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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for January, 2019

Large Format Printing: Current Inkjet Options

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

I’ve been reading a lot about inkjet printing in the online journals recently. I have seen trends in the market toward improved inkjet for publications printed on roll-fed equipment that can produce significantly better quality than in past years in an economical manner.

However, along with the new trend (which just may usurp laser printing as a means for producing long-format documents digitally, such as textbooks and periodicals) I have seen a steady growth in large format printing on inkjet equipment. Why? Because it’s profitable. Why is it profitable? Because the quality is there, it’s infinitely variable, and it is economical. More importantly, large format printing is striking and memorable. Moreover, since many of the inks are water soluble, it’s also environmentally sound.

I thought you might find it interesting to review some of the substrates on which you can effectively print using digital inkjet equipment. Some of these will be familiar. Others you may not have thought about.

Large Format Signage

When I think of signage, I now think almost exclusively of grand-format inkjet, although people are still crafting permanent metal and glass channel letters for signs, or cutting and grinding wood, or manufacturing building signs out of stone or concrete.

But inkjet sign-making offers a lot of options for significantly less money. You can print on vinyl scrim, then hem the edges, and insert grommets to allow for tying up the large format print with ropes. (I once hung a banner like this on the exterior facade of a building. As I recall, it covered three stories of the structure. Since we had only a small crew of installers, I was struck by the way the wind tried to pull the huge banner out of my hands like a big kite or a sail.)

If you’re printing a similar large format graphic, talk with your large format print supplier about options. Your printer will need to know whether the print will be hung indoors or outdoors, as this will affect both the substrate and the inks used. For instance, solvent-based inks will be more light-fast (i.e., will tolerate the sunlight without fading) and will also stand up to weather (rain). Water-based dyes and pigments are fine for interior signage (particularly if the banner is temporary), but for exterior use, you need inks that are more robust.

So to be safe, think about how long you want to keep the banner, and where it will be displayed (even an indoor sign hung near a window will fade when exposed to sunlight day after day). Discuss with your custom printing supplier the various substrate options (vinyl, paper, and canvas–if interior–or even mesh, if you plan to affix the graphic on a window and you will need to see through the banner). You may also want to ask about inks (solvent, eco-solvent, UV, latex, dye vs. pigment). Some are more durable. Some provide more intense colors. Some are less taxing on the environment.

All of the aforementioned papers, fabrics, are meshes are essentially flexible substrates that come on rolls. But you don’t have to stop here. Depending on the kind of large format printing capabilities your supplier offers, you may even be able to print on rigid substrates such as doors and glass. Essentially, instead of either draping a banner on a wall or gluing it to a backing board, you can just print the graphic right on the wood, metal, or other rigid substance, but only if you’re using a flatbed digital inkjet press (not a roll-fed press).

When you’re discussing such work with your commercial printing supplier, here are some things to consider. If you’re printing on glass, for instance, you’re printing on a non-porous substrate. Regular inkjet inks will dry but not adhere to such a surface. However, using UV inks, which cure instantly when exposed to ultraviolet light, you can print directly on non-porous surfaces, either flexible (with a roll-fed inkjet printer) or rigid (with a flatbed inkjet printer).

Again, it’s smart to discuss with your printer the environmental conditions in which you plan to hang the graphic. UV inks do adhere well to flat, non-porous surfaces, but they can still be scratched off. So discuss rub resistance with your printer, and ask about any surface coatings that might further protect your large format print image.

Vehicle Wraps

Let’s not forget the potential marketing space on the side of a bus or a car. Vehicle wraps are hot. They will make a car or bus really stand out from all the other vehicles on the road. Do keep in mind, however, that printing on the vinyl is just a part of the process. You also need a skilled vendor who can adhere the graphic to all the nooks and crannies of the exterior of a car or bus. This is specialized work. Done well, it can be heart-stopping. Done badly it can be a waste, or it can damage your brand.

