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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: A Primer on Embossing

February 4th, 2019

Posted in Embossing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Primer on Embossing

I was doing research on embossing yesterday, and I found an article that summarized just about everything I had ever read on the subject, so I thought it would be good to share it with all PIE Blog readers. It is entitled “The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing,” and it was posted by Rikard on www.zevendesign.com on 06/14/16. The article discusses what embossing is, how it’s done, what kinds of presses you can use, types of dies you can use, metals used for the dies, counter dies, embossing applications and options, and preparing artwork for embossing.

Here’s a synopsis:

What Is Embossing?

Embossing is a physical finishing process (done after custom printing) that raises a design on the surface of the printing paper above the surrounding paper. A design can also be recessed below the surrounding surface of the paper. This is called debossing. One can perform embossing by itself or pair this process with offset commercial printing, application of paper coatings, or foil stamping.

Embossing is done by pressing the printing paper between a metal die and an epoxy or paper counter die. The die has a single-level, multi-level, or varied-level (also called sculpted) image recessed into the metal. The counter die pushes the paper up into the metal die, molding the paper surface and creating the raised effect.

Embossing does not usually provide a deep impression. Rikard’s article notes that an embossed design usually is only (on average) about 1/64th of an inch deep.

When you want to deboss, rather than emboss, a design, you switch the die and counter die. In this case, as noted above, the design is recessed below the surrounding paper.

What Kinds of Presses Do Embossing?

Rikard lists several types of presses that can handle the pressure (and in some cases heat) necessary for embossing along with their benefits.

A clamshell press opens and closes like a clam and presses the paper between the die and counter die (positioned on either side of the press). It is easy to set up this press and change dies, so it lends itself to short runs of embossing. The Kluge is an example of this kind of press.

A straight stamp press brings the die straight down onto the paper. A straight stamp press takes longer to set up than a clamshell press, but the embossing process goes more quickly, so this kind of press is good for longer embossing runs.

A roll press is similar to an offset press. That is, it has an embossing die mounted on a roller, and paper is fed through the press and under the die. It takes much longer to prepare a roll press for embossing, and the dies themselves are more expensive to create, but the embossing process is much faster than with a clamshell or straight stamp press, so a roll press is the best choice for much longer embossing runs (hundreds of thousands or millions of copies).

Types of Dies

According to Rikard’s article, dies can be made from magnesium, copper, brass, or steel.

A single-level die raises the surface of the paper at only one level.

A multi-level die raises the surface of the paper to multiple levels. It can be prepared by machine (without hand-tooling). It is often created from brass, since brass is very durable.

A beveled-edge die is like a single-level die, but it has a slanted edge (30 or 60 degrees). This process can be used to create very deep dies to keep them from cutting through the commercial printing paper.

A chisel die has no flat bottom, just two edges that come to a point.

A textured die has an etched texture. It has a single level, but it is good for textured images and organic patterns.

A domed die is rounded (in contrast to the “V” shape of the chisel die).

A sculpted die includes multiple levels, curves, and angles at different depths. This process is very complex and requires hand tooling.

A combination die (also called a foil emboss die) achieves both embossing and foil stamping in a single step. However, as Rikard’s article notes, every element of the design that is embossed is also foil stamped (you can’t treat different portions of the design differently).

Metals for Dies

Magnesium is the least expensive metal for an embossing die, but it is also the least durable, lasting for only five to ten thousand impressions (and easily destroyed with a single paper misfeed). It costs half as much as copper and one fourth as much as brass. It is used for single-level dies.

Copper is also used for single-level dies. But it will last for up to 100,000 impressions. Both magnesium and copper can be etched with an acid bath to produce these single-level embossing designs.

Brass is used for multi-level and sculpted dies, and also for combination dies used for both embossing and foil stamping. Brass is much more durable than magnesium and copper, but it is two or three times as expensive as copper.

Rikard notes that “for most common emboss applications, copper dies are the best choice. Not significantly more expensive than magnesium dies, they will last longer and won’t be ruined by a paper jam. Magnesium dies are good for prototypes, due to their low cost and fast turnaround…. Brass dies are a necessity for combo, multi-level, or sculpted dies” (“The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing”).

Dies and Counter Dies

The die itself is made from the metals previously described. Their counter dies, however, are made from either epoxy or paper. In either case, the die is pressed into the counter die material to make a reverse impression. The paper counter die (which is good for short runs) is easily and quickly formed from the die with the heat and pressure of the process.

Rikard notes that “Because an emboss die is metal, the only control you have during the stamping process is the make-ready [the counter die]. By building it up or shaving it down in certain areas you can deepen, soften, or eliminate areas of emboss” (“The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Embossing”). Basically, you can selectively adjust the overall embossing effect without remaking the die by altering the counter die (or make-ready).

Embossing Applications

A blind emboss involves raising the level of the paper but not applying foil or adding offset printing to enhance the design. This is a subtle effect.

A registered emboss involves aligning a printed image or a foiled image with the embossed image.

A combination emboss involves embossing and foil stamping the same design. This is achieved with one sculpted brass die in one operation.

Preparing the Artwork for Embossing

Rikard notes that the prime directive in embossing is to provide artwork in vector format, using Illustrator or InDesign. Raster-based artwork (produced in an application like Photoshop) will create a jagged edge in the metal die that will cut through the paper.

Rikard also notes that embossing is the final step in the “finishing” process that follows the commercial printing process. That is, you can’t laminate or spot coat an embossed design.

Posted in Embossing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Primer on Embossing

Large Format Printing: Current Inkjet Options

January 29th, 2019

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments Off on Large Format Printing: Current Inkjet Options

I’ve been reading a lot about inkjet printing in the online journals recently. I have seen trends in the market toward improved inkjet for publications printed on roll-fed equipment that can produce significantly better quality than in past years in an economical manner.

However, along with the new trend (which just may usurp laser printing as a means for producing long-format documents digitally, such as textbooks and periodicals) I have seen a steady growth in large format printing on inkjet equipment. Why? Because it’s profitable. Why is it profitable? Because the quality is there, it’s infinitely variable, and it is economical. More importantly, large format printing is striking and memorable. Moreover, since many of the inks are water soluble, it’s also environmentally sound.

I thought you might find it interesting to review some of the substrates on which you can effectively print using digital inkjet equipment. Some of these will be familiar. Others you may not have thought about.

