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

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Archive for the ‘Magazine Printing’ Category

Commercial Printing: Designing a Magazine Experience

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

After 14 years of driving a Jeep Cherokee, my trusted ride became unreliable. At about the same time, my fiancee decided to get a new, used car because her Subaru had reached the 14-year-old mark and was no longer trustworthy for long-distance driving.

I needed nothing more than a glorified moped for local errands, yet my mechanic’s suggestion that I buy a used Toyota or Honda seemed daunting. (How would I find a good one? How would I know it would last another ten years?) Everywhere I looked I saw CR-Vs and RAV-4s that had been invisible before this car search because I hadn’t been looking for them. At this point I could recognize all of the car logos, even without seeing their accompanying brand names.

How to choose?

By this time I was beginning to open my mind to buying the Subaru from my fiancee as a minimal-mileage-per-year vehicle. Interestingly enough, the Subaru magazine that had come to our house for 14 years (and had heretofore held no interest for me) was beginning to look inviting. I liked the design, the paper, the lifestyle stories it contained.

I was hooked. I was rolling around the proverbial “sales funnel,” getting ready to drop through the hole and “convert.”

How Do They Do It?

As a student of commercial printing, design, and marketing, I was amused that I had been “sold” (but not in a manipulative way; after all, I was looking to buy). But at the same time I could see how the design of the magazine along with its contents, its tone and message, and the less obtrusive but equally powerful custom printing specifications, could be a powerful tool of persuasion once I was “open” to receiving the sales message. At that point, it wasn’t really a question of the magazine’s “selling” me, but rather of my “consuming credible content” that supported my buying goals. I needed a new, used car. The magazine told me about one of the best brands (with which my mechanic was very much in agreement).

Here are some of the elements of marketing, design, and commercial printing that I identified as useful in promoting the Subaru brand and encouraging Subaru owners to become emotionally tied to, and affiliated with, the Subaru label. Together these elements were most effective, for me, and I’m sure that other brands have done the same kind of marketing in an equally effective way:

  1. The front and back magazine cover—The front cover focuses on a smiling woman and her trusted dog, Winston. She’s happy, and he’s grateful (presumably, sitting up close to her) for having been rescued and treated like a king. She is wearing the same color lime green sweater (under her brown jacket) that her dog Winston is wearing in his lime green neck scarf. As an accent, he has a purple tag. Both the purple and the lime green are repeated in the color of the Subaru magazine: the drive magazine title, and the solid blocks of color from which the hand-printed (really a script typeface) subheads have been reversed.
  2. The lowercase word “drive,” the title of the magazine, and the faux-hand-printed type provide an informal feel to the magazine cover. The human subject is happy. It’s the weekend (presumably), and she’s doing what she loves with her trusted companion. The title of the magazine is also rendered in an italic, sans serif font. It is casual but energetic (since as an italic typeface it slants forward: i.e., to the right). Other than the Subaru branding (logo and taglines), there is relatively little on the cover. The smiling woman is also looking directly at the reader. The message? It’s all about the reader. The reader can “participate in the lifestyle.” He or she can also become a member of the exclusive Subaru club, or “tribe.”
  3. Photos inside the magazine include members of multiple ethnicities, men and women, as well as children, to ensure that the magazine embraces all those interested in the Subaru identity.
  4. The paper is a thicker than usual (for a magazine text sheet) gloss paper, and the cover weight is also substantial. Based on the “nature” theme (e.g., the magazine article about covered bridges in the United States: i.e., where to drive your Subaru on your days off), I had assumed the cover and text paper would be uncoated. However, the substance and weight of the cover and text paper suggest seriousness and a commitment to quality. (A thinner paper might have sent a subliminal message of lower overall quality, presumably of not only the reader’s experience but also the car-buyer’s experience.)
  5. The articles focus on “lifestyle,” or how the Subaru owner approaches her or his life and how this life includes vehicles made by this brand. There are articles, long and short, pertaining to cooking, traveling in the United States “wilderness,” family, sustainability, etc. All of these relate to the brand and the automobile, seeking to convert the reader into a fan not only of the car but also of the values espoused by the brand.
  6. That said, the magazine does include articles about the Subaru “ride.” These highlight the safety of the cars, and this approach reinforces Subaru’s commitment to the family. (Keeping your loved ones safe is the prime goal.) The articles are also well researched, suggesting that the targeted reader is educated and has researched multiple vehicles based on their safety, quality, etc. The Subaru buyer is multi-faceted, intelligent, and an independent thinker, influenced by facts and statistics, not just by the appearance or style of the car.
  7. The colors of the magazine interior are predominantly earth tones. This is relevant not only because of the rugged, Earth-centered “personna” (the targeted buyer, the amalgamation of all market research on the demographics of the potential buyer) to which the magazine is aimed but also because of the approaching season: autumn. However, it is clear that the target reader also values family time spent after work hours within the rural landscape. (“Save the Earth, but also experience and love the Earth.”) This is echoed in the photo on the inside front cover of the magazine, an image of a sunset in Nippersink Creek, Glacial Park (Illinois). The Subaru aficionado takes time to commune with the wonders of nature. He or she also drives a Subaru to these locations because the car is reliable and durable, and because it reflects a sensitivity to the environment.

