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Archive for March, 2016

Book Printing: Ways to Pay, If You’re an Entrepreneur

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

As I think back over the last several years years of print brokering work, I realize that a rather large percentage of my clients have been self-funding their commercial printing projects. They’re entrepreneurs.

When I sell printing to a for-profit, or non-profit, organization, I’m dealing with a complex bureaucracy usually, but the money is always easily available to pay the print bills. And sometimes the bills are huge, for case-bound print books and longer runs of perfect bound books, for instance.

An Entrepreneur’s Project: The Holocaust Book

In contrast, for an entrepreneur the job may be a self-published book (perhaps for a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah). A few years ago I brokered a large print book about the Holocaust for a family with many relatives who had survived. It was a large-format memorial to their tenacity set forth in photos and text. In this case the books were not sold but rather given out at family gatherings. The last I heard, however, was that the book was so intriguing that the author had considered shopping it around to various synagogues and other Jewish organizations, so their members might benefit from the book as well.

In this case, the print book was produced on an HP Indigo, or at least the text was produced in this way. As I look back at my notes I see that the covers were offset printed and then laminated. For a short run of 65 books, this 180-page, 9” x 12” format, perfect bound book was an ideal candidate for the HP Indigo. It was too short for conventional offset (too short for this option to be economically feasible, that is), but doing a short offset press run of the covers ensured their highest quality.

In this case, as I’m reviewing the notes, it looks like my client did a wire transfer from his bank to the printer to prepay for the commercial printing services.

For the entrepreneur, in many cases the only payment options available are charging the custom printing to a credit card, prepaying by check (with the printing job being put on hold until payment clears), or transferring funds by wire from the bank. Unlike a larger organization (like an educational foundation), many sole proprietors don’t want to undergo a credit check, which would be a requirement for being billed after the job has been printed and delivered.

In fact, in many cases, since commercial printing necessitates the printer’s buying supplies before the print run (such as paper and ink), and doing a large amount of work before delivering the printed product, it’s very much the norm for a print supplier to expect payment before the printing has begun. One of the printers I frequent even requires 110 percent of the cost up front to cover any overage produced during the press run.

Again, large businesses usually sidestep this issue by applying for credit with the commercial printing vendor.

Another Entrepreneur’s Project: The Fashionista’s Color Book

I’ve written many PIE Blog articles about a “fashionista” who is producing a color swatch book with each page a different hue, like a Pantone color book. The colors correspond to particular complexions and help women choose flattering wardrobe colors.

My client initially had secured funding through a partner. This particular job (22 originals multiplied by so many copies of each book) would cost about $5,500 to print digitally (again, the HP Indigo was to be the perfect commercial printing solution, since the ultra-short-run nature of the job lent itself to electrophotographic, digital technology).

Unfortunately, my client recently had a falling out with her source of funding. People have differences of opinion, and in the case of entrepreneurs, gaining seed money often entails giving up control over one’s work. Often the partner not only wants the money back after the product has been sold, but also desires control over the focus and direction of the business during and after the production of the job.

My client would have none of this, understandably. After all, the product was her creation, the fruits of her hard work. I don’t blame her. So she and I came up with a plan.

Making a Prototype of the Color Book

Digital printing, either electrophotography (laser printing) or inkjet printing, lends itself to a “print run of one copy.” It’s expensive, but it can be done. In contrast, to offset print one copy of my client’s color book would be astronomically expensive.

So here’s the plan. For approximately $500 (it may go up or down), the printer will produce a single copy of one original book (approximately 1.5” x 2.5”, 114 pages drilled in one corner and bound with a single screw-and-post assembly, printed on 12 pt gloss stock with 18 pt covers). The pages will all be collated and cut down to size. They may even be UV coated. But they will not be round cornered because this is an analog process, which, like offset printing, would be exorbitant for one copy of one book.

That said, my client’s goal will be to take this print book to her clients, sell them on the concept, and take orders and prepayment. Fortunately, she already has a number of interested clients because she has produced this series of color books before. If her clients prepay for the books, one by one, my client will have the funding to compensate the printer without ceding any control to a silent partner.