Large Format Signage

When I think of signage, I now think almost exclusively of grand-format inkjet, although people are still crafting permanent metal and glass channel letters for signs, or cutting and grinding wood, or manufacturing building signs out of stone or concrete.

But inkjet sign-making offers a lot of options for significantly less money. You can print on vinyl scrim, then hem the edges, and insert grommets to allow for tying up the large format print with ropes. (I once hung a banner like this on the exterior facade of a building. As I recall, it covered three stories of the structure. Since we had only a small crew of installers, I was struck by the way the wind tried to pull the huge banner out of my hands like a big kite or a sail.)

If you’re printing a similar large format graphic, talk with your large format print supplier about options. Your printer will need to know whether the print will be hung indoors or outdoors, as this will affect both the substrate and the inks used. For instance, solvent-based inks will be more light-fast (i.e., will tolerate the sunlight without fading) and will also stand up to weather (rain). Water-based dyes and pigments are fine for interior signage (particularly if the banner is temporary), but for exterior use, you need inks that are more robust.

So to be safe, think about how long you want to keep the banner, and where it will be displayed (even an indoor sign hung near a window will fade when exposed to sunlight day after day). Discuss with your custom printing supplier the various substrate options (vinyl, paper, and canvas–if interior–or even mesh, if you plan to affix the graphic on a window and you will need to see through the banner). You may also want to ask about inks (solvent, eco-solvent, UV, latex, dye vs. pigment). Some are more durable. Some provide more intense colors. Some are less taxing on the environment.

All of the aforementioned papers, fabrics, are meshes are essentially flexible substrates that come on rolls. But you don’t have to stop here. Depending on the kind of large format printing capabilities your supplier offers, you may even be able to print on rigid substrates such as doors and glass. Essentially, instead of either draping a banner on a wall or gluing it to a backing board, you can just print the graphic right on the wood, metal, or other rigid substance, but only if you’re using a flatbed digital inkjet press (not a roll-fed press).

When you’re discussing such work with your commercial printing supplier, here are some things to consider. If you’re printing on glass, for instance, you’re printing on a non-porous substrate. Regular inkjet inks will dry but not adhere to such a surface. However, using UV inks, which cure instantly when exposed to ultraviolet light, you can print directly on non-porous surfaces, either flexible (with a roll-fed inkjet printer) or rigid (with a flatbed inkjet printer).

Again, it’s smart to discuss with your printer the environmental conditions in which you plan to hang the graphic. UV inks do adhere well to flat, non-porous surfaces, but they can still be scratched off. So discuss rub resistance with your printer, and ask about any surface coatings that might further protect your large format print image.

Vehicle Wraps

Let’s not forget the potential marketing space on the side of a bus or a car. Vehicle wraps are hot. They will make a car or bus really stand out from all the other vehicles on the road. Do keep in mind, however, that printing on the vinyl is just a part of the process. You also need a skilled vendor who can adhere the graphic to all the nooks and crannies of the exterior of a car or bus. This is specialized work. Done well, it can be heart-stopping. Done badly it can be a waste, or it can damage your brand.

Fabric Printing

You can write books on the current digital custom printing options available for interior design. You can print drapes, bedding, pillow covers, wallpaper. Fortunately, these are all interior uses of large format printing. However, in this case the composition of the fabric will determine the particular technology you use. Direct inkjet is fine for cotton-based fabric. However, for polyester, you need to either transfer the graphic from a carrier sheet to the substrate (with some technologies, you can initially print directly on the substrate) and then sublimate the fabric inks into the polyester fibers using intense heat. Fortunately this technology preserves and in some cases actually improves the vibrant colors of the fabric inks.

And if you don’t need to produce bolts of fabric for interior design, you can always print on fabric to create flags and table throws. (Table throws are large graphics on fabric that can be laid over a table at a convention site, providing a marketing opportunity as well as protecting the table.)

Or you can print on garments. While these really aren’t large format print graphics, inkjet is still suitable (direct inkjet for cotton and dye sublimation for polyester). Or, you can print on vinyl transfer material and then use a heat press to adhere the graphic to the t-shirt or other garment.

What to Consider and Discuss with Your Printer

First of all, most printers will not have all of these technologies or inks. You may need to do some research and request samples to verify quality. Ask your current print suppliers. If they can’t do something in-house, perhaps they can refer you to a trustworthy large format print supplier.

Then describe the kind of graphic, the environmental conditions, and the length of time it will be in use. (Fortunately, such things as vehicle wraps can be repaired. Since they come from digital files, if you damage part of a car wrap, you can just print out a small section, and remove and replace the damaged part of the graphic.)

Discuss the various substrates (canvas, vinyl, fabric, paper, film, back-lit film) and the various inks (dye-based vs. pigmented ink, latex, solvent, eco-solvent, UV) and their durability and color properties (color gamut, intensity, color fidelity, and such).

I’d also encourage you to research these variables yourself, online, in addition to searching for a trustworthy large format printing vendor. And it’s always prudent to request samples. When you have the samples, don’t hesitate to test them. (For instance, if your banner will be outside, get the sample wet and see how it fares.)

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments Off on Large Format Printing: Current Inkjet Options

Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

January 21st, 2019

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

About four years ago my fiancee and I had a house fire. In the ensuing months we went to all manner of cabinet stores, tile stores, and flooring stores (in addition to CraigsList vendors) to collect materials for rebuilding the house. Needless to say, I saw more than my share of floor and wall coverings that had been digitally decorated. It was intriguing since I had grown up with real wood and real stone, but I filed it away in my memory.

Then, earlier this week I read an article in www.whattheythink.com entitled “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking,” by Ron Gilboa (published on 9/21/18), and everything gelled in my brain. This is another growth industry within the commercial printing universe. Another article (in Wikipedia) regarding rotogravure custom printing (and its uses in decorating materials for flooring) helped all of this come together in my mind. It became crystal clear to me that large format printing, digital printing, gravure printing, and the flooring industry offered interior designers new and exciting opportunities.

