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Archive for the ‘Promotional Products’ Category

Custom Printing: Useful and Stylish Promotional Items

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

I’m a sucker for free promotional items. I understand how they work. I know they keep the brand in front of me as I use the items on a daily basis. But, guess what? They’re useful and they look good. So I still like them.

Here are some thoughts on promotional items you might want to include in your arsenal when you go to a trade show. They’re also good for just sending to your clients as a reminder of who you are. After all, they keep your brand name in front of your prospects (and your business “top of mind”).

Branded Folding Box Cutters

This is useful to me as a commercial printing broker. I need to open boxes of printed products and samples on a regular basis. I have a folding box cutter with Epson’s logo and tag line (“Exceed Your Vision”). It’s silver and it sparkles, with the branding in what appears to be white custom screen printing ink. At least this is what would have been the most efficient way to produce such a “tchotchke” (another term for promotional items). A third descriptive name is “swag.”

This kind of promotional item is sexy because it looks sharp, it comes in a black velvet bag, the branding looks dramatic, and, most importantly, it’s useful. I can even change the blade.

Apparently, research has shown that this kind of product is kept for many months and yields hundreds of “impressions” each month. That is, every time I use the box knife, I see the logo and think of Epson.

Branded LED Flashlights

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I find flashlights just as useful as box knives, and Epson just sent me one of these, too. It’s a nine-bulb LED, and it works the same way as the box knife (the marketing part, not the flashlight part). It says “Epson: Exceed Your Vision.”

The thing is, a few times a year I get a print promotion from Epson referencing its inkjet products. Given my work in offset and digital commercial printing, I find this information useful, so I always return the business reply card and get the promo items and the samples. Granted, the large format printing samples are of equal value to me in understanding and promoting the technology.

After all, I need to know what’s going on in the industry. But between the values of quality and innovation associated with the Epson brand, and the flashlight and box knife that keep the Epson brand in front of my eyes on a regular basis, Epson’s marketing unit is doing a superb job.

And, by the way, under my high-powered loupe, it looks like the flashlights were also printed via custom screen printing, given the thick silver ink film.

A Few More Promotional Items

In a marketing journal I recently saw a few more “tchotchkes” that appeared to be useful and effective promotional items. In addition to all the imprinted hats, cups, mugs, chairs, messenger bags, pens, and such, I saw a Post-It dispenser. It had the company’s logo screen printed right where you reach for a Post-It. What could be more useful? You need to make a note. You reach for a Post-It, and you see the company branding, again and again and again. There’s no better way to reinforce this brand image in the mind of the Post-It user than these constant “impressions.” Impressions that go right into the subconscious mind. And, like the box knife and flashlight, a Post-It dispenser is useful.

How Are They Made?

Just in case you want to produce these “tchotchkes” for your own business (as either an entrepreneur or a member of a large firm’s marketing unit), you should know how these products were imprinted.

Positioning the flat mesh screen of a custom screen printing press onto the flat side of the folding box knife is relatively easy to visualize. The knife is irregular in shape, but screen printing equipment can be placed against anything from a knife to an interior wall of a building (think of the printing on the wall in an art exhibit) to the brim of a golf hat.

Printing on the side of a cylindrical flashlight would be a bit harder to imagine, since the custom screen printing mesh frame is flat. However, in this case the curved side of the flashlight can be rolled under the flat screen mesh and ink can be forced through using a squeegie, yielding a printed image that curves around the aluminum frame of the flashlight.

Screen printing a logo on a Post-It dispenser again just demonstrates how irregular an item can be and still receive a screen printed image. I did a little research online and saw videos of small stands built to hold items rigid throughout the custom screen printing process. All it takes is a little ingenuity.

And in all of these cases, once the extensive set-up work has been done to prepare the ink and the screens, the custom screen printing process itself, albeit slower than other forms of custom printing, is quite economical for longer runs.

Custom Printing: Printed Wristband Is “All the Rage”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I used to make fun of silicone wrist bands. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought they were a fad. But when I was given one recently I became a convert.

These little promotional pieces are an excellent value, cheap to produce, and sought after with almost religious fervor.

Here’s a rundown of the product and the process. You may want to include these in your marketing arsenal.

The Product

Silicone rubber is not new. In fact for a number of years you may have seen silicone cookware, such as baking sheets for muffins, which are ideal because they can withstand high heat without melting. However, the material is also easily stretched, and it comes back immediately to its original shape (it has memory). Therefore, the material is perfect for bracelets. It can stretch to go over the user’s hand and then come back to its original shape once on the wrist.

In addition to their stretchability, these silicone gel bands can be easily and cheaply personalized. If you check the Internet, you’ll find any number of suppliers that offer a long list of colors, messages, and typefaces. They also allow to use your own custom printing art, for a reasonable fee.

