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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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Archive for April, 2017

Book Printing: Handing Off PDF Files to the Printer

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

A print brokering client of mine is getting closer to handing off files to the book printer. She has been producing a 550-page cookbook in InDesign, including many hundreds of photos prepared in Photoshop. What makes this a challenge is that she is relatively new to Photoshop.

At the same time, the book printer I’m most comfortable handing her work off to (who is also the low bid) would prefer PDF files rather than native InDesign files. To complicate matters, PDF creation still requires premium quality native InDesign files as a base from which to produce press-ready PDFs, and there are many, many options for creating PDFs. Moreover, these options differ from printer to printer depending on many things, such as their prepress workflow software.

The gist of what I just said above is that it’s easy to hand off a problem file if you don’t do things right.

What Is a PDF File?

PDF stands for portable document format. This format allows you to distill an InDesign file (and all the fonts and images you have used to create the file) into a format easily printable on any computer. If you’re producing low-resolution output on a desktop printer, it’s relatively seamless. But if you’re printing high-resolution images in cyan/magenta/yellow/black on an offset press, you need a more comprehensive approach.

That said, if you can create a successfully preflighted InDesign file that correctly addresses issues of color space, resolution, image usage, font usage, and such, and then distill this into a successfully preflighted PDF, your book printer’s likelihood of producing both a proof and a final print job that meet your expectations is very high. Or, at the very least, you will see the problems early when you review the proof. And you can be confident that a successfully output proof will ensure a successfully printed job.

In addition, since you can embed the fonts in a PDF, you do not need to hand off your fonts to your printer. Also, your printer is less likely to encounter font substitution problems that would adjust (or totally move around) the text on your pages.

However, to be safe, it’s always good to send your printer a hard-copy proof to which he can “reconcile” the PDF and final job (i.e., something physical to match).

Keep in mind that a PDF will not improve anything in your initial InDesign file. If the photos are not of sufficient resolution, the PDF will not sharpen them. It won’t brighten photos or fix anything else. It will only allow for a smoother transition of your art files from your computer to your book printer’s computer.

Now the bad news is also the good news. You can only do limited editing to a PDF file. This means that when you hand off PDF files to your printer, if you find problems on the proof, you will have to correct the files in InDesign, distill them again into revised PDFs, and then hand these off to your printer for revised proofs. The good news is that there is very little that can change in the files you hand off to your printer (compared to native files), so you have almost complete assurance that your proofs will look exactly like your submitted files. (This is not the case when you hand off native files.)

Back to My Client

To get back to my client, all of this is relatively new to her. And there are a lot of options (multiple screens’ worth in InDesign) that need to be addressed in preparing PDFs correctly.

In addition, “correctly” means different things to different printers, since printers often have different prepress workflow software packages (such as Rampage or Prinergy).

In my client’s case, the printer has agreed to accept both PDFs and native files. If there are problems in the PDFs my client supplies, the printer will potentially be able to address them using her native InDesign files (i.e., the original, and editable, art files).

Fortunately, my client can distill PDFs directly from InDesign. Or she could use Acrobat Professional to distill the InDesign files into PDFs (but not the less-complete, but free, Acrobat Reader).

To make things easier, I plan to create for my client (with the book printer’s help) a cheat sheet showing which options to check or uncheck on the screens InDesign presents when you create PDFs. She can then put together a short test document (four or five pages addressing text issues, color issues, and image resolution issues). If the files pass preflight, she can then go ahead and distill the 550-page print book.

Variables/Issues to Consider

Here’s a short list of issues my client will need to consider (and that you may need to address when distilling files from your own InDesign projects). The best way to ensure success is to request the printer’s “guidelines” document for creating PDFs for offset print output. This document will make your life much easier (it will tell you what options to select for your printer’s specific workflow software), and it will make your printer’s life much easier (because your files will work smoothly).

