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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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Large Format Printing: HP and KBA Inkjet Box-Printing

May 26th, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Corrugated board sounds about as sexy as wet tissue, but as I recently read a press release from HP and KBA, I started to develop more of an interest in the subject.

More specifically, any aspect of commercial printing that is growing and incorporating new technology into the process piques my interest.

The New Equipment

According to their March 4, 2015, press release, “HP and KBA … announced plans to develop a high speed, high volume, 110-inch-wide (2.8 meter) simplex inkjet web press for pre-printing of corrugated top liner.”

The equipment noted in the promotional release is a 4-color inkjet press that runs at a speed of 600 feet per minute and can print up to 300,000 square feet per hour. And, as the press release notes, “every box can be different.”

What This Means

In the simplest terms, this is what these technical specifications mean. In contrast to the smaller inkjet printers we have come to depend on for business use, this digital press (incorporating the IT experience of Hewlett Packard and the structural integrity of KBA presses) will digitally print a roll of paper that is more than 9 feet wide in full color with the ability to change anything from box to box. (Printers can even gang-up jobs on this large format press.)

Once printed, this “liner,” as it is called, can be processed through “corrugators,” which combine flat top and bottom sheets with the fluted inside section to create corrugated box material. Preprinting the liners and then converting them into corrugated material is more efficient than printing the corrugated board after it has been converted. Overall, the ability to produce short press runs of packaging material in this manner saves time, money, and shipping costs.

The Alternatives

I went to the Green Bay Packaging, Inc., website to learn more about the alternatives.

  1. One option is to offset print the decoration for a corrugated box onto litho paper that can be laminated to the corrugated board. This is a bit like a decal you would affix to a cardboard box.
  2. Another option is to use rubber relief plates (i.e., flexography) to decorate the corrugated board. Unlike offset printing, which would crush the fluting of the corrugated board with its extreme pressure, a flexographic press can print directly on the corrugated board. However, this process does not have the precision of offset lithography. It is therefore often used to print simple, large areas of flat colors on boxes.
  3. The third option is to screen print the art and text directly onto the corrugated boxes. Like flexography, this will not destroy the fluting within the corrugated board. However, set-up for custom screen printing is labor intensive. It therefore is not cost-effective for shorter press runs.
  4. Another option is to digitally print the decoration directly onto the corrugated board.
  5. But apparently the most cost-effective and efficient approach is to digitally print (or offset print, since both can be processed and turned into corrugated boxes) the liner paper, which is then attached to the paper fluting and converted into corrugated box material. (Of course, offset printing does not offer the variable-data or short-run benefits of digital inkjet.)

The Implications

I find this interesting for the following reasons:

  1. Joint ventures by leaders in both digital and offset printing point to a growing industry niche. HP (Hewlett Packard), a global information technology company and producer of digital printing equipment, has been in business since 1939. And KBA has established itself as an industry leader in sheetfed, newspaper, flexographic, and digital printing (and has been in business for 197 years). When these companies speak, it’s wise to listen.
  2. This development confirms my belief that packaging will be one of the main drivers of the commercial printing industry for years to come.
  3. It also confirms my belief that the ability to produce short press runs efficiently, with variable data capabilities, supports the “just in time” approach to manufacturing, as well as the marketing model of personalizing the sales message for each recipient.
  4. Finally, it supports my belief that inkjet technology is becoming a mainstay of digital custom printing, an effective adjunct to digital laser technology (electrophotography).

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: An Envelope Printing-Error Update

May 21st, 2015

Posted in Envelope Printing | Comments »

A few PIE Blog posts ago I mentioned some corporate identity materials I had brokered for a commercial printing client. Or, rather, for her client, since she is a designer.

There had been problems with registration of toner colors that had caused both a fuzziness in the type and logo mark and also a shift in color. The items in question were a business card, a notecard with an A7 envelope, and a #10 envelope. All jobs had press runs too short for offset, so I had asked the printer to produce the jobs on his HP Indigo press.

What I Thought Had Happened

My initial response when I saw the samples was to assume the HP Indigo had been out of alignment. Under a loupe I had seen the yellow image extending out in one direction, and the cyan and magenta images extending out in two other directions. Moreover, the problems seemed most acute on the A7 envelope, and the misregistration seemed to vary from item to item (business card, A7 envelope, notecard, and #10 envelope). Because of this misalignment, the logo colors had changed a bit as well. And this was more evident and more problematic than the slightly fuzzy image.

What Really Happened

I called up the commercial printing supplier to discuss my findings and concerns. He said he would be willing to adjust the color on the digital press to get a more consistent look from item to item.

However, when I noted that I had never before seen such problems on his HP Indigo, the printer explained something I had not known. The envelopes had been printed on his color laser printer, not the Indigo. The printer explained that only cut sheet work (anything trimmed out of a 12” x 18” flat press sheet) could be printed on the HP Indigo. Envelopes could not be fed through the Indigo; therefore, they had to be produced on the color laser printer.

From prior experience I knew that color laser printers such as the Konica Minolta and Canon were good, but not quite as good as the HP Indigo. But I learned something more from the printer that concerned me. Envelopes always moved slightly in the color laser printer.

The movement of the envelopes was magnified in part because of the various layers of overlapping paper in a converted envelope (i.e., they are thicker or thinner in different places) as well as the overall looser paper feed of a digital press (in contrast to the tight paper movement in an offset press).

