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

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Archive for February, 2012

Commercial Printers: The Right Proof at the Right Time

Monday, February 27th, 2012

There are a lot of proofing options. Clearly. You have inkjet, laser, press proofs, and on-screen soft proofs. Which do you use and when?

Proofing Options: Choosing Color Fidelity vs. Speed

I like to think of the four proofing methods as a set of complementary tools. Each has attributes the others don’t. The first variable to consider is your need for color fidelity.

A screen proof, virtual proof, or PDF proof is the least faithful to the color on press. Even though a computer monitor can be calibrated to match an offset press, the image on screen is composed of red, blue, and green light, while the color on press consists of various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. When mixed, red, blue, and green light create white. In contrast, CMYK inks mixed in equal amounts yield black. So, in general, I’d advise against matching color from monitor to press.

That said, soft proofs are great for checking the completeness of a page (confirming that all elements are present), the margin, trim, folios, etc. And they show up immediately since your commercial printer sends them over the Internet. The same cannot be said for hard-copy proofs, which depend on FedEx, the mail, or a courier for transport.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, high-resolution inkjet proofs have the greatest color fidelity. You can easily identify them since most will come to you on thick, gloss stock. With a loupe, you will see that images are made up of tiny spots of color, unlike the traditional rosettes of halftone dots, which you’ll see with a loupe on an offset printed piece.

These proofs are almost continuous tone in appearance. They are fingerprinted to the commercial printer’s press, so they are just about as color faithful as you can get. They are expensive, but if they keep you from making a mistake in color, you can consider the expense to be more of an investment. Choose these for photos, advertising proofs, and the like.

Laser proofs are good for checking copy position and completeness. You can see where all design elements will fall on a page. These low-res proofs are called “position proofs,” in contrast to the ink jet proofs, which are called “contract proofs” (because they are a contract between your custom printing vendor and you, committing the commercial printer to match the color on press).

Press proofs (which are either a separate press run of your job to yield a small number of “test” copies, or an actual press inspection you attend while the live job prints) are completely color faithful. This is true “WYSIWIG” (what you see is what you get). You can tweak color on press if you attend a press inspection. However, any major color changes will require new printing plates (which will add to the cost of the job).

Putting All the Proofs Together: A Case Study

Here’s a case study of a book I designed. This explanation will show when to use which kind of proofs.

The Job Specifications

The book had a four-color cover with ads on the inside front, inside back, and back covers. After the cover came the four-color front matter (44 pages of ads and client photos), and then a two-color directory (a listing of companies with company descriptions, contact names, and phone and web information).

The Selection of Proofs

I received an inkjet proof of the cover and front matter. Both were produced on thick, gloss stock, with pages taped together into four-page signatures. The color was created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inkjet inks. The proof was to be considered a “contract proof” (and it was, in fact, color faithful).

For the directory pages, I received a color laser proof (printed on both sides of the sheet—unlike the inkjet proofs—and bound into 16-page signatures plus one 4-page signature). With a loupe I could see a dot pattern (but not a rosette) showing that the PMS color had been simulated with CMYK toners on a laser printer. The proof did not show an actual PMS color (the directory portion of the book was to be a two-color print job) since proofing devices can only simulate match colors with process color builds.

The color was way off, but since I had specified a match color (PMS 2607) plus black ink, I knew that the proof color didn’t matter. I just needed to check the color breaks (confirm that all elements were noted either in color, or black, as appropriate) and the position and completeness of the copy. On press, the commercial printer would add pre-mixed PMS 2607 ink to one press unit, regardless of how the proof colors looked.

There were errors in the front matter. Four ads that had been surrounded with rule lines when I submitted the InDesign file no longer had rules around them. All color work, on the other hand, was completely color-faithful. So I asked the commercial printer to put the rule lines back into the file.

(We were working with InDesign files for the front matter and cover, due to their complexity, and a press-ready PDF for the directory, since it was simple text on the page. Therefore, I asked the printer to make the corrections to the front matter himself. For any changes to the directory, I would have just sent the custom printing supplier a new press-ready PDF.)

Since the commercial printer would be adjusting the InDesign file by adding rule lines around the ads, I needed to see proofs. I wanted to make sure nothing else happened to the files. All of the other changes had to do with alignment of pages (related to trimming of the proof rather than positioning of the art on the page). I didn’t need to see proofs of these pages.