  1. Document size.
  2. Bleeds (usually .125” or more).
  3. Margins. (It’s usually best not to put anything—type or images—closer than .25” from the trim.)
  4. Color space. (Make sure the job is CMYK or black only, not RGB. Convert spot colors to process colors, or ask your printer how to specify spot colors.)
  5. Crop marks.
  6. Transparency (with or without flattening). If this doesn’t make sense, ask your printer.
  7. Fonts. Embed them in the PDF. If they can’t be embedded (due to font licensing issues), ask your printer for a work-around.
  8. Image resolution. Use photos that are at least 300 dpi at the final size.
  9. Number of pages. Send either the whole book as one PDF or as several PDFs with a range of pages for each. Label accordingly. (Discuss with your printer.)
  10. Unused colors. If you have defined colors and then decided not to use them, delete them from your color palette. Never use “Registration” or “Auto” as a color. These will not output correctly (in some cases all type and imagery may show up on all printing plates).
  11. Preflight both the native file (before distilling the PDF) and the newly created PDF to catch all errors before submitting the PDF to the book printer.
  12. Only use “rich blacks” (a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) for solids and area screens, but never for type. (It would be too difficult to closely register four printing plates for small type while holding detail in the type serifs.)

Discuss these issues with your printer. This is only one set of specs I found online. Other printers will have different needs.

Extra Screens to Address

In InDesign, for instance, there are five computer screens of information to address when creating PDF files. In most cases these will involve only a few checkmarks (on-screen) based on your printer’s needs. They are called: “General,” “Compression,” “Marks & Bleeds,” “Output,” and “Advanced.” It is also wise to check “The Appearance of Black” in the Preferences window.

Final Thoughts

You can do this successfully (and so can my print brokering client). All is takes is study, practice, and communication with your book printer (or commercial printer, for that matter). After you do it once, you’ll know exactly what questions to ask your printer, so you can set up your files in the best way for his particular computer prepress system.

Book Printing: A Few Thoughts on Image Preparation

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

In spite of the promotional literature implying the ease with which one can seamlessly use Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, there really is a lot to learn. And when you’re using these programs together to prepare large book printing jobs for either offset printing or digital printing, the learning curve is even steeper.

That said, I have three book printing jobs I’m brokering at the moment. They are all close to 8.5” x 11” in format, and their press runs range from 500 copies to 11,000 copies (perfect bound and case bound).

In this particular case, the physical properties of the print books are less important than the preparation of the art files, or, more specifically, the preparation of the images to be placed in the InDesign files.

My “DIY” (Do-It-Yourself) Client

One of my clients has written and designed her book and then has prepared all pages in InDesign. She may also have taken the photographs. But she is somewhat new to Photoshop. To her the images are more important than the words. This is a cookbook, and she wants the images to take the lead.

From a commercial printing standpoint, because of this orientation toward the images, I have suggested that my client select a gloss coated printing stock. But for the custom printing paper to showcase the nuances of the images, the photographs must be correctly prepared prior to being placed in the InDesign file.

One of the things I learned, purely by accident during a discussion with my client, was that she had kept the photos in RGB JPEG format as they had been initially shot. Since she knew she wanted the text of the book (both words and images) to be printed in black ink only, she had merely desaturated the photos in Photoshop (i.e., removed their color but kept them in RGB format).

This had made perfect sense to her (and was a logical approach), but it was not what the offset printer would need in order to produce her book. So I gave my client the following suggestions. I think these would benefit a number of new designers (and designers who had come of age with traditional paste-up and are only now making the shift to computerized design and prepress):