So the movement had caused the misregister. The envelopes had shifted when traveling from one color unit of the color laser printer to the next. And the misregister of certain colors had caused color shifts. In addition, the misregistration problem appeared to be inconsistent, but in reality the paper envelopes were just moving through the color laser printer in different ways due to the different paper thicknesses of the folded, converted envelopes.

What Makes It Worse

My client, the designer, had chosen color builds that matched two PMS colors:

Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48
Orange C=0 M=64 Y=95 K=0

to match:

PMS Blue 654
PMS Orange 158

My sense, which was confirmed by the printer, is that a color build using a large percentage of each of the four process color toners increases the risk of misregistration. This is because the color laser printer has to keep three or four images in perfect alignment to create a crisp image.

The Solution

One of the suggestions the printer made for future digital printing was to remove the yellow toner in the blue logo color mix (Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48). There would be fewer colors to keep in register, yet the viewer’s eye would probably see very little difference in the overall color build. My client plans to make this change and print a few test samples to see if there will be a noticeable difference in appearance.

A Better Solution

The commercial printing supplier also suggested a better solution. Even though a short run of envelopes (500 copies, in this case) would normally cost less if produced digitally, we could print the envelopes (as a ganged run comprising several original envelopes) on a small offset press using PMS colors. This would avoid any chance of color shifts inherent in any 4-color process work, and the overall cost would still be competitive.

This is counterintuitive. You would think that an offset press-run would cost more, but the cost of prep work and wash-ups could be spread among the multiple jobs making each one more economical.

More importantly, the PMS colors would not vary, whether or not the envelopes moved (which they wouldn’t, since the feeding mechanism of an offset press is more precise than that of a digital press). All envelope jobs would have the same color on all printed pieces.

We’ll see what happens, but this is the job’s status at the moment.

What You Can Learn

  1. If your first impulse is to blame the printer, resist it. If you approach the printer as an ally, he will most likely step up and provide a detailed explanation of what happened. He will probably explain the limits of the digital and offset printing processes, and make suggestions to remedy the problem.
  2. Ideally, you can do this before your live job goes on press. It doesn’t hurt to send a PDF of your file to the printer for feedback prior to final submission of the job. Then, if he identifies any problems, you can adjust the design to avoid any pitfalls of the technology.
  3. The printer won’t always use the equipment you think he will use. I thought the envelopes would be printed on the HP Indigo. But since the Indigo cannot print envelopes, this portion of the job went on the color laser printer. It helps to discuss this sort of thing with the printer before the job goes to press.

Posted in Envelope Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: A Useful Tool for Identifying Fonts

May 18th, 2015

Posted in Design | Comments »

A custom printing client sent me a photo of her business card recently. She wanted to know if I could reproduce it.

This Is How I Approached the Job

  1. First I opened the photo in Photoshop and cropped down tightly on the printed words on the business card. Then I saved the image as a JPEG.
  2. I uploaded the photo of the type to “What the Font” (which can easily be found online). It is to typography what a fingerprint database is to the TV show CSI. This type database matches portions of each letterform in the sample and then lists a number of possible typefaces the sample could be. Unfortunately, the photo of the business card, presumably taken with a smartphone camera, was not sufficiently crisp for the type identifier to work. It listed too many fonts, when all I really wanted was one. So I asked my client to mail me a hard-copy sample of the business card.
  3. The logo on the card was initially problematic. Tracing the logo over the JPEG photo would not provide a crisp and usable file, and even scanning the hard-copy sample when I received the physical business card in the mail would only provide a bitmapped image. Fortunately, my client found a high-resolution JPEG of the logo. I could use this to determine the color.
  4. The high-res logo came to me as an RGB file. Since the business cards would probably be produced digitally (since my client would most likely only need about 500 cards), I changed the color space to CMYK, and I assumed the two PMS colors in the logo would be process color builds on the HP Indigo digital press.
  5. At the same time, I chose a typeface that appeared to be close to the original in the photo of the business card. I wanted to create a mock-up of the business card. I planned to change the typeface later. For now I would just place the high-res logo (after changing it to a CMYK TIFF in Photoshop) and type in the contact information on the card. This would give me an opportunity to estimate what type point size would fit in the space and see how much letterspacing would be needed to match the original type. I could also match the use of upper and lowercase letters, italics, and such used in the design of the business card.
  6. When I received the identity package in the mail (business card, letterhead, #10 envelope, and Monarch letterhead and envelope), I scanned the card and uploaded it to What the Font again.
  7. This time the automatic font matching software did not find even one match.
  8. Therefore, I went through a 25-question (approximately) interview process analyzing all aspects of the typeface, and the What the Font database gave me the following answer: The type sample was Times Europa Office.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

Type is one of the most useful tools in the designer’s arsenal because it can convey a tone or mood that supports the message of the text. It can be playful, sedate, sophisticated. It does this through all the myriad details in the letterforms. A font identifier such as What the Font can really get you to think more critically about these type characteristics. You can go beyond the distinctions between serif and sans serif, between roman and demi-bold or medium or heavy or black, or the distinction between narrow and wide, or condensed or expanded.

When the typeface database could not identify the font by trying to match the individual letters of my sample to the font alphabets in its database, it started asking me questions.

