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

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Custom Printing: One Printer’s Best Sales Practices

September 2nd, 2015

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

As a commercial printing broker, I like to be wooed by a new printing vendor. My favorite words to hear: a heartfelt “How can I help you?”

I had lunch with the VP of Operations and the Business Development Manager of a local custom printing shop about a week ago, and since that time I have seen a number of positive signs that have led me to want to work with this vendor. Here’s a short list.

The Job Cost vs. Its Final Price

At lunch I brought up my client’s custom pocket folder brochure (of which I have written a number of blog posts recently). I had seen the printer’s equipment on the plant tour prior to lunch. I knew this printer could do both digital and offset printing, and I was interested in the next step: pricing the job.

I was a little taken aback when the VP of Operations noted, “We’re not the cheapest printer in town.” Fortunately, this particular custom pocket folder/brochure will be a flagship piece for a global insurance corporation. It will be a branding tool, and therefore I think the client will be open to spending a little money for a quality product.

Within a day of my submitting specs (hours after the lunch), I had received four options for the pocket folder/brochure, including different sizes produced on different equipment (digital and offset) along with comprehensive pricing.

Fortunately this is early in the process, and my client will have time to use the initial pricing information to direct the choices she makes in designing the promotional piece.

What I learned from the four options and their prices was threefold.

  1. The price range was higher than the lowest bid I had received (I had requested pricing from five vendors with different equipment on their pressroom floors). However, it was lower than any of the remaining four bids.
  2. This commercial printing vendor was proactive. I had enough information to make my head hurt, but upon close examination of the estimates I could see a reasonable price range reflecting various options I could share with my client. She could choose based on her budget.
  3. I had a printer who really wanted my business, enough to come up with a number of potential solutions. I had had a positive experience on the plant tour, seeing the equipment and talking with the pressmen and prepress and post-press staff. I had liked the printed samples (they were stellar). And the printer’s consultative sales approach and attentive customer service increased my desire to do business with this company.

Surprisingly few commercial printing vendors go to these lengths to help.

And She Sent Photos, Too

The Business Development Manager sent me photos of paper dummies she had made (for the 4- or 8-page brochure that will be stitched into the oblong, 12” x 9” custom pocket folder). To me these were like a box of chocolates. I was being wooed.

The paper dummies, along with notations showing their overall size plus the size of their step-down short folds, taught me three things:

  1. The Business Development Manager wanted my business enough to make three paper dummies (and to use these to help explain the options for the interior brochure in the pocket folder).
  2. By sending photos of these paper dummies, she could get this information to me immediately (without a time lag for postal delivery or a courier).
  3. By reviewing these photos, I could determine just how much of the interior space in the pocket folder (printed via offset lithography) the interior pages would fill (in the 24” x 9” space), assuming that the individual pages produced on a 13” x 19” sheet (in an HP Indigo 7000) would be folded down in a stepped manner (each sheet 1” shorter than the next).

Again, very few commercial printing suppliers do this kind of sales work. It is a consultative approach. The printer absorbed the information I had provided regarding the press run (1,000 copies of the pocket folder to allow for “evergreen” information, and 100 to 250 copies of the stitched-in interior brochure to allow for frequent updates of dated material). The printer listened to the business goals and then provided a number of approaches across four pricing tiers.

What this really says is, “We’re not the cheapest, but we provide a lot more than ink or toner on paper. We understand your business needs. Here are some options for a solution that will increase your revenue by persuading prospects to engage with your business.” (In contrast, many printers just say, “These pocket folder/brochures will cost…”).

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Large Format Printing: Two More Unique Standees

August 30th, 2015

Posted in Standees | Comments »

I installed a rather unique standee (large format print) today with my fiancee. It’s for the new Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation film, and it spins. While doing the installation in the movie theater, I also saw a unique standee for The Good Dinosaur, a flat background wall out of which the silhouette of a dinosaur had been cut. Here are some thoughts on both, and on why I think they are more than just eye catching.

Mission: Impossible

The Mission: Impossible standee is a series of three boxes on a pole. Each box has four printed sides, and a blank top and a bottom. On the four sides of each box is either an action photo from the movie or text relating to the film. Between each box I placed a lazy-Susan spinning device.

What makes the standee unique is that it moves. It’s called a “spinner.” Each of the three boxes can move independently of the others, setting up a different series of large format print images one over the other.

Unlike most of the other standees my fiancee and I have installed, this one is not static. It changes. I’ve seen this only five or six times in the last five years. What makes the movement engaging to those who interact with the standee and move the boxes is twofold:

  1. All physical items have three dimensions: length, width, and height. But this standee has an additional dimension: time. Movement is related to change over time. This is what made the sculptures of Alexander Calder called “mobiles” unique. Because elements of the sculptures moved in arcs and circles, the mobiles were always slightly different, unlike other sculptures and paintings.
  2. Most standees are meant to be seen and appreciated from a distance. In contrast to these are the photo booths: cardboard environments in which you sit with the movie characters while someone takes your picture. In this way you interact with the photo booths. The same is true with this “spinner” standee. You can move it, so you are actually interacting with the standee. You’re participating in the marketing-art experience.

What You Can Learn

Movement and interactivity are powerful draws in any kind of artwork, be it fine art or commercial art. As a marketer, or designer, your task is to capture the interest and imagination of the viewer. Movement and interactivity will increase your chances of doing this. If you’re designing a large format print display, you can incorporate one or both of these characteristics into your work. In some cases, even if you’re designing a print book or another custom printing piece, you can do the same thing.

