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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 ‘Offset Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: 11 Suggestions for a Press Inspection

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

It has been years since I’ve been on a commercial printing press inspection. Between the computerized consoles that constantly monitor conditions within the press and adjust for any ink density variance or problems with register, to the on-screen proofs that allow multiple people at a client’s office to check proofs online, it is rarely necessary to check a job on press.

That said, sometimes it’s essential. Let’s say your job resembles any of the following:

  1. A print catalog in which photos of designer clothes must precisely match the color of the actual fabric
  2. A high-end gift box with intricate diecuts or multiple foil stamping treatments and a colored lining produced on special commercial printing stock
  3. Any four-color job related to food, fashion, or the automotive industry (i.e., critical color)

In these cases you may be called upon to attend a press check. If the job involves multiple signatures (a print catalog or magazine, for instance), your commercial printing vendor will probably produce these signatures sequentially, and you may be on press at 6:00 a.m., noon, 6:00 p.m., and so forth. It can be exhausting, and the decisions you make will probably be critical.

So here are some things to look for when you’re checking the custom printing sheets:

  1. Check the commercial printing paper (color, thickness, surface texture, etc.).
  2. Check the page imposition (make sure everything is there). Check the page size.
  3. Make sure any corrections from the printer’s proof have been made.
  4. Check any PMS colors against a PMS swatch book.
  5. Make sure the overall color is good. If the color looks off, point this out to the pressman, but let him determine how to fix it (i.e., whether more or less of a color is needed). Look for memory colors, such as flesh tones and green grass. Check the press pulls against the proof to make sure the color matches.
  6. Check the color images under a loupe to ensure good register (look for process color halftone screens hanging out beyond the edges of type and photos), but keep in mind that it’s more important for the job to be visually accurate than 100 percent exact under a loupe.
  7. Look for custom printing problems like hickies (caused by dust on a press blanket), ink in non-image areas, trails of ink on the type letterforms, and such.
  8. Use a pen and straight edge, or ruler, to rule out a page (from trim mark to trim mark) to make sure the dimensions will be as you expect, and fold the signature to make sure the pages are in proper order, that they will align (side by side), and that they will back up correctly (on the front and back of a press sheet). Be especially conscious of this if you have critical alignments that cross over from one page to another.
  9. Keep in mind that any changes you make due to your errors will cost you (more at this stage than at any other stage). So they should be absolutely essential. Weigh the cost of the corrections against the reality that all print jobs will have some flaws. Keep in mind that changes will also take time and may compromise the schedule (i.e., time is a secondary cost).
  10. For absolutely critical work, check the binding as well. This may mean coming back on another day, but if the job just cannot have any problems, it may be worth it. Failing that, it’s a good idea to have your custom printing vendor send samples to your office for approval before the balance of the job goes to the mail house.
  11. Keep in mind that the pressman’s comment, “That will go away when the press gets up to speed” (i.e., color problems or technical problems like hickies), may actually be correct. After all, he has a lot of experience with his particular press. However, in cases like these, it’s a good idea to wait around and have him pull a few copies for you from the middle of the job, after the press has gotten up to speed, just to make sure.

Custom Printing: Heidelberg’s “Game-Changer” Press

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The introduction of the new Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor is really quite exciting. In an age of digital custom printing, Heidelberg has made dramatic strides in–of all things–sheetfed offset lithography.

A friend and associate brought this development to my attention, so I did some research into Heidelberg’s new press, and I already see some game-changing implications.

Digital printing has improved significantly over the last two decades, and it has recently come amazingly close to offset quality. But that’s just it. It comes amazingly close. Once in a while, you need the quality, speed, and efficiency of ink on paper.

Heidelberg’s Claims (and Their Implications)

According to an ad by Heidelberg, the XL 75 Anicolor provides “the perfect formula”:

  1. “300 sheets to break even vs. digital”
  2. “1000+ Pantone colors”
  3. “40% lower cost per job”
  4. “45% higher production capacity”
  5. “0 click charges”

Here’s an explanation of these claims, made “in comparison of 29 [inch] digital vs. 29 [inch] Anicolor with average run length of 545 sheets” as well as some thoughts on their ramifications:

1. Due to the time and materials required for make-ready, it has (as a rule) taken a mid-sized press run to make a job competitive on an offset press. Until the advent of this new technology, you might have printed 5,000 copies of a brochure on an offset press or 500 copies of the same brochure on a digital press. Your unit cost for the digital print product would be higher, but your overall cost would be lower than that of the offset run. In contrast, if you were to print 500 copies of the brochure on an offset press, you’d pay almost as much as you would for 1,000 copies. All of your money would be going into preparing the press and getting the color right. So Heidelberg’s claim that the XL 75 Anicolor will print “300 sheets to break even vs. digital” is provocative.

