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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 July, 2018

Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

The first rule of commercial printing sales is to listen to your customer’s needs. Needless to say, when a print brokering client of mine came to me with her new client and a new project, I was very excited. My client is a graphic designer, and her new client is a restaurateur who needs die-cut hang-tags for his packaged Asian food (which complements his individually prepared restaurant food).

When I received my client’s email, which included a PDF mock-up and specifications, my excitement got a bit ahead of me, and I made some suggestions. We were planning to meet by phone two days later, but I wanted my client to think about a few things before our meeting—since she had asked my opinion on custom printing paper choices.

Job Specifications, and What I Suggested to My Client

My client had asked about using either uncoated 100# text or satin coated 100# text. She said her client would be hand-printing the hang-tags with rubber stamps, even though they would already have the branding of the restaurant offset printed in ink (i.e., a preprint of the logo plus the restaurateur’s hand-printed Thai glyphs above the logo).

My client was worried that a gloss coated sheet would make the hand-printed ink more likely to smear, and I agreed. However, I went further, as noted above, and suggested a thicker sheet than 100# uncoated. I said that 130# or even 170# DTC (double-thick cover) would make a hefty hang-tag, one with weight and gravitas. I also said that an uncoated sheet would have an earthiness that might complement the brand of an Asian restaurant.

I encouraged my client to even consider such unique substrates as hand-made paper with speckles or even bits and pieces of plants. If she really wanted to go all the way, I said she might even consider letterpress (which would impress the logo slightly below the surface of the paper, and give an even more sculptural feel to the piece). Of course, I did also encourage my client to make sure this was congruent with her client’s brand image and collateral paper stocks. After all, a really nice letterpress-printed hang-tag on hand-made paper would not fit the style of the restaurant if the menus had already been printed on a corporate-looking gloss paper.

When my client and I finally spoke on the phone the next day, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself. My client’s client needed to be able to tape the hang-tags onto some packed-up food boxes and tie some hang-tags onto other food items. So they couldn’t be too rigid. The 130# and 170# cover stocks were out. (This is why client meetings are so useful.)

Moreover, the hang-tags couldn’t be on a super-expensive stock, since they would need to be reprinted regularly. They were to be a staple of my client’s client’s business, presumably to be attached to all outgoing orders. So a special-order paper with a minimum purchase amount was not an option (i.e., no hand-made paper with bits and pieces of flowers and plants).

I was sufficiently chastened for my over-enthusiasm. However, after the meeting I had all specs in hand plus the PDF proof. In our conversation, my client and I had agreed that I would initially approach only one printer for pricing to give her (my client) a quick turn-around on the cost of the custom printing job. This particular printer fit the job specs (had the right equipment and tended to provide lower than usual pricing). We could always get additional bids after my client had discussed our budget with her client.

To put this in perspective, at this point the specs reflected a 10,000-copy press run on 100# white smooth uncoated text paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

    1. If you’re doing a job for a client, make sure you get all the facts before you get too excited. I didn’t have all the facts. In my case the hang-tags had to be more pliable than a 130# or 170# DTC (double thick cover) stock would have been.

 

    1. Do think about the intended use, in terms of ink. In my case a gloss coated paper would have been too slick a surface for hand-printed stamp ink. The ink would have smeared. In your case, if you’re designing hang-tags, your client may need to write on them with ballpoint pens. A gloss coated stock wouldn’t work for this use either. So the thing to remember is that the final function of the piece takes precedence over aesthetics.

 

    1. In my client’s client’s case, since the hang-tags will be used alongside food preparation, another useful question will be whether an uncoated stock will absorb oil from the food (or anything else on the food preparer’s hands).

 

    1. If the printed inks will be near food, will my client need food-grade inks? Consider this if you’re designing any packaging that may come into contact with food.