My Suggestions to My Client

  1. I told my client she needed to convert all photos from RGB JPEGs to Grayscale TIFFs. Some printers can work with JPEGs, but it’s safest to use TIFFs because all printers will accept these.
  2. If my client had continued to use RGB, the printer would have needed to convert the files himself to CMYK (from Red/Green/Blue, which is used for video monitors, to Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black, which is used for ink or toner applied to paper). These color spaces are not the same. A color image mode change from one color space to another can cause color shifts.
  3. In my client’s case, if she had kept her files in the CMYK mode, the offset printer would have prepared printing plates for all four colors. In essence, even if the computer monitor had given the impression that her images were black and white, they would have been created with all four process colors. Printing the interior text pages of the book in full color would have cost multiple thousands of dollars more than printing a black-only text block. Since this would not have been acceptable, all of her work would have needed to be redone after the first proof, and then a second proof would have been required, further adding to the cost. So understanding how to use Photoshop to change the color mode from RGB to Grayscale was important for my client (as was doing this in a way that optimized the tonal range of the photos: i.e., the detail in highlights, midtones, and shadows).
  4. I suggested that my client look online for a tutorial on preparing black and white images for commercial printing. I have seen many such tutorials. They are succinct and extremely useful. They discuss everything from image resolution to changing color modes, to optimizing highlights and shadows for offset printing.
  5. I encouraged my client to make decisions regarding highlights and shadows based on “numbers” in the Photoshop dialog boxes (the “Info” palette, for instance), rather than by looking at the computer monitor. I noted that backlit images on a computer screen will look brighter than the same image files printed with ink or toner on paper. Learning to interpret the “numbers” (the numerical values for the colors and tonal range) would minimize error.
  6. I suggested that my client prepare a few pages of text and photos and then have the printer run a digital proof of just those pages as an initial test. If they looked too dark or too light, that feedback would help her in preparing the remainder of the book. I suggested that she approach the proofing process as an investment, not an expense.
  7. I spoke with the printer about providing his prepress department’s checklist for producing optimal, press-ready PDFs, so that once my client had received the initial few test pages and applied what she had learned to the remainder of the book, she would know how to convert her InDesign file into the best possible PDF file. He agreed. (Many printers already have such a PDF creation checklist. The reason this is useful is that different printers have different preferences for the numerous options available in creating a print-ready PDF file.)
  8. I encouraged my client to request the following proofs: the 3- to 5-page initial test file (plus any revisions needed); a high-resolution digital proof of all photos ganged up onto approximately 100 pages; the overall digital proof of the book (a “contract” quality, digital cover proof such as a Spectrum or Epson, plus laser proofs of all text pages); and folded and gathered book signatures handed off following printing but before binding the book. Overall, this would let my client see every stage of the process. Since this print book is her pride and joy, her “baby,” these multiple proofing stages will help ensure success.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

You can apply most of the suggestions I gave my client to your own work.

  1. Find out how your printer needs you to prepare images. Check online for short tutorials that teach you how to prepare Photoshop images for offset printing. They will give you a limited number of steps to follow to ensure your success with offset printed images.
  2. Consider requesting any or all of the proofs I have suggested. It may cost a little more, but it will help you identify problems before the book has been printed. At minimum, consider a high-res proof of the cover and “for position” proofs of the text. If you have images or tint screens, consider requesting high-res proofs of these pages. The jargon to use is “contract proofs.” These serve as a contract between you and the printer: once you have approved the way they look, he has to match these proofs exactly.
  3. Ask for your printer’s PDF-creation guidance sheet. Don’t assume one printer’s PDF-creation guide is the same as another’s.

Book Printing: Smyth Sewing Books for Strength

Friday, April 14th, 2017

For our rest and relaxation, my fiancee and I spend long hours in thrift stores. She likes the clothes; I like the books. One benefit for my work as a commercial printing broker is that I see how print books age. I see the yellowed paper in the books from the ‘70s and ‘80s and the pristine paper and binding work in books close to 100 years old (i.e., due to their superior materials).

I also see how various bindings hold up: which books are still in good condition twenty years after their publishing date and which books are losing pages.

Three Current Print Brokering Jobs

Three of my current print brokering clients are producing books at the moment. One is entirely case bound (all copies). One is a short-run job: 500 copies of a 488-page paperback book. The final product is a split binding of a 550-page book (2,000 to 10,000 copies paper bound and 1,000 copies case bound). For the most part, all are close to 8.5” x 11” in format. What they all have in common is that their page counts are high. They are all long books.

How does this affect the binding?

Two ways to approach the binding of either a perfect-bound (paperback) or case-bound (hard-cover) book are notch binding (or a similar option that is called burst perfect binding) and Smyth Sewing. With notch and burst binding, you first gather and stack the press signatures (lets say thirty-two 16-page press signatures for a 512-page print book, or sixteen 32-page signatures for the same page count).

