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

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Sticker Printing: Some Thoughts on Window Signage

October 23rd, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

I had to install a window static cling in a theater last night. Ironically, it was only 8.5” x 11” in size, the dimensions of a sheet of letterhead. Given all the standees I’ve installed with my fiancee, from a 15-foot, multi-level dinosaur that reached the tiles of the theater’s suspended ceiling (and even lifted one tile up slightly) to the giant beach ball for the movie Rio, I’m used to large standee and banner installations. This was very small. It was to be installed in the ticket window.

Perhaps because of its size, and the ease of the small installation, I paid closer attention than usual. And I learned something about window signage.

The Window Cling: Not Really a Cling

Instructions accompanying the small, letter-sized poster referred to it as a static cling. Upon close observation, however, I noticed that the “face” of the small poster held an adhesive, not the back. Therefore, I went inside the theater and installed the poster on the inside of the glass, facing out.

Since it stuck to the window with an adhesive, I realized that in spite of the positioning instructions, the poster was not a static cling but in fact a vinyl poster with an adhesive face.

Upon Closer Observation of the Window Sign

I had the good fortune to have an extra poster, so I took it home and looked closely. This is what I saw:

  1. Working from the backing sheet outward (the backing sheet was analogous to the backing sheet on a crack’n-peel label, which you remove and discard), the first thing I saw was the adhesive. Under a high powered loupe it looked like a sea of glistening suction cops on the printed face of the small poster.
  2. Under the glue, I saw the four-color image. I saw halftone dots, so it wasn’t an inkjet job. But it also didn’t look like offset litho, and how could you offset print on sheet vinyl anyway? A little online research made it clear that I was looking at a sample of flexography (or perhaps custom screen printing), both of which are good for printing on vinyl.
  3. Behind the image was a coating of white ink, brilliant white actually, to make the colors in the photo really “pop.”
  4. Looking down on the white backing, I could see that the image really was sandwiched between a white ground and the throw-away backing sheet. It was the exact opposite of most labels I had seen, which had adhesive on the back (you peel away the backing and then stick the label on the outside of the window, or on a bottle or jar, or even on a package you’re about to mail).

More Signs on the Way Home

After taking photos of the installation, I walked home and passed a number of stores with outdoor signage.

I saw window clings on the inside of one store. They were printed on much thicker vinyl than the poster I had just installed. They also had transparent backgrounds, unlike the small poster. I could see small bubbles, where the static cling installer had not squeegied the signage enough to remove the air pockets trapped under the plastic. I made a mental note that this static cling had been installed inside the retail shop rather than on the outside of the glass.

I also saw the windows of a Chipotle restaurant under construction, plastered with large format print signage. The images ran from the top to the bottom and side to side of all windows in brilliant full color. I looked closely.

  1. The vinyl of the posters was thick, and it had been affixed to the outside of the glass. I ran my fingers over the edges. I had once read that there were building permit differences between signage placed inside the window (part of the business establishment) and window signage on the outside of the windows.
  2. Unlike the static clings in the prior retail establishment, this full-window signage was clearly attached for the long term. It was very thick, and the adhesive on the edges seemed to be firmly bonded.
  3. Unlike the small poster I had just installed, this window signage had its adhesive on the back of the image, not the front. It was glued outside the building, against the window. My poster had had the adhesive on the front.
  4. I also thought about the signage I had seen on the windows across the street. This was a music instructor’s shop. He or she had wanted people inside the building to see out, but had also wanted people outside not to see in. So he or she had affixed large format print signage (called 60/40 perforated film) to the windows (60 percent image and 40 percent holes). In contrast, the Chipotle images completely blocked the view. After all, the restaurant was under construction. There was no reason to see in or out. But there was a need to display mouth-watering signage to get people ready for the restaurant’s opening night. And the product chosen for the signage did just that.

The Moral

Give thought to these options when producing large format printed window signage:

  1. Consider whether it should be installed inside or outside the window.
  2. Consider whether it should be temporary or permanent.
  3. And consider whether it should be transparent or opaque.

There’s a lot more to large format printed window signage than the image on the vinyl.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Commercial Printing: Using Paper Sample Books

October 20th, 2014

Posted in Paper and finishing | Comments »

One of the downsides of having had a house fire is that all my printed samples and paper sample swatch books are gone. This is a problem for a print broker.

Actually, I have one paper book, from NewPage, that a digital printing supplier sent me this week.

Benefits of the Paper Swatch Book

Commercial printing involves putting ink or toner on paper. Paper is an important element of the product, and it’s often easy to forget this in the rush to write copy or create the graphic design. Moreover, it is sometimes confusing to specify paper. “Make it like this” is a less than specific way to describe to your custom printing supplier the kind of paper you will need. Therefore, if you have the same paper swatch books your printer does, you can, for instance, say you want “60# white gloss text, or a 10pt matte coated cover stock.” Immediately you and your printer will be communicating about the exact same paper.

