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Archive for May, 2013

Large Format Printing: Complexities of Standee Design

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

I just spent five hours with my fiancee installing the new Despicable Me 2 standee in a local theater. Close observation of this “whack-a mole” game, which is the size of a small car, provides an education in everything from marketing theory to multi-level lamination, pattern gluing, and intricate folding and diecutting. If you are alert, you can learn a lot about custom printing while assembling a standee.

The Despicable Me 2 Standee at a Glance

The upper half of the Despicable Me 2 standee is a three dimensional number “2” with a sloping front that ends in a “whack-a mole” game at the front of the standee base. Six Despicable Me “minions” (three in the front row and three in the back) give moviegoers an opportunity to vent their frustration with a rubber mallet. Whenever any minion’s head has been struck, a spring assembly and leaf switch trigger a voice box that calls the moviegoer names (I must have been called a wimp 100 times while installing and adjusting the mechanism last night).

Three-Dimensional Letters

From the point of view of custom printing, diecutting, folding, and assembly, the huge “2” is intricate and challenging. The face of the “2” is a bright orange printed offset litho press sheet laminated to Fome-Cor (a display signage mounting board made with foam in the middle and paper and clay coating on either side—like a sandwich). At the bottom of the “2” are six holes through which the six heads of the minions extend like moles in a “whack-a-mole” game.

The diecut face of the “2” sits at an angle of about 70 degrees, sloping downward from more than a seven foot height toward the minions at the participant’s waist level.

To give a three-dimensional look to the numeral requires multiple white sheets of chipboard diecut at a gradually sloping angle and traveling all the way around the face of the “2.” Although the white chipboard is flexible, it still has to be folded around the intricate perimeter of the numeral.

To make this happen, the white cardboard is scored every two inches, and attached to the face of the “2” with tabs and slots (every two inches). These side walls of the extruded numeral “2” then extend vertically to the bottom pedestal, which is a three-dimensional rectangular solid. So, essentially, the large format print standee is a 3D numeral “2” sitting on a larger base with a whack-a-mole game in the front.

While assembling the “2,” I thought about how circles are created in PostScript and how similar this is to the sides of the standee “2.” The curves were essentially short line segments. They were small enough, though, to create the illusion of a curve.

If you research PostScript and “flatness” settings, you will see that in creating complex PostScript curves you use either more, or fewer, line segments to simulate the curves. Shorter line segments in PostScript create a more fluid curve (but take longer to print), while longer line segments give a more angular look to curves (but print more quickly).

I also saw a similarity between the three dimensional “2” and the channel letters in signs on the sides of buildings. These lit-up display signs also have both a front face and sides or edges that give them a sense of depth.

Using Fome-Cor for Rigidity

I noticed that using the Fome-Cor for the face of the “2” gave the structure its rigidity. Both chipboard and corrugated board would have bent or collapsed under the weight of the 3D “2.” Only Fome-Cor could hold its dimensional stability over such a large area.

Gluing Options

I noticed that pattern gluing (hot melt glue) had been used to attach a diecut, corrugated board structure under the Fome-Cor “2.” Glue had also been used to affix six banks of LED lights to three yokes that surrounded the holes through which the minion’s heads protruded. (A computer chip with a battery assembly regulated the flashing of these lights.)

Glue (or, rather, a lamination adhesive) also attached all 4-color printed offset paper to the corrugated board of the standee structure.

Interactivity and “Gamification”

Inside the cardboard base structure I built a mechanical unit on a wood base. It was composed of six interlocking PVC pipes, springs, washers, and molded fiberglass minion heads (Despicable Me characters). Batteries, wires, and an electronic voice box all worked together to insult the moviegoer smashing the heads of the minions in this Despicable Me “whack-a-mole” game.

I thought about “interactivity,” as described in marketing books and trade journals. I thought about how involvement in the game might presumably interest the moviegoer in paying to see Despicable Me 2. I had also read a lot in the trade journals about the effects of “gamification,” and I could see how the “game” of “whack-a-mole” might improve the promotional effectiveness of this standee.

