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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 June, 2014

Custom Printing: Benefits of Using Print Spec-Sheets

Monday, June 30th, 2014

A friend of a custom printing colleague recently asked a question reflecting his growing frustration. “When I send out emails about upcoming jobs, why do print sales reps always ask for information I’ve already covered in my email, and why do they ask other questions about irrelevant aspects of the job?”

I can appreciate this print buyer’s angst. After all, repeating oneself can be maddening. But I’d like to adjust his question a bit to the following: “Why is email problematic, and what is a better way to communicate with a commercial printing sales rep?”

First of all, email is fine as a communication tool, but the threads of back-and-forth communications can become confusing, and one can easily miss items of importance.

What I like to do, and what I used to teach the designers who worked for me when I was an art director, is to create a standardized specification sheet. Printers do the same thing when they provide an estimate. They specify every aspect of a job from materials submitted to proofs required to printing inks, press run, finishing, delivery, or mailing, and even where the samples will go. Why not do the same thing and tailor this document to your own regular print jobs? Create your own specifications sheet, which the commercial printing supplier can incorporate into his estimate.

What to Include

Each job you bid out will vary slightly, or even a great deal, from this specification sheet, so consider it a starting point only that you can adjust as needed.

Begin your specification list with the title of the publication, and then go on to specify the quantity (or multiple quantities, if you need them for estimating purposes) of your job.

Remember to also describe the flat and folded size of a job like a brochure, or the final trim size of a book. If your job is a print book, remember to specify the number of pages plus the cover.

Then go on to specify the kind of commercial printing paper you will need. This may be a 100# gloss coated sheet for a brochure, or a 60# uncoated white opaque text sheet for the interior of a book. If your book is soft cover, also note the weight of the cover paper. In this case you might choose a 10pt. or 12pt. coated-one-side (C1S) cover stock such as bristol. If you plan to print on the interior covers of the book (inside front and inside back, or C-2 and C-3), you might want to choose a coated-two-side (C2S) cover stock. This will improve the ink hold-out on the cover (the ink will sit up on top of the paper coating and look crisper than it would on an uncoated press sheet).

Next, describe the ink colors. Will the job be printed in black ink only, black plus one or more other (PMS) colors, or in full color (4-color process)? Black is a color, so remember to count this as such. Tell your printer whether the ink will print on one side of the press sheet or two, and whether there will be bleeds (ink, screens, solids, or halftones that extend off the printed page).

At this point also tell your printer if there will be a coating on the sheet (such as a varnish, UV coating, aqueous coating, or laminate). These press coatings can be used for design effects or to protect the printed product against fingerprints or other damage.

Don’t forget to describe the ink coverage as well. This can be anywhere from light (text only) to heavy coverage (if you include large areas of solid colors in your design work).

Next, list any binding or other finishing work you will need. This would include such processes as perfect binding, saddle-stitching, or case binding. Finishing work also includes folding, so, if you’re printing a brochure, for instance, you might want to note that there are six panels (three on each side), and the job should wrap fold (one end over the other) or accordion fold (zig-zagging back and forth).

Proofs, delivery, and scheduling requirements should always be included, and they are easy to forget. Will you need hard-copy proofs, or will PDF screen proofs suffice? Do you want the job delivered to your office or perhaps split between your office and a warehouse? Make sure your specification sheet asks for the cost of shipping, which is usually extra and not included in the printing estimate.

If you need mailshop work, note this as well. And then finish with a description of the schedule, including submission of art files, proofing, printing and finishing, and delivery. Remember that some printers will note the shipping date rather than the delivery date on their estimate, so if you need a job delivered to your warehouse on a certain date and time, note this as well.

Improving Printer/Client Relations

It can be very helpful to both you and the printer to review the job specs over the phone. In this way, both of you can ask questions, clarify specifications, and get to know one another in a pleasant way. Your printer can understand your needs, and you can understand his technical requirements.

Printing Spec Sheets Will Vary

Remember that specifications sheets will vary from job to job, depending upon the printed product: a book, pocket folder, poster, sticky note pad, brochure, etc.

Always Check the Estimate Carefully

Human error operates in the field of custom printing as well as in all other areas of human endeavor. Printers miss things in reading and responding to your specification sheets while generating an estimate. That said, you’re more likely to get a detailed estimate that covers all of your requirements if you create a standardized specification sheet that you can use or alter for every job. In addition, your printer will become accustomed to seeing these spec sheets, and it will make it easier for him to provide an estimate or to ask for clarification.

Beyond the Spec Sheet

Once you have all of your bids for a job, what do you do? How do you compare the estimates? Consider creating a spreadsheet matching the elements of the job to the pricing from all printing suppliers. I have always found that such a spreadsheet reveals job elements a vendor may have forgotten to include in the bid or inadvertently misunderstood, substitutions in materials, etc.