The Good Dinosaur

I was struck by the creativity in this standee because the central image, the dinosaur, doesn’t exist. It is actually composed of negative space cut out of the background box.

To explain, in fine arts the concept of “negative space” refers to all shapes and areas that are not the main subject matter of a painting or drawing (usually the background). Relating this to the standee, an image of a dinosaur on a field of green (the background) is the subject matter, and hence the entire background is secondary, and it is referred to as negative space (in contrast to the dinosaur, which is positive space).

In a more complex piece of art, the triangular shape of background image formed by a woman’s arm with her hand on her hip (for instance), might be considered a smaller area of negative space—also a part of the background.

What makes a piece of art compelling is the interaction between the negative and positive space. They fit into each other like pieces of a puzzle. In the case of the standee, one usually expects the subject matter, in this case the dinosaur, to be positive space. The standee designer thwarted the viewer’s expectation, and made the dinosaur not only negative space but “nonexistent” space.

More specifically, the three boxes that comprise the green background were created in such a manner that they end along the contour of the dinosaur. This required some serious thought in the composition of the standee as well as skill in die cutting the cardboard pieces of the standee.

But beyond the required technical expertise, the overall standee is unique because the designer challenged the viewer’s expectation of how the dinosaur would be presented. That which is unexpected can intrigue and delight the viewer. And this is an asset in both fine art and commercial art.

What You Can Learn

Find ways to lead the viewer down unexpected paths. Include unique treatments in your artwork, whether something as ephemeral as a ghost image created with a tinted varnish or a raised and textured UV coating to simulate the leather of a football or the hairs on a spider.

If something is unexpected, it will catch your viewer’s attention from among all the other potential stimuli he or she could be absorbing. To sell a product or service, good marketing does exactly this.

Use these building blocks in your next design piece.

Posted in Standees | Comments »

Large Format Printing: Details of a “Non-Glass Cling”

August 25th, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

I received a request today to install a series of non-glass clings at a local movie theater. These fit into the category of standees, just as the one-sheets and even the giant beach ball for the movie Rio fit this category. Non-glass clings also require digital large format printing capabilities for their creation, and they employ an interesting base substrate and adhesive.

Some Background on Clings

Until now, most of the “clings” I’ve been assigned to install have been static clings attached to windows. They don’t actually use static. Rather, the moisture in the air and the moisture on the clings create a bond between the glass and the plastic large format print signage. They can be easily peeled off and repositioned on the glass since they require no adhesive. Unfortunately, in dry climates, they don’t last well and tend to dry up and fall off the glass.

Non-Glass Clings

In contrast to these static clings, the non-glass clings I installed today had to be attached to metal columns in the theater, plastic parts of the movie concession stands, a mechanical ticket machine, and even the wallpaper on which the one-sheet (i.e., back-lit, large format print poster) cases had all been mounted in a row.

The diecut characters in the clings were all from The Peanuts Movie. They had been printed, presumably with inkjet technology (I didn’t have my loupe) on clear, flexible plastic. Fortunately, a very forgiving adhesive had been applied to their backs, and the images of the Peanuts characters had been diecut, allowing for easy removal from the backing sheets.

Let me break this down:

  1. The pigment had been applied to the clear plastic substrate over a white ink background. As noted in prior blog postings, this custom printing technique brightens up the colors significantly by providing a ground off which light can be reflected.
  2. The substrate had a good amount of dimensional stability. That is, when I peeled the diecut images away from the scrap (anything not considered the image area), they kept their shape. This was a particularly useful characteristic, since occasionally the adhesive stuck to another portion of the cling (like plastic food wrap, which often winds up in a ball in the trash). I was grateful that I could peel apart the stuck portions easily without damaging the Peanuts characters. In more technical terms, the plastic substrate was strong and dimensionally stable.
  3. The glue was forgiving but also quite strong. When I peeled the large format print clings away from their gloss paper backing sheets, they often stuck together in inappropriate places. Due to the qualities of the adhesive spread across the backs of the clings, I could easily peel them apart and position them on the wallpaper, concession stand, metal columns, or anywhere else. This also says something about the flexibility of the adhesive, in that it worked equally well on metal, plastic, and textured wallpaper. Moreover, I could remove and reposition the clings whenever I made a mistake in their placement.
  4. The non-glass clings had not only been diecut; they had been “kiss cut.” That is, the plastic of the clings had been perforated with the metal cutting rules but the thick backing sheet had not. So I could easily peel off the precise, diecut image of each Peanuts character without having part of the backing sheet come away with the plastic of the cling.
  5. Once I had accurately positioned the clings on the walls, columns, and concession stands (there were nineteen large format print clings in all), I could easily rub them down with my squeegie. (This is a flat plastic wedge that looks like a pan scraper used to clean food out of pots and pans. If you rub it across the surface of the clings, from the center to the perimeter of the images, it will drag the air bubbles away from the center of the cling toward the edges where they can be released. The cling will then lie completely flat with no air bubbles. The clings were even strong enough, and the adhesive flexible enough, for this to happen.)

