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Archive for the ‘Catalog Printing’ Category

Catalog Printing: Views on an Upscale Bath Catalog

Monday, April 20th, 2015

One of the major benefits of rebuilding a house after a fire is looking through all the print catalogs of things you might want to buy for the house. (Another is being able to see through all the wood studs with no drywall in the way—it makes the house look like one big room.)

One of the print catalogs my fiancee brought back to the condo took my breath away. And being a student of commercial printing, I had to deconstruct it and share with you exactly why I think it’s fabulous.

Description of the Catalog

First of all, the cover of the 8.5” x 11” print book is simple, perhaps even stark. The background is printed in full-bleed, luxurious silver (probably multiple hits of the metallic ink), with one rectangle of text for the title, subtitle, and branding (all nestled together in a tight geometric form). Interestingly enough, this block of copy falls below the center of the cover, almost at the bottom of the page. The effect is that your eye falls on the abundant silver ink first (this is the real subject of the cover) and then travels down to the text block.

“Bath” stands out in an austere, all-caps treatment using a thin, angular, sans serif typeface and abundant letterspacing. The word is reversed out of the silver and is about two inches in height. The tittle of the print catalog and the branding logotype are nestled above and below the word “Bath” to create the aforementioned rectangle of type.

In addition, the cover has a vertical press score about 3/4” in from the spine. On such an austere cover it functions as a vertical design element and also allows the cover to be opened without revealing the spine and binding glue. It is simple and elegant.

Treatment of Text in the Catalog

All explanatory mater at the front of the catalog is arranged in a simple, geometric grid with ample leading between lines of type. The sans serif typeface accentuates what first appears to be a Sweedish Modern ethos in the design of the catalog and the design of all bath fixtures within the catalog. Interestingly enough, the company is actually a Spanish firm with stores across the globe, Porcelanosa Grupo. The company specializes in ceramics and bathroom fixtures and furniture.

The text appears to be almost gray, but with a loupe you can see that it is black. It is the combination of the extra leading between lines of type and the thin letterforms of the sans serif type that gives the overall appearance of gray or silver type. The overall effect is an air of luxury. The type treatment extends throughout the following pages of bathroom fixtures. Who would imagine that a plumbing catalog could exude sex appeal?

Treatment of Photos in the Catalog

Overall, the color usage in the catalog is sparse. It looks either achromatic (only black, white, or grey) or almost a cool, upscale silver. If you look more closely, however, you will see an accent of color here and there. Each double-page spread showcases one item or fixture, and occasionally there will be a red highlight within the explanatory text, or perhaps a pink or green bottle of handcream, or a towel, in the photo. The effect is a subtle humor. “Find the color, if you can.” It also looks incredibly delicate, like trees covered in ice after a freezing rain. If you look closely you can appreciate the delicacy of the photography.

The Tonal Range of the Images

From a technical point of view, the photos are breathtaking because of their extended tonal range. Upon close inspection with a printer‘s loupe you can see that many of the photos that appear to be black and white only have been rendered in four-color process inks. These are also known as “quadtones.” What this technique provides is an extended range of intermediate tones within the images.

Whereas a one-color halftone (perhaps black only) can only focus on a narrow range of tones (perhaps the shadows and a bit of the midtones, or the intermediate tones and the highlights), a four-color rendering of a black and white image can showcase detail in the shadows, three-quarter tones, mid-tones, quarter tones, and highlights—the entire tonal range. Granted, in this print catalog the images are not quite black and white even in appearance. There are a few accents of color here and there. But the overall look is a monochromatic, or even achromatic, air of elegance with precise attention to detail.

It also looks as though the photos themselves were shot in extremely high resolution. You can see the individual water drops coming from one of the shower heads, and the mirrored reflections in the metal fixtures, as well as the icy white porcelain sinks and tubs, give a frozen look to the images.

