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Archive for June, 2018

Custom Printing: Printing Ink, and Food

Monday, June 25th, 2018

You might assume that all commercial printing ink is the same. In fact, both the composition and use of printing ink involve a lot of nuances.

For now, let’s start with two general rules to keep in mind. Printing inks differ depending on the equipment in which they will be used and on the intended use of the printed product.

The technology with which ink will be applied might include offset printing and digital printing, for instance.

Offset lithography “works” because oil and water repel each other. (You can test this for yourself by pouring both water and olive oil into a glass.)

Offset printing ink is an oily substance that is chemically produced to seek the image areas of a printing plate while avoiding the non-image areas, which are coated with water. In an offset printing press, a delicate balance between ink and water allows this to happen.

Only because of this law of chemistry (i.e., the fact that ink and water repel each another) can a commercial printing supplier use printing plates on which the image area and non-image area are both on the same level. (That is, they are neither raised above the surface of the plate, as in relief printing processes such as letterpress, nor recessed below the surface of the plate, as in fine arts intaglio printing.) And only because of the oily nature of offset lithographic printing ink does this process work.

In contrast to the inks used in offset lithography (both in commercial printing and in fine arts printing), the ink in your desktop inkjet printer is water based. The process does not depend on flat (planographic) plates or an oil/water balance. You merely spray the ink onto the substrate through nozzles on your inkjet printer. The process is exactly the same if the inkjet printer in question is a large format inkjet press used to decorate corrugated board and folding cartons.

Food Inks and Toxicity

Inkjet printing is becoming the method of choice for a lot of custom printing these days, including corrugated cartons, flexible packaging, and folding cartons. You can Google these terms for precise descriptions, but for the sake of argument, these are the categories of packaging, and, as noted in prior blog entries, packaging is one of the hottest markets for commercial printing in general and digital printing in particular.

For makeup cartons, presumably, there is little concern about the toxicity of the inks, as long as the product is not ingested and as long as the makeup comes in glass or plastic tubes and bottles contained in the cartons. But for food products that will come into contact with product packaging, it is of vital importance that no toxic chemicals migrate (the technical term) from the printed container or packaging into the food.

There are numerous requirements and specifications for such custom printing inks, and organizations such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) publish these requirements for packaging companies and ink manufacturers. Other organizations, such as Intertek (in London), test the inks and certify them as conforming to the safety standards.

HP PageWide Inks

With the preceding information in mind, I received an article from a friend and colleague noting that HP’s T1100 and C500 PageWide presses (and particularly their ink configurations) had been passed by Intertek as being food safe for use in printing corrugated cartons. More specifically, according to the press release from HP, Intertek certified HP as the “first supplier to fulfill the Intertek Guidelines for the Safe Use of Printing Inks” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).

This is relevant for a number of reasons:

  1. HP’s large format digital inkjet printing presses and their inksets have been blessed by a respected standards and testing organization as being food safe.
  2. Package printing is a growing sector of commercial printing, and HP is a major player in this arena.
  3. In terms of marketing, Intertek’s blessing highlights HP as a trusted vendor. This approval will aid greatly in HP’s potential dominance of package printing.
  4. As the first vendor to receive this approval from Intertek, HP has a head start towards becoming the supplier of choice for digital inkjet package printing equipment and also for printing inks (these are not the same thing).
  5. Intertek’s approval was based on printed samples provided by HP using its proprietary water-based digital printing inks. To quote from the press release, “Intertek conducted detailed laboratory tests on these prints to measure migration limits and ensure safety requirements in accordance with global regulatory and industry guidance, including Swiss Ordinance, Nestle Guidance, FDA, EU Framework, and others” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18).
  6. The specific approval granted by Intertek notes compliance for “printing primary and secondary corrugated packaging, which requires no additional barriers” (“Intertek Develops Guidelines for Safe Use of Printing Inks,” HP, 6/20/18). To put this in context, when you open a box of cereal, you reach in and take out a clear plastic bag containing the flakes or chips. The purpose of this bag is not only to keep all of the cereal from spilling out. It also keeps the food away from the ink (on the outside of the chipboard folding carton).
  7. Intertek and similar organizations also test for NIAS. This means “non-intentionally added substances.” What this implies is that when you’re making or printing ink, you don’t always know what other chemicals are produced, whether they are toxic, and whether they will migrate into the food. Therefore, this has to be tested and controlled.

What This Means to You

Mostly I think this is interesting rather than directly pertinent to a designer or print buyer. But it does mean that the closer you get to the supplier, the more important ink certifications will be. If you’re a printer, for instance, you want to make sure all of your inks are appropriate and acceptable, not only for the equipment you’re using but also for the end product, based on its use, and particularly if you’re producing packaging materials that will contain food.