The Article: A Synopsis

Gilboa’s article references the biannual International Woodworking Fair, which recently held its Digital Printing Symposium in Atlanta, GA, from August 21 to 25. The focus of the event was the intersection of “short-run, cost-effective decorative surfaces” with the “ongoing development in [the] digital inkjet printing sector” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

The symposium, which attracted woodworking companies like Barberan, Baumer, Cefla Finishing, North American Plywood, and Schattdecor, as well as digital custom printing companies like Canon and Vanguard digital, addressed “mass customization in an $11 billion M2 per year décor laminate market and an over $140 billion annual woodworking industry in the U.S. alone” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

What this really means is that woodworking companies and digital inkjet printing companies pooled their resources and knowledge base to focus on creating custom designs for cabinetry, paneling, high-pressure laminates, flooring laminates, and such, to help individuals enhance their living spaces and to help interior designers and architects provide striking and unique additions to their work.

An added benefit to the quality and specialized nature of these decorated products is the ability to print them on demand, reducing the need for product storage and inventory. In fact, the new technology also avoids product obsolescence.

That is, the long press runs of printed flooring materials done on gravure presses not only require the expense of the gravure cylinders—the printing plates—but they also have huge minimum runs to stay cost-effective. In contrast, new digital inkjet printing on flooring can produce both short- and long-run products cost-effectively. Therefore, there’s less chance that a supplier would over-produce a particular flooring design that might become obsolete and therefore useless.

Gilboa’s article also notes a technical benefit of digital inkjet printing that sets it above gravure for flooring decoration. That is, designs that exceed 15 feet before repeating would not be printable on a gravure press (they would exceed the circumference of the press cylinder that prints the design). In contrast, large format inkjet printing can produce designs larger than gravure’s maximum print dimensions.

Furthermore, “Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking” references a new concept in flooring, the “rainbow roll.” In contrast to the usual high-run minimums for gravure print runs (the article notes that one ton of paper–2,000 pounds–is the typical minimum order), the rainbow roll can “contain several lengths of print jobs with different designs based on client requirements” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”). This makes sense since digital inkjet printing can produce just enough of one design to decorate the interior of just one client’s office or home. Therefore, the concept of the rainbow roll of short-run flooring decoration material is a groundbreaking concept, one that avoids both obsolescence and waste.

An Example of Digital Flooring Decoration

Gilboa puts these benefits in concrete terms in his article, describing an intriguing decoration approach by North American Plywood, one of the producers of the International Woodworking Fair’s Digital Printing Symposium. North American Plywood sands and primes, and then inkjet prints and coats decorated boards used for flooring. Using this technology, they can stain natural wood and veneers, or even fully coat paneling using UV inks and large format inkjet commercial printing equipment.

However, instead of immediately curing the UV ink with UV light, North American Plywood lets the UV ink sit on the wood and soak into the wood fibers. After the ink seeps in, the company can cure the wood with UV light and then coat the panels to ensure abrasion resistance.

Gilboa notes that “the result is a wood face that looks naturally stained, or resembles a premium wood species, simulated on a less expensive baseboard” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

As Gilboa highlights in a quote from Grand Burkholder from Sauder Woodworking Company, “The capabilities of … [digital printing], creating depth of pattern, reproducing wood species, using pigmented inks, is amazing” (“Digital Print, Expanding Horizons in Woodworking”).

Implications of the New Technology

Here are my thoughts:

  1. You can make any wood you choose (perhaps a less expensive wood, or even a more durable wood), look like any other wood. (Presumably there are limitations.) This bodes well for controlling building costs without sacrificing appearance. If the choice of wood you’re simulating allows for a more durable substrate (such as custom printing wood grain on water resistant flooring that can be used in a basement), all the better.
  2. You can control inventory and waste. Therefore you can spend less on a warehouse to store inventory, as well as less on equipment and labor to maintain and track inventory. Your designs never have to become obsolete because you’re producing only what you need (not a huge minimum order). Due to the efficiencies in the process, you also have less waste.
  3. You can allow for more creativity and personalization in the interior designs due to the color gamut and resolution of inkjet technology. For instance, you can include photorealistic images on flooring. And you can create a one-off design for a client who wants an interior “look” that no one else has.

So specifically within the realm of interior design, inkjet printing on flooring, along with printing on wall treatments, glass, and even bedding and drapery, can provide unlimited creative options for interior designers. Moreover, the growth within this arena of commercial printing can provide lucrative jobs for both designers and sales professionals.

So it’s worth your time reading the trade journals and staying current with developments in the digital decoration of custom wood products.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing on Wood Flooring

Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

January 14th, 2019

Posted in Tags | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

I recently wrote a PIE Blog article about a client who needed hang-tags for her client’s restaurant.

Recap of the Job Specs and Intended Usage

More specifically, the job specs involve a 10,000-copy press run on 65# or 80# white smooth uncoated cover paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds. The trim size is 5 3/16″ x 2 11/16″.

Initially, the specs also included an option for a 100# text paper.

My client’s client plans to either tape these die cut hang-tags onto his pre-packaged restaurant food boxes or in some cases hang them on the boxes or other restaurant food items with a string through the drill hole on the tag. Because of this he wanted to make sure the paper for the hang-tags was not too heavy. After all, if the 130# or 170# double thick cover paper I had suggested had been used, the final die cut hang-tags would have been too rigid for the intended use.

Moreover, my client’s client plans to hand-print Thai glyphs related to the Asian restaurant on the preprinted hang-tags. (That is, the commercial printing vendor will print the logo and some other information related to the restaurant onto the hang-tags, and then the restaurant owner will add the hand-printed Thai glyphs.) It was for this reason that I suggested an uncoated, smooth printing stock. My client had also wondered about a matte coated sheet, but she was concerned that the hand-printed stamp ink might smear.

So be safe, we posed all of these questions to the owner of the commercial printing shop we had initially approached with this job. Since he was ideally suited to print the job (i.e., he had the right equipment), and since he tended to be reasonably priced, we decided to get only one price at this point. It would help us set the budget for my client’s client. It would also clarify some of the points of which we were unsure. We felt we could always solicit competitive bids later.

The Printer’s Answers

Right off the bat the custom printing supplier suggested not printing the tags on 100# text stock. He said the paper was too thin to be die cut effectively (i.e., the die cutting could be rough and uneven).

He also encouraged us to use an uncoated sheet rather than a matte coated sheet. He said the hand-printed stamp-pad ink would be less likely to smear on an uncoated sheet. In fact, even a non-gloss coating (dull or matte) would increase the likelihood of the hand-applied ink’s smearing.

