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

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Book Printing: Always Submit Accurate Art Files

December 9th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Over time, small errors often grow in their scope and effects, and in book printing this can mean that a problematic file you submit today can delay the ship date for your project (or incur extra fees). If your project is time sensitive, this can be a serious source of stress.

The Case Study: A Case-Bound Textbook

A client of mine has come back to me this year with a book printing project I used to broker for her company. Her boss had chosen a different printer for a few years, but I was fortunate enough to win back the work once my client had regained control of the print book.

My client is very detail oriented and schedule oriented. Therefore, I padded the schedule a bit before I presented it. I wanted to make sure there was room to address author’s alterations. After all, in the five years I had worked with her prior to our hiatus, her print book designers had often requested corrections on multiple pages at proof time.

That said, I was actually surprised this time that as early as the book printer’s preflight stage there were problems with the margins of the book, the placement and accuracy of running headers and folios, and, in the case of the dust jacket, missing artwork.

To put this in context, this particular job is a 305-page, case-bound textbook. Interestingly enough, the press run is only 350 copies, and the specs for the case-bound cover materials are quite unique, firm, and precise. Since most vendors with whom I work will not print anything less than a 1,000-copy run via offset lithography, and since these same vendors have only limited options for case-binding digitally printed books (in order to keep costs down), I returned to a vendor in the Midwest for this job, a vendor with precisely the equipment to use the exact materials my client needed to match a previously offset printed case-bound volume of this textbook.

So the art files didn’t pass preflight. Live matter art on the pages fell too close to the trim, and page numbers were inconsistent (and in some cases not even correct relative to odd-page and even-page placement). In addition, running headers (text at the top of the page close to the trim margin including the title of the book) were inconsistently placed.

In response, my client’s print book designer made changes in some cases, agreed to live with the limitations in other cases, and uploaded a complete new file for the entire book.

To make a long story short, this happened two more times. Additionally, on the third attempt (approximately three weeks from the start of prepress work on this title), he submitted individual corrected pages rather than a complete, single file for the print book.

Making Sense of All of This: The Implications

So at the end of the three-week period we were still at the beginning of the process. Keep in mind that this printer, like most, will not commit to a delivery date prior to receipt of a signed proof approval. If the original file submission date is eight weeks out from the requested delivery date, this is an irrelevant target if the files are wrong. Only after the proof approval form has been signed (and in this case only after a revised contract reflecting a different page count from the initial bid had been signed), does the printer schedule the printing, binding, packing, and shipping steps of the book manufacturing process.

And this is all quite reasonable since the printer did nothing wrong, and since the printer has many other clients who have carefully followed (to the letter) all protocols for preparing art files.

My guesstimate, at this point, is that the ship date will slip about three weeks. My client (the one coordinating the buying process, not the book designer) understands the problems completely and is very accommodating. She plans to change the delivery date on her marketing materials. No harm/no foul. Not every client would be this accommodating. Some would even blame the printer.

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

Learn from my client’s mistakes so you don’t make them yourself. Consider these suggestions:

  1. Determine when you will need finished print books (when you absolutely need them). You may be lucky. You may have wiggle room in your schedule.
  2. Tell your printer what this “drop-dead” date will be, and see how his schedule looks. Printers are often busier in certain months than in others. For case-bound print books, some will offer you six weeks, others will offer eight. (This is often prior to shipping. Be sure to ask.) Some printers, the pricier ones, will even do the work faster, particularly if they know far in advance and have been working with you for many years. But you often pay a premium for this kind of “Cadillac” treatment. Often it’s worth it.
  3. If your book printer says six weeks overall, plus shipping, make your schedule seven-weeks in length. Be safe. Assume there will be corrections at the proof stage.
  4. Consider all elements of the schedule: preflight, proofing, corrections, printing, binding, packing, shipping, and delivery.
  5. The particular printer with whom I’m working on this job has a current 20-day schedule for production. That’s four weeks. If there is a holiday in this period, that’s longer than four weeks. Weekends don’t count. This production schedule only begins after final proof approval. Keep this in mind for your own work.
  6. Assume the physical proof will ship about five to seven days after you upload book files. Confirm this with your printer. If you get a hard-copy proof, you have to add proof shipping time to this schedule (both ways, from the printer to you and back to the printer when you’re done). You may want to consider a PDF proof instead, particularly if your book has black-ink-only text. Maybe a hard-copy cover proof and a PDF of the text will suffice.
  7. If you need revised proofs, ask for PDF proofs. Don’t add additional time to ship proofs for successive revisions.
  8. The printer’s proof is not the place to edit your manuscript. Things happen. Granted. But make sure the margins are accurate, that you’re not too close to the trim margin, that your running headers or footers are consistently placed, and that everything else is as close to perfect as you can possibly make it.
  9. Ask how close you can come to the trim margin: Usually live matter can come no closer than 3/8” from any trim. Your printer can be more specific for his equipment. (My printer for the job I mentioned says it’s 1/2”.) If anything on the page (text, photos) comes closer, it might get trimmed off and land on the bindery room floor.
  10. Ask whether your printer wants a completely new file with your corrections or just individual corrected pages saved as PDFs. Ask about extra charges. The printer I’m working with at the moment charges an extra $19.00 per page for individual pages that need to be swapped out. He prefers to receive an entirely new file from my client (and will accept three sets of files, plus preflight time, prior to adding extra charges).
  11. Throughout the entire process of creating PDF files and uploading them via FTP to your printer, use the printer’s “file creation and transmission” cheat-sheet, and adhere to all of its requirements. Not doing this opens you to extra charges and longer production schedules. If you don’t understand something, ask your sales rep or customer service rep.
  12. Not all printers have the same sense of urgency that you do. Sometimes this depends on the culture of the particular part of the USA (or other country) in which you’re printing (no offense to anyone). Pushing the vendor seldom helps. They have other clients. Particularly if the errors are yours. Some of the printers I work with will give me their cell phone numbers and take calls after hours. Others won’t even return calls or text messages as fast as I want them to during the work day, but their work comes out looking perfect. You choose your battles based on the quality of the printed samples, the overall price, and your history with the printer. As with all relationships, some things go smoothly, while other things drive you nuts.

The best single piece of advice I can leave you with is to pad your schedule–amply. Leave time for errors. They happen. Better to factor this into the schedule than to let it take years off your life.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Design Unity and Variety Aid the Reader’s Eye

December 3rd, 2019

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

I found myself back in the hospital recently with an infection following a total hip replacement. After fasting for the better part of the day at the surgeon’s request, I was pleased when a change of doctor’s plans enabled me to finally eat.

In the surgery ward’s family room I sat down to the best hospital food one could imagine (hunger is the best seasoning), a plate of Beef Burgundy. Needless to say, I wanted reading material to go along with my dinner, and I found a copy of the hospital’s current print book/magazine for company.

As a student of commercial printing I found several things to recommend this print book, particularly in terms of design. And all of these design techniques centered around grouping a vast amount of disparate information and presenting it in digestible chunks.

As an object lesson for print book designers, magazine designers, or practically any other kind of designers, here’s how they did it.


To put this in perspective, this little print book is 16 pages, self-cover, saddle stitched, with an 8.5” x 11” format. (Self-cover, by the way, just means the entire print book is on the same paper stock—100# white gloss text—rather than having an additional, thicker cover.) The magazine is 4-color throughout. It is called Adventist Healthcare & You.