Fabric Printing

You can write books on the current digital custom printing options available for interior design. You can print drapes, bedding, pillow covers, wallpaper. Fortunately, these are all interior uses of large format printing. However, in this case the composition of the fabric will determine the particular technology you use. Direct inkjet is fine for cotton-based fabric. However, for polyester, you need to either transfer the graphic from a carrier sheet to the substrate (with some technologies, you can initially print directly on the substrate) and then sublimate the fabric inks into the polyester fibers using intense heat. Fortunately this technology preserves and in some cases actually improves the vibrant colors of the fabric inks.

And if you don’t need to produce bolts of fabric for interior design, you can always print on fabric to create flags and table throws. (Table throws are large graphics on fabric that can be laid over a table at a convention site, providing a marketing opportunity as well as protecting the table.)

Or you can print on garments. While these really aren’t large format print graphics, inkjet is still suitable (direct inkjet for cotton and dye sublimation for polyester). Or, you can print on vinyl transfer material and then use a heat press to adhere the graphic to the t-shirt or other garment.

What to Consider and Discuss with Your Printer

First of all, most printers will not have all of these technologies or inks. You may need to do some research and request samples to verify quality. Ask your current print suppliers. If they can’t do something in-house, perhaps they can refer you to a trustworthy large format print supplier.

Then describe the kind of graphic, the environmental conditions, and the length of time it will be in use. (Fortunately, such things as vehicle wraps can be repaired. Since they come from digital files, if you damage part of a car wrap, you can just print out a small section, and remove and replace the damaged part of the graphic.)

Discuss the various substrates (canvas, vinyl, fabric, paper, film, back-lit film) and the various inks (dye-based vs. pigmented ink, latex, solvent, eco-solvent, UV) and their durability and color properties (color gamut, intensity, color fidelity, and such).

I’d also encourage you to research these variables yourself, online, in addition to searching for a trustworthy large format printing vendor. And it’s always prudent to request samples. When you have the samples, don’t hesitate to test them. (For instance, if your banner will be outside, get the sample wet and see how it fares.)

Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

Monday, January 21st, 2019

About four years ago my fiancee and I had a house fire. In the ensuing months we went to all manner of cabinet stores, tile stores, and flooring stores (in addition to CraigsList vendors) to collect materials for rebuilding the house. Needless to say, I saw more than my share of floor and wall coverings that had been digitally decorated. It was intriguing since I had grown up with real wood and real stone, but I filed it away in my memory.

Then, earlier this week I read an article in www.whattheythink.com entitled “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking,” by Ron Gilboa (published on 9/21/18), and everything gelled in my brain. This is another growth industry within the commercial printing universe. Another article (in Wikipedia) regarding rotogravure custom printing (and its uses in decorating materials for flooring) helped all of this come together in my mind. It became crystal clear to me that large format printing, digital printing, gravure printing, and the flooring industry offered interior designers new and exciting opportunities.

The Article: A Synopsis

Gilboa’s article references the biannual International Woodworking Fair, which recently held its Digital Printing Symposium in Atlanta, GA, from August 21 to 25. The focus of the event was the intersection of “short-run, cost-effective decorative surfaces” with the “ongoing development in [the] digital inkjet printing sector” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

The symposium, which attracted woodworking companies like Barberan, Baumer, Cefla Finishing, North American Plywood, and Schattdecor, as well as digital custom printing companies like Canon and Vanguard digital, addressed “mass customization in an $11 billion M2 per year décor laminate market and an over $140 billion annual woodworking industry in the U.S. alone” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

What this really means is that woodworking companies and digital inkjet printing companies pooled their resources and knowledge base to focus on creating custom designs for cabinetry, paneling, high-pressure laminates, flooring laminates, and such, to help individuals enhance their living spaces and to help interior designers and architects provide striking and unique additions to their work.

An added benefit to the quality and specialized nature of these decorated products is the ability to print them on demand, reducing the need for product storage and inventory. In fact, the new technology also avoids product obsolescence.