Here are some examples:

  1. The software asked about the serifs: were they horizontal and vertical, or were they slanted?
  2. Did the curve of the uppercase “J” drop below the baseline, or did it sit flush with the baseline?
  3. Did the lowercase “g” have one closed, curved element above the baseline and another closed, curved element below the baseline?
  4. It asked about the “tail” of the uppercase “Q.”
  5. It asked whether the sides of the “M” were completely vertical or slightly slanted.

This questioning went on for some time, and each time I answered a question, the font database matched my answer to its repository of fonts, narrowing down the list bit by bit.

What this shows is that the artists who initially drew each letterform of each font added intricate details to every letter. In your own design work such an exercise can get you to look more closely at the letters that tend to differ from font to font, such as the “a,” “g,” “f,” and “j,” in lowercase letters, and the “Q,” “J,” “W,” and “M,” in uppercase letters.

This exercise can lead you to a useful font-matching tool (such as What the Font). It can get you to look closely at the shape of the letterforms. It can also give you a starting point for identifying a font needed to prepare your client’s corporate identity materials for custom printing. And it may even make you fall in love with the intricacies of type.

Posted in Design | Comments »

Commercial Printing: How to Approach Printing Errors

May 16th, 2015

Posted in Printing | Comments »

I just received an unsettling email from a print brokering client today. She is a designer, and two small problems had occurred with a set of identity materials for her client.

The designer (we’ll call her Cheryl) had printed a business card (500 cards each for four principals of the business), 500 5” x 7” flat notecards, 500 A7 envelopes for the notecards, and 500 #10 envelopes (28# white wove). All of these jobs were 4-color process, and due to the short run size, I had asked the custom printing supplier to produce the jobs on his HP Indigo press.

The Problems That Occurred

First of all there had been some discussion as to whether the jobs would be printed on Classic Crest or Classic Linen stock. When the completed job arrived, the business cards had been printed on Classic Linen and all other components of the identity package had been printed on Classic Crest.

So the printing stock was inconsistent, and the requested specs had not been followed. (I rechecked the email noting the final specifications.)

Secondly, the art looked a little fuzzy compared to the proof, with a yellow halo around the logo printed on the A7 envelope. (When I received copies of the three pieces in the mail, I noted that the type was out of register.)

Why This Worried Me

First of all, having any job arrive at a client’s office with any flaws whatsoever is problematic. I always want clients to receive exactly what they expect: the highest quality custom printing.

Secondly, my client’s client is new: to her as a designer and to me as a commercial printing broker. My client and I have even more than the usual desire to ensure absolute perfection in any job for this firm because we both want to nurture this new client relationship. Starting off on the wrong foot is a big deal.

Thirdly, the materials in question comprise an identity package, so my client’s new client needs the job to be exemplary in order to present itself in its best light.

But problems do happen from time to time. It’s the nature of custom printing. How they are resolved is crucial and can be the determining factor in successful customer relations. Stated more simply, fixing a problem can cement a client relationship.

How I Plan to Proceed

My first instinct was to call the client, which I did. I apologized and asked for details. I also planned to approach the printer immediately, but my client raised a few interesting points:

  1. She actually liked the business cards printed on Classic Linen (due to the cross-hatching texture of the linen stock). Her client planned to print many more jobs, and she intended to shift all future identity materials to the new Classic Linen rather than the originally specified Classic Crest (smoother, with no cross-hatched texture).
  2. She wanted to look at other samples to make sure the registration problems were reflected in all copies and not just a few.
  3. She wanted to hear her client’s feedback before she and I discussed the job and determined what to request from the printer.

So my client and I agreed to check all email correspondence to ensure that the printer had in fact made the erroneous paper substitution (the emails confirmed this). We also agreed that she would send me a sample of the fuzzy A7 envelope art, and that I would give her feedback on what might have happened. Then, after she heard back from her client, I would approach the printer, noting what problems had occurred and how the client wanted to proceed.

At this point I want to note that my client has been unbelievably reasonable. Not all clients are. Some will respond with anger and blame rather than a desire to identify the cause of the problem and determine what it would take to resolve it.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Even though this isn’t settled yet, it’s already a good point to learn from this error. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Problems occur, period. It’s a fact of life. If you buy commercial printing, you are buying a process, not just a product. All jobs involve multiple rounds of communications and specifications, and things invariably go wrong, even with the best printers.
  2. Always put everything on paper (or in an electronic document). List all specifications needed for your job; from press run to paper brand, weight, and finish; to color usage to delivery. Make up your own specification sheet, and then spend the rest of your career as a print buyer tweaking and improving it. Note any changes to the initial specs in emails, and keep the emails. You may need to send them back to the printer as you determine the chain of events.
  3. Go slowly, even if your first impulse is to call up the printer and scream. After all, you may have created the problem yourself, inadvertently, and even if the fault lies with the printer, you don’t yet know its extent or how it happened.
  4. When you do speak with your printer, have a paper trail of the specs, and make sure the flaw didn’t show up in the proofs (hard-copy and/or virtual proofs). In essence, if at all possible determine where the error originated using your spec sheets, emails, and proofs.
  5. Determine just how bad the problem is. This includes its extent (spot check multiple boxes of printed materials to see how many copies were involved—some or all). It also includes the level of importance of the error. (Does it render the job unusable, or is it merely an annoyance?)
  6. Then, and only then, can you approach the custom printing supplier from a position of strength, able to describe the problem and its extent, to note its importance, and to request either a discount or a reprint.
  7. Your printer will want you to be happy. Take my word for it. He wants your repeat business. If you approach a custom printing error rationally, with specifics and a plan, in most cases your printer will step up to the challenge and make things right.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Black-only, Web-fed Inkjet for Books

May 11th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

When I first read Kodak’s literature about the new PROSPER 1000 Plus Press, my first question was, “What about color work?” But then I reflected for a moment and thought about all the print books I’d designed or brokered that had black-only text blocks. I paused.