Cost vs. Payoff

It all comes down to cost and payoff. This standee cost a lot to design, print, diecut, and deliver to theaters across the country. Shipping costs alone must have been very high, since the box containing all the standee pieces weighed more than 80 pounds. Then there was the cost of installation/assembly. At some point, someone in marketing had to explain why this standee would be more effective than a large banner or flat-card easel.

What You Can Learn

Here are some thoughts to consider in your own design and custom printing work.

Think about cost and payoff of your design. Are you producing a marketing item that will knock the prospect over? Will it be truly memorable?

Also, think about all the physical requirements of your product, if you’re making a point-of-purchase display or designing packaging or another large format printing piece. It has to be more than just a pretty design on paper. It has to obey the laws of physics and not collapse upon its own weight. In short, it has to “work” as well as look good.

Custom Printing: Adobe Dumps Creative Suite in Favor of Creative Cloud

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Very soon Adobe will stop selling packaged software for a one-time fee. Going forward, designers will need to subscribe to (or “rent”) the software, paying approximately $20.00 to $50.00 per month for various levels of service ranging from access to one Adobe software package to access to all key Adobe applications.

Calling this Adobe Creative Cloud may be somewhat confusing for some. The applications don’t actually reside online, nor are they accessed through a browser. You download the applications and then use them on your desktop. In addition to paying for the annual fee up front ($49.99 x 12 months, for instance), you must verify your subscription online (once a month if you’re subscribing month to month or once every 99 days if you’re subscribing annually).

To be fair, there are true cloud-based elements within this “software as a service” (SaaS) model, which in itself is not new (consider Salesforce, for instance). When you subscribe to Creative Cloud, you get 20GB of online storage, which is a boon for sharing files or collaborating. Other online services are available as well.

“Pros” of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Model

  1. The best thing about Creative Cloud is that you get access to all major Adobe products for custom printing and web-based design. If you were to buy the Creative Suite 6 Master Collection as boxed software, you would pay about $2,600.00 (according to Adobe’s website, unless you’re a teacher or student, in which case you’d pay considerably less). The software package contains Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Premiere Pro, After Effects, etc. Let’s compare this to Creative Cloud. In two years you would pay about $1,200.00 (assuming a $49.99 monthly Creative Cloud fee). Assuming you had bought the packaged software and used it without upgrading for two years (the usual cycle for packaged software), you would have paid $1,400.00 more for boxed software than for the Creative Cloud subscription. (If you need a lot of variety in your custom printing and web design software, you can save a lot of money by subscribing to Creative Cloud.)
  2. You would also get continuous updates to download and install on your computer. Whenever anything is fixed or expanded, you would get a copy. If you had purchased boxed software, the updates alone would have added significantly to your overall cost.
  3. You would get the 20GB online storage and file sharing service.
  4. You could reduce the monthly fee (or annually-paid fee, to be precise) in a number of ways. For instance, if you already have a Creative Suite license (CS3 or above), your monthly cost would be only $29.99. Then there are student/teacher versions at a 60 percent savings. Or you could subscribe to one application for $19.99 a month. (To put this in perspective, I paid $1,200.00 for the boxed set of Creative Suite Design Standard. The suite only includes InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat for custom printing design work. I’ve had the package for 2.5 years. Amortized, that’s $40.00 a month for less software than you would get through Creative Cloud.)
  5. You get more than 30 tools and services, including Muse (for websites) and Typekit fonts. Keep in mind that when you buy packaged software and then buy fonts separately, the extra cost for fonts can quickly add up.

“Cons” of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Model

  1. You don’t have a choice in the matter. Adobe is changing it’s business model to a subscription-only service in June 2013 (next month). If you want to play, you have to pay. Many users don’t like being forced to change from boxed software to software-as-a-service (or subscription-based software).
  2. Some users are concerned that Adobe will raise prices over time.
  3. If you use only one application and you hold onto it for years, then moving to Creative Cloud will increase your overall cost.