That is, the long press runs of printed flooring materials done on gravure presses not only require the expense of the gravure cylinders—the printing plates—but they also have huge minimum runs to stay cost-effective. In contrast, new digital inkjet printing on flooring can produce both short- and long-run products cost-effectively. Therefore, there’s less chance that a supplier would over-produce a particular flooring design that might become obsolete and therefore useless.

Gilboa’s article also notes a technical benefit of digital inkjet printing that sets it above gravure for flooring decoration. That is, designs that exceed 15 feet before repeating would not be printable on a gravure press (they would exceed the circumference of the press cylinder that prints the design). In contrast, large format inkjet printing can produce designs larger than gravure’s maximum print dimensions.

Furthermore, “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking” references a new concept in flooring, the “rainbow roll.” In contrast to the usual high-run minimums for gravure print runs (the article notes that one ton of paper–2,000 pounds–is the typical minimum order), the rainbow roll can “contain several lengths of print jobs with different designs based on client requirements” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”). This makes sense since digital inkjet printing can produce just enough of one design to decorate the interior of just one client’s office or home. Therefore, the concept of the rainbow roll of short-run flooring decoration material is a groundbreaking concept, one that avoids both obsolescence and waste.

An Example of Digital Flooring Decoration

Gilboa puts these benefits in concrete terms in his article, describing an intriguing decoration approach by North American Plywood, one of the producers of the International Woodworking Fair’s Digital Printing Symposium. North American Plywood sands and primes, and then inkjet prints and coats decorated boards used for flooring. Using this technology, they can stain natural wood and veneers, or even fully coat paneling using UV inks and large format inkjet commercial printing equipment.

However, instead of immediately curing the UV ink with UV light, North American Plywood lets the UV ink sit on the wood and soak into the wood fibers. After the ink seeps in, the company can cure the wood with UV light and then coat the panels to ensure abrasion resistance.

Gilboa notes that “the result is a wood face that looks naturally stained, or resembles a premium wood species, simulated on a less expensive baseboard” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

As Gilboa highlights in a quote from Grand Burkholder from Sauder Woodworking Company, “The capabilities of … [digital printing], creating depth of pattern, reproducing wood species, using pigmented inks, is amazing” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

Implications of the New Technology

Here are my thoughts:

  1. You can make any wood you choose (perhaps a less expensive wood, or even a more durable wood), look like any other wood. (Presumably there are limitations.) This bodes well for controlling building costs without sacrificing appearance. If the choice of wood you’re simulating allows for a more durable substrate (such as custom printing wood grain on water resistant flooring that can be used in a basement), all the better.
  2. You can control inventory and waste. Therefore you can spend less on a warehouse to store inventory, as well as less on equipment and labor to maintain and track inventory. Your designs never have to become obsolete because you’re producing only what you need (not a huge minimum order). Due to the efficiencies in the process, you also have less waste.
  3. You can allow for more creativity and personalization in the interior designs due to the color gamut and resolution of inkjet technology. For instance, you can include photorealistic images on flooring. And you can create a one-off design for a client who wants an interior “look” that no one else has.

So specifically within the realm of interior design, inkjet printing on flooring, along with printing on wall treatments, glass, and even bedding and drapery, can provide unlimited creative options for interior designers. Moreover, the growth within this arena of commercial printing can provide lucrative jobs for both designers and sales professionals.

So it’s worth your time reading the trade journals and staying current with developments in the digital decoration of custom wood products.

Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

Monday, January 14th, 2019

I recently wrote a PIE Blog article about a client who needed hang-tags for her client’s restaurant.

Recap of the Job Specs and Intended Usage

More specifically, the job specs involve a 10,000-copy press run on 65# or 80# white smooth uncoated cover 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. The trim size is 5 3/16″ x 2 11/16″.

Initially, the specs also included an option for a 100# text paper.