Interestingly enough, at 16 pages in length, it really is a good tool for understanding book design and magazine design. You can see specifically how the cover was designed to grab the reader’s attention and convey information. You can see how the first page is used for a table of contents and short news briefs. Then you can see how a two-column grid has been used to present three separate feature stories (articles on a medical center, stroke treatment, and heart surgery).

A three-page (presumably) pull-out section follows, using three-column layout and subject headlines reversed out of solid color bars to separate by topic all the educational seminars the hospital offers this particular month. The change in format alerts the reader to the change in content. It also groups related material for easy reading, topic by topic.

Now that we’re past the center pull-out spread, the print book goes back to feature articles in the original two-column format (showing the reader in a visual manner that we’re back into feature stories). One is about anti-inflammatory diets, the next discusses head injuries and concussions, and the third is about breast cancer.

All of these may initially appear very different, but if you look closely you will see similar running heads, reversed out of solid color bars, describing the content of the articles. You will also see similar fonts (at least some). Even if the large headlines and the highlight colors differ from article to article, there’s still enough similarity to create a unified “look.”

Moreover, this structure of the print book (cover, front matter, feature stories, calendar of events, more feature stories, infographic as an action device to involve readers, and final mailing back panel and two final short articles) makes it easy for the reader to skim the entire print book or jump from article of interest to article of interest. It’s the similarity of design that makes this possible.

Variety: Color Usage, Photos, Typefaces

There are a number of tips and tricks the designer has used to unify the design while also allowing for variety.

I had mentioned the consistent use of column width and text and subhead typefaces to reflect similar kinds of information, but for variety, the designer has used sidebars. These look alike because they are the same width (they break these sidebar pages into one wide column and one narrow sidebar column), but they are the same width and they employ the same typefaces. For variety, one is green and another is blue, and since the green one is dark enough, the type has been reversed rather than surprinted (as is the type in the blue sidebar).

Photo treatment is another design factor. The feature articles are replete with photos. Interestingly enough, the photos in each particular section have similar colors. For instance, one has a lot of earth tones. To unify the design of this particular two-page spread, the designer has used an orange hue for subheads, part of the main title, and an infographic.

For contrast, the next article, on heart care, includes a photo with a light purple hospital wall. Therefore, the designer has used purple as an accent color for a portion of the title of the article, the initial capital letters in the text column, and the sidebar. Finally, a third feature article does the same thing with dark blue and light blue.

So the take-away is that the structure is the same (based on column width and typeface—for the most part), but the font treatment of part of each feature story title and the color “key” of each two-page feature article shift for variety. Things look alike enough to feel unified and different enough to stand out and appear as unique.

I had also mentioned the slight difference in the typefaces used for part of each feature story title (to highlight certain words). Upon a further pass through the print book, I see that for the most part the different type is a script font. If you look closely, even though the type size differs from page spread to page spread, using the same script font makes for a further sense of unity. The same goes for a minimal use of a condensed sans serif font for contact information, registration for hospital seminars, and such.

Finally, if you page through the print book quickly, you will see that the running headers include two- or three-word all-caps descriptions of the contents of each page spread. They appear in the same place on each page, but their color differs (again allowing for both unity and variety).

The Book Cover

I often look at a book or magazine cover last when I’m deconstructing the design of a publication because I myself usually design the cover based on the contents of the book. In this case, the magazine title (also known as the “flag”) is at the top of the page in an all-caps condensed sans serif typeface (a heavier version of the type used in the book itself, again for unity).

The designer nestled the much smaller name of the hospital above the main title type and a description of the periodical (along with the date) below the magazine title. Everything is flush left for simplicity of design. For variety, the ampersand in Adventist Healthcare & You is reversed out of a blue circle. In two other positions on the book cover the same dark blue appears as well. How did the designer choose the color? The woman on the cover (the focal point of the photo) is wearing a dark blue dress, and there is blue in the flowers behind her. So again we have unity.

The piece de resistance is the fact that the subject of the cover photo (the woman) looks directly at the reader, and she’s smiling. This is an age-old technique (even used by the master fine arts painters) for involving the viewer in the photo. The fact that she’s smiling makes the overall tone of the magazine cover warm and approachable.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Start to make it a habit to collect books, magazines, and brochures you like. Make a “swipe file.” Periodically go through these printed items and articulate for yourself exactly why each works as a design piece. Consider such issues as type choice, column width and placement, overall design grid, running headers, sidebars, and color placement. Moreover, consider how the cover, contents page, feature articles, and back matter have been designed for ease of readability and immediate recognition of their purpose.

Ask yourself how the designer has taken all the content and presented it in understandable chunks, how the designer can lead the viewer’s eyes through the page spread, and how the designer can introduce variety into the design (to keep it from becoming monotonous).

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: A Box of Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

November 26th, 2019

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

One of the few benefits of having been in the hospital, aside from supportive comments like, “You’re still alive,” is the occasional gift of food. I am a creature who runs on its stomach, so I was pleased to receive a box of chocolate-covered strawberries, a sinfully delicious treat I had not heretofore sampled.

However, as a student of commercial printing I was not oblivious to both the design and the construction of the gift box. As noted in prior blog articles, I was well aware that it had to do the following:

  1. It had to hold and protect the strawberries.
  2. It had to tolerate a cold, somewhat damp refrigerator.
  3. It had to not taint the food it contained.
  4. It had to look great.

Description of the Gift Box

First of all, let me describe the box, and then I will address these goals one by one. The box seems to be made of a thick, coated-one-side cover stock, maybe 10pt in thickness. Inside it has been printed in bright red. Outside, on the coated side, it has been printed in bright red and then covered in an additional gloss coating. The cover of this (approximately 8” x 10”) presentation box opens to one side (i.e., it is not separate from the bottom of the box).

This gift box has an ingenious gusset device to allow for expansion when it is folded open and for contraction when it is folded closed. The front of the box includes the company logo on the left and a cascade of stylized white flowers on the right. These flowers even have a slight embossing effect and gloss coating, so they seem to rise off the page.

Inside, the flower motif is repeated, albeit without the gloss coating or the embossing. The edges of the box have been turned and folded over. This makes the sides of the box much thicker, lending an air of stability and substance to the chocolate strawberry packaging.

Assorted advertisements and interior packaging, plus a cover to protect the strawberries, plus the strawberries themselves (not to be forgotten) and their little paper containers (like paper cupcake holders) round out the contents of the package.

It’s impressive.

Back to the Design and Production Goals

A box is a three-dimensional item (more so than a brochure, for example). It is also a functional item. Therefore, it has physical requirements.

If it is flimsy, when you take the package out of the refrigerator a number of times (there are 12 chocolate strawberries), at some point it might collapse and dump the strawberries on the floor. This would not reflect well on the company. (After all, every printed product is an advertisement for the brand.) Therefore, the presentation box has been made for strength/durability as well as beauty. Hence, the turned edges.

Similar boxes might be made of chipboard covered with printed litho paper or even corrugated board with printed litho paper laminated to it. But in this case to save space, reduce weight, and because the strawberries are comparatively light, what looks like printed cover stock with lamination and turned edges seems to be the perfect choice for the substrate.

Now all of this has to live for a while in the refrigerator. Since they are large, I have been eating one chocolate strawberry each night. So far so good for the strength of the box. If you are a wine maker, you have the same issues with bottle labeling. The labels (and their printed ink and foil decoration) have to stay functional on cold, wet bottles presumably for an even longer time without degrading. In the case of the strawberries, keep in mind that the fruit is juicy and the chocolate is fluid enough—even straight out of the refrigerator—to cover the eater’s fingers and face. So chemical and moisture resistance is a plus.

