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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: The Rise of Production Inkjet

March 25th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Rise of Production Inkjet

About a month ago I wrote a blog posting about production inkjet, but I just read an article today that makes the case even more powerfully for this rising technology. Production inkjet is an unstoppable force. It seems to be the wave of the future not only for digital printing but for printing in general.

The article I found is called “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.” It was written by Marco Boer. I found it on 03/19/19 on www.piworld.com.

(I had also mentioned in an earlier blog posting that PI World–which I used to read religiously when it was Printing Impressions–has been my go-to trade publication on printing since the early ’90s.)

The Gist of the Article

Boer makes a lot of salient points, which I will share with you, and then he explains exactly why production inkjet digital custom printing (as opposed to toner-based digital printing, which includes huge high-end laser printing equipment such as the HP Indigo) is best suited to both short and long run (both static and variable) printing, in an environment where commercial printing in general has been a declining industry.

(Least you think that printing is a boat with a hole in it gradually sinking, the article also explains why printing will continue to be a viable force for print books, direct mail, and transactional printing, in spite of the overall reduction in custom printing volume in the United States.)

So here are some of Boer’s points of interest:

  1. Printing as an overall industry is declining. “The US Postal Service shows average declines in transaction mail pieces…of about 5-6% between 2015 and 2017” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  2. Direct mail printing is declining, albeit more slowly than transactional printing. Boer notes that “…direct marketing mail pieces declined about 1.4% from 2017 to 2018” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  3. Paper and postage prices are rising, which has forced printers to reduce manufacturing expenses to continue to make a profit.
  4. The labor pool for printing is decreasing. The average age range of offset printers is 48 to the mid to high 50s, and when they retire there may very well not be skilled pressmen to replace these workers. To quote Boer regarding the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings, “…the third-largest job losses across any industry in the United States will be in the printing industry during the next 10 years” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).
  5. At the same time, customers want shorter turn-around times and smaller press runs. Trying to fulfill these needs on offset presses dramatically drives up prices (due to the increased need for labor to complete the multiple offset printing make-readies needed for more frequent versions of print jobs that are also smaller jobs with shorter press runs).

None of this bodes well for commercial printing. However….

Enter Digital Printing

Digital printing offers some unique characteristics that make it ideal in such a market:

  1. There’s far less make-ready. While setting up the various processes for a digital print job does take time, there’s nothing like the make-readies, wash-ups, or spoilage that you find in traditional offset commercial printing.
  2. Short press runs are no problem. You can even print one copy.
  3. Since paper and postage costs are rising, it is becoming increasingly important to precisely target marketing messages. Return on investment is becoming more important than cost per copy, according to Boer’s article. That is, if the variable-data capability of digital printing can allow marketers to direct each message to individual potential customers, marketers get a better return on the money they spend. More specifically, they can be more successful in acquiring customers, and they can pay less to convert each prospect into an actual customer. Digital printing is ideal for this.

In my own print brokering work, my clients’ needs have led me to printers with digital toner presses such as the Kodak NexPress and the HP Indigo (as opposed to inkjet presses). However, in reading Boer’s article I’m beginning to see that production inkjet presses, built on the heavy iron frames similar to past generations of offset presses, will most likely be the future of commercial printing. Here are some thoughts as to why production inkjet is set to surpass all other options, based on Boer’s “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.”

  1. You can print longer, multi-page documents like print books efficiently, even with mid-range press runs (let’s say 2,000 copies of a book). Toner-based digital presses cannot do this as efficiently or cost-effectively (i.e., presumably a mid-run book job produced on an HP Indigo would cost more than the same product produced on inkjet equipment).
  2. The color fidelity, resolution, and overall quality is there. It used to be that no printed output was as good as offset. Now, with extended color sets (and in some cases just the traditional process inks) you can print spectacular inkjet output.
  3. Better ink chemistry and paper coatings allow production inkjet to accept more paper substrates. Back when I started reading about digital inkjet printing, I was not (personally) satisfied with the color or the range of tones in printed pieces. It seemed to me that the amount of liquid in the inkjet ink back then just made the printed images muddy. I could see the difference. Offset was better. Now this is rapidly changing, as Boer’s article notes.

