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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 January, 2018

Book Printing: Tips on Preparing Book Cover Art

Friday, January 26th, 2018

A book printing client of mine is about to send a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book to press. She and her husband, a publishing team for literary books of prose and poetry, have circulated “galley-proofs” (lower production quality versions of the book for editors and reviewers to use for commentary), and the reader suggestions will have been introduced into the final-copy art files shortly.

What this means is that the page count is in flux. And that in turn affects the overall price of the book (and the dollar payment my clients will need to send before the production work begins), plus the width of the spine is also in flux, so the cover designer is in a wait-and-see mode at the moment.

Regarding the last comment above, here’s the rub. The designer will need to create a single file with the back cover on the left, then the spine, then the front cover, all side by side. For this particular print book, there will also be French flaps (3.5” extensions on either side of the back and front cover). When folded in, these French flaps will provide a little interior space to print an author bio, reviewers’ quotes, or marketing blurbs. They will also make the paper-bound book look more like it has a dust jacket (like a hardcover book).

So reading from left to right, the final art for the cover will include a 3.5” French flap followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” back cover followed by a spine (indeterminate size at the moment) followed by a 5.5” x 8.5” front cover followed by a 3.5” front cover French flap. To this the cover designer will add bleeds for this four-color printed product (the interior of the book is simpler: black text throughout, with no bleeds).

All of these components need to be stitched together, but more importantly they must be of the correct measurements, or the spine art will end up wrapping onto the front or back cover and looking just plain ugly.

Fortunately the caliper of the interior text paper is known: 400 ppi. For the ease of the math, that means that if my client’s book winds up being 400 pages, the spine will be one inch. In actuality it will probably be 256 pages (it has ranged from about 264 pages down to 250 pages—for the digitally printed “reader’s galleys”). So the spine will be more than half an inch and less than an inch (.64”), but the exact size cannot be finalized until the page count is firm. That means the Photoshop file (the cover designer likes to work in Photoshop rather than InDesign) will need to be fluid, and the final press-ready PDF cannot be distilled until the text pages have been finalized.

In your own print buying work, there are three take-aways from this case study to consider:

  1. Understand the concept of paper thickness or caliper, and get this information from your book printer once you have chosen a paper stock. To be safe, after you have calculated the spine width, have him confirm your math. It’s better to be safe.
  2. Learn how to stitch together the various pieces of a book cover, making sure the overall size is correct, with or without bleeds, and the pages are in the correct order (back cover, spine, front cover).
  3. Send your book printer both the native Photoshop or InDesign file (to his specifications) and a press-ready PDF (to his specifications).
  4. Don’t be surprised, or upset, if your book printer needs you to make some final technical adjustments and resubmit these files. This is complex work.

Further Thoughts

Here are a few more things that I do when I design a print book cover. You might find them useful.

The Color of the Paper

The clients noted above often print the text blocks of their books on a cream stock. That is, the color of the paper is tinted slightly yellow, in contrast to bright white sheets that are tinted slightly blue. (The blue-white is less noticeable. It just looks like a very bright white.)

When my clients add a 12pt C1S cover to this text block, it is usually blue-white rather than natural, cream, or warm white. Usually, my clients print the inside front and back covers as well as the outer front and back covers and spine. The difference between the bright blue-white of the interior covers and the cream white of the text is not visible to the reader at this point because of the ink on the interior covers (it distracts the reader). However, if my clients choose to print a book on cream stock and they have nothing printed on the interior covers, the difference in paper shade between the blue-white interior covers and the cream white text block will be visible.

In cases like these I have often encouraged them to choose a bright white shade for the text as well as the cover.

As an alternative, could my clients print the covers on a cream-white cover sheet? Presumably. However, printing four-color process imagery on a yellowish tinted paper will change the tone of the inks. Remember, process inks are transparent, so the substrate will affect the perceived color of ink printed on an off-white substrate.

So it’s a trade-off. Depending on the colors, my clients may actually either have a bright white cover and cream white text, and live with the difference, or they might print four-color imagery on cream cover stock—depending on the colors in the images. It’s usually not good to print flesh tones on a cream substrate, since facial coloration can look odd (i.e., jaundiced).

Coated One or Two Sides

On a related note, when my clients do print on the interior covers, I always specify a C2S paper (coated two sides). Many coated cover sheets are specified this way: as 80# cover, for instance, rather than 10pt C1S. It can be assumed that cover stock paper has coating on two sides, since this is not specified, whereas C1S paper specified in points (10pt., 12pt.) is coated on only one side because the notation says it is.