Even more important than durability is the non-toxic nature of all of the custom printing (anywhere near the food). Everything that comes into contact with food has to be printed with food-safe inks that are acceptable to the Food and Drug Administration (and probably other legal organizations as well). The ink cannot “migrate,” or move from the packaging to the food. Hence, the little paper wells for each strawberry, and the unprinted cover sheet that keeps the strawberries secure in their little paper holders.

Finally, the whole package has to look good—upscale, sinfully delicious, awesome, like a sensuous delight. Not just the contents but the packaging as well. After all, it’s what you see first.

In the case of this package, let’s start with the color. Red, particularly the fire-engine red of this particular box, is a color of passion. Given that such a delicacy is often a shared token of love (as opposed to an “I’m glad you’re out of the hospital” gift), it is most appropriately decorated. The white (the only other color, or actually the absence of color, since all of the white is reversed out of the press sheet comprising the box) creates a dramatic contrast against the bright red. This is further enhanced by the embossing.

Why is this important? First, rule number one, as noted above. Everything is an advertisement. The beauty of the box sells it to the buyer. In my case, it also made me feel appreciated when I received the gift. It’s simple, well designed, and functional. Moreover, it contains a sensory delight—food.

What Can We Learn from This Case Study

As before, stay out of the hospital. It’s not worth it, even for chocolate-covered strawberries.

Next, start looking at packaging. Closely and carefully, as a printer and designer. I took a moment when analyzing this gift box to also check out some of my fiancee’s shoeboxes and designer shopping bags. (She collects both for our artwork with the autistic.) In all cases there was artistry, clearly applied to not only the decoration but also the structure of the bags and boxes. Some included foiling effects, embossing, different gloss and dull coatings. Some were made with corrugated board, some with chipboard, some with thick printed cover stock used in commercial printing. Many of the bags and boxes had turned edges. Some had interior linings pasted down over these turned edges (like endsheets pasted down in the front and back of a casebound print book).

An amazing amount of work has gone into these few boxes and bags in my fiancee’s and my house. You may well benefit from finding and analyzing similar packaging (and even taking it apart to see what kind of die cutting and laminating went into the final product).

We can also surmise, from the complexity of these packaging products, that it’s essential in your own print buying work to involve your commercial printing supplier early. Not every printer can do this kind of work. Do research and get referrals. Specific printers specialize in this kind of work. Make sure you like their samples and references.

When you have a handful of custom printing vendors in mind, communicate your design goals with physical samples: what you’ve collected or what your printer can show you. Don’t just send photos. After all, you have to be able to open and close a presentation box comfortably. It has to feel good in your hands. This is a physical experience. So ask for a paper dummy (an unprinted prototype of your final design) before any ink hits the paper.

Assume this will take a lot of time and cost a fair amount of money. This kind of work involves multiple finishing operations (die cutting, foiling, embossing, folding, gluing, and many more). Find out if your printer does these in house or subcontracts them. Also you may want to ask about using an existing box die (i.e., embellishing a standard box design rather than creating one from scratch). This will save you money.

Finally, as you work through the entire process, from design to manufacturing, keep your attention on what marketers call “the unboxing process.” In short, this refers to what a person feels when she/he opens the box and sees the strawberries, or anything else, nestled inside. (Think back to what it felt like as a child to receive and open a special, wrapped gift.)

Posted in Box Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Functional Printing in the Hospital

November 18th, 2019

Posted in Industrial Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Functional Printing in the Hospital

About five years ago my fiancee and I had a house fire. Being a student of printing, and initially having extra time on my hands, I noticed printing samples in all the hotels we lived in. I found printed maps on the walls, informational brochures on the hotel room tables, and pad-printed or screen printed letters and numbers on the stove and microwave.

All of this is considered “functional printing” in that the goal of the printing is utilitarian. (In contrast, you might say that book printing is informational and brochure printing is promotional in nature.)

Fast forward almost five years, and I found myself in the hospital this last week getting a total hip replacement. Again I was a captive audience with time on my hands. So I began to observe the printed products I found in my environment. And, as with the house fire, much of what I found was functional printing (which I have also heard referred to as “industrial printing”).

Samples From the Hospital

The first thing I noticed was the sign above my hospital bed. It read, “Call, Don’t Fall.” The words and surrounding triangle were printed in black ink on a yellow background, and the sign itself had been attached to the ceiling with some kind of contact adhesive.

So what can we learn from this first printed sample?

To begin with, it’s a sample of functional printing because it conveys functional information: If you need to use the bathroom, call a nurse. Don’t get out of bed yourself. You don’t want a fall to complicate matters.

What about the color, design, and placement? First of all, as a captive audience in a hospital bed, I was primarily looking up at the ceiling. So clearly there was no better place to install signage than within my immediate field of vision.

Let’s move on to the shape of the sign, a triangle. A triangle is a simple geometric shape, and the words “Call, Don’t Fall” fit nicely into the surrounding black rule line. Also, as a culture (i.e., in the USA), we have been trained through experience to associate triangular, black and yellow road signs with caution.

So the shape, color, typeface (a serious sans serif, probably Helvetica) all reinforced the (functional) message.

And the placement, which actually reminded me of the floor signage my fiancee and I had installed in movie theaters, was positioned exactly where it would be immediately visible. In a movie theater, people’s eyes are focused on the floor and walls. In a hospital bed, people’s eyes are fixed on the ceiling.

The Menu

From this week’s experience in the hospital I learned that eating is one of the few great joys of hospitalization.

The menu was typeset in a simple, sans serif font in simple columns with clearly readable food categories (headlines) and then printed in red and black.

So what can we learn? Red stands out. Like the yellow of the ceiling sign advising me not to fall, both are primary colors. They are also associated in our culture with important information. Safety and food. What else do you need?

Pad Printing and Screen Printing

I’ve been paying attention. Now that I’m back home and confined to a chair (and writing this article on a cell phone), I’m watching the word “Power” on my leg pump wear off rather quickly.

The printing on your computer keys is functional printing. So is the word “Power” on my leg pump. More importantly, all of the words printed on my life-support console in the hospital were functional printing. 

In the case of the life-support console in the hospital, I made the assumption that all printed words and letters had been added to the plastic pieces with pad printing (a flexible plastic or rubber bulb transfers the ink to the substrate) or screen printing. Perhaps in the near future digital inkjet (direct-to-shape printing) will be the technology of choice.

To get back to my leg pumps, a $60 appliance made to keep me from getting blood clots in my legs can afford to have its “Power” label rub off. In contrast, a $300,000 (life-or-death) appliance in the hospital has to have writing that stays put and doesn’t rub off with light use. (Mistakes could happen.)

So how did they do it? My educated guess would be that UV inks (which remain stable on non-porous substrates) were used, or that some kind of transparent sealant (a topcoat) covered all of the functional printing on my life-support console to provide “rub resistance.”

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. Stay out of the hospital.
  2. Wherever you go, notice the presence of functional printing. You’ll see it on your car dashboard, you computer, and even your sewing machine.
  3. Notice the colors and shapes used in functional printing. Consider how these relate to the cultural associations with which you have grown up. Some colors suggest certain things. Remember that these colors may suggest different things in other cultures. (Sometimes, these meanings can even be the opposite of one’s own culture. For instance, if I understand correctly, the connotations associated with the colors black and white are the opposite in Japan and the USA.)
  4. Look at your computer keyboard. You may see the letters wearing off. Or, you may see a protective coating. When you look at other samples of functional printing, look for protective coatings the manufacturer has used to coat the printed type and improve rub resistance.
  5. Do some research on pad printing, screen printing, and direct-to-shape inkjet printing to better understand the present (and probable future) technologies of functional printing.