The Paper on Which the Catalog Is Printed

As I’ve often said before, the paper on which a job is printed exerts a powerful subliminal force. It works on the reader’s subconscious. It either supports or detracts from the overall effect of the printed piece. It seems that the paper stock for the text of the catalog is a brilliant white, 100# dull text sheet. (The dull coating diffuses all light and has no sheen.) The cover of the catalog appears to be a thick, brilliant white, 100# dull cover sheet.

For me, the overall effect of using paper with such ample weight and stiffness is to echo the feeling of opulence suggested by the print catalog. The bright, solar white sheet reinforces this as well, as does its blue-white shade. “Icy” is the word that comes to mind—and “flawlessly precise.”

The Overall Look of the Catalog

What makes this catalog work for me is that all design elements, from the blue-white paper tone and heavy paper weight to the stark imagery; from the monochromatic hues to the extended tonal range in the photos; from the choice of typefaces to the attention to letterspacing and leading—all of this supports the overall tone of the catalog and the brand attributes to which potential customers might aspire.

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.

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.

Catalog Printing: A Spectacular Clothing Magazine

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

I was out shopping in the mall yesterday with my fiancee. In one of the clothing stores I came upon a catalog. I was surprised and pleased with the quality of the printed piece. First and foremost, I was pleased to see print collateral in a digital age. I strongly believe in the efficacy of multichannel marketing. After all, something has to drive people to websites. I could see that in this clothing store there were catalogs to help visitors take with them a bit of the shopping experience, as a stepping off point to the Internet, to another visit to the mall, or as an introduction to the clothing brand.

A Description of the Print Catalog

What struck me first was the rough surface of the catalog paper. This felt right, since all of the clothing in the magazine had texture: wool with patterns, layered outfits, and macrame and other knotted effects.

It seemed a perfect choice to have what felt like an uncoated cover as an introduction to the print catalog. The lack of a cover coating made the paper seem to absorb all light, and it gave a soft and muted look to the cover model, her clothing, and her surroundings.

I looked at the interior paper under a bright incandescent light and noticed that it did have a bit of a sheen. It looked as though the designer had chosen a matte sheet to give a less polished look than a dull sheet, but still had opted for a coated paper to give the photos a crisp look. Since a paper coating provides a harder surface on which the ink can sit, and therefore keeps it from seeping into the paper fibers, the designer’s choice of a matte sheet gave the images a bright, highly detailed look.

When I looked again at the cover, I did see the faintest sense of a cover coating. My educated guess at this point is that the designer had added a varnish in spite of this being an uncoated paper.

Normally it is not the best idea to run a varnish on an uncoated sheet. Since it seeps into the paper fibers, the lack of ink “hold out” minimizes the effectiveness of the varnish both as a protective device and as an aesthetic statement. After all, you can barely see it.

My expectation is that the varnish had been added to maintain the more natural, muted effect of the uncoated sheet while slightly improving the durability of the ink. I have seen this done before, albeit infrequently. I think it works here.

The Photos in the Print Catalog

I was struck by the almost flawless skin of the models and the subtle transitions of color over the surface of the images. So I brought out my loupe.

The most dramatic part of the image under the loupe was the small size of the halftone dot. At first I thought the halftones had been created with an especially fine halftone screen (perhaps 200+ lpi), but I saw upon further observation that all halftone dots were the same size. In addition, there were no rosettes (the circular patterns of halftone dots visible in most screened images).

I thought about what I was observing and realized that the images in the fashion catalog had been printed with stochastic screening technology. Unlike traditional halftones that include halftone dots of various sizes all arranged on a grid and equidistant from one another, stochastic screening (also known as FM, or frequency modulated, screening) positions dots of equal size all over the halftone image. In areas that are dense, there are more of these equal-size dots, and in light areas with minimal ink coverage, there are fewer dots. In contrast, traditional screening (also known as AM, or amplitude modulated, screening) involves rotating each of the four process color screens at a slight angle to the others (to avoid moire patterns), and this creates the circular rosette patterns present in most halftones but absent in this print catalog.