Where Are We Now?

To quote from “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption,” “…about one-third of the growth of inkjet pages can be attributed to a transfer from digital toner to inkjet technology. Another one-third can be attributed to replacement of offset pages (mainly in books), and one-third can be attributed to the creation of new pages—pages that couldn’t be printed before because offset wasn’t able to vary the information on the page and toner was not productive enough to print sufficient pages with variable data” (“Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption”).

I think this says it all. People haven’t stopped reading print books. In fact, “printed book pages have increased for the past three consecutive years,” according to “Strong Case for Production Inkjet Technology Adoption.” People also haven’t abandoned direct mail marketing. Marketers are finding that a multi-channel approach (mixing print and online marketing) is far more effective than just online marketing.

But things have to change, and based on the quality of the color, the durability of the equipment, and the efficiencies not available in offfset printing (and also not even available in toner-based digital printing), production inkjet is at the sweet spot of the commercial printing industry. Granted the number of “overall pages printed” has been lower than in the past, but for those printers who commit to production inkjet technology, the future seems very bright.

What We Can Learn

  1. Don’t give up. Printing isn’t going away. Your skills are needed.
  2. The better you understand all kinds of printing (offset, digital, large format, gravure, flexography), the more relevant your skills will be.
  3. If you can help clients increase their return on investment (that is, if you can help clients make money), you’re golden. This means not only understanding the varieties of commercial printing technology and their uses but also understanding consumer psychology, motivation, and behavior. It also means understanding how to coordinate both online advertising and print-based advertising to attract new customers.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: The Rise of Production Inkjet

Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

March 18th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

I spent three hours in the Maryland Department of Transportation today (mostly waiting) to renew my driver’s license. As a student of commercial printing with time on my hands, I took the opportunity to read the driver’s license replacement brochure to see what I was getting.

Needless to say, when I compared the new design to the one I had had for the past seven years, I was struck by the complexity of the custom printing. The brochure I was reading launched my education into new digital printing methods for drivers’ licenses.

Qualities/Attributes of the Card

First of all, it was clear to me that this could have been any type of card, including a credit card or medical card. The specific custom printing techniques and the substrate of the card itself could ostensibly be useful for all card printing.

Moreover, a few more things were immediately evident.

The card is rigid and durable. I know because I’ve had my current driver’s license for seven years, and everything is still readable. It’s scratched up a bit, but it has lasted. The brochure describes the card as having a “polycarbonate card body” that is “more durable, secure, and tamper resistant” (“Maryland Protected and Proud” brochure).

There was a lot of information encoded in my prior driver’s license, as evidenced by a single two-dimensional code. On both my prior license and the new one there is an “identity barcode” composed not of vertical lines (as with a UPC code or a US Postal barcode) but a pattern of tiny squares (not unlike pixels on a computer screen). These tiny squares link up to create patterns within a rectangle approximately 2” wide by 3/4” high.

This pattern, which I Googled online and found to be a PDF-417 (I believe), reminded me of a QR Code (quick response code).

The key here is that such a code can contain a wealth of information about the individual driver. Presumably this can be used as a repository for information the Maryland Department of Transportation needs for its operations but also as a means for confirming the identity of the card holder.

Based on my understanding of the process, such a code is digitally generated from digital data. And in addition to the identity code, the new drivers’ licenses described in the brochure have an “inventory control number” and accompanying barcode (vertical lines, in contrast to the 2D identity barcode). Again, I assume this is digitally generated, in this case just from the unique control number.

When I compare this card (I actually just found my fiancee’s driver’s license as well, and this matches the brochure image in every detail) to a credit card, it seems to have much more detailed image content. Plus, it has no chip (at least no chip recognizable by the universally accepted “chip logo”).

