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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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Pocket Folder Printing: Pocket Folder/Brochure Update

October 7th, 2015

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

They say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and a recent creative solution provided by a print brokering client of mine exemplifies this approach–totally.

She has been working on a custom pocket folder with either four or eight interior pages as well as the pocket. To make the piece stand out, she has chosen a 12” x 9” oblong format over the traditional, upright, 9” x 12” version. The folder will have a pocket on the inside back cover into which her client will insert about six or eight laser printed, 8.5” x 11” sheets. This pocket will be vertical rather than horizontal, open on the left rather than at the top. That is, the pages will slip into the pocket on their sides. To keep them from falling out, my client is considering a diecut tab to hold the exposed, short edge of the inserted sheets.

We have discussed using a 130# cover stock for the custom pocket folder and 100# text for the interior pages. To add visual interest, my client plans to stagger the interior pages. That is, they will be stepped down, with each successive leaf (two pages) being 1” longer than the preceding leaf. All interior pages will be saddle stitched into the center of the pocket folder.

A Perfect Hybrid Printing Project

Since my client’s client only wants 100 copies of the product, I initially suggested having the job digitally produced. Unfortunately, the vendors I approached said the pocket folder was too large to fit on the 13” x 19” HP Indigo digital press sheet and would therefore need to be produced on an offset press (an expensive proposition).

More than anything, this was due to the oblong nature of the project. Had the pocket folder been vertical (rather than oblong), it would have just fit on an Indigo press sheet (although the printer would have needed to produce the pocket separately and glue it onto the folder).

In short, the HP Indigo 7000 series’ 13” x 19” format was limiting. Going to the larger format (approximately 20” x 29”) used on an Indigo 10000 and above might have been a good idea, but I didn’t know anybody with one. And by “know,” I mean “trust”—deeply. I’m a firm believer in not starting out a new custom printing supplier with a complex job.

So the preferred option came to be the following: Print the interior brochure sheets digitally, and print the exterior custom pocket folder traditionally on an offset press.

Such a hybrid job would play to the strengths of both offset and digital technology. The exterior pocket folder would contain “evergreen” information (that would presumably be accurate and useful for years). My client’s client could print 1,000 (rather than 100) of these and then store and use them as needed. (This would be more economical on a per-unit cost-basis.) The interior pages would be printed digitally in batches of 100. Their text material could be updated with each custom printing run, and the pages could contain the dated material relevant to my client’s client.

Problems with Paper Size Begin to Occur

All of this seemed to work well as a concept, but the 13” x 19” Indigo format still provided challenges. If the custom pocket folder contained four stepped-down pages, the folded and stitched pages would fall several inches from the edge of the 12” x 9” pocket folder (its face margin). The interior brochure would look very small inside a big pocket folder. Adding eight stepped-down pages would make for a more substantial interior brochure. (Assuming each successive, stepped-down leaf were 1” longer than the preceding leaf, the final page would fall much closer to the trim.)

A Solution to the Problem

What I found both intriguing and encouraging was my client’s solution: a pocket folder with a short-fold front cover.

The front cover would be 8” wide rather than 12”. The back cover would still be 12”. This would afford a 9” high and 8” wide area inside for the brochure pages, while the pocket would be visible to the right of the 8” wide front cover. Depending on how my client handled the overall design, this would break up the booklet into a brochure with cover on the left, and a pocket folder containing the six or so pages laser printed by her client on the right.

The physical design of the piece would group (or separate) the various components. As long as the visible portion of the back interior cover included a design that was integrated with the rest of the job (rather than just looking “uncovered”), this could actually be a more interesting piece than initially conceived.

In addition, the widest stepped-down pages (flat, before being saddle-stitched) would be no larger than 16” x 9” (small enough to fit comfortably on the 13” x 19” maximum HP Indigo 7000 press sheet).

In fact, there would be even more room if my client continued with her approach to staggering (or stepping down) the interior text pages.

The only question now is where to put the business card slots?

What You Can Learn

Here are some thoughts:

  1. When you’re totally stumped by the physical limitations of a job, think creatively (sleep on it, if necessary). My client created a more interesting overall design when she couldn’t fit her desired brochure pages on the 13” x 19” Indigo press sheet. You can do the same. Granted, it requires sweat, insight, and good luck.
  2. As noted in the prior blog posting about this job, consider blending technologies. If you need to do an ultra-short press run, perhaps you can justify doing part of the job offset (and printing more than you need, to be spread over multiple years) and part of the job digitally (and then updating this section as needed).

