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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: Fine Art Printing Techniques

July 22nd, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

In the rush to produce posters, building wraps, brochures, and print books for either promotional or educational purposes, we may forget that one of the main uses for custom printing for centuries has been to reproduce copies of fine art.

Some Techniques and Technologies

For the most part, custom printing techniques for fine art prints fall into three complementary categories: relief, intaglio, and planographic.

Relief Printing

Relief printing includes such techniques as linoleum block or wood block printing, in which a raised area of the printing plate (in this case a block of linoleum or wood) will transfer ink to a substrate (such as paper).

The artist uses gouges and other tools to remove all portions of the linoleum or wood block’s surface that are not the actual artistic rendering. Then he or she uses an ink roller to distribute ink across the linoleum or wood block’s surface. The next step is to lay the paper substrate on the block and apply pressure (by hand or with a press). All inked areas of the block will then transfer the image to the substrate.

Intaglio Printing

Intaglio is the term for the second technique, in which the custom printing surface is below the flat surface of the plate. This category includes the process of engraving, which is used for fine art prints and for such commercial items as engraved invitations.

In the engraving process, the artist uses a sharp instrument called a burin to dig grooves in the printing plate (which is made of copper or another metal). Areas that will print as part of the fine art design will be recessed into the metal, while all non-printing areas will be untouched. This is the opposite of the relief process described above.

Once the artist has completed the design on the plate, he or she dabs thick ink across its surface, being careful to get ink into all the grooves that comprise the artwork. Then, all ink on the surface of the printing plate is wiped off, leaving ink only in the recessed grooves. The artist mounts the plate on the press, inserts a piece of moistened paper into the press, and then uses the press to transfer the inked image from the plate to the paper. The intense pressure forces the fibers of the printing paper into the inked grooves cut into the custom printing plate with the burin and transfers the image. At this point, the plate can be reinked and another impression can be made on a new sheet of paper.

The intaglio process also includes such techniques as etching, in which a waxy resin resistant to the effects of acid is applied to the surface of the coper or zinc plate. The artist uses an etching needle to cut through portions of the waxy resin to create the design. When the plate is then immersed in an acid bath, the acid eats into the plate in all areas not covered with the acid resist substance. Once the plate has been etched, the artist can apply ink, wipe off all ink on the surface (but not in the grooves cut by the acid), and then proceed with the custom printing process as with an engraving.

Etching (as opposed to engraving, which involves direct cutting into the plate with a tool rather than an acid bath) includes such techniques as aquatint and mezzotint, while the more direct process of scraping into the plate includes such techniques as drypoint and wood engraving.

Planographic Printing

The planographic process employs a completely flat plate. Image areas are not raised (as in relief printing) or recessed (as in intaglio printing). They are on the same level as non-image areas. This is the same process used for offset lithography.

Planographic plates are based on the incompatibility of oil and water. Oil repels water; water repels oil. Treating the image areas of a custom printing plate in such a way that they attract the oily ink while water covers all non-printing areas of the plate allows the plate to deposit the ink precisely.

In offset lithography, the plate first prints the image onto a fabric or rubber blanket and from there onto the paper substrate.

In more traditional lithography, in which the artist draws the image on a limestone plate with a special greasy crayon, the greasy markings attract the printing ink. At the same time, water applied to the surface of the plate is repelled by the greasy image area. When the artist lays moist paper onto the printing plate and runs it through the press, the intense pressure transfers the inked image to the paper substrate.

Silkscreen Printing

The final technique fits into none of the prior three categories. In silkscreen printing, the artist creates an image on a silk (or metal) screen that has been stretched over a wood or metal frame. Areas that will not print are blocked out (using a resist substance like shellac), while image areas are left open. The artist deposits ink at one end of the screen frame, lays the frame down over the paper substrate, and using a rubber squeegie, drags the ink across the screen. This forces the ink through the portions of the screen that have not been blocked out with shellac and onto the paper substrate.

For each successive color, the artist cleans the screen, uses shellac to cover all areas that will not print, and repeats the inking and squeegeeing process.

While this description implies that the artist has created the image by hand on the successive screens, he or she can also use photomechanical methods to create halftones that can be printed in the same way.

The Take-Away

Printing is an art and a craft. The books, posters, and business cards you design are printed with many of the same, or similar, techniques as have been used through the centuries to produce fine art prints.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Custom Pocket Folders: Multiple Copies on a Single Page

July 20th, 2014

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

It is unusual for a printer to print only one copy of your brochure, poster, custom pocket folder, or print book signatures on a press sheet when he produces your job via sheetfed offset lithography. This would not be efficient. Nor would it be economical.

Instead, he usually lays out a number of pages (on a computer in the digital prepress component of custom printing) in a certain order on the press sheet so they will fall in the right position when the large press sheet has been folded and trimmed.

What exactly does this look like? What do you see on a printed but untrimmed press sheet?

Sheetwise vs. Work and Turn vs. Work and Tumble

Let’s say you’re printing a 9” x 12” custom pocket folder with a 4” pocket. Prior to converting, this job is a four-page, 18” x 16” product (plus any build for the spine, plus any glue flaps and/or bleeds). The 18” dimension would include two 9” pages, and the 16” dimension would include the 12” side plus the open (unfolded) 4” pocket.

Your custom printing supplier can get two of these on a 25” x 38” press sheet. If your press run is 5,000 copies, this would only require him to print and convert 2,500 sheets. This will save him time and money. To do this he has a number of options.

