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Archive for July, 2017

Custom Printing: Choose the Right Font for Readability

Monday, July 24th, 2017

I was at the house of a small literary publisher recently. We were discussing paper choices and binding options for an upcoming book. Apropos to nothing, both the husband and the wife (the publishers) asked my opinion of the typeface for the text and the titles of the new book. They knew I had been an art director and that I still did a little graphic design on the side.

I looked at the type on the copyright page (since it was smaller than the book text), I also looked at the text and subheads in the body of the print book. My clients had printed out the pages on white stock, yet the final printed book would be manufactured on a cream press sheet.

The type is too small, I said. And too light. In addition, the subheads are in a Modern font (sharp contrast between the thin and thick strokes in the letterforms), and the subheads are too small. Plus the type will be printed on a cream offset sheet (which will reduce contrast between the words and the paper). Uncoated offset paper also absorbs ink, so there will be a less-than-crisp edge to the type letterforms. All of this will impede legibility.

They both agreed. They had been concerned, but they had not been able to articulate precisely why they had been concerned. Now they knew.

What I Suggested

One of the publishers (the wife of the husband and wife team) said she would choose a few fonts for the print book designer to consider. She asked for my opinion. Here are the thoughts I shared with her and her husband:

  1. Choose another sans serif typeface for the body copy. Choose one that is standard, without artistic flourishes in the letterforms. Readability is more important than style for text-heavy printed products.
  2. Make sure the sans serif body typeface is darker than the current choice (compare a new page of type to an old page).
  3. Add a point of leading between the lines of copy and increase the point size of the body copy slightly until it is readable.
  4. Consider the audience. If readers will be middle aged or older, their eyes will not shift focus as quickly as they used to, so these readers will appreciate the slightly darker type and the slightly larger point size, plus the extra leading.
  5. For the headlines and subheads, choose an Old Style typeface instead of a Modern typeface. I told my clients to Google each of these general categories. They would see the differences and probably also see a list of fonts within each category. I suggested New Century Schoolbook and Garamond. I told my clients that legibility trumped aesthetics. The Old Style fonts would have less of a dramatic contrast between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms, and this would improve legibility on an uncoated, rough, cream printing paper.
  6. I also suggested that my clients bump up the point size on the copyright page.

Now For Something Completely Different: A Poster

But what if my clients had also needed a poster or other large format print for their trade show booth at a print book seller’s convention? I probably would have told them something completely different.

Posters, large format print signage, and even some brochures have a particular trait that sets them apart from print books or even short booklets. They have very little type. In their case, while the goal is still legibility first, the reader’s eye can tolerate more ornate letterforms and even more contrast between lighter and darker chunks of copy precisely because they will be reading the printed piece for much less time than a print book.

For instance, my clients could choose a Modern font for the headlines of a poster, and since there would be fewer words, the contrast between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms would be an artistic element of the overall design, not an impediment to legibility. Granted, setting the headlines in all capital letters might detract from legibility when using a Modern typeface, but even then, if the headlines are very short, even this might work.

The key words are “might work.” It is an artistic decision based on experience and close observation. The two kinds of design work (books and short-form promotional items) are different enough that you really need a skilled designer with a good eye and experience to make the best visual choices.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If it looks and feels wrong, try something else. My clients are not designers. However, they do read, and they had trouble with the lightness of the type. It bothered them. That’s a good enough reason to change it. When in doubt, show someone else, or a number of other people, and ask for their opinions.
  2. Consider your audience. You may be 22, but your audience may be older. (When I was 22, it didn’t even occur to me that one’s eyesight could be so different, simply because I had not yet been middle aged. It’s easy to think that everyone can see to read equally well.)
  3. Consider the size of the type and the “threshold of readability,” which will also depend on the lightness of the type and whether it is an artsy font or a “workhorse” made primarily for reading and only secondarily for its appearance.
  4. Keep in mind that you can improve legibility (even of a problematic typeface) by increasing the point size, increasing the leading, or decreasing the length of a line of type. There are no rules that can’t be broken; rather there are ways to work around the challenges. And if you set type in all capital letters, make sure your lines are short. (Your reader depends on recognition of the overall shape of each word to facilitate reading. Each word has a distinctive outline, and a reader can skim a line of text and recognize a word’s shape with only a glance. But the shape of every word set in all capital letters is the same: a rectangle. And this means your reader will need to scan all letters in the word to grasp its meaning.)
  5. Remember that these rules differ based on the kind of work you’re doing. A poster or other large format print is different from a print book. However, in most cases it’s different because there is less type, and your eye can tolerate more diversity and flourishes in the letterforms when there’s less type to read. Think of a billboard. Then think of a novel. For these, you need two totally different approaches when selecting type.

