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Archive for July, 2015

Printing Postcard Decks: Specifications

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

As strange as this may sound, a postcard is one of the more effective direct marketing tools. It may not be flashy. It may not always be elegantly designed to impress you. But it gets your attention. Particularly with less mail these days. All the surveys I’ve read say that people like going to the mailbox, and they spend at least a little time looking at every piece of mail, from checks to bills to direct marketing pieces. And unlike a lot of direct mail, a postcard is already open. You don’t need to remove it from an envelope. You just have to look at it.

My Client’s Postcard Job

With this in mind, a commercial printing client came to me recently wanting to produce a card set for her client (my client is a freelance graphic designer). These were the specifications that we agreed upon, and that I submitted to a printer I considered appropriate for the job.

The first thing we had to determine was the flat size of the postcards. Since they will have to meet international mailing standards, my client chose the A6 format: 5.8″ x 4.1″. Normally, if the postcards were to mail in the United States only, the US Postal Service regulations would stipulate the following:

For First Class and Presort Standard postcards up to 4.25” x 6”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 7pt. (.007”). For larger sized Presort Standard postcards from 4.25” x 6” through 6.125” x 11.5”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 9pt. (.009”).

Based on the specifications above, I suggested a C1S (coated one side) sheet that mics to 10pt. (in thickness), just to be safe. The custom printing vendor confirmed this and noted that the C1S designation would be appropriate, since the postcards would have only black ink, or no ink, on the back and a 4-color image on the front.

So at this point my client and I agreed on the following specifications:

  1. The postcards would be 5.8″ x 4.1″ in size to conform to international postcard standard specs.
  2. The postcards would be 10pt. in thickness to be stiff enough for the particular format/size (I have seen thicker postcards, perhaps 12pt., specified to provide a more opulent feel, but the 10pt. stock would be adequate). The printer suggested Carolina coated stock, not an expensive paper. For postcards that would be read once and then discarded, this would be fine.
  3. The cards would be either 4/0 or 4/1 (four color on the front, and either not printed or printed in black-only on the back), depending on the particular card, since there would be a total of six originals.
  4. Due to the exceptionally quick turn-around for the commercial printing job, I encouraged my client to request virtual proofs (PDF soft proofs). This would eliminate the time needed for sending hard-copy proofs back and forth to the printer.
  5. My client requested that each set of six postcards be shrink wrapped. I had seen three varieties of shrink wrapping. The first was thin and not durable, more like plastic wrap for food. This I had seen used for grouping multiple copies of a commercial printing job before packaging. I had also seen heat-welded plastic used for postcard decks that had come to me in the mail. Finally, I had seen polybags used to ship annual reports and other magazines. I asked the printer for suggestions. I also found out from my client that the postcard decks would only be handed out (not mailed). Therefore, the packaging would not need to conform to any US Postal regulations. I requested the cheapest shrink-wrap-like packaging the printer could offer that would be durable. If the package had mailed, I would have done more homework, researching US Postal Service requirements for postcard decks on the USPS website.
  6. The printer and I discussed schedules, shipping destinations, and the fact that he was competing against an online postcard vendor. Fortunately this particular printer gave me a low price.
  7. Finally, my client noted the overall press run of 750 sets of six cards.

What You Can Learn from My Client’s Experience

  1. This is a very simple job. As a marketing vehicle, it is also a very efficient and cost-effective product. It may not be sexy, but consider it for your own design work anyway, since it can effectively interest new clients in your product or service—and for very little expense.
  2. Consider size and thickness from a design point of view (how you want the cards to feel and look), but make sure you also do the online research at the US Postal Service website. Make sure you comply with all automation standards (particularly size and paper thickness) to receive the best postal rates. If you don’t find what you need online, contact a business mail specialist in person. Not all branches of the Post Office have such a specialist, but the employees at your particular branch will know where to send you. That’s how I found mine.
  3. Discuss with the Post Office what their requirements are for the plastic packaging of the postcard decks. To get a head start on this, you might want to look closely at postcard decks you receive in your own mailbox. There are a lot of different wrapping options. Just because your printer can provide one, you still need to make sure the Post Office will accept it. If you’re just handing out the packages, as my client’s client was, you can forgo this step.