What We Can Learn from This Magazine

All of this is not manipulative, but rather persuasive—in a consistent but understated way. Every detail of the magazine contributes to the sales goal by reinforcing (and restating, again and again) the values Subaru has baked into their brand. To read the magazine, buy and drive the car, and participate in the lifestyle (everything from the choice of activities pursued to the choice of clothes and food purchased or consumed by the multicultural audience portrayed in the magazine) supports “affiliation with the brand.” If you do, or own, all these things, you will be a part of a select group that embraces these values.

Subaru has grasped the nuances of this target audience and has honed its brand and its printed marketing materials to appeal to this target audience. Not all brands can do this sort of thing quite as effectively. It takes a perceptive staff that observes and listens carefully, and then incorporates the elements of persuasive writing and design (as well as custom printing) into their overall message.

When you can do this sort of thing well, you can sell a quality product (and overall experience) to an audience that is ready and willing to buy it.

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Adding Inserts to Your Magazine

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

I received a magazine in the mail yesterday from AAA, the roadside assistance company. I like to read this periodical because it tells me about exotic locations while also discussing practical matters such as insurance.

To my surprise, when I opened this month’s magazine, I found a little magazine in the center of the book. This supplement (which looked to be about 7.75” x 9.5”) was bound into the center spread of the host magazine (which looked to be 8” x 10.5”). Moreover, it had it’s own saddle stitches (it’s own binding staples), so when I pulled the supplement out of the main book, it held up as a fully-bound, independent publication. Basically, it was an upscale, 8-page listing of AAA’s products and services, complete with dynamic photos and drawings. I was impressed. It was attractive and useful. I wanted to keep it.

What We Can Learn from This Supplement

First of all, I have seen many such supplements over the years. In fact, when I consulted for a local publisher of government magazines, we used to add supplements to the magazines on a regular basis, so I became conversant with their options and specifications.

You may ask why AAA inserted such a short publication in the center of their magazine rather than including the information directly in the pages of the main periodical. Because the information stands out more dramatically this way. When I opened the magazine, I was immediately struck by the addition. It felt like a surprise, a gift, so I pulled it out immediately and saved it. Clearly it had won marketing points for its format.

But not all supplements are formatted in this way. Some that I have seen have been the same size as the host publication. Personally, I don’t like this approach. Particularly when the paper stock is the same. I think it defeats the purpose. You can’t immediately grasp that the booklet is a special addition to the overall magazine. You don’t even necessarily know where the supplement begins and ends if it is the same size and on the same paper as the host publication. In fact, if the numbering of the pages is different in such a supplement, it can be downright confusing. You jump into the supplement and then back out into the main magazine without knowing where one ends and the other begins. This is particularly confusing if you’re depending on the host magazine’s table of contents and page numbers.

But in this case, the supplement was smaller, and this made everything easier.

I have also seen small inserts that don’t fall in the center (top to bottom) of the center spread of the host periodical. Some “jog” to the “head” (the top of the page), and some “jog” to the “foot” (the base of the page).

If you’re specifying a bound-in insert such as this supplement for a magazine, you will need to speak with your commercial printing vendor about the binding requirements and options for inserts. Among other things, you will need to know whether the inserts will jog to the head or the foot of the page or, as in the case of the AAA publication, if they will float in the center.

If they float in the center (top to bottom), they will probably not fall exactly between the top and bottom (or head and foot trim) of the page when actually bound. That is, it’s easier to be precise when the insert aligns with the very top or bottom of the page. In the case of the AAA booklet, if you look closely, you’ll see that the stitching holes where the insert is bound into the main book are not exactly positioned between the head and foot trim of the supplement. However, no one would see this if they weren’t specifically looking for it. (Instead, they would be focused on the little magazine in the center of the host publication.)


As noted before, the insert had its own staples. Not all inserts do. Some depend on the staples of the main book. Once you pull out such a supplement, the pages will fall apart.

Another issue is where the insert will fall within the host publication. In the case of the AAA supplement, the insert fell right in the center spread of the magazine. But it didn’t need to. The magazine designer could have placed it anywhere between press signatures (the 4-, 8-, or 16-page groups of pages on a single press sheet, folded and trimmed into the nested “booklets” that comprise the overall magazine). Inserts must fall between signatures. It’s a rule based on the physical requirements for saddle stitching nested groups of press signatures into a full magazine.

However, as I mentioned earlier, inserts don’t need to fall in the center of a magazine. In fact, they also don’t need to be stitched into the magazine. The AAA designers could have chosen to affix the supplement directly on an outside page of a press signature using fugitive glue (like rubber cement). Or they could have used a “hanger” (a piece of paper that slips between the saddle stitches and to which the supplement can be fugitive glued).

A hanger has a “low-folio” side and a “high-folio” side (the former in the front, before the center spread of the magazine, and the latter in the back of the book, after the center spread). A hanger gives you something to which you can attach an insert so it won’t fall out of the main book.

The benefit of using fugitive glue in such a case is that you can peel the supplement off the hanger without tearing the paper. Like rubber cement, when you pull carefully with even pressure, the fugitive glue bond releases. Then you can roll up the glue with your finger to remove it.

