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Archive for February, 2019

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs.

In this light, I just read an article by Elizabeth Skoda on www.packagingeurope.com entitled “A New Dimension of Digital Printing.” It was published on 09/19/18. This article describes many of the features and benefits of direct-to-shape digital commercial printing. At this point the technology exists for custom printing on rigid packaging tubes and cylinders (a full 360 degrees around the tube, and from the cap to the base), avoiding the need for screen printing, flexo, and even labels. This is ideal for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries that use both plastic and aluminum packaging tubes.

Skoda’s article focuses on the Velox IDS 250, a direct-to-shape digital printer produced by Velox Ltd. As Skoda notes in her article, this “entirely new approach to digital printing…is poised to disrupt the packaging decoration market” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

Why This Is Disruptive Technology (Features and Benefits)

Velox Ltd. claims that its “decoration quality and capabilities…outstrip analogue printing solutions, while allowing a more efficient and flexible production process and a low total cost of ownership” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

More specifically, here are the features and benefits of Velox’s IDS 250 and its proprietary adaptive deposition architecture (ADA) and variable viscosity ink (VVI):

  1. The IDS 250 prints directly on rigid, cylindrical packaging containers, sidestepping the need for labels.
  2. It allows for both low volume and high volume printing.
  3. It requires only minimal make-ready time.
  4. It is fast, decorating up to 250 packaging containers per minute.
  5. The IDS 250 can incorporate up to 15 colors and embellishments in a single press run, including both inks and coatings, and in particular including tactile coating treatments.
  6. The equipment prints high-resolution, photo-realistic images.
  7. The IDS 250 can print from the base all the way to the cap of a packaging tube, with no visible seam.

Prior Technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to direct-to-shape commercial printing (or more specifically, prior to Velox’s IDS 250), a print shop could mass produce decorated packaging tubes using the following technologies: dry offset, screen printing, and flexography. All of these required considerable set-up time and effort. Therefore, they were cost-effective only for longer runs. In contrast, the IDS 250 can produce quality comparable to the analogue methods, albeit with faster make-readies, faster and therefore more economical production runs, and the ability to vary the content of the custom printing.

Here are a number of benefits that even surpass the quality and flexibility of the prior analogue methods:

  1. You can print on the packaging tube, its “shoulder,” and its cap. That is, all surfaces of the product packaging can incorporate the design. Therefore, you have a larger, more dramatic “canvas” on which to print your marketing message. In most cases, prior custom printing technology could not achieve this look.
  2. You can print on the seam of the packaging tube. In addition, you can not only cover the entire tube; you can do so without overlapping any portion of the design (as was necessary with prior analogue technologies).
  3. You have all the flexibility of digital custom printing. That is, you can produce a prototype packaging tube (a one-off product), then show the prototype to your client, then make any required changes, and then produce the entire print run. Unlike prior digital printing options, you can even produce a long final run, since the Velox IDS 250 can print 250 containers per minute.
  4. As with other digital technologies, you can personalize your decorated packaging tubes. For example, you can make each one unique, incorporating the recipient’s name into the design. Or you can target a specific demographic with a short print run, or perhaps create a seasonal product that also has a short run. Unlike analogue printing, digital direct-to-shape printing can be cost-effective with short runs as well as long ones.
  5. Velox’s IDS 250 incorporates so many ink colors (up to 15 colors and embellishments) that it can reflect a much wider color gamut than traditional analogue methods can achieve. Therefore, you can match more PMS colors (for corporate logos, for instance), and also you can print colors of amazing vibrancy.
  6. The textured coatings available on the Velox IDS 250 add a tactile dimension that in many cases was unavailable with prior analogue printing methods. These include matte, glossy, and embossed coatings incorporating raised particles. Such coatings add another element that can enhance the customer’s emotional experience and bond with the product and the brand.
  7. According to Skoda’s article, the Velox IDS 250 will provide “full functionality on any material or coating” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).
  8. Overall, this means you can focus exclusively on the creative message rather than on the limitations of either the custom printing method or the printing substrate. At the same time, you can reap the marketing benefits of precise targeting and personalization in order to strengthen the bond between the customer and the product.
  9. At best, all of this used to be achievable only by printing and applying digital labels. Now it is available digitally (without labels) within a cost-effective structure that allows for consummate flexibility and creativity. And unlike many other digital custom printing technologies, the process can also accommodate longer production runs.

