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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 September, 2013

Pocket Folder Printing: Upgrade Your Pocket Folders

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Here are a few things to consider when designing customized pocket folders. Some of these ideas will save you money while providing a quality product. Others will work subconsciously on your clients and prospects to give a sense of luxury and expense to your custom pocket folders.

Paper Choices for Your Pocket Folder

The paper you choose for your pocket folder will exert a subconscious influence on those who pick up and use your product. Thicker paper stocks will be perceived as more authoritative, credible, even luxurious. In contrast, thinner paper stocks may suggest weakness or lack of attention to quality. Ask your commercial printing supplier for samples, but consider specifying 130# cover stock (or thicker) to give substance to a custom pocket folder.

Also give thought to texture when you specify paper for a pocket folder. Custom printing is a tactile medium. A client who picks up your pocket folder may notice unconsciously that it has a “tooth,” that it is rough and substantial if you have chosen a felt weave paper stock, for instance. Your options include the usual gloss, matte, and silk coated press sheets, but also consider linen, felt, laid, and vellum for their rougher surface.

Some stationery paper manufacturers such as Crane will offer paper stocks that complement one another for business cards, letterhead, second sheets, envelopes, and pocket folders, so you may want to approach all of these items as a set, not only in terms of design but also in terms of paper choices. This may save you money. At the very least, this will ensure a common look and feel among all elements of your identity package.

Ink Choices for Your Pocket Folder

One way to save money when producing pocket folders is to print on only one side of the press sheet.

If you print a solid ink, a screen of a color, or text on the interior flaps of the pockets, and then fold them inward and glue them down (which is called converting, or making a pocket folder out of a flat press sheet), the interior printed pockets will appear to be part of the interior printing of the custom pocket folder. Actually this is an illusion, since the printed side of the flaps is really part of the exterior of the pocket folder. That said, it will add color to the interior of your pocket folder for no extra cost.

As an alternative, you may want to “paint” both sides of the press sheet. This means printing the white sheet with a heavy solid coating of ink. Depending on the color choice, this can be quite dramatic. However, keep in mind that once you trim the press sheet, you will see the interior white color of the paper (up against the solid orange, or blue, or whatever other color coats the rest of the custom pocket folder). The edges of the paper will still be white, since you’re only printing the exterior of the press sheet. If you diecut a window on the front of the pocket folder, the white edges of the cutout might be objectionable. To avoid this, you would need to specify a colored paper stock.

Using Colored Paper Stocks

You may want to choose a colored paper for your pocket folder. This is a wonderful choice, perhaps a navy felt stock. However, you need to keep in mind that inks will not behave in the same way on a colored sheet as on a white stock. Even a thick coating of silver ink, for instance, on the blue background may lose its brilliance, or the blue background may actually show through the silver ink.

To avoid this, consider foil stamping the paper instead of printing it, if you’re using a dark colored printing stock. You do have to pay for an additional process on a letterpress, and the foil stamping die will cost you approximately $500 (more or less), but depending on your budget and the marketing importance of the custom pocket folder, this may be worth it. (You may be able to skip the offset printing step completely, if your design is simple and you can use only the foil stamping for any text or images on the pocket folder.) Keep in mind that hot stamping foil comes in numerous colors now, including clear, white, and pearlescent shades.

Embossing Your Pocket Folder

Another option that showcases the tactile nature of printing is embossing. With an embossing die, you can create a raised image on your pocket folder (perhaps of the company logo). However, you will need to pay extra for this die as well as for any offset printing. Choosing a colored paper stock would be an economical approach in this case, as it would be with foil stamping. If you focus exclusively on embossing the design on your pocket folder, you can avoid offset printing the pocket folder entirely.

A Pocket Folder Makes a Marketing Statement

Keep in mind that a custom pocket folder is a marketing tool. It is also useful. Your client may use the pocket folder for a long time to carry business collateral or other papers, and each time he/she picks it up, your logo will be right there as a reminder. So even though it is an expense, you may also consider a well designed and well printed custom pocket folder to be an investment.

Book Printing: An Audio Book Precursor to the LCD Video Book

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

My fiancee just bought a Kid Connection Animal Songs book for her seventeen-month-old grandson. When I saw the book, which had been printed in 2002, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was clearly one of the precursors of the LCD video book I had just reviewed in the PIE Blog.

Structure of the “Play-a-Song” Book

Publications International, LTD, produced this book. It appears to be a well-crafted, four-color casebound print book. If I look closely, I can see the stitches holding the Smyth sewn book signatures together. This binding method is often used for library editions of print books when the books need to withstand hard use. It is ideal for a children’s book.

