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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 April, 2016

Custom Printing: A Commitment to the History of Print

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

A friend and colleague within the commercial printing industry just forwarded me an article regarding a sizable donation towards preserving the history of printing.

The article, entitled “Graphic Communication Receives $2.3 Million to Preserve Printing Industry History,” issued as a press release on 11/23/15 by California Polytechnic State University, notes that “Well known printing industry expert Raymond J. Prince has donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department to preserve the history and knowledge of the printing and imaging industry.”

I found the article very encouraging as well as supportive of the future of custom printing.

Here are the four areas funded by the donation (italics are mine), as noted in the press release:

“The first is a named endowed scholarship honoring Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Gary Field, a highly regarded imaging scientist, professor, writer and speaker on issues of color management and related topics.

“The second is a named endowed scholarship honoring Professor Brian Lawler for his lifelong work advocating for the importance of print as a creative and influential communication medium surviving more than six centuries.

“The third area is a cash donation to supplement funds already raised to support what has become the world’s largest library on graphic arts technology and management. The library, already named the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Collection, is housed in Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department and includes more than 30,000 volumes.

“The fourth is a bequest that will perpetuate the ongoing growth and development of the library’s collection and graphic communication education at Cal Poly.”

Why This Is Important

After reading the article, I carefully considered exactly why I found this donation to be important. Here are my thoughts:

  1. This is a time in which many people have proclaimed the imminent death of print. In this light, for a major technical university to develop and maintain such a printing knowledge base demonstrates the value the university places on commercial printing. Clearly Cal Poly believes custom printing is relevant in this world.
  2. The focus of the grant extends beyond printing to communications in general. Cal Poly understands the goal of printing is to foster communication.
  3. The donation confirms a commitment to maintaining the knowledge gained in the six centuries since the birth of printing. This unbroken lineage will in turn benefit the future of printing in particular and communications in general.
  4. The donation confirms a belief that preparing young people for jobs within the printing field is important, that the industry is not dying but just changing. Moreover, providing the best education possible in commercial printing will ensure continued technical innovation. Preserving knowledge of what has gone before is the best way to give students a base on which to build the future of commercial printing technology.
  5. The press release notes that a broadly maintained library of all aspects of the history of printing will allow for “patent development and challenges.” This will ensure a well-ordered experimentation in, and development of, new technologies for printing. Both faculty and students will benefit. The university values both the future leaders of the commercial printing industry and its current experts, the faculty. Continued innovation will improve the equipment, processes, and workflows used on a daily basis in commercial printing establishments.
  6. In the press release, Douglas Epperson, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, notes that “Because of Ray and others who continue to donate to the collection, our students, faculty, scholars and industry personnel can access the world’s largest collection of graphic arts resources and materials.” (I am reminded of the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most comprehensive libraries of the ancient world.) Such a diverse collection of materials on custom printing will benefit those in the printing field who build upon its wisdom and insight as well as others around the world.

Custom Printing: Branded Grocery Signs and Products

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Every week I shop at Harris Teeter, as well as a few other grocery stores. And over the last several years–being a student of commercial printing, marketing, and design–I have paid close attention to store branding. I’ve been very impressed with Harris Teeter’s presentation. There’s nothing like visiting local businesses on a regular basis to get a sense of just how store design and product design interact and work on the buyer’s conscious and subconscious awareness. When done well, this makes people want to shop more and buy more. I can appreciate the skills and knowledge required.

A Sample Product: Boxed Egg Whites

Harris Teeter is owned by Kroger. Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing focus on store brand merchandise. The quality of organic produce and even canned and bottled goods has increased, as has the number of organic products available.

This last week my fiancee took photos of one product in particular to make sure I would look closely at its packaging when we got back home.

The product is HT Traders Cage-Free Pasteurized 100% Liquid Egg Whites, and here’s what I can discern from the product packaging:

  1. Unlike all of the other packaging I saw, this one had a photo of an egg with all of the type (excluding the HT Traders brand logo) hand written on the curved eggshell. First of all, this is unique, as most other packaging separates its typography from the images. Even if the type has been surprinted over an image, it’s still separate. It’s not written on the product.
  2. Since the egg has a curved surface, the curvature of the hand-printed product information makes for a unique presentation. All other typography is flat; this typography is curved and therefore intriguing.
  3. The hand lettering creates a casual tone. Moreover, you could say it creates a tone of honesty and directness, and this heightens credibility. In fact, it’s almost like the farmer has written on the eggs with a Sharpie marker at a farmer’s market. The tone suggests freshness, healthfulness, integrity, perhaps even a focus on sustainability and local produce—all the good qualities of a healthy meal.
  4. The lightness (almost a beige pastel) of the background color of the box (which is structured like a pint-sized box of milk) gives an almost porcelain appearance to the product, while echoing the colors of the early morning.
  5. Even the printed logo (typescript as opposed to hand-lettering) is done in a fun, bouncy typeface in which the baseline of the letterforms moves up and down, providing an almost childlike immediacy and enthusiasm to the packaging. Along with a hand-drawn apple, fish outline, and loaf of bread, the logo is friendly and approachable. The overall appearance makes you trust the HT Traders product.

Overall, this is a well thought-out design for a house-brand product. Granted, the product itself (or at least other products I’ve tried at Harris Teeter) is of high quality. Appearance alone without substance would detract from the brand and the store, but quality promotion of a quality product enhances its perceived value and encourages shoppers to buy. To me, this is success.

