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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: An Envelope Printing-Error Update

A few PIE Blog posts ago I mentioned some corporate identity materials I had brokered for a commercial printing client. Or, rather, for her client, since she is a designer.

There had been problems with registration of toner colors that had caused both a fuzziness in the type and logo mark and also a shift in color. The items in question were a business card, a notecard with an A7 envelope, and a #10 envelope. All jobs had press runs too short for offset, so I had asked the printer to produce the jobs on his HP Indigo press.

What I Thought Had Happened

My initial response when I saw the samples was to assume the HP Indigo had been out of alignment. Under a loupe I had seen the yellow image extending out in one direction, and the cyan and magenta images extending out in two other directions. Moreover, the problems seemed most acute on the A7 envelope, and the misregistration seemed to vary from item to item (business card, A7 envelope, notecard, and #10 envelope). Because of this misalignment, the logo colors had changed a bit as well. And this was more evident and more problematic than the slightly fuzzy image.

What Really Happened

I called up the commercial printing supplier to discuss my findings and concerns. He said he would be willing to adjust the color on the digital press to get a more consistent look from item to item.

However, when I noted that I had never before seen such problems on his HP Indigo, the printer explained something I had not known. The envelopes had been printed on his color laser printer, not the Indigo. The printer explained that only cut sheet work (anything trimmed out of a 12” x 18” flat press sheet) could be printed on the HP Indigo. Envelopes could not be fed through the Indigo; therefore, they had to be produced on the color laser printer.

From prior experience I knew that color laser printers such as the Konica Minolta and Canon were good, but not quite as good as the HP Indigo. But I learned something more from the printer that concerned me. Envelopes always moved slightly in the color laser printer.

The movement of the envelopes was magnified in part because of the various layers of overlapping paper in a converted envelope (i.e., they are thicker or thinner in different places) as well as the overall looser paper feed of a digital press (in contrast to the tight paper movement in an offset press).

So the movement had caused the misregister. The envelopes had shifted when traveling from one color unit of the color laser printer to the next. And the misregister of certain colors had caused color shifts. In addition, the misregistration problem appeared to be inconsistent, but in reality the paper envelopes were just moving through the color laser printer in different ways due to the different paper thicknesses of the folded, converted envelopes.

What Makes It Worse

My client, the designer, had chosen color builds that matched two PMS colors:

Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48
Orange C=0 M=64 Y=95 K=0

to match:

PMS Blue 654
PMS Orange 158

My sense, which was confirmed by the printer, is that a color build using a large percentage of each of the four process color toners increases the risk of misregistration. This is because the color laser printer has to keep three or four images in perfect alignment to create a crisp image.

The Solution

One of the suggestions the printer made for future digital printing was to remove the yellow toner in the blue logo color mix (Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48). There would be fewer colors to keep in register, yet the viewer’s eye would probably see very little difference in the overall color build. My client plans to make this change and print a few test samples to see if there will be a noticeable difference in appearance.

A Better Solution

The commercial printing supplier also suggested a better solution. Even though a short run of envelopes (500 copies, in this case) would normally cost less if produced digitally, we could print the envelopes (as a ganged run comprising several original envelopes) on a small offset press using PMS colors. This would avoid any chance of color shifts inherent in any 4-color process work, and the overall cost would still be competitive.

This is counterintuitive. You would think that an offset press-run would cost more, but the cost of prep work and wash-ups could be spread among the multiple jobs making each one more economical.

More importantly, the PMS colors would not vary, whether or not the envelopes moved (which they wouldn’t, since the feeding mechanism of an offset press is more precise than that of a digital press). All envelope jobs would have the same color on all printed pieces.

We’ll see what happens, but this is the job’s status at the moment.

What You Can Learn

  1. If your first impulse is to blame the printer, resist it. If you approach the printer as an ally, he will most likely step up and provide a detailed explanation of what happened. He will probably explain the limits of the digital and offset printing processes, and make suggestions to remedy the problem.
  2. Ideally, you can do this before your live job goes on press. It doesn’t hurt to send a PDF of your file to the printer for feedback prior to final submission of the job. Then, if he identifies any problems, you can adjust the design to avoid any pitfalls of the technology.
  3. The printer won’t always use the equipment you think he will use. I thought the envelopes would be printed on the HP Indigo. But since the Indigo cannot print envelopes, this portion of the job went on the color laser printer. It helps to discuss this sort of thing with the printer before the job goes to press.

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