Custom Printing: Box Manufacturing

Monday, July 27th, 2015

A commercial printing client of mine just received her job, which consisted of twelve short, saddle-stitched print books in a box. The books are 6” x 9” in format with four-color covers, and the slip case box they fit in is a four-color press sheet laminated to corrugated board.

I asked my client how the job looked when the samples arrived, and she expressed pleasure with the books but regret for the slightly off-center art on the box. She had received one sample of the job. The printer had mailed out all other sets to the address database list my client had provided.

Ouch. Few things bother me more than an unhappy client. So I asked her to send me photos of the box showing the art off center. I then sent these on to the commercial printing vendor who had done the work.

(First of all, I asked my client for photos rather than the box itself so I could immediately communicate with the printer. Picking up the box would have taken time. Sending the box to the printer would have taken additional time. Requesting photos as email attachments was much more immediate.)

A Description of the Corrugated Slip Case

To give you some context, the slip case is a little over three inches wide to accommodate twelve short print books. In the back it is a full 9” high, but this slopes downward in the front to about 6” to afford easy access to the books.

On the sides of the box are the front and back of a print book with text and photos promoting the books in the box (individual chapters from the larger text book). I could see that the covers were not exactly centered and were slightly tilted on the background PMS color. On the front of the slip case box, my client had included the title of the series; a list of the separate, bound chapters it includes; and the company logo (all in reverse type). The vertical axis of this centered list had not been precisely centered on the box panel, and all type was slightly tilted as well.

I could see why my client was not happy.

The Dieline of the Slip Case

To figure out what had happened, I checked the combined dieline/PDF proof of the box. This PDF image showed all paper flaps that would be folded in and glued to fabricate a completed box. It was incredibly complex with all of its flaps and glue tabs. The proof showed the exact placement of the images (front and back covers of the main book) on either side of the box, plus the art for the taller back panel and shorter front panel. I could see where the art should have landed (after printing, laminating, diecutting, folding, and gluing).

The Printer’s Response to the Photos

I want to note here that this custom printing vendor has always been candid with me. He has also always produced stellar products under unbelievably tight deadlines.

Because I trust the printer, I listened closely to his response. This is what he said after doing some research:

  1. Although he could see the lack of precision in the photos of the sample box, the other samples he had checked at the print shop were not off center or tilted. Probably the other 250+ boxes were ok. This was not a guarantee, however.
  2. The (separate) box printer/converter had had problems with the press run and had pulled out (and given to the main printer, my trusted associate) a number of rejects. Some were not that bad. My printer would make these available to my client if she received complaints and needed to send a new box or two to a dissatisfied client (i.e., the end user).
  3. And this was the sobering information the printer offered:

  4. Tolerances for box manufacturing are not as tight as for offset custom printing. Whereas an offset printer might provide a piece with a 1/16” or 1/32” leeway from perfect positioning of a printed element, a box manufacturer might have a 1/8” or 1/4” leeway, which would still be considered acceptable. Why? Because all of the die cutting, folding, and gluing operations will actually magnify and exacerbate the slightest deviation from perfect positioning. The multiple operations needed for box conversion will make a problem worse and worse.
  5. In future box designs, the printer said it would be safer to not place a rectangle (the book cover) in a position that would be obvious if there were any deviation from perfect placement.

Even though I was not happy, I could see the printer’s point. In book printing, this might be like placing a 12pt rule all the way around the perimeter of a book cover. Anything but the most precise trimming of the cover would make the printed rule around the cover look uneven. Since commercial printing is a physical process, and all printing and post printing (or finishing) operations magnify errors, it is wise to design with the limits of both offset lithography and post-press finishing operations in mind.