2. Most digital presses only print process colors. Some add a few spot colors. In most cases, the digital presses must simulate Pantone colors using process inks (CMYK) along with an extended color set (maybe green and orange; or light magenta and light cyan; or a red, green, and blue). The accuracy of matching PMS colors has improved over the years, but for a printed logo or corporate color scheme, sometimes you just need Pantone colors. And an offset press will print Pantone colors, so Heidelberg’s selling proposition, “1000+ Pantone colors,” is most compelling.

3. The two following claims, “40% lower cost per job” and “45% higher production capacity” imply the following. With shortened make-readies and reduced waste, as well as repeatability, ease of use, and speed, it is now possible to drive down the cost of producing a print job on the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. In addition, the higher production capacity is due to the overall speed of an offset press. I just did some research online and found one source that says an HP Indigo will print just under 5,000 sheets per hour. According to Heidelberg’s promotional literature, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor can print up to 15,000 sheets per hour. The speed of the press means greater throughput and hence lower costs (i.e., more billable work done in less time).

4. If you’re a commercial printing supplier, you usually lease digital equipment. Or you own an offset press. To allow for wear and tear on a digital press, a printer usually has to pay a surcharge “per click,” or per imaged page. This offsets the maintenance costs associated with replacing worn out components of the digital press. So Heidelberg’s claim of “0 click charges” means a print provider can reap higher profit margins on his work.

But There Are Even More Benefits

If you read further in the ad, Heidelberg briefly mentions two other benefits: “new, larger format” and “consistently high print quality.”

To address the first item, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor has a 19.69” x 27.56” format. Most digital presses have a 13” x 19” format. (Granted there are some new digital presses like the Indigo 10000 that accept a 29.5” x 20.9” sheet, but these machines are not yet common. What this means is that you can print oversized items like customized pocket folders on the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. Such a product (a flat sheet prior to conversion into a folded and glued pocket folder) would not fit on the 13” x 19” digital press sheet size.

Regarding the second claim, according to Heidelberg promotional literature, the Anicolor “zoneless short inking unit,” “inking unit temperature control,” “optimized washup programs,” and “automatic ink feed from cartridges” make offset custom printing not only faster and easier but also more repeatable. So the process is more stable and is ideal for standardized jobs in which consistency is of paramount importance.

Environmental Benefits of the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor

Finally, the whole process is easier on the environment. Heidelberg notes that the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor cuts paper waste by 90 percent. This is truly good news.

Offset Printing: Respect the Limits of Offset Printing

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re designing any custom printing project. It is unbelievably easy to forget them.

Variation in Colors

If you plan to use a color build on a number of pages within signature work, such as a print book, keep in mind that there will be color variation across the press sheet and particularly from press signature to press signature.

Let’s say that you have a background area screen that will appear on all pages within a section of the book. If you have other four-color images, or heavy-coverage solid colors, within the signature, your book printer may need to adjust the inks on press to keep the photos true to color throughout the press run. In this case, you may find a color shift within the area screens if you lay one page of the print book beside another.

To sidestep this issue, consider adding a separate PMS ink for the background instead of building the background color with process inks. A PMS color will remain exactly the same throughout the press run, whether or not the book printer needs to adjust the process inks. This will cost a little more, but if you’re already printing your job on a five- or six-color press, this added amount should be minimal (perhaps a few hundred dollars). And it’s money well spent.

Crossover Alignment

Commercial printing is an art as well as a science. As noted above, there are variations in both printing and finishing. It is important to remember that finishing equipment is not 100 percent exact. If you extend type or a graphic from one page to another in multi-page signature work (such as a print book), the left-hand page (called the “verso”) portion of the image may not align precisely with the right-hand page (called the “recto”) portion of the image.

There are a few ways around this problem (or, rather, limitation of offset lithography). If you position the crossover image within the center spread of the signature (the two pages that are side by side on the press sheet), your image can cross over from the left-hand page to the right-hand page without any misalignment (after all, they’re side by side on the sheet, unlike all other pages in the press form).

Another solution, which is less effective, is to avoid placing images that cross over diagonally from one page to another in a signature, and avoid having thin lines cross over from the left-hand to the right-hand pages. Thicker crossover images are a little more forgiving than thinner ones, just as horizontal crossovers are more forgiving than diagonal ones. (This really has more to do with the limitations of the human eye.) And as noted in the preceding section, the colors on the left-hand page won’t exactly match those on the right-hand page unless you’re using a PMS (rather than a process color build).

Total Area Coverage

Presumably, if you’re designing a four-color product, you can specify 100 percent ink coverage for each of the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). In reality, this is not wise. If you’re printing on newsprint, you’ll get a sticky mess of paper and ink. Sheetfed printing on gloss stock will be slightly more forgiving, but the mass of ink will never completely dry.