It worked extraordinarily well in this catalog. The images almost looked like continuous tone photographs, and this highlighted the beautiful skin tones, outdoor backgrounds, and fiber art and clothing.

As an aside, I have even heard of (and seen samples of) halftone images that use hybrid screening technology, which combines both AM screening and FM screening.

Black and White Quadtone Images

One other technique used effectively in the fashion print catalog was the four-color black and white image. Through the loupe, and even with the stochastic screening, I could see the vaguest hint of cyan, magenta, and yellow halftone dots intermixed with the black dots in the halftones.

There were only two of these quadtone black and white images (both with a wide range of tones made possible by the four separate halftone screens), but they were elegant, and the technique reflected the stately tone of their content. What made them so effective was that by removing the color (or the appearance of color), the designer had made the photos look old fashioned. In so doing, he or she also drew attention to the aesthetic tone of the photos. The photos were not just a rendering of a product, a particular dress, but rather a stylized piece of art.

How You Can Apply This to Your Work

If your subject matter lends itself to almost continuous tone imagery, ask your printer about FM screening. It may cost a bit more, but for fashion, food, and automotive imagery this can be worth it. I have even seen the work of printers specializing in stochastic screening. In their case, this technology may not cost extra.

Also, choose printing papers integral to the design of your catalog. Don’t make the paper choice an afterthought. If you want a more natural feel, choose an uncoated paper. For a more slick, corporate tone, you may want to select a gloss stock instead. Or if your subject matter warrants it, choose something in the middle—a matte or dull paper substrate.

And consider four-color black and white imagery. We have grown so accustomed to full-color imagery that a black and white photo can be particularly dramatic just because it’s not expected.

Catalog Printing: Creative Response to USPS Rate Increase

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes a challenge breeds creativity.

Tonight on IndependentRetailer.Com I read a 10/30/13 article by Gloria Mellinger about the upcoming proposed postal rate increase and its effect on catalog printing services and direct marketers.

The article quotes Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as saying, “The rate increase poses a direct threat to the 8 million private-sector jobs that are part of the mailing industry as businesses shift from paper-based to electronic communication and mailers are priced out of business.”

The Implications of the Postal Rate Hike

First of all, for Standard Flats (the class used to mail full-sized catalogs), the postage could rise as much as 10 to 12 percent on January 26, 2014. For me, this brings up a number of thoughts:

  1. First of all, almost all of the articles I have read on contemporary marketing suggest that a coordinated effort involving both print and electronic media will draw far more customers than either print or electronic media alone, and these customers will spend more (based on market research).
  2. I have read that print catalogs in particular drive potential customers to a retailer’s website and increase the overall amount spent.
  3. The financial distress of the US Postal Service and the resulting rate increases will drive a lot of retailers away from print media, resulting in the loss of, or at least a reduction in, a lucrative marketing channel. Mailers may either reduce the frequency of print catalog mailings or cut them out altogether.
  4. Not having a printed component of a marketing plan will exclude as potential clients anyone who cannot easily find a company’s website, does not know what the current vendor sales include, has an aggressive spam filter, is not computer savvy, or does not have a computer. Also, a print catalog will arrive in a prospect’s mailbox, encouraging her/him to page through the book, but a prospect must actively go to a website. (This reflects the active vs. passive nature of electronic vs. print marketing. It also shows how powerful the combination of the two can be.)

The Creative Response: The Mini Print Catalog

On a positive note, one interesting development in response to postage rate hikes has been the rise of the mini catalog format. These mail at the cost of a standard automated letter, cut production costs (when compared to a full-size print catalog), and yet allow mailers to keep the same mailing frequency and circulation numbers.