I encourage my clients to do this for the following reason. Ink behaves differently on a coated, vs. uncoated, surface. Ink sits up on the top of a coated surface, but it seeps into the paper fibers if there’s no coating. Because of this, four-color imagery printed on the front of a C1S (coated one side) sheet will have a completely different look than four-color imagery printed on the uncoated interior covers (front and back). Ink on the interior covers in this case would seem dull in comparison. If you want that look (a softer, crunchy granola look), it fine if it’s done throughout a book, but it looks odd if it’s done on the inside front and back covers only.

(On a related note, keep in mind that all of the text blocks of this particular client’s books are printed in black ink only on uncoated paper stock. Everything I’m saying would become far more complicated if my clients were to shift to four-color interior text blocks. In fact, at that point, I’d suggest that they either print both the cover and text on coated stock or print the cover and text on uncoated stock, depending on the effect they were seeking.)

Print Out a Hard Copy

One thing I always suggest for my clients’ book covers is that they print out a hard copy on paper with crop marks and printer’s bars. They may need to tile the pages and then tape them together. But the idea is for them to have a full-size physical representation of the cover, ruled out to show the bleeds. This will make it abundantly clear–in ways that often elude the viewer who only looks at the cover on-screen—as to whether everything is correct.

You can see where the type falls on the spine: whether it is centered vertically, or whether it is too high or low. You can see whether the front or back cover art is centered on the page (exclusive of the bleeds, which can be misleading, because once you draw pencil marks–“rule out the cover”–to connect the trim marks, you can see what the cover will look like after it has been printed and trimmed to size).

All of this is visible on a computer screen, granted. Maybe I’m just “old school.” But I do find it easier to see the flaws when the entire front and back cover and spine are before me in actual size (not enlarged or reduced– zoomed in or out). You can always catch the errors at the physical proof stage (and I would encourage you to request a hard-copy cover proof rather than depending on a virtual proof for a print book cover), but why pay to fix errors you can catch by just printing out and taping together a cover mock-up?

Custom Printing: More Info on Print and Virtual Reality

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to try on a virtual reality (VR) headset for the first time in a computer store. It was a transformative experience. I totally lost awareness of the actual world around me as I explored a realm that seemed equally real. It was like a dream.

In this context, I was particularly intrigued to find an article on www.adweek.com about the marriage of augmented reality (AR, which is slightly different from virtual reality) and commercial printing. Entitled “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality” (published online on 1/8/18 and written by Tim Carmody), the article addresses some of the issues and concerns in this expanding link between print and digital communications.

The article begins by noting that for the first time in its 94-year history, the prior issue of Time had been guest-edited (by Bill Gates). I think this is a very big deal, since Gates is clearly one of the most influential names in the history of personal computing. At the same time, this particular issue contained “activations” (links to) four separate augmented reality experiences accessible with a smartphone app created by Time’s Life VR.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

To understand the difference in the terms referenced in the article, I did some research on virtual reality and augmented reality. Both are computer generated, usually incorporating a headset with a screen that covers the viewer’s entire field of vision. In my own experience trying this at the computer store, the headset itself also eliminated ambient light to further focus my attention on the screen (some virtual reality experiences use screens in an actual, physical room).

The main difference between augmented reality and virtual reality, as I understand it from my reading, is that virtual reality presents a separate, completely contained world for the viewer to experience while augmented reality adds computer generated text and images to the viewer’s field of vision. It enhances reality rather than creating an artificial world.

I think both have their place, and I think they will both be very big in coming years. Carmody’s article reflects the same sentiment, noting that “…the right set of experiences have emerged…to make it mainstream.”

How This Relates to Commercial Printing

The article reminds us that Time has been around for 94 years. That’s a very long time when you think that our country has only been around for 242 years. And Time is positioning itself to benefit from this growth in augmented reality.

According to Mia Tramz, managing editor of Life VR (as quoted in “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality”), “In the way that VR was nascent a few years ago, I think AR is right now.” Because of this, Time Inc. plans to roll out augmented reality activations across its line of products and also both augmented reality and virtual reality experiences that will be stand-alone items (not linked to Time Inc. print products). That is, Time sees reader demand both for integrating print publications with AR and VR applications and for creating free-standing AR and VR experiences, which they refer to as “off the page” opportunities.

Why?

