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Archive for the ‘New Technology’ Category

Digital Commercial Printing: Print Books

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

It has become commonplace to be able to print just one of almost anything. Digital commercial printing has evolved to this level. It no longer surprises us, even if the one-off printed item is intricate and precise, perhaps with special cover coatings or digital ink treatments. Even operations that had relied on diecutting (such as embossing and foil stamping) have digital counterparts, allowing prototyping of even a single item, such as an ornate box for a new product.

That said, most post-press operations are still assumed to take a lot of preparation. For this reason (among others), operations such as perfect binding have been more appropriate for either long runs on large machinery or shorter runs done on tabletop equipment. But even this is changing.

Enter the Muller Martini Vareo

A colleague recently shared promotional literature with me that describes the new Muller Martini Vareo perfect binder. I found the concept of one-off perfect binding to be most intriguing, so I did some more research.

To quote from Muller Martini’s 4/17/15 press release, “The Vareo efficiently processes medium runs down to books of one with the highest quality of any perfect binder in its class.” What this means in practical terms is that with quick make-ready and a running speed of 1350 units per hour, this new perfect binder can be cost effective for even ultra-short runs.

Until just recently, a major characteristic of perfect binding rendering it cost-prohibitive for short runs was the ample make-ready time required to set up a perfect-binding run. In contrast, the Vareo can be ready to go immediately, “with the very first book being sellable.” (Muller Martini).

Technical Specs That Allow for Flexibility

Here are some of the selling points noted in the promotional literature from Muller Martini:

  1. Each of the three clamps in the binder has its own servo motor. What this really means is that you can feed different book blocks requiring different treatment (perhaps because they are composed of different binding materials), and each processing station in the binder can be adjusted appropriately, even for one book.
  2. The equipment can be configured to operate in-line, near-line, or off-line, for maximum flexibility.
  3. The Vareo can process print books with spines ranging from .0625” (1/16”) to 2.36”.
  4. The equipment can be set up with integrated book measuring and barcode scanning technology to ensure that the right book block is paired with the right cover and that the treatment is appropriate for the print book’s size and materials.
  5. The Vareo can be used with either a hot melt EVA glue pot or a PUR glue pot or glue nozzle. In fact, more than one gluing option can be used on the same run. By mounting the applicators on a trolley, the systems can be cycled in and out of position as needed.
  6. The Vareo can be equipped with a crash feeder (the liner attached to the press signatures) to allow for lay-flat paperback binding or traditional case binding. (In this case, the press signatures are glued to the crash, and the crash is glued to the edge of the front and back book covers rather than being glued to the print book spine.)
  7. Muller Martini’s new perfect binder can be used to bind either digitally produced or offset printed products. For instance, a printer might produce 4-page signatures with bleeds on an HP Indigo digital press and then bind the books on the Vareo, or he might produce 16-page signatures on an offset lithographic press and then use the same Vareo equipment to bind the run.
  8. In addition to being flexible (from binding run to binding run, and even within a single run), and in addition to being appropriate for multiple press room configurations (in-line, near-line, and offline, as mentioned before), the Muller Martini Vareo is comparatively easy to operate, using set-up wizards to facilitate preparation.

Ideal Products, and Implications for the Future

Off the top of my head I can think of a number of uses for which this binder would be ideal. These include prototypes of any printed hard-cover or soft-cover book, photo books for individuals or families, personalized catalogs, and high-end print collateral.

What this means on a global scale is that consumer demand for personalized and short run perfect bound print books has brought to market very flexible, and yet still precise, bindery equipment. In an age where publishers opt for multiple short-runs in lieu of longer runs with potential warehousing considerations, original equipment manufacturers are stepping up and filling the demand with outstanding products such as the Muller Martini Valeo. I will be most interested in seeing how this plays out in upcoming years.

Book Printing: LumeJet Prints with Light Rather Than Ink

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

It wasn’t that long ago that inkjet printers made it possible for photographers to forego the wet chemical processes of traditional photo printing in favor of inkjet printing their images. It was faster and much, much easier.

Well, the LumeJet S200 is taking a giant step into the past to provide vastly superior custom printing quality using print heads that produce images with light rather than ink or toner. LumeJet does this using fixed or movable printheads, not unlike those on high-end inkjet equipment, to create a latent image on silver halide photosensitive paper, which can be chemically processed to yield prints with a resolution comparable to the clarity of a 4000 dpi inkjet printer.

