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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 November, 2018

Large Format Printing: A Huge Case-Bound Book

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

I assembled and installed a large format print standee for the new Deadpool movie yesterday (called Once Upon a Deadpool). Interestingly, based on the title of the film, the standee is made to look exactly like a huge case-bound print book.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a book this large (just over 5 feet by 8 feet) since the 1960s (a huge book on the TV series Batman). What piqued my interest was its size, how closely it resembled a real case-bound print book, and the fact that both the spine and face trim (the pages) were crafted so as to curve. (Another way of saying this is that the faux book had a rounded spine, so the face trim of the pages also curved inward.)

The Curvature of the Standee’s (Faux Book’s) Spine

Let’s start with the curvature of the book’s spine and pages, since this says a lot about ways to get around the fact that paper and cardboard are usually flat or folded (but not curved).

The outer graphic panel of the book’s spine started as a flat rectangle with the title of the print book (Once Upon a Deadpool) running the length of the cardboard panel. Onto this flat surface, and using a series of die cut cardboard tabs, I attached a series of four folded boxes (approximately 1.5 feet by 2 feet, but only about 2 inches high). The edges of these boxes that were parallel to the short dimension of the standee book spine were curved outward.

Once I had firmly attached them to the spine with a series of tabs and slots, they gave a structure over which the paper of the spine could be stretched to create a curvature. Moreover, where the cardboard needed to bow or curve, there were numerous parallel scores. When the outer cardboard of the spine (with printed litho paper laminated to chipboard) was stretched across this interior structure and then locked down with more tabs, the result was a fully curved book spine that was 8 feet long.

From this I learned two things:

  1. If you fold paper, or cardboard, the paper fibers will be bent or broken. That is, if I had folded rather than gently bowed the paper over the curved spine support structure, this would not have yielded a smooth curve to the back of the huge faux book standee. The crease would have been a visible flaw. However, by gently bowing the cardboard over the structure, I could stretch the paper fibers in the cardboard without folding or breaking them.
  2. Exactly the same thing was true for the curvature of the interior book pages. Instead of bowing outward, these bowed inward (exactly as would be true in a case-bound book with a rounded back). To effect this curvature of the pages, two more curved cardboard structures were added inside the standee. These had slots into which I attached long tabs (hot-melt spot glued to the inside of the faux pages). (Imagine that I was building a cardboard box, with 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers with turned edges, a faux spine, and head, face, and foot trim—i.e., the top, front, and bottom of the pages.)

In all of these elements of the faux book that was the Deadpool standee, a series of tabs and slots held together the pieces of cardboard under significant tension. (This was to create the curvature.) If there had only been one tab, or fewer tabs, the tension (or pull against the paper fibers) would probably have torn off the paper tabs. However, since there was a tab every few inches, the pull of the curved cardboard was distributed over a wide area. In fact, once I had completed the installation, the standee was quite sturdy.

What I learned from this is that under tension, paper can be pulled into a new shape (in this case a curvature), and if the tension is widely distributed, the paper fibers can withstand the pull.

The Faux Book Covers

Another element of the faux book that matched a real case-bound print book was the structure of the 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers. These had depth. That is, there were parallel scores approximately half an inch apart along the edges of the covers, and once I had folded the cardboard inward along these scores and attached the folded cardboard to the unprinted interior of the graphic (with double-sided tape), I had created turned-edge book covers (that matched an actual case-bound print book). The parallel folds yielded square edges, giving the impression of depth to the outer edge of the book covers, all the way around the book.

These thick covers (with printed litho paper wrapped around to create a half inch depth) were then screwed to the structure that was the spine. (The front and back cover of the Deadpool book included an extra lip that had been drilled, so I could insert a series of at least ten screws through holes in the interior of the spine. This lip worked as a hinge, allowing the front and back cover to move in and out, toward and away from the book pages.)

So when the covers were attached to the spine, there was a hinge (with a shoulder), curved text pages, and a rounded spine—all elements of a highly crafted case binding.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As soon as I got back home (and uploaded the photos to the company for which my fiancee and I install movie standees), I searched online for images, videos, and text descriptions of case binding. I wanted to refresh my memory, since the experience of building this huge faux print book had sparked my interest. Among other things, I saw videos of book binders adjusting the book covers to push out the pages to create the rounded spine (and similarly curved text pages, on the opposite side) and then hammering them to flare out the edges of the sewn press signatures.