  1. Time sees opportunities for readers to both entertain and inform themselves using this growing technology.
  2. Photography has always been a key ingredient in the success of Time throughout its 94-year history.
  3. Time sees benefits to both the printed product and the digital experience by uniting print and AR/VR.
  4. Time sees a wealth of advertising opportunities coming from this union of print and AR/VR.
  5. Time is focusing more on augmented reality than on virtual reality because it does not want to limit viewers to a single, fictional world but rather to enhance the viewer’s experience of the real world.

To these benefits noted in Carmody’s article on www.adweek.com, I would add my own beliefs:

  1. Time wants to stay relevant. And the best way to do this is to gauge reader interest and the current state of AR and VR technology (both of which Time Inc. considers viable), and to give their readers what they want.
  2. A print publication such as Time magazine provides an ideal platform from which to experience the enhanced educational and entertainment opportunities of both VR and AR. On one hand Time magazine is a trusted platform for information and imagery. It is also a base from which to launch VR and AR experiences. Furthermore, the marriage of VR/AR and print offers more benefits than either print or digital alone.

The Challenge for Augmented Reality

The main challenge noted in Carmody’s article is to make the experience easier for viewers. (The article refers to this as its having less “friction.”) After all, a viewer has to have a smartphone (which most people have) and then download software (an app) to make the AR or VR activation work.

At this particular point in the development of AR and VR, notes Carmody, there are more options, such as the software in the Snapchat platform. People are more comfortable using something they are familiar with, and more and more people are familiar with Snapchat. Also, other platforms will presumably offer AR and VR connections in the near future.

In addition, Time Inc. offers its own smartphone app, Life VR (and presumably other publishers also offer or will soon offer similar apps). Granted, once a reader/viewer has downloaded the app from a particular publisher, the publisher must continue providing compelling VR or AR experiences, or the software on the user’s smartphone will just sit idle.

Examples of AR Success in Marketing

To make this more concrete, here are two examples of connections between marketing and VR/AR as noted in “Why Print Legacies Like Time Are Betting Big on Augmented Reality”:

  1. Home Depot provided an augmented reality experience launched from a banner ad in which the smartphone-equipped customer could photograph a Christmas tree and then place it in a photo of his or her own living room.
  2. IKEA provided an augmented reality experience in which the viewer could place furniture in his or her house using a smartphone camera.

(Granted, the first example was launched from an online banner ad, but presumably it could have been launched from a print ad.)

So the takeaway is that a marriage between editorial and marketing or advertising could fuel the growth of AR technology, particularly since consumer interest/demand is present and since AR applications are becoming more “frictionless.”

What You Can Take Away From This Discussion

  1. Follow the advertising dollars. Advertisers see opportunities in the marriage of print publications and your phone using AR technology.
  2. Readers like the experience of VR and AR because they are immersive. They engage multiple senses and provide an emotionally pleasurable experience.
  3. There is a mutual benefit shared by both print editorial and augmented reality that makes AR a compelling proposition. Each enhances the other. In addition, print is a cohesive and trusted force. People have faith in Time magazine. This reinforces the credibility of the attached AR experience.
  4. As print designers and printers, you will still be relevant if you have broad knowledge and technical skill in both commercial printing and augmented reality/virtual reality.

Book Printing: Different Approaches, Different Prices

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

A print brokering client of mine sells a small color book that helps her clients choose fashion and make-up colors. She is a “fashionista,” and her product is essentially a PMS color book for cosmetics and clothes. I’ve seen other swatch books for choosing wood paneling (in the hardware store) and still others for choosing paint (also in the hardware store).

My client’s print books are very small in format: approximately 1.5” x 3.5”. They comprise 114 pages plus cover, and they are attached on one side with a metal screw and post assembly. Each leaf (front and back of a page) has a color on the front and explanatory information on the back.

My client reprints every few months depending on her clients’ orders.

That said, my client has new financial backers who are interested in increasing the number of books printed and also adding color chips to the print books. So I’ve been soliciting prices based on various reprint totals for the 22 different versions of this book (since different facial complexions warrant slightly different color swatches).

Adding New Colors

About a week ago, I requested prices based on my client’s $2,000 budget for printing and shipping a selection of the 22 master copies of the print books. (In some cases, my client needed one, two, maybe even six copies of a particular original book, but for some books she didn’t need any copies since she already had inventory.)

According to the book printer, my client could get 99 books for her $2,000 budget. That said, she could also get five additional colors added to the end of each book for just $85 more.

This small amount would cover the printer’s adding the pages to the master art file (for each original of the 22 titles), printing the pages (5 colors x 99 copies), laminating them, round-cornering and drilling them, then assembling the pages into the new print books and individually shrink wrapping each bound book.