Book Printing: Giving the Printer More and More Book Titles to Estimate

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

As a commercial printing broker, I am in the position of potentially crafting a deal that would make a client happy while bringing more work to a good printer. What’s interesting is that there are a lot of assumptions that may be negotiable, if the client, the printer, and I go slowly and work together.

The Client

My client produces books at a local beach resort. For the most part they advertise local establishments, but they also promote events and include other editorial content. The print books are 4-color throughout due to the high percentage of advertising. They are case-bound, for the most part, usually oblong in format, and their print runs range from 1,000 copies to 10,000 copies.

Over the past two months my client has been on hiatus before starting the new publishing year. Usually she prints in China, but she has intimated that for the right price she would consider bringing the work to a local US vendor. I have written about her in the PIE Blog before. Our work has been on hold for two months.

The Printer

At the same time, I have been working with a US printer to craft a potential year-long schedule for my client’s print books and to reduce costs where possible to make the deal attractive to my client. This particular printer is ideal for the job because he specializes in book printing. Therefore, his plant includes all of the equipment most other companies do not have. This includes binding equipment for case-bound books, Smyth sewing equipment, and so forth. Because of this, he can produce my client’s work at a lower price and more quickly than his competitors. After all, he doesn’t need to subcontract the binding work.

That said, he still can only come closer than most US printers to the pricing offered by Chinese print vendors. He can’t duplicate the low pricing in the Far East. However, my client has expressed interest in repatriating the work, avoiding the schedule slow-down around Chinese New Year in February, extending advertising deadlines (since overall production and delivery will take less time here than if the books are produced in the Far East), and avoiding potential dock strikes and the need to reroute ships to other ports. The list goes on. She pays a price for the discount offered by the Chinese vendor, even if he does do stellar work.

The Pot Gets Bigger

Since my last blog article on this subject, my client has taken on more work (more book titles) and is in the process of merging with another print book publisher. What this means is that over the course of the year, my client will have more jobs to print either in China or here in the United States.

My client is concerned that the book printer I have paired her with (due to his pricing, equipment, core competencies, etc.) will not be interested enough to come down in price, since her work in some cases will not go to press exactly when planned (i.e., the jobs cannot always be ganged). We had initially discussed pricing based on ganged work. This particular printer had actually come down in price as more books were added to the pot, but we had still based a lot of the discussion on the assumption that groups of books would go to press simultaneously. Apparently, some of the authors have not been able to meet their deadlines precisely, so this may be an issue. My client was worried that this would be a deal breaker.

This is what I said. Book printers want work. If we are up front about the potential for late job submission, or even the potential omission of a certain number of print books from the planned schedule, perhaps the printer will still offer superior pricing, since we keep adding books to the list. Printers want work, I said, and this amount of work provides leverage as long as we’re candid about the potential pitfalls.

Next Steps

Needless to say, my client was pleased with the answer. We also decided to slow down the process. Not a problem, I said. It’s better to do it right rather than quickly and risk making mistakes.

So what I suggested was that she make a calendar of book titles going from the present through 2018. She has work up through next year already planned (which our printer of choice will love to hear, since it will involve more print book titles than we had discussed at our last meeting). In fact, when I called the book printer after discussing the work with my client, he was pleased and ready to take the information upline to decision makers in sales management and estimating.