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: The Power of Large Format Print

October 2nd, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

My fiancee and I were driving to an appointment yesterday, when we saw a delivery truck parked diagonally in a lot. Normally that would not have raised an eyebrow for either of us, but the large format print sign on the side of the truck was facing the oncoming traffic at the perfect angle to position its message towards anyone driving up the pike.

The ad was for kitchen appliances. I took a photo with my smartphone so I could study the image later and consider exactly why I thought it made for such good advertising.

First of all, the sign included the company logo and a bright photo of sample kitchen appliances highlighted in red (a color certain to catch the eye of oncoming drivers). It included the price (in red type on a black background), the URL for the company’s website, and a tagline reversed to white on the red background. All type was set in a simple, bold, sans serif face.

Beyond the powerful nature of the ad on the side of the truck, my fiancee and I both thought about the implications of such signage:

  1. After all, the company that owned the truck presumably neither had to pay rent for the advertising venue nor get approval from the local government authority for its display. I may be wrong, but it seems like he or she was getting prime advertising exposure for free. Should anyone complain, he or she could just move the truck and capture an entirely new set of onlookers, many of whom might be interested in kitchen appliances.
  2. Beyond township permit issues and advertising charges, the idea of an ad on a truck reflected the fact that a fixed sign such as a billboard (which would be the nearest equivalent) would only be seen by select individuals driving on a particular route. Mobile signage could be repositioned as needed to vary the demographic exposed to its message.
  3. Similar advertising tactics are reflected in the use of bus graphics, fleet graphics, car wraps, and even the much older practice of mounting double-sided signs on flatbed trucks (the driver’s equivalent of a fabric sign tied to a small plane at the beach). All of these not only display the promotional message as a large format print, but they also can vary the audience exposure as needed.

The Target Store Trucks with Their Red Bulls-Eyes

Moments later my fiancee and I saw two Target trucks unloading inventory into a large, beige Target store. The red bulls-eye logo on the trucks echoed the bulls eye on the side of the building. I’m sure all of these logos could be read from low-flying aircraft. In fact, if you had removed the name of the company and had just kept the bulls-eye logo in that particular red color, you would still have had an immediately recognizable icon.

What You Can Learn from These Observations

Here are some thoughts you can bring to your own large format print design work.

  1. It takes work to link a logo to its brand attributes in the minds of your target audience. Much of this work involves consistent exposure. That said, be mindful of the viewer you wish to influence and consider how best to approach him/her. Large format print signage is an excellent approach. However, it’s important to consider not just your message but also the consumer. How can you capture his/her interest, and where will your best venue for exposure be?
  2. The color red was integral to both the roadside truck sign and the Target store logo. Both stood out dramatically. Consider the blue in the IBM logo and the orange in the Home Depot logo. Even by themselves, these colors can bring to mind the two companies due to the consistent pairing of the color with the logo. In your own work, consider how well your logo colors will stand out, and be aware of what attributes people will associate with the colors (the color green is often associated with natural food stores, for instance).
  3. Be bold and creative with your marketing initiatives. You may have qualms about leaving a truck-sign in a parking lot to get (presumably) free advertising, but consider wrapping a car with a vinyl, ink jetted car wrap and paying someone to drive it around advertising your company. If you can coordinate this with an Internet initiative and perhaps a radio spot, all the better.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: The Importance of Good Cartoning

September 28th, 2015

Posted in Cartoning | 2 Comments »

What could be more boring than the cartoning of printed products? After all, the job is complete before this step, once it has been stitched, folded, and trimmed. But is this really true?

As a standee installer for five years now, I have seen brilliantly crafted, large format print standees, complete with intricate die cuts, that have been bent or crushed in the carton by not having been adequately secured for transit.

All that time. All that money. Plus the cost of shipping. And then the final product gets mashed or creased. What this does is reduce the marketing impact of the large format printed piece. And it could have been prevented with sensible cartoning.

The same is true for boxes of print books or brochures, or any other print product. What a loss.

What I Request From Book Printers

I just sent specifications for a case bound book to two printers for revised pricing. One line of the specification sheet reads as follows:

Books will be packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons.