 

    1. When you’re designing one printed item for a client, make sure it will be congruent with other printed items your client will use. Chipotle does a good job of this, and I would encourage you to check out their printed collateral. Everything I’ve seen is printed on brown uncoated paper using black ink. Overall, it has a simple, earthy feel. This matches Chipotle’s brand values, as I understand them. When you’re designing something even as simple as a business card, visit your client’s business location. Make sure that the paper, ink choices, and everything else about your printed piece fits in with the client’s décor, printed collateral, and overall ethos.

 

  1. My client will print her hang-tags in one color: a dark green. On the uncoated press sheet, this will give an earthy feel to the product (congruent with the brand), but it must also be a consideration for custom printing technologies other than the offset lithography used for these 10,000 hang-tags. For instance, if my client’s client later needs a very short run of some product, this printer’s HP Indigo digital press might be more cost-effective than offset lithography. In this case the commercial printing supplier would need to “build” the signature green color out of process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The question is whether the printer could then match the PMS green color with a process-color build. That’s something to think about if you are designing a printed piece and you need the corporate colors to match across all printed products.

So you see that even for a job as simple as a hang-tag, there are a lot of considerations that make the commercial printing job appear less and less simple. You have to consider the physical use of the product, custom printing ink durability, and aesthetics across the entire brand (from business cards to interior design). Wow. It’s a wonder that anyone prints anything.

Book Printing: What Is Library Binding?

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

A few days ago when my fiancee and I were at the thrift store looking through print books of paintings and drawings for our art therapy classes, another teacher approached us. After a brief discussion of our respective work, she gave us a number of books she was about to donate. Not only were they a great overview of the history of art (in about fifteen volumes), but they were also very nicely bound.

As a printing broker and a student of commercial printing, I’m always looking at the quality of a print product. These books were case bound in heavy cloth with an acrylic that permeated the fabric. They were also sewn. It looked to me like they had been case bound for serious use over a number of years. Beyond the content of the print books, this is what attracted me to them. And they reminded me of books I had seen in the libraries when I was in elementary school.

So I did some research and came upon the term “library binding.” Here is what I learned:

    1. Library bound books are either bound this way initially (“original,” for use in libraries) or rebound by the libraries (through outside vendors) after many years of use in order to protect them. The latter are called “after market” library bound print books.

 

    1. After market binding can be used for binding serials (these would include segments of a longer work of fiction or anything else that is published in segments). It can also be used for binding paperbacks and hardback books.

 

    1. An alternative to library binding for paperbacks is the “stiffening” process. This process involves the adding of fabric or Tyvek tape to the inside joints of the book, and then adding stiff paper board to the inside front and back covers. This process is easier and therefore cheaper than library binding. It does not involve either rebinding or sewing, but it will lengthen the lives of paperback books and allow them to stand up on the library shelves.

 

    1. Actual library binding includes sewing the pages into place. The technical term is “oversewing.” First the book spines are ground off (milled) or cut off, leaving a collection of loose pages. These are then grouped into signatures and sewn with an overlock stitch. After this, the signatures are sewn together to create a complete book block. To add further support, the binder glues a piece of linen to the spine, and then sets the book block into a heavy, durable case, either rounding the spine and backing it to prevent its caving in or (if the pages are too fragile or the book block is too thick) leaving a flat back. As with other case-bound books, a library bound book is then set into a rigid case, and end papers are added in the front and back of the print book.

 

    1. The fabric used in library binding is called “buckram.” It is made from thick, 100% cotton cloth. Because of the acrylic added to this cloth, the binding is especially durable. It is also resistant to mold, insects, water, and UV light. So it will last a long time. In addition, because of the oversewing, the books bound in this manner are not only strong but also easy to open, and they can be opened flat to allow for photocopying.

 

    1. After books have been bound in this manner, they can be hot foil stamped with any necessary identifying information. For ease of identification, serials are usually bound in the same color of buckram.

