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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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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for August, 2013

Business Card Printing: Design with Printing Limitations in Mind

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I had mentioned in my last blog posting that I was designing and purchasing the custom printing for three new jobs: a business card, an oversized postcard, and a large format print banner. I’d like to share a few things that have happened along the way because they may help you in your own design and print buying work.

Keep “Live Matter” Art Away from the Trim

I had saved a copy of the business card file in PDF format. This had eliminated all visible InDesign rule lines and grids, making the job look exactly like the final printed business card would look. Sometimes InDesign’s measurement tools and grid lines can make it hard to see the underlying design. Making a PDF will solve this problem while preserving the InDesign measurement notations. You can turn off the measurements in InDesign, but sometimes it’s nice to have both the InDesign file with the measurements and grids and a PDF copy of your file open at the same time.

The Problem

On the back of the business card, I noticed that the small text was close to the trim. I was concerned, so I reduced the leading between paragraphs slightly.

The Lesson

In your own design work, keep all “live matter” text at least 3/8” from the trim. Assume that there will be some variance in the custom printing vendor’s trimming equipment. After all, trimming is a physical process which by its very nature can be imprecise. An error here can make type look uncomfortably close to the edge of your business card.

Be Mindful of Legibility with Light Ink Colors

The Problem

My client’s business card looked huge on my monitor, even though it was only a 2” x 3.5” standard card. Therefore, the type size was misleading as I was designing the job.

The Lesson

In your own work, never rely on the computer monitor for a digital or offset custom printing job. It’s always prudent to print a hard copy of the job. This way you can actually hold in your hand a facsimile of the printed product your client will distribute. Handing out business cards is a physical, or analog, process. Check your card mock up in a physical medium, and make sure all information is readable.

Another Problem

I had set some type on the back of the card: a list of tips provided by my client. (In marketing parlance, this is “content” that will establish my client as a “thought leader.” In reality, it’s helpful information for those receiving the business cards.)

I had made the 11pt. “Quick Tips” headline blue, using the accent color from my client’s logo. I had also made the 9pt. “Bonus Tip” in-line headline blue. They looked great enlarged on the monitor.

I had used a bold sans serif typeface in both cases (less problematic for registering the halftone dots of a 4-color build).

The color composition of the blue type was c77m19y14k0. There were only two predominant colors: cyan and magenta. The yellow would have been light enough to have been invisible had the type been out of register. Mostly it was cyan ink. But at such a small size–9pt. and 11pt.–it would have been a challenge for the commercial printing supplier to hold the color register throughout the press run.

To compound matters, when I reduced the screen image of the business card to its actual size, the blue type was almost unreadable. I realized that black type would be much more legible. So I changed the design, putting readability and printing limitations ahead of my aesthetic “wish list.”

The Lesson

  1. Consider the composition of a color build used for type. Remember that it will be made up of halftone dots. If you’re screening type that’s of a small size, the halftone dots will be larger relative to the size of the type letterforms. Within a small type size, these 4-color dots laid over one another may impede readability. If they’re out of register, they will also look fuzzy. For a color build, try to use only two process colors, unless one is yellow, which is light enough to be forgiving. And expect the printer to not hold perfect color register.
  2. Consider readability. Text printed in a light colored ink is harder to read than text printed in black ink. Since type letterforms are not a solid block of ink, the PMS chip (or 4-color chip) from which you have chosen the color (prior to conversion to 4-color process ink) will look darker than the actual type. After all, the chip is a solid square of ink, and the type is made up of lighter strokes and curves.

Book Printing: Multi-Column Page Design

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

A colleague of mine designs books for the World Bank on a freelance basis. They are essentially text books, reports, and such, but they do require a good amount of design acumen to make the print books attractive and to make them look consistent within a series.

My colleague—we’ll call her Tracey—noted that she had been laying out two-column print books, and she wondered how to deal with uneven bottoms of columns of type. Should she spread out the leading, change leading between paragraphs or items in lists, adjust spacing above or below charts and graphs?She was stumped. This is what I told her.

