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

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Book, Magazine, and Catalog Printing: Printer Spreads

January 30th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

A print brokering client of mine who is producing a graphic novel sent me a thumbnail-size layout of her print book a few days ago. The physical printing requirements of this 8.5” x 10.875” book, which will be produced on a heatset web press, were a lot easier to comprehend when all the pages were presented as a complete book, even in a small, low-resolution format.

I had mentioned in a prior blog that the print book, as provided in this low-res version, comprised 208 consecutive numbered pages. My client presented pages that would appear side by side as two-page spreads. For the two gatefolds, she presented sets of three connected pages (for each side of each gatefold). All pages were numbered consecutively.

The Printer’s Response

When I sent the PDF of the complete book to the printer, he responded by creating a signature by signature layout showing exactly how the job would be laid out on press. His layout included no thumbnail images of pages; rather, it just showed the numbered pages as they would appear on a press sheet.

More specifically, in contrast to the series of two-page spreads my client had provided (which is what the reader would see: i.e., each set of two pages side by side), the printer laid out the pages in 32-page signatures. His diagram showed which pages would be on either side of the press sheet for each 16-page signature that would be run simultaneously. (Two web rolls would be run at the same time. The first roll would run through the press inking units on the top of the press, and a second web of paper would run several feet below the first. Then, the two 16-page signatures would be combined into a single 32-page signature at the delivery end of the press.)

Comparing the Two Layouts

Essentially, these are two models of the same print book. I would even go further, saying that these are two approaches that you can apply to any press signature work, including full size case-bound and perfect bound books as well as smaller booklets and even catalogs and magazines. The key similarity is that all of these custom printing products involve press signature work.

Signature work essentially refers to a layout of 4-page, 8-page, 16-page or 32-page groupings (or in some cases even more pages) laid out on the top and bottom of a press sheet.

This pertains to both sheetfed printing and web offset printing. In all cases the signatures are folded and trimmed, and then either stacked on top of one another or nested together (one signature slipped into another for saddle-stitched binding).

In the case of my client’s graphic novel, the printer’s version of the layout separated out the 4-page cover and the two 6-page gatefolds (3 pages on either side of each gatefold) from the rest of the print book. This left 192 text pages that would be numbered consecutively.

When grouped this way by the printer, the book pages showed exactly where the breaks would be between each of the six 32-page signatures. My client can now place a gatefold or any other insert (such as a bind-in card) between these signatures. Using the printer’s layout, she can see exactly where these breaks occur.

Both my client and the printer can also see which pages fall in line on the press sheet, and since the print book will have heavy coverage ink on many of the pages, both my client and the printer will be able to see where potential color conflicts may occur. For instance, if a heavy coverage solid magenta background will be in line (in the direction the paper travels through the press) with a photo of faces (requiring less ink coverage), this might result in a reddish cast in the faces. A knowledgeable printer (and client) may foresee this early in the process and seek options for avoiding these problems.

How to Print the Covers

I asked the printer about producing the covers on a sheetfed press. A 5,000-copy press run of a print book cover would lend itself to sheetfed offset due to the low copy count, particularly when you consider that multiple copies of the 4-page cover would be laid out on the press sheet. In this case the printer only has web offset capabilities, so the covers will be printed on his web press. Due to the low number of covers needed, this will be a very quick press run.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Ask your custom printing supplier if he has web-offset or sheetfed-offset capabilities. Web presses are good for multi-signature catalogs, magazines, and books. If your printed product includes color and will be printed on a coated sheet, you will need access to a heatset web press. In fact, if you will have a lot of pages, it would be wise to look for a full-web press (as opposed to a half-web press). If you’re printing black ink only or process color on uncoated paper, you can look for a non-heatset web press (some people call this a cold-set web). Such presses have no ovens to flash dry the ink on the coated paper stock.
  2. Look at the printed product both as a printer would (with the pages laid out as signatures) and as a reader would (with pages laid out side by side in multiples of two pages). The former will help you identify potential printing problems; the latter will show you potential graphic design issues (since readers see two pages at a time).
  3. Discuss with your printer any inserts (such as bind-in cards) that you want to include. Talk about exactly where they can be placed. In some cases, you can split signatures in two, but this will require more press wash-ups and plates, so it will be a more expensive option. But if you need an insert to appear in a specific position in your catalog, magazine, or print book, it helps to have signature options.
  4. Remember that whether you’re printing a book, a magazine, or a catalog, you’re essentially approaching the job in the same way: as a series of press signatures that will be printed flat and then folded and trimmed.

Posted in Book Printing, Catalog Printing, Magazine Printing | Comments »

Book Printing: Determining Signature Configurations

January 23rd, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Within the last twenty-four hours two print brokering clients of mine made erroneous assumptions about press signatures within print books, and I made one as well. I’d like to share all of these with you so you will be better aware of how to determine press signature configurations.

Adding an Eight-Page Photo Signature to a Book

The first client emailed me to discuss the position of an eight-page photo signature in a 512-page, 5.5” x 8.5” print book. She asked whether it had to go dead center in the book, or whether it could be positioned anywhere else.

First of all, it was a reasonable question. The 512-page book length broke down into sixteen 32-page signatures. Therefore, since the photo signature (being printed on a matte coated sheet) had to be separate from the other book pages (all of which were to be on uncoated text), it would need to be inserted between signatures.