What You Can Learn From This New Technology

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Packaging is clearly a growth industry within the realm of commercial printing. Given that direct-to-shape (DTS) digital printing has been making the aforementioned strides, it seems that DTS might even capture work from the custom label market. Furthermore, according to Skoda’s article, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are two major markets for DTS technology.
  2. With this in mind, I think it behooves both creative designers and larger commercial printing vendors to closely study the following: digital printing, direct-to-shape printing, marketing, personalization, and “big-data” analysis.

I think the future will be all about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and then using digital technology to speak directly to her or him in a way that engages the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.

Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

Monday, February 18th, 2019

I still do some design work each year. Not as much as when I was an art director, but enough to keep my skills up and stay current with new technology. In addition to the extra money this affords, it also keeps me alert to the same issues PIE Blog readers who are designers must address each day.

At the moment, I’m completing a print book of essays for a local university. I’m just about to upload it to the book printer. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing for this particular commercial printing vendor and some ways other printers might address the same steps.

The Cover File

When producing art files for print books, I used to prepare the front cover (to size, whether 8.5” x 11” or 6” x 9” or whatever format was appropriate), the back cover, and spine separately. I then asked the book printer to determine the spine width and stitch all three pieces together into one file. I’m sure I paid for this assistance.

Now I ask the printer to determine the spine width based on the caliper of the paper. For instance, if the uncoated book paper used for the text is 60# in weight, it might have a caliper (or paper thickness) specification of 450 ppi. This means 450 “pages per inch,” so a 100-page text block would require a spine that is .222” thick.

In the case of the book of essays I’m producing, I created one art file containing a rectangle broken into three pieces with crop marks on the four edges and fold marks at the top and bottom of the combined book cover (back cover, spine, front cover) to indicate the placement and width of the spine. Then I extended the cover background color (turquoise, based on percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) one-eighth of an inch beyond the outer trim margin of the cover. This I did to account for bleeds.

This is a specific approach to the combined book cover. In contrast, for the interior book pages, which need to be imposed separately as PDF files (as per the printer specs), I omitted the crop marks, designed the pages separately, and pulled any bleeds out beyond the page trim.

More importantly, I created the book pages to size (6” x 9”), in contrast to the combined panels for the cover file components, all of which fit on a much larger single-page InDesign file.

This approach is based on the way the printer will actually produce the cover on press. It will all fit on a single press sheet (possibly multiple times side by side, depending on the size of the press sheet). In contrast, the interior book pages will not be repeated on a press sheet because there are 98 pages (in contrast to the single back panel, spine, and front panel of the cover).

You may say that a 98-page book is not a multiple of 4-, 8-, or 16-page press signatures. In this case the book will be produced on a digital press, which can handle single leaves (the front and back of a book page). So I did not have to compose the book in full 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures, as I would have done if the book had a longer press run. (I will only need 42 copies of the book, so digital commercial printing is appropriate. If my client had required 500 copies of the print book, it would need to be reproduced via offset lithography.)

To further complicate matters, some book printers might produce the covers via offset lithography, if I needed 300 copies (for instance), and then print the interior text blocks digitally. This might yield a higher quality of cover printing. But for 42 copies, digital is the only option.

The final file for the cover (an InDesign file) must be distilled into a high-quality, press-ready PDF file and then uploaded to the printer’s FTP site. He has asked for a PDF rather than a native InDesign file. Some printers might prefer a native InDesign file with fonts in order to correct any problems with the cover without needing to reject a file and have me correct it. In contrast, this printer wants the PDF. He also wants it to be 300 dpi minimum, single pages (not page spreads), and without crop marks.

The cover crop marks in my case are part of the file, not added in the making of the PDF. I left them in to indicate placement and bleeds. The prepress operator at the book printer can (and probably will) delete the crop marks on his (or her) computer prior to imposing the job (setting up the press form for a certain number of covers side by side on the press sheet).

Prior to distilling the file into a PDF, I will check for any errors (InDesign has a preflight function), make sure I have not included any extraneous colors in the file, and check for any unused fonts. Then I will distill the file as a press-ready PDF.