So here’s a crash course based on the sample paper book I just received.

Paper Weight (Pounds vs. Points, Cover vs. Text)

Cover stock comes in a particular standard size, which is 20” x 26”. Other sizes are available, but for the sake of standardization, this is called the “basic size,” and the weight of 500 sheets at the basic size is called the “basis weight.”

Let’s say you want to print a postal mailer on 130# cover stock (your paper swatch book will note this information on the sample sheets). This basis weight is the same as 10pt. stock. That is (and you can find paper conversion charts online), the thickness and stiffness of 130# coated cover paper and 10pt. coated cover paper will be approximately the same.

My NewPage paper swatch book is ideal on this count. On the front cover of this (approximately) 5.5” x 8.5” wire-O bound book, the headline notes that I’m looking at Productolith paper. Inside, on the page I’m reviewing at the moment, the printed text notes that I’m considering “Productolith Pts., 10pt. (134 lb.) semi-gloss C1S Tag.”

This rather cryptic description includes the name of the paper, its basis weight in points, its basis weight in pounds, its coating (semi-gloss, as opposed to matte, dull, gloss, satin, or uncoated), and “tag,” a specific category of paper (a lower quality sheet used more for tags and labels than for high-end marketing collateral). The description also tells you that the coating is only on one side of the sheet (C1S, as opposed to C2S). You might use this paper if your job requires full-color heavy ink coverage on one side of the paper and just a little black ink on the other.

The printed specs do not distinguish between “cover” and “text” stock because the paper is obviously very thick. But you will need to keep this in mind when you specify paper (or review a different paper book). Most paper books will distinguish between the text sheet (for instance, 100# text measured at a basic size of 25” x 38”) and the cover sheet (for instance, 100# cover measured at a basic size of 20” x 26”, as noted above).

Paper Color (Whiteness vs. Brightness)

Paper brightness tells you how much light a paper will reflect (96 is brighter than 90, for instance). In contrast, paper whiteness tells you the color of light the paper reflects (a blue-white, or cool-white, sheet will actually appear brighter than a yellow-white, or warm-white, sheet).

Paper Surface Finish

As noted above, you have a number of options starting with high gloss (which is a good coating if your printed product includes a lot of photos–it makes them “pop,” as they say). For text, this is less ideal, since it tires your eyes. If your job includes a lot of text, you might consider a dull or matte coated sheet (a less reflective paper surface). In between gloss and dull, you’ll find silk or satin. These surface coatings have a little texture (you can feel them when you run your hand across the sheet), but they don’t have a high gloss coating.

Keep in mind that not all sheets come in all coatings and some companies have different names (some call matte paper dull; some call satin paper silk). Just think about the three textures (glossy, not glossy, and something in the middle).

All of these are coated sheets (a mixture of clay and additives added to the surface of the paper to seal the sheet and allow the ink to sit on top of the paper rather than seeping into the fibers). In addition to coated paper, there’s uncoated paper, which has a nice, natural feel. There are also other variations in texture such as “linen” (which has a criss-cross pattern), “felt” (which is like the fabric felt), and “laid” (which has a ribbed texture). The best thing you can do is ask your custom printing vendor for a handful (or several boxes full) of paper swatch books. These will become a valuable tool for communicating with your printer (and educating yourself).

Final Caveat

Printers will often forget to tell you this when they deliver your boxes of paper swatch books, but it bears repeating. Like three-day old fish, paper swatch books have a shelf life. On the back of the paper swatch book (usually in very small type), you will find the date the book was produced. (My Productolith book was produced in 2012, so it’s not that old.)

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect paper for your new marketing campaign, and your chief marketing officer has approved the stock. But let’s say that the paper book has a date of 2001 rather than 2012. Chances are, the paper has been discontinued. This could be a problem. So make sure your paper books are “fresh.”

Getting the Paper Swatch Books

You can get paper swatch books from your commercial printing sales rep or your paper merchant. Both of them want your repeated business, so I’m sure both will be most helpful in getting you a selection of these invaluable paper books.

Posted in Paper and finishing | Comments »

Custom Printing: An Example of Functional Printing

October 12th, 2014

Posted in Business Cards | Comments Off

I’ve been brokering a functional printing job for one of my clients. It’s a color swatch book, much like a PMS swatch book but for the arena of fashion design rather than graphic design.

What makes this interesting to me is how different its purpose is from most of the material for which I either provide design or print brokering services.

It is a product, an object. The goal is not to inform or persuade, as might be the case with a print book or brochure. It is a functional piece. In essence, the graphic designer and I are doing product design.