Rules of Thumb for Multi-Column Page Layout

  1. Good book design does not call attention to itself. It facilitates reading. It makes reading comfortable and enjoyable. It’s like a frame around a work of art, rather than the painting itself.
  2. Inconsistency works against the regularity and structure that comprise good print book design. That said, inconsistent bottom margins draw attention to themselves and away from the content. In addition, inconsistencies in spacing between paragraphs or other “chunks” of copy, such as items in a numbered (or bulleted) list, also detract from good design and readability.
  3. However, contrast is also a hallmark of good print book design. Whenever you break a design rule, do it in a big way. Make it look intentional. In terms of book design in general, and column alignment in particular, if you’re going to have columns end irregularly, have them end at comfortable and logical points (perhaps the end of a paragraph), and make the ragged bottom margins truly irregular (within reason). Don’t have them almost align (don’t have one column end only one line above the baseline of the other column). A truly ragged, stair-stepped bottom margin can look informal and very attractive if the column breaks come at logical points.
  4. Consider designing the type grid for the print book on a “base 12” system. (Remember how the metric system uses “base 10” measurements.) If you set type 10/12 (10 point type on 12 points of leading) and then add three points of extra space above, below, and between paragraphs in a three-item list, the baseline of the second column will probably align with the baseline of the first. Why? Because the extra spacing adds up to 12 points, which is the leading for the body copy. (Adjust as necessary for your particular situation.)
  5. Insert a photo. Or add a chart or graph. You can get away with a variance in spacing when something happens once on a page spread. Varying space above and below various subheads on a page spread will call attention to the irregularity—even if the bottoms of all columns align. But ending a column of copy after a graphic may not look odd at all.
  6. Design page spreads (two pages at a time, side by side). Do not design individual pages. You will be more likely to see any spacing irregularities when you’re looking at a two-page spread, just as a reader does.
  7. Keep columns of type ragged right (left justified). These are easier to read than justified columns. Spacing between words is always consistent (spaces between words vary in justified type). And a ragged right column of type is less formal and will be more forgiving if you need to fudge spacing between paragraphs or end columns at various levels on a page.
  8. Study other people’s print book design. You can find sample two-column pages online using Google Images, and you can also check your own bookshelves for samples. See what you like (what works visually), learn from it, and then apply what you have learned to your own design work.
  9. Use “vertical alignment” in your page composition software. If you truly need to align two-column pages, most page-layout applications have what is called a vertical alignment function that will even out the space (leading and/or space between paragraphs) so baselines of columns will align. When I first started setting type in the 1980s, you had to do this mechanically on the dedicated typesetting machine. It is a blessing to now have an automated function that can do this for you.
  10. Avoid ending a column of type with a subhead followed by only one line of type. Also, avoid beginning a column with only a line or two of a paragraph (the one that began at the bottom of the preceding column).
  11. Your eyes are the final arbiter. If it looks good (show someone else as well), it works.

Applying these rules of thumb will help improve the legibility and aesthetics of your print book design work.

Large Format Printing: Sidestep the Pitfalls in Banner Design

Monday, August 19th, 2013

I’m designing a banner for a trade-show package that will include business cards, oversized marketing postcards, and the large format print banner itself, which will be loaded into a banner-stand assembly. Here’s some more information on this design job, which I’ve been describing in recent blog entries. Hopefully the descriptions will help you sidestep technical issues in your own marketing design work. After all, it’s very easy to turn a gorgeous custom printing job into an unprintable mess.

The banner-stand assembly is a bit like an upside-down window shade. You grab a hook on the spring-loaded case on the floor after lifting the telescoping vertical support pole. The vinyl banner unrolls from the spring-loaded case, and you loop the hook over the top of the vertical pole. A horizontal bar at the top of the banner holds the vinyl flat and “square.” Voila. You have a free-standing large format print banner. If you’re really creative, you may even want to line up a few of these banner-stands side by side, with each containing a portion of your overall marketing image.

From everything I’ve read, trade-show banners are not the same as the interior and exterior banners you might see on a wall. When you’re visiting a vendor booth at a trade show, you can see the banners up close. In contrast, when you’re looking at a large format print banner on an interior or exterior wall (or suspended from wires hooked to the ceiling), you’re probably much farther away.

This means a regular banner will be fine printed at about 100 dpi resolution. From a distance, you won’t see the pixels. However, since you’ll be looking at a trade-show banner up close, it’s wise to print it at 300 dpi, just as you would render a photo for a publication at 300 dpi.

The Creative Design of the Banner

This particular banner has a gradation. The top of the banner is white, and the bottom is a blue process color build (mostly composed of cyan). My client’s logo floats at the top of the banner in the white space. Below this is a montage of 4-color photos. Below this are three lines of black type, and at the bottom of the banner on the solid blue, there are three lines of reversed type (with a drop shadow to make the words “pop”).

Producing the Actual Banner Art File

Banner design is not the same as banner production, although it’s wise to be thinking about such technical issues as materials for the banner, image resolution, the technicalities of gradations, etc., while you design. This helps you make sure you haven’t designed something that can’t be printed—which is far easier than you may think.