Why You Should Care

Here are some thoughts on applying this case study to your own work:

  1. Good marketing catches the eye of the prospect by being different in some way. If it’s a postcard printed on clear plastic, it will stand out from all other mail in your mailbox. If it’s a non-glass “cling,” then having an irregular contour (in the case of the Peanuts characters, the contour was the shape of Snoopy, Linus, etc.) sets the cling apart from its surroundings. For instance, when I put four characters on top of four rectangular one-sheet lightboxes, you could see them from across the mall outside the theater. Why? Because everything else (all the back-lit posters) were rectangular. So the “take-away” is that as a designer you should consider ways to make your project different from the competition’s design pieces.
  2. Printing is a physical operation. Consider the substrate you’re printing on. Consider its dimensional stability, its flexibility, and the adhesive applied to its sticky side. If you need to remove and reposition a large format print, you’ll be grateful you thought about these characteristics.
  3. Research the use of extended color sets in inkjet digital printing and the value of opaque white as a background. This is new technology (both for inkjet and laser), and it deserves a close study. If you understand and apply it, your design pieces will “pop.”
  4. Look around, wherever you go. I’ll bet that you’ll see more and more large format print signage. As a designer, this bodes well for your future.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Custom Pocket Folders: Think About the Press Sheet Size

August 19th, 2015

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | 2 Comments »

Sometimes you just don’t think, or at least I don’t. I am pricing out an extremely short press run of a pocket folder (100 to 250 copies) with a 4-page or 8-page insert for a brokering client. I had mentioned this before in the PIE Blog.

The pocket folder will be oblong. That is, instead of being 9” x 12” it will be 12” x 9”. This is an important distinction, since a flat commercial printing sheet for such a pocket folder will be 24” wide by 9” high before converting, as opposed to 12” x 18”. Of course, to this you would add the pockets (perhaps a 4” extra bit on the bottom (horizontal pocket) or side (vertical pocket) plus any bleeds and room for the press gripper and printer’s marks.

Either way the custom pocket folders will not fit on my printer’s HP Indigo, which would otherwise be ideal for a press run of 100 to 250 copies. (This particular model of the Indigo accepts only a 13” x 19” press sheet.)

Produced via offset lithography, this custom pocket folder will be almost as expensive for a 100- or 250-copy press run as it would be for a 1,000-copy press run (maybe $1,000 less for the total cost, not the unit cost). This is because all the money will go into fabricating embossing and cutting dies for the pocket folder cover and pockets, as well as doing set up (or make-ready) for the commercial printing job.

To save money, I had suggested to both my client and the printer that the interior sheets (the 4-page or 8-page brochure stitched into the pocket folder) be produced on the Indigo. (As a side benefit, the client could economically print 1,000 pocket folders and then only 100 or 250 sets of interior pages, updating the interior text and printing more copies as needed.) I had assumed that for such a short run this would be ideal.

And it would have been, if I had thought about the dimensions of the press sheet (13” x 19”). Even with the short fold (my client plans to have each sheet be 1/2” shorter than the following sheet), the overall sheet size for the insert would still exceed the Indigo maximum (i.e., it would need to be 9” x 24” plus bleeds).

If, on the other hand, my client decides to make the pocket folder upright rather than oblong (which is unlikely but possible), the flat size of the interior press signatures could potentially fit on a 13” x 19” press sheet.

Options with the Newer HP Indigo Presses

Now, I don’t have a vendor I know and trust who has one of these, but in various print shops across the country, the newest HP Indigo presses (such as the Indigo 30000) accept a 29” x 20” (actually slightly larger) maximum sheet size (called a B2 sheet). Such a press size would actually accommodate the oblong custom pocket folder (if the pockets were horizontal, requiring a 24” x 13” image size plus bleeds). For vertical pockets (added to the ends of the 24” x 9” flat press sheet (before conversion into a pocket folder), you’d probably still need 32”. Since this is larger than the maximum sized press sheet, you would need to print and glue the pockets to the folder separately (as opposed to having them be part of the press sheet).

What Can You Learn from This Case Study

  1. Even with the best intentions, we all make mistakes. It helps to work with trusted commercial printing vendors who are partners with you. In my case, one pointed out that he would have to price the entire job (custom pocket folder and interior pages) on an offset press due to its flat size as an oblong product. A good printer will point out things like this.
  2. Keep abreast of new commercial printing technology developments. In my case, some day I will have access to the HP Indigo 10000 or 30000 (with the larger press sheet size) through a current or perhaps future professional relationship. Knowing about the new technology opens doors to using the new technology.
  3. Some printers will actually switch a digital job to an offset press if it doesn’t fit the digital press sheet. The printer with the lowest bid on this pocket folder job did this, but he didn’t tell me. He wanted the business, and he priced the job aggressively. As much as I would have liked to know up front (he did tell me when I asked), I will get a slightly better product this way for a very low price. In your case, it might be prudent to ask your printer about the equipment he will be using. It’s also smart to know what equipment the handful of printers you frequent have on their pressroom floors. Reading equipment lists may not be exciting, but once you have a handle on who has an HP Indigo, perhaps a Kodak NexPress, a large-format ink-jet press, and a multi-unit (and perhaps perfecting) offset press, you can start to identify specific printers to approach for specialty work.
  4. Be open to your printer’s advice. He knows more about what he’s doing than you do, and he might have some suggestions you hadn’t thought of. All the better if you and he have cultivated a mutually supportive professional relationship.
  5. Think like a printer. Envision your converted box or poster or custom pocket folder as a flat sheet on an offset press. How large will the press and press sheet need to be for all of the flaps and glue tabs to fit on the sheet? In fact, this is a good approach even for flat sheet work that requires no conversion. For instance, as you’re designing a poster job, think about how many copies will fit on a 25” x 38” or 28” x 40” press sheet. Does your printer have such a press (you can ask)? Will your job be economical the way you’re planning it? (Will it fit on a press sheet without having undue waste? After all, you pay for all that scrap paper your printer recycles.)