In your own work, don’t assume you will be doing exactly what I did. Another book printer I work with has his own preferences file for InDesign that will adjust additional PDF options such as bleeds, additional printer’s marks, downsampling specifications, etc. This InDesign PDF preferences file becomes a part of the final PDF without requiring the user to check multiple options in five or more screens’ worth of PDF preparation information.

Fortunately, this particular book printer does not require this level of detail. In your own work, ask your printer for his PDF-creation guidelines to ensure that the files you send him will print. Also, rest assured that he will preflight your files and let you know if any errors have been flagged. So you will know where you stand before the hard-copy proof arrives at your office.

The Text File

The text of the book of essays I’m preparing will be easy to distill because there are no photos, bleed colors (areas of color that extend beyond the page trim), or anything else beyond simple text. So I will be able to save the pages at the 6” x 9” size, as individual pages (not spreads), without crop marks (as requested by the book printer).

Again, if this were another printer (as noted above), he might very well provide an InDesign preferences file that would check off all the specific choices that fit his workflow, prior to my distilling the InDesign art file into a press-ready PDF.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Own Work

  1. The main thing to remember is to ask your printer for all PDF-creation information that will make your hand-off of book art files as flawless as possible, based on his specific hardware, imposition software, and workflow. Then follow this information religiously, to the letter.
  2. Ask to be informed when the PDF files have passed preflight. Learn from any mistakes you make, but also remember that they may be pertinent to only this particular printer.
  3. Get a hard-copy proof, and check for complete copy, placement of color, quality of halftones, etc. I personally think it’s easier to miss something on a virtual proof (screen-only PDF) even for something as simple as a black-ink-only book. And it’s always better to catch the errors in the proof rather than the printed copy, so I personally look at the cost of the hard-copy proof as an investment rather than a cost.
  4. The best kind of proof to get if your project will be produced digitally is a bound proof. For the job I’m working on, the printer will provide a single bound proof on the same text and cover paper as the final job. That means I will see exactly what the final job will look like. I will see whether the type will align perfectly on the book cover spine. I will see how the cover color will look. There will be nothing “virtual” about the proof. It will be exactly what the readers will see and hold in their hands. This can’t be beat. Fortunately it has been worked into the price (which was most competitive).

Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I attended a freelance group meeting yesterday. Most members were writers and designers, some of whom I had known for two decades. One of the designers, who had been a director of publications at a non-profit before venturing out on her own, showed us several PDFs (on her computer) of the booklet designs she had done in the 1980s, 1990s, and recently.

It was most interesting to see the differences among the samples, both from the point of view of how publication design has changed in twenty years and also in terms of the changes made to facilitate reading on current media.

My Colleague’s Design Samples (and the Basis for Her Design Approaches)

In the 1980s my colleague designed booklets with 4-color covers. But between the covers, my client’s print books were black-ink-only products with designs based on text and photos. Overall, the two-column print book interiors were formal in design. As a flourish, in certain cases she had used “caps and small caps” for the titles, which provided a classic tone. (“Caps and small caps” means there are large capital letters at the beginning of each word, and subsequent letters in each word are typeset in uppercase letters but of a slightly smaller point size than the initial letter.)

My client’s more recent samples (between five and ten years old) still included full-color cover treatments, but they also included generous use of process color in the text of the print books. My colleague explained her design decision in this way. The cost of printing process color had been higher when she had designed the first sample books with only 4-color covers and black-ink-only interior text blocks. To meet budget, then, she put all of her dramatic images and color on the book covers to grab the reader’s attention.

By the time my colleague was designing the books with both 4-color covers and 4-color text blocks, the presses at the printers she used had more color units (six or eight), so she could not only add more color, but she could also add multiple coatings to the book covers or use PMS colors to maintain color consistency from press signature to press signature (for background, full-bleed solid colors and screens that had to match exactly on all pages). By this time (five to ten years ago), all of this technology (plus inline spectrophotometers and closed-loop color correction) was available and affordable through her printers. For this reason, the quality and consistency of color in her samples improved, and she could do far fewer press checks to maintain this quality.

New Design Approaches and New Technology

What I found most interesting was the shift from these samples to the next ones, the most recent books my colleague had designed (again, for the same non-profit foundation, although at this point she was freelancing for the same organization).