Another thing to consider is that not all inks are the same. Not only are some more appropriate for certain printing technologies (for instance, offset lithography, flexography, thermography, gravure, digital inkjet printing, screen printing, letterpress…), but the final use of the printed materials makes a difference. If a printed product touches food, it has to be safe.

Book Printing: Saving a Design Job in Mid-Flight

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

A client of mine works at a university. She teaches creative writing, and she wants to produce a 100-page, 6” x 9”, perfect bound book. She needs only 40 copies. I have mentioned her in prior blog articles, but, up until now, what she has needed has been only help with commercial printing knowledge and project management skills.

As a writer and editor, she has an almost complete manuscript of her students’ work. Unfortunately, she is not a designer. She has no book design experience and no experience in creating even simple projects in InDesign. A few weeks ago, she was able to persuade her university to fund her print book project, both the design and the book printing.

We have a budget, and the student designer even produced a first proof of the book within the five hours allotted to her work. Unfortunately, this is not a lot of time. In addition, the semester is ending, and everyone is going their separate ways. In fact, my client is also retiring.

With this as the context of the job, I thought quickly and offered my design services at a reduced rate, that is, a discount for an educational organization. I only produce a few (sometimes only one) design projects each year, and I thought this might be a nice one, since I usually prefer to design books of poetry and fiction.

How I Approached This Job

My taking control of this design project actually made things easier. I no longer had to offer suggestions to the designer concerning margins, running headers, and cover design. I know how to create final art for the cover based on the caliper of the 70# white opaque digital text paper. I can stitch together the back cover, spine (at the proper width), and front cover such that it will fit the text block exactly with allowance for bleeds. Sometimes it’s easier to do something yourself rather than explain to someone else exactly how you’d like it to be done.

The Design of the Book

My client’s 6” x 9” book includes no graphics of any kind. She had seen a poetry book I had designed, also without graphics, and had liked its appearance. The cover of the poetry book had been just a text treatment, with the relative importance of design elements achieved through typeface changes, type size changes, and changes from all-caps treatment to capitals and lowercase letters. On this book cover, the design hinged on the beauty of the individual letterforms.

Therefore, for this client I also created a text-only cover design based on the inherent grace of the typeface. I chose Garamond Pro, an Old Style typeface, because of its cursive letterforms and diagonal slant. I also knew it would be readable as both a display font (for the cover type and titles of the essays) and also for the text of the print book.

To give my client an idea of how we might proceed, I mocked up not only the cover but also the table of contents, title page, foreword, and two articles. I wanted her to see how the margins, the extra leading between lines of type, and the running headers would look. I used a “dingbat,” a printer’s glyph in the shape of a leaf, on the cover and in the running headers for a flourish, but overall I kept everything simple. I wanted the subject of the book to be the articles, not the design, so my goal was to make the text readable, easy on the eyes, and consistent. Any distinction I needed to make between one design element and the next (for example, the foreword head and text, and the titles of the essays and the essay text), I did only by varying the type size and the typeface from bold to roman to italic. Simplicity was my goal.

That said, I did carefully kern all the larger heads on the cover, and all heads in the print book’s front matter. I wanted the letterforms to nestle into one another with no gaps. I knew that the reader’s eye would move more easily from one letter to the next in the larger heads if I paid close attention to the proximity of each letter to the next.

Addressing Production Issues Early in the Process

Since the semester had just ended when I received the initial designer’s first proof of the print book, my client, the creative writing teacher, let me know that her prior sense of urgency was over. We now had time to do this right. So she attended to copyediting and proofreading the book (to ensure the cleanest and most accurate manuscript possible) as I worked on the design. After all, copyediting at the first proof stage could seriously bog down book production.

At the same time, I was beginning to think about the production of the print book (as opposed to its design). Therefore, in addition to designing the front matter and several text pages, I printed out a set of these pages and ruled them out (in pencil, from crop mark to crop mark). I immediately could see that the running headers were a little large and a little close to the face margin of the book. I also created a composite cover (back cover, spine, and front cover, using, for now, an educated guess of the spine width)—just as a place-holder, to be amended later upon confirming the final page count. I also set up the master pages and the automatic page numbering for the book.

Since the designer had made it through a first proof of the entire book within her five-hour time allotment, I wondered whether I could use her InDesign file and build upon her work. I thought this might make things easier, but I also assumed she was using a more recent version of InDesign than I.

