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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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: Flexible Package Printing Samples

November 19th, 2018

Posted in Packaging | 4 Comments »

I’ve read a lot about flexible package printing recently. It is a vibrant element of a quickly expanding arena of commercial printing (i.e., package printing in general).

Packaging isn’t going anywhere. Newspapers may fold, and magazines may go online. Some people may prefer e-readers to print books. But as long as products in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments compete with each other for the consumer’s attention (i.e., their dollars), package printing will thrive. (Think about a store with packages that have no labels or graphics. It’s not going to happen.)

In this light, earlier this week my fiancee sent me some photos she had taken of unique flexible packaging that looks like a mason jar. She also tore the back cover off a magazine to give me because it has a tip-on Chanel perfume container fugitive glued to a Chanel ad.

What Is Flexible Packaging?

So what’s this all about? What is flexible packaging?

The Flexible Packaging Association defines flexible packaging in the following way on “Typically taking the shape of a bag, pouch, liner, or overwrap, flexible packaging is defined as any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed.” That is, the contents of flexible packaging can be squeezed out, and the container can be resealed and rolled up or squished up to take up less space. It’s not rigid.

It has the following benefits:

  • “From ensuring food safety and extending shelf life, to providing even heating, barrier protection, ease of use, resealability and superb printability, the industry continues to advance at an unprecedented rate.” (
  • “Innovation and technology have enabled flexible packaging manufacturers to use fewer natural resources in the creation of their packaging, and improvements in production processes have reduced water and energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and volatile organic compounds.” (
  • “Even more, lighter-weight flexible packaging results in less transportation-related energy and fossil fuel consumption, and environmental pollution.” (

The Samples: Faux Mason Jar and Chanel Perfume “Bottle”

Let’s get back to the samples my fiancee gave me and discuss why they work.

The first sample is packaging for a chocolate cookie mix. It is a soft version of a mason jar, the kind used for canning fruits and vegetables. It has precise detail in its lid as well as specular highlights that make the faux glass of the jar look like real glass and the metal top (which is really just foil) look like rigid metal. A fine artist would say the design is a good example of “trompe l’oeil.” (Wikipedia defines trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”) In the case of this flexible packaging, the image of the mason jar appears to be three dimensional when it is really only composed of a front and a back foil panel.

From an emotional point of view, the packaging brings to mind a simpler time when we grew and canned or bottled our own products. It evokes thoughts of really good cookies that were made at home from quality ingredients. Presumably this will interest those consumers who grew up making cookies in their own oven. This is the emotional hook.

What makes this sample of flexible packaging special is two-fold. There is a bit of humor in the double-take it provokes. (It looks like a cylindrical mason jar, but it’s really only flat, flexible packaging.) For those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it also is a nod to Pop Art or, more specifically, to those soft sculptures of everyday consumer products such as Claes Oldenburg’s huge fabric ice bag from the 1970s. In that case and in other similar works, by making the art much larger than usual or by using unexpected materials (like a hamburger made out of cloth), the artist gets us to look at an object from contemporary culture in a different way, as a piece of art in and of itself.

In the case of the flexible packaging mason jar of cookie mix, what makes it unique is the initial recognition of the jar, and then the realization that it is not as it seems. The consumer sees it on the shelf and stops, and then looks again. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Now the Chanel box.

I just pulled the Chanel box off its backing (the back interior cover of the magazine), and, upon closer inspection, it seems to be a printed bottle of perfume. It has a vertical pull-tab that brings up a small nozzle. When I squeeze the box, the flexible bag inside is compressed, and a stream of perfume exits through the spray nozzle, bringing an irresistible note of high-fashion to my nose.

I think it’s intriguing because it is a functional product. Granted it is small, so the reader of the magazine will be compelled to go out and buy a large bottle if she likes the perfume. But more than that, it is a reader “involvement” device. You do something, and you get the product—all in the comfort of your home. You don’t need to drive to the department store and test perfume from the sample bottles. This creates an intimate moment. It’s just you and Chanel. And all of this would not be possible without flexible packaging. The little foil pouch in the fold-over Chanel box fugitive glued to the magazine cover makes this possible.

How Do You Print on These Packages?

I thought about this packaging film, and I made the assumption that offset commercial printing would not be an option. I assumed that maintaining the dimensional stability of such foils would be impossible given the pressure of the offset press rollers.

I found the answer to my quandry on the Consolidated Label website, which references its new 10-unit flexographic press as being ideal for flexible packaging. Elsewhere I read that inkjet equipment could also be used for such package printing, and still elsewhere I saw a reference to using rotogravure printing for flexible packaging.

Notably, the research I did touted the benefits of UV-cured inks for flexible packaging, since they “dry” instantly when exposed to UV light and since they therefore adhere well to non-porous materials such as packaging film.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Package printing is a growing industry. Therefore, if you’re a designer, a print buyer, or a print sales professional, it behooves you to read as much as you can about the subject.
  2. Flexible packaging can be unique. It can catch the eye of the consumer. It also provides a large “canvas” on which to display the advertising graphics: much more than the space provided by a stick-on label. This leads to more consumer interest and more sales.
  3. Flexible packaging takes fewer resources to make. It is usually recyclable. It takes up less space in transit to retailers and on the display shelf as well. And it is resealable. In addition, it is not permeable (nothing can contaminate the food or other substance it contains). This means it provides superior “barrier protection,” which makes the FDA happy and also keeps you healthy.

Posted in Packaging | 4 Comments »

Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

November 12th, 2018

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Three of my clients have print jobs in some stage of production at commercial printing shops. One client just uploaded stationery materials to one printer. Another client has a perfect-bound print book of essays on press. And a third client has a color swatch book at a third printer.

If you are a print broker or designer, you may be in a similar position. It is all too easy to move on to other work and take your eye off the ball. These jobs may be done in terms of your designing and producing press-ready art, but there are still a lot of things you need to attend to in order to ensure success.

The Book of Essays

One client has produced a print book of essays for a local university. Actually, I myself designed the book for her and also brokered the custom printing. My client has a firm deadline for delivery of final books. She has a public reading of her students’ essays in early December. (As I write this, it is early November, and the proof will be in my hands tomorrow.) The printer committed to a five- to seven-day turn-around for the proof, and a seven- to ten-day turn-around for the final print books.

This schedule seems wonderfully short for a perfect-bound book, but it bears close attention. It is also a good object lesson for PIE Blog readers. The scheduled five to seven days for a proof began when I uploaded press-ready files to the printer’s FTP site. If my files had included any errors (incorrect creation of PDFs as per printer’s requirements; problems with fonts, bleeds, or resolution; or even presentation of pages as spreads rather than individual pages), the printer would have flagged the book files and requested changes. The five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have actually begun until all PDF files for the book were correct.

Moreover, the five- to seven-day turn-around on proofs would not have included weekends, and would not have included a two-day shipment time for sending proofs from the printer to my house. The same will be true for the seven- to ten-day turn-around on printed books, starting from the date of proof approval. Although this schedule will begin upon my (and my client’s) acceptance of the proof (plus its return over a one- or two-day period by USPS or FedEx), I must also factor in a shipping period after the ten-day period for books to leave the vendor and arrive at my client’s office.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Build in plenty of time when estimating the overall production schedule by the printer. This may be particularly true for book printers (such as the one producing my client’s book). Fortunately, this printer will schedule a press date as soon as he has received the approved proof. From this press date, he can estimate the bindery date, shipping date, and potential delivery date. In your own work, request not only a general time frame for production by the printer, but also a specific press date and ship date as soon as you have approved the proof. If you have a fixed deadline for delivery and receipt of the books, brochures, or any other printed product, this schedule will keep both you and your printer on track.