Sheetwise

Your printer can lay out these two pocket folders side by side on a 38” wide by 25” high press sheet. (Picture two completely unfolded pocket folders, one on the left and one on the right, standing on their 16” sides). The printer can first print one side (the exterior front and back, for instance). After these 2,500 printed sheets have dried, he can turn them over and print the other side: the interior pockets. However, he must first clean the press and hang new plates. (This is called a wash-up. It takes time and costs money.)

Work and Turn and Work and Tumble

If your printer flips over one of the pocket folders on the press sheet, so the front of the sheet includes one custom pocket folder’s front and back covers and one pocket folder’s interior two pockets, he can print one side of the sheet, wait for it to dry, and then print the other side of the press sheet without washing up and rehanging new plates. (That is, the same plates are used for both sides of the press sheet.) Depending on how he turns the press sheet, this approach is called either work and turn or work and tumble.

Specifically, work and turn involves keeping the gripper edge of the press sheet (the leading edge) the same when the printer turns over the sheet (from side to side). In contrast, work and tumble involves turning the press sheet in a tumbling (end over end, rather than side over side) manner. The gripper edge changes from the front of the sheet to the back of the sheet and the side guide stays the same.

Of course, all this happens after the sheet has dried. If the ink is wet, it will offset onto other pages.

When to Use Sheetwise vs. Work and Turn/Work and Tumble

Let’s say your pocket folder has heavy ink coverage on the exterior covers (front and back), but nothing inside. Once the open pockets have been folded up and the glue tabs have been folded over and attached, the interior of the pocket folder would appear to have some interior color. It will just have been printed on one side of the press sheet prior to folding. (That is, the interior pockets would have initially been printed as part of the exterior of the folder.)

In this case it would be prudent to print the job sheetwise, since only one side would need to be printed. Flipping one of the pocket folders over on the press sheet prior to printing would gain nothing and necessitate two print runs, one for either side of the press sheet. In this case, having both images side by side in this “two-up” sheetwise imposition would be ideal.

Or, if the printer needed to print heavy ink coverage on the exterior covers of the pocket folder and light ink coverage on the interior, he might also choose a sheetwise imposition to avoid overinking the interior pages.

In other cases, he would probably choose work and turn or work and tumble imposition, depending on how he wanted the images to fall on the final press sheet (again, this might have a lot to do with the amount of ink coverage). Once he has imposed the images (in this case, the custom pocket folders) on the press sheet, he can choose whether to turn the sheet from side to side or end over end, after the ink has dried.

Remember, the same holds true whether your printer is producing two pocket folders on a sheet, four brochures on a sheet, or a sixteen-page print book signature (eight pages on each side of the press sheet). The printer must determine the most efficient and economical way to position the pages on the final press sheet to avoid overinking the printed product and make sure the folded piece allows each page to fall in the proper position.

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Dot Gain and What to Do About It

July 17th, 2014

Posted in Prepress | Comments »

About twenty years ago I designed a 6” x 9” 4-color print catalog. I was an art director at a local non-profit organization. I had just received the color proof of the catalog, which was about to be printed via web-offset lithography. I was horrified. Everything was too light: text, images, everything.

Keep in mind that this was twenty years ago. I was looking at a proof created from litho films. If I recall correctly, it was a 3M Matchprint proof.

What had happened was that the printer had adjusted everything to compensate for the dot gain that would occur on the heatset web press during the custom printing process. As its name implies, dot gain means that halftone dots print darker on press than expected. Therefore, in this case, the film had to be adjusted to compensate for this darkening. Had the printer not reduced the size of the halftone dots in the film from which the plates would be burned, the final printed product would have been too dark, and everyone who received a print catalog in the mail would have been horrified.

(As an aside, you might ask why the commercial printing supplier didn’t produce one set of films for the platemaking process—again, it was twenty years ago—and another for the proof. This would have made the proof useless as a technical diagnostic tool. I would have been looking at a picture-perfect proof that bore no resemblance to the final film, plates, or printed product.)

What Is Dot Gain?

In each successive process in platemaking and custom printing, the size of halftone dots increases. Now that printers produce plates directly from digital files, there is no dot gain in the initial step of making films (from which plates used to be made) because there is no longer any film. However, dot gain does occur in the making of plates and in the printing of the final job. Therefore, the printer must adjust the digital file to reduce the size of the dots before proceeding.

The amount of dot gain that occurs depends on the printing substrate and the printing process. For instance, a gloss coated press sheet has a hard surface. Therefore the ink sits up on top of the sheet. For this reason, there is less dot gain on a gloss coated sheet than on an uncoated sheet. In contrast, newsprint is very absorbent, so the ink spreads into the paper fibers, and the halftone dots expand more than on a coated sheet.

Sheetfed offset printing yields a certain amount of dot gain, but web-offset printing yields even more dot gain (this was the process used for my print catalog twenty years ago). This is due to the increased pressure between the press blankets, plates, and rollers needed to keep an almost endless ribbon of commercial printing paper in place as it travels through the press much faster than cut press sheets travel through a sheetfed press. This pressure increases the dot gain.

The other determinant of dot gain is the screen frequency of the halftones. Finer halftone screens produce higher dot gain, while coarser screens (with a lower number of dots per inch) produce less dot gain.

All of this is physical dot gain. Interestingly enough, there is one more type of dot gain: optical dot gain. As small as they may be, halftone dots on a page do have a certain thickness, and it is possible for light to hit the printing dots and cast shadows. This makes the dots appear larger, creating what is called “optical dot gain.”