Creating the Blue Gradated Background

First I designed the gradation in InDesign. After all, InDesign can do this with a few keystrokes. Then I thought better. I had always been taught that when you take the imagesetter resolution, divide it by the line screen (1440/150, let’s say, for large-format inkjet) and then square this total (9.6 x 9.6), you get the number of greys (or in this case “blues”) in your gradation.

The math is really not that relevant. What’s relevant is that I had visions of “banding.” That is, I was worried that there would be a visible stair-stepping between the various levels of blue as they changed and became progressively lighter going from the bottom to the top of the large format print banner.

So I created a gradation of blue (at a size of 31.5” x 79”) for the banner background in Photoshop, and I added noise so there would be no chance of a visible stair-stepping effect as the gradation became lighter and lighter from the bottom to the top of the banner. The file was huge, something like 380 MB just for the gradation, let alone the photos to be used on the banner.

I did some research and learned (online, from Adobe, makers of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign), that the PostScript gradated screens had improved—as long as the custom printing supplier was using a PostScript Level 3 RIP.

Had I proceeded with the Photoshop gradated screen, the image would have been a bitmapped version, with each and every pixel noted in the TIFF file. Apparently this was no longer a necessary approach (for quality), so I produced the gradated screen in Illustrator. Illustrator creates the gradient using mathematical formulas. Only when the job is ready to print does the RIP (raster image processor) turn the PostScript mathematical formulas into a bitmapped screen. The resulting screen, as well as the overall banner file, was much smaller than the bitmapped Photoshop screen.

Processing the Photographs

I got lucky. My client is a photographer. So she understands the technical requirements of digital printing, and she submitted a collage of photos (300 dpi at final size for the banner). That said, the photos were overlapped, so to keep the space between the photos transparent (the little corners where some photos did not overlap completely—like photos scattered on a table), she submitted a layered Photoshop file (instead of a JPEG or TIFF).

Fortunately, using InDesign you can place a layered Photoshop document into an InDesign layout. Even better, the blue of the banner successfully showed through the spaces between the photos, as it was supposed to do.

Granted, transparency is tricky, so when I submit the banner art for printing, I will alert the commercial printing vendor to the transparency and request feedback on the accuracy of the file (i.e., a preflight report). I’m not overly worried, since there’s no text near the transparent elements, but I do know that transparency can cause unpredictable results within a file and therefore needs to be addressed by a knowledgeable prepress service provider.

Preparing the Text for the Banner

Finally, when my client had approved the design and text, I converted all type into outlines. This way there would be no font issues (dropping or substituting typefaces). Everything was now either line art or photos.

So you can see that designing a banner is not the same as addressing all the technical requirements for accurately rendering a large format print.

Commercial Printing: How to Approach New Design Jobs

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I received three design jobs today from a client of mine. I will be brokering the commercial printing as well as designing the artwork and producing the final, press-ready files. So, as a teaching tool, I’d like to share some of my thoughts as I approached the job today and created the first set of proofs.

Custom Printing Specifications for the Jobs

The jobs were small. One was a 4-color, two-sided business card. One was a two-sided oversized postcard (5.5” x 8.5”). And one was a 4′ x 8′ banner. All three jobs had to go together. They had to have a similar “look,” so the attendees at the trade show for which my client was preparing the materials would see them as a coherent branding package.

My client had initially created a new logo online, using a web-to-print site. She was not satisfied with the results, so she had come to me the prior week. My client had wanted me to enlarge her logo so it could be used for custom screen printing a canvas totebag.

After upsampling the logo in small increments (a trick that sometimes works), I had recreated the logo from scratch in Illustrator (the right way to do this). Since I assumed the custom screen printing vendor would use two printing inks, I created the logo as a two-color job (i.e., with spot colors rather than process colors).

Digital Custom Printing Would Be the Most Appropriate Technology

In rereading my client’s email, I noticed that the business cards would be a short run job (500 copies with printing on the front and back of the card; 500 copies with printing only on the front of the card). The oversized postcard would also be a short run (300 copies). The banner would be an edition of one copy.

Given the short press runs, I decided the printing equipment most appropriate for the job would be an HP Indigo digital press rather than an offset lithographic press. Therefore, I adjusted the logo I had recreated to make it a screen build of 4-color inks rather than the two spot colors. The digital press would only use process colors, unlike the custom screen printing vendor’s equipment for producing the totebag. I also knew the 4′ x 8′ banner would be produced on a large-format inkjet printer. This would also be a 4-color job, so the revised logo would be appropriate for all three pieces.

Approaching the Initial Design of All Three Jobs

I created three files (business card, postcard, and banner) in InDesign. I chose the standard American business card size (2” x 3.5”), found an online printer and looked up oversized postcards (and chose 5.5” x 8.5”), and then found a banner maker online and chose a banner size (4′ x 8′). Since my client had not specified sizes for the jobs, I felt these would be good starting points. She could always request changes.