Needless to say, exposure to the standee had renewed my interest in the art of print book binding and the specific hand-done tasks that allow a heavy text block (group of press signatures) to “hang” from the chipboard case such that all the pages are parallel and can move freely. (This clearly involves knowledge and skill, hard work, and an understanding of physics. And this art/craft has been practiced for centuries.)

So in light of this, I would encourage you to do two things:

  1. Search online for videos showing all of the separate activities that go into binding a case-bound book. I think you will find this fascinating. You can probably also see this in person in colonial reenactment sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.
  2. Then look for diagrams online showing all elements of a case-bound book, including the “crash” or “super” that gives stability to the bind edge of all press signatures; the pattern of Smyth sewing at the folded edges of the press signatures (the thread that holds all text signatures in place); the endsheets (including the pastedowns and flyleafs); the turned edges (where the outer paper, fabric, or leather of the binding is brought inward to cover the edges of the binder’s boards); and all the other various and sundry components of a case-bound print book.

Having absorbed this knowledge, you will never again take for granted all the steps in bookbinding, and you may well come to love and admire the craftsmanship and artistry in a case bound print book.

Custom Printing: Flexible Package Printing Samples

Monday, November 19th, 2018

I’ve read a lot about flexible package printing recently. It is a vibrant element of a quickly expanding arena of commercial printing (i.e., package printing in general).

Packaging isn’t going anywhere. Newspapers may fold, and magazines may go online. Some people may prefer e-readers to print books. But as long as products in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments compete with each other for the consumer’s attention (i.e., their dollars), package printing will thrive. (Think about a store with packages that have no labels or graphics. It’s not going to happen.)

In this light, earlier this week my fiancee sent me some photos she had taken of unique flexible packaging that looks like a mason jar. She also tore the back cover off a magazine to give me because it has a tip-on Chanel perfume container fugitive glued to a Chanel ad.

What Is Flexible Packaging?

So what’s this all about? What is flexible packaging?

The Flexible Packaging Association defines flexible packaging in the following way on www.flexpack.org: “Typically taking the shape of a bag, pouch, liner, or overwrap, flexible packaging is defined as any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed.” That is, the contents of flexible packaging can be squeezed out, and the container can be resealed and rolled up or squished up to take up less space. It’s not rigid.

It has the following benefits:

  • “From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability and superb printability, the industry continues to advance at an unprecedented rate.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “Innovation and technology have enabled flexible packaging manufacturers to use fewer natural resources in the creation of their packaging, and improvements in production processes have reduced water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and volatile organic compounds.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “Even more, lighter-weight flexible packaging results in less transportation-related energy and fossil fuel consumption, and environmental pollution.” (www.flexpack.org)

The Samples: Faux Mason Jar and Chanel Perfume “Bottle”

Let’s get back to the samples my fiancee gave me and discuss why they work.

The first sample is packaging for a chocolate cookie mix. It is a soft version of a mason jar, the kind used for canning fruits and vegetables. It has precise detail in its lid as well as specular highlights that make the faux glass of the jar look like real glass and the metal top (which is really just foil) look like rigid metal. A fine artist would say the design is a good example of “trompe l’oeil.” (Wikipedia defines trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”) In the case of this flexible packaging, the image of the mason jar appears to be three dimensional when it is really only composed of a front and a back foil panel.

From an emotional point of view, the packaging brings to mind a simpler time when we grew and canned or bottled our own products. It evokes thoughts of really good cookies that were made at home from quality ingredients. Presumably this will interest those consumers who grew up making cookies in their own oven. This is the emotional hook.

What makes this sample of flexible packaging special is two-fold. There is a bit of humor in the double-take it provokes. (It looks like a cylindrical mason jar, but it’s really only flat, flexible packaging.) For those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it also is a nod to Pop Art or, more specifically, to those soft sculptures of everyday consumer products such as Claes Oldenburg’s huge fabric ice bag from the 1970s. In that case and in other similar works, by making the art much larger than usual or by using unexpected materials (like a hamburger made out of cloth), the artist gets us to look at an object from contemporary culture in a different way, as a piece of art in and of itself.

In the case of the flexible packaging mason jar of cookie mix, what makes it unique is the initial recognition of the jar, and then the realization that it is not as it seems. The consumer sees it on the shelf and stops, and then looks again. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Now the Chanel box.