I did some research to determine the specifications of these mini catalogs and came up with the following:

  1. One online printer notes that mini catalogs can be 6, 8, or 10 pages. (The 10-page limit is also borne out by the IndependentRetailer.Com article.) Although this is far less than a full-size catalog, it can keep a company in the awareness of a potential client by showcasing 50 to 70 products (according to B&W Press). In addition, a marketing manager may send a few complete catalogs to prospects or clients each year while also sending a number of mini catalogs to the same people at other times of year. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and a mailer will still save a lot of money, even within a climate of increasing postage costs.
  2. The aforementioned offset printer offers a 10.5” x 5.875” option and a 11.5” x 5.875” option for a mini catalog. (This is a little like the “slim jim” format.)
  3. This printer offers (and the US Postal Service has approved) fugitive glue adhesive to keep the mini catalogs closed during automated mail processing. This is a particular advantage since market research has shown that catalog readers hate wafer seals, which often tear the catalog pages when being removed. The fugitive glue will solve this problem.
  4. Due to its having fewer pages than a full-size catalog, the mini catalog is ideal for driving clients to a retailer’s website for current pricing information, more product information, and/or to buy a product. Due to the lower postage costs, the mini catalog encourages the marriage of print channels (such as postcards) and electronic channels.
  5. MultiChannelMerchant.Com (“Mini Catalogs Catching On As Economy and Culture Change,” 7/24/13, Del Williams) notes that a mailer “can cut mailing and production costs by a third” and “lower cost without lowering response rates.” The same article notes that “while mailing a full-sized catalog can cost 57 cents apiece at a million mailed, mailing these new mini catalogs can cost as little as 28 cents apiece at a similar volume.”
  6. All of this means a direct mail marketer can maintain constant contact with prospects (using larger catalogs, mini catalogs, and electronic media), controlling costs while increasing reach and retention.

Custom Printing: Polybagging Case-Study Redux

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

In an earlier blog posting, I noted that a client of mine who had produced a directory of non-profit educational organizations was having problems with the polybagging material in which the print books sent to subscribers had been wrapped.

Analysis (The Back Story)

My client had included his name and the names of a few other office staff members in the initial run mailed to clients. (This is known in marketing parlance as “seeding.”) The print book was mailed with a cover letter in a polybag. The copies my client and his office mates received suffered nicks and tears in the polybagging material but fortunately no damage to the books themselves.

As I mentioned before, I asked my client to send me photographs of the damage, which I passed on to the book printer. His mailshop acquired thicker polywrap material and sent new copies of the print books to my client and to me. The polywrap was thicker, but both copies arrived with slits in the polybags, from top to bottom, on the face margin of the directory. The books themselves received no damage.

The Process, and How You Can Adapt It to Your Print Buying

  1. I started the process of remediation immediately. I made it clear to the custom printing supplier exactly what had gone wrong. However, I did not lay blame. I merely asked his help in remedying the situation.
  2. The remediation process is happening now, not in the middle of next year’s print book production schedule. Therefore, we have the leisure of time to explore alternatives and their possible ramifications and extra costs.
  3. I documented the process with photos as well as in writing. Nothing communicates this sort of thing as well as a photo. I took photos at a number of different angles showing different kinds of damage, and I used a high-resolution digital camera. I lit the damaged polywrap with high intensity lighting to make the damage stand out clearly.
  4. The book printer had his mailshop send out books in the new polywrap material. It would have been way too easy to just send a swatch of the new polywrap material to my client and me. Everyone would have felt the difference in the plastic with their fingers and probably concluded that it would work. Next year the problem would have occurred again. By actually sending books in the plastic, we could test the product in actual use (a particular weight of book in a particular thickness of polywrap traveling through the US mail under normal conditions).
  5. The printer and I discussed the potential causes of the problem. Perhaps the weight of the book had made the wrap tear in transit (not necessarily the cause, since I have received thicker books sent in polywrap material). Perhaps the US Postal Service had handled the books roughly (not necessarily the cause, since both my client’s and my copies arrived with damaged polywrap).
  6. The printer and I discussed possible alternatives to polybagging. One would be to insert the printed directory and mailing letter in a padded jiffy bag. The additional cost for the padded bag would be just under $.50 each. In addition, a label would need to be printed and affixed to the bag. If we chose not to use a padded jiffy bag, we could insert the book in a Tyvek envelope. Spun olefin is nearly un-tearable. But, again, there would be the additional cost of the envelopes and the labels.
  7. The commercial printing vendor will now confer with the owner of the mailshop. They will come up with suggestions for the best and cheapest plan for next year’s mailing. For now my client and I are putting this on hold.