Just some thoughts to keep you thinking like a printer.

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | 2 Comments »

Postcard Printing on Clear Acetate Sheets

August 16th, 2015

Posted in Postcard Printing | 2 Comments »

I received a 6” x 11” piece of marketing collateral today. I get a lot of marketing collateral, but I’ve never received anything quite like this. Obviously I took note—just as the marketers who had designed the piece had intended for me to do.

The single sheet (double sided) postcard is printed on clear acetate. The design is a mountain with silhouettes of three climbers connected by a rope. Over the brilliant, opaque-white background the designer printed all marketing copy in process color builds. The mountain climber who has reached the mountain top has his arms outstretched, and he slightly overlaps a yellow banner over which the title of the conference and the conference logo have been printed.

Why This Postcard Is So Unique

I have seen this kind of work before, but not in a marketing flyer. Rather, it was a technique used in several large format print movie standees my fiancee and I installed. In all cases, the standee designers had painted the background (under the actual art) with opaque white, and then over the white the designer had printed the imagery.

On its own, opaque white is a brilliant ultra-white color. Light travels through the transparent process color films of toner or inkjet ink printed on top of the white, then bounces off the white background and travels back to the viewer’s eye. The background makes the overprinted process colors and builds really “pop.” Not printing the white background would significantly dull down the colors. The light would travel through the film of process colors and not have anything to bounce off of (the way light bounces off a mirror).

So the bottom line is that inkjet ink or laser printed toner looks dramatic when printed on a ground of opaque white. On this 6” x 11” postcard, all information jumps right off the page.

Furthermore, since the brilliant white (probably based on titanium or zinc) is so bright, the designer’s having used it as a color (rather than just as a background behind the process colors), and his/her covering about 60 percent of the sheet with the white, make the marketing postcard look as bright as a lightbulb.

The postcard also has a simple design, with all text (except for the header) grouped together and printed on the side of the white, silhouetted mountain. Your eye knows exactly how to travel through the design,

And the silhouette of the mountain and mountain climbers is dramatic in its simplicity, as are the simple gestures of the three climbers (their body positions and outstretched arms).

On the back of the postcard is the mirror image of the mountain, climbers, and banner headline. Obviously this was necessary since the acetate card is transparent. Otherwise, you would see the imagery on the front of the postcard through the back of the postcard (and vice versa), creating visual chaos. As is the case on the front of the postcard, the large white area on the back of the card affords ample space for marketing content as well as all postal data and address information.

Its Single, Most Dramatic Quality

Let’s return to the most obviously unique portion of the card: its transparent acetate substrate. Probably nothing else in the mailbox is printed on clear plastic. This is a marketer’s dream. Because of its uniqueness (at least until other marketers start doing it), this piece will stand apart from all other mail in the box.

How The Postcard Was Printed

How did they do this? How was it printed?

I pulled out my loupe and checked a series of photos I found in a textbook on custom printing. These photos show enlarged views of the various halftone image treatments produced via flexography, offset litho, laser printing, inkjet printing, screen printing, and gravure. The samples in the print book also show text that was produced with these technologies. All images are enlarged dramatically, so you can see the dot patterns of the photos (as well as the screen angles) and the body of the letterforms as well as their outlines.

I would encourage you, as designers and print buyers, to search for similar images online using Google Images. For any and all custom printing jobs, it will go a long way to answering questions like, “How did they do that?”

This was my thought process:

  1. You can print on acetate via flexography, screen printing, inkjet printing, and laser printing (and possibly other technologies, such as gravure, as well).
  2. Gravure is made up of little dots (from wells of color on the press cylinder). Under a loupe I did not see any evidence of this pattern of dots (since even the edges of the type would reflect this dot pattern).
  3. The black-only text is crisp, with defined outlines and a little dust surrounding the letterforms. There is no sense of the letterforms’ having been composed of minuscule round dots (indicative of inkjet printing). Therefore, it is more likely that laser printing was used rather than inkjet technology.
  4. The images (and color builds for some text elements) have a recognizable dot pattern (although not the rosette pattern of offset lithography). Images are not made up of an almost continuous-tone spray of minuscule round dots. Therefore, it is more likely that laser printing was used rather than inkjet technology.
  5. The spray of tiny particles around some of the letters suggests laser printing. (The dust is from particles of toner that didn’t land where they should have before being fused to the substrate with heat and pressure.)
  6. The crisp outlines of the letterforms suggest that flexography was not used to print the postcard. (If it had been, there would have been lighter outlines around the perimeter of the letterforms and denser solids within the letterforms).

Therefore, my educated guess at this point would be that acetate specially formulated to tolerate the high heat of laser printing was the substrate, and electrophotography was the technology that printed these oversized postcards.

Posted in Postcard Printing | 2 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Menu Creation

August 10th, 2015

Posted in Printing | 4 Comments »

A colleague recently sent me a link to an online booklet called 7 Tips for Crafting an Exceptional Menu, which Lightspeed, a provider of IT services for the food industry, allowed me to download in exchange for my name, email, and phone number.