I just pulled the Chanel box off its backing (the back interior cover of the magazine), and, upon closer inspection, it seems to be a printed bottle of perfume. It has a vertical pull-tab that brings up a small nozzle. When I squeeze the box, the flexible bag inside is compressed, and a stream of perfume exits through the spray nozzle, bringing an irresistible note of high-fashion to my nose.

I think it’s intriguing because it is a functional product. Granted it is small, so the reader of the magazine will be compelled to go out and buy a large bottle if she likes the perfume. But more than that, it is a reader “involvement” device. You do something, and you get the product—all in the comfort of your home. You don’t need to drive to the department store and test perfume from the sample bottles. This creates an intimate moment. It’s just you and Chanel. And all of this would not be possible without flexible packaging. The little foil pouch in the fold-over Chanel box fugitive glued to the magazine cover makes this possible.

How Do You Print on These Packages?

I thought about this packaging film, and I made the assumption that offset commercial printing would not be an option. I assumed that maintaining the dimensional stability of such foils would be impossible given the pressure of the offset press rollers.

I found the answer to my quandry on the Consolidated Label website, which references its new 10-unit flexographic press as being ideal for flexible packaging. Elsewhere I read that inkjet equipment could also be used for such package printing, and still elsewhere I saw a reference to using rotogravure printing for flexible packaging.

Notably, the research I did touted the benefits of UV-cured inks for flexible packaging, since they “dry” instantly when exposed to UV light and since they therefore adhere well to non-porous materials such as packaging film.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Package printing is a growing industry. Therefore, if you’re a designer, a print buyer, or a print sales professional, it behooves you to read as much as you can about the subject.
  2. Flexible packaging can be unique. It can catch the eye of the consumer. It also provides a large “canvas” on which to display the advertising graphics: much more than the space provided by a stick-on label. This leads to more consumer interest and more sales.
  3. Flexible packaging takes fewer resources to make. It is usually recyclable. It takes up less space in transit to retailers and on the display shelf as well. And it is resealable. In addition, it is not permeable (nothing can contaminate the food or other substance it contains). This means it provides superior “barrier protection,” which makes the FDA happy and also keeps you healthy.

Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Three of my clients have print jobs in some stage of production at commercial printing shops. One client just uploaded stationery materials to one printer. Another client has a perfect-bound print book of essays on press. And a third client has a color swatch book at a third printer.

If you are a print broker or designer, you may be in a similar position. It is all too easy to move on to other work and take your eye off the ball. These jobs may be done in terms of your designing and producing press-ready art, but there are still a lot of things you need to attend to in order to ensure success.

The Book of Essays

One client has produced a print book of essays for a local university. Actually, I myself designed the book for her and also brokered the custom printing. My client has a firm deadline for delivery of final books. She has a public reading of her students’ essays in early December. (As I write this, it is early November, and the proof will be in my hands tomorrow.) The printer committed to a five- to seven-day turn-around for the proof, and a seven- to ten-day turn-around for the final print books.

This schedule seems wonderfully short for a perfect-bound book, but it bears close attention. It is also a good object lesson for PIE Blog readers. The scheduled five to seven days for a proof began when I uploaded press-ready files to the printer’s FTP site. If my files had included any errors (incorrect creation of PDFs as per printer’s requirements; problems with fonts, bleeds, or resolution; or even presentation of pages as spreads rather than individual pages), the printer would have flagged the book files and requested changes. The five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have actually begun until all PDF files for the book were correct.

Moreover, the five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have included weekends, and would not have included a two-day shipment time for sending proofs from the printer to my house. The same will be true for the seven- to ten-day turn-around on printed books, starting from the date of proof approval. Although this schedule will begin upon my (and my client’s) acceptance of the proof (plus its return over a one- or two-day period by USPS or FedEx), I must also factor in a shipping period after the ten-day period for books to leave the vendor and arrive at my client’s office.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Build in plenty of time when estimating the overall production schedule by the printer. This may be particularly true for book printers (such as the one producing my client’s book). Fortunately, this printer will schedule a press date as soon as he has received the approved proof. From this press date, he can estimate the bindery date, shipping date, and potential delivery date. In your own work, request not only a general time frame for production by the printer, but also a specific press date and ship date as soon as you have approved the proof. If you have a fixed deadline for delivery and receipt of the books, brochures, or any other printed product, this schedule will keep both you and your printer on track.

