my client.

Choosing Paper

I said that gloss text stock is better for photo-heavy books. The coating reflects a lot of light directly back into the viewer’s eyes, and even though this makes photos seem crisper and more dramatic, it does tire the eyes. In contrast, a matte or dull coated stock diffuses the light it reflects (sends it back to the reader’s eyes in a more random way).

Photos on dull or matte stock are less dramatic, but the paper coating is easier one the eyes. I noted that the subject of the book (by this time I had seen the text and the cover) was medical in nature and seemed to be directed toward middle aged or older readers. And the eyes of such people (including my own eyes) are less flexible and more prone to tiring. (Remember, once you tire your reader’s eyes, they’re no longer reading your book.)

Moreover, since I noticed that the content of the book was scholarly (i.e., more traditional in content), and since there were only ten photos, I said the book might be fine on an uncoated paper stock. Having champagne tastes, I suggested 60# Finch Opaque. I did this for the following reasons:

  1. 50# stock would be too thin and would make it likely that the reader would see the photos on the back of a page while reading the front of the page. This is called “show-through,” and it can be distracting. Thin paper is less opaque; thicker paper is more opaque. I thought 60# (the standard) would be best since 70# uncoated text stock would make the 428-page book thicker than necessary.
  2. I chose opaque paper to minimize show-through with the photos, just in case.
  3. I chose Finch (followed by Husky, Lynx, and Cougar) because I liked the bright blue-whiteness of these papers. In contrast to lower-quality, dingy-white sheets, the best blue-white sheets (to me) seem more dramatic. They tend to enliven the look of the print book page.
  4. I told my client that the alternative might be a 70# matte coated sheet but that this might have more chance of show-through than the uncoated text stock. The matte coated paper also would make the book look more like a magazine and less like a scholarly textbook (in my own opinion).
  5. In addition, I said the Finch Opaque might cost a little more than the gloss coated or matte coated paper stock. I told my client that sometimes a premium uncoated paper will cost more than a lower-quality coated stock.

Oops: A Dramatic Cost Difference

Boy was I surprised. The revised pricing came back $500.00 more than the initial $2,200.00 bid for 300 print books. Ouch. I told my client, and she was not happy either. Here’s what I learned from the printer:

  1. Even though I thought the price might go up a bit, I had actually chosen a superior paper, which even for 300 books would still incur a surcharge since it was a special order item.
  2. Premium sheets (known as #1 press sheets) are brighter than #2, #3, or #4 stock, and this drives up the price. Presumably, the initial bid from this printer on 100# gloss text stock included a lower quality (i.e., lower brightness) of paper.
  3. An opaque sheet can be pricier than just an offset paper because it has been treated to make it more opaque (less transparent). This is good for minimizing visibility of anything printed on the back of a page when you’re reading the front of the page. However, it costs more.
  4. Specifying a paper by name tends to cost more. If I had asked for a 60# white offset “house” sheet (or even a house opaque sheet), the price increase might not have been so dramatic. A “house sheet” is something a printer buys a lot of, so it tends to cost less (i.e., the pricing reflects the economy of scale).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Fortunately, by having the book printer compute a cost for 60# white offset (generic house brand) I brought the price of the overall job back down to the initial $2,200.00 for 300 copies. So the client was happy.

Here are some thoughts I had as I recovered from this pricing shock.

  1. In your own work, specify paper qualities rather than brands, or at least tell the printer you would be open to paper substitutions to keep the price down.
  2. If there are photos, screens, solid ink coverage, or anything else that might be visible through the paper when you’re reading the other side of a page, ask about the opacity of the paper.
  3. Ask about the brightness and whiteness of a particular paper. Brightness is the amount of light it reflects; whiteness is the purity of the light it reflects. That is, you can have a blue-white or yellow-white paper. The blue-white is often called by such names as “bright white” or “solar white.” Yellow-white is often called “cream” or “natural.” Yellow-white paper can make people in photos look jaundiced when compared to the same images on a blue-white stock.
  4. Brightness is expressed in such terms as “premium” or “number 1 sheet,” in contrast to a #2, #3, or #4 groundwood sheet.
  5. That said, choose paper that’s appropriate for the job. A #4 sheet isn’t a bad paper stock. It’s just appropriate for a certain kind of catalog or magazine but not for high-end marketing materials.
  6. Ask about a “house sheet.” If your printer buys a truckload (or a train car load) of a particular paper, and if it’s appropriate for your particular job, why not share in his discount. It will save you money you can later use for a nice premium sheet for your annual report.
  7. Depend on your printer’s experience and knowledge base. Ask lots of questions.
  8. Always request samples. In fact, it helps to see not only blank samples of the paper you’ll be using but also printed samples. This will let you see how photos, text, area screens, and solid blocks of color will look.
  9. Once you have the printed samples, look at them under sunlight, incandescent light, CFL, LED, and/or fluorescent light (or as many of the above as possible). Each kind of light has a different “temperature.” (This is the technical term for its color, as expressed in degrees Kelvin. For instance, 5000 degrees Kelvin is daylight.) And each kind of light will make the color of the paper, and the text and images printed on the paper, look slightly different. (This is because many printing inks are transparent, and therefore the ink color is affected by the paper on which it is printed.) It’s best to know this before you commit to buying paper and printing the job.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Initial Thoughts on POD Book Printing

April 8th, 2019

Posted in Printing On Demand | Comments »

I’ve always been somewhat wary of on-demand online book printing because I’m a commercial printing broker. I work with brick-and-mortar custom printing suppliers, and on-demand printers are my competition. (That’s my disclosure for the sake of fairness.) That said, a client of mine came to me this week wanting to find an online vendor that could produce copies of her new 432-page perfect-bound print book as orders came in. But first, she wanted to have me find a brick-and-mortar printer to produce 300 or 500 initial copies of her 6” x 9” print book.

My Client’s Enhanced Book Specs

In my research on printing on demand (POD) in the past, I had found that a number of digital vendors offered limited options for paper weight and coatings. Some even limited the trim size of the books (their length and width) to a handful of standard formats.

These limits did not surprise me. My thought was that the online vendors had limited the number of choices to keep prices down. For instance, if a printer offers only 50# and 60# offset text for the body of a book and 80# cover stock for the perfect-bound cover, he can ostensibly buy these in bulk and keep the cost to the customer low. After all, small quantities of specialty papers cost more. In some cases, printers even must buy a relatively large minimum order of a non-standard paper stock. If a customer doesn’t use all of the paper, either he/she must pay for the unused portion or the printer must do so. So the limits make sense.

In the case of my customer, however, the client wanted the same high production values that my other, brick-and-mortar-printing customers request. (For instance, one of my clients is a husband and wife publishing team. This couple always requests French flaps, luxury matte film laminate, deckle edges on the face trim of the text, and a press score on the print books their small publishing house sells. My current customer wanted the same high production values.)