Posted in Industrial Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Functional Printing in the Hospital

Commercial Printing: Creating a Design Grid

November 10th, 2019

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Creating a Design Grid

If you’re a designer, with a blank page-spread on the computer in front of you, how do you start your design? Perhaps you have photographs, some captions, a pull quote, and several paragraphs of text you want to organize and present to the reader as an advertisement. How do you put all of these elements together in such a way that your reader will “get” your most important point, then move on to your subsequent points?

The same question arises if you are designing a multi-page document, perhaps a print book or a furniture catalog (IKEA, for instance, has to do this very thing, and make it understandable, interesting, and consistent with their brand image).

After all, if you do not give your reader a “road map,” a set of directions regarding how to proceed through the material on the printed page, he or she will get frustrated. And a frustrated reader stops reading.

The Building Blocks of Design and Their Purpose

A few elements of design (for commercial printing or the Internet) that come to mind for me are the following: color, typefaces, treatment of photos, and—in some ways more importantly—the design grid.

Why is the design grid so important, and what exactly is it?

Think of a design grid like a structure of girders on which you build a building, or a wire armature around which you apply clay when making a sculpture, or even just the scaffolding built to paint or repair the interior or exterior of a building.

In all of these cases, the structure gives form and sturdiness to the building or sculpture. It is also like a skeleton, which gives sturdiness and form to a human or (other) animal body, while at the same time providing flexibility. Having a spine also allows you to bend and twist.

Using a design grid shows you where and how to position headlines, photos, color blocks, sidebars, or pull-quotes, on a page spread of the print book or on a single-page advertisement. Moreover, it does this by setting up expectations in a reader. The reader knows, for instance, that there will be one, two, or three columns of type on a print book page (twice as many on a double-page spread). Images will fit in these spaces or bleed off the edge of the paper. Headlines may be placed at the top of the page, and running headers along with filios (page numbers) may be at the top of each page with an underline, a half-point rule that bleeds into the gutter.

Consistency makes design elements on individual print book pages (as well as successive groups of print book pages) feel unified. Unity is a prime principle of both fine art and graphic art because it focuses the reader or viewer on the levels of importance among visual elements and on how they are interrelated.

Creating the Design Grid

When I started in graphic design more than 40 years ago, the initial step in creating a design grid, which I am about to teach you, had to be done on paper. We did not have computers, so I would first draw the outline of a page (let’s say 8.5” x 11”). Then I would add margins (let’s say 1” all the way around—top, bottom and sides). Then I might break the central column that remains (everything but the empty margin space) into two or three columns with gutters between them.

When I laid out two pages side by side (a page spread), I would have double the number of columns.

This is exactly what I would do when laying out a small community newspaper I produced in the early 1980s. Now you can do the same thing on your computer in your design program (such as InDesign) using colored guide lines that you can pull down out of the rulers on the page you’re designing. You can also set the number of columns and the space between columns on the computer.

But one thing I would strongly encourage you to do is to design two pages at a time (a spread). Why? Because the reader of a multi-page print book (this doesn’t apply to a single-page ad) always sees two pages side by side. So it behooves you to design multi-page commercial printing projects this way.

The Newspaper Grid I Used

When I laid out each issue of the community newspaper back in the early 1980s, I already had some fixed parameters. (In fact, I also had a stack of blank grid sheets ruled out with margins, columns, and gutters between columns). The type sizes and typefaces had already been determined for the body copy, headlines, subheads, etc. And the paper choice and color choices had also been determined. So I had fewer variables to concern myself with: mostly related to the use of (rather than the creation of) the design grid.

If I recall correctly, I had five narrow columns on the left-hand page and five on the right-hand page. Since the readers’ eyes went first to the outside edges of each two-page spread when she/he turned the page, I had to position the advertisements toward the outside. They were one, two, or five columns wide, and I built them upward (large to small) from the bottom to the outside edges, leaving a “well” in the center of the two-page spread into which I could place the headlines, pull-quotes, and single columns of editorial copy. Because all pages matched this general rule, the reader always knew where to look for both ads and editorial material. There was no confusion, and this regularity and lack of confusion put the reader at ease. (Here’s a summary of these rules of thumb: minimize variables, maintain consistency, set up reader expectations and keep to them—all to make reading easier.)

On the front of the newspaper I could be more creative. I could add a large photo. Perhaps I might bleed the photo off the page (or even tilt it). I could turn a short headline (only a few words) on its side and use it to take up one whole column (out of the five on the cover page). I could extend a headline over one, two, three, or more columns, depending on where the columns of editorial type associated with the headline were positioned.

With all of this I had a lot of options and could offer a lot of visual variety. However, at the same time everything looked like it had been designed by one person. Things were not jumbled around on the page. Each design element aligned with something else. So what the design grid really did for me was to simplify all of my design options while providing the reader with consistency and ease of reading.

Since my time at the newspaper I have had about 40 years of experience designing everything from large-format graphics to print books, from brochures to advertisements. All of these have been based on some form of this initial grid concept. It has made my life considerably easier because I haven’t needed to make up new design rules for each page spread.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

What I would suggest for you, if you’re a designer, is to use Google Search to find examples of design grids (one-, two-, three-, and five-column grids). Look for both the ruled-out design grids without headlines and photos and the very same grids with the design elements included.

Notice how all of the primary visual elements (photos, headlines, etc.) seem to nestle into a corner of one of the columns or extend across multiple columns or all of the columns. They don’t just float in the columns; they are anchored in some way. And each element is aligned in some way with other elements on the page (the fewer “axis lines” or “lines of alignment,” the stronger the structure).

There is no better way to learn this than by finding visual examples (printed and on the Internet) of multiple-column design grids and their uses in commercial printing. Learn from the masters of graphic design. Also, if you get a promotional piece in the mail and you like it, deconstruct the grid. Draw it out right on the brochure, noting the columns of type, the margins, the gutter between columns. Be able to articulate exactly how the designer has made her/his choices in positioning all elements of the design. This is exactly how I learned. Eventually it became second nature.

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Custom Printing: Fooling the Eye with Cover Coatings

November 3rd, 2019

Posted in Paper Coatings | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Fooling the Eye with Cover Coatings

A lot of good things in life involve fooling the eye. It’s what magicians do. Once you know the trick, it’s no longer magic. But once you know the secret, perhaps you appreciate something larger, such as the skill of the magician and the limits of human perception.

In this vein, I was recently pleased and surprised by a print book my fiancee found when we were thrift-store shopping, our favorite passtime.

Selp Helf (that’s not a typo) by Miranda Sings, a comedian with a penchant for original spelling rules, has an intriguing book cover dust jacket. The title is printed in what looks like black magic marker. I wouldn’t call the font a typeface; it’s more of a hand-scrawled title.

What makes the print book cover unique is that the hand-printed title appears to be actually written on two strips of masking tape. When you run your finger across the two strips, the texture confirms it. There’s the roughness you’re familiar with. In fact, at a couple of points around the edges, the tape feels like its bunched up. You even automatically try to work a fingernail under the tape.

To complete the mental picture as you visualize this cover, Miranda Sings’ byline is set in Courier (typewriter type), and a photo of this comedian is on the right, bleeding off the cover and looking up and back at the print book title on the masking tape.