Since I use my old CS5 version of InDesign, I thought this would be problematic. After all, it’s usually easy to access older design files with newer design programs, but I thought it unlikely that my older version would access the student designer’s newer InDesign files.

That said, the designer was ahead of me. There is a work-around in InDesign. I knew about this and was pleasantly surprised at how it fit our particular situation. The designer saved her Creative Cloud 2017 InDesign file as an IDML file. This stands for “InDesign Markup Language.” I could open this file in InDesign CS5. I couldn’t access the new features of InDesign Creative Cloud 2017, but I could still open the designer’s file and alter the fonts, margins, and other design elements. For such a simple project, this would be ideal.

So that’s where we are now. My client likes the cover, and I have carried the look (type treatment) of the cover throughout the following front matter and interior book pages. Now I’ll sit tight and wait for the clean and corrected manuscript with which I’ll complete the next proof of my client’s print book.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, if you can design the print book yourself, it will save you the time needed to explain your ideas to another person, the book designer.
  2. For a simple project, you can depend on the beauty of the letterforms themselves as design elements. Think of the book design as a picture frame, and the content of the book as the work of art within the picture frame. If you’re producing a book, your goal is to make it easily readable. If your audience will be middle aged and beyond, consider making the type slightly larger than usual and making the leading (space between lines of type) larger than usual as well.
  3. Use type size and typeface (bold, italic, and roman) to indicate different levels of importance. This will show your reader what to look at first, second, and third. If you direct your reader’s eyes around the page, reading will be a more pleasurable experience, because nothing will be ambiguous or uncertain.
  4. Use simple elements (such as the running headers) as a horizontal line from which to (visually) hang the column of text, and leave generous space between the two. White space here, as well as between heads and text, will make the page less imposing. White space lets your reader’s eyes take a rest, as do paragraph indents.
  5. Design pages together and place print-outs side by side to make sure the design flows, from the cover to the first page, the table of contents, foreword, and text pages. If there is not a sense of the flow of the book, adjust the type size and spacing as needed. All of this is visually analogous to a written outline, showing clear distinctions as to how bits of information relate to one another.
  6. If you produce a mock-up of a handful of pages and your client doesn’t like what you’ve done, it’s much easier to make changes at this point, before you have produced an entire proof of the print book.
  7. Use style sheets. In InDesign, you can manipulate a section of type to get it just right, and then highlight it and assign styles to what you have just specified. Then you can apply these styles throughout the book. If you do things this way and need to change fonts or the size of heads or text, all you need to do is adjust the style sheets, and the text of the book will change automatically.

Book Printing: A Bold and Unusual Print Book Design

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Since my fiancee and I do art therapy work with the autistic, among our other gigs, we’re always looking for new art projects, and the best way to get new ideas is to page through print books of paintings and collages by the masters. So in our travels to the local thrift stores, we always keep our eyes open for good art books.

This past week we found one that also showcases stellar print book design, in addition to its fine arts content.

The Reclining Nude As Art

This is a book containing nothing but paintings of reclining nudes by all the master artists through the centuries. Entitled Reclining Nude, by Lidia Guibert Ferrara, at 8.75” x 12” this is already an interesting size, taller than usual for its width. Although this does not exactly match the “A” sizes common in Europe, it is still different enough from common US print book sizes to give this case-bound book a somewhat European feel.

Even before you get to the content, the physical design of the book is intriguing. First of all, the book has both a printed cover (a printed press sheet laminated to the binder’s boards) and a dust jacket. The book cover image is a duotone of a reclining nude printed in a metallic blue and black. (It is actually a “fake duotone,” since the metallic blue is a solid color and only the black printing plate is a halftone.)

Unlike most books, Reclining Nude has no writing on the front cover, although the title, author, and publisher are noted on the spine. This allows for the reader’s total focus on the image. This approach continues throughout the print book; that is, once the writer has presented the subject matter in the introduction, the following book pages have no text, except for artists’ names in small type next to the folios.

Even with no explanatory text, you can actually learn a lot from the sequence of nudes and their styles, ranging from the French Romantic approach of Delacroix to the surrealism of Magritte to Picasso’s Cubism and Wesselmann’s Pop Art. Only when you get to the very end of the book do you see the list of illustrations, noting the title of each piece, dimensions, medium, and location of the work. But as you turn the pages, you still learn the differences in the schools of art, their approach to brushwork, composition, line, and color. Even without descriptions and analyses–on a pre-verbal level—you understand the elements of design and the history of art as they work together in a creative response to the reclining nude.

Printing Decisions Within the Book

From a commercial printing supplier’s perspective, here are some things to consider. The paper stock is 100# text, a smooth, dull sheet that is a very bright, blue-white shade. Then, to highlight the images, the printer has spot gloss varnished the photos of the oil and acrylic paintings.

