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Archive for May, 2014

Large Format Printing: Kornit and Mimaki Garment Presses

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Ever since I saw the complexity and the stunning color of the new fabric-printed beachwear during my recent summer trips to the Eastern Shore, I have been a student of fabric printing. The advances in this technology are intriguing as well as beautiful.

So when I recently saw two articles about new large format printing equipment for fabric, I thought I’d share them with you.

Printer #1: Kornit Avalanche Hexa Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Printer

The first article, “Top Promotions Installs Kornit Avalanche Hexa DTG Printer” (10/25/13, www fibre2fashion.com) describes Kornit’s new printing equipment, which offers the following features and benefits:

  1. The Kornit Avalanche includes a six-color, plus white, inkset. This expands the color gamut by 30 percent, allowing the Avalanche to match a multitude of spot colors for logos and other branded graphics.
  2. The white ink feature allows users to print on dark fabrics without compromising the intensity of the ink colors.
  3. The Avalanche uses NeoPigment inks, which offer the benefits of pigmented inks without the liabilities. Specifically, these inks are manufactured to meet rigorous environmental standards while being more efficient than dye-based inks. The inks also allow for shorter production times since they do not necessitate pre-treating the fabric, and this increased efficiency shows up in lower production costs.
  4. The NeoPigment inks are also durable, and they stand up to repeated washings without degrading.
  5. The Kornit Avalanche can print on multiple types of fabric while maintaining a soft hand (that is, the feel of the printed fabric is still soft and supple).

Printer #2: Mimaki Tx500-1800B Digital Textile Printer

The second article, “Mimaki Adds to Digital Textile Range with Tx500-1800B Launch” (10/25/13, www.printweek.com, by Simon Nias), showcases Mimaki’s offerings in the same general arena as the Kornit Avalanche (i.e., direct-to-fabric digital textile printing).

Here are some of the features and benefits of Mimaki’s printer:

  1. The Tx500-1800B “can print reactive dye, sublimation dye, acid dye, and pigment inks, making it compatible with a range of pre-treated fabrics, including: cotton; silk, nylon and wool; polyester or transfer paper.” (www.printweek.com). This provides huge breadth, both in terms of inks and substrates.
  2. The Tx500-1800B is 1.5 times as fast as its predecessor (the Mimaki Tx400). Faster speeds with this “eight pass bi-directional printing” (www.printweek.com) yield lower production costs. At 600 x 1200 dpi resolution, the Tx500 will print up to 45 square meters per hour (in 4-color) or 22 square meters per hour (in 8-color).
  3. The printer incorporates a conveyor belt to feed the fabric substrate without tension, allowing the use of elastic fabrics.
  4. The Tx500 includes a “variable dot function” that provides “rich gradation without banding” and “accurate printing of fine lines.” (www.printweek.com)
  5. When compared to other fabric custom printing methods, the Tx500 requires less ink and water. This reduces both the cost of the process and its environmental impact.

Implications of the Advances in Fabric Custom Printing Technology

I see two major implications of this new direction in direct-to-garment custom printing:

  1. The speed, quality, and reduced costs, as well as the ever increasing number of substrates available for use in direct-to-garment presses, will speed up the transition from such traditional technologies as custom screen printing to the digital alternatives.
  2. Digital custom printing of garments and fabrics will allow for short press runs and personalized printing on a multitude of fabric substrates. This will foster mass customization and prototyping, since there will be no need to spend heavily on preparation. Short runs will be as economical as longer runs.

The Future of Printed Garments

I think the future of direct-to-garment and direct-to-fabric printing will be very bright. I look forward to my trips to the beach next year. I expect to see ever-increasing complexity, high resolution, and vibrant colors in the printed fabric designs, as well as garments produced using an increasing variety of fabrics.

Commercial Printing: Print Ads, a Portal to E-Commerce

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

While reading CIO magazine today, I was pleased to see an article on the commercial printing industry in this IT periodical. Actually, the article, entitled “Photo Finishes the Sale,” written by Mary K. Pratt and published in the May 1, 2014, issue of CIO, focuses more on mobile e-commerce than on custom printing. It describes technology that would allow a reader of a print catalog (or magazine) to point a camera phone at an ad (let’s say an ad for clothing), invoke an image recognition application, and be sent immediately to a mobile purchasing site, making it unnecessary for the reader to visit the retailer’s website.

Granted this is e-commerce. However, the sale begins with a photo in a print ad. Clearly, print isn’t going away.

Omnichannel Marketing: Advertising Across All Media

The CIO magazine article references “omnichannel” marketing as the newest and perhaps most efficient marketing tool. That is, by creating a seamless flow for the potential buyer–through all of the media he or she consumes in a day, including print media, desktop computers, tablets, mobile phones, and even the in-store experience with its print signage and product displays–a retailer can dramatically increase the likelihood of a sale.

To go even further, the CIO magazine article quotes the aspirations of Hudson Bay Co.’s senior vice president of corporate strategy, Ryan Craver, who “hopes the technology may someday allow a customer to use a smartphone to scan a product pictured on a sign, displayed on a mannequin or hanging on a store rack and then read about or order it right then and there.”