Since I had approved the color in the first set of proofs, and since time was of the essence, I requested PDF proofs of only the affected pages (not the entire front matter section). This way, the commercial printer would be responsible for the accuracy of all pages other than the four new PDF pages I had requested.

Once the inkjet, laser, and PDF proofs had been approved, any further proofing would have required a press check. Since the job only required “pleasing color” and not “critical color,” I decided not to request a press check.

In addition, since an approved inkjet proof is a “contract proof,” the commercial printer was contractually bound to match the color, content, trim, margins, etc., of the inkjet proof of the front matter of the book. If a problem had occurred, it would have been the commercial printer’s responsibility to correct it.

Printing Companies: Limits of Digital Color Proofing

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

A close friend emailed me a commercial printing blog comment asking whether any proofing device could really match ink colors on press. Not just close, but dead-on.

I thought about this and did some research. This raises a number of interesting issues.

How Many Colors Can Be Reproduced?

All offset printing presses create color with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. Because of this, only certain colors can be reproduced on press, far fewer colors than can be perceived by the eye or reproduced on a color monitor in the RGB (red-green-blue) color space.

That said, some commercial printers augment this color set with additional inks. These can include a “touch-plate,” a single extra PMS color in a fifth ink unit used to improve the fidelity of greens or purples in a large format print poster, for example. Other options can include “hexachrome” or similar color ink sets that employ CMYK inks plus orange and green (or two other colors). In these cases, the custom printing vendor seeks to expand the color range on press to match more colors visible to the eye (the vibrant colors in nature, for instance).

Colors on a computer monitor are created with red, green, and blue light and therefore (without adjustment) do not match CMYK ink colors on press.

Colors on proofing devices are also created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink, but manufacturers have augmented this ink set with such colors as light magenta, light cyan, various black inks, sometimes orange and green, and sometimes even red, green, and blue (but not all at once). The goal is to reproduce more colors (again, such as the vibrant colors in nature) and, more specifically, to match press output more accurately.

Color Management Improves Color Matching

All of these devices treat color somewhat differently, so to make color more consistent across the various devices, color management was born. Essentially, using various light, ink density, and color reading instrumentation, a commercial printer can measure the output of the inkjet and color laser proofing devices as well as the monitors and the offset presses.

The next step is to create color curves that “map” the color of one device to that of another. Think of this as a universal translator that can avoid a “tower of babble” situation. The color management device curves make it possible to consistently predict and control the translation of color information as it travels from the monitors in the client’s office (if they have been calibrated) to the monitors in the commercial printer’s prepress department, to the inkjet proofing device, to the offset press.

If all of the equipment is dutifully maintained and recalibrated regularly, this works in theory. This makes it possible to produce a proof and assure a client that the proof will match the final output on press.

Fingerprinting the Proof to the Press

Many custom printers fingerprint the proof to the press. That is, since they have set up the press to produce colors optimally with four-color process inks (and accounting for such offset-printing challenges as press dot gain, which can affect colors), the commercial printers then adjust their digital proofing devices to match their presses as closely as possible.

(So in theory, at this point, the proof matches the offset press product. However, the press sheet must also match the substrate on which the proof has been produced. Ink on a cream press sheet will not match inkjet ink on a white proofing stock.)

Better Yet, Depend on Color Management Standards

A better (just my opinion) option would be to match both the offset press color and the inkjet proofer color to an objective color standard, such as G7 or GRACoL. While it could take a book to explain either of these standards, the important point is that if a commercial printer’s inkjet proofer and offset press match an objective standard, then the color within his custom printing work will match that of other commercial printers’ work.

Screening Patterns Are Different from Proof to Print

Inkjet proofing output is composed of minuscule spots of color. Offset printing images are built with halftone screens of the process colors tilted slightly relative to one another, thus creating “rosette” dot patterns. These screening processes are different. This will affect the color match. Only by using true halftone dot proofing (like the Kodak Approval) can you match proof to press exactly.

Flaws in Certain Proofing Devices

Some proofing devices are less accurate in yellow/orange and some in violet. Ask your commercial printer about the limits of his color proofer.

Pleasing Color vs. Critical Color

There are two mutually exclusive objectives in achieving color on press: “critical color” and “pleasing color.”

Critical color implies an absolute color match. For example, if you need to match a fabric color for a clothing catalog, you would bring a sample of the cloth to a press inspection and ask the pressman to match the color. Critical color would be required for photos of automotive, food, and fashion products.

Pleasing color has a little more latitude. This is when the color has to be good, but not dead on.