What Can You Do?

All is not lost. Since the dots get larger in predictable ways, depending on the printing paper and the printing technique, a printer can intentionally make them smaller, by a predetermined amount, prior to burning custom printing plates.

How Do You Predict/Measure Dot Gain?

In most cases, dot gain is measured at the 40 percent and 80 percent tones using a densitometer. It is measured in absolute terms. For instance, if your printer tells you there is 20 percent dot gain in the 40 percent tones of an image, this means that a 40 percent halftone dot will print as a 60 percent (40 + 20) halftone dot. Therefore, using the Photoshop levels or curves tools, you or your printer must reduce the size of the halftone dots to compensate.

Should You Compensate for Dot Gain, or Should Your Let Your Printer Do This?

At the very least, discuss this with your printer. When I produced the print catalog twenty years ago, the printer adjusted the files for the dot gain. Now I usually do this myself. It depends on your level of confidence and expertise. After all, you will see a proof, but you don’t want to have all images in a proof be too light or too dark, requiring more work and money to correct the problem.

So talk to your printer, find out what the dot gain will be based on the paper and the press, and then ask how he wants to compensate for dot gain in the halftones and 4-color images.

Posted in Prepress | Comments »

Commercial Printing: What You Can and Can’t Proof?

July 15th, 2014

Posted in Proofing | Comments »

In this day and age, one would expect to be able to accurately proof anything and everything. You can get an inkjet proof of a banner (perhaps in a smaller size than the final product), and it will be color faithful. You can request digital bluelines of a book that will be offset printed. In fact, you can even get a single copy of a digitally printed book (cover and text) that will be exactly the same as the final copies your printer will deliver.

I thought about this recently when a print brokering client received a digital proof of a foil stamped case-side for her annual hard-cover directory, a 576-page tome on government and Congress. Clearly, a digital proof of such a physical process as foil stamping would be several steps removed from the accuracy I had grown to expect. Then again, in prior years she had received no proof, just a foil stamped case without its book.

The whole process made me think of what proofing processes were more accurate and which were less so.

Spot-On Proofs

Any proof printed with the same color set as the final product will be very close to accurate. I qualify that because the substrate will make a difference, and not all digital proofs are produced on the same paper as the final job. For instance, if you specify a warm press sheet (yellowish-white) and the digital proof is produced on a cool-white (blue-white) paper, the ink colors in the final printed product will be different from what you will see in the proof.

Moreover, this level of color accuracy assumes that the digital proof (produced with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inkjet inks) will be followed by either an offset press run using the process colors or a digital press run (which either uses only 4-color process inks or augments this initial color set with a few more hues).

If your final offset printed product will be produced with spot colors (also known as PMS colors or match colors), the proof will not exactly match the final product. For instance, my book print brokering client, noted above, will have a dust jacket on her case-bound book. It will be offset printed with one PMS color plus black. The proof she received used CMYK inkjet inks to simulate the green PMS color. The proof showed the placement of all design elements and color but was not color faithful. It was only a close approximation.

A similar situation occurs when you proof a duotone. If you create a duotone on press using a halftone of black and a halftone of a PMS color, your digital proof (which uses a CMYK color set) will not match the final printed duotone.

So What Can You Do?

Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid a huge surprise when your books, brochures, or other jobs arrive from your printer.

Duotones

While you can’t proof a duotone accurately, there are books you can review and online color curves you can apply to a particular halftone. In this case, you’re basically choosing a sample of what you like and then recreating the duotone by copying the Photoshop “levels” or “curves” settings for both the black halftone and the PMS color halftone that comprise the duotone. Depending on the quality of your initial photo, this will be more or less color faithful, but it’s still a gamble.

Plan B is to attend a press check on-site at the printer’s plant. This way, you can talk with the press operator to discuss your goals and then make minor color changes on press while the job is running. This can be expensive. Furthermore, you may just not be able to achieve the exact results you want. Or, and even better, send a printed sample of a duotone image to your printer to show him the exact effect you’re after. Then let him adjust the actual photo from your print job to match the sample.

Foil Stamping Proof

To get back to my client’s case-bound book, reviewing the digital proof of the case side is prudent because it shows exactly where the foil stamping will be positioned on the book’s front cover, back cover, and spine. This way there’s no chance of any text element’s being too close to the edge of the book.

After that, seeing a copy of the foil stamped case side before the book blocks are hung on the binder’s boards will avoid any shock of seeing an error on the final printed and bound job. While my client would have to pay for a new die and for an additional foil stamping process if she found an error, she would not have to tear the covers off the books and redo the covers. (In this situation, reviewing a single foil stamped case side is like reviewing a single F&G—a folded and gathered but not bound or trimmed book. You’re just seeking to avoid any horrible shock before the job is completely done.)

What’s the Final Take-Away?

What this really teaches us is that no proof is an exact replica of the final job (except a digital proof of a digitally printed job produced on the final stock).

Here are some rules of thumb:

  1. The closer the substrate of the proof is to the substrate of the final job, the more accurate the proof will be.
  2. The more closely the final printing process is to that of the proof, the more accurate the proof will be (digital proof to digital final press run).
  3. And the more closely the inks used in the proof resemble the inks used in the final printed product (CMYK proof and CMYK final), the more closely your proof will match your final job.

Beyond that, the best you can do is state clearly your goals for the final printed product and then back up this description with samples of other printed jobs you like. It’s always a bit of a gamble.