More Options

If the insert were smaller, say a small return mail card, you could even refrain from binding it into the book entirely. You can add a “blow-in” card that is just thrown (by machine) randomly into a section of the host publication. Among the other benefits (which include its being an inexpensive option), blowing in an insert does not require placing it between signatures, and you don’t have to add staples, position the insert precisely, or use fugitive glue to attach it to the magazine. That said, it’s also not very precise, and you would only use this option for a small, light, single-page card. You may have noticed when you have opened a magazine at a news stand that sometimes the blow-in card will just fall out and drop to the floor.

What About Perfect Binding?

Bind-ins, blow-ins, and other inserts can be added to perfect-bound magazines as well as saddle stitched ones. (In the case of the AAA magazine, the host periodical was saddle stitched.) Instead of stitching the insert between nested press signatures (or fugitive gluing it), you would just place it between “stacked” signatures, and the binding glue placed in the print book spine by the perfect-binding equipment would keep the insert in place. For a multi-page supplement, you would just perfect bind a hanger into the spine and then fugitive glue the supplement to the hanger.

Talk with Your Printer Early in the Process

Your commercial printing vendor’s binding equipment will have requirements for inserts such as these. This may include size, position, and even whether there is a “lip” or “lap” (one longer side of the insert that will allow the saddle stitching equipment to better grasp the insert, pull it from its pocket on the stitcher, and affix it between signatures). Using a saddle stitcher or perfect binder is a complex, physical operation with various rules and regulations to make the process work (i.e., to make sure the insert doesn’t fall out onto the floor during binding). So make sure your insert has the blessing of the printer. In fact, it’s wise to send your custom printing supplier an actual sample of the supplement or a trimmed color proof for testing (with lots of lead time, before the actual press run).

Book Printing: You Had Me at Matte Film Laminate

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

I received a journal on health from Johns Hopkins a few days ago. It came unsolicited in the mail. But even though I have no background in science and health, and very little personal interest in the subject (if truth be known), I found myself paging through the print book repeatedly. It felt good. I liked the format. In fact I actually started to read some of the articles. In my book (so to speak), that’s success in the intangibles. Or, rather, that’s success in the very tangible qualities of paper texture and appearance, paper brightness and whiteness, color fidelity, and page design. If a print book piques my interest in spite of the subject matter, there’s clearly something for me to learn by analyzing it.

Paper Qualities

The Johns Hopkins Health Review is printed on what appears (under good blue-white light) to be an uncoated, bright-white sheet. Under a loupe I can see the rough tooth of the paper, but it still feels very smooth to my touch.

There’s something very calming about the combination of an uncoated press sheet and the smoothness of the paper. It has an organic feel that would not be conveyed had the designer chosen a coated gloss paper. It feels more personal and less corporate. Given the subject matter in the journal—migraines, sex, and one’s immune system, among other topics—the personal, tactile nature of the paper is a good choice.

The paper also gives a softer look to the color photography, area screens, and numerous illustrations. In fact, I would say that the soft, smooth nature of the paper anchors the numerous graphics, giving them a cohesive feel that unifies the diverse media and styles of the images. On a smooth, coated sheet they might look more random.

Given the smooth, uncoated feel of the paper, I’m inclined to look for telltale signs of laser printing, but when I check the 4-color images under a loupe, I still see the rosette pattern indicative of traditional halftoning of offset printed materials.

Cover Coating

The interior and exterior cover images—all advertisements–seem to have been printed on a coated stock. They are much smoother than the text, and they have a glossy appearance under a loupe. The brightness of the cover stock makes the 4-color images really stand out, but it is the brightness and whiteness of the press sheet that make the imagery so bright and crisp. Having such a brilliant substrate off which the ambient light can be reflected makes the colors seem particularly saturated.

When I compare the interior covers to the exterior covers, I see that the front, back, and spine have been wrapped with what seems to be a matte film laminate. This dulls down the imagery, which echoes the uncoated look of the interior, while protecting the heavy coverage of ink on the front cover. On the back cover, the coating protects the advertisement. Interestingly enough, the designer went ahead and spot gloss coated the title of the journal (Johns Hopkins Health Review), which gives the words a bit of a glow in contrast to their surroundings.


Perfect binding the journal gives it a feeling of substance. It’s more like a print book than a magazine. There’s even a faint press score running parallel to the spine, about half an inch from the bind edge, which holds the cover tightly against the interior pages while allowing for easy opening of the print book. These subtle production qualities work subconsciously on the reader, providing an overall tone of seriousness and quality.

Imagery and Design Grid

As noted before, the images in the journal fall into a few distinct categories. There are the photos, many but not all of which are within ads. Their realism gives a nice contrast to the more stylized and in some cases whimsical illustrations. This treatment also lends itself to small images of book covers and to head shots of individuals.

The illustrations fall into a number of categories, including Infographics, color drawings to illustrate themes, and much smaller black and white line drawings of people. Again, the contrast is pleasing, and it makes for a natural rhythm throughout the book, as does the balancing of larger and smaller images.

Overall, the journal has a sense of cohesion and pacing. However, due to a judicious pairing of typefaces, even a shift from two-column layout (with a scholar’s margin) to three-column layout, to a larger type treatment introducing some articles, maintains the sense that all page designs belong to the same publication.