According to “Photo Finishes the Sale,” the key is a “frictionless” transaction: hence, the goal of bypassing the retailer’s website and going right to the point of sale. As the CIO article notes, “The mobile purchasing capability lets customers follow through instantly when they see something intriguing while paging through the newspaper or an ad circular.”

This means the retailer needs to keep the potential client “engaged” by making the whole buying experience easy and immediate.

But as a student of commercial printing, I find this very encouraging for another reason: the implicit assumption that people are, and will continue to be, using print catalogs, newspapers, and ad circulars for their reading enjoyment and as an aid in their purchasing decisions.

Technical Information on Image Recognition

The process depends on a mobile application called Pounce. According to “Photo Finishes the Sale,” vendors give Pounce (the company, not the application) materials related to an upcoming advertising initiative in advance of the sale. The application will then direct the viewer to the vendor’s mobile site using image recognition software. The potential client can then access photos and product information as well as actually make the purchase.

Interestingly enough, at this point the image recognition software only recognizes those images fed into the system by the retailers. A potential buyer could not take a photo of just any item of clothing and make a purchase or even find the item in a local store. The interested party would need to take a photo of the specific print advertisement and then access the specific vendor’s mobile site.

That said, this is still encouraging news and exciting technology. After all, just a little while ago, people were pointing their phone cameras at QR codes to access online information. Now, applications like Pounce are in place to transfer a buyer to a buying opportunity using actual photos—in printed publications.

New Directions for Image Recognition Technology

For me the article implies a number of possibilities:

  1. First of all, print ads will stay relevant. They are part of the omnichannel buying experience. This can also include such print products as posters or even building wraps (i.e., large format print signage). All of these can be the starting point for a sale.
  2. Even though the image recognition application needs to already have the visual information in its database for the hand-off from advertisement to mobile e-commerce site to occur, in the near future I expect the capabilities of image recognition applications like Pounce to expand. As “Photo Finishes the Sale” implies (in comments by Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask), location-based applications paired with the image recognition software may even allow potential buyers to find nearby brick-and-mortar stores that sell the items they want to buy.
  3. Even though the CIO magazine article doesn’t explicitly mention this, NFC (near field communication) chips in posters or other large format print signage or point-of-purchase displays may soon facilitate such mobile transactions. A poster with an NFC chip will be able to send potential buyers with smartphones directly to a mobile site where they can buy the products they want.

Opportunities abound in this arena. Apparently, they will incorporate printed media into the process.

Large Format Printing: Diecutting Intricacies of Standees

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

My fiancee and I installed a standee for Rio 2 tonight in a local theater. As I inserted all 57 screws, I came to appreciate the intricacy of its diecutting, scoring, and pattern gluing. Actually, it was more than intricate. It was precise. Everything that had been scored could be folded correctly, and everything drilled with holes for screws went together perfectly, too, in the almost three-hour assembly.

Description of the Standee

First of all, picture a multitude of cartoon birds and other creatures of various sorts draped over a 12-foot wide structure consisting of a cardboard wall resting on a wide pedestal. The title of the movie, Rio 2, is a three-dimensional construct attached to the center of the wall and surrounded by the birds, monkeys, a dog, a panther, etc.

Beyond the humor and aesthetic appeal of the standee in its brilliant coloration, the surprising thing is that it all goes together correctly. Everything fits where it should.

A Close Look at the Diecutting

If you check the instructions for the standee (imagine an IKEA assembly booklet for an exclusively paper and cardboard printed product), the first page shows drawings of all component parts of the large format print structure. All diecut tabs and slots are visible in the drawing, as are all screw holes and scores for folding. (The instruction book always rewards a close reading prior to installation.)

This is just the first page. It precedes up to about twelve pages of detailed instructions, depending on the complexity of the standee.

If you look at the drawings of the “lugs,” the diecut graphic elements (all the animals and birds), you will see the incredibly intricate diecutting around the silhouette of each animal. Tabs on the lugs fit into slots all around and all over the background. That’s how they stay attached to the box.

In many cases, cardboard easel backs have been attached to the diecut birds and other animals extending above the background box with hot-melt spot glue. These lugs must be screwed onto the top of the background box using nuts and bolts. In some cases, extra chipboard has been spot glued onto thin or fragile portions of the lugs to strengthen them.

What struck me tonight about the diecutting and drilling was that the easels had to be folded in a certain way before the screws could be inserted, and the seven or eight creatures poised on the top of the box all had easels that folded and fit exactly, with the screw holes precisely where I needed them to be. Wow. That’s accuracy, and forethought on the part of the designer.

Thinking Like a Designer

I could envision the designer producing the art for this (approximately) 8-foot x 12-foot x 2-foot large format print standee on a powerful computer workstation, but unlike a brochure or print book, the designer had to think in three dimensions and precisely position all folding lines, drill holes, tabs, and slots in such a way that when the job went to press, it would be completely flat, but once printed it could be assembled into a three-dimensional structure of amazing complexity.

This is hard mental work. And if it’s wrong, that’s a huge waste of money.