How else could she have done this? She could have gone through a “crowdfunding” website for entrepreneurs, such as Kickstarter. I’m sure there are other ways as well (such as gifts or loans through family and friends).

How This Relates to You

Hopefully it doesn’t and never will, if you work for a large organization. In this case it may just open up your awareness to include those who do it all on their own. But if you’re starting a business and need to pay the printer, perhaps these two stories will get you thinking about alternative sources of funding. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Large Format Printing: You’ll Go Nuts for this Printed Carton

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

On our way home from a standee installation at a movie theater last week, my fiancee stopped the car abruptly and jumped out. She grabbed a cardboard box covered in what appeared to be hand scrawled black Sharpie lettering and drawings. After commenting that I didn’t want to go to jail for stealing garbage, I put the box in the back seat, and we sped off. Needless to say, the box now lives in our front room, an example of pop art and corrugated board printing.

Why? What makes this box so special?

The Product

First of all, the box is different from most other boxes. It is covered in black Sharpie (or so it appears). The company website (it is a nut company) is displayed prominently and underlined. It also appears to be hand lettered (albeit in white). There is almost no place for the eye to rest on any of the four printed sides of the cube (the box is of almost equal dimensions) because there is writing everywhere.

Most of the writing comprises puns, and comments about how delicious the nuts are and how this is a family business. The marketing copy exudes an almost childlike innocence, a sense of wonder and energy and fun. You want to read every word. Then you want to eat the nuts and keep the carton. There are even several cute drawings of nuts with faces, feet, and a hat.

From a marketing point of view, what makes this special:

  1. First of all, it is very personal and friendly in tone, in contrast to most printed carton art. It draws the viewer into the world of the nut-maker by appealing to his/her sense of humor.
  2. It also stands out from almost all other packaging art in that it appears to be hand lettered. Clearly it has been printed. However, only when you think of the labor involved in hand-lettering thousands or hundreds of thousands of boxes do you start to think about how it was printed.
  3. The overall “feel” is of a local food co-op. The box is brown corrugated board. The writing is black ink, except for the white logo, so there is a bit of an environmentally-conscious vibe going on here. It’s casual, approachable, anything but corporate.

The Process

So how was this produced?

Creating the art was easy enough. The graphic designers either produced a hand-lettered original, which they then scanned and brought into the page composition software, or they drew the lettering and images of nuts with faces and legs with a tool like the Wacom Tablet and a stylus (i.e., they created the art within a drawing or painting program).

Producing the carton could have entailed one of three commercial printing processes: inkjet, flexography, or custom screen printing.

Custom screen printing would have been ideal if the press run were large enough. Setting up the screens and ink is labor intensive, so only a long run will justify the make-ready cost. When I look at the box with a high-powered loupe, I don’t see the thick ink film I’ve come to expect from screen printing.

Flexography would have been optimal for shorter press runs, since offset printing would have crushed the fluting in the corrugated board. The rubber plates used for flexography would have printed the artwork on the carton without damaging it, and for small to mid-sized press runs, the process would have been economical. (You’ll find a lot of package printing done via flexography, particularly frozen food cartons, milk cartons, etc.)

When I look closely, I see faint outlines around the lettering. The ink is rather thin and transparent, so you can see not only the fibers of the cardboard, but you can also see that the density of ink within the letters is lighter and the outlines of the letters are a bit darker. This is indicative of flexography.

The third option would be inkjet. This would be great for very short runs or variable data custom printing, in which each box would be slightly different from the others. Since inkjet print heads don’t actually touch the substrate, the process is also great for corrugated board because it won’t crush the fluting. But when I look at the type and images through my high-powered loupe, I don’t see the minuscule ink droplets indicative of inkjet printing.

So I’ll vote for flexography as the process used. That would be my best guess.