These new books were much more sparse in their design. There were a lot of 4-color photos but no bleeds and no heavy-coverage color solids. Interestingly enough, the overall design was simpler and cleaner. There were also no background screens of color. The type, for the most part, was sans serif. Even the headlines were set in a simple, bold, and readable sans serif typeface.

She explained her design choices as follows:

  1. At the present moment, most of her book designs existed only online. There was no print version, so there was no inventory of print books. Clients could either read the books online or print out selected pages on their own desktop printers.
  2. Therefore, the goal was online readability. Even though serif typefaces in print books have been more legible (traditionally) then sans serif typefaces, the opposite is true on the computer screen. The simplicity of the sans serif typefaces my colleague had chosen improved their legibility, but it also gave the books an austere, modern “look.”
  3. Most of the clients who downloaded PDF versions of the books could not print bleeds. There were always white margins surrounding the image area on each page. Therefore, the current book designs had no bleeds. Although this was a functional design choice, it nevertheless made the book design seem simpler, lighter, and more crisp. I liked the simplicity. When I thought further, I realized that by removing the background screens, solid colors, and bleeds, my colleague had not only simplified the book design, but she had also provided much more background white space. And since white space on a back-lit computer screen brightens the entire virtual book design, everything looked light, airy, and bold.

What You Can Learn from This

These few samples spoke volumes about the changes that have taken place in print book design over the past twenty years, based in large part on the way we read and the devices on which we read. Here are some thoughts.

In your own work, design appropriately for the device on which your reader will consume the material. Back-lit screens tire the eyes eventually, and a lot of people still like the feel of a paper print book. Choose your printing paper wisely to enhance the look and the readability (consider the brightening effects of a blue-white press sheet, for instance).

Alternately, if you’re designing for online reading, consider simplifying the design, increasing the space between lines of type (the leading), and increasing contrast between heads and text. If your heads are in color, make sure they are not too light in value.

For my colleague’s clients, a third approach was necessary. The book pages had to look good when printed on desktop printing equipment. This involved making sure a black and white laser print would produce high quality black and white photos from color originals. (The PDF versions were in color, and many readers would print their pages on color inkjet equipment, but other readers who only had laser printers could only produce monochrome versions of the book pages.)

In your own work, the best way to ensure readability is to print out a few pages on an inkjet printer and a black and white laser printer and then confirm their readability. Or, if you’re designing for computer-only reading, you may want to view a PDF of the file on multiple platforms (a large computer screen, a laptop screen, a tablet screen, and a smartphone screen, for instance).

No matter how you present your book, the first goal is legibility. If the reader has to work hard to read your book, or if your reader’s eyes tire due to the back-lighting, she or he will stop reading. Even something as simple as whether to use a single-column or two-column layout can affect readability on a screen-only (or screen-first) book. (Think about it. If you scroll down to read a column of text, and then you must scroll the screen in the opposite direction to come back up to the top of the next column, you might just stop reading.)

Custom Printing: A Primer on Embossing

Monday, February 4th, 2019

I was doing research on embossing yesterday, and I found an article that summarized just about everything I had ever read on the subject, so I thought it would be good to share it with all PIE Blog readers. It is entitled “The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing,” and it was posted by Rikard on www.zevendesign.com on 06/14/16. The article discusses what embossing is, how it’s done, what kinds of presses you can use, types of dies you can use, metals used for the dies, counter dies, embossing applications and options, and preparing artwork for embossing.

Here’s a synopsis:

What Is Embossing?

Embossing is a physical finishing process (done after custom printing) that raises a design on the surface of the printing paper above the surrounding paper. A design can also be recessed below the surrounding surface of the paper. This is called debossing. One can perform embossing by itself or pair this process with offset commercial printing, application of paper coatings, or foil stamping.

Embossing is done by pressing the printing paper between a metal die and an epoxy or paper counter die. The die has a single-level, multi-level, or varied-level (also called sculpted) image recessed into the metal. The counter die pushes the paper up into the metal die, molding the paper surface and creating the raised effect.

Embossing does not usually provide a deep impression. Rikard’s article notes that an embossed design usually is only (on average) about 1/64th of an inch deep.