Description of the Color Swatch Book

As I have mentioned in prior blog articles, this color swatch book is a series of rectangular cards digitally printed on a Kodak NexPress, drilled for a screw-and-post assembly, round cornered (diecut), and assembled. There are almost twenty versions of this product, each containing different colors.

The Approach: Very Different from Commercial Printing

As I help the designer and client conceptualize the job, create a template and mock-up, and coordinate the final production of the multiple color swatch books, I’m noticing how the difference in the goal (functional rather than commercial printing) affects many of the design and production choices. Here are a few examples:

  1. In a commercial printing job, the paper is important. It has to make the colors look their best. In this functional printing job, the paper substrate must be a bright enough white sheet to showcase the colors in their most vivid nature. However, the whiteness of the sheet is more important. It must be neutral. It cannot alter the colors of the swatches. Their CMYK values must be maintained for the product to be useful.
  2. In a commercial printing job, the coating used on a cover of a book or a brochure is often added for its decorative qualities. It may also be applied for the durability it provides (if a print book cover will sustain heavy use). But in this functional printing job, the color swatch book will need to last a long time and not be damaged by fingerprints or fingernails. Durability is essential to the usability of this functional design job.
  3. A binding method for a book often depends on its length. For instance, an 80-page book might be saddle stitched, and a 160-page book would most probably be perfect bound (for aesthetic reasons and to keep the pages from falling out). However, in the case of the color swatch book, the drilled pages and metal screw-and-post binding serve a more practical purpose. They allow the book to be disassembled, so pages can be added or removed depending on the color needs of the end user. This capability will make the book more functional.
  4. The final and most complex of the characteristics of functionality in this particular job is its variable data nature. The multiple versions of the book will involve database work, or at least a focus on creating multiple products with certain common colors and certain unique colors. Having the right colors in the right order is essential. So accurate assembly is a huge part of the job. This is what makes the printed product a useful fashion design tool to those who pay a premium to own it.

In all of these cases, the common element is functionality, not aesthetics. In addition, the product does not need to persuade or educate.

What Are Other Examples of Functional Printing?

Inkjet printing in particular has opened many avenues for functional or industrial printing. For example, an inkjet printer can use a conductive material in lieu of aqueous ink to print circuit boards for electronic products.

In addition, three-dimensional printing of everything from jewelry and shoes to bodily organs and food (depending on the substance used in the digital inkjet equipment) would also qualify as functional printing.

How You Can Apply this to Your Own Work

Staying relevant as a designer or a commercial printing vendor involves being aware of trends in the industry. In the wake of the “death of printing” meme, I’m seeing a very different future materializing. From my reading, I’m seeing the growth of labels; folding cartons and flexible packaging; large format printing; and functional or industrial printing, to name a few. All of these provide opportunities for savvy designers and printers. None of these products will migrate to the Web.

Posted in Business Cards | Comments Off

Custom Printing: How to Approach Print Job Deliveries

October 6th, 2014

Posted in Printing | Comments »

It is very easy to wait until the last minute to collect delivery information for a custom printing job. You’re focusing on getting the art files to the printer, looking at proofs, and a myriad of other tasks. The last thing you’re thinking about is the actual completion of the job.

Well, this can make for a tumultuous end-game for a print book production run, a print run of marketing collateral, or any other large commercial printing job for that matter.

Things to Consider About Deliveries

I’ve been brokering three 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound print books for a small publisher. They are fiction and poetry books. It’s nice to do something creative for a while. Although the client and I had been clear at the beginning of the printing process that copies would go to a Midwest book distributor, there were more deliveries to address as the book printing process wound down.

In addition to the book distributor, there were deliveries to be made to a warehouse, a little further South, and there was a delivery to the home of the authors for various book signing events. The authors live on the East Coast.

Create a Delivery Spreadsheet

So this is what I did, and this is what I’d suggest that you do if you’re printing almost any kind of large job. The larger and more complex the job, in fact, the more important it is to get all this information in writing in one place. This will help your printer, and it will help you focus. You’d be surprised at what questions arise when you create this kind of spreadsheet.

This is what I included in the spreadsheet (and what I’d encourage you to include in your delivery form as well):