In offset custom printing, only so much ink can either sit up on top of a coated press sheet or seep into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet without compromising either the paper or the printing process. For sheetfed printing on gloss or dull stock, you can usually get away with 340 percent total area coverage (the sum of all process inks: for example c100m80y60k100). For newsprint, you would want to lower the total area coverage to approximately 240 percent (for example c60m80y20k80), or less.

These percentages are just starting points. Ask your commercial printing vendor what the target percentages should be for the paper you’re using and for his particular printing press. It is quite possible to get deep, rich colors on press without adding excessive amounts of ink.

Custom Printing Is Still Alive According to Online Sources

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

I came upon a few articles recently that show various venues in which the printed word still flourishes.

Direct Mail Packages Just Work

The first article is a snippet from a commercial printing supplier’s website. I work with this vendor as a broker. Let’s call them “Printer A” so as not to give them an unfair advantage. To quote from their website, “This political season, [Printer A] printed and mailed over 24.5 million pieces in a three-month period.” To continue, this printer has noted increased spending on direct mail packages. Printer A attributes this resurgence to businesses’ attempting to attract new customers by using “mail that gets noticed.”

What This Means

Direct mail marketing still works, even in the age of email and tablet computers. Printer A was slammed and had to provide longer than usual schedules for some work prior to the election due to the vast number of print jobs in progress. Companies and political parties don’t spend money on advertising that is ineffectual. A coordinated, multichannel initiative directed toward individual prospects using variable data culled from demographic research makes direct mail a formidable tool.

Colourtone Aries Says Printing Is “Tangible”

BizCommunity.com Daily Industry News, dated November 12, 2012, includes a statement issued by Colourtone Aries that custom printing is still “a critical element in the marketing mix” due to its tangible nature. The BizCommunity article, entitled “Printing Will Not Die, Says Colourtone Aries,” notes that direct mail, point of sale pieces, brochures, and packaging are still dynamic marketing tools.

To quote from the article, Colourtone Aries believes strongly that “a brand’s interaction with the consumer is, and will always remain, tangible, either in the initial contact or when receiving a product. Printed communication, marketing and packaging, which adds to the consumer’s brand experience…is an integral part of the success of branding.”

What This Means

The key words here are “tangible” and “the success of branding.” The Internet is evanescent. It’s one useful marketing channel, but Colourtone Aries sees the “tangible” qualities of print as a necessary part of a brand’s connecting with a consumer on a personal level, forging a lasting bond and inspiring customer loyalty. Commercial printing is powerful and relevant.

Tablets May Actually Increase the Reading of Printed Periodicals

Media Bistro included the following article by Ryan Lytle in its November 15, 2012, newsfeed: “Tablets May Fuel Print Magazine Market, Report Says.”

This online article references a report by the United Kingdom’s Professional Publisher’s Association (PPA), which notes that tablet users read and respond to digital magazines. Furthermore, the PPA report notes “a positive correlation between print and tablet readership.”

PPA notes that while 80 percent of those surveyed had read a printed magazine within the past year, 96 percent of tablet owners had read a printed magazine within the last year.

The Media Bistro article suggests that readers have been using both tablet-based periodicals and printed periodicals. They want both formats, and in some cases the digital versions have even introduced readers to a new magazine or newspaper brand and have motivated these readers to subscribe to the print periodical, which they might not otherwise have done without the initial exposure to the periodical on the Internet.

Marius Cloete of PPA notes that: “Tablet owners are more likely to have read and purchased magazines in the previous 3 months than the national average, dispelling the myth that tablet owners are abandoning print in favor [of] digital.”

What This Means

Tablet owners are more voracious readers than the average person. They have embraced the tablet, but they still like printed periodicals. It’s not a question of choosing one over the other. Rather it is about exploring and celebrating the differences.

Poster Printing: A Venue for Art, Marketing, and Politics

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Posters have a long history as works of art, marketing venues, and vehicles for protest. What they all share–in the best of cases–is immediate impact. They’re powerful. They present a single image and a few words (like a small billboard) that grab you.

They also share another quality: mass production. Because of this, modern posters can really be traced back to the perfection of color offset lithography in 1870.

Posters Throughout History

Here are some notable historical posters that make the cross-over between art and marketing:

  1. The Moulin Rouge posters produced by the artist Henri Tolouse-Lautrec in 1891.
  2. The Alfonze Mucha posters promoting everything from dance to cigarette rolling papers in the late 1800s and early 1900s (and notable for their art deco style).
  3. The psychedelic posters of the 1960s, such as the works of Peter Max or the posters promoting the Grateful Dead.

Posters have also been used to convey political messages:

  1. Consider the famous stylized poster of Che Guevera, the Marxist revolutionary.
  2. Or the Rosie the Riveter or “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters of World War II.

In all of these cases, the aim of the poster has been to use a little text and an eye catching image to elicit a strong reaction from the viewer. Unlike large-format graphics, they are of a limited size, and they are usually hung on a wall. They range from movie posters to travel posters to reproductions of art works to commemorations of events (like concerts or political gatherings).

