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Archive for May, 2016

Book Printing: You Had Me at Matte Film Laminate

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

I received a journal on health from Johns Hopkins a few days ago. It came unsolicited in the mail. But even though I have no background in science and health, and very little personal interest in the subject (if truth be known), I found myself paging through the print book repeatedly. It felt good. I liked the format. In fact I actually started to read some of the articles. In my book (so to speak), that’s success in the intangibles. Or, rather, that’s success in the very tangible qualities of paper texture and appearance, paper brightness and whiteness, color fidelity, and page design. If a print book piques my interest in spite of the subject matter, there’s clearly something for me to learn by analyzing it.

Paper Qualities

The Johns Hopkins Health Review is printed on what appears (under good blue-white light) to be an uncoated, bright-white sheet. Under a loupe I can see the rough tooth of the paper, but it still feels very smooth to my touch.

There’s something very calming about the combination of an uncoated press sheet and the smoothness of the paper. It has an organic feel that would not be conveyed had the designer chosen a coated gloss paper. It feels more personal and less corporate. Given the subject matter in the journal—migraines, sex, and one’s immune system, among other topics—the personal, tactile nature of the paper is a good choice.

The paper also gives a softer look to the color photography, area screens, and numerous illustrations. In fact, I would say that the soft, smooth nature of the paper anchors the numerous graphics, giving them a cohesive feel that unifies the diverse media and styles of the images. On a smooth, coated sheet they might look more random.

Given the smooth, uncoated feel of the paper, I’m inclined to look for telltale signs of laser printing, but when I check the 4-color images under a loupe, I still see the rosette pattern indicative of traditional halftoning of offset printed materials.

Cover Coating

The interior and exterior cover images—all advertisements–seem to have been printed on a coated stock. They are much smoother than the text, and they have a glossy appearance under a loupe. The brightness of the cover stock makes the 4-color images really stand out, but it is the brightness and whiteness of the press sheet that make the imagery so bright and crisp. Having such a brilliant substrate off which the ambient light can be reflected makes the colors seem particularly saturated.

When I compare the interior covers to the exterior covers, I see that the front, back, and spine have been wrapped with what seems to be a matte film laminate. This dulls down the imagery, which echoes the uncoated look of the interior, while protecting the heavy coverage of ink on the front cover. On the back cover, the coating protects the advertisement. Interestingly enough, the designer went ahead and spot gloss coated the title of the journal (Johns Hopkins Health Review), which gives the words a bit of a glow in contrast to their surroundings.

Binding

Perfect binding the journal gives it a feeling of substance. It’s more like a print book than a magazine. There’s even a faint press score running parallel to the spine, about half an inch from the bind edge, which holds the cover tightly against the interior pages while allowing for easy opening of the print book. These subtle production qualities work subconsciously on the reader, providing an overall tone of seriousness and quality.

Imagery and Design Grid

As noted before, the images in the journal fall into a few distinct categories. There are the photos, many but not all of which are within ads. Their realism gives a nice contrast to the more stylized and in some cases whimsical illustrations. This treatment also lends itself to small images of book covers and to head shots of individuals.

The illustrations fall into a number of categories, including Infographics, color drawings to illustrate themes, and much smaller black and white line drawings of people. Again, the contrast is pleasing, and it makes for a natural rhythm throughout the book, as does the balancing of larger and smaller images.

Overall, the journal has a sense of cohesion and pacing. However, due to a judicious pairing of typefaces, even a shift from two-column layout (with a scholar’s margin) to three-column layout, to a larger type treatment introducing some articles, maintains the sense that all page designs belong to the same publication.

Moreover, the contrast in page design alerts the reader to levels of importance (such as when a new article is beginning; what material is an amplification of the text; and what material highlights the text, such as the pull-quotes). Your eye knows immediately where to go first, second, and third. And the ample white space affords an airy, uncluttered reading experience. Finally, full-bleed area screens set apart certain pages (definitions pages, supplementary material) in a subtle manner.

Even a judicious use of numerous short articles on selected pages to give brief insight into various topics or to provide short bits of information still does not create a cluttered look. I think this uncluttered appearance is also due to the uncoated book stock, which is easy on the eyes.