Personally, I think this is a shrewd use of multichannel marketing. Lightspeed gets my contact information, and I get a useful booklet on designing and producing menus. Fair trade.

Lightspeed positions itself on the back cover of the booklet in the following manner:

“At Lightspeed, we build end-to-end commerce solutions that restaurateurs can use to build, manage and grow their businesses. Lightspeed is an all-in-one point of sale, table management, and analytics platform for restaurants of any size. With the right technology, restaurateurs can make their customers happier, and make the world a more delicious place.”

So the company is not only using electronic media in concert with print media (insofar as you will probably apply their suggestions to producing your next print menu). It is also providing useful content (not just marketing information) in exchange for your contact information.

But I digress. Here’s the menu tutorial.

How to Whip Up a Good Menu

Lightspeed “gets” it. Everything is an ad for your company. If you’re a restaurateur, this is particularly true about your menu. You can win a loyal customer with a good menu, or you can drive the customer out the door. In many ways, the menu is an extension of the interior décor, but even more so it is a direct line to satisfying your customer’s hunger. If you can do this in a pleasurable way (after all, dining out is as much about entertainment as about eating a meal), you will have a lifelong customer and advocate.

Lightspeed’s menu creation booklet deserves a download and a full read, so I’m only going to touch on a few points here. But the booklet helps you, the aspiring restaurateur, define your assets, compare them to your competition’s offerings, and then lay out the information in an easily digestible format. It also tells you when to hire professionals (possibly for the design; definitely for the photography). In fact, since a bad photo of food is worse then no photo at all, 7 Tips for Crafting an Exceptional Menu asks whether you should include photos.

The book even discusses how to present food prices. For instance, removing the currency symbol (in most cases the dollar sign) may distance the customer from the fact that he or she is spending money. In addition, including the price in-line with the menu offering (as opposed to at the far right, in a column, along with all the other prices) may keep the consumer from comparing prices and choosing an entree based on cost.

The booklet encourages you not to diverge from traditional categories (such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, fish, chicken, beef, etc.) except for such categories as “specials” because diners are in a hurry. Think about it. Have you ever been to a trendy restaurant and seen a “build your own” noodle bowl or rice dish with categories such as “choose your protein”? Personally, it takes me a minute to think about this. With a menu, you often don’t have this time if someone is hungry. Make it easy to understand—like a billboard.

Copywriting for the Menu

7 Tips for Crafting an Exceptional Menu even addresses copywriting skills for the restaurateur, noting that a menu item description should be short and evocative:

“The description of a dish should include more than the ingredients; it needs to express the feelings that you would like your guests to experience.”

I have read elsewhere–in marketing books–that good copywriting involves making the customer see, smell, and even taste what you’re selling. This is more than flowery language when you’re promoting a restaurant.

In addition, the booklet notes—numerous times—that you can ruin the perception of both the menu and the restaurant by not catching spelling errors in your copy. I think this is true for two reasons: 1) It distracts your reader from the food, and 2) It implies that you don’t pay attention to details (which, in a restaurant can be anything from annoying to deadly).

Conclusion: Applying These Lessons to Custom Printing

Here are some things to ponder and apply to any advertising or marketing design (which actually means to any copywriting and design work without exception):

  1. Everything is an ad. A business card is an ad, and a menu is an ad. Make it look good, but also pay attention to the copy (its readability, its precision, its evocative language, and its technical correctness).
  2. Content is king. If you want new customers, give them something of value. 7 Tips for Crafting an Exceptional Menu will help the aspiring restaurateur. The book also implies (indirectly) that Lightspeed will help the aspiring restaurateur. This is good marketing. The new sales ethos is all about helping people get their needs met.
  3. Use multiple media channels. In this case, Lightspeed leveraged both the Internet and (once you have followed the directions and designed your menu) custom printing products.
  4. Make things easy for your reader. 7 Tips for Crafting an Exceptional Menu even tells you up front that it will be short and helpful (“7 Tips”). The booklet is easy to acquire (for just a little of your contact information). It’s easy to digest (with simple organization and simple design). The lesson: Provide good content and make it easy to absorb.

All of these points can apply to practically any venue, from a furniture store (Ikea does the same thing and does it well) to a restaurant IT vendor (like Lightspeed).

Go forth and do this. It works.

Posted in Printing | 4 Comments »

The Pocket Folder Brochure: Challenges of Being a Custom Printing Vendor

August 5th, 2015

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments Off

I mentioned in a recent blog post that a long-standing commercial printing client (a designer) had come to me wanting to produce a brochure with a pocket on the inside back cover for sell sheets. We discussed this over the phone today since she had just met with her client (the end-user).

Interestingly enough, my client wants the brochure to be oblong (landscape rather than portrait orientation) since much of the other collateral she has designed for this company has been produced in this format. What this means is a 24” x 9” flat brochure (12” x 9” folded) with either a horizontal or vertical pocket on the inside back cover, and four or eight interior pages.

I had initially directed my client to a pocket folder manufacturer’s website, where she had reviewed page after page of dielines for pocket folders (drawings showing the trim size, folds, and pocket size/placement but with no design: no type and no images). My client had found this useful in collecting her thoughts, and I could look at the drawing she provided and instantly understand what she wanted. It was an ideal way for us to communicate about format.

What About the Pocket?