Moreover, the contrast in page design alerts the reader to levels of importance (such as when a new article is beginning; what material is an amplification of the text; and what material highlights the text, such as the pull-quotes). Your eye knows immediately where to go first, second, and third. And the ample white space affords an airy, uncluttered reading experience. Finally, full-bleed area screens set apart certain pages (definitions pages, supplementary material) in a subtle manner.

Even a judicious use of numerous short articles on selected pages to give brief insight into various topics or to provide short bits of information still does not create a cluttered look. I think this uncluttered appearance is also due to the uncoated book stock, which is easy on the eyes.

What You Can Learn from Such a Publication

I never went to design school. What I learned, I learned by observing. I think many designers have come into publication design the same way. I firmly believe there is no time better spent than in discovering a design you love and then determining why you love it. In my case it was in spite of the subject matter. (Actually, I am finding some of the articles interesting. Nevertheless, I still think the graphic presentation is what makes me want to read the articles.)

Consider all aspects of a publication: paper texture, surface, coating, brightness, and whiteness; treatment of imagery; typefaces; binding; and the design grid. Ask yourself why they work well together. Then ask yourself if the design and production values of the piece reinforce or conflict with the editorial message (a good designer knows how to pair the look with the message). There’s no better way to learn.

Custom Printing: Reviewing Magazine Printers’ and Book Printers’ Samples

Monday, April 27th, 2015

I just received three boxes of samples from commercial printing suppliers. Somehow the boxes look bigger in the condo than they used to look in the house, where I had a whole room for samples.

The three boxes contain specific samples from three separate printers for three separate print brokering clients. Here’s why I requested them, what I’m looking for, and why they will be beneficial to my work.

In your own print buying work, you might also want to request samples from your printers before choosing a particular supplier for a job.

The Magazine Samples

One of my clients is producing a graphic novel. After negotiating an attractive price for the job and requesting a list of references, I asked for printed samples. However, this last part I did after receiving from my client a few samples of printed jobs she liked.

My client had sent me an old copy of Glamour magazine, and I had sent a few pages of the cover and text paper stock to my printer, asking for comparable press sheets he had printed.

I received sample magazines with notations of all paper contained in the books. These included 40#, 45#, and 50# text sheets as well as covers printed on 60# and 70# text sheets. These commercial printing papers included #3 sheets, #4 sheets, and #5 sheets (reflecting gradually diminishing brightness).

To make the paper analysis process easier, instead of sending all of these printed samples to my client, I chose one sample of each paper weight and grade and marked the specifications in back sharpie pen on each item. My client can now compare each paper weight to all other samples (in various lighting conditions).

She can also see examples of this particular printer’s offset printing skill on these press sheets. And she can compare the brightness of each press sheet to the others to determine the “look” she wants. After all, my client is seeking a gritty appearance for her graphic novel, so a #4 or #5 sheet (which might appear dingy to someone else) might be just what she needs.

We’ll see what my client says. Once she has identified the paper weight she likes for her graphic novel cover, text, and gatefolds, I’ll request more printed samples from this custom printing supplier, just to give my client an even broader awareness of the quality printing she can expect from this vendor.

Samples of a Print Book for a Small Literary Publisher

Another vendor just completed a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. It has a 4/4 cover (it’s printed on the inside as well as the outside covers), and it has French Flaps. That’s a lot of four-color imagery and text even before you start reading the literary anthology between the covers.

I wanted to review these print books closely before I spoke with my client to make sure everything was in order. The samples were beautiful. But here’s what I looked for in particular:

  1. I noticed that the cover had been printed with abundant but even ink coverage, and that it had a smooth matte film laminate and a square and even bindery trim.
  2. The type on the spine fell squarely in the center, as planned.
  3. The interior printing (black-only on both sides of the press sheet) was crisp, and the running headers aligned when I flipped the pages.
  4. The overall binding of the perfect-bound text was precise and evenly glued. It appeared to be sturdy.
  5. All halftones had a good tonal range, from the deepest shadows to the highlights.

With this information in hand, I felt comfortable approaching my print brokering clients, who said they loved the book. This I let the book printer know immediately.

Book Samples for Checking Paper Opacity

I’m bidding on the printing of an annual 576-page case-bound textbook with black-ink-only text. It has a lot of halftones and charts composed of various shades of gray as well as black rules and area screens. In this particular case the opacity of the paper is crucial in selecting a vendor.

I’m negotiating with a well-known book printer with a stellar reputation, but this supplier has substituted paper on the estimate. That is, the house press sheet is not what I had specified. This doesn’t need to be a problem if the paper substitution involves comparable qualities. In fact, it will yield quite a savings over the cost of last year’s print book.

This particular printer sent me case-bound and perfect-bound samples containing the paper stock (Lynx rather than the Finch Opaque I had specified). All printed samples include photos and charts. The charts include a range of tones from black to lighter shades of gray. By paging through the books I can see just how well this paper obscures images printed on the back of the page when I’m viewing the front of the page. In all cases I’m satisfied.