Then, if you’re perfect-binding the book you grind off the bind edge, add hot-melt glue to the ground-off spine, and wrap a paper cover around the text block. For a burst-bound job you puncture the signature folds, and for a notch-bound job, you cut notches in the bind edge, apply the glue, and add the paper cover.

In these cases (which are best used for paper-bound books but can also be used for hard-bound books), grinding, piercing, or notching the bind edge before applying the glue just gives the glue more surface area of the paper to grab onto. More surface area allows for better glue adhesion and less likelihood that the pages will fall out.

Unfortunately, all of these print books are very long, as noted before, so the text blocks are heavy, and neither burst binding nor notch binding is as durable as one of the more traditional methods for case binding books: that is, Smyth Sewing.

Enter Smyth Sewing

If you open a case-bound children’s book, you will see a little thread running down the gutter of the book, in and out. You will also see the thread running down the center of a large-format art book at a museum, or a library book, or any other book that costs a lot and is intended to last for decades. Smyth Sewing is a durable way to make sure the pages don’t fall out.

The way Smyth Sewing works is that the stitches run the length of the fold (the folded side of the press signature), and then additional stitches sew together the separate signatures that comprise the entire book. Then the text block bind edge is covered with glue, attached to a liner (called a “crash”) and either set into the case side (i.e., suspended from binder’s boards wrapped with binding cloth and paper) for case binding or wrapped with a paper cover (for perfect binding).

What makes this stronger than notch binding or burst binding is that in addition to the glue seeping into the ground-off or notched bind edge of the gathered press signatures, you have the added holding power of the binding thread.

When the books have been opened and closed hundreds or multiple hundreds of times and they wind up in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent, the print books may be banged up a bit, but the pages are still attached firmly into the binding.

Things to Remember

Here are some things to keep in mind when you consider whether to pay extra for Smyth Sewing:

    1. Two of the three books I’m brokering have close to 500 pages of text. That’s a big, heavy text block. I’m encouraging my clients to choose Smyth Sewing because these books are prime candidates for lost pages. When designing your print books, consider how many pages they will be, how long they must last, and whether they will receive a lot of heavy use. For instance, art books, cookbooks, children’s books, and yearbooks would be prime candidates for Smyth Sewing.

 

    1. Remember that Smyth Sewing can be done with both paperbound and hard-cover books. This is especially useful for split bindings. You can save money by preparing all text blocks the same (for the most part) and then adding paper covers or hard covers as needed.

 

    1. Not all commercial printing suppliers, or even all book printers, have Smyth Sewing capabilities. In fact, many printers need to subcontract out all perfect binding and case binding. If you find a dedicated book printer, he will often have in-house perfect binding. If he has in-house case binding that’s even better. If he has in-house Smyth Sewing, that’s best of all. If you think you might need these services, ask if your vendor has the equipment in-house. (One vendor I’m seriously considering for the three jobs mentioned above has all of these capabilities. Therefore, Smyth Sewing the entire job will only cost about $300 extra. I can’t imagine the additional cost–and extra time–for Smyth Sewing if I chose a printer who had to subcontract the work.)

 

  1. Remember to ask your book printer for samples of printed, bound books (including Smyth Sewn books). You can see how well your printer does this kind of work, and you can show him exactly what you need.

Book Printing: More Thoughts on Printing Overseas

Friday, April 7th, 2017

As with anything else in life, a discount often comes with a cost. Maybe not in cash, but in time, effort, and diligent study.

I’m brokering three jobs for three clients at the moment. All three jobs are books (two case-bound; one perfect-bound). In light of their due dates, I am entertaining the possibility of printing one or more of the jobs abroad, in the Far East. This would be my first time. One of my clients has been printing in China for a number of years, successfully. She gets unbeatable prices.

However, she has voiced a number of considerations, which I want to share with you. While I am not averse to printing any of these three jobs overseas, I think it is prudent to take a long look at these issues and learn as much as I can before venturing into new waters.