 

    1. A lighter-weight option for binding is c-cloth, which may or may not have an acrylic coating.

 

  1. Due to the kinds of finishing operations needed for library binding, the books are collected and then processed in bulk by a limited number of library binding vendors.

Why You Might Find This Interesting

First of all, the purpose of library binding is to create a printed product that is both durable and easy to open and use. But more than this, the process ensures the longevity of the content of the books: the knowledge itself. Moreover, it is also a conservation process, in that library binding can be used to repair books that otherwise would be in bad enough shape to discard.

Secondly, it reflects a partnership between the libraries and the few bookbinders that do this kind of work. Granted, the bookbinders make money, but in this case they also repair and preserve the books, both for their content and their archival value (since some of them may be quite old).

If the interior text pages have become brittle (which happens over time, particularly if there is a high acidic content in the paper), library binding may not be in order.

In addition, if the book will have value as an artifact (that is, if it will hold more value in the original binding, as a work of art in and of itself), a library may choose not to bind it in this manner. (That is, if it is valued for its physical attributes as well as its content, then library binding may not be in order.)

Finally, a library might not choose this option if the damage to the book is slight and can be repaired quickly and easily in-house by library staff.

When you think about it, a rare book is a work of art. And just as a museum might have an entire department devoted to cleaning and repairing oil paintings on canvas or prints on paper, a library may take a comparable approach to the conservation of its works, in order to ensure their existence for many decades to come.

What I like about this is that it shows respect for a number of things:

    1. The content of the books. A library that chooses to rebind books in this manner is showing a commitment to the availability of the print books and their ease of use.

 

    1. The historical value of the books (in addition to their content).

 

  1. And finally the artistic value of the books (in addition to their content).

This is not an inexpensive process, as with any case binding. So in my estimation it reflects a library’s commitment to and respect for the bound volumes on its shelves.

Custom Printing: Bleeds and Multi-Signature Printing

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Two of my print brokering clients came to me with similar questions/problems this week. Both are producing print books, but the issues in question would be equally relevant whether they were producing catalogs, magazines, or any other multi-signature custom printing jobs.

First of All, What Is a Press Signature?

A press signature is a collection of pages that the printer imposes (positions in a computer file so all pages will be imaged onto a large custom printing plate and then printed onto a large press sheet). For offset printing, the press sheet sizes might be close to 25” x 38” or even 28” x 40” or larger depending on the printing press. All of these pages are then printed at the same time (often with four book or magazine pages lined up above four other book or magazine pages on one side of the press sheet, and with the same configuration on the opposite side of the press sheet). (Many presses will only allow for printing one side of the sheet. Then, after the ink is dry, the opposite side can be printed.)

When the pressman has printed both sides of the sheet, he can fold the sheet multiple times at right angles to come up with a booklet of folded and attached pages that can be perfect bound or saddle stitched into (potentially) a much larger print book, magazine, or catalog. These folded signatures are either nested into one another (and then stapled) for saddle stitching or stacked (and then glued into the spine of the cover) for perfect binding.

Since this is a very visual process, I would encourage you to research press imposition and press signatures online, and look at the photos on Google Image. You can do the same thing by folding an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper in half, then in half again (at a right angle), then in half again (at a right angle). This will show you how a flat press sheet can be folded (by the folding equipment in your printer’s post-press, or finishing, department), and it will also show you why you need to prepare bleeds according to your printer’s requirements.

What Are Bleeds?

Images or text on your two-page “reader spread” (any facing pages you see when the print book is open in front of you) can extend off the page on the top, sides, or bottom. Or they can bleed across the gutter (the vertical line between the two facing pages in the page spread). If they extend off the top, bottom, or sides of the paper, these “bleeds” must also be extended (usually 1/8”) off the page in the InDesign art file, so they can print beyond the trim lines and be trimmed off after printing without any white edges showing.