Here Are Some of the Features

  1. LumeJet prints are created within the much larger RGB colorspace, which will match colors not available in the CMYK colorspace, such as neons, pastels, metallics, and a number of Pantone colors that would be difficult or impossible to to replicate on a CMYK press.
  2. The LumeJet produces continuous tone images, unlike an offset press, which depends on halftoning algorithms to simulate continuous tone photos.
  3. The LumeJet prints both vibrant images and crisp text, even at very small point sizes. Many other technologies that yield superior images (such as dye sublimation printing) unfortunately do not produce crisp text.

When Would You Use Such a Printer?

The LumeJet delivers an A3 press sheet, which is 11 11/16” x 16 9/16”. This is ideal for a layflat coffee table book or other short-run product. For instance, it would be perfect for a wedding photo book; a record of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation; or a fine artist’s, fashion designer’s, make-up artist’s, or graphic designer’s portfolio.

Basically, when the printed book has to be spectacular, this is the ideal custom printing technology.

How Does It Work?

The structure of the LumeJet is not unlike an inkjet printer. Instead of blank paper or film, however, the paper magazine takes 305 mm rolls of photosensitive paper.

In place of an inkjet printer’s print head array, the LumeJet has digital print heads (usually multiple print heads in tandem) that beam photons “of various wavelengths, spot sizes, and power” (from the LumeJet website) using LED array technology (light emitting diodes) along with fibre taper optics and a lens. Either the print heads can move across the paper as they print the tiny dots (.005 mm) that comprise the images and text, or the print heads can be fixed and the paper can move.

The photosensitive printing paper includes three separate light-sensitive (silver halide) coatings in sequence on the substrate (either white paper or film). There’s one for each of the three RGB colors (red, green, and blue). On these three separate layers are grains of dye-sensitized silver halide. Using a subtractive color model (like offset printing inks), the light sensitive substrate can be imaged, and then the latent image can be developed and fixed (in much the same way as photographic prints are produced) to release and then set the colors. The final step is to rinse the print in water to remove any remaining silver halide or chemicals. It can then be dried and bound into the final print book.

Why Is This Important?

More than anything, I think this is important technology to watch because of the high quality it provides. It will fill a niche market for flawless images with an exceptional color gamut, intense blacks, and crisp type at any size. I think automotive, fashion, food, and cosmetics marketing materials will benefit from this process.

However, it does not yet seem to lend itself to high-run printed products. That said, the first inkjet printers I used produced low-quality images slowly, and now the technology has progressed to include web-fed, high-speed inkjet custom printing of textbooks. So things might develop over time (no pun intended).

Finally, I’m glad to see digital printing reaching beyond traditional ink on paper and toner on paper. We’re printing in three dimensions and even creating food with the new 3D additive manufacturing printers, so it seems only fitting that we’re also starting to print with light. And I think it’s a cool twist that the technology reaches back into the past for its silver halide chemical imaging process.

Book Printing: What You Lose in Moving from Print Books to E-Books

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

I’m starting to see firsthand the trade-offs that come from the migration of print books to e-books. A print brokering client of mine recently produced a 9” x 12” print book of his family experience of the Holocaust. It was printed on an HP Indigo: a short run of 65 copies (soft-cover, perfect bound), just for the family and close friends.

The book has been popular outside my client’s family, so the designer has produced an e-book of the text and photos, and I have been helping him, providing both design advice and logistical suggestions.

Transition from the Print Book to the E-Book

First of all, the Holocaust book (about which I have written in prior blog articles) had a rather complex, multi-column design, incorporating multiple photos of different sizes into the overall look of each page spread. The print book contained sidebars, photos of sample documents from World War II, images of military insignias, newspaper articles, quotes, and sample handwritten letters. It was a beautifully designed and crafted book.

The initial test version of the e-book was a PDF. The benefit of this approach was that the format was “fixed.” It could not change. The book would therefore look the same on any e-reader capable of displaying a PDF document. However, to see the entire page on a small screen (like that of an an iPad), the PDF image would need to be reduced in size. (At this point it would be nearly impossible to read.) Or the reader could just scroll around the full-size page.