Thinking Like a Printer

I could envision the sides of the background box structure being laid out on a flat press sheet for custom printing via flexography (rubber relief plates printing ink directly onto fluted corrugated board).

I could envision the birds, monkeys, etc., all being laid out on large commercial printing sheets for offset lithographic printing, and then being laminated to corrugated board.

I could see the metal dies for the contours of the bird feathers, and dog and panther silhouettes, as well as the tabs, slots, and drill holes, being positioned so as to cut precisely through the 4-color press sheets laminated to the corrugated board.

And I could realize just how easy it would be to get something, anything, wrong.

Why You Should Care

Many, or even most, of you will probably not have an opportunity to design and produce a large format print movie standee. However, you might just need to produce a three-dimensional product, perhaps a POP stand that holds products or food, or maybe a small standee for a drugstore chain or department store (if you look closely, there are standees everywhere, not just in movie theaters).

If so, you will need to think in three dimensions. You will need to think in terms of creating a structure that will be rigid and functionally sound (if it needs to hold a product). You will need to consider the tools at your disposal beyond ink on paper (such as folding, gluing, diecutting, scoring, and drilling). And you will need to consider the requirements and limitations of the custom printing and finishing techniques at your disposal.

To open your mind to these options, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to look closely at a movie standee.

Book Printing: Different Printers/Different Capabilities

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

In prior blog postings, I have written about a 450-page, 8.5” x 11” book I’ve been working on with a client of mine. My client and her boss have looked at a number of press runs (from 1,600 to 10,000 copies) and binding options (perfect binding and plastic coil binding). I have approached digital printers (with the new HP T230 web-fed inkjet press), sheetfed printers, and web offset printers.

It has actually been quite a learning experience for me, albeit a much longer print brokering process than most. But my client is printing savvy, so she has sought my counsel and pricing multiple times throughout the print book design process.

What I noticed this week in reviewing the last set of estimates is that different printers have different equipment, skills, and capabilities. I know I have said as much in prior blogs, but I was clearly reminded of this fact once again.

Different Prices from Two Book Printing Vendors

I had already requested and received pricing for 2,000 and 2,500 copies of this print book produced on an HP T230 web fed inkjet press from a vendor in the South. The prices were quite good, but I wanted to get a few more bids to be sure.

The second printer could produce the job via web-offset printing technology for close to the same price as the digital printer’s bid (about $5,000–or 13 percent—more on the 2,000 run and $4,000–or 10 percent–less on the 2,500 copy press run).

First of all, this was useful information, and it also made sense. The 2,000-copy press run of the 450-page book as produced via digital printing was a more appropriate match of technology to page count and press run than was the web offset version. However, as the press run rose from 2,000 copies to 2,500 copies, the appropriate technology for the job changed from digital printing to offset printing.

That said, once plastic coil binding came into the mix, the second vendor couldn’t match the capabilities of the first.

Comparing Plastic Coil Bids from Each Vendor

The first book printer could plastic coil bind the book for about $2.35 per unit. When you compare this to $.90 per unit for perfect binding (by the same vendor), you see just how expensive mechanical binding can be. After all, in many cases it’s hand work.

I had asked both vendors for pricing on 70# text stock in four-color process ink. The first provided pricing only on this specific text weight. However, the second printer’s equipment could not handle the automated plastic coil binding of a 450-page book produced on 70# text stock. Therefore, this book printer would need to bind the book by hand.

Comparing the two vendors’ bids, on 70# text stock, I could see that the second vendor’s price was 20 percent higher than the first vendor’s price (the first printer could handle the plastic coil binding with no difficulty). The second printer got creative and offered a 50# text paper, which could be plastic coil bound on automated equipment. This would cost only $2,000 more than the first printer’s price on 70# stock (or about a 5 percent premium).

Keep in mind that 50# stock would yield a thinner book. It would save several hundred dollars in freight for shipping the finished product to my client, but I was concerned that the thinner paper would not be as opaque as the 70# text stock. It might also seem flimsy compared to 70# stock. And most of all, I already had a better price for the 2,000-copy run on 70# stock.

When I studied the prices for a 2,500-copy press run, things changed. The first book printer, using inkjet technology, could provide 2,500 plastic coil bound copies of the print book on 70# text stock for approximately $50K. For the second printer to provide a plastic coil bound book on 70# text stock (hand bound), he would charge $1.5K more.

However, the second printer could produce a print book on 50# text stock (with automated plastic coil binding) for 11 percent less than the first printer’s pricing on 70# text stock. Again, the lighter paper would also save a couple of hundred dollars in freight costs.

Granted, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. I will need to get revised prices from the first vendor for 50# text stock, if my client finds this option attractive. But it does show that there are options, and the options may yield both a printing and shipping advantage.