This is because trimming equipment is not always precise. If you have a photo that just comes to the edge of the press sheet and is trimmed inaccurately, there will be a visible white line at the edge of the paper. “Bleeding” an image or solid color off the edge of the paper and then trimming the sheet on your printer’s trimming equipment avoids this error.

All of this would be easy to grasp if not for the fact that a “printer spread” (two pages side by side on a press sheet) is not the same as a “reader spread” (two pages side by side in a printed book). If you look at press impositions online, you will see that book pages next to one another on a press sheet are in fact not usually consecutive or even near one another. To turn a flat press sheet with non-consecutively positioned pages into a folded and trimmed 8-page or 16-page press signature, your printer’s imposition software (usually) places individual PDFs of each page in a specific location such that once the 16-page printed press signature has been folded and trimmed, only then will all pages be consecutive.

Because of this, setting up bleeds in an art file for a multi-page (or multi-signature) printed product can be a challenge.

This was the problem my clients were having. Both were producing print books with bleeds.

Bleed Issues with My Client’s Books

One of my clients is a “fashionista.” I have written about her color swatch print books before. They are small books that help women choose colors for fabric and make-up based on their complexions. The color books themselves are like the PMS color swatch books used for graphic design and custom printing. In my client’s books, each page has a color on the front and text on the back. All pages are drilled and then attached with a screw-and-post assembly.

My client was comfortable preparing bleeds for this print book in InDesign because all pages were separate and could therefore bleed on all four sides. There was no “gutter” between pages. But now she is producing a 116-page perfect-bound book with bleeds and crossovers (the technical term for bleeds that start on the left-hand page and extend onto the right-hand page). So she’s not sure how to proceed.

The other client just received an online proof of her client’s 8.5” x 11” perfect-bound book, which has bleeds around the top, bottom, left, and right trim margins as well as crossovers. The first online virtual proof she saw had problems with parts of bleed elements appearing on other pages or otherwise appearing to not bleed correctly.

So both clients were frustrated.

How We Addressed the Issues

The first client’s problem was easier to manage than the second’s. I simply told her that for any pages bleeding on the outside trim margins, she should extend the photo boxes in InDesign 1/8” off the page. For anything that didn’t cross over the gutter margin between facing pages she should stay in the “live matter” image area (i.e., within the visible columns on the InDesign page). And for anything that needed to cross over between pages, she should start the photo on the left-hand page within the image area, and end on the right-hand page within the image area. For an image that would bleed into the gutter and then stop, she should just end the photo box at the gutter margin. (Why? So a sliver of the image would not show up on the facing page or—based on the description of press signatures I presented earlier—on a page elsewhere in the book. This could be a disaster.)

The second client’s problem was harder to diagnose. Keep in mind that both clients (depending on what the particular printer needed) would most probably export a press-ready PDF from the InDesign file in which they had created their respective books. And even though they were creating the books with “facing pages” to better see how their double-page spreads would look upon completion, their printer most likely would have asked them to export the book as a PDF with single pages (not two-page spreads). These single pages would then be imposed into the press signatures of their respective books (for instance, each of the 16 pages in one press form would be individually imposed as single PDFs onto a computerized version of the press form, which would yield four printing plates to produce the 4-color press sheets).

When my second client saw her virtual proof with parts of photos extending onto other pages and what appeared to be missing sections of other bleeds, she panicked and called me. After my encouraging her to call the prepress technician at the printer directly, we discovered that the PDF proof had no trim marks. Therefore, extraneous images (and parts of images) that would have been trimmed away on the post-press trimming machine all showed up on the proof. That is, all of what appeared to be errors would have been removed, and the final print job would have been perfect. However, without the printer’s trim marks on the proof, there was no way to know this.

What We Can Learn from My Clients’ Jobs

    1. Most importantly, ask your book printer how he wants the InDesign files prepared and whether he wants to receive the final job as “native” InDesign files or as a press-ready PDF file. If it’s the latter, ask for his specifications. Not all printers have the same imposition software or the same workflow, so not all printers want their files set up in the same way.