The back cover of this 9” x 12” text extends almost two inches beyond the face trim of the front cover, and this provides a “well” for a two-inch vertical sound bar. At the bottom of the bar is a small speaker operated by replaceable button batteries, and above the speaker are ten button switches, stacked one above the other. A face panel covers the switches and provides space for a horizontal, oblong color image for each button. Each image is a caricature of an animal in human dress and with human characteristics.

If you flip through the book, you will see a double-page layout for each of ten well-known folk songs or nursery rhymes about animals, ranging from “Hickory Dickory Dock,” to “Alouette” to “Pussycat, Pussycat.” Along with the dramatic event portrayed on each page spread, the author has included the lyrics for the song illustrated by the image.

Almost all of the characters are animals (an elephant dressed as the queen in “Pussycat, Pussycat,” along with a cat in courtly attire scaring a mouse in peasant’s rags enough to drive him under the feet of the elephant queen).

The images are exaggerated, humorous, almost grotesque. For example, for the “Alouette” page spread, three drooling dogs (or perhaps wolves) oogle a line of burlesque chickens dressed as dancing girls.

If you press the appropriate buttons on the sound bar, matching the animal characters on the bar with the characters on the page spreads of the print book, the electronic chip in the sound-bar will play the song. Granted, it’s rudimentary. After all, this was made in 2002. But you can recognize the nursery rhyme or song from the electronic music, and this enhances the experience of the print book—for adults as well as the children for whom they bought the book.

Why This Little Book Is So Appealing

I would have enjoyed this book as a child, and I even think it’s pretty impressive now. Here’s why:

  • The animal characters personify human traits or foibles. In some cases you could even say the drawings have a satirical edge. This works for me because the traits are both exaggerated and humorous.
  • The sound bar involves the reader. It makes reading the print book a more participatory experience. You can push the buttons and hear the songs while you read (or even sing) the lyrics with your child.
  • The print book is well crafted, so it is not only attractive, but it will endure harsh use over time.

And most importantly,

  • The audio component complements the printed portion of the book. I think you even get a more intense experience reading the book because it engages the senses of touch and sight with the print book component and the sense of hearing with the audio book component.

How Is This Like an LCD Video Book

In my mind, this is like a rudimentary LCD video book, since these new marketing tools also augment the experience of watching and hearing video content while reading the print book or marketing brochure that surrounds the LCD video screen. The LCD video book has more sophistication now, in the year 2013, than the electronic beeps and pulses of the 2002 children’s audio book, but both products engage multiple senses to make reading a book a more immersive experience.

Why You Should Care

I think this is very relevant to print book and brochure designers. Granted, this is like a Model T compared to the LCD video book, but the Internet has allowed print, audio, and video to converge and overlap in diverse ways. The more fluency you have with these individual artistic disciplines and the more effectively you can combine them to educate or persuade a reader, the more relevant you will be in the field of marketing design. I firmly believe this.

This is the direction of the future.

Brochure Printing: Superior Health Spa Marketing Design

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I just received a fourteen panel (seven on each side) marketing brochure that captures the essence of effective design with its graphic “look,” paper choice, and custom printing. I’d like to share with you why I consider this to be such a superior example of marketing design.

Overall Brochure Layout

The “Steamist” barrel-fold brochure starts its story on the front panel with a woman, eyes closed, relaxing and massaging her neck. At the top left of the page is the tagline, “Come home to your senses.” The Steamist logo is at the bottom right of the panel.

The design is simple, rendered in black and white with dramatic lighting (actually four-color black and white, to give the impression of a monochrome image while presumably extending the tonal range in the custom printing of the photos). The words are all caps in simple, thin sans serif type with generous leading between the lines and generous letterspacing between the letters. The type is reversed out of the black-to-gray background gradient. Your eye goes to the “come home to your senses” tagline first, then to the model’s face, then down her arms to the surprinted Steamist logo.

This panel works because it leads your eye from the top left to the bottom right, leaving you anxious to turn the page. It’s simple and effective. “Relax in luxury” is the message.

Effective Folds

When you open the first panel (and then each successive panel), you are presented with a tightly cropped photo on the left and then a three- or four-line message (one or two all-caps words per line) on the right. Each successive photo highlights one sense (taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight), referencing music, fragrance, and luxury in the promotional text. The black and white photos distinguish the brochure from its peers in a direct marketing world of full-color images. The high-key lighting of the images and the deep shadows also create a sense of drama.

