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Archive for August, 2018

Custom Printing: Troubleshooting Lamination Problems

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

I heard back from a client recently that the lamination on her fashion color chip book pages had air bubbles on all pages of all copies. This is the little print book of color chips I have written about many times in this blog, and given the problems we have had with the scheduled reprint, I was not pleased to hear this news.

Fortunately, the books were salable. My client did not want to reject the job, since it had been reprinted and laminated, and since the colors produced on the HP Indigo had been dead-on accurate.

The collection of color chips bound with a screw and post assembly had had a long history. This had included printing the books in Australia, and producing them locally at a book printer that had recently gone out of business. (Before going out of business, the commercial printing vendor had upgraded their equipment, with the result being that their HP Indigo no longer printed my client’s fashion color books with accurate colors.)

So this has been a nightmare. But this is how I approached the bad news.

Next Steps in Analyzing This Job

First I asked my client to check a thorough sampling of the print books to see whether the air bubbles in the lamination had been a consistent–or just a localized–problem. In short, I was trying to determine how much of the print run had been affected.

Then I asked my client to send me samples of the prior commercial printing run (by the other digital printing vendor), since she had been satisfied with the lamination on this job. I also asked for samples of the test-run copies from earlier in the year. (Apparently, the air bubbles were visible on these color swatches as well, but just not as obvious.)

By this time, my client, who has been a long-term buyer of these fashion color chip books (very similar to a PMS book only smaller in format), had decided to accept the print job and try to work with this printer to make future print runs of this job better rather than to look for a new printer.

This is why my client’s decision was so important:

  1. If she had rejected the job outright, I would have approached the digital book printer immediately with a description of the problem and an estimate of its extent (how many of the 126 overall copies of her 22 master books had been affected–some originals had 3 copies, some 30). Time would have been of the essence, and I would have been asking for some kind of “consideration” to make my client whole. This might have been a discount or an additional press run.
  2. Making a distinction between this particular problem with the fashion color chip print books and a plan for future printing showed that my client valued this printer. She had taken my word as to the usual quality this printer provided, based on my ten-year history of their successful print production work.
  3. Another reason my client considered it prudent to work with this book printer to resolve the problem was her history of other printers’ not accurately matching her specified fashion swatch book colors. One printer had even “no bid” the job, saying he could not guarantee accurate color on his digital equipment. In contrast, the current printer had maintained color fidelity throughout the initial test run and the following 126 books.
  4. My client acknowledged that all of the print books were salable to her clients. The bubbles in the lamination did not obscure or alter the color of the fashion color chips. (The bubbles were annoying, and the prior printer had done the job without introducing air bubbles, but the prior printer had not matched the colors accurately and then they had gone out of business.)

How to Approach Future Print Runs of This Job

My client’s having accepted the print job, albeit with concerns for the future, made the next steps less urgent but equally important. I didn’t need to approach the custom printing vendor immediately. I could take the time to collect the samples and carefully decide how to proceed.

For now, this is my plan.

  1. I have seen this kind of problem before. One of my other clients had produced a square, perfect-bound book of flowers (a day-book with beautiful photos and pithy quotes about life). The cover had been offset printed with heavy-coverage black ink and then laminated with a dull film laminate. The printer had not allowed the heavy coverage ink to dry sufficiently (which involved the “gassing off” of the ink vehicle, the liquid in the ink). Since the ink had continued to dry after the covers had been laminated, the ink had released VOCs (volatile organic compounds, or in this case gases) that had produced the air bubbles. In this case, to fix the job, the printer had needed to remove the covers from the book, reprint and re-laminate the book covers, and then rebind the job and trim the books (ever so slightly to avoid making them too small and compromising the book’s design). So the release of gas during the drying of the ink had been the cause of the problem.
  2. This is a digitally printed book. One question is whether the drying of the liquid digital ink (leaving the pigment behind) could cause such gassing off. This remains to be seen. But I will ask the printer once he receives my client’s samples.
  3. A number of years ago I had heard from one printer that, due to incompatibilities between the fuser oil in digital ink and the lamination film, sometimes laminates would not properly adhere to digitally printed cover stock. I plan to ask this printer if this could have been part of the problem. However, since the prior printer (who had gone out of business) had laminated the color chip pages without introducing air bubbles, I will ask why. The printer will have samples of the prior run with no air bubbles and the current run with air bubbles. I will look to him for a plan for future work.
  4. To go back to the initial problem with the other client’s flower book (with heavy coverage black ink on the book cover), the job had been problematic due to the printer’s having laminated the press sheets too soon after printing. The ink had needed time to dry. In this case, I will ask the printer if a longer lead time would have avoided the air bubbles. If so, I will ask my client for more time for the next printing.
  5. I also plan to ask the printer whether he sees any difference in the lamination film itself. The prior printer was successful in avoiding air bubbles. This printer was not. Would a different brand of laminating film be more chemically compatible with the printed press sheets from his HP Indigo press?