Granted, some boxes–perhaps most boxes–were closer to perfect, particularly after the box printer had removed the problematic slip cases. It was unfortunate that my client’s sample was not perfect. But just as I could see errors in printed maps becoming worse and worse as the multitude of folds magnified any errors in placement, I could see my printer’s point. But if I had not developed such a long-standing relationship with him over the years, I (and my client) might not have had such faith in his response.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. For complex jobs, only work with a printer you trust completely. If anything goes wrong, he will be more likely to tell you honestly what is the printer’s fault and what is considered acceptable, or within tolerance, for particular commercial printing and finishing operations.
  2. Expect box printing to not be perfect, due to the number of individual steps in the process that will magnify flaws. Design your printed product accordingly to minimize the effect of any misalignment.

Thinking in Large Format Print : Striking Designs

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Having traveled in both the world of fine arts (my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic) and the graphic arts (as a designer, art director, and consultant, to name a few), I have come to firmly believe that a few principles of good design pertain to both.

In this light, I was struck today while installing one large format print standee at a movie theater by the design of another standee. It was unique. I had never seen anything like it, although it was simple. There was no artifice about it. It was simply good art.

The Standee

The standee was a three-dimensional collection of five cartoon characters from the movie Inside Out surrounded by the contour of a head. The contour of the head acted as a white frame around the activity inside. The frame was stylized and very sparse in its detail, in contrast to the strong primary colors and activity of the characters inside the frame.

Even the logotype for the title of the film was brassy and set on a slight angle. In contrast, the dominant white contour, which included almost no printing (just the date of the film) was massive (about a foot wide and a foot deep, extending all the way around the standee).

Why It Worked

I thought long and hard about why this standee appealed to me, as I assembled the three graphic boxes of the Fantastic Four large format print standee. I knew the answer rested on a few simple principles of art and design.

Here are some thoughts:

The Unique Format

The simple white outline of the head was sparse in design compared to the interior. This created contrast and tension, which capture viewer interest in a piece of fine art or graphic art. The stark white of the contour of the head also echoed the white of the movie title and tied the two together. (Repetition is another useful tool in both fine art and graphic art.)

I even saw similarities between this standee and the unprinted areas of a blind embossed design. In this case as well, a section of unprinted graphic can stand in dynamic contrast to its surroundings even without an image. This reflects the physicality of print. On the standee (as in an embossed design), the foot-wide and foot-deep contour both contains and balances the interior four-color image of the five chaotic characters. It acts almost like a wall, a definitive boundary, in its large size and simplicity.

The Contrast of Color Against White

Usually four-color imagery would be more dominant than a white area within a graphic design or fine arts painting. But the size and design of the white contour of the head invert this expectation, evoking interest and making the standee unique.

The Simplicity of the Form

From across the room, the first thing you see is see the outer contour of the head. At first sight, the overall design is simple, contained, almost rigid. The contrast between the noise and activity within the head and the solemnity of the head itself creates tension, which is a key element of a compelling design.

The Form Echoes the Meaning of the Movie

Form follows function. This is another element of good graphic design and fine art. A picture (painting, poster, or large format print standee) should be more than attractive. It should say something, and all graphic elements of the design should support this message.

I did some research into Inside Out. In Wikipedia the plot description notes:

“Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley and everyone else are guided by their emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The personified emotions live in … the control center inside Riley’s mind …. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues ….”

So, essentially, the rigid outer wall of the head contains the tumultuous emotions of the main character. And the structure of the design reflects this completely. That’s good art.

How You Can Apply This to Other Graphic Design Work

Here are some rules of thumb to consider:

  1. Make sure the design you create (everything from the overall form to the color usage to the typefaces to the imagery) supports the message. Whether you’re designing a brochure, a large format print poster, or a print book cover, you’re saying something. You’re making a statement. Make sure all elements of the design support this statement.
  2. Try something different. Color usually dominates white surroundings. Consider inverting this expectation to make your design unique.
  3. Consider sculptural ways to make your design stand out. The contour of the head acted as a frame or cookie cutter, with all of the action taking place inside the frame. You can do something similar with blind embossing or perhaps die cutting, or some other physical design process. Make your design a tactile experience. Consider making it three dimensional.
  4. Realize that a rigid structure containing a chaotic image creates tension and intense energy within a design (either fine art or graphic design). Consider ways to use contrast to create such energy.