Custom Printing Specifications for Posters

Here are some specifications to consider when producing posters:

  1. Size: Poster printers will usually suggest sizes ranging from about 11” x 17” to 24” x 36”. The goal is to capture the viewer’s field of vision when he or she is standing at a comfortable distance from the poster on the wall. Along with this, it is prudent to consider the maximum size press sheet your commercial printing vendor can run and how many copies of a poster he can get on a single press sheet.
  2. Paper Stock: A good rule of thumb is to start with 100# text (gloss or matte, although you can also print on an uncoated sheet). Some posters are much heavier, with weights between 100# and 130# cover. Posters hung on exterior walls (consider some of the political posters wallpapering Europe) will be exposed to sunlight and rain. For them to last even a short while, it is prudent to laminate, UV coat, or aqueous coat them. Posters hung indoors may still be exposed to sunlight (through windows) and fingerprints, so in this case lamination is still not a bad idea. (However, if you’re producing a poster for use in a school, for instance, and teachers will need to write on any part of it, you will need to knock out–i.e., not print–the varnish, UV coating, or lamination in that area.)
  3. Folding: Consider whether you will want the posters delivered flat, folded (image in or image out), or rolled and inserted in cardboard tubes.
  4. Press Run: For 100 or fewer posters, you will probably want to digitally print your poster press run. (Commercial printers have different digital and offset equipment, so this cutoff point may vary from 100 to 250 copies.) Above this number, you will probably move to offset printing to be more cost-effective. Let your commercial printing supplier suggest the optimal printing technology, but ask to see printed samples before you proceed. In addition, size may be an issue for digital printing. Some digital presses only accept smaller sized press sheets (although this has been changing recently, and digital presses have been made that can print larger press sheets).
  5. Color: Traditionally, posters have been produced in 4-color process inks, although you may want to add a touch plate (a separate ink) to highlight the color in certain areas of the poster. For instance, purples, greens, blues, reds, and oranges can benefit from additional PMS touch plates to increase the color gamut of the four process colors. You may also want to add a metallic color, or even white.
  6. Overall Design: Keep it simple. The best posters are dramatic because they are simple. They focus on only one concept, and they use a single, powerful image and just a few words to make their point.

Book Printing: Things to Consider When Checking a Proof

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A book printing client of mine reviewed the hard-copy proofs of her job today, and a few issues came up that I thought you might find interesting and instructive. She found four pages that needed simple text edits and one correction on the back cover of the print book.

My client also noted a comment from the book printer that four of the graphics were of lower resolution and might be objectionable when printed (i.e., visibly pixelated).

Who Makes the Corrections, the Book Printer or the Client?

Let’s start with the first issue: the text corrections. My client asked whether the printer or the designer should make the corrections. That is, which would be the more economical and expedient choice.

I said that the designer should make the corrections in InDesign and then only upload those specific pages as press-ready PDF files, under a revised name to make it clear that these were corrected files. I told my client that this particular printer preferred to receive uneditable PDF files (rather than editable, native InDesign files). Therefore, this particular book printer wanted the client make all corrections himself/herself and then submit corrected PDFs.

I also noted that other printers I have worked with preferred to receive native InDesign files instead of PDFs, just so they could make changes themselves if necessary. (So such preferences do vary from printer to printer.)

For the sake of time, accuracy, control over the process, and in deference to the book printer’s preference, I asked my client to have her designer make the corrections and resubmit the files.

What About the Pixellated Graphics? What Are the Rules?

It appeared that the designer had saved bitmapped graphics (black and white only, with no shades of gray) as 300 dpi bitmapped TIFFs. Normally one would save a photograph (grayscale image with tones, not just black and white) as a 300 dpi image, but one would save line art (black and white only) as a 600-1200 dpi image. Using such a low resolution as 300 dpi risked having visible pixels (known as pixelation) in the image, and this is what the offset printer had flagged.

In most cases I would have asked the designer to resubmit those particular print book pages with higher resolution images. However, these were hand drawn images made to resemble woodcuts. They were supposed to be rough. Moreover, this particular print book will be produced on Sebago Antique Vellum stock, which has a pronounced texture. Rough paper is more forgiving of minor flaws within the art and type than a gloss coated press sheet. I believed that with all the peaks and valleys of the rough paper surface, the slightly jagged simulated woodcut images would not be a problem.

Finally and more importantly, the client liked the proof “as is.” So I confirmed with the printer that once the book had been printed, the images would not be more jagged than they were in the proof. Then I asked my client to approve the digital proofs. As they say, the customer is always right.

That said, if you are a designer, I would still advise you to save photographic (grayscale) images in a resolution of twice the printer’s line screen (300 dpi if your printer uses a 150 lpi halftone screen). And I would encourage you to save any bitmapped images (black and white only, with no levels of gray) as “digital line art” at 1200 dpi.

