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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 ‘Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: The Web, a Great Way to Learn About Printing

Monday, October 24th, 2016

I was brought up on paper. I like print books and paper invoices. There’s something permanent and tangible about ink or toner on paper. Ironically enough, however, I have found the Internet to be the best place to learn about the new commercial printing technologies.

For instance, while reading about the most recent drupa printing technology exhibition in Germany, I learned about a lot of new digital equipment, but I found myself unable to fully grasp some of the physical processes described only in words. So I went to YouTube for help.

Highcon Digital Finishing

The first technology I researched through videos rather than written descriptions and fact sheets was the new cutting and creasing equipment produced by Highcon: the Euclid line.

I had been so used to the traditional method of cutting and creasing—the creation and use of metal dies and rubber components attached to flat wood sheets—that I could not quite wrap my brain around how to do this digitally without physical, metal dies.

My trip to YouTube led me to videos of the Highcon Euclid. I could see the equipment jetting polymer ridges onto the press drums such that they would score the paper substrate as it traveled through the machine. Seeing this happen made the process immediately understandable.

Then I got to see how lasers could cut the paper substrate, providing finished cardboard box blanks that could then be assembled. The video showed actual burn patterns of lasers quickly darting around the moving paper substrate as it progressed through the equipment. Who could grasp this process as fully from a written description as from a few seconds of video? Clearly if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is priceless.

Offset Printing on Bottles

I had been pretty clear that offset commercial printing was not an option for decorating plastic hair product bottles. My understanding of the process was that the heavy pressure of offset printing rollers would crush almost anything other than paper and packaging board. In fact, my understanding was that flexography or custom screen printing were the technologies of choice for any crushable substrate.

So when I read an article mentioning offset bottle printing, I looked to the Internet for video footage of offset printing being done on plastic hair product bottles. It was just like being a fly in the pressroom, witnessing from multiple vantage points exactly how the press blankets could come into contact with the bottles without crushing them.

Only a few seconds of video made the biggest impression on me, as I could see the chain operated conveyor bringing hundreds or thousands of bottles, one by one, to the rotating blanket cylinder of an offset lithographic press. I could see the exact point of contact as the rotating press cylinder deposited the inked graphics (and even the small descriptive type) onto the rotating plastic bottle. What could have been a mess was actually a never-ending line of bottles adorned with small, crisp type and graphics.

And again, I could not have envisioned this quite as well by reading a paragraph of text as by seeing even a few seconds of the video showing the operating press.

What We Can Learn from This Experience

Both of these experiences have taught me a few things about human psychology, the virtues of video as a learning tool, and the way print and digital media can actually complement one another. Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  1. I think people are creatures of habit. They see what they are used to seeing or expect to see, and they often can’t quite envision a new way of doing things. In my case, I was so used to the idea of hammering thin metal rules into wood to create both scoring (or creasing) dies and cutting dies that I couldn’t quite picture a machine that could use digital information to jet a fluid that could harden into a creasing rule—without the use of a metal die. In this case, a video made all the difference. It gave me the proverbial “aha!” moment of intuitively grasping the process.
  2. In understanding a physical process, such as commercial printing or finishing, even an amateur video is helpful. High-end video production values like professional actors, voice-overs, or music would have been unnecessary.
  3. Since I now understand the core manufacturing processes, if I want to expand my knowledge further, then a written document explaining the processes and reviewing the equipment specifications would be extremely helpful. In this case, print media and video would be complementary educational tools, each with its own strengths.
  4. My next insight pertains more to commercial printing than to digital media. I could see how inventive pressman can be. In producing the plastic bottles, the offset press actually printed a vertically oriented image, unlike that of any other press I have seen. The never-ending progression of plastic bottles dropped vertically to a position in front of the rotating blanket, which spun the bottles around at the precise speed to deposit the ink. (In most cases this would have been a horizontal process, and the rollers would have crushed the substrate.) The ingenuity behind this workflow is astounding.
  5. My fifth comment also pertains more to digital custom printing and finishing. Watching the lasers jet around the substrate cutting out blanks of cartons, and seeing the nozzle jetting a polymer material that would harden into creasing ridges on the rotating drums, made it clear to me that digital finishing—and not just digital printing—is coming into its own. Not that long ago, digital printing was more akin to laser copying. Then it improved, and the images were colorful and crisp, but you had to move the press sheets to traditional analog finishing equipment to complete the job. Now the manufacturers are getting serious and addressing all components of the manufacturing process, from laying down ink or toner on paper to cutting, creasing, and folding a job digitally.

Custom Printing: Old, Old Time Printing

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

In the spirit of spring, with all the flowers and trees in bloom, I thought it fitting to discuss some primitive custom printing techniques that have been around (in some cases) probably since the Stone Age. They’re ideal for children’s art parties, and you may even want to do these projects if you have an artistic bent.