(To put this in context, uncoated paper comes in a variety of finishes. These include wove, which is quite smooth and without much visible texture; vellum, which has more of a “tooth” or roughness; eggshell, which has a bit of a puckered surface; and antique, which has a rough surface. All of these share a common trait. They have no surface coating (a coating of clay and other chemicals and binders, which allows the ink to sit up on the surface of the press sheet more than it seeps into the paper fibers). This is called ink “hold-out.” It makes for a crisper look. Ink that has soaked into uncoated stock will dull down as it dries. This is not a bad thing. It’s just something you need to expect, and in my client’s client’s case (the restaurateur), it will provide a textured, earthy feel to the printed piece.)

Pricing the Job

The commercial printing vendor was able to gang up a number of copies of the hang-tags on a press sheet (even on his relatively small presses, which are close to 20”x 28” in format, as I recall, although I could be off a bit). This is in contrast to the much larger presses owned by big print shops that might take a 28” x 40” press sheet or larger. Such a press would allow for ganging up even more hang-tags on a single press sheet.

As simple a job as this seems, it involves die cutting. That is, the edges of the card on one side will be trimmed diagonally, and there will be a hole for tying the tag onto the restaurant’s boxes or other items (when the tags are not taped on).

The printer noted that if the job had a much smaller print run, it might be possible to use a router table to do the die cutting (onsite, at the printer), but this would get expensive as quantity (and therefore time for the die cutting) goes up, so for a 10,000-copy press run of hang-tags, the printer said he would need to create a die.

For the printing part of the job, this custom printing supplier would charge about $400. I thought this was quite reasonable. However, the cost of a metal die, produced by an outside vendor, would add an additional $588. This cost would include the custom metal die ($240) and the actual process of die cutting the hang-tags ($348).

To put this in context, a metal die cutting rule is cut, bent into its intended shape, inserted into a wood backing, and then placed in a dedicated die cutting press (like a converted letterpress). The stamping process of this particular kind of press (which is different from an offset lithographic press) cuts out the shape of the hang-tag (its diagonal edges, for instance) all the way around the tag, and the waste paper is pulled away from the tags. The die is made by an outside vendor, and then it is used by the vendor to do the die cutting.

The custom printing vendor did note that the cost to make the die was a one-time charge (the $240). When my client reprinted the job (which would be likely, since the restaurateur’s hang-tags would be used on every product not brought to a restaurant table), the only charges would be for the printing and die cutting processes (since the metal die rule would be kept for the restaurateur’s later use). Over time this would save a lot of money. In addition, the printing cost for 10,000 hang-tags would presumably be lower than pricing from other vendors (to be confirmed).

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

  1. The first thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the smallest job is more complex than you might think. A hang-tag usually needs to be die cut by a subcontractor. This raises the cost of the project. It also reduces your printer’s control over the job schedule. That said, most printers don’t have this capability in-house.
  2. No one knows more about a printer’s specific equipment than the printer himself. When the printer I approached suggested that I not die cut 100# text paper (and instead choose a 65# or 80# uncoated cover sheet), I took this advice very seriously. To me it means that if I choose the 100# text stock, the printer could have mechanical problems, and I probably won’t like the results.
  3. Making dies is expensive, but the printing industry is gradually moving toward laser die cutting. This will eliminate the need for metal dies as well as the storage of these dies. You may want to to keep abreast of developments in laser die cutting and creasing.
  4. Anything other than right angles will probably require a die (such as a front-cover window knock-out on a presentation cover, or the pockets on a presentation folder). For simple jobs with very short runs, your printer may be able to use a router table. You may want to ask. But for long jobs, the unit cost will be cheaper for the die. That said, if you pick a standard design for a pocket folder (or another job involving die cutting), you may be able to use an existing die. (Of course, this might mean changing your initial design plans in order to save the money by not creating a custom die.) It never hurts to ask.

Posted in Tags | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing Redux

Custom Printing: Designing a Logo for an Asphalt Paver

January 7th, 2019

Posted in Design | 2 Comments »

When the driveway paving person came up to our house a few days ago to retrieve a coroplast sign he had inadvertently left behind, he said he was glad my fiancee and I hadn’t thrown it away. He said the signs had been expensive.

Being a custom printing broker, I said I might be able to get them for less than he had been paying. The words just came out. “One seller to another,” I said. “I’m a commercial printing salesperson.”

So we sat down to discuss what he had, and what he needed. The coroplast lawn sign quickly morphed into magnetic signs for the sides of his trucks, a complete vehicle wrap for one of his vans, coffee mugs, hats, and the jewel in the crown of it all: a new logo. He needed a new logo to put on everything.

How I Approached the Job

During my 40-year history within the field of graphic arts and commercial printing, I have been both a designer and an art director. Therefore, I thought back to what I knew to be the best practices for designing a logo: that is, how I could give my client the most versatile and dynamic logo possible, and also help him understand how best to use it on his varied promotional materials.

To do this, I started with Google Images. I looked at hundreds of his competitors’ logos. I wanted to steep myself in all things related to driveway repaving, so I could make his new logo both fit in (be recognizable by his potential clients) and stand out (be more unique, more inspiring of trust, and more striking than his competitors’ logos).

My client had voiced an interest in putting the state flag inside the type outlines of his company name. I had made a mental note. I had also noticed that he liked my business card. Since my card is crisp, simple, and spare in its design, I also kept this in mind as I approached the next step: brainstorming and creating mock-ups.

Making Multiple Mock-Ups

Because my client liked my business card, I started his design with the same display typeface I had used for mine, Gill Sans. It is a sans serif type that includes dramatic diagonal strokes in the letterforms. You could say that it is simple, dynamic, and even “architectural.” To me it seemed appropriate for a building contractor, a company that builds physical “things.”

I started with the idea my client had voiced, putting the state flag in the outlines of the name of his company. When I tried it, the result seemed to be too complex and perhaps even unrecognizable. You couldn’t readily identify the state flag. (I knew that anything other than instant recognition would slow down the viewer, and that he or she would move on to other things.)

As an alternative, which would still address my client’s stated goals, I created a rectangular cropping of the flag blowing in the wind. This gave the image a sense of movement. On top of this image of the flag I placed the title of my client’s business. The first word I set in all capital letters, flush right (white, reversed out of the flag). The second word (“asphalt”), I set in all lowercase letters, also flush right. I tightened up the leading so both words (both lines of flush-right type) would read as a single unit, and so the visual outline of the two words would be a simple geometric form.