Alternatives to Creative Cloud

If you don’t like Adobe’s new business model, there are alternatives. In order to make this worthwhile financially, these alternatives would be aimed primarily at those who need minimal page layout, illustration, and image-editing capabilities for light design work for commercial printing. (For heavy-duty design work, I still think Creative Cloud is very reasonably priced.)

Here are a few options:

  1. You can buy other design software. For instance, my online search yielded several Photoshop alternatives, including the open-source GIMP, which is free, and Paintshop Pro. There are others. I know they are not as comprehensive as Photoshop, but how many of Photoshop’s capabilities do you really use? Check online for more options. (I’m not sure you’d be as successful finding replacements for Illustrator and InDesign, though.)
  2. You could buy older design software. Check out eBay. I’m sure there are other sources as well. I personally use CreativeSuite 5 even though CreativeSuite 6 is out there. For me, CS5 does exactly what I need it to do. You can still buy it, and it’s cheaper than CS6 because CS5 is no longer state of the art. Even after Adobe’s shift to the subscription-only Creative Cloud, there will still be some old boxed sets available if you know where to look.
  3. You can assume that over time other software developers will fill the void. For instance, Adobe’s new pricing model might motivate Quark to expand its offerings. Or maybe a new software package entirely will make its debut.

Book Printing: Schedules May or May Not Be Flexible

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

I like to think that most things are negotiable when buying custom printing services.

A client of mine who is producing a self-published book describing his family’s experience in World War II came to me with a request yesterday. His 9” x 12” perfect-bound print book had already gone to press, and he had seen proofs (actually a one-off version of the text produced on an HP Indigo, since the press run will only be 65 copies for family and close friends).

We had initially negotiated a three- to three-and-a-half-week production schedule with the book printer, which would accommodate in-house digital printing of the text, in-house offset printing of the cover, and subcontracted cover lamination. About half way through the process, my client was called out of town, so we extended the schedule by two weeks. He didn’t expect to need copies until his return.

Then, about a week after negotiating the longer schedule with the book printer, my client learned that his daughters were coming to town for Mother’s Day, so he asked for either an early shipment of the entire press run or two books by the holiday.

The Book Printer’s Answer

Since I alerted the printer only one working week before the holiday, and since at least one of the five days would need to be for FedEx’ing the two copies of the print book, I expected practically any response.

The printer was kind and professional in his reply, but he noted that with all of the careful work required, and the film laminating of the cover, he was not not comfortable making any commitments for this quick a turn-around.

What This Means/What We Can Learn

Had we not given the printer a few extra weeks due to my client’s travel schedule, I do believe the print book could have been completed and delivered by the holiday. After all, it was just about the end of the three- to three-and-a-half-week window we had initially agreed to as the printer’s schedule.

However, book printers keep their plants tightly scheduled. Therefore, what we can learn from this is that last-minute schedule changes can be problematic. Although one would think that two books out of sixty-five would not be a problem, this would only be true if the binding and laminating were done by hand in-house. Given their mechanical, assembly-line nature, finishing processes (or press operations, for that matter) are done all at one time. Stopping and starting a process adds time, money, and the potential for error.

Granted, in some cases a few print books can be hand bound, but this should be discussed early in the process and factored into the cost (depending on the equipment available to the printer, since not all printers have table-top binding equipment).