As you unfold each panel, you see the main text in silver. Below the all-cap heads, you can read brief paragraphs in small, reversed type. Then, as you open the wrap-fold brochure panel by panel, you see the logo repeated at the bottom of each right-hand page. This reinforces the branding.

Finally, as you open the brochure completely, you see a two-panel spread with a white background and small four-color images. This page spread gives you more information on the spa experience, but what makes it work is the contrast between the white editorial space on these two panels and the full-bleed images (or dark backgrounds with reversed text) on all the other panels. With the brochure completely unfolded, your gaze goes directly to the 4-color images and text on the far right, while the white background echos the highlights in the preceding photos of the model’s nose, hand, ear, mouth, and eye.

A single-page insert accompanies the brochure. At the top of the sheet, the same typeface as used in the brochure offers a rebate in large letters reversed out of a black-to-gray gradation. Below the gradation is a list of store locations and the logo again. The contrast between the multi-fold brochure and the single sheet of contact information creates a nice visual rhythm.

Paper Choice and Coating

The commercial printing paper seems to be a 100# coated text sheet augmented with alternating dull or gloss UV for contrast (gloss on the letter forms of the headlines, dull on the background black-to-gray gradations, and gloss on the images).

Why It Works

The entire marketing piece works for several reasons:

  1. The concept of experiencing the spa with the five senses lends itself to a multi-panel brochure illustrating each of the senses, and the design of the brochure makes the reader focus on each sense, one at a time (using both words and tightly cropped images).
  2. The graphic design and the folding lead the viewer from panel to panel. In all cases, it is clear where to look next. So there is a sense of rhythm and movement through the promotional piece.
  3. The thick commercial printing paper, subtle use of gloss and dull coatings in contrast with one another, and overall sophistication of the type choices, page layout, and color usage provide a consistent tone of luxury, sensuality, and relaxation.

What You Can Learn from this Brochure

  1. Think about the overall message when you’re designing a brochure. Make sure everything–from the layout grid to the typefaces to the color usage to the paper choice–is consistent with your marketing message.
  2. Do the unexpected. In a world of color, consider the sophistication of four-color black and white.
  3. Consider how you want the reader’s eye to travel through the brochure. Make sure the layout and the choice of folds facilitate—rather than impede—this eye movement.

Designing & Printing: Five Tips for Designing with Images

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Here are a few ideas you may want to consider when designing newsletters, directories, annual reports, or other print products containing multiple images.

Standardize Portraits in Directories, Annual Reports, and Newsletters

I just received a sample printed directory and noticed something odd about the photos. They had been shot by different photographers, so the backgrounds were different, the lighting was not the same, and the cropping of the photos left different sized heads within the standardized 1” x 1.5” image frames.

In general, I would say that this is distracting. One of the qualities of good graphic design is standardization: of type, of the design grid, and of images.

Therefore, it is wise to either shoot (or acquire) images in which the backgrounds contain similar colors and are nondescript. After all, the goal is to focus your reader’s attention on the foreground of the photos rather than the background. In addition, it is wise to crop your images to keep the heads (and hands, or other similar elements of the photos) proportional to one another.

The human eye is lightning fast in recognizing patterns. Image-heavy printed documents such as annual reports, directories, and such, will often include photos with similar compositions. Newsletters may also include similar photos, such as images of people giving or receiving awards.

The reader’s eye will see both the pattern within multiple photos and a break in the pattern if your images differ in composition. This is often a challenge to remedy, obviously, since you can’t always control the source from which the images come. At a time like this, sometimes all you can do is be aware of the problem, strive for uniformity at least in the cropping and size of the people, and move on.

At this point you may also want to check for color casts in photos. If all of the photos have predominantly blue backgrounds, and one of your sources submitted a head shot with a reddish cast in the background, this will stand out and look odd. Therefore, you may want to adjust the color in Photoshop.

Scan Signatures at Sufficient Resolution

Images include more than just photos. They also include line art. While you would scan a photo at twice the halftone line screen the custom printing supplier will use (300 dpi, for example, for a 150-line halftone screen), you would need much higher resolution for line art.

For instance, if your newsletter or annual report will include a letter from the CEO, you will probably need to scan his or her signature. It is wise to scan the image at 1000 or 1200 dpi to minimize the jagged edges that result from scanning line art. (That is, you want the image dots that make up the signature to be as small as possible.) I’d also scan the image as line art within the “bitmap” mode in Photoshop rather than within the “grayscale” or color modes (RGB or CMYK). A black-only image that you colorize within the page layout software (InDesign) will have crisper edges than one you have scanned in color or grayscale.