I did all of this first in black-only type over a grayscale image. I wanted the design to work in its simplest form. When it worked, I knew I could always add color. In fact, what I did next was duplicate the logo and replace the black-and-white flag with a slightly ghosted, full-color image, with the flag in the same position, so my client would have two options of this version from which to choose.

I had said I would give my client three options, so I took the type treatment I had created and placed it on a different background. In this case I created a picture box filled with a photo of asphalt. (You might be surprised at the variety and interest you can find in a photo of asphalt. There were changes in tone as well as a number of identifiable rocks in the image.)

At the same time, this made for a simple but very tactile, textural background. I reversed the first word in my client’s company name (all caps, as before, and flush right to be somewhat different from all the other logos). Then I created an asphalt gray color for the second word in his logo (again, also flush right). At this point I had a black-and-white-only logo. I thought this might be striking, since all the other logos included a lot of color. To create visual interest and contrast, I then added an abstract image of a road (a wide, black line with a bright red, dashed line on top of it). This I placed immediately above the first word of my client’s company name, the all-uppercase name of the state in which his business operated.

As a variant, I removed the black solid line but kept the red dashed line, crossing the photo from left to right and ending at the logotype. The photo of the asphalt added texture, and the splash of red added drama. At this point I had two options (with an alternate version for each).

Since my fiancee is an artist, she wanted to provide a third option to round out our offerings. So we took a map of the state, at her suggestion, and scanned it. The outline was readily recognizable. Over this we placed the logotype (both words, with the state name still in all caps and the second name of the company in lowercase letters). For all three versions of the logo, we decided to stick with the same typeface.

Over the image of the map we placed the “A” for Asphalt (the second word in the company name) in bright red. Then we wrapped the two words of the company name around this “A.” The “A” was large enough that the touch of bright red anchored the viewer’s eye on the “A,” which looked curiously just like a red plastic cone used by asphalt pavers to warn oncoming traffic. The bright red “A” also acted as a visual hook, and the remaining text, nestled in tightly against the side of the “A,” all hung together as a single unit.

So we now had a third option for our client, the name of the company over a screened-back shape of the state in which his business operated.

The next step will be to send him PDFs of the logos for his initial feedback.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Make sure the logo you create is relevant. It’s easy to make something look attractive or even striking, but if it does not relate to the client’s business, it will not stick in your client’s (or her or his client’s) mind. Make sure that what the logo means and how it looks are congruent.
  2. The best way to start is to look at the competition. Use Google Images, and you’ll have more ideas than you’ll ever want. The goal will just be to do something completely different that stands out but that also looks like it’s for the same kind of business. This isn’t easy.
  3. Think in terms of simplicity. The logo will need to be recognizable in both small (on business cards) and large (on signage) formats. Simplicity is the key. That’s why it’s also good to see how it will look in black and white only, as well as in color. You never know. Someone might still have a fax machine.
  4. Choose fonts that relate to the tone or “feel” of your client’s company: its vision, purpose, and values. For instance, if it’s a traditional business, like a law firm, consider an Old Style font. Or if it’s a builder, maybe a slab serif typeface would be more appropriate.
  5. Create multiple iterations of the logo. If your ideas are working, you might want to take one element (like the typeface) into the next version just to see how it looks. If not, try other typefaces or other treatments. Try versions with photos, and then try versions with type only. Or create options with type and simple icons.

These are just a few ideas. Creating logos is a subject that could fill a bookcase full of books and take a lifetime to master. But the best way to start is to find logos you like–and particularly those that pertain to your client’s field of expertise—and try to determine why they work. (I call this “deconstructing” the logo: asking myself what it is trying to do and how it is achieving this goal.) Then go and make some of your own.

Posted in Design | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Everything Is an Advertisement

December 28th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Everything Is an Advertisement

About 25 years ago, when I was an art director/production manager, the non-profit foundation for which I worked brought in a marketing consultant. Even though it was a quarter of a century ago, I still remember two things he said.

First he told a story of a campaign he had created for a foundation seeking funding to help the disabled. He had sent wheelchairs to select donors and had asked them to spend a day in the wheelchair and then donate what they thought appropriate. (Sort of a “walk a mile in my shoes” approach.)

The second thing this consultant said that stuck with me was the following: Everything you do, every printed piece you send out to a client, is an advertisement. (This was before the concept of “branding” had become so widely known.)

From this consultant’s story and his insight on advertising, I came away with a deep conviction that he was right on both counts.

What Does This Have to Do With Book Printing?

A print brokering client of mine is producing three new print book titles this coming year. The client is a husband and wife publishing team. They focus on the quality production values that set apart print books from more generic print-on-demand books and the digital-only books you read on a screen. My clients always have French flaps on their print books, faux-deckle edges on the books’ paper, and superb cover art. They also have the printer coat the covers of the books with a soft-touch matte film laminate, and they request a press score on the front and back covers (a vertical score parallel to the spine that makes it easier to open the books).

These characteristics of my clients’ books tell a story about them. They reflect my clients’ values. These characteristics say that my clients appreciate the tactile qualities only a print book can have. This value is a part of my clients’ brand. A part of who they are and what they offer their clients. So whatever they send out, be it a flyer noting an upcoming book launch or even a new print book itself, everything is an advertisement.

Cover Coating the Galleys

Prior to printing the final editions of these three books next year, my clients will produce “galleys” for selected readers to review and comment on. My clients will then incorporate these comments into their final texts prior to the final book printing. This will do a few things:

  1. It will improve the final books. After all, nothing adds to the quality of a work in progress more than input from one’s colleagues who themselves are writers, teachers, and book reviewers.
  2. It will promote the books. This is a bit unusual. My clients produce books of fiction and poetry, and in the past, in most cases, galleys were of low quality and were only used as editorial tools (albeit for multiple readers to review). Promotional copies came at a slightly later stage, when the text of the work had been set in final form. In my clients’ case, this galley really functions as both a galley and a promotional copy. Because of this, and because of what the consultant said to me 25 years ago, it is clear to me that these books are an advertisement for my clients’ brand and their values, the reasons they don’t just produce e-books.

The Specs for the Galleys

How this relates to book printing will become more clear as we focus on the specifications for the galleys. Unlike the final books, the galleys will not have deckle edges on their face trim. Nor will they have French flaps or a press score. They will just be 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound books with 70# offset text and 12pt. 4-color covers and black-only-text ink.