To be fair, I have an admission to make. I think multi-column books are not well-suited to an e-book presentation. Here are a few reasons:

  1. You lose the two-page format in which the print book had been designed. Think of a two page spread as a canvas on which the graphic art of page design “happens.” The PDF version of this design chopped the double-page presentation into two individual units, removing the balance and flow that had been designed into the double-page spread.
  2. If you need to increase the apparent size of the PDF on the reading device, you lose the integrity of even the single-page design. Instead, you get an up-close view of the text or a photo, or just a portion of each. You don’t get the whole picture, so to speak.

Changing from a PDF to the Mobipocket Format

Because of the complexity of the print book design, and the ensuing problems in transitioning the print book to a PDF book, the designer and my client abandoned the PDF option in favor of a proprietary e-book format. This format is called Mobipocket, and it is readable on the Amazon Kindle Fire as well as on a number of other devices.

The designer reformatted the Holocaust print book InDesign file into a single-column (rather than three-column) publication. And so I could read the Mobipocket file on my IBM computer and help the designer with any graphic issues that arose, I downloaded the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Previewer software onto my IBM desktop computer.

The book designer created heads, subheads, and introductory text for the e-book. He also anchored photos to specific paragraphs so they would stay with relevant text in the book. The e-book design complemented the print book design. I was impressed. In cases where the photos were too numerous for inclusion within the twelve chapters of the Holocaust book, they were grouped and then uploaded to Flikr, an online, cloud-based repository. The reader of the electronic book would click on highlighted text within the file and be taken to the correct Flikr URL to see photos and captions relating to the highlighted text.

As I watched the designer produce a number of iterations of the book, I noticed a few things:

Even though the designer and I were both using the same version of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Previewer software, the book did not look the same on our respective computers. The text was the same, as was the size relationship (as opposed to the specific type point size) between the heads, subheads, and body copy. But the page breaks were often different on his computer and mine.

For instance, a photo might move to a page by itself, and its caption might move to the following page. I was clear that certain “rules” that the designer had specified (within the e-book style sheets) were in effect. These included the number of lines indented for the initial capital letter beginning each chapter. The “rules” also included the relative size of the heads and subheads, although I know that specific fonts could be changed, along with the size of the type. I also knew these font and type size changes would move design elements from page to page. (That was the root of the problem.)

From discussions with the designer, I realized that these changes would be different from e-reader to e-reader, leaving the designer with little control over the final result.

Best Practices: What Worked and What Didn’t

In this case, I’d say that the e-book is really an adjunct to the print book. If you have both, that’s ideal. If you can only afford the less expensive e-book, at least you can read the text, and the change from a multi-column publication to a single-column e-book does make reading easier than it would have been as a multi-column PDF file (i.e., as an exact duplicate of the Holocaust print book).

The designer has begun each chapter with a large, gray chapter number followed by a headline, a quotation in italics, and then the text, starting with a gray initial capital letter. You know what’s important on each page, and even if the type sizes and typefaces change from e-reader to e-reader, you can still understand the reading order on each page (the hierarchy of importance among the various design elements).

I don’t like that the photos move and leave big white spaces within the text. I understand that this is because the software shifts design elements to successive pages when a photo and caption don’t fit on a particular page on a specific e-reading device (due to technical differences between the devices, or differences in type formatting on various devices). However, I also know that e-readers are evolving, and I understand that at this time in the development of e-books, every e-reader may reflect flaws like these.

However, I also know that readability is paramount in book design and production, and that glitches such as these may confuse the reader and will definitely slow down the reading process.

When I think about the 28 or more formats I saw in Wikipedia for e-book readers, I do worry about the overall “look” of the book on the various e-readers, and I wonder what other problems will arise. It seems that the simpler the page design, the more readable the e-book.

I guess I can rest assured that for complex, coffee-table books, custom printing will probably be the design and distribution format of choice for the foreseeable future.

Commercial Printing: LCD Video Books and Brochures Touch 3 of 5 Senses

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Wow. I think I’ve just seen a major development in marketing. It’s called the LCD video book. A colleague of mine came up to me at a party and asked to show it to me. We sat down and as I opened this little book, a 4.3” diagonal screen started to play a promotional video through a crisp little sound system.