What You Can Learn from Such a Publication

I never went to design school. What I learned, I learned by observing. I think many designers have come into publication design the same way. I firmly believe there is no time better spent than in discovering a design you love and then determining why you love it. In my case it was in spite of the subject matter. (Actually, I am finding some of the articles interesting. Nevertheless, I still think the graphic presentation is what makes me want to read the articles.)

Consider all aspects of a publication: paper texture, surface, coating, brightness, and whiteness; treatment of imagery; typefaces; binding; and the design grid. Ask yourself why they work well together. Then ask yourself if the design and production values of the piece reinforce or conflict with the editorial message (a good designer knows how to pair the look with the message). There’s no better way to learn.

Custom Printing: Will Digital Grow to Match Offset?

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

A friend and colleague sent me a link to a “What They Think” video recently in which the CEO of Landa Digital Printing, Yishai Amir, addressed questions regarding the present state and future direction of digital custom printing. The video is entitled “What Will It Take to ‘Mainstream’ Digital Printing?” It was published on May 12, 2016.

The big question is what’s holding back digital printing. According to the video, “production digital printing is 25 years old, yet only 2.5% of all printed pages come from digital devices.” Why?

Amir starts his explanation by listing the drivers for the growth of digital printing:

  1. Personal customized printed material.
  2. On-demand, long-tail material, and
  3. Optimization of the supply chain.

Amir doesn’t completely explain the third driver, but here’s my understanding of the first two:

  1. Offset, flexo—all technologies but digital—can only print multiple copies of one original. Only digital can approach “mass customization” of marketing materials, changing each copy of each marketing piece so it will directly pertain to each recipient. Identifying individual wants and needs and marketing one-to-one is the strength of digital custom printing.
  2. The second point requires a definition of the term “long-tail.” This concept is based on the fact that most people want the same things (for instance, a clothing store will physically stock only the most popular designer shirts—i.e., only a handful of styles—but they will have stacks and stacks of the same item in different colors and sizes). In contrast, if you want something different, you are part of the “long tail” (the trailing edge of the graph of consumption, in which only a few people want the more exotic—and less “popular”—items).To bring this back to printing, digital custom printing can fulfill your need for an esoteric print book that only you and a handful of your friends want. You can get it on demand. Before digital printing, you’d be lost. You would only find easy access to the popular books and potboilers in your bookstore. (Amazon is a master of the “long tail.” You can get anything online because no individual manufacturer or outlet needs to store it.)

So these are the drivers, the benefits only digital custom printing can provide and the reason it has been around for 25 years. But, as Amir notes, it has captured only 2.5 percent of the printing business.

For digital printing to go mainstream, Amir notes that the following must happen:

  1. Digital must provide “offset” quality.
  2. Digital must print on any substrate, without a pre-coating step.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing.
  4. Production speeds must be comparable to offset printing, and
  5. The format must match offset.

To flesh this out a bit (the video is short), here are some thoughts:

  1. I would say that “offset quality” would constitute color fidelity; a comparable color gamut; smooth, heavy-coverage toner laydown; a lack of banding and other artifacts; etc. For Amir’s requirement to hold, liquid or dry toner laydown must “look” as good as offset printing. I’d also say that rub resistance (durability) needs to be comparable.
  2. For a long time digital papers were limited. They were specifically made to accept an even coating of toner particles. That meant that there were only a few uncoated sheets and a few coated sheets a printer could stock. A designer couldn’t just specify a press sheet she/he liked. In many cases, press-sheets had to be pre-coated, further complicating the process compared to offset printing. So Amir is referring to being able to use any paper for digital printing that you could use for offset printing.
  3. The cost to print must be comparable to offset printing. Up until recently, if you had a short-run job (let’s say 500 brochures), it was cheaper to produce the job digitally than via offset lithography. That’s because you would need to go through all of the make-ready steps for a short offset run as you would for a long press run. In contrast, you could avoid most of the make-ready if you chose digital printing. However–and I think this is what Amir is getting at—you couldn’t favorably compare a 5,000-copy digital run to a 5,000-copy offset press run (unit cost to unit cost). The digital-printing unit cost would be much higher.
  4. Speeds vary from machine to machine, but for the most part digital printing is slower than offset. For instance, an Indigo 12000 can print 4,600 B2 color sheets per hour (according to HP’s product literature). An offset press can print closer to 18,000 sheets per hour (this is from a KBA press description). And for books, catalogs, and magazines, the offset presses can print more pages laid out (i.e., imposed) on much larger press sheets.
  5. The format must match offset. Up until recently, digital presses accepted only small paper. The press sheets were close to 12” x 18” (more or less, depending on the equipment). Some of the newer digital presses accept B2 sheets (which are closer to 20” x 29”). This approximates an offset 20” x 26” cover sheet but not a 25” x 38” text sheet or a 28” x 40” text sheet. Needless to say, if you’re producing a book, you can get more book pages on a 28” x 40” press sheet (that will all print at one time) than on a 20” x 29” sheet. So what Amir is saying is that for digital to be competitive with offset, the equipment must accept larger press sheets. (This is also a benefit for larger products like pocket folders that won’t fit on smaller press sheets.)