Then, as the date approaches, follow up with your printer to make sure everything is on schedule. This is particularly important if your project includes a lot of steps (laminating, round-cornering, packaging in a specific way). If there are problems (for instance, if the printer is waiting for materials to be used in your job), it’s better to know early. So ask your CSR (customer service rep) before the shipping date. In the majority of cases you will get a more complete and accurate answer from your CSR than from your sales rep, since the CSR works with production schedules every day and therefore will usually have the most up to date information.

The Color Swatch Book

I just asked the CSR for an update on the schedule for another client’s book, a color swatch book used in selecting make-up and clothing colors based on one’s complexion and hair color.

This is a complex project often (depending on the printer) involving multiple vendors. This is because after the printing process, it requires laminating the pages, round-cornering the pages, drilling the books, and inserting a metal screw-and-post binding assembly into each print book. It also involves collation (there are 28 master books with between three and six copies to be printed from each master copy).

So a few days prior to the scheduled ship date I called the customer service rep and asked the status of the job. She told me the screw-and-post binding assemblies had not yet arrived. They should be there the following day, she said. I will have to keep in touch, since my client has been waiting a long time for this project. Her last printer had not done a good job, so my client’s clients have been waiting patiently. My client’s brand is on the line.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As with the prior job, it’s essential to keep up with your printer. He may have subcontracted out the binding of your book (many printers do not have in-house binding; even fewer have in-house case binding). Or he may have “jobbed out” your die cutting. Maybe you also need screw-and-post binding assemblies for your job. If your printer must rely on an outside vendor, this may affect your schedule. It is better to learn about this early. Be proactive. Contact your CSR as your estimated ship date approaches. Don’t wait for her/him to contact you.

The Stationery Package

This job involves flat cards, envelopes, and #10 envelopes. I solicited pricing from three vendors on behalf of my client. The list included the prior commercial printing vendor (this is a repeat job from several years ago). However, I made it clear to my client that this printer had been overwhelmed with work recently and therefore had not been as responsive as I expected a printer to be. I considered this to be temporary, but I did need to disclose this to my client.

Based on pricing, but even more so based on prior, positive experiences with this particular printer, my client’s client specifically asked to send the job to the printer I had been worried about. Fortunately, both I and my client had been completely clear about the risks (not in terms of lower quality but in terms of a longer-than-usual turn-around time). My client’s client had been apprised of our concerns.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes you will put a long-standing relationship with a printer above a current “bump in the road.” Perhaps the printer is overbooked, but you still want that particular printer to do your job. This is a risk. In my client’s case, all parties have been clear about the risk. Moreover, the job is a simple one involving no work subcontracted to outside vendors. Unlike the color swatch book described in the prior case study, it does not involve acquiring supplies not normally on hand (like the screw-and-post binding assemblies). Therefore, it is less of a risk than some jobs might be.

In your own print buying work, consider all the steps in such a job and be proactive. For instance, if the job takes longer than agreed upon to complete, will this be a problem? Do you have a hard deadline for your delivery? If not, and if the job is simple, you may still want to send your job to the printer. If not, you may want to pay a little more for another known vendor, or you may want to keep looking for a new vendor.

Custom Printing: Direct Digital Printing on Bottles

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

I was reading the trade journals online this week, keeping abreast of trends in commercial printing, and I came upon an article written by Pat Reynolds in Packaging World (www.packworld.com) entitled “Direct Digital Printing on Rigid Containers.” It was published on 4/3/18.

I know this sounds somewhat dry as a subject, but as I read the article, I saw the implications for packaging, marketing, and digital commercial printing in general. Plus, it was interesting to see just how printing can be done on a bottle without using a label. So I did further research.

The Background

First of all, I think you will appreciate the concept more if I first give you some background on how this would have been done before digital custom printing. The options would have been as follows:

Label printing. This would have worked fine, printing on matte crack ‘n peel label stock and then affixing the labels on the bottles. However, there would have been a number of steps involved. It would not have been a direct process, and presumably all of the labels would have been identical. Granted, in more recent times, a printer could have produced digital labels, which could easily have included variable data. But the labels still would have had a border. That is, the packaging art would have been limited to the dimensions of the label.