My client floated the idea of a vertical pocket. She wanted to know what I thought. I said that I liked the idea because it was more unique than a horizontal pocket. However, the sample dieline she showed me had a 4” horizontal pocket, and a same-sized vertical pocket might not adequately cover the 8.5” x 11” inserts (only 4” of the 11”). My concern was that the inserts would then flop around, particularly since my client’s client (the end-user) planned to produce the inserts on the fly using their laser copier (i.e., probably on 50# or 60# uncoated text stock).

Thoughts on the Paper for the Job

At this point my client and I began to discuss paper thickness for the job.

As you can see, our first concern had nothing to do with the graphic design of the pocket folder brochure. Rather we were approaching the job as a physical item to be held in the hand, opened, and closed. We were looking at size, paper thickness, pocket dimensions, all in an attempt to visualize a finished product. The graphic design would come later.

My client noted that she would only want about four to eight pages in the brochure, saddle stitched, with each page in a stepped-down format (i.e., with each page being slightly shorter than the following page).

With all the information she had shared so far, I asked my client if she would consider a thick paper stock for the interior pages (perhaps 100# text if the brochure covers would be 130# cover). I wanted to make sure the brochure didn’t look skimpy. Four to eight pages is a short booklet. Thicker pages would make the brochure look opulent.

Or, as another option she might consider, I proposed making the brochure a self-cover piece. Perhaps the front and back covers plus all stepped-down interior pages could be 120# or 130# cover. My client said she would consider it.

Die Cutting and Embossing

My client asked whether a vertical pocket would require a die. If the pocket was essentially an extension of the back cover, would a die maker need to fabricate a custom die? I said he would, since the glue flaps used to secure the back pocket would be an irregular shape (i.e., would need to be diecut). My client understood this.

She also asked about die cutting a window on the front cover and perhaps even embossing or debossing the company’s logo on the front cover as well. I said all of this could be done. Some printers would create dies for the cutting and other dies for the embossing and and lock them all up in a chase (a frame to keep all the cutting rules together and in position), while others would do the die cutting and embossing steps separately.

The Press Run—Oops!

But here’s the real challenge. My client’s client only wants 100 to 250 copies of the brochure.

This actually opens up a whole new set of options. Let’s assume that the dies will cost about $500 to $1,000, or possibly even more considering the embossing (depending on its complexity, i.e., whether it is “sculptural” or “multi-level”). In a job this small, a huge percentage of the entire cost will be for make-ready for expensive processes, not for the equipment run time, since there will be so few copies.

Granted, this is early in the process. My client and I are just discussing options, requirements and limitations, and general costs. However, I have mentioned the possibility of digitally custom printing and digitally finishing the pocket folder brochure. The technology for digital printing, coating, embossing, and die cutting exists now, so I have started putting out feelers among the printers I work with. Fortunately we have time.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re printing anything like this (a short-run, high profile piece), consider approaching the job in the following way:

  1. Start very early, and involve your commercial printing vendor from the beginning.
  2. Play with different ideas, considering all options. Don’t limit yourself during the initial brainstorming phase.
  3. Do extensive research. If you have a short run, consider digital custom printing. Digital finishing (laser cutting and such) is now available.
  4. Review samples (check dielines at online pocket folder maufacturers). Also ask your commercial printing supplier for unprinted paper dummies, as well as printed samples, so you can see and feel what the finished job will be like.
  5. Expect to pay a lot. Choose your custom printing vendor for the job based on the quality of his printed samples, his references, any working history you may have with the printing company, and your level of trust for the supplier–not on price alone. In cases like this, you usually get what you pay for.

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments Off

One Sheet Posters at the Movies

August 2nd, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Poster Printing | Comments Off

Movie theaters seem to be undergoing a transformation. As installers of standees, banners, one sheets, etc., my fiancee and I recently had the opportunity to enter one of the new cinemas to install a one-sheet (a large format print poster for an upcoming film).

The Theater Ambiance

The environment was exceedingly upscale, more like an art film theater than a commercial film venue. The focus in the lobby was on the food (more substantial offerings than the popcorn and candy I’m used to) and the beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. So it was a bit of a cross between a movie theater, a restaurant, and a bar, with a young-urban-professional vibe.

The Movie Signage

Unlike all of the other cinemas my fiancee and I service (with the possible exception of an art film venue) this theater accepted no standees. No cardboard environments, no giant beachballs for animated films. Nothing but one sheets.

(As a point of information, a one-sheet is a large format print poster. However, unlike most posters, it has an image and text on the front promoting the film, and on the back of the press sheet is the exact same image with all graphic elements backwards, aligned exactly with the image on the front. When placed in the one-sheet frame, which is a back-lit frame covered with a diffusing white glass, the one sheet poster appears brighter and more vivid than usual—presumably due to both the back-light and the double printing.)

The One-Sheet Wall

In addition to a large clock and a wall of film showing times—all presented elegantly—there was a wall of one-sheet frames. Unlike the one-sheet frames along the hallways, this giant mosaic of images comprised 99 frames (I called to ask) showing one huge collage of images, all related to a single theme.

(As another point of information, the eye will join related portions of a single image, even when they are separated by the horizontal and vertical elements of a frame. In fact the eye will even join the sections of the image if they’re slightly separated. This is particularly useful information when you’re designing large format print banner stands. If your image needs to extend across multiple banners, it can still appear to the viewer to be one picture.)

So this giant, 99-frame mosaic extends up the wall at this new, upscale cinema, and each of the 99 frames contains a portion of the overall image.