These are a handful of simple design elements and tools for both fine art and graphic design. Used well, they can make your work stand out and shine.

Getting Creative in Commercial Printing Design

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

One of the major attributes of good commercial printing design is that it surprises the viewer in some way. It tricks your eye or gives you something you didn’t expect.

The Mother’s Day Card

This concept came to mind as I was looking through the Mother’s Day cards at the grocery store, searching for something new for my fiancee’s mother. What I found was a card that broke the traditional mold of greeting cards. I’ll have to admit that the format is what did it. I don’t recall the content of the card, but I do remember the format.

Specifically, I have always seen and expected to see approximately 5” x 7” cards, give or take. Occasionally I have found huge cards (measured in feet rather than inches), but how do you mail something like this?

What I found in the grocery store was a traditionally sized card with a cute comment on the front cover and inside back cover, and then an arrow pointing to the bottom of the card along with a drawing of fingers, indicating that I should lift up the bottom of the page. The interior of the card, glued to the interior left and right pages, was a French-folded sheet that opened up into a mini poster. It got me. I had never seen anything like this. The design of the poster I had just opened grabbed my attention.

Unlike the huge greeting cards I had seen many years ago, and perhaps the three dimensional cards that contained objects (a miniature leather jacket attached to one such card), this mini poster had been one of the more original format designs. I thought it could be used for practically any holiday. It provided ample space for a powerful message. What made this original was the unexpected. Even when I lifted the flap I didn’t expect a poster twice the size of the original card.

Oblong Pocket Folder, Another Surprise

This concept also applies to the oblong pocket folder/brochure I have discussed in a few recent blog postings. My custom printing client chose a landscape (or oblong) format instead of the usual upright (or portrait) format. She did this because most of the collateral she had designed for her client had been horizontal, but when she asked my opinion of the design, I noted that for the pocket folder in particular, this would catch the reader’s attention because it is unusual. Most pocket folders are vertical. This horizontal format will stand out and attract attention.

Vertical Business Cards

The same holds true for business cards that are vertical rather than horizontal. We have been trained through the years to expect to see horizontal business cards. While this is fine (and we can easily process the information), the unexpected surprise of a vertical business card will make it memorable (if the design is striking as well). Fortunately, since we no longer use Rolodexes, this format will most likely not cause problems in saving the card for future use. (After all, how do you insert a vertical card in a Rolodex–i.e., on its side–and still read it easily thereafter?)

An Accordion Fold Greeting Card

About thirty years ago with the help and encouragement of my boss, a designer, I produced a card that was about 27” long and 4” high. It had six panels, three on either side. When you opened up the accordion fold, you saw the Washington Monument on its side, extending the entire length of the card. The card was an invitation to a business party, and right at the tip of the horizontal Washington Monument I printed the RSVP information for the party. People liked the card and a sizable number of participants RSVP’ed. I like to think it was due to the uniqueness of the card. Who would lay a traditionally vertical icon on its side? Clearly it surprised the reader and grabbed his or her attention.

What You Can Learn from These Examples

  1. Design for commercial printing can be a form of play. Try different things when you’re working on a greeting card, a business card, or anything else. Look at the process as a series of experiments. Discard those that don’t work, and keep a few that do. You can make a final decision later.
  2. Make a physical mock-up. Don’t just create your design on a computer. Print is a tactile medium, and particularly when you are playing with expectations regarding the format or shape of a design piece, it helps to be able to hold a paper dummy or printed mock-up in your hand.
  3. Hand off your mock up to a number of people. Get feedback. Some will like the change in format; some will not. Try to get people to be specific about what they do and don’t like and why.
  4. Involve the Post Office. If the final finished size is out of the ordinary (such as a square card in an envelope), the Post Office may have specific formatting rules, and (with square cards, for instance) the Post Office may charge a postage premium. Business analysts at the Post Office will review your design (online or in person) and give you technical feedback.

Finishing Tools for Digital Custom Printing

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

I always find it intriguing to watch the developments in digital custom printing. There’s a lot of activity in this arena, and the offerings point to the future, making it crystal clear that print is not dead.

