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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: You Had Me at Matte Film Laminate

May 28th, 2016

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

I received a journal on health from Johns Hopkins a few days ago. It came unsolicited in the mail. But even though I have no background in science and health, and very little personal interest in the subject (if truth be known), I found myself paging through the print book repeatedly. It felt good. I liked the format. In fact I actually started to read some of the articles. In my book (so to speak), that’s success in the intangibles. Or, rather, that’s success in the very tangible qualities of paper texture and appearance, paper brightness and whiteness, color fidelity, and page design. If a print book piques my interest in spite of the subject matter, there’s clearly something for me to learn by analyzing it.

Paper Qualities

The Johns Hopkins Health Review is printed on what appears (under good blue-white light) to be an uncoated, bright-white sheet. Under a loupe I can see the rough tooth of the paper, but it still feels very smooth to my touch.

There’s something very calming about the combination of an uncoated press sheet and the smoothness of the paper. It has an organic feel that would not be conveyed had the designer chosen a coated gloss paper. It feels more personal and less corporate. Given the subject matter in the journal—migraines, sex, and one’s immune system, among other topics—the personal, tactile nature of the paper is a good choice.

The paper also gives a softer look to the color photography, area screens, and numerous illustrations. In fact, I would say that the soft, smooth nature of the paper anchors the numerous graphics, giving them a cohesive feel that unifies the diverse media and styles of the images. On a smooth, coated sheet they might look more random.

Given the smooth, uncoated feel of the paper, I’m inclined to look for telltale signs of laser printing, but when I check the 4-color images under a loupe, I still see the rosette pattern indicative of traditional halftoning of offset printed materials.

Cover Coating

The interior and exterior cover images—all advertisements–seem to have been printed on a coated stock. They are much smoother than the text, and they have a glossy appearance under a loupe. The brightness of the cover stock makes the 4-color images really stand out, but it is the brightness and whiteness of the press sheet that make the imagery so bright and crisp. Having such a brilliant substrate off which the ambient light can be reflected makes the colors seem particularly saturated.

When I compare the interior covers to the exterior covers, I see that the front, back, and spine have been wrapped with what seems to be a matte film laminate. This dulls down the imagery, which echoes the uncoated look of the interior, while protecting the heavy coverage of ink on the front cover. On the back cover, the coating protects the advertisement. Interestingly enough, the designer went ahead and spot gloss coated the title of the journal (Johns Hopkins Health Review), which gives the words a bit of a glow in contrast to their surroundings.


Perfect binding the journal gives it a feeling of substance. It’s more like a print book than a magazine. There’s even a faint press score running parallel to the spine, about half an inch from the bind edge, which holds the cover tightly against the interior pages while allowing for easy opening of the print book. These subtle production qualities work subconsciously on the reader, providing an overall tone of seriousness and quality.

Imagery and Design Grid

As noted before, the images in the journal fall into a few distinct categories. There are the photos, many but not all of which are within ads. Their realism gives a nice contrast to the more stylized and in some cases whimsical illustrations. This treatment also lends itself to small images of book covers and to head shots of individuals.

The illustrations fall into a number of categories, including Infographics, color drawings to illustrate themes, and much smaller black and white line drawings of people. Again, the contrast is pleasing, and it makes for a natural rhythm throughout the book, as does the balancing of larger and smaller images.

Overall, the journal has a sense of cohesion and pacing. However, due to a judicious pairing of typefaces, even a shift from two-column layout (with a scholar’s margin) to three-column layout, to a larger type treatment introducing some articles, maintains the sense that all page designs belong to the same publication.

Moreover, the contrast in page design alerts the reader to levels of importance (such as when a new article is beginning; what material is an amplification of the text; and what material highlights the text, such as the pull-quotes). Your eye knows immediately where to go first, second, and third. And the ample white space affords an airy, uncluttered reading experience. Finally, full-bleed area screens set apart certain pages (definitions pages, supplementary material) in a subtle manner.

Even a judicious use of numerous short articles on selected pages to give brief insight into various topics or to provide short bits of information still does not create a cluttered look. I think this uncluttered appearance is also due to the uncoated book stock, which is easy on the eyes.

What You Can Learn from Such a Publication

I never went to design school. What I learned, I learned by observing. I think many designers have come into publication design the same way. I firmly believe there is no time better spent than in discovering a design you love and then determining why you love it. In my case it was in spite of the subject matter. (Actually, I am finding some of the articles interesting. Nevertheless, I still think the graphic presentation is what makes me want to read the articles.)

Consider all aspects of a publication: paper texture, surface, coating, brightness, and whiteness; treatment of imagery; typefaces; binding; and the design grid. Ask yourself why they work well together. Then ask yourself if the design and production values of the piece reinforce or conflict with the editorial message (a good designer knows how to pair the look with the message). There’s no better way to learn.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Will Digital Grow to Match Offset?

May 21st, 2016

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments »

A friend and colleague sent me a link to a “What They Think” video recently in which the CEO of Landa Digital Printing, Yishai Amir, addressed questions regarding the present state and future direction of digital custom printing. The video is entitled “What Will It Take to ‘Mainstream’ Digital Printing?” It was published on May 12, 2016.

The big question is what’s holding back digital printing. According to the video, “production digital printing is 25 years old, yet only 2.5% of all printed pages come from digital devices.” Why?

