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Archive for the ‘Brochure Printing’ Category

Brochure Printing: Pairing Good Page-Design with Soft Paper

Monday, December 14th, 2015

I’ve always been interested in the stock market. It seems that when you identify a successful company, not only the financials and stock price but even the building design and marketing collateral scream quality. I include both Chipotle and Whole Foods Market in this category, probably because they’re local and I eat there. To me they are real, not just numbers on a computer screen.

The Sample Brochure

My fiancee and I stopped by Whole Foods for ice cream and bagels the other day. Whenever we enter Whole Foods, I always take note of the environmental design (colors, lighting, signage), the package design, and the print collateral. I always learn something, because this company clearly understands branding.

In this particular case both my fiancee and I were immediately attracted to a beauty-care product brochure. Here are some of the things I think Whole Foods marketing got absolutely right:

Format

The four-page, 8.5” x 11” brochure was printed on bright-white uncoated stock. My fiancee thought the paper was coated, and it is in fact very smooth, but under a loupe I only see a sheen where the ink has been laid down.

Whole Foods positions itself as both health conscious and environmentally aware. Commercial printing paper choice works a subtle magic on the reader. A bright white sheet reflects back a lot of light and brightens up the colors. At the same time, an uncoated paper both softens the colors printed on its surface and also gives a more approachable “feel” to a design piece. It also suggests lower costs (whether or not this is true) and environmental sensitivity. And it feels less corporate. All of this supports Whole Foods’ stated mission.

Exterior Page Design

Greens and browns, as well as the yellow of sunlight, continue this environmental feel. On the cover of the four-page brochure you see the back of a woman’s head. She has long, curly hair, and she is holding a puff ball, presumably preparing to blow its seeds across the grass so new dandelions will grow in abundance. Behind her head in the top left corner, the sun brightens not only the sky, but also the trees in the background and her abundant curls.

What is exciting about the sunlight and its golden colors is that it seems brighter than anything else on the page. However, if you fold over the interior page to compare the bright white shade of the commercial printing paper to the printed sunlight, you will see that it only appears to be brighter due to its contrast with the surrounding elements on the page.

(That is, nothing can be brighter than the paper white of the press sheet; however, a savvy designer can make the reader see a hot, blinding sun on the cover of this brochure. In fact, if you look at the smaller type in the right-hand corner, as well as the even smaller Whole Foods logo—both reversed to pure white—you’ll see that the sun in the sky and the highlights on the woman’s curly hair are actually darker than the type and therefore only a well-crafted illusion of blinding light.)

Interior Brochure Design

Inside the four-page brochure, the headlines seem to be hand drawn. This makes for an approachable design when paired with products strewn around the two-page spread, some bleeding off the page. Most colors are earth tones, reinforcing the color scheme on the cover, although there are bright greens, oranges, reds, and yellows as well.

The designer has set all body copy in a simple, sans serif typeface, in contiguous columns grouped toward the center of the spread. The products lay casually toward the outside margins, interspersed with sprigs of rosemary, leaves, and botanical flowers to add contrast and continue the natural tone of the piece.

The back page continues the casual design and color scheme, adding a coupon to the mix (a “response vehicle” to facilitate “conversion”). That is, Whole Foods shows the products to be healthy, beauty enhancing, natural, and environmentally friendly through the designer’s choice of color, typefaces, and the design grid, and then makes the initial purchase easy and affordable with the discount.

One thing that puts this particular brochure over the top is its utility. On two of the four panels it educates the reader as well as selling the product. One article provides pointers on how to color your hair, while another gives you a recipe for a hydrating hair mask, including silhouetted photos of each ingredient.

The Verdict

Whole Foods knocks it out of the park with this brochure. Then again, I’m not surprised, since it fits in beautifully with the large format print signage in the store, the lighting and paint color palettes of the interior design, and the product packaging. Clearly the marketing department understands design, sales, psychology, and finance. It’s gratifying just to see this.

The Pocket Folder Brochure: Challenges of Being a Custom Printing Vendor

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

I mentioned in a recent blog post that a long-standing commercial printing client (a designer) had come to me wanting to produce a brochure with a pocket on the inside back cover for sell sheets. We discussed this over the phone today since she had just met with her client (the end-user).

Interestingly enough, my client wants the brochure to be oblong (landscape rather than portrait orientation) since much of the other collateral she has designed for this company has been produced in this format. What this means is a 24” x 9” flat brochure (12” x 9” folded) with either a horizontal or vertical pocket on the inside back cover, and four or eight interior pages.

I had initially directed my client to a pocket folder manufacturer’s website, where she had reviewed page after page of dielines for pocket folders (drawings showing the trim size, folds, and pocket size/placement but with no design: no type and no images). My client had found this useful in collecting her thoughts, and I could look at the drawing she provided and instantly understand what she wanted. It was an ideal way for us to communicate about format.