What this really means is that durable, corrugated cardboard boxes will be used to protect the shipment of books. Another option would be double-wall cartons, which would cost more but offer even more protection.

What makes corrugated board ideal for this kind of packaging is the combination of its light weight and durability. The fluting gives the corrugated board strength without adding bulk or heft.

Don’t Pack Too Many Books Into One Carton

One of my print brokering clients also includes the following line in her specification sheets:

Boxes must not exceed 40lbs.

Boxes that are too heavy will not only strain freight handler’s backs if any portion of the job must be broken down and moved by hand, but heavy boxes are more easily dropped, leading to damage of the contents.

Consider Bumper-end Mailers for Individual Books

Another creative approach to packaging I’ve seen and have since specified for some clients is the “bumper-end mailer.” This is ideal for those who need to send out books individually to their customers.

Once the corrugated boards have been cut into carton blanks, the carton walls can be folded up and glued in such a way that the boxes have extended ends (like bumpers on a car). These unused portions of the cartons stick out toward the front and back of the boxes and act as shock absorbers to prevent damage. If the carton (which holds only one print book) is dropped, the ends of the carton get banged up instead of the book it contains.

Thoughts on Cartoning the Standee Kits

I realize that perfect bound books neatly stacked in piles in corrugated cartons will always be more secure than irregular, die cut portions of a large format print standee sent to a movie theater in a corrugated carton weighing 50 to 100 pounds. And the weight of the box of unassembled standee components will always make it more liable to damage. However, perhaps something can be done. In five years of standee installation, I’ve seen a lot of damage that my fiancee and I have had to repair.

Here are some thoughts for packaging standees and other intricate printed pieces to ensure their integrity upon arrival:

  1. Pad the boxes. Additional cardboard supports can be used to wall off sections of a corrugated box to protect its contents. If some elements are of different weights (some heavy and some light, packed together), sectioning off the carton or adding foam inserts can protect the contents of the box.
  2. Use more than one box. Particularly in the case of large resin statues of movie characters, the film studios have recently been sending out unassembled components of statues and large format print standees in multiple boxes. In other cases, heavy items like electric motors have been separated in the larger cartons by first being inserted into smaller boxes.
  3. Keep the scrap pieces on the die cut figures intact. Let the installers remove the extra cardboard. Delicate items like arms and legs (or pirates’ swords) will arrive in more pristine condition if the extra corrugated board around these die cut elements has not been removed before cartoning.
  4. Consider strapping together pieces of a similar size within the main carton with plastic strapping wire. These grouped items could then be stabilized with paper filler or packaging peanuts.

What You Can Learn from This

I once had a client who printed a series of die cut keys, which were attached to a metal key ring. Marketing material was printed all over the keys. If packaging requirements had not been considered at an early stage, all of these items could have been damaged in transit, rendering the marketing initiative a waste. We even sent samples to ourselves in different kinds of envelopes to see what traveling through the mail would do to the job. We experimented. Moreover, we left time in the schedule for this experimentation.

Even if you never design anything as large as a movie standee, it still behooves you to consider the physical requirements of packaging printed products for shipping. This applies to any print job. Think about what will need to happen to ensure that the printed products your customers receive in the mail arrive in as pristine a condition as when they first rolled off the presses.

Posted in Cartoning | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Binding Problems with Book Signatures

September 24th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I think nothing is more unsettling to me than an email or phone call from a customer with a printing problem. I always want to please my print brokering clients, but sometimes this just doesn’t happen–at least on the first attempt.

The Backstory of the Print Book Job

The book in question is a 5,000-copy press run of a 6” x 9” perfect bound textbook that was just printed for a client. The book was produced on 70# Finch opaque text stock with a 12pt. cover.

My client received an email from her client (one of the end users, a teacher) noting that 20 of the 40 books she had received had been misprinted. More specifically, all 20 books begin on page 33 and go to 64, after that they return to page 33 and continue to the end.

Three Issues to Address

My client really had a number of issues to address with her customer (actually one customer, but maybe more as well since we don’t yet know the extent of the problem):

  1. The snafu put both her and her company in a bad light for distributing misprinted copies of the book (half a customer’s total order).
  2. My client was being called upon to not only explain what had happened but also to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of her customer.
  3. And, at this point, my client had no way to know whether any of her other 249 customers had received misprinted books.