The Process

Silicone, which was originally invented as an insulating material, can be pre-dyed in various colors and then extruded into ropes or strips, which can be compression molded (pressed into the desired shape using a mold, heat, and pressure) into the round circular wristbands that are all the rage. Although most are perfectly round, you may find such shapes as hearts as well. These wristbands tend to be about 7” to 8.5” in circumference, about 1/10” thick, and about 1/2” wide. However, longer circumferences and wider strips are also available.

The Options

Flat Custom Printing: Single-level printing on silicone wristbands is done via serigraphy (custom screen printing). The screen printing ink is thick, and it adheres well to the rubber bracelets.

Multi-level Printing (Embossing): Letters of the marketing message can be slightly raised above the silicone rubber surface (approximately two milimeters) using a compression molding process.

Multi-level Printing (Debossing): Letters of the marketing message can be recessed into the silicone rubber using a compression molding process.

Multi-colored Printing (Debossing): The recessed letters can be colored differently from the surrounding rubber band. This color contrast will make the marketing message more prominent.

Even more options: In addition to the preceding choices, many wristband makers will offer textured bands (I have seen a tire-tread texture, for instance), fat bands (wider than usual), layered bands (multiple colors laminated to one another), and swirl patterns (multiple colors swirling into one another without a pattern).

Why They’re Effective

In my opinion, silicone wristbands reflect the perfect marketing storm, a confluence of ideal attributes.

  1. They are cheaper to make, relative to their selling price, than most other promotional products, such as t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags.
  2. Because they are so flexible, they fit almost any wrist. They return to their original length without stretching out of shape.
  3. They come in a myriad of brilliant colors that are visible from a distance.
  4. Over the past years they have become a cult item among younger and older people alike, who want to express their affiliation with a cause (such as cancer prevention). They have equity as a marketing device.
  5. They are also ideal for increasing brand awareness. Companies of all types can produce these in bulk and then distribute them as premiums, just like pens. And unlike calendars and notepads, which prospective customers may see and touch only a few times a day (if that), brilliantly colored wristbands go wherever the wearer goes. They are the proverbial “string around the finger,” reminding them of the charitable cause, the sports team, or a particular brand.
  6. The soft, pliable, slightly matte-textured surface of the wristbands feels good to the touch.

What You Can Learn

If you’re a marketing manager looking for the next big project to increase customer awareness, then go beyond the usual products: pens, cups, tote bags, notepads, balloons, and t-shirts. Give your prospective customers (or your support base) a new toy.

Custom Printing: What Is “Transpromo” Printing?

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

I’ve been getting mobile phone invoices for several years now, and I’m noticing an increasing sophistication in what would now be generally termed this “Transpromo” or “Transpromotional” printing material.

What Is Transpromo?

Transpromo blends three valuable pieces of the marketing mix.

  1. It includes transactional custom printing, which includes the bills, statements, and invoices that go out monthly to existing customers.
  2. It includes promotional material that builds on the existing relationship between the service provider and the customers to “upsell” new products and services: that is, to sell more to existing clients.
  3. It incorporates client data culled from the existing sales relationship to provide information the client will find useful and relevant (i.e., not mindless fluff).

This marketing mix can be insanely productive if the marketer uses available demographics and other client data to provide pertinent content and offers. Therein lies the challenge.

How It’s Done: Ways to Print Transpromo Material

Transpromo is not new. Think back to all the inserts that accompany your telephone bill, or your gas, electricity, and water bills—or your Visa bill. Inserts placed in the envelope along with your bill qualify (somewhat) as transpromotional custom printing. These would fit in the category of static, offset commercial printing, in that thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies of the same inserts would be printed via offset lithography and then inserted with the invoices into the outgoing direct mail packages.

Another option used over the past years or decades has been the custom printing of color “shells.” In this case, an offset printer would first print the color advertising material on the press sheet and set this aside to dry. At a later date the client (let’s say a billing department of a utility) could laser print or inkjet print the client invoices on these preprinted promotional “blanks.”

A third option that is coming into play with the advent of web-fed inkjet presses is to print the variable data marketing material right on the press sheet along with the transactional billing information as the roll of printing paper streams through the roll-fed inkjet press. This process can print both sides at once, as well. In addition, a savvy marketer can leverage all the customer data that has come from an established relationship with the client to provide images and text that will be especially relevant to him/her. And roll-fed inkjet provides sufficient image quality for such transpromo work to be really spectacular.

Why It Works: The Phone Bill

To explain why this works, let me start by describing my cell phone bill.

  1. It includes the signature yellow company logo (which appears under my printer’s loupe to be sprayed ink droplets–i.e., inkjet printing).
  2. It includes half-page and full-page black and white display ads tailored to my interests.
  3. It includes all of the data and textual information relevant to my account. With a loupe, I can see the ink dots characteristic of type rendered on an inkjet printer.