What About the Pocket?

My client floated the idea of a vertical pocket. She wanted to know what I thought. I said that I liked the idea because it was more unique than a horizontal pocket. However, the sample dieline she showed me had a 4” horizontal pocket, and a same-sized vertical pocket might not adequately cover the 8.5” x 11” inserts (only 4” of the 11”). My concern was that the inserts would then flop around, particularly since my client’s client (the end-user) planned to produce the inserts on the fly using their laser copier (i.e., probably on 50# or 60# uncoated text stock).

Thoughts on the Paper for the Job

At this point my client and I began to discuss paper thickness for the job.

As you can see, our first concern had nothing to do with the graphic design of the pocket folder brochure. Rather we were approaching the job as a physical item to be held in the hand, opened, and closed. We were looking at size, paper thickness, pocket dimensions, all in an attempt to visualize a finished product. The graphic design would come later.

My client noted that she would only want about four to eight pages in the brochure, saddle stitched, with each page in a stepped-down format (i.e., with each page being slightly shorter than the following page).

With all the information she had shared so far, I asked my client if she would consider a thick paper stock for the interior pages (perhaps 100# text if the brochure covers would be 130# cover). I wanted to make sure the brochure didn’t look skimpy. Four to eight pages is a short booklet. Thicker pages would make the brochure look opulent.

Or, as another option she might consider, I proposed making the brochure a self-cover piece. Perhaps the front and back covers plus all stepped-down interior pages could be 120# or 130# cover. My client said she would consider it.

Die Cutting and Embossing

My client asked whether a vertical pocket would require a die. If the pocket was essentially an extension of the back cover, would a die maker need to fabricate a custom die? I said he would, since the glue flaps used to secure the back pocket would be an irregular shape (i.e., would need to be diecut). My client understood this.

She also asked about die cutting a window on the front cover and perhaps even embossing or debossing the company’s logo on the front cover as well. I said all of this could be done. Some printers would create dies for the cutting and other dies for the embossing and and lock them all up in a chase (a frame to keep all the cutting rules together and in position), while others would do the die cutting and embossing steps separately.

The Press Run—Oops!

But here’s the real challenge. My client’s client only wants 100 to 250 copies of the brochure.

This actually opens up a whole new set of options. Let’s assume that the dies will cost about $500 to $1,000, or possibly even more considering the embossing (depending on its complexity, i.e., whether it is “sculptural” or “multi-level”). In a job this small, a huge percentage of the entire cost will be for make-ready for expensive processes, not for the equipment run time, since there will be so few copies.

Granted, this is early in the process. My client and I are just discussing options, requirements and limitations, and general costs. However, I have mentioned the possibility of digitally custom printing and digitally finishing the pocket folder brochure. The technology for digital printing, coating, embossing, and die cutting exists now, so I have started putting out feelers among the printers I work with. Fortunately we have time.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re printing anything like this (a short-run, high profile piece), consider approaching the job in the following way:

  1. Start very early, and involve your commercial printing vendor from the beginning.
  2. Play with different ideas, considering all options. Don’t limit yourself during the initial brainstorming phase.
  3. Do extensive research. If you have a short run, consider digital custom printing. Digital finishing (laser cutting and such) is now available.
  4. Review samples (check dielines at online pocket folder maufacturers). Also ask your commercial printing supplier for unprinted paper dummies, as well as printed samples, so you can see and feel what the finished job will be like.
  5. Expect to pay a lot. Choose your custom printing vendor for the job based on the quality of his printed samples, his references, any working history you may have with the printing company, and your level of trust for the supplier–not on price alone. In cases like this, you usually get what you pay for.

Considerations for Brochures with Pocket Folders

Monday, July 6th, 2015

A commercial printing client of mine is designing a cross between a brochure and a pocket folder to showcase her client’s business. My client, who is a designer, came to me for suggestions for a piece of marketing collateral that will be a brochure, or short booklet, in the front, but that will have a pocket on the interior back cover into which the end-user can insert multiple 8.5” x 11” single sheets of marketing material.

Physical Considerations for the Pocket Folder Brochure

Overall Size of the Brochure

I encouraged my client to consider a 9” x 12” pocket folder if the inserts that will go in the back brochure pocket will be 8.5” x 11”. This will allow room for comfortably inserting and removing the sell sheets.

Beyond the flat and folded size of the brochure, I asked my client to consider the need for a build for the pocket, the spine of the brochure/booklet, or both. For the brochure, the build would essentially be a spine. It would allow for a build in the pocket, which is essentially an extra piece of printing stock that will hold the pocket open (like a gusset), allowing for the inserting of multiple sell sheets. I have seen 1/4” or larger builds on pockets, but they are more fragile than pockets without builds, so if my client’s client only needs to insert a few printed sheets in the back pocket of the brochure, I’d encourage her to forgo the build. But it is something she has to address in some way.