Posted in Proofing | Comments »

Commercial Printing Case Study: Is It Digital or Offset?

July 13th, 2014

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments »

I received a promotional brochure from a custom printing vendor today, and I was struck by several aspects of its printing quality.

First of all, the brochure had been printed on a thick stock (15 point cover stock, six panels folded to 4 5/8” x 6 1/8”). The thickness of the paper made me feel that the company cares enough to spend a little more on paper and postage. It suggests opulence.

Due to the thick black ink, which has some kind of coating with a smooth, almost rubbery texture (perhaps a soft-touch UV), I initially thought it had been printed on black paper. The brilliant white of the press sheet shows through the ten square 4-color images on the cover, and the text is rich and seems to be printed in white.

As Seen Through a Loupe

I wondered how it had been printed, so I pulled out my loupe. I expected to see the text screen printed or stamped in white foil, but obviously as soon as I opened the brochure, I saw that the white sheet had been “painted” in black ink, and I saw that the script typeface of the text had been merely reversed out of the black.

Looking closely at the black ink, I could see process color halftone dots hanging out of register, ever so slightly, so I surmised that the black ink was actually a rich black (a combination of black plus screens of other process colors).

Surprisingly, I could see very little cracking at the folds, in spite of the extra heavy ink coverage. I thought this was odd, and I wondered what the coating was made of.

What About the Halftones?

Upon closer observation, I saw that the brochure was actually an invitation, with photos and a schedule inside the folded piece. I was struck by the brilliant colors, particularly the yellow ink. Under the loupe I also saw green dots, so I surmised that the brilliant color had been achieved with extra inking units (hexachrome, or high fidelity color, a custom printing technique that adds such colors as green and orange to the usual CMYK color set).

Inside the brochure I read copy referring to a Timson T-Press, a new web-fed inkjet press that accepts 52” rolls and prints up to a 64-page signature, or two 32-page signatures. I saw the traditional rosettes in the halftones (circular patterns of halftone dots forming an identifiable pattern due to the angles at which the halftone screens have been tilted). Therefore, although I had expected the brochure/invitation to have been printed on the Timson T-Press via inkjet technology, I rethought my position.

If you look closely with a loupe, you’ll see that a sample of inkjet custom printing is composed of tiny dots that look like the stochastic screening of offset printing (all dots are the same size, but there are more or fewer dots depending on the amount of ink in a particular spot). In contrast, the dots on the brochure/invitation varied in size but were consistent in their placement (all were equally spaced on a grid). To me, that indicated either offset printing or electrophotography (digital laser printing).

Digital laser printing usually yields photos that are brilliant in color, but in my experience the halftone pattern looks a little different from offset printing. I usually see a halftone pattern with different sized dots on laser copy, but I usually don’t see the same rosettes as on offset printed images. In addition, some halftones in the brochure/invitation had a brilliant yellow color, but others were more muted than laser printing usually provides. They were intense in their coloration, but they did not look waxy or overly saturated.

On the cover, I saw what looked like the streaking you sometimes find in solid colors printed via digital laser technology. But they could have been roller marks (they were even in thickness and localized). They could even have been ghosting, since the small photos surrounded by heavy coverage black might have provided ideal conditions for ghosting. And ghosting is a flaw that specifically affects offset printing.

What’s the Verdict?

I’m always hesitant to say for sure, although I did bring all of the previously described characteristics into my assessment. However, I’d say that the brochure/invitation was not printed via inkjet technology (even the best inkjet from the new Timson digital press). It was probably not digitally laser printed. I would say that due to the rosettes in the halftones and the varied saturation of the photos, the most likely case was that the printer produced this via offset lithography with a dull or soft-touch UV coating. He probably used an extended color set to expand the color range beyond that of CMYK printing (maybe he even added a little fluorescent ink to the yellow).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

When you see a printed piece you like, consider what technology produced the job. It will hone your skills in analyzing printed products, but more than this it will make you aware of all the various printing technologies and techniques that you can incorporate into your own design work.

Posted in Brochure Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Discontinued Endsheet Stock–Oops

July 10th, 2014

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I received an email from the book printer this week about the endsheet material for a case-bound book I’m brokering. It’s an annual 8.5” x 10.875”, 576-page, hard-cover publication with a press run of 1,000 copies.

The printer said the Antique Willow endsheet paper had been discontinued, and my client and I had to choose a replacement. Moreover, Rainbow, the company that had manufactured the paper used in the prior ten years (at least) worth of yearly books no longer offered anything like this particular stock in this particular color (specifically a light green, speckled paper).

First of All, What Is an Endsheet?

When you open a case-bound book, you will find a thick sheet of paper, half of which is pasted to the inside front cover of the binder’s board case side. The other half of this sheet is not pasted down. You can turn this page as though it were the first page of the book. The first half, pasted to the cover, is called the endsheet, and the loose page is called the flyleaf. At the back of the book, the pages are reversed. You have the flyleaf and then the endsheet (pasted to the back cover). You’ll know the endsheets and flyleafs because they are heavier than the interior text pages.

In case binding, the purpose of these pages is to provide a hanger to which the interior text signatures of the book can be attached. The interior edges of the endsheets are pasted down over extensions of the interior portion of the book spine that holds all the book signatures together.

What About Replacing My Client’s Endsheets with Another Brand?