What You Can Learn

Here are a number of things to think about:

  1. If you do something totally different, it will stand out. In a world full of standardized cartons, this one really catches the eye.
  2. Consider your audience. Crafting a personal tone and casual appearance works for this nut company. It would usually not work for a computer company (although I have seen some simple black ink-on-corrugated-board marketing work from Apple over the years).
  3. Consider the most appropriate commercial printing technology. Offset printing crushes corrugated board. Screen printing, flexography, and inkjet printing do not. Be mindful of both the economics of custom printing (the most efficient and cost-effective way to print) and the functional requirements of a print job.
  4. From time to time, take a chance. My fiancee loved the design. That’s why she took it as pop art (think Andy Warhol in the ’60s). Some people won’t like it because it’s so outlandish. Great design doesn’t play it safe.

Custom Printing: Gloss UV vs. Clear Foil Stamping

Monday, March 14th, 2016

My fiancee brought home an intriguing circus print book from a thrift store yesterday. In addition to being all in French, which adds an air of romance to the already beautiful images of horses and costume-clad performers, the book includes the handwritten signatures of a number of the actors in black marker, on their individual pages. The 8” x 10” format, saddle-stitched book also has a striking front and back cover treatment: a gloss coating on the horse and circus name (on the front cover) and two silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover, also gloss coated.

Determining How the Designer Created the Gloss Effect

The gloss coating has an almost mirror-like brilliance, and the remaining background of the front and back covers has a more muted, satin-like coating for contrast.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the effect had been achieved, so I considered the possibilities:

  1. The gloss coating was too shiny to be varnish or aqueous coating. It also had a bit of a raised feel.
  2. The gloss could have been a clear foil stamping, but I knew this would have been an expensive way to approach this design problem, since a die would have been required for the foil stamping process.
  3. I knew that flooding a background with a dull or satin UV coating and then highlighting certain elements within the design with gloss UV coating was currently in vogue, and that it would have produced just this kind of effect at a lower cost than clear foil stamping (because no die would have been required).

Under the circumstances I made an educated guess that the UV option was the likely technology in use. I also checked online for images of gloss UV coating paired with satin UV, and the photos confirmed my assumption.

Other Things I Learned

I also learned some other things in my review of the online imagery as well as the descriptions of the process:

  1. Clear foil stamping seems to be used more for logos and words on a dark, uncoated but textured substrate. For instance, a lot of the clear foil stamped products were custom pocket folder covers or invitations with a few words on a blue or black linen sheet. The effect was similar to the UV gloss coating, but the clear foil stamping technique seemed to be used less as a coating (over imagery) and more as a design element in and of itself.
  2. The darker and more subdued the background, the more the gloss UV stood out. The gloss UV type on a satin UV background didn’t really need any other imagery. On it’s own, it was quite dramatic. In fact, some of the photos I found online were of business cards and postcards with just gloss type on a muted background. (Presumably, though, the fact that UV coating needs no die made the process cheaper and less time consuming than the clear foil stamping option.)
  3. I already knew this, but I also found descriptions of how UV light instantly cures the coating, allowing follow-up steps to be performed immediately, and how this process consumes less energy since it uses light rather than heat to solidify the liquid coating material.
  4. I learned that foil stamping (including clear foil stamping) works best on thicker paper stocks. This probably accounts for the use of clear foil stamping for invitations on a thicker felt paper substrate. One article I read noted that coated papers are seldom foil stamped since the coating traps gases and may cause bubbles to appear under the clear foil. For this reason, I felt even more certain that the circus print book my fiancee had brought home was created with a gloss UV coating and a satin UV coating rather than clear foil stamping. After all, the paper stock used throughout the booklet was coated.
  5. Another article I read, by a printer, noted the two best uses for gloss UV. The first is for highlighting imagery (like the gloss coating used on the front-cover booklet title and horse, as well as the silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover). The second is for creating the text or image itself, without any other artwork, since the glossy words can be read when the light hits the design (because of the contrast with the dull background).
  6. The article noted that such a UV coating is primarily added for its aesthetic properties and not for protection (as might be the goal of adding an overall flood varnish, aqueous coating, laminate, or UV coating).
  7. Gloss UV seems to be appropriate for a wider range of paper stocks than clear foil stamping: from lighter 100# text stock to thick card stocks.
  8. And UV coating seems to be safe for the environment, emitting no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and containing no solvents.