To return to the cover presentation, there is a dust jacket wrapped around the case-bound cover. The dust jacket repeats the photo on the front case-bound cover (with the same positioning and cropping of the image). However, it is printed in the four process colors rather than as a duotone. The book title (which does appear on the dust jacket) is printed in the same metallic blue ink as was used for the background of the hardback book covers. This creates an interesting visual link, based on both the hue of the ink and its metallic sheen. I think it also creates an interesting effect to have only a small amount of metallic blue for the dust jacket title and then a large amount of metallic blue on the actual laminated covers.

An Oblong Book Format

One thing that sets this book apart from most other books is its orientation. It is oblong, but then again it’s not. When you open the book, all reclining nudes are horizontal. However, instead of being a horizontal print book with two paintings side by side, it is formatted like a calendar. The images are above one another. You have to turn the book on its side. (It is still bound on the longer dimension, though, unlike a true oblong book).

With the book in front of you and the book cover closed, you have a “portrait” format with the title set in letterspaced, all-caps text, with the first line (“RECLINING”) just above and just touching the second line (“NUDE”). (Ingres’ Odalisque is the background art.) But as a harbinger of the interior design of the print book, the author’s name, reversed out of the dark background, is rotated counterclockwise 180 degrees to be at a right angle to the book’s title. When you open the book, you have to turn it around so the even numbered pages are above the odd numbered pages (as I noted, just like a calendar).

Oddly enough, this presentation works perfectly, because the book is entirely about the experience of the art rather than an analysis of the art.

As a final note, the title page is the only two-page spread in the print book. However, unlike all of the other images of the reclining nude, which require a horizontal format for their presentation, the double-page image on the title-page, while still a reclining nude, fits nicely in a vertical format, albeit at twice the size of the other images in the text. This large size and double-page presentation work well as an introduction to more than a hundred pages of fine art prints.

What You Can Learn From This Book

I have heard this meme in different ways: “Form follows function.” (Louis Sullivan) “The medium is the message.” (Marshall McLuhan). When it comes to print book design, you’re working with a physical object, a multi-page product with a certain number of pages in a certain orientation at a particular size. It is physical in that you have to open the book and turn the pages to experience the content.

When designing a print book, it’s wise to consider the subject matter and its presentation when you determine the size (8.5” x 11”, larger, smaller, or perhaps square), the format (upright vs. oblong), and even on which side the binding should be. These physical choices need to reflect the content of the book and also the author’s approach to this content.

Unlike many case-bound books, which have only a cloth cover and a title affixed using hot foil stamping equipment, this format benefited from the designer’s creative approach to both the book cover and the dust jacket. When you’re designing a book, think about how you want to present the dust jacket, the cover, the title page, the introduction, the divider pages, and then the text pages. Develop all of these in concert so they will be congruent in tone and appearance (so they will flow from one to the next). Together, all of these parts of a print book give structure and organization to the reader’s experience. They make it easier for him or her to understand how the author connects one part to another.

In fact you could say that all of this structural information must be resolved successfully first, before the layout of the text pages (and the content of the book) can be easily understood and absorbed by the reader.

Finally, let this structure grow organically from the subject matter, as it did in this book, Reclining Nude. If you let the subject matter inform your graphic design decisions and your custom printing choices (type of binding, paper selection, paper trim size, and such), this will give the reader a sense of “rightness” in the presentation of the book’s content, as well as an understanding of where to start the reading experience, where to go next, and how then to progress throughout the print book.

Book Printing Design Before the Ink Even Hits the Paper

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

My fiancee picked up two art print books at the thrift store this week to get ideas for future art therapy projects for our autistic students. When I looked closely at them I noticed a few differences in their design and materials. I thought this would be a good way for me to discuss a few elements of book design that will make your print books look especially sharp.

Physical Description of the Books

Both books my fiancee bought are 8.5” x 11” format, perfect bound with fewer than 150 pages of text, and printed in 4-color process ink. They look alike until you check them closely under a good light.

The First Book

The first book has an 80# cover-stock cover. It appears to be a matte coated stock because the paper has a slightly rougher feel than a dull coated sheet and a bit of mottling (uneven coating). It is not unattractive, since the mottling looks intentional. It just looks a bit more distressed and edgy than the second print book.