Amir then goes on to say that Nanography offers all of this.

My Take on This

My take is that we are in interesting times in printing. The focus is on shorter press runs and personalization. Digital is good at this. Offset is not. I’m seeing extraordinary color coming off digital presses nowadays. The digital press equipment is also starting to be constructed within large durable frames produced by offset press makers (like Komori) rather than in plastic cases that look like photocopy machines on steroids.

I think Landa’s nanography is one answer (inkjet printing onto a heated blanket that deposits the full image onto the substrate while holding an amazingly crisp halftone dot). It saves money in lowered ink usage, lower energy consumption, and lower paper costs (due to its ability to print on any stock).

I also think that the HP Indigo series is a good answer, with its larger B2 paper format and superior color (this is an electrophotographic process like laser printing).

Interestingly enough, even offset printing is becoming more efficient. Make-readies are taking less time due to the automation of color adjustment, plate handling, and other aspects of press work. So it’s becoming increasingly economical to do shorter offset print runs.

Truly this is an exciting time for all number of digital and offset technologies. What I’m going to do now is wait and watch closely.

Book Printing: Adding Color Swatch Replacement Pages

Monday, May 16th, 2016

A print brokering client of mine is producing a fashion color swatch book to help clients choose colors most complimentary to their complexion. I’ve written about her project numerous times in these blog articles.

At the moment, the proofs are out for her review.

However, my client wants to do two supplemental projects (related to the print book) that will benefit from the digital printing nature of this project.

The First Project: Replacement Pages

My client’s clients will be purchasing color swatch books tied to the seasons: for example, one of the PDF’s I have is entitled “Warm Autumn.” Each of these small, fan-out color books (which are very similar to PMS swatch books used in the commercial printing trade) includes 60 color swatches plus introductory material and covers. The back of each card explains fashion uses for the color on the front.

Some of these print books may not be complete for a particular person (lacking certain individual colors), or in some cases other colors might be more relevant. Therefore, my client has requested three sets of an additional 300 color swatches.

In some cases the colors will be redundant. There may be multiple copies of a particular color. For those who buy multiple copies of a particular color swatch book, this will be useful. For example, a shop owner may order twenty books, and she may want to augment the colors or replace some of them with selected swatches from this extra press run my client is preparing.

As complex as this may sound, what it really means is that a client (of my client’s) can buy numerous books and then personalize them. And since all of these print books are bound with a metal screw and post assembly, they can be taken apart, reordered, added to, and then put back together. This is one of the prime benefits of screw and post binding. The user can disassemble and reassemble the product much as one would disassemble and reassemble a three-ring binder and its contents.

Now the specs for these additional pages will be important. In fact, I’m only having one commercial printing vendor bid on this job: the same one producing the main books. This is to ensure complete compatibility of the replacement pages with the interior pages of the 22 master color swatch books being printed on the HP Indigo press.

The important details will be the size (3 35/64” x 1 27/64”), the paper (10pt white gloss cover stock), the lamination (1.2 mil clear), the rounded corners, and the placement and size of the drill hole. The replacement pages have to match the initial pages in appearance and feel (although the colors will not be the same).

Presumably the rounded corners will add to the price. After all, this is an additional process (albeit necessary; otherwise, the pointed edges of the cards would not match the rounded edges of the print book pages). However, since the dies will have already been made to round-corner the pages of the initial 22 master books (and all their copies), my client will have already paid the cost of creating the die. She will just use the original cutting die for the replacement pages.