In this light, a colleague sent me some promotional literature from Xerox today describing several pieces of equipment for digitally printing and fabricating folding cartons.

Now before I describe the various commercial printing and finishing tools, I want to make two points:

  1. Growth in the manufacturing of digital packaging (referred to as “folding carton”) equipment makes it clear that package printing is also experiencing explosive growth. Here’s a web link from Smithers Pira (entitled “Global Packaging Market to Reach $975 Billion by 2018”) to give you some background information:
  2. http://www.smitherspira.com/news/2013/december/global-packaging-industry-market-growth-to-2018

  3. The coming to market of finishing tools for digital commercial printing establishes laser printing (along with inkjet) as a viable alternative for “real” print jobs. The field of electrophotography is taking giant leaps beyond cut-sheet printing into the printing, coating, and die cutting of paper board for packaging.

A Review of the Equipment

The Xerox promotional literature describes six pieces of equipment that fall into four categories:

  1. The Digital Presses: The iGen4 and iGen 150 electrophotographic (laser printing) presses provide extraordinary color as well as PANTONE certification. Unlike most older machines, they can print on packaging board material up to 24 pt. in caliper.
  2. The Coaters: Xerox has recently brought to market the TRESU Pinta Coater and Epic CTi-635 Inline Coater, which deliver matte or gloss coated sheets that are dry and immediately ready for diecutting or other finishing operations. Both machines can coat press sheets with aqueous or UV approved coating materials. In addition, both will process 14.3” x 26” press sheets. They can be set up to run inline or offline, providing flexibility in production. In addition, they both use anilox coating technology (which allows for a higher volume of coating, better surface transfer, and higher precision).
  3. The Stacker: Xerox has also brought to market the KAMA Buffering Stacker Line, which allows for continued printing whether or not the die cutter is up and running. This equipment stacks printed jobs up to 24” in height in preparation for subsequent die cutting steps, organizing the printed stacks job by job.
  4. The Die Cutters: Xerox’s KAMA DC 58 Die Cutter and KAMA DC 76 Die Cutter round out the complete digital package production suite. From the marketing literature it seems that the main difference between the two is the cut sheet dimensions: up to 24” x 30” for the DC 76 and up to 15.7” x 22.8” for the DC 58. In either case these dimensions allow for respectably-large packaging, including all glue flaps. In addition, the KAMA DC 76 can be used for braille, embossing, hot foil stamping, and holograms.

In all cases the modular units can be adjusted quickly as job needs change, and they can be used either inline or offline.

Features and Benefits of This Finishing Equipment

  1. All equipment comes from one source, Xerox, so everything will work together.
  2. Jobs can be ready for market quickly, since the individual machines have been designed to work in tandem and to be adjusted quickly in preparation for successive jobs.
  3. Since the printing and finishing products have a “modular architecture” (as per the Xerox literature), they can be scaled up as a print provider’s needs change.
  4. Transferring short-run package printing from larger offset presses to this suite of digital equipment will speed up production while freeing up the offset presses for longer press runs.
  5. This suite of Xerox products makes shorter runs cost-effective.
  6. The iGen offerings can print variable-data, anti-counterfitting information and individual item-tracking information, all while allowing for less inventory and less waste than a comparable suite of offset printing and finishing equipment.

The Implications of This Equipment

What all of this really means is that printers can produce prototypes of packaging; or short, versioned runs that accommodate different languages, smaller brands, test marketing, or specialized or regional interests.

Printers can quickly turn around time-sensitive pieces, taking advantage of the variable-data capabilities of the iGen, and going beyond the limits of cut-sheet printing to add the diecutting, embossing, and foil stamping capabilities needed for the burgeoning flexible-packaging market.

As with all digital custom printing, this suite of products can customize imagery, text, and color to target each printed and finished item to a specific market.

Options in Screen Printing

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

My fiancee and I went mattress shopping today as one of the final shopping trips of a year-long hiatus from our home due to last year’s house fire. At one point in the trek through the main part of the furniture store and the clearance section, my fiancee noted the difference in the clothing worn by the sales reps in the two parts of the store. Her comments addressed both the image and branding attributes of the various “uniforms,” and the technical, commercial printing aspects of the clothing design.