In-Line Conflicts

In addition, keep in mind that any pages that are “in-line” (above or below one another on a press sheet) will be affected by any changes to in-line color information on press. Changing an ad on one page will affect a photo or background tint on the page immediately above or below it on the press sheet.

Are InkJet Proofs Accurate?

So where does this huge amount of information leave us? For an inkjet proof to be accurate:

  1. A printer’s inkjet proofing device, press, and monitors must be consistently monitored and calibrated to a standard like G7 or GRACoL (or the proofing device must be regularly fingerprinted to the press).
  2. Dot gain on press will need to be taken into account.
  3. The proofing and printing paper stocks will need to match.
  4. The limits of the color gamut (CMYK vs. other expanded ink sets in many proofing devices) must be understood.

When In Doubt, Nothing Beats a Press Check

When in doubt, nothing is as good as a press check. Only ink on paper can give you an absolutely color-faithful idea of how the final output will look.

(Then again, even that will look different under different kinds of light: fluorescent, incandescent, sunlight.)

So the safest bet is to say that a commercial printer will come as close as possible to matching proof to print, based on his equipment and color management, but that no proof is perfect and that most printing involves a certain level of compromise.

Print Buyers: Anticipate Production Problems to Avoid Them in Printing Process

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

They say that timing is everything, and in print buying this is especially true. It is essential to think ahead and plan for all contingencies. Here are two diverse case studies to illustrate my point.

Consider the Choice of Cover Coating

One of my print brokering clients is producing a client directory. Last year the printer coated the cover with a film laminate to protect the print book and provide a gloss sheen. This year my client wants to coat the covers again but is not sure whether to request film laminate or UV coating. Here are their requirements:

Goals

  1. The coating process cannot slow down the production of the print book, since it is behind schedule.
  2. The coating should minimize fingerprinting of the directory.
  3. The overall look should be congruent with last year’s directory.
  4. The cost of the coating is less of an issue.

Analysis

For starters, the book printer is different this year. It’s understandable that this vendor owns slightly different equipment and therefore offers different in-house capabilities. This book printer can apply UV coating in-house. However, applying film laminate or liquid laminate would require subcontracting this part of the job.

It would take three days to complete this outsourced work. Granted, the book printer could produce the covers and send them out to be coated while he completed the text pages of the print book. Thus, this process would not necessarily add production time to the overall schedule.

The cost for 2,100 books is approximately $350.00 for UV coating and $650.00 for film lamination. Based on my client’s requirements, this cost alone would not determine the choice of coating materials, but it is a benefit (and logical) that the in-house procedure costs a bit less. More importantly, it is also under the control of the custom printing vendor. He does not need to depend on anyone outside his printing plant.

Since the coating needs to minimize fingerprinting, the gloss UV option is appropriate. Being less reflective than gloss film lamination, UV coating will show less fingerprinting. I asked the book printer about dull film laminate and dull UV coating and was told that either of them would show fingerprinting more than the gloss options.

Fortunately, the cover design this year has a white background, while last year’s cover background was black. Heavy black ink coverage paired with a gloss film laminate actually increases fingerprinting problems.

The client ultimately chose UV coating performed in-house under the control of the book printer. UV coating cures immediately under UV light, thus eliminating drying time.

Request F&G’s and Check Cover Press Sheets

Another client of mine is a professional photographer. She is producing a coffee-table book of photos of flowers paired with famous quotations. The print book needs to be of the highest quality. To be safe, I suggested that she request an F&G of the book (folded and gathered signatures handed off for approval prior to binding—essentially a press proof). If one signature had printing problems, that signature alone could be reprinted without needing to tear off the covers, reprint a signature, then rebind and retrim the book (smaller than the initial version and potentially less attractive).

This F&G review would benefit the client (who would see actual ink on paper, a version more faithful to the final job than any inkjet proof could be). It would also benefit the book printer. (If the client caught an error for which the custom printing vendor had been responsible, it would take less time and fewer materials to correct the problem.)

The Problem

There was a big error. A page was printed upside down. On the front of a page (the recto, even-numbered, or right-hand page) the folio (page number) was at the bottom of the page. On the back of the same leaf (the verso, odd-numbered, or left-hand page) the folio was at the top of the page. This error would have occurred during imposition (the prepress process of laying out the pages on a printing plate such that once the press sheet has been printed and folded, the pages will be in the right order–as clearly they were not).