The Overall Approach to the Problem

The key to all of this is to proceed meticulously, and to document everything in writing and with photos. In your own print buying work, I would encourage you to approach the printer as a partner and approach the problem like a challenge. Blame does nothing to help. An objective attitude of working together to find resolution brings about the best result and actually strengthens your relationship with your printer. And if you have the luxury of time, this helps too.

Commercial Printing: B&B’s “Look” Hits It Dead Center

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I visited a retail clothing store with my fiancée today. I went in because she wanted to see the shop, but I quickly got lost in the way the décor of the store, its wall and floor signage, lighting, wall paint colors, merchandise tags, music, and avant garde employee attire all came together to create a coherent, bold atmosphere. (Let’s call the store B&B, to make it somewhat of a hypothetical example of good marketing and design.)

The first thing I saw upon entering the store was the print catalog, right near the door. I paged through it as I walked past the clothing, and then I saw backlit images on the walls of some of the same models I had seen in the catalog. Clearly, I thought, print is not dead if this vibrant clothing store (which had a huge line at the cash registers) was actively using a print catalog, within the store, to sell the store.

Bold Signage and Clothing Tags

As my fiancée shopped, I sought to deconstruct what I was seeing to better understand its effect on me. The informational signage was printed in a bold sans serif type, either black ink or reversed out of heavily saturated primary colors. Type was set in all capital letters, tightly letter-spaced with minimal leading to present a dynamic look. Interestingly enough, there were also block letters cut out of wood to denote the various sections of the store. These three-dimensional sans serif letters reinforced the look of the large format print signage.

Large format print images of models had been produced with inkjet equipment, I assumed. (They appeared to be continuous tone, with no discernible dot pattern.) Images printed on paper were framed. Others were mounted on lightboxes and were backlit with bright lights.

At my feet I saw a large, round, inkjet printed floor banner that echoed the wall signage. It had been attached to the floor with an adhesive.

Attached to the clothes I saw either black hang-tags with the store’s logo embossed and covered with a registered clear foil stamp or tags without embossing but still using either clear foil or a spot gloss UV coating to highlight the logo. Some of the other tags were printed in black ink on thick chipboard, offering a more environmentally friendly look.

Dramatic Lighting and Interior Design

Spot track lighting brought out the vibrant primary colors and the pastels and increased the apparent saturation of the color scheme. Collections of yellow and fuscia clip lights balanced the groupings of colored clothing items and accessories, often arranged by color rather than usage. And simple white (almost childlike) “drawings” adorned the walls. They appeared to be made of clear or colored foils glued to the wall paint. It would not surprise me if they had been cut out of vinyl using an automated plotting printer with a knife controlled by digital information from a design file.

It was clear to me that bright color depends on bright light, and the saturated pinks, purples, and greens in the clothing, lighting fixtures, and signs gave the room intensity and an avant garde feel.

Insistent Music, and “In Your Face” Employee Dress

Instead of the Hip Hop I was used to hearing in the neighborhood, the speakers of the music system pounded out electronic dance music. It seemed to match the intensity and immediacy of both the interior design and the bold imagery in the print catalog, with lifestyle photos interspersed among the photos of models wearing branded clothing. And the mohawks, piercings, and tattoos of the employees along with their varied dress (some with screen printed shirts covered with bright fashion images) suggested the forward-thinking, experimental clientele the store sought to reach.

The Website Reinforced the Experience

When I got home I checked out the website. I assumed it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I saw the same typefaces, colors, and bold looks. And there were some of the same models I had seen in the print catalog and the large format prints in the store.