Be Conscious of the Color Space of Your Images

You will probably scan directly into RGB mode. This is appropriate for computer screens (Internet design, multimedia, etc.) but not for offset or digital custom printing. So remember to change the color space of each image from RGB to CMYK before handing off the job to the printer. It’s easy to forget. So use the “Links” panel in InDesign, highlight each image in the list, and check the bottom of the window to confirm the correct “color space.”

Save Images As TIFFs for Offset and Digital Custom Printing

If you receive a digital scan as a JPEG, that’s fine. However, once you have opened the files and adjusted the images for your commercial printing vendor, save the images as TIFFs. If you need to compress them to make the files smaller, specify LZW compression. JPEG is a “lossy” compression algorithm. Each time you save an image to the JPEG file format, you delete digital information and therefore reduce the quality of the image to make the file smaller. In contrast, LZW compression is a “lossless” algorithm. It does not damage the photos.

Avoid Both Blur and Excessive Sharpening in Photos

If your images are blurry, that’s a problem. However, if you use a sharpening tool in Photoshop such as “unsharp mask,” and you do this to excess, you may add halos to portions of your images. Too sharp is just as bad as not sharp enough. Unsharp masking increases the contrast between adjacent tones, and this fools the eye into seeing a sharper image. But taken to an extreme, this makes the image look unnatural.

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

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

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

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

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

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

Marketing Book Identifies Qualities That Make Such a Promotion Memorable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Technical Specifications of the LCD Video Book

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

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

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

Book Printing: Paper Substitution and Other Ways to Lower Costs

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A book printing client of mine told me today that she wanted to go with “Printer A,” but unless the printer could lower its price by $2,000, she would have to award the book to “Printer B.” As a commercial printing broker, I had negotiated prices with both printers. Although I trusted both vendors, I knew Printer A would meet the delivery deadline, period. I knew my client’s schedule would be tight, and she and I both agreed that Printer A would therefore be the ideal choice. But what to do about the price?

My client asked whether Printer A would negotiate to win the job. Although many printers I work with will in fact negotiate pricing, this printer would not (which I can respect). I don’t consider such a request to be “cheating” in any way. After all, there are other variables beyond price, such as quality, customer service, materials, delivery, and schedule. Still, I had been very impressed with Printer A’s quality and turn-around in prior years, so I wanted them to get the work, and so did my client.

The Option I Suggested to My Client

I offered my client an option, and she came up with a second one of her own. My option was to ask the printer for a paper substitution.

The job in question is a 300-page, 6” x 9” trade book printed on Finch Fine text stock. My client likes the brightness, whiteness, smooth formation, and thickness (or caliper, or bulk) of Finch, as well as its opacity (light-stopping power), which keeps images on one side of the sheet from being visible through the other side of the sheet.

Finch is not the only paper with these qualities, though. In addition, all of these qualities are measurable on various scales and can be compared from sheet to sheet and brand to brand. For example, the brightness of Finch is 98 on a scale of 100. Lynx, another sheet produced by another paper mill (Domtar), has a brightness of 96. To the unaided eye, the two printing stocks may be sufficiently close, if the cost difference works. (Of course, my client would need to see printed and unprinted samples before making such a decision.)

Some book printers buy Finch Fine in bulk and use it as their house sheet, while others may choose an alternate sheet to keep on the pressroom floor. Given the discounts many printers can negotiate with paper mills for large paper purchases, choosing a particular text stock can add up to either a savings or a premium, depending on your book printer’s buying habits.

In fact, a few years ago I had solicited a bid for the same print book and had received pricing from a print supplier who made a paper substitution without telling me. It was only because I saw a different caliper for the paper than I had expected within the specifications of the estimate that I questioned the bid. The sales rep confessed: there had been a paper substitution. When I asked for Finch Fine stock instead, the book printer’s revised price went up several thousand dollars. For this particular printer, Finch Fine was definitely not the house sheet.

So we’ll see what kind of revised pricing comes back from Printer A for this year’s book. My only concern is that the press run may be too short to realize an adequate savings (i.e., press run multiplied by page count multiplied by the savings per hundred weight cost of the paper, if there is in fact a savings). But we’ll see. We only need to lower the price $2,000.00.