The printer made it clear that the book ideally would be composed of 32-page signatures. So the photo insert signature could go between any of these (32 + insert +32 + 32, etc., or anywhere else between signatures). Actually, if my client wanted to do so, she could put the photo signature between 16-page signatures as well. That is, she could break one of the 32-page signatures into two 16-page signatures. This would not be as efficient (that is, it would be more expensive), but it would be an option.

Where my client made her mistake was to assume that the 8-page photo signature was to be counted in the total length of the print book. It was not.

Here’s how to specify the book parameters: 512 uncoated text pages plus an 8-page coated insert plus the 4-page cover.

To make things more complicated, my client’s book begins with approximately thirty Roman numeral pages. This does not change the book length. My client will begin the front matter with “i” and end with “xxx.” Then she will start the text itself with “1” and paginate the book through “482” because all of these are text pages on the same uncoated stock, equaling 512 pages.

Reconfiguring a Print Book to Add Gatefolds, Inserts, and a Cover

Another print brokering client is producing a graphic novel, a truly fascinating project. The book started as a 160-page plus cover product. It had three gatefolds and two other inserts as well. Over time the book expanded a bit. Recently, the total page count based on a series of thumbnail images had risen to 208 pages.

I looked closely at the thumbnails and accompanying notes since I planned to request a revised estimate from the book printer. The first thing I noticed was that the page count was divisible by 16. Since this book was slated for printing on a heatset web press, I was pleased with the page count (divisible by 16, or thirteen 16-page signatures, or six 32-page signatures plus one 16-page signature).

However, upon closer examination, I saw notes accompanying the thumbnail images suggesting the cover had been incorporated into the total page count. Since the text paper was only 50# gloss text, I was concerned. After all, a self-cover book with 50# text paper throughout would feel like a directory, not a print book. The book really needed a cover. (This cover had initially been specified on 80# cover stock.) So I brought this discrepancy to my client’s attention.

(Once my client adjusts the pagination to add a four-page cover, the book will be 208 pages plus cover–as opposed to 208 pages self-cover.)

However, upon further review, I saw that the two gatefolds (six pages each) had been counted into the 208-page print book length. Since the gatefolds were to be printed on 70# text (so they would stand out from the other text pages), they needed to be considered inserts, not book pages.

Therefore, the most accurate description of the graphic novel will be as a book with a 196-page text block, plus two 6-page gatefolds, plus a four-page cover.

To complicate matters, my client needs to know where to put the two gatefolds and two other inserts (a postcard and a record). To determine this, she will need to know the number of pages in the book printer’s press signatures.

To determine this, I called the printer and made an erroneous assumption. Assuming the 8.5” x 10.875” format would only allow for placement of sixteen pages on a 38” full-heatset web roll, I went on to assume the printer could not produce 32-page signatures. I was wrong.

This book printer’s equipment, according to the sales rep, could run two web rolls parallel to one another in the press (one above the other). These would then be married at the delivery end of the press. So even though only sixteen pages would fit in a signature (eight pages per side), two signatures would be printed simultaneously.

Now this poses a problem for my client. Presumably there will be six 32-page signatures plus a 4-page signature (done expensively with hand-work). Therefore, my client will be able to position the inserts (the two 6-page gatefolds plus the post card and vinyl record) anywhere between the 32-page signatures or between a 32-page signature and the 4-page signature. (She might also break a 32-page signature into two 16-page signatures and insert one of the bind-ins between the 16-pagers.)

The big question is where the 4-page signature will go. My best advice to my client is for her to make a dummy of the print book on the computer (thumbnail images) with all inserts placed as she intends them to be, and then ask the book printer for feedback (and/or corrections).

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Using Photos Effectively

January 17th, 2015

Posted in Photos | Comments »

I found a very simple and accessible book on design at a thrift store recently. It was written by Robin Williams and John Tollett, and it’s called Design Workshop.

If you are a custom printing designer, I would encourage you to make it a regular practice to analyze printed products like brochures and billboards, as well as design books like Design Workshop, in order to maintain and even improve your design skills. Stephen R. Covey (business self-help guru) calls this “sharpening the saw,” and I’ve always been a strong believer in continuously practicing the fundamentals of the craft of commercial printing and design.

Improving Your Photos

I recently reviewed some photos for a print book with a brokering client, and a number of Williams’ and Tollett’s suggestions would have improved the photos. They will be printed on matte coated stock in an eight-page photo signature bound into the middle of the print book. Some of the photos have more of a “snapshot” look. That is, they look amateurish. Fortunately, a lot of Williams’ and Tollett’s suggestions can be applied to these snapshots to turn them into more professional-looking “photographs.”

The section of Design Workshop to which I refer addresses the creative and effective use of photographic images. Here is a short list of the book’s suggestions:

Be Conscious of the Background

Consider where the subject of the photo is placed relative to the background. If a stovepipe in the background appears to be growing out of the subject’s head (i.e., is directly behind her or him), move your vantage point, as the photographer, to the left or right to remedy this. Although this sounds like common sense, it’s very easy, when you’re taking a photo, to only think about the person you’re photographing and to forget the background.

(Design Workshop does not address this directly, but if you have been provided with photos and the only photo you have to work with has a stovepipe or other item behind the subject, consider silhouetting the image.)

Avoid Clutter

Consider the clutter in the background when you’re taking a photo. Keep it simple. Also, if distracting elements like furniture extend into the photo from outside the “picture frame,” move them or change your vantage point for the photo. Even something like a window in the photo can be distracting. The bright sunlight coming into the room can take your viewer’s or reader’s attention away from the main subject. In short, always consider photo composition.