In setting up the files, my client will create a press-ready PDF from an InDesign file. The InDesign file will contain 300 pages of colors (actually 300 leaves, or 600 pages, since there will be black text on the back of the pages). The book printer will then impose these (set these up as needed for the 13” x 19” Indigo press sheet), then print a total of 900 swatches (300 originals x 3 copies), then laminate, drill, cut, and round corner the swatches, and then pack them in a box for delivery.

Producing Personalized Covers

In addition to the replacement pages, my client plans to offer her clients a cover personalization option. At first she had mentioned putting the names of her clients (or their stores) on the covers, but she then opened this up to include logos and even replacement images for the model glamor shots currently on the covers of the 22 master color swatch books.

Digital printing is ideal for this product, since ostensibly each of the 50 or 100 pages my client will request for her client’s print books will be totally different.

I have asked my client to supply an InDesign file (saved as a press-ready PDF) containing either 50 or 100 pages. In this case she can alter all pages as necessary, swapping out cover images, adding logos, adding the names of her clients, and such, to make each of the 50 or 100 pages unique. The book printer can then lay these out as needed for the HP Indigo press sheet and produce one copy of this file.

This print job will be comparatively expensive, even digitally, but once the single copy has been laminated, drilled, trimmed, and round cornered (again, using the die pre-made for my client’s initial 22 master color swatch books), she will have 50 or 100 personalized covers for her clients. If they pay for this enhancement to their color books, my client can even make a profit. Once they have received the new covers, her clients can disassemble the screw and post binding, swap out the covers, and reassemble the books.

In addition, keep in mind that these pages will be printed on 18pt white gloss coated cover stock (unlike the 10pt cover stock of the replacement pages) since these will all be book covers. They will also need the same lamination, drilling, and round cornering as the initial color swatch book run so they will fit and look appropriate. But by doing this, my client, the fashionista, can offer a very unique and personal book to her clients.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Offset printing is all about making multiple copies from one master file. In contrast, digital printing will allow you to personalize each page. Presumably each product you print can be completely different. This may cost you extra. It’s not cheap. However, it would be astronomically expensive if you tried to do this with traditional offset printing.
  2. If you do something like my client is doing, think it through. It would be easy to forget the round cornering, for instance. In that case, all the edges of all the replacement pages would stick out. If necessary, make a mock-up. It can’t hurt, and it may help you remember something important.
  3. These are the kinds of smaller, ancillary jobs that are best done by the printer producing the main job in order to ensure consistency.

Book Printing: Making Changes at the Proof Stage

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

I’ve been helping an entrepreneur prepare her color swatch book for about a year now, give or take. I have spoken about her project numerous times in PIE Blog articles.

At the present moment, the art files have gone to press, and a set of trimmed proofs of 22 print books (22 originals) has been sent to my client for her final review.

To provide a bit of background on the subject, the color swatch books are approximately 1.5” x 3” in dimension. They are 114 pages long (plus cover), and all pages are attached with a metal screw and post assembly. They fan out like a PMS color book. I saw photos of the proofs. They are quite nice, each with a model’s face on the cover along with a title (each related to a different season). The print books will help my client’s clients determine what make-up and clothing colors will match their complexion.

The Proofs

My client loved the colors. She had built the colors in the 22 master InDesign files using cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, preparing for digital printing on an HP Indigo press. Her proofs were, in effect, a single copy of each of the master files. Unlike a digital proof provided for an offset print run, these proofs would exactly match the successive copies of the print books that would be produced after proof approval.

My client had only one concern: durability. She had no issues with the color, text, bleeds, trim, or resolution of the cover photos. She knew the only thing that would be different in the final copies would be the rounded corners on all books, which would be produced with a metal diecutting rule on a letterpress.

(“Round cornering” only the 22 proofs would have been time consuming and expensive, and would have added nothing to the proofs.)

Regarding the durability issue, I told my client about a PMS book I had owned that had lasted far beyond the shelf life of its colors. I had treated it well, so the pages weren’t folded or dog-eared. In contrast, I mentioned that PMS swatch books I had seen in print shops were often dog-eared and manhandled. Her fashion color book would be no different. In fact, the pages of her book were thicker than the average PMS swatch book, and the covers would be 18pt. (much thicker than the PMS book covers).