At the top right of my fiancee’s driver’s license is a small image of my fiancee. When I tilt the card vertically (back and forth), the image changes to her birthdate. So, this means the Maryland Department of Transportation has printed a “lenticular image” (composed of incredibly small plastic lenses that present two images when tilted).

From what I see (and since I know that utilitarian goals trump aesthetics in such a card), the purpose of the lenticular image is to make counterfeiting the driver’s license that much more difficult–as a deterrent to identity theft.

If you run your fingers over my fiancee’s driver’s license, you will notice that some of the lettering is raised. The brochure describes this as “tactile text” or “laser engraving on the card … [that] raises the print making it difficult to tamper or modify” (“Maryland Protected and Proud” brochure).

On the back of the card is a miniature 4-color image of my fiancee (noted in the MDOT brochure as “another barrier against fraud”). There is also a partial 4-color image of what looks like a statehouse (apparently the Annapolis, Maryland, statehouse). The center of the building is in color (a yellow) and the left and right sides of the statehouse are black ink only. There is a gradual shift (like a vignette) from the black to the yellow and back to the black. The brochure refers to this as “rainbow printing.” My assumption is that it is also an anti-counterfeiting measure.

Over the front of my fiancee’s driver’s license seems to be a textured coating. The front of the card is a little glossier than the back, and there is the word “Maryland” and equal-armed crosses from the Maryland flag produced with texture but otherwise invisible (as a laminate or other coating might be).

Goals of These Various Attributes of the Driver’s License

Identity Protection

In its own way, this driver’s license reminds me of some of the new larger-dollar-denomination bills in the US currency, with their holograms, metallic strips, and contrasting-color threads. In both cases, it seems that the goal is to deter fraud. Since there are an increasing number of brilliant but immoral people stealing identities, the state governments need to work harder and harder each year to develop commercial printing techniques to thwart such theft. A close observation of the driver’s license reveals many of these.

Durability

Between the coating on the front of my fiancee’s driver’s license and the thickness and overall strength of the polycarbonate card substrate, it is clear that durability is of paramount importance. The card must be readable in the seventh year of its existence as well as the first. None of the custom printing can be allowed to degrade as the license rubs against other cards in one’s wallet.

Infinitely Variable Data Storage

Unlike most other cards (with the possible exception of a credit card), the driver’s license must contain a wealth of information on only one person. This makes it an ideal candidate for digital commercial printing. No analog process could produce such infinite variability for any reasonable price.

So How Is It Done?

I went online to research the process for printing a driver’s license. I also looked closely at my fiancee’s license with a 12-power printer’s loupe. And I reread the MDOT brochure.

Through a loupe the image appears to contain the minuscule spots of inkjet printing, particularly visible in the color builds of the typescript. The dot pattern in the halftones is not the regular line upon line of halftone dots I see in laser printing. These dots are random, like those of FM screening or stochastic printing. So my educated guess at this point would be that some kind of inkjet printing process was used.

The brochure also mentions laser engraving (as opposed to laser printing) for some of the typescript. So I’m assuming some kind of burning process with a laser was used during printing.

For protection, there seems to be some kind of gloss coating over the polycarbonate card substrate. Given the images I found online of the driver’s license printers, my educated guess would be that they incorporate some sort of heated lamination process following the application of liquid ink (unless it really is a toner-based process, which I doubt).

Since dye sublimation would be the third digital custom printing option, I looked for any indication of changes in color tones not achieved with different sized halftone dots. This is because to the best of my understanding you can actually create different shades of a color with continuous tones using dye sublimation technology. Therefore, I’d assume that this printing process is either inkjet–perhaps UV inkjet (first guess)–or laser printing (second guess).

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

I personally think that card printing not only is a lucrative field currently but that it will only continue to grow. After all, companies and governments have both the desire and the technology required to parse vast amounts of data and to encode it on cards used to identify the holder. This may be for medical reasons (medical cards). It may be for carrying or transferring money (credit and debit cards). Or it may be for identification purposes (drivers’ licenses).