I placed the logos in all three files (and using “separations preview” I made sure all three jobs would separate into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, rather than into any spot colors). I added all text my client had provided, and then I started playing with type sizes to see how I could make everything fit while at the same time giving the proper emphasis to certain words and phrases. I chose a typeface for the text and headlines that would be compatible with the type used in my client’s logo.

Then I turned to color, and in order to emphasize certain elements of the design I added the accent color used in the logo (a light blue) to a few other elements of the design. Again I checked the “separations preview” screen to make sure any new elements within the jobs would separate into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.

Using common colors and typefaces, as well as my client’s logo, I came up with three designs for the business card, postcard, and banner that would provide a coherent “look.”

The Specification Sheet for the Three Custom Printing Jobs

I actually began to create the specification sheet for all three jobs while I was doing the design work. I have two monitors and two computers on my desk, and I worked back and forth, adjusting the specification sheet for the three jobs as I adjusted the design of the jobs themselves, noting size, paper, number of colors, bleeds, number of copies. I also specified the printing equipment (inkjet for the banner and electrophotography—HP Indigo–for the other two jobs).

Since I wasn’t sure about the paper stocks (my client might want a coated or uncoated sheet for the business cards), I chose 110# Finch Opaque white cover and also 14pt. white gloss C2S cover as an alternative. I checked online to make sure they were of approximately equal thickness. I will also ask the printer for his suggestions.

For the banner, I was also unsure of the ideal material, so I did some research online and came up with a fabric option and a vinyl option. I will also ask my printer’s opinion in this matter.

To be safe, I sent my client PDF files of the three initial mock ups of the job along with the specification sheet for feedback. I also sent the specification sheet to my printer for feedback and pricing.

Once I hear back from my client and the custom printing supplier, I will make design and technical adjustments as needed, pulling together all information from both my client and my printer, to provide the most attractive, as well as the most economical, printed products for my client’s trade show.

Custom Printing: Print Marketing Drives Buyers to the Web

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

I found an interesting article recently in the May/June 2013 issue of GD USA magazine (Graphic Design): “Bridging the Gap Between the Tangible and Digital Worlds,” by Gerry Bonetto.

I hear a lot of talk of the death of print, and I also hear a lot of talk about the rise of print in other cultures (such as Saudi Arabia), but I always find it comforting to read articles about the usefulness of commercial printing right here and right now.

Bonetto’s article focuses on the synergistic effect of combining print marketing and online marketing, noting that without the former, the latter falls short. As a custom printing broker I find this heartening.

Facts, Figures, and Surveys: The Importance of Print

“Bridging the Gap Between the Tangible and Digital Worlds” cites a number of studies and provocative facts and figures in its defense of print media.

  1. comScore Case Study: The U.S. Postal Service (USPS), 2009: According to GD USA, “a United States Postal Service study found a $21 million boost in sales, per million of online shoppers, between those who received a catalog and those who didn’t.”
  2. Exact Target, Channel Preference Study, 2009: To quote from the GD USA article, “Exact Target found that 76% of Internet users surveyed were directly influenced to purchase a product or service thanks to a direct mail piece.”
  3. Google “sends millions of direct mail pieces throughout the year to communicate with business decision makers about the value of the Adwords program.”

The Gist of the Surveys

Let’s break this down. The first and second items demonstrate that the effect of print marketing on buyer’s decisions is not only quantifiable but also dramatic: Catalogs drove sales up $21 per person over Internet-only shopping; and 76% of Internet users (the most technically literate among us) were influenced in product or service selection via direct mail. These are significant facts and figures.

Furthermore, Google is a pure-play Internet venture. It has no off-line products or services. Yet it markets its services via print advertising. Again, this is significant as well as surprising, and heartening. After all, Google would only pay for commercial printing of promotional material if the initiative resulted in online customers.

But Why Is This Happening?

“Bridging the Gap Between the Tangible and Digital Worlds” references Google’s “zero moment of truth,” its description of the moment a buyer decides on an in-store or online purchase. Apparently, although a buyer usually researches a product or service on the Internet before deciding to buy, he or she is first prompted to do the online research via a “stimulus.” That stimulus is usually word of mouth, a print promotion (a print catalog or direct mail package), or a television spot–not an Internet ad or email blast.

In fact, the GD USA article notes that “”Of the eleven media that are the key stimuli to online research, seven are print related–and five (magazine ads and articles, newspaper ads and articles, and manufacturer direct mail) are ranked higher than online ads and email and just lower than television ads, the strongest stimulus” (quoted from Google, “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth”).