Another thing to know about one-sheets is that the frames are spring loaded. The top, left, right, and bottom elements of the frame operate independently. You lift one (like a spring-loaded clip on a clipboard), slip the poster and acetate cover sheet under the clip, and then close it. You’re done. It takes me about three minutes to install a one-sheet without smashing my fingers or tilting the poster.

When you multiply three minutes by 99 images, it will take approximately 297 minutes or almost five hours to complete this installation. This does not include the time needed to move the motorized lift, which is a bit like a forklift with a little basket for you to stand in as you are lifted up and down. I’ve also heard it referred to as a “cherry picker.” It’s similar to the equipment used by electric companies to work on overhead power lines.

When I spoke with the attendant at the theater I was told the installation happened at night after closing time and was only a periodic occurrence.

So this is a lot of work and equipment allocated to installing posters.

An Alternative to Large Format Print Posters

Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn here, but this seems to be an ideal venue for digital signage. Just think about the five hours of installation time and the cherry picker that would no longer be needed. Images or portions of images could be created on the 99 screens and coordinated with relevant hardware and software, minimizing the labor and machinery cost (or transferring the cost from a mechanical to a digital process). Granted, whether or not this would be cost effective would depend on the price of the electronics and the frequency with which the images need to be changed.

As an added benefit, the digital images would not need to be static. They could include movement and sound, perhaps even an interactive element as well.

How This Relates to You (and to Printing)

We now live in a multi-channel universe. Prudent design involves knowing which technology to use for which applications. For instance, the one sheets populating the hallways of the theater could be either digitally imaged or printed on paper, as they are now, while the giant poster wall might be a better candidate for digital signage.

In your own work, this means considering how to best present the imagery, type, and overall messaging for an ad campaign. What portions of the job lend themselves to digital large format printing? What portions are better suited to offset printing? What components fit better on digital signage boards?

And—even more importantly—how can you make a seamless transition from one medium to another in such a way that the message and imagery are recognizable as promoting the same brand. Digital, large format, offset—these are just tools. The real challenge is how to use them together to inform and persuade your audience.

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Poster Printing | Comments Off

Printing Postcard Decks: Specifications

July 30th, 2015

Posted in Postcard Printing | 2 Comments »

As strange as this may sound, a postcard is one of the more effective direct marketing tools. It may not be flashy. It may not always be elegantly designed to impress you. But it gets your attention. Particularly with less mail these days. All the surveys I’ve read say that people like going to the mailbox, and they spend at least a little time looking at every piece of mail, from checks to bills to direct marketing pieces. And unlike a lot of direct mail, a postcard is already open. You don’t need to remove it from an envelope. You just have to look at it.

My Client’s Postcard Job

With this in mind, a commercial printing client came to me recently wanting to produce a card set for her client (my client is a freelance graphic designer). These were the specifications that we agreed upon, and that I submitted to a printer I considered appropriate for the job.

The first thing we had to determine was the flat size of the postcards. Since they will have to meet international mailing standards, my client chose the A6 format: 5.8″ x 4.1″. Normally, if the postcards were to mail in the United States only, the US Postal Service regulations would stipulate the following:

For First Class and Presort Standard postcards up to 4.25” x 6”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 7pt. (.007”). For larger sized Presort Standard postcards from 4.25” x 6” through 6.125” x 11.5”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 9pt. (.009”).

Based on the specifications above, I suggested a C1S (coated one side) sheet that mics to 10pt. (in thickness), just to be safe. The custom printing vendor confirmed this and noted that the C1S designation would be appropriate, since the postcards would have only black ink, or no ink, on the back and a 4-color image on the front.

So at this point my client and I agreed on the following specifications:

  1. The postcards would be 5.8″ x 4.1″ in size to conform to international postcard standard specs.
  2. The postcards would be 10pt. in thickness to be stiff enough for the particular format/size (I have seen thicker postcards, perhaps 12pt., specified to provide a more opulent feel, but the 10pt. stock would be adequate). The printer suggested Carolina coated stock, not an expensive paper. For postcards that would be read once and then discarded, this would be fine.
  3. The cards would be either 4/0 or 4/1 (four color on the front, and either not printed or printed in black-only on the back), depending on the particular card, since there would be a total of six originals.
  4. Due to the exceptionally quick turn-around for the commercial printing job, I encouraged my client to request virtual proofs (PDF soft proofs). This would eliminate the time needed for sending hard-copy proofs back and forth to the printer.
  5. My client requested that each set of six postcards be shrink wrapped. I had seen three varieties of shrink wrapping. The first was thin and not durable, more like plastic wrap for food. This I had seen used for grouping multiple copies of a commercial printing job before packaging. I had also seen heat-welded plastic used for postcard decks that had come to me in the mail. Finally, I had seen polybags used to ship annual reports and other magazines. I asked the printer for suggestions. I also found out from my client that the postcard decks would only be handed out (not mailed). Therefore, the packaging would not need to conform to any US Postal regulations. I requested the cheapest shrink-wrap-like packaging the printer could offer that would be durable. If the package had mailed, I would have done more homework, researching US Postal Service requirements for postcard decks on the USPS website.
  6. The printer and I discussed schedules, shipping destinations, and the fact that he was competing against an online postcard vendor. Fortunately this particular printer gave me a low price.
  7. Finally, my client noted the overall press run of 750 sets of six cards.