Then, as the date approaches, follow up with your printer to make sure everything is on schedule. This is particularly important if your project includes a lot of steps (laminating, round-cornering, packaging in a specific way). If there are problems (for instance, if the printer is waiting for materials to be used in your job), it’s better to know early. So ask your CSR (customer service rep) before the shipping date. In the majority of cases you will get a more complete and accurate answer from your CSR than from your sales rep, since the CSR works with production schedules every day and therefore will usually have the most up to date information.

The Color Swatch Book

I just asked the CSR for an update on the schedule for another client’s book, a color swatch book used in selecting make-up and clothing colors based on one’s complexion and hair color.

This is a complex project often (depending on the printer) involving multiple vendors. This is because after the printing process, it requires laminating the pages, round-cornering the pages, drilling the books, and inserting a metal screw-and-post binding assembly into each print book. It also involves collation (there are 28 master books with between three and six copies to be printed from each master copy).

So a few days prior to the scheduled ship date I called the customer service rep and asked the status of the job. She told me the screw-and-post binding assemblies had not yet arrived. They should be there the following day, she said. I will have to keep in touch, since my client has been waiting a long time for this project. Her last printer had not done a good job, so my client’s clients have been waiting patiently. My client’s brand is on the line.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As with the prior job, it’s essential to keep up with your printer. He may have subcontracted out the binding of your book (many printers do not have in-house binding; even fewer have in-house case binding). Or he may have “jobbed out” your die cutting. Maybe you also need screw-and-post binding assemblies for your job. If your printer must rely on an outside vendor, this may affect your schedule. It is better to learn about this early. Be proactive. Contact your CSR as your estimated ship date approaches. Don’t wait for her/him to contact you.

The Stationery Package

This job involves flat cards, envelopes, and #10 envelopes. I solicited pricing from three vendors on behalf of my client. The list included the prior commercial printing vendor (this is a repeat job from several years ago). However, I made it clear to my client that this printer had been overwhelmed with work recently and therefore had not been as responsive as I expected a printer to be. I considered this to be temporary, but I did need to disclose this to my client.

Based on pricing, but even more so based on prior, positive experiences with this particular printer, my client’s client specifically asked to send the job to the printer I had been worried about. Fortunately, both I and my client had been completely clear about the risks (not in terms of lower quality but in terms of a longer-than-usual turn-around time). My client’s client had been apprised of our concerns.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes you will put a long-standing relationship with a printer above a current “bump in the road.” Perhaps the printer is overbooked, but you still want that particular printer to do your job. This is a risk. In my client’s case, all parties have been clear about the risk. Moreover, the job is a simple one involving no work subcontracted to outside vendors. Unlike the color swatch book described in the prior case study, it does not involve acquiring supplies not normally on hand (like the screw-and-post binding assemblies). Therefore, it is less of a risk than some jobs might be.

In your own print buying work, consider all the steps in such a job and be proactive. For instance, if the job takes longer than agreed upon to complete, will this be a problem? Do you have a hard deadline for your delivery? If not, and if the job is simple, you may still want to send your job to the printer. If not, you may want to pay a little more for another known vendor, or you may want to keep looking for a new vendor.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Print Job Is Not Over Yet

Custom Printing: Direct Digital Printing on Bottles

November 4th, 2018

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Direct Digital Printing on Bottles

I was reading the trade journals online this week, keeping abreast of trends in commercial printing, and I came upon an article written by Pat Reynolds in Packaging World ( entitled “Direct Digital Printing on Rigid Containers.” It was published on 4/3/18.

I know this sounds somewhat dry as a subject, but as I read the article, I saw the implications for packaging, marketing, and digital commercial printing in general. Plus, it was interesting to see just how printing can be done on a bottle without using a label. So I did further research.

The Background

First of all, I think you will appreciate the concept more if I first give you some background on how this would have been done before digital custom printing. The options would have been as follows:

Label printing. This would have worked fine, printing on matte crack ‘n peel label stock and then affixing the labels on the bottles. However, there would have been a number of steps involved. It would not have been a direct process, and presumably all of the labels would have been identical. Granted, in more recent times, a printer could have produced digital labels, which could easily have included variable data. But the labels still would have had a border. That is, the packaging art would have been limited to the dimensions of the label.

Screen printing. A printer could have used screen printing technology to image the packaging information right on the bottle without needing a label. This would have been less confined in its design than a rectangular label. Printed imagery could have extended onto any portion of the bottle accessible to the custom screen printing equipment. More than likely, the screen and the squeegie used to force ink through the screen printing mesh would have been stationary, and the bottles would have been spun around on their vertical axes to bring each bottle’s surface into contact with the printing screen.

Presumably, since custom screen printing ink is very thick and tacky, there would have been limited resolution in any photographic images (which probably would have been too challenging to attempt anyway), and since a new screen would have been needed for each color, the majority of screen printed imagery would have been limited to a few colors.

But more than anything, this process would have required extensive make-ready. Therefore, for the job to be competitive in price, a long press run would have been necessary. Also, variable data printing would have been out of the question. All art would have been static. All images would have been identical. Moreover, since screen printing make-ready is so labor intensive, the process would have taken a long time.

Pad Printing. Another option would have been pad printing. This is great for printing on golf balls and computer keys. Even if a surface is rounded, like a bottle, successful screen printing requires the screen to come into direct contact with the printing substrate. This alone would make screen printing on many shapes of bottles impossible. That said, a gravure printing process called pad printing, or tampography, would be an option. In this process, a gravure plate is covered with ink that quickly becomes tacky as it dries. Then a silicone pad is brought down onto the inked plate, where it picks up the tacky ink image as the pad compresses briefly. Then the pad can be positioned over the substrate (which can be concave, convex, or any other shape that would otherwise be difficult to print). Finally (due to the nature of the silicone pad and the ink) the silicone pad releases the tacky ink image onto the substrate.

However, like screen printing, pad printing artwork cannot be changed for every image, and, given the make-ready involved, pad printing also lends itself to longer press runs.

Enter Direct Digital Printing

Reynolds’ article describes the new process of direct digital printing on PET plastic and glass bottles used for the food and beverage industry. Within the context noted above, being able to print on irregularly shaped surfaces (as you might do with pad printing) while constantly varying the imagery is rather exciting.

Moreover, you could conceivably create only one printed bottle if you needed a prototype. Then, you could make any design changes required and print the entire run with the new design. And you could do this with FDA compliant, low-migration, food-safe inks.

To give you an idea of the technology involved, a system of feedscrews and a starwheels brings each cylindrical bottle in front of the digital inkjet printheads, using a carousel system to move the bottles through the system and out again. Reynolds’ article, “Direct Digital Printing on Rigid Containers,” describes transport systems that can be built to accommodate more bottles at a time (increasing the speed and efficiency of production depending on the run length).

The article also describes two printing processes, one that involves inkjetting the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink colors sequentially, and another that deposits the inks all at once. To make all of this work, certain bottle shapes will be more successful and certain shapes will not work.

Addressing the needs of both PET plastic bottles and glass bottles can be tricky, due to the different heat requirements for the two substrates, but Reynolds’ article explains how each can be accommodated.

The process uses UV-cured inks, which will set instantly upon exposure to ultraviolet light (provided by LED bulbs). This allows for printing on non-porous substrates (such as PET plastic and glass) and makes the bottles immediately usable without any drying time. In addition to the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), the technology uses white inkjet ink and also a clear primer to make the ink adhere better to the substrate.