In fact, I’m ahead of the game because I can also see how well this book printer has case bound this particular sample. In addition, the other samples I received give me a good idea of both the binding capabilities and printing capabilities I can expect from this vendor. And I’ve also seen the 4-color work the printer can do, since he included the full-color dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound book.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here’s a short list of things to look for in book printers’ samples:

  1. Look for color fidelity in the full-color printing work. (Memory colors, such as grass and food colors, should be accurate.) Look for even ink coverage printed in tight register.
  2. Check out the interior printing of the books (look for even ink coverage and clear halftones with no plugged screens–or muddiness–and a good tonal range).
  3. Check the physical properties of the books. Are the pages trimmed squarely, and are all the pages aligned at the running headers? Look at the endsheets, as well as the spine and the head and foot bands. Has the spine of the book been rounded? Does everything appear sturdy and exude quality?

By reviewing the samples closely, you’ll quickly get a good idea of whether this particular vendor can meet your printing and binding needs.

Printing Periodicals and Textbooks on Inkjet Presses

Monday, April 13th, 2015

I read an intriguing article in Print Week India last night (an online printing-trade publication) by Rahul Kumar entitled “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility” (dated 2/6/15).

The thesis of the article is that unit costs of digitally printed newspapers in India must drop before the technology can compete with web-offset lithography.

The concept is straight out of Business 101: new technologies either prosper of fail based on the balance of their costs and benefits. But what intrigues me are the following implications for the digital printing of periodicals:

  1. Newspaper and magazine printing may be in decline but only when viewed through the lens of US business. In other countries—most notably China, India, and Saudia Arabia—newspaper and magazine printing is on the rise. (It is growing in the double digits in India.) This is in spite of worldwide access to online publications.
  2. There is an increasing worldwide need for economically feasible digital printing of such products as transpromotional materials, textbooks, and newspapers, with shorter and shorter press runs and tighter schedules. Both versioning and personalization are also in demand. Since the world is splintering into multiple, smaller populations distinguished by unique language and culture, this change lends itself to shorter, targeted press runs of newspapers and other periodicals.
  3. The need for faster and faster production of small, segmented newspapers and magazines has led equipment manufacturers to expand the accepted paper size, running speed, and paper-handling capabilities of both laser and inkjet printing equipment.
  4. Among these developing technologies, inkjet presses for printing textbooks (such as the Kodak Prosper S press and the HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press) and newspapers (such as the Xerox Impika and Fujifilm J Press 540 W) are gaining traction.
  5. The technology is available to duplex print (print on both sides of a sheet simultaneously). In addition, new inks are being developed that will work with multiple existing paper stocks (without the need for a pre-coating step); and print resolution and halftone screening technologies are improving, affording smoother halftones and graduated screens as well as crisp type even at small point sizes. Digital presses can now maintain the quality of high density ink coverage at very high press speeds. (In essence, digital custom printing is quickly approaching the quality of offset lithography.)
  6. Print Week India also notes the development of nanoparticle inks that yield exceptionally high color fidelity and saturation using thinner ink films than offset lithography.

Offset vs. Digitally Printed Periodicals in India

The new technology described above is, interestingly enough, less compelling in India since there is easy access to low-cost offset custom printing equipment and operators. It simply costs less to use the older technology in some countries. However, I believe the sea change in content consumption will change this, sooner rather than later, due to the following:

  1. Content is being targeted to specific regions, in India and elsewhere. Print volume is rising, but so is the need for versioning. In the United States this would be analagous to the smaller newspapers that focus on hyper-local, neighborhood content.
  2. Due to the growth of more, but smaller, press runs, there is an increased need for decentralized production and distribution. That is, instead of printing multiple thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of copies of the same newspaper in a single location, the trend will be to print multiple versioned editions in diverse locations closer to the readership. In this case the range of the distribution will be smaller. Therefore, inkjet custom printing will help reduce delivery costs.
  3. Hyper-targeted production and distribution will make the digital publications more relevant to the readers. This will in turn drive advertising revenues higher, since inkjet printed, localized newspapers can deliver a more certain audience to the advertisers (and therefore newspapers will be able to charge higher advertising rates). Inkjet-printed copies of newspapers can then drive traffic to the Internet, TV, or online gaming to nurture relationships with readers, providing even more opportunities for advertising.
  4. Totally unrelated to newspapers–but perhaps of high importance to printers committing to digital inkjet technology–is the flexibility of the digital inkjet process, which can be used not only for newspaper printing but also for transpromo work, print books, or even commercial printing jobs.

Implications for the World Printing Trade

As the unit cost for digital inkjet printing drops and the quality improves, it will be possible to use the technology to turn a profit while improving production values and delivering a higher return on advertising dollars.

But in India, it’s not prime time yet. According to Kumar’s article, “Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility,” “the cost per copy is still on the higher side compared to offset.”

For all the reasons Kumar notes in his Print Week India article, I think the transition to digital inkjet for print books, transpromo, and newspapers might actually occur here in the United States first.

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Spine Design for Books, Catalogs, and Magazines

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

While I was on the phone today, on hold for a half hour waiting to speak with a health insurance agent, I had plenty of time to look at the walls and ceiling. My gaze also fell on a collection of print book on a shelf, and more precisely on their spines.

I thought about the design of a book spine and about how important this is. In fact, in many cases, people decide whether to pick up and read a print book based on the design and content of that small strip of paper. (Sometimes that’s all they see, if the books are all on a shelf.)

I thought further, noting that both magazines and catalogs (those with spines) fell into the same category as print books and required the same attention to spine design.