Until all of this information can be biometrically held (fingerprint or retina scan) or held on chips inserted into people (as they are now inserted into rescue animals at the pound), designers and printers will have an increasingly lucrative market in printed plastic cards.

Moreover, this will be a recurring purchase. As the technology improves, people will need new cards. New digital tricks will be invented to foil identity thieves, and this will require replacement cards made with all manner of 2D and 3D commercial printing techniques.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Printing Your Driver’s License

Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

March 11th, 2019

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

Digital custom printing is stepping up into the big time. No longer are plastic photocopy machines on steroids the norm for new generation digital presses.

About a week ago a printing rep I work with told me his plant had a Fujifilm J Press. I didn’t know what that was, but it intrigued me, so I did some research online. I have a lot of confidence in this particular sales rep’s commitment to quality, and after reading some of the sales literature for the Fujifilm J Press, I understood the sales rep’s confidence.

The Technology

Here are some of the things I learned from the Fujifilm sales literature and the ramifications for digital commercial printing.

To begin with, the J Press is a production inkjet press. That is, unlike the HP Indigo, which has been my digital press of choice, and which is based on an electrophotographic process (i.e., it’s a laser printer), the J Press uses inkjet print heads and pigment-based ink to spray images on paper. It is meant for both competitively-priced short and long press runs.

The Build Quality of the J Press

First of all, the photos indicate that the J Press 720S is not a photocopier. It “features an offset paper handling system—and is based on an incredibly robust chasis” (Fujifilm).

To me this means two things:

  1. Fujifilm has been learning from old guard commercial printing suppliers, who buy second generation presses and then use them forever because they are durable and reliable. Printing is not just about putting ink or toner on paper. It is about moving press sheets through a physical process. Glorified photocopiers break. I’ve watched a lot of digital presses being repaired. I’ve even known printers who lease two of them so one can be operative when the other is being fixed. In contrast, the J Press looks like it was built to last.
  2. Along with durability, digital presses like the J Press are built for precision. Keeping printed sheets in register on some of the early digital presses owned by printers I used to work with was a challenge. More specifically, there was not the tight tolerance in some digital presses that you could find on an offset press. What this meant was that “backing up a sheet” was a challenge. You couldn’t be sure images on the fronts and backs of press sheets would line up exactly. In contrast, building a production inkjet press from the ground up on an offset press chasis reflects a commitment to not only the longevity of the press but also its precision.

Fujifilm’s Commitment to Color

Fujifilm claims that the J Press can match 75 percent of Pantone colors with its CMYK inkset. In contrast, most offset printers can match 50 to 60 percent of Pantone colors.

(By combining process colors: that is, in offset lithography by printing screens of the four transparent process inks over one another at different screen angles, and in digital inkjet printing by spraying minuscule dots of CMYK colors side by side, you can simulate the colors in the Pantone Matching System color gamut.)

What surprises me is that Fujifilm can exceed the color gamut of offset printing with only four specially developed inks. In my experience of digital inkjet printing, it usually takes supplemental colors beyond cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to meet and even exceed the wide color gamut indigenous to inkjet custom printing.

Moreover, the J Press uses pigment inks (minuscule bits of color material suspended between water molecules). Based on my experience, this makes for longer lasting printed output, less likely to fade in sunlight than are dye-based inks.

In addition, the Fujifilm J Press has achieved the Idealliance Digital Press Certification and Idealliance ISO/PAS 15339 Certification. What this means is that Fujifilm, which has been known for decades as having an impeccable commitment to accurate color, can both measure and replicate to an incredibly precise degree the color of a print job. This is essential when you’re reprinting a job six months after the initial press date. Color specification and measurement, as reflected in the Idealliance certifications, are essential to this kind of repeatability.