Clothing Image Differences Between the Outer Store Sales Reps and the Clearance Sales Reps

Wherever you go there are hierarchies. In this particular store, the sales representatives responsible for the new merchandise wore suits and ties. In fact, the sales reps in the clearance center referred to the other reps by their dress, as “the reps with the suits.”

In contrast, sales representatives in the clearance portion of the store (the same store, separated only by the clearance sign) wore brightly-colored polo shirts emblazoned with the company’s logo. Some also wore hats with the same color scheme and logo identification.

Ironically, the sales reps in the clearance center, who were presented as “warehouse staff,” were in some ways more identifiable by their branded clothing (more of a consistent uniform than the various colored suits and ties of the outer sales staff). In addition, they were more knowledgeable regarding the composition, features, and benefits of the merchandise.

In fact, the first sales rep we spoke to (dressed in a suit and tie) sold us one of the highest priced discontinued items without really understanding our needs. After a sleepless night on the overly firm mattress, we returned the item and spoke with a woman in the clearance center who explained the composition of the mattress and fit the proper firmness to our needs. We also lay down on the mattresses and tested the merchandise.

What This Means to a Designer

Image creates a powerful impression, even on those who have studied marketing and can identify its subtle messages. In this case, we initially assumed that the more slick and polished sales reps, who wore suits, would identify superior products that would meet our needs. Instead, the more casually dressed warehouse staff with their red polo shirts and company branding did a far better job.

A savvy designer of corporate identity clothing, be it branded hats and shirts, or any other item of clothing, can structure an overall look for a sales staff that makes representatives look professional and knowledgeable, worthy of your attention. This is artifice. However, in some cases there is true knowledge and sensitivity within the people wearing the branded clothing, but this is distinct from the corporate “look,” which is based on colors, fabrics, and fashion design.

Another thing a knowledgeable fashion designer must keep in mind is the prejudices of the potential clients. For instance, the sales reps in polo shirts were presented as being less sophisticated and knowledgeable than those in suits, but in reality the opposite was true. Think about the appearance of the sales staff in an upscale clothing store, for instance, or a store that sells jewelry or cosmetics. Here the colors, fabrics, and fashion design specifically attract those with large amounts of disposable income and a sense of luxury.

The Furniture Store Polo Shirts and Hats

I asked my fiancee how the shirts and hats she saw had been printed. (I had been more interested in the mattresses and free ice cream than the branding on this particular buying trip.) She said they had been sewn.

For the fashion designers and students of custom printing, I wanted to identify the various options, which are in the process of expanding as the field of digital commercial printing develops and matures.

Logos on these particular shirts and hats had been sewn rather than printed. Based on my cursory awareness of automated, digital sewing machines that can produce intricate images based on computer data, I would say that the hand-sewn garments with corporate identity markers are gone, replaced with unattended, computer-driven sewing programs.

What these particular branded items offer is the raised imagery of the sewn logo, which has an even more tactile sensibility than custom screen printing. In another store, the design manager might have opted for the thicker ink of screen printed fabric decoration, although given the large amount of make-ready work, this would have been cost effective only for a longer run of branded shirts and hats.

Two more options for shorter fabric printing runs (or variable data imagery) would have been inkjet and dye sublimation printing. For polyester hats and shirts, the dye sublimation process would have yielded a better result, and for cotton fabrics, the inkjet process would have been more appropriate. Nevertheless, in either case, the printed fabric would have had less of a sculptural feel in the logo and name of the company. Neither ink nor dye would have adhered to the surface of the fabric as well as the custom screen printing inks (which have the consistency of thick paint) or the even more tactile sewn images.

What This Means to a Designer

The savvy designer might also apply this awareness to other fabric printed items such as canvas messenger bags, or even the back panels of canvas director’s chairs or folding lawn chairs. The two most effective and dramatic options for imaging the fabric (sewing and screen printing) are unfortunately also the most expensive, but in some cases it’s worth the cost to reinforce certain brand attributes in the attire of the sales staff.