Some Basic Rules of Thumb to Consider

  1. If there’s an unforeseen change in schedule, let the printer know early. If it’s late in the process, your request may or may not be possible. In many cases, the best you can expect is to have the printer load cartons of books as they come off the binder and ship them via FedEx. This still may benefit you. Let’s say you’re attending a conference, and you want to distribute 30 advance copies of a directory to some of the attendees. It may be worth it for you to pay the higher shipping rate.
  2. Any process done out-of-house will slow down the job. Some components of print book production are usually farmed out. It is not cost-effective for most book printers to have in-house case binding equipment, for instance. It is more economical for most printers in a single geographical region to send their case binding work to a subcontractor, a bindery that does only this portion of the job for multiple book printers. In this case, it is more difficult for a printer to adjust a production schedule when it involves outside vendors.
  3. Still, it’s always worth asking. For instance, if my client’s book had been saddle-stitched instead of perfect bound, it might have been relatively easy to hand bind two copies. I once worked with a small offset printer that did this for me every so often.
  4. A good printer will not agree to a schedule change that will compromise the quality of the product. I actually respect the printer for saying no. He was not willing to jeopardize the quality of this job (the first job for a new client).

In the end, my client agreed that he could ship the two books to his daughters a few days later and that having a quality product was more important to him than having surprise gifts for Mother’s Day.

Digital Custom Printing: Indigo B2 Format Opens Doors

Friday, May 24th, 2013

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, the number “42” is presented as “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.”

I would adjust this slightly to make it pertinent to the realm of custom printing. I believe that “B2” digital commercial printing will become a significant answer to the ultimate question of how to keep print relevant.

HP Indigo 10000 and Above (the 20000 and 30000 Digital Presses)

I think the HP Indigo digital press has become state of the art for digital custom printing. I realize there are other capable presses (including the Xeikon digital line and some web-fed inkjet equipment). However, I believe the HP Indigo’s color fidelity puts it in direct competition with the quality of offset lithography.

Until now, though, the HP Indigo platform has tended toward a small press format (accepting a maximum 13” x 19” sheet for most configurations). This is great for small jobs such as brochures, but for larger jobs such as custom pocket folders and print posters, the press sheet size has been a liability.

Enter the B2 press sheet for the HP Indigo. The Indigo 10000, 20000, and 30000 will accept a 29.5” x 20.9” press sheet (a B2 sheet). They will also accept a pallet feeder supporting a 33.4” paper pile. These specifications lift the Indigo from a small, high quality press into the league of sheetfed offset custom printing.

Here’s Why: Technically Speaking

Think about an unfolded custom pocket folder. A 9” x 12” folder with 4” flaps laid flat on a press sheet prior to assembly will take up a space 18” wide (plus room for bleeds and printer’s color bars) and (more than) 16” tall (12” panels plus the 4” pocket, plus glue tabs to assemble the pocket folder, plus bleeds). This does not even count the gripper margin. If you do the math, you’ll see that a custom pocket folder cannot be laid out to print on the 13” x 19” press sheet that earlier versions of the HP Indigo accepted.

These new, larger-format digital presses will also be great for posters and multi-fold brochures that would otherwise extend beyond a 13” x 19” press sheet.

In the realm of publications and other multiple press-signature work, a B2 press sheet will accommodate an eight-page signature (of 8.5” x 11” pages), which can then be folded down and trimmed in the finishing department.

So even without factoring in the unique qualities that set digital custom printing apart from offset lithography (such as the ability to produce ultra-short press runs and variable imaging), we’re still in the realm of traditional offset printing in terms of format and press operation. This is particularly true when you consider the pallet loading capabilities. (Prior to this, adding paper to an Indigo was more like replenishing a laser printer.)

Automation and Quality Control Equal Speed (which Reduces Cost)

The HP Indigo 10000 includes an embedded spectrophotometer, registration cameras, and automated print defect detection. In-line or off-line coating and trimming capabilities can also be added. Along with the color fidelity afforded by the seven color inkset, all of this means the HP Indigo can produce stellar quality quickly and consistently, and this translates into lower costs and higher margins.

Thicker Stocks (More Printing Applications)

Complementary presses within this Indigo line—the 20000 and 30000–accept printing stocks up to 24 points in thickness. What this means is that flexible packaging and folding cartons can now be produced with the same quality and variable data as print collateral and publications work.

What Will These Digital Printers Produce?