 

    1. Particularly ask about how to address bleeds that extend only to the gutter. You don’t want part of the image on a two-page reader spread early in the signature to show up on a page later in the signature. (A good printer would catch an error like this, but you want to to make things as easy as possible for your printer.)

 

    1. Keep all text, images, or color solids either within the live matter image area or bleed them 1/8” off the page (top, bottom, right, and/or left).

 

    1. When distilling a PDF file of your InDesign artwork, make sure you set the export function to include the bleeds, or they will disappear at the trim marks and not extend off the page.

 

  1. When you have questions about any of these items, which are complex and often addressed differently by different book-, catalog-, or magazine-printers, ask for the head of the printer’s prepress department and voice your concerns. Your printer will appreciate this proactive stance, which will avoid later problems.

Commercial Printing: Ricoh’s Advances in Inkjet Printing

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

I received a press release from a colleague and friend this week about new developments at Ricoh in production-level digital inkjet printing. I found this intriguing. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that an inkjet printer sat on my desk and printed somewhat muddy colors on uncoated laser paper. The product was good enough for a color mock up. It would help me visualize the final printed results of a job if I used a little imagination. I didn’t need, or expect, much more.

Now the press release from Ricoh, “Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” (Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18) addresses some of the issues in the new and expanding realm of production inkjet.

As I understand the term, “production inkjet” refers to the evolution of inkjet commercial printing from my initial memories noted above to a technology that is seeking to rival the speed (efficiency) and quality (resolution and color gamut) of offset printing on the huge offset lithographic presses that run 24/7.

Implications of Ricoh’s Advances

Volume and Speed

Ricoh’s press release notes that the CV70000 was built to “accelerate the transfer of offset print volumes to digital.” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

So a lot of what’s happening is a dramatic growth of inkjet press efficiency.

Not that long ago, you would choose an inkjet printer or digital color laser printer if you wanted to produce 500 brochures (or another, low press run), because all of the make-ready (preparation work) to get an offset lithographic press up to speed would put the initial entry point (cost) of the short job at the same level as the cost of a much longer offset run. Another way to say this is that you would pay a bit less for 500 digital copies than for 1,000 offset copies, but the unit cost would be higher. Plus, you could personalize them.

Now, the efficiencies of production inkjet allow for much longer runs on a digital platform. For instance, the press release notes that the RICOH Pro VC70000 can produce “nearly 130,000 A4/letter impressions an hour” (492 feet-per-minute).

(Keep in mind that if you want 1,000 copies of a 500-page book, that job involves custom printing 500,000 book pages. Of course, this number rises exponentially if you’re producing 100,000 print books.)

This takes time on any press. To put this in perspective, an offset lithographic web press might run at 3,000 or more feet per minute, which is much faster than a sheetfed offset lithographic press, which might run at 12,000 sheets per hour. So, while production inkjet is still slower than offset commercial printing, the increased efficiency still makes it a game changer. (And the speed will continue to improve as the technology matures.)

Quality of the Printed Product

As I noted at the beginning of the blog posting, inkjet custom printing used to provide marginal color fidelity and detail. (In fact, back in the day, I used an inkjet printer only to visualize color placement. For everything else I used a laser printer.)

Now, according to Ricoh’s press release, the RICOH Pro VC70000 provides “1200 x 1200 dpi resolution on uncoated, offset-coated, inkjet treated or inkjet-coated papers” (“Ricoh Changes the Inkjet Game, Introducing Additional Inks and the New RICOH Pro VC70000,” Ricoh USA, Inc., 6/25/18).

This tells me a number of things. First of all, the resolution and therefore the detail in the images printed on a Ricoh press are startlingly crisp.

Furthermore, the ability to print on so many different paper stocks means commercial printing vendors will have flexibility (and therefore more control over price) in choosing custom printing papers to stock.