So I went home and looked up LCD video books online. I found other promotional pieces with embedded LCD screens. Most of them were thin, brochure-like items. But I also found a high-end Metal Gear Rising book. It seemed to be about 7” x 10” (given the size of the hand opening the book in the video). On the left was a glossy, four-color book with pages that opened out displaying drawings from this Japanese action adventure game. On the right was the horizontal LCD screen imbedded in the book and surrounded by more artwork.

I thought about the two products and realized that both were essentially marketing pieces: one more of a book and one more of a brochure. But both did a superior job of selling their product or service.

Why? I thought further. Because they were dramatic, tactile, and totally beyond anything I had experienced before. They also captivated three of my five senses.

Marketing Book Identifies Qualities That Make Such a Promotion Memorable

A 2007 book on effective marketing, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, identifies two qualities (among many others) that make an idea memorable. These are “the unexpected” and “credibility.” And these qualities came together to make the LCD video book and brochure memorable.

The minute I opened my colleague’s LCD video brochure, which was about 6” x 9” in size with an oblong format and a spine, as well as a nice satin aqueous coating on the crisp 4-color cover artwork, I was faced with “the unexpected.” I expected text, but instead I experienced video and sound.

Regarding the other point the marketing book, Made to Stick, identifies–credibility–I found a few sobering statistics about video in Mushroom Networks’ YouTube infographic:

  1. YouTube is the “2nd largest search engine.”
  2. “Nearly 1 out of every 2 internet users [is] on YouTube.”
  3. “6 billion hours of video are viewed every month (a 50% increase in one year)”

These statistics clearly demonstrate that as a culture we are becoming increasingly open to (and dependent on) absorbing content through the movement and sound of video. This in no way diminishes reading or printed material, but when you consider that the first largest search engine is Google, video in general is a robust competitor. And it’s growing.

I think these statistics lend credibility to the LCD video book’s effectiveness in delivering memorable promotional material.

Why I Personally Think the LCD Video Book and Brochure Are Effective Marketing Tools

As a custom printing broker, I have a slightly different view as to why my colleague’s LCD promotional brochure and the Metal Gear Rising LCD video book have made such an impression on me.

Video presented on a computer or even a tablet engages the viewer’s senses of hearing and sight. However, it has no tactile presence. It exists only in the moment.

In contrast, an LCD screen placed within a print book engages a third sense–touch. All of the qualities I have been touting in these blog articles regarding the tactile nature of custom printing–its permanence and its craftsmanship–can be combined with the immersive experience of video in these little LCD video books.

I have seen videos online showing the detail of the printed portion of these items. Print is not an afterthought in these cases. No expense has been spared in some of the books and brochures in which the LCD video screen has been imbedded. Here print is working in tandem with the video experience.

I would go even further. When you hand an LCD video book to someone, the uniqueness of the product makes the viewer more open to the multi-sensory experience. The video can be set to start automatically, and I think that very few people will shut the book when viewing a short promotional video.

What Can You Do with an LCD Video Book or Brochure?

Clients who buy such LCD products are making a commitment to their prospects. These are not cheap, ranging from $40 to $60 each, with minimum print runs required. A lot of money must go into creating the video content as well as the print book component.

One might hand off an LCD video book to a prospective sponsor considering a major donation, or a potential buyer of a high-end automobile. In the case of Metal Gear Rising, the book combines a graphic novel and a video screen to sell an online gaming product.

It’s a “leave-behind” item, in marketing jargon, and this catch phrase actually highlights its value. If you can leave behind an item that can recreate the initial sensory experience a prospective client has had with your product or service, you can reinforce this in his or her mind—and make the sale.

You can make a more lasting impression with a video than with a brochure, but you can make an even more lasting impression with an LCD screen embedded in a print book or brochure. That’s because it’s more tangible, unique, and permanent than an Internet video, banner ad, or email. Your client walks away with one of these well-crafted multimedia products, which will capture his or her interest far more than the 100 emails he or she receives in a day.

The Technical Specifications of the LCD Video Book

As a start in your research, here are some general technical specifications for the LCD video book or brochure:

  1. The starting memory is 256K, but memory chips are available holding up to 2GB of data. This means your promotional videos can be longer, or you can provide multiple videos to your prospective clients.
  2. Screen sizes range from 2.8” to 7” diagonal, so you can control the visual impact of the product.
  3. The format of the print book that encases the video screen can range from 8.3” x 5.8” up to 8.3” x 11.7” (upright or oblong). Or you can select a custom size. By making the print book (or brochure) component of the product larger or smaller, you can also control the visual impact of the piece.
  4. The LCD monitor, amplifier, and speakers are powered by Lithium-ion batteries, which can be recharged through the USB port on your computer.
  5. You can control the volume, pause the video, or skip from video to video. The video can also be set to start automatically when you open the cover of the print book or brochure.