(Design Workshop does not address this directly, but if you use Photoshop’s cropping tool creatively, you can improve images if you only have photos with cluttered backgrounds. Severely cropping into any of the distracting elements in the photos can minimize their impact.)

Consider How the Viewer’s Eye Moves Around the Photo

Think about the reader’s eye movement through a photo. In Design Workshop, Williams and Tollett include a photo of a series of motorcycles riding away from the viewer through what appears to be mud. You cannot see any faces, but the photo is interesting because your eye moves from the largest motorcycle in the foreground (front right), through the middle ground (a smaller motorcycle, due to its distance from the viewer) to the background at the upper left of the image (the smallest motorcycle, since it’s the farthest away from the viewer). In the distance, you can see a line of trees. The photo is interesting because of its great depth of field, from the foreground images to those in the background, and because of the way the photographer leads the viewer’s eye through the image.

Shoot from Unique Vantage Points

Williams and Tollett also encourage you to take photos from unique vantage points. They include a photo of people around a table eating a meal. In this case the photographer shot the image from above, presumably from a balcony. What makes this image work is that it flouts expectations. You expect an image of a dinner to be shot from the same level as the diners. Shooting it from above provides more of a focus on the interactions among the diners and deemphasizes the individual people at the table. It becomes more of a design, or pattern. Also, the angle of the table (diagonal to the picture plane) makes for a more dynamic composition.

Crop Photos Wisely

Design Workshop includes two variations of a photo of a couple in a chair or loveseat looking at a candle. It’s very romantic, but the original photo is also cluttered. By cropping severely into the image (just above the man’s eyes, leaving just a little of his forehead) and leaving the candle just inside the left-most crop of the image, the designer eliminates the clutter while focusing on the two faces and the candle. This is a dynamic balance (and a good way to remedy a busy photograph).

What You Can Learn from Williams and Tollett’s Design Workshop

Photos add drama and personality to a layout for a commercial printing job. Learn to analyze them critically, and look for those specific attributes that will make the images—and the layout of your print book, brochure, or large format print—both striking and memorable.

Posted in Photos | Comments »

Book Printing: Analyzing a Book Production Schedule

January 13th, 2015

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

I just received the following schedule for a print book a brokering client of mine intends to produce. I think you might find it illuminating in your own print buying work, since it addresses some areas that could be confusing, or that you might inadvertently forget to consider.



With “approval” F&Gs
Prepayment to printer: xx/xx
Final PO or signed quote with firm page count and order quantity: xx/xx
Order paper: xx/xx
Files in: xx/xx
Proofs out: xx/xx
Proofs returned: xx/xx
Paper due: xx/xx
Press date range: xx/xx- xx/xx (Sheet for cover and web for text)
F&Gs: should go out xx/xx; xx/xx is the approval required by date
(no need to return F&Gs since printer will have a set on hand)
Binding: xx/xx- xx/xx
Planned ship date: xx/xx
Delivery to xxxxxx, xxxxxx, and xxxxxxx: xx/xx or xx/xx


I have deleted the dates and delivery information for the sake of simplicity.

Here are some thoughts. You will note that most commercial printing contracts do not include such detailed schedules as this. In most cases, this kind of a schedule is what you would expect from a supplier dedicated to book printing.

Approval vs. Confirming F&Gs

The “approval” F&Gs are folded and gathered book signatures prior to binding. It’s smart to review a copy. If you see a printing problem, you can ask the supplier to reprint a signature before binding the print book. This is not a place to edit. Only such printing problems as overinking, streaking, or similar press errors would warrant a reprint. Make sure it’s a printing problem, or you’ll pay for the reprint. A bad photo you submitted that looks worse when printed doesn’t qualify. That said, it is cheaper (on your dime) to reprint a signature than to reprint the entire book, so if you find a horrendous error, sometimes it’s worth the expense to pay to reprint a signature.

“Approval” means the printer stops production (does not proceed with binding) until you have signed off on the F&G. The alternative to an “approval” F&G is a “confirming” F&G. When you receive a confirming F&G, the printer proceeds with binding the book while you are reviewing the F&G. He doesn’t wait for your approval. Obviously, an “approval” F&G is safer. However, receiving one may lengthen the book production schedule, so negotiate this in advance with your book printer.

Prepayment vs. Credit

If you choose to establish credit with a printer, he will probably bill you (net-15 or net-30, or whatever you arrange with him). If for whatever reason you would prefer to not have a credit check, you will probably need to pay the entire cost of the job (plus ten percent, for some printers, to account for overage) prior to the commencement of the job. In fact, the printer may ask for this amount very early. The reason is that he will need to pay for your paper purchase up front, and the cost of paper for a book printing job can be a large percentage of the total cost of the book. To be safe in such a case, ask your printer when he will need funds to buy paper to support the schedule.

Firm Page Count and Order Quantity

Basically, you overpay for the job, and then your book printer sends you a refund (if there is one) at the end of the job. Therefore, once you prepay, you have a little time to firm up the page count and quantity. Ask your printer for this cut-off date. After this date, no further changes in page count or quantity will be accepted.