When you want to deboss, rather than emboss, a design, you switch the die and counter die. In this case, as noted above, the design is recessed below the surrounding paper.

What Kinds of Presses Do Embossing?

Rikard lists several types of presses that can handle the pressure (and in some cases heat) necessary for embossing along with their benefits.

A clamshell press opens and closes like a clam and presses the paper between the die and counter die (positioned on either side of the press). It is easy to set up this press and change dies, so it lends itself to short runs of embossing. The Kluge is an example of this kind of press.

A straight stamp press brings the die straight down onto the paper. A straight stamp press takes longer to set up than a clamshell press, but the embossing process goes more quickly, so this kind of press is good for longer embossing runs.

A roll press is similar to an offset press. That is, it has an embossing die mounted on a roller, and paper is fed through the press and under the die. It takes much longer to prepare a roll press for embossing, and the dies themselves are more expensive to create, but the embossing process is much faster than with a clamshell or straight stamp press, so a roll press is the best choice for much longer embossing runs (hundreds of thousands or millions of copies).

Types of Dies

According to Rikard’s article, dies can be made from magnesium, copper, brass, or steel.

A single-level die raises the surface of the paper at only one level.

A multi-level die raises the surface of the paper to multiple levels. It can be prepared by machine (without hand-tooling). It is often created from brass, since brass is very durable.

A beveled-edge die is like a single-level die, but it has a slanted edge (30 or 60 degrees). This process can be used to create very deep dies to keep them from cutting through the commercial printing paper.

A chisel die has no flat bottom, just two edges that come to a point.

A textured die has an etched texture. It has a single level, but it is good for textured images and organic patterns.

A domed die is rounded (in contrast to the “V” shape of the chisel die).

A sculpted die includes multiple levels, curves, and angles at different depths. This process is very complex and requires hand tooling.

A combination die (also called a foil emboss die) achieves both embossing and foil stamping in a single step. However, as Rikard’s article notes, every element of the design that is embossed is also foil stamped (you can’t treat different portions of the design differently).

Metals for Dies

Magnesium is the least expensive metal for an embossing die, but it is also the least durable, lasting for only five to ten thousand impressions (and easily destroyed with a single paper misfeed). It costs half as much as copper and one fourth as much as brass. It is used for single-level dies.

Copper is also used for single-level dies. But it will last for up to 100,000 impressions. Both magnesium and copper can be etched with an acid bath to produce these single-level embossing designs.

Brass is used for multi-level and sculpted dies, and also for combination dies used for both embossing and foil stamping. Brass is much more durable than magnesium and copper, but it is two or three times as expensive as copper.

Rikard notes that “for most common emboss applications, copper dies are the best choice. Not significantly more expensive than magnesium dies, they will last longer and won’t be ruined by a paper jam. Magnesium dies are good for prototypes, due to their low cost and fast turnaround…. Brass dies are a necessity for combo, multi-level, or sculpted dies” (“The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing”).

Dies and Counter Dies

The die itself is made from the metals previously described. Their counter dies, however, are made from either epoxy or paper. In either case, the die is pressed into the counter die material to make a reverse impression. The paper counter die (which is good for short runs) is easily and quickly formed from the die with the heat and pressure of the process.

Rikard notes that “Because an emboss die is metal, the only control you have during the stamping process is the make-ready [the counter die]. By building it up or shaving it down in certain areas you can deepen, soften, or eliminate areas of emboss” (“The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing”). Basically, you can selectively adjust the overall embossing effect without remaking the die by altering the counter die (or make-ready).

Embossing Applications

A blind emboss involves raising the level of the paper but not applying foil or adding offset printing to enhance the design. This is a subtle effect.

A registered emboss involves aligning a printed image or a foiled image with the embossed image.

A combination emboss involves embossing and foil stamping the same design. This is achieved with one sculpted brass die in one operation.

Preparing the Artwork for Embossing

Rikard notes that the prime directive in embossing is to provide artwork in vector format, using Illustrator or InDesign. Raster-based artwork (produced in an application like Photoshop) will create a jagged edge in the metal die that will cut through the paper.

Rikard also notes that embossing is the final step in the “finishing” process that follows the commercial printing process. That is, you can’t laminate or spot coat an embossed design.

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