The Catalog Revisited

After I got home I looked through the catalog again. It seemed to be as much a magazine as a catalog, showcasing articles by stylists and designers as well as lifestyle photos to reinforce brand identity and to ensure reader affiliation with the brand. I have always read that print catalogs lift sales, and I could see why. The catalog presented fashion as “power” or “mojo.” It reflected an understanding of trends and popular culture. And it gave the shopper a free reference point he or she could use to extend the experience of the retail store once having left the premises. The photos exuded attitude, sex appeal, and confidence. The catalog was a marketing piece, but it was clearly also an art book.

Why You Should Care

It is very easy to create an overall impression that a marketing campaign has been created by a committee. It is much harder to present a simple, unified look that appeals to a targeted clientele. The lighting, signage, music, employee dress—and let’s not forget the print catalog—of this retail establishment all work together to reinforce a mood and an approach to clothing that distinguishes this store from other clothing stores in the neighborhood.

This store exemplifies the successful confluence of print, architectural, and interior design.

Catalog Printing: Online Marketing May Not Be Enough

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Depending on what you read, direct mail is either a viable marketing tool when paired with online promotions or it is dying.

I prefer to believe the former, that direct mail marketing has an important place in informing and persuading customers. I just discovered a white paper written by Brown Printing Company that explains why. I think it is well written and its arguments are solid, so I want to share this monograph with you. It is called “The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix.”

The white paper starts with the following premise: “Every customer exists in the offline world, and reaching out to them with more tangible, physical marketing materials can solidify an existing relationship and convince prospects to take a closer look at your products.”

As presented in this white paper, here are a few goals attainable when you pair a print catalog with your other marketing materials, even if your business is entirely online.

Increase Traffic to Your Website

Print catalogs drive readers to vendors’ websites both for more information and also to buy products and services. US Postal Service surveys have confirmed this. Print catalog mailers see increased activity online after a promotional mailing.

A savvy print catalog mailer can showcase merchandise in lifestyle photographs and then direct readers to specific URLs for more information on selected products. Or they can use QR codes to direct interested print catalog readers to selected web pages. They can also use the opportunity to capture demographic information from the readers once they are online. So the goal is not to use print catalogs or online marketing alone but rather to use them in concert to improve the reach and effectiveness of both.

Lift Conversion Rates

“The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” notes that shoppers who go online to your website after having received a print catalog are more likely to buy (or become a repeat buyer) than those who come to your website via search engines, email, or display ads. They are more knowledgeable and interested when they arrive.

The article notes that “of the 10 e-commerce websites with the highest conversion rates, nine of them also mail catalogs.” Success speaks volumes.

Print catalogs bring higher quality visitors to e-commerce websites (i.e., those prospects more likely to buy, or “convert”). The tactile nature of catalogs combined with their visual appeal makes them more persuasive than online advertising. They also command more undivided attention. Print catalog readers are more likely to focus on the catalogs in an undisturbed environment, in contrast to computer users who multitask and therefore divide their time between reading sales promotions and engaging in other online activities.

Moreover, since catalogs hold a powerful appeal for readers, your company can tell a story about your merchandise that grabs a reader’s interest, making price less of a determining factor in buying than the compelling nature of your brand. Customers spend more and then come back to buy your products or services again and again, thus increasing their lifetime value to your business.

Attract New Customers

“The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” also includes the following facts about print catalog “open rates” vs. email “open rates”:

“The ‘open rate’ of direct mail, including catalogs, is 79 %.” (DMA 2011 Annual Fact Book)

“The clickthrough rate for online display ads is below 1%. The average marketing email has an open rate around 23% and a clickthrough rate around 5.4%.” (based on Epsilon/ECC’s Email Trends and Benchmarks Study)

If prospects to whom you have emailed your marketing materials don’t see them either because their spam filters have deleted them or because these prospects are inundated with online mail, then your offer goes unnoticed. In contrast, print catalog readers come to your website ready to research products and buy them.