As newspapers, books, and magazines shift (in some cases) to a digital first–or exclusively digital–existence, some printed products will continue to prosper. Studies show that packaging and label printing are thriving, and a significant amount of publication and direct mail signature work, pocket folders, and multi-fold brochures will also benefit from B2-format digital presses.

Short run book work (300 copies of a textbook, for instance) can also be efficiently produced, as can shorter runs of variable data printing.

People still need printed paper products. As long as this continues, B2 digital commercial printing will thrive and grow. You can bet on it.

Digital Commercial Printing: Personalization is King

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

In the 1967 film The Graduate, one of the older characters, Mr. McGuire, tells Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin, that the future is (in one word): “plastics.” In the world of printing, I’d say the word is now “personalization.”

I just read three articles from diverse sources that give me confidence that this is true:

  • “Digitally printed shrink labels open possibilities at craft brewer,” from www.packworld.com, Pat Reynolds, 5/1/13
  • “HP moves deeper into digital printing with Two Smiles Mother’s Day,” from www.venturebeat.com, Dean Takahashi, 5/1/13
  • and “Seattle digital printer buys Atlanta company,” from www.seattletimes.com, Alysa Hullett, 5/1/13

First of all, I think personalization goes far beyond the variable data imaging used in a direct mail package. I think personalization is about being personal, or relevant to an individual, within an increasingly impersonal world.

Custom Labels Promote Craft Beer

“Digitally printed shrink labels open possibilities at craft brewer” tells the story of a small brewery’s efforts to decorate the cans for its beverages. In addition to appreciating the image quality of digital custom printing, this brewery is pleased by its ability to produce short print runs of its cans.

Prior to the advent of digital printing, according to Bonfire Brewing Co, many breweries got caught up in producing only one or two kinds of beer because of the minimum press runs involved for imprinting the cans. To do otherwise would have wasted either money or the extra cans. Now, the ability to produce only a short run of the sleeves (the full-body shrink sleeve labels are first digitally printed, then slipped over the cans, and then shrunk within a steam tunnel to precisely fit the cans) means that breweries can experiment with more beverage offerings.

Moreover, the same breweries can change the creative on any or all of the cans to promote special events for charity or to commemorate a wedding (perhaps the image of the bride and groom digitally printed on the beer can).

People respond to packaging that is individual, not generic. What could make more of an impression than a commemorative, digitally-printed beer can label from a wedding you attended?

Print Holiday Cards and Gift Cards Yourself

“HP moves deeper into digital printing with Two Smiles Mother’s Day” notes that gift cards can be a useful and easy gift to give but that they are somewhat impersonal. Pairing gift cards with personalized greeting cards and printing the combined product on your own printer will make for a gift that is useful and individual.

Hewlett-Packard’s new website, TwoSmiles, allows you to choose a pre-designed greeting card, pair this with a branded gift card with a face value of your choice, then include a message, and print the job to your own printer using HP’s Easy Print software. (This also benefits HP at a time when printer sales and ink sales have been in decline.)

What this tells me is that people want not only a personal experience but also a tangible one. In a time when many people only send virtual greeting cards, HP’s web-to-print site provides an alternative.

Digital Photo Merchandise

What’s more personal than a photo of you or your family? “Seattle digital printer buys Atlanta company” tells the story of RPI, a custom printing supplier that produces photo books and greeting cards from images customers have uploaded to photo sharing websites such as Blurb and Snapfish. (RPI is buying DPI in Atlanta to be able to provide bi-coastal printing services.)

The market for personalized print products doesn’t end with photo books for individuals, though. There’s a growing interest in personalized pet goods, yearbooks, and even home décor, according to the Seattle Times article.

What these items provide is brand recognition and personalization within the realm of printed physical objects. And if the web-to-print sites–as well as brick-and-mortar printers that also produce such promotional products–can involve customers in the design of the items, all the better.

For instance (and in contrast to individual products for individual clients), in 2008 DPI worked with Nestle to provide user-customizable baseball cards over a branded website. Both the customers and the brand benefited from this large-scale promotional initiative.