Without question, it was a printer error (and therefore the custom printing vendor’s responsibility to correct). To add to the problem, the printer had not included a copy of the print book cover along with the F&G, and at the time I learned of this, my client was 18 hours away from leaving town for a week’s photo shoot.

The Solution

The client had lost a little confidence in the book printer due to the misprinted signature. She planned to drive to the printing plant (a four-hour round trip) the day before her week-long trip to see a cover press sheet. Otherwise, she thought she would spend the entire upcoming photo shoot worrying about the job. She really didn’t need this stress.

So I arranged for a courier to pick up a press sheet at the custom printing plant and deliver it to my client’s house the afternoon prior to her trip.

I also asked the book printer to reprint the signature with the inverted page and maintain the same color control as in the first printing (using automated color presets from the first printing). My client saw the cover sheet when it arrived. She loved the printing. She agreed to release the book to the printer to reprint the problematic signature and bind the job.

The Lesson

Don’t assume that problems won’t occur, even with the best of book printers or commercial printers. Requesting an F&G helps both you and your printer if problems arise. Even if the error is your responsibility and you need to pay for a reprinted signature, it will cost a little less and provide a better product, which won’t need to be re-trimmed to a smaller size.

Custom Printing: The Right Tools for the Task at Hand

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I had two thoughts about printing that I wanted to share. They appear unrelated, yet they both address the appropriateness of custom printing vs. digital communication. And they both, perhaps, are good starting points for future articles.

Printing Can Stay Relevant by Cutting Costs and Increasing Quality and Speed

I’ve been reading a lot lately about new digital inkjet printing equipment development, and new equipment purchases by printing firms. Both areas are actually growing in spite of the rumored death of print.

The manufacturing and purchasing activity includes both grand-format (poster digital printing) inkjet equipment and super-fast web inkjet equipment. More and more wide-format digital printing is showing up on buses and the sides of buildings, while roll-fed digital inkjet presses are being positioned as a boon for transpromotional custom printing work. “Transpromo” is personalized invoice and statement material paired with advertising or promotional copy, which is targeted to the recipient based on demographic and psychographic information. Roll-fed inkjet manufacturers are also actually targeting some inkjet textbook custom printing as well.

The attraction of this new digital printing equipment hinges on its ability to change the content of every printed page while producing high-quality output faster than its offset predecessors.

In order to stay relevant, I think that commercial printing suppliers will need to do things more cheaply. Print will have to cost less. And I think this is happening. The newer digital presses, particularly the roll-fed inkjet presses, can print both sides of a sheet at once (i.e., they can print faster, which translates into cheaper). And each generation of equipment prints more quickly than the last and with higher resolution (i.e., higher quality).

In addition, presses already have closed-loop color correction (electric eye hardware and software that analyze the color on a press sheet and feed that information back into the computer to automatically adjust the color keys and bring any variance in ink flow back to optimal levels). This information can even be saved and “replayed” for subsequent press runs. Standardizing the color information across all aspects of print production (and coordinating the pre-press color data with the on-press color information) reduces makeready times, reduces makeready paper waste, and ostensibly reduces the number of people needed to run the equipment.

All of this translates into lower costs. And since electronic distribution of books, magazines, and newspapers costs very little (no materials costs or shipping costs for paper, no custom printing cost, and no delivery or mailing cost to distribute the material), anything that lowers the overall cost of putting ink on paper will make custom printing a more attractive alternative.

People still want printed materials. I don’t think that will cease. Think back to the advent of the desktop computer and the promise of the “paperless office.” If anything, we have more paper now than before. But cheaper, faster, and higher quality are all goals that are being achieved in digital printing and, I think, these will ensure a place for ink-on-paper.

Printing or Digital: The Environmental Imperative

I’ve also read a lot recently about the environmental issues regarding ink-on-paper vs. e-readers, tablets, and other virtual reading devices.

Clearly protecting the environment is laudable. However, I think the issues are more complex than they seem. Some pro-digital people say that reading print books kills trees, while tablets are the environmentally conscious choice. Perhaps, but manufacturing a digital device leaves a carbon footprint, as does operating it. And discarding a used digital device leaves waste that will certainly outlive the user, while a print book, magazine, or newspaper will quickly decompose in a landfill.

Trees may be cut down to provide paper for print books and magazines, but paper companies go to great lengths to replenish the supply, planting far more trees than they harvest. One could argue that trees forested in this environmentally conscious way are like a crop—like corn—grown, harvested, and grown again. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, and many other similar initiatives work to ensure responsible management of forests used for paper production (not only in the printing field but also in other fields that consume large amounts of paper products).