At this point it’s also wise to ask about ideal page counts. Book printers often have web presses, and these large roll-fed presses run 32-page or 16-page signatures. For example, a 512-page book will consist of sixteen 32-page signatures (32 x 16 = 512). If you want to print 504 pages plus cover, you might actually pay more than you would for a 512-page book. This is due to the hand-work necessitated by the signature make up (15 32-page signatures plus one 16-page signature plus one 8-page signature–with hand collation).

Proofs Out and Proofs Returned

When you know when your proofs will be sent out, ask your printer for an estimated arrival date. In addition, when you send back the proofs with a signed approval, find out from your delivery service when the proofs will reach your printer. Don’t assume you have as long to check the proof and prepare revised art files as the time from the “proofs out” date to “proofs returned” date. (You need to allot time for the two-way shipping of the proofs.)

Sheet for Cover and Web for Text

In this particular case, my client’s printer will be producing 3,000 copies of a 512-page-plus-cover book. The text blocks (512 pages x 3,000 books) warrant a web press. However, the 3,000-copy cover print run will only need a sheetfed press.

Dates for F&Gs

Even “approval” F&Gs may not need to be returned (“confirming” F&Gs most probably won’t need to be returned either). Therefore, you will have the time from their arrival to their due date (without shipping—i.e., a longer time) to review them. However, reprints take time, so I’d encourage you to check the F&Gs carefully upon their arrival.

Planned Ship Date and Delivery Date

Some printers just note the ship date on the book printing schedule. To be safe, give the printer all delivery information (the quantity for each delivery point, the delivery point address, and the date needed) early in the process, and then ask for both the ship date and the estimated delivery date.

Depending on where your printer is, and on where the delivery points are, deliveries could occur at different times. If so, give your printer priorities as to which deliveries are urgent (book copies that will be sold, for instance) and which can be delivered a day or two later. Let the printer work out the best shipping method (full truck, LTL–or less than truckload, UPS Ground, etc.), but state your scheduling needs and discuss the options and costs with your printer.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: A Scary Ouija Board Poster

January 8th, 2015

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Poster Printing | 2 Comments »

I was out at a movie theater installing a standee this week, a large flat-card (an approximately 5-feet by 8-feet image on an easel structure) promoting an upcoming film. On my way out of the theater, I noticed a table with stacks of small posters, presumably for moviegoers to take home. I thought this was a novel idea. I found one that appealed to me and brought a part of the “moviegoing experience” back to my home as well.

The Design of the Poster

The take-home poster is approximately 30” wide by 5” tall. It’s very wide and squat, just like a huge bumper sticker. The front of the poster is primarily black: a dense, matte black that seems to soak up all surrounding light. Since the focus of the poster is the new movie Ouija, the dense black, which is highlighted with a gold plenum (the plastic, heart-shaped Ouija board reader with the clear round window for reading the letters on the board) and roughened, light green type for the title, seem to echo the sinister tone of the movie.

Furthermore, the typeface, color scheme, and imagery of the poster all bring back vivid memories of the spooky fortune-telling item from the 1960s.

The Technology Reflected in the Poster

When I look at the poster under a loupe, this is what I see:

  1. The back of the poster is a thick piece of acetate, very similar to the large format backlit signage I’ve seen in department stores. A layer of white ink noticeable around the edges of the black coating (visible through the loupe) suggests that the designer had added a ground of white to the clear or frosted acetate, both to intensify the black, gold, and green tones printed on the surface of the acetate and perhaps to diffuse the light if the poster were to be backlit.
  2. Close observation reveals the minuscule scatter dot pattern of either stochastic screening or inkjet printing. Given the plastic substrate, I would presume it is an inkjet product. That said, I asked myself how such a printed product could be cost-effectively produced. After all, for such a long run, I would assume that custom screen printing would be more efficient than inkjet. Then I had a thought. If this small poster were laid out (step and repeat) in huge numbers on a large sheet of acetate and then trimmed down to the approximately 30” x 5” dimensions, the operation would then presumably be quite efficient.
  3. As much as I tried to peel off the poster from the backing, I could not do so. From this I would surmise that the product is all of one piece. Instead of a paper or vinyl poster attached with adhesive to an acetate carrier sheet, the inkjet printed acetate sheet is the poster. Granted, this would make it hard for a moviegoer to mount the poster. It really would need to be inserted into some kind of light box (such as the backlit poster cases at movie theaters) to be optimally displayed.

The Poster as a Marketing Item

What makes this interesting to me is the comprehensive nature of the marketing campaign. I went online and found a video promotion for the Ouija film. Using modern make-up techniques, the promotional company had created a prosthetic device for the psychic reader. After the plenum moves around the board on its own (which is scary enough), landing on the letters “R,” “U,” and “N,” the psychic reader’s eyes actually bug out, and she says “Run!” Of course, the client sitting for the reading (presumably just a passer-by) screams for dear life. It’s scary and effective, and the poster I picked up at the movie theater allows me to bring home some of the magic (or terror). Tying the (multi-generational) Ouija board icon to the colors and typefaces of the poster, and then reinforcing the memories from the 1960s with the pressing question of whether or not “it’s just a game,” makes for a memorable experience. It creates “buzz” for the upcoming film using multiple touch points via multiple media (film, Internet, and poster).