I was intrigued. I think they’ve got something here.

Custom Printing: Hybrid Presses Mix Offset and Inkjet Technology

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I learned a new word today: “bespoke.” It means “to a buyer’s specification” (Wikipedia), and in the most recent era of print production it means that presses are being manufactured to exactly fit the print supplier’s needs. Think of it as “mass customization” for printing professionals (hardware, that is, rather than printed products).

“Combining the Best of Both Worlds with Hybrid Inkjet Presses,” an article by Jo Francis in the November 15, 2012, issue of Print Week, addresses not only the benefits of combining offset and digital elements on the same printing press but also the trend toward users’ designing their own hybrid presses on the fly, as the situation warrants. This is exciting.

Examples of Hybrid Technology

Here are some examples noted in the Print Week article:

  1. Anton Group in Essex, Komatsu in Japan, and Axel Springer in Germany have incorporated Kodak Prosper inkjet printheads into their Heidelberg, Ryobi, and Manroland presses.
  2. Focus Label Machinery in Nottingham has incorporated Konica Minolta Colourprint heads into their label press. When they’re not using the inkjet heads, they can be moved out of the way.
  3. Press manufacturer KBA has incorporated inkjet technology into its RotaJet 76 inkjet web press using Kyocera printheads.
  4. Timsons has created a continuous inkjet book printing press, the T-Print, using Kodak printheads.

Implications for Hybrid Printing

This movement within the inkjet arena has several implications for custom printing:

  1. It means the quality and speed of inkjet technology have reached a level that now competes with the quality of offset lithography.
  2. It reflects the ingenuity within the community of commercial printing providers. For example, instead of merely buying a Kodak Prosper press, many printers are attaching Prosper printheads to existing offset sheetfed equipment. When the press is operating at full speed, the offset printing and variable data inkjetting can proceed at approximately 10,000 sheets per hour rather than the 3,000 to 5,000 sheet-per-hour rate of typical personalization equipment.
  3. It reflects the flexibility of these custom printing solutions. For instance, one printer referenced in Francis’ article, Anton Group, has both an 18,000 sheet-per-hour Speedmaster with four inkjet heads and six more inkjet printheads attached to an offline system to be used for shorter runs, thicker paper stocks, and as a back-up option when needed.

The Bottom Line: Higher Quality, Lower Cost, Faster Turn-Around

Here are some benefits these hybrid offset/inkjet presses offer:

  1. Commercial printing suppliers are saving energy, reducing waste, providing only the amount of printed material the client needs, and saving time by marrying static data and variable data on one press instead of producing separate offset and inkjet press runs.
  2. Drying technology is in place for continuous stream inkjet, allowing custom printing vendors to use both coated and uncoated paper stocks.
  3. Personalization significantly increases the response rate of direct mail printing. Hybrid technology reduces the cost of digital printing supplies while increasing the response rates of printed direct mail products.
  4. Due to the comprehensive nature of the technology as well as its speed, efficiency, and low cost, hybrid printing will be ideal not only for personalized address information but also for multiple areas of text and images within a printed product, as well as barcodes, QR codes, and security codes.

Next Steps for Hybrid Printing Technology

  1. The Print Week article notes several print providers that are producing black-only work (primarily books) but that plan to incorporate process color inkjet capabilities in the near future. This is particularly encouraging since color increases response rates in direct mail marketing materials, and variable data color will increase response rates even further.
  2. Printers are moving toward printing duplex (both sides of the press sheet) rather than just simplex (one side of the sheet at a time) jobs with the hybrid offset/inkjet equipment.
  3. A “digital bar” (as opposed to distinct inkjet heads) already exists, according to Francis’ article, that includes inkjet printheads “seamlessly stitched together, so [the] image area covers the whole sheet or web width.” This means that inkjet text or images can be placed anywhere on the substrate (i.e., designs don’t need to be altered to position variable data under specific printheads). At this point, the digital bar is 17”; by next year it will be 30”.

So things are really moving in this arena of custom printing technology.

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