Once the dimensions of the pocket folder brochure have been determined, it will be prudent to consider the shape of the rear-cover pocket. The pocket can be horizontal, allowing the inserts to be dropped in from above, or it can be vertical, allowing the user to slip in the sell sheets from the side. In either case, the designer can make use of the ability of the pocket to “hide” a portion of the first insert. In fact, the designer could even print an image on the pocket that continues onto the sell sheets.

Materials for the Brochure

For a job like this, I have suggested that my client choose a stock with a thickness of up to 130# cover. This would yield a substantial printed product. It would not feel flimsy. It would also accept lots of opening and closing over time, without the brochure‘s becoming worn or tattered.

Whether she chooses a stock coated on one side or two would depend on the ink coverage. If the ink prints on the exterior covers of the brochure (plus the interior back pocket, which is on the same side of the press sheet as the exterior covers), then a C1S (coated one side) sheet would be ideal (perhaps a 12-15 pt. C1S). If she will want to print on both sides of the press sheet, then a C2S sheet would be preferable (perhaps a 130# cover stock). For the sell sheets themselves, I would probably suggest a 100# text sheet (perhaps a dull or gloss commercial printing stock, depending on my client’s preferences).

As with any printed product that will receive heavy usage, it will be prudent to coat the exterior covers in some way. Options would include UV coating, aqueous, laminate, and press varnish. (Unfortunately, the last option, while inexpensive, can yellow over time or even alter the colors of the underlying ink. Therefore, it will be important to know how long the pocket folder brochure will be used.)

Approaches to Designing the Pocket Folder Brochure

Even before ink hits the page, it would be prudent for my client to request a paper dummy from the custom printing vendor. This will be unprinted, but it will provide a good idea of how the pocket folder brochure will feel in the hand, how durable it will be, and how the sell sheets will fit into the back-cover pocket.

In addition to paper dummies, I have suggested that my client look at pocket folders online. Some vendors that specialize in pocket folder printing will include a series of design options on their web pages, reflecting different sizes, different configurations and placement of pockets, even different shapes of the pockets (horizontal, vertical, scalloped, glued at the edges, with and without builds). It’s like an online “idea file.” With this information in mind, my client might then request printed samples to review options for both physical construction and graphic design.

The Dies for Cutting the Pocket Folder Brochure

Pockets such as these must be cut with metal dies. This increases the cost of the overall pocket folder brochure. In some cases, however, depending on the design, some printers may have standard dies on hand that have been used for other products. If my client wants a more unique approach, she will need to pay to have custom dies created for her design project. She will also need to build more time into the schedule for the die-making component of the job.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

You may find yourself designing a similar printed product. If so, start early by requesting printed samples and paper dummies from your paper merchant or printer. These will give you ideas for both the graphic treatment and the physical specifications of the project.

I would approach a number of commercial printing suppliers for a job of this complexity, since it will require printing, die-making, and converting skills, and since it will be a comparatively expensive project. More than with most jobs, a project like this requires specificity on your part, a printer you trust completely, and good communication with your vendor throughout the process regarding schedules, costs, and your expectations. On the positive side, you can experiment and develop a truly unique and powerful graphic product.

Analyzing Effective Marketing Packages

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Coordinating a marketing effort using all available tools (commercial printing, the Internet, and a telephone) would seem to be straightforward, but I think it is not often done effectively or with finesse. Or at least you could say that it is a supremely challenging assignment worthy of note when it succeeds.

The Sample Campaign

It has been over a year since our house fire, and my fiancee and I are just completing the rebuild of the house. At this particular point we are considering options for window treatments, specifically blinds.

In light of this rebuild, my fiancee recently received a marketing package from a blind and wallpaper vendor. I was quite impressed when I saw it, not necessarily with the edgy graphics and photography but rather with the usefulness of the package itself and with how easy this print collateral makes it to contact the store, select blinds, and order the right product.

Breaking It Down

My fiancee had ordered the samples: four miniature horizontal window blind slats that looked like thin, color-coordinated tongue depressors. The marketing package came to her in a synthetic 6” x 9” envelope, similar to Tyvek but with cross-hatched ribbing (like duct tape), presumably for strength. Clearly this envelope would protect its contents from damage or loss.

The custom envelope graphic, which contained a lot of information and visuals, included the following:

  1. The name of the company in an immediately readable size and sans serif font, along with the address and a large phone number. Upon receiving this marketing package, you would immediately know how to contact the vendor. This is not true about many marketing packages.
  2. A composite photo of about twelve different blind products, from flat slats to honeycombed blinds. In addition, the front of the custom envelope included a photo of the owner of the company.
  3. A star burst referencing a coupon, using reversed, all-caps sans serif type, as well as other large, reversed type referencing a guarantee for the lowest price. (An immediate offer of guaranteed low prices will catch the attention of any serious buyer.)
  4. A second copy of the phone number in large type, in case the reader has missed the first, along with an offer for the reader to call with any questions. The sincere nature of the wording (i.e., we’re here to help, not to sell you something you don’t need) also makes a difference.

