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

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Archive for the ‘Tags’ Category

Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

Monday, January 14th, 2019

I recently wrote a PIE Blog article about a client who needed hang-tags for her client’s restaurant.

Recap of the Job Specs and Intended Usage

More specifically, the job specs involve a 10,000-copy press run on 65# or 80# white smooth uncoated cover paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds. The trim size is 5 3/16″ x 2 11/16″.

Initially, the specs also included an option for a 100# text paper.

My client’s client plans to either tape these die cut hang-tags onto his pre-packaged restaurant food boxes or in some cases hang them on the boxes or other restaurant food items with a string through the drill hole on the tag. Because of this he wanted to make sure the paper for the hang-tags was not too heavy. After all, if the 130# or 170# double thick cover paper I had suggested had been used, the final die cut hang-tags would have been too rigid for the intended use.

Moreover, my client’s client plans to hand-print Thai glyphs related to the Asian restaurant on the preprinted hang-tags. (That is, the commercial printing vendor will print the logo and some other information related to the restaurant onto the hang-tags, and then the restaurant owner will add the hand-printed Thai glyphs.) It was for this reason that I suggested an uncoated, smooth printing stock. My client had also wondered about a matte coated sheet, but she was concerned that the hand-printed stamp ink might smear.

So be safe, we posed all of these questions to the owner of the commercial printing shop we had initially approached with this job. Since he was ideally suited to print the job (i.e., he had the right equipment), and since he tended to be reasonably priced, we decided to get only one price at this point. It would help us set the budget for my client’s client. It would also clarify some of the points of which we were unsure. We felt we could always solicit competitive bids later.

The Printer’s Answers

Right off the bat the custom printing supplier suggested not printing the tags on 100# text stock. He said the paper was too thin to be die cut effectively (i.e., the die cutting could be rough and uneven).

He also encouraged us to use an uncoated sheet rather than a matte coated sheet. He said the hand-printed stamp-pad ink would be less likely to smear on an uncoated sheet. In fact, even a non-gloss coating (dull or matte) would increase the likelihood of the hand-applied ink’s smearing.

(To put this in context, uncoated paper comes in a variety of finishes. These include wove, which is quite smooth and without much visible texture; vellum, which has more of a “tooth” or roughness; eggshell, which has a bit of a puckered surface; and antique, which has a rough surface. All of these share a common trait. They have no surface coating (a coating of clay and other chemicals and binders, which allows the ink to sit up on the surface of the press sheet more than it seeps into the paper fibers). This is called ink “hold-out.” It makes for a crisper look. Ink that has soaked into uncoated stock will dull down as it dries. This is not a bad thing. It’s just something you need to expect, and in my client’s client’s case (the restaurateur), it will provide a textured, earthy feel to the printed piece.)

Pricing the Job

The commercial printing vendor was able to gang up a number of copies of the hang-tags on a press sheet (even on his relatively small presses, which are close to 20”x 28” in format, as I recall, although I could be off a bit). This is in contrast to the much larger presses owned by big print shops that might take a 28” x 40” press sheet or larger. Such a press would allow for ganging up even more hang-tags on a single press sheet.

As simple a job as this seems, it involves die cutting. That is, the edges of the card on one side will be trimmed diagonally, and there will be a hole for tying the tag onto the restaurant’s boxes or other items (when the tags are not taped on).

The printer noted that if the job had a much smaller print run, it might be possible to use a router table to do the die cutting (onsite, at the printer), but this would get expensive as quantity (and therefore time for the die cutting) goes up, so for a 10,000-copy press run of hang-tags, the printer said he would need to create a die.

For the printing part of the job, this custom printing supplier would charge about $400. I thought this was quite reasonable. However, the cost of a metal die, produced by an outside vendor, would add an additional $588. This cost would include the custom metal die ($240) and the actual process of die cutting the hang-tags ($348).

To put this in context, a metal die cutting rule is cut, bent into its intended shape, inserted into a wood backing, and then placed in a dedicated die cutting press (like a converted letterpress). The stamping process of this particular kind of press (which is different from an offset lithographic press) cuts out the shape of the hang-tag (its diagonal edges, for instance) all the way around the tag, and the waste paper is pulled away from the tags. The die is made by an outside vendor, and then it is used by the vendor to do the die cutting.

The custom printing vendor did note that the cost to make the die was a one-time charge (the $240). When my client reprinted the job (which would be likely, since the restaurateur’s hang-tags would be used on every product not brought to a restaurant table), the only charges would be for the printing and die cutting processes (since the metal die rule would be kept for the restaurateur’s later use). Over time this would save a lot of money. In addition, the printing cost for 10,000 hang-tags would presumably be lower than pricing from other vendors (to be confirmed).

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. The first thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the smallest job is more complex than you might think. A hang-tag usually needs to be die cut by a subcontractor. This raises the cost of the project. It also reduces your printer’s control over the job schedule. That said, most printers don’t have this capability in-house.
  2. No one knows more about a printer’s specific equipment than the printer himself. When the printer I approached suggested that I not die cut 100# text paper (and instead choose a 65# or 80# uncoated cover sheet), I took this advice very seriously. To me it means that if I choose the 100# text stock, the printer could have mechanical problems, and I probably won’t like the results.
  3. Making dies is expensive, but the printing industry is gradually moving toward laser die cutting. This will eliminate the need for metal dies as well as the storage of these dies. You may want to to keep abreast of developments in laser die cutting and creasing.
  4. Anything other than right angles will probably require a die (such as a front-cover window knock-out on a presentation cover, or the pockets on a presentation folder). For simple jobs with very short runs, your printer may be able to use a router table. You may want to ask. But for long jobs, the unit cost will be cheaper for the die. That said, if you pick a standard design for a pocket folder (or another job involving die cutting), you may be able to use an existing die. (Of course, this might mean changing your initial design plans in order to save the money by not creating a custom die.) It never hurts to ask.

Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

The first rule of commercial printing sales is to listen to your customer’s needs. Needless to say, when a print brokering client of mine came to me with her new client and a new project, I was very excited. My client is a graphic designer, and her new client is a restaurateur who needs die-cut hang-tags for his packaged Asian food (which complements his individually prepared restaurant food).

When I received my client’s email, which included a PDF mock-up and specifications, my excitement got a bit ahead of me, and I made some suggestions. We were planning to meet by phone two days later, but I wanted my client to think about a few things before our meeting—since she had asked my opinion on custom printing paper choices.

Job Specifications, and What I Suggested to My Client

My client had asked about using either uncoated 100# text or satin coated 100# text. She said her client would be hand-printing the hang-tags with rubber stamps, even though they would already have the branding of the restaurant offset printed in ink (i.e., a preprint of the logo plus the restaurateur’s hand-printed Thai glyphs above the logo).

My client was worried that a gloss coated sheet would make the hand-printed ink more likely to smear, and I agreed. However, I went further, as noted above, and suggested a thicker sheet than 100# uncoated. I said that 130# or even 170# DTC (double-thick cover) would make a hefty hang-tag, one with weight and gravitas. I also said that an uncoated sheet would have an earthiness that might complement the brand of an Asian restaurant.

I encouraged my client to even consider such unique substrates as hand-made paper with speckles or even bits and pieces of plants. If she really wanted to go all the way, I said she might even consider letterpress (which would impress the logo slightly below the surface of the paper, and give an even more sculptural feel to the piece). Of course, I did also encourage my client to make sure this was congruent with her client’s brand image and collateral paper stocks. After all, a really nice letterpress-printed hang-tag on hand-made paper would not fit the style of the restaurant if the menus had already been printed on a corporate-looking gloss paper.

When my client and I finally spoke on the phone the next day, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself. My client’s client needed to be able to tape the hang-tags onto some packed-up food boxes and tie some hang-tags onto other food items. So they couldn’t be too rigid. The 130# and 170# cover stocks were out. (This is why client meetings are so useful.)

Moreover, the hang-tags couldn’t be on a super-expensive stock, since they would need to be reprinted regularly. They were to be a staple of my client’s client’s business, presumably to be attached to all outgoing orders. So a special-order paper with a minimum purchase amount was not an option (i.e., no hand-made paper with bits and pieces of flowers and plants).

I was sufficiently chastened for my over-enthusiasm. However, after the meeting I had all specs in hand plus the PDF proof. In our conversation, my client and I had agreed that I would initially approach only one printer for pricing to give her (my client) a quick turn-around on the cost of the custom printing job. This particular printer fit the job specs (had the right equipment and tended to provide lower than usual pricing). We could always get additional bids after my client had discussed our budget with her client.

To put this in perspective, at this point the specs reflected a 10,000-copy press run on 100# white smooth uncoated text paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

    1. If you’re doing a job for a client, make sure you get all the facts before you get too excited. I didn’t have all the facts. In my case the hang-tags had to be more pliable than a 130# or 170# DTC (double thick cover) stock would have been.

 

    1. Do think about the intended use, in terms of ink. In my case a gloss coated paper would have been too slick a surface for hand-printed stamp ink. The ink would have smeared. In your case, if you’re designing hang-tags, your client may need to write on them with ballpoint pens. A gloss coated stock wouldn’t work for this use either. So the thing to remember is that the final function of the piece takes precedence over aesthetics.

 

    1. In my client’s client’s case, since the hang-tags will be used alongside food preparation, another useful question will be whether an uncoated stock will absorb oil from the food (or anything else on the food preparer’s hands).

 

    1. If the printed inks will be near food, will my client need food-grade inks? Consider this if you’re designing any packaging that may come into contact with food.

 

    1. When you’re designing one printed item for a client, make sure it will be congruent with other printed items your client will use. Chipotle does a good job of this, and I would encourage you to check out their printed collateral. Everything I’ve seen is printed on brown uncoated paper using black ink. Overall, it has a simple, earthy feel. This matches Chipotle’s brand values, as I understand them. When you’re designing something even as simple as a business card, visit your client’s business location. Make sure that the paper, ink choices, and everything else about your printed piece fits in with the client’s décor, printed collateral, and overall ethos.

 

  1. My client will print her hang-tags in one color: a dark green. On the uncoated press sheet, this will give an earthy feel to the product (congruent with the brand), but it must also be a consideration for custom printing technologies other than the offset lithography used for these 10,000 hang-tags. For instance, if my client’s client later needs a very short run of some product, this printer’s HP Indigo digital press might be more cost-effective than offset lithography. In this case the commercial printing supplier would need to “build” the signature green color out of process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The question is whether the printer could then match the PMS green color with a process-color build. That’s something to think about if you are designing a printed piece and you need the corporate colors to match across all printed products.

So you see that even for a job as simple as a hang-tag, there are a lot of considerations that make the commercial printing job appear less and less simple. You have to consider the physical use of the product, custom printing ink durability, and aesthetics across the entire brand (from business cards to interior design). Wow. It’s a wonder that anyone prints anything.

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