I thought about which of the twelve books on this particular shelf appealed to me and why. I think I can break this down into a few concepts that you might find useful in your own book spine design, keeping in mind that you may only have a few seconds to interest your reader.

Even in choosing the color and typeface for the spine of a textbook, we’re still ultimately talking about marketing. No one will read your book unless you can pique their interest.

Choosing the Color of the Spine

Of the twelve books on my shelf, four had white spines, five had blue spines, one was black, one was completely red (burgundy), and one was half burgundy and half blue.

The white print books were the lightest (in value), and they stood out the most. Of course, the widest of the white spine books stood out more than all the others. Ironically, even though the 1.5” (approximately) spine was the most visible, the type was light and thin, all capital letters, and printed in black ink (in Roman type, not bold). The type was also letterspaced.

The author’s name was at the top of the spine reversed out of a horizontal black bar. It was more readable than anything else on the spine. Ultimately, I think the author’s name was less important than the title, which was much harder to read, particularly at a 90 degree angle to the reader (i.e., rotated to fit on the spine).

The burgundy books both had orange type knocked out of the burgundy. They also had reverse type (white on the red), which was much easier to read than the orange on red.

The blue books were the easiest to read, probably because they all included spine type that was white (reversed),

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Color matters: not just the color of the background, but also the color of the type; or, rather, the interaction between the color of the background and the color of the type.

Fewer colors, and contrast between the background color and the text color, make for good readability. Simplicity also makes for good legibility. And legibility trumps aesthetics when you’re trying to interest a potential reader.

Selecting the Typeface(s) for the Book Spine

The most readable spine type was a simple sans serif type set with normal letterspacing (not spread out) in uppercase and lowercase letters. For added flair, the designer had changed the “of” in the title from roman to italic type.

As noted above, the letterspaced, all-capitals treatment of the title of the print book with the white spine (particularly given the lower contrast of background to type), made for tougher reading. Had the book title been set in a bold typeface, the contrast would have been a little more dramatic, and this would have increased the readability of the title.

Another book, also with a white background, had an all-capitals treatment of the title in a tall, narrow, modern typeface. It was gorgeous, sophisticated, and not particularly readable. Squeezing the type (too narrow for its height) lessened readability, as did the dramatic contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the modern, serif typeface.

A book with a black spine from which the title had been knocked out and printed in gold, worked well for a textbook on finance. The gold seemed relevant. The subhead was in white, in a narrow sans serif (gothic) typeface. It was squeezed up a bit, but it had been set in capital and lowercase letters. Even the title set in gold in all capital letters was readable because the words were actually in small caps. (That is, only the initial letter of each word “read” as being uppercase. You could recognize each word because it had a distinctive “shape.”

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Type selection and (lack of) manipulation matter as much as color. Upper and lowercase letters are easier to read than all uppercase letters. Failing that, “caps and small caps” are easier to read than all-caps. The shape of a word created by the uppercase letters and lowercase letters, by the ascenders and descenders, allows the reader to recognize the word without having to read it letter by letter.

That said, making type narrower than its design warrants, or spreading it out more than expected with increased letterspacing, slows the reader down, even if the type looks elegant and sophisticated. Readability is more important than aesthetics.

Finally, when you need to turn type on its side to fit it on the spine of a book, it becomes even more important than usual to make the words easy to read.

If you lose your reader’s attention, or if you make reading unpleasant, you’ve lost your only opportunity to capture your reader’s interest.

Parting Thoughts

In design, nothing works like a physical sample. It lets you see exactly what to expect of the final printed piece. So consider creating a mock-up of the cover and spine of your print book using an inkjet printer. Paste these onto an actual book, and put it up on the bookshelf with a number of other books. If it stands out and the title is readable, I think you’ve got a winner. It’s easy to do, but if the samples on my shelf are any indication, not everyone does this.

Custom Printing: Photo Quality in Printer Samples

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

I sent a client two printed samples recently. Both were magazines. My client is producing a graphic novel, which is essentially a magazine with two gatefolds and some other inserts. I had requested printed samples from the periodical printer with the lowest price. I had worked with this vendor once before and had been very happy with the results, so I was confident in encouraging my client work with the printer as well.

The samples included numerous photos, text, etc., as is the case in any magazine. I had focused on the cover images in choosing the samples for my client. They were crisp, detailed, with a good tonal range and saturated colors. Unfortunately, some of the photos in the interior of the magazines were not quite as good as the cover images. My client was not pleased with their appearance.

What Happened?

  1. My client was displeased with the photos. She could not describe where they were lacking in printer’s terms, but she described the photograpic reproductions as limited in color range and very dense and muddy in the shadows.
  2. My client also commented on the slick covers (which appeared to be either gloss UV coated or film laminated). She said they were a lot shinier that what she was looking for. They made her rethink the term “gloss” that she had used to describe the paper she wanted.
  3. Finally, my client said she had a copy of a magazine that had more of the “look” she was seeking.