What I Learned from the Book Printers I Work With

When I approached three book printers I have worked with for the past 30 years, this is what I learned:

  1. Even with the long, 432-page book length, one book printer would have to price the book digitally (not offset) for both 300 and 500 copies. This printer reminded me that their minimum offset printing order is 1,000 copies (no fewer). They could produce the books via digital technology, but, if they took the job, the French flaps and deckle edge would not be available, and the choices for text and cover paper stock would be limited (the basis weight and surface coating).
  2. In addition, unlike the online, on-demand print shops, this brick-and-mortar printer could not do the storage and fulfillment. My client would need to take delivery of the 300 or 500 print books and send them out to clients herself. Then, once the initial press run had been exhausted, she would need to take the new customer orders herself and purchase new short digital press runs as her new clients ordered books. So, basically, this book printer could not match the online, on-demand printing model.
  3. Another book printer could produce the books as I wanted (French flaps and such), but they could not store and fulfill the book orders because my client only had one title (i.e., one master book of which copies could be reprinted and sold). That is, she was too small a client.
  4. Still another book printer made what I thought was an excellent suggestion. Her partner could have his print shop produce the initial print run in the following way. The text of the 300 or 500 books could be produced digitally, since the press run was comparatively short. He could then produce the covers with the French flaps as an offset print job. Then he could marry the offset printed covers and digitally printed text blocks. This would yield a 300- or 500-copy initial press run. It would have all the upper-level production values, and then when the book went on to be a Print on Demand (POD) title, the covers could be produced without French flaps and luxury matte laminate, and the text blocks could be produced digitally on 50# text stock. In other words, the books would be produced in a two-tier manner: one with more bells and whistles, one with fewer bells and whistles.
  5. This same printer had also developed a lasting business relationship with an online, on-demand print vendor. My client and I were both pleased, since this particular printer understood better than either of us the nuances of digital, on-demand printing and could therefore effectively coordinate the whole on-demand printing process.

Thoughts and Questions This Printer Posed to Us

This printer, whom I knew and trusted, included the following items in her list of questions (her items, mine, and my client’s):

  1. Editing/proofreading
  2. Design (cover and text)
  3. Printing
  4. Storage
  5. Fulfillment
  6. Marketing

These are discrete steps along the way. Either the client can do them or the on-demand printer can do them. All of this must be negotiated. Moreover, what the on-demand printer charges (and how much of the cover sale price goes back to the client) is affected by which of these processes are done and by whom.

The printer I spoke with also said that, for on-demand printing, the books could be paperback or hard cover with a printed cover or dust jacket and with very limited text paper options. This is why this printer liked the two-tier approach (one 300- or 500-copy premium press run and then the lower-production-value print-on-demand run).

Based on my client’s further questions, this particular printer addressed such issues as marketing/advertising/promotion, minimum orders, percentage of sales returned to the author (and on what schedule), and extent of reach the on-demand printer can offer (such as global reach, access to so many retail outlets, and so forth).

A Very Specialized Niche

So this is a very specialized niche, albeit a growing one. I found a number of such companies listed online, included IngramSpark (which apparently is related to LightningSource), Zazzle, and Amazon’s CreateSpace. I know very little about any of these, but I would encourage you—if you are thinking of producing an online, on-demand print book, to research all of them.

Also, and most importantly, ask for printed samples. Make sure you will like the final printed product. Look at the photos. Are they crisp, clear, with good detail in the highlights and shadows? Also check the evenness of solid areas of color printing. (If your book is primarily black text on a page rather than 4-color process, you should be fine. However, if your job is more complex and printed in color on coated paper, it is especially important to see samples produced on the same paper that will be used for your book.)

Discuss with the on-demand printer what parts of the process you will handle and what parts of the process the book printer will handle. How will this affect the percentage of the list price that you get to keep?

And above all else, make sure you retain the rights to the book. If you decide to print elsewhere (a future press run, perhaps), do you have the final say and ultimate control? Or have you compromised your publishing rights in any way?

This list of options, processes, and questions is only a starting point. Research on-demand printing yourself online, and try to find other publishers who have self published through online, on-demand printers. They may have suggestions you will find valuable.

Posted in Printing On Demand | Comments »

Custom Printing: Future Directions for Digital Printing

April 2nd, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I read an interesting article today, sort of a State of the Union address but for digital printing rather than politics.

The article was entitled “10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019.” Written by Barbara A. Pellow, this article was printed online on 02/15/19 on www.piworld.com under the heading “Digital Success.”

“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019” comprises a number of assessments by three luminaries in the printing world: Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies at Green Harbor Publications, Jim Hamilton, publisher at Green Harbor Publications, and the author of the article, Barbara Pellow. The venue for this discussion was a Printing Impressions webinar.

(First of all, I have been reading Printing Impressions since I was an art director back in the early 1990s. I consider it a major source of commercial printing industry information. Much of what I now know about custom printing I learned from reading this magazine.)

So when I found this article and saw that it addressed future trends for digital commercial printing, I was excited.

What I Learned

Here are the ten considerations put forth by “10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019” and some of my thoughts in response:

    From Marco Boer

  1. “Skill Acquisition.” This implies the opposite of a tight labor market. Printing professionals are older than the average worker. That is, in all industries, according to Boer, the average age is 42, but in commercial printing the average age is 48. This means these printing professionals are approaching retirement age, when they will leave the workforce. Since commercial printing (whether digital, offset, flexographic, or any other technology) is highly technical, and since successful workers must have a deep understanding of a number of disciplines, it is essential that print service providers seek out individuals with a broad knowledge base. If they don’t, they will be caught short. From the point of view of the workers, this bodes well for job availability. Presumably, jobs are out there for knowledgeable, productive workers. And, yet, Boer also mentions automation. However, given the broad knowledge requirements in the field, I think well-trained individuals will still be in high demand.
  2. “Customer Demands Are Shifting.” Boer notes that it’s not enough to offer the lowest price and highest quality in digital printing. Print service providers who want to thrive must “provide customers with high value add with ultra-efficiency” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). As I interpret this statement, providers need to help clients achieve their business goals (strategic and financial) in addition to just putting ink on paper. (This might involve helping clients coordinate marketing collateral with an online presence as well as printed signage for a convention, in order to help the client present a unified brand image across multiple chanels.)
  3. “Look at Page Growth Opportunities.” Boer notes that “Digital print versus conventional print still represents a very small percentage of the overall market. While there has been some traction with digital print in transactional print, direct mail, marketing collateral, books, and specialty wide-format graphics, the movement to customization and micro-runs will drive even greater activity in catalogs, magazines, and all forms of packaging” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). To me, it’s very encouraging that digital printing of both periodicals and packaging has room to grow. This bodes well for print service providers and workers, and it implies that magazines and catalogs are not dead.
  4. From Jim Hamilton

  5. “Wide-Format.” Hamilton encourages print service providers to tie large format graphics, such as trade show graphics, into jobs they’re already printing for clients, such as brochures. Helping tie multiple printing products together in a unified campaign is a “value add,” to quote Boer (from #2 above). Hamilton notes that due to the “faster speeds, affordability, and convenience” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”) of the technology, the time is ripe.
  6. “Digital Packaging.” Hamilton notes that “digital printing is the next frontier for packaging production, and brands and package printers/converters are capitalizing on its efficiency, speed-to-market, and customization/personalization advantages” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). What this means is that brands can produce much smaller press runs (no need for the huge carton-printing press runs required to offset print and then laminate liners to corrugated fluting). Smaller press runs can accommodate product runs for small artisan breweries, for instance. They also allow for direct communication with customers, since the digital packaging can be targeted to smaller groups or even individuals. Digital packaging eliminates the need for generic promotion that might be irrelevant (or irritating) to the customer.
  7. “Enhancing Print.” Hamilton addresses finishing in this point of consideration. Print service providers can add value to digital printing (monochrome and color) by including such services as “cutting/trimming, stapling/stitching, folding, binding, foil stamping, diecutting, embossing, laminating, spot and flood gloss” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). In addition, Hamilton suggests widening the color gamut from traditional 4-color process ink by adding additional colors and focusing more on short print runs and personalization.
  8. From Barbara Pellow