What’s the Magic?

The fine arts term that pertains to this book cover is “trompe l’oeil.” It is French for “fool the eye.” Wikipedia defines the term as follows:

“Trompe-l’œil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”

You may have seen paintings in galleries in which the subject matter (often flat images of postcards and similar small objects attached to a flat surface like a bulletin board) looks absolutely real (unlike, perhaps, a painting of a landscape). The tromp l’oeil painting looks so real that you want to touch it.

Miranda Sings goes one step further. (You could say she takes the leap from painting–analogous to the print book cover–to sculpture, because once you touch the faux masking tape, your brain registers the texture as “real” as well as the appearance. Therein lies the magic.

Moreover, using the tools and techniques of commercial printing to achieve this visual and tactile result showcases one of the benefits of physical printing over the Internet. Images on the Internet (or even images created with computer virtual reality) can be immersive. They can envelop you and transport you to another realm that “feels” real, but this magical achievement does not involve the sense of touch (at least it doesn’t do this yet). A print book is a physical experience. The Internet and any other virtual (computer-generated) experience is not.

How Did They Create the Magic?

Commercial printing uses a set of tools and techniques (building blocks, if you will) to elicit a mental and tactile response. In this particular case, three of the tools are low-relief embossing, the introduction of hand-drawn images (the print book title) into the computer workflow with a scanner, and the art of contrasting different cover coatings against one another.

You could go even further, and you could say that the chemistry of cover coatings (many of them UV coatings; some based on varnish) is another magical tool. This is particularly true these days, since numerous kinds of textured UV coatings have been developed in recent years.

To begin with the embossing, you can see how the technique was done by removing the dust jacket. (Again, remember that the cover I mentioned really is the dust jacket. The book itself is case bound. The actual cover is made of red paper and cloth and only has printing on the spine.)

When you remove the dust jacket and look at the back of the press sheet under a good light, you see (and can feel) an ever so slightly formed embossing that includes the bumps along the edge that my finger had perceived as the edges of absolutely real masking tape. For me, what makes this so intriguing is how slight the embossing is. It feels only as thick as masking tape. Other embossing and debossing I have seen has been much deeper. The artistic term for this is “bas relief.” It means “low relief.” It’s not a new concept, but it has been especially well done (i.e., supremely effective) on this dust jacket.

Let’s move on to the hand lettering. While it is possible that there is a hand-drawn font that looks like magic marker scratchings (with multiple overlapping lines made to look thicker), to me it looks more like someone drew the title on paper and then scanned it and placed it in the InDesign art file.

Interestingly enough, when you look closely with a 12-power printer’s loupe you can see that all four printing inks have been used to create a bold, heavy black ink. (The printer’s term is “rich black,” and it is composed of various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.) What you see when you look closely with a loupe is halftone dots of all these colors laid over over one another at slightly different angles.

Finally, the designer knew how to use cover coatings. These are the chemicals applied to the press sheet (usually) after the printing ink. To help you visualize this, the commercial printing paper itself is often porous. Therefore, it is often topcoated with a dull or gloss coating. The printing press deposits ink on this coated surface, and the inks stay put. Because of the coating, the inks are less likely to seep into the porous paper fibers on the base custom printing sheet.

In contrast, the cover coatings I speak relative to the faux masking tape on the book cover dust jacket are applied after the ink has been deposited on the press sheet. These can include UV coatings (gloss and dull), aqueous coatings (dull, gloss, and satin), film and liquid laminates (dull and gloss), and varnish (and, again, they are applied over the printed sheet). That said, they can be “flood” coats, in which case they cover the entire press sheet (or in this case the entire dust jacket). Or they can be “spot” applications placed only in specific locations. What makes this magical is that you can cover one area with a spot gloss coating (in the case of this dust jacket it would be everything but the masking tape) and another area with a dull coating (in this case the masking tape itself). The contrast between the two then creates the perception of the masking tape.

Now to expand upon the various options contemporary designers have at their disposal, print book cover coatings have multiplied significantly in the past seven to ten years. You now have a lot more options than just dull and gloss. (And many of these are related to UV–or Ultraviolet–inks, which are cured or dried with UV light.)

Some of these coatings have a rubbery feel that seems to grab your fingers. In fact, I once received a print book of sample cover coatings from a paper manufacturer that showcased an image of a spider. On the hairy underbelly of the spider the printer had applied just such a rubbery coating. Other parts of the spider were gloss or dull coated. Touching the belly of the spider was unsettling, to say the least.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Printing is a physical medium. Think about what this means (compare physical printing to computer-based, or Internet-based, experiences), and then use the differences to your advantage. Capitalizing on the physical attributes of commercial printing makes holding and reading a print book a unique experience. In fact, in recent years it has become an increasingly tactile experience. If you’re designing books, it behooves you to learn about and then exploit these differences.
  2. Call your printer or paper merchant and ask for a few paper sample books showcasing the effects that can be achieved with different cover coatings. This will help you in two ways. It will open your mind to the multitude of effects, and it will make it easier to communicate your goals to your book printer or commercial printing vendor. You may even find some of these books on sale (or for free) online if you look for paper merchants.
  3. Ask your printer about the following: textured UV coatings and reticulation varnish. I mention this because the most dramatic effects I’ve seen have been crafted with UV coatings. I also mention reticulation varnish because it’s a unique effect (similar to seeing water droplets bead up on the surface of your car after a rainstorm). It’s not for every occasion, but it’s worth exploring. (You may also want to Google reticulation varnish online for an explanation of the chemistry behind this process.)

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Book Printing: The “Greyness” of a Block of Type

October 28th, 2019

Posted in Design, Typography | 2 Comments »

I know that a term like “greyness” when referring to a block of black text on a print book page sounds somewhat esoteric, but bear with me. This simple concept can affect everything from the look of a book’s design to its readability and even its printability. And all of this can change based on the age of your readership.

In a nutshell, “greyness” of a block of copy refers to the appearance of text on a white page. Even if it is black ink or toner, a chunk of copy appears to be grey when printed on white paper. This will be affected by the thickness or thinness of the letterforms of your chosen typeface, the amount of leading you add (the extra space between lines of copy), and even your choice of ragged right/flush left alignment vs. justified type.

The Backstory

A client of mine whom I’ve mentioned before desiitgns print books for NATO and the World Bank. I confer with her on the design and make suggestions whenever she gets stuck.

A few days ago, she sent me two type samples. They were actually quite simple, with a headline over a paragraph of text copy. Both type samples were set in a sans serif typeface. Both samples had the same sized headline type and text type (let’s say 24 pt. headlines and 10/14 body copy type with a 5-inch column width, for the sake of argument).

The only difference was that the type in one sample was screened back to 80 percent of black, and the other was 100 black.

My consulting client then asked me which sample I thought was easier to read.

So this was a very simple comparison to make, a bit like my eye doctor’s questioning me as to which lens allows me to read the letters on the wall. “Which is better, this one, or this one?”

My Choice, and the Implications for Your Design Work

I chose the lighter type. I thought the 100 black type “felt” heavy.

As simple as this sounds, it is actually wrapped in complexity, so here are a number of things I told my client to consider (and I would ask you to do the same, if your work involves page design for a print book).