What You Can Learn

  1. You have a lot of options. In fact, you can even create similar printed products using different technologies (such as clear foil stamping and spot gloss UV coating).
  2. However, some of these techniques take longer than others (the time needed to make a metal die, for instance) and are therefore more expensive.
  3. If you like a particular effect, ask your commercial printing supplier or a paper merchant for printed samples. Then ask how they were created. There’s no better way to learn—or communicate your goals to your printer—than with a printed sample.

Custom Printing: Postponing a Job That’s in Progress

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

I can’t remember the last time I canceled or postponed a commercial printing job mid-flight, or at least right before the job went to press. It’s demoralizing, but depending on why it’s done and how it’s done, this doesn’t have to be either the end of the project or the end of the relationship with the printer.

The Back Story on the Print Job

PIE Blog readers may recognize the story of the fashionista and her color swatch book, akin to a PMS swatch book but for use in choosing clothes based on colors relevant to one’s complexion.

I had encouraged my client to buy an ongoing Creative Cloud license for InDesign. I had then created a template for her print book, and she had produced 22 different versions (master copies for her short-run job). Due to its run length, the project was to be printed on an HP Indigo digital press. And due to it’s short run length (it would be reprinted regularly as new clients bought copies), the job has been the poster child for “just in time” digital printing.

Well it crashed and burned this week due exclusively to a break up between the entrepreneur and her source of funding.

Personally, I think this is a short-term setback and not a permanent end to the job. (Granted, that’s easy for me to say.)

Future Directions for the Job

Under the circumstances, however, I have taken the following track:

  1. I alerted the printer today. The prior printer, who was going to do the job on a Kodak NexPress, had misquoted the project and had offered to either reprice the job (for a significantly higher price) or to back out of the process. The current printer had stepped up and had produced a single-page ganged-up test sheet including a handful of color swatches from the job. He had printed this test on the chosen paper stock and had UV coated the sample to show my client how a cover coating might affect the colors in the print book. Needless to say, both printers had invested a lot of time in the project over the course of a year.
  2. I asked the current printer to calculate how much the work done up until now would cost. I made it clear that my client planned to come back once she had found funding for her entrepreneurial efforts. I said I knew the printer’s time was valuable, and I wanted him to be adequately compensated. He is looking into this.
  3. I told the printer to expect full funding when my client came back. She would provide the entire cost with a check or credit card before starting the job. This demonstrated good will, respect, and an intent to postpone but not cancel the job.
  4. I asked the client to review the single-page test sheet very carefully. It would be the starting point for the new job once she had secured funding. I asked her to note on the test sheet the CMYK percentages of each color swatch, the target PMS for each swatch (if she chose to match them on the Indigo), and any comments she had concerning the color fidelity of each swatch. This reflected my conviction that the job would in fact continue in several months.
  5. I reassured my client. I told her that neither the commercial printing vendor nor I would abandon her due to this unfortunate experience. We both planned to continue the job in the near future.

The Take Away: What We Can Learn

  1. Sometimes things go awry. Cutting ties in a case like this would have been counterproductive. After all, my client had created 22 press-ready print book files in InDesign. She had shown good faith and an intent to proceed. I do not know exactly when the job will start up again. However, if I had cut ties with the client, or if the printer had cut ties with me, there would have been no chance to pursue the job—which could easily grow into an ongoing project with periodic reprints.
  2. Not asking the printer for a bill for services to-date would have shown a lack of respect for his time and effort. I might have gotten away without paying, but it would have damaged the relationship. Furthermore, when the job resurfaces, this printer would have had less inclination to work with me, or my client.
  3. Not asking my client to analyze the single-page test job and provide feedback—even at this point–would have been to miss an opportunity to plan how to proceed after she has secured funding. After all, the job (and her reactions to the sample file color swatches produced on the HP Indigo) is still fresh in her mind.
  4. In your own commercial printing work, a situation like this may come up—perhaps once or twice in a career. I encourage you to think before you react. Sometimes apparent failure just means that you need to change your direction a bit and then start again.