A Recap of What to Include in Your Spec Sheet

Here’s a recap of job elements to include:

  1. Title
  2. Quantity
  3. Number of pages (and whether the job has a cover or is a “self-cover” product–i.e., a book or booklet in which text stock is used instead of cover stock for the cover—i.e., thinner paper rather than thicker paper)
  4. Flat size and trim size
  5. Folding requirements
  6. Cover and text stock specifications
  7. Cover and text inks (4-color, PMS colors, black ink only, etc.)
  8. Light or heavy ink coverage
  9. Cover coating such as varnish, UV, aqueous
  10. Bleeds
  11. Bindery and other finishing requirements
  12. Proofs
  13. Delivery
  14. Schedule

Package Printing: Indigo, Scodix, and Highcon, Oh My

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

In the movie The Graduate, Mr. McGuire tells Benjamin, Dustin Hoffman’s character, that he has one word for him regarding his future success: “Plastics.” To update this 1967 movie quote and apply it to the present state of printing, I’d say the word is “packaging,” and Highcon, Scodix, and HP will reap the benefits.

Why do I believe this? Because I just read an article in Packaging Europe News (9/25/13, “Highcon and Scodix Demonstrate the Value of Digital for Folding Carton at LabelExpo”) referencing LabelExpo in Brussels, Belgium, in which Scodix and Highcon presented “new digital technologies that will enable folding carton packaging converters to differentiate themselves…” and “further stress the importance they place on the move towards digital packaging production.”

Packaging Is Physical

Unlike a book or newspaper, product packaging has to be printed in some way. Picture a big box store like Target with row upon row of products with no packaging, or with blank packaging. You can’t do it. In fact, I’ve seen increasingly intricate packaging in recent months—and more of it. From printed shrink sleeves adorning bottles to flexible packaging, I’m seeing an explosion in packaging design and production. LabelExpo just confirms it.

The HP Indigo 30000 (Digital Custom Printing Excellence)

I don’t think any digital press exists today that matches the quality level of the HP Indigo. It produces toner-based digital custom printing (electrophotography, or xerography) that rivals offset for all but the most discriminating eyes. Moreover, it overcomes any perceived liability with its ability to print a different image every time it delivers a press sheet.

Mass customization is key. As the Packaging Europe News article notes, “Value can be created by meeting the demand for better shelf appearance, shorter runs, versioning, private label, reduced inventory, and sustainability.”

Applying this to the HP Indigo, the new 30000 press accepts a 20” x 29” press sheet. That’s comparable to a 20” x 26” cover sheet size for an offset lithographic press. In simpler terms, digital presses can now compete head to head with offset presses.

Given the exceptional custom printing quality provided by the HP Indigo line, its ability to economically produce a print run of one copy or 10,000 copies, and its ability to produce infinitely variable products within a single press run, it seems that the new HP Indigo 30000 is right on the mark for a packaging industry that demands shorter, more varied press runs.

The Highcon Euclid (Digital Diecutting)

Highcon has produced equipment that will use digital data stored within a package-design art file to do intricate cutouts as well as the standard cutting and creasing required for package conversion (i.e., for turning a flat custom printing sheet into a completed box).

After all, if you disassemble a simple carton for a tube of toothpaste, pulling apart all folded and glued flaps, you’ll see how intricate the flat diecut shape must be before it can be folded back up into a usable box. Now, instead of needing to pay extra—and wait extra time—for the creation of a metal die with which to stamp out the blanks for the carton, the Highcon Euclid can directly process the digital information in the art file, and cut or crease the commercial printing sheets with a laser.

What this means is that you can diecut one or 1,000 boxes economically, since you don’t have all the set up charges. And you can start diecutting and creasing the box forms immediately, since you don’t have to wait for the die-maker to strike the die.

Scodix Packaging Adornment (Digital Metallics and Embossing)

Think about packages you see in the drug store. They include pharmaceutical supplies and cosmetics, among other products. Drug manufacturers and cosmetics manufacturers often include elaborate metallic inks, foil stamping effects, or embossing in their product packaging. In past years, these have required metal dies. For instance, you would make (and wait for, and pay for) one die for a gold metallic for a single cosmetics folding carton.

But why stop with one color? The Scodix digital enhancement process can simulate multiple colors of foil stamping on the same box, and it can do all of these at the same time without any dies, because it is a digital process.

To go even further, Scodix can add up to .7 millimeters of “build.” This effectively eliminates the need for metal dies if you want to add embossing to a product package.

And in a move reflecting their commitment to packaging design and production, Scodix now offers the Scodix Ultra digital enhancement press that accepts a B2+ sheet (21.5” x 31”), perfect for use in concert with the HP Indigo 30000 and Highcon Euclid.

Enough said. The future is just one word: “packaging.”

Custom Printing: Anatomy of a Shipping Pallet or Skid

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

There’s no better way to truly understand a process until you do it. This goes for custom printing and shipping as well as other business processes.

The Backstory

My fiancee and I have been doing freelance gigs recently for a company that installs displays for a national cosmetics, jewelry, and fashion firm. The displays are complete environments in which cosmeticians apply make up to clients, provide free samples as well as education, and hopefully sell a lot of products as well. The materials include large format print banners, carpeting, and tables and director’s chairs with custom screen printing detail work. We put everything together and get it ready for the event.

In an upcoming installation, an unexpected delivery glitch has brought my attention to a particular aspect of this environmental design assignment: the function of the “skid” or delivery “pallet.” All elements of the installation usually arrive on a wooden shipping pallet, yet due to construction within the retail store, for this particular installation the packed skids will not be allowed inside the building. Only the contents can be brought into the store.

What Is a Skid? What Are Its Benefits?

Our environmental design challenge puts a particular focus on the function and benefits of a skid. First of all, a skid is a wooden platform onto which materials are loaded. In my case they are related to environmental design. However, they might just as easily be boxes of print books or brochures delivered by your custom printing provider to your warehouse.