I also thought back to a comment a commercial printing supplier had made when asked to bid a black-only print book on his digital press. He declined to bid, saying that running the job black only while letting the cyan, magenta, and yellow toner units sit idle (it was a laser-printed job) would be bad for the equipment.

So I was open to the idea of black-only, web-fed inkjet printing for books, and I read further about the KODAK PROSPER 1000 Plus Press.

When I learned that it could print at up to 1,000 feet per minute, I went online and compared “feet” to “miles.” The PROSPER 1000 Plus Press can print at speeds up to 11.36 miles per hour, which is almost three times the speed at which I run on the treadmill. That’s fast. From a business perspective, it’s incredibly efficient.

Here’s what I learned from further research:

KODAK PROSPER 1000 Plus Press Specifications

  1. This black-only press uses proprietary KODAK Stream Inkjet Technology.
  2. It allows for two-sided (black over black) simultaneous printing (known as perfecting in traditional offset or duplexing in digital printing).
  3. The press can print on up to 24.5 inch paper rolls (i.e., it is a web press, not a sheetfed press).
  4. Its speed limit of up to 1,000 feet per minute translates to 4,364 A4 pages per minute.
  5. The press includes the KODAK 700 Print Manager Digital Front End, which improves connectivity within both the printing and finishing workflow and also facilitates operator control of the process.
  6. In its literature, Kodak also highlights the PROSPER 1000 Plus Press’ ink-reduction function, enhancement for small type (improving type readability), and estimating and reporting functions.

Benefits of Web-fed, Black-Only Inkjet Printing

Current print-market conditions demand increasingly tight job turn-arounds. Customers also order shorter runs, but they order more often. And, they may require extensive personalization (or at least customization and versioning). Obviously, offset commercial printing cannot meet this need. But digital inkjet can, and for black-only press runs the KODAK PROSPER 1000 Plus Press may be ideal.

On a more macro level, with the cost of both delivery and warehousing on the rise, web-fed inkjet presses can be located closer to the point of delivery (i.e., at multiple locations across the country). With shorter press runs, print suppliers can save money on freight costs, warehousing, inventory, and fulfillment by decentralizing the printing process in this way.

Good Words from Kodak

Will Mansfield, Worldwide Director of Sales and Marketing for Inkjet Presses, Eastman Kodak Company, captures the core benefits of such a press in his promotional literature, highlighting “…print quality and productivity akin to offset, but with the immediacy and versatility of an all-digital workflow.”

Implications for Design and Production

I gave some thought to what this might mean for graphic arts and commercial printing, and what kinds of jobs might fit the specifications of the KODAK PROSPER 1000 Plus Press.

  1. Many case-bound books and trade paperbacks have black-only text blocks. In fact, I would venture to say that a huge percentage of trade paperback work is black only. Xerographic presses now do a lot of this printing (even on a small scale, on tiny presses owned by booksellers, and on roll-fed laser toner presses), but web-fed inkjet printing could probably do the same kind of work much faster and therefore for much less.
  2. A whole industry is based on “transpromo” work, which is essentially imprinting personalized ads on customer’s phone bills and other invoices. Although this can be done on laser toner equipment (even on fast laser equipment such as Xeikon’s web-fed laser presses), I wonder if web-fed inkjet presses might not do this work even faster.
  3. With recent articles coming out about how even younger-generation students prefer physical textbooks over e-textbooks, I think the slack will be taken up by either digital laser or web-fed inkjet. And since web-fed, black-only inkjet printing seems to be incredibly fast, for those textbooks with simpler, black-only text design, this kind of equipment might drive down print book prices, increase vendor margins, and allow for just-in-time delivery (with no warehousing).
  4. Variable-data commercial printing in black ink could potentially be added to preprinted, static 4-color press work. This is called “imprinting on pre-printed shells.” I know it is possible to print roll to roll (to feed the press from a web roll and then wind up the paper into a roll at the delivery end of the press). Therefore, I would think it possible to first pre-print static, process color “shells” onto web rolls of printing paper, and then re-run these rolls of preprinted “shells” through black-only, web-fed inkjet presses. This would add the final imprint of the personalized information, and printers could then cut and finish the paper at the end of the black-only inkjet run.

Just a thought.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Students Prefer Print Textboks

May 5th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

I was overjoyed to find an article on www.washingtonpost.com entitled, “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right,” by Michael S. Rosenwald. I was even happier to find the same article on my list from the Goggle Alerts aggregator. And when I Googled the first few words of the story, I found (what turned out to be an Associated Press story) in about six Google pages of listings.

This AP article had made a significant impression. Obviously. After all, this entire list of publications across the country had run the same AP story.

Even those who have grown up with an iPhone, iPad, or whatever other electronic device in their hands still find reading a textbook printed on paper to be a more efficient way to learn than reading the same material online on on an ebook reader.