This is just the front of the custom envelope. The back repeats the company logo, phone contact information, Internet contact information (website and e-mail address), photos of sample products, and a note (“Free samples inside!”) in bold type right on the flap of the self-seal, open-end envelope.

You cannot miss the important information. All of it is arranged logically, with color and type size clearly indicating the levels of importance, and color and type size used to lead the reader’s eye through the page. As much information as the envelope contains (i.e., you could argue that it is “busy”), you can immediately see all the facts you need.

The Product Samples

The sample blind slats are all labeled with the color name and number of the product as well as the product’s name and thickness of the blind slats.

In addition, each sample blind slat includes the name of the company, the phone number, and the website information.

The Brochure

Using type size and type color, as well as solid areas of color, to set apart chunks of copy and contact information, the brochure’s front and back covers repeat and expand upon the information on the custom envelope. In some cases, the designer even enlarged the first few words of a copy block to act as a running headline, again to draw the reader’s eye to a particular location.

On the front and back of the brochure, the company refers to its “100% lifetime lowest price guarantee,” to the reader’s immediate access to phone assistance and live chat, and to the company’s commitment to “your satisfaction.” (Nothing sells like a commitment to the customer.)

Inside the brochure the company has included a useful tool, a step-by-step guide to measuring windows for window treatments. It’s comprehensive, explaining ways to mount blinds either inside the window frame or outside the window frame.

Moreover, since the task seems a little daunting, the blind company includes a QR code. Readers can scan the code to get immediate access to help in measuring their own windows. Or, more specifically, the blind company has seamlessly leveraged QR technology, print design, and its website to help the customer easily buy window treatments.

The Coupon

To sweeten the deal, the blind and wallpaper company includes a coupon on laminated, thick card stock. It offers three levels of savings tied to three brackets of spending ($75-$124.99, $125-$174.99, and $175 or more). This just about covers any purchase. In addition to repeating the logo and all contact information in visually digestible chunks, the coupon makes the offer time sensitive (“coupon expires 7 days from today”). Nothing motivates a buyer like a sense of urgency.

The Take Away

Here are some thoughts to consider while designing marketing collateral:

  1. Make sure all contact information is immediately recognizable and repeated multiple times across the print campaign.
  2. Appeal directly to the customer. (Use the word “you” whenever you can.)
  3. Leverage all channels of contact with your client: print collateral, Internet (web and e-mail), and the telephone). Some people prefer one channel; some prefer another. Wherever possible, coordinate the various channels to present an integrated message and to use the qualities at which each excels (for instance, you can include a “live chat” option for those who prefer this to a conversation over the telephone).
  4. Include photos of your product and images of friendly, smiling staff to reinforce your message that contacting the company will be a pleasurable and productive experience.
  5. Look everywhere—especially in your own mailbox—for successful examples of integrated marketing campaigns like this, and then analyze, deconstruct, and study them. Learn from the masters. Better yet, if you receive print collateral in the mail and really, really want to buy the product, ask yourself why, and then consider all the methods the marketer has used to pique your interest.

Brochure Printing: Deconstructing a Promo Brochure

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

A friend of mine is a print book designer. She designs almost exclusively the multi-column, regularly spaced and formatted print books various government organizations publish to document their work. The consistency of her design is noteworthy, but she also has a flair for simple, elegant page construction that facilitates reading. When I was an art director, I would have hired her in a minute. And I am actually somewhat envious when she sends me page spreads to critique. She is that good at it.

That said, a client of hers needed a brochure recently.

My friend the print book designer had to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new approach to page design. When I saw her finished work, I was impressed. So impressed that I wanted to deconstruct the brochure design to share with you a number of things she did really, really well.

As a side note, I think the brochure design works primarily because it facilitates reading. When you look at the brochure, you know exactly how all elements should function (text, callouts, etc.). You know instantly what’s most important, then of secondary importance, then of lesser importance but still interesting. I think the designer’s success in creating a brochure reflects her breadth of writing and editing experience.

A Description of the Brochure

According to the PDF “properties” search tool, the brochure is a flat 11” x 18” document with six panels, three on each side. It will fold down to 6” x 11”. It is a four-color piece, with two full-color images, as well as area screens of blue and beige built from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The text is black, and some of the heads are reversed, as are the callouts. Finally, text and heads are set in various weights of one (or possibly two) sans serif type families, with some levels of headlines set in all caps and others set in caps and lower case, depending on their use.