To save my clients’ money, and since these are not the final books, to date we have printed the covers digitally (usually a 50-copy press run) and without a cover coating. After all, they may need to look good, but they don’t need to look good for very long, since the final copies with the French flaps will follow them into production within a short time.

That said, the printer, a new vendor who specializes in book printing, noted his firm belief that these books should in fact be coated with a gloss laminate to prevent scuffing during shipping.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by his proactive stance, but I brought his suggestion to my clients. Overall, this would raise the prices for each of the galley press runs by only about $40.00 (for 75 copies this time), so it was not a lot of money. I thought it was a good investment in the quality of my clients’ books but also a good investment in their brand image. I said as much, and they agreed.

However, when I asked the printer for the cost of a matte film laminate (the initial bid was for gloss), his pricing went up an additional $40.00. On the one hand, the final books would be cover coated with a soft-touch matte film laminate, so you could argue that consistent treatment of all covers would be good for the brand. It would show coherence. It would be a good advertisement for my clients’ work. Moreover, this would work on a subconscious (and yet still powerful) level with readers.

But, in the final analysis, my clients, the printer, and I felt this was overkill, since the goal was protection of the ink on the print book covers and since the cost of coating the covers was starting to approach a sizable chunk of the total expense.

As an afterthought, what has made this an easier than usual process, in determining the nuances of the cover coating, has been the specific nature of the printer. He is a book printer. Unlike most printers, he has all of the equipment to do the printing, cover coating, and binding in-house. Therefore, the turn-around time is reasonable, and the prices are superb, leaving primarily (but not exclusively) the aesthetics of the product to inform the final decision.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you parse out this experience I had, a few teaching points come to mind:

  1. It’s always helpful to have a book printer print a book. A commercial printer can usually also print a book, but he may not have in-house perfect binding, case binding, or even some of the more esoteric cover coating options you might like. If he has to subcontract this work, it will lengthen the schedule, raise the price, and possibly even take away some of the printer’s control over the quality of the final product.
  2. Think about the overall “look,” not only of an individual printed product but also of the other printed pieces that will accompany it. When you varnish, UV coat, or laminate one product, consider the overall look of all the products together. You may still choose a different coating for each, but it will be a reasoned decision (sometimes even a decision based on money as well as aesthetics).
  3. Keep in mind that everything from your business cards to your emails to your texts to your most high-profile printed product is an ad. It speaks volumes about both your customer and about you.

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Book Printing: Don’t Forget the Book Designer

December 10th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Don’t Forget the Book Designer

A potential book printing client of mine is producing a 6” x 9”, 220-page, perfect-bound book. Over the last few weeks we have been discussing her project, and I have been providing prices. What’s intriguing to me is that she had been considering printing her book through an on-line, print-on-demand publisher, but after our discussions, she likes the personal attention of working with a custom printing broker and going to a “brick-and-mortar” printer. She had spoken to a number of friends, and some had not been altogether satisfied with the overall quality of their print-on-demand books.

I heard back from her this week after a hiatus during which she had been considering her options.

One of the items I had included in her book printing estimate was the line: “artwork submitted as press-ready PDF files.” When my client contacted me, she asked whether all of the printers wanted the art files prepared this way or whether they could do the formatting themselves. She also asked whether there was an additional cost for this service.

Her question took me aback. It showed that both she and I had made assumptions. I assumed she was a graphic artist, used to designing books in InDesign, while in reality she was preparing a job for her father-in-law in MS Word. She was a writer, not a designer.

So this is what I told my client.

Formatting is an extra cost for any commercial printing company. I had found her prices for two book printing suppliers that could do the formatting. One would charge $80.00 per hour. He thought he could produce the book in four or five hours, but this was based on no knowledge of what the book would look like. He would need to see what was involved before providing a firm estimate. The second printer would do the formatting for $45.00 per hour. I told my client that this was a great price, since I myself would do similar work for $70.00 an hour.

I noted that since the overall printing price for 30 copies produced digitally would range from $350.00 to $540.00 (depending on the vendor), the design component of the job would almost double the overall cost. And that’s just assuming a simple design job.

I did ask the book printer, however, whether the client could submit a MS Word file saved as a PDF, if the job were just simple text. I noted that many printers do not like MS Word files. One reason among many is that these files are saved in the RGB (red, green, blue) color space (used for creating colors on computer monitors) rather than the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color space used for creating colors with ink on paper. One printer had brought this to my attention. I had also been concerned about potential formatting errors introduced in the translation from MS Word to PDF files (any extra spacing, problems with special characters, font issues—I just hadn’t been sure).

Suggestions for My Client

The first thing I did was ask my client about her specific print book. I realized that my assumption that it would be one continuous column of text throughout the 220 pages (with potential running headers and folios as well as chapter opening pages) might not be correct. I asked whether the book had photos or charts or whether it was only a single text column running through all pages.

This is what she said.

The book is mainly a single text column with footnotes. There are some photos (maybe 10), charts (2), and maps (6-10). So these are the only things that really need to be worked out on the formatting. She agreed that it would make sense to create and work off a template.

So right off the bat we were working with a rather complex design, or at least something requiring a designer and not just someone to “format the text.”

This process made it clear to me that as a printing broker I was assuming the text of a book really didn’t matter except for whether it was 4-color process, black and a spot color, or black ink only (i.e., what the printer would need to know). My client, on the other hand, assumed the job was ready for the printer when all the words in the text file were perfect.

Communicating Design Requirements

I told my client that the best thing she could do to keep costs down was to give the designer samples (scanned and sent as PDFs) of printed work she liked. If she could show the designer what she wanted the cover and text to look like (including the type size; fonts; and treatment of photos, headlines, folios, running headers, charts, etc.), then the designer could “format” her book in that way on the first attempt. This way there would be no miscommunication. The designer wouldn’t have one “look” in mind while my client had another.

This also reminded me that for even the smallest job (whether a simple book or a one-page announcement), the fundamentals of good design still applied.

We’ll see what she says when we talk next.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you yourself are not a designer, you still have to consider the design of a book and then hire someone to do this part of the job for you. The overall job will then cost more than just the printing. Then again, it’s more than just “formatting,” because how the overall book looks will strongly (and in many cases subconsciously) affect the reader. If the book is hard to read (type too small, or type in a font that’s hard to read for some reason–like a script font or a display font used primarily for headlines), your reader’s eyes will tire. Once this happens, you’ve lost him or her.