  9. Pellow reiterates the importance of focusing marketing materials on individuals and not on a generic market, particularly since digital printing makes this cost effective. Moreover, she sees the importance of print service providers’ helping clients tie together a number of marketing channels to make sure the message is consistent, understandable, and relevant to potential customers.
  10. “All Channels On.” Pellow thinks print service providers should “support customers in moving seamlessly across all channels” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”). In this particular instance, Pellow, I think, is articulating the need to not only bring together print and digital communication, but also to do this in an aesthetically striking and persuasive manner. Repetition reinforces a buying decision. If a customer sees a brand message in a print brochure, and then in an online email advertisement (and if the information is relevant to her/him), there is a greater chance that she/he will respond to the brand message. Helping tie the brand messages together across multiple channels is a useful service printers can offer.
  11. “Print Drives Digital.” Pellow makes it clear that print is not going away. Print and digital enhance one another in promoting sales growth. They are not enemies. In fact, print products are very effective in driving customers to digital media to further the conversation with a brand. Therefore, Pellow notes that providers should “understand how to integrate print with Augmented Reality, QR codes, NFC tags, and social and mobile channels” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”).
  12. Finally, all three speakers in the webinar agree that improving the quality and efficiency of operations should be an essential, full-time goal of all print service providers. This includes “understanding your cost base [and] getting the workflow right” (“10 Important Considerations Print Service Providers Should Think About in 2019”).

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. This article is very heartening. It means there are jobs out there for knowledgeable and skilled designers, printers, and pre-press personnel, as well as print sales professionals. The field is growing.
  2. Always focus on improving your skills and knowledge base. This will keep you relevant.
  3. Help clients tie together multiple sales channels in ways that target the end customer directly, providing useful (not generic) information.
  4. Focus not on putting ink on paper but on helping clients with their overall marketing, production, and sales goals.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: The Rise of Production Inkjet

March 25th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Rise of Production Inkjet

About a month ago I wrote a blog posting about production inkjet, but I just read an article today that makes the case even more powerfully for this rising technology. Production inkjet is an unstoppable force. It seems to be the wave of the future not only for digital printing but for printing in general.

The article I found is called “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.” It was written by Marco Boer. I found it on 03/19/19 on www.piworld.com.

(I had also mentioned in an earlier blog posting that PI World–which I used to read religiously when it was Printing Impressions–has been my go-to trade publication on printing since the early ’90s.)

The Gist of the Article

Boer makes a lot of salient points, which I will share with you, and then he explains exactly why production inkjet digital custom printing (as opposed to toner-based digital printing, which includes huge high-end laser printing equipment such as the HP Indigo) is best suited to both short and long run (both static and variable) printing, in an environment where commercial printing in general has been a declining industry.

(Least you think that printing is a boat with a hole in it gradually sinking, the article also explains why printing will continue to be a viable force for print books, direct mail, and transactional printing, in spite of the overall reduction in custom printing volume in the United States.)

So here are some of Boer’s points of interest:

  1. Printing as an overall industry is declining. “The US Postal Service shows average declines in transaction mail pieces…of about 5-6% between 2015 and 2017” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  2. Direct mail printing is declining, albeit more slowly than transactional printing. Boer notes that “…direct marketing mail pieces declined about 1.4% from 2017 to 2018” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  3. Paper and postage prices are rising, which has forced printers to reduce manufacturing expenses to continue to make a profit.
  4. The labor pool for printing is decreasing. The average age range of offset printers is 48 to the mid to high 50s, and when they retire there may very well not be skilled pressmen to replace these workers. To quote Boer regarding the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings, “…the third-largest job losses across any industry in the United States will be in the printing industry during the next 10 years” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  5. At the same time, customers want shorter turn-around times and smaller press runs. Trying to fulfill these needs on offset presses dramatically drives up prices (due to the increased need for labor to complete the multiple offset printing make-readies needed for more frequent versions of print jobs that are also smaller jobs with shorter press runs).

None of this bodes well for commercial printing. However….

Enter Digital Printing

Digital printing offers some unique characteristics that make it ideal in such a market:

  1. There’s far less make-ready. While setting up the various processes for a digital print job does take time, there’s nothing like the make-readies, wash-ups, or spoilage that you find in traditional offset commercial printing.
  2. Short press runs are no problem. You can even print one copy.
  3. Since paper and postage costs are rising, it is becoming increasingly important to precisely target marketing messages. Return on investment is becoming more important than cost per copy, according to Boer’s article. That is, if the variable-data capability of digital printing can allow marketers to direct each message to individual potential customers, marketers get a better return on the money they spend. More specifically, they can be more successful in acquiring customers, and they can pay less to convert each prospect into an actual customer. Digital printing is ideal for this.

In my own print brokering work, my clients’ needs have led me to printers with digital toner presses such as the Kodak NexPress and the HP Indigo (as opposed to inkjet presses). However, in reading Boer’s article I’m beginning to see that production inkjet presses, built on the heavy iron frames similar to past generations of offset presses, will most likely be the future of commercial printing. Here are some thoughts as to why production inkjet is set to surpass all other options, based on Boer’s “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.”

  1. You can print longer, multi-page documents like print books efficiently, even with mid-range press runs (let’s say 2,000 copies of a book). Toner-based digital presses cannot do this as efficiently or cost-effectively (i.e., presumably a mid-run book job produced on an HP Indigo would cost more than the same product produced on inkjet equipment).
  2. The color fidelity, resolution, and overall quality is there. It used to be that no printed output was as good as offset. Now, with extended color sets (and in some cases just the traditional process inks) you can print spectacular inkjet output.
  3. Better ink chemistry and paper coatings allow production inkjet to accept more paper substrates. Back when I started reading about digital inkjet printing, I was not (personally) satisfied with the color or the range of tones in printed pieces. It seemed to me that the amount of liquid in the inkjet ink back then just made the printed images muddy. I could see the difference. Offset was better. Now this is rapidly changing, as Boer’s article notes.

Where Are We Now?

To quote from “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption,” “…about one-third of the growth of inkjet pages can be attributed to a transfer from digital toner to inkjet technology. Another one-third can be attributed to replacement of offset pages (mainly in books), and one-third can be attributed to the creation of new pages—pages that couldn’t be printed before because offset wasn’t able to vary the information on the page and toner was not productive enough to print sufficient pages with variable data” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).

I think this says it all. People haven’t stopped reading print books. In fact, “printed book pages have increased for the past three consecutive years,” according to “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.” People also haven’t abandoned direct mail marketing. Marketers are finding that a multi-channel approach (mixing print and online marketing) is far more effective than just online marketing.