Considerations for Brochures with Pocket Folders

Monday, July 6th, 2015

A commercial printing client of mine is designing a cross between a brochure and a pocket folder to showcase her client’s business. My client, who is a designer, came to me for suggestions for a piece of marketing collateral that will be a brochure, or short booklet, in the front, but that will have a pocket on the interior back cover into which the end-user can insert multiple 8.5” x 11” single sheets of marketing material.

Physical Considerations for the Pocket Folder Brochure

Overall Size of the Brochure

I encouraged my client to consider a 9” x 12” pocket folder if the inserts that will go in the back brochure pocket will be 8.5” x 11”. This will allow room for comfortably inserting and removing the sell sheets.

Beyond the flat and folded size of the brochure, I asked my client to consider the need for a build for the pocket, the spine of the brochure/booklet, or both. For the brochure, the build would essentially be a spine. It would allow for a build in the pocket, which is essentially an extra piece of printing stock that will hold the pocket open (like a gusset), allowing for the inserting of multiple sell sheets. I have seen 1/4” or larger builds on pockets, but they are more fragile than pockets without builds, so if my client’s client only needs to insert a few printed sheets in the back pocket of the brochure, I’d encourage her to forgo the build. But it is something she has to address in some way.

Once the dimensions of the pocket folder brochure have been determined, it will be prudent to consider the shape of the rear-cover pocket. The pocket can be horizontal, allowing the inserts to be dropped in from above, or it can be vertical, allowing the user to slip in the sell sheets from the side. In either case, the designer can make use of the ability of the pocket to “hide” a portion of the first insert. In fact, the designer could even print an image on the pocket that continues onto the sell sheets.

Materials for the Brochure

For a job like this, I have suggested that my client choose a stock with a thickness of up to 130# cover. This would yield a substantial printed product. It would not feel flimsy. It would also accept lots of opening and closing over time, without the brochure‘s becoming worn or tattered.

Whether she chooses a stock coated on one side or two would depend on the ink coverage. If the ink prints on the exterior covers of the brochure (plus the interior back pocket, which is on the same side of the press sheet as the exterior covers), then a C1S (coated one side) sheet would be ideal (perhaps a 12-15 pt. C1S). If she will want to print on both sides of the press sheet, then a C2S sheet would be preferable (perhaps a 130# cover stock). For the sell sheets themselves, I would probably suggest a 100# text sheet (perhaps a dull or gloss commercial printing stock, depending on my client’s preferences).

As with any printed product that will receive heavy usage, it will be prudent to coat the exterior covers in some way. Options would include UV coating, aqueous, laminate, and press varnish. (Unfortunately, the last option, while inexpensive, can yellow over time or even alter the colors of the underlying ink. Therefore, it will be important to know how long the pocket folder brochure will be used.)

Approaches to Designing the Pocket Folder Brochure

Even before ink hits the page, it would be prudent for my client to request a paper dummy from the custom printing vendor. This will be unprinted, but it will provide a good idea of how the pocket folder brochure will feel in the hand, how durable it will be, and how the sell sheets will fit into the back-cover pocket.

In addition to paper dummies, I have suggested that my client look at pocket folders online. Some vendors that specialize in pocket folder printing will include a series of design options on their web pages, reflecting different sizes, different configurations and placement of pockets, even different shapes of the pockets (horizontal, vertical, scalloped, glued at the edges, with and without builds). It’s like an online “idea file.” With this information in mind, my client might then request printed samples to review options for both physical construction and graphic design.

The Dies for Cutting the Pocket Folder Brochure

Pockets such as these must be cut with metal dies. This increases the cost of the overall pocket folder brochure. In some cases, however, depending on the design, some printers may have standard dies on hand that have been used for other products. If my client wants a more unique approach, she will need to pay to have custom dies created for her design project. She will also need to build more time into the schedule for the die-making component of the job.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

You may find yourself designing a similar printed product. If so, start early by requesting printed samples and paper dummies from your paper merchant or printer. These will give you ideas for both the graphic treatment and the physical specifications of the project.