Why This Is Special

Direct printing on PET and glass bottles provides several benefits for the food and beverage packaging industry.

  1. You can produce an edition of one. This is useful if you’re making a prototype for a bottle. The mock-up will look exactly like the finished product.
  2. When you have confirmed your initial design, you can still make each bottle different, so each customer who buys the product can have unique personalization (such as their name).
  3. Although there are some limitations in the substrates (the bottles have to be a certain shape that will allow access to the inkjet heads: cylindrical but not oval, for instance), I’m sure the ability to print digitally on uneven or irregular surfaces will improve in the near future. (For example, I have read about inkjet equipment that can already print directly on a football.)
  4. The UV inks are “low-migration” inks that won’t contaminate the food products in the bottles.
  5. On a design level, you have a larger area for the custom printing. You are not limited to the rectangular dimensions of a label. The imagery and text can be positioned on any part of the bottle’s surface accessible to the print heads.
  6. Unlike screen printing and pad printing, digital inkjet custom printing allows for high resolution photographic imagery. This could make the look of a direct digital printed bottle far more dramatic than that of a screen-printed or pad-printed bottle.

More than anything, this is a good, solid step in the direction of printing almost anything on almost any substrate.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Direct Digital Printing on Bottles

Book Printing: High-End, Case-Bound Look-Books

October 30th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: High-End, Case-Bound Look-Books

My fiancee found two print books at the thrift store this week that together weighed about twenty pounds. They are perfect-bound art books. One is a “look book” showcasing street art in both New York City and Barcelona (four-color throughout, with bleeds and minimal text).

The other is a catalog of art prints. This one really needs its own table, it’s so heavy. Its contents have been broken down into photography, still life paintings, floral paintings, figures, etc. While it doesn’t cover all art periods, it really does provide a visual survey course in art history.

My fiancee picked these up as a resource for our art therapy work with the autistic: idea books to help us come up with new and thought-provoking art projects that will challenge our students. But as a print broker, I also noticed the superior print book production values these two case-bound books display.

The Street Art Book

Street art–as the book NYCBCN, by Louis Bou, suggests through its imagery—is a reflection of urban life applied to all manner of canvases, ranging from the sides of trucks to ramps in skating parks, from posters plastered over windows to walls emblazoned with graffiti. All of this is art. All of it tells a story about what it’s like to live in New York City or Barcelona.

I see a number of qualities in the book printing work that will affect the reader on a subconscious level:

  1. The paper stock is substantial (probably 100# text). This not only prevents show-through from one side of a page to the other. It also gives a sense of importance to each page. A thinner press sheet would feel flimsy.
  2. The paper is almost invisible. The ink coverage is just that thick, and every page bleeds on all sides. However, here and there you can see the specular highlights (i.e., areas with no halftone dots, or very tiny ones). The paper is an exceptionally bright blue-white shade. Granted, in contrast to the surrounding heavily saturated colors, the white would naturally stand out and seem whiter than usual. However, the bright blue-white press sheet does still increase the brilliance of the colors, since process colors are transparent. That is, the whiteness of the press sheet enhances the intensity of the ink colors.
  3. The book is more than 600 pages in length. No other binding method I can think of would be appropriate for such a long print book as the case binding chosen by the book designer. Perhaps a perfect bound option would have worked. But for such a large and heavy book block, case binding does make this book seem a lot more durable. After all, the case on which the book block has been “hung” has to support approximately five pounds of weight.
  4. In addition to the case binding, the book has been Smyth sewn. You can see the stitches holding the book signatures against one another now and then as you page through the print book.
  5. The book cannot lie completely flat since it is a case-bound book (and not a lay-flat bound book). Nevertheless, it is a loose-back book (the fabric “crash,” to which all book signatures have been glued, has itself not been glued to the spine of the book-binding cases). Therefore, the book almost lies flat, or as flat as one can expect a 600-plus-page book to lie. Since the spine is loose and the book is large—and clearly designed to be used a lot and last a long time—it is clear that the thickness of the crash and the thickness of the paper work together to ensure the print book’s durability. You can see the attention to detail. Bookbinding clearly is an art.
  6. Given the gritty nature of the subject matter, it seems fitting that the cover is made of 4-color-printed litho paper laminated to the chipboard of the binding. (Or, rather, this is not a cloth-bound book in a dust jacket.) The intense color of the cover art is augmented by this treatment. And adding the title of the book in large foil-stamped letters (both reflective and textured) provides an even more intense and edgy tone to the print book.
  7. While I’m not certain about this, the intensity of the interior art and cover art would suggest the following: either the printer added fluorescent ink to some of the process colors, or the printer used touch plates (additional colors beyond the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

The Fine Arts Book

The cover of this book just says Art. It’s a catalog. In fact, the price list is printed right on the interior front cover. Like the first book, this book is case bound. Unlike the first book, which I would consider to be an art book meant to showcase street art, this is a book used to sell printed reproductions of fine art prints. Nevertheless, it will give the careful observer a good education in a number of contemporary styles and approaches to the fine arts.

It is also especially heavy: perhaps five times as heavy as the first book. When you open this case-bound book, the crash does not come away from the spine. Unlike the other (“loose-back”) book, the crash of this case-bound book has been glued to the spine of the binder’s case to increase the durability of the print book. (This is called a “tight-back” book.) After all, it is especially heavy, and it has to last a long time and be used regularly as a reference. I firmly believe that a loose-back book block of this weight might otherwise tear away from its case after numerous uses.

Here are some further thoughts about the production values of this book:

  1. There are numerous index tabs inserted between press signatures. If you look closely, it is clear that they were folded in (maybe two inches from the face trim of the print book) and then opened so the thumb tabs would extend past the trim of the book pages. This is why. If the tabs had not been folded in, they would have been trimmed off as the guillotine cutter came down to flush cut the face (outer vertical side) of the book. To avoid this, a bookbinder folds in the tabs, trims the book block, and then opens the tabs for final use.
  2. As with the other book, the designer has chosen an especially bright white (blue white, since it appears even whiter than usual) press sheet to showcase the images. Since this is a case-bound catalog, to be used to sell art prints, the images of the fine art prints are relatively small. Positioning a small number of images on a page and then surrounding them with a lot of white space make reading the 800-plus-page book less daunting. The commercial printing press sheet seems to be matte (not gloss or dull). This makes reviewing the imagery easier on the eyes. But to make the images “pop,” the designer has also apparently varnished the photos.
  3. As I consider the length of the book and its weight (maybe ten pounds), it is clear that all of the elements of the case binding add to its durability. These include the tight-back case binding and presumably Smyth sewing (everything is glued too tightly for me to see the stitching, but Smyth sewing would add additional durability), plus the exceptionally heavy end-sheets and flyleaves (the papers to which the book block is attached and which are in turn glued to the interior front and interior back covers).
  4. The goal of this print book is to present to the reader a huge number of images. These have to be attractive (a number of images per page but with ample white space). It looks like the colors in the prints may have been augmented (either with fluorescent ink added to one or more of the process colors or touch plates with additional inks beyond the usual CMYK palette). But beyond everything else, this book is meant to last. It is clear to me that the artistry of the binding has both a functional component and an aesthetic one.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: High-End, Case-Bound Look-Books

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Brochure Folding

October 21st, 2018

Posted in Folding | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Thoughts on Brochure Folding

I get a lot of promotional mail in the course of a week, and I try to be mindful of which pieces spark my interest and why. Granted, since I get a lot less physical mail than email, I am far more likely to take the time to look closely at the print mail: its design, its format and folding, and the paper. It’s a tactile experience. Internet mail, ads, and anything else on the Internet lack one important quality for me: the sense of touch.