Screen printing. A printer could have used screen printing technology to image the packaging information right on the bottle without needing a label. This would have been less confined in its design than a rectangular label. Printed imagery could have extended onto any portion of the bottle accessible to the custom screen printing equipment. More than likely, the screen and the squeegie used to force ink through the screen printing mesh would have been stationary, and the bottles would have been spun around on their vertical axes to bring each bottle’s surface into contact with the printing screen.

Presumably, since custom screen printing ink is very thick and tacky, there would have been limited resolution in any photographic images (which probably would have been too challenging to attempt anyway), and since a new screen would have been needed for each color, the majority of screen printed imagery would have been limited to a few colors.

But more than anything, this process would have required extensive make-ready. Therefore, for the job to be competitive in price, a long press run would have been necessary. Also, variable data printing would have been out of the question. All art would have been static. All images would have been identical. Moreover, since screen printing make-ready is so labor intensive, the process would have taken a long time.

Pad Printing. Another option would have been pad printing. This is great for printing on golf balls and computer keys. Even if a surface is rounded, like a bottle, successful screen printing requires the screen to come into direct contact with the printing substrate. This alone would make screen printing on many shapes of bottles impossible. That said, a gravure printing process called pad printing, or tampography, would be an option. In this process, a gravure plate is covered with ink that quickly becomes tacky as it dries. Then a silicone pad is brought down onto the inked plate, where it picks up the tacky ink image as the pad compresses briefly. Then the pad can be positioned over the substrate (which can be concave, convex, or any other shape that would otherwise be difficult to print). Finally (due to the nature of the silicone pad and the ink) the silicone pad releases the tacky ink image onto the substrate.

However, like screen printing, pad printing artwork cannot be changed for every image, and, given the make-ready involved, pad printing also lends itself to longer press runs.

Enter Direct Digital Printing

Reynolds’ article describes the new process of direct digital printing on PET plastic and glass bottles used for the food and beverage industry. Within the context noted above, being able to print on irregularly shaped surfaces (as you might do with pad printing) while constantly varying the imagery is rather exciting.

Moreover, you could conceivably create only one printed bottle if you needed a prototype. Then, you could make any design changes required and print the entire run with the new design. And you could do this with FDA compliant, low-migration, food-safe inks.

To give you an idea of the technology involved, a system of feedscrews and a starwheels brings each cylindrical bottle in front of the digital inkjet printheads, using a carousel system to move the bottles through the system and out again. Reynolds’ article, “Direct Digital Printing on Rigid Containers,” describes transport systems that can be built to accommodate more bottles at a time (increasing the speed and efficiency of production depending on the run length).

The article also describes two printing processes, one that involves inkjetting the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink colors sequentially, and another that deposits the inks all at once. To make all of this work, certain bottle shapes will be more successful and certain shapes will not work.

Addressing the needs of both PET plastic bottles and glass bottles can be tricky, due to the different heat requirements for the two substrates, but Reynolds’ article explains how each can be accommodated.

The process uses UV-cured inks, which will set instantly upon exposure to ultraviolet light (provided by LED bulbs). This allows for printing on non-porous substrates (such as PET plastic and glass) and makes the bottles immediately usable without any drying time. In addition to the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), the technology uses white inkjet ink and also a clear primer to make the ink adhere better to the substrate.

Why This Is Special

Direct printing on PET and glass bottles provides several benefits for the food and beverage packaging industry.

  1. You can produce an edition of one. This is useful if you’re making a prototype for a bottle. The mock-up will look exactly like the finished product.
  2. When you have confirmed your initial design, you can still make each bottle different, so each customer who buys the product can have unique personalization (such as their name).
  3. Although there are some limitations in the substrates (the bottles have to be a certain shape that will allow access to the inkjet heads: cylindrical but not oval, for instance), I’m sure the ability to print digitally on uneven or irregular surfaces will improve in the near future. (For example, I have read about inkjet equipment that can already print directly on a football.)
  4. The UV inks are “low-migration” inks that won’t contaminate the food products in the bottles.
  5. On a design level, you have a larger area for the custom printing. You are not limited to the rectangular dimensions of a label. The imagery and text can be positioned on any part of the bottle’s surface accessible to the print heads.
  6. Unlike screen printing and pad printing, digital inkjet custom printing allows for high resolution photographic imagery. This could make the look of a direct digital printed bottle far more dramatic than that of a screen-printed or pad-printed bottle.

More than anything, this is a good, solid step in the direction of printing almost anything on almost any substrate.

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