Anthotypes

The first technique is actually a photographic printing technique. It uses the juices of plants and the sun to make images. This is how to do it:

  1. You prepare the substrate with an emulsion made from the juice of plants, flower petals, or berries. You can grind these into a pulp by hand, using a mortar and pestle, or you can use a mixer. The mortar and pestle is easier to clean and more efficient for small batches, but the mixer is easier on your hands, and it’s more suited to larger batches. In addition, if you use a mortar and pestle, the skins of the berries will be strained away (you won’t be able to sufficiently pulverize them by hand). You can use any number of plants. Research the plants online, and take time to experiment and play.
  2. When you have crushed or mixed the flowers, berries, or plants into a pulp, strain out the liquid using cheesecloth or a coffee filter. (You can also dilute the liquid with denatured alcohol, olive oil, or distilled water, depending on the result you’re after.)
  3. Choose a substrate, like thick watercolor paper, and paint the liquid emulsion onto the material. Keep in mind that the paper will be outside for days or weeks, so it should be durable (not fragile, lightweight paper).
  4. Choose an object, such as a flower or plant. Place the object on the emulsion coated (dry) sheet of paper and cover the paper and object with a glass frame (a sheet of plexiglass will do). As the rays of the sun destroy the coloration in the emulsion, the object covering the emulsion will resist fading (since the paper underneath will get less light). In the course of hours, days, or weeks (depending on your choice of emulsion), you will get a positive image of the object. Remember to choose a positive rather than negative image (think photography) since the sun will lighten the emulsion rather than darken it (as would happen with traditional darkroom-based photographic printing).
  5. If you frame and hang your print, keep it out of the sun, because the fading process will continue in direct sunlight.
  6. For those of you with little patience (like myself) two good plants to start with are corn poppy and dahlia. I found these online. They produce very sensitive emulsions that react quickly to the sun.
  7. Totally unrelated to this process, but directly relevant to contemporary commercial printing, is the fact that even a commercial print book left in the sun will do the exact same thing. I have a number of books with dust jacket spines that are much lighter than the front and back covers. I had these in a bookcase for many years in an office that received intense afternoon sunlight. The sun lightened the ink on the dust covers just as it will lighten the anthotype plant emulsions.

Cyanotypes

You can produce a similar result to anthotypes with treated light-sensitive fabric (treated with ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide). This process was initially invented to produce photographic reproductions of plants, seed pods, etc., laid on treated paper.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Buy the sunprint fabric (i.e., specially treated fabric made to be light sensitive).
  2. Pin plant specimens–leaves, seed pods, etc.–to the fabric in an artistic design.
  3. Unlike the aforementioned anthotypes, this process goes fast. Once you have covered the fabric with leaves and petals, expose it to direct sunlight. It may help to use a light frame (such as a piece of plexiglass laid over the project). This will keep everything stationary.
  4. In about 15 or 20 minutes for cotton (less for silk), you’ll be ready to bring the fabric indoors. Rinse the material under running water until the water runs clear. The colors should set in 12 to 24 hours.

Hammering the Juice Out of Plants

A third way to do custom printing with plants and flowers is to lay the leaves on thick, absorbent watercolor paper, cover them with paper towels, and beat them with hammers. This releases the natural juices and creates a “contact print.” Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a durable surface, like a cutting board, that will tolerate the abuse. Cover it with a paper bag.
  2. Place flowers on the watercolor paper. You can tape them down to make sure they don’t move.
  3. Cover the flowers and watercolor paper substrate with paper towels or some other form of blotter paper.
  4. You can mark on the paper towels with a pen to identify where you will need to strike the hammer to pulverize the flowers or plants to release their juices.
  5. Try different hammers (ball peen and cross peen hammers, for instance). Hammer across in rows, and then up and down in columns. You will need to hit every part of the underlying plant to release the juices that will print on the watercolor paper.
  6. You can check your work by lifting the paper towel. If you have a complete image of the flower or leaf on the paper towel, you are probably ready to remove the leaves.
  7. Peel, scratch, or rub the pulverized leaves or flower petals off the watercolor paper to reveal the printed images below, made from the juices of the plants.
  8. You will have more or less success with this technique based on the amount of water in the plant as well as the coloration of the flower and the stiffness of its fibers. The paper substrate and your technique with the hammer will also make a difference in the final product.

How Is This Relevant to Printing?

All three are traditional custom printing techniques. This is what people did before they could digitally inkjet images onto fabric substrates for their industrial design projects (presumably decorating their grass-thatched huts, tipis, and yurts).

Commercial Printing: Working with a New Printer

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

When you decide to work with a new printer, a moment comes when you just take a leap of faith. At this moment, and in the time leading up to it, what can you do to ensure success?

Backstory: A Case Study

I recently priced out a 4- or 8-page self-cover booklet to a printer I work with regularly. It is a short run (250, 500, or 1000 copies) of an almost square job (8.5″x9.5″ folded), so the printer has priced the booklet on his HP Indigo digital press. Based on the client’s description of the piece, I gave the printer the option of running the job using offset equipment (as a 2-color job) or digital technology, and he thought digital printing would be more cost-effective.

His prices were great and very much in line with my expectations. Given that this custom printing supplier is usually the low bid, I didn’t bid the job to any other commercial printing vendors. My client was happy with this plan.

However, my client’s client asked for a second bid (for due diligence), so I bid out the job to a new printer. I had been referred to this particular commercial printing shop. The reference had been stellar, but in my prior attempts to start working with this printer, his prices had been too high.