Why It’s Effective

If you look up “Transpromotional” in Wikipedia, you’ll find a list of six attributes that make transpromo such an effective marketing medium:

  1. Openability: When you pick up the mail each day, you usually find a lot of promotional letters that go right into the trash. You assume they’re irrelevant, so you pitch them. But when you get a bill, you open it (according to the Wikipedia article, the open rate of transpromotional material exceeds 95 percent). To a marketer, that’s almost guaranteed client exposure to the included promotional material.
  2. Engagement: Wikipedia notes that “bills and statements receive more attention than any other form of communication including television advertisements” (from a Group 1 Software, Inc., 2004 Research Study). Again, that’s almost guaranteed client exposure to the marketing message.
  3. Cost Efficient: It’s cheaper to include advertising and other promotional information right on the bill than to print and insert separate marketing pieces into the envelope.
  4. Reporting: Invoices can track not only the client’s buying history but also the service provider’s promotional activity, and this aggregated information can help marketers target future promotional activity. There’s no guessing. Buying histories and demographic data can inform effective marketing strategies based on facts.
  5. Returns: The best customers are current customers. The data and information included in transpromotional marketing initiatives targets and upsells current, active clients, in contrast to other marketing ventures that often only approach cold leads in an attempt to initiate a business relationship.
  6. Customized Offers: Wikipedia notes that transpromotional printing allows for an automated analysis of transactional information to generate relevant marketing copy and images based on “customer demographics, business drivers, and marketing criteria.” In other words, the automated nature of this process allows for cost-effective mass customization of marketing offers.

Business Printing: Thoughts on Logo Use and Branding

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Many years ago when I was an art director, the firm I worked for commissioned a logo redesign by an outside designer. Then, to create a corporate identity using the logo design, my company brought the job in-house.

I assigned the branding job to my best designer. She had come to work for me straight out of college, and had been in her job for about six years. She was uncertain of her abilities with such a high-profile job. I told her I had the utmost confidence in her ability, and I encouraged her to break the job down in the following way to make it more manageable. You may find these suggestions useful in your own work, creating an identity package and related collateral for your own organization.

Collect Samples of Printed Collateral You Like

It’s always good to have a swipe file. After all, no design is truly new. All the better if you can grab several pieces from a company: perhaps a business card, an envelope, a sheet of letterhead, a brochure, and a larger work like an annual report.

Design magazines are useful, too. I get GD USA each month. This print magazine often showcases brochures, print books, websites, packaging, large format printing, etc., from various companies. It’s a great education in itself just studying all the photos, to see how other designers have produced coherent identity packages. Other design magazines I’ve found useful have included Print and Communication Arts.

In addition, you also might find it useful to buy a book on the fundamentals of design (grids, typefaces, white space, color usage, etc.). I’ve been in the field for 36 years and I still study the fundamentals. I make it a habit. It reminds me to focus on the few simple elements that underlie every great design.

Collect Samples of Custom Printing Work from Your Field

Samples of work you like are useful, but it’s important to also create your business identity within the context of other publications from your competitors. If you understand what they are doing graphically, you can make your work stand out while still retaining the flavor of the industry.

Collect Paper Samples and Color Swatches

It’s important to start your designs with a few things in mind, such as balance, eye movement, repetition, focus, and the hierarchy of importance. I usually start in black and white. When I like the direction a custom printing job design is taking, only then do I add color and consider paper choices.

Keeping coherence is important. I wouldn’t suggest printing most of your pieces on a white stock, for example, and then shifting the flow and printing a piece on a tan or vanilla stock. Keep ink color choices and paper colors and finishes for all of your organization’s publications in mind when you create your corporate identity. The goal is to make every commercial printing job recognizable as coming from your business.

Start with Drawings Before You Boot Up Your Computer

Having too many variables can be confusing. Personally, I usually start my design work by drawing out a few page spreads on a sheet of paper with a pen or pencil. These are sketches. I don’t commit much time to them, so I can throw all but the best in the trash. This loosens me up. Starting a design on a computer can sometimes lead to over-committing to a less desirable design option. This also keeps me focused on line, form, and balance before I introduce color into the design. You may want to try this.

Make Mock-ups of Two or Three Different Designs

I usually try to come up with a few different designs, perhaps a treatment that focuses on an image and then a type-only treatment, or a more modern and a more formal treatment. Giving the client, or the owner of your company, two or three different options is smart, particularly at the beginning, before you spend a lot of time going in one direction that may not be acceptable to the decision-makers. Make the mock-ups “finished” (or “polished”) enough to convey your goals, and make sure your boss knows you will be sharing your progress in various stages to ensure “buy-in.”