  1. I had the client break down the number of copies of each book title to be sent to each of three delivery points, and I alerted the book printer. This was the first section of the spreadsheet.
  2. I collected all delivery address information from the client. I made sure I also included contact people, phone numbers, and email addresses. I shared all of this with the book printer’s customer service rep, who would be coordinating the deliveries.
  3. I found out who would be responsible for each delivery. You will find, when you look closely at a printing estimate, that many printers (particularly book printers) have simply noted “FOB printer’s loading dock” on the estimate. This means their responsibility ends at this point, and whatever delivery service you have contacted separately has to take responsibility for the safe delivery of the job. You may choose to have the printer arrange for delivery (I think this is a good idea). However, in some cases, with book distributors, warehouses, and the like, it can be more cost effective to have the book distributor’s or warehouse’s truck come to your printer and pick up the job.
  4. I found out when the job would ship and when it would be delivered. Along with the customer service rep at the book printer, I also determined who would coordinate the shipping and ensure that the book distributor and warehouse staff were alerted to the delivery date and time.
  5. I discussed with the customer service rep such issues as the number of cartons, whether they would be stacked on one pallet (all three book titles), how high the skid could be packed, and what information would be printed on “flags” (sheets of paper with barcodes) placed under the pallet shrink wrap to identify the contents, the number of cartons, the number of books per carton, and the total number of books in the job. I also discussed the book distributor’s and warehouse’s requirements for carton weight and for labeling the pallet with a purchase order. In this case, the entire skid would be seen as a single “box,” so only two labels needed to be included (and visible). In your case, things might be different. You might need to put a sheet in every box for your particular warehouse. So find out early, since this kind of labeling would be done in the bindery as the job is being cartoned.
  6. Since the client’s copies were few (200 per title), I discussed delivery options with the book printer’s customer service rep. She agreed to check into the advisability of sending the 600 books (200 x 3 titles) via UPS Ground or as an “LTL” (less than truckload shipment).
  7. In all of these cases (and I realize your particular situation will be different from mine), I’d strongly advise you to rely on your printer’s expertise. Ask questions, and request competitive delivery pricing if you want, but no one will understand this like your printer or his customer service rep.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: How to Approach a Huge Design Job

October 2nd, 2014

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

In the late 1970s I found a book by cartoonist B. Kliban entitled Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. The title stuck with me, as did the image of a getting more than you can handle.

Well I did just that. Oops. What to do next?

The BackStory on the Print Book

This case study concerns a print book I’m brokering for a client. I have mentioned it in prior blogs. It is approximately 120-pages, 4-color on one side and black-only on the other side. It’s small in format like a PMS color book, and it will be drilled and then assembled onto a screw and post (a mechanical binding that can be disassembled to add more pages and then reassembled).

The job involves a press run of 100 copies of each of sixteen originals. Last night as I was creating a template and a mock-up, I did the math. I came up with over 2,000 original pages. Oops.

The commercial printing technology I had secured for my client was the correct one for the task. I had suggested a Kodak NexPress at a local printing vendor since it had an inline coating capability and produced excellent digital output. Normally I would have suggested an HP Indigo, but the inline coating option for the Kodak NexPress made the difference.

Other vendors that had bid on the job planned to subcontract the coating and round cornering (diecutting), and this had driven up their prices. The preferred vendor would be able to print and coat the sheets in one pass, and this would shorten the schedule and lower the price.

Regarding the choice of digital printing, I had deemed it appropriate for the following reason. The press run was short (100 copies of 16 versions of a 126-page-plus-cover print book).

The Moment of Awareness

Here’s something you can learn from my experience. Describing a job on a spec sheet is not the same as actually designing it or laying it out. I started to become aware of this (and to fully grasp the size of the 2,000-page job) as I was creating a template to make sure the job specs would be acceptable to the printer and creating a mock-up for a test run.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

  1. It never hurts to break a job down, particularly at the beginning. Start with a spec sheet. This will help you communicate your custom printing needs to your vendors. It will also get you to focus on such issues as paper choice and delivery requirements, which you might otherwise forget in your rush to design the job.
  2. Consider producing a single-page template for your printer if the job will be unusual in any way (an odd size or an unusual binding, for instance). Show the live matter boundaries (how close to the trim any image or type will be positioned), and make sure these are acceptable to your printer (in my case it’s 1/4”). Also show bleeds (1/8”), and make sure you leave room for the binding (in my first draft, I forgot the drill hole for the screw and post, so I had to redo the design).
  3. Ask the book printer to produce a few pages on his press (if it’s a crucial job and if it’s being printed digitally). This would be prohibitively expensive for an offset-printed job (it also has a name: a press proof). If your printer will produce a few sample pages for you, you can see whether the paper weight, caliper, opacity, brightness, and whiteness are to your liking—with your job actually printed on the chosen paper stock. You can’t beat this method for determining whether a design will or will not work.