I would approach a number of commercial printing suppliers for a job of this complexity, since it will require printing, die-making, and converting skills, and since it will be a comparatively expensive project. More than with most jobs, a project like this requires specificity on your part, a printer you trust completely, and good communication with your vendor throughout the process regarding schedules, costs, and your expectations. On the positive side, you can experiment and develop a truly unique and powerful graphic product.

Digital Commercial Printing: Print Books

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

It has become commonplace to be able to print just one of almost anything. Digital commercial printing has evolved to this level. It no longer surprises us, even if the one-off printed item is intricate and precise, perhaps with special cover coatings or digital ink treatments. Even operations that had relied on diecutting (such as embossing and foil stamping) have digital counterparts, allowing prototyping of even a single item, such as an ornate box for a new product.

That said, most post-press operations are still assumed to take a lot of preparation. For this reason (among others), operations such as perfect binding have been more appropriate for either long runs on large machinery or shorter runs done on tabletop equipment. But even this is changing.

Enter the Muller Martini Vareo

A colleague recently shared promotional literature with me that describes the new Muller Martini Vareo perfect binder. I found the concept of one-off perfect binding to be most intriguing, so I did some more research.

To quote from Muller Martini’s 4/17/15 press release, “The Vareo efficiently processes medium runs down to books of one with the highest quality of any perfect binder in its class.” What this means in practical terms is that with quick make-ready and a running speed of 1350 units per hour, this new perfect binder can be cost effective for even ultra-short runs.

Until just recently, a major characteristic of perfect binding rendering it cost-prohibitive for short runs was the ample make-ready time required to set up a perfect-binding run. In contrast, the Vareo can be ready to go immediately, “with the very first book being sellable.” (Muller Martini).

Technical Specs That Allow for Flexibility

Here are some of the selling points noted in the promotional literature from Muller Martini:

  1. Each of the three clamps in the binder has its own servo motor. What this really means is that you can feed different book blocks requiring different treatment (perhaps because they are composed of different binding materials), and each processing station in the binder can be adjusted appropriately, even for one book.
  2. The equipment can be configured to operate in-line, near-line, or off-line, for maximum flexibility.
  3. The Vareo can process print books with spines ranging from .0625” (1/16”) to 2.36”.
  4. The equipment can be set up with integrated book measuring and barcode scanning technology to ensure that the right book block is paired with the right cover and that the treatment is appropriate for the print book’s size and materials.
  5. The Vareo can be used with either a hot melt EVA glue pot or a PUR glue pot or glue nozzle. In fact, more than one gluing option can be used on the same run. By mounting the applicators on a trolley, the systems can be cycled in and out of position as needed.
  6. The Vareo can be equipped with a crash feeder (the liner attached to the press signatures) to allow for lay-flat paperback binding or traditional case binding. (In this case, the press signatures are glued to the crash, and the crash is glued to the edge of the front and back book covers rather than being glued to the print book spine.)
  7. Muller Martini’s new perfect binder can be used to bind either digitally produced or offset printed products. For instance, a printer might produce 4-page signatures with bleeds on an HP Indigo digital press and then bind the books on the Vareo, or he might produce 16-page signatures on an offset lithographic press and then use the same Vareo equipment to bind the run.
  8. In addition to being flexible (from binding run to binding run, and even within a single run), and in addition to being appropriate for multiple press room configurations (in-line, near-line, and offline, as mentioned before), the Muller Martini Vareo is comparatively easy to operate, using set-up wizards to facilitate preparation.

Ideal Products, and Implications for the Future

Off the top of my head I can think of a number of uses for which this binder would be ideal. These include prototypes of any printed hard-cover or soft-cover book, photo books for individuals or families, personalized catalogs, and high-end print collateral.

What this means on a global scale is that consumer demand for personalized and short run perfect bound print books has brought to market very flexible, and yet still precise, bindery equipment. In an age where publishers opt for multiple short-runs in lieu of longer runs with potential warehousing considerations, original equipment manufacturers are stepping up and filling the demand with outstanding products such as the Muller Martini Valeo. I will be most interested in seeing how this plays out in upcoming years.

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