Since the endsheets/flyleafs provide a functional (as opposed to aesthetic) addition to the binding of the print book by holding the pages, it’s important that they be not only attractive but also well made. The book printer producing my client’s yearly case bound book had checked, and had noted that the Rainbow sheet was superior in its runnability (it’s ability to go through the binding process and keep the book in good condition for a long time thereafter). The printer did not feel the same level of confidence in the competition’s endsheet stock.

So It Came Down to Picking Another Rainbow Sheet

Surprisingly enough, I found that choosing a replacement endsheet paper—even if it were of the same thickness and had the same paper surface as the prior year’s product—would be a subjective process potentially involving many people. My client didn’t want to get it wrong. Even though the distinction between a light green endsheet and a light grey or brown endsheet might seem insignificant, and even though most people would probably not even see whether there were specked flecks in the paper or not, some of those subscribers who received a copy of the print book year after year just might.

And given the importance of keeping the book production schedule intact in order to meet the delivery deadline, and due to the need to order and receive the new endsheet material in time for the binding process—it was important for my client to choose immediately.

But How Could She Choose, Particularly Since Many People Would Need to Weigh In?

The printer found a Rainbow endsheet sample book and, at my request, he flagged a few suggestions in various shades of green and one in light brown. Then he asked me to whom he should send the sample book. Unfortunately, at that point my client was on vacation, and her stand-in was leaving the next day.

So what I did was ask the printer to take a photo of the prior year’s endsheet stock (Antique Willow) showing its color, shade, and surface texture (speckled, with small multicolored flecks). On top of last year’s stock, before he took the photo, I asked the printer to lay down three Rainbow endsheet options he would suggest as alternatives. The paper samples side by side would show my client what to expect and how the samples would differ from last year’s stock.

I did this for one main reason: The photo could be transmitted to numerous people at the same time (like a virtual color proof for an offset printing job). Everyone could see the samples and weigh in on the choice.

I also had a copy of the physical swatchbook with the actual paper samples sent overnight to the client’s stand-in. I asked her to get back to me within twenty-four hours with a decision. I also suggested white as an alternative. I said that, in my opinion, since a huge number of books in print had white endsheets (which would in no way contrast with the text sheets of the book except in thickness), I didn’t think anyone would find fault with her choice.

Her boss got back to me in writing within a few hours of receiving the samples. He chose (or he merely conveyed the choice from the others) a shade called Oatmeal, a light brown version of the same speckled stock as last year. It was over. It was in writing. I was grateful.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Buying printing is a process. Assume that things will go wrong. When they do, ask the printer for his advice on a solution. Ask whether the printer’s suggested solution will affect the price and whether it will compromise the printing, binding, and delivery schedule.
  2. Ask for physical samples of any new manufacturing supplies (cover stock, text stock, or binding materials). But if you need something you can send around to a lot of people, also request photos (i.e., a virtual proof). Don’t use these photos instead of a physical sample swatch book. Use them in addition to a swatch book.
  3. If you need a safe choice, choose something neutral—such as a white endsheet. Better yet, look at sample print books similar to your product, and see what other designers and print buyers have done. This goes for other materials, such as the fabric for covering binder boards, foils for stamping the cover, etc.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Backing-Up Files to Avoid Catastrophe

July 8th, 2014

Posted in Info Tech | Comments »

I have mentioned in prior blogs that my fiancee and I experienced a house fire about three months ago. After the damage was done, I collected a number of items, including computers, external hard drives, CDs, and USB drives. My fiancee’s son, who was helping to collect undamaged items, uttered words I will remember forever: “Don’t save the computers; save the data.” He was referring to the fact that my hard drives, CDs, and other media held the most valuable part of my work: the spreadsheets, design files, and word processing files that represent the content of my work. Computers could be replaced; the effort reflected in the back-ups could not, without considerable heartache.

How I Knew I Needed The Back Ups—After the Fire

Now we are three months past the fire. This week a client came to me for an estimate on a design project. I knew I needed to hit the ground running. So I collected my media:

  1. I had USB drives that I had updated during the year on a daily basis, saving InDesign files, all of my PIE blogs and articles, and any spreadsheets and documents related to custom printing sales. Anything I had changed on the computer, I backed up that day. I kept these USB “keys” by the computer. Once the jobs were complete, I placed the disks into the fire safe (which is specifically rated to keep CDs and USB sticks safe). Needless to say, this would not have saved my data from the fire if it had reached my office. Therefore, I now copy all files to USB disk at the end of each work day, but I save all work weekly to a USB disk that I keep in the fire safe.
  2. I had an external drive that periodically—and automatically—backed up my dedicated design-work computer (an iMac). Unfortunately, this computer succumbed to the fire (actually to the smoke rather than to the flames). On this hard drive I had a copy of everything on my computer. This included all fonts, application software, and any design jobs I had not yet offloaded to DVD or CD.
  3. I had DVDs of the design applications I use: Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. These were in the fire safe with the USB drives. When I buy a new iMac, I can reinstall all of my programs.
  4. I had CDs of all past design work that I no longer actively used. This included my client’s 4-color calendar from a few years prior. Unfortunately, I also lost my CD reader, but I could replace this easily and cheaply if necessary.

Finding My Client’s Prior Year Job

I spread everything around me so I could access whatever I needed, but I started with the easy-access files first. My fiancee’s iMac had made it through the fire, so I reviewed the USB drives first. I also did some research into how I could access the iMac Time Machine back-ups on my external hard drive, if it came to that. Plan C would have been to buy a new DVD/CD reader to comb through my CD back ups looking for my client’s calendar from two years prior.