When I think about it, one quality of a good direct mail piece, one that piques my interest, is how it folds. Not just the physical experience of folding the paper, but the use of a unique fold to convey a message that’s congruent with the text, images, paper selection, and color usage in the brochure. After all, a good mail piece has to do more than just look attractive. It has to use all the elements of aesthetics to underscore its tone, its message, its purpose.

I went online recently to look for special folds for this blog article. First of all, that in itself is ironic: using the Internet to research commercial printing. Not long ago, I would have pulled out my sample boxes in which I store examples of print books, brochures, boxes, and all number of other printed paper products. But I wanted to collect some ideas quickly, so I checked Google Images.

What I Found and What I Learned

I was looking for a few golden rules of folding to share in this PIE Blog posting. Here are some thoughts that came to mind:

Do Something Different

I found an interesting fold based on a triangle. Most brochures are rectangles. You fold them up and they are tall rectangles, and you open them up and they’re wide rectangles. But they’re still rectangles. In contrast, the sample I found, when unfolded, had a tall left trim margin and a short right trim margin. It was a triangle.

The brochure comprised ten panels, five on each side. Overall, this was a “Z” fold or accordion fold brochure. Each panel zig-zagged back and forth. Every other panel had a large grey ink solid extending the length and width of the panel. The front and back panels on the far right were very small; the front and back panels on the far left were very tall. When you stood the open and unfolded brochure on its side, it had an almost architectural look, like a multi-level building with sloping roofs.

Or here’s another one. Several rectangular cards were wrapped in an outer sheet. No big deal. But in this case, the outer wrap had been set at an angle to the interior cards before being wrapped around them. This slanted treatment created an almost floral pattern of petals around the central stack of cards. This made it unique.

Again, do something different, and people will notice.

Make Sure the Fold Supports the Message

The accordion fold (zig zag) noted above might have been ideal for a building company or an architectural firm. (Online I couldn’t see in the small image exactly what the brochure promoted. I’m sure such a fold would be appropriate for a number of situations.)

But on a more basic level, it’s important to use the folds and treatment of the brochure panels in a functional way. The step-down accordion fold brochure had alternating gray panels (and white panels) with type reversed out of the gray panels. These obviously (even in a thumbnail-size image) contained a particular kind of highlighted text that differed (in terms of content) from the main text of the brochure. The gray panels highlighted this text and set it apart from the other brochure text (on the white panels) because of its different design treatment.

Approaching the design in this way helped group the copy in the brochure into digestible chunks. People have more to do these days, so they have less time to read brochures. They usually need to skim (or even just glance at) the text. Good design involves using folds in a brochure (and the panels it creates) to lead the reader through the content of the brochure. The reader appreciates this guidance, and you can ensure that your copy is read.

Another way to approach this is to consider how the folded brochure opens and what panels the reader will see first, second, third, etc. In my opinion, making such a decision online is not wise. Use the online thumbnail images to get ideas, but make paper folded mock-ups as you design brochures to see how the actual, physical brochure will fit in the hand of the reader, and what she/he will see first, second, etc. This is also a good time to check your swipe file (all the custom printing samples you liked over the years and kept for future reference). You can even call your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant and ask for ideas (and printed samples). Remember that, above all else, print is a physical medium. Make your design decisions using physical samples.

Consider the Physical Requirements and the Cost

Remember the cards wrapped in the paper that had been folded at an angle around the card stack (noted above)? This was stunning, but depending on the equipment and skill level of your custom printing supplier, it might have been either very expensive or impossible. Therefore, involve your printer early, and ask what he can and can’t do. Better yet, make a paper mock-up and share it with a number of print vendors.

If you have multiple panels in a brochure and these panels wrap inward (called a barrel fold or wrap fold), ask your printer how to size each panel. That is, the inner panels must be narrower than the outer ones, or the fold won’t work. If you make all panels the same size and then position copy and art on these equal-sized panels, once the brochure has been trimmed and folded by the printer, the copy and text will no longer be centered on each panel. Avoid this nightmare. Once you have confirmed the overall design, ask the printer for the exact width of each panel (remember, the height will presumably be the same).

Collect Samples/Get Ideas

Here are a number of ways to get ideas for current and future projects involving folds:

  1. Start a swipe file. Keep every piece of folded promotional mail that you find in your mailbox and really like. But go beyond that. Be able to explain (to yourself) why the design decisions (folds, format, trim size, paper, typeface, images) support the message.
  2. Ask all printers and paper merchants you work with for printed samples. Then keep what intrigues you in your swipe file.
  3. Check online. Google “brochure” and “folding.”
  4. Look up Foldfactory. They have good videos accessible through YouTube. They regularly highlight intriguing folds and explain how to do them and why they are effective. What’s nice about an online video is that you see exactly how the folded brochures work when unfolded. This is akin to what I was saying earlier about making physical mock-ups. Something may look good in an online photo, but unless it can be physically created and easily operated (and your printer can produce it for you within your budget), it’s not right for you. You can get a good idea of all of this through Foldfactory videos. There are probably other, similar videos you can find online as well.

All of this should give you a good start. The take-away? Involve your commercial printing supplier early and throughout the process (to get intriguing ideas, prices, and suggestions for how to make the novel ideas work).

Posted in Folding | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Thoughts on Brochure Folding

Custom Printing: Revising a New Asphalt Paver Logo

October 15th, 2018

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Revising a New Asphalt Paver Logo

A short while ago I wrote a blog posting about a new logo I’ve been designing for a local asphalt paver. I described its genesis as a coroplast sign that morphed into a logo commission and then into cups, hats, and finally a large format print vehicle wrap. With my fiancee’s input, I provided three options a few days ago and then heard nothing back from the client. I started to get nervous. I assumed he had hated them. Then I reviewed the logos again, and I wasn’t so sure anymore either.

So today I shared the PDF of the three options with a friend and client of mine who designs print books. Interestingly enough, she used to be an editor, and I started her down the path of design, and since then I have consulted with her on the design of many of her print books, which are for such high-profile clients as the World Bank.

Turning the tables and having the student educate the teacher was humbling but very instructive. It is a lot easier to tell someone how to improve a design than to come up with a good one yourself.

That said, this is what she suggested, what I learned, and what I created for the revised, new logo. As with the initial batch of logo options, we can only wait and hope the client will be either pleased or at least articulate about what he likes and dislikes. Fortunately he called me this morning, and since then we have been playing phone tag.

What I Had Initially Created

As a recap, this is what the first three logo options looked like:

  1. Option #1 was a background rectangle picture box containing a photo of asphalt. Over this I had placed type in Gill Sans, flush right, with the name of the state in all caps and the word “asphalt” below in lowercase letters. I made the first line white and the second line a darker gray than the background asphalt photo. I also added a black and red stylized road above the state name, with a dashed line in the center.
  2. The second option was the same type treatment over the state map (both color and black and white versions).
  3. The third option was the irregular outline of the state map with the type superimposed over the map image. I made the “A” in the word “asphalt” red to provide drama and immediately grab the viewer’s attention.

What My Friend and Client Said, and What I Did in Response

My fiend/client said the road would be more recognizable with a yellow line down its center rather than a red one. I had initially chosen red because of its impact. My friend was absolutely right. I should choose a color that is relevant to the logo, and the line down the center of the road is not red. It is either white or yellow.