In contrast, consider the server farms needed for digital readers (or any computers) to operate. Vast amounts of energy must be generated to run this huge network of computers and storage devices. And even more energy must be expended to cool all the electronic equipment so it does not overheat and fail. All of this creates a carbon footprint as well.

All human activities have consequences, some positive, some negative. And things are seldom as simple as they seem. My personal view, as I read more and more about digital vs. print, is that a more relevant approach would be to determine the most appropriate technology for the specific task at hand.

Case Study for Multi-Channel Marketing

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

There’s a new buzzword in printing. It’s “multi-channel marketing.” Multi-channel marketers embrace the new digital technologies rather than hide from them. They integrate offset and digital custom printing with social media and other Internet-based modes of communication.

Their goal is to communicate with prospective clients along multiple “touch-points”: that is, however the clients themselves prefer to be contacted. By offering information and expertise that includes “ink-on-paper” but is not limited to this medium, a vendor (of whatever kind) can establish its credibility and offer value to customers. And the “product” reflecting this value can be anything from a print catalog to an email campaign, to a downloadable whitepaper on how to improve one’s marketing results.

I’ve heard that multi-channel marketing is one good way for printing companies to survive and even thrive in the face of decreasing custom printing volume. Printing companies essentially become consultants, offering clients their knowledge and experience (as well as their product, ink-on-paper and toner-on-paper) as a means to an end rather than as end products in themselves.

The goal is to help a business understand what its clients (the actual end-users) need and give it to them. In this way a commercial printer can help expand brand awareness for the client, which translates into increased revenue.

This is why I think this is a great idea, whether it’s referred to as “convergent media,” integrated media,” “multi-channel marketing,” “multi-touch marketing,” or any other name. And here is an example of a multi-touch marketing campaign that I found particularly effective.

Skippy Steakhouse: A Case Study in Branding

That’s not really its name, but let’s call it Skippy Steakhouse to make it generic. Any steakhouse could do this.

The steakhouse has a physical presence: the building, the staff, the raw materials (the uncooked food), and the final product that only they can provide: the signature taste of the cooked food. But Skippy Steakhouse has more than this. It offers ambiance, and a positive and predictable dining experience. You can be confident that every time you sit down for a meal, it will be of high quality, the servers will be personable, and your bill will be fair.

From a Marketing Perspective

The aforementioned are internal, subjective experiences, but they include a branding component.

  1. The restaurant interior has a certain look and a regional theme that appeal to a particular demographic (families, in this particular case).
  2. For starters, the appearance of the building interior is reflected in the logo. You recognize the building immediately, since the logo sits above the entrance to the restaurant. All interior signage (large format printing) reinforces this look as well. And the logo carries through into the appearance of the menu. The tone of the restaurant is rustic, and the photos of food are large and inviting. The colors and typefaces match the tone of the restaurant just as the interior design of the restaurant (fabrics, paint, wood molding) reflects the tone of the dining experience.
  3. The print component doesn’t stop here. There are collateral materials along with the menu (table tents and such) including the same branding colors, typefaces, and tone of writing. All of these visual images reinforce in the mind of the client the subjective experience of eating a great meal. When the patron sees coupons, advertising, or even just the logo, he/she will remember a positive experience.
  4. But it doesn’t stop there. Skippy Steakhouse has a website (a “pull” medium, since you have to go to the URL to find the website). The website includes the same colors, typefaces, and rustic theme. Unlike a lot of websites, it also includes sound (appealing to an additional sense). You can hear birds chirping and have a rustic experience online as you learn about the restaurant. You can also post comments (you are encouraged to do so). After all, the new multi-touch marketing is a conversation, not a sales pitch. You tell the restaurant what you like and don’t like, and the restaurant takes this information and improves your experience.
  5. And it goes further. Once you sign up for the restaurant’s loyalty program, you get periodic emails with coupons (a “push” medium, since emails come directly to your computer or smart-phone). People love coupons. Instead of going to the restaurant once a week for $40.00, a 25-percent-off coupon will encourage many people to go twice a week and spend $60.00 ($30.00 + $30.00)–and feel good about it. The coupons continue the branding experience (same colors, typefaces, etc.). The goal is to make the image of the restaurant (physical printed coupons—toner on paper) call to mind the experience of the food and ambiance and encourage the customer to come back and eat again.
  6. Finally, the loyalty program has a physical, plastic, printed card (custom screen printing, I would assume). You hand in the card along with your Visa when you pay. You get points. Your points add up, and when you get a certain number, you get a discount on the next meal. So you keep coming back, happy and well fed.