How to Approach the Big Job

To get back to my 2,000-page job, this is how I approached the next steps after the template and mock-up:

  1. I asked my client for her print deadline, and I factored in the creation of the template and mock-up, the actual production of the 16 126-page-plus-cover originals, and the turn-around time the printer had given me for the digital printing (Kodak NexPress), diecutting (round corners), drilling, and assembly.
  2. I contacted a group of three related (same family) designers who had experience and comfort with print book production (as opposed to print book design). One family member also has an extensive background in database management.
  3. I sent them samples of the spec sheet, template, and InDesign file I had done. I requested an estimate for production of the 16 versions of the book and a proposed schedule. I will coordinate the job and ensure its consistency and accuracy; they will do the production based on my template and mock up.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

  1. If something seems huge, break it into its component parts. This will help you start breathing again.
  2. Involve others if you will need help (i.e., if it’s too big a job for one person).
  3. Don’t spread the job too thin. Make sure the assistants you collect will produce consistent work. It doesn’t help you to bring in several assistants and then spend time cleaning up their files (or making them match one another).
  4. If a job has multiple versions, then research the variable-data capabilities of your software. (In my case, I’m starting my research with the “book making” and “variable layout” capabilities of InDesign.)
  5. If the job is more of a database job than a design job, like mine, look for “patterns” and “logical rules” or any other way to simplify the production process. Think about which components will be in all of the versions of your project and which will only be in some of them. Draw pictures and flow charts if it helps. You may even find a way to merge a spreadsheet with an InDesign file to automate the production work.
  6. Let the computer do the repetitive tasks. (For instance, you may want to create one template, add elements common to all versions of the book, copy the file multiple times, and then add the pages unique to each book.)
  7. Consult your book printer for suggestions. There may be an easier way than what you came up with.
  8. Search the Internet for others who have used your particular page composition software to do similar jobs. (Chances are that someone else once had a project just like yours. Learn from their experience.)

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: Printed Wristband Is “All the Rage”

September 29th, 2014

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

I used to make fun of silicone wrist bands. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought they were a fad. But when I was given one recently I became a convert.

These little promotional pieces are an excellent value, cheap to produce, and sought after with almost religious fervor.

Here’s a rundown of the product and the process. You may want to include these in your marketing arsenal.

The Product

Silicone rubber is not new. In fact for a number of years you may have seen silicone cookware, such as baking sheets for muffins, which are ideal because they can withstand high heat without melting. However, the material is also easily stretched, and it comes back immediately to its original shape (it has memory). Therefore, the material is perfect for bracelets. It can stretch to go over the user’s hand and then come back to its original shape once on the wrist.

In addition to their stretchability, these silicone gel bands can be easily and cheaply personalized. If you check the Internet, you’ll find any number of suppliers that offer a long list of colors, messages, and typefaces. They also allow to use your own custom printing art, for a reasonable fee.

The Process

Silicone, which was originally invented as an insulating material, can be pre-dyed in various colors and then extruded into ropes or strips, which can be compression molded (pressed into the desired shape using a mold, heat, and pressure) into the round circular wristbands that are all the rage. Although most are perfectly round, you may find such shapes as hearts as well. These wristbands tend to be about 7” to 8.5” in circumference, about 1/10” thick, and about 1/2” wide. However, longer circumferences and wider strips are also available.

The Options

Flat Custom Printing: Single-level printing on silicone wristbands is done via serigraphy (custom screen printing). The screen printing ink is thick, and it adheres well to the rubber bracelets.

Multi-level Printing (Embossing): Letters of the marketing message can be slightly raised above the silicone rubber surface (approximately two milimeters) using a compression molding process.

Multi-level Printing (Debossing): Letters of the marketing message can be recessed into the silicone rubber using a compression molding process.

Multi-colored Printing (Debossing): The recessed letters can be colored differently from the surrounding rubber band. This color contrast will make the marketing message more prominent.

Even more options: In addition to the preceding choices, many wristband makers will offer textured bands (I have seen a tire-tread texture, for instance), fat bands (wider than usual), layered bands (multiple colors laminated to one another), and swirl patterns (multiple colors swirling into one another without a pattern).

Why They’re Effective

In my opinion, silicone wristbands reflect the perfect marketing storm, a confluence of ideal attributes.

  1. They are cheaper to make, relative to their selling price, than most other promotional products, such as t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags.
  2. Because they are so flexible, they fit almost any wrist. They return to their original length without stretching out of shape.
  3. They come in a myriad of brilliant colors that are visible from a distance.
  4. Over the past years they have become a cult item among younger and older people alike, who want to express their affiliation with a cause (such as cancer prevention). They have equity as a marketing device.
  5. They are also ideal for increasing brand awareness. Companies of all types can produce these in bulk and then distribute them as premiums, just like pens. And unlike calendars and notepads, which prospective customers may see and touch only a few times a day (if that), brilliantly colored wristbands go wherever the wearer goes. They are the proverbial “string around the finger,” reminding them of the charitable cause, the sports team, or a particular brand.
  6. The soft, pliable, slightly matte-textured surface of the wristbands feels good to the touch.

What You Can Learn

If you’re a marketing manager looking for the next big project to increase customer awareness, then go beyond the usual products: pens, cups, tote bags, notepads, balloons, and t-shirts. Give your prospective customers (or your support base) a new toy.