“Confirming-Only” F&Gs or “Approval” F&Gs

After my client’s designer has uploaded revised print-ready PDF files for the pages with “Authors’ Alterations,” the next step will be for my client to review PDF proofs of these pages (as provided by the printer). This is almost instantaneous on-screen proofing, and it will not require any hard proofs to travel to and from my client (i.e., this last approval step will not compromise the schedule).

After my client has approved the revised proofs, the book printer will print all signatures of the book. He will then send a collection of the stacked (but not bound or trimmed) signatures plus cover to my client for review. However, the printer will not wait for my client’s approval before completing the binding process. Therefore, these F&Gs (folded and gathered print book signatures) are known as “confirming-only” F&Gs.

My client could have requested “approval” F&Gs. In this case, the book printer would have taken the book out of production to wait for client approval of the F&Gs. This would have added at least five days to the production schedule (based on the printer’s current workload).

Since F&Gs only reflect printing problems (i.e., any problems would be the printer’s responsibility, and there would be nothing visible in the F&Gs that would not have been visible in my client’s hard-copy proof), I advised my client to accept “confirming-only” F&Gs in this case.

I stressed that printing problems such as scumming, slurring, or any other defects in the application of ink to paper would be the printer’s responsibility (he had a contractual obligation to match the proof exactly). In addition, any problems that would be visible in the F&Gs would probably come and go during the course of the press run (i.e., they would not be problematic throughout the entire press run).

My client needed the books fast. I told her that “confirming-only” vs. “approval” F&Gs came down to a trade-off between time and absolute accuracy. My client agreed with my assessment and requested “confirming-only” F&Gs.

In your own work, if you are a graphic designer, you may want to consider both of these options when requesting F&Gs as one final review prior to book binding.

Book Printing: Thinking Creatively to Meet a Budget

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I wrote a blog entry a while ago about a print book consisting of about fifteen diecut pages of various sizes attached by an “O” ring, the kind used in printed 3 ring binders. The total run was to be 5,000 copies spread over three separate mailings (a few pages sent out with each mailing that the reader could add to the “O” ring).

The pricing came in at approximately three times the budget (approximately $21,000). Here’s what my client and I are doing to bring the cost and available funds more in line with one another.

Background of the Custom Printing Job

The initial estimate included about $4,000 in foil stamping costs. Fortunately the commercial printing vendor had broken out this cost, which I found very helpful. The printer also had noted that the total cost included about $3,000 for paper and $1,000 for the binder “O” rings. Again, this was quite helpful. Finally, he said that putting all elements of the booklet on the same paper stock would save money. After all, having two different paper stocks (interior pages vs. covers) would require elements to be laid out on two press configurations for two separate press runs.

To put my thoughts in order, I created a spreadsheet listing all the elements of the job. I separated out custom printing, die cutting, assembly, envelopes, and mailshop. I wanted to be able to focus on each line item, whittling away the cost as I could.

Changes in the Paper Coating

First we dropped the idea of foil stamping or laminating, and instead chose to go in the opposite direction. We chose an uncoated sheet with a “tooth,” a rough-surfaced paper called Finch Vellum. Not laminating or foil stamping (and thus creating a more subtle and understated look) would save a lot of money.

My client did not want to have all elements of the print book produced on one thickness of paper. She liked the idea of incorporating both covers and interior pages into the book design, as well as a few, heavier-stock short pages. I agreed. It was better to spend money on this component of the job than compromise the print book design.

Mailshop Changes

My client is a freelance designer. Her client, the end-user, offered to do the mailshop work in-house to save money (in-house mailshop would be spread over all in-house departments and would therefore not directly affect the budget for this job). This removed $6,000 ($2000 x 3 mailings) from the total.

In addition, my client’s client (the originator of the job) elected to do only one mailing instead of three.

Format and Press Run Changes

Since there would only be one mailing, some of the otherwise redundant information (elements of the print book that would be sent out in the second and third mailing as well as the first) could be eliminated. It was therefore possible to reduce fifteen book pages to ten book pages.

(Let’s go through the math: 5,000 copies x 15 pages = 75,000 pages total. In contrast, a 10-page booklet would be 50,000 pages. Furthermore, the end-client cleaned the mailing list and reduced the press run to 4,500 copies: i.e., 5,000 more pages eliminated from the total.)

Reducing the amount of paper for the custom printing job (from 75,000 to 45,000 pages) is significant. Although I don’t have final pricing yet, I know that the paper cost (and cost for press time) will drop well below the initially quoted price.

Reducing the number of book pages might also allow more pages to be imposed on a press sheet (maybe yielding fewer press runs). This savings could add up (even if we will be printing two runs: one on the 130# cover stock and one on 80# cover stock).

Breaking the Job into Component Parts / Finding New Vendors Through the Printing Industry Exchange

To reduce costs, I brought in a smaller printer to bid only on the envelopes.