All Touchpoints Reinforce the Message

All of the physical, printed items (signage, menu, table tents, plastic loyalty cards) and all of the virtual elements (website, emails, e-coupons that you can print out) work together, so you feel that wherever you go you have a positive interaction with Skippy Steakhouse. They’re there in your neighborhood. They’re there on your computer and iPhone. The experience travels with you through the day.

This kind of multi-channel marketing campaign takes thought. It has to be an integrated effort, with all offset, digital, and custom screen printing reinforcing the message, and all Web-based services complementing the custom printing.

Book Printing: Why not Choose Both a Print and an Electronic Version?

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

I recently received an interesting (and yet also quite appropriate for the times) request from a client for whom I had just completed the design and art file production for a print book. She asked for a PDF of the book optimized for tablet computers.

Why do I consider this appropriate? Because of the trend toward digital books. But it was also interesting because my client will be offering her readers two options, a print book version and a “virtual” version. In the process, I expect that she will attract many more readers.

The Technical Considerations

Dimensions: The print book had been a 6” x 6” volume, yet the particular digital readers for which my client wanted to optimize the reading experience had more of a “portrait” orientation (taller rather than than wider or square). Therefore, I saved the InDesign file under a new name and changed the page size to 8.5” x 11” (“portrait,” as opposed to “landscape,” orientation).

Page Design: The print book had a photo on all left-hand pages and a memorable quotation on all right-hand pages. Since the vertical orientation chosen for tablet computers would lend itself to more of a “calendar” design, with the image above and the text below, I moved in this direction. I also made a mock-up of the front matter: title page, copyright page, introduction, dedication, etc., working to keep the look of the screen version consistent with that of the print book version. And I mocked-up three photo/quote pages (horizontal image, vertical image, and square image, all with their respective quotes) to see how everything would fit on the new 8.5” x 11” page size.

Type size: I enlarged the type and the photos to take advantage of the larger format (8.5” x 11” rather than 6” x 6”) and also to provide a more readable product. After all, reading text on a back-lit screen is harder on the eyes than reading ink on paper in a commercial printing job.

Images: My client and I discussed the preferred format for the images. While TIFFs had been appropriate for the print book version, the screen version would be a small PDF file. There was no reason not to use JPEGs of the photos to keep the overall file size down. Moreover, instead of including 300 dpi images within the CMYK color space, the images for the screen version could be 72 dpi RGB photos (sRGB, actually). We chose these specs for a few reasons.

  1. RGB has a wider gamut than CMYK. That is, the RGB color space includes more colors than CMYK, and the only reason to use the CMYK color space is in preparation for printing on offset or digital equipment. Monitors create color with red, green, and blue light; offset and digital presses create color with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink.
  2. The images could be of significantly lower resolution than print images (72 dpi rather than 300 dpi) and still be clear on screen.
  3. And due to their compression, JPEG images would be much smaller than TIFF images, yielding a much smaller PDF file for the tablet or e-reader.

Choice of the Digital Book File Format

My client requested a screen-optimized PDF as the final file format for the virtual book to be distributed to readers. She did this for two reasons:

  1. A PDF would be static: fixed and unchangeable. Every reader would see the same version. This would allow for consistency between the print book and the screen version. In addition, any anomalies from e-reader to e-reader would not cause any problems in the formatting of the text and images, the position of text and images within the file, or the typefaces. Everything would be consistent.
  2. PDFs capture the nuances of book design in ways that e-pub and other e-book formats cannot. They allow for multi-column layout and a host of other design choices. My client wanted the design grid structure, typefaces, spacing, etc., to be congruent with the print book, and a PDF would ensure that this would be the case.

The Implications for Print Books

This case study points out an interesting fact. The question does not have to be whether print books will cease to exist, but rather how to grow one’s reader base and facilitate and optimize the reading experience through multiple channels (print, screen, perhaps even audio).

My client will have more, rather than fewer, potential readers by providing physical print books to those who request them and a screen version at a lower price to those who choose this option. Who knows? Some readers might even buy both.

Digital On-Demand Book Printing: Short-Run Case Binding

Monday, February 6th, 2012

A printer I work with sent me a case bound, digital on-demand book printing sample his company had produced. I am impressed.