  1. People are liable to stop reading if the act of reading tires their eyes. For a brochure, the type choice can be more flexible because there’s less type to read. For a print book, there’s a lot of text to read, and if its initial appearance is daunting, the reader will be less likely to continue.
  2. On a page, it is easier to read serif type. The reader’s eye travels from one serif on one letter to the serifs on the next letter. However, on a computer screen, it is easier to read sans serif type. When I checked my client’s two type samples, I was looking at a PDF on my computer. So I asked my client to make sure she liked the look of the type on a laser printout.
  3. Even within the two categories of serif and sans serif copy, there is a lot of variance in the greyness of a block of type. Some typefaces appear heavy, while others appear light. To me, slightly lighter type seems more inviting because there seems to be less work to do in reading it (i.e., less eye strain over a length of time). I think others may agree.
  4. But if the text appears to be too light, the reader will need to strain to see it, and this will minimize the accessibility of the type.
  5. More than one and a half alphabets (39 characters in English) worth of text (for the width of a column) minimizes readability.
  6. For text type, 9, 9.5, or 10 pt. type is fairly readable. You will probably find that in addition to lightening the perceived greyness of a block of copy, adding leading (space between lines of text) will increase readability. For instance, 10/12 (two points of lead, if 10/10 is considered “set solid” or with no leading) is quite readable (depending on the typeface). However, also depending on the typeface, I personally find 10/13 (one extra point of lead) or even 10/14, to be optimal.
  7. Readability is based in part on the age of your reader’s eyes. At 61, mine are now less flexible than they used to be. (That is, they will change focus from near to far and back again less quickly.) That’s why I like a little more leading in my type. So when you design something, consider the age of your target reader. And be kind. Your text will be more likely to be read.
  8. This should actually be much earlier in this list, but it’s important to remember that readability is more important than design/appearance. If you lose your reader, a superb publication design is wasted. That said, you can usually find a typeface that both looks good and is readable.
  9. As a caveat, print out your type selections. See how they will look on paper, not just on the computer screen. (After all, the final print book will be on paper, and on a computer it’s very easy to view–and design–a publication that is either smaller or larger than the true 100 percent final size. This can lead you to make bad design decisions.)
  10. There are ways to maximize legibility. Flush left/ragged right text is easier to read than justified copy. It also ensures that spaces between words will not vary. Adding leading improves legibility, as noted before. Shortening the width of a column of type improves legibility. In addition, printing text on a contrasting background (ideally black type on white paper) maximizes legibility. Avoiding blocks of reversed type (white type on a black background, for instance) maximizes legibility, as does avoiding typesetting words in all-capital letters.
  11. All of these rules can be broken if you do so in small amounts of copy. For instance, all-capital heads are easier to read than even a short paragraph of all-capital text. This is a major reason that almost any kind of wild type usage is easier to deal with on a poster (for example, the bulbous letterforms used on 1960s psychedelic posters) than on the page of a print book.

“The Rules” As They Apply to Printing

Beyond the rules of design, type legibility, and the mechanics of the eye, there are printing issues to consider:

  1. Understand how your text design will be printed. This is important. For instance, my consulting client chose the 80 percent screening of black type for her print book. In commercial printing, since ink or toner is either present or absent in any given space (black or white but not grey), the printer must simulate levels of grey with halftone dots. In my client’s case (unless she was going to print the heads in black ink and the text in a separate PMS grey ink), all of the letterforms in her text would be made up of little dots, not solid letterforms. This can minimize legibility.
  2. Fortunately for my client, 80 percent of black (toner or ink) is close enough to 100 percent to fool the eye. From arm’s length (reading distance), the text will appear grey. It should not have visible dots from that distance. However, I would not advise my client, or any designer, to print 50 or 60 percent grey type. In fact, it’s always best (if you have the budget) to choose a PMS grey ink rather than a screen of black ink if you want the text to appear grey.
  3. That said, my client’s sans serif type would be more forgiving than a serif face with both thick and thin letterforms. (The halftone dots would be particularly visible in thin letter strokes, or, worse, the letterforms could appear to be broken in certain thin strokes.)
  4. All of this is accentuated if you’re building a color for the text using multiple hues. As a rule of thumb, I’d say that you should never do this. For headline type, it’s ok, but not for text type. This is because even the slightest bit of misregister (of the three or four printing inks used to build your color) would make the text type appear fuzzy and might make it unreadable.

The Take Away

  1. If you must screen a color or build a color, go for simplicity. Screen the text type at a high percentage (closer to 100 percent black), and only build a color for a headline (that is, a mixture of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The fewer of these colors you use, the better. If you build a headline color out of magenta and yellow, for instance, the yellow will be light enough to not be distracting if the register of all inks is not perfect. In contrast, if you build a color with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, even a slight misregister can cause problems.
  2. Don’t make decisions on the computer screen if at all possible. Print out the type samples and see how they look.
  3. Consider the age of the reader. Older eyes change focus more slowly.
  4. Rely on your printer’s expertise and advice.
  5. Readability always trumps design aesthetics. The first goal is to make your printed products legible.

Posted in Design, Typography | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: 3D Printed Rockets

October 21st, 2019

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A dear friend and commercial printing colleague recently shared with me some information on a firm that prints rockets. Not plastic, model rockets for science fairs but huge, metal rockets that take satellites into space. They use 3D printing technology (building up layer upon layer of metal rather than plastic), and they can do this faster and less expensively than with more traditional technology. Wow.

First of all, an overview: 3D custom printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been around for some time now. You can even go to a computer store and buy a 3D printer for relatively little money.

The process is analagous to your inkjet printer, which sprays drops of ink onto a flat substrate. In contrast, a 3D printer you might buy at MicroCenter “oozes” liquefied plastic from a nozzle onto a matrix, building up layer upon layer of plastic into a 3D product: let’s say a plastic chess piece. Digital data drives the process.

In contrast, you have the more traditional subtractive manufacturing technology that grinds away at a block of material (metal, plastic). Maybe you would use subtractive manufacuring to “machine” or grind down metal pieces you would then assemble into an electric motor.

Think of this as the difference between modeling a statue out of clay (additive manufacturing) and carving a statue out of wood (subtractive manufacturing).

I’ve read about people making designer shoes with a 3D printer, along with jewelry and even small pistols. Beyond that, I’ve even read about biochemists working toward printing body parts or even types of food (like hamburgers).

But Rockets?

Here’s the gist of the matter. Relativity Space (backed by Mark Cuban, co-host of Shark Tank) has successfully printed space rockets that will put automobile-sized satellites in a low orbit (close to Earth) in a “constellation” (grouping) that can communicate with each other (and can also communicate more quickly with Earth because they are closer to Earth than other satellites).

Relativity also plans to eventually make rockets in this manner (3D printing) on the surface of Mars using local (“in situ”) materials (Martian rockets 3D printed on Mars using Martian materials).

And Relativity already has clients, such as mu Space in Thailand. mu Space makes satellites, but it has also designed a spacesuit. And Relativity’s 3D custom printing processes will come in handy here as well.

To go back to the business pitch for Relativity’s 3D process, Relativity can produce the rockets considerably faster (six months vs. the usual three to four years) and considerably cheaper (two to three times cheaper) than with traditional technology. And because they can do this more quickly and cheaply, schedules for getting back into space can be shorter. And changes in rocket design can be achieved more easily (on the fly, if you will).

After all, when you’re building a component of a rocket layer upon layer with metal using digital design information to drive the process, you don’t need expensive machinery specifically designed to grind down the parts. (You don’t even need machinery for injection molding–another additive manufacturing process in which you pour liquefied metal into a mold.)

You have flexibility.

But Is It Printing?