My Client’s Thoughts on Lowering Costs

I had mentioned that my client came up with a plan for an additional savings. Her fulfillment house had moved and now had a loading dock in their new location. What this means is that the delivery truck could back up and offload one or more skids rather than numerous separate cartons of print books. Clearly it’s much easier to move one heavy, wrapped skid of books with a lift than to move cartons one, or a few, at a time. Perhaps this would add to the savings my client would reap. Every dollar would help meet the budget.

Asking for the Book Printer’s Suggestions

When I asked the book printer if we would save money by changing the paper stock and perhaps delivering wrapped skids rather than cartons, I also asked him to make any other suggestions he could think of based on the specifications for the print book. (It always helps to approach the printer as a partner. After all, he may have ideas you haven’t considered yet.)

Why You Should Care

After receiving a number of bids on a print job, it’s common to have a preferred vendor. Usually it’s because you’ve had a number of years of positive experiences with that vendor. If their price is a little high, and they can’t lower it for any number of reasons, don’t take this as a show of bad faith. Just look for other options.

Specifying paper by its qualities rather than its brand can open up avenues for savings. Discussing options for delivery (or, as in this case, packaging) can open up other areas for savings.

This kind of negotiating says something a good printer will want to hear: that you appreciate the quality, service, and schedule he provides enough to want to find a way to work with him.

PS: The Final Answer

Today, as I was completing this article, I heard back from the printer. He could lower the overall price by the requested amount to meet my client’s budget. He had shopped around for paper deals, and he would buy the same Finch Fine paper stock in rolls rather than sheets. Cartoned paper costs more than rolls. The printer had recently installed “sheeting” equipment, so he could prepare the paper for the sheetfed press, taking it from the web roll and chopping into the required dimensions. What a wonderful answer. If you’re in the same spot, ask your printer if he can buy rolls and “sheet” the paper.

Offset Printing: Respect the Limits of Offset Printing

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re designing any custom printing project. It is unbelievably easy to forget them.

Variation in Colors

If you plan to use a color build on a number of pages within signature work, such as a print book, keep in mind that there will be color variation across the press sheet and particularly from press signature to press signature.

Let’s say that you have a background area screen that will appear on all pages within a section of the book. If you have other four-color images, or heavy-coverage solid colors, within the signature, your book printer may need to adjust the inks on press to keep the photos true to color throughout the press run. In this case, you may find a color shift within the area screens if you lay one page of the print book beside another.

To sidestep this issue, consider adding a separate PMS ink for the background instead of building the background color with process inks. A PMS color will remain exactly the same throughout the press run, whether or not the book printer needs to adjust the process inks. This will cost a little more, but if you’re already printing your job on a five- or six-color press, this added amount should be minimal (perhaps a few hundred dollars). And it’s money well spent.

Crossover Alignment

Commercial printing is an art as well as a science. As noted above, there are variations in both printing and finishing. It is important to remember that finishing equipment is not 100 percent exact. If you extend type or a graphic from one page to another in multi-page signature work (such as a print book), the left-hand page (called the “verso”) portion of the image may not align precisely with the right-hand page (called the “recto”) portion of the image.

There are a few ways around this problem (or, rather, limitation of offset lithography). If you position the crossover image within the center spread of the signature (the two pages that are side by side on the press sheet), your image can cross over from the left-hand page to the right-hand page without any misalignment (after all, they’re side by side on the sheet, unlike all other pages in the press form).

Another solution, which is less effective, is to avoid placing images that cross over diagonally from one page to another in a signature, and avoid having thin lines cross over from the left-hand to the right-hand pages. Thicker crossover images are a little more forgiving than thinner ones, just as horizontal crossovers are more forgiving than diagonal ones. (This really has more to do with the limitations of the human eye.) And as noted in the preceding section, the colors on the left-hand page won’t exactly match those on the right-hand page unless you’re using a PMS (rather than a process color build).

Total Area Coverage

Presumably, if you’re designing a four-color product, you can specify 100 percent ink coverage for each of the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). In reality, this is not wise. If you’re printing on newsprint, you’ll get a sticky mess of paper and ink. Sheetfed printing on gloss stock will be slightly more forgiving, but the mass of ink will never completely dry.

In offset custom printing, only so much ink can either sit up on top of a coated press sheet or seep into the fibers of an uncoated press sheet without compromising either the paper or the printing process. For sheetfed printing on gloss or dull stock, you can usually get away with 340 percent total area coverage (the sum of all process inks: for example c100m80y60k100). For newsprint, you would want to lower the total area coverage to approximately 240 percent (for example c60m80y20k80), or less.

These percentages are just starting points. Ask your commercial printing vendor what the target percentages should be for the paper you’re using and for his particular printing press. It is quite possible to get deep, rich colors on press without adding excessive amounts of ink.