What You Can Learn

Just this little bit of information will yield some interesting insight. Consider these caveats when you’re buying custom printing:

  1. Not every printer has the same equipment, or even the same overall technology. The first printer had web-fed inkjet capabilities. Most printers around the world do not have this particular HP T230 web-fed inkjet book press. If you want access to particular equipment, search for it on Google. You may find vendors to approach for samples and pricing.
  2. Not having specific equipment can show up in a printer’s pricing (and in pricing differences between vendors). The first printer could plastic coil bind a 70# text block. The second vendor would need to do this by hand for more money, or he could provide an automated plastic coil binding on 50# text stock.
  3. A good printer will provide options. The second printer, knowing he would not be competitive on the hand-bound plastic coil book, offered a lower priced option on thinner paper using automated equipment.
  4. Mechanical binding is expensive in longer press runs. Consider carefully why you want to use it. (For instance, you may only be producing 200 copies of a digital book, and this may save you money overall.)
  5. Both paper weight and binding techniques make a print book either lighter or heavier. Over the course of 2,000 copies—or 20,000 copies—this can really add up in freight costs.
  6. Pricing isn’t everything. Look closely at printed samples. I’ve requested printed samples on the 50# stock in 4-color process inks. I want to see for myself to what extent inks printed on one side of the press sheet will be visible on the opposite side of the sheet—particularly due to the heavier ink coverage of the 4-color printing. I’m also worried that the 50# text stock might seem flimsy compared to 70# text stock. Then again, I could be wrong—or my client might not mind the 50# text stock. The only way to know for sure is to request printed samples (not just unprinted samples from a paper merchant).

Custom Printing: Creating Four-Color B/W Images

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

At first glance, the concept of four-color black and white images would appear contradictory. After all, either you print halftone images in black ink only, or you print them in full color (i.e., cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink). Or do you?

How about duotones? When you create a duotone, you usually print an image in black and a second color, or you print the image in two PMS colors. When you do this, you create two halftone images with different tone curves (in Photoshop). That is, you focus on a certain portion of the halftone (let’s say midtones and highlights, or quarter-tones and three-quarter-tones. You do this because of the imperfections of printing. Using one custom printing ink and one halftone screen cannot capture the full range of tones from the darkest dark to the lightest light. Something suffers. But each time you add a color (as with a duotone), you can extend the range of tones in the composite halftone image. (This is called increasing the “dynamic range” of the image.)

But that’s a duotone. What about a four-color black and white image?

The same goes for four-color black and white images. If you use cyan, magenta, yellow, and black together, you can (for the most part) capture the full range of color in an image. But if you want an image that stands out because of its simplicity (and a rich, black and white image will definitely stand out in a world of full-color imagery), you can adjust the percentages of the process colors in the halftone to simulate an achromatic (no-color) image.

And given the ability to use each of the process color screens to enhance a specific portion of the tone curve (highlights, quarter-tones, midtones, three-quarter-tones, shadows), you can end up with a deep, rich photograph impossible to create with a single black ink. Or, more precisely, you can hold detail and levels of tonal transition in the deepest shadows, the midtones, and the highlights simultaneously.

But Problems May Arise

As with any truly wonderful artistic technique, this one has dangers as well, namely color shifts or color casts. The success of a four-color black and white image rests on the ability of your commercial printing vendor to hold a neutral gray balance in the image. That is, the image cannot have a color cast, or it will no longer have the characteristic look of a black and white photo.

On press, color casts can occur for a number of reasons. Among these are dot gain. If the halftone dots spread on the press sheet, then the precise balance of the four process colors that yields a true achromatic black will be lost, and the image may tend toward a cyan, yellow, or magenta look.

In fact, it is because of the tendency of neutral grays to shift toward a color tone that such processes as UCR (under color removal) and GCR (gray component replacement) are used to replace a cyan, magenta, and yellow on press with black ink. This stabilizes the overall image color and avoids color casts. In the case of a four-color black and white image, we’re consciously choosing to do the opposite of UCR and GCR. So it’s risky.

In-Line Color Conflicts

Another cause of color casts (in addition to dot gain in one of the process colors, or over or under inking resulting in a color imbalance) is an “in-line conflict.”

An in-line color conflict often occurs in a magazine press signature in which heavy-ink-coverage advertisements, solid colors, and lighter areas of type are distributed across one side of one press signature. To understand this, picture a 16-page signature with four 8.5” x 11” pages across the top of the sheet and four more pages immediately below. On the back there will be eight more pages making a total of 16. This is a traditional 16-page signature.

The individual press sheet travels through the press with the top four pages of the signature going through the inking units first, followed by the four pages immediately beneath them on the flat press sheet. If images on the top four pages use a large amount of a particular process color, it is entirely possible that the pages immediately underneath them (or “in-line” with them) on the 8-page side of the press sheet may be adversely affected by that larger amount of color.

For instance, if a large image on the top left page of the signature requires a large amount of magenta ink, the magazine page immediately below it (i.e., in-line with it) may have a magenta cast as well. If you’re custom printing a four-color black and white image on that particular magazine page within the press form, it may shift from a deep rich black to a rose-tinted warm black. This may be unacceptable.

Fortunately, your commercial printing supplier may suggest putting the four-color black and white image on a different page within the press signature, one that would be less adversely affected by such an “in-line conflict.”

To achieve success with four-color black and white images, the best thing to learn from this discussion is not to avoid four-color black and white images but to involve your custom printing vendor early in the process. Describe your goals. Make sure your printer has done high-end work like this before. And consider attending a press inspection so you will not be unhappily surprised with the final product. After all, on a press inspection, you can identify a color cast and ask the pressman to fix it.