She also suggested putting the asphalt image within the outline of the letterforms. I tried this with both the name of the state and the word “asphalt.” It seemed to be too much, so I made the name of the state red and then reduced its size and increased the size of the word “asphalt.” Because of this, the rocks in the image of asphalt (within the outlines of the letterforms) were more visible. Moreover, the image of asphalt was really only pertinent to the word “asphalt,” so it made sense to only have the image within this one word.

In addition, I used the colors of the state flag, rather than the flag itself or the outline of the map. As noted before, I replaced the red in the stylized road with a yellow dashed line. I also made the all-capitals name of the state red (the other color in the flag). So the color palette now reflected the colors of the state flag without my directly including imagery of the map or flag, and at the same time this simplified the overall look of the logo considerably.

Finally, my friend and client had suggested simplifying the overall design by making the top line and bottom line justified rather than flush right. I had resisted this idea. I felt that flush right would be more unique (less expected) than flush-left type, and that justified type would only create an undifferentiated rectangle (the shape of the exterior boundary of the logo). There would be no drama.

Therefore, as a compromise, I enlarged the word “asphalt” (as noted before), reduced the size of the state name, positioned the type with a flush-right alignment, and then added a stylized road (with the yellow, dashed line in the center) immediately to the left of the state name.

Because of these graphic decisions, I had created a continuation of the rectangle on top (the shape of the state name rendered in all capital letters) with the simulated road extending (to the left) to the same vertical axis as the left edge of the “a” in “asphalt.” On the right, I vertically aligned the final letter in the state name and the final letter in the word “asphalt.”

The gist of what I just said is that I had a rectangle. All visual elements of the logo nestled tightly into one another: the simulated road, the state name, and the word “asphalt.” Everything was tight, simple, and airy (in that the logo was not superimposed over a rectangular image). Moreover, the logo includes the texture of the asphalt within the word “asphalt.” So it has a humorous tone.

This is a viable fourth option for my client. We’ll see what happens.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. I hadn’t thought of this until just now, but not having either a map or the image of the flag (or the image of the asphalt) behind the logotype will make the overall logo more flexible. It will be easier to coordinate the design of the business card and the vehicle wrap (at vastly different sizes) without a background image. The shape of the words will also be more evident and therefore more immediately recognizable (since the viewer will more readily see the descender of the “p” and the ascender of the “h” in the word “asphalt”). Plus, the slanted letterform of the letter “t” in “asphalt” will also be more visible. The take-away is that you should check your own logo design in a similar manner. Think about what is all uppercase and what is all lowercase. The eye will immediately identify a lowercase word (or one in uppercase and lowercase letters). It will recognize the shape of the word (without needing to read all the letters). If you put part of the logo in all caps, it’s shape will be just a rectangle. This will slow down the viewer’s reading speed. This doesn’t have to be a problem. You just have to be aware of it.
  2. Think about where the reader’s eye enters the image of the logo. In the case of the logo I just created, the eye enters along the simulated road with the dashed line. The yellow grabs the reader’s attention. Then the horizontal line of the road leads the viewer’s eye to the all-caps name of the state (in red). Since the final word, “asphalt,” is larger than anything else, that’s where the eye goes next. It would go there first if not for the yellow in the simulated road and the red in the state name. In your own work, be able to articulate how the viewer’s eye enters the design, where it goes next, and where it goes after that. Make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel comfortably through the entire logotype and image.
  3. Finally, see what the logo looks like when you make it very large and very small. After all, it may be reproduced on both large format print signage and a business card. Also see how it looks in black and white as well as color. In the case of my project, a black-and-white-only logo directs the viewer’s eye to the word “asphalt” first, not to the yellow line in the middle of the road.
  4. Then put the mock-ups away, and don’t look at them for a day or so. When you see your work again, you will have more objectivity. You will see both the good points and the flaws.
  5. Finally, show the logos to other people, particularly other designers. You don’t have to take their advice, but it will help to get different points of view on your work. It may even give you new ideas to pursue. Then show your logos to your client.

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Revising a New Asphalt Paver Logo

Book Printing: Unique Book Binding/Finishing Formats

October 8th, 2018

Posted in Book Binding | Comments Off on Book Printing: Unique Book Binding/Finishing Formats

My fiancee recently brought home from the thrift store two intriguing books for the grandchildren. The first is The Slant Book, written by Peter Newell, and the second is How Does the Show Go On?, written by Thomas Schumacher.

What makes both of these books particularly interesting to me is their unique binding methods. Both are striking. I’ve never seen anything quite like them before. In addition, the uniqueness of each reinforces the theme of the print book. That is, the special effect is not gratuitous. The form reinforces the meaning.

The Slant Book

One of the attributes of every print book I’ve read until now has been the quality of squareness or rectilinerarity. Abutting edges have always been set at a right angle: 90 degrees. Trimming knives I’ve seen at book binderies have also been set at a right angle. It has been a given, an expectation.

That said, I was intrigued to see that The Slant Book is more of a rhombus. Opposite sides are equal and parallel (the bind edge and face trim; the head trim and foot trim), but the angles themselves are not 90 degrees. The book tilts upward. The top of the spine is at an an angle greater than 90 degrees, and the bottom of the spine is at an angle less than 90 degrees.

This brings up a lot of questions for me, and the Internet was not forthcoming with answers. First of all, I wondered how you would put it in a bookcase. Since I am somewhat obsessive compulsive, this would be the first question that comes to mind for me. The second was, How did they do that? After all, trimming knives are set at right angles to one another on all of the finishing equipment I’ve seen.

The first question was easy enough to answer, assuming that the face trim margin of the book would stick out above the line of equally tall books, while the spine was flush with the spines of the other books on the shelf.

To answer the second question, I had to make assumptions based on experience. After all, Google came up dry. To start with, opposite sides of the book were parallel. Therefore, it seemed to me that to cut both the print book block and the binder’s boards (The Slant Book is a case-bound volume), either a single guillotine cutter or two parallel knives of the three-knife trimmer could be used.

In addition, and to keep control of the precise placement of the book during its trimming, perhaps a wooden jig of some kind had held these print books in exactly the same position for each trim. As to the printed litho paper laminated to the boards and turned over the edges, plus the fabric covering the spine and extending about an inch onto the front and back covers, this might have been done by hand.

Granted, the work would have required precision. After all, I’ve seen badly bound books that neither open nor close easily because of imperfections in the binding angles, paper grain direction, or any number of other reasons. Because of this, I was very impressed—as well as perplexed.

From the point of view of the content, I was also more than a little bit amused. The illustrations, and even the backward slanted type on the left-hand pages, made the format look not only intentional but also most appropriate. Starting on the cover, the characters of The Slant Book go slip sliding down the incline, from a runaway baby carriage to a police officer knocked off his feet to a push cart full of trinkets. Even the cover expresses this slantedness, with the characters seeming to run forward quickly due to the inclined cover surface.

The book format and the cover and text content work together perfectly, hand in hand.

How Does The Show Go On?

The second book is aimed at an older audience. You could say that adults might appreciate it as much as children, given the full-color treatment both on the cover and throughout the text, along with the flashy photos of Broadway, the playbills, and the tickets.

Again, what sets this print book apart is its binding. Like the first book, the second is case bound. This is also a square format, but with a vertical split right down the center of the front cover. I’d call this a “barn-door” effect (similar to a gatefold but with equal emphasis given to the left and right panels that both open outward). The photo on the cover is a theater stage, and the panels opening to the left and right reveal the first page of the book, much as a rising theater curtain reveals the scene of the play being presented.