In addition, since acceptable substrates include coated papers, Ricoh’s press release also implies that printers can now digitally produce crisp graphics in color on superior paper that will reflect the kind of detail and color vibrancy that didn’t exist a short while ago. And this is at production-level speeds.

More specifically, this implies that Ricoh has addressed issues of ink drying speed in its new press. (This is because the new production level inkjet presses need to be able to dry ink immediately on a coated press sheet, and since the ink needs to sit up on the coated surface of the sheet.)

This quick ink-drying ability will avoid the wet, rippling paper I used to experience on inkjet printers, while accommodating coated press sheets comparable to those used on an offset lithographic press. (Another way to say this is that you can now print high-end catalogs and magazines on an inkjet press.)

Color Gamut

Color gamut is also a function of quality, but I’d like to address this separately. As I’ve noted before, having access to more ink colors makes an incredible difference in the color range and color fidelity of a printed piece. And inkjet presses, in my experience, usually have the capability of expanding the color ink set by multiple hues.

This is not alien to offset lithography. Back in the 1990s I worked with a commercial printing vendor who offered High-Fidelity Color (which he also referred to as Hexachrome). These were probably proprietary names, as well, but the gist of the technology is that instead of separating images and text into the four process colors, this printer separated them into six: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, green, and orange—or occasionally purple, as I recall. By adding extra inks, he could match more PMS colors, and he could achieve more vibrancy in the images because the color gamut was larger.

Other commercial printing suppliers were doing similar things by adding touch plates, or kiss plates, that “bumped up” overall color in the offset lithographic CMYK spectrum by accenting specific areas of photo imagery with the ink on the touch plates.

Being able to do this on an inkjet press means that you can achieve the expanded color gamut without all the extra ink units, plates, wash-ups, blankets, and other expensive make-ready supplies and labor.

So the color quality enhancements within the production inkjet presses also make me optimistic.

Operating Cost

Having access to multiple paper stocks makes a huge difference. Inkjet papers used to need pre-treatment. Therefore, there were fewer of them a commercial printing vendor could purchase. This tied his hands in two ways. First, paper vendors could charge more for these specialty papers, and, second, clients had fewer options for custom printing substrates. They couldn’t page through practically any paper swatch book, choose what they liked, and ask the printer to purchase and print on it. Ricoh’s approach means printers will pay less and their clients will have more options.

What This Means to You

Here are two thoughts:

    1. If you’re designing for print, keep it up. Companies like Ricoh would not be pouring money into the development of presses that produce high-end catalogs and magazines if they thought print books and periodicals will cease to exist.

 

  1. Observe and study the technology as it develops, but go beyond the promotional literature and request printed samples. Then compare the crispness of the text and imagery (resolution) and the color accuracy and vibrancy (color gamut) to that of offset printed products you admire. Compare printed output on both coated and uncoated press sheets. And check the detail in the highlights and shadows of the photos. Then, going forward, watch the technological developments across multiple digital platforms from multiple press manufacturers.

This is a most exciting time.

Commercial Printing: Epson’s Label Printing Presses

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

I receive a lot of promotional mail from Epson, the maker of inkjet printers. Over the years I have consistently checked the box on the return mailer asking for samples. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from studying these samples close up with my loupe as well as reading the accompanying sales literature.

Yesterday I received two boxes of samples and data sheets, so I was in heaven. This is what I learned about the state of inkjet label printing from one vendor: Epson.

Points of Information (Noted in Epson’s Literature)

    1. One of the brochures referenced the Sure Press L-6034VW and L-6034V. These are Epson inkjet label presses that use LED UV-curing ink. What this means is that exposure to UV light “dries” the ink on the substrate instantly.

 

    1. Being able to dry ink instantly—instead of through evaporation, absorption, or oxidation—means printers can print on almost any substrate. The base material does not have to be porous because the cured ink will adhere completely to the surface of the substrate (rather than seep into the fibers).