Posted in Promotional Products | 2 Comments »

Magazine Printing: Be Open to Different Binding Options

September 24th, 2014

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

I have mentioned in a prior blog posting that I’m brokering a magazine or print book project in the form of a graphic novel. It’s very exciting, but it’s also a study in the art of print book binding.

Backstory for the Book

The magazine, or book, started as a 9” x 12” saddle-stitched product with three gatefolds. After discussing the project with a large custom printing aggregator (an owner of multiple print shops) with printing plants across the country containing every imaginable piece of printing and binding equipment, it became clear that to produce the saddle-stitched product my client desired, the magazine division of this large printer would be more appropriate than the book division. This division had significantly more experience in inserting gatefolds as well.

The printer provided a price for 5,000 copies, saddle-stitched, on 60# gloss text, with 70# gloss text for the gatefolds and a 100# text-weight cover. The format was 8.5” x 10.875” to fit a full-size heatset web press.

(Just as an aside, the text weight for the cover is not a typo. I learned as a consultant at a DC-area political magazine that an excellent pairing of text and cover for a magazine is 100# text for the cover and 60# text for the interior of the magazine. This gives a tactile sense of the difference between the cover of the print book and its interior, but the product feels like a magazine, not a book.)

This printer was comfortable saddle-stitching this product.

A New Printer Added to the Mix

Having secured a reasonably priced estimate for one complete approach to this graphic novel, I opened up the bidding to other vendors.

I chose three magazine printers I had worked with before. I needed vendors I could trust completely. I sent out specification sheets, and when the printers contacted me to discuss the job further, I went into more detail with them. I also made it clear that I was open to their suggestions. I wanted to hear how they would approach the project, particularly considering the three gatefolds it would include.

The second magazine printer to submit a complete estimate declined to bid on a saddle-stitched option. This vendor had increased the paper weight (but will reduce it again to 50# on the revised bid); however, even with 50# text stock for the interior pages and 70# text stock for the gatefolds, the second printer was concerned. The sales rep said that including three gatefolds in a saddle-stitched magazine of 160 pages would be asking to have the pages fall out. The gatefolds would be opened and closed repeatedly, and this would eventually compromise the stitched binding. So this magazine printer provided pricing for a perfect-bound product only.

I did not take this badly. In fact, I was pleased to have an option for perfect binding provided by a vendor who had taken seriously my request for suggestions and advice. Furthermore, I knew that this was an area of concern to keep in mind with any other vendor. In addition, I liked the pricing. It was much lower than the first vendor’s pricing, in spite of the printer’s being two-thirds of the way across the country; i.e., the price was lower even with a huge freight estimate.

An Approach to the Gatefolds

What I found intriguing was the printer’s specificity regarding gatefold placement. The 160-page magazine would be broken down into five 32-page signatures, and the center 32-page signature would be split in half (32—32—16—16—32–32). This would allow for insertion of the center gatefold (dead center in the perfect-bound book). The other two gatefolds would fit between the first two 32-page signatures and the last two 32-page signatures.

Furthermore, the gatefolds would open to the right. If my client wanted them to open to the left, that might be possible. The printer would look into this.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I thought this case study would be particularly useful for any of you who produce magazines. Here are some thoughts:

  1. If a printer no-bids a portion of a job (or changes a portion of a job in the estimate), be mindful that this might be a challenging operation for any vendor. The resulting product might not be durable. Or, it might just require specific equipment that only certain print vendors own. Ask for clarification.
  2. Be flexible. Consider different approaches suggested by various custom printing suppliers. Not all vendors will approach the job in the same way. You may learn something new, and you may save money in the process.
  3. Ultimately, it comes down to your level of confidence in, and comfort with, a vendor. Does the vendor have the right equipment, the right expertise, and the right price. Don’t force the printer to do something to which he is resistant. You might be disappointed.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: The Power of Integrated Media

September 20th, 2014

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments Off

I had lunch today with the CEO of a local commercial printing shop. We discussed cross-media marketing. He really “gets it” in a lot of ways and has positioned his business accordingly. Specifically,