Since the print book would be bound with a looseleaf binder “O” ring through a drill hole, we chose a tear-proof synthetic envelope. The printer advised against printing directly on the envelope. (He said the synthetic envelope fabric might move during the commercial printing process and compromise the image on the paper.) So we agreed on a small custom label press run.

The mailshop work that the end-user (my client’s client) would do would include stuffing the envelopes, affixing the mailing labels (already printed digitally with the variable data address information by the smaller printer), and mailing the job.

(In your own print buying work, you might want to break the job into component parts–book printing and custom binding, printed envelopes and/or custom labels for envelopes, mailshop, etc.–and list the separate components of the job on the Printing Industry Exchange website. Once you have selected your custom printing suppliers, you can then coordinate their various activities yourself to save money.)

Final Outcome: TBD

At this point, my client (the designer) and I have reduced the overall price from about $21,000 to about $12,000. Fortunately my client’s client (the end-user) has also committed more funding to the project since it is a membership effort (an investment in future cash flow). We’ll see what happens. I’m waiting for revised pricing.

Custom Printing: Consider UV Inks for Your Print Needs

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

UV inks have been around for some time, but they may bear serious consideration for at least some of your commercial printing work.

Background: UV Inks vs. Traditional Inks

UV inks are cured through exposure to ultraviolet light, in contrast to traditional printing inks, which dry through oxidation, evaporation, and/or absorption. More specifically, ultraviolet inks are “dual-state” inks. They are liquid until they are exposed to UV light, at which time they instantly harden.

Traditional custom printing inks contain pigments and vehicles, liquids in which the particles of pigment are suspended: oils, resins, and solvents. In sheet-fed offset work, when ink has been printed on a press sheet, the solvent penetrates the paper fibers (absorption), and the resin sits up on top of the surface and hardens as the chemical reaction with the atmosphere (oxidization) occurs, eventually leaving a film of dry ink.

In contrast, heatset web inks dry through evaporation. Exposure of the ink and paper to high intensity ovens followed by exposure to chill rollers first flash off the ink solvent and then set the ink on the paper substrate as the paper travels through the web offset press. (On coldset web presses, the ink solvent dries through absorption into the paper fibers.)

One Benefit of UV Ink: No Drying Time

The greatest benefit of UV inks is the speed at which drying occurs. Essentially the process happens instantly, as soon as the inks are exposed to UV light. Using traditional inks, a stack of press sheets must sit for up to 24 hours before the ink is dry enough to print the back of the sheet without marring the ink on the front, or before post-press operations can begin (such as folding, trimming, etc.). Using UV inks, subsequent press and post-press operations can occur immediately, significantly improving the speed and efficiency of the commercial printing run.

Another Benefit of UV Ink: Ability to Print on a Variety of Substrates

Traditional custom printing inks need to seep into the paper fibers to set. Because of this, they cannot be applied to non-porous surfaces such as plastics, or they will easily rub off. In contrast, the drying of UV inks (called polymerization) allows them to adhere to non-porous surfaces. The resulting dry ink is resistant to scuffing or marring.

More Benefits: No Solvents or VOCs

Traditional inks can contain up to 70 percent solvent. As these inks dry, the solvents evaporate (are given off as gases that enter the atmosphere), and these emissions are toxic (known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs). Using UV-cured inks in commercial printing eliminates these VOCs and is therefore much more environmentally sound.

Still Another Benefit: Less Dot Gain

Since UV light cures UV ink immediately, the ink sits up on the surface of the paper (called “hold-out”) better than traditional inks. Traditional printing ink seeps into the paper, and the halftone dots spread and become “fringed” (this is known as dot gain). Dot gain can cause the ink colors to shift or make the ink seem muddy (or fuzzy) on the press sheet. In contrast, since UV inks cure immediately, it is possible to hold sharp halftone dots while applying thicker ink films, or in some cases it is possible to maintain brilliant colors while actually using less ink, since the ink sits up on the top of the press sheet.

Drawbacks of UV Ink

There aren’t many drawbacks, but there are some:

  1. UV printing requires separate inks, press blankets, and rollers from traditional offset work.
  2. UV printing is therefore more expensive than printing with traditional inks.
  3. Printing with UV inks requires you to find a commercial printing supplier with different/increased skills and experience.

Jobs You Might Consider for UV Ink

There are a number of instances in which you might want to consider UV inks for a custom printing project.

  1. Consider UV if you’re on a rush schedule, since the process eliminates almost all of the drying time.
  2. Consider UV if you’re printing on a non-porous surface.
  3. Consider UV if you’re printing on an uncoated sheet and you want a “crisp” look. This is an option when you want the subdued appearance and feel of an uncoated offset sheet, or textured sheet, but you want to avoid the subdued look of the ink that usually accompanies printing on an uncoated sheet. In most cases, traditional ink will seep into the paper fibers and become somewhat dulled. Printing UV inks on an uncoated sheet avoids this drawback, allowing the ink to still sit up on top of the substrate due to the immediacy of the drying process.