What You Can Learn from My Client’s Experience

  1. This is a very simple job. As a marketing vehicle, it is also a very efficient and cost-effective product. It may not be sexy, but consider it for your own design work anyway, since it can effectively interest new clients in your product or service—and for very little expense.
  2. Consider size and thickness from a design point of view (how you want the cards to feel and look), but make sure you also do the online research at the US Postal Service website. Make sure you comply with all automation standards (particularly size and paper thickness) to receive the best postal rates. If you don’t find what you need online, contact a business mail specialist in person. Not all branches of the Post Office have such a specialist, but the employees at your particular branch will know where to send you. That’s how I found mine.
  3. Discuss with the Post Office what their requirements are for the plastic packaging of the postcard decks. To get a head start on this, you might want to look closely at postcard decks you receive in your own mailbox. There are a lot of different wrapping options. Just because your printer can provide one, you still need to make sure the Post Office will accept it. If you’re just handing out the packages, as my client’s client was, you can forgo this step.

Posted in Postcard Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Box Manufacturing

July 27th, 2015

Posted in Box Printing | 2 Comments »

A commercial printing client of mine just received her job, which consisted of twelve short, saddle-stitched print books in a box. The books are 6” x 9” in format with four-color covers, and the slip case box they fit in is a four-color press sheet laminated to corrugated board.

I asked my client how the job looked when the samples arrived, and she expressed pleasure with the books but regret for the slightly off-center art on the box. She had received one sample of the job. The printer had mailed out all other sets to the address database list my client had provided.

Ouch. Few things bother me more than an unhappy client. So I asked her to send me photos of the box showing the art off center. I then sent these on to the commercial printing vendor who had done the work.

(First of all, I asked my client for photos rather than the box itself so I could immediately communicate with the printer. Picking up the box would have taken time. Sending the box to the printer would have taken additional time. Requesting photos as email attachments was much more immediate.)

A Description of the Corrugated Slip Case

To give you some context, the slip case is a little over three inches wide to accommodate twelve short print books. In the back it is a full 9” high, but this slopes downward in the front to about 6” to afford easy access to the books.

On the sides of the box are the front and back of a print book with text and photos promoting the books in the box (individual chapters from the larger text book). I could see that the covers were not exactly centered and were slightly tilted on the background PMS color. On the front of the slip case box, my client had included the title of the series; a list of the separate, bound chapters it includes; and the company logo (all in reverse type). The vertical axis of this centered list had not been precisely centered on the box panel, and all type was slightly tilted as well.

I could see why my client was not happy.

The Dieline of the Slip Case

To figure out what had happened, I checked the combined dieline/PDF proof of the box. This PDF image showed all paper flaps that would be folded in and glued to fabricate a completed box. It was incredibly complex with all of its flaps and glue tabs. The proof showed the exact placement of the images (front and back covers of the main book) on either side of the box, plus the art for the taller back panel and shorter front panel. I could see where the art should have landed (after printing, laminating, diecutting, folding, and gluing).

The Printer’s Response to the Photos

I want to note here that this custom printing vendor has always been candid with me. He has also always produced stellar products under unbelievably tight deadlines.

Because I trust the printer, I listened closely to his response. This is what he said after doing some research:

  1. Although he could see the lack of precision in the photos of the sample box, the other samples he had checked at the print shop were not off center or tilted. Probably the other 250+ boxes were ok. This was not a guarantee, however.
  2. The (separate) box printer/converter had had problems with the press run and had pulled out (and given to the main printer, my trusted associate) a number of rejects. Some were not that bad. My printer would make these available to my client if she received complaints and needed to send a new box or two to a dissatisfied client (i.e., the end user).
  3. And this was the sobering information the printer offered:

  4. Tolerances for box manufacturing are not as tight as for offset custom printing. Whereas an offset printer might provide a piece with a 1/16” or 1/32” leeway from perfect positioning of a printed element, a box manufacturer might have a 1/8” or 1/4” leeway, which would still be considered acceptable. Why? Because all of the die cutting, folding, and gluing operations will actually magnify and exacerbate the slightest deviation from perfect positioning. The multiple operations needed for box conversion will make a problem worse and worse.
  5. In future box designs, the printer said it would be safer to not place a rectangle (the book cover) in a position that would be obvious if there were any deviation from perfect placement.

Even though I was not happy, I could see the printer’s point. In book printing, this might be like placing a 12pt rule all the way around the perimeter of a book cover. Anything but the most precise trimming of the cover would make the printed rule around the cover look uneven. Since commercial printing is a physical process, and all printing and post printing (or finishing) operations magnify errors, it is wise to design with the limits of both offset lithography and post-press finishing operations in mind.

Granted, some boxes–perhaps most boxes–were closer to perfect, particularly after the box printer had removed the problematic slip cases. It was unfortunate that my client’s sample was not perfect. But just as I could see errors in printed maps becoming worse and worse as the multitude of folds magnified any errors in placement, I could see my printer’s point. But if I had not developed such a long-standing relationship with him over the years, I (and my client) might not have had such faith in his response.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. For complex jobs, only work with a printer you trust completely. If anything goes wrong, he will be more likely to tell you honestly what is the printer’s fault and what is considered acceptable, or within tolerance, for particular commercial printing and finishing operations.
  2. Expect box printing to not be perfect, due to the number of individual steps in the process that will magnify flaws. Design your printed product accordingly to minimize the effect of any misalignment.

Posted in Box Printing | 2 Comments »

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