So essentially, the printer would do all of this for almost nothing. All my client would need to do would be to provide the five leaves (front and back of the pages) together as a single PDF file.

The big question is why would this be so cheap? Here’s the answer. Because almost all pre-press, press, and postpress operations would already be a part of the initial job (the reprint of the 99 previously printed books). Another way of saying this is that once the five extra pages had been added to each of the 22 master files, everything else (all other prepress, press, and post press operations) would be the same as if the books had been reprinted as is.

The Prior Bid: Extra Swatches Produced As a New Job

Prior to this plan, my client had asked about printing three sets of 300 copies. The printer’s estimate had been close to $3,000.

Now why would it cost so little to add five pages to the end of 99 books and so much to print three sets of 300 small color swatches?

Again, it really has to do with the set up (or make-ready) for the various aspects of the print job, even if this is a digitally printed job (liquid toner printed on an HP Indigo press) rather than an offset job. For the three sets of 300 copies, all aspects of prepress from preflighting the PDF files to imposing the job (about 30 color chips will fit on this particular HP Indigo’s 13” x 19” press sheet) would be required. Therefore, ten separate press forms would be necessary (30 1.5” x 3.5” color swatch book pages per sheet multiplied by ten press forms), and the printer would need to print three copies of each press form.

And that’s just printing. Then the pages would need to be laminated, and all die cutting operations would need to follow (trimming, round cornering, and drilling for the screw and post assembly). As a stand-alone job, without the reprint of 99 copies accompanying it, even these 900 loose swatch pages would cost an incredible amount when compared to the $85 for producing 5 pages of fashion color swatches multiplied by 99 reprinted books (i.e., by doing both jobs together).

The Take-Away

All of this can be mind-numbingly complex. But the main thing to learn is that by ganging up all prepress, printing, and post-press finishing operations for the 99-copy reprint of my client’s color book–plus the extra five color swatch pages per print book (multiplied by the 99 reprinted books)–my client is almost getting two jobs for the price of one.

This is reflected in other aspects of the job as well. For instance, my client looked at an option to reprint 44 books before she settled on 99 books (various numbers of copies of the 22 master book files). In this case the estimated unit cost was almost fifty percent higher for 44 books than for 99 books. Another way of saying this is that it would cost two thirds as much to print 44 books as to print 99 books (rather than approximately half as much).

I’m not surprised when this happens in offset printing. After all, there’s a lot of make-ready in offset lithography that doesn’t exist for digital printing. In fact, most printers will tell you that the unit cost for digital printing is almost the same if you print one copy or 500 copies. But apparently in this case–probably due to the extensive laminating and die cutting work–it really pays to print more than you need rather than risk printing less than you need.

How This Relates to Your Own Print Buying

So, in your own print buying work, consider the following:

  1. If you’re doing multiple jobs, ask your book printer whether there is any way to gang up any of the individual prepress, printing, or post-press/finishing operations to reap a cost benefit. In most cases, the more complex the job (the more prepress, press, and post-press finishing operations needed), the greater the savings will be for ganging the work.
  2. Talk with your printer. Ask questions. Make it a habit to discuss various options for approaching a job. How you approach it may yield vastly different overall costs.
  3. Find printers who value saving you money to earn your business. Considering various options for producing a job takes time. Not all printers will approach a job as a consultant and take the time to consider alternatives. If you have found the kind of printer I’m describing, make him a partner, and nourish a mutually beneficial working relationship of trust. It will pay off.

Book Printing: Resolving Printing Problems

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

I got a dreaded email from a book printing client today, the kind that no commercial printing broker likes to receive. My client was unhappy with the printed product that had just been delivered.

(Ironically, she had been my assistant seventeen years ago when I was an art director, and I had taught her to be a hard-nosed print buyer, accepting nothing but the highest quality.)

My client’s print book is approximately 300 pages, 6” x 9” format, and perfect bound. It’s a government textbook for high school students. I used to design and typeset this specific book myself back in the early 1980s.

My client had two problems with the book:

  1. There was a visible shift in the paper within the final signature of the book. The last pages had a bit of a purple cast, faint but still noticeable.
  2. The type on the book’s spine was not centered vertically (between the folded edge of the front cover and the back cover).

How I Approached These Problems

I have two deeply held beliefs about problems in custom printing. The first is that problems will occur from time to time. After all, this is a multi-step process with ample room for error. It’s not whether problems will arise but how they are addressed that counts. And the second belief is that the first thing to do in a crisis such as this is nothing: that is, don’t react immediately, but rather observe and gather facts.