  1. He believes that printers cannot survive by merely putting ink on paper. Rather, they must become marketing advisors, teaching clients how to use offset, digital, and variable data printing in tandem, along with social media and other electronic vehicles to broadcast their message and spark customer interest. He gets “multi-channel marketing.” Furthermore, he understands the role of the printer as a “consultant,” not just copying and distributing a print job but actually helping clients identify, target, and interact with their markets.
  2. This filters down into this printer’s choice of press equipment. In addition to the traditional sheetfed offset presses, he has large-format and grand-format inkjet presses, as well as roll-to-roll and roll-to-sheet digital laser presses (both color and black/white).
  3. He and his staff integrate the output from these presses with access to digital storefronts, web-to-print, and social media, to integrate the marketing benefits of both custom printing and digital communication. He knows that print is not dead.
  4. In addition, using the variable data capabilities of his digital custom printing equipment, this printer tailors the printed products to the end-users. He can provide both personalized content (specific descriptive text, offers, and pricing that are focused on individual buyers, based on demographics) and personalized address information for match mailings. Therefore, the content chosen for those who actually get the printed products in the mail can be sent directly to them.
  5. This printer also understands the value of market research. He and his staff don’t just base their suggestions for a client’s print marketing and Internet marketing campaign on their own intuition. They base their strategies on demographic data and web analytics, making their market research a science as well as an art.
  6. The printer has brought an additional medium into the fold: video. YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. This is profound. And I think it’s particularly effective, since people can see what they’re buying being used rather than frozen in a static image. If the video portrays a spokesperson describing a product or service, it can more easily elicit the viewer’s trust, as well as an affiliation with the product or service and its brand values.
  7. Finally, this printer understands that even in the excitement of embracing a new technology—video—it is better to know when to use a particular medium than to become fixated on it. Video is great for many reasons. Knowing when to use it and when to use social media or custom printing to communicate with clients is even better. That’s why this printer is a consultant. He provides knowledge and wisdom in combining these media into a coordinated marketing message.
  8. Then he knows to always test and test again. Only by analyzing the results of a campaign can this custom printing vendor really provide a service to his clients, and this is what distinguishes him from his peers.

What This Means to You

  1. You may produce content for one or many of these technologies: print, large-format inkjet, variable data digital, social media, or video. Or you may be engaged in digital database management or marketing. The more you understand their interactions and their individual strengths (and this means becoming a student of art, business, psychology, and marketing), the more effective you will be, whether you’re designing a campaign or searching for vendors to help you.
  2. The custom print vendor I have described is not alone. There are many others out there you can approach who “get it.” Granted, there are many who don’t, and the last several years has seen many of these absorbed by other companies or forced out of business altogether. Keep your eyes open for such a resource, and make him a partner and advisor.
  3. If you approach commercial printing as one component (a vital, extremely effective one) within a matrix of communication venues, and if you understand how these media can be combined to increase buyer interest–or to touch, educate, or persuade individuals–you will become increasingly valuable in your particular business. You will become the “go-to” resource for your peers.

Posted in Integrated Marketing | Comments Off

Large Format Printing: Fooling the Viewer’s Eye

September 15th, 2014

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 2 Comments »

My fiancee and I were driving back to our apartment tonight, when she noted a large format print banner hanging from the side of a multi-tiered parking lot. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the neighborhood (we’re still displaced from our burned-out house), I saw what I expected to see: a graphic image with a type treatment hanging above a section of the parking lot wall composed of bricks.

“Since when do bricks have creases and folds?” my fiancee noted. I looked again and realized I had been fooled. The parking lot wall was completely white concrete, and the bricks had been included on the large format print signage. Wow.

The French have a term for this: “trompe l’oeil,” which according to Wikipedia means “deceive the eye.” Wikipedia goes on to describe trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”

Now this is a term I had heard a lot in my prior studies of the fine arts, both drawing and painting. Until today I had not really seen this artistic technique used within the commercial arts field. So I was particularly pleased.

Trompe l’oeil most often (at least in the paintings I have seen) refers to a still life of either flat objects against a flat background or three dimensional objects against a flat background.

If you check out Wikipedia, you’ll see a painting by William Harnett called Still Life Violin and Music and another painting by Evert Collier, simply noted as Trompe l’oeil painting.

The former includes such items as a violin, sheet music, and a horse shoe hanging up against a wood door with metal hinges (the key is the flat background, which acts as a bulletin board of sorts).

The latter painting includes various printed scraps of paper and a quill attached to a wall with leather straps. Again, the wall is integral to the design, as it is in the first painting. In both cases, the fact that the background is flat, facing or parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the still life all contribute to the illusion of perspective that makes these paintings intriguing to the viewer.

How Does this Relate to the Large Format Wall Banner of Bricks?

Once I had realized that the bricks in the large format print signage had been inkjetted onto the vinyl substrate, and that they were not a part of the parking lot, I was intrigued. How, I asked myself, could these appear to be so real?

First of all, like the trompe l’oeil paintings shown in Wikipedia, the background of bricks was flat, parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the design on the signage. One thing I would add is that the image of the bricks was patterned and regular, like the door in the Harnett painting Still Life Violin and Music and the board with leather straps holding pieces of paper and a quill pen in Collier’s painting.

In both of these paintings and in the brick images on the large vinyl mural, the regularity of the background pattern, across the viewer’s immediate field of vision (as opposed to being set into the background of the painting), tricks the viewer’s eye and makes this element of the painting seem real: whether it be a door, a board, or bricks. The manipulation of perspective in each case deceives the viewer.