In-Store Signs that Reflect the Company Values

The second photo my fiancee took that night was of a refrigerator sign. I was immediately struck by the similar tone of both the egg-white product and the store signage, until I saw the “My Earth” logo with the same hand-drawn loaf of bread, apple, and fish as the Cage-Free Pasteurized Egg Whites box.

So My Earth and HT Traders products are visually related both through the apparent hand-drawn letterforms (possibly a hand-drawn typeface on a computer) and the image portion of the logo (the fish, bread, and apple).

The sign on the refrigerator notes how Harris Teeter increases refrigeration efficiency and reduces the cost of utilities with this particular technology. Although Harris Teeter has chosen to minimize energy use, it actually helps the branding to make this fact known to shoppers. An increasing number of people value sustainability, and are therefore more likely to buy from a business that shares this goal.

And presenting this information in a hand-drawn font visually connected to HT Traders underscores the low-key approach of the store. You know that this is a house brand (a reflection of the values of those who choose what products to include on the shelves). And you also know that the management is approachable, friendly, not stodgy.

All of this is reinforced by the consistent visual presentation, in both the store signage and the house-brand product packaging. In fact, as a shopper, I personally am more inclined to try a number of the dry goods, canned goods, and bottled goods in the store that have the “look” of the signage and the egg white packaging. I think others will be, too.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

It used to rankle me whenever I heard the catch phrase, “Image is everything.” I think that’s because it implied dishonesty, that you can sell low quality goods if they’re packaged well. Now I prefer to think that if a product or service is of the highest quality, this can be better communicated to prospective buyers with effective branding. Effective branding communicates and reinforces the values and quality of the brand whenever the prospect sees the logo, signage, or product packaging.

As a graphic designer or marketing professional, you have the power to communicate this quality to your prospective buyers through a well-crafted, consistent approach to your commercial printing materials: your signage, product packaging, and collateral.

Custom Printing: Useful and Stylish Promotional Items

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

I’m a sucker for free promotional items. I understand how they work. I know they keep the brand in front of me as I use the items on a daily basis. But, guess what? They’re useful and they look good. So I still like them.

Here are some thoughts on promotional items you might want to include in your arsenal when you go to a trade show. They’re also good for just sending to your clients as a reminder of who you are. After all, they keep your brand name in front of your prospects (and your business “top of mind”).

Branded Folding Box Cutters

This is useful to me as a commercial printing broker. I need to open boxes of printed products and samples on a regular basis. I have a folding box cutter with Epson’s logo and tag line (“Exceed Your Vision”). It’s silver and it sparkles, with the branding in what appears to be white custom screen printing ink. At least this is what would have been the most efficient way to produce such a “tchotchke” (another term for promotional items). A third descriptive name is “swag.”

This kind of promotional item is sexy because it looks sharp, it comes in a black velvet bag, the branding looks dramatic, and, most importantly, it’s useful. I can even change the blade.

Apparently, research has shown that this kind of product is kept for many months and yields hundreds of “impressions” each month. That is, every time I use the box knife, I see the logo and think of Epson.

Branded LED Flashlights

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I find flashlights just as useful as box knives, and Epson just sent me one of these, too. It’s a nine-bulb LED, and it works the same way as the box knife (the marketing part, not the flashlight part). It says “Epson: Exceed Your Vision.”

The thing is, a few times a year I get a print promotion from Epson referencing its inkjet products. Given my work in offset and digital commercial printing, I find this information useful, so I always return the business reply card and get the promo items and the samples. Granted, the large format printing samples are of equal value to me in understanding and promoting the technology.

After all, I need to know what’s going on in the industry. But between the values of quality and innovation associated with the Epson brand, and the flashlight and box knife that keep the Epson brand in front of my eyes on a regular basis, Epson’s marketing unit is doing a superb job.

And, by the way, under my high-powered loupe, it looks like the flashlights were also printed via custom screen printing, given the thick silver ink film.

A Few More Promotional Items

In a marketing journal I recently saw a few more “tchotchkes” that appeared to be useful and effective promotional items. In addition to all the imprinted hats, cups, mugs, chairs, messenger bags, pens, and such, I saw a Post-It dispenser. It had the company’s logo screen printed right where you reach for a Post-It. What could be more useful? You need to make a note. You reach for a Post-It, and you see the company branding, again and again and again. There’s no better way to reinforce this brand image in the mind of the Post-It user than these constant “impressions.” Impressions that go right into the subconscious mind. And, like the box knife and flashlight, a Post-It dispenser is useful.

How Are They Made?

Just in case you want to produce these “tchotchkes” for your own business (as either an entrepreneur or a member of a large firm’s marketing unit), you should know how these products were imprinted.

Positioning the flat mesh screen of a custom screen printing press onto the flat side of the folding box knife is relatively easy to visualize. The knife is irregular in shape, but screen printing equipment can be placed against anything from a knife to an interior wall of a building (think of the printing on the wall in an art exhibit) to the brim of a golf hat.

Printing on the side of a cylindrical flashlight would be a bit harder to imagine, since the custom screen printing mesh frame is flat. However, in this case the curved side of the flashlight can be rolled under the flat screen mesh and ink can be forced through using a squeegie, yielding a printed image that curves around the aluminum frame of the flashlight.

Screen printing a logo on a Post-It dispenser again just demonstrates how irregular an item can be and still receive a screen printed image. I did a little research online and saw videos of small stands built to hold items rigid throughout the custom screen printing process. All it takes is a little ingenuity.

And in all of these cases, once the extensive set-up work has been done to prepare the ink and the screens, the custom screen printing process itself, albeit slower than other forms of custom printing, is quite economical for longer runs.

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