The Market Is Ripe for Digital

As the Seattle Times article notes from the most recent IBISWorld report, “While print revenue in general fell at an average rate of 6.2 percent per year from 2007 to 2012, the digital printing market continued to climb.” The article goes on to say, “As consumers increasingly make choices based on social media, recommendations from peers and mobile platforms, businesses are forced to turn to more creative-marketing strategies (Rick Bellamy, chief executive of RPI).”

The market is ripe for short-run, personalized, digitally printed products that serve the individual while promoting the brand.

Digital Custom Printing: 3D and Inkjet for Fashion Items

Monday, May 20th, 2013

I’m seeing a lot more variety in the use of digital 3D and fabric custom printing within the fashion world, and I find this extremely exciting. It shows that print is more than ink on paper. It also shows that there’s a market for the mass customization afforded by digital custom printing.

I recently read two articles on the subject: “London School of Fashion Exhibition Shows 3D-Printed Fashions” on DigitalArtsOnline.com (4/5/13) and “The Bikini of the Year—RELLECIGA Lace Bikini Series & Vibrant Graphic Printed Bikinis” in The Sacramento Bee (4/26/13).

Three Dimensional Footwear, Eyewear, and Jewelry

The first article displays photos of numerous items made relatively easily with layers of polymer using a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer. The machine looks like a futuristic microwave and retails online for just under $2,800.00 (the starting model).

The DigitalArtsOnline.com article showcases an exhibit curated by the London College of Fashion in their Fashion Space Gallery. To quote from the article, the event “shows designers exploring digital print in fashion and the potential of 3D printing as a tool for design.”

What I find interesting about the images (which include dramatic and elegant–and in some cases especially intricate–shoes, glasses, and jewelry) is that these items can be made inexpensively with control over fine detail and with the promise of unlimited creative variation.

And these items can be created on equipment priced within reach of a small fashion design shop.

Moreover, I think it will expand the awareness of those who attend the show to actually see a MakerBot Replicator 2 producing these items. I know that when I first heard about 3D custom printing (or additive manufacturing), I couldn’t visualize the process of printing layer upon layer of polymer to create three dimensional items. So I think this exhibit will demystify this technology and bring it into common awareness.

Footwear included in the online photo selection includes shoes with intricate cut-outs or webs of polymer material that would be difficult if not impossible to create with any other process. The jewelry also has a spider web-like quality in some cases and a fuller, more detailed and curvilinear quality in others. It seems that the 3D fashion designers are playing to the strengths of digital technology in their creative approach to fashion design.

Printed Bikinis by RELLECIGA

I commented on a similar article about bikinis a few months ago, and I’m now seeing more articles about the same kind of fabric custom printing work. I find this interesting since bikinis need to endure exposure to sun, salt, sand, and water. My assumption, therefore, is that fabric printing materials are being devised that are increasingly durable and able to withstand abuse and abrasion.

After all, the designers need to address stretching issues and waterproofing issues along with comfort and appearance challenges when using nylon as a base material for their bikinis. Clearly, the new digital custom printing technology goes way beyond printing on t-shirts.

“The Bikini of the Year—RELLECIGA Lace Bikini Series & Vibrant Graphic Printed Bikinis” notes the benefits of digital printing, citing the intricacy of the patterns, the vibrant colors, and the option of printing very short runs of a fashion item or even customizing each piece.

This flexibility encourages not only short-run printing but also experimentation and prototyping. And the technology is affordable for small fashion design shops, particularly when compared to the prior technology of custom screen printing. Before the advent of digital fabric printing, a printed fabric run had to be very long (several thousand yards) to justify the expense of making an individual screen for each ink and then printing the inks in sequence on a rotary screen press.

The article goes on to note that unique inks are being developed that are ideally suited for each type of fabric. Rollers feed the fabric through the inkjet or dye-sub presses, and then heat and/or steam cures the ink. In some cases, post process washing and drying are necessary, and some initial fading may occur upon the user’s first washing of the garment. Other than that, the garments wear normally, just like any other fashion item.