My client needs to print and bind 100 copies of a case bound accounting textbook, a press run that would probably be close to the make-ready (set-up) waste for the larger, assembly-line perfect binding equipment that most book printers use.

Keep in mind that not all commercial printing companies even have such machinery on-site. Many custom printing vendors that produce a selection of print books along with brochures and other collateral will send out both perfect-bound (softcover) and case bound (hardcover) print books to dedicated binderies that bind books for numerous printers (i.e., these binderies subcontract their services to the print shops). After all, bindery equipment is expensive. It would sit idle much of the time in a commercial printing company, whereas it might be in constant use at a custom book printer. (It actually all depends on the printer. Most printers will at least have perfect binding equipment, but a large number will not have their own case binding equipment.)

That said, until recently case binding was an expensive, time consuming procedure. It was messy, and there was a lot of spoilage in the process. It was a good option for an upscale product if you wanted 1,000 copies, but not if you needed 100, like my client.

The Physical Product

So this is what I received: A case bound print book with a paper cover. The cover seems to be a matte sheet with a slight coating. It does not have quite the quality look of fabric cover material, but it looks like a trade hardback that might cost $25.00.

The sample has thick endsheets and flyleaves, and even headbands and footbands (the bits of colored fabric at the bind edge of the book, covering the ends of the gathered-paper signatures).

The title is (presumably) digitally printed on the spine, instead of being foil stamped. (In a traditional case bound book run, the foil stamping die alone would cost approximately $500.00. Foil stamping works with heat and pressure, and uses a metal die to stamp out the foil and attach it to the cover fabric.)

When I open the sample short-run case bound book, I don’t see the stitching of longer-run, Smyth sewn hardcover books. My guess is that the printed book signatures are stacked, their edges are ground, and adhesive is applied to glue the book blocks into the cases (i.e., just like perfect-binding, but using a hard cover rather than a paper cover).

But overall, the product is quite good. As I noted before, it looks like a trade hardcover from a bookseller: not a coffee-table book, but quite usable. And you can make five or 100, without the set-up costs of traditional case binding equipment and without needing to hand bind each copy.

The Limitations of Short-Run Case Binding Depend on the Specific Print Shop

In order to keep costs down, this particular custom book printer sets certain limitations (i.e., the company purchased specific on-demand book binding equipment that could not perform all case binding activities).

  1. The paper comprising the casing can be a matte coated sheet or an uncoated sheet glued to the binder boards.
  2. The case material cannot be cloth.
  3. You can digitally print on the front and/or back cover and the spine, but you cannot foil stamp the title on the front or spine.
  4. You cannot add a placeholder ribbon (which would be handwork) or any other inserts.

These are fair and reasonable limits for this kind of short-run product, particularly one of this quality: with a curved spine, turned edge cover material on the outside and endsheets on the inside covers, plus the traditional rounded and indented (or crimped) spine.

Other Options from Other Vendors

Another on-demand case binding system developed by Xerox is called “ChannelBind.” This system uses a metal spine that can be crimped to securely hold up to 300 sheets. This particular on-demand case binding option can create linen, paper, and leather covered books. ChannelBind books also can be made using printed press sheets glued over the binder boards.

According to on-line information about ChannelBind, suppliers can also employ foil stamping, screen printing, offset or digital printing, die-cut windows, tip-ins, and embossing and debossing to ChannelBind books. Some vendors will add dust jackets as well.

I’ve also read about one patented case binding system that allows you to create a book block that includes adhesive strips and then lay it into a pre-made case using a pressure sensitive adhesive (sort of a peel-and-stick option).

So the most complete answer is that it all depends on the particular table-top case binding system in use. The vendor that sent me the sample books bought one system with certain limitations, presumably to keep costs down for clients. Other book printers will have other on-demand case binding equipment with other capabilities.

The best thing you can do is discuss your particular job with your print vendor, or with a number of print vendors.

What Are People Doing With These Books?

I have seen local vendors offering hardcover children’s books on a “one-off” basis, with the child’s name inserted in the text prior to digital printing.

I have also seen photo books in regional big-box stores and warehouse stores. For $13.00 to $60.00, depending on the finished size of the book, you can buy what is ostensibly a case bound photo album. Expensive for one copy, but only a fraction of what it would cost to set up the traditional long-run binding equipment. If you buy a few copies as special, memorable gifts, the cost isn’t that bad.