What You Can Learn for Your Own Graphic Design Work

Good graphic design draws upon many elements of the fine arts, not the least of which are subject matter and perspective. The main difference between the large format print signage on the side of the parking lot and the two paintings in Wikipedia is that the former is selling something: in this case it was selling homes in the new development for which the parking lot had been built. Commercial art is still art.

So as you prepare your graphic design pieces for commercial printing, be mindful of the fine arts. You may find inspiration in their techniques or subject matter.

Another thing to consider is that good commercial art grabs the viewer’s attention, and playing with perspective (such as photographing the subject of an advertisement with an intriguing perspective or from an unusual vantage point) will catch the viewer’s interest.

Moreover, many people find humor in trompe l’oeil. This is because they think it is one thing at first glance, but then it turns out to be something entirely different. (In just this way, what I thought were actual bricks in a wall caught my attention once I saw the folds in the banner and realized they were only images of bricks inkjet printed onto signage.)

In short, humor and the unexpected can make your graphic design work stand out. If you can intrigue the viewer, you will get him/her on your side, and he will be more open to the message your large format print signage conveys.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | 2 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Inserting Gatefolds into Magazines

September 7th, 2014

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

A print brokering client of mine is producing a magazine. Actually, it is a graphic novel that initially was to be a perfect bound product, but my client has been increasingly interested in saddle stitching the book.

To give a brief overview of the specs, it is 8.5” x 10.875”. It was initially 150 pages (which I increased to 160 pages to equal five 32-page signatures—i.e., a more efficient custom printing sequence with fewer, but longer, press signatures).

Due to my client’s interest in saddle stitching the product (for the overall “magazine” look), the white gloss paper stock had to be 50# text (or thinner) for the printer to be able to saddle stitch the magazine. (Normally a 160-page book would be too long to saddle stitch if the paper were 60# gloss text or thicker.) Therefore, the job had to be produced on a web-offset press to accommodate the thinner press stock.

My client had initially requested a 9” x 12” page size. While this is not out of the question, it will be significantly more expensive to produce than an 8.5” x 10.875” format (fewer pages in each press signature and therefore more press runs needed to produce a 160 page book). The 8.5” x 10.875” format is ideal for a full-size heatset web press.

Why Is All of This Preliminary Information Relevant?

This preliminary information is relevant for the following reason. Initially, I had approached a large commercial printer with numerous printing plants across the country for a bid on the job and for advice on its design and production. Due to the initial plan’s having been to perfect bind the book, my customer service representative at this large commercial printing firm had approached his company’s book division for a quote.

This was fine, at first. But as my client shifted to wanting a saddle-stitched product and added three gatefolds to the design, the books division “no bid” the job. This division said the page count of the print book could not exceed 120 pages to be saddle stitched, and the book could not have a gatefold in the center spread.

Why the Books Division Set These Limitations

The printer’s books division said that gatefolds in the center of saddle-stitched books tend to fall out (come unhinged from the saddle stitches). Also, the books division said that even with 50# gloss text stock, a saddle-stitched book longer than 120 pages would be hard to bind and might come apart or lose some of its center-most pages.

I knew of all these pitfalls, but I had also grown up reading Playboy magazine, and had seen 150-page or longer magazines with gatefolds in their center spreads.

Moving from the Books Division to the Magazine Division

The CSR I work with at this large printer noted my client’s desire for a saddle-stitched product, and he too had seen longer saddle-stitched magazines with centerfolds. So he offered to discuss the print job with the magazine division of his firm.

Now this in no way implies that the books division lacks competence in binding. Rather, it implies that the magazines division has bindery equipment more suited to the task. It also shows the benefits of working with a commercial printing supplier with multiple plants and a huge amount of varied equipment.

Gatefold Options—Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

At this point my client potentially has two options for binding the print book: saddle stitching and perfect binding.

If the book is perfect bound, the five 32-page signatures will be stacked (one on top of the other) before binding. If it the book is saddle stitched, the signatures will be nested (each signature placed in the center of the preceding signature and then stitched in the center).

The gatefold in the center spread of the saddle-stitched option would be bound by the staples. The other two gatefolds would be bound between signatures. Therefore, for a six panel gatefold (three on each side of the sheet), two pages will either stick out (and need to be folded in) in front of the center spread (with the remaining panel–two pages, back and front–in the back of the book), or this will be reversed, and the single page will be in the front of the book and the remaining pages will come after the center spread.

If my client opts for a perfect bound book, the gatefolds will simply be bound between signatures. This is because there is no center of a print book in a perfect bound product in the same way that there is a center spread in a saddle-stitched book with nested signatures.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to develop long-term professional relationships with your vendors. Then you can draw upon their extensive experience and knowledge.

In addition, keep an open mind. There’s usually more than one way to achieve a desired result in custom printing.

Finally, show the printer samples of the effect you’re after. Nothing communicates your goals like a sample printed product.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off

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