Amir starts his explanation by listing the drivers for the growth of digital printing:

  1. Personal customized printed material.
  2. On-demand, long-tail material, and
  3. Optimization of the supply chain.

Amir doesn’t completely explain the third driver, but here’s my understanding of the first two:

  1. Offset, flexo—all technologies but digital—can only print multiple copies of one original. Only digital can approach “mass customization” of marketing materials, changing each copy of each marketing piece so it will directly pertain to each recipient. Identifying individual wants and needs and marketing one-to-one is the strength of digital custom printing.
  2. The second point requires a definition of the term “long-tail.” This concept is based on the fact that most people want the same things (for instance, a clothing store will physically stock only the most popular designer shirts—i.e., only a handful of styles—but they will have stacks and stacks of the same item in different colors and sizes). In contrast, if you want something different, you are part of the “long tail” (the trailing edge of the graph of consumption, in which only a few people want the more exotic—and less “popular”—items).To bring this back to printing, digital custom printing can fulfill your need for an esoteric print book that only you and a handful of your friends want. You can get it on demand. Before digital printing, you’d be lost. You would only find easy access to the popular books and potboilers in your bookstore. (Amazon is a master of the “long tail.” You can get anything online because no individual manufacturer or outlet needs to store it.)

So these are the drivers, the benefits only digital custom printing can provide and the reason it has been around for 25 years. But, as Amir notes, it has captured only 2.5 percent of the printing business.

For digital printing to go mainstream, Amir notes that the following must happen:

  1. Digital must provide “offset” quality.
  2. Digital must print on any substrate, without a pre-coating step.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing.
  4. Production speeds must be comparable to offset printing, and
  5. The format must match offset.

To flesh this out a bit (the video is short), here are some thoughts:

  1. I would say that “offset quality” would constitute color fidelity; a comparable color gamut; smooth, heavy-coverage toner laydown; a lack of banding and other artifacts; etc. For Amir’s requirement to hold, liquid or dry toner laydown must “look” as good as offset printing. I’d also say that rub resistance (durability) needs to be comparable.
  2. For a long time digital papers were limited. They were specifically made to accept an even coating of toner particles. That meant that there were only a few uncoated sheets and a few coated sheets a printer could stock. A designer couldn’t just specify a press sheet she/he liked. In many cases, press-sheets had to be pre-coated, further complicating the process compared to offset printing. So Amir is referring to being able to use any paper for digital printing that you could use for offset printing.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing. Up until recently, if you had a short-run job (let’s say 500 brochures), it was cheaper to produce the job digitally than via offset lithography. That’s because you would need to go through all of the make-ready steps for a short offset run as you would for a long press run. In contrast, you could avoid most of the make-ready if you chose digital printing. However–and I think this is what Amir is getting at—you couldn’t favorably compare a 5,000-copy digital run to a 5,000-copy offset press run (unit cost to unit cost). The digital-printing unit cost would be much higher.
  4. Speeds vary from machine to machine, but for the most part digital printing is slower than offset. For instance, an Indigo 12000 can print 4,600 B2 color sheets per hour (according to HP’s product literature). An offset press can print closer to 18,000 sheets per hour (this is from a KBA press description). And for books, catalogs, and magazines, the offset presses can print more pages laid out (i.e., imposed) on much larger press sheets.
  5. The format must match offset. Up until recently, digital presses accepted only small paper. The press sheets were close to 12” x 18” (more or less, depending on the equipment). Some of the newer digital presses accept B2 sheets (which are closer to 20” x 29”). This approximates an offset 20” x 26” cover sheet but not a 25” x 38” text sheet or a 28” x 40” text sheet. Needless to say, if you’re producing a book, you can get more book pages on a 28” x 40” press sheet (that will all print at one time) than on a 20” x 29” sheet. So what Amir is saying is that for digital to be competitive with offset, the equipment must accept larger press sheets. (This is also a benefit for larger products like pocket folders that won’t fit on smaller press sheets.)

Amir then goes on to say that Nanography offers all of this.

My Take on This

My take is that we are in interesting times in printing. The focus is on shorter press runs and personalization. Digital is good at this. Offset is not. I’m seeing extraordinary color coming off digital presses nowadays. The digital press equipment is also starting to be constructed within large durable frames produced by offset press makers (like Komori) rather than in plastic cases that look like photocopy machines on steroids.

I think Landa’s nanography is one answer (inkjet printing onto a heated blanket that deposits the full image onto the substrate while holding an amazingly crisp halftone dot). It saves money in lowered ink usage, lower energy consumption, and lower paper costs (due to its ability to print on any stock).

I also think that the HP Indigo series is a good answer, with its larger B2 paper format and superior color (this is an electrophotographic process like laser printing).

Interestingly enough, even offset printing is becoming more efficient. Make-readies are taking less time due to the automation of color adjustment, plate handling, and other aspects of press work. So it’s becoming increasingly economical to do shorter offset print runs.

Truly this is an exciting time for all number of digital and offset technologies. What I’m going to do now is wait and watch closely.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Adding Color Swatch Replacement Pages

May 16th, 2016

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

A print brokering client of mine is producing a fashion color swatch book to help clients choose colors most complimentary to their complexion. I’ve written about her project numerous times in these blog articles.

At the moment, the proofs are out for her review.

However, my client wants to do two supplemental projects (related to the print book) that will benefit from the digital printing nature of this project.

The First Project: Replacement Pages

My client’s clients will be purchasing color swatch books tied to the seasons: for example, one of the PDF’s I have is entitled “Warm Autumn.” Each of these small, fan-out color books (which are very similar to PMS swatch books used in the commercial printing trade) includes 60 color swatches plus introductory material and covers. The back of each card explains fashion uses for the color on the front.

Some of these print books may not be complete for a particular person (lacking certain individual colors), or in some cases other colors might be more relevant. Therefore, my client has requested three sets of an additional 300 color swatches.

