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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for February, 2019

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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