How was this done, you might ask. The left panel of the case-bound cover is a shortened front cover binder’s board with the litho-printed stock laminated to the chipboard. It begins at the half-way point and extends to the left, toward and around the spine and then fully across the back of the book. Then it continues vertically (another small binder’s board) up across the face trim of the book. Finally it comes back to the center of the print book, where it vertically meets and abuts to the first half-panel.

So the entire cover creates a wrap. A little box with no top or bottom. Just sides. It’s absolutely perfect for a print book whose contents are all about revealing and then showcasing what’s on the stage. Interestingly enough, even the full-bleed photo immediately under this unique cover creates a sense of movement. Half of this photo is the pasted down endsheet for the cover (a photo of wooden running and jumping creatures with horns–perhaps gazelles), and the other half is the loose flyleaf (a continuation of the image on the left) covering page one of the text. Again, form follows content. The image is revealed, but it is also made up of two traditional print book binding components: the endsheet and the flyleaf.

True to form, the interior of the book (even though this is an article on binding) also includes some striking finishing techniques. For instance, a full-size, bound theater playbill is tipped onto a hanger and glued to a book page. It looks exactly like one you would receive when shown to your theater seat. Later in the book, and also tipped onto a hanger glued to a book page, is a small pocket folder containing theater-related drawings. There’s also an acetate sheet–with printed hair and moustache–attached above an image of a man without the hair and beard (that is, you lay down the clear acetate, and the actor’s costume facial hair is attached to this face). And the list of intriguing finishing operations goes on. Each provides access to an element of theater. Each is a discovery.

In all cases, the physical approach to the book and the binding and finishing techniques used complement the content of the book.

What We Can Learn From These Print Books

  1. In your own design work, use both the page design (type, color, and imagery) and the physical properties of book design (materials, folding and cutting operations, tip-ons) to reinforce and enhance the meaning of the book. These should be intrinsic to the design and theme, not pretty add-ons.
  2. Always involve your commercial printing supplier early. For books like these, choose your printer first and then work with him to realize your vision.
  3. Expect to pay a lot for these enhancements.
  4. Remember that there’s a reason books are still with us, even if we have access to eReaders. None of these special treatments could have been done on a digital, screen-only product. All of them are tactile, and all engage the reader actively and physically (for instance, you have to pull the inserts out of their pockets to read them).

Posted in Book Binding | Comments Off on Book Printing: Unique Book Binding/Finishing Formats

Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

October 1st, 2018

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

I’ve been attending press inspections at commercial printing plants for almost thirty years. Each time, I learn something new, so even now I get excited when I get a chance to go on a plant tour.

I had lunch this week with a friend of mine who is the CEO of a large, local custom printing company with a number of offices in the local DC Metropolitan area. Before we ate, we went through the new plant he and his company had just acquired (he had bought another commercial printing supplier’s business). I found it to be a most intriguing and educational experience.

What I Saw: An All-Digital Workflow

First of all, I saw relatively few people and a lot of equipment. When I started in the commercial printing field as a graphic designer and photographer, there were many more people in prepress. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, men and women at light tables manually stripped together large negatives shot from pasted up “mechanicals.” The mechanicals held the type and patches (called windows) for the photos, and negatives for these page elements were combined into the large flats (usually a press form of eight pages for printing one side of a press sheet). Passing bright light through these negatives “burned” printing plates that could then be hung on the cylinders of offset presses.

Today, in this particular printing plant (as well as others across the country), I saw almost no one in this department because all of the manual activities were now performed on computers, and the files were directly output to platesetters. Lasers burned the images of each eight-page side of a press form right onto the plate material with no intermediate film-based step. In fact, my friend’s platesetters didn’t require chemistry to develop the plates; the printing plates could just be washed with water on press, and they would be ready to print.

Where the Most Activity Was

I saw a lot of activity in large format inkjet printing and in laser-based digital printing. Again, relatively few people operated the handful of huge flatbed and roll-fed inkjet presses. One of these was a Mimaki. It printed the large vinyl banners, building wraps, car wraps, and magnets, while another flatbed router cut out the decals, window clings, and any other irregularly shaped, digitally printed jobs. (I knew from experience that other Mimaki equipment could actually inkjet print decals and then cut irregular outlines around the printed material using the same machine.)

The router I saw could also cut thick metal letters for signage with a different cutting tool (a plotting knife was all that was needed for the vinyl, paper, plastic, and other, less rigid substrates). I noted to my friend, the CEO, that I had seen videos of lasers cutting through large format print signage, and we agreed that this seemed to be the wave of the future.

What I took away from my visit to the grand-format inkjet press room was that marketing materials were a large market segment for commercial printing sales within this company. I also saw that items such as magnets could be inexpensively printed on huge sheets of magnetic substrate that could then be easily cut down as needed. These seemed to be very popular, as were the hemmed and grommeted banners made of scrim vinyl. Clearly they could be inexpensively produced by only a few inkjet printing press operators, and these simple products could pack an effective and memorable marketing message.

Digital Flat Sheet Presses

The CEO and I then walked through a room with both a Kodak NexPress and an HP Indigo. (I’ve often written in these PIE Blog articles that I consider the HP Indigo to be a superior digital press, and clearly my friend the CEO would not have otherwise purchased it.) But it was interesting to learn that he could laminate press sheets printed on the NexPress but not press sheets produced on the HP Indigo. It was my understanding that the fuser oil used in the HP Indigo did not readily accept film lamination. I thought this was particularly interesting since I knew of (and worked with) another printer who was in fact successfully laminating Indigo press sheets. Perhaps there are differences in the laminating film used by the two vendors, or maybe there are other factors of which I am unaware. Nevertheless, this piqued my interest.

Other digital presses in this commercial printing plant were more focused on black-only text. These were also laser-based. Interestingly enough, my friend the CEO spoke of the upcoming transition from digital laser printing (also known as xerography or electrophotography) to digital inkjet printing. He noted that both web-fed (roll-fed) presses and cut sheet presses might replace the Indigo and other laser-based custom printing equipment for printed book work as well as large format graphics.

My response was to ask if the quality was there yet, in his opinion. The CEO noted that no, it wasn’t. However, most people could not tell the difference. Others thought “good enough” was good enough, as long as the marketing message came through. For high-end work, such as fashion, food, and automotive advertising, the CEO did say that higher quality (better color fidelity and higher resolution) was needed and that certain digital equipment could provide this.

Marketing Work

At this point I also found it interesting that marketing work was in such high demand. Apparently people still responded to direct mail pieces discovered in their mailbox. With hundreds of emails showing up every day in computer in-boxes, it seems that the handful of paper direct mail pieces in the physical mailbox have a more immediate appeal. They are tactile; real, as opposed to virtual (existing only on the computer screen).

This particular printer also had hybrid presses. He had mounted inkjet heads on offset presses, so it was possible to print variable data (inline, right on the offset presses) directly onto offset printed marketing materials. He also had inline inserting equipment that could collect a number of personalized, digital or hybrid-printed pieces, and insert them into a mailing envelope.

And to speed up the mailing process, the CEO had on-site US Postal Service personnel doing all of the presorting and labeling, as well as bagging, tagging, and paperwork, so the direct mail pieces could ship right from his commercial printing plant.

What I found especially interesting, though, was a room with two roll-fed, laser-based presses. A roll of printing paper went through the first, which printed one side of the paper. Then this roll fed into a second press (the exact same model). The ribbon of custom printing paper turned this way and that (using turning bars, or rollers that could reposition the moving paper at right angles).