In some cases the colors will be redundant. There may be multiple copies of a particular color. For those who buy multiple copies of a particular color swatch book, this will be useful. For example, a shop owner may order twenty books, and she may want to augment the colors or replace some of them with selected swatches from this extra press run my client is preparing.

As complex as this may sound, what it really means is that a client (of my client’s) can buy numerous books and then personalize them. And since all of these print books are bound with a metal screw and post assembly, they can be taken apart, reordered, added to, and then put back together. This is one of the prime benefits of screw and post binding. The user can disassemble and reassemble the product much as one would disassemble and reassemble a three-ring binder and its contents.

Now the specs for these additional pages will be important. In fact, I’m only having one commercial printing vendor bid on this job: the same one producing the main books. This is to ensure complete compatibility of the replacement pages with the interior pages of the 22 master color swatch books being printed on the HP Indigo press.

The important details will be the size (3 35/64” x 1 27/64”), the paper (10pt white gloss cover stock), the lamination (1.2 mil clear), the rounded corners, and the placement and size of the drill hole. The replacement pages have to match the initial pages in appearance and feel (although the colors will not be the same).

Presumably the rounded corners will add to the price. After all, this is an additional process (albeit necessary; otherwise, the pointed edges of the cards would not match the rounded edges of the print book pages). However, since the dies will have already been made to round-corner the pages of the initial 22 master books (and all their copies), my client will have already paid the cost of creating the die. She will just use the original cutting die for the replacement pages.

In setting up the files, my client will create a press-ready PDF from an InDesign file. The InDesign file will contain 300 pages of colors (actually 300 leaves, or 600 pages, since there will be black text on the back of the pages). The book printer will then impose these (set these up as needed for the 13” x 19” Indigo press sheet), then print a total of 900 swatches (300 originals x 3 copies), then laminate, drill, cut, and round corner the swatches, and then pack them in a box for delivery.

Producing Personalized Covers

In addition to the replacement pages, my client plans to offer her clients a cover personalization option. At first she had mentioned putting the names of her clients (or their stores) on the covers, but she then opened this up to include logos and even replacement images for the model glamor shots currently on the covers of the 22 master color swatch books.

Digital printing is ideal for this product, since ostensibly each of the 50 or 100 pages my client will request for her client’s print books will be totally different.

I have asked my client to supply an InDesign file (saved as a press-ready PDF) containing either 50 or 100 pages. In this case she can alter all pages as necessary, swapping out cover images, adding logos, adding the names of her clients, and such, to make each of the 50 or 100 pages unique. The book printer can then lay these out as needed for the HP Indigo press sheet and produce one copy of this file.

This print job will be comparatively expensive, even digitally, but once the single copy has been laminated, drilled, trimmed, and round cornered (again, using the die pre-made for my client’s initial 22 master color swatch books), she will have 50 or 100 personalized covers for her clients. If they pay for this enhancement to their color books, my client can even make a profit. Once they have received the new covers, her clients can disassemble the screw and post binding, swap out the covers, and reassemble the books.

In addition, keep in mind that these pages will be printed on 18pt white gloss coated cover stock (unlike the 10pt cover stock of the replacement pages) since these will all be book covers. They will also need the same lamination, drilling, and round cornering as the initial color swatch book run so they will fit and look appropriate. But by doing this, my client, the fashionista, can offer a very unique and personal book to her clients.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Offset printing is all about making multiple copies from one master file. In contrast, digital printing will allow you to personalize each page. Presumably each product you print can be completely different. This may cost you extra. It’s not cheap. However, it would be astronomically expensive if you tried to do this with traditional offset printing.
  2. If you do something like my client is doing, think it through. It would be easy to forget the round cornering, for instance. In that case, all the edges of all the replacement pages would stick out. If necessary, make a mock-up. It can’t hurt, and it may help you remember something important.
  3. These are the kinds of smaller, ancillary jobs that are best done by the printer producing the main job in order to ensure consistency.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Making Changes at the Proof Stage

May 10th, 2016

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

I’ve been helping an entrepreneur prepare her color swatch book for about a year now, give or take. I have spoken about her project numerous times in PIE Blog articles.

At the present moment, the art files have gone to press, and a set of trimmed proofs of 22 print books (22 originals) has been sent to my client for her final review.

To provide a bit of background on the subject, the color swatch books are approximately 1.5” x 3” in dimension. They are 114 pages long (plus cover), and all pages are attached with a metal screw and post assembly. They fan out like a PMS color book. I saw photos of the proofs. They are quite nice, each with a model’s face on the cover along with a title (each related to a different season). The print books will help my client’s clients determine what make-up and clothing colors will match their complexion.

The Proofs

My client loved the colors. She had built the colors in the 22 master InDesign files using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, preparing for digital printing on an HP Indigo press. Her proofs were, in effect, a single copy of each of the master files. Unlike a digital proof provided for an offset print run, these proofs would exactly match the successive copies of the print books that would be produced after proof approval.

My client had only one concern: durability. She had no issues with the color, text, bleeds, trim, or resolution of the cover photos. She knew the only thing that would be different in the final copies would be the rounded corners on all books, which would be produced with a metal diecutting rule on a letterpress.

(“Round cornering” only the 22 proofs would have been time consuming and expensive, and would have added nothing to the proofs.)

Regarding the durability issue, I told my client about a PMS book I had owned that had lasted far beyond the shelf life of its colors. I had treated it well, so the pages weren’t folded or dog-eared. In contrast, I mentioned that PMS swatch books I had seen in print shops were often dog-eared and manhandled. Her fashion color book would be no different. In fact, the pages of her book were thicker than the average PMS swatch book, and the covers would be 18pt. (much thicker than the PMS book covers).