What This Means to You

What this really means is that most initial contacts with a new product or service happen offline, through print catalogs and direct mail packages, word of mouth, and radio and television advertising. After this initial exposure, an interested buyer will then go online to research the products, check peer reviews, or compare pricing.

If you design for print, this is especially useful information. However, it is also interesting to note that direct mail marketing is much more effective when intelligently combined with the newer interactive technologies. For instance, pointing a prospect to a PURL listed in your direct mail package, or providing QR codes in your print catalog that will lead the reader to your website, most likely will dramatically expand the effectiveness of your print marketing efforts.

Think in terms of “cross channel marketing,” of integrating print and Internet venues in the most effective mix, rather than choosing one over the other.

Large Format Printing: White Ink Makes Movie Standees “Pop”

Monday, August 12th, 2013

I’ve noticed a new trend in the standees I’ve been installing recently: the use of white ink as a background on clear plastic sheets. And, for that matter, I’m also seeing more use of the acetate sheets themselves as a design element in the standees.

Without speaking to any commercial printing vendors, my initial reaction upon seeing these standees in the movie theaters is that the printers either screen printed a white base onto the clear acetate sheet or inkjetted the white ink as a background.

A Description of the Standees

Two standees and a static cling immediately come to mind regarding the use of a white inkjet background.

The first was a promotion for The Lone Ranger. Two clear front panels facing away from each other at a 45 degree angle presented the two main characters: the Lone Ranger and Tonto. When I looked at the images up close, I could see a background of white covered by a process color image of each of the two characters.

The next standee was a huge lightbox for Ender’s Game. This standee included a series of three transparent graphic images along with two separate light sources and a rotating transparent plexiglass disk. Images had been printed on the revolving disk (run by an electric motor), but when I looked at the back of the revolving disk (visible only to the installer), I could see flat opaque white ink behind all images on the plexiglass disk.

The final standee (not a standee at all but a static cling device for the movie Ice Age) was made with flexible plastic sheeting covered (in the image areas) with opaque white ink and, on top of that, the promotional artwork rendered in 4-color process inks.

Why Would The Custom Printing Vendors Use White Ink As a “Ground”?

Opaque white ink has four qualities that are ideal for such an application:

  1. It has good light stopping power. That is, when you print a white background and then print an image on top of the white surface, any light or images behind the front-most image become less visible or invisible.
  2. It makes colors printed on it “pop.” The white brightens the image printed on the background, enlivening the front-most image. In addition, if the white shows through the front-most image in any portions (intentionally), it will appear to brighten the image due to the high intensity of the white ink. (As a side note, the extreme whiteness is due to titanium dioxide, one of the components of the white inkjet ink.)
  3. It evens out the background. If the background (or lack of a background) will create an uneven surface (in terms of color) on which to print the image, this can be corrected completely with a white background.
  4. It’s non-absorbent. Process inks that might otherwise seep into the substrate are kept on top of the white and are therefore not dulled down by absorption. In the case of the standee (large format printing on acetate), this would not be as relevant, since the substrate is already non-porous, but in other cases it would be very useful.

Comparing a White Inkjet Background to an Acrylic Painting on a Gesso Ground

Back when I was studying fine arts in the 70s and 80s, we used to prime all our canvasses with white acrylic gesso. Acrylic gesso (unlike traditional gesso) includes white acrylic paint and calcium carbonate along with other chemicals. It provides an even, textured base on which to paint in acrylics.

In short, we used gesso in fine arts work for the same reasons that a marketing director might specify custom printing a white inkjet ground onto a clear acetate base before inkjetting the promotional image.

How Did I Know The Standee Images Had Been Inkjet Printed?

I didn’t, actually. Since there was no printer to ask when I was installing these standees with my fiancee, I had to use some deductive reasoning to determine the process used for custom printing the standees.

The two options that came to mind were custom screen printing and inkjet printing. Both would have worked beautifully on the transparent acetate material. Considering the length of the press run (numerous theaters in my city alone, multiplied by a huge number of cities in the US), I assumed the job had been a custom screen printing project. After all, for long runs, custom screen printing is usually cheaper.

That said, all of the screen printed 4-color images I’ve seen at large format print shops have had a dot pattern (rosettes, similar to those of offset printing, just slightly larger in most cases). When I looked at the Lone Ranger standee and the Ender’s Game standee, however, I saw the dithered patterns of (what I assumed was) inkjet printing. (If you look closely at an inkjet print you will see minuscule specs of ink in a random scatter pattern rather than a pronounced and regular grid of halftone dots.)