The Take Away from My Client’s Comments

  1. First of all, communication, even when it’s not pleasant to hear, is a good thing. My client noted what she liked and what she didn’t like. Fortunately, we are several months out from the press date, which gives us time to analyze commercial printing vendors, printing papers, and cover coating options.
  2. My client didn’t like the slick look of the magazines. This is useful information. It means that cover coatings less shiny than gloss UV coating and gloss film laminate would probably meet her needs better. These options would include matte, dull, and silk cover coatings (including aqueous, film laminate, and UV options).
  3. My client had a sample she liked. Nothing will help more than getting this magazine copy into the hands of the custom printing supplier, who can then look for comparable paper stocks and cover coatings.
  4. My client didn’t like the lack of tonal range in the interior photos. While my desire was to showcase the high quality of the cover images produced by this magazine printer, I had missed the photographic images that were less than stellar in the text of the magazines.
  5. This was an oversight. However, it is also true that often the images in magazines are not professionally photographed, and the lack of quality in these “snapshots” would be reflected in the printing. After all, images will not improve when printed. Rather, all images will actually lose some of their tonal range during the commercial printing process.

    But what I really needed to do was find a way to ensure that my client’s photos would be reproduced at their highest level of quality and to her satisfaction.

What Caused the Problem?

To ensure the highest quality of my client’s printed images, I let my client know the following:

  1. Photos will look their best on a gloss coated sheet with a high sheen UV coating (such is the case with the cover photos in the printer’s samples).
  2. They will look less crisp on a matte sheet without a UV coating, but they will keep their range of tones (highlights, midtones, and shadows).
  3. As the quality of the paper goes down (from a #1 sheet to a #2, #3, etc.), the paper will absorb more ink and the tones will get muddy.
  4. On another note, web offset press work will be close to, but not quite as good as, sheetfed offset work.
  5. Some printers will be better or worse than others in terms of printing quality (beyond the quality and tonal range of the original images submitted to the printer). Some printers that might produce better quality work might also have prices that are significantly higher than other vendors’ prices. Quality and price are often trade-offs.

What I Suggested to My Client

  1. I asked my client to send me a sample of what she didn’t like in the samples (I asked her to just tear out the pages and circle the problems).
  2. I asked my client to send me a copy of the magazine she did like. I asked her to note which images she considers the best. I also asked her to note why she prefers the paper in this magazine to the paper in the printed samples I had sent her (paper color, surface gloss, paper coating, paper thickness, etc.).
  3. After receiving and reviewing the samples, I will forward them to the custom printing supplier. I will request more printed samples (not just to show the quality of printing but also to show the particular paper options and paper coatings the printer can provide).
  4. I will also request sample printed photos on the specific paper stock my client choose (or a comparable sheet).
  5. I will request an unprinted paper dummy from the printer (reflecting the exact paper stock) as we get closer to the press date.

The Bottom Line

All communication is useful in helping a customer meet her or his printing needs. Nothing facilitates communication like sharing printed samples. Finally, to showcase image quality, it’s best to specify higher quality papers (a #1 or #2 sheet rather than a #3 or #4 sheet). This will help maintain the detail and tonal range of the photos.

Book, Magazine, and Catalog Printing: Printer Spreads

Friday, January 30th, 2015

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

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

The Printer’s Response

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

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

Comparing the Two Layouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Print the Covers

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

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

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

Magazine Printing: Be Open to Different Binding Options

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

I have mentioned in a prior blog posting that I’m brokering a magazine or print book project in the form of a graphic novel. It’s very exciting, but it’s also a study in the art of print book binding.

Backstory for the Book

The magazine, or book, started as a 9” x 12” saddle-stitched product with three gatefolds. After discussing the project with a large custom printing aggregator (an owner of multiple print shops) with printing plants across the country containing every imaginable piece of printing and binding equipment, it became clear that to produce the saddle-stitched product my client desired, the magazine division of this large printer would be more appropriate than the book division. This division had significantly more experience in inserting gatefolds as well.

The printer provided a price for 5,000 copies, saddle-stitched, on 60# gloss text, with 70# gloss text for the gatefolds and a 100# text-weight cover. The format was 8.5” x 10.875” to fit a full-size heatset web press.

(Just as an aside, the text weight for the cover is not a typo. I learned as a consultant at a DC-area political magazine that an excellent pairing of text and cover for a magazine is 100# text for the cover and 60# text for the interior of the magazine. This gives a tactile sense of the difference between the cover of the print book and its interior, but the product feels like a magazine, not a book.)

This printer was comfortable saddle-stitching this product.

A New Printer Added to the Mix

Having secured a reasonably priced estimate for one complete approach to this graphic novel, I opened up the bidding to other vendors.

I chose three magazine printers I had worked with before. I needed vendors I could trust completely. I sent out specification sheets, and when the printers contacted me to discuss the job further, I went into more detail with them. I also made it clear that I was open to their suggestions. I wanted to hear how they would approach the project, particularly considering the three gatefolds it would include.

The second magazine printer to submit a complete estimate declined to bid on a saddle-stitched option. This vendor had increased the paper weight (but will reduce it again to 50# on the revised bid); however, even with 50# text stock for the interior pages and 70# text stock for the gatefolds, the second printer was concerned. The sales rep said that including three gatefolds in a saddle-stitched magazine of 160 pages would be asking to have the pages fall out. The gatefolds would be opened and closed repeatedly, and this would eventually compromise the stitched binding. So this magazine printer provided pricing for a perfect-bound product only.