Here are some of the reasons:

The Physical, Tactile Experience of a Print Book

According to Rosenwald’s article, students gain value from the low-tech nature of the textbooks. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.” (a response from Frank Schembari, a 20-year-old American University student quoted in the article). Apparently in a world where almost every minute is spent switching from one electronic device to another, consuming bits and bytes of information, learning from a silent, simple device (a print book) provides a wholly different experience than the norm.

Apparently, Shembari is not alone. Rosenwald’s article notes that “a University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.”

Print Textbooks Support Mental Focus

Rosenwald includes in his article a quote from Naomi S. Baron’s “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Baron is an American University linguist who studies digital communication. According to Rosenwald, Baron had found that “readers tend to skim on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers.”

Studies note that the ability to multitask is a fallacy. Apparently, people can switch from one task to another quickly, but they can’t do two things at the same time. And when they shift from one to another, there is a time lag. The brain has to refocus. In studying, this retards comprehension. So watching cable TV while studying and talking and texting on the smartphone is not the best use of study time, and students are beginning to understand this. They are often paying a premium for a textbook to supplement their free ebooks.

Again, this is not an isolated experience. Rosewald’s article notes that “Pew studies show the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29, and the same age group is still using public libraries in large numbers.”

Awareness of the Physical Location of Information in a Print Book Aids Retention

Apparently there is something to be said about physical location in a print book. As Rosewald’s article notes:

“Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension.”

Since readers jump from one Web page to another, they don’t read word for word. They skim, and the awareness of a particular concept on a particular physical page of a book is lost. Readers are more scattered in their approach, even when they read long-form documents on their electronic devices.

This distracts students and diminishes comprehension.

Interestingly enough, Rosewald’s article includes Baron’s findings that “students were more likely to multitask in hard copy (1 percent) vs. reading on-screen (90 percent).” Students jump from an article they’re reading to their email to Facebook and then back to the article.

Benefits of Used Textbooks and Writing in the Margins

Rosewald’s article points out that many students had bought used textbooks pre-underlined and marked with the handwritten notes of prior owners. There’s just no immediate, easy way to do this on an e-reader. There is definitely something to be said for reviewing not only the text but also other people’s responses to the text scribbled in the margins.

The Benefits of Digital Textbooks

“Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right” lists several situations in which students do prefer digital texts:

  1. For technical information in which an electronic link to supplemental material can make understanding a concept easier, a digital text is ideal.
  2. For subject matter in which locating information is key, digital texts are ideal. Print books don’t have a “search” function (like Google). Nor do they have a “find” key to immediately lead the student to all instances of a particular term.
  3. Compared to a free or almost-free ebook, a physical textbook is expensive. Rosewald’s article notes Baron’s findings that the price of textbooks had risen 82 percent in the decade from 2002 to 2012. Rosewald states that “if price weren’t a factor, Baron’s research shows that students overwhelmingly prefer print.”

From the School Administrator’s Point of View

School administrators love that e-textbooks are cheap and can be updated, according to Baron. They are also interactive, and they weigh less, leading to less back strain for the students. However, since students are having a harder time accepting long-form reading, Baron believes that administrators’ pushing laptops, e-readers, and tablets for study may have far-reaching negative effects on American education. Administrators are rushing into electronic media “with little thought for educational consequences.”

How This Relates to You and Me

If you’re designing print books, it looks like you’ll have a continued market for your product (and design skills) for years to come. After all, these are today’s students the article is describing.

If you’re reading books, you’ve got some serious thinking to do about the benefits and liabilities of digital texts.

From my point of view, it’s not an either/or question. Choosing the right tool for learning new material–whether it is a digital book or print book or both–reflects wisdom.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: Reviewing Magazine Printers’ and Book Printers’ Samples

April 27th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments Off

I just received three boxes of samples from commercial printing suppliers. Somehow the boxes look bigger in the condo than they used to look in the house, where I had a whole room for samples.

The three boxes contain specific samples from three separate printers for three separate print brokering clients. Here’s why I requested them, what I’m looking for, and why they will be beneficial to my work.

In your own print buying work, you might also want to request samples from your printers before choosing a particular supplier for a job.

The Magazine Samples

One of my clients is producing a graphic novel. After negotiating an attractive price for the job and requesting a list of references, I asked for printed samples. However, this last part I did after receiving from my client a few samples of printed jobs she liked.

My client had sent me an old copy of Glamour magazine, and I had sent a few pages of the cover and text paper stock to my printer, asking for comparable press sheets he had printed.

I received sample magazines with notations of all paper contained in the books. These included 40#, 45#, and 50# text sheets as well as covers printed on 60# and 70# text sheets. These commercial printing papers included #3 sheets, #4 sheets, and #5 sheets (reflecting gradually diminishing brightness).

To make the paper analysis process easier, instead of sending all of these printed samples to my client, I chose one sample of each paper weight and grade and marked the specifications in back sharpie pen on each item. My client can now compare each paper weight to all other samples (in various lighting conditions).

She can also see examples of this particular printer’s offset printing skill on these press sheets. And she can compare the brightness of each press sheet to the others to determine the “look” she wants. After all, my client is seeking a gritty appearance for her graphic novel, so a #4 or #5 sheet (which might appear dingy to someone else) might be just what she needs.

We’ll see what my client says. Once she has identified the paper weight she likes for her graphic novel cover, text, and gatefolds, I’ll request more printed samples from this custom printing supplier, just to give my client an even broader awareness of the quality printing she can expect from this vendor.