Custom Printing: Options for Garment Decoration

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

In my summer travels to Ocean City, I’ve been paying close attention to improvements in fabric printing. During numerous trips to clothing stores with my fiancee in search of bathing suits, I have become aware of new developments in garment decoration. Trips to the Ocean City boardwalk have also sparked my interest in fabric printing as I have seen similar improvements in t-shirt printing.

Let me be more specific. I have seen images printed in vibrant colors on bikinis with almost continuous tone photographic quality. I have also seen thick, rubberized, single color custom screen printing on everything from t-shirts to soda can cooling sleeves.

In all cases I’ve asked myself how the effect was accomplished, and unable to answer completely, I have done some online research.

Inkjet vs. Dye Sublimation

Both inkjet and dye sublimation technologies can be used to decorate garments. The determining factor seems to be the substrate. A cotton garment would be ideally suited for direct-to-garment custom printing via inkjet technology, whereas a polyester garment would be better suited to dye sublimation custom printing.

For inkjet garment printing, the printheads of the inkjet equipment make a pass across the t-shirt (for example), which is mounted flat on a platen (a garment holder). The printheads spray the ink onto the surface of the cotton fabric. With today’s inkjet equipment, this can be done at very high resolution, hence the photographic quality images.

In contrast, for printing on polyester garments, inkjet equipment is used to print special sublimation dyes onto a carrier sheet called “dye sublimation transfer paper.” This paper is then laid over the garment, and the heat and pressure of a “heat press” cause the dyes to turn from a solid directly into a gas (skipping the interim liquid state and therefore called “sublimation”). The gas dye molecules enter the actual fabric (instead of staying on top of the fabric, as do inkjet inks). When the garment is cooled and the dye sublimation transfer paper is removed, you have a vibrant image that won’t fade or peel, and that will withstand repeated washings.

What About Blended Fabrics?

So if you have a cotton or polyester garment to work with, you know what technology to choose. But what about blended fabrics? From my research I’ve learned that both inkjet and dye sublimation will work with blended fabrics, but that the coloration may be faded or washed out. What I find interesting about this is that the images printed on the swimsuits in the Ocean City stores were blindingly bright, crisp, and fully saturated.

So What Was I looking At?

Based on my research, I would take an educated guess that the swimsuits, being a polyester product, had been decorated using dye sublimation technology. Furthermore, I would say that the intensity of the custom printing dyes support this educated guess.

Rubber Inks

The thick, single colors of ink printed on the hats, some shirts, and the foam rubber soda can cooling sleeves I saw on the boardwalk seemed to be the products of an altogether different process.

The inks were thick, solid colors. And the artwork was simple line art. My first thought was that these had been samples of custom screen printing. But the ink on the t-shirts was much more flexible than I had remembered from prior years. It seemed to be almost rubberized, much softer and more pliable than the screen printing inks I was used to. (I even checked a screen printed messenger bag I had at home, and the screen printed logo was much rougher than the screen printed ink on the products at the beach.)

I thought the inks might be latex based, but in my research I learned that latex inks are really more of an environmentally friendly alternative to solvent based inkjet printing inks. Ostensibly, these would also have more of a plastic surface than a rubberized surface.

So I did some more research and found that rubber based inks do in fact exist. They are used for textile custom printing, and they give the texture of rubber, coat evenly, and are opaque. Given my findings, I would make another educated guess: that the new products in Ocean City had been screen printed with rubberized inks. (The product literature for the rubberized inks discussed types of squeegies and referenced the thickness of the ink—both items or qualities indicative of custom screen printing.)

Do I know for sure? No, since there were no commercial fabric printers on-site in the stores, but I’ll still stand by my guess.

Why You Should Care

Large format fabric printing (inkjet, dye-sub, and screen printing) seems to be growing and becoming more technologically sophisticated in an era when other types of custom printing are waning. Designers and printers may want to take note.

Book Printing: Short-Run, Multi-Signature Books

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

As I noted in the last blog entry, I’m brokering a multi-signature print book for a client.

The Specifications of the Book

To recap the specs, the directory is 194 pages, 4” x 9”, printed on a 60# white matte text stock in 4-color process inks with bleeds. The book printer will need to provide only the book blocks (no covers or binding), drilled (26 holes) for the insertion of Wire-O binding by my client. Press runs could range from 100 copies to 5,000 copies.