I therefore expected the second printer to come back with prices that were higher than the first printer’s bid. But they were significantly lower, and they were based on offset custom printing (2-color offset).

What could I do? I actually wasn’t prepared for success. This had been a perfunctory second bid.

Factors in Choosing a New Printer

As a printing broker, I had to decide whether to encourage my client to consider this new printer. The price was right (several hundred dollars lower). The associate of mine who had recommended the printer had done a lot of work with him. The printer was therefore a known quantity. I felt I could depend on him.

Still, I emailed the printer and asked for samples of comparable work, something in line with my client’s specs. Based on the samples, I’ll decide whether to share the new printer’s bid with my client. I will look for such things as even trims, pleasing color, and tight register (which will be visible under my 12-power loupe).

And then presumably I’ll have to take a leap of faith. Granted, it is a reasonably small job, and I usually like to start a new printer out with something relatively small and easy, and develop trust from there.

Other New Printers I’ve Chosen This Year

I have also thought about the two other new printers I have added to my list this past year. Here’s how I made my decision to hand over a real job, to take the leap of faith:

Printer #1

The first one, a book printer, had been courting me for a year. I had seen samples and had liked them. The pricing was good, but for almost a year I didn’t have a live job that fit this printer’s equipment. I had spoken with the sales rep on the phone numerous times, and I trusted her. Again, it was an intuitive thing, a gut feeling. But the book printer’s website, equipment list, samples, and references were good. Even though the printer was halfway across the United States, I eventually had an appropriate job and gave it to this printer. In some ways I think the sales rep made the ultimate decision easier. I liked and trusted her. I had based my decision on the quality of the samples and the pricing, but I think on some level we all choose vendors based on our feelings of trust and connection with them. I was very pleased with the final print job, a digital print book with a case binding. I plan to go back to this book printer as soon as I have another appropriate job.

Printer #2

I chose a second printer last year based on a 17-year business relationship with the two principals of the commercial printing firm. At the time, they had been working for another print vendor, but I had developed a high level of trust with them over the prior 17-year period. Granted, I also visited the new printing plant, solicited a number of bids on selected jobs, and closely checked a number of printed samples. But on a certain level, I was willing to take the leap of faith and send the printer a live job (a rather complex one for a first job) based on the personal and business relationship I had developed over the years with the two principals (i.e., the level of personal trust).

I think that ultimately, after I have vetted the samples, estimates (for completeness, accuracy, and attractive pricing), and references, I select vendors with whom I have a feeling of personal rapport and trust. That is the ultimate deciding factor, particularly when selecting a new vendor. It’s an intuitive decision, ultimately, but not one based entirely on feelings. Rather it is based on a mass of data that comes together in a gut feeling of either wanting to work with the vendor or not wanting to work with the vendor.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Start with measurable qualifiers. Check estimates carefully. Look for errors and omissions from the specs you submitted.
  2. Look closely at printed samples. Check the printer’s attention to color register. Are all the plates aligned? Is the folding neat and precise? Are trims and margins accurate? If any of the samples are problematic, bring this to the sales rep’s attention.
  3. Check references.
  4. Consider visiting the printing plant. Look for happy workers and a clean pressroom. It’s a good sign if the presses are running rather than idle, and it’s also a good sign if the lighting is good, the workflow of the machinery makes sense, and there is an attention to cleanliness and order.
  5. Think about how you would feel working with the sales rep. Do you trust her/him? Answer this carefully, since he/she will be one of your prime contacts at the plant: i.e., your lifeline. Do the same with the customer service rep.

Custom Printing: Address Delivery Requirements Early

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

I’m helping a commercial printing client of mine produce an 88-page-plus-cover perfect bound book of poems. It’s gratifying to assist in the creation of a literary work in a world where we seldom have time to pause and reflect.

The final details, prior to submission of InDesign files, have included such items as my client’s transferring funds to the book printer (to cover the paper purchase), confirming the book length and press run, and getting my client to think about delivery.

Delivery is usually not a concrete enough concept at this early stage, but it still helps to get my clients thinking early, since it will be all too real in about a month. Today I found a delivery manifest from a book printed for the same client about a year ago. I’m using it as a starting point. It actually raised some interesting issues I wanted to share with you.

Structure of the Delivery Form

When you think of the number of cartons needed for a 1,500-copy, or 10,000-copy run of a paperback book, it starts to make sense why you should draft a detailed delivery manifest. An error can require a lot of physical labor to fix.

In creating this delivery manifest the first items I added were the following four headings: “Number of Copies,” “Destination,” “Carrier,” and “Due Date.”

Number of Copies

Among other things, I made sure all of the deliveries added up to the total press run, no more, no less. You laugh, perhaps, but it’s easy to make a mistake here. This also forces you to think about the books (or other printed products) as complete, individual units. Prior to this, they may have been a collection of specifications including page counts, page sizes, paper choices, etc. Now they are individual units, and their distribution must be accurate.

Destination

Destination is a more complex item. Here I put not only the complete street address but also names and phone numbers of people responsible for taking delivery of the job. In many cases these contact people will need to know the delivery date and time prior to the truck’s arrival (by a certain number of hours or days).