My client’s client plans to either tape these die cut hang-tags onto his pre-packaged restaurant food boxes or in some cases hang them on the boxes or other restaurant food items with a string through the drill hole on the tag. Because of this he wanted to make sure the paper for the hang-tags was not too heavy. After all, if the 130# or 170# double thick cover paper I had suggested had been used, the final die cut hang-tags would have been too rigid for the intended use.

Moreover, my client’s client plans to hand-print Thai glyphs related to the Asian restaurant on the preprinted hang-tags. (That is, the commercial printing vendor will print the logo and some other information related to the restaurant onto the hang-tags, and then the restaurant owner will add the hand-printed Thai glyphs.) It was for this reason that I suggested an uncoated, smooth printing stock. My client had also wondered about a matte coated sheet, but she was concerned that the hand-printed stamp ink might smear.

So be safe, we posed all of these questions to the owner of the commercial printing shop we had initially approached with this job. Since he was ideally suited to print the job (i.e., he had the right equipment), and since he tended to be reasonably priced, we decided to get only one price at this point. It would help us set the budget for my client’s client. It would also clarify some of the points of which we were unsure. We felt we could always solicit competitive bids later.

The Printer’s Answers

Right off the bat the custom printing supplier suggested not printing the tags on 100# text stock. He said the paper was too thin to be die cut effectively (i.e., the die cutting could be rough and uneven).

He also encouraged us to use an uncoated sheet rather than a matte coated sheet. He said the hand-printed stamp-pad ink would be less likely to smear on an uncoated sheet. In fact, even a non-gloss coating (dull or matte) would increase the likelihood of the hand-applied ink’s smearing.

(To put this in context, uncoated paper comes in a variety of finishes. These include wove, which is quite smooth and without much visible texture; vellum, which has more of a “tooth” or roughness; eggshell, which has a bit of a puckered surface; and antique, which has a rough surface. All of these share a common trait. They have no surface coating (a coating of clay and other chemicals and binders, which allows the ink to sit up on the surface of the press sheet more than it seeps into the paper fibers). This is called ink “hold-out.” It makes for a crisper look. Ink that has soaked into uncoated stock will dull down as it dries. This is not a bad thing. It’s just something you need to expect, and in my client’s client’s case (the restaurateur), it will provide a textured, earthy feel to the printed piece.)

Pricing the Job

The commercial printing vendor was able to gang up a number of copies of the hang-tags on a press sheet (even on his relatively small presses, which are close to 20”x 28” in format, as I recall, although I could be off a bit). This is in contrast to the much larger presses owned by big print shops that might take a 28” x 40” press sheet or larger. Such a press would allow for ganging up even more hang-tags on a single press sheet.

As simple a job as this seems, it involves die cutting. That is, the edges of the card on one side will be trimmed diagonally, and there will be a hole for tying the tag onto the restaurant’s boxes or other items (when the tags are not taped on).

The printer noted that if the job had a much smaller print run, it might be possible to use a router table to do the die cutting (onsite, at the printer), but this would get expensive as quantity (and therefore time for the die cutting) goes up, so for a 10,000-copy press run of hang-tags, the printer said he would need to create a die.

For the printing part of the job, this custom printing supplier would charge about $400. I thought this was quite reasonable. However, the cost of a metal die, produced by an outside vendor, would add an additional $588. This cost would include the custom metal die ($240) and the actual process of die cutting the hang-tags ($348).

To put this in context, a metal die cutting rule is cut, bent into its intended shape, inserted into a wood backing, and then placed in a dedicated die cutting press (like a converted letterpress). The stamping process of this particular kind of press (which is different from an offset lithographic press) cuts out the shape of the hang-tag (its diagonal edges, for instance) all the way around the tag, and the waste paper is pulled away from the tags. The die is made by an outside vendor, and then it is used by the vendor to do the die cutting.