So that was my assessment: that the standees had been produced on large format inkjet printing equipment using a white ground and then 4-color (or a larger inkset) inkjet printing for the promotional images.

Commercial Printing: Tree-Free Synthetic Paper

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

A number of years ago I saw a printed advertisement suspended from the bottom of a fish tank. I thought it was pretty impressive, since I would have expected printed paper left underwater to have become unreadable at best or at worst to have assumed the consistency of wet paste. I made a mental note.

Later on, I learned about synthetic papers such as Yupo. There are others as well.

Beyond its curiosity effect, I thought that presenting a little information on this paper might be useful to you, since there are a number of projects that might benefit from a custom printing paper that doesn’t come apart when wet and that’s almost impossible to tear.

What Is Synthetic Paper?

Basically, synthetic paper is a tree-free commercial printing sheet that is based on petroleum rather than wood pulp. You could say it’s a plastic film. Then again, it looks just like an opaque white printing sheet, and you can not only print on it but also successfully score, fold, emboss, or perform most other post-press operations on it.

Benefits of Synthetic Paper

  1. There are environmental benefits. First off, it’s tree-free. This appeals to environmentalists. And it’s 100 percent recyclable as well.
  2. It’s waterproof (and even submersible).
  3. It’s extremely durable and scuff resistant.
  4. As noted above, it can be printed and finished just like wood pulp or cotton fiber paper.

When Would You Use Synthetic Paper?

Here are a few scenarios that would be perfect for synthetic custom printing paper:

  1. Let’s say you need to create a map that hikers will use in the rainforests of Peru. The maps will need to be crisply printed and durable, they will need to be folded in map-fold sequence, and they will need to withstand heavy use in torrential rain. For this, synthetic paper would be ideal.
  2. Or let’s say you need to create labels for wine bottles that will go from the refrigerator to the dinner table in a restaurant. Water condensation due to extreme temperature changes might make a waterproof paper an attractive choice for custom label printing.
  3. Or maybe you want to produce a childproof menu or placemat, something that can be wiped off repeatedly without any degradation in quality. Synthetic paper would be ideal.

The Good News and the Bad News

The Good News

  1. The good news is that this durable, waterproof, tear-resistant, custom printing substrate can be printed via offset lithography, flexography, and inkjet technology.
  2. Since synthetic commercial printing paper is extremely resistant to chemicals and oils, it can be used for chemical labels and such, as well as food labels.
  3. Most synthetic paper includes no toxic materials (no BHA, no lead, and no mercury or chromium). Therefore, it does not release toxic substances when incinerated.

The Bad News

  1. The bad news is that you can’t use synthetic paper in a laser printer due to the high heat. This goes for photocopiers as well, due to the extreme heat required for fusing toner to paper. (Keep in mind, though, that you can use synthetic paper in inkjet equipment, which does not depend on heat for its operation.)
  2. This isn’t really bad news; it’s just a heads-up. Synthetic paper requires specialized ink formulations, attention to the details of using a new substrate when cutting and folding the paper, and consideration of drying time, use of anti-setoff powder, etc. In other words, using synthetic papers demands a learning curve for optimal results by any commercial printing vendor.

Custom Printing: Newspapers Are Still Kicking–Locally

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

I recently saw a number of stacks of newspapers at the gym I frequent. Being a commercial printing broker, as well as an overall student of custom printing, I grabbed a few samples thinking I would approach their production managers. Perhaps I could get a few new clients.

I thought about all the downsizings and closings of newspapers, but then I thought about all the real estate, neighborhood, leisure, and other focused newspapers I see in my travels. Here at the gym I had found a whole passel of new ones. I guess newsprint isn’t dead. Maybe it has just migrated from daily broadsheets and weekly tabloids to hyper-local newspapers.

Some Background Information on Newspaper Printing

For those of you new to designing and printing newspapers, here’s a brief primer. In many ways, newspaper printing is unlike any other commercial printing.

The Newspaper Press

Most printing presses I’ve seen used for newspaper printing are dedicated newspaper presses. Some are huge, and inking units are stacked vertically rather than horizontally as in most presses. Others look more like standard sheetfed presses, with one ink unit after another in a horizontal row.

These are web presses (roll-fed rather than sheetfed). If you watch the press operate, you’ll see a ribbon of paper (the width varies depending on the roll) streaming through the various press units, with each printing a separate color (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow). Unlike the larger web-offset magazine presses and book presses, newspaper presses are cold-set (or non-heatset) presses. These presses have no oven to flash off the solvent from the ink to make it sit up on top of a coated printing sheet as it cures. Therefore, the ink dries by absorption into the paper rather than oxidation.