The Book Printer’s Response

Needless to say, I called the printer immediately and asked him to determine the cause of the problem, its extent, and his suggested solutions. He was patient and kind, and he agreed to do some digging and get back to me as soon as he knew something. This is what he wrote to me the next day:

“As a bit of explanation, the text of [the book] is run and folded as 32-page signatures. The first signature is page 1 through page 32 and feeds from its own pocket on the perfect binder. The next signature is page 33 through 64, which feeds from the pocket right next to the first. The person feeding the pockets mistakenly put a handful of sig 2 into the sig 1 feeder. That [resulted in] two sig 2’s in the front of the book…. The optical reader is supposed to catch this mistake when it occurs, but it missed this. We have checked the reader and it is working properly, and I can’t explain how the 2 sigs passed through undetected.

“We think the 20 bad books should be the extent of the problem. Not knowing how many were in that handful, I can’t guarantee there are not a few more, but it should be very few if any. Please keep me informed if you get any more. I think we delivered a number of overs with the shipment … that should cover any that need to be replaced.

“I apologize, for all of us here, for the error. We value your business very much and enjoy working with you on these projects.”

Thoughts on the Book Printer’s Response

First of all, I am pleased that the book printer explained the cause of the problem (which exactly matches the reported issue—page numbers and all). His apology shows regret, an interest in solving the problem to my client’s satisfaction, and his desire to do future work with my client.

Unfortunately, this does not solve my client’s customer’s problem. However (since there may not actually be as many overs as initially thought), it is fortunate that the book printer kept about a half dozen books of his own, which he can send the customer. I also have two printer samples, and I know that 100 copies were delivered to my client’s office (beyond the copies sent out by the mailshop to the 250 customers). Presumably, by drawing upon this extra inventory, it will be possible to replace the 20 misprinted copies.

If this does not provide an adequate number of replacement copies, or if other customers to whom my client had sent copies discover a similar problem, we’ll have to discuss a book reprint. But fortunately, my client checked all of her copies and did not find any more misprinted books. So at least that’s a good sign.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. This is proof that things go wrong from time to time. It’s maddening, but it’s a fact of life in custom printing.
  2. This is also proof that all of the fail-safe measures a printer has in place (such as an electric eye that is supposed to catch mis-fed book signatures) can still fail.
  3. The failure is often due to human error in hand-work (such as grabbing a handful of print book signatures and inserting them into the wrong perfect binder pocket).
  4. If you have a problem, alert the printer immediately. This is an example of why it’s good to choose a printer based on service as well as price. He’ll be more accommodating and ready to resolve any problems that arise during print book production. A printer who is a partner, and not just a vendor, is a major asset.
  5. Since you can’t ensure perfection, it’s often wise to print at least a few more copies than you need. This is one situation when having overs of a printed product is a blessing.
  6. Stay away from blame. Just hold the printer accountable for resolving the problem. (Fortunately, this is the approach my client brought to this incident.)
  7. Learn as much as you can about custom printing. This will help you understand the areas of the process most likely to experience problems. It will also help you understand the explanation of the problem and its extent when your printer gives you this information.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Pocket Folder Printing: Some Paper Considerations

September 21st, 2015

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

It helps to learn to think like a printer or, more specifically, to think like a printing press.

I had been working with a print brokering client to conceptualize a custom pocket folder with a brochure saddle stitched into its center fold. I had been thinking of sheet sizes appropriate for the digital printing I had suggested for the interior pages, but I really had not given much thought to the pocket folder paper stock, other than to tell my client I thought she should consider 110#, 120# or 130# cover stock weight.

Taking Press Requirements into Account

To begin, since my client wants a 12” x 9” pocket folder (oblong) instead of a 9” x 12” pocket folder (upright), and since she wants a 6” vertical pocket on the back cover of the pocket folder, I stopped and did some math.

The flat size for such an offset printed product would be 30” wide (12” + 12” + 6” pocket) plus bleeds, plus gripper margin (the part of the printing press that pulls the press sheet through the equipment) and any printer’s marks, color bars, etc.

I know that press widths go all the way up to 50”+ (or probably more). I also know that press sheets come in various sizes. However, now it was time to get more specific.