(You may want to research similar certifications for offset commercial printing, such as the GRACoL and SWOP standards. The Fujifilm product literature also references the ISO 12647-2 standard for offset printing. In fact, having benchmarks for color in the J Press workflow means you can offset print a long run of a job and then later produce the same job digitally–perhaps a shorter run or a press run with variable data–and you can still achieve a spot-on color match using two totally different technologies: offset and inkjet. Up until recently, this was impossible.)

Finally, according to Fujifilm’s product literature, the J Press has closed-loop color feedback. They call this XMF ColorPath cloud-based color management, and the literature refers to an In-Line Sensor. What it really means to me is that the computer that controls the J Press can measure the color of the press output on a constant basis during a print job, feed this information back into the press, and make any adjustments needed to ensure color accuracy (and also to ensure color consistency in future press runs).

Paper Handling Capabilities

In addition to the paper handling capabilities mentioned above, based on the sturdy build quality of the J Press, this production inkjet press can handle more paper sizes and surfaces than prior generations of digital inkjet technology.

More specifically, the J Press can accept sheet sizes ranging from 21.3” x 15” to 29.5” x 20.9”. In terms of traditional offset printing, this means you can buy and use cut sheet stock that is 17.5” x 23”, 19” x 25”, 20” x 26”, and 20” x 28”.

If your print job is a calendar or a pocket folder, you will appreciate the fact that the printed product will fit on a J Press press sheet. Prior to the current generation of inkjet presses, only jobs closer to 13” x 19” (approximately) could be digitally printed. Anything larger, like a flat pocket folder with flaps and glue tabs, would be too large for the press sheet. But not anymore.

These sizes reflect the influence of old-school printing on the new digital inkjet presses. What it really implies is that you can image a sheet on the J Press, back it up (print, in precise register, on the back of the press sheet) and then finish the sheet (fold, trim, bind) as though it had come off a traditional offset press. In fact, Fujifilm will send out a sample magazine printed via both offset lithography and digital inkjet technology to commercial printing vendors to show them just how close a match they can achieve.

Beyond the size, Fujifilm is positioning the J Press to accept standard coated and uncoated offset papers. In the past, inkjet printing has been adversely affected due to the amount of water in inkjet inks (when compared to the viscosity of the oil-based offset inks). To remedy this, many older inkjet papers had to be specially treated. (That is, they either were specialty papers or they had to be treated prior to use.)

I find it especially encouraging that the Fujifilm J Press can accept a wide range of standard coated and uncoated offset printing papers for three reasons:

  1. The inks have been improved such that they can dry quickly and sit up on the surface of the paper (i.e., they have better hold-out). This makes for crisper, more vibrant color. (Without having seen the output yet, this would be my expectation.)
  2. Standard paper is less expensive (per unit cost) because more of it is made by the paper mills.
  3. Designers will appreciate the wide range of substrates they can specify for their commercial printing jobs.

So, again, it is clear to me that Fujifilm is working to bridge the gap between offset printing and digital injket printing. Since the much larger arrays of print heads and the overall improved paper handling capabilities of these larger presses allow for faster printing, it seems to me that the gap between offset and digital technology will close. It will no longer be necessary to print only short runs on digital equipment (due to their former, slower speed). You will be able to print one copy or thousands of copies of a job cost-effectively and efficiently.

What This Means for You

In short, this means that you will have multiple options for printing your jobs. You will no longer need to choose digital over offset based solely on print run length. This will make it easier for you to produce variable data jobs with no concern over color fidelity, color register, or press operating speed.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: The New Fujifilm Digital J Press

Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

March 4th, 2019

Posted in Digital Finishing, Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

Sometimes you can actually learn a lot from a press release. It’s a bit like reading the tea leaves to divine the future.

A close friend and colleague recently sent me a press release about the Hunkeler Innovationdays 2019 printing and finishing trade show coming up in Lucerne, Switzerland (entitled “Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing,” by Hunkeler). If you know how to read between the lines, you can get a lot of information about custom printing from this simple, approximately 250-word press release.