 

    1. For label printing, it is therefore possible to print on clear and metallic films. Prior to the use of UV inks for labeling, a printer would use a flexographic press to print on such thin films (such as shrink sleeves or the plastic packaging in which loaves of bread are wrapped). Flexography is a relief printing process that uses rubber plates with raised type and images to print directly on labels and other packaging materials. Now, digital commercial printing via inkjet technology is a viable alternative for shorter or versioned press runs.

 

    1. Since Epson’s process uses LED UV light to cure the ink, the bulbs produce significantly less heat than conventional UV curing lamps. This means the UV curing bulbs last longer, and they don’t require extra air conditioning to compensate for the excessive heat that prior generations of UV curing bulbs generated.

 

    1. Instant curing of the inkjet inks means that no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the atmosphere.

 

    1. Because these inkjet label presses use LED-curing inks, the paper substrate does not need to be precoated (as with many other inkjet presses). This also means that off-the-shelf papers and films can be used (rather than substrates specifically created for inkjet commercial printing). This opens up the range of printable label surfaces considerably. It also allows for custom printing on heat-sensitive films and metallics.

 

    1. Epson’s proprietary inkjet technology reduces the spread, or scatter, of the ink particles. This allows for more precise placement of inkjet dots and therefore for crisper type, thin lines, and precise barcodes, even at smaller sizes.

 

    1. Epson has added a background white ink treatment to the inkset, which helps make the barcodes and small type especially legible, even on clear film labels.

 

    1. In addition to the white ink, Epson includes the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink). Moreover, Epson also includes both matte and gloss spot varnishes. Strategic placement of these gloss and matte coatings can create interesting contrasts and also highlight specific type or imagery.

 

    1. Epson’s LED UV inks have a strong surface when cured, and this increases their rub resistance. It also makes them durable when exposed to weather or chemicals. Therefore, labels printed on Epson’s label presses are ideal for outdoor use.

 

  1. The drum used in these Epson printers feeds the paper or film with a high degree of precision, maintaining the evenness of the color and also holding the dimensional stability of the substrate. (That is, the paper or film does not stretch, expand, or shrink, so conventional flexographic substrates can be used for the labels.)

But What Does All of This Mean?

First of all, these are just synopses of specs for two of Epson’s label printers. There were four more of these spec sheets in the two packages I received. Epson is putting a lot of resources into this specific printing arena.

Why? Based on my reading elsewhere, it seems that labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing, and large format print signage are some of the hottest venues within the commercial printing arena. And with more and more products on retail shelves, labels are of increasing importance to marketing.

Moreover, with a focus in the marketplace on quick turn-arounds, smaller press runs, versioning, and personalization, digital commercial printing is ideal for contemporary marketers who need labels. And being able to offer an alternative to flexography for these shorter runs is ideal, particularly since flexographic substrates can be used on the digital equipment.

All of this would not be relevant if the quality of the custom printing were not spectacular. Today’s versions of this technology can even surpass the color gamut of traditional offset lithography, particularly with the use of expanded ink sets. I was particularly impressed with the samples Epson sent me. The colors were brilliant, and the imagery was crisp. I was particularly pleased to see this level of quality produced on substrates ranging from clear film to paper.

How This Relates to You

If you design printed products (as opposed to websites), it behooves you to know where to find more work. As noted before, people who can design labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging, corrugated cartons, fabric printing art, and large format print signage are in demand. Understanding the relevant technology will help you immeasurably.

Also, this is a particularly good arena in which to express your commitment to the health of the environment, since the technology has a much lower environmental impact than traditional commercial printing methods. After all, none of the chemicals used in offset lithography and flexography are needed, and the new LED UV-curing lamps use very little energy.

If you’re not a designer, this is still a good area for you to consider, for everything from copywriting to sales to commercial printing and finishing work. In short, label printing is vital to commerce. That’s why Epson has established such a strong foothold.

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