It is a rather large brochure in format, since many similar brochures would be 8.5” x 3.5” when folded down, and would fit in a #10 envelope. This format provides a lot of space for the two images, one chart, callouts, and text. It allows for a feeling of roominess. Nothing seems cramped, even though there are a lot of design elements.

What the Designer Did Right (in My Opinion)

  1. First the designer considered the flat brochure as a single design space, rather than approaching the panels as separate pages. This gave a sense of “flow” to the images and text.
  2. She then added a full-bleed, light blue background, which covers the front and back panel as well as the inner, fold-in panel. This distinguishes the exterior of the brochure from its interior (providing different places for small chunks of information). It also allows for visual contrast between the fold-in panel and the lighter interior of the brochure. This looks good, but it also divides the brochure into distinct “spaces.” And nothing facilitates reading (particularly in a promotional piece) like being given small chunks of information in an easy to follow format.
  3. When opened flat, the interior of the brochure has a full-bleed, two panel background of light blue on the center and right, and a light beige panel on the left. There is a full-color photo knocked out of the light blue screen. This division of space makes it clear to the reader that there are two kinds of information to read on the interior, three-panel spread.
  4. To create callouts, the designer reversed all-caps type out of solid boxes of blue, and then set the running heads (heads within the first line of text) within the callouts in a heavier weight of the same typeface. In some cases she also set a few important words within the callouts in bold type. Overall, the effect is to identify brief bits of important copy that will provide a summation of the entire brochure (everything else will amplify these few points). Since the background of these callouts is blue (principally cyan), they remind the reader of the full-bleed solid on the outside of the brochure, and therefore provide a visual continuity to the brochure.
  5. The designer varied the number of columns of text on the brochure panels (sometimes two columns; sometimes one). She did this consistently and with purpose in a way that reinforces the meaning of the individual text blocks. This provides visual variety, but having only two options within the design grid also gives a form and regularity to the brochure.
  6. The designer considered the activity within the photos when placing them. On the front panel an African woman in traditional garb is looking squarely at the reader. She catches the reader’s eye immediately. On the interior of the brochure, an African woman is shaking out a blue blanket. The image is on the right interior panel. It leads the reader’s eye off the page. At the same time, the blue of the blanket echoes the blue full-bleed solid background of the brochure’s exterior panels.
  7. While all of this may sound incredibly busy, it is not. This is because the designer set up only a handful of visual rules (everything from the grid to the color usage to the choice of typefaces) in a consistent way that groups the text into coherent bits of information.

Here Are Some Things to Consider in Your Own Custom Printing Design Work

  1. Approach the brochure design as a whole. Think about how you want to lead the reader’s eye through all the panels, Make sure the visual appearance reflects the logic, flow, and content of the brochure text.
  2. Use all design elements at your disposal (page grid, color placement, typefaces) as tools to group and present the textual information. Use these consistently, always for a reason.
  3. Choose samples of commercial printing work that you like, and then deconstruct them. Consider what the designer has done and how the visual choices support the promotional goals inherent in the brochure text. “It looks good” is not an adequate reason to make a design decision.

Commercial Printing Case Study: Is It Digital or Offset?

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

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

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

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

As Seen Through a Loupe

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

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

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

What About the Halftones?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Verdict?

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

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

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

Brochure Printing: Paper Color Affects the Ink Color

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

We all learn from our mistakes. In an ideal world, we may even learn from the mistakes of others and then not make our own.

In this light, I want to tell you a story about choosing paper for a brochure print job I designed about twenty years ago. My boss, the Director of Publications, suggested that I print the brochure on a warm coated custom printing stock to differentiate it from other marketing materials we had been circulating. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Pitfalls of the Paper Selection

I learned several things from the completed brochure print job that was delivered.

First of all, I had made the assumption that the cream tint of the paper would affect the color of the inks. It did. Since I had made this assumption early, I had had the foresight to check the colors on my computer monitor using a cream tint for the background of the entire print brochure. This had given me somewhat of an idea of the final outcome.

However, it only gave me a sense of how the ink colors of the text and images would look when surrounded by a cream background. I had not taken into consideration that the paper would affect the color of the ink actually printed on it. More specifically, the color of the substrate slightly affected the red and blue PMS hues that were the corporate colors of the logo. This was less than ideal. The substrate also altered the final appearance of the process color work.

Finally, when I saw how the final brochure print job looked beside the other collateral produced during the year, it did stand out. But I wasn’t sure I liked that. The difference in the paper colors between the new brochure and the other marketing materials made the new job look like it had been designed by another company. This wasn’t great either.

Fortunately, my boss, the Director of Publications, actually liked the brochure so I walked away from the job without losing face, but more importantly I took away some lessons that I have remembered and applied for the succeeding two decades.