Response from the Printers

I received responses from three printers today to the specs I had distributed yesterday. They fell into three general areas:

Quality of Custom Printing

The first printer to respond asked about the level of quality needed for the print book. I mentioned that the book included images of senators and representatives, but that these images were smaller than 1” x 1”. Moreover, the images came from various sources so they were not of consistent quality. Other than these images, the book included full-bleed area screens (one was approximately 10 percent cyan, and the other was solid yellow with approximately a 5 percent dot screen of magenta).

In simplest terms, these specifications indicate that a printer can provide “pleasing color” rather than “critical color” work. My client is not printing a marketing work highlighting automotive, food, or fashion images, which would require critical color reproduction.

Beyond this assessment of the “level of quality” needed, what the printer was really asking was whether he could print the book on a lower-end digital press that would not match the level of quality of offset lithography. He also had an HP Indigo as well as the lower-end, 4-color digital press, but the Indigo was at another location. I told him that quick turn-around was essential due to the timely nature of the print book’s content. I wanted to see samples, but I thought my client would find the quality acceptable.

Size of the Job

Another printer “no-bid” the job completely. This vendor has an HP Indigo, which might be appropriate for the shorter runs of the book (100 to 300 copies), but, if I remember correctly, the vendor’s main offset equipment is a 20” x 26” sheetfed press. This would be too small a sheet size to produce large enough signatures (ideally 32-page signatures, with two rows of eight 4” x 9” pages on either side of the press sheet).

My client’s job would tie up this printer’s press for too long, potentially bumping other work out of production for long periods. I can respect this. (Again, this is only my assumption, since the response from this commercial printing vendor was just that the job was too large.)

Transition from Digital to Offset

Another large book printer responded to the bid request but said his shop would need to start offset production at 1,500 copies. Below that, he would need to provide digital output. Furthermore, he would need to print the digital books on 50# matte stock rather than 60#.

Interestingly enough, the first book printer would need to produce his digital copies on 70# matte stock rather than 60#. For this book printer, the cut-off point at which digital would cease to be cost effective would be the 300-copy mark (300 copies of a 192-page book at 4” x 9”). From 100 to 300 copies, he would provide digital printing; upwards from there, he would provide offset printing.

Another Option Entirely

This is preliminary, but I have also been in contact with a fourth printer with an HP T230, a web-fed inkjet press designed for books, promotional materials, and newspapers. This may be a game changer. There are only 61 presses like this in the world.

This press can accept multiple-width rolls of printing paper (8” to 22”) and print variable data 4-color process work at a speed of up to 400 feet per minute. Moreover, the “printable frame length” is 11” to 72” , which would provide an addressable image area of 22” x 72”. For a 4” x 9” book, that would allow for two rows of 16 pages (16 pages x 4” wide plus bleeds, with one row above the other on one side of the press sheet and the same configuration on the back of the form).

The press can “duplex”: i.e., print both sides of the sheet at once. With a row of 16 pages on top and a row on the bottom, and then the same number of pages on the back of the sheet, we would have a 64-page signature. The book could then be printed in three press runs rather than six (i.e., in half the time).

In addition, the HP T230 web-fed inkjet press provides output comparable to the HP Indigo digital press.

This new digital press may just bring a lot of 4-color book printing back into the US from China.

What You Can Learn

  1. Don’t assume all printers have the same press equipment. Share your printing specs with a number of printers and see how each would produce the job and for how much.
  2. Consider the quality you will need. This is only one aspect of the job. Price and turn-around time are also important. If your job has small photos, “pleasing” color may be enough. You may not need “critical color.”

Book Printing: Approaching a Client’s New Print Directory

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

A client came to me me today with a new variable-data custom printing job. It’s a directory of congressional information–names and data–and my client wants to be able to change various names in the text and then print 100, 500, maybe even 1,000 copies.

I want to share with you how I’m approaching this job, because you may want to consider your options in a similar way when you’re faced with such a custom printing challenge. You may even want to address your options for workflow, custom printing technology, and materials in much the same logical, step-by-step way that you would approach a word problem in a math class.

The Specs for My Client’s Print Book

The directory is 194 pages, 4” x 9”, printed on a 60# white matte text stock in 4-color process inks with bleeds. The book printer will need to provide only the book blocks (no covers or binding), drilled (26 holes) for the insertion of Wire-O binding by my client. (My client has a warehouse and the requisite equipment and skills for attaching the covers and mechanically binding the book.) The book printer will need to add a paper slip-sheet between each print book block to facilitate my client’s grabbing one copy at a time for the addition of covers and for binding.