The Specifics (and the Takeaways)

First of all, this trade show highlights “high-performance technology for the next generation of digital printing and finishing” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What You Can Learn

Digital custom printing has been around in some form or another since the 1980s and 1990s, when my office had a laser printer to produce hard-copy proofs of our jobs prior to sending them to press. We also had an inkjet printer for color proofs. The color fidelity was abysmal, but prior to that we had used colored markers to indicate color placement on tracing paper overlays that went on top of the base art “mechanicals.” At that time, any computer-applied color was a huge step forward.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, color fidelity has improved dramatically, but “finishing” has lagged. What is finishing? Finishing is anything after the printing step (digital or offset). That is, finishing includes cutting, folding, binding, etc. For a long time, it was all about putting toner or inkjet ink on paper, but there were not a lot of digital options for completing a printed job. Now there are.

The trade show in Lucerne, Switzerland, will address these. And that is a fantastic opportunity to see both the products in operation and all the discrete elements of the workflow. More specifically, this means that trade show attendees will see how an actual job travels from a digital press through the following steps of the finishing process.

And this brings me to the second point noted in the press release: “40 live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”). It sounds like an advertisement. But that’s exactly what a press release is, really. But it’s still useful.

The Hunkeler press release notes that trade show attendees will see “40 live production solutions running a highly diverse lineup of applications focused on commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production, transactional printing and more.” This includes “the latest updates to Hunkeler’s Generation 8 roll finishing, featuring plowfolding and the capability to stack 30” (B2+) sheets in-line with high-speed inkjet presses” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

What Else You Can Learn

If you parse out this information, you can learn two things. As noted above, the equipment doesn’t just sit there at the trade show. You actually get a bird’s-eye view of a commercial printing environment, with live jobs traveling from machine to machine, showing exactly how a job might travel through a real commercial printing shop. A prudent trade show attendee will see whether there are any bottlenecks in the workflow, and will be able to ask about any potential issues while the jobs actually progress through the “live production solutions” (“Hunkeler Innovationdays to Showcase the Next Generation of High Performance Digital Printing and Finishing”).

In addition, the press release notes the specific, growing areas of digital custom printing: “commercial printing, book production, brochure and mailing production,” and “transactional printing.” Commercial printing usually pertains to marketing jobs, jobs that are not books, large format printing, etc. I personally consider an annual report to be a commercial printing job (the definition varies). For instance, you would take a book printing job to a different kind of printer than you would an annual report: a printer with different printing and finishing equipment.

Moreover, this quote from the press release reflects one key benefit of digital printing: its variability. “Brochure and mailing production” and “transactional printing” reflect the increasing ability of digital custom printing to target small groups and even individuals with their message. Unlike offset printing, digital printing output can be varied from one printed item to the next.

(Transactional printing, as noted above, is a particularly good example of this trend. When you get a statement or invoice in the mail, this document is often not only directly targeted to you, but it also—increasingly—includes promotional information as well as the bill. This promotional information or advertising can now be digitally produced and inserted into the billing information. The two data streams can be combined, and the printed transactional package can reflect both what you owe the vendor and what else you might want to purchase. And all of this is made possible by the current data-collecting and data-mining capabilities marketers can employ. They can pretty much know exactly who you are and exactly what you buy, and they can use this information to target their transpromotional printed material.)

Here are some other key words noted above: roll finishing, plow folding, and 30” (B2+) sheets.

All of these reflect the increasing speed of digital commercial printing operations. Roll finishing is based on printing toner or inkjet ink on webs of paper (rolls as opposed to sheets). Roll-fed presses print a lot faster than sheetfed presses. For jobs like transpromotional printing, you can even print a whole roll of variable data marketing and billing information, and then move this roll to finishing equipment for final folding, cutting, and inserting into customer envelopes. What this means is that more work can be done much more quickly than in the past.

Plow folding (also noted above) involves running a length of paper from a roll (as opposed to sheetfed) through folding equipment before it is cut. Again, this reflects speed. In prior printing generations, you would find a plow folder on a web offset press. There it did one of the “finishing” operations for an extremely long magazine press run (for instance).