Custom Printing: A Twist on Concealed Wire-O Bindings

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

My fiancee just bought an exceptionally cool print book on Pilates physical fitness (Pilates: achieving your potential for health, strength, flexibility, and stamina, by Joyce Gavin). It has a see-through cover that reveals a bright magenta photo underneath. The title is screen printed onto the binder in solid black ink, and the binding is a white, Wire-O coil looped through the plastic folder material.

Considering the Technical Specs and Overall Design

First of all, let’s start with the material of which the folder (or case-binding) has been made. Most of the fully-concealed wire-bound hardback print books I have seen have consisted of chip board (binders boards), a book spine, and an interior text block attached with the parallel wire loops known as Wire-O binding. This print book on Pilates has a more modern air with its flexible “poly” (polyolefin) case.

More specifically, the binder (or case) is a thick transparent plastic with a rough surface (very satisfying to touch and easy to grip due to its rough texture. The plastic bends easily, but it has “memory.” It snaps back to its original shape immediately.

The rough “tooth” of the cover provides a good surface for custom screen printing (which is what this seems to be, when viewed through a printer’s loupe). The ink has thickness and texture. And the design is simple, with just the title in an uppercase, sans serif typeface with generous letterspacing, as well as a smaller subtitle and the author’s name.

The cover is scored three times (vertically, parallel to the spine), and the back cover is punched to accept the white, Wire-O loops. The extra scoring allows the book to open easily and lie flat. Moreover, the nature of Wire-O binding allows facing pages to align perfectly with one another. (In contrast, either a plastic coil or metal spiral book would–due to the nature of a spiral–keep one of the facing pages slightly above the other when the print book is open.)

The white coating on the metal Wire-O loops beautifully complements the light background of the text pages (it looks like a 5 percent screen of black plus a little cyan) and the light clothing of the models performing the Pilates exercises.

The geometric copy blocks, generous white space around the text and silhouetted images of exercising models, letterspaced running headers, and sans serif text and heads, all give the book a simple, spare look that’s right in line with a quiet, introspective exercise program.

And the heavy, interior covers (in front of and behind the text block on–apparently–100# cover with 100# text book pages) give the book a feel of solidity. After all, since the poly binder material adequately protects the interior pages, it was primarily a design decision (rather than a functional decision) to include the heavy paper covers on the interior print book block.

To add to the startling appearance of the magenta halftone gracing the interior cover, the model has been severely cropped, just above the mouth, above the elbows, and above the knees. With arms spread wide and a serene expression on her mouth, she gives the human form an almost sculptural appearance.

What You Can Learn from This Book

In my opinion, this is an excellent example of the design of a print book reflecting the tone, attitude, and approach of its contents. The choice of colors, typefaces, and design grid, as well as the consistent treatment of all images as silhouettes, the binding method, and the unexpected use of clear (frosted, due to the texture) poly for the outer binder material reinforce one another on a tactile level, mechanical level (in terms of the durability of the book as well as its ability to lay flat with facing pages aligned), and design level.

Therefore, in your own design work, consider the physical elements of book design as you decide on the best type treatment, grid structure, and paper choices for your printed product.

A print book is a physical object in space. It has to look good, but it also has to feel comfortable in the hands of the reader. It has to be durable, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing.

All of these qualities bear careful consideration throughout the design process. When you find a print book (or any other printed product) that you especially like, hold onto it. Put it in your “swipe file” to inspire future projects. Moreover, consider why you like the sample. What do the graphic design, and physical product design, do well? What are their goals, and how do they achieve them?

Book Printing: Assumptions About Web-Fed Inkjet Books

Monday, May 19th, 2014

I made a really big assumption about a book printing bid recently that turned out to be totally incorrect. It taught me a lesson, or maybe a few lessons. I thought that sharing this case study might help you avoid making the same mistakes.

The Web-Fed Inkjet Book Printing Job

The job in question is a 450-page textbook with a press run of between 1,600 copies and 2,500 copies. It will be 8.5” x 11” in format for a sheetfed offset press (or 8.5” x 10.875” for a web press).

My print brokering client has considered both a two-color text for the print book and a four-color text, which would be considerably more expensive.

To get a wide sampling of prices, I approached about four book printing vendors in various sectors of the US with different equipment. I had printers look at sheetfed offset, web-fed offset, and web-fed inkjet custom printing on the new HP T230 inkjet press. I wanted to get a sense from a number of vendors as to where the cut-offs would be: the transitions from digital to sheetfed offset to web-fed offset, in which each technology would be more cost-effective than the others based on the book length and color distribution. And I wanted to hear several educated opinions on these questions.

I expected the inkjet press to be ideal for short book printing runs. I had heard about the Hewlett Packard T230. I knew it was very new and only in operation in a handful of print shops around the world. I had seen samples of its four-color custom printing, and I was impressed. It wasn’t quite at the level of quality of offset printing, but it was very close, and for certain jobs for certain clients, I thought it would be ideal.