In addition, if the overall look of the print book doesn’t match its tone and purpose, your reader will be confused or put off. For example, if your subject matter is technical and you choose a floral typeface, this will confuse the reader. And anything that takes the reader’s attention away from the content of the book will detract from his or her experience. These days people have limited attention spans and limited reading time, so you want the reader’s experience to be easy and enjoyable.

Overall, this means that if you are not a designer yourself, you need to hire one.

To do this, first ask for printed samples of the designer’s work. Then show the designer samples of print books you like. Next, request a mock-up of the main elements of the book: cover, title page, table of contents, chapter opening, etc. In fact, you might even want to request a few pages showing two or three alternate type/design treatments, even before the designer produces a complete mock-up including each of the main book components.

Look first for readability. This will depend on the choice of font and its point size, the space between lines, and the width of the column. The main question is whether it is easy to read. Think also about the age of the readers. Middle-aged eyes need larger type sizes to allow for comfortable reading.

Only after you are satisfied with mock-ups of all elements of the book should you ask the designer to proceed with a cover proof and proofs of all text pages, front and back matter. etc. This goes double if you’re including charts, graphs, and photographs, as my client will be doing. What you want to avoid is a 220-page book proof with design elements you don’t like. Work these issues out in the initial mock-up, not the first page proof.

Finally (and this is actually the first thing to think about if you’re working with a designer), make sure the MS Word document is the final edited and accurate copy of the text. Of course there will be some edits, but if you want to keep the budget under control, edit the book before you submit it for final design, not at the first proof stage.

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Custom Printing: Digital Ceramic Printing on Glass

December 2nd, 2018

Posted in Printing on Glass | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Digital Ceramic Printing on Glass

I read a few articles online this week about custom printing on glass. My interest piqued, I did further research. What interested me the most were the facts that glass is non-porous and that printing on glass needs to be durable (after all, if an architect builds a structure and the printing on the glass panes degrades, it could be extremely expensive to repair or replace). So how can you print on glass in such a way that the image won’t scratch off and degrade? This was my question.

The History of Printing on Glass

According to my research, prior to 2007 the two methods for printing on glass were screen printing and digital UV printing.

The first option, screen printing, included both direct custom printing (by forcing ink through a stencil on a mesh screen) and transfer printing (printing on paper and then transferring the image to the glass substrate). In both cases, it was necessary to fire the glass, once printed, in order to permanently bond the ink to the substrate.

UV printing, on the other hand, came about much later, relying on UV light to instantly cure the inks. Unlike ceramic inks, UV inks just sit on the surface of the glass and are not permanently bonded to the substrate. Therefore they are not durable enough for exterior architectural use or automotive use. Although it is possible to achieve a wide color gamut and precisely detailed imagery, UV ink printing on glass is best used indoors.

Next Generation Technology

After UV inks and screen printing, the next technological advancement was the digital printing of ceramic inks directly onto the glass substrate, followed by the firing of the glass to permanently fuse the pigments to the substrate.

This provides several benefits:

  1. Unlike screen printing, digital custom printing with ceramic inks does not involve all of the makeready necessary with mesh screens. Therefore, the process is easier to complete, and short runs are economical.
  2. Like UV digital printing, digital printing with ceramic inks can achieve striking detail and a wide color gamut.
  3. Unlike UV digital printing (but like screen printing), the nature of the ceramic inks and the additional firing step following printing make the image on the printed glass extremely durable. Therefore, this process is ideal for both interior and exterior decorative and functional purposes. That is, you can print an attractive image on the glass (decorative), or you can print patterns that diffuse the light or reduce the heating effects of the sun (functional).
  4. Unlike screen printing, digital ceramic ink printing is easily repeatable. Therefore, if a printed glass panel is damaged, it is much easier to match the design and color of the original image when reprinting the new panel.
  5. Technology is in use to seamlessly integrate the imaging software (the computer application in which you create the design), the ceramic ink printing equipment, and the digital ceramic inks. This affords precise control over not only the color but also the level of transparency/opacity of the printed glass substrate.

Uses for Glass Printing

To put this technology into context, here are some of the uses for commercial printing on glass, which can include text, images, or patterns:

  1. You can print an attractive design. For instance, you can create glass mirrors with subtle but detailed imagery to decorate the interior of an office space.
  2. You can print a functional design. For instance, if you have a meeting room with floor to ceiling glass interior windows and you want to give the people in the meetings a measure of privacy, you can print an image that reduces transparency, or you can print a pattern, such as a matte frosting, that merely increases the opacity of the glass without having a discernible image.
  3. You can use printing (such as patterns) to control the heating effects of the sun through exterior glass windows.
  4. You can use printing (such as patterns) to diffuse light.
  5. You can reduce the chance that birds will fly into the windows.

How This Is Done

This is the science behind the art of commercial printing on glass:

  1. Image processing software (a raster image processor, of which Photoshop would be a more generic example) not only prints the ceramic frit-based inks but also controls their application (thickness of the ink film, for instance) based on desired levels of transparency/opacity and the size and thickness of the glass substrate. (Frit is a temperature resistant ink containing particles of glass and ceramic as well as pigment. It is durable and abrasion resistant, and it helps adhere the ink to the glass substrate.)
  2. Digital ceramic frit-based inks are used based on the CMYK color model. The frit-based inks contain ceramic frit and inorganic pigments. These are fired, after printing, to fuse with the glass. During this process, the intense heat decomposes the inorganic additives and binders in the ink. Then the heat fuses the frit to the glass and the pigments, expels any voids to compact the ink film, and forms “a bubble-free layer of constant thickness and homogeneous pigment dispersion within the glass” (Wikipedia).
  3. The third element is the ceramic ink printer, which is a flatbed digital printing device with print heads that move over the rigid surface of the glass, spraying the pigmented ceramic inks onto the substrate. Inline drying elements immediately fix the drops of ink in place, allowing for single-pass printing and sharp image detail. The precision of the printers (and the drying technology) allow for 720 dpi printing on substrates up to 10.8 x 59 feet (approximately), with vibrant hues, consistent and repeatable color, and fine detail.