Since I already had received five bids on the job, I needed to look closely at each printer’s press equipment. It so happened that the lowest bidder had an offset press that could accept a maximum 30” press sheet. The second lowest bid was from a printer with a 40” press. In this case the pocket folder flat size would not be a problem, but the first printer could not handle a 30” unfolded pocket folder on their maximum sized press sheet.

At this point—fortunately–my client is considering an 8” wide front cover and 12” wide back cover for the pocket folder. (The job is morphing as she considers design options and pricing for the custom pocket folders.) This option would fit on the first printer’s 30” press (8” + 12” + a 6” pocket = 26”).

But What About the Paper?

Having the proper press doesn’t necessarily mean having the proper paper. The weight of cover stock (I had suggested 110#, 120#, or 130# cover stock) is the weight of 500 sheets (one ream) of paper at the basic cover size of 20” x 26”.

(Text stock has a different “basic size,” which is 25” x 38”. This is actually why you can measure sheets of 100# cover stock and 100# text stock with a caliper, and the cover stock will be much thicker than the text stock. It is because the basis weight of the cover stock and text stock are determined using different press sheet sizes.)

That said, a 20” x 26” sheet would not be large enough for the flat, unconverted custom pocket folder my client wants (even with the short fold on the front cover). You’d still need room for bleeds, gripper margin, printer’s marks, color bars, etc. What to do?

Fortunately, even though paper is weighed at the basic size (“basis weight” at the “basic size”), you can still buy paper that is of different dimensions. For instance, if you’re a printer, you can buy 25” x 38” text stock, or you can buy 28” x 40” text stock, depending on the size of your press.

But what sizes of cover stock can you buy? I wanted to check and make absolutely sure. Furthermore, cover stock comes “coated one side” (C1S) or “coated two sides” (C2S). More specifically, you would be more likely to find a cover stock measured in “points” (thousandths of an inch) that would only be coated on one side (such as 12pt C1S). For paper that is coated on two sides, you would be more likely to select a 120# white gloss cover stock, for instance (which would normally come coated two sides).

So how is this relevant? If my client wants to print on both the inside and outside of her custom pocket folder, she will need a C2S sheet (the printing would look different on the two sides of a C1S sheet). Now in many cases, you wouldn’t print on the inside of a pocket folder. You’d leave it white. After all, the pockets are on the same side of the press sheet as the front and back covers until you convert the job (fold up and glue the pockets).

More Paper Choices to Consider

So I had to find out my client’s plans. Did she want to print 4-color on one side or two sides?

To be safe I went to two websites:

  1. First I went to a paper comparison website that listed paper weights side by side for bond, cover, text, ledger, etc. (all weighed at different basic sizes). The website even included point sizes, allowing you to compare one sheet to another (on an approximate basis, since paper thickness still varies from one paper brand to another). So, for instance, you can see that 120# cover stock is roughly the same as 15pt. C1S paper. This will be very useful information depending on whether my client will need to print on one or two sides of the custom pocket folder press sheet.
  2. With this information in hand, I wanted to make sure the proper press sheet sizes existed. So I went to the International Paper website. (I looked for Carolina Coated cover since I know it is a good C1S sheet.) Fortunately it comes in 23” x 39” and 25” x 38” (for the first printer’s 30” press, he can just cut down the sheet, but for the second printer’s 40” press he can use the sheet as is). So paper size and press size need not be deal breakers, depending on which of the two printers my client prefers. For the C2S option, for now I picked a paper at random: Kallima cover. The website noted custom pocket folders as a good use for the paper. Fortunately, it also noted availability in 24” x 36” sheets. Again, although this is too large for the first printer’s 30” press, he can cut the sheet down to size. It’s always better to cut down a large sheet than to not have a large enough sheet in the first place.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Think in terms of the flat size of a commercial printing product. How large must the press sheet be, and how many copies of a job can you fit on a sheet?
  2. Also think about the size of your printer’s press and the maximum sheet size it will accommodate. Your printer probably has an equipment list with this information on his website.
  3. Check paper websites to make sure the proper sized press sheet exists, and then leave it to your printer to buy as much paper stock as he needs for your job.

Posted in Pocket Folder Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: A Color-Swatch Book on a Shoestring

September 15th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

I have a printing client who needs to produce multiple color books cheaply. I’ve been working with her over the past year and have written blog postings about her books.