My client assumed that when the books were closed, their 114-page mass would keep them protected (like the strength of a handful of arrows in contrast to the brittleness of only one). By now she had also found a source for little vinyl cases for the fashion color swatch books. At this point, we both assumed the books would last as long as they were treated well.

But the Pages Mark

However, there was the issue of marking pages. Even though the printer had UV coated the front of each page, my client could scratch the solid color swatches and the face of the model on the front cover with her fingernails. She sent me a copy. I tried the same experiment. She was right. You could mark the pages. This would not render the book useless; however, a durable book would appeal more to her audience. After all, times were tough, and the color swatch books were expensive.

My client had a sample from a prior year. Instead of a UV coating or a varnish, it looked like the sheets had been coated with a film laminate. In fact, it had a ribbed texture, which may have made any fingernail scratches less apparent (rather than actually minimizing the scratches). Nevertheless, the film laminate was more durable than the UV coating. When I tested my copy of this sheet with my fingernail, I came to the same conclusion, so I sent the sample to the printer.

What About Synthetic Paper?

At the same time, the printer and I considered the option of synthetic paper. A paper based on plastic rather than wood might just offer the durability needed. So we checked the sample my client had provided to see if this was what we had in our hands.

Both the printer and I (in different locations) tried to tear the paper. Unlike synthetic paper, this sample tore easily. So the sample my client liked so much was regular paper—just with an additional laminate coating.

The printer then suggested a 1.2 mil lamination on the front of the press sheet to protect the color swatches and the cover of my client’s color swatch print book. The back of each page was black text, so it really didn’t need to be laminated.

The printer sent a sample of the lamination to my client (a laminated postcard), and when she received the sample, my client went to work on it. She scratched and scratched, and was satisfied it would be durable enough. She also liked the price (an extra $320). I did also note that this portion of the job would need to be outsourced, which would add a little time to the schedule.

With the durability issue solved to my client’s satisfaction, we can now proceed. At the moment, she is using photos she took of the proofs (fanned out to show the colors) in a newsletter. She’s trying to get pre-orders for the color swatch book before the actual print run. Hopefully, this will increase the press run, which will benefit both my client and the printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study?

  1. The purpose of a proof is to to highlight problems so adjustments can be made if necessary. I’m glad my client wanted her color swatch book to be perfect, and I’m grateful the fix will cost only $320. In your own graphic design and commercial printing work, if you see something, take the time and spend the money to fix it.
  2. Cover coatings are not all created equal. There’s varnish (low end, which can yellow over time, and which can alter the color beneath the coating), UV coating, aqueous, and laminate. Some printers have only one or another. Many will need to outsource this portion of the job. Ask your printer about durability, potential color changes of the inks under the coatings, time needed for coating the job, and cost. It’s smart to request samples as well.
  3. Consider the purpose of your job. Is it something to look at and throw away, like a brochure that will arrive in the mail? Or, like my client’s color swatch book, is the project a “tool,” to be used repeatedly for years? If it’s the later, don’t skimp on the coating. Your clients will see the difference.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: How to Design a Promotional Poster

May 5th, 2016

Posted in Posters | 6 Comments »

I got an email the other day from a dear friend from college, a print book designer I’ve written about numerous times in this blog. I was just entering the grocery store. “Help,” the email said. “I’m designing a poster, and I’m scared. I don’t know how to do it.”

So I called her on my smartphone as I walked past the fruits and vegetables.

The Backstory

It turns out that she had no copy, five hours to press time, and only her client’s direction to use the infographics she had designed for a related textbook. This got me thinking. Having an initial product from which to draw design information would be a good starting point. Here’s what I proposed as her first steps:

  1. I told her to pull images, a design grid, and typefaces from the prototype (the initial print book that she had already produced). I said that these common elements would give the textbook and the poster a common “look.” Conference attendees (apparently the poster was for a conference) would see the similarity and associate the print book with the poster. Even if they did this subconsciously, it would still make for “brand awareness.” (Think of the Starbucks logo, which is immediately recognizable even in small grocery store kiosks surrounded by a multitude of other signage.)
  2. I said that if she had no copy, she should write some. I told her to think in terms of “who,” “where,” “why,” “what,” and “when.” “Your client can always change it later,” I said.
  3. Unlike a print book, a poster is meant to be read from a distance. I told my friend to make the type big as well as short.

Then I proceeded with my grocery shopping.

My Friend’s Poster Design

When I got back home, I called the print book designer for an update and to help further. She had called up another designer and had asked for a quick and dirty product (i.e., she had subcontracted the work). Interestingly enough, my friend the book designer had then taken her associate’s work and had revised it. Here’s what my friend did that worked beautifully:

  1. As I had expected, the typefaces had been drawn from the client’s textbook. Starting with the top of the poster, the initial design included a rather long headline in all caps set flush left. The book designer took this headline and centered it, running it all the way across the top of the poster and placing a brown rule line all the way across the page immediately under the headline. This separated the headline from the text. It made the headline a single chunk of information (easier for the reader to absorb). The rule line also provided a “hook,” like a clothesline, from which all other elements of the poster could hang.
  2. In the same brown color as the rule line, my friend the print book designer placed the single-word headline of each of three charts on a 45 degree angle. One above the other, these three heads drew the reader’s eye down the page. To the right of each was its chart. All three charts were formatted alike, so the reader would know to approach them as “similar” or “equal.” The charts all looked alike except for the three heads (three countries in Africa). My friend used green and a lighter version of the dark brown to give a sense of cohesion to the piece. The green also appeared as the color of a huge initial cap starting the text paragraph on the left column of the poster.
  3. The text and bullets ran down the left-hand side of the poster, set flush left with an initial cap five lines deep. The book designer had initially made the initial cap light green (matching the infographic images in the three charts). I suggested that she make it dark green. It then matched two green (highlighted) words in the poster headline. I knew this would make the reader’s eye jump from the headline to the initial cap.
  4. After reading the text in the left column, the viewer would know to jump to the three chart titles and then scan the charts. The colors would reinforce these intuitive connections.
  5. My friend the print book designer then used large, light brown numerals and percentages to distinguish each chart from the others. Presumably, if the reader saw nothing else, he/she would know that the poster was about the gender gap (in three African countries) based on two bold, highlighted words in the headline, and a little woman and man icon set. The percentages and the three African country names would then clarify the differences among the charts.
  6. Within the text on the left-hand side of the poster, the book designer had made certain words all caps, in a bolder and contrasting typeface, and in light brown. If the viewer read nothing else, he/she would still get the gist of the poster’s content. And the light brown color would tie the text on the left to the charts on the right. The chart heads would also act as an anchor, leading the eye right down the page.
  7. Below the text and charts, the book designer had placed another horizontal rule all the way across the page. It matched the rule just below the headline, creating a frame for the central portion of the poster.
  8. Below this rule line, she put another head: “Three lessons learned.” She typeset the word “Three” in brown ink. (If you scan articles on the Internet, you’ll find a lot of short, pithy articles that start this way: “Three ways to do this or that.” It catches the reader’s attention. He/she knows the level of time commitment needed to get answers to so many of life’s questions.)
  9. Horizontally, below this headline and initiated with large numerals, the book designer put the three lessons, each in its own column (of equal depth) with a small illustration using the same male and female icons she had created for the charts above, and in the same colors.

Because of all these design choices, the reader’s eye knew exactly how to progress through the chart. The final product was even better than the quick-and-dirty mock-up the print book designer’s associate (the poster designer) had provided.

I made one final suggestion. I reminded my friend, who was used to designing for the 8.5” x 11” page, that a poster was to be read from a distance. No matter how good it looked on the computer screen, I encouraged her to print out a tiled copy, in color, tape it together, and put it on the wall—just to see what it would look like.

What You Can Learn from My Friend’s Poster

Consider these steps when you design your next poster, particularly if you’re new at poster design, or if you get stuck in the process:

  1. Relate the overall look to previously designed materials for the subject (books or collateral), using the same typefaces, design grid, colors, and images. This will ensure that the poster reflects your corporate identity.
  2. Determine how you want the reader’s eye to move through the poster, and use color, type, and rules to structure the content for easy reading.
  3. Always check the design from a distance.

Posted in Posters | 6 Comments »

Custom Printing: A Commitment to the History of Print

April 28th, 2016

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

A friend and colleague within the commercial printing industry just forwarded me an article regarding a sizable donation towards preserving the history of printing.

The article, entitled “Graphic Communication Receives $2.3 Million to Preserve Printing Industry History,” issued as a press release on 11/23/15 by California Polytechnic State University, notes that “Well known printing industry expert Raymond J. Prince has donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department to preserve the history and knowledge of the printing and imaging industry.”

I found the article very encouraging as well as supportive of the future of custom printing.

Here are the four areas funded by the donation (italics are mine), as noted in the press release:

“The first is a named endowed scholarship honoring Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Gary Field, a highly regarded imaging scientist, professor, writer and speaker on issues of color management and related topics.

“The second is a named endowed scholarship honoring Professor Brian Lawler for his lifelong work advocating for the importance of print as a creative and influential communication medium surviving more than six centuries.

“The third area is a cash donation to supplement funds already raised to support what has become the world’s largest library on graphic arts technology and management. The library, already named the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Collection, is housed in Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department and includes more than 30,000 volumes.

“The fourth is a bequest that will perpetuate the ongoing growth and development of the library’s collection and graphic communication education at Cal Poly.”

Why This Is Important

After reading the article, I carefully considered exactly why I found this donation to be important. Here are my thoughts:

  1. This is a time in which many people have proclaimed the imminent death of print. In this light, for a major technical university to develop and maintain such a printing knowledge base demonstrates the value the university places on commercial printing. Clearly Cal Poly believes custom printing is relevant in this world.
  2. The focus of the grant extends beyond printing to communications in general. Cal Poly understands the goal of printing is to foster communication.
  3. The donation confirms a commitment to maintaining the knowledge gained in the six centuries since the birth of printing. This unbroken lineage will in turn benefit the future of printing in particular and communications in general.
  4. The donation confirms a belief that preparing young people for jobs within the printing field is important, that the industry is not dying but just changing. Moreover, providing the best education possible in commercial printing will ensure continued technical innovation. Preserving knowledge of what has gone before is the best way to give students a base on which to build the future of commercial printing technology.
  5. The press release notes that a broadly maintained library of all aspects of the history of printing will allow for “patent development and challenges.” This will ensure a well-ordered experimentation in, and development of, new technologies for printing. Both faculty and students will benefit. The university values both the future leaders of the commercial printing industry and its current experts, the faculty. Continued innovation will improve the equipment, processes, and workflows used on a daily basis in commercial printing establishments.
  6. In the press release, Douglas Epperson, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, notes that “Because of Ray and others who continue to donate to the collection, our students, faculty, scholars and industry personnel can access the world’s largest collection of graphic arts resources and materials.” (I am reminded of the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most comprehensive libraries of the ancient world.) Such a diverse collection of materials on custom printing will benefit those in the printing field who build upon its wisdom and insight as well as others around the world.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Branded Grocery Signs and Products

April 13th, 2016

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Every week I shop at Harris Teeter, as well as a few other grocery stores. And over the last several years–being a student of commercial printing, marketing, and design–I have paid close attention to store branding. I’ve been very impressed with Harris Teeter’s presentation. There’s nothing like visiting local businesses on a regular basis to get a sense of just how store design and product design interact and work on the buyer’s conscious and subconscious awareness. When done well, this makes people want to shop more and buy more. I can appreciate the skills and knowledge required.