What You Can Learn From This

Here are some thoughts for your own promotional design work:

  1. If possible, start with images or concepts that are well known, preferably over several decades. The Ouija board touches people brought up in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and later. It actually goes back much further as well, touching on Spiritualist practices of automatic writing. In short, the more well known the icon, the better. Dream images and concepts with roots in the unconscious, such as the ability to predict the future, can be exceptionally powerful.
  2. Use colors and typefaces that reinforce the tone of the design piece: particularly its underlying theme or concept. Use surface texture (dull or gloss coatings) to reinforce the theme as well.
  3. If at all possible, provide something the reader or viewer can take home with them, something physical. Every time I see this poster, I’ll get a chill. Screen printed cups, hats, calendars, and pens depend on this marketing concept, but be creative in your work. A print book or a large format print poster your clients can take home may be even more memorable.

Posted in Large-Format Printing, Poster Printing | 2 Comments »

Custom Printing: A Case Study on Printing Paper

January 2nd, 2015

Posted in Paper and finishing | Comments Off

A print brokering client of mine is producing a book. It will be 5.5” x 8.5” and perfect bound with French flaps. This client runs a small publishing house. Therefore, to make this print book consistent with others in my client’s series, I have specified Sebago IV 55# Antique finish, blue-white for the main text of the book.

For the eight-page insert of photos that will appear in the middle of the book, I specified Somerset Gloss 80# text.

Today I delivered sample sheets of both paper stocks to my client. I had received these through the commercial printing vendor, but he had requested them from the paper merchant, Lindenmeyr.

Interestingly enough, by accident—or just good fortune—the printer had requested Somerset Matte instead of Somerset Gloss. We’ll see if my client likes it. If not, we can go back to the gloss. I myself think the two sheets go together especially well since they both have a subdued appearance (the uncoated sheet against the matte sheet).

Paper Specification Breakdown

The preceding section may seem simple at first, or at least logical, but it reflects a number of technical and aesthetic decisions. It also ends with the presentation of samples to the client, who, after all, is the final arbiter.

Paper Weight

First of all, even though 55# text seems light, the Antique finish Sebago IV actually is rather thick and substantial. It feels like a 70# text sheet. This is because it has not been crushed and smoothed out in the calender rolls of the papermaking machine. This also accounts for its rough finish.

Because the main text stock is thick, I selected a thicker than usual gloss stock for the eight-page photo section. I chose 80# rather than 70# text weight. It feels more substantial than 70#, and even though it is thinner than the main text paper (Sebago IV has a bulk of 360 ppi and the Somerset Matte has a bulk of 456 ppi—lower numbers per inch equal thicker paper), the two feel compatible (with paper, the feel of the stock is what counts). If the photo section had been longer than eight pages, I might have suggested 70# matte or gloss text, since the goal would have been to avoid creating a bulky photo section.

Paper Brightness and Whiteness

Sebago IV is not particularly bright. It has a brightness level of 85 (out of 100). Therefore, the 88 brightness of the Somerset Matte will be visually consistent with the Sebago. The subdued nature of the paper (not overly bright) is perfect for a text-heavy print book. It will make reading the text easier on the eyes.

Both the main text paper and the matte coated sheet for the photos are a blue-white shade (as opposed to a cream white—or yellow-white) shade. I chose the same shade so the photo section would look compatible with the main text.

Paper Opacity

The Sebago IV sheet has an opacity (light blocking power) of 93 (out of 100), and the Somerset Matte has an opacity of 95. Given the thickness of the 80# stock for the photo section, this should be totally adequate to keep the reader from seeing the photos on the back of a page through the front of a page (this translucence, or show-through, might be more of an issue with 50#, 60#, and 70# paper weights).

Paper Availability

When I was negotiating a schedule with the commercial printing vendor’s customer service representative, she mentioned that the paper mills had warned of late deliveries. I took this very seriously for the following reasons:

  1. My client’s delivery date is firm. The print book distributor will charge late fees if the books are not delivered on time.
  2. The printer’s due date for a signed contract and commitment of funds will start the process of acquiring paper for the job. Since the printer can do nothing without paper, the date for the signed contract and funds transfer are actually more rigid than the date for submission of art files.

In general (as an aside), it is wise to remember that printers have long-standing relationships with paper merchants and paper mills. Your printer may be able to get a certain paper easily and on time, but if you choose a stock that is less readily available, this could not only be reflected in the overall price but also in the speed with which your commercial printing vendor can get the paper onto his factory floor. (Choose wisely, ask questions, and keep an open mind to paper substitutions.)

The Client Is the Final Arbiter

As noted before, my client will be the final arbiter, and nothing can help a client make a paper decision like paper samples: how they feel in the hand and how they look under various lighting conditions.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Make friends with your paper merchant. Get samples regularly and learn to understand paper terms like “caliper,” “bulk,” “whiteness,” “brightness,” “surface texture,” and “opacity.” This will help you compare paper samples.
  2. A good rule of thumb is that photos are more spectacular on a gloss coated sheet. Failing that, choose a matte coated sheet. If you choose an uncoated sheet for photos, have a good reason for doing so (since you won’t get the varied range of tones you would on a coated sheet due to uncoated paper’s increased ink absorbency).
  3. Talk to your printer about paper cost, but also discuss paper availability. Work all of this into your final schedule—early, so you’re not unhappily surprised by the delivery date.

Posted in Paper and finishing | Comments Off

Commercial Printing: More Benefits of Using a Broker

December 31st, 2014

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Writing the last PIE Blog article about print brokering work got me thinking. Since them I’ve come up with a few more benefits of working with a custom printing broker: the kinds of services I bring to my own commercial printing brokerage work and what I have seen in the work of other brokers.