Without the skid, the boxes of print books or brochures (or interior design materials in my case) are a collection of loose objects, each of which has to be accounted for, and each of which can be lost or damaged. In contrast, however, the wooden skid provides space to stack all manner of book cartons, large format print banner stand boxes, or whatever, and then wrap the entire collection with clear plastic stretch wrap (not unlike the plastic wrap you use in the kitchen to cover leftovers).

The wrapped skid becomes a single object. It is no longer a collection of disparate parts. Nothing can get lost, since the skid is all wrapped up. And as long as the skid is transported safely with a fork lift (or a hand-operated, automated skid lift), nothing should get damaged.

When 20 or 30 cartons are brick stacked (set at right angles to one another, like bricks, to ensure rigidity), your skid can be brought into your warehouse and then lifted with a fork lift to the highest shelves of a massive shelving unit, or the skid of print books, brochures, or any other products can be brought down to the factory floor, opened, and put in other cartons for delivery to your clients. (Let’s say you’re “kitting”–which is the trade jargon for this operation—20 print books, a stack of three-part NCR snap form applications, promotional brochures, and large format print signage for a school that’s ready to bring a busload of students to your social studies program, and you want them to have related print materials.)

The warehouse can maintain an accurate inventory since it knows how many books (or any other product) are in each carton. As long as the skid wrapped in plastic has not been opened, the warehouse can maintain an accurate count—for a month, a year, or forever.

Back to the Skid for the Environmental Design Installation

To return to the skid of environmental design materials for the cosmetics exhibit, the skid will need to be broken down outside the building, and boxes, carpets, and, storage cases for the large format print signage and tables will need to be brought into the staging area individually.

Here’s the challenge. With a single pallet delivery to a loading dock (called “dock-to-dock” delivery), the freight carrier can back the truck up to the gate, and an electric pallet lift can remove one huge, wrapped item (the skid) and place it on the floor, ready for unloading. In the case of this delivery for this particular installation, individual items will need to be taken off the truck and brought into the store before being assembled. A key question will be, Who will do this?

It’s Just Like an Inside Delivery of Your Cartoned Print Books or Brochures

This actually may pertain to your print buying situation more than you might have imagined.

To avoid the problem noted above, in which the delivery service will leave the skids in the parking lot for us to unload and move, it is prudent—if your organization does not have a loading dock—to alert your commercial printing supplier as early as possible. In fact, I’d put it in writing on the printing specification sheet.

Your printer will need to arrange with the freight forwarder (more jargon) to unload the skid, and (perhaps) bring all cartons up an elevator to your office cubicle using a hand truck. This is back breaking work. Therefore, it adds expense, understandably. So it’s wise to let your printer know early.

An Epilogue

The installation of the cosmetics interior staging design actually just happened today, after I had written this PIE blog post. My fiancee successfully negotiated with the freight company to have the driver bring all materials into the store, directly to the staging area.

What you (and I both) can learn from this is to be proactive. Don’t assume your print job is complete when you have uploaded art files to your printer. Delivery is an important part of the entire printing chain of events. Specify your needs to your printer, negotiate the best deal, and then stay in touch with your printer during the shipping and delivery process to make sure everything goes as planned and there are no surprises. And make sure you set forth in writing exactly who is responsible for what.

Book Printing: Finessing the Weight/Thickness of a Book

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

One of my current clients used to work for me back in the ’90s, when I was an art director. She is a shrewd print buyer and very knowledgeable about commercial printing. So I was a bit amused and pleased to hear from her today about a print book I’m brokering for her.

The perfect-bound, 6” x 9” print project was 320 pages last year, but it has grown to 424 pages this year. She would like it to “feel” like last year’s print book. She doesn’t want it to be perceived as being a third longer.

Why Might This Be So?

I didn’t really ask her, since she’s the client and my goal is to please her.

My client asked for the width of the spine of the prior year’s book (which had been printed on 70# Finch Opaque stock) compared to the width of the spine for the new page count if this year’s book were printed on either 60# Finch Opaque or 50# Finch Opaque. My client also wanted a mock-up (also called a paper dummy) produced on both 50# and 60# Finch to see how the two options would feel in her hand.

After forwarding this information to the book printer, I thought about why my client might want to make this change. This is what I came up with:

  1. The books are sold to clients annually. Some readers might take issue with paying the same amount for a longer or shorter book if they are used to getting a certain length book each year.
  2. The books reflect a certain amount of scholarship. Some people might perceive the thicker book as being more thorough than the thinner, particularly since the yearly editions contain the same number of articles.
  3. Or, and this would be the most practical reason, the print books are shipped to clients, and lightening the overall weight of the book will save money in shipping costs.

Of course, these are just speculations. However, if you yourself ever wind up in a similar position as a book printing buyer, you may want to consider these issues as well.

What Were the Differences?

This is what I heard back from the book printer:

  1. Last year’s book (320 pages printed on 70# stock) was .812 inches thick (the text only).
  2. This year’s book (424 pages) if printed on 60# stock would be .954 inches thick (the text only).
  3. This year’s book (424 pages) if printed on 50# stock would be .848 inches thick (the text only).