But things have to change, and based on the quality of the color, the durability of the equipment, and the efficiencies not available in offfset printing (and also not even available in toner-based digital printing), production inkjet is at the sweet spot of the commercial printing industry. Granted the number of “overall pages printed” has been lower than in the past, but for those printers who commit to production inkjet technology, the future seems very bright.

What We Can Learn

  1. Don’t give up. Printing isn’t going away. Your skills are needed.
  2. The better you understand all kinds of printing (offset, digital, large format, gravure, flexography), the more relevant your skills will be.
  3. If you can help clients increase their return on investment (that is, if you can help clients make money), you’re golden. This means not only understanding the varieties of commercial printing technology and their uses but also understanding consumer psychology, motivation, and behavior. It also means understanding how to coordinate both online advertising and print-based advertising to attract new customers.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Rise of Production Inkjet

Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

March 18th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

I spent three hours in the Maryland Department of Transportation today (mostly waiting) to renew my driver’s license. As a student of commercial printing with time on my hands, I took the opportunity to read the driver’s license replacement brochure to see what I was getting.

Needless to say, when I compared the new design to the one I had had for the past seven years, I was struck by the complexity of the custom printing. The brochure I was reading launched my education into new digital printing methods for drivers’ licenses.

Qualities/Attributes of the Card

First of all, it was clear to me that this could have been any type of card, including a credit card or medical card. The specific custom printing techniques and the substrate of the card itself could ostensibly be useful for all card printing.

Moreover, a few more things were immediately evident.

The card is rigid and durable. I know because I’ve had my current driver’s license for seven years, and everything is still readable. It’s scratched up a bit, but it has lasted. The brochure describes the card as having a “polycarbonate card body” that is “more durable, secure, and tamper resistant” (“Maryland Protected and Proud” brochure).

There was a lot of information encoded in my prior driver’s license, as evidenced by a single two-dimensional code. On both my prior license and the new one there is an “identity barcode” composed not of vertical lines (as with a UPC code or a US Postal barcode) but a pattern of tiny squares (not unlike pixels on a computer screen). These tiny squares link up to create patterns within a rectangle approximately 2” wide by 3/4” high.

This pattern, which I Googled online and found to be a PDF-417 (I believe), reminded me of a QR Code (quick response code).

The key here is that such a code can contain a wealth of information about the individual driver. Presumably this can be used as a repository for information the Maryland Department of Transportation needs for its operations but also as a means for confirming the identity of the card holder.

Based on my understanding of the process, such a code is digitally generated from digital data. And in addition to the identity code, the new drivers’ licenses described in the brochure have an “inventory control number” and accompanying barcode (vertical lines, in contrast to the 2D identity barcode). Again, I assume this is digitally generated, in this case just from the unique control number.

When I compare this card (I actually just found my fiancee’s driver’s license as well, and this matches the brochure image in every detail) to a credit card, it seems to have much more detailed image content. Plus, it has no chip (at least no chip recognizable by the universally accepted “chip logo”).

At the top right of my fiancee’s driver’s license is a small image of my fiancee. When I tilt the card vertically (back and forth), the image changes to her birthdate. So, this means the Maryland Department of Transportation has printed a “lenticular image” (composed of incredibly small plastic lenses that present two images when tilted).

From what I see (and since I know that utilitarian goals trump aesthetics in such a card), the purpose of the lenticular image is to make counterfeiting the driver’s license that much more difficult–as a deterrent to identity theft.

If you run your fingers over my fiancee’s driver’s license, you will notice that some of the lettering is raised. The brochure describes this as “tactile text” or “laser engraving on the card … [that] raises the print making it difficult to tamper or modify” (“Maryland Protected and Proud” brochure).

On the back of the card is a miniature 4-color image of my fiancee (noted in the MDOT brochure as “another barrier against fraud”). There is also a partial 4-color image of what looks like a statehouse (apparently the Annapolis, Maryland, statehouse). The center of the building is in color (a yellow) and the left and right sides of the statehouse are black ink only. There is a gradual shift (like a vignette) from the black to the yellow and back to the black. The brochure refers to this as “rainbow printing.” My assumption is that it is also an anti-counterfeiting measure.

Over the front of my fiancee’s driver’s license seems to be a textured coating. The front of the card is a little glossier than the back, and there is the word “Maryland” and equal-armed crosses from the Maryland flag produced with texture but otherwise invisible (as a laminate or other coating might be).

Goals of These Various Attributes of the Driver’s License

Identity Protection

In its own way, this driver’s license reminds me of some of the new larger-dollar-denomination bills in the US currency, with their holograms, metallic strips, and contrasting-color threads. In both cases, it seems that the goal is to deter fraud. Since there are an increasing number of brilliant but immoral people stealing identities, the state governments need to work harder and harder each year to develop commercial printing techniques to thwart such theft. A close observation of the driver’s license reveals many of these.

Durability

Between the coating on the front of my fiancee’s driver’s license and the thickness and overall strength of the polycarbonate card substrate, it is clear that durability is of paramount importance. The card must be readable in the seventh year of its existence as well as the first. None of the custom printing can be allowed to degrade as the license rubs against other cards in one’s wallet.

Infinitely Variable Data Storage

Unlike most other cards (with the possible exception of a credit card), the driver’s license must contain a wealth of information on only one person. This makes it an ideal candidate for digital commercial printing. No analog process could produce such infinite variability for any reasonable price.

So How Is It Done?

I went online to research the process for printing a driver’s license. I also looked closely at my fiancee’s license with a 12-power printer’s loupe. And I reread the MDOT brochure.

Through a loupe the image appears to contain the minuscule spots of inkjet printing, particularly visible in the color builds of the typescript. The dot pattern in the halftones is not the regular line upon line of halftone dots I see in laser printing. These dots are random, like those of FM screening or stochastic printing. So my educated guess at this point would be that some kind of inkjet printing process was used.

The brochure also mentions laser engraving (as opposed to laser printing) for some of the typescript. So I’m assuming some kind of burning process with a laser was used during printing.

For protection, there seems to be some kind of gloss coating over the polycarbonate card substrate. Given the images I found online of the driver’s license printers, my educated guess would be that they incorporate some sort of heated lamination process following the application of liquid ink (unless it really is a toner-based process, which I doubt).

Since dye sublimation would be the third digital custom printing option, I looked for any indication of changes in color tones not achieved with different sized halftone dots. This is because to the best of my understanding you can actually create different shades of a color with continuous tones using dye sublimation technology. Therefore, I’d assume that this printing process is either inkjet–perhaps UV inkjet (first guess)–or laser printing (second guess).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

I personally think that card printing not only is a lucrative field currently but that it will only continue to grow. After all, companies and governments have both the desire and the technology required to parse vast amounts of data and to encode it on cards used to identify the holder. This may be for medical reasons (medical cards). It may be for carrying or transferring money (credit and debit cards). Or it may be for identification purposes (drivers’ licenses).

Until all of this information can be biometrically held (fingerprint or retina scan) or held on chips inserted into people (as they are now inserted into rescue animals at the pound), designers and printers will have an increasingly lucrative market in printed plastic cards.