I asked my client to include in her calendar the titles of the books, their formats (their sizes and whether they will be upright or oblong), press runs, page counts, delivery dates, and color usage. I said she should set forth general assumptions at this point (educated guesses), assuming that things will change as we get closer to the actual jobs. My goal is to get a schedule into the book printer’s hands, a rough blueprint of upcoming work.

I also asked my client to start thinking about her target pricing, not unit costs but the overall cost per book printing job, excluding ganged shipping (since, if the jobs come in at different times, she will not be ganging delivery from either a Chinese printer or a US printer). I asked her to base these target prices on what she currently pays for work in China. I also asked her to consider the prices she would accept (i.e., if the US prices are higher than those from China, what will it be worth to her to avoid the importing headaches, potential dock strikes, long schedule, etc., plus whatever advertising revenue she can expect to gain by keeping advertising deadlines open longer).

Once I have this chart, even if it is a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate, I will go back to the book printer and see what I can get for my client. If the printer wants a lot of work, he may very well be willing to reduce his profit per title in order to acquire many more book titles. Conversely, his pricing may just be within my client’s comfort zone if he can come close to her targets. I fully expect to have some back and forth discussions to bring both my client’s and the printer’s goals and expectations in line with one another. At least this is my hope. It would benefit both my client and the book printer.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to think about:

  1. If you have multiple titles, or even a year-long schedule of dissimilar work (books, brochures, posters, office materials), consider sharing this with your printers. Many will be able to give you a better deal based on bringing in more work. If the jobs can come in together and be gang printed, so much the better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for better prices. If you really like a printer and have a good working relationship, you can always ask about ways to reduce costs (such as paper substitution).
  3. In many cases, if you work out a one-year contract, or a multi-year contract, with a printer, you can get better pricing. After all, your printer wants consistent work. If you will be a loyal customer and bring in predictable work over a certain time period, this will be valuable to your printer.
  4. If you’re trying to negotiate a multi-job, multi-year contract, be very candid about which jobs may miss their schedule by a week or more and which may disappear altogether. After all, you’re working with your printer as a partner at this point, and that requires mutual trust and transparency. Both sides have to win for it to be a long-term relationship.
  5. Keep in mind that everything is negotiable, but be as explicit as possible. Show the printer samples of everything. Avoid any surprises.

Book Printing: Printing a Book Without Art Files

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

I just received a sample print book in the mail from a client saying he needed to potentially reprint the book without having the plates or art files.

I told him that this is not unusual. After all, once a print run has been completed, depending on the length of the run, the plates may have degraded. Long ago, many printers used to save the negatives and discard the plates. Now, I noted, printers save the digital information for a book printing job on hard drives or removable computer media.

My client did some research and found that the prior copy of the book (last printed a number of years ago) was on a Zip disk. If it could be found, potentially a Zip drive could be located, and the file could be accessed by the book printer.

(As an aside, the Iomega Zip disk was popular in the 1990s. It held 100 MB of digital information (or up to 250MB in later years–which at that time was a lot of digital information–and graphic designers transmitted files to the printer by submitting the job on a Zip disk. Of course this is nothing compared to the multiple tens of gigabytes small USB drives now hold, and regardless, designers usually now upload files to their book printer online.)

So the gist of my client’s dilemma is that he either has no art file from which to reprint his book, or he has an antiquated file on an antiquated medium from almost a quarter of a century ago. What to do?

A Description of the Print Book

My client’s book is 8” x 10” in dimension, one color inside with a four-color cover, and is perfect bound. It is a history book, a trade paperback about flight, with text and full-page images inside the book and a sepia-toned image created out of process color that wraps around the front and back covers and the spine. It is beautiful.

My client also sent me what he called a dust jacket for the hard-bound version of the book. The first thing that struck me was that the untrimmed dust jacket looked more like a proof. In addition, the color did not match the cover of the trade paperback. It contained a lot more red in the sepia image (presumably an image of the Wright Brothers and their airplane).