The custom printing vendor did note that the cost to make the die was a one-time charge (the $240). When my client reprinted the job (which would be likely, since the restaurateur’s hang-tags would be used on every product not brought to a restaurant table), the only charges would be for the printing and die cutting processes (since the metal die rule would be kept for the restaurateur’s later use). Over time this would save a lot of money. In addition, the printing cost for 10,000 hang-tags would presumably be lower than pricing from other vendors (to be confirmed).

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. The first thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the smallest job is more complex than you might think. A hang-tag usually needs to be die cut by a subcontractor. This raises the cost of the project. It also reduces your printer’s control over the job schedule. That said, most printers don’t have this capability in-house.
  2. No one knows more about a printer’s specific equipment than the printer himself. When the printer I approached suggested that I not die cut 100# text paper (and instead choose a 65# or 80# uncoated cover sheet), I took this advice very seriously. To me it means that if I choose the 100# text stock, the printer could have mechanical problems, and I probably won’t like the results.
  3. Making dies is expensive, but the printing industry is gradually moving toward laser die cutting. This will eliminate the need for metal dies as well as the storage of these dies. You may want to to keep abreast of developments in laser die cutting and creasing.
  4. Anything other than right angles will probably require a die (such as a front-cover window knock-out on a presentation cover, or the pockets on a presentation folder). For simple jobs with very short runs, your printer may be able to use a router table. You may want to ask. But for long jobs, the unit cost will be cheaper for the die. That said, if you pick a standard design for a pocket folder (or another job involving die cutting), you may be able to use an existing die. (Of course, this might mean changing your initial design plans in order to save the money by not creating a custom die.) It never hurts to ask.

Custom Printing: Designing a Logo for an Asphalt Paver

Monday, January 7th, 2019

When the driveway paving person came up to our house a few days ago to retrieve a coroplast sign he had inadvertently left behind, he said he was glad my fiancee and I hadn’t thrown it away. He said the signs had been expensive.

Being a custom printing broker, I said I might be able to get them for less than he had been paying. The words just came out. “One seller to another,” I said. “I’m a commercial printing salesperson.”

So we sat down to discuss what he had, and what he needed. The coroplast lawn sign quickly morphed into magnetic signs for the sides of his trucks, a complete vehicle wrap for one of his vans, coffee mugs, hats, and the jewel in the crown of it all: a new logo. He needed a new logo to put on everything.

How I Approached the Job

During my 40-year history within the field of graphic arts and commercial printing, I have been both a designer and an art director. Therefore, I thought back to what I knew to be the best practices for designing a logo: that is, how I could give my client the most versatile and dynamic logo possible, and also help him understand how best to use it on his varied promotional materials.

To do this, I started with Google Images. I looked at hundreds of his competitors’ logos. I wanted to steep myself in all things related to driveway repaving, so I could make his new logo both fit in (be recognizable by his potential clients) and stand out (be more unique, more inspiring of trust, and more striking than his competitors’ logos).

My client had voiced an interest in putting the state flag inside the type outlines of his company name. I had made a mental note. I had also noticed that he liked my business card. Since my card is crisp, simple, and spare in its design, I also kept this in mind as I approached the next step: brainstorming and creating mock-ups.

Making Multiple Mock-Ups

Because my client liked my business card, I started his design with the same display typeface I had used for mine, Gill Sans. It is a sans serif type that includes dramatic diagonal strokes in the letterforms. You could say that it is simple, dynamic, and even “architectural.” To me it seemed appropriate for a building contractor, a company that builds physical “things.”

I started with the idea my client had voiced, putting the state flag in the outlines of the name of his company. When I tried it, the result seemed to be too complex and perhaps even unrecognizable. You couldn’t readily identify the state flag. (I knew that anything other than instant recognition would slow down the viewer, and that he or she would move on to other things.)

As an alternative, which would still address my client’s stated goals, I created a rectangular cropping of the flag blowing in the wind. This gave the image a sense of movement. On top of this image of the flag I placed the title of my client’s business. The first word I set in all capital letters, flush right (white, reversed out of the flag). The second word (“asphalt”), I set in all lowercase letters, also flush right. I tightened up the leading so both words (both lines of flush-right type) would read as a single unit, and so the visual outline of the two words would be a simple geometric form.