I got lucky. It was the last USB drive I plugged in (#7 of seven drives), but I found the file—with no photos. Not a problem. The calendar would have been for a new year and would have therefore needed new photos. I had a disaster plan (USB, external disk, DVD/CDs) and it worked, although I had gotten lucky as well. (For instance, what if I had needed the photos I no longer had?) If the fire had done extensive damage to the house, it would have been harder to easily grab, install, and open an InDesign file of my client’s calendar.

What About Off-site Copies?

I used to do these when I had two offices, but now that I have only one, keeping a back-up copy off-site is impractical. However, over the past few years the “cloud” has become a good repository for back ups. I wouldn’t use the cloud instead of saving files on a USB drive, DVD, and external hard drive, but even now I store some things on Google’s version of the cloud. I’m sure that numerous other options for cloud-based storage exist, for free or for a price.

Had my fiancee and I not been so lucky, the lack of an off-site back-up would have been a problem, but possibly not an insurmountable one, since I had back-ups in the fire safe. However, it might have taken longer to find a back up file I could start with.

The Outcome

My client actually awarded the calendar design to another professional. (I didn’t win the design job, but I will broker the printing.) It really doesn’t matter that much, though, because I was able to find the InDesign files, install them on my fiancee’s iMac, and be ready to update the design if needed—all in a half hour. That’s the power of a back up.

The goal is never to need to rebuild a job from scratch. That would have been tedious, unbillable design work.

However, I also learned that having a disaster plan needs to be a fluid process involving thought and review. Going forward, I will back up more religiously to the USB drives that I store in the fire safe.

Twenty-five years ago a colleague told me to save my work periodically when writing or designing. She said I should save my work every ten minutes or so. What she was really telling me was to never go longer without saving my work than I could tolerate recreating the same work in an emergency (i.e., a computer malfunction). The same thinking goes for a disaster plan for a computer.

Learn from my mistakes, and from my good fortune in only losing the computer and not the data. Back up your files, and avoid rebuilding a design for custom printing from scratch.

Posted in Info Tech | Comments »

Book Printing: Preflight a Print Job to Avoid Headaches

July 6th, 2014

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I received an InSite preflight report for a client today. I thought it might be helpful to share it with you, and to describe the feedback it presented as well as my response to both the book printer and to my client.

First of All, What Is InSite?

With the advent of on-line proofing, services such as Rampage Remote and InSite have become increasingly popular. They reside on your printer’s IT system and allow you to upload files (like a printer’s FTP site). Then they allow the printer to preflight the files (run a series of tests to identify potential errors in formatting, image resolution, font availability, and such). Then they provide client access to an online proof.

The Format for the Print Book

In the case of my client’s print book, (an annual 8.5” x 10.875”, 576-page, hard-cover publication with a press run of 1,000 copies), I had advised my client to upload files to InSite rather than to the printer’s FTP site because she had already gone through this process the previous year. She was used to the procedure, and I knew she would get a comprehensive preflight check in the process. My client requested hard-copy proofs in addition to the on-screen proof (she was more comfortable catching errors on paper than on a computer screen), and the book printer was happy to oblige.

What Issues Did InSite Identify?

The art files passed almost every test, but the preflight software did note that the space for the gutter margin (the space extending from the text into the binding) was smaller than optimal. The software noted that the art files had a gutter margin of .5” whereas the book printer preferred a .625” gutter margin for such a book (notch perfect bound within a hard-cover). The report asked whether my client wanted to resubmit the files or proceed to print with these margins.

Before contacting my client, I called the printer’s prepress department. I asked about the .125” difference between the gutter margin in my client’s InDesign file and the optimal gutter margin. The prepress operator told me the difference would not be a problem. I also learned that the prior year’s print book had been created with exactly the same gutter margin. Since my client (and her readers) had been satisfied with the prior year’s book, there was no reason to reject the proof and produce new files. I then contacted my client and made sure she agreed. She also confirmed that she had in fact created the new print book with the same gutter margin as in prior years.

Another issue flagged by the preflight application concerned rich black text within a black-only book. A rich black is an ink composed of black plus halftone screens of the other process colors (magenta, yellow, and cyan). This technique produces darker blacks in a printed piece or gives a warm or cool tone to the black ink. This is appropriate for a process color print book but not for my client’s project, which had a black-only text block.

Nevertheless, in prior years there had been problems with the proofs’ containing rich-black text on certain pages. On the proofs, the letterforms of the text had appeared with slight halos. I raised the issue with the printer’s prepress operator and was told that the preflight errors had been inaccurate. Rich black text would not appear in the final printed piece. Nevertheless, I asked my client to review the hard-copy proofs carefully, looking specifically for any halos, since they had appeared in the prior issue’s hard-copy proof. I told her that I did not expect the problem to show up, but given the preflight server’s notation, it was worth a close look.

Finally, the preflight application noted that the book was 8.5” x 11” rather than 8.5” x 10.875”. This might have been due to a prior year’s issue of the book, which had been initially uploaded in this larger format. (The smaller format indicated that the text would be printed on a heatset web press rather than a sheetfed press. This is because the slightly smaller print book size allows press signatures to fit better on the heatset web press sheet.)

Apparently, my client had adjusted the format this year to meet the 8.5” x 10.875” size requirement. In the prior year’s book, rather than having my client adjust and resubmit the book art files, the printer had merely trimmed the press sheet smaller on the top and bottom (head and foot margin). The head and foot margins were both slightly tighter than originally intended, but the quick fix was acceptable and avoided reflowing the text within the entire book.