Talk with Your Printer Early

Not all custom printing vendors are set up to run UV inks, and even if they are, you may not like the cost. So involve your printer early in the discussion process if UV inks appeal to you for a particular commercial printing project.

Custom Printing: Qualities of the Best Printing Companies

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

There’s more to a good printer than price. Printing is not a commodity. You’re buying a process, and that requires mutual trust and an understanding of the particular skills a printer can, and cannot, offer.

I’ve been working on a rather complex project with a print brokering client of mine. It will be an expensive job, so I’ve been discussing the design goals with many of the suppliers I work with: a letterpress shop, two printers that focus on high-end marketing collateral, a smaller print shop, and a mid-size printer. I want to make sure I can advise my client on the most striking, efficient, and cost-effective custom printing techniques and paper choices for this print project.

Here are brief descriptions of a few interactions I have had with these printing suppliers to illustrate qualities I seek in a good commercial printing company.

A Good Printer Makes Suggestions, Even If They Don’t Benefit Him

My client’s marketing design piece could be produced on a number of different paper substrates, ranging from an uncoated sheet like Cougar to a metallic sheet like Petallics to a gloss sheet with a UV coating. It could be a letterpress job or an offset custom printing job. The product will be 6” x 9” and will include about ten diecut pages (130# cover for the front and back and 100# cover for the interior pages). Here’s the rub: There will be 5,000 copies, so the total number of printed pages will be 50,000. It will be a large job, consuming a lot of paper.

The letterpress printer suggested producing only the covers on a letterpress due to the cost of printing three colors on so many sheets.

The high-end marketing collateral printer reviewed the paper choices with me, and in addition to bidding on the entire job, he disclosed the actual amount included for paper. It was about $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 of a $21,000.00 job, not an insignificant amount.

What makes this particular printer especially helpful in my opinion is that he also researched the price differences for alternative paper stocks. When I asked about making the front and back covers chipboard, for a more environmentally friendly look (and potentially to reduce the cost of the paper component of the job), he did the research and said it would actually cost more.

This commercial printing vendor also broke out the cost of the envelopes and envelope printing, as well as the cost for mailshop services (assembly of the job as well as inserting the job in envelopes, inkjetting the envelopes, and mailing the job). By doing so, he left open the possibility of my having him focus on what he does best (producing high-end marketing collateral), while having a smaller printer produce the simple, one-color envelopes and a mailing house prepare and mail the job. In this way I could potentially lower the overall cost of the project.

You might say that this printer was giving away the store by providing all this information. I would disagree. By working with me to meet my client’s budget, he cemented our relationship. I trust him more: for his level of knowledge and the expertise of his print shop. I know he will do a stellar job on the high-end work I send him, and I plan to send him a lot more work.

A Good Printer Is Candid

Two of the printers I approached expressed concerns. My client had wanted a metallic look in her design as well as die-cutting. This would involve dies, metallic foils, possibly even screen printing to ensure a thick, even film of color on the substrate.

Basically, both high-end printers acknowledged which portions of these services they would have to subcontract. Subcontracting work such as die-cutting, foil stamping, etc., lengthens the production schedule, increases costs, and decreases the custom printing supplier’s ability to control the work (it’s far easier to ensure quality for work done in-house). Both of these printers then went on to make suggestions that would provide a quality product, reduce the overall cost of the job, and keep the work under their roof. Basically, both printers said their “sweet spot” is work they can do in-house.

One might say this is compromising, and to some extent all print jobs require compromise. I prefer to look at it this way: The printers were candid about both their skills and their limitations, and they offered suggestions as to how they could provide their best quality product. It was then up to me, and my print brokering client, to decide which of the printers to choose (if any).

GD USA’s Views on the Qualities of Good Printers

In a GD USA article entitled “Print is Getting Smarter And 11 Other Things I Learned From Our Annual Survey,” Gordon Kaye lists the following top ten qualities the survey respondents look for in a custom printing vendor:

  1. “Quality
  2. Price
  3. Customer Service
  4. Trust
  5. Technical Knowledge
  6. Digital Capabilities
  7. Geographic Proximity
  8. Paper Knowledge
  9. Eco-Friendly Practices
  10. Company Reputation”

The examples I described in this article actually reflect a number of these qualities. I’d include quality, customer service, trust, technical knowledge, and paper knowledge as printer attributes I experienced in my initial foray into producing this high-end print project. And I would say that being candid, even when it doesn’t seem to benefit the supplier in the moment, reflects integrity, a quality on which any commercial printing company’s reputation must stand.