Picture a handful of color swatch books similar to PMS swatch books or process color build books. They will be small, only about 1” x 3”, with a screw-post binding. All pages will be drilled, and a metal screw and post assembly will not only hold them together but will also allow them to be fanned out. Or, you can select just one page for a particular color.

You’d probably find something like this at the paint store as well, or at a hardware store. But this is for a “fasionista,” a client who deals in make-up, skin coloration, hair tones, and clothing. I think this is fascinating, and it shows the importance of functional custom printing as well as marketing or informational printing. This product is a tool as well as a print book.

On the front of the pages is a color swatch bleeding on all four sides and defined as a percentage of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black toner. On the back of each page is descriptive material relating to fashion and cosmetics.

Now here’s the rub. My client is a small-business owner, and she will be working on a shoestring. The price the designer I had initially secured for her had quoted for print book design was just too high to meet her budget. Understandably she has therefore chosen to do the production job herself now that she has the money to print the books.

This is a rather large undertaking, but it can be broken down logically. There will be 16 original books, each containing about 60 different colors. The text on the back of the pages will be different as well. However, many of the same colors will appear in all books along with their explanatory material. So it’s really just a huge database comprising 16 print books based on the same page grid, with the same sized text.

The Solution

I presented a solution to make sure the printer would be able to produce the books (digitally on a Kodak NexPress, assuming a print run of 50 copies of each book; the job will be reprinted as my client sells these color swatch books and receives further funds). I created two InDesign templates for the book printer (and also for my client):

  1. A single page for a test run including about five sample color pages (colors with bleeds and trim marks) as well as a number of text-only pages, and the front and back cover. My client will see just what the pages will look like when printed on the digital press on the specific paper she has chosen. She will be able to check their appearance, but she will also be able to check their durability and rub resistance.
  2. A template (at the exact printing size) of the front and back of a single page (or rather a single leaf, or two pages). This shows the position of the drill hole, the bleed line for the color swatches, and the live-matter margin for any text. I also included some text (to show the typeface and type size).

Now the printer will benefit from these templates in that he can “pass” or “no pass” them based on the needs of his particular digital printing equipment. Any flaws will be visible before the onset of page production, and the template can be adjusted accordingly. No time will be wasted producing 16 books x 60 pages that will not be completely acceptable to the printer.

In addition, these templates will benefit my client.

My client has just signed up for one Adobe Creative Cloud application, InDesign, for a monthly fee of about $20.00. This will fit her budget. And with some online training, she will be able to produce the art files for the job herself. If she has difficulties and needs support, I can get her “unstuck.”

Why This Will Work

I would not expect a complete novice at print book design to do a complex job. However, if you break down this job into its fundamental components, you have a front and back cover (my client will need to learn how to place TIFF artwork in her file along with a little text), and you have color swatch pages and text pages. That’s it. My client will be using the template I created to help her with the page size and margins.

For the color pages, she will need to open up the color window in InDesign and change the percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. (She will also need to learn how to add pages to her document and copy picture boxes and text boxes for placement in successive pages.)

Beyond this, the job will really be more of an organizational task than a design task. I think it will actually be a good first project for a novice print book designer. And it will save my client a lot of money to do the job herself.

What You Can Learn

If you’re new at design, but you want to do a simple, but perhaps long, job yourself to meet your budget, here are some thoughts:

  1. You don’t need to buy page composition software outright. You can, essentially, rent it on a month to month basis through Adobe Creative Cloud. (If this doesn’t appeal to you, there are older versions of software you can buy through such venues as eBay. Or you can choose page composition packages that are not the most popular or the most comprehensive—but that cost less. You can even get page composition software for free if you run your computer on the Linux operating system.)
  2. If you need help, you can hire a designer to create a template for your project. Then you can fill in the text and images knowing the job will meet design specs and printer requirements. I’d only do this for simple jobs such as rudimentary print books, flyers, stationery, etc. You can probably even find templates online.
  3. Think outside the box. If you need to do something and it’s too expensive, open your mind to the options. This also holds true for custom printing processes. If, for example, you can’t afford to emboss a design on the front of your print book, ask your printer about using gloss varnish to highlight an image and make it stand out. It might not be as dramatic as an embossed design, but it may just fit your budget.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Limited Edition Metal Can Printing

September 13th, 2015

Posted in Metal Can Printing | Comments Off

I was shaving this morning and noticed something intriguing. There were dinosaurs on my shaving cream can.