Samples of a Print Book for a Small Literary Publisher

Another vendor just completed a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. It has a 4/4 cover (it’s printed on the inside as well as the outside covers), and it has French Flaps. That’s a lot of four-color imagery and text even before you start reading the literary anthology between the covers.

I wanted to review these print books closely before I spoke with my client to make sure everything was in order. The samples were beautiful. But here’s what I looked for in particular:

  1. I noticed that the cover had been printed with abundant but even ink coverage, and that it had a smooth matte film laminate and a square and even bindery trim.
  2. The type on the spine fell squarely in the center, as planned.
  3. The interior printing (black-only on both sides of the press sheet) was crisp, and the running headers aligned when I flipped the pages.
  4. The overall binding of the perfect-bound text was precise and evenly glued. It appeared to be sturdy.
  5. All halftones had a good tonal range, from the deepest shadows to the highlights.

With this information in hand, I felt comfortable approaching my print brokering clients, who said they loved the book. This I let the book printer know immediately.

Book Samples for Checking Paper Opacity

I’m bidding on the printing of an annual 576-page case-bound textbook with black-ink-only text. It has a lot of halftones and charts composed of various shades of gray as well as black rules and area screens. In this particular case the opacity of the paper is crucial in selecting a vendor.

I’m negotiating with a well-known book printer with a stellar reputation, but this supplier has substituted paper on the estimate. That is, the house press sheet is not what I had specified. This doesn’t need to be a problem if the paper substitution involves comparable qualities. In fact, it will yield quite a savings over the cost of last year’s print book.

This particular printer sent me case-bound and perfect-bound samples containing the paper stock (Lynx rather than the Finch Opaque I had specified). All printed samples include photos and charts. The charts include a range of tones from black to lighter shades of gray. By paging through the books I can see just how well this paper obscures images printed on the back of the page when I’m viewing the front of the page. In all cases I’m satisfied.

In fact, I’m ahead of the game because I can also see how well this book printer has case bound this particular sample. In addition, the other samples I received give me a good idea of both the binding capabilities and printing capabilities I can expect from this vendor. And I’ve also seen the 4-color work the printer can do, since he included the full-color dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound book.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here’s a short list of things to look for in book printers’ samples:

  1. Look for color fidelity in the full-color printing work. (Memory colors, such as grass and food colors, should be accurate.) Look for even ink coverage printed in tight register.
  2. Check out the interior printing of the books (look for even ink coverage and clear halftones with no plugged screens–or muddiness–and a good tonal range).
  3. Check the physical properties of the books. Are the pages trimmed squarely, and are all the pages aligned at the running headers? Look at the endsheets, as well as the spine and the head and foot bands. Has the spine of the book been rounded? Does everything appear sturdy and exude quality?

By reviewing the samples closely, you’ll quickly get a good idea of whether this particular vendor can meet your printing and binding needs.

Posted in Book Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments Off

Catalog Printing: Views on an Upscale Bath Catalog

April 20th, 2015

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One of the major benefits of rebuilding a house after a fire is looking through all the print catalogs of things you might want to buy for the house. (Another is being able to see through all the wood studs with no drywall in the way—it makes the house look like one big room.)

One of the print catalogs my fiancee brought back to the condo took my breath away. And being a student of commercial printing, I had to deconstruct it and share with you exactly why I think it’s fabulous.

Description of the Catalog

First of all, the cover of the 8.5” x 11” print book is simple, perhaps even stark. The background is printed in full-bleed, luxurious silver (probably multiple hits of the metallic ink), with one rectangle of text for the title, subtitle, and branding (all nestled together in a tight geometric form). Interestingly enough, this block of copy falls below the center of the cover, almost at the bottom of the page. The effect is that your eye falls on the abundant silver ink first (this is the real subject of the cover) and then travels down to the text block.

“Bath” stands out in an austere, all-caps treatment using a thin, angular, sans serif typeface and abundant letterspacing. The word is reversed out of the silver and is about two inches in height. The tittle of the print catalog and the branding logotype are nestled above and below the word “Bath” to create the aforementioned rectangle of type.

In addition, the cover has a vertical press score about 3/4” in from the spine. On such an austere cover it functions as a vertical design element and also allows the cover to be opened without revealing the spine and binding glue. It is simple and elegant.

Treatment of Text in the Catalog

All explanatory mater at the front of the catalog is arranged in a simple, geometric grid with ample leading between lines of type. The sans serif typeface accentuates what first appears to be a Sweedish Modern ethos in the design of the catalog and the design of all bath fixtures within the catalog. Interestingly enough, the company is actually a Spanish firm with stores across the globe, Porcelanosa Grupo. The company specializes in ceramics and bathroom fixtures and furniture.

The text appears to be almost gray, but with a loupe you can see that it is black. It is the combination of the extra leading between lines of type and the thin letterforms of the sans serif type that gives the overall appearance of gray or silver type. The overall effect is an air of luxury. The type treatment extends throughout the following pages of bathroom fixtures. Who would imagine that a plumbing catalog could exude sex appeal?

Treatment of Photos in the Catalog

Overall, the color usage in the catalog is sparse. It looks either achromatic (only black, white, or grey) or almost a cool, upscale silver. If you look more closely, however, you will see an accent of color here and there. Each double-page spread showcases one item or fixture, and occasionally there will be a red highlight within the explanatory text, or perhaps a pink or green bottle of handcream, or a towel, in the photo. The effect is a subtle humor. “Find the color, if you can.” It also looks incredibly delicate, like trees covered in ice after a freezing rain. If you look closely you can appreciate the delicacy of the photography.