So I looked closely with a loupe. I noticed that the paperback book cover image had a halftone dot pattern and that the image was also composed of rosettes (a pattern of circles from the overlaying and slight tilting of the process color plates against one another to avoid moire patterns). The unbound cover (dust jacket) had no such pattern. Given this information, I now assume that it had been produced in a limited run on a digital press (perhaps an HP Indigo, given the quality of the image and the size of the press sheet).

The Analysis of the Book and a Plan for Its Reproduction

First of all, my client’s printer is searching for the Zip disk. Obviously, this is the best choice for reproduction since he can just produce new plates for the new print run. That’s Plan A. Plan B is to reproduce the job from a hard copy of the print book using a scanner.

With this in mind, I studied the inside of the book.

The images are all very old. Therefore they are of marginal technical quality but maximum historical interest. They are spotty. Some are better than others, but this is not really a problem because their purpose is to convey information. One expects this old an image to be scratched, washed out, or otherwise compromised, and this does not detract from the value of the print book. Therefore, I have suggested that my client have his printer “copydot scan” the interior pages of the book (scan the halftones and text exactly as is, reproducing the halftone dot pattern of the black-only images without descreening and then rescreening the pages–particularly the photos).

The covers are more challenging. Since they are composed of four colors, they probably cannot be copydot scanned. Rather, the printer will need to scan the large, wrap-around image and text as a single four-color image. Then he will need to descreen it (blur it slightly to make the halftone dots and rosettes invisible), then sharpen it and separate the four halftones (C, M, Y, and K) that will constitute the single cover image and text. Fortunately the image will be forgiving. Since it is a sepia image of two figures and an airplane, it looks more like a painting than a photo. It could even be fuzzier than it already is, and the image would just be more artistic and evocative. This is a blessing, since this kind of scanning, descreening, and rescreening will reduce the quality of each successive version of the image (i.e., every generation of re-copying will degrade the original; in this case, though, it will still make a good print book cover).

On my client’s book cover, the title is hand-written and printed in a light yellow (under the loupe it is mostly yellow with a slight halftone dot of magenta). The subtitle is almost white (white with a slight black halftone dot). Therefore, both should be readable in the next generation image, once scanned and manipulated. The spine is pretty much the same (i.e., probably quite readable, even after being scanned, descreened, rescreened, and printed).

The back of the book is another matter. On the hard-cover book dust jacket proof is a description of the book surprinted across the extension of the sky (which goes from the front cover across the spine and across the back cover). On the printed paperback are quotes about the book, pricing information, and a barcode. My client has said he would like to omit two quotes and add the description of the book on the back cover.

So this is what I suggested: He should ether recreate the mottled sky as the background of the back cover or use a consistent sepia screen (a four-color build to match the front cover and spine). Then he should reset all of the copy (description of the book, two fewer quotes, the barcode, and the pricing information) and submit only this page as new copy. Basically, the cover photo of two men and an airplane would now end at the edge of the spine where it abuts the back cover.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Technology marches on. Don’t assume the medium on which you save your job will be around in twenty years. That said, printers often have an uncanny ability to keep at least some of the old technology around to accommodate the needs of their clients.
  2. If you can’t do what you want to do, there’s usually an alternative. If my client’s print book cover were not ideally suited to scanning, descreening, and rescreening, he could have just paid a graphic designer to produce a new cover and then copydot scanned the interior of the book. If the images in the text had not been as forgiving as they will be (i.e., old photos to begin with), that might have been a problem. My client may have needed to redesign the interior of the print book.
  3. Your printer will have ideas like these. Tell him what you want to do, show him the book, and ask for his advice.
  4. Assume each generation of copying will degrade a printed image. Make sure you request a high-quality proof so you can see how the final printed book will look. Then ask about any potential unwanted patterning (moire) from the screening/descreening process.

Commercial Printing: “On-Shoring” Color Printing

Friday, July 7th, 2017

I am currently working with a print brokering client who produces a number of East Coast beach resort advertising print books, which are manufactured in China because it’s unbelievably cheap. However, she has to deal with a longer lead time, which cuts off her ad sales earlier than she might like. In addition, her print book production schedule falls during Chinese New Year, so book production slows down during this time. Also, there is always the potential for dock strikes, necessitating the rerouting of her books to another port for entry into the United States. Also, if something goes wrong, well, China is far away. So my client pays a lot for the discounted book printing prices.