My client assumed that when the books were closed, their 114-page mass would keep them protected (like the strength of a handful of arrows in contrast to the brittleness of only one). By now she had also found a source for little vinyl cases for the fashion color swatch books. At this point, we both assumed the books would last as long as they were treated well.

But the Pages Mark

However, there was the issue of marking pages. Even though the printer had UV coated the front of each page, my client could scratch the solid color swatches and the face of the model on the front cover with her fingernails. She sent me a copy. I tried the same experiment. She was right. You could mark the pages. This would not render the book useless; however, a durable book would appeal more to her audience. After all, times were tough, and the color swatch books were expensive.

My client had a sample from a prior year. Instead of a UV coating or a varnish, it looked like the sheets had been coated with a film laminate. In fact, it had a ribbed texture, which may have made any fingernail scratches less apparent (rather than actually minimizing the scratches). Nevertheless, the film laminate was more durable than the UV coating. When I tested my copy of this sheet with my fingernail, I came to the same conclusion, so I sent the sample to the printer.

What About Synthetic Paper?

At the same time, the printer and I considered the option of synthetic paper. A paper based on plastic rather than wood might just offer the durability needed. So we checked the sample my client had provided to see if this was what we had in our hands.

Both the printer and I (in different locations) tried to tear the paper. Unlike synthetic paper, this sample tore easily. So the sample my client liked so much was regular paper—just with an additional laminate coating.

The printer then suggested a 1.2 mil lamination on the front of the press sheet to protect the color swatches and the cover of my client’s color swatch print book. The back of each page was black text, so it really didn’t need to be laminated.

The printer sent a sample of the lamination to my client (a laminated postcard), and when she received the sample, my client went to work on it. She scratched and scratched, and was satisfied it would be durable enough. She also liked the price (an extra $320). I did also note that this portion of the job would need to be outsourced, which would add a little time to the schedule.

With the durability issue solved to my client’s satisfaction, we can now proceed. At the moment, she is using photos she took of the proofs (fanned out to show the colors) in a newsletter. She’s trying to get pre-orders for the color swatch book before the actual print run. Hopefully, this will increase the press run, which will benefit both my client and the printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study?

  1. The purpose of a proof is to to highlight problems so adjustments can be made if necessary. I’m glad my client wanted her color swatch book to be perfect, and I’m grateful the fix will cost only $320. In your own graphic design and commercial printing work, if you see something, take the time and spend the money to fix it.
  2. Cover coatings are not all created equal. There’s varnish (low end, which can yellow over time, and which can alter the color beneath the coating), UV coating, aqueous, and laminate. Some printers have only one or another. Many will need to outsource this portion of the job. Ask your printer about durability, potential color changes of the inks under the coatings, time needed for coating the job, and cost. It’s smart to request samples as well.
  3. Consider the purpose of your job. Is it something to look at and throw away, like a brochure that will arrive in the mail? Or, like my client’s color swatch book, is the project a “tool,” to be used repeatedly for years? If it’s the later, don’t skimp on the coating. Your clients will see the difference.

Custom Printing: How to Design a Promotional Poster

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

I got an email the other day from a dear friend from college, a print book designer I’ve written about numerous times in this blog. I was just entering the grocery store. “Help,” the email said. “I’m designing a poster, and I’m scared. I don’t know how to do it.”

So I called her on my smartphone as I walked past the fruits and vegetables.

The Backstory

It turns out that she had no copy, five hours to press time, and only her client’s direction to use the infographics she had designed for a related textbook. This got me thinking. Having an initial product from which to draw design information would be a good starting point. Here’s what I proposed as her first steps:

  1. I told her to pull images, a design grid, and typefaces from the prototype (the initial print book that she had already produced). I said that these common elements would give the textbook and the poster a common “look.” Conference attendees (apparently the poster was for a conference) would see the similarity and associate the print book with the poster. Even if they did this subconsciously, it would still make for “brand awareness.” (Think of the Starbucks logo, which is immediately recognizable even in small grocery store kiosks surrounded by a multitude of other signage.)
  2. I said that if she had no copy, she should write some. I told her to think in terms of “who,” “where,” “why,” “what,” and “when.” “Your client can always change it later,” I said.
  3. Unlike a print book, a poster is meant to be read from a distance. I told my friend to make the type big as well as short.