Carrier

In some cases the printer will want to deliver the print books. In other cases, the printer will want to hire a separate carrier to deliver them. For my particular client, based on the location of the printer, the fulfillment house (rather than the printer) will drive to the printer’s factory, pick up the books, and drive back to the fulfillment house. It pays to spell all of this out on the delivery form. (It keeps you focused on the details of all of the deliveries, and it provides a single document that all participants in the production and distribution process can refer to—repeatedly.)

I also like to give the book printer the option of choosing the best way to deliver the job instead of making this decision myself. This is particularly true if the printer is far away geographically. No one knows better than the printer’s customer service representative which local trucking companies are the best, what their routes are, and how the job has been prepared (i.e., the number of cartons and whether the job will require a full truckload or an LTL—less than truckload—delivery). If this sounds complicated, what it really means is that the customer service representative can get the best deals, so it’s prudent to let her or him do the research. Just make sure he or she lets you know the options.

Mostly, the choice of carrier will depend on the delivery location, due date, and number of cartons and/or skids of print books (or other printed products).

Due Date

If you look closely at a printer’s estimate, you’ll see that some printers include the date shipped while others include the date delivered. Your main concern will be when the completed job will arrive at your warehouse. So make sure you discuss the due date early and include it on the delivery form, where all participants can see it. In most cases, the fulfillment houses, warehouses, etc., will want sufficient notice as to the window of time in which the delivery will occur.

Extra Information

I always ask all of the freight carriers for their own specific packing instructions. These can include the following:

  1. Fulfillment houses may want all print books to have specific barcodes that display the U.S. price and ISBN.
  2. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may want the book cartons to be marked with the book’s title, ISBN, carton quantity, and carton weight in both readable and barcode formats.
  3. Warehouses may want shipments to be accompanied by a packing slip that indicates the quantity by title, the number of cartons on each pallet, and the number of pallets. They may want the packing slip attached to the pallet or inside an accessible carton marked “packing slip enclosed.”
  4. They may require shipments of more than a limited number of (for example, 10) cartons or a certain number of (for example, 300) pounds to be palletized and shipped by truck to avoid rough handling and potential damage. They may also require that pallets not be double-stacked in the truck.
  5. Warehouses and fulfillment houses may stipulate that shipping charges for books are the responsibility of the publisher, and that all shipments must be sent prepaid.
  6. They may have requirements for the size of the assembled pallet (for instance, 40″ x 48″ x 48″ high).

It is wise to do everything these warehouses and fulfillment houses request in order to ensure accurate shipment of the proper number of books, undamaged in transit, and accurately accounted for throughout the delivery process, the inventory, and the pack-and-ship fulfillment process.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to be precise, comprehensive, and accurate. Once you have a delivery form like this, you essentially have a contract. All participants at your place of business (in marketing, new product development, etc.), as well as the printer and the distribution facility will have a physical document to which they can refer, and which they can amend if necessary.

Custom Printing: 3 News Items for the New Year

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

I’m writing this blog post on New Year’s Day. Therefore, it seems fitting to discuss some new trends I’ve been reading about. It will be interesting to see how these come to fruition in the coming year.

Print Books Are Making a Comeback

A long-time associate and friend recently brought to my attention an article on the resurgence of print books. As a commercial printing broker, I was particularly glad to see it.

A 12/19/15 article published in Quartz (qz.com) and written by Amy X. Wang (entitled “Against all odds, print books are on the rise again in the US”) notes that “At least in the US, sales of physical books have experienced a renewed surge of interest, according to Nielsen BookScan, a data provider that collects data on roughly 85% of the print market.”

According to Wang, the Nielsen BookScan notes that in 2014 559 million print books were sold, and then in 2015 this number rose to 571 million. Apparently readers are buying print books by online celebrities, adult coloring books, and paperback and hardback copies of certain noteworthy titles that have already been released as e-books.

At the same time, according to Wang’s article (and supported by a PEW Research Center study), people are buying fewer e-readers (and therefore presumably fewer e-books).

What this means to me is that print books offer something e-books cannot replicate—a physical presence. Book-lovers have written on- and off-line for years that the tactile experience of the physical, print book makes a difference to the reader. I’ve wanted to believe this. I’ve believed it for myself based on my own preferences. Now it’s gratifying to see the love of the printed book reflected in both online and off-line surveys.

I don’t think e-books will disappear. Nor should they. There are things I prefer to read online, and there are other things I want to read on paper. Having access to both means being able to choose the appropriate medium for the occasion. I love books. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Apple Enters the 3-D Printing Arena

The same friend and colleague sent me another article about Apple, entitled “Apple Patent Application Reveals 3-D Printer Plans” (12/29/15, from Print+Promo, and written by Brendan Menapace).

Apple is entering the 3-D printing arena (also called additive manufacturing), having submitted plans for a patent in May 2014.

According to Menapace’s article, “The proposed printer would use fused deposition modeling (FDM), which involves a thermoplastic filament heated to its melting point and pushed out layer by layer to create the 3-D object.”

(In simpler terms, this is akin to inkjet printing insofar as the printing substance comes out of a nozzle, but unlike inkjet printing, 3-D printing builds up multiple layers of plastic to create the finished product.)