Moreover, this will be a recurring purchase. As the technology improves, people will need new cards. New digital tricks will be invented to foil identity thieves, and this will require replacement cards made with all manner of 2D and 3D commercial printing techniques.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

March 11th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

Digital custom printing is stepping up into the big time. No longer are plastic photocopy machines on steroids the norm for new generation digital presses.

About a week ago a printing rep I work with told me his plant had a Fujifilm J Press. I didn’t know what that was, but it intrigued me, so I did some research online. I have a lot of confidence in this particular sales rep’s commitment to quality, and after reading some of the sales literature for the Fujifilm J Press, I understood the sales rep’s confidence.

The Technology

Here are some of the things I learned from the Fujifilm sales literature and the ramifications for digital commercial printing.

To begin with, the J Press is a production inkjet press. That is, unlike the HP Indigo, which has been my digital press of choice, and which is based on an electrophotographic process (i.e., it’s a laser printer), the J Press uses inkjet print heads and pigment-based ink to spray images on paper. It is meant for both competitively-priced short and long press runs.

The Build Quality of the J Press

First of all, the photos indicate that the J Press 720S is not a photocopier. It “features an offset paper handling system—and is based on an incredibly robust chasis” (Fujifilm).

To me this means two things:

  1. Fujifilm has been learning from old guard commercial printing suppliers, who buy second generation presses and then use them forever because they are durable and reliable. Printing is not just about putting ink or toner on paper. It is about moving press sheets through a physical process. Glorified photocopiers break. I’ve watched a lot of digital presses being repaired. I’ve even known printers who lease two of them so one can be operative when the other is being fixed. In contrast, the J Press looks like it was built to last.
  2. Along with durability, digital presses like the J Press are built for precision. Keeping printed sheets in register on some of the early digital presses owned by printers I used to work with was a challenge. More specifically, there was not the tight tolerance in some digital presses that you could find on an offset press. What this meant was that “backing up a sheet” was a challenge. You couldn’t be sure images on the fronts and backs of press sheets would line up exactly. In contrast, building a production inkjet press from the ground up on an offset press chasis reflects a commitment to not only the longevity of the press but also its precision.

Fujifilm’s Commitment to Color

Fujifilm claims that the J Press can match 75 percent of Pantone colors with its CMYK inkset. In contrast, most offset printers can match 50 to 60 percent of Pantone colors.

(By combining process colors: that is, in offset lithography by printing screens of the four transparent process inks over one another at different screen angles, and in digital inkjet printing by spraying minuscule dots of CMYK colors side by side, you can simulate the colors in the Pantone Matching System color gamut.)

What surprises me is that Fujifilm can exceed the color gamut of offset printing with only four specially developed inks. In my experience of digital inkjet printing, it usually takes supplemental colors beyond cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to meet and even exceed the wide color gamut indigenous to inkjet custom printing.

Moreover, the J Press uses pigment inks (minuscule bits of color material suspended between water molecules). Based on my experience, this makes for longer lasting printed output, less likely to fade in sunlight than are dye-based inks.

In addition, the Fujifilm J Press has achieved the Idealliance Digital Press Certification and Idealliance ISO/PAS 15339 Certification. What this means is that Fujifilm, which has been known for decades as having an impeccable commitment to accurate color, can both measure and replicate to an incredibly precise degree the color of a print job. This is essential when you’re reprinting a job six months after the initial press date. Color specification and measurement, as reflected in the Idealliance certifications, are essential to this kind of repeatability.

(You may want to research similar certifications for offset commercial printing, such as the GRACoL and SWOP standards. The Fujifilm product literature also references the ISO 12647-2 standard for offset printing. In fact, having benchmarks for color in the J Press workflow means you can offset print a long run of a job and then later produce the same job digitally–perhaps a shorter run or a press run with variable data–and you can still achieve a spot-on color match using two totally different technologies: offset and inkjet. Up until recently, this was impossible.)

Finally, according to Fujifilm’s product literature, the J Press has closed-loop color feedback. They call this XMF ColorPath cloud-based color management, and the literature refers to an In-Line Sensor. What it really means to me is that the computer that controls the J Press can measure the color of the press output on a constant basis during a print job, feed this information back into the press, and make any adjustments needed to ensure color accuracy (and also to ensure color consistency in future press runs).

Paper Handling Capabilities

In addition to the paper handling capabilities mentioned above, based on the sturdy build quality of the J Press, this production inkjet press can handle more paper sizes and surfaces than prior generations of digital inkjet technology.

More specifically, the J Press can accept sheet sizes ranging from 21.3” x 15” to 29.5” x 20.9”. In terms of traditional offset printing, this means you can buy and use cut sheet stock that is 17.5” x 23”, 19” x 25”, 20” x 26”, and 20” x 28”.

If your print job is a calendar or a pocket folder, you will appreciate the fact that the printed product will fit on a J Press press sheet. Prior to the current generation of inkjet presses, only jobs closer to 13” x 19” (approximately) could be digitally printed. Anything larger, like a flat pocket folder with flaps and glue tabs, would be too large for the press sheet. But not anymore.

These sizes reflect the influence of old-school printing on the new digital inkjet presses. What it really implies is that you can image a sheet on the J Press, back it up (print, in precise register, on the back of the press sheet) and then finish the sheet (fold, trim, bind) as though it had come off a traditional offset press. In fact, Fujifilm will send out a sample magazine printed via both offset lithography and digital inkjet technology to commercial printing vendors to show them just how close a match they can achieve.

Beyond the size, Fujifilm is positioning the J Press to accept standard coated and uncoated offset papers. In the past, inkjet printing has been adversely affected due to the amount of water in inkjet inks (when compared to the viscosity of the oil-based offset inks). To remedy this, many older inkjet papers had to be specially treated. (That is, they either were specialty papers or they had to be treated prior to use.)

I find it especially encouraging that the Fujifilm J Press can accept a wide range of standard coated and uncoated offset printing papers for three reasons:

  1. The inks have been improved such that they can dry quickly and sit up on the surface of the paper (i.e., they have better hold-out). This makes for crisper, more vibrant color. (Without having seen the output yet, this would be my expectation.)
  2. Standard paper is less expensive (per unit cost) because more of it is made by the paper mills.
  3. Designers will appreciate the wide range of substrates they can specify for their commercial printing jobs.

So, again, it is clear to me that Fujifilm is working to bridge the gap between offset printing and digital injket printing. Since the much larger arrays of print heads and the overall improved paper handling capabilities of these larger presses allow for faster printing, it seems to me that the gap between offset and digital technology will close. It will no longer be necessary to print only short runs on digital equipment (due to their former, slower speed). You will be able to print one copy or thousands of copies of a job cost-effectively and efficiently.

What This Means for You

In short, this means that you will have multiple options for printing your jobs. You will no longer need to choose digital over offset based solely on print run length. This will make it easier for you to produce variable data jobs with no concern over color fidelity, color register, or press operating speed.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

March 4th, 2019

Posted in Digital Finishing, Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

Sometimes you can actually learn a lot from a press release. It’s a bit like reading the tea leaves to divine the future.

A close friend and colleague recently sent me a press release about the Hunkeler Innovationdays 2019 printing and finishing trade show coming up in Lucerne, Switzerland (entitled “Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing,” by Hunkeler). If you know how to read between the lines, you can get a lot of information about custom printing from this simple, approximately 250-word press release.