I did not take this badly. In fact, I was pleased to have an option for perfect binding provided by a vendor who had taken seriously my request for suggestions and advice. Furthermore, I knew that this was an area of concern to keep in mind with any other vendor. In addition, I liked the pricing. It was much lower than the first vendor’s pricing, in spite of the printer’s being two-thirds of the way across the country; i.e., the price was lower even with a huge freight estimate.

An Approach to the Gatefolds

What I found intriguing was the printer’s specificity regarding gatefold placement. The 160-page magazine would be broken down into five 32-page signatures, and the center 32-page signature would be split in half (32—32—16—16—32–32). This would allow for insertion of the center gatefold (dead center in the perfect-bound book). The other two gatefolds would fit between the first two 32-page signatures and the last two 32-page signatures.

Furthermore, the gatefolds would open to the right. If my client wanted them to open to the left, that might be possible. The printer would look into this.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I thought this case study would be particularly useful for any of you who produce magazines. Here are some thoughts:

  1. If a printer no-bids a portion of a job (or changes a portion of a job in the estimate), be mindful that this might be a challenging operation for any vendor. The resulting product might not be durable. Or, it might just require specific equipment that only certain print vendors own. Ask for clarification.
  2. Be flexible. Consider different approaches suggested by various custom printing suppliers. Not all vendors will approach the job in the same way. You may learn something new, and you may save money in the process.
  3. Ultimately, it comes down to your level of confidence in, and comfort with, a vendor. Does the vendor have the right equipment, the right expertise, and the right price. Don’t force the printer to do something to which he is resistant. You might be disappointed.

Commercial Printing: Inserting Gatefolds into Magazines

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

A print brokering client of mine is producing a magazine. Actually, it is a graphic novel that initially was to be a perfect bound product, but my client has been increasingly interested in saddle stitching the book.

To give a brief overview of the specs, it is 8.5” x 10.875”. It was initially 150 pages (which I increased to 160 pages to equal five 32-page signatures—i.e., a more efficient custom printing sequence with fewer, but longer, press signatures).

Due to my client’s interest in saddle stitching the product (for the overall “magazine” look), the white gloss paper stock had to be 50# text (or thinner) for the printer to be able to saddle stitch the magazine. (Normally a 160-page book would be too long to saddle stitch if the paper were 60# gloss text or thicker.) Therefore, the job had to be produced on a web-offset press to accommodate the thinner press stock.

My client had initially requested a 9” x 12” page size. While this is not out of the question, it will be significantly more expensive to produce than an 8.5” x 10.875” format (fewer pages in each press signature and therefore more press runs needed to produce a 160 page book). The 8.5” x 10.875” format is ideal for a full-size heatset web press.

Why Is All of This Preliminary Information Relevant?

This preliminary information is relevant for the following reason. Initially, I had approached a large commercial printer with numerous printing plants across the country for a bid on the job and for advice on its design and production. Due to the initial plan’s having been to perfect bind the book, my customer service representative at this large commercial printing firm had approached his company’s book division for a quote.

This was fine, at first. But as my client shifted to wanting a saddle-stitched product and added three gatefolds to the design, the books division “no bid” the job. This division said the page count of the print book could not exceed 120 pages to be saddle stitched, and the book could not have a gatefold in the center spread.

Why the Books Division Set These Limitations

The printer’s books division said that gatefolds in the center of saddle-stitched books tend to fall out (come unhinged from the saddle stitches). Also, the books division said that even with 50# gloss text stock, a saddle-stitched book longer than 120 pages would be hard to bind and might come apart or lose some of its center-most pages.

I knew of all these pitfalls, but I had also grown up reading Playboy magazine, and had seen 150-page or longer magazines with gatefolds in their center spreads.

Moving from the Books Division to the Magazine Division

The CSR I work with at this large printer noted my client’s desire for a saddle-stitched product, and he too had seen longer saddle-stitched magazines with centerfolds. So he offered to discuss the print job with the magazine division of his firm.

Now this in no way implies that the books division lacks competence in binding. Rather, it implies that the magazines division has bindery equipment more suited to the task. It also shows the benefits of working with a commercial printing supplier with multiple plants and a huge amount of varied equipment.

Gatefold Options—Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

At this point my client potentially has two options for binding the print book: saddle stitching and perfect binding.

If the book is perfect bound, the five 32-page signatures will be stacked (one on top of the other) before binding. If it the book is saddle stitched, the signatures will be nested (each signature placed in the center of the preceding signature and then stitched in the center).

The gatefold in the center spread of the saddle-stitched option would be bound by the staples. The other two gatefolds would be bound between signatures. Therefore, for a six panel gatefold (three on each side of the sheet), two pages will either stick out (and need to be folded in) in front of the center spread (with the remaining panel–two pages, back and front–in the back of the book), or this will be reversed, and the single page will be in the front of the book and the remaining pages will come after the center spread.

If my client opts for a perfect bound book, the gatefolds will simply be bound between signatures. This is because there is no center of a print book in a perfect bound product in the same way that there is a center spread in a saddle-stitched book with nested signatures.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to develop long-term professional relationships with your vendors. Then you can draw upon their extensive experience and knowledge.

In addition, keep an open mind. There’s usually more than one way to achieve a desired result in custom printing.

Finally, show the printer samples of the effect you’re after. Nothing communicates your goals like a sample printed product.


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