The Wisdon of Multi-Channel Marketing

People buy more when targeted through more than one medium. Pairing online marketing with a print catalog can increase the average spend of your new clients.

Here are two more compelling quotes from “The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” proving the efficacy of catalogs:

“Opinion Research Groups…revealed that 43% of the retailer’s shoppers used multiple channels, and they accounted for 66% of its sales.”

“The McKinsey study ‘Steering Customers to the Right Channels’ found that multichannel customers spend 20% to 30% more than single-channel ones.”

The more channels through which customers can interact with your brand and buy your merchandise and services, the more money they will spend.

Custom Printing: 4 Examples of Successful Integrated Marketing

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

I recently read an article by TJ Raphael in Folio called “Backstage Ties Print and Digital Together with Redesign.” It got me thinking about those companies that successfully integrate print materials and the Web, at least those I have come across in my own life. I wanted to find examples of companies that embrace print catalogs and magazines, not those in the process of shifting their focus from print to digital.

Here are a few companies successfully blending print and the online experience: Backstage, Sappi, Ikea, and Staples.

Backstage Magazine

The Folio article noted above describes a magazine focused on the needs of actors. According to John Amato, chairman and CEO of Backstage (as quoted in the Folio article), “What we’ve tried to do with this magazine is take almost every part of it and lead it back to the Web.” As a reflection of its commitment to custom printing as well as the Web, Backstage has recently transformed its magazine from a tabloid newspaper to a glossy 9” x 10.875” print book.

Amato notes that “We’re literally trying to incorporate how you process the magazine and interactions with Backstage online into one cohesive product that is Web and print.” Print “keeps you relevant as a brand, it gives you a currency that being online only doesn’t give you.” The goal of Backstage management is to blend the magazine experience, the website experience, and social media to provide both news related to the performing arts and utilities that will serve actors (such as casting listings or information on how to find an agent).

The Backstage print book is definitely viable with a circulation of 60,000.

Sappi Paper Company Books

Sappi is a premium paper manufacturer. As a commercial printing broker, I periodically receive high-end promotional print books such as The Standard, a knowledge base of offset and digital custom printing techniques all produced on paper created by Sappi.

However, Sappi also has a website, tied visually through its look and branding to the promotional publications I receive. While Sappi spares no expense in using its commercial printing services to promote its custom printing papers, it also provides online information on paper and printing. You can order promotional books and read descriptions of its print books, such as Life with Print (focusing on “Direct Mail,” “Internet Integration,” and “Engaging New Generations”), all of which demonstrate the relevance of printed publications.

Ikea Print Catalog

I mentioned Ikea in a prior blog posting because this company has demonstrated a commitment to ink on paper as well as the Web. Ikea’s print catalog is delivered to approximately 210 million homes around the world.

I checked out the Ikea website last night. Ikea’s online catalog mirrors the print catalog. You can point with your mouse and turn the pages online just as you would review the printed book.

However, the online version provides additional content that expands on the information in the print catalog. For instance, in one case you will see a furnished room in the online catalog spread. Using the mouse you can change the room, adding different colored doors, more or less furniture, or additional window treatments. On another digital page spread, you can click the mouse to activate a video that supplements information provided in the print catalog. Still another page spread reveals an animation that displays alternate room designs and alternate color schemes.

Staples Online Flyer

Each week I also receive an email flyer from Staples. It is a screen version of the paper-based circular, also available in the store on newsprint paper. However, as you move the mouse over individual products online, the screen reveals extra information about each item. Like the paper version, you can turn the pages using your mouse as a pointer. The design of the online flyer makes the print version in the store immediately recognizable (and vice versa).