What makes Apple’s proposed printer different is that it colors the extruded plastic as the three-dimensional product is printed. One print head dispenses the plastic to form the item, while the other print head adds coloration. Most other 3-D printers add color after the printing stage. (Apple has also submitted plans for this kind of 3-D printer.) According to Menapace’s article, “There are a few others that can produce multicolored products, such as the Cube Pro and Dreammaker Overlord, but coloring the item as it prints would be a new addition to the industry’s technology.”

Having read this, I now see two important trends reflected in Apple’s plans. First of all, Apple produces products for consumers. It’s target audience is “regular people,” not businesses. Moreover, Apple has built a reputation upon making technology user friendly. My guess is that Apple’s new printer will be expensive but not unaffordable. It will also be easy to use.

Moreover (unless the product is altered before coming to market), since Apple’s 3-D printer will produce the item in the actual final colors, this will be a giant leap beyond other 3-D printers that may use colored materials for extrusion but that may still need to add the final, precise coloration at the end of the process. Apple’s products will come out of the printer looking lifelike. This will be a game changer.

Textile Printing Will Be Big

I just read two predictions for 2016 by Andy Wilson, joint managing director of PressOn, as published in PrintWeek on 01/01/16.

First off, Wilson has seen a trend this year toward longer digital press runs. According to Wilson, “We’re chipping away more quickly and getting more of a market share using digital print against more traditional methods. For example, we’ve seen bigger jobs coming though here that would’ve gone screen printing before.”

In addition, when asked by PrintWeek, “What do you think will represent the single biggest opportunity for printers in 2016 and why?” he replied that “There is a lot of interesting new technology in that fabric printing market. I think that market is going to open up for a lot more of us that haven’t previously specialized in dye sub.”

My take-away from the first comment is that digital commercial printing is becoming efficient at longer runs (and offset, based on my reading elsewhere, is becoming cost-effective at shorter runs). This will provide a number of options to print buyers. In addition, sheet sizes for digital presses are getting larger, allowing more options in imposition (and the printing of larger-format projects).

My take-away from the second comment by Wilson is that textile printing will be a huge market. People want immediate printing, shorter press runs, and the kind of variety and personalization you can’t get with custom screen printing. Going forward, I think digital printing will gradually erode the screen printing base in textiles.

Custom Printing: A Commitment to the History of Print

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

A friend and colleague within the commercial printing industry just forwarded me an article regarding a sizable donation towards preserving the history of printing.

The article, entitled “Graphic Communication Receives $2.3 Million to Preserve Printing Industry History,” issued as a press release on 11/23/15 by California Polytechnic State University, notes that “Well known printing industry expert Raymond J. Prince has donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department to preserve the history and knowledge of the printing and imaging industry.”

I found the article very encouraging as well as supportive of the future of custom printing.

Here are the four areas funded by the donation (italics are mine), as noted in the press release:

“The first is a named endowed scholarship honoring Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Gary Field, a highly regarded imaging scientist, professor, writer and speaker on issues of color management and related topics.

“The second is a named endowed scholarship honoring Professor Brian Lawler for his lifelong work advocating for the importance of print as a creative and influential communication medium surviving more than six centuries.

“The third area is a cash donation to supplement funds already raised to support what has become the world’s largest library on graphic arts technology and management. The library, already named the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Collection, is housed in Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department and includes more than 30,000 volumes.

“The fourth is a bequest that will perpetuate the ongoing growth and development of the library’s collection and graphic communication education at Cal Poly.”

Why This Is Important

After reading the article, I carefully considered exactly why I found this donation to be important. Here are my thoughts:

  1. This is a time in which many people have proclaimed the imminent death of print. In this light, for a major technical university to develop and maintain such a printing knowledge base demonstrates the value the university places on commercial printing. Clearly Cal Poly believes custom printing is relevant in this world.
  2. The focus of the grant extends beyond printing to communications in general. Cal Poly understands the goal of printing is to foster communication.
  3. The donation confirms a commitment to maintaining the knowledge gained in the six centuries since the birth of printing. This unbroken lineage will in turn benefit the future of printing in particular and communications in general.
  4. The donation confirms a belief that preparing young people for jobs within the printing field is important, that the industry is not dying but just changing. Moreover, providing the best education possible in commercial printing will ensure continued technical innovation. Preserving knowledge of what has gone before is the best way to give students a base on which to build the future of commercial printing technology.
  5. The press release notes that a broadly maintained library of all aspects of the history of printing will allow for “patent development and challenges.” This will ensure a well-ordered experimentation in, and development of, new technologies for printing. Both faculty and students will benefit. The university values both the future leaders of the commercial printing industry and its current experts, the faculty. Continued innovation will improve the equipment, processes, and workflows used on a daily basis in commercial printing establishments.
  6. In the press release, Douglas Epperson, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, notes that “Because of Ray and others who continue to donate to the collection, our students, faculty, scholars and industry personnel can access the world’s largest collection of graphic arts resources and materials.” (I am reminded of the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most comprehensive libraries of the ancient world.) Such a diverse collection of materials on custom printing will benefit those in the printing field who build upon its wisdom and insight as well as others around the world.

