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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: Newspapers Are Still Kicking–Locally

I recently saw a number of stacks of newspapers at the gym I frequent. Being a commercial printing broker, as well as an overall student of custom printing, I grabbed a few samples thinking I would approach their production managers. Perhaps I could get a few new clients.

I thought about all the downsizings and closings of newspapers, but then I thought about all the real estate, neighborhood, leisure, and other focused newspapers I see in my travels. Here at the gym I had found a whole passel of new ones. I guess newsprint isn’t dead. Maybe it has just migrated from daily broadsheets and weekly tabloids to hyper-local newspapers.

Some Background Information on Newspaper Printing

For those of you new to designing and printing newspapers, here’s a brief primer. In many ways, newspaper printing is unlike any other commercial printing.

The Newspaper Press

Most printing presses I’ve seen used for newspaper printing are dedicated newspaper presses. Some are huge, and inking units are stacked vertically rather than horizontally as in most presses. Others look more like standard sheetfed presses, with one ink unit after another in a horizontal row.

These are web presses (roll-fed rather than sheetfed). If you watch the press operate, you’ll see a ribbon of paper (the width varies depending on the roll) streaming through the various press units, with each printing a separate color (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow). Unlike the larger web-offset magazine presses and book presses, newspaper presses are cold-set (or non-heatset) presses. These presses have no oven to flash off the solvent from the ink to make it sit up on top of a coated printing sheet as it cures. Therefore, the ink dries by absorption into the paper rather than oxidation.

Since the newspaper press is a non-heatset press, and since the ink seeps into the paper fibers of the custom printing stock and expands (dot gain) more than on other sheets, newspapers can use only the coarsest of halftone line screens (85 lpi to 100 lpi, for instance). Because the images are coarse, and because the ink spreads into the paper, newspapers have a gritty look to them. Many people like this. It lends a sense of immediacy and intimacy to the newspaper. You know you’re reading it for the content.

Newspaper Sheet Sizes

Newspapers come in various sizes, including:

  1. the broadsheet (one newspaper printer I found online notes the size of its broadsheet as 22 3/4” high by 11” to 17 1/2” wide, black or 4-color),
  2. the tabloid (the same printer notes the size as 11 3/8” wide by 11” to 17 1/2” high),
  3. and the magazine (the same printer notes 8 1/4” x 10 1/2”) stitched and trimmed, with a self-cover or a separate, heavier cover.

There are other formats, but if you buy custom printing for a newspaper, you’ll find that different printers have different presses and paper stocks and hence have different page-size constraints. It’s always best to ask about this. Some even offer the Berliner (18 1/2” x 12 2/5”), a more European format.

Newspaper Printing Stocks

Newspaper stock is cheap, thin, and full of impurities. This is usually not a problem since the useful life of a newspaper is very short. The reason this paper is volatile (subject to yellowing and becoming brittle) is that the mechanical (rather than chemical) pulping process used in its manufacture leaves an acidic sheet full of wood impurities such as lignin.

The newspaper printer’s website from which I copied the size limitations noted above lists three paper stocks for its products: 30# newsprint, 35# groundwood, and 50# offset. The newsprint and groundwood are the impure sheets noted above. However, the 50# offset is not. I would expect a much longer shelf life for this newspaper. Moreover, I would also expect a much brighter press sheet than the newsprint and groundwood, which start out with a yellowish tinge even before they have aged.

That said, since the offset sheet is only 50# text weight, I would still assume that this particular custom printing vendor runs this paper on a web press. It’s a little thin for a sheetfed press, although some printers do print 50# offset on sheetfed equipment.

Newspaper Inks

Newspaper printers offer either black-only or 4-color process ink. Moreover, depending on the configuration of their presses, newspaper printers may or may not be able to use 4-color throughout. So it’s always best to ask where you can put the 4-color pages in your particular newspaper. Don’t assume color will be available on all pages. Even if it is, you might be wise to discuss the costs of using more or less color.

Is Newspaper Printing Still Relevant?

As long as there are neighborhoods and clubs offering free newspapers and news magazines supported exclusively by advertising, mobile smartphones and tablets won’t be the only way to get news. And in selected industrial parks, dedicated newspaper printers will still continue to operate.

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