I wasn’t hallucinating. Rather I was noticing the co-branding effort between the the Jurassic World movie “franchise” (no longer just a “movie”) and the shaving cream manufacturer.

Actually, the first thing I saw was the “limited edition” notation at the top of the can, and this started me thinking.

My first thought was that the can must have been printed via some digital technology. Since I wasn’t sure how cans were printed in the first place, I took out my printer’s loupe and looked closely at the halftone patterns on the can. I was surprised to see the rosettes of actual halftone dots set at the proper angles (called “irrational angles”) for offset custom printing. So my initial premise was wrong. This was not digital custom printing (no minuscule inkjet spots and no laser halftone screens). So the limited edition was presumably not so limited.

How Are Cans Printed?

First of all, I had no idea, so I went online. My first thought was that metal sheets had been offset printed and then converted into cans. I was wrong. Actually, the offset printing paradigm, complete with the press blanket, prints right on the cylindrical metal can. The trick is that the can is “spun,” so the flat offset press blanket surface can lay down ink on the can’s curved surface. I thought this was rather ingenious. It also reminded me of how cylindrical objects can be spun under flat custom screen printing presses. The key in both cases is that the cans are held rigidly and spun precisely.

Once the ink has been applied, the cans go through an oven (much like the ovens following the inking units on a heatset web press). These ovens dry (or cure) the offset ink and the clear, protective varnish coating.

Interestingly enough, since this traditional offset process involves high energy usage (and other drawbacks such as a huge amount of space required for the equipment), the use of UV inks cured with light rather than heat is gaining a strong foothold in can printing.

So there you have it: a shaving cream can with two pterodactyls in mid-flight, one flying across the red and white striped branding of the shaving cream can. In addition, there are two logos: one for the movie and one for the shaving cream.

A Multi-Channel Marketing Opportunity

The idea is intriguing, and the execution is crisp, but this sample can grabbed my attention for an additional reason. The marketers who created the graphic design knew the value of “co-branding.” In cases like these, the brand equity of each company rubs off on the other company’s brand. The shaving cream company is considered to be ingenious for providing a limited-edition can that stands out on the shelves (presumably no other shaving cream cans have pterodactyls in their graphic design) as well as fun-loving for supporting the Jurassic World movie franchise.

Going even further, the can takes advantage of new electronic media. You can go to the shaving cream website and learn about the movie. You can also participate in an online contest pertaining to a shaving cream can (apparently) relevant to the movie.

When you consider the online imagery and the contest you come away with a handful of marketing truths:

  1. People like games. In fact, the area of marketing in question is called “gamification.” Games and contests take advantage of people’s competitive spirit while keeping them “engaged” with the brand.
  2. Multiple exposures to a brand foster consumer spending. People also like seeing a brand on both a physical object and online. In this case you see the same dinosaurs on the shaving cream website that you just saw on the can. Moreover, you can see that there are multiple versions of the limited edition cans showcasing different dinosaurs.
  3. People respond to scarcity. If a limited commercial printing edition of two different dinosaur-branded shaving cream cans can be bought, people will want them. People want to own something that’s in short supply (like gold and diamonds).
  4. People like to play and have fun. Why else would someone put dinosaurs on a can of shaving cream?

The Take-Away

As graphic designers, you are also all marketers. Every piece you design is an advertisement for your company and for your own design skills. Consider the aforementioned marketing truths. You might find them directly applicable to your own design work. Even if you never design a metal can, these points of information can be applied to many other marketing, branding, co-branding, and multi-channel marketing initiatives.

Posted in Metal Can Printing | Comments Off

Book Printing: Don’t Blindly Trust Delivery Paperwork

September 10th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off

Part of being a good print buyer is being a proficient sleuth when it’s necessary. When something seems confusing or goes wrong, or when you just can’t get the answer you need, it pays to do your own research. Not all responses to your questions, however confident in their tone, will be accurate—no matter how well intentioned.

The Setting of the Delivery Snafu

A client of mine just had 5,000 6” x 9” perfect-bound books printed. They are government textbooks, and all but 100 copies were slated for delivery to the fulfillment house. Boxed in cartons of 20 print books each, the total run comprised 250 boxes. The fulfillment house needed to receive 245 boxes, and my client’s office needed to receive 5 boxes (the aforementioned 100 books).