A Sample Product: Boxed Egg Whites

Harris Teeter is owned by Kroger. Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing focus on store brand merchandise. The quality of organic produce and even canned and bottled goods has increased, as has the number of organic products available.

This last week my fiancee took photos of one product in particular to make sure I would look closely at its packaging when we got back home.

The product is HT Traders Cage-Free Pasteurized 100% Liquid Egg Whites, and here’s what I can discern from the product packaging:

  1. Unlike all of the other packaging I saw, this one had a photo of an egg with all of the type (excluding the HT Traders brand logo) hand written on the curved eggshell. First of all, this is unique, as most other packaging separates its typography from the images. Even if the type has been surprinted over an image, it’s still separate. It’s not written on the product.
  2. Since the egg has a curved surface, the curvature of the hand-printed product information makes for a unique presentation. All other typography is flat; this typography is curved and therefore intriguing.
  3. The hand lettering creates a casual tone. Moreover, you could say it creates a tone of honesty and directness, and this heightens credibility. In fact, it’s almost like the farmer has written on the eggs with a Sharpie marker at a farmer’s market. The tone suggests freshness, healthfulness, integrity, perhaps even a focus on sustainability and local produce—all the good qualities of a healthy meal.
  4. The lightness (almost a beige pastel) of the background color of the box (which is structured like a pint-sized box of milk) gives an almost porcelain appearance to the product, while echoing the colors of the early morning.
  5. Even the printed logo (typescript as opposed to hand-lettering) is done in a fun, bouncy typeface in which the baseline of the letterforms moves up and down, providing an almost childlike immediacy and enthusiasm to the packaging. Along with a hand-drawn apple, fish outline, and loaf of bread, the logo is friendly and approachable. The overall appearance makes you trust the HT Traders product.

Overall, this is a well thought-out design for a house-brand product. Granted, the product itself (or at least other products I’ve tried at Harris Teeter) is of high quality. Appearance alone without substance would detract from the brand and the store, but quality promotion of a quality product enhances its perceived value and encourages shoppers to buy. To me, this is success.

In-Store Signs that Reflect the Company Values

The second photo my fiancee took that night was of a refrigerator sign. I was immediately struck by the similar tone of both the egg-white product and the store signage, until I saw the “My Earth” logo with the same hand-drawn loaf of bread, apple, and fish as the Cage-Free Pasteurized Egg Whites box.

So My Earth and HT Traders products are visually related both through the apparent hand-drawn letterforms (possibly a hand-drawn typeface on a computer) and the image portion of the logo (the fish, bread, and apple).

The sign on the refrigerator notes how Harris Teeter increases refrigeration efficiency and reduces the cost of utilities with this particular technology. Although Harris Teeter has chosen to minimize energy use, it actually helps the branding to make this fact known to shoppers. An increasing number of people value sustainability, and are therefore more likely to buy from a business that shares this goal.

And presenting this information in a hand-drawn font visually connected to HT Traders underscores the low-key approach of the store. You know that this is a house brand (a reflection of the values of those who choose what products to include on the shelves). And you also know that the management is approachable, friendly, not stodgy.

All of this is reinforced by the consistent visual presentation, in both the store signage and the house-brand product packaging. In fact, as a shopper, I personally am more inclined to try a number of the dry goods, canned goods, and bottled goods in the store that have the “look” of the signage and the egg white packaging. I think others will be, too.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

It used to rankle me whenever I heard the catch phrase, “Image is everything.” I think that’s because it implied dishonesty, that you can sell low quality goods if they’re packaged well. Now I prefer to think that if a product or service is of the highest quality, this can be better communicated to prospective buyers with effective branding. Effective branding communicates and reinforces the values and quality of the brand whenever the prospect sees the logo, signage, or product packaging.

As a graphic designer or marketing professional, you have the power to communicate this quality to your prospective buyers through a well-crafted, consistent approach to your commercial printing materials: your signage, product packaging, and collateral.

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Custom Printing: Useful and Stylish Promotional Items

April 5th, 2016

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

I’m a sucker for free promotional items. I understand how they work. I know they keep the brand in front of me as I use the items on a daily basis. But, guess what? They’re useful and they look good. So I still like them.

Here are some thoughts on promotional items you might want to include in your arsenal when you go to a trade show. They’re also good for just sending to your clients as a reminder of who you are. After all, they keep your brand name in front of your prospects (and your business “top of mind”).

Branded Folding Box Cutters

This is useful to me as a commercial printing broker. I need to open boxes of printed products and samples on a regular basis. I have a folding box cutter with Epson’s logo and tag line (“Exceed Your Vision”). It’s silver and it sparkles, with the branding in what appears to be white custom screen printing ink. At least this is what would have been the most efficient way to produce such a “tchotchke” (another term for promotional items). A third descriptive name is “swag.”

This kind of promotional item is sexy because it looks sharp, it comes in a black velvet bag, the branding looks dramatic, and, most importantly, it’s useful. I can even change the blade.

Apparently, research has shown that this kind of product is kept for many months and yields hundreds of “impressions” each month. That is, every time I use the box knife, I see the logo and think of Epson.