On Demand Book Printing: Why You Request a Proof

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Old habits die hard. And this goes for print book proofing as well. Choosing a particular type of proof without considering your goals misses the point of proofing. Certain proofs are not always appropriate for a book run.

I’ve been working with an author and two designers over the past several months to prepare a self-published book on the Holocaust. I’ve mentioned it before in these blog posts.

The job is a 9” x 12” perfect bound print book with 80# Finch Fine Vanilla text pages. To maintain the highest quality, the commercial printing vendor will produce the 4-color covers via offset lithography, and, due to the short run of the 180-page book (only 65 copies for family and close friends of the author), the printer will produce the text pages on an HP Indigo digital press.

Choosing the Correct Proofs for the Job

Although the book printer had sent unprinted samples of the 80# Finch Fine Vanilla text stock to the author, I asked that he also send my client a few sample printed text pages produced from the actual print book design files on the actual text paper. I wanted my client to see how the text, and particularly the photos, of his book would look and feel. A last-minute paper stock change, if my client were displeased, would be cheaper than his paying for a book he didn’t love.

The cover proof was to be a contract-quality inkjet print. I thought this would be best, since the covers would be produced via offset lithography. The only other alternatives would have been a dot-for-dot halftone proof (the printer didn’t have this equipment, and the inkjet proof would be reliable enough) or a press proof (which would have been far too expensive).

For the text of the book, I had requested a “one-off” digital proof produced on the HP Indigo using the Finch stock. The proof would be one actual copy of the book on the actual paper.

My usual inclination in book printing is to request an F&G (a set of unbound, yet printed, folded, and gathered signatures) as a final proofing step. I had made this request for this book as well, within the initial specifications for bid. But after discussing the job with the book printer today, I reversed my opinion and encouraged my client to forgo this step. Here’s why.

The Purpose of an F&G

Proofs for books that will be printed via offset lithography are either laser copies or inkjet copies of the pages (usually laser, or xerography, or electrophotography—which are all the same technology). They are not press proofs (proofs printed on the actual press and therefore totally faithful to the final press run).

Requesting an F&G gives the client an opportunity to see a printed yet unbound copy of the book. Printing errors such as chalking, scumming, slurring, and doubling (i.e., errors reflecting press problems) will be obvious in an F&G. These same errors would not show up on the proof, since the proof is produced with an entirely different technology.

Back to My Client’s Text Proof

In my client’s case, the proof is one full copy of the final digitally printed book. The HP Indigo press will produce 64 more digital copies after my client has approved the initial copy. Therefore, it will be unlikely that printing errors will creep into the final product. Ostensibly, copies 2 through 65 will exactly match copy 1. Realizing this upon reflection, I canceled the F&G request and alerted the client. He agreed. Fortunately, this will also save time and the cost of shipping an additional proof from the book printer to the client.

The Purpose of the Initial Sample Pages

For an offset printed book I would be unlikely to request an initial proof of a few sample pages on actual printing stock. I might suggest that the designer laser print or inkjet print a few pages on the stock to produce a reasonable facsimile of the final output, but to ask the printer to provide printed samples of the actual job would, again, be to request a press proof. Press proofs involve making ready a press and printing the actual sheets—an especially costly endeavor.

However, since a few pages of digitally printed stock from my client’s own PDF files will be cheap relative to their value (showing the actual look and feel of the book before committing to an 180-page text proof), this is money well spent.

What We Can Learn from This

Proofing is best when it exactly duplicates the final result of the job. For digital printing, the proof is the final product. For offset lithography the proof is only a facsimile, intended to show copy placement and reasonably accurate color. Even a contract-quality inkjet print used for proofing a cover is only a very close approximation (but not an exact replica) of the final offset-printed sheet. So it’s wise to keep costs in mind as well as what you’re actually trying to see within a particular proofing cycle. Proof early and often, but make sure you know what each kind of proof will show you and exactly what you are looking for in each proof.

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