The printer pointed out that, either way, this year’s print book will be thicker than last year’s. He went on to say that he would lean toward the 60# stock due to its improved opacity, and he also pointed out that 60# text block (text with no cover) would be only 1/8th of an inch thicker than last year’s text block.

Why Request the Mock-Ups?

So the take-away from this exercise is that at this book length, even a third more pages would only increase the thickness of the book by 1/8 of an inch.

However, 1/8 of an inch is merely a concept, a mental image. I applaud my client’s practical side in wanting to see and feel a paper dummy of both a 50# and a 60# Finch Opaque press sheet. The final decision will be based on the heft of the book plus on how the pages feel in the hand at their various thicknesses.

Fortunately, this printer can make the mock-ups in house. Not all printers can do this. If you need a mock-up or paper dummy, in some cases your printer will request one from his paper merchant or from the paper mill, and this might take a little time. Therefore, it’s always wise to ask for a mock-up (of a book, a brochure, or any other project you want to get the “feel” of) early in the process.

What About the Opacity?

Now this is where I was worried. I knew that there would be no “show-through” (of the ink on one side of the page when reading the opposite side of the page) in a book printed on 70# Opaque Finch paper.

This particular annual book includes lots of screens, some solid ink coverage (in small areas), and lots of photos. It’s a good candidate for having problems with show-through. That said, like the book printer I felt that the 60# Finch Opaque stock (“opaque” to minimize show-through) would be just about as thin as you could comfortably choose for such a book. The printer and I both thought that the 50# stock (even if it were Finch Opaque) might just be a little too transparent.

(Since I was curious, I looked it up online. I found 93 opaque—on a scale of 100–for the 50# stock vs. 95 opaque for the 60# stock vs. 96 opaque for 70# stock. I’ll stand by my advice that my client choose 60# Finch Opaque.)

We’ll see how my client feels when she sees the paper dummies.

Commercial Printing: Selecting Ink Colors for Design

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Color choice is a major tool in design for any printed or virtual image. Colors elicit emotion and give subtle clues as to the meaning of an ad, print book cover, poster, or website.

A particular color can suggest a formal approach to a subject or a more playful air. It can intimate that an ad is targeted to children rather than to adults, or vice versa, even before you have read a word of the copy.

But How Do You Choose Colors for a Custom Printing Product?

Jim Krause’s book Design Basics Index suggests a number of approaches, three of which particularly stood out as I was paging through his book last night.

  1. Choose a dominant color based on associations that have become traditional “hooks.” For instance, gold and burgundy can suggest opulence. Yellows and oranges bring to mind summer sun and surf. Starting with this dominant color, you can then add one or two colors from the color wheel that are analagous (next to your color on the color wheel), complementary (opposite your color on the color wheel), or split complementary (one color to the left or right of the complement on the color wheel).
  2. If you are placing an image in an ad, or an initial page spread of a magazine article, use Photoshop’s eyedropper tool to sample one or more colors within the image, and then use these colors in your color scheme. Design Basics Index includes a photo of a candy dish full of lemon drops in this section of the book. Krause suggests sampling the blue of the dish and the yellow of the candies, and then he creates several sample designs with the blues and yellows (the hues of the candy dish photo plus their tints).
  3. Walk away from the computer and look at the world. See what colors in nature go well together, what colors are appropriate for autumn, for instance, or spring, for the beach or the mountains. Learn to look closely. Make it a part of your daily activities. This awareness will enliven your design.
  4. Paint with watercolors or acrylics, draw with pastels, and see how colors behave when you’re mixing them. This will enhance your color awareness when you’re doing graphic design as well.

How Do You Apply This to an Actual Design Project?

A little later in Krause’s chapter on color, he shows four iterations of a logo for Star Fine Candies, encouraging designers to experiment in their own work by keeping certain design elements constant (like the logo mark and the type treatment) while varying other elements (like the choice of colors).

  1. The Star Fine Candies logo comprises a star made of striped candies, the business name “STAR” (in a bold sans serif type) and “Fine Candies” in a script face. All four iterations of the logo include these same graphic elements.
  2. The first sample logo depicts the candies in the shape of a star in two colors: orange and yellow. “STAR” is printed in black, and “Fine Candies” is printed in orange. The overall treatment is colorful and dramatic. Since “STAR” is printed in black in a bold sans serif typeface, it is the dominant element. One thing to consider, however, is that the delicate lines of “Fine Candies” make the dark orange seem lighter than would a solid block of this color. It’s good to remember that the thinner the type, or the smaller the logo (such as the logo on a business card), the harder it will be to read. Additionally, the cost of the commercial printing job will reflect three-color custom printing (three PMS colors in the sample logo). This may be more expensive than four-color process (since the press will need to be cleaned and the process colors will need to be replaced with PMS colors). Also, three-color custom printing costs more than two-color printing.
  3. Iteration #2 of the logo changes the “Fine Candies” text in the script font from orange to black, which makes it more dominant and more legible. In addition, the two-color images of candies that comprise the star have changed from orange and yellow to orange and a lighter screen of orange. It’s a subtle difference. Perhaps it’s not quite as colorful, but only marginally so. In addition, it only requires a two-color commercial printing run, so it will cost less than the first option to print.
  4. Option #3 is also a two-color print job. Krause has placed the “star” logomark image of the candies, the word “STAR,” and “Fine Candies” over a yellow rectangle, knocking out portions of the logo (the stripes in the candies and the word “STAR”). This gives the illusion of a third color (white) without needing to pay for one. However, the overall look is more delicate than either of the two prior iterations.
  5. Option #4 uses only one color plus screens of the color (simulating three levels of value within the candies that comprise the star). The words are all one solid color. This is the cheapest iteration of the logo to print (one color costs less than two or three).