In no particular order, here are the areas to consider, as presented by my client. I’m sure there are many other considerations to address. This is just a starting point:

Printing Schedule

To put this in perspective, one of the US printers I’m considering can ship the job (a case-bound book) 15 to 20 days after proof approval. The books will then take about two days to deliver by truck.

In contrast, my client’s current Chinese vendor can produce the print book within two weeks (10 days) including the case binding work; however, the completed books will then need to travel from Asia to the East Coast of the US.

Another vendor who bid on my client’s print book is in Korea. In his emails to me, this book printer estimates a 25-day ship time from Korea to New York. In addition, this printer says it will take 5 to 7 days for US Customs clearance and ground delivery to my client. All of this is in addition to the print book production schedule in Korea.

So while the Chinese, Korean, and US production end of the schedule is an important aspect of case-bound book manufacturing, delivery of the finished books from the Far East to the US East Coast makes the overall turn-around time (manufacturing plus delivery) much longer than for most US vendors.

Holiday Schedule

My client prints a case-bound book early each year. The Chinese New Year holiday schedule therefore has an impact on when she must submit art files for her book in order to allow sufficient time for both production and delivery. A Korean printer might not have the same Chinese New Year schedule, but he may have other scheduling issues that will affect a job’s submission and delivery date.

In my client’s case, her case-bound book includes a lot of four-color ads. Therefore, presumably the earlier she must upload art files to her current Chinese book printer, the less chance she will have to accommodate those advertisers who might only be able to meet a later ad deadline. In some cases this could be the difference between having, or losing, an advertising client.

Issues Relating to the Importation of Goods

Most or all of these issues involve time, knowledge/attentiveness, or money. My client mentioned Customs (on both ends, Korea or China plus the US), including sea clearance and bond expense/paperwork.

She also mentioned the “Vasis cost,” which she described as having the shipped cartons of books x-rayed in US Customs. This might involve additional fees depending on whether the books are just x-rayed or both x-rayed and physically inspected. With books, many boxes may need to be opened, so there may be additional fees for restacking and repalletizing them. This would be in addition to the basic Vasis fees. This doesn’t happen on each import, but it is a consideration, particularly if a book printing job delivers “LCL” (in less than one shipping container). More than anything, this means you need to be both knowledgeable and on top of the delivery process.

My client also said she has been advised to not have the foreign business in control of getting the product on the ship. She says you should use a US broker with an office in the departure port.

In addition, my client notes that there should be someone on this end to handle Customs clearance and any associated items that might arise, such as port fees, dock fees, and bonds. Also, there is always the possibility of a dock strike. My client notes that in a case like this you can sometimes divert the load to another port, but you really need to be watching the process closely (from your end, in this country) to ensure successful delivery.

A Response from My Client

Prior to completing this blog article, I contacted my client for her input. She noted that in spite of the challenges, she has successfully printed overseas for six years. In that time she has not had any problems dealing directly with the printer.

She had also mentioned challenges with color proofs with one book. She notes that in this case she received immediate and continuing help from her Chinese printer (and even from one of the owners of the printing plant) until all issues had been resolved and there was a plan in place to successfully proceed with printing the book. She was especially pleased with the smooth collaboration.

To quote from my client, Sandy Phillips, an Ocean City, MD, publisher, “While there are a number of moving pieces regarding printing overseas and the potential for things to go wrong, with the number of hands your job passes through, a carefully executed plan can yield excellent results.”

The Take-Away

By no means would I encourage you to not print your book in Asia. My personal experience of producing catalogs in Canada was much simpler. At the time the exchange rate was good, and the Canadian printer made the whole process easy. I would be comfortable printing in Canada again.

But Asia is farther away, and there are more areas in which you must become fluent. You need to understand the intricacies of importation (all elements of the process plus the costs) or have a trusted agent to handle these for you.

You need to understand the overall price and the overall schedule, not just the manufacturing price the printer quotes and the production schedule prior to the ship date.

And you need to closely monitor the entire process.