Custom Printing: Branded Grocery Signs and Products

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Every week I shop at Harris Teeter, as well as a few other grocery stores. And over the last several years–being a student of commercial printing, marketing, and design–I have paid close attention to store branding. I’ve been very impressed with Harris Teeter’s presentation. There’s nothing like visiting local businesses on a regular basis to get a sense of just how store design and product design interact and work on the buyer’s conscious and subconscious awareness. When done well, this makes people want to shop more and buy more. I can appreciate the skills and knowledge required.

A Sample Product: Boxed Egg Whites

Harris Teeter is owned by Kroger. Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing focus on store brand merchandise. The quality of organic produce and even canned and bottled goods has increased, as has the number of organic products available.

This last week my fiancee took photos of one product in particular to make sure I would look closely at its packaging when we got back home.

The product is HT Traders Cage-Free Pasteurized 100% Liquid Egg Whites, and here’s what I can discern from the product packaging:

  1. Unlike all of the other packaging I saw, this one had a photo of an egg with all of the type (excluding the HT Traders brand logo) hand written on the curved eggshell. First of all, this is unique, as most other packaging separates its typography from the images. Even if the type has been surprinted over an image, it’s still separate. It’s not written on the product.
  2. Since the egg has a curved surface, the curvature of the hand-printed product information makes for a unique presentation. All other typography is flat; this typography is curved and therefore intriguing.
  3. The hand lettering creates a casual tone. Moreover, you could say it creates a tone of honesty and directness, and this heightens credibility. In fact, it’s almost like the farmer has written on the eggs with a Sharpie marker at a farmer’s market. The tone suggests freshness, healthfulness, integrity, perhaps even a focus on sustainability and local produce—all the good qualities of a healthy meal.
  4. The lightness (almost a beige pastel) of the background color of the box (which is structured like a pint-sized box of milk) gives an almost porcelain appearance to the product, while echoing the colors of the early morning.
  5. Even the printed logo (typescript as opposed to hand-lettering) is done in a fun, bouncy typeface in which the baseline of the letterforms moves up and down, providing an almost childlike immediacy and enthusiasm to the packaging. Along with a hand-drawn apple, fish outline, and loaf of bread, the logo is friendly and approachable. The overall appearance makes you trust the HT Traders product.

Overall, this is a well thought-out design for a house-brand product. Granted, the product itself (or at least other products I’ve tried at Harris Teeter) is of high quality. Appearance alone without substance would detract from the brand and the store, but quality promotion of a quality product enhances its perceived value and encourages shoppers to buy. To me, this is success.

In-Store Signs that Reflect the Company Values

The second photo my fiancee took that night was of a refrigerator sign. I was immediately struck by the similar tone of both the egg-white product and the store signage, until I saw the “My Earth” logo with the same hand-drawn loaf of bread, apple, and fish as the Cage-Free Pasteurized Egg Whites box.

So My Earth and HT Traders products are visually related both through the apparent hand-drawn letterforms (possibly a hand-drawn typeface on a computer) and the image portion of the logo (the fish, bread, and apple).

The sign on the refrigerator notes how Harris Teeter increases refrigeration efficiency and reduces the cost of utilities with this particular technology. Although Harris Teeter has chosen to minimize energy use, it actually helps the branding to make this fact known to shoppers. An increasing number of people value sustainability, and are therefore more likely to buy from a business that shares this goal.

And presenting this information in a hand-drawn font visually connected to HT Traders underscores the low-key approach of the store. You know that this is a house brand (a reflection of the values of those who choose what products to include on the shelves). And you also know that the management is approachable, friendly, not stodgy.

All of this is reinforced by the consistent visual presentation, in both the store signage and the house-brand product packaging. In fact, as a shopper, I personally am more inclined to try a number of the dry goods, canned goods, and bottled goods in the store that have the “look” of the signage and the egg white packaging. I think others will be, too.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

It used to rankle me whenever I heard the catch phrase, “Image is everything.” I think that’s because it implied dishonesty, that you can sell low quality goods if they’re packaged well. Now I prefer to think that if a product or service is of the highest quality, this can be better communicated to prospective buyers with effective branding. Effective branding communicates and reinforces the values and quality of the brand whenever the prospect sees the logo, signage, or product packaging.

As a graphic designer or marketing professional, you have the power to communicate this quality to your prospective buyers through a well-crafted, consistent approach to your commercial printing materials: your signage, product packaging, and collateral.

Custom Printing: Gloss UV vs. Clear Foil Stamping

Monday, March 14th, 2016

My fiancee brought home an intriguing circus print book from a thrift store yesterday. In addition to being all in French, which adds an air of romance to the already beautiful images of horses and costume-clad performers, the book includes the handwritten signatures of a number of the actors in black marker, on their individual pages. The 8” x 10” format, saddle-stitched book also has a striking front and back cover treatment: a gloss coating on the horse and circus name (on the front cover) and two silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover, also gloss coated.

Determining How the Designer Created the Gloss Effect

The gloss coating has an almost mirror-like brilliance, and the remaining background of the front and back covers has a more muted, satin-like coating for contrast.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the effect had been achieved, so I considered the possibilities:

  1. The gloss coating was too shiny to be varnish or aqueous coating. It also had a bit of a raised feel.
  2. The gloss could have been a clear foil stamping, but I knew this would have been an expensive way to approach this design problem, since a die would have been required for the foil stamping process.
  3. I knew that flooding a background with a dull or satin UV coating and then highlighting certain elements within the design with gloss UV coating was currently in vogue, and that it would have produced just this kind of effect at a lower cost than clear foil stamping (because no die would have been required).