Branded LED Flashlights

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I find flashlights just as useful as box knives, and Epson just sent me one of these, too. It’s a nine-bulb LED, and it works the same way as the box knife (the marketing part, not the flashlight part). It says “Epson: Exceed Your Vision.”

The thing is, a few times a year I get a print promotion from Epson referencing its inkjet products. Given my work in offset and digital commercial printing, I find this information useful, so I always return the business reply card and get the promo items and the samples. Granted, the large format printing samples are of equal value to me in understanding and promoting the technology.

After all, I need to know what’s going on in the industry. But between the values of quality and innovation associated with the Epson brand, and the flashlight and box knife that keep the Epson brand in front of my eyes on a regular basis, Epson’s marketing unit is doing a superb job.

And, by the way, under my high-powered loupe, it looks like the flashlights were also printed via custom screen printing, given the thick silver ink film.

A Few More Promotional Items

In a marketing journal I recently saw a few more “tchotchkes” that appeared to be useful and effective promotional items. In addition to all the imprinted hats, cups, mugs, chairs, messenger bags, pens, and such, I saw a Post-It dispenser. It had the company’s logo screen printed right where you reach for a Post-It. What could be more useful? You need to make a note. You reach for a Post-It, and you see the company branding, again and again and again. There’s no better way to reinforce this brand image in the mind of the Post-It user than these constant “impressions.” Impressions that go right into the subconscious mind. And, like the box knife and flashlight, a Post-It dispenser is useful.

How Are They Made?

Just in case you want to produce these “tchotchkes” for your own business (as either an entrepreneur or a member of a large firm’s marketing unit), you should know how these products were imprinted.

Positioning the flat mesh screen of a custom screen printing press onto the flat side of the folding box knife is relatively easy to visualize. The knife is irregular in shape, but screen printing equipment can be placed against anything from a knife to an interior wall of a building (think of the printing on the wall in an art exhibit) to the brim of a golf hat.

Printing on the side of a cylindrical flashlight would be a bit harder to imagine, since the custom screen printing mesh frame is flat. However, in this case the curved side of the flashlight can be rolled under the flat screen mesh and ink can be forced through using a squeegie, yielding a printed image that curves around the aluminum frame of the flashlight.

Screen printing a logo on a Post-It dispenser again just demonstrates how irregular an item can be and still receive a screen printed image. I did a little research online and saw videos of small stands built to hold items rigid throughout the custom screen printing process. All it takes is a little ingenuity.

And in all of these cases, once the extensive set-up work has been done to prepare the ink and the screens, the custom screen printing process itself, albeit slower than other forms of custom printing, is quite economical for longer runs.

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Ways to Pay, If You’re an Entrepreneur

March 29th, 2016

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As I think back over the last several years years of print brokering work, I realize that a rather large percentage of my clients have been self-funding their commercial printing projects. They’re entrepreneurs.

When I sell printing to a for-profit, or non-profit, organization, I’m dealing with a complex bureaucracy usually, but the money is always easily available to pay the print bills. And sometimes the bills are huge, for case-bound print books and longer runs of perfect bound books, for instance.

An Entrepreneur’s Project: The Holocaust Book

In contrast, for an entrepreneur the job may be a self-published book (perhaps for a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah). A few years ago I brokered a large print book about the Holocaust for a family with many relatives who had survived. It was a large-format memorial to their tenacity set forth in photos and text. In this case the books were not sold but rather given out at family gatherings. The last I heard, however, was that the book was so intriguing that the author had considered shopping it around to various synagogues and other Jewish organizations, so their members might benefit from the book as well.

In this case, the print book was produced on an HP Indigo, or at least the text was produced in this way. As I look back at my notes I see that the covers were offset printed and then laminated. For a short run of 65 books, this 180-page, 9” x 12” format, perfect bound book was an ideal candidate for the HP Indigo. It was too short for conventional offset (too short for this option to be economically feasible, that is), but doing a short offset press run of the covers ensured their highest quality.

In this case, as I’m reviewing the notes, it looks like my client did a wire transfer from his bank to the printer to prepay for the commercial printing services.

For the entrepreneur, in many cases the only payment options available are charging the custom printing to a credit card, prepaying by check (with the printing job being put on hold until payment clears), or transferring funds by wire from the bank. Unlike a larger organization (like an educational foundation), many sole proprietors don’t want to undergo a credit check, which would be a requirement for being billed after the job has been printed and delivered.

In fact, in many cases, since commercial printing necessitates the printer’s buying supplies before the print run (such as paper and ink), and doing a large amount of work before delivering the printed product, it’s very much the norm for a print supplier to expect payment before the printing has begun. One of the printers I frequent even requires 110 percent of the cost up front to cover any overage produced during the press run.

Again, large businesses usually sidestep this issue by applying for credit with the commercial printing vendor.

Another Entrepreneur’s Project: The Fashionista’s Color Book

I’ve written many PIE Blog articles about a “fashionista” who is producing a color swatch book with each page a different hue, like a Pantone color book. The colors correspond to particular complexions and help women choose flattering wardrobe colors.

My client initially had secured funding through a partner. This particular job (22 originals multiplied by so many copies of each book) would cost about $5,500 to print digitally (again, the HP Indigo was to be the perfect commercial printing solution, since the ultra-short-run nature of the job lent itself to electrophotographic, digital technology).

Unfortunately, my client recently had a falling out with her source of funding. People have differences of opinion, and in the case of entrepreneurs, gaining seed money often entails giving up control over one’s work. Often the partner not only wants the money back after the product has been sold, but also desires control over the focus and direction of the business during and after the production of the job.

My client would have none of this, understandably. After all, the product was her creation, the fruits of her hard work. I don’t blame her. So she and I came up with a plan.