Identifying Errors in Printing Bids and Clarifying Specifications

If you review a number of custom printing bids, even pertaining to the same project, you will see that all printers approach the bids somewhat differently. The order of specs may be different; the language may be different. It’s easy to miss something when comparing bids. You might even make the mistake of assuming the low bid is actually the low bid. After all, what if a printer has left something out of the estimate or substituted something. This could actually bring the price of the low estimate above the price of all the other estimates.

Here are a few examples:

  1. On a job I brokered recently for a client, I had specified Finch Opaque paper for the text of a print book due to its brilliant, bright-white character. The printer had substituted a different paper, and had only described it generally in the bid as an opaque sheet with a certain caliper (I don’t remember the exact “ppi” number). Because I knew Finch Opaque had a caliper of 416 ppi (pages per inch), I could see that the paper the printer had specified was not Finch Opaque. Only when I called to question the bid was I informed of the paper substitution. According to the printer, switching back to the initially requested Finch Opaque would have driven up the price by about $5,000 to $8,000. This meant that comparing one bid to another was not a true “apples to apples” comparison. A printing broker can catch substitutions such as this and bring them to a client’s attention.
  2. Another job referenced a C/W paper stock. White paper substrates come in a number of shades. Some are blue-white (or cool white); some are yellow-white (or warm white). The notation “C/W” can be misinterpreted as cool white. For this particular printer, however, it meant “cream white,” which would be the same as “yellow-white.” To distinguish C/W from its blue white counterpart, this printer uses the term “B/W.” This could be confusing if you’re thinking in terms of cool white and warm white paper. When I saw this, I asked for samples of the paper stock for the client—to make sure she would be happy with the final product. If you’re expecting your job to be printed on a bright white substrate and it comes back on a cream stock, that might be a catastrophe. A commercial printing broker can make sure this doesn’t happen.
  3. What if your job is late? A client of mine recently printed a number of different titles at the same printer simultaneously. Most of the jobs went to press on time, but one did not. It went to press two weeks late. For various reasons, the print book distributor needed all books at the same time. This meant holding all titles while the final book was printed. Unfortunately, this option would not work either. The book distributor needed copies early. Fortunately, I was able to work with the printer to come up with a different shipping option and an improved schedule. This is a service a printing broker can often provide. Because he or she can understand both the client’s needs and the needs of the printer (the physical limitations of the printing process plus the printer’s schedule), he or she can be a fair and often successful negotiator.

Understanding Printing Trade Customs

Did you know that a printer can send you (and bill you for) for up to 10 percent overs/unders (i.e., more or fewer copies than requested)? This means that a printer will usually produce more copies of a print book (for instance) than you have requested to account for spoilage (each of the printing and binding operations can ostensibly damage printed books or any other printed products). For a print book, for instance, the printer produces more press signatures than needed since a certain number will be destroyed by the perfect binding process. If the printer did not do this, the final number of completed print books would almost always be less than requested.

If you don’t know about the commercial printing trade custom regarding overs/unders, you might think the printer was trying to take advantage of you when the final bill arrives. Knowing the trade custom can help you avoid sticker shock when you get the bill. Conversely, it can provide the opportunity to negotiate a lower than 10 percent overage/underage policy. Of course, you can do this yourself, but if you don’t know about printing trade customs such as overage (or any number of other standards of the commercial printing industry), a printing broker can help.

Ship Date vs Delivery Date

You may need your print books on Februaray 15, and your printer may note in the estimate that the books will ship on February 15. Obviously this will get them to you late. If you don’t know to look for this discrepancy between the “shipping” date and “delivery” date, you might be unhappily surprised when it’s too late to change the schedule. A printing broker knows to look for such discrepancies.

What You Can Learn from This Discussion

As noted in the prior blog article, you may not need a printing broker. You may have the knowledge and time to do this yourself. Then again, you may actually appreciate having someone who knows exactly where to look in a printing contract for the kinds of miscommunications that might arise. In this sense, a custom printing broker is an advocate, kind of like a printing lawyer reading a contract for you and giving you advice. Sometimes this is just what you need.

Posted in Printing | 2 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Why You Might Need a Broker

December 29th, 2014

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

An active print brokering client of mine recently contacted the printer directly regarding a new job. This was a printer we had been using for a number of recent jobs. The printer contacted me immediately. He said he had made it clear that my client needed to present all new jobs directly through me, her commercial printing broker.

I was grateful that the printer had seen my value in the mix and had made it clear that my client could not go to him directly. However, this experience (which happens periodically) raised some questions. Why shouldn’t the client go directly to the printer? What do I as a print broker bring to the table that justifies my commission?

The following are some random thoughts on print brokering. Maybe you need one for your work. Maybe you don’t. It will depend on your level of knowledge of custom printing and on the time you have in your schedule to find appropriate vendors and coordinate their activities.

Finding the Ideal Match

A good printing broker is a matchmaker of sorts. Over many years, he or she has developed long-standing relationships with commercial printing vendors, often across the country or around the world. Once he or she understands your printing needs, he or she can find a vendor with the specific skills you need and the exact equipment appropriate for your custom printing job.

For instance, if you are producing a diecut set of keys printed on cover stock, with variable data to personalize the marketing piece, a printing broker can find a supplier skilled in both offset and digital printing, with experience in diecutting, hand assembly of complex jobs, packing (to make sure the promotional pieces will arrive at their destinations unharmed), and mailshop work.