You really can’t say that one or another of these iterations of the logo is “correct.” Each has its merits and implications: for readability, associations with certain colors, and commercial printing costs.

As a designer, you can increase your value to your clients by approaching their work in these ways, and by developing and presenting a number of closely related solutions.

Custom Printing: Controlling Eye Flow Across the Gutter

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Since the house fire, I’ve been scouring thrift stores to rebuild my business library. Today I found a great print book for $2.00, used: Design Basics Index by Jim Krause.

I’ve always been a firm believer in fundamentals, the building blocks of any discipline, and this book delivers in spades on this front. You can jump in and out of the print book and learn something new or remember something you’d forgotten each time you open the cover.

Jumping the Gutter

“This Is a Gutter” is a section starting on page 104 that uses examples of commercial printing to demonstrate how the eye moves across a page spread of a publication, and how best to not only use this information but to also take control of how the reader’s eye navigates a page. Although eye movement is a subject that could fill a number of books, Krause’s text chooses one focused area for this particular section: how the eye navigates the jump across the gutter of a print book.

The first comparison explores a two-page spread with a sea creature (an urchin, or some other such creature) on the left and the article’s teaser, headline, intro, and body copy on the right-hand page. Both pages are completely separate. The text and the headline in blue on the right balance the sea creature on the left. It’s a classical arrangement, perfectly balanced. It looks good.

In sample #2, Krause extends the blue/gray background of sand from the left across the gutter and onto the right-hand page by about two inches. He reverses the “Sea” of the word “Seashore” out of the photo (still on the right-hand page) and then sets the balance of copy in a narrower measure than in the first example. Again, this looks great. However, it also looks more modern, with the reverse type. The photo appears more expansive, since it brings the eye across the gutter and makes two individual facing pages read like one magazine spread. In both pages, the photo bleeds on all sides, which also gives a luxurious air to the image.

What this shows is:

  1. There are no “correct” solutions in design, only different solutions to consider.
  2. Different design solutions provide a different sense of visual movement; or make a subject look more formal or more casual, or different in some other way.
  3. It’s always a good idea to try different iterations of your design idea to see which works best in the context of your own specific design and editorial goals.

Sample Two, Jumping the Gutter

Design Basics Index includes a second double-page spread example with a photo of a man running and jumping out of the stop-action photo frame as well as the same “Seashore” head and text as in the prior case study. The first sample design solution places the photo on the right-hand page and the text on the left-hand page.

Your eye goes to the right-hand page first because the photo of the man is so dramatic. Then you must backtrack. After looking at the right-hand page, you must return to the “Seashore” headline at the bottom of the left-hand page. Then you must go to the top of the left-hand page to start reading the text. This eye movement is cumbersome and disjointed and may tire the reader.

By reversing the photo and the text (putting the photo on the left-hand page), you get a different design result. In this case Krause has re-cropped the image, leaving a little room in front of the running and jumping man. Since he is running toward the gutter of the page spread, he appears to be running and jumping across the gutter and toward the copy on the right-hand page. Your eye goes immediately to the man, then jumps the gutter and finds the text at the top of the page (since we’re conditioned to read from the top to the bottom of a page), then finds the “Seashore” headline at the bottom of the page (away from the expected position at the top of the page but still large enough to grab the attention).

Sample Three, Jumping the Gutter

In sample #3, Krause introduces a subtle pattern of waves. In the “before” photo, which now covers the entire two-page spread and bleeds off the pages on all four sides, the waves are coming from the top right downward toward the bottom left. The magazine title “A day at the sea shore” crosses the bottom third of the two-page image, jumping the gutter.

The only difference between the “before” and “after” photo is the direction the waves travel. Whereas the waves are coming from the top right downward toward the bottom left in image #1, in sample number #2 of this set, the waves travel from the upper left across the gutter toward the lower right.

On both page spreads, the waves carry the reader’s gaze across the gutter, unifying the two pages. However, in the alternate design option, the waves carry the reader from the upper left down and across the gutter toward the bottom right—and then onward into the following pages.

Awareness of Eye Movement Is a Powerful Design Tool

The reader’s eye moves through a page spread of a print book, but he or she is usually not aware of this movement unless it becomes difficult. If he or she is confused and doesn’t know where to look or what is more or less important in the design, this will slow him or her down and make reading uncomfortable.

An adept designer of commercial printing products can be conscious of the natural eye movement to which we have grown accustomed, and then facilitate it or even redirect it as needed to achieve a particular design or editorial goal. This awareness is a powerful design tool.

Commercial Printing: Resampling Photoshop Images

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

I received an email last night from an associate who is a print book designer. The email read, “What is the proper resolution for an image in Photoshop?” I knew he had the answer: Twice the line screen of the printed image (i.e., 300 dpi for a 150-line printer’s halftone screen with the image reproduced full size—no enlargement or reduction).

What my associate really meant, when I got him on the phone and we discussed this further, was that he had a 72 dpi web image, and he needed to use it in a print book. “Don’t do it,” I said. “It’s always, always, always better to rescan the image at the proper resolution.”