Lessons Learned (or What You Might Keep in Mind When Printing on a Yellow-Tinted Paper)

Consider the following when you diverge from the norm by specifying a custom printing stock that’s different from the paper used in prior jobs for your company:

  1. Process inks are transparent. The color of the substrate will alter the color of the ink.
  2. The only way to know for sure how this will look is to request a press proof. This is incredibly expensive. Basically, you are setting up the entire press to print one copy of your job to see how it will look.
  3. Alternatives to a press proof include producing a digital print on the off-white (or any other color) custom printing stock. It will not be absolutely faithful to the end product (digital toners don’t behave exactly like offset inks), but it will be affordable. You may also want to tint the background of your file (for observation on your computer monitor only). Keep in mind that this will only approximate the look of the ink colors when surrounded by the toned paper substrate. It will not show you how the (potentially transparent) inks will behave on the colored stock. (Remember to change the background back to white before sending the job to the printer.)
  4. While process inks are transparent (i.e., you will see the color of the paper through them, and the color of the paper will alter the color of the ink), PMS colors are less dramatically affected, since some of them are not transparent.
  5. You can get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink (to a certain extent) by having the commercial printing supplier include opaque white in the PMS ink mixture.
  6. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using white paper and only simulating the yellowish tones of the cream printing stock. You can do this by printing the background in a tint of light yellow (or another color, depending on the results you want). This way you can knock out the yellow behind any type, process color images, tints, and/or solids.
  7. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using colored foils instead of ink (let’s say you’re printing on a really dark paper). The one downside is that you will need to have a die created for the foil stamping, and this will be expensive and time consuming.
  8. Consider designing a year’s worth of marketing collateral at one time. I realize this is impractical. You won’t have the copy for all the publications at one time. However, you can start to create an overall “look” of the booklet and brochure covers, the type and color choices, the paper colors, and textures. Things will look like they go together and represent the same company if you approach their design as a unified whole.

Learn from my mistakes. Ouch.

Brochure Printing: Case Study on Paper Options

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Commercial printing reps can provide a veritable fountain of knowledge and information. However, when you start asking the same questions of different vendors, you’ll soon see that different printers offer different skill sets and often approach jobs very differently.

Back-Story and Specifications for the Brochure Printing Job

My print brokering client recently approached me with a brochure printing job: a flat 17” x 11” sheet folded to 8.5” x 11” and then folded again (at a right angle) to 5.5” x 8.5”. She wanted to print the job on 80# silk cover (a nice, tactile compromise between a gloss and dull sheet) in process color. An 8.5” x 11” slip sheet would be blown into the brochure. It would be printed in black ink only on 50# white offset stock. Once printed, the job would be folded (with the blow-in insert in place) and then tabbed (wafer sealed) in preparation for transport to a mailshop (and from there into the mail stream).

The Printers’ Responses

I sent out bid requests to three commercial printing vendors. What was interesting was their response to the paper choice. Two were concerned that the 80# cover stock would fold unevenly (bunch up) and look ugly—even if scored. One of the printers declined to bid on this stock and substituted a 100# silk text sheet in the bid (thinner than the 80# cover and less problematic for folding).

When I asked the second printer about the potential for folding problems, he agreed. He had had the same concern but had not voiced it, assuming the scoring would avert the problem.

The third printer said he could print the job on 80# cover stock and fold it without incident. He was confident that scoring the sheet would eliminate the chance for problems, and he offered to score the job for free if any problems arose in the folding operation.

What We Can Learn

Wow. Whom can you trust in a case like this? Ultimately I chose to trust all three printers. I took this to mean that two of them were uncomfortable with printing and right-angle folding an 80# cover sheet, so I wouldn’t ask them to do it.

The third was comfortable with the specifications. He was also the low bid, and since I have a long-standing professional relationship with this commercial printing company, I know that if the job doesn’t work on the stock, the owner (who also runs the presses) will do whatever is necessary to make it right.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust and confidence, and that takes time to develop.

The Brochure Printers Made Some Suggestions

I like it when a printer’s rep makes suggestions for doing a job better, faster, or for less money. It makes me more confident that he’s thinking of things I haven’t thought of—of better ways to meet my clients’ needs.

One of the brochure printers suggested (or, rather, bid on) a lighter stock—as noted above. That was a good option to bring back to my client. Another printer suggested producing the entire job (brochure and slip-sheet application) all on the same stock. He said my client would save approximately 25 percent of the total cost by printing the job as a six pager, wrap folding it, then slitting the extra black-only sheet and folding the job with the application in the center. This would allow for one press run on one kind of paper rather than two press runs on two different press sheets.

What We Can Learn

A good print rep will often make suggestions that will provide better value and higher quality—even before you ask. So it’s prudent to involve the printer while the piece is being designed and to keep an open mind when reviewing your printer’s suggestions.