Negotiating a Good Price

If you were able to pay less than you had expected overall for a custom printing job, would you mind that the final bill included a commission for the printing broker? Probably not, since your total bill would be less than expected. In terms of your budget, the total expense would look great, regardless.

A savvy printing broker can often save you hundreds or even multiple thousands of dollars by finding the most appropriate equipment for your job.

Let’s say you had been producing a print catalog on a sheetfed offset press. Perhaps the press run has been on the longish side, but you have been comfortable with a local sheetfed printer. In this case your printing broker might have an established relationship with a web-offset printer that could reduce your overall cost substantially by using this alternate offset printing technology (roll-fed rather than sheet-fed offset) that is more appropriate for longer press runs.

In addition, since your printing broker often brings a lot of work to his or her select printers, he or she can often get lower pricing than you can (this is called “broker pricing”). In these cases, you will benefit from the printing broker’s connections.

Fixing Problems

What happens when a job goes wrong? Maybe the lamination on the cover of your print book is showing bubbles underneath the coating and/or peeling up on the edges of the book. Who will stand behind you and negotiate a remedy (a discount, a total reprint, or a reprint of the cover and rebinding of the book)?

Moreover, who will know when to suggest reprinting the cover, and then hand-trimming and rebinding the print book, and staggering final deliveries to meet your client needs? Your printing broker.

A good printing broker has specialized knowledge acquired over many years (or decades) into how to remedy problems that occur on press and in post-press operations. At best, you have a trusted ally, an advocate, and a technician able to discuss problems with the printer and come up with the best remedy.

Why You Should Care

If you can do all of these things, more power to you. You don’t need a print broker. But if you’re stressed out because you already have too much to do, or if you need an expert (even for a specific job you’ve never confronted before), you might just consider this option.

And if you decide you need a commercial printing broker, how do you find one?

This is a tough question, since not all printing brokers will have the comprehensive level of experience you seek in your particular niche.

My best advice is to only approach a broker who comes recommended by people you trust. Referrals are essential. Otherwise, how do you know that he or she will have the specialized experience?

If that isn’t an option, interview the prospects carefully and ask them to describe problems that have occurred in jobs and how they solved them. Look for concrete, logical answers that reflect a deep knowledge of the printing process.

And remember that the more you know about a particular custom printing or finishing process–whether it be screen printing, inkjet printing, or offset printing—the more effective you will be in selecting the right commercial printing broker for your job.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off

Commercial Printing: How CD Labels Are Printed

December 20th, 2014

Posted in Label Printing | Comments Off

I just bought a CD at a thrift store, and I was struck by the beautiful artwork printed on the face of the disk. So I wondered how it had been printed. Then I pulled out a number of my CDs and noticed that some were printed differently from others. Unsure of what the options were, I went online and did some research. This is what I found.

Screen Printed CDs

CDs decorated with custom screen printing have a thick surface of ink. The ink has texture and gives an opulent sense to the product. Unfortunately, the surface of a CD has a number of different sections. Printing even the thick silkscreen inks directly over these three distinct portions (the regular surface, mirror band, and stacking ring of the CD) would produce an image with visible shifts from section to section. Therefore, laying down an initial background of white ink is preferable. The white is opaque, so it evens out the differences in the various “rings” of the CD.

In addition, the white ink also lightens colors printed over this background (since some custom screen printing inks are translucent). This avoids any dulling effect that might otherwise occur, since the unprinted, mirrored surface of the CD has a bit of a grayish tone (i.e., it is not pure white).

Halftones can be printed on CDs along with type and solid areas of ink. Many custom screen printing shops use lower frequency screens due to the thickness of the screen printing inks (such as a 100 lpi halftone screen). Because of this, fine detail in halftones can be lost. Therefore, it is wise to consider this limitation when choosing images for a CD label.

Some print shops, however, can print up to 200 lpi screens, which are more suited to the detail of full-color CMYK images.

Another thing to consider is the range of tones that can be captured on a screen printed CD. Unlike offset printing on paper, which may be able to hold detail from a 2 percent dot in the highlights to 90 percent dot in the shadows, a screen printed image may only have a tonal range of 15 percent to 85 percent. (Below 15 percent, the image would not print; above 85 percent, it would be solid ink.)

Finally, it’s wise to avoid gradations (also known as blends, which transition gradually from a lower to higher ink percentage). Since gradations are produced with halftone dots, since dot gain is a problem in custom screen printing, and since the photographic transfer of a gradation from film to the printing screen is not precise, there can be visible tonal jumps that show up as banding in screen printed gradations.

Even with all these caveats, screen printing is still ideal for longer runs of CD labels. The set up charge is higher than with digital printing (inkjet), but a long run will yield a much lower per-unit cost than will digital printing. In addition, the ink is thick and lush. I personally prefer the look. However, it does require forethought and the avoidance of certain problematic design elements.

Inkjet Printed Labels Affixed to CDs

I have seen labels that can be printed on inkjet printers, then peeled off a backing sheet (like a Crack’N Peel label) and affixed to the CD surface. This looks like an easy solution, but the labels do peel off the CDs occasionally and may damage the CD player (or computer optical drive). The main benefit I can see in adhesive labels for CDs, though, is the white background. As with screen printed CDs that have a white layer laid down beneath the colored ink, the white background of the paper CD labels does provide a bright, even ground for the inkjet inks.