Why Take the Time to Work This Out?

As with any relationship, if my client and the digital printer actually resolve this issue, my client will have a vendor who can accurately match her colors, and the printer will have repeat work three or four times a year. Both sides will be happy. Just deciding to abandon this printer and move the next job might not have solved the problem. After all, any number of new print vendors could have sworn up and down that their printed jobs would be better than this printer’s work. But who knows if they could have delivered on their marketing claims?

That said, considering my client’s history with this color chip book both in the United States and abroad, it is clearly not an easy job. It has potential problems. And solving these problems now, before the next print run, is prudent and worth the trouble. In another case, if the color were not critical, or if the relationship with the printer had not been such a long-standing and successful one, I would have encouraged my client to change vendors. But in this case, I think it is smart to move slowly and thoughtfully, showing the printer all the samples (prior and current) and asking for help to resolve the problems.

Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

Friday, August 24th, 2018

What do you do when a job goes south? It can happen in any number of ways. I have a client who regularly prints a color-chip book for fashion. I’ve written about her work a number of times in this blog. Her product is akin to a PMS swatch book for make-up and clothing based on one’s complexion. It is small (3.54” x 1.42”); 118 pages in 4-color process, produced digitally on an HP Indigo; and then drilled and assembled on a metal screw and post assembly. Depending on the particular press run, my client might print anywhere from 3 to 30 copies of each of her 22 master copies (each master copy addresses people with particular hair and facial complexion). Because of the ultra-short press run for each master copy, my client’s job needs to be produced digitally.

The Backstory

About two months ago my client put in an order for copies of her color swatch book. It was the first time the current commercial printing shop had done the job. To be safe, we had asked the printer to produce a complete, untrimmed set of all colors used in the 22 master print books as a test. Each swatch had the CMYK percentages noted below the solid color as well as my client’s proprietary name for the hue.

To determine if there would be a perceptible color shift once the sheets had been laminated in the final press run, we had the custom printing vendor produce one set of laminated, untrimmed swatches (as many as would fit on an approximately 12” x 18” press sheet) and one set of unlaminated swatch pages. I had seen in prior iterations of this job produced by another printer that some of the colors in the blue range had shifted slightly. I wanted to make sure that if there were color problems, they could be definitively attributed to either the custom printing or the lamination.

So we thought we were ready to go, once my client and her business partners had approved the test sheets. We also thought this would be a good way to ensure consistent color if we should ever need to change commercial printing vendors. After all, the prior printer had gone out of business just after one of my client’s reprints: hence the need to move the job.

My Oops

What we hadn’t foreseen was a simple error in the specification sheet: The covers had to be laminated, but somewhere in the process this notation had been removed from the specification for the text pages. Due to the heavy ink (actually liquid toner) coverage, without lamination the heavy solid colors on the swatches could easily be scratched. I actually tested this on a sample, and I found the problem to be marginal on light colors and more pronounced on darker colors. (This was due not to the toner coverage but to the eye’s tolerance for flaws in yellows, for instance, but not in dark purples.)

So the job came back with laminated covers and without laminated text. The printer’s customer service representative had caught the error (the inconsistency between the initial laminated but uncut proofs and the unlaminated text sheets in the actual press run), but he had assumed—without asking–that it was intentional. He had deferred to the specification sheet.

It was not the printer’s fault. It was mine, as the commercial printing broker. So I cut a check to my client to cover the printing. Fortunately I had not needed to do this up until this point in my history as a printing broker. It was unpleasant, but it kept my client happy.

The Next Steps

At that point, my client had a full run of unlaminated color swatch books. The colors were superb, but the pages were fragile since they were unlaminated.

Since my client had effectively paid nothing for these (since I had reimbursed her), she then paid the printer for a reprint—which turned out to be a much longer run. This one would be laminated.