Design Multiple Items Together

It’s all too easy to make one item perfect and then find out your concept won’t work elsewhere. The treatment of a logo and corporate identity has to work in large and small formats (signage and business cards, for instance), in black and white and color. (Maybe you still need to fax information to clients. If so, your identity must be graphically sound in black ink or toner as well as in your chosen PMS corporate colors.) Also, since everything has to work together, designing an overall “look” for all of your custom printing jobs is prudent.

Spread Everything Out to See Whether Items Cooperate or Fight Each Other

Just as it makes sense, when you’re designing a print book, to produce laser copies of selected pages (cover, frontispiece, table of contents, dedication, and a few page spreads) to see whether there is coherence and flow in the overall work, it’s a good practice to spread your design mock-ups around on a table or on the floor to see how they look together.

You may find the computer more efficient. It depends on what you’re used to. But the idea of seeing everything together from a bird’s eye view bears thought.

Be Mindful; Look at Design Everywhere

Particularly while you’re doing a rebranding or corporate identity make-over, look closely at everything you see, from print design to web design to packaging. Look at billboards, magazine ads, brochures. Go into department stores and see how the large format printing, hang-tags, color usage, even the lighting, all go together to create a single unified whole. Let all of these observations work on your subconscious. When you like something you see, always ask yourself why it works. Deconstruct it. Look at the colors, typefaces–everything. See what you can learn and apply to your own rebranding project. Your final design package will be all the better for it.

Promotional Products: A Mixed Bag, but Revenue Is Trending Upward

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

I read an interesting article today on the PM (Promo Marketing) website referencing IBISWorld’s market survey on promotional products. The good news is that revenue is increasing.

What Are Promotional Products?

First of all, this is a broad category of printing, somewhat hard to fully grasp. Promotional products include pens, mugs, t-shirts and jackets, hats, bags, lanyards, stress balls, tree ornaments, can coolers (foam can holders that keep the cans cool), vinyl and leather pad portfolios—even cases for small bottles of hand sanitizer and canvas folding chairs.

All of these products have one thing in common. Somewhere on the item there’s space to print a company logo and name. So the purpose of the items is to promote a company, presumably more effectively than by advertising alone since every time you take that tennis racket cover off you see the word “Dunlop,” and every time you sit on the folding chair you see the word “Nike” (or whatever). Promotional products expose the owner to a brand every time the item is used.

Promotional products are printed using any of the following methods: screen printing, dye sublimation printing, inkjet printing, and thermal transfer printing. Unlike other printed products, however, almost all promotional products start with premanufactured “blanks”: items produced by other vendors prior to personalization by promotional printers.

What’s Happening in the Industry?

According to “Promotional Products Industry Revenue Expected to Increase 4.1% in 2012,” the news is good. Following the financial crisis, the promotional products industry has begun to recover, showing positive growth each year since 2007. According to the Promo Marketing article, the industry is expected to grow 4.1 percent in 2012.

Why the Increase in Promo Product Revenue?

Here are three reasons:

  1. Advertising budgets have been expanding as the economy has been improving.
  2. The 2012 Olympics increased demand for promotional products.
  3. The 2012 presidential and congressional elections increased demand for promotional products.

But Not All the News Is Good

Unfortunately, there has been a decrease in promotional item print buying by one large industry: pharmaceuticals. In 2009, the pharmaceutical industry stopped printing and distributing non-educational promotional items (according to Anna Son of IBISWorld). Since the pharmaceutical industry is such a large player (11 percent of the market at the time), these self-imposed marketing rules cut industry revenue by 14.4 percent (in 2009), when combined with reduced advertising spending.

In addition, consumer safety laws (such as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) have driven up the cost of insurance and product testing. And, according to the Promo Marketing article, globalization has facilitated clients’ buying directly from manufacturers rather than from promotional product printers. These two developments have caused some promotional product firms to go out of business and others to consolidate.

The Take-Away

So the current state of the promotional product industry is as follows: Advertising budgets are expanding, and companies are focusing on integrated marketing, a coordinated effort incorporating every technology from ink on paper to digital-only products to promotional items. Promotional items are considered efficient and cost-effective marketing vehicles since they expose an individual user to the brand many more times than print ads or broadcast media ads. Therefore IBEXWorld forecasts growth during the next five years.

An Industry with Many Small Players

“Promotional Products Industry Revenue Expected to Increase 4.1% in 2012” also includes two particularly interesting facts about the promotional products industry:

  1. No promotional products company holds more than a 3-percent share of the market.
  2. The four top companies in the promotional products industry capture only 9.2 percent of industry revenue.

According to the Promo Marketing article, these facts reflect “an industry [that] consists of a large number of small, niche operators that focus services on local and regional markets.”

Why You Should Care

Any news that reflects growth within the custom printing arena is positive, in my opinion. In addition, increased demand in any printing-related venue means more work for graphic designers, commercial printing suppliers, print brokers—the list goes on.

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