The Technical Implications

  1. These machines allow you to produce a few, or many, hardcover books with little or no waste (unlike the larger machines that take a long time to set up, that are therefore only suited to longer runs, and that have a comparatively high spoilage rate in the make-ready process).
  2. The cost is attainable, even reasonable given the product.
  3. Some custom book printers allow for high-quality sewing of printed signatures (not my vendor, though).
  4. Sizes range from small books (approximately 4” x 4”) to large books (approximately 12” x 14”).
  5. There is no need to buy standardized, pre-made covers, when you can personalize each cover.

The Deeper Implications

  1. You can produce a case bound version of a public domain title or an out-of-print book. You don’t have to settle for a paperbound version.
  2. You can print and sell your own book that you wrote (granted, this doesn’t address the issues of editing, design, promotion, storage, and distribution—just binding).
  3. At is most extreme level, this means anyone can produce a case bound book. Of course, not all books will be well-written and worth reading.

Brochure Printing: Spice Up Your Design

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Designing a brochure that really grabs a reader is a challenge. Here are a few design ideas to jump-start your creative process.

Explore Type Options

Beyond everything else, type must be readable. If someone picks up your brochure and does not immediately engage with the copy, you’ve lost them. So pick a typeface with readability in mind. For custom brochure printing work, a serif face (with strokes, or “tails,” on the letterforms) is easier to read than a sans serif face.

That said, to complement your body copy, consider novel uses of type as a design element. These might include reversing type out of a solid block of color, or starting major sections of the brochure with either a large initial capital letter or a few words in small capital letters (or small caps).

You can also dramatically enlarge the words in a short headline so they become design elements in themselves. Or you can enlarge a few words and then screen them back (to 10 percent or 15 percent of an accent color used elsewhere in the design). These could then function as a background design element.

Or consider typesetting a section of the body copy in a shape (maybe an oval or circle, or in the shape of a simple letterform).

Placement of elements such as type can go a long way in making the design compelling to the reader. Just keep things simple, consider readability first, and be mindful of how you want the reader’s eye to move through the brochure.

Organize Custom Printing Content with a Layout Grid

Repetition is a key element of custom printing design work. It sets up the reader’s expectations. Creating an invisible underlying structure for the images, type, and white space (known as a design grid) will help you organize the brochure content and lead the reader’s eye through the page. For a brochure, consider one column per brochure panel, or a larger column next to a smaller column. In this case you could extend the photos or headlines into the smaller column (which is known as a “scholar’s margin”).

A good rule of thumb is that anything you place on the page should align with something else. In fact, the fewer grid lines (or axes) with which you align the design elements on the page, the better. Keep things simple.

Don’t be afraid to use large areas of white space in the design of your custom brochure printing job. You don’t need to fill every inch of the brochure with type and images. In fact, too much copy or too many images will overwhelm the reader. Make it easy for her or him to read the text and to immediately know what’s important.

But experiment with the placement of headlines, photos, and columns of text. I once read that when you have chosen the typeface and the images, most of your remaining design work will involve deciding how and where to position them in an interesting way. Align elements, create a pattern and then break the pattern to create visual interest. Look at custom brochure printing samples you like, and analyze them to determine exactly why their design appeals to you.

Find elements you can repeat, if possible. If you use a photo on the front panel, consider extracting an element of the image and using it within the brochure as well, either at full intensity or screened back to a ghosted image.

Make the Images Unique

Try something different. Everyone uses full-color images. Make your brochure stand out by using rich black and white photography (i.e., 4-color images made to appear black and white). Bleed an image off the side of the page to make the photo seem more expansive. Or surround a photo with generous white space (some of you may remember the “Think Small” VW car ads of the late 1950s, which placed a small car in a vast expanse of white). What the reader doesn’t expect will shock, compel, or intrigue her or him. So do something different.

This might involve how you crop the images in the brochure. Not all images need to be simple portraits or group shots. Crop tightly on the face and hands of a subject, or make the photo tall and narrow, or wide and very short. Let the photos display the content in novel ways. Or consider unique photo edge treatments, such as a vignette or torn-edge look for your custom brochure printing job.

Try Different Folds

Your brochure folding options include the wrap fold (also called the barrel fold) and the zig-zag fold (also called the accordion fold). But consider going further. Ask your custom printing supplier for samples with unique folds. You might find something you had never envisioned. Granted, some of these may require special cutting dies, which will cost extra, so ask about this as well.

If you do consider unusual folds, remember to bring a custom brochure printing sample to the post office to make sure the job will be mailable (without a surcharge).

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