The Specifics (and the Takeaways)

First of all, this trade show highlights “high-performance technology for the next generation of digital printing and finishing” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What You Can Learn

Digital custom printing has been around in some form or another since the 1980s and 1990s, when my office had a laser printer to produce hard-copy proofs of our jobs prior to sending them to press. We also had an inkjet printer for color proofs. The color fidelity was abysmal, but prior to that we had used colored markers to indicate color placement on tracing paper overlays that went on top of the base art “mechanicals.” At that time, any computer-applied color was a huge step forward.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, color fidelity has improved dramatically, but “finishing” has lagged. What is finishing? Finishing is anything after the printing step (digital or offset). That is, finishing includes cutting, folding, binding, etc. For a long time, it was all about putting toner or inkjet ink on paper, but there were not a lot of digital options for completing a printed job. Now there are.

The trade show in Lucerne, Switzerland, will address these. And that is a fantastic opportunity to see both the products in operation and all the discrete elements of the workflow. More specifically, this means that trade show attendees will see how an actual job travels from a digital press through the following steps of the finishing process.

And this brings me to the second point noted in the press release: “40 live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”). It sounds like an advertisement. But that’s exactly what a press release is, really. But it’s still useful.

The Hunkeler press release notes that trade show attendees will see “40 live production solutions running a highly diverse lineup of applications focused on commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production, transactional printing and more.” This includes “the latest updates to Hunkeler’s Generation 8 roll finishing, featuring plowfolding and the capability to stack 30” (B2+) sheets in-line with high-speed inkjet presses” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What Else You Can Learn

If you parse out this information, you can learn two things. As noted above, the equipment doesn’t just sit there at the trade show. You actually get a bird’s-eye view of a commercial printing environment, with live jobs traveling from machine to machine, showing exactly how a job might travel through a real commercial printing shop. A prudent trade show attendee will see whether there are any bottlenecks in the workflow, and will be able to ask about any potential issues while the jobs actually progress through the “live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

In addition, the press release notes the specific, growing areas of digital custom printing: “commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production,” and “transactional printing.” Commercial printing usually pertains to marketing jobs, jobs that are not books, large format printing, etc. I personally consider an annual report to be a commercial printing job (the definition varies). For instance, you would take a book printing job to a different kind of printer than you would an annual report: a printer with different printing and finishing equipment.

Moreover, this quote from the press release reflects one key benefit of digital printing: its variability. “Brochure and mailing production” and “transactional printing” reflect the increasing ability of digital custom printing to target small groups and even individuals with their message. Unlike offset printing, digital printing output can be varied from one printed item to the next.

(Transactional printing, as noted above, is a particularly good example of this trend. When you get a statement or invoice in the mail, this document is often not only directly targeted to you, but it also—increasingly—includes promotional information as well as the bill. This promotional information or advertising can now be digitally produced and inserted into the billing information. The two data streams can be combined, and the printed transactional package can reflect both what you owe the vendor and what else you might want to purchase. And all of this is made possible by the current data-collecting and data-mining capabilities marketers can employ. They can pretty much know exactly who you are and exactly what you buy, and they can use this information to target their transpromotional printed material.)

Here are some other key words noted above: roll finishing, plow folding, and 30” (B2+) sheets.

All of these reflect the increasing speed of digital commercial printing operations. Roll finishing is based on printing toner or inkjet ink on webs of paper (rolls as opposed to sheets). Roll-fed presses print a lot faster than sheetfed presses. For jobs like transpromotional printing, you can even print a whole roll of variable data marketing and billing information, and then move this roll to finishing equipment for final folding, cutting, and inserting into customer envelopes. What this means is that more work can be done much more quickly than in the past.

Plow folding (also noted above) involves running a length of paper from a roll (as opposed to sheetfed) through folding equipment before it is cut. Again, this reflects speed. In prior printing generations, you would find a plow folder on a web offset press. There it did one of the “finishing” operations for an extremely long magazine press run (for instance).

The final notation above is the 30” (B2+) sheet. This addresses the size of the paper that can now flow through both digital printing and digital finishing equipment. It wasn’t that long ago that digital presses accepted (approximately) 8.5” x 11”, or more recently 13” x 19”, paper. In contrast, offset presses accepted sheets closer to 25” x 38” or 28” x 40” paper. Granted, on an offset press, you would print a 4-page, 8-page, or 16-page “press signature,” which you would then fold and trim to the final size (let’s say 8.5” x 11” book pages). On a digital press, in contrast, you might print 2-page or 4-page signatures.

When you can print on a 30” (B2+) press sheet, this means you have an (approximately) 20” x 28” format (actually 19.7” x 27.8”), which is much larger than prior generations of presses could accept. So you can print larger products (pocket folders, for instance), or more copies of the same product, on a press sheet. Or you can even print more book pages (presumably even book signatures).

Newer inkjet publication presses can now print these larger sheets, and this means a digital print job can run much more quickly. (Or you can print a much larger job, which means that digital printing equipment can begin to compete with the longer runs of offset printing.) A custom printer would appreciate this efficiency because it would allow him to take in more work, and this would yield a higher operating profit.

The Larger Takeaway

On the much larger (macro) level, this means that increased customer demand for faster printing and more intricate finishing of digitally produced, (often) variable-data driven, custom printing jobs has led OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to innovate. They have produced equipment that will print on larger press sheets, equipment that will run faster and print color more accurately, and equipment that can produce infinitely variable output. This you can see at trade shows like Innovationdays in Lucerne, Switzerland.

However, if, like me, you can’t afford to go to Switzerland, you can still learn from these press releases. In fact, what I do is look for articles that analyze the new technology I first learn about through the promotional releases.

As a final take away, I encourage you to use the Internet as a learning tool, as I do, and to tap into the power of article aggregators. Every night Google collects and presents to me a handful of online articles about all aspects of digital and offset printing based on specific parameters I have specified. Even if I do nothing more than read the headlines and then dip into a few of the articles, I learn something new each night about printing.

You may want to do the same thing.

Posted in Digital Finishing, Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

February 26th, 2019

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs.

In this light, I just read an article by Elizabeth Skoda on www.packagingeurope.com entitled “A New Dimension of Digital Printing.” It was published on 09/19/18. This article describes many of the features and benefits of direct-to-shape digital commercial printing. At this point the technology exists for custom printing on rigid packaging tubes and cylinders (a full 360 degrees around the tube, and from the cap to the base), avoiding the need for screen printing, flexo, and even labels. This is ideal for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries that use both plastic and aluminum packaging tubes.

Skoda’s article focuses on the Velox IDS 250, a direct-to-shape digital printer produced by Velox Ltd. As Skoda notes in her article, this “entirely new approach to digital printing…is poised to disrupt the packaging decoration market” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

Why This Is Disruptive Technology (Features and Benefits)

Velox Ltd. claims that its “decoration quality and capabilities…outstrip analogue printing solutions, while allowing a more efficient and flexible production process and a low total cost of ownership” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

More specifically, here are the features and benefits of Velox’s IDS 250 and its proprietary adaptive deposition architecture (ADA) and variable viscosity ink (VVI):

  1. The IDS 250 prints directly on rigid, cylindrical packaging containers, sidestepping the need for labels.
  2. It allows for both low volume and high volume printing.
  3. It requires only minimal make-ready time.
  4. It is fast, decorating up to 250 packaging containers per minute.
  5. The IDS 250 can incorporate up to 15 colors and embellishments in a single press run, including both inks and coatings, and in particular including tactile coating treatments.
  6. The equipment prints high-resolution, photo-realistic images.
  7. The IDS 250 can print from the base all the way to the cap of a packaging tube, with no visible seam.