Since the newspaper press is a non-heatset press, and since the ink seeps into the paper fibers of the custom printing stock and expands (dot gain) more than on other sheets, newspapers can use only the coarsest of halftone line screens (85 lpi to 100 lpi, for instance). Because the images are coarse, and because the ink spreads into the paper, newspapers have a gritty look to them. Many people like this. It lends a sense of immediacy and intimacy to the newspaper. You know you’re reading it for the content.

Newspaper Sheet Sizes

Newspapers come in various sizes, including:

  1. the broadsheet (one newspaper printer I found online notes the size of its broadsheet as 22 3/4” high by 11” to 17 1/2” wide, black or 4-color),
  2. the tabloid (the same printer notes the size as 11 3/8” wide by 11” to 17 1/2” high),
  3. and the magazine (the same printer notes 8 1/4” x 10 1/2”) stitched and trimmed, with a self-cover or a separate, heavier cover.

There are other formats, but if you buy custom printing for a newspaper, you’ll find that different printers have different presses and paper stocks and hence have different page-size constraints. It’s always best to ask about this. Some even offer the Berliner (18 1/2” x 12 2/5”), a more European format.

Newspaper Printing Stocks

Newspaper stock is cheap, thin, and full of impurities. This is usually not a problem since the useful life of a newspaper is very short. The reason this paper is volatile (subject to yellowing and becoming brittle) is that the mechanical (rather than chemical) pulping process used in its manufacture leaves an acidic sheet full of wood impurities such as lignin.

The newspaper printer’s website from which I copied the size limitations noted above lists three paper stocks for its products: 30# newsprint, 35# groundwood, and 50# offset. The newsprint and groundwood are the impure sheets noted above. However, the 50# offset is not. I would expect a much longer shelf life for this newspaper. Moreover, I would also expect a much brighter press sheet than the newsprint and groundwood, which start out with a yellowish tinge even before they have aged.

That said, since the offset sheet is only 50# text weight, I would still assume that this particular custom printing vendor runs this paper on a web press. It’s a little thin for a sheetfed press, although some printers do print 50# offset on sheetfed equipment.

Newspaper Inks

Newspaper printers offer either black-only or 4-color process ink. Moreover, depending on the configuration of their presses, newspaper printers may or may not be able to use 4-color throughout. So it’s always best to ask where you can put the 4-color pages in your particular newspaper. Don’t assume color will be available on all pages. Even if it is, you might be wise to discuss the costs of using more or less color.

Is Newspaper Printing Still Relevant?

As long as there are neighborhoods and clubs offering free newspapers and news magazines supported exclusively by advertising, mobile smartphones and tablets won’t be the only way to get news. And in selected industrial parks, dedicated newspaper printers will still continue to operate.

Commercial Printing: New Software for Print Designers

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

I just read two articles that provide options for designers in search of page composition and preflighting software. I thought you might find the information useful.

Quark Upgrades Its Software

The first article I read in CreativePro.com (6/13, by Mike Rankin) notes that Quark is offering an upgrade from any prior version of QuarkXPress to version 9, and then to version 10 for free when it ships in August 2013. This deal expires on June 30, 2013. After that, you can still buy QuarkXPress version 9 and then upgrade to version 10 for free.

Why This Is Significant

  1. First of all, version 9 of QuarkXPress will open documents from versions 3 through 6. This is helpful if you have old documents from prior years and/or if you have been using older versions of QuarkXPress to maintain compatibility with older system software and hardware.
  2. Users of any prior version are included. This is unusual. In most cases, the prices are different depending on how recent your version of a particular software package is. For instance, it would usually cost less to go from version 8 to 9 than from version 6 to 9.
  3. Unlike Adobe, Quark is offering a perpetual license rather than a subscription to this software. Basically, you don’t have to pay subscription prices month to month (or in an annual lump sum). You don’t risk having the subscription prices rise. And you don’t have to shift from buying software to leasing it.
  4. Quark, which used to be the de facto standard when I was an art director in the 1990s, and which then lost ground to Adobe, is working really hard to win back its prior customers.

More Good News from Enfocus

A commercial printing vendor once told me that 80 percent of the files he received had at lest some kind of problem. In other words, it’s really easy to create a PDF of a document, but it’s not as easy to create a press-ready PDF that your custom printing supplier will love and that will fly through prepress.

To help those who create these files, Enfocus (makers of PitStop) have developed Connect YOU for designers and Connect ALL for print service providers. The second article I read (“Enfocus Connect 11 Helps Creators Deliver Perfect PDFs,” 6/11/13, from Enfocus) describes this new software offering.