Because the subject of the first book is making artistic journals incorporating collage, and since the overall tone of the imagery is bold and gritty, I think the choice of paper is appropriate. The interior stock seems to be 100# text, also a matte coated sheet. Both the cover and the text stock are a very bright white, which highlights all of the art in the print book. You could argue that a gloss coated paper might present the art in a more vibrant manner, but in my opinion, the artsy tone of the book and the matte coated sheet are an even better match.

The Second Book

The second book has a much thicker cover. It mics to 20 pt. on my micrometer. An online paper comparison spreadsheet I use says that this would be about 150# cover stock, which I think is rare. I am more used to 130# cover stock, which I often see as a substrate for thicker-than-usual business cards. It has a certain rigidity that gives the print book heft and a serious tone. It almost feels like a case bound book.

The paper used for the first book is actually more reflective than the paper used for the second, but this is because the second book paper is far smoother. It is a dull sheet, so it seems to absorb the light rather than reflect it. This dull quality, however, does not make the photos any less crisp, since the designer has specified a gloss varnish coating for the images. In some cases the coating covers the entire photo, but, for variety and emphasis, in other cases the designer has only spot gloss coated the silhouettes of the most important elements in the photos.

Interestingly enough, the subject matter of the second book is similar to that of the first. It is about hand-made gifts, but many of the samples in the photos are collages or assemblages (3-dimensional collages).

Overall, the dull text and cover paper make this print book seem more subdued and sophisticated than the first. Perhaps this is also due to the heavy weight of the paper.

Cover Coatings on Both Books

The first book about journal making has what feels like a dull film laminate on the cover. However, since the cover stock itself is matte coated, the dull coating seems to act as a lens to accentuate the uneven mottling of the original matte paper coating.

In contrast, the second book about hand-made gifts has a thicker dull laminate cover coating, and this accentuates the total lack of surface texture of the dull coated cover sheet beneath. Again, it seems to soak up, rather than reflect, the light.

Press Scores on Both Books

Both books have a press score. This is an indented vertical fold running parallel to the spine and slightly less than 1/2” from the spine. It allows the cover to open more easily and more evenly (like a hinge on a door). Moreover, I think it is also a reflection of the quality of the print book. In my opinion, it makes a perfect-bound book look more finished.

The press score on the first book (the one about making journals) is slightly less visible, and also slightly less consistent in depth, than the press score on the cover of the second book (the one about hand-made gifts). When I see the two books side by side, I like the deeper score better, and it makes me appreciate the overall design of the book a bit more.

The Subconscious Effect of Paper Choices

Keep in mind that all of these choices are probably invisible to most readers. Readers respond to these details subconsciously (but powerfully). However, they may never be consciously aware of just why a particular print book appeals to them. (These are also some of the tactile qualities that set a print book apart from a digital book on an e-reader.)

Moreover, the differences between the books based on the designers’ paper choices extend beyond the visual. There is a difference in the feel of the matte paper and dull paper as well as the dull film laminate on the covers of the two books.

In fact, I have often found myself gravitating to books with dull film laminated covers in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent. Sometimes I think the feel of the book in my hands makes as much of an initial impression as the subject matter or the graphic design.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

It’s always a good exercise to go to a used book store and collect a few print books that appeal to you and then try to determine why you like them. If you can articulate the reasons, you can often go on to apply what you have learned to your own design work.

Think of the paper choices you make as analogous to the choice of a frame for a painting. You could say the same thing about the graphic design of a book, since the look and the feel of the printed book contribute to the reader’s experience of the subject matter contained therein.

When choosing paper, keep the subject matter in mind and select paper that reinforces the content and tone of the writing. This may be a smooth white sheet or a textured, colored sheet. Think about the feel of the paper, its hue, its ability to reflect light with sufficient brightness. Also think about the thickness of the paper. If it is too thin, not only will images show through the paper (you will see what’s on the back of the page you’re reading), but the paper will also feel flimsy.

Think about the binding as well. In the case of these two books, both were long enough to warrant perfect binding instead of saddle stitching. But if the book you’re designing is shorter, you may still want to select perfect binding over saddle stitching because it looks more substantial, more like a book than a periodical.

Once you have selected the paper, give careful consideration to the cover coating. Talk with your printer. He may only offer UV coating, film laminate, or aqueous coating. It’s always best to request and compare samples to make sure the finished look of the coating will complement the look of the cover stock you have chosen. Keep in mind that if you select one of these cover coatings and your printer does not have the equipment to apply it in house, he will need to subcontract the work, and this will increase the price and lengthen the production schedule.

Whenever you’re in doubt, always ask for a paper dummy to show how the individual sheets of paper will look and feel, and how the completed, bound book will feel as well.

And if you do opt for perfect binding, consider a press score. It gives a more pristine, finished look to the final product.

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