To ensure accurate delivery, my client went out to the fulfillment house and counted the copies noted on the pallet flags (paper notations on the wrapped skids of cartoned print books). The total added up to 250 boxes of 20 copies each.

Unfortunately, this didn’t make sense, since the total would have left no boxes for my client’s office. So I called the book printer.

The printing sales rep at the book printer did some research and told me the truck had left the plant with both deliveries (my client’s office copies and the fulfillment house’s copies). According to the delivery manifest, the five-box delivery at the client’s office had occurred, and then the 245-box delivery at the fulfillment house had occurred shortly thereafter. If the pallet description of the boxed books said there were 250 boxes, this meant there were 100 overs (100 more copies than requested by my client)—and the printer said my client could have them free of charge.

Not Quite Enough Information

This offer sounded good, but I didn’t like the lack of certainty. I trusted the sales rep completely, but I wasn’t absolutely sure had had been given accurate information by his delivery people. Moreover, holding more copies of the books than needed at the fulfillment house might incur an extra charge. Either the fulfillment house would need to store them (for a fee) or deliver them to my client (for a fee). My client had ordered the total she needed for the end-users. More copies could be a nuisance.

So I called my client and asked whether the office copies had been delivered. She hadn’t been to the office yet, so she wasn’t absolutely sure. Then again, her boss had said he liked the books. To me that meant they had been delivered (or her boss wouldn’t have been able to review a copy). My client agreed. So I called the book printer’s customer service rep.

The customer service rep had done some digging. Apparently, the five cartons of books had been removed from the wrapped skids. Five boxes had been removed, but the pallet flags had not been altered, so they still noted a 250-box delivery. Moreover, there was no notation of overage anywhere.

With all of this information, I approached my client:

  1. For the 5,000-copy press run, a total of 250 boxes (20 books x 250 boxes = 5,000 books) had been produced and delivered (according to the delivery manifest).
  2. No printer paperwork mentioned any overs.
  3. According to my client, a delivery had been made to her office (of how many boxes, we weren’t certain).
  4. The CSR had found written evidence that five boxes had been removed from the total and delivered to the client’s office, even if this had not been noted on the wrapped skids of books that arrived at the fulfillment house.

Therefore, the greater probability was that:

The driver had left the printer with 250 boxes on skids. He had broken out five boxes upon his arrival at my client’s office and had neglected to note this on the skids. Then he had driven to the fulfillment warehouse and had delivered 245 boxes of books. And there were no overs.

How You Can Use This Information

  1. A number of people were involved in this state of confusion. Each had only a piece of the total picture of what had happened. Only when all of their respective stories were compiled did the most likely explanation appear.
  2. So in your own print buying work, when something seems amiss or confusing, the best thing you can do is gather information from as many people as possible. Start with the sales rep and the customer service rep. Have them check all delivery manifests. Have them also check for any miscellaneous scribbled notes left in haste by any truck drivers.
  3. All of this points to the value of a long-standing, mutually supportive partnership between the client and the vendor. In your own work, a book printer with whom you have forged a partnership will be more likely to take the time to help remedy a problem. Someone new might just become defensive. A partner will work with you to resolve the difficulty to your satisfaction.
  4. Remember that just because something has been written down, it is not necessarily accurate. It may also be incomplete. However, it’s still useful to review delivery manifests (or any other kind of work order, should your particular problem not be related to delivery).
  5. Remember that printing involves many steps (scheduling, prepress, printing, finishing, cartoning, and delivery, just to name just a handful), and these steps involve many people. People are fallible. Some print jobs will invariably have problems. If you realize this, you will be less likely to approach the printer from a position of blame and more likely to approach the issue along with your printer with an eye towards its successful resolution.

Posted in Book Printing, Soft Cover Book Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: One Printer’s Best Sales Practices

September 2nd, 2015

Posted in Printing | 6 Comments »

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

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

The Job Cost vs. Its Final Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And She Sent Photos, Too

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Printing | 6 Comments »

Large Format Printing: Two More Unique Standees

August 30th, 2015

Posted in Standees | Comments Off

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

Mission: Impossible

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn

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

The Good Dinosaur

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Can Learn

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

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

Use these building blocks in your next design piece.

Posted in Standees | Comments Off

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