Unfortunately, the only copy he had, or could get from his client, was the 72 dpi image.

Why Upsampling (i.e., Interpolation) Is Dangerous

First of all, why shouldn’t you upsample an image? That’s the technical term for enlarging an image in Photoshop while resampling it to increase its resolution. When you make a photo smaller, you squeeze up the image pixel information (i.e., you put the same number of pixels in a smaller space) and actually make the image appear sharper. However, when you enlarge it, you magnify the flaws.

More precisely, if you change the resolution of a 72 dpi image to 300 dpi, you are actually creating image information from scratch (making it up, which is called interpolation). The enlarged and resampled image may well have such flaws as jagged edges on items in the picture and/or a hazy, unfocused appearance. Even going back into the photo and resharpening it won’t make it right.

If you just enlarge the photo without resampling it (i.e., magnify the 72 dpi image without changing the resolution to 300 dpi), you’ll see the pixels as a pattern of huge, unattractive squares.

Just Don’t Do It

So the goal is to avoid interpolation like the plague. I said as much to my associate, but when I realized that he had to use the image and he had no other alternative, I taught him a trick.

Several years ago I had actually been successful in enlarging the cover photo of a print book using this technique, which I found online under the title “The Dark Art of Upsampling.” When I searched the Internet last night, I couldn’t find the exact article, but I did locate a number of other articles under that title.

Here’s the technique:

  1. Let’s say you have a 72 dpi image that’s 8” x 10” (576 pixels x 720 pixels) and you need to reproduce it as a 4” x 5” photo in a print book.
  2. Fortunately, since you’ll be using it at half the size of the original, you really already have an image that’s double the 72 dpi resolution, or 144 dpi. This is because reducing the size of the image increases its resolution commensurately.
  3. So without doing anything other than reducing the size of the image and therefore packing the pixels closer together, you have a 4” x 5” image that will print at 144 dpi. But you need an image that’s about twice that resolution.
  4. So, you open the image in Photoshop, and then open the “Image Size” dialog box. Then, instead of using a pixel dimension for the target image size, you change the dialog box units of measurement from “pixels” to “percentage.”
  5. You then choose “Bicubic, Smoother” at the bottom of the Image Size dialog box (an option created specifically for enlarging and resampling images).
  6. Finally, you choose a target size of between approximately 105 percent and 110 percent. Then you repeatedly enlarge the photo as many times as you need to to bring it to its final size. Apparently, by upsampling the image in small increments of 105 to 110 percent, using this “bicubic, smoother” technique, you can minimize the flaws that would otherwise usually appear. But only enlarge the image in 5 to 10 percent increments at a time. Then, if at all possible, don’t use the photo for an important image like a cover shot on gloss coated paper. Instead, consider it for a large format printed image on a building wrap or bus wrap, where it will be seen from a distance.
  7. Check the image very closely (at a high magnification) in Photoshop for any jagged edges in elements of the photo with straight or diagonal lines. Also look for “halos,” “artifacts,” or any other image information or patterning that shouldn’t be there.
  8. Then forget this technique, or try not to use it again. It is never as effective as using a properly scanned, crisp image at the correct resolution.
  9. If the technique doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, there are dedicated software packages that do essentially the same thing.

Some final words: Just don’t do it.

Poster Printing: Is It a Litho or a Screen Print?

Monday, June 16th, 2014

My fiancee and I both fell in love with a poster we found at a thrift store yesterday. The poster depicts a caricature of a horse in lion tamer’s garb with a whip, holding a top hat in one hoof. He looks ornery. The background sans serif type reads “CYRK.”

I did some research into the artist starting with his signature, “Swierzy,” and learned that Waldemar Swierzy had been a Polish artist who had died just a few short months ago (November 2013).

In Wikipedia I read that “in 1992 the government of Poland [had] issued a postage stamp to honor one of his Cyrk posters, ‘Clown with derby’ in 1992” and that “Swierzy is one of the Polish School of Posters’ most prolific artists, having created over 2500 posters.”

What Is It?

This was all very exciting, to have acquired a Polish circus poster for $20.00, but my fiancee asked me how it had been printed, and I could not immediately answer without a close inspection and some thought and research.

She loved it. I loved it. But what my fiancee was really asking about the poster was whether it had value as a work of art.

First of all, the poster came shrink-wrapped to a sheet of cardboard. I was concerned at first and thought it was probably a reproduction. After all, when posters are dry mounted to Fome-Cor or other, similar substrates, their value drops. I believe this is due to their not being removable, to the potential for damage during the mounting process, and to the likelihood that non-archival materials had been used in the dry mounting process (leading to a reduced lifespan for the print).

Fortunately, I was proven wrong. As soon as we had removed the shrink-wrapping, the poster fell off the board backing and dropped to the floor. It was just an unmounted sheet of art paper. This was encouraging.

Four Color Custom Printing or Custom Screen Printing with Match Inks?

Next, I looked at the colors in the large format print with a loupe. Specifically, I was looking for the four process colors and the rosette pattern of offset commercial printing (caused by the angles at which the process color screens are set to avoid moire patterns).

The rosette pattern would show that the poster was a “reproduction” rather than a “print.” Both traditional lithography and custom screen printing yield multiple copies of an artist’s work, but these are within a limited run, the artist participates directly in their creation, and they have artistic and monetary value.