Prior Technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to direct-to-shape commercial printing (or more specifically, prior to Velox’s IDS 250), a print shop could mass produce decorated packaging tubes using the following technologies: dry offset, screen printing, and flexography. All of these required considerable set-up time and effort. Therefore, they were cost-effective only for longer runs. In contrast, the IDS 250 can produce quality comparable to the analogue methods, albeit with faster make-readies, faster and therefore more economical production runs, and the ability to vary the content of the custom printing.

Here are a number of benefits that even surpass the quality and flexibility of the prior analogue methods:

  1. You can print on the packaging tube, its “shoulder,” and its cap. That is, all surfaces of the product packaging can incorporate the design. Therefore, you have a larger, more dramatic “canvas” on which to print your marketing message. In most cases, prior custom printing technology could not achieve this look.
  2. You can print on the seam of the packaging tube. In addition, you can not only cover the entire tube; you can do so without overlapping any portion of the design (as was necessary with prior analogue technologies).
  3. You have all the flexibility of digital custom printing. That is, you can produce a prototype packaging tube (a one-off product), then show the prototype to your client, then make any required changes, and then produce the entire print run. Unlike prior digital printing options, you can even produce a long final run, since the Velox IDS 250 can print 250 containers per minute.
  4. As with other digital technologies, you can personalize your decorated packaging tubes. For example, you can make each one unique, incorporating the recipient’s name into the design. Or you can target a specific demographic with a short print run, or perhaps create a seasonal product that also has a short run. Unlike analogue printing, digital direct-to-shape printing can be cost-effective with short runs as well as long ones.
  5. Velox’s IDS 250 incorporates so many ink colors (up to 15 colors and embellishments) that it can reflect a much wider color gamut than traditional analogue methods can achieve. Therefore, you can match more PMS colors (for corporate logos, for instance), and also you can print colors of amazing vibrancy.
  6. The textured coatings available on the Velox IDS 250 add a tactile dimension that in many cases was unavailable with prior analogue printing methods. These include matte, glossy, and embossed coatings incorporating raised particles. Such coatings add another element that can enhance the customer’s emotional experience and bond with the product and the brand.
  7. According to Skoda’s article, the Velox IDS 250 will provide “full functionality on any material or coating” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).
  8. Overall, this means you can focus exclusively on the creative message rather than on the limitations of either the custom printing method or the printing substrate. At the same time, you can reap the marketing benefits of precise targeting and personalization in order to strengthen the bond between the customer and the product.
  9. At best, all of this used to be achievable only by printing and applying digital labels. Now it is available digitally (without labels) within a cost-effective structure that allows for consummate flexibility and creativity. And unlike many other digital custom printing technologies, the process can also accommodate longer production runs.

What You Can Learn From This New Technology

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Packaging is clearly a growth industry within the realm of commercial printing. Given that direct-to-shape (DTS) digital printing has been making the aforementioned strides, it seems that DTS might even capture work from the custom label market. Furthermore, according to Skoda’s article, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are two major markets for DTS technology.
  2. With this in mind, I think it behooves both creative designers and larger commercial printing vendors to closely study the following: digital printing, direct-to-shape printing, marketing, personalization, and “big-data” analysis.

I think the future will be all about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and then using digital technology to speak directly to her or him in a way that engages the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

February 18th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

I still do some design work each year. Not as much as when I was an art director, but enough to keep my skills up and stay current with new technology. In addition to the extra money this affords, it also keeps me alert to the same issues PIE Blog readers who are designers must address each day.

At the moment, I’m completing a print book of essays for a local university. I’m just about to upload it to the book printer. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing for this particular commercial printing vendor and some ways other printers might address the same steps.

The Cover File

When producing art files for print books, I used to prepare the front cover (to size, whether 8.5” x 11” or 6” x 9” or whatever format was appropriate), the back cover, and spine separately. I then asked the book printer to determine the spine width and stitch all three pieces together into one file. I’m sure I paid for this assistance.

Now I ask the printer to determine the spine width based on the caliper of the paper. For instance, if the uncoated book paper used for the text is 60# in weight, it might have a caliper (or paper thickness) specification of 450 ppi. This means 450 “pages per inch,” so a 100-page text block would require a spine that is .222” thick.

In the case of the book of essays I’m producing, I created one art file containing a rectangle broken into three pieces with crop marks on the four edges and fold marks at the top and bottom of the combined book cover (back cover, spine, front cover) to indicate the placement and width of the spine. Then I extended the cover background color (turquoise, based on percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) one-eighth of an inch beyond the outer trim margin of the cover. This I did to account for bleeds.

This is a specific approach to the combined book cover. In contrast, for the interior book pages, which need to be imposed separately as PDF files (as per the printer specs), I omitted the crop marks, designed the pages separately, and pulled any bleeds out beyond the page trim.

More importantly, I created the book pages to size (6” x 9”), in contrast to the combined panels for the cover file components, all of which fit on a much larger single-page InDesign file.

This approach is based on the way the printer will actually produce the cover on press. It will all fit on a single press sheet (possibly multiple times side by side, depending on the size of the press sheet). In contrast, the interior book pages will not be repeated on a press sheet because there are 98 pages (in contrast to the single back panel, spine, and front panel of the cover).

You may say that a 98-page book is not a multiple of 4-, 8-, or 16-page press signatures. In this case the book will be produced on a digital press, which can handle single leaves (the front and back of a book page). So I did not have to compose the book in full 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures, as I would have done if the book had a longer press run. (I will only need 42 copies of the book, so digital commercial printing is appropriate. If my client had required 500 copies of the print book, it would need to be reproduced via offset lithography.)

To further complicate matters, some book printers might produce the covers via offset lithography, if I needed 300 copies (for instance), and then print the interior text blocks digitally. This might yield a higher quality of cover printing. But for 42 copies, digital is the only option.

The final file for the cover (an InDesign file) must be distilled into a high-quality, press-ready PDF file and then uploaded to the printer’s FTP site. He has asked for a PDF rather than a native InDesign file. Some printers might prefer a native InDesign file with fonts in order to correct any problems with the cover without needing to reject a file and have me correct it. In contrast, this printer wants the PDF. He also wants it to be 300 dpi minimum, single pages (not page spreads), and without crop marks.

The cover crop marks in my case are part of the file, not added in the making of the PDF. I left them in to indicate placement and bleeds. The prepress operator at the book printer can (and probably will) delete the crop marks on his (or her) computer prior to imposing the job (setting up the press form for a certain number of covers side by side on the press sheet).

Prior to distilling the file into a PDF, I will check for any errors (InDesign has a preflight function), make sure I have not included any extraneous colors in the file, and check for any unused fonts. Then I will distill the file as a press-ready PDF.