Fortunately, my client still had 96 salable books (albeit salable for less than the usual price, since they were not laminated). I encouraged her to use these to keep her clients (she has a 4,000-name client list) happy while waiting for the new, laminated print books. I explained that she had an equity base. The books were usable. This would be a good, temporary, public-relations fix.

The Reprint Process

The reprint process didn’t go as well as planned. It was supposed to be a three-week turn-around. I understood that the lamination film had to be hand loaded, a sheet at a time, by the printer. There was going to be a lot of hand-work, but the good news was that all steps in the process, including the drilling, round cornering—everything—would be done in house.

The problem was that this printer is a small shop. In terms of service, that’s a good thing. I have been working with the printer for more than a decade, and I have always received a premium print job for a lower-than-usual price. In fact, I just sent this commercial printing vendor my sales commission invoice for the hundredth project we have done together.

But being a small shop, the printer had been hit hard recently when a number of key employees had to be out for health reasons, deaths in the family, and any number of other crises.

You may say that I’m naive. I believed the printer because of our ten-year-plus history. What I did do, however, was work out a plan with my client for daily (or every two days) status updates from the printer.

Initially, the job just seemed to sit there. But after a few days, things were back on track, and the job actually shipped today. I just looked at the calendar. The entire process had taken four weeks instead of three.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes things that look really bad can be salvaged. I salvaged the relationship with my client by paying for my mistake (and fortunately it was not a huge job). And what looked like an endless wait for the reprint turned out to be only a one-week delay.

I firmly believe it was because of a few important things:

  1. I had had a long, mutually beneficial, business relationship with the printer. This was not the first job. I made it clear that continuing the relationship was a priority. I also noted that other printers had not done as good a job with the color fidelity (which was clearly of utmost importance to my client for her color swatch book).
  2. Based on the length and quality of the business relationship, I was kind. I didn’t blame the printer. My goal was to complete the job to my client’s satisfaction, not to lay blame. Therefore, coming up with a way to leverage the initial printing to make my client’s clients happy while they awaited the new print books helped resolve the situation, as did requesting email updates from the printer (the written word seemed to make the process more formal and quantifiable).
  3. I focused on solutions. (Another job had gone south one other time in my 30-year history of buying custom printing. The printer went out of business during a textbook printing job. He had no credit and could not buy paper. So I urged the company I worked for at the time to purchase the paper for the print books at its own expense and then deduct this amount from the final payment to the printer. In this case, the printer was able to finish the books in satisfactory condition before closing his doors.)
  4. I did ask this printer to notify me in the future if anything seemed the least bit inconsistent in a job, between the specification sheet and any other verbal or email instructions.

In your own print buying work, think about the approach I have described. Just because you can blame the printer, pull the job, and send it somewhere else doesn’t mean you should. After all, a trusted vendor can often step up and work wonders, even in the midst of a crisis.

Oh, and one other thing. Read and reread your specification sheet—again and again. Even if you do this, once in a great while you will miss something, and you may have to pay for a reprint. Ouch. After all, the specification sheet is your contract with the printer. But the more often you check and recheck it, the less likely you will be to let a costly error slip by.

Commercial Printing: Inkjet Printing for Interior Design

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

I found a most interesting article on www.inkworldmagazine.com on 7/18. I had been reading articles on the growth of inkjet printing as a tool for interior design, and I was aware that, like package design, corrugated board printing, fabric decoration, and large format printing, the use of inkjet technology in building interiors has been a growth industry within the overall commercial printing universe.

The inkworldmagazine article is entitled “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing.” It was written by Mark Sollman, application manager at Mimaki.

The article references five separate areas of interior décor design that can benefit from inkjet printing, which is one of the strengths of Mimaki. The five areas referenced in the article are wallpaper, upholstery, glass, tiles, and wood, and all together they provide enough printable surface area within a building interior to dramatically distinguish one company (or even a personal residence) from another.

(I also have used Mimaki’s digital, knife-cutting equipment, through a commercial printing vendor, for a custom printing client who needed digitally printed and diecut stickers, which can be produced all at once on the same Mimaki equipment, without the need for a separate metal cutting die.)

Wallpaper

Sollman’s article distinguishes past eras of wallpaper–which could be simple and perhaps even boring in their generic qualities–from the current version of wallpaper, which can be produced on any number of substrates (with or without texture). These can include any number of patterns provided by the wallpaper company or even by the client himself/herself, affording an uniquely personalized approach. (For instance, a client can choose a particular color scheme or even base a wallpaper design on a personal photograph.)