What We Can Learn

If you are designing a marketing campaign that will successfully coordinate both a print-based experience and an online experience, keep these thoughts in mind:

  1. Tie the print component and Web component together graphically as well as editorially. Make them a complementary visual experience provided in a coherent manner.
  2. People are accustomed to page-turning paper circulars and catalogs, so give them an analagous experience on-screen (a page-turner). Then add supplemental content (words, images, video) to expand upon the prospect’s initial experience with the flyer, circular, or catalog while reinforcing the brand values and providing ways for the prospect to contact your business.
  3. Coordinate the print and online experiences so they are clearly from the same vendor. Provide additional information within each medium, not just the same information duplicated in a different venue.

Catalog Printing: IKEA and Fossil Integrate Print and Digital

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

I read a short article yesterday about digital enhancements IKEA has incorporated into its 2013 print catalog, plus IKEA’s strong commitment to maintaining a print catalog presence along with its digital marketing initiatives. What I find interesting is that in an era of dour predictions forecasting the death of custom printing, some avenues for print seem to actually be growing. Here is an example of one: the print catalog.

IKEA’s Cross Channel Marketing Work

I have included two quotes of interest from PrintCAN, 13 August 2012 (“IKEA adds digital enhancements to printed catalogue”):

“The printed catalogue remains the cornerstone of our marketing campaign globally.”

“As we enter new markets, the [catalog] production will increase.”


While restating their commitment to the printed catalog, which is actually delivered to approximately 210 million homes around the world (according to PrintCAN), IKEA is expanding the capabilities of the catalog and integrating the print version with IKEA’s digital presence.

Specifically, IKEA provides a downloadable app, which allows one to point a smartphone at a print catalog page and “access films about IKEA products, experience 3D models, look behind closed doors with an x-ray function or change the curtains and get creative” (Madeline Löwenborg-Frick, public relations manager for IKEA Canada).

In addition, the catalog itself is available in digital format at IKEA’s website.

IKEA and its marketing team (ad agency McCann New York) have focused on “enhancing [the catalog] with technology and storytelling.”

More Than Just Anecdotal Evidence

While one story does not confirm a trend, I will say that I believe IKEA exerts a certain amount of heft within the retail furniture market due to its global reach, so I believe this short article from PrintCAN is provocative. I would add to this anecdotal evidence my reading in marketing periodicals provided by the US Post Office as well as various trade journals I receive, all of which confirm this trend.

Still More Anecdotal Evidence: the Fossil Catalog

I’m speaking now as a print buyer, a graphic designer, and one who appreciates consumer leather goods.

I went shopping in the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth, MD, last week. Since I like watches and leather briefcases, I visited Fossil. When I had checked out the store, I wanted to take home something to remember the shopping experience and perhaps use to get more information on various items. So I reached for the stack of print catalogs. The thick matte paper stock, the consistent chocolate hues that carried through the magazine, and the alternating lifestyle photos and product shots kept Fossil’s brand and the quality I had experienced in the store (store design, ambience, service, and quality products) at the top of my mind.

Next I went to the Fossil website and saw the same overall color scheme, the same typefaces, and images of the same models I had seen in the catalog. I could look up items that interested me, and the combined effect of the Fossil outlet store, print catalog, and online experience reinforced a sense I had that Fossil goods would all be stylish and well made, and that the Fossil company itself would be knowledgeable, reliable, and courteous.

I know all of this is marketing finesse. In fact, I know that it is effective marketing because I understand the nuances. I know the entire experience is crafted by savvy marketing professionals. But I also have seen and used the products, and they don’t disappoint.

What This Really Means

What this really means that a marketing team can create a synergistic effect through multiple media. A retail establishment can position itself as a provider of quality goods by coordinating its store design, its online experience, and its print catalog. Each experience augments the others.

I see that Fossil has included on the back cover of the catalog three icons: one for Facebook, one for Twitter, and one for Pinterest. They’re working all the digital avenues. I don’t see a QR code, but that may appear in the next issue of the print catalog.

Clearly Fossil, like IKEA, has seen value not only in oneline marketing but also in the legacy marketing device: the printed catalog.

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