Why This Is Significant

  1. You don’t need a lot of IT experience to make this work. Your custom printing vendor can help you set up Connect YOU to allow for seamless PDF production from Adobe Creative Suite or any other application. You create “Connectors,” applets that sit on your desktop and automate most of the PDF creation, verification, and correction tasks. Your printer can configure these to his workflow and then distribute the Connectors to you and other clients. (This means you don’t need to worry about making sure all of your PDF settings comply with your printer’s needs.)
  2. The software will verify PDFs using Enfocus PitStop Preflight Profiles, checking for such things as missing fonts, insufficient image resolution, etc. (This means you will know the files are press ready.)
  3. The software will automatically correct PDF files based on Enfocus PitStop Action Lists. (This means you can automatically fix anything that’s not press ready.)
  4. Fast, easy, and accurate. If Enfocus can help your commercial printing provider help you hand off print ready files the first time, both you and your printer will be happy, there will be fewer mistakes, and the whole process will avoid reprint charges due to file errors. Everyone wins.

Printing Companies: News from Abroad That’s Relevant at Home

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

PrintWeek India, TradeArabia—I’m finding it fascinating reading to see what is happening in commercial printing in other countries. Ironically, it’s the Internet that’s affording me this glimpse.

Here’s a quote from BBC News, from an article entitled “97 Percent of Middle East Companies Including in Oman, Dependent on Print for Business: Report,” from Muscat Daily, 4/3/13:

“…organizations in Europe see print part of a multichannel approach, while organizations in the Middle East region see print as the principal, main media in their approaches.”

And here’s another quote, this one from TradeArabia, Business News Information, 4/3/13, entitled “Print Still ‘Important’ for Most Mideast Firms”:

“…97 percent of organizations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) still consider professionally printed materials to be important to their business…. Furthermore, more than half of the organizations surveyed (54 percent) consider print to be more effective than any other type of media.” (first Middle East Insight Research Report, commissioned by Canon Middle East).

Why This Is Important

I’m a great believer in the “Global Village” concept. Digital communications, from the Internet to smartphones, have made the world much smaller, and countries and their economic health are inextricably intertwined. Therefore, it is useful in gauging the future of a particular industry, such as commercial printing, to study not only one’s own country but other countries as well.

What I can discern from my recent studies is the following:

  1. Custom printing is not dying. While some aspects of custom printing seem to be migrating to electronic media in the US, there is a healthy and even growing reliance on physical printing in other countries.
  2. If some pundits had foretold a migration from print to exclusively digital communications, the larger world view seems to suggest more of a coordination of print and the Internet into a multichannel marketing effort.
  3. Since we live in a global, connected world, it’s smart to study trends in commercial printing around the world, not just within the United States.

A View of Screen Printing from PrintWeek India

Here’s some more news from abroad. “Can Screen Printing See Into the Future” (PrintWeek India, 6/12/13) extols screen printing for its:

“…versatility, suppleness, wide range of applications, brightness and solidity of colors for outdoor applications, possibilities of special effects in graphic and textile… It also provides a possibility of combination printing with other imaging and printing processes like offset, digital, etc.”

The PrintWeek India article lists a number of objects we use daily that depend on custom screen printing technology, such as the speedometer and dashboard in your car, the t-shirts and helmets you wear, and (this shows the relative breadth of the technology) the screen-printed PC board in every piece of electronic gadgetry that you buy. Custom screen printing is ubiquitous.

But not only does screen printing have a place in industrial printing and garment/fabric printing. Screen printing can be applied to packaging and labels, particularly since it excels at adding the textured UV and embossed UV effects that distinguish physical printing (offset, digital, gravure) from the virtual communications of digital-only media. Custom screen printing is ideal for tactile “embellishments,” as the article notes.

Furthermore, more and more printers are acquiring automated screen printing equipment along with digital and/or offset capabilities in order to keep more of their work in-house rather than subcontracting it to other vendors. This lowers costs, speeds up production, and allows commercial printing vendors to remain relevant to their clients.

Why This Is Important

  1. Increasingly, printing technologies are being used in tandem. I’m reading more and more about hybrid presses that include both offset printing and flexography in the same press, or vendors who are printing jobs digitally or via offset lithography and then using screen printing for finishing effects.
  2. The best way to stand out in a market that loves iPads and Kindle Fires is to provide something these technologies cannot. Anything tactile requires physical custom printing.
  3. Even as newspapers and magazines shutter their operations, carton printing, flexible packaging, direct to garment printing, labels, and industrial printing (to name only a few areas) are expanding. Savvy printers and designers can ride this wave. Knowledge of, and access to, relevant technologies are essential.

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