Making a Prototype of the Color Book

Digital printing, either electrophotography (laser printing) or inkjet printing, lends itself to a “print run of one copy.” It’s expensive, but it can be done. In contrast, to offset print one copy of my client’s color book would be astronomically expensive.

So here’s the plan. For approximately $500 (it may go up or down), the printer will produce a single copy of one original book (approximately 1.5” x 2.5”, 114 pages drilled in one corner and bound with a single screw-and-post assembly, printed on 12 pt gloss stock with 18 pt covers). The pages will all be collated and cut down to size. They may even be UV coated. But they will not be round cornered because this is an analog process, which, like offset printing, would be exorbitant for one copy of one book.

That said, my client’s goal will be to take this print book to her clients, sell them on the concept, and take orders and prepayment. Fortunately, she already has a number of interested clients because she has produced this series of color books before. If her clients prepay for the books, one by one, my client will have the funding to compensate the printer without ceding any control to a silent partner.

How else could she have done this? She could have gone through a “crowdfunding” website for entrepreneurs, such as Kickstarter. I’m sure there are other ways as well (such as gifts or loans through family and friends).

How This Relates to You

Hopefully it doesn’t and never will, if you work for a large organization. In this case it may just open up your awareness to include those who do it all on their own. But if you’re starting a business and need to pay the printer, perhaps these two stories will get you thinking about alternative sources of funding. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Large Format Printing: You’ll Go Nuts for this Printed Carton

March 22nd, 2016

Posted in Packaging | 2 Comments »

On our way home from a standee installation at a movie theater last week, my fiancee stopped the car abruptly and jumped out. She grabbed a cardboard box covered in what appeared to be hand scrawled black Sharpie lettering and drawings. After commenting that I didn’t want to go to jail for stealing garbage, I put the box in the back seat, and we sped off. Needless to say, the box now lives in our front room, an example of pop art and corrugated board printing.

Why? What makes this box so special?

The Product

First of all, the box is different from most other boxes. It is covered in black Sharpie (or so it appears). The company website (it is a nut company) is displayed prominently and underlined. It also appears to be hand lettered (albeit in white). There is almost no place for the eye to rest on any of the four printed sides of the cube (the box is of almost equal dimensions) because there is writing everywhere.

Most of the writing comprises puns, and comments about how delicious the nuts are and how this is a family business. The marketing copy exudes an almost childlike innocence, a sense of wonder and energy and fun. You want to read every word. Then you want to eat the nuts and keep the carton. There are even several cute drawings of nuts with faces, feet, and a hat.

From a marketing point of view, what makes this special:

  1. First of all, it is very personal and friendly in tone, in contrast to most printed carton art. It draws the viewer into the world of the nut-maker by appealing to his/her sense of humor.
  2. It also stands out from almost all other packaging art in that it appears to be hand lettered. Clearly it has been printed. However, only when you think of the labor involved in hand-lettering thousands or hundreds of thousands of boxes do you start to think about how it was printed.
  3. The overall “feel” is of a local food co-op. The box is brown corrugated board. The writing is black ink, except for the white logo, so there is a bit of an environmentally-conscious vibe going on here. It’s casual, approachable, anything but corporate.

The Process

So how was this produced?

Creating the art was easy enough. The graphic designers either produced a hand-lettered original, which they then scanned and brought into the page composition software, or they drew the lettering and images of nuts with faces and legs with a tool like the Wacom Tablet and a stylus (i.e., they created the art within a drawing or painting program).

Producing the carton could have entailed one of three commercial printing processes: inkjet, flexography, or custom screen printing.

Custom screen printing would have been ideal if the press run were large enough. Setting up the screens and ink is labor intensive, so only a long run will justify the make-ready cost. When I look at the box with a high-powered loupe, I don’t see the thick ink film I’ve come to expect from screen printing.

Flexography would have been optimal for shorter press runs, since offset printing would have crushed the fluting in the corrugated board. The rubber plates used for flexography would have printed the artwork on the carton without damaging it, and for small to mid-sized press runs, the process would have been economical. (You’ll find a lot of package printing done via flexography, particularly frozen food cartons, milk cartons, etc.)

When I look closely, I see faint outlines around the lettering. The ink is rather thin and transparent, so you can see not only the fibers of the cardboard, but you can also see that the density of ink within the letters is lighter and the outlines of the letters are a bit darker. This is indicative of flexography.

The third option would be inkjet. This would be great for very short runs or variable data custom printing, in which each box would be slightly different from the others. Since inkjet print heads don’t actually touch the substrate, the process is also great for corrugated board because it won’t crush the fluting. But when I look at the type and images through my high-powered loupe, I don’t see the minuscule ink droplets indicative of inkjet printing.

So I’ll vote for flexography as the process used. That would be my best guess.

What You Can Learn

Here are a number of things to think about:

  1. If you do something totally different, it will stand out. In a world full of standardized cartons, this one really catches the eye.
  2. Consider your audience. Crafting a personal tone and casual appearance works for this nut company. It would usually not work for a computer company (although I have seen some simple black ink-on-corrugated-board marketing work from Apple over the years).
  3. Consider the most appropriate commercial printing technology. Offset printing crushes corrugated board. Screen printing, flexography, and inkjet printing do not. Be mindful of both the economics of custom printing (the most efficient and cost-effective way to print) and the functional requirements of a print job.
  4. From time to time, take a chance. My fiancee loved the design. That’s why she took it as pop art (think Andy Warhol in the ’60s). Some people won’t like it because it’s so outlandish. Great design doesn’t play it safe.

Posted in Packaging | 2 Comments »

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