Then I proceeded with my grocery shopping.

My Friend’s Poster Design

When I got back home, I called the print book designer for an update and to help further. She had called up another designer and had asked for a quick and dirty product (i.e., she had subcontracted the work). Interestingly enough, my friend the book designer had then taken her associate’s work and had revised it. Here’s what my friend did that worked beautifully:

  1. As I had expected, the typefaces had been drawn from the client’s textbook. Starting with the top of the poster, the initial design included a rather long headline in all caps set flush left. The book designer took this headline and centered it, running it all the way across the top of the poster and placing a brown rule line all the way across the page immediately under the headline. This separated the headline from the text. It made the headline a single chunk of information (easier for the reader to absorb). The rule line also provided a “hook,” like a clothesline, from which all other elements of the poster could hang.
  2. In the same brown color as the rule line, my friend the print book designer placed the single-word headline of each of three charts on a 45 degree angle. One above the other, these three heads drew the reader’s eye down the page. To the right of each was its chart. All three charts were formatted alike, so the reader would know to approach them as “similar” or “equal.” The charts all looked alike except for the three heads (three countries in Africa). My friend used green and a lighter version of the dark brown to give a sense of cohesion to the piece. The green also appeared as the color of a huge initial cap starting the text paragraph on the left column of the poster.
  3. The text and bullets ran down the left-hand side of the poster, set flush left with an initial cap five lines deep. The book designer had initially made the initial cap light green (matching the infographic images in the three charts). I suggested that she make it dark green. It then matched two green (highlighted) words in the poster headline. I knew this would make the reader’s eye jump from the headline to the initial cap.
  4. After reading the text in the left column, the viewer would know to jump to the three chart titles and then scan the charts. The colors would reinforce these intuitive connections.
  5. My friend the print book designer then used large, light brown numerals and percentages to distinguish each chart from the others. Presumably, if the reader saw nothing else, he/she would know that the poster was about the gender gap (in three African countries) based on two bold, highlighted words in the headline, and a little woman and man icon set. The percentages and the three African country names would then clarify the differences among the charts.
  6. Within the text on the left-hand side of the poster, the book designer had made certain words all caps, in a bolder and contrasting typeface, and in light brown. If the viewer read nothing else, he/she would still get the gist of the poster’s content. And the light brown color would tie the text on the left to the charts on the right. The chart heads would also act as an anchor, leading the eye right down the page.
  7. Below the text and charts, the book designer had placed another horizontal rule all the way across the page. It matched the rule just below the headline, creating a frame for the central portion of the poster.
  8. Below this rule line, she put another head: “Three lessons learned.” She typeset the word “Three” in brown ink. (If you scan articles on the Internet, you’ll find a lot of short, pithy articles that start this way: “Three ways to do this or that.” It catches the reader’s attention. He/she knows the level of time commitment needed to get answers to so many of life’s questions.)
  9. Horizontally, below this headline and initiated with large numerals, the book designer put the three lessons, each in its own column (of equal depth) with a small illustration using the same male and female icons she had created for the charts above, and in the same colors.

Because of all these design choices, the reader’s eye knew exactly how to progress through the chart. The final product was even better than the quick-and-dirty mock-up the print book designer’s associate (the poster designer) had provided.

I made one final suggestion. I reminded my friend, who was used to designing for the 8.5” x 11” page, that a poster was to be read from a distance. No matter how good it looked on the computer screen, I encouraged her to print out a tiled copy, in color, tape it together, and put it on the wall—just to see what it would look like.

What You Can Learn from My Friend’s Poster

Consider these steps when you design your next poster, particularly if you’re new at poster design, or if you get stuck in the process:

  1. Relate the overall look to previously designed materials for the subject (books or collateral), using the same typefaces, design grid, colors, and images. This will ensure that the poster reflects your corporate identity.
  2. Determine how you want the reader’s eye to move through the poster, and use color, type, and rules to structure the content for easy reading.
  3. Always check the design from a distance.

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