All of this is a completely separate arena of commercial printing that goes far beyond presses and inksets. But it doesn’t really matter how great the custom printing job is if you can’t get the print books to your client in good condition.

In this particular case, the more you know about international trade and the import/export business, the better able you will be to ensure your success.

Commercial Printing: Digitally Textured Label Printing

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

I just read an article on PackagingDigest.com about textured inks used for package printing. I thought about the times I had picked up books at thrift stores and had been initially attracted not to their content but to the feel of the cover (or more specifically the texture of the coating). I’m especially fond of artfully printed and bound, dull film laminated books. I like the matte feel.

So when I read the article on PackagingDigest.com entitled “Tactile Labels Use Textured Inks to Put Consumers in Direct Touch with Packaging” (by Rick Lingle in Labels, 10/03/16), I was pleased to see that other people also considered the texture of packaging to be a powerful selling point.

Adding Texture Digitally

According to Lingle’s article, “Consumers don’t just use their eyes when making purchasing decisions—they use the sense of touch as well. Research has shown that a brand’s impact increases by 30% when more than one sense is engaged in the packaging design.”

I found this both enlightening and also exciting, since I know that custom labels/packaging is one of the fastest growing sectors of the commercial printing industry.

“Tactile Labels Use Textured Inks to Put Consumers in Direct Touch with Packaging” then goes on to describe a roll-to-roll digital label press manufactured by Domino called the N610i digital UV inkjet label press. Lingle notes that “Textures by Domino,” a unique inkjet capability of the Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press, allows label printers to produce visually striking, digitally textured labels that enhance shelf presence and make brand owners’ products stand out from the crowd.”

Lingle then goes on to suggest that such a press is particularly well suited to labels for wine and beer, as well as cosmetics and other beauty items because textured labels provide “high visual and ‘feel appeal’ that also help to maximize customer engagement.”

This is powerful stuff. The most relevant part is the assertion (and supporting research) that targeting multiple senses with marketing materials (including custom labels and other packaging) will increase sales.

Lingle’s article notes that “The textured-printed labels not only capture consumer attention, but more importantly encourage them to take the product off the shelf.” Why? Because it feels good in the buyer’s hands.

Moreover, this process is economical. Because the Domino press is printing textured inks onto labels, printers don’t need to stock expensive, textured press sheets.

For instance, as Lingle says, you could create a grainy-feeling label for a beer bottle that suggests the earthy qualities of the product, or you could simulate expensive textured papers digitally when producing high-end wine labels, thus appealing to a premium market.

Some Benefits of the Process

Here are my thoughts on some of the benefits provided by the “Textures by Domino” process on the Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press:

  1. First of all, labels and packaging are serious growth engines for the commercial printing industry at the present moment. So the manufacturer’s commitment to textural enhancements that drive sales is noteworthy. It underlines the fact that custom labels are effective sales tools and are therefore highly in demand.
  2. Anything that can be simulated digitally (like the digital foiling of Scodix or digital die cutting) can avoid costly and time consuming metal die making. In addition, marketers are finding short, targeted print runs to be quite effective, particularly if they allow for personalization. For short to medium runs, this approach can be very cost effective. It can also get a product to market more quickly, because you don’t have to wait for the dies to be made. In the realm of custom labels, if texture sells and if texture can be digitally simulated, the equipment that can do this task will be in great demand.
  3. The Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press uses UV inks, by its very design. Although the article does not tout this benefit (except to say that you can print on synthetics), UV curing can allow for inkjet printing on a variety of non-porous substrates (like clear plastic labels, for instance). Furthermore, since the process uses UV light to cure the inks, no drying time is needed. UV ink drying (or curing) is instantaneous, so all subsequent finishing steps can occur without delay.
  4. For beauty product packaging this can be particularly useful and economical. Instead of using foil stamping to add various textures to the base substrate (playing one texture off another), the Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press can simulate the textures right on the labels (and, as noted above, without the time or expense of die making).
  5. Since the process is digital, the Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press can immediately change from creating one textured surface for a set of labels to creating an entirely different textured effect for another set of labels—presumably ad infinitum.

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