The Book Printing Bids Started to Arrive

All the printers except one estimated the job on sheetfed or web-fed offset equipment. And one printer bid the job on both his sheetfed offset equipment and his digital HP T230 press. From studying the pricing, it seemed to me that for a 450-page book, the cut off for economical digital work was about 1,600 copies, give or take.

The web-fed printers’ pricing was better than the sheetfed pricing of the other vendors. This surprised me, but I assumed that the high page count of the print book combined with its short press run and ample color usage made a heatset full-web press the ideal equipment for this book printing project.

Here’s the Error I Made

I had bid the book out as both a two-color text option and a four-color text option. In either case, the cover would be four color process.

In the case of the sheetfed offset printers and the web-fed offset printers, the prices for the two technologies were consistent enough (two-color text compared to two-color text) and different enough (two-color text compared to four-color text) that I felt confident in the companies, the processes, the prices, and my own judgment.

However, when one of the printers with both sheetfed and digital web-fed inkjet capabilities offered an especially low price for digital book printing, I made the following assumptions:

  1. I assumed that 1,600 copies of a 450-page book was the sweet spot for that particular digital press. After all, the price was amazingly low.
  2. I assumed that a web-fed inkjet press would always have access to four ink colors. Therefore, since even a two-color inkjet book printing job would use process color builds to simulate the accent PMS color, I believed the price I had been given would reflect the use of four color process inks anywhere in the text.

Granted, the digital pricing was an email addendum to a sheetfed offset printing bid. The email said the printer would offer a digital process, for 1,600 copies, for substantially less than offset, if my client would accept the slightly lower than offset quality. What the email didn’t say, and what I erroneously assumed, was that the price was for four color throughout the text, when it was really for a four color simulation of a two-color job.

What I Learned from the Mishap

I learned the following from this experience, fortunately not at anyone’s expense (either mine or my client’s).

  1. Unlike a web-fed or sheetfed printing press, which might have either two or four (or more) ink colors available, a web-fed inkjet book press has four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks) accessible at all times.
  2. However, the ink coverage for a two-color job (simulating black and a PMS as a highlight color: for headlines, for instance) is much less than for a four-color job. (A four-color inkjet book printing job might, for instance, include full color images.) Due to the much larger ink coverage, the price is significantly higher than the cost of a two-color job simulated in the web-fed inkjet press’ process color inks. In short, more ink equals more money.

What You Can Learn and Apply to Your Own Print Buying Work

Be mindful, and learn from my mistake.

  1. Always ask your printer for clarification, in writing, particularly if the process or technology is new to you. (I made an assumption on an especially new and rare printing process–web-fed inkjet printing—based on prior expectations gleaned from using small desktop inkjet printers.)
  2. If the price is too low to be believed, assume that something is missing from the bid, or that you have misunderstood something. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

A Late-Breaking Update from a Trusted Advisor

Prior to publishing this blog article, I learned from a trusted associate exactly how HP T230 jobs are priced.

Apparently, on the HP T230 the cost of four-color printing is based on the amount of ink coverage per page; however, it is not based on placing process color on the full page but only on a “per-square-inch” basis.

The traditional four-color offset printing cost is based on placing one square inch of four-color ink (or more) on a page. One square inch of four color process ink (or more) would require pricing for one full page of four-color process ink, and therefore for one full press signature of process color (i.e., both sides of one full press sheet).

In contrast, on the HP T230 one square inch of process color reflects the use of only one square inch of four-color process ink, but not one complete page and not one complete press signature of process color.

This is a dramatically novel standard compared to traditional four-color print estimating.

Large Format Printing: Creating a Dimensional Standee

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

My fiancee and I just installed the standee for the new movie Transformers: Age of Extinction. In spite of our four years’ of installation work, we had never assembled a standee quite like this before. I thought you might find some elements of this large format print product not only interesting but also applicable to your own custom printing design work.

Creating Dimensionality in the Standee

By its very nature, a standee is a three dimensional print product. It is a construct made out of fluted cardboard, chipboard, and often such other materials as wood, simulated velvet, or even AstroTurf. However, in most cases, images have been printed in 4-color process inks on flat litho paper. Granted, the custom printing paper is then laminated to chipboard or fluted board, but the images themselves are flat.

In contrast, the Transformers standee actually adds dimensionality with various layers of printed lugs affixed on top of other sections of the large format print standee.

To begin with, let me describe the Transformers: Age of Extinction standee. It is what looks like a dinosaur with one foot on the wide and narrow standee base and one foot out in front on the floor. On the back of the creature is a figure clad in armor with a sword raised high.

The base is three dimensional in that it has length, width, and depth. It is a wide rectangular pedestal with a cardboard post to which the flat torso of the dinosaur creature has been attached. The dinosaur is a silhouette, diecut from a custom printing sheet and laminated to chipboard. However, attached to the flat torso are numerous “lugs.” These lugs are much smaller, diecut portions of the legs, torso, head, and arms of the animal. The printing on the lugs exactly matches the printing on the base level below them. In addition, the lugs rise up slightly on perpendicular tabs, and the lugs are positioned over or under one another in layers.