More Information on the Paper Stock

The only problem my client found with producing the slip sheet application and main brochure on the same stock was that the black-only page (the application form) would need to be scanned or faxed back to the client’s office. It would need to go through a roll-fed scanner or fax without moving or jamming the machine. Moreover, it would need to go through any fax or scanner. We couldn’t just test the paper in one fax machine.

In light of this, one commercial printing supplier suggested producing the job on an 80# uncoated text sheet. The rough paper surface would make the paper more likely to go through the roll-fed scanners or faxes. Unfortunately, the uncoated paper would also dull down the intensity of the process color inks. The paper would absorb the ink. It would not have good “holdout.” My client needed the job to look slick and corporate.

Another printer suggested a 100# text sheet, but could not guarantee that this would go through any roll-fed scanner or fax machine. So the idea was no longer as attractive.

What We Can Learn

If you can’t prove that any potential client interested in contacting you by faxing a form back to your office won’t encounter problems, stop and reconsider the job. My client opted for either the 80# cover or 100# text sheet (silk coated for texture and to provide good holdout for the process inks). The application form would therefore need to go on a 50# offset press sheet. It was worth the extra cost. It was worth two press runs.

But What About the Mailshop Tasks?

If you’re involving multiple vendors, make sure the pricing reflects the various component parts of the job. Who would insert the application into the main brochure? That’s a mailshop function, but apparently all three printers could do it.

Who would add wafer seals in preparation for mailing? The mailshop. All three custom printing vendors agreed. One of the printers also explained why. The wafer seal machine is part of the inkjet addressing equipment. If the printer were to add wafer seals (using the addressing equipment without turning on the inkjet function), the job would cost more overall (two runs on the same equipment: one by the printer and one by the mailshop). Clearly it would be better to have the mailshop tab the job while addressing it.

What We Can Learn

Don’t make assumptions. Ask what all elements of the bid—such as mailshop—actually include. And remember that it helps to have a printer as an ally, and this kind of partnership takes time to develop. So nurture your relationships with your vendors.

Brochure Printing: Superior Health Spa Marketing Design

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I just received a fourteen panel (seven on each side) marketing brochure that captures the essence of effective design with its graphic “look,” paper choice, and custom printing. I’d like to share with you why I consider this to be such a superior example of marketing design.

Overall Brochure Layout

The “Steamist” barrel-fold brochure starts its story on the front panel with a woman, eyes closed, relaxing and massaging her neck. At the top left of the page is the tagline, “Come home to your senses.” The Steamist logo is at the bottom right of the panel.

The design is simple, rendered in black and white with dramatic lighting (actually four-color black and white, to give the impression of a monochrome image while presumably extending the tonal range in the custom printing of the photos). The words are all caps in simple, thin sans serif type with generous leading between the lines and generous letterspacing between the letters. The type is reversed out of the black-to-gray background gradient. Your eye goes to the “come home to your senses” tagline first, then to the model’s face, then down her arms to the surprinted Steamist logo.

This panel works because it leads your eye from the top left to the bottom right, leaving you anxious to turn the page. It’s simple and effective. “Relax in luxury” is the message.

Effective Folds

When you open the first panel (and then each successive panel), you are presented with a tightly cropped photo on the left and then a three- or four-line message (one or two all-caps words per line) on the right. Each successive photo highlights one sense (taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight), referencing music, fragrance, and luxury in the promotional text. The black and white photos distinguish the brochure from its peers in a direct marketing world of full-color images. The high-key lighting of the images and the deep shadows also create a sense of drama.

As you unfold each panel, you see the main text in silver. Below the all-cap heads, you can read brief paragraphs in small, reversed type. Then, as you open the wrap-fold brochure panel by panel, you see the logo repeated at the bottom of each right-hand page. This reinforces the branding.

Finally, as you open the brochure completely, you see a two-panel spread with a white background and small four-color images. This page spread gives you more information on the spa experience, but what makes it work is the contrast between the white editorial space on these two panels and the full-bleed images (or dark backgrounds with reversed text) on all the other panels. With the brochure completely unfolded, your gaze goes directly to the 4-color images and text on the far right, while the white background echos the highlights in the preceding photos of the model’s nose, hand, ear, mouth, and eye.

A single-page insert accompanies the brochure. At the top of the sheet, the same typeface as used in the brochure offers a rebate in large letters reversed out of a black-to-gray gradation. Below the gradation is a list of store locations and the logo again. The contrast between the multi-fold brochure and the single sheet of contact information creates a nice visual rhythm.

Paper Choice and Coating

The commercial printing paper seems to be a 100# coated text sheet augmented with alternating dull or gloss UV for contrast (gloss on the letter forms of the headlines, dull on the background black-to-gray gradations, and gloss on the images).