The Tonal Range of the Images

From a technical point of view, the photos are breathtaking because of their extended tonal range. Upon close inspection with a printer‘s loupe you can see that many of the photos that appear to be black and white only have been rendered in four-color process inks. These are also known as “quadtones.” What this technique provides is an extended range of intermediate tones within the images.

Whereas a one-color halftone (perhaps black only) can only focus on a narrow range of tones (perhaps the shadows and a bit of the midtones, or the intermediate tones and the highlights), a four-color rendering of a black and white image can showcase detail in the shadows, three-quarter tones, mid-tones, quarter tones, and highlights—the entire tonal range. Granted, in this print catalog the images are not quite black and white even in appearance. There are a few accents of color here and there. But the overall look is a monochromatic, or even achromatic, air of elegance with precise attention to detail.

It also looks as though the photos themselves were shot in extremely high resolution. You can see the individual water drops coming from one of the shower heads, and the mirrored reflections in the metal fixtures, as well as the icy white porcelain sinks and tubs, give a frozen look to the images.

The Paper on Which the Catalog Is Printed

As I’ve often said before, the paper on which a job is printed exerts a powerful subliminal force. It works on the reader’s subconscious. It either supports or detracts from the overall effect of the printed piece. It seems that the paper stock for the text of the catalog is a brilliant white, 100# dull text sheet. (The dull coating diffuses all light and has no sheen.) The cover of the catalog appears to be a thick, brilliant white, 100# dull cover sheet.

For me, the overall effect of using paper with such ample weight and stiffness is to echo the feeling of opulence suggested by the print catalog. The bright, solar white sheet reinforces this as well, as does its blue-white shade. “Icy” is the word that comes to mind—and “flawlessly precise.”

The Overall Look of the Catalog

What makes this catalog work for me is that all design elements, from the blue-white paper tone and heavy paper weight to the stark imagery; from the monochromatic hues to the extended tonal range in the photos; from the choice of typefaces to the attention to letterspacing and leading—all of this supports the overall tone of the catalog and the brand attributes to which potential customers might aspire.

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Brochure Printing: Deconstructing a Promo Brochure

April 16th, 2015

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A friend of mine is a print book designer. She designs almost exclusively the multi-column, regularly spaced and formatted print books various government organizations publish to document their work. The consistency of her design is noteworthy, but she also has a flair for simple, elegant page construction that facilitates reading. When I was an art director, I would have hired her in a minute. And I am actually somewhat envious when she sends me page spreads to critique. She is that good at it.

That said, a client of hers needed a brochure recently.

My friend the print book designer had to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new approach to page design. When I saw her finished work, I was impressed. So impressed that I wanted to deconstruct the brochure design to share with you a number of things she did really, really well.

As a side note, I think the brochure design works primarily because it facilitates reading. When you look at the brochure, you know exactly how all elements should function (text, callouts, etc.). You know instantly what’s most important, then of secondary importance, then of lesser importance but still interesting. I think the designer’s success in creating a brochure reflects her breadth of writing and editing experience.

A Description of the Brochure

According to the PDF “properties” search tool, the brochure is a flat 11” x 18” document with six panels, three on each side. It will fold down to 6” x 11”. It is a four-color piece, with two full-color images, as well as area screens of blue and beige built from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The text is black, and some of the heads are reversed, as are the callouts. Finally, text and heads are set in various weights of one (or possibly two) sans serif type families, with some levels of headlines set in all caps and others set in caps and lower case, depending on their use.

It is a rather large brochure in format, since many similar brochures would be 8.5” x 3.5” when folded down, and would fit in a #10 envelope. This format provides a lot of space for the two images, one chart, callouts, and text. It allows for a feeling of roominess. Nothing seems cramped, even though there are a lot of design elements.

What the Designer Did Right (in My Opinion)

  1. First the designer considered the flat brochure as a single design space, rather than approaching the panels as separate pages. This gave a sense of “flow” to the images and text.
  2. She then added a full-bleed, light blue background, which covers the front and back panel as well as the inner, fold-in panel. This distinguishes the exterior of the brochure from its interior (providing different places for small chunks of information). It also allows for visual contrast between the fold-in panel and the lighter interior of the brochure. This looks good, but it also divides the brochure into distinct “spaces.” And nothing facilitates reading (particularly in a promotional piece) like being given small chunks of information in an easy to follow format.
  3. When opened flat, the interior of the brochure has a full-bleed, two panel background of light blue on the center and right, and a light beige panel on the left. There is a full-color photo knocked out of the light blue screen. This division of space makes it clear to the reader that there are two kinds of information to read on the interior, three-panel spread.
  4. To create callouts, the designer reversed all-caps type out of solid boxes of blue, and then set the running heads (heads within the first line of text) within the callouts in a heavier weight of the same typeface. In some cases she also set a few important words within the callouts in bold type. Overall, the effect is to identify brief bits of important copy that will provide a summation of the entire brochure (everything else will amplify these few points). Since the background of these callouts is blue (principally cyan), they remind the reader of the full-bleed solid on the outside of the brochure, and therefore provide a visual continuity to the brochure.
  5. The designer varied the number of columns of text on the brochure panels (sometimes two columns; sometimes one). She did this consistently and with purpose in a way that reinforces the meaning of the individual text blocks. This provides visual variety, but having only two options within the design grid also gives a form and regularity to the brochure.
  6. The designer considered the activity within the photos when placing them. On the front panel an African woman in traditional garb is looking squarely at the reader. She catches the reader’s eye immediately. On the interior of the brochure, an African woman is shaking out a blue blanket. The image is on the right interior panel. It leads the reader’s eye off the page. At the same time, the blue of the blanket echoes the blue full-bleed solid background of the brochure’s exterior panels.
  7. While all of this may sound incredibly busy, it is not. This is because the designer set up only a handful of visual rules (everything from the grid to the color usage to the choice of typefaces) in a consistent way that groups the text into coherent bits of information.