My fiancee and I must have attached at least thirty such lugs during assembly, building outward from the flat torso of the beast. Some lugs resembled vertebrae. Others seemed to be portions of the animal’s flared nostrils and glowing eyes. Granted, everything had somewhat of a metallic effect as well, since the creature seemed to be a cross between a living being and a machine.

What made the finished product so interesting was the almost baroque intricacy of the scales and vertebrae, each set at a different distance from the base flat image of the animal. The overall, three-dimensional effect was staggering.

An Alternate Version of the Standee

Ironically, we will be installing another version of the Transformers standee in a day or so at another movie theater, and even though the first version seemed large and imposing when we finished assembly, the second version will be almost twice its size (the first is eight feet; the second will be thirteen feet). I have seen the instructions, and they seem to be almost identical to those for the smaller version, except for the size of the pieces.

I have paid close attention this year to the subtle differences between standees sent to different movie theaters promoting the same movie. Some have included more or fewer characters in the display. Some have been three-dimensional and even motorized, while alternate versions have been simple, large, flat posters of the exact same image. So seeing an alternate version of a large format print standee that mirrors the design of another but at a much larger size piques my curiosity.

The Support Within the Standee Base

Standees are not only three dimensional promotional pieces. They are also interactive, and kids will often climb on them. So I was interested and pleased to see the intricate system of cardboard supports placed within the base of the standee to ensure its durability and avoid injury to anyone who might climb aboard.

Using a system of cardboard struts placed at right angles to one another in a checkerboard pattern, the standee designer had created a robust support system inside the rectangular pedestal. I’m sure it also added weight to the support base to keep the dinosaur-like creature from falling over, but what surprised me was the apparent strength of the pedestal, which was made of nothing but paper.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

Here are three take-aways, which you might apply to your own point of purchase or large format print design:

  1. Go beyond a flat image on paper if you’re designing large format print signage. Consider adding levels or layers to create dimensionality. Diecutting silhouettes can be powerful, but creating the illusion of depth can be even more striking.
  2. Consider the size of your large format print. How dramatic would it be at twice the size you had initially planned? Of course, this might also blow your budget, but for the right project, it bears consideration.
  3. Keep safety and durability in mind. You can design something made of chipboard or corrugated board, and with a little ingenuity in its construction, you can create a product with a level of durability you might find surprising.

Custom Printing: A Few Thoughts on Paper Stocks

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Paper choices can make or break a job. In fact, paper is what makes a custom printing job a physical product, although the paper used in a print job often goes unnoticed. That said, it can still have an immense subliminal effect on the reader.

Here are a few thoughts on paper: how to choose it, how to use it.

Commercial Printing on Gloss vs. Dull, or Matte, Coated Paper

If you’re not going to print your job on an uncoated stock, your other two choices are gloss and matte coated text or cover paper. As a rule, it is easier to read large amounts of text on a dull or matte press sheet than on a gloss coated sheet, but photographs seem more dramatic (i.e., they “pop”) more on a gloss coated press sheet than on a matte sheet.

If your job includes both heavy text sections and numerous photos that you want to showcase, consider choosing a matte or dull sheet and then spot gloss varnishing the photos. This will give you the best of both worlds.

Commercial Printing on Uncoated Paper

Photos and text will not be as crisp if printed on an uncoated press sheet, but this might actually be the effect you want. Let’s say you’re designing a brochure print job for a paper company and you want to showcase the environmental benefits of a certain paper stock. An uncoated sheet might just project the muted “look” you want. The crispness of the gloss coated sheet, or even the dull coated sheet, might actually conflict with the earthy, environmental tone you’re trying to convey.

That said, inks printed on uncoated paper seep into the substrate because there’s no coating to support the ink film (this is called “holdout”). Process inks and spot colors can seep into the fibers and look dull. Talk with your commercial printing vendor about this. He will be able to “open” the separations to allow for a lighter coating of ink on press. When this lighter amount of ink seeps into the paper (causing “dot gain” as it spreads), the more open screens (with smaller halftone dots) will compensate for the dot gain, and the overall effect will be more pleasing. The images won’t appear to be over-inked.

This does, however, require a fair amount of skill on your custom printing supplier’s part, so you may want to discuss your goals with your printer early in the process and/or attend a press inspection to check the overall results.

A Few Notes on Paper Handling

Paper behaves almost like a living organism. If you expose it to humidity, it will grow. This growth due to moisture will be greater in the “cross grain” direction (in contrast to “with the grain”) by a magnitude of three times. Too much moisture can warp the printing stock, or it can result in extended ink drying times. What this means is that if your printer does not handle your paper stock correctly, it will curl, become wavy, or not hold its proper dimensions.

Low humidity is bad, too. It can cause the paper to contract at the edges and expand in the middle of the sheet. Low humidity can cause problems with static electricity, change the dimensions of the paper causing misregistration on press, or make the paper brittle.

Because problems occur when paper is exposed to less than ideal humidity (or temperature, since they are related), paper needs to arrive at your custom printing vendor’s shop early, with enough time before your press date to allow it to become acclimated to your printer’s factory floor.

For instance, if the paper travels in a truck from the paper mill during the winter, and it arrives at your printer’s shop with a 10 degree Celsius (50 degree Fahrenheit) difference between the outdoor temperature (through which it traveled) and your printer’s room temperature, the paper must sit on the perssroom floor for 10 hours.