Custom Printing: Pairing Magazines with Virtual Reality

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

A friend of mine let me know this week that he had just bought the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated but that he had only bought it for the articles, not the pictures. He’s a former athletics coach.

When I learned that there were three (at least that I knew of) different covers of this particular issue, I asked my friend the coach if he had bought all three versions, or was one version (with one cover) enough for him to read and not look at the pictures.

Items of interest come in multiples, so I was not surprised to receive an article from another friend and associate noting the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality. It focused on the same magazine.

Apparently 500,000 newsstand copies of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated include a virtual reality viewer, a pop-up cardboard device that attaches to your smartphone. When you download an app, you can experience content beyond that in the swimsuit issue (“’intimate access’ with five featured models,” according to the article) in a fully immersive way.

I urge you to look up the article online. It is entitled “Quad/Graphics Enhances 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with Virtual Reality Viewer.” It was written by Elise Hacking Carr and published on February 23, 2016, on the Print+Promo website.

Why This Is Important

According to Carr’s Print+Promo article, the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality is important because it extends the reach, creativity, and effectiveness of marketing. Carr notes that, “advertisers are able to brand and print four-color process on the unit’s [the virtual reality viewer's] outer shell for increased brand visibility.” She also quotes Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics:

“Publishers are looking for new and innovative ways to connect more with their readership.

“The QVR Viewer allows them to provide enhanced digital experiences that complement and extend their brand, or advertisers’ brands, beyond traditional print or digital content.

“Compared to other paper viewers, the QVR Viewer is an economical way to reach readers and consumers with a fully branded gateway to digital content.”

My Take on the Technology

I learned the following from my interaction with the sports coach and from the article I received from my other friend:

  1. Unrelated to virtual reality, the concept of having multiple versions of a cover for a magazine shows how publications can be targeted to their readers. While this could be done before the advent of digital commercial printing (selective binding of the same publication using variations on the cover), it’s nevertheless much easier now with the new technology. After all, on a digital press you don’t have to just print a handful of different covers. You can print a different cover for each copy as well as different text/photos throughout. Mass personalization means advertisers can directly target small groups and even individuals with their advertising messages.
  2. Multi-channel marketing is powerful. If a potential client sees an advertising message on different platforms (email, signage, a periodical, and virtual reality, for instance), the marketing message will be exponentially strengthened.
  3. More and more, I’m seeing this concept put to use with increasing technical savvy (for instance, printing a poster with a near-field communication chip that ties into your smartphone). So the pairing of virtual reality glasses and a print magazine not only doesn’t surprise me. It intrigues me.
  4. Nothing sells like sex, so choosing the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated for the virtual reality viewer seems like a “no-brainer” to me.
  5. Paper folds, plastic doesn’t. So I am intrigued that Quad/Graphics was able to produce a foldable paper virtual reality device. Moreover, using an already existing base of smartphones in the marketplace and only providing the headset and lenses works on a financial level. Basically, the marketing prospect doesn’t have to buy anything. He/she only has to download an app and then use his/her existing phone to experience virtual reality.
  6. A paper structure for a virtual reality device provides ample space for a marketing message. It can also be printed flat and then assembled (much more easily than printing on a rigid, 3D molded plastic virtual reality headset). And it can be delivered to 500,000 readers far more easily and cheaply. So the designers of the product thought ahead to make the process easy for the printer as well as the user of the device.
  7. Hard-copy magazines reach an established reader base. Using print publications as a jumping off point into the virtual world is just good psychology and good business.

This is what happens when marketers take the time to understand their prospects’ interests, their custom printing suppliers’ capabilities, concepts of finance and cost analysis, the available cutting edge computer technology, and human psychology. More power to them.

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