So how does all of this relate to commercial printing? And what are the overall business implications of digital (let’s call it) 3D imaging?

First of all, when you print ink on paper, you are presenting the reader with a stimulus. The reader sees the words and photos, and perhaps the qualities of the paper, and this evokes an image in the mind and emotions of the reader. For functional printing and informational printing, the printed product essentially does the same thing.

For 3D printing, additive manufacturing transports the printed product, which had initially been a vision in the mind of the manufacturer, into three dimensional reality. In addition, for functional products like Relativity’s space rockets, the 3D printed item has a utilitarian value (just as a printed computer keyboard layout has utilitarian value).

The next benefit of 3D manufacturing (over subtractive manufacturing) is that you don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to change the manufacturing tools every time you change the design. Just as you can print a flexible packaging prototype via digital inkjet (and then change the design in response to user feedback), if Relativity doesn’t like a prototype rocket made with 3D custom printing, they can remake the digital design files. Then they can 3D print a new prototype without needing to remake the injection molding equipment or the tooling or grinding machines.

Whether it’s a brochure or a rocket, driving the production process with digital data reduces costs and speeds up production.

And if you’re making rockets, you’re applying your efficient and economical manufacuring techniques to an especially lucrative endeavor.

For Further Reading

You may want to check out the following articles about Relativity Space and the Terran rockets, the world’s first entirely 3D produced rockets. These articles discuss Relativity’s ability to produce rockets from “materials to flight-ready” in 60 days with a launch time of between two and four years:

“A 3D-Printed Rocket Will Launch a Thai Satellite Into Space,”, 04/23/19, Elizabeth Howell

“Relativity Space to Launch Satellite ‘Tugs’ on Printed Rocket,”, Dorris Elin Urrutia

“Dreaming of Mars, the Start-Up Relativity Space Gets Its First Launch Site on Earth,”, Jonathan Shieber, 01/17/19

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Custom Printing: Whole Foods Equals Great Branding

October 13th, 2019

Posted in Corporate Branding | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Whole Foods Equals Great Branding

After a medical procedure today and nap during which I slept like the dead, I stumbled downstairs and grabbed the mail on my desk. I could barely see anything. My eyesight wasn’t right yet. But I knew by its colors and its feel that I held in my hand the new Whole Foods Market catalog/brochure—even if the address panel of the folded marketing piece didn’t contain the Whole Foods logo.

Now that’s good branding. So here’s a breakdown of what Whole Foods is doing right (in my opinion).

Branding: The Logo and Signature Colors

First of all, this 8.5” x 11”, 12-page, saddle-stitched print catalog comes to my fiancee’s and my house regularly. (Literally, at the same time each month.) This is important because it sets up an expectation in the reader. I think that the intangibles of a brand (in this case, reliability) are just as much a part of the brand as the shape and color of the logo.

When you open the wafer seals (to keep the folded piece small enough in format to mail economically: 5.5” x 8.5”), the first thing you see is the Whole Foods logo in the top left, bleeding off the top of the page. This is relevant because the eye starts at the top of the page and goes down. Why? Because that’s how we’ve been taught to read.

That said, there’s a large silhouette of an apple tart in the bottom right, also bleeding off the page. (That’s important because bleeds make the printed piece look bigger than it is. This is because your subconscious thinks there’s more of the apple tart—in this case—that exists beyond the edge of the page.)

The green logo at the top of the page and the apple tart capture the reader’s attention and link the Whole Foods brand with the visceral experience of culinary delights. This in itself could be their mission statement.

Branding also involves the paper choice: in this case a less-than-bright-white, uncoated press sheet. The more subdued look and the tactile feel, along with the presumption that fewer chemicals were used to bleach the paper, highlight the Whole Foods brand as being sensitive to the environment. This value draws in the clientele, who presumably feel the same way.

Page Layout

The brochure designer (who is masterful, and from whom I can learn a lot about design) continues the design through the remaining eleven pages within the following structure.

Photos are large and contain groups of delectable food products. In some pages, the photo takes up one and a half pages (bleeds across the gutter), leaving the balance of the two-page spread for a column of type. Alternatively, a photo of multiple products on a light background contains chunks of copy describing the products. (Actually, even the large photos that extend across the page spread have ghosted boxes for product descriptions. There is an air of sophistication in the way you can see the plates of food through the text boxes overlapping them.)

The designer also contrasts large and small images. (Contrast in size of visual elements creates interest—a rule of design. It also makes the large photos look larger and the small photos look smaller.)

Product prices are larger than the text type and therefore easily identifiable. (The reader’s being able to scan the booklet quickly makes product sales more likely.) Red ink highlights the word “SALE” when it appears throughout the booklet (enhancing reader expectation through repetition of similar visual elements).

Also, periodically, the signature green of the Whole Foods logo appears (for example, in a circular burst that says “New”). The circle of the “New” burst reminds the viewer of the circular green Whole Foods logo, and the repetition of the color and shape adds consistency (unity) to the catalog/brochure. (Unity is another principle of design, crafted through repetition of colors, images, typefaces, and such.)

In many cases the food (apples, for instance) appear to have been tossed around at random on the light background. (This is even true in some cases for the bottles of product on a white, randomly-patterned tile wall.) All of this lends an air of casual movement and excitement to the printed piece. (Just as you might toss a salad full of sun-dried tomatoes.)

One page is replete with “Prime” (as in Amazon Prime) member deals, and this icon as well is noted with a blue circle from which the type has been reversed. This hearkens back to the other circular logos, even though it is blue. On this page there’s a three-item by three-item grid of nine products. The structure of this symmetrical arrangement adds contrast to the bottles of sauces in active motion on the opposite page of the design spread.

The Piece de Resistance

I actually remember where I was standing thirty years ago when I was first asked to design a print catalog of government books for a non-profit organization, while including “lifestyle blurbs” periodically that pertained to government but not to the print books. I was behind the times in my confusion.

Within the Whole Foods booklet, there are periodic recipes. This is considered “evergreen” “lifestyle” content. People who read this brochure or print catalog presumably want to affiliate themselves with the brand, in part by expanding the food-shopping experience into a cooking experience. (Granted, even without the branding goal, the recipes are still useful information—which is why they hook the reader. After all, if you like the products and the environment, it makes sense that you’ll want ideas for using the food. I personally read Trader Joe’s marketing materials for the same reasons.)

The Last Page

As a recovering designer, I remember back when I was designing print catalogs like these and was faced with what to put on the back of the booklet (prime selling space).

First of all, you need to follow the postal regulations. I’m sure they’re online now, but we used to get books from the Post Office. These print books covered where to print the address information, where to place the indicia, and most importantly where to print noting at all, since it would disturb the optical character reader (and render the printed piece non-machinable). In your own work, follow these Post Office requirements religiously. If you don’t, at best the Post Office will charge you more per piece to mail the non-machinable brochures. But at worst the Post Office will reject your mailing outright, and you’ll need to reprint the job.

Fortunately, you can ask for a direct market specialist to bless your mock-up (size, placement, tab sealing, everything) before you print. It behooves you to develop a good working relationship with such a USPS professional.

Back to the design of the Whole Foods catalog/brochure. The unfolded back panel has a stack of sliced apple bits on the left, which brings the eye up to some “sale information” at the top and down to more “sale information” at the bottom of the page. When the page is folded for mailing, this stack of apple bits is visible on either side of the page (remember, this is what you see when you get the mail—the mailer and the back panel, not the front of the catalog—so it has to be recognizable and appetizing, so to speak).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I can really keep this to one basic concept: Find examples of what you like and then deconstruct them. That’s how you learn. That’s how I learned.