If the difference between the inside and outside temperature is 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), the paper needs 30 hours to become acclimated to your printers inside temperature. (according to A Guide to Graphic Print Production, Second Edition, by Kaj Johansson, Peter Lundberg, and Robert Ryberg).

Your printer will want to adhere to these standards and let the paper condition correctly. After all, changes in paper dimension due to humidity problems can wreak havoc with a printer’s workflow and schedule. Therefore, make sure your paper arrives at the printer’s shop early enough to allow plenty of time for this conditioning.

Large Format Printing: A “Squeezed” Standee Design

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Spiderman 2 is coming out in June, and my fiancee and I just installed a “domestic theatrical standee” for this title. “Domestic theatrical standee” actually just means it’s huge, so it will dwarf the other standees in a movie theater.

Superior Functional and Aesthetic Design

We install a lot of standees, so when one of them reflects particularly good product design, both aesthetically and functionally, I like to mention it in a PIE blog article.

Like many of the other large format print standees, the Spiderman 2 display consists of a wide, flat box on a pedestal, with a large graphic adorning the front of the box and all movie information (title, credits, logos) reversed out of the dark pedestal.

Set out from the background by approximately 6” cardboard supports, an upside-down Spiderman “lug” (the technical term for a diecut cardboard attachment to the front graphic image) curves around the left front half of the standee, with his signature spider web filament (another diecut “lug”) crossing the standee in front of him and attached to the base pedestal.

What Makes This Standee Design Special?

First of all, the vertical sides of the background box are not really vertical at all. The top and bottom horizontal planes of the standee are wider than the sides, and the vertical sides curve inward at the center and then flare outward at the top and bottom. It’s as though someone had thrown a lasso over the standee and cinched the background box at the center, squeezing it to make it smaller—or like a waistline with a tight belt.

This works for two reasons. First of all, the curious shape of the standee sets it apart from other large format print signage. In the past four years, I can’t remember installing another standee quite like this.

Moreover, the vantage point of the background graphic is unique. You are looking down from above Spiderman’s position above the tall skyscrapers. Then, below Spiderman, you see the villain (either projecting or receiving flashes of electrical current), and then below that you see the grid of city streets, cars, signs, and people. You have a unique vantage point: an almost dizzying point of view. And the curved sides of the standee amplify the effect of this skewed perspective, creating the illusion that you are falling downward from above Spiderman. Way cool.

Furthremore, the fact that Spideman is upside down adds to the illusion of vertigo. The arc of his leg, torso, arm, and spiderweb filament create a “C” pattern around the left side of the graphic image. He is darker in hue than his opponent at the top right side of the graphic, but the sparks of electricity surrounding the bad guy draw the eye immediately toward him. Your eye goes right to the bad guy, even though he’s about a sixth of the size of Spiderman.

By using artistic principles of perspective, the large format print designer has created a unique point of view above the super hero, looking down at Spiderman, his nemesis, and the city far below. The illusion of depth makes you feel like swooning, and the curved sides of the standee exaggerate this distorted vision.

The Functional Design of the Standee

A lot goes into a standee design. Like a print book, it’s a physical product existing in space. Moreover, it has to be designed, printed, boxed, transported, and assembled before it can work as a marketing tool—which is, after all, its reason for existing. (Its goal is to sell movie tickets.)

When I first opened the box, I could see that the printed and diecut standee consisted of relatively few pieces assembled into a relatively small carton (when compared to other “domestic theatrical standees”). This large format print standee gives you a lot of bang for the buck. Larger, heavier standees might cost significantly more to design, print, diecut, pack, and ship to theaters. (Also, keep in mind that these standees are delivered to multiple theaters in each city, so the freight charges can really add up.) Some of the larger standees may not even be as effective, as dramatic, or as provocative as this Spiderman 2 standee.

Functional design of a large format print standee also includes ease of installation. I enjoy installing well-designed standees, the ones that can be assembled smoothly and easily.

Even though the sides of the exterior box structure are curved, the standee designer included a series of straight diecut sections, each with a slot for the tab, all along the curve. They are easily accessible, and the standee substrate doesn’t need to be bent or curved during assembly.

During installation, the standee components all went together without stress or strain. Then the central internal structure went together quickly to support the large format print graphic that covered the front of the box. And the front panel graphic had adequate slots and tabs to make assembly a breeze.

What You Can Learn from This Standee Design

  1. Study your competition, and then do something different. If you’re designing large format print signage, or even a print book or brochure, collect samples, study them closely, and then devise a way to make your piece different in an unexpected or even humorous way.
  2. Tricking the viewer’s eye can be provocative. Unexpected contrasts in size or placement can grab the viewer’s attention, as can odd vantage points, or a distorted or dramatic perspective.
  3. Consider not just the aesthetics of design (typeface, design grid, color usage) but also the functional aspects of your marketing project. This includes the availability of materials, cost of custom printing and finishing, and even the ease and cost of shipping. Design is only one component of a successful marketing campaign, albeit a crucial one.

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