In contrast, an offset lithographic copy of a work of art is created with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. It may have an aesthetic appeal, but the reproduction has far lesser monetary and artistic value because the offset lithograph is made from a photograph of the artist’s work.

Under the loupe I saw full, rich, solid colors, and I also saw a few areas with a screen pattern of dots. I did not see any of the process colors, and the dot pattern I did see was only of one color. From past reading, I knew that the pressure of the custom screen printing process yielded somewhat irregular halftone dots, and when comparing the halftone dots in the poster with the smaller, more regular, and more precise dots of offset lithographic work, I did see a difference. Not only were there no rosettes (and no overlapping screens of color at all), but the few areas of halftone dots were a bit irregular and not completely filled in. Some dots bled into one another as well.

From my print brokering work with a large format screen printer, I knew that even though the majority of custom screen printing work was done with flat colors, nevertheless, a skilled screen printer could produce halftones (and could even print process color halftone screens).

I also knew that process colors were transparent, and in looking closely at the inks used in the poster I could see only thick films of opaque ink colors. Looking at the back of the poster I could see that the ink was so thick that it had bled through onto the back of the poster in several places. The edges of the print were also pinkish red, just like the background behind the horse caricature, so it seemed that the pressure of the squeegie drawing the ink through the mesh screen of the custom screen printing press had forced the viscous ink through the porous press sheet.

Was It Signed?

The artist’s signature was present, but unfortunately it was not original. I could see halftone dots slightly smeared behind a solid black printed image of the signature. Granted, this would make the poster less valuable than a print from a limited edition that was hand-signed by the artist and then numbered (3/25, for instance, indicating the third “pull” from an edition of 25, made before the screens had been destroyed in order to limit the press run and increase the value of the individual posters).

But none of this was present. However, a hand-written number was on the back of the poster, drawn in light red pencil, perhaps a notation by the gallery that had shrink-wrapped the piece.

The Verdict

There are three levels of value you might look for in such a print. The lowest is an offset lithographic reproduction of a painting or another print. Clearly, this was not such a reproduction.

The next level would be a screen print (an indeterminate press pull from a print run of indeterminate length), unsigned but clearly the work of a noted artist (and Waldemar Swierzy had just died, making his work more valuable—since there would be no more prints or posters forthcoming).

Third and best would have been a hand-signed, original screen-printed poster with a notation of the numbered print and the length of the print run, which this was not.

What is the poster worth? Neither more nor less than a willing buyer would offer. More than anything, it’s just exciting to acquire a real piece of art for $20.00. It comes with a history and with all the fanciful images an ornery lion-tamer horse can evoke.

Brochure Printing: Paper Color Affects the Ink Color

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

We all learn from our mistakes. In an ideal world, we may even learn from the mistakes of others and then not make our own.

In this light, I want to tell you a story about choosing paper for a brochure print job I designed about twenty years ago. My boss, the Director of Publications, suggested that I print the brochure on a warm coated custom printing stock to differentiate it from other marketing materials we had been circulating. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Pitfalls of the Paper Selection

I learned several things from the completed brochure print job that was delivered.

First of all, I had made the assumption that the cream tint of the paper would affect the color of the inks. It did. Since I had made this assumption early, I had had the foresight to check the colors on my computer monitor using a cream tint for the background of the entire print brochure. This had given me somewhat of an idea of the final outcome.

However, it only gave me a sense of how the ink colors of the text and images would look when surrounded by a cream background. I had not taken into consideration that the paper would affect the color of the ink actually printed on it. More specifically, the color of the substrate slightly affected the red and blue PMS hues that were the corporate colors of the logo. This was less than ideal. The substrate also altered the final appearance of the process color work.

Finally, when I saw how the final brochure print job looked beside the other collateral produced during the year, it did stand out. But I wasn’t sure I liked that. The difference in the paper colors between the new brochure and the other marketing materials made the new job look like it had been designed by another company. This wasn’t great either.

Fortunately, my boss, the Director of Publications, actually liked the brochure so I walked away from the job without losing face, but more importantly I took away some lessons that I have remembered and applied for the succeeding two decades.

Lessons Learned (or What You Might Keep in Mind When Printing on a Yellow-Tinted Paper)

Consider the following when you diverge from the norm by specifying a custom printing stock that’s different from the paper used in prior jobs for your company:

  1. Process inks are transparent. The color of the substrate will alter the color of the ink.
  2. The only way to know for sure how this will look is to request a press proof. This is incredibly expensive. Basically, you are setting up the entire press to print one copy of your job to see how it will look.
  3. Alternatives to a press proof include producing a digital print on the off-white (or any other color) custom printing stock. It will not be absolutely faithful to the end product (digital toners don’t behave exactly like offset inks), but it will be affordable. You may also want to tint the background of your file (for observation on your computer monitor only). Keep in mind that this will only approximate the look of the ink colors when surrounded by the toned paper substrate. It will not show you how the (potentially transparent) inks will behave on the colored stock. (Remember to change the background back to white before sending the job to the printer.)
  4. While process inks are transparent (i.e., you will see the color of the paper through them, and the color of the paper will alter the color of the ink), PMS colors are less dramatically affected, since some of them are not transparent.
  5. You can get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink (to a certain extent) by having the commercial printing supplier include opaque white in the PMS ink mixture.
  6. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using white paper and only simulating the yellowish tones of the cream printing stock. You can do this by printing the background in a tint of light yellow (or another color, depending on the results you want). This way you can knock out the yellow behind any type, process color images, tints, and/or solids.
  7. You can also get around the problem of the paper changing the color of the ink by using colored foils instead of ink (let’s say you’re printing on a really dark paper). The one downside is that you will need to have a die created for the foil stamping, and this will be expensive and time consuming.
  8. Consider designing a year’s worth of marketing collateral at one time. I realize this is impractical. You won’t have the copy for all the publications at one time. However, you can start to create an overall “look” of the booklet and brochure covers, the type and color choices, the paper colors, and textures. Things will look like they go together and represent the same company if you approach their design as a unified whole.