In your own work, don’t assume you will be doing exactly what I did. Another book printer I work with has his own preferences file for InDesign that will adjust additional PDF options such as bleeds, additional printer’s marks, downsampling specifications, etc. This InDesign PDF preferences file becomes a part of the final PDF without requiring the user to check multiple options in five or more screens’ worth of PDF preparation information.

Fortunately, this particular book printer does not require this level of detail. In your own work, ask your printer for his PDF-creation guidelines to ensure that the files you send him will print. Also, rest assured that he will preflight your files and let you know if any errors have been flagged. So you will know where you stand before the hard-copy proof arrives at your office.

The Text File

The text of the book of essays I’m preparing will be easy to distill because there are no photos, bleed colors (areas of color that extend beyond the page trim), or anything else beyond simple text. So I will be able to save the pages at the 6” x 9” size, as individual pages (not spreads), without crop marks (as requested by the book printer).

Again, if this were another printer (as noted above), he might very well provide an InDesign preferences file that would check off all the specific choices that fit his workflow, prior to my distilling the InDesign art file into a press-ready PDF.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Own Work

  1. The main thing to remember is to ask your printer for all PDF-creation information that will make your hand-off of book art files as flawless as possible, based on his specific hardware, imposition software, and workflow. Then follow this information religiously, to the letter.
  2. Ask to be informed when the PDF files have passed preflight. Learn from any mistakes you make, but also remember that they may be pertinent to only this particular printer.
  3. Get a hard-copy proof, and check for complete copy, placement of color, quality of halftones, etc. I personally think it’s easier to miss something on a virtual proof (screen-only PDF) even for something as simple as a black-ink-only book. And it’s always better to catch the errors in the proof rather than the printed copy, so I personally look at the cost of the hard-copy proof as an investment rather than a cost.
  4. The best kind of proof to get if your project will be produced digitally is a bound proof. For the job I’m working on, the printer will provide a single bound proof on the same text and cover paper as the final job. That means I will see exactly what the final job will look like. I will see whether the type will align perfectly on the book cover spine. I will see how the cover color will look. There will be nothing “virtual” about the proof. It will be exactly what the readers will see and hold in their hands. This can’t be beat. Fortunately it has been worked into the price (which was most competitive).

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

February 11th, 2019

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

I attended a freelance group meeting yesterday. Most members were writers and designers, some of whom I had known for two decades. One of the designers, who had been a director of publications at a non-profit before venturing out on her own, showed us several PDFs (on her computer) of the booklet designs she had done in the 1980s, 1990s, and recently.

It was most interesting to see the differences among the samples, both from the point of view of how publication design has changed in twenty years and also in terms of the changes made to facilitate reading on current media.

My Colleague’s Design Samples (and the Basis for Her Design Approaches)

In the 1980s my colleague designed booklets with 4-color covers. But between the covers, my client’s print books were black-ink-only products with designs based on text and photos. Overall, the two-column print book interiors were formal in design. As a flourish, in certain cases she had used “caps and small caps” for the titles, which provided a classic tone. (“Caps and small caps” means there are large capital letters at the beginning of each word, and subsequent letters in each word are typeset in uppercase letters but of a slightly smaller point size than the initial letter.)

My client’s more recent samples (between five and ten years old) still included full-color cover treatments, but they also included generous use of process color in the text of the print books. My colleague explained her design decision in this way. The cost of printing process color had been higher when she had designed the first sample books with only 4-color covers and black-ink-only interior text blocks. To meet budget, then, she put all of her dramatic images and color on the book covers to grab the reader’s attention.

By the time my colleague was designing the books with both 4-color covers and 4-color text blocks, the presses at the printers she used had more color units (six or eight), so she could not only add more color, but she could also add multiple coatings to the book covers or use PMS colors to maintain color consistency from press signature to press signature (for background, full-bleed solid colors and screens that had to match exactly on all pages). By this time (five to ten years ago), all of this technology (plus inline spectrophotometers and closed-loop color correction) was available and affordable through her printers. For this reason, the quality and consistency of color in her samples improved, and she could do far fewer press checks to maintain this quality.

New Design Approaches and New Technology

What I found most interesting was the shift from these samples to the next ones, the most recent books my colleague had designed (again, for the same non-profit foundation, although at this point she was freelancing for the same organization).

These new books were much more sparse in their design. There were a lot of 4-color photos but no bleeds and no heavy-coverage color solids. Interestingly enough, the overall design was simpler and cleaner. There were also no background screens of color. The type, for the most part, was sans serif. Even the headlines were set in a simple, bold, and readable sans serif typeface.

She explained her design choices as follows:

  1. At the present moment, most of her book designs existed only online. There was no print version, so there was no inventory of print books. Clients could either read the books online or print out selected pages on their own desktop printers.
  2. Therefore, the goal was online readability. Even though serif typefaces in print books have been more legible (traditionally) then sans serif typefaces, the opposite is true on the computer screen. The simplicity of the sans serif typefaces my colleague had chosen improved their legibility, but it also gave the books an austere, modern “look.”
  3. Most of the clients who downloaded PDF versions of the books could not print bleeds. There were always white margins surrounding the image area on each page. Therefore, the current book designs had no bleeds. Although this was a functional design choice, it nevertheless made the book design seem simpler, lighter, and more crisp. I liked the simplicity. When I thought further, I realized that by removing the background screens, solid colors, and bleeds, my colleague had not only simplified the book design, but she had also provided much more background white space. And since white space on a back-lit computer screen brightens the entire virtual book design, everything looked light, airy, and bold.

What You Can Learn from This

These few samples spoke volumes about the changes that have taken place in print book design over the past twenty years, based in large part on the way we read and the devices on which we read. Here are some thoughts.

In your own work, design appropriately for the device on which your reader will consume the material. Back-lit screens tire the eyes eventually, and a lot of people still like the feel of a paper print book. Choose your printing paper wisely to enhance the look and the readability (consider the brightening effects of a blue-white press sheet, for instance).

Alternately, if you’re designing for online reading, consider simplifying the design, increasing the space between lines of type (the leading), and increasing contrast between heads and text. If your heads are in color, make sure they are not too light in value.

For my colleague’s clients, a third approach was necessary. The book pages had to look good when printed on desktop printing equipment. This involved making sure a black and white laser print would produce high quality black and white photos from color originals. (The PDF versions were in color, and many readers would print their pages on color inkjet equipment, but other readers who only had laser printers could only produce monochrome versions of the book pages.)

In your own work, the best way to ensure readability is to print out a few pages on an inkjet printer and a black and white laser printer and then confirm their readability. Or, if you’re designing for computer-only reading, you may want to view a PDF of the file on multiple platforms (a large computer screen, a laptop screen, a tablet screen, and a smartphone screen, for instance).

No matter how you present your book, the first goal is legibility. If the reader has to work hard to read your book, or if your reader’s eyes tire due to the back-lighting, she or he will stop reading. Even something as simple as whether to use a single-column or two-column layout can affect readability on a screen-only (or screen-first) book. (Think about it. If you scroll down to read a column of text, and then you must scroll the screen in the opposite direction to come back up to the top of the next column, you might just stop reading.)

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

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