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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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Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

A client of mine regularly prints decks of small fashion color cards that are bound with a screw and post assembly. They are very much like a PMS swatch book. My client’s clients use these small books to help them choose clothing and make-up that match their complexion. My client reprints this job maybe four times a year, and I have brokered this commercial printing job for almost five years.

So this is a nice little job for my client, the printer, and me (as the custom printing broker).

Just recently my client decided to expand her offerings based on her proprietary color system. She now wants to print color chin cards with little curved notches die cut for the chin. This will essentially place the 8.5” x 11” color swatch sheet (huge in comparison to the original, approximately 1.5” x 3.5” color swatches) up against the subject’s face, where it will be easy to determine whether the color does or does not “work” for make up or clothing.

In each set, there will be 66 colors. On the front of the card, the digital press will print the full-bleed color swatch, and on the back of each card there will be a description and any other information my client wants to add. Unlike my client’s small color swatch book, these 66 sheets will not be bound. They will be loose but collated in a specific order.

Following, here are some of the issues that are arising as the job progresses. I thought they may be object lessons for you if you ever do similar design and custom printing work.

How to Spec Loose Pages

My client’s color swatch book is bound with a screw and post assembly. In contrast, the color chin cards are not bound at all. When I listed specifications for the swatch book, I noted that it comprised 118 pages, with 4-color process ink on the front and black-ink-only on the back. In contrast, for the chin cards, this is how I specified the job: 66 leaves (front and back, printed with 4-color process ink on the front and black on the back). The word “leaves” implies one piece of paper, front and back. If you are printing anything like a book that will not be bound, use this language in your spec sheet. You may also want to add the words “loose sheets” and “unbound.” In short, the more precise you are, the more accurate your printer’s estimate will be. In contrast, if you’re specifying the page count for a bound print book, each side of each “leaf” is one page (a right-hand page is called a “recto” and a left-hand page is called a “verso”).

Laminating Both Sides of My Client’s Chin Cards

The chin cards will be much larger than the 1.5” x 3.5” swatch cards. In addition, they may be used in damp environments such as bathrooms. If the back of the tiny color swatch book pages were to get a little damp, it is unlikely that they would curl, even though they are laminated on only one side. After all, when the book is not fanned open, all of the pages press on each other due to the tension of the screw and post binding. In contrast, the 8.5” x 11” chin cards are all loose, large, and potentially not laminated on one side. In spite of my client’s requested specification (to laminate one side), I suggested that she still ask for an additional price to laminate the back of each card. This extra lamination would seal up each individual color card. No moisture would be able to get in to the paper, so even if the collection of 66 pages is used in the bathroom to choose make-up and clothes, there will be no chance of curling. I expect this will cost an additional $250-$300, depending on the overall press run (how many sets of 66 cards she orders).

Producing a Prototype (Sidestepping Potential Problems)

This job will be printed on an HP Indigo. I already have preliminary estimates from three printers. One of them will print one set for $100. Another will print one set for $400. You would think this choice would be a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, I have reminded my client that the printer with the higher price has successfully produced the smaller color swatch books for a number of years (for a reasonable price). This printer’s color accuracy and color consistency from reprint to reprint have been excellent. In contrast, the printer offering the $100 price has had color problems in the past. In addition, there have been bubbles under the lamination (gassing off of the HP liquid toners trapped under the lamination).

You might argue that my client should buy the prototype from the lower-prised vendor and then the final press run from the higher priced vendor (to ensure the quality of the final press run). I would disagree. After all, what good would it be to have an inexpensive prototype that might not match the color of the final copies?

So there are three object lessons here:

  1. Not all color digital presses at all printers produce exactly the same colors. This is even true when you compare output from the same brand of digital press located at different printers.
  2. Therefore, printing a prototype at one printer and then printing final copies of the chin cards at another printer might lead to inconsistent color.
  3. Always start with a hard-copy proof of a job. Screen proofs do not reflect accurate color. There are too many variables, including the commercial printing technology you’re using (digital vs. offset), the ambient light around the monitor on which you are reviewing the screen proofs, etc. Once your printer has produced a color-accurate proof, you can use screen proofs (virtual proofs, PDF proofs) for all subsequent reprints of the job.

Making a Mock Up for the Printer

Finally, my client’s job has a die cut space for her client’s chin. In a case like this, a printer will ask, “Where should the die cut be positioned?” and “How large should it be?”

I suggested that my client use any program she preferred (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) and draw a mock-up showing exactly where to start the die cut (2.5” from the top of one long side), and how wide (6” in diameter) and how deep (2.5”) it should be. This will be invaluable to the printer. It will leave nothing to the imagination.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It always helps to have a physical mock up. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Also, when you’re making the mock up, sometimes issues will arise that you hadn’t thought of before. For instance, if my client makes a physical mock-up of a chin card and it feels flimsy at that particular size, then she can adjust the paper specification (avoiding being disappointed with the final print job). (In my client’s case, we increased the paper weight from 12pt–which was the thickness of the swatch book cards–to 14pt. In addition, laminating both sides of each sheet will make her printed pages feel thicker.)
  2. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. The cheapest printer may not do the best work. Also, shifting from one printer to another for different components of a job might result in inconsistent color (particularly if some components of the job are printed digitally and others are printed via offset lithography). Usually you get what you pay for.
  3. Consider the ambient conditions in which your printed product will be used. My client’s chin cards are not unlike a menu. Both are used in damp conditions (the first with water, the second with food). Moisture can cause single-sided laminates to curl (think about print book covers you’ve seen). Paper is like a sponge, so consider sealing it up entirely by laminating both sides of certain print projects.

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