Learn from my mistakes. Ouch.

Commercial Printing: Intriguing Facts About Fonts

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

I would encourage you to use Google Images (as well as Google Web) to find samples of each type characteristic or category. Type “Google Images,” then search for “Modern” Type, for instance. You can find detailed images and descriptions in this way.

Typography is one of the most important and complex aspects of the graphic arts, involving aesthetics as well as the highly computer-intensive arena of prepress. In no special order, here are a few facts and descriptions regarding typography and fonts.

A Brief History of Type: Old Style, Transitional, and Modern

It always helps to get a type sample print book to familiarize yourself with all the variations in typefaces. These now are available online as well as in printed form. Type books and websites display either full alphabets and numerals or selected passages of text (“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” for instance) in various typefaces.

As a starting point, let’s look at the “Old Style,” “Transitional,” and “Modern” classifications for serif faces (the typefaces with little extra strokes on the ends of the letterforms).

Old Style faces include Garamond and Goudy. There is not as much variation between the width of thick and thin strokes in the letterforms as in Transitional or Modern faces. In addition, there is a somewhat diagonal stress in the letterforms. (For instance, if you look at the difference in thickness of the letterform as your eye travels around the letter “O” set in Garamond type, the thinnest portions of the letter are somewhat asymmetrical, causing the letter to appear to lean slightly to the left.) Finally, the serifs are bracketed (that is, the letterform curves into the stroke of the serif).

Baskerville and Fournier would be good examples of “Transitional” typefaces. They have more contrast between thick and thin strokes as well as a more vertical “stress” than the Old Style typefaces that preceded them. In addition, the serifs are horizontal (as opposed to slightly slanted, as is often the case in Old Style typefaces).

Modern typefaces go even further. There is far more contrast between the thin and thick strokes of the letterforms (very thin vs. very thick). In addition, serifs and horizontal strokes of the letters are exceptionally narrow (almost hairlines), and the serifs have no bracketing (i.e., no curves into the serifs, just abrupt angles). Finally, the letterform stress is vertical. Gone is the slanted stress of Old Style type. Bodoni and Didot would fall into this category.

Sans Serif Typefaces

The aforementioned are only the serif faces. Another category entirely, sans serif faces have no little “tails” on the ends of the letters. Letterforms in this category are simpler, with no variance, or very little variance, from thick to thin in the letters. Other terms associated with sans serif (French for “without serifs”) are “Grotesque” and “Gothic.” You’ll see these words in the names of the typefaces, such as Century Gothic or Monotype Grotesque.

Due to their overall heavier look than some serif typefaces, sans serif typefaces are useful for headlines, providing contrast to the lighter tone of a block of body copy set in a serif typeface. Sans serif type can be a bit harder to read in large amounts of copy than serif faces (this is the traditional wisdom, although many people now dispute this). Some people believe the strokes of the serifs carry the eye more easily from one serif typeface letter to the next.

Helvetica and Futura are sans serif faces. Optima, another sans serif face, actually breaks the rule of most sans serif faces in that its letterforms include strokes of varying thickness (but no serifs).

Slab Serif or Egyptian Typefaces

You may have seen type on Old West style posters with pronounced thick, horizontal serifs that are chunky like slabs (much thicker than the horizontal serifs of Modern typefaces). Clarendon would fit into this category. Letterforms have a vertical stress, and there is little variation from thick to thin within the letterforms. All of these qualities made for dynamic, easy to read posters in the Old West. These faces are also called “Egyptian” typefaces.

Script Typefaces

These are just what their name implies. Script faces look like they were drawn with a pen. They have a certain formality, although they are very hard to read as text (and somewhat easier to read as headline type). You might use them in a poster or an invitation.

Decorative Typefaces

Stencil, Rosewood, and Hobo are three examples of decorative faces. Decorative type can be very effective in conveying a mood within a large format print like a poster or billboard, if the text comprises only a few words. Through its appearance alone, such a typeface can give your reader a sense of the meaning of the words. As to their readability, though, decorative typefaces are hard on the eyes when used for complete headlines or body copy.

Why You Should Care

With these type classifications in mind, you will start to see the subtle differences between typefaces. And that will be a good starting point to help you choose the most appropriate typeface for your headlines and body copy, typefaces that will reflect the tone you are trying to convey with your graphic design project while still being readable.

Typefaces are not interchangeable. Set a few sample words (or a headline) from your brochure printing job or print book cover in several different typefaces (use only a few words, and use the same words for all examples you’ll create this way). You will see the subtle or even dramatic ways in which its tone, or mood, or even meaning will change as well.

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