To be safe, I asked the book designer to confirm that she had in fact provided this year’s files as an 8.5” x 10.875” document.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider in your own design and print buying work:

  1. Virtual proofs such as InSite and Rampage Remote bypass the delivery of hard-copy proofs and can therefore shave time off your schedule. For simple black-only bookwork, you might consider them (i.e., when no color proofing is required). If your computer monitor is precisely and regularly calibrated and your design studio ambient light is controlled, you might even consider virtual proofing for color work. Or, like my client, you might just use the system for uploading and preflighting art files, and then request a hard-copy proof.
  2. If the virtual proofing system flags anything, ask the printer’s preflight expert what to do. Even if he/she says the problem is not really a problem, confirm this on a hard-copy proof (to be absolutely safe).
  3. The preflight operator in your printer’s shop is an invaluable ally. He/she has knowledge that will save you money and ensure an accurate printed product. Learn from him/her the best practices for creating error-free InDesign files.
  4. Before you design a print book, find out what kind of press will print the job (sheetfed offset vs. web offset). Then ask your printer for the optimal page sizes for this press, so you won’t have to adjust or reflow an entire book at the end of the process.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: More Uses for Interactive Print

July 2nd, 2014

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments Off

As I looked through NewPage’s This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print, again after writing the last PIE Blog posting, I noticed two more stellar examples of print ads combining ink on paper with digital technology.

I also found a related article and video showing a Veja Rio (a Brazilian magazine) print ad that actually includes a solar cell, allowing users to charge their cell phones while on the beach.

Here’s a rundown of the three convergent media campaigns and their relevance to print.

Australian Wine Maker Yellow Tail Combines LED Technology and Offset Custom Printing

NewPage describes a novel use for LED lights (light emitting diodes) in its description of an Australian wine maker’s ad for its Yellow Tail brand. Apparently the company ran an ad in 600,000 copies of Real Simple magazine including LED lights inserted behind fireflies printed in the ad.

These lights not only mimic the behavior of an actual fireflies, but they also stop the reader cold. After all, who would expect lighting effects in a print ad? LED technology provides two benefits in this case, according to This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print. The lights can be programmed to change color and/or fade in and out, and they’re also an inexpensive add-on, costing only 10 to 15 cents per unit.

If it hasn’t been done before, a marketing technique will grab and delight the reader. I think three elements of this ad make it memorable:

  1. The light behaves exactly like a firefly.
  2. The intimacy of a print ad (reading is usually a quiet, personal experience) makes the interactive experience more surprising.
  3. The expectation that print is always a static medium makes this a one-of-a-kind experience.

And moreover, the print ad was an essential element of this campaign. Flickering firefly lights in a digital ad would have been far less surprising.

RSA Combines SMS Technology and Offset Custom Printing in Auto Insurance Ad

This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print also includes a description of an RSA ad for an insurance quote.

Since digital equipment has shrunk over the years, RSA was able to include an illustration of a smartphone with an actual working keypad. The device uses SMS technology to allow the reader to contact RSA directly (and instantly) for an automobile insurance estimate. If you type in your mobile phone number and auto license plate number, you will receive an auto insurance estimate via text message shortly thereafter.

NewPage does note that this technology is expensive, ranging from over $20.00 per unit to over $50.00 per unit. Fortunately, the device can be used by a number of the reader’s friends to get multiple estimates for insurance, thus defraying the unit cost by spreading it over a number of prospective clients.

NewPage included both of these ads (for Yellow Tail and RSA) in a section labeled “The Gateway.” I think this is a particularly apt name, since in both cases the print ad launches the reader through a static printed facade into the realm of movement. And in both cases, the gateway of print is essential to the complete experience. The tactile and personal nature of print over digital-only brings the reader from a quiet, personal experience into a more dynamic, interactive realm.

Nivea Sunscreen Ad Combines a Solar Panel and Offset Custom Printing

I saw an incredibly cool Nivea ad in a YouTube video and read about it in two magazine articles (noted below, if you’d like to check them out):

(MailOnline, 6/4/13, “Magazine ad for sunscreen features solar-powered USB insert so beach-goers can charge their cell phones in the sun,” by Margot Peppers; and Adweek, 5/30/13, “Solar Panel Inside Nivea Print Ad Generates Power to Charge Your Cellphone,” by David Gianatasio)

The ad agency Giovanni + Draftfcb included a thin solar panel and requisite plugs and wires to allow the reader of the Nivea ad in the Brazilian magazine Veja Rio to charge her or his cell phone while basking in the sun on the beach. It promotes Nivea Sun skincare products. But it does far more than this.

First of all, not everyone has access to an alternate power source to recharge a cell phone on the beach. The print ad provides the tool: the solar panel. In this way, the ad underscores the importance of print advertising over digital-only advertising.

In addition, this ad sets the bar higher for interactive media. As Giantasio’s article, “Solar Panel Inside Nivea Print Ad Generates Power to Charge Your Cellphone,” suggests, “adding novel functionality to traditional campaigns could be a smart way to stir things up.” If it’s all about “stopping power,” then the movement of print advertising into the realm of interactive media could make commercial printing both relevant and unique.

Granted, this technology is expensive and time consuming to produce. According to Margot Peppers’ article, “Magazine ad for sunscreen features solar powered USB insert so beach-goers can charge their cell phones in the sun,” the “full-page advertisements apparently took eight months to produce, six months to develop the technology, and two months to print.”

Yes, but they just work. And marketing is an investment, not just an expense.