Under the circumstances I made an educated guess that the UV option was the likely technology in use. I also checked online for images of gloss UV coating paired with satin UV, and the photos confirmed my assumption.

Other Things I Learned

I also learned some other things in my review of the online imagery as well as the descriptions of the process:

  1. Clear foil stamping seems to be used more for logos and words on a dark, uncoated but textured substrate. For instance, a lot of the clear foil stamped products were custom pocket folder covers or invitations with a few words on a blue or black linen sheet. The effect was similar to the UV gloss coating, but the clear foil stamping technique seemed to be used less as a coating (over imagery) and more as a design element in and of itself.
  2. The darker and more subdued the background, the more the gloss UV stood out. The gloss UV type on a satin UV background didn’t really need any other imagery. On it’s own, it was quite dramatic. In fact, some of the photos I found online were of business cards and postcards with just gloss type on a muted background. (Presumably, though, the fact that UV coating needs no die made the process cheaper and less time consuming than the clear foil stamping option.)
  3. I already knew this, but I also found descriptions of how UV light instantly cures the coating, allowing follow-up steps to be performed immediately, and how this process consumes less energy since it uses light rather than heat to solidify the liquid coating material.
  4. I learned that foil stamping (including clear foil stamping) works best on thicker paper stocks. This probably accounts for the use of clear foil stamping for invitations on a thicker felt paper substrate. One article I read noted that coated papers are seldom foil stamped since the coating traps gases and may cause bubbles to appear under the clear foil. For this reason, I felt even more certain that the circus print book my fiancee had brought home was created with a gloss UV coating and a satin UV coating rather than clear foil stamping. After all, the paper stock used throughout the booklet was coated.
  5. Another article I read, by a printer, noted the two best uses for gloss UV. The first is for highlighting imagery (like the gloss coating used on the front-cover booklet title and horse, as well as the silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover). The second is for creating the text or image itself, without any other artwork, since the glossy words can be read when the light hits the design (because of the contrast with the dull background).
  6. The article noted that such a UV coating is primarily added for its aesthetic properties and not for protection (as might be the goal of adding an overall flood varnish, aqueous coating, laminate, or UV coating).
  7. Gloss UV seems to be appropriate for a wider range of paper stocks than clear foil stamping: from lighter 100# text stock to thick card stocks.
  8. And UV coating seems to be safe for the environment, emitting no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and containing no solvents.

What You Can Learn

  1. You have a lot of options. In fact, you can even create similar printed products using different technologies (such as clear foil stamping and spot gloss UV coating).
  2. However, some of these techniques take longer than others (the time needed to make a metal die, for instance) and are therefore more expensive.
  3. If you like a particular effect, ask your commercial printing supplier or a paper merchant for printed samples. Then ask how they were created. There’s no better way to learn—or communicate your goals to your printer—than with a printed sample.

Custom Printing: Postponing a Job That’s in Progress

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

I can’t remember the last time I canceled or postponed a commercial printing job mid-flight, or at least right before the job went to press. It’s demoralizing, but depending on why it’s done and how it’s done, this doesn’t have to be either the end of the project or the end of the relationship with the printer.

The Back Story on the Print Job

PIE Blog readers may recognize the story of the fashionista and her color swatch book, akin to a PMS swatch book but for use in choosing clothes based on colors relevant to one’s complexion.

I had encouraged my client to buy an ongoing Creative Cloud license for InDesign. I had then created a template for her print book, and she had produced 22 different versions (master copies for her short-run job). Due to its run length, the project was to be printed on an HP Indigo digital press. And due to it’s short run length (it would be reprinted regularly as new clients bought copies), the job has been the poster child for “just in time” digital printing.

Well it crashed and burned this week due exclusively to a break up between the entrepreneur and her source of funding.

Personally, I think this is a short-term setback and not a permanent end to the job. (Granted, that’s easy for me to say.)

Future Directions for the Job

Under the circumstances, however, I have taken the following track:

  1. I alerted the printer today. The prior printer, who was going to do the job on a Kodak NexPress, had misquoted the project and had offered to either reprice the job (for a significantly higher price) or to back out of the process. The current printer had stepped up and had produced a single-page ganged-up test sheet including a handful of color swatches from the job. He had printed this test on the chosen paper stock and had UV coated the sample to show my client how a cover coating might affect the colors in the print book. Needless to say, both printers had invested a lot of time in the project over the course of a year.
  2. I asked the current printer to calculate how much the work done up until now would cost. I made it clear that my client planned to come back once she had found funding for her entrepreneurial efforts. I said I knew the printer’s time was valuable, and I wanted him to be adequately compensated. He is looking into this.
  3. I told the printer to expect full funding when my client came back. She would provide the entire cost with a check or credit card before starting the job. This demonstrated good will, respect, and an intent to postpone but not cancel the job.
  4. I asked the client to review the single-page test sheet very carefully. It would be the starting point for the new job once she had secured funding. I asked her to note on the test sheet the CMYK percentages of each color swatch, the target PMS for each swatch (if she chose to match them on the Indigo), and any comments she had concerning the color fidelity of each swatch. This reflected my conviction that the job would in fact continue in several months.
  5. I reassured my client. I told her that neither the commercial printing vendor nor I would abandon her due to this unfortunate experience. We both planned to continue the job in the near future.