When the paper entered the second digital laser press, the opposite side of the roll could be printed. Then the paper was wound up into another roll, a receiving roll that could then be folded, trimmed, and inserted into envelopes. To me this was especially interesting, since I had been used to either cut sheets coming off a sheetfed press or completed and folded press signatures coming off a web press, but not a roll of commercial printing paper at the delivery end of the press.

But apparently this was an efficient way to process all of this direct mail: feeding it from a roll of paper, printing it, winding it into another roll, and then finishing it (all of the sheeting, folding, and trimming steps) from a roll instead of from press sheets.

And all of this was happening on a digital level, so the printed marketing materials I was seeing could be personalized as they traveled through the two presses as a single ribbon of paper.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Everything is automated. Some of the equipment needs far fewer operators than before. Other equipment can be operated remotely (with no on-site operators), except for loading and unloading the machines.
  2. Some of the digital presses are being built onto sturdy metal frames. That is, the build quality of offset presses is being introduced into the digital presses.
  3. Marketing is the main focus, at least in this plant. Managing databases of customers and potential customers drives the process. With this in mind, the digital marketing data and the creative art files are fed into offset or digital presses and then sent directly into the USPS mail stream.
  4. Large format printing is also hugely popular. Marketers want to grab your attention by wrapping buildings and vehicles with their imagery and tag lines. This way they get you to see their marketing message first.
  5. Digital inkjet is the coming wave, and it may eclipse digital laser printing.
  6. Acceptable quality for a particular job may not be the highest possible quality. “Good enough” may be good enough. That said, for certain markets (such as fashion, food, and automotive) only perfect color matches and the highest image resolution will do.
  7. Everything is changing at a blinding pace. Printers need to buy the latest equipment to stay competitive, but this equipment often becomes obsolete quickly. What this means is that large printers will get larger, and many smaller printers that can’t keep up will disappear.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

September 23rd, 2018

Posted in 3D Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

I just read an article online that captures in three pages the gist of the new 3D commercial printing wave. Written by Tyler Lacoma, this article, entitled “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know,” presented on Yahoo News, delivers just what its title promises. If you’re interested in the subject, it’s worth your time. It will get you started on your research.

What the Article Includes

Lacoma’s article first defines and explains 3D commercial printing, then breaks down the process into its component parts, then lists and defines five different approaches to 3D printing, and then ends the article with a description of some of the uses for this technology.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing has also been termed “additive manufacturing.” This term distinguishes the process from what I grew up with, “subtractive manufacturing.” The latter involves removing metal, for instance, from a block of the raw substance. In the case of producing metal pieces for assembly into an engine, subtractive manufacturing would involve milling or grinding: that is, removing everything that is not relevant to the engine component. Once all the components have been ground, carved, or milled, they can then be assembled.

In contrast, Lacoma’s article defines additive or 3D manufacturing as creating a component part by adding material until the component part is complete. “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know” focuses on (essentially) a process not unlike inkjet printing for the creation, layer by layer, of the individual components of a machine (or any other project).

Before I explain this more fully, I do want to add my belief that injection molding would also be considered additive manufacturing, since you add material into a premade mold, then remove the mold to access the part you have created.

I’d also like to go further and note that as with subtractive manufacturing, you can in fact produce a complete item if it comprises a single part. For instance, using 3D custom printing, you can print a shoe buckle, a ring, or any other single component item. Or you can manufacture the myriad parts of a complex product.

What makes 3D printing so compelling is that it is, in most cases, digital. If, for example, you are making an object using injection molding (also an additive manufacturing process), you have to first make the mold. This costs money and takes time. In contrast, the 3D printers that are now sold in computer stores create products layer by layer from digital files. These files require no molds. Hence, you can alter the design at will. You can change every product you print. All you need is the digital data.

You might envision this more effectively through an offset commercial printing (and finishing) analogy. If you need to die cut a product, you would normally create a metal cutting die. This would cost money and take time. It also would stamp out the same design, product after product. But if you use a programmable laser (run on digital data) to selectively burn away the scrap in a die cut product, you will have no need for the metal die cutting rule (or the time and cost it involves). And you can also change the die cutting pattern for every printed product.

To get back to Lacoma’s article, here are the three components of digital additive manufacturing:

  1. The digital file. This file breaks down the 3D modeled image into very precise layers and drives the printer.
  2. The printer itself. Just as an inkjet printer has print heads that go back and forth depositing ink as the paper is fed through the machine, a 3D printer has print heads that produce the 3D product layer by layer as the printed 3D product is moved away from the print heads. And instead of using ink to make marks on paper, the 3D printer uses various substances that can be extruded through the print head nozzles in a measured fashion driven by the digital data files. Basically the 3D printer includes a box in which to produce the 3D item and the custom printing heads. In some kinds of 3D printing, the print head nozzles are replaced with (or accompanied by) lasers that can set or cure the printing material as it is produced in layers. Many of these 3D printers are complex, involving precise temperature controls. Some only print within a vacuum.
  3. The printing material. This may include plastic, nylon, resins, synthetic sandstone, ceramic materials, or even metals (steel, silver, gold). I have read other articles describing the printing of body parts and organs (using biological materials) and even food (using food products). Lacoma’s article also notes that hybrid raw materials can be used (plastics plus other substances, for instance) to include the qualities of all the component materials.

Technologies for 3D Printing

These are the methods for digitally printing 3D objects that Lacoma describes in “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know”:

  1. Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM): Nozzles melt and then extrude plastic filaments (that look like spools of plastic wire) layer by layer to create the 3D object. The molten filaments cool and solidify into the final printed object. This is akin to the 3D printers I have seen in computer stores.
  2. Stereolithography (SLA): A laser is fired at a liquid resin to instantly harden the material. The object being created is removed from the liquid layer by layer. This can produce more detailed objects than Fusion Deposition Modeling. (In addition, it is not a new process. It was invented in the 1980s.)
  3. Jetting Processes: Lacoma’s article notes the similarity of this process to Stereolithography. However, he also notes that instead of pulling the created object out of a vat of liquid raw material, the jetting process sprays liquid reactive polymer onto a base and then hardens it instantly with UV light (in a method analogous to inkjet printing with UV inks and then curing them instantly with UV light). This 3D printing process proceeds layer by layer. (Other versions of this process use powders and glue to build up the layers.) This technology can produce detailed results, so it is often used for industrial products.
  4. Selective Laser Sintering: This process uses polymides and thermoplastic elastomers, which are powders (not the plastic filaments used in the 3D printing methods noted above). A laser fuses these powders into layer upon layer of the 3D product being created. These products are very durable. This technology is good for both individual production of prototypes and mass production of industrial parts.
  5. Metal Printing: In this method, the 3D object is built on a platform, which is lowered as the object is built up layer by layer. Powerful lasers (selective laser melting) or electron beams (electron beam melting) melt the powdered metal with considerable precision within very controlled printing environments. (Lacoma compares this process to welding.)

What Products Can Be Made?

Lacoma’s article notes a handful of popular products that lend themselves to 3D manufacturing. Here is a selection:

  1. Shoes: Manufacturers include Feetz and 3D Shoes. What makes these products interesting is that the digital nature of the process allows for customization of each pair of shoes.
  2. Houses: Lacoma’s article references 3D printed houses that can be produced and painted within 24 hours.
  3. Healthcare products: These include everything from mass produced items like 3D printed cups to custom products like prostheses, which can be tailored to an individual’s unique bodily requirements. Skin grafts made from biological material are another product Lacoma’s article includes.
  4. Custom orders: Essentially this would be analogous to ordering a print book online (a web-to-print product produced only after you have ordered it). Now web-to-print products can include 3D printed items.
  5. Theatrical set design: 3D manufacturing is ideal for creating component props for a dramatic presentation. You can make anything from science fiction props to historical props.