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: Benefits of Using Print Spec-Sheets

June 30th, 2014

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

A friend of a custom printing colleague recently asked a question reflecting his growing frustration. “When I send out emails about upcoming jobs, why do print sales reps always ask for information I’ve already covered in my email, and why do they ask other questions about irrelevant aspects of the job?”

I can appreciate this print buyer’s angst. After all, repeating oneself can be maddening. But I’d like to adjust his question a bit to the following: “Why is email problematic, and what is a better way to communicate with a commercial printing sales rep?”

First of all, email is fine as a communication tool, but the threads of back-and-forth communications can become confusing, and one can easily miss items of importance.

What I like to do, and what I used to teach the designers who worked for me when I was an art director, is to create a standardized specification sheet. Printers do the same thing when they provide an estimate. They specify every aspect of a job from materials submitted to proofs required to printing inks, press run, finishing, delivery, or mailing, and even where the samples will go. Why not do the same thing and tailor this document to your own regular print jobs? Create your own specifications sheet, which the commercial printing supplier can incorporate into his estimate.

What to Include

Each job you bid out will vary slightly, or even a great deal, from this specification sheet, so consider it a starting point only that you can adjust as needed.

Begin your specification list with the title of the publication, and then go on to specify the quantity (or multiple quantities, if you need them for estimating purposes) of your job.

Remember to also describe the flat and folded size of a job like a brochure, or the final trim size of a book. If your job is a print book, remember to specify the number of pages plus the cover.

Then go on to specify the kind of commercial printing paper you will need. This may be a 100# gloss coated sheet for a brochure, or a 60# uncoated white opaque text sheet for the interior of a book. If your book is soft cover, also note the weight of the cover paper. In this case you might choose a 10pt. or 12pt. coated-one-side (C1S) cover stock such as bristol. If you plan to print on the interior covers of the book (inside front and inside back, or C-2 and C-3), you might want to choose a coated-two-side (C2S) cover stock. This will improve the ink hold-out on the cover (the ink will sit up on top of the paper coating and look crisper than it would on an uncoated press sheet).

Next, describe the ink colors. Will the job be printed in black ink only, black plus one or more other (PMS) colors, or in full color (4-color process)? Black is a color, so remember to count this as such. Tell your printer whether the ink will print on one side of the press sheet or two, and whether there will be bleeds (ink, screens, solids, or halftones that extend off the printed page).

At this point also tell your printer if there will be a coating on the sheet (such as a varnish, UV coating, aqueous coating, or laminate). These press coatings can be used for design effects or to protect the printed product against fingerprints or other damage.

Don’t forget to describe the ink coverage as well. This can be anywhere from light (text only) to heavy coverage (if you include large areas of solid colors in your design work).

Next, list any binding or other finishing work you will need. This would include such processes as perfect binding, saddle-stitching, or case binding. Finishing work also includes folding, so, if you’re printing a brochure, for instance, you might want to note that there are six panels (three on each side), and the job should wrap fold (one end over the other) or accordion fold (zig-zagging back and forth).

Proofs, delivery, and scheduling requirements should always be included, and they are easy to forget. Will you need hard-copy proofs, or will PDF screen proofs suffice? Do you want the job delivered to your office or perhaps split between your office and a warehouse? Make sure your specification sheet asks for the cost of shipping, which is usually extra and not included in the printing estimate.

If you need mailshop work, note this as well. And then finish with a description of the schedule, including submission of art files, proofing, printing and finishing, and delivery. Remember that some printers will note the shipping date rather than the delivery date on their estimate, so if you need a job delivered to your warehouse on a certain date and time, note this as well.

Improving Printer/Client Relations

It can be very helpful to both you and the printer to review the job specs over the phone. In this way, both of you can ask questions, clarify specifications, and get to know one another in a pleasant way. Your printer can understand your needs, and you can understand his technical requirements.

Printing Spec Sheets Will Vary

Remember that specifications sheets will vary from job to job, depending upon the printed product: a book, pocket folder, poster, sticky note pad, brochure, etc.

Always Check the Estimate Carefully

Human error operates in the field of custom printing as well as in all other areas of human endeavor. Printers miss things in reading and responding to your specification sheets while generating an estimate. That said, you’re more likely to get a detailed estimate that covers all of your requirements if you create a standardized specification sheet that you can use or alter for every job. In addition, your printer will become accustomed to seeing these spec sheets, and it will make it easier for him to provide an estimate or to ask for clarification.

Beyond the Spec Sheet

Once you have all of your bids for a job, what do you do? How do you compare the estimates? Consider creating a spreadsheet matching the elements of the job to the pricing from all printing suppliers. I have always found that such a spreadsheet reveals job elements a vendor may have forgotten to include in the bid or inadvertently misunderstood, substitutions in materials, etc.

A Recap of What to Include in Your Spec Sheet

Here’s a recap of job elements to include:

  1. Title
  2. Quantity
  3. Number of pages (and whether the job has a cover or is a “self-cover” product–i.e., a book or booklet in which text stock is used instead of cover stock for the cover—i.e., thinner paper rather than thicker paper)
  4. Flat size and trim size
  5. Folding requirements
  6. Cover and text stock specifications
  7. Cover and text inks (4-color, PMS colors, black ink only, etc.)
  8. Light or heavy ink coverage
  9. Cover coating such as varnish, UV, aqueous
  10. Bleeds
  11. Bindery and other finishing requirements
  12. Proofs
  13. Delivery
  14. Schedule

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

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