Why It Works

The entire marketing piece works for several reasons:

  1. The concept of experiencing the spa with the five senses lends itself to a multi-panel brochure illustrating each of the senses, and the design of the brochure makes the reader focus on each sense, one at a time (using both words and tightly cropped images).
  2. The graphic design and the folding lead the viewer from panel to panel. In all cases, it is clear where to look next. So there is a sense of rhythm and movement through the promotional piece.
  3. The thick commercial printing paper, subtle use of gloss and dull coatings in contrast with one another, and overall sophistication of the type choices, page layout, and color usage provide a consistent tone of luxury, sensuality, and relaxation.

What You Can Learn from this Brochure

  1. Think about the overall message when you’re designing a brochure. Make sure everything–from the layout grid to the typefaces to the color usage to the paper choice–is consistent with your marketing message.
  2. Do the unexpected. In a world of color, consider the sophistication of four-color black and white.
  3. Consider how you want the reader’s eye to travel through the brochure. Make sure the layout and the choice of folds facilitate—rather than impede—this eye movement.

Brochure Printing: No More Z-Fold Self-Mailers

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I had a close call with a print brokering client recently, and it has made me doubly certain that US Postal updates are vital reading material and not spam.

The Problem with the Fold

In a recent blog I mentioned that a client has been producing a Z-fold (or accordion fold) brochure yearly for a few years now. It has been a self-mailer, closed on both the top and bottom with wafer seals. To make this clearer, picture a twelve-panel piece (six on each side of the sheet, with alternating back and forth parallel folds) starting with a flat size of 10.2” x 27” and folding to 10.2” high x 4.5” wide. The commercial printing job is produced in four color process ink on 80# white gloss cover stock.

After reading an update by the US Postal Service in January, I had been concerned, or at least wary. The relevant piece of information from the USPS newsletter was that self-mailers had to have a fold at the bottom and be wafer sealed at the top in order to be automatable and machinable. That is, to reap the highest discount for bulk mail, folding and tabbing had to happen in this manner.

But a Z-fold mailer has no fold at the bottom (or long edge). Since the panels go back and forth in their accordion fold sequence (leaving both sides without an actual, closed fold), the postal requirement would not be met. I thought I had read this somewhere, but I wasn’t really sure, so I was relieved to hear that my client had asked her mailshop.

Keep in mind that the commercial printing supplier had already provided an estimate for the Z-fold self-mailer. After all, he could produce the job as specified. He had done it for at least the two prior years. But the mailshop caught the error (and the US Postal Service Business Reply Mail Specialist would have done the same), fortunately before any ink had been put on paper.

What If We Hadn’t Caught It in Time?

There’s always that “what if.” Let’s say the client had approved the job and the commercial printing vendor had produced the Z-fold self-mailer. What then? Picture a mail drop at the Post Office rejected for not meeting spec, or picture a larger postage bill due to machinable and automatable requirements not having been met. In the worst case scenario, my client could have sidestepped this at the last minute by placing the Z-fold mailers in custom envelopes. This would have cost more (the cost of approximately 4,500 printed envelopes), but it would have solved the problem.

What Are My Client’s Options?

Fortunately we have a little time. We caught this early. My client suggested a barrel fold (all panels parallel folded in the same direction, in contrast to the back-and-forth folding of the Z-fold (or accordion fold) piece produced in prior years.

I asked the custom printing supplier for some suggestions as well, and I worked out a few myself.

First of all, my client had mentioned the possibility of a partial Z-fold brochure, with the first four panels (eight actually, since we’re talking about both sides of the press sheet) folding back and forth, and the remaining two panels (actually four, two on each side) wrapping around the piece. I checked with the printer, and this would work (i.e., there would be no extra cost because the job fit on the folding equipment and all the folds were parallel).

My client could also do a barrel fold, or she could even fold the piece in thirds (the outer four left panels folded from left to right, and the outer four right panels folded from right to left), and then she could fold this in half.

As confusing as this must sound, the gist of the matter is that the printer could fold the panels individually or in groups of two or three (per side of the sheet) for no additional cost. And as long as there was a fold on the bottom (long side) and wafer seals on the top (other long side), the self-mailer would be postal-legal and would reap the automation discounts.

If This Happens to You, Make a Mock Up

One day all of this may happen to you. Hopefully it will be during the preliminary design stages of the job. As you decide how to solve the problem, first make a physical mock-up of your brochure printing job. If you have a twelve panel brochure (six panels on each side), make a little sample out of paper. Then fold it in different ways until you like it.

How Will You Know You Like It?

How you will fold the piece depends on how you want your reader to digest the information in the brochure. Group your copy by relevant subject matter, and, as you try different folds, consider how your reader’s eye will absorb the content. Do the folds contribute to this, or do they impede understanding? If they will confuse the reader, do something else.

Also consider grouping information by making some panels a solid color and reversing the type out of the solid. Or use screens of a color in the background. The goal is to put the content of the brochure in a logical order, in small chunks, to aid the reader’s comprehension. Make sure the folding (which is part of the design) reinforces this goal.

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