So I asked my client about the extent of the problem. She only had 200 office copies of the 3,000 total press run. I suggested that she spot check books in the small boxes she had received (twenty boxes of ten books each). (That is, I asked her to to check a few books in each box.) I assumed (just a hypothesis) that the problematic books would be together in several boxes rather than distributed throughout the press run.

While I was waiting for my client to spot check the print books, I called the book printer’s CSR (customer service representative) and the sales rep.

The CSR did some research and discovered that although the paperwork did not disclose this fact, the plant manager had changed paper lots at the tail end of the print job. That is, 30,000 press sheets of paper stock (for a sheetfed job rather than paper rolls for a web press) had been made and sent out at one time, and the remaining 1,200 sheets of press stock had been created at a different time. Because of this, there was a difference between the two paper lots (a faint purple tinge on the 1,200 sheets but not the 30,000 sheets).

So we had our first answer. Approximately 4 percent of the overall press run had this problem (1,200/30,000 sheets). I apprised my client. (Of course, this did not answer the question of why the difference in paper color had not been caught during the press run, but it does suggest that the difference was slight.)

I then called the sales rep and asked him to contact my client. I wanted my client to have immediate access to the actual printer, not just to me, the print broker. He and I also discussed the extent of the problem and the fact that my client had noticed that the type on the book spine was not centered between the front and back covers.

The sales rep did some checking into the spine issue. He found that the photos and solid colors on the front cover abutted exactly to the fold of the book spine. In addition, the type was also not centered on the digital proof of the cover. Nor was it centered vertically on the prior year’s edition of the book. Presumably my client had missed this. (We all look at a job more critically when we find one problem, so we often find other problems as well.)

That said, being right is irrelevant when the client is upset. My client had pointed out that she had spent good money on this job, with this printer, and the product was not up to the usual level of quality.

(To put this in perspective, I can understand my client’s view entirely, since this printer usually provides the highest, or one of the highest, bids of all the competing vendors for this job. So my client essentially has been willing to pay a premium for the usual high quality and service this vendor offers. However, in this case my client felt that she hadn’t received the quality she had come to expect from this vendor.)

Potential Resolution

I asked how my client wanted to proceed. I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted her future business. First of all, she said she needed the remaining 2,800 books to be delivered. So I made sure this happened immediately.

Her taking delivery of the balance of the job implied that, while below her level of expectation, the print books were still usable. She needed them in her warehouse immediately for this year’s government education students. However, since she was not completely satisfied with their quality, she wanted a discount. But she wasn’t sure how much was appropriate compensation.

When we talked, I suggested that she take a couple of days to consider her request. I told my client that the sales rep was doing further research into the cause and extent of the misaligned type on the book spines. (I did not tell her that the front cover art abutted exactly to the fold of the spine because I had not yet received all of the information on this problem from the book printer.)

I also reminded her that about four percent of the job had been affected by the book printer’s changing paper lots (which is standard industry procedure in such a case, although in this instance it had led to problems). I said that the four percent might be a reasonable starting point for a discount, plus whatever my client felt was reasonable for the spine type alignment issue.

At this point (only a day after the problem had been brought to our attention), the book printer’s sales rep drove up from the plant to meet with my client and her assistants to offer support and assistance. His goal was to assure them that the printer would do whatever was necessary to regain my client’s confidence and make her whole.

At this point nothing has been completely resolved, but things are going in the right direction.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Both the book printer’s sales rep and customer service rep made it clear immediately that my client’s distress was of prime concern to them. They wanted to remedy the problem this year and ensure that it didn’t happen again in successive years. Since there was no time to reprint (and since the errors were not of sufficient gravity to even warrant a reprint), they nevertheless wanted to make my client (and her company) whole again.

Not every printer will do this. In your own print buying work, this kind of printer is a “partner,” who wants to resolve issues to your satisfaction and then continue the business relationship. Hold onto a printer like this. And remember that things do go wrong in custom printing. The important thing is how the problems are resolved.

To reiterate, the problems were not severe enough to reprint. If you have problems like this, it is important to be realistic and to only ask for a reprint for an unusable product (made unusable by the printer’s error). So if you missed something in the proof, you might ask for a reprint “at cost,” but your sign-off sheet does say that you approved the proof, whether or not you missed anything problematic.

You can be certain that in a small fraction of the jobs you print, something will go wrong. A printer who will help you resolve the problems is a keeper.

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