In light of this, a situation that affects many of her fellow book publishers in the East Coast beach area and presumably a huge number of other publishers across the United States, I read an article the other day about inkjet color printing for trade books. I found it intriguing.

The Premise of the Article

I found the article on the AmericanPrinter.com website on 2/6/17. It appears to be a press release from Xerox, since I cannot find the name of the writer. If you Google the article, it’s entitled, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home.”

Even the title makes me feel warm inside. Here’s the premise of the article:

  1. Trade book publishers have been inkjet printing the text pages of black-ink-only trade books for some time now. This has improved inventory control. That is, publishers don’t run out of books, but neither do they need to buy books to cover the highest sales expectations. This means fewer inventory overruns and less waste, plus less overhead expense for inventory. Longer runs of the books are still best suited for offset printing. (Keep in mind that this pertains to the black-only text blocks, presumably not the covers.) (If you want to research this process, the technical term is “production” ink jet printing. This distinguishes it from inkjet products that are not trade books, educational books, and the like.)
  2. For books with 4-color interiors, inkjet color printing has not caught on. This is disappointing news, since it would be an ideal response to the seasonality of much of the 4-color book interior work. For instance, the American Printer article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” notes that cookbooks are in demand around Christmas and Mother’s Day, color textbooks for higher education are in demand at the beginning of the school year, and children’s books sell well around Easter and Christmas.
  3. When a book publisher produces process-color print books overseas to fulfill expected orders at these specific times of year but runs out of inventory, he or she can’t just order more books from Far East printers and receive them in a timely manner. At best, it would take weeks for a reprint, not just a few days. This can mean either needing to over-order books initially or running out of books and losing sales later on.
  4. This short-run, inkjet-printed text-block paradigm for interiors of 4-color books would be ideal for solving the problem of seasonality in four-color book interiors. However, to date, there have been problems. Pretreated paper for currently available inkjet production presses has cost more than off-the-shelf coated paper, and there have been fewer paper options available. In addition, the quality of the printed product has not been of the same caliber as offset printed four-color work.

The Potential Solution

As I noted before, this article is most likely a Xerox press release. The article, “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home,” goes on to list the benefits of the upcoming release of High Fusion Inks for use on its Trivor 2400 platform. This will “enable high-quality color inkjet printing on untreated commodity offset coated stocks with no pre- or post-print coatings.” “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” continues, noting that “These stocks often cost 15 to 20 percent less than specialty inkjet treated stocks and can help providers standardize on fewer paper stocks to better manage costs.”

Clearly this is sales literature. However, it also has far-reaching implications. When the price of the inkjet-printed books drops due to lower paper costs, and when the quality of the printed product improves (which is directly related to the paper, since the color inkjet printing process can already exceed the color gamut of 4-color offset printing if you use the right expanded ink set), then the case for bringing production inkjet for color book texts back home improves significantly.

Color quality aside, along with the cost of the paper, there are still a number of additional benefits to bringing the commercial printing of color books back home. “The Case for Bringing Color Trade Book Production Back Home” notes:

  1. Lower freight charges compared to shipping costs from the Far East.
  2. Minimized administrative and handling costs (to this I would add the elimination of the complexities and stresses of importing goods).
  3. The ability to control costs by more tightly controlling the supply chain.
  4. The ability to fulfill those orders that would be lost to a several-weeks-long reprint schedule compared to a few days’ reprint schedule for a locally-sourced ink-jet book.
  5. To this I would add the reduced cost of inventory.

Overall Impressions

Once production inkjet can compete with offset commercial printing in terms of image quality and printing paper price, this will be a game changer. I have looked closely at some inkjet printed color books, and I have seen the difference between these products and offset-printed color books. But I have also seen spectacular color inkjet work. I know we’re close. This might just be the right equipment at the right time. If so, it might just make the business case for bringing this commercial printing work home again.

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