Think about the paper, colors, and typefaces. Think about the overall design grid. Think about the photos. Think about what’s included (like Whole Foods’ recipes) and what’s not.

Use generous white space. It makes the design seem airy, opulent—and it’s easier to read.

Make sure the reader’s eye flows through the printed piece in exactly the way you want it to. (Use color and the contrasting size of the visual elements to achieve this.)

A well-designed brochure, print catalog, or booklet is a better teacher than a “how-to” print book or even a professor droning on in front of the design-principles class. Find designs you like. Look closely. Learn. Then bring into your own design work what you’ve learned from others’ work. If you do this, even a groggy reader collecting the mail will recognize the branding of the piece and associate it with the company you’re promoting.

And that instant of recognition alone is worth lots of money to the company your custom printing product promotes.

Posted in Corporate Branding | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Whole Foods Equals Great Branding

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Designing and Tweaking a Logo

October 7th, 2019

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Designing and Tweaking a Logo

A custom printing client of mine recently asked me for help with her rebranding efforts. Over the years, I have been a designer and art director, and I have also done marketing writing and design work. In addition, I have focused on marketing as subject matter for the PIE Blog articles and Quick Tips articles, so I spend a lot of time studying this aspect of communications and commercial printing.

Since my client just offered me this new work, it seemed fortuitous that I just found an article on adjusting your logo for reproduction at different sizes and in different media (internet vs. print, for instance). The article is “Designing a Logo for Every Size and Usage.” It was written by Ilene Strizver and published on on 8/13/19.

Strizver notes that logos must be immediately recognizable at different sizes. Although you may first see a logo on a business card, you need to see the same visual image when you find the logo again on a large-format banner on the side of a building.

Or, you may see the logo first on a brochure and then online. The first rendering will be achieved with ink or toner, and the second will be composed of colored pixels on a backlit computer screen, which provides a very different visual experience.

Much of what “Designing a Logo for Every Size and Usage” offers is an approach to the letterforms used in the logo. That is, we must first understand that the size of the logo changes the appearance of the letterforms.

For instance, if you create a logo that is 3” wide (an arbitrary width) and then shrink it down to a useful size for a business card, certain portions of the letterforms will fill in and be unreadable. Granted, if you look through a magnifying glass, these strokes in the letters will still be there, but at a normal reading distance, your eye will fool you. The “counters” (the technical word for the curved, enclosed spaces in the letterforms, such as the enclosed portion of a “P”) will fill in or at least not be visible.

Or the letterforms will appear to run together. They may not be distinct from one another. Or the serifs in the typeface may disappear (they’re still there, just below the threshold of readability).

Or, depending on your substrate, the commercial printing technology might be problematic, according to Strizver’s article. For example, if you’re printing on fabric, the inks may bleed into the fibers, making parts of the letterforms fatten up or become blobs of ink.

Enlarging the logo might also be problematic. If you take the 3” logo and enlarge it for use on a banner, the letters may seem to be too far apart. This can impede readability because the letterforms don’t appear to be as connected to one another as you’re used to (that is, you begin to see the strokes as individual letters instead of seeing them as one word). If you have to think about the word you’re reading, this will hinder your comprehension.

And all of this is just for printing with ink or toner. That’s just half the battle.

Rendering your logo on a smartphone screen or tablet or computer monitor may make the letterforms look different than you’re used to. Colors are not always the same as in print (so they may not match the PMS colors of your printed logo). In addition, the backlighting of computer screens makes it harder to read small type. And even though serif faces have been proven easier to read in print, the opposite is true online, where sans serif typefaces are easier to read.

All of this can slow down your reader. And a major rule of marketing and psychology is that anything that slows down a reader or confuses her/him will dilute your marketing message. At best, your prospective client’s reading speed will be impaired. But at worst, you’ll lose your reader entirely.

What to Do / How to Fix These Problems

“Designing a Logo for Every Size and Usage” doesn’t really tell you what to do. Rather it lets you know what to look for in designing a logo, so you can tweak it for optimal readability. Moreover, it presents a novel concept in this light. That is, you should create different versions of your logo for different uses. Not very different, just optimized for the size and medium in which it will be presented. The goal is to massage the logo in such as way that the reader’s eye (with all its limitations) thinks all of the different sized iterations of the logo are exactly the same.

As an approach to doing this, here are the things Strizver says you should consider:

  1. Adjust the letterspacing as needed. (This is the space between letters, which can be altered with “kerning” controls in InDesign.) It should be more open for smaller versions of your logo and tighter for larger versions.
  2. The same holds true for word spacing (the space between words). You need more word spacing for smaller versions of the logo and less word spacing for larger versions.
  3. If your logo has multiple lines of type (perhaps a logo word mark with a tag line under it), add more space between lines (“leading”) for smaller versions of the logo and less space for larger versions.
  4. Adjust the thickness of thin strokes (like serifs) as needed.
  5. Make the “counters” of the letterforms (like the enclosed space in a “P”) more open if you’re rendering a logo at a small size.
  6. Narrow and condensed fonts can be even harder to read (and therefore may need more adjusting).
  7. Readability can be improved by using a slightly different weight for the font (some fonts come in demi-bold and bold, for instance, or other slight variations from one another).
  8. Changing the strokes of a letterform can be daunting. Remember you’re not doing this to an entire font. You’re just tweaking (presumably) a limited number of letters in a logo. You may choose to do this in Illustrator. (This was not in Strizver’s article. It’s my own commentary.)
  9. Another related suggestion of mine (not in Strizver’s article) is that you be conscious of the reader’s age. As we get older, our eyes become less flexible in changing focus. In this case, paying attention to Strizver’s suggestions becomes even more important to your readership.
  10. Make subtle changes to the letterforms, not dramatic ones.
  11. After all, the goal is for none of your readers to see what you’re doing. You’re not creating a new typeface. You’re just making it easier for customers and prospective customers to see your logo and not stumble over the limits of human eyesight or the liabilities of various media.

An Approach to Your Own Design Work

As noted above, I have a new logo/rebranding client. It would be very easy for me to forget all of this in forging ahead with the rebranding work. Therefore, it’s best to slow down and think. If you’re in a similar position, here are some things to consider, based on my own experience as a designer and art director.

  1. Focus on the logo type treatment and any image you will use first. Think like an artist at this point. Try different type treatments and approaches to the logo.
  2. Then view the logo at different sizes. At this point, just observe and make mental notes of potential problems.
  3. Then check your logo on different media. Try printing it out (both black and white and color). Then see how it looks online in various sizes.
  4. Consider all of the suggestions presented in “Designing a Logo for Every Size and Usage.” Make changes and develop a logo style-and-use document for the client based on presenting the logo at different sizes, in different ways, and on different media. But do this last. First, make sure you have an aesthetically designed, dramatic logo that will be a powerful statement at different sizes. Then focus on Strizver’s article as a way only to “tweak” the designs and present them in their best light.

You may be surprised at how effective this can be. I just did this with my fiancee’s daughter’s logo for her yoga studio. I tightened up the spacing between a few letters in her logo (also knows as “kerning”), and the name of her studio, which had initially appeared as a few small clumps of separate letters, visually (and therefore cognitively) became one word. In the case of my fiancee’s daughter’s logo, all it took was equalizing the space between all of the letters in her logotype.

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Designing and Tweaking a Logo

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