Why This Matters

“What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know” explains why this is a game changer. Because you don’t need to buy expensive milling and grinding machinery or even make expensive injection molds, 3D digital printing is an inexpensive way to make things. You can produce prototypes, and then you can change them before committing to mass production. This is also often the quickest option, allowing a manufacturer to bring a product to market much faster than in the past.

Why This Matters to Print and Web Designers

The short answer is that this is the future, and it also involves the principles of design in the same way that sculpture involves the principles of design. In addition, for many applications, 3D commercial printing will push the creation of objects downstream, from centralized shops with expensive machinery to (perhaps even) the individual end-users (or at least to local shops).

This 3D manufacturing process can operate in much the same way as a commercial printing job can be sent over the Internet from a designer on the East Coast to a local print shop on the West Coast, then printed, then delivered locally—without using an expensive trans-continental delivery service.

Posted in 3D Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

Book Printing: More Thoughts on the Color Chip Book Snafu

September 16th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

I’ve written many blog postings about a small color chip print book for which I broker the custom printing. It is only a few inches long, 118 pages plus cover, laminated, drilled, and attached with a metal post and screw assembly. There are 22 master copies of which each requires only three to six copies for my client’s clients. My client is a fashionista. Her clients love these little books. So she reprints the job every few months.

When I last wrote about the print book, the inside pages of the color books (a tool used to suggest make-up and clothing colors that match one’s complexion) had not been laminated. (It was my fault, and I present this as a strong suggestion for all PIE Blog readers to check the list of specifications for all of their jobs one extra time, or more.) It’s so easy to think something is there when it’s not. The spec sheet is your primary contract with your commercial printing supplier. Approach it with respect.

That said, the printer reprinted the job and sent the books to my client. She then sent them on to her clients who had been waiting. Fortunately, the first press run (unlaminated) was color-accurate, so these books could be used to temporarily fill my client’s back-orders. This made for good public relations and probably even attracted some new customers.

When the reprinted and laminated (this time) books went out, my client got five complaints. The colors on one side of the color swatch book pages didn’t match the descriptions on the back side of the pages.

What to Do?

Needless to say, my client has been remarkably patient. Practically anyone else would have found another commercial printing supplier. Fortunately, my client trusts me, and both she and her business partner (separately) had had many problematic printings over the past several years (inside the United States and abroad). This may explain her patience.

My client was actually at an advantage for the following reasons:

  1. She had requested a preliminary press run (at cost) to make sure the colors were all as she expected. (After all, prior book printers had produced color swatch books with color shifts.) All of the colors were ganged up, so there were only a handful of full-size HP Indigo press sheets containing all 300+ hues (that showed up in various locations within the 22 master books).
  2. She had requested and carefully reviewed all virtual proofs the printer had provided for this particular press run. You might consider these PDFs to be akin to position proofs, like bluelines. We knew the colors were right. The goal of the PDF proofs was to ensure complete copy and colors placed in the right location with the correct margins. The time my client spent making sure these were accurate will have been well spent, since she will have proof of the misprinting (correct colors on the front, incorrect copy on the back).
  3. She informed all clients of the potential problem via an email newsletter, but she fortunately only heard back from five clients (apparently the other print books were ok). This was after several weeks, so she is reasonably certain that the extent of the problem is five books out of 126. (What had started as a much larger problem eventually filtered down into a five-book problem.)
  4. My client had in her possession at least one copy of all master print books (all 22 titles) except for two. She checked these and found no problems. Moreover, the problem books her clients had flagged were copies of the two master books my client did not have samples of (she had sent them out to paying clients).

Next Steps

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of quickly articulating and then quantifying a problem with a commercial printing run. In this case my client can say she needs five good books in exchange for five bad books she is returning. Granted, if this were offset lithography, this would be a crisis for the printer. Firing up an offset press to produce five 118-page-plus-cover books would be pretty much the same as firing up the press to reprint 100 or 200 books. The entire cost—a sizable one—would go into makeready. But for digital printing (remember, in most cases my client only had needed three or four copies of each of the 22 master books), this would not be a crisis for the book printer.

(As a point of information, if this had been an offset printing run, the printer would have been responsible only for the cost of the misprinted books, not for replacing them.)

I personally believe that the ideal sale involves both the client’s and the printer’s benefiting from the transaction. My client needs to reprint the job again, since she already has a substantial number of new pre-orders for the book. At the same time, the printer that messed up the fronts and backs of five books has been dead-on accurate in the color (all 300+ colors). Given the problems with past printers, this is a highly significant fact in their favor.

Therefore, my suggestion to my client at this point is the following:

  1. Have the current printer produce the new run of books. Give them enough lead time to do all the hand work (laminating, in particular) to ensure that quality standards are high. Avoiding this printer’s needing to rush will benefit my client as well as the printer.
  2. Send back the five books retrieved from my client’s clients along with the PDF proof showing that the final product was different from the proofs my client had approved (i.e., there’s no room for interpretation of the error or the responsibility).
  3. Ask that the printer add five new books to replace the five bad books (doing this during the new run will minimize effort and reduce the chance of error for the printer, which will also benefit my client).
  4. Send specs, target pricing, and sample books to two more printers (also trusted vendors) and ask for estimates. This way, if anything goes wrong with relations with the current printer (including its going out of business, as our prior printer did), there will be a “Plan B.”
  5. Take the time to thoroughly vet these two new book printers. This will include getting samples printed from the color swatch book files themselves (not just attractive book samples from the printers).
  6. By uncoupling the search for a back-up printer from the actual reprinting of the next set of my client’s books, we will ensure good decisions. After all, we don’t ever have to move the job, or we can move the print job at some point in the future. We just don’t need to shift printers immediately–in a panic–just to ensure that my client’s clients get their color swatch books on time.

What Is Not the Printer’s Fault?

On an entirely different note, another client of mine created the back cover, spine, and front cover art file for a perfect-bound textbook based on the text paper thickness (pages per inch), as noted on the book printer’s cover template. She positioned the text for the spine slightly off center (vertically, that is, between the front and back cover). She herself missed this on the proof, and yet she had somehow expected the printer to still catch and correct the error before printing the job.

Some printers would have caught this and fixed it just to make the client happy. This printer did not miss it on purpose. Obviously it was just a slight misalignment (not obvious when the flat cover sheets came off the press). It was a shame that it happened, but it was not the printer’s fault.

Fortunately, my client came back to this printer the following year (actually for a reprint of the art files he already had archived, which was a benefit). For this reprint, the printer did adjust the art file so the type on the spine was positioned correctly. My client was happy with the printer again.

The Take-Away

In your own work, always request a proof: every single time, even if it’s just a PDF (virtual) screen proof. Personally, I’d advise you to rule it out in pencil (to show the trim size) to make sure nothing is off center or too close to the trim (this is mostly for a PDF proof or an untrimmed cover proof). Or at least check the folds for accuracy (on a hard-copy proof). Also check the type position and completeness (make sure nothing is missing or out of place).

Your proof (and the accompanying sign-off sheet that shows the paper on which the job will be printed, how many copies will be printed, etc.) is an incredibly important document. Consider it to be a contract (like your spec sheet). It is the point in the process at which responsibility for the accuracy of the job passes from the printer to you. If something is wrong in the final job but correct on the proof, your printer has to make you whole. But if you missed something, it’s no longer the printer’s responsibility.

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

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