Given the nature of inkjet printing, particularly on these substrates, wallpaper decoration can be especially fast and easy, leading to reasonable costs for highly individualized interior design.

Upholstery

I had mentioned above that fabric decoration has been appearing in the articles I’ve been reading (albeit mostly in terms of clothing design). However, in “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing,” Sollman broadens this to include everything from sheets and drapes to the covering of chairs and couches.

Again, the nature of inkjet custom printing allows for easy and affordable decoration of these items, making a person’s interior environment completely unique, and involving not only patterns but also the different textures available. For instance, inkjet printing can be applied to everything from silk to the thicker fabrics used on chairs and couches. In addition, Sollman’s article notes that, depending on the fabric substrate, sublimation printing can be used to achieve brilliant coloration, even including tropical colors. And, as with the other products in the Mimaki article, upholstery printing can be done even for a single item or select products in an environmental design while still being cost-effective.

Glass

Sollman’s article then moves on to glass decoration, noting that UV inks can be applied successfully to non-porous substrates, since UV light will cure UV inks instantly and adhere them to the base material, all while retaining the intensity of their coloration.

What this does is allow for personalized and intricate decoration of windows. (For example, you can create a memorable window treatment for a conference room that will provide both privacy and also an aesthetic appearance. Or, you can decorate the windows in a large hotel lobby in an artful way.) And due to the nature of printing with UV ink, the inks will be durable and resistant to scratching and water, unlike prior generations of inks.

Floor Tiles

Just as the new technology in inkjet printing can produce striking results on glass, Sollman’s article notes that printing on floor tiles is now a viable option for interior decoration. Due to the precision of inkjet custom printing, it is possible to produce an intricate design that extends across multiple tiles and creates a large mural effect. This can be used for a wall treatment or even a swimming pool, given the water resistant nature of UV inkjet inks. (In addition, I have read other articles that describe top-coating products that will increase the rub resistance of tile surfaces, protecting the inkjetted imagery in spite of heavy foot traffic.)

Wood

Finally, Sollman’s article, “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing,” addresses inkjet printing on wood. What I find interesting about printing on wood is twofold. First of all, it is thick. Fortunately, as Sollman notes, some large-format flatbed inkjet presses can accommodate thick substrates, including doors. So you can basically print right on the object itself rather than on an adhesive substrate that you would then affix to the wood.

Or, depending on your design, you might want to print on wood panels, which can then be attached to walls. Or, you could just print on wood objects, depending on the kind of inkjet printer you use.

In addition, I would think that without any kind of barrier coating (like a shellac or varnish), the wood would provide an unevenly porous surface for the inkjet ink. Fortunately, as Sollman points out, UV inks can sidestep this issue. The inks will sit up on the surface of the wood, rather than seeping into the wood, because of the instant-curing nature of UV inks when exposed to UV light.

The article does not address laminates, but I have read other articles that describe interesting effects that can be achieved by printing on wood that is later coated (like laminated surfboards and such). So there might be similar applications in the realm of interior design.

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. Inkjet custom printing makes all of this possible and affordable. Prior to the advent of inkjet printing (and UV inkjet printing in particular), such alternatives as screen printing would have been too labor intensive and costly, and therefore would not have been appropriate for a “one-off” interior design treatment. Inkjet printing makes this possible and affordable.
  2. The growth of inkjet printing for interior design is apparently quite dramatic. If you are a designer, it’s wise to take note. This could be your future in a world where many printed products such as print books, newspapers, and magazines are becoming less prevalent.
  3. UV inks allow you to print on almost anything, while keeping the ink up on the surface of the substrate. They are also very durable in terms of rub resistance and water-fastness.
  4. Practically any kind of interior you can imagine, you can create. In addition, it’s much easier and cheaper to change what is essentially the “skin,” or surface treatment, of an environment. (Wallpaper can be changed much more easily in a hotel lobby than interior walls can be torn down, moved, and rebuilt.)
  5. Non-porous substrates are printable (such as glass). This is new, and it is the result of advances in UV-curable inkjet printing.
  6. Thick substrates are not a problem. If you can print on a door, you can print on practically anything.

It’s wise, and potentially very profitable, for you to keep abreast of this technology.

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