Unlike screen printed CD labels, which require so much set-up work as to only be practical for very long runs, an adhesive label printed via inkjet technology can have a press run of a single CD label, and you can do the printing at home on your own inkjet printer.

Inkjet Printed CDs (Direct to CD)

Fortunately, inkjet printing has evolved over the years, and a number of inkjet printers now can print directly on the surface of a CD. The benefit of this process is that the label cannot peel up and damage the CD player or computer optical drive. The overall effect is also more aesthetically pleasing than a separate inkjet label (i.e., it avoids having a second layer).

If you look online, you will see images of inkjet printers with CD trays that can hold one, or even six or eight (or more) CDs in position for inkjet printing. These trays can be fed through small tabletop inkjet printers or larger commercial inkjet presses. In this way the CDs can be held in place and protected during the custom printing process.

Based on my research, it looks like the pretreated CDs for direct imaging have a layer of white (like gesso on a primed canvas board or stretched canvas). As noted in the description of the custom screen printing process, this white ground will both brighten the resulting inkjet image and also make it appear more consistent across the surface of the CD.

Unfortunately, due to the thinner consistency of inkjet inks, the printed image will not have the same thick, tactile feel as a screen printed product. However, it will allow you to print only a few (or a short run of) CDs with labels, since digital inkjet printing requires only minimal set-up time compared to custom screen printing.

Posted in Label Printing | Comments Off

Custom Printing: That’s Weird. How Do They Do That?

December 16th, 2014

Posted in Industrial Printing | Comments Off

Have you ever picked up a mug or a golf ball with a particularly interesting graphic and wondered how the manufacturer could possibly have printed it? After all, if most presses print flat images on flat substrates, just how can a graphic be printed on an irregular surface?

Or think about functional or industrial printing, in which the graphics are intended for informational rather than design or promotional purposes. How can a commercial printing supplier put a logo and text on the face plate of an appliance or a piece of electrical equipment when the surface is uneven?

Printing on Industrial Control Panels

I read an article today on Screen Web. “Printing on Porcupines” by Tamas Frecska (3/18/03) raises some intriguing issues in describing how to print on control boxes and other industrial components.

When you think about it, there are three options:

  1. pad printing (a direct printing option)
  2. decal printing (an indirect method, which is not as attractive or durable as the other options)
  3. and screen printing (a direct printing option)

Pad Printing

The first option, which I have described in prior blog articles, involves transferring an image from a gravure custom printing plate onto a silicone pad (like a bulb), and from the pad onto an irregular substrate (concave, convex, spherical, cylindrical, or uneven). For example, you would use such a process to print an image on a spherical golf ball. Since the silicone pad is flexible, it will compress as it is pressed down onto the golf ball, and the silicone surface will conform to the irregular surface as it deposits the ink.

Frecska’s article notes that such a technique might be appropriate for printing on an industrial control panel or box; however, the silicone pads are somewhat fragile. Therefore, the printing process would quickly damage them. The bolt heads and other protrusions on the industrial control panel would tear up the pad and require its frequent replacement.

In addition, silicone pads cannot be stored for long (and they quickly degrade, unlike custom screen printing equipment, for instance).

Finally, according to Frecska’s article, pad printing inks don’t adhere well to powder coated metal surfaces.

Printing and Affixing Decals

Frecska’s article goes on to note that decals would be another option for decorating a control panel with an irregular surface. For instance, you might print one decal for a logo, and then another decal for pertinent numbers or other information about the control panel. Then you would apply these to the powder coated metal individually. This way you could avoid all the metal pieces that stick up off the surface of the control panel.

The problem with this approach, according to Frecska’s article, is that in some cases regulatory agencies require that such functional printing be permanently attached to the surface of the control panel (or other industrial item). Adhesives of any kind are apparently not considered adequate. Therefore, you might even need to add rivets to the adhesive labels, which would not be efficient.

Furthermore, if you decide not to produce a series of individual small labels but rather to diecut holes for the protruding bolts and tags in one large label so it will lay flat, this process can become very expensive.

Screen Printing

In such a case as printing on an irregular surface of a control panel or box, custom screen printing would be ideal except for the fact that the bolts and other protruding elements of the control panel face plate would tear the screen. Or they would keep the screen from laying flat against the control panel or box. (For custom screen printing to work, the screen must maintain adequate contact with the substrate.)

So “Printing on Porcupines” by Tamas Frecska proposes an innovative solution. Cut holes in the screen to accommodate all the protruding parts of the control panel, or other industrial equipment, on which you’re printing.

Frecska notes that such a process would need to be manual (some custom screen printing is automated). However, he does not see this as being a problem since the print runs for such components are usually very small (100 to 1,000 copies).

Why This Is Relevant

You may wonder how this pertains to your work, particularly if you never produce design jobs for industrial or functional printing.

More than anything, an article like Frecska’s “Printing on Porcupines” can challenge you to ask the question, “How did they do that?” when you see a printed product that intrigues you.

In addition, this expanded mindset might lead you to consider not just one option, but rather multiple options, for custom printing your job. The more printing techniques you understand, the more options you have, and the more likely you are to find the most economical and most effective printing process for your particular project.

Finally, an article like “Printing on Porcupines” can open your mind to just how broad the field of custom printing really is. It extends well beyond promotional and educational materials into a huge realm of industrial or functional printing opportunities.

Nothing can benefit your career, or your craft, like keeping an open mind and expanding your awareness.

Posted in Industrial Printing | Comments Off

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