Book Printing: Complexities of the Invoice

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I recently checked a preliminary invoice from one of the larger printers I work with. It was to be sent to a client of mine for a case-bound print book. Since the invoice did not match the estimate exactly, I drafted an email to my client to explain the discrepancies so she would not be surprised when she received the final bill.

Here’s a Summary of the Specifications for the Print Book

The job was a 640-page, 8-1/2” x 10-7/8” case-bound textbook, printed black-only inside on 60# Finch Opaque stock. It had a press run of 1,000 copies. The custom printing job also included a dust jacket printed in four non-metallic color(s) by the sheet-fed offset process on an 80# enamel text sheet with a lay-flat gloss lamination applied to the outside only.

Signatures were gathered with end sheets, adhesive bound, and trimmed square on three sides. Cases were made over .098 board with Arrestox B materials and stamping foil measuring approximately 30 square inches. Dies were billed as additional. Books were cased-in round, loose back with head and foot bands, wrapped in preprinted jackets, and packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons.

Prices were quoted as FOB printer’s plant.

Here’s a Synopsis of the Bid I Had Initially Sent to My Client

1,000 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$955.00: estimated freight

Here’s a Synopsis of my Client’s Invoice (Which the Printer Sent Me for Approval)

1,242 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$901.65: actual freight
$1,035.00: authors alterations (69 pages)
$1,873.52 for 242 overs

Why I Explained the Bill to my Client

First of all, I believe that successful commercial printing sales and successful print buying require trust. I wanted to make sure my client understood the cost overrun. After all, for many commercial jobs the custom printing vendor does not charge for overs. In addition, if the printer is local to the client, the cost of freight may be included in the overall price.

That said, I have found that in most cases book printers do charge separately for freight and also charge for overs. Fortunately, both of these issues were noted in the initial bid and in the boilerplate contract my client had signed with the book printer. Nevertheless, I wanted to avoid any surprises.

Freight Costs Explained

As per the contract, prices had been quoted as “FOB printer’s plant.” That is, the prices did not include freight, and the ownership and responsibility for the books transferred to my client at the book printer’s loading dock (not at my client’s office, the delivery point). The printer had arranged for a freight carrier and had provided an estimated cost of $955.00. Fortunately, the actual cost as noted in the book printer’s invoice was $901.65, a lower amount than quoted. The printer had paid the freight company and therefore needed reimbursement from my client.

Cost of Author’s Alterations

If a client catches a printer’s error in a proof or an F&G (folded and gathered, printed but unbound, signature), the printer absorbs the cost. However, if the client finds an error (in the content, for instance) that he or she had not caught prior to submission, the client pays the cost.

My client had changed and then resubmitted 69 pages of the 650-page book. For labor incurred, the printer had charged $1,035.00.

In some cases, this can be a volatile issue. For instance, if the client had unknowingly prepared the files in error (formatting, type color, extraneous marks, type omissions—the list is endless), he or she might be inclined to blame the book printer without understanding that he or she had actually made the mistake. Conversely, a client may request a change that a printer inadvertently overlooks. (To be realistic, human error does creep into complex processes such as prepress and printing.) If the printer makes the error, then the printer absorbs the cost.

In cases in which responsibility might be unclear, it is important to have prior laser proofs, digital proofs from the printer, emails, and F&G’s to help determine the point at which the error had been introduced.

Policy for Overs/Unders

As per the contract, the printer can charge for 10 percent overs, or up to 250 copies on anything below a 2,500-copy press run. The printer had estimated a $12.201 unit cost for 250 overs but had only printed 242 overs and had billed them at a reduced rate of $7.74 per unit.

Printers do not produce extra copies to make extra money. In the course of all the printing and finishing operations required to produce a book, copies get damaged. Perhaps one is spoiled on the trimmer and another gets damaged during case binding. In order to ensure a final delivery of as close to 1,000 copies as possible, the book printer had to be able to produce up to 250 extra copies to allow for potential spoilage.

For short runs, like a 1,000-copy case-bound book, the usual percentage (10 percent overs or unders) may not be enough to prevent coming up short. Hence, this printer has a rule that 250 copies will be the acceptable overage up to a press run of 2,500 copies. Thereafter, the 10 percent overs (or unders) rule applies.

One thing to keep in mind that the printer does deliver all overs, so you’re not paying for anything you don’t actually receive.

What Can We Learn from This?

All of these items are noted either in the estimate or in the boilerplate contract from the printer. They adhere to industry standard customs (Printing Industry of America). Therefore, it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with standard industry practice, read the contract carefully, and ask your printer to review with you such issues as overage, freight, and author’s alterations.

In fact, it’s quite reasonable, if you find an error in the proof, to ask what it would cost to fix it. Depending on the cost, you may opt to leave the error in the book. For instance, let’s say you found an error in the F&G’s–not the digital proofs–that would require reprinting a complete signature to repair. If the error is insignificant but would cost $2,000.00 to remedy, you might forgo the change.

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