The Variable Data in the Print Book

My client and I can approach the variable data in two ways. If the change in names (personalization within selected pages of the book) will be the same over the course of 100 to 1,000 books, the job really is more of a “versioned” product than a variable data job. (I think of variable data work as incorporating changes in names and addresses on a unit-by-unit basis. That is, each printed item is slightly different and is geared to a specific, named recipient. In this case, the goal is to hand off stacks of identical books to a client. For each new press run, my client can revise the master copy (adding different names) and print 100 to 1,000 print books for the new client.

Alternatively, the book printer could devise a computer database application that would make the name changes automatically, but this would just shift responsibility from the client to the printer. It could even cost more than my client’s producing her own InDesign “master file” for each version of the book. In addition, my client would still need to check the book printer’s work.

Therefore, my client is willing to start with a master InDesign file and then change it as needed for each version. Every time the names change within selected pages of my client’s directory, the printer will use a new InDesign file.

Printing Options (A Change in Plans)

Approaching the print book in this way necessitated a change in plans. I had initially expected to choose a printer based on their database skills and their digital printing capabilities, but this might not be needed, given my client’s willingness to provide a series of complete InDesign print book files with a new title for each version.

Approaching the job in this way will allow for either digital printing or offset printing.

My next step was to draw a press sheet for each option, leaving enough space around the 4” x 8” pages for bleeds. I knew that for an offset press, I could assume the press sheet would be approximately 20” x 26”, 25” x 38”, or 28” x 40”. Or at least this would be a good starting point. If I lined up eight 4” x 9” pages across the top of the press sheet and eight pages immediately below these, and then duplicated the layout for the reverse side of the press sheet, I could “impose” a double-sided, 32-page press signature.

This would take up 32” (4” x 8 pages; on the 38” or 40” width of the press sheet, plus room for bleeds) in the horizontal direction and 18” in the vertical direction (9” x 2 rows; on the 25” or 28” height of the press sheet, plus room for bleeds). Obviously the 20” x 26” sheet size wouldn’t work. It would be too small. So I abandoned that idea. To minimize waste, the book printer would probably use the 25” x 38” press sheet size.

This configuration would necessitate six different press runs (six signatures) to complete a 192-page book. Perhaps I could find a book printer with a larger press and increase the number of pages in a signature (i.e., larger signatures would mean that the book would require fewer press runs).

The number of separate press runs gave me pause. If a digital press like an HP Indigo accommodates a 13” x 19” sheet size (approximately), then it would take forever to print even 100 books, let alone 1,000. Maybe the digital printer will have some idea I hadn’t thought of for producing the print book digitally, but I’m expecting this will be an offset custom printing job at this point.

How to Find a Printer

Local: My client wants the book to be produced locally. The information in the directory is time-sensitive, so there’s no time to ship printed book blocks across the country. Next-day delivery will be essential.

General Location: I have vendors I work with in the Shenandoah and in Richmond. Both are less expensive due to the overhead in the particular location. I could go to a Florida printer or to one in the Midwest, but this would take too long for shipping.

Large-format Presses: Under the circumstances (multiple book signatures), I’m thinking of printers with large-format presses: at least a 40” press and perhaps a 50” press. A dedicated book printer will be more likely to have such equipment.

Web vs. Sheetfed:
Could this be a web job? That will depend on the final press run. For a 100-copy run (100 books x 6 signatures), the book-copy count would be too small for a web press run. For 1,000 copies of a 6 signature book, the job would still probably be too small. So I’d want a sheetfed printer.

Commercial vs. Book Printer: A dedicated book printer would be more likely to have the equipment and skill required for this job, and therefore would probably provide a lower bid than a commercial printer.

The next step will be to go to work finding a handful of printers that fit these requirements. So far, I have four in mind. Then I’ll distribute specification sheets and see what they can offer.

What You Can Learn from This

  1. Break down a complex job like this into smaller steps.
  2. Consider appropriate equipment (digital vs. offset, sheetfed offset vs. web offset).
  3. Consider the best way to prepare the art files. For versioned work, or even variable data work, make sure the printer is skilled and has the appropriate database equipment. Will the job lend itself to in-house preparation (at your shop) or to more preparation work at the printer’s shop?
  4. Consider the size of your printer’s equipment. Larger presses (40” or 50” presses) will cut down the number of signatures and therefore the number of press runs. A small press (20” x 26”) might be too small for your job.
  5. Consider location. A local printer can get you the completed job faster. Also, printers in some locations might have lower overhead, and this might show up in lower estimates.

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