I did all of this first in black-only type over a grayscale image. I wanted the design to work in its simplest form. When it worked, I knew I could always add color. In fact, what I did next was duplicate the logo and replace the black-and-white flag with a slightly ghosted, full-color image, with the flag in the same position, so my client would have two options of this version from which to choose.

I had said I would give my client three options, so I took the type treatment I had created and placed it on a different background. In this case I created a picture box filled with a photo of asphalt. (You might be surprised at the variety and interest you can find in a photo of asphalt. There were changes in tone as well as a number of identifiable rocks in the image.)

At the same time, this made for a simple but very tactile, textural background. I reversed the first word in my client’s company name (all caps, as before, and flush right to be somewhat different from all the other logos). Then I created an asphalt gray color for the second word in his logo (again, also flush right). At this point I had a black-and-white-only logo. I thought this might be striking, since all the other logos included a lot of color. To create visual interest and contrast, I then added an abstract image of a road (a wide, black line with a bright red, dashed line on top of it). This I placed immediately above the first word of my client’s company name, the all-uppercase name of the state in which his business operated.

As a variant, I removed the black solid line but kept the red dashed line, crossing the photo from left to right and ending at the logotype. The photo of the asphalt added texture, and the splash of red added drama. At this point I had two options (with an alternate version for each).

Since my fiancee is an artist, she wanted to provide a third option to round out our offerings. So we took a map of the state, at her suggestion, and scanned it. The outline was readily recognizable. Over this we placed the logotype (both words, with the state name still in all caps and the second name of the company in lowercase letters). For all three versions of the logo, we decided to stick with the same typeface.

Over the image of the map we placed the “A” for Asphalt (the second word in the company name) in bright red. Then we wrapped the two words of the company name around this “A.” The “A” was large enough that the touch of bright red anchored the viewer’s eye on the “A,” which looked curiously just like a red plastic cone used by asphalt pavers to warn oncoming traffic. The bright red “A” also acted as a visual hook, and the remaining text, nestled in tightly against the side of the “A,” all hung together as a single unit.

So we now had a third option for our client, the name of the company over a screened-back shape of the state in which his business operated.

The next step will be to send him PDFs of the logos for his initial feedback.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make sure the logo you create is relevant. It’s easy to make something look attractive or even striking, but if it does not relate to the client’s business, it will not stick in your client’s (or her or his client’s) mind. Make sure that what the logo means and how it looks are congruent.
  2. The best way to start is to look at the competition. Use Google Images, and you’ll have more ideas than you’ll ever want. The goal will just be to do something completely different that stands out but that also looks like it’s for the same kind of business. This isn’t easy.
  3. Think in terms of simplicity. The logo will need to be recognizable in both small (on business cards) and large (on signage) formats. Simplicity is the key. That’s why it’s also good to see how it will look in black and white only, as well as in color. You never know. Someone might still have a fax machine.
  4. Choose fonts that relate to the tone or “feel” of your client’s company: its vision, purpose, and values. For instance, if it’s a traditional business, like a law firm, consider an Old Style font. Or if it’s a builder, maybe a slab serif typeface would be more appropriate.
  5. Create multiple iterations of the logo. If your ideas are working, you might want to take one element (like the typeface) into the next version just to see how it looks. If not, try other typefaces or other treatments. Try versions with photos, and then try versions with type only. Or create options with type and simple icons.

These are just a few ideas. Creating logos is a subject that could fill a bookcase full of books and take a lifetime to master. But the best way to start is to find logos you like–and particularly those that pertain to your client’s field of expertise—and try to determine why they work. (I call this “deconstructing” the logo: asking myself what it is trying to do and how it is achieving this goal.) Then go and make some of your own.

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