Here Are Some Things to Consider in Your Own Custom Printing Design Work

  1. Approach the brochure design as a whole. Think about how you want to lead the reader’s eye through all the panels, Make sure the visual appearance reflects the logic, flow, and content of the brochure text.
  2. Use all design elements at your disposal (page grid, color placement, typefaces) as tools to group and present the textual information. Use these consistently, always for a reason.
  3. Choose samples of commercial printing work that you like, and then deconstruct them. Consider what the designer has done and how the visual choices support the promotional goals inherent in the brochure text. “It looks good” is not an adequate reason to make a design decision.

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Printing Periodicals and Textbooks on Inkjet Presses

April 13th, 2015

Posted in Magazine Printing, Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

I read an intriguing article in Print Week India last night (an online printing-trade publication) by Rahul Kumar entitled “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility” (dated 2/6/15).

The thesis of the article is that unit costs of digitally printed newspapers in India must drop before the technology can compete with web-offset lithography.

The concept is straight out of Business 101: new technologies either prosper of fail based on the balance of their costs and benefits. But what intrigues me are the following implications for the digital printing of periodicals:

  1. Newspaper and magazine printing may be in decline but only when viewed through the lens of US business. In other countries—most notably China, India, and Saudia Arabia—newspaper and magazine printing is on the rise. (It is growing in the double digits in India.) This is in spite of worldwide access to online publications.
  2. There is an increasing worldwide need for economically feasible digital printing of such products as transpromotional materials, textbooks, and newspapers, with shorter and shorter press runs and tighter schedules. Both versioning and personalization are also in demand. Since the world is splintering into multiple, smaller populations distinguished by unique language and culture, this change lends itself to shorter, targeted press runs of newspapers and other periodicals.
  3. The need for faster and faster production of small, segmented newspapers and magazines has led equipment manufacturers to expand the accepted paper size, running speed, and paper-handling capabilities of both laser and inkjet printing equipment.
  4. Among these developing technologies, inkjet presses for printing textbooks (such as the Kodak Prosper S press and the HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press) and newspapers (such as the Xerox Impika and Fujifilm J Press 540 W) are gaining traction.
  5. The technology is available to duplex print (print on both sides of a sheet simultaneously). In addition, new inks are being developed that will work with multiple existing paper stocks (without the need for a pre-coating step); and print resolution and halftone screening technologies are improving, affording smoother halftones and graduated screens as well as crisp type even at small point sizes. Digital presses can now maintain the quality of high density ink coverage at very high press speeds. (In essence, digital custom printing is quickly approaching the quality of offset lithography.)
  6. Print Week India also notes the development of nanoparticle inks that yield exceptionally high color fidelity and saturation using thinner ink films than offset lithography.

Offset vs. Digitally Printed Periodicals in India

The new technology described above is, interestingly enough, less compelling in India since there is easy access to low-cost offset custom printing equipment and operators. It simply costs less to use the older technology in some countries. However, I believe the sea change in content consumption will change this, sooner rather than later, due to the following:

  1. Content is being targeted to specific regions, in India and elsewhere. Print volume is rising, but so is the need for versioning. In the United States this would be analagous to the smaller newspapers that focus on hyper-local, neighborhood content.
  2. Due to the growth of more, but smaller, press runs, there is an increased need for decentralized production and distribution. That is, instead of printing multiple thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of copies of the same newspaper in a single location, the trend will be to print multiple versioned editions in diverse locations closer to the readership. In this case the range of the distribution will be smaller. Therefore, inkjet custom printing will help reduce delivery costs.
  3. Hyper-targeted production and distribution will make the digital publications more relevant to the readers. This will in turn drive advertising revenues higher, since inkjet printed, localized newspapers can deliver a more certain audience to the advertisers (and therefore newspapers will be able to charge higher advertising rates). Inkjet-printed copies of newspapers can then drive traffic to the Internet, TV, or online gaming to nurture relationships with readers, providing even more opportunities for advertising.
  4. Totally unrelated to newspapers–but perhaps of high importance to printers committing to digital inkjet technology–is the flexibility of the digital inkjet process, which can be used not only for newspaper printing but also for transpromo work, print books, or even commercial printing jobs.

Implications for the World Printing Trade

As the unit cost for digital inkjet printing drops and the quality improves, it will be possible to use the technology to turn a profit while improving production values and delivering a higher return on advertising dollars.

But in India, it’s not prime time yet. According to Kumar’s article, “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility,” “the cost per copy is still on the higher side compared to offset.”

For all the reasons Kumar notes in his Print Week India article, I think the transition to digital inkjet for print books, transpromo, and newspapers might actually occur here in the United States first.

Posted in Magazine Printing, Newspaper Printing | Comments Off

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