The Take Away

  1. If you have design skills and experience, there are jobs out there. You can apply your skills to either aesthetic decoration of glass or functional design (which is another growing arena of commercial printing).
  2. The same thing is true if you have production knowledge and experience, and sales acumen. The field is growing (again, in both decorative and functional commercial printing), so there is an increasing need for sales professionals.
  3. Or, if you are a production person (perhaps from an in-house prepress unit of a custom printing supplier), there are production jobs out there bringing together skills and knowledge in raster image processing, ink composition, the firing of ceramics, and digital printing equipment.

The marketplace is driving this growth in digital ceramic printing technology, and it seems to be on a tear.

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Large Format Printing: A Huge Case-Bound Book

November 27th, 2018

Posted in Standees | Comments Off on Large Format Printing: A Huge Case-Bound Book

I assembled and installed a large format print standee for the new Deadpool movie yesterday (called Once Upon a Deadpool). Interestingly, based on the title of the film, the standee is made to look exactly like a huge case-bound print book.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a book this large (just over 5 feet by 8 feet) since the 1960s (a huge book on the TV series Batman). What piqued my interest was its size, how closely it resembled a real case-bound print book, and the fact that both the spine and face trim (the pages) were crafted so as to curve. (Another way of saying this is that the faux book had a rounded spine, so the face trim of the pages also curved inward.)

The Curvature of the Standee’s (Faux Book’s) Spine

Let’s start with the curvature of the book’s spine and pages, since this says a lot about ways to get around the fact that paper and cardboard are usually flat or folded (but not curved).

The outer graphic panel of the book’s spine started as a flat rectangle with the title of the print book (Once Upon a Deadpool) running the length of the cardboard panel. Onto this flat surface, and using a series of die cut cardboard tabs, I attached a series of four folded boxes (approximately 1.5 feet by 2 feet, but only about 2 inches high). The edges of these boxes that were parallel to the short dimension of the standee book spine were curved outward.

Once I had firmly attached them to the spine with a series of tabs and slots, they gave a structure over which the paper of the spine could be stretched to create a curvature. Moreover, where the cardboard needed to bow or curve, there were numerous parallel scores. When the outer cardboard of the spine (with printed litho paper laminated to chipboard) was stretched across this interior structure and then locked down with more tabs, the result was a fully curved book spine that was 8 feet long.

From this I learned two things:

  1. If you fold paper, or cardboard, the paper fibers will be bent or broken. That is, if I had folded rather than gently bowed the paper over the curved spine support structure, this would not have yielded a smooth curve to the back of the huge faux book standee. The crease would have been a visible flaw. However, by gently bowing the cardboard over the structure, I could stretch the paper fibers in the cardboard without folding or breaking them.
  2. Exactly the same thing was true for the curvature of the interior book pages. Instead of bowing outward, these bowed inward (exactly as would be true in a case-bound book with a rounded back). To effect this curvature of the pages, two more curved cardboard structures were added inside the standee. These had slots into which I attached long tabs (hot-melt spot glued to the inside of the faux pages). (Imagine that I was building a cardboard box, with 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers with turned edges, a faux spine, and head, face, and foot trim—i.e., the top, front, and bottom of the pages.)

In all of these elements of the faux book that was the Deadpool standee, a series of tabs and slots held together the pieces of cardboard under significant tension. (This was to create the curvature.) If there had only been one tab, or fewer tabs, the tension (or pull against the paper fibers) would probably have torn off the paper tabs. However, since there was a tab every few inches, the pull of the curved cardboard was distributed over a wide area. In fact, once I had completed the installation, the standee was quite sturdy.

What I learned from this is that under tension, paper can be pulled into a new shape (in this case a curvature), and if the tension is widely distributed, the paper fibers can withstand the pull.

The Faux Book Covers

Another element of the faux book that matched a real case-bound print book was the structure of the 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers. These had depth. That is, there were parallel scores approximately half an inch apart along the edges of the covers, and once I had folded the cardboard inward along these scores and attached the folded cardboard to the unprinted interior of the graphic (with double-sided tape), I had created turned-edge book covers (that matched an actual case-bound print book). The parallel folds yielded square edges, giving the impression of depth to the outer edge of the book covers, all the way around the book.

These thick covers (with printed litho paper wrapped around to create a half inch depth) were then screwed to the structure that was the spine. (The front and back cover of the Deadpool book included an extra lip that had been drilled, so I could insert a series of at least ten screws through holes in the interior of the spine. This lip worked as a hinge, allowing the front and back cover to move in and out, toward and away from the book pages.)

So when the covers were attached to the spine, there was a hinge (with a shoulder), curved text pages, and a rounded spine—all elements of a highly crafted case binding.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As soon as I got back home (and uploaded the photos to the company for which my fiancee and I install movie standees), I searched online for images, videos, and text descriptions of case binding. I wanted to refresh my memory, since the experience of building this huge faux print book had sparked my interest. Among other things, I saw videos of book binders adjusting the book covers to push out the pages to create the rounded spine (and similarly curved text pages, on the opposite side) and then hammering them to flare out the edges of the sewn press signatures.

Needless to say, exposure to the standee had renewed my interest in the art of print book binding and the specific hand-done tasks that allow a heavy text block (group of press signatures) to “hang” from the chipboard case such that all the pages are parallel and can move freely. (This clearly involves knowledge and skill, hard work, and an understanding of physics. And this art/craft has been practiced for centuries.)

So in light of this, I would encourage you to do two things:

  1. Search online for videos showing all of the separate activities that go into binding a case-bound book. I think you will find this fascinating. You can probably also see this in person in colonial reenactment sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.
  2. Then look for diagrams online showing all elements of a case-bound book, including the “crash” or “super” that gives stability to the bind edge of all press signatures; the pattern of Smyth sewing at the folded edges of the press signatures (the thread that holds all text signatures in place); the endsheets (including the pastedowns and flyleafs); the turned edges (where the outer paper, fabric, or leather of the binding is brought inward to cover the edges of the binder’s boards); and all the other various and sundry components of a case-bound print book.

Having absorbed this knowledge, you will never again take for granted all the steps in bookbinding, and you may well come to love and admire the craftsmanship and artistry in a case bound print book.

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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 www.flexpack.org: “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.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “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.” (www.flexpack.org)
  • “Even more, lighter-weight flexible packaging results in less transportation-related energy and fossil fuel consumption, and environmental pollution.” (www.flexpack.org)

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.

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