The Take Away: What We Can Learn

  1. Sometimes things go awry. Cutting ties in a case like this would have been counterproductive. After all, my client had created 22 press-ready print book files in InDesign. She had shown good faith and an intent to proceed. I do not know exactly when the job will start up again. However, if I had cut ties with the client, or if the printer had cut ties with me, there would have been no chance to pursue the job—which could easily grow into an ongoing project with periodic reprints.
  2. Not asking the printer for a bill for services to-date would have shown a lack of respect for his time and effort. I might have gotten away without paying, but it would have damaged the relationship. Furthermore, when the job resurfaces, this printer would have had less inclination to work with me, or my client.
  3. Not asking my client to analyze the single-page test job and provide feedback—even at this point–would have been to miss an opportunity to plan how to proceed after she has secured funding. After all, the job (and her reactions to the sample file color swatches produced on the HP Indigo) is still fresh in her mind.
  4. In your own commercial printing work, a situation like this may come up—perhaps once or twice in a career. I encourage you to think before you react. Sometimes apparent failure just means that you need to change your direction a bit and then start again.

Custom Printing: Pairing Magazines with Virtual Reality

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

A friend of mine let me know this week that he had just bought the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated but that he had only bought it for the articles, not the pictures. He’s a former athletics coach.

When I learned that there were three (at least that I knew of) different covers of this particular issue, I asked my friend the coach if he had bought all three versions, or was one version (with one cover) enough for him to read and not look at the pictures.

Items of interest come in multiples, so I was not surprised to receive an article from another friend and associate noting the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality. It focused on the same magazine.

Apparently 500,000 newsstand copies of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated include a virtual reality viewer, a pop-up cardboard device that attaches to your smartphone. When you download an app, you can experience content beyond that in the swimsuit issue (“’intimate access’ with five featured models,” according to the article) in a fully immersive way.

I urge you to look up the article online. It is entitled “Quad/Graphics Enhances 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with Virtual Reality Viewer.” It was written by Elise Hacking Carr and published on February 23, 2016, on the Print+Promo website.

Why This Is Important

According to Carr’s Print+Promo article, the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality is important because it extends the reach, creativity, and effectiveness of marketing. Carr notes that, “advertisers are able to brand and print four-color process on the unit’s [the virtual reality viewer's] outer shell for increased brand visibility.” She also quotes Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics:

“Publishers are looking for new and innovative ways to connect more with their readership.

“The QVR Viewer allows them to provide enhanced digital experiences that complement and extend their brand, or advertisers’ brands, beyond traditional print or digital content.

“Compared to other paper viewers, the QVR Viewer is an economical way to reach readers and consumers with a fully branded gateway to digital content.”

My Take on the Technology

I learned the following from my interaction with the sports coach and from the article I received from my other friend:

  1. Unrelated to virtual reality, the concept of having multiple versions of a cover for a magazine shows how publications can be targeted to their readers. While this could be done before the advent of digital commercial printing (selective binding of the same publication using variations on the cover), it’s nevertheless much easier now with the new technology. After all, on a digital press you don’t have to just print a handful of different covers. You can print a different cover for each copy as well as different text/photos throughout. Mass personalization means advertisers can directly target small groups and even individuals with their advertising messages.
  2. Multi-channel marketing is powerful. If a potential client sees an advertising message on different platforms (email, signage, a periodical, and virtual reality, for instance), the marketing message will be exponentially strengthened.
  3. More and more, I’m seeing this concept put to use with increasing technical savvy (for instance, printing a poster with a near-field communication chip that ties into your smartphone). So the pairing of virtual reality glasses and a print magazine not only doesn’t surprise me. It intrigues me.
  4. Nothing sells like sex, so choosing the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated for the virtual reality viewer seems like a “no-brainer” to me.
  5. Paper folds, plastic doesn’t. So I am intrigued that Quad/Graphics was able to produce a foldable paper virtual reality device. Moreover, using an already existing base of smartphones in the marketplace and only providing the headset and lenses works on a financial level. Basically, the marketing prospect doesn’t have to buy anything. He/she only has to download an app and then use his/her existing phone to experience virtual reality.
  6. A paper structure for a virtual reality device provides ample space for a marketing message. It can also be printed flat and then assembled (much more easily than printing on a rigid, 3D molded plastic virtual reality headset). And it can be delivered to 500,000 readers far more easily and cheaply. So the designers of the product thought ahead to make the process easy for the printer as well as the user of the device.
  7. Hard-copy magazines reach an established reader base. Using print publications as a jumping off point into the virtual world is just good psychology and good business.

This is what happens when marketers take the time to understand their prospects’ interests, their custom printing suppliers’ capabilities, concepts of finance and cost analysis, the available cutting edge computer technology, and human psychology. More power to them.

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