The final notation above is the 30” (B2+) sheet. This addresses the size of the paper that can now flow through both digital printing and digital finishing equipment. It wasn’t that long ago that digital presses accepted (approximately) 8.5” x 11”, or more recently 13” x 19”, paper. In contrast, offset presses accepted sheets closer to 25” x 38” or 28” x 40” paper. Granted, on an offset press, you would print a 4-page, 8-page, or 16-page “press signature,” which you would then fold and trim to the final size (let’s say 8.5” x 11” book pages). On a digital press, in contrast, you might print 2-page or 4-page signatures.

When you can print on a 30” (B2+) press sheet, this means you have an (approximately) 20” x 28” format (actually 19.7” x 27.8”), which is much larger than prior generations of presses could accept. So you can print larger products (pocket folders, for instance), or more copies of the same product, on a press sheet. Or you can even print more book pages (presumably even book signatures).

Newer inkjet publication presses can now print these larger sheets, and this means a digital print job can run much more quickly. (Or you can print a much larger job, which means that digital printing equipment can begin to compete with the longer runs of offset printing.) A custom printer would appreciate this efficiency because it would allow him to take in more work, and this would yield a higher operating profit.

The Larger Takeaway

On the much larger (macro) level, this means that increased customer demand for faster printing and more intricate finishing of digitally produced, (often) variable-data driven, custom printing jobs has led OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to innovate. They have produced equipment that will print on larger press sheets, equipment that will run faster and print color more accurately, and equipment that can produce infinitely variable output. This you can see at trade shows like Innovationdays in Lucerne, Switzerland.

However, if, like me, you can’t afford to go to Switzerland, you can still learn from these press releases. In fact, what I do is look for articles that analyze the new technology I first learn about through the promotional releases.

As a final take away, I encourage you to use the Internet as a learning tool, as I do, and to tap into the power of article aggregators. Every night Google collects and presents to me a handful of online articles about all aspects of digital and offset printing based on specific parameters I have specified. Even if I do nothing more than read the headlines and then dip into a few of the articles, I learn something new each night about printing.

You may want to do the same thing.

Posted in Digital Finishing, Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Press Release Reflects New Digital Trends

Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

February 26th, 2019

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Digital package printing is hot. It’s a growth sector within the commercial printing industry, and I find this most exciting. And as with other growth industries, consumer demands drive innovation. Customers want something, or like something, or find something intriguing, and to keep them happy the inventors and manufacturers create the technology to satisfy these wants and needs.

In this light, I just read an article by Elizabeth Skoda on www.packagingeurope.com entitled “A New Dimension of Digital Printing.” It was published on 09/19/18. This article describes many of the features and benefits of direct-to-shape digital commercial printing. At this point the technology exists for custom printing on rigid packaging tubes and cylinders (a full 360 degrees around the tube, and from the cap to the base), avoiding the need for screen printing, flexo, and even labels. This is ideal for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries that use both plastic and aluminum packaging tubes.

Skoda’s article focuses on the Velox IDS 250, a direct-to-shape digital printer produced by Velox Ltd. As Skoda notes in her article, this “entirely new approach to digital printing…is poised to disrupt the packaging decoration market” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

Why This Is Disruptive Technology (Features and Benefits)

Velox Ltd. claims that its “decoration quality and capabilities…outstrip analogue printing solutions, while allowing a more efficient and flexible production process and a low total cost of ownership” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).

More specifically, here are the features and benefits of Velox’s IDS 250 and its proprietary adaptive deposition architecture (ADA) and variable viscosity ink (VVI):

  1. The IDS 250 prints directly on rigid, cylindrical packaging containers, sidestepping the need for labels.
  2. It allows for both low volume and high volume printing.
  3. It requires only minimal make-ready time.
  4. It is fast, decorating up to 250 packaging containers per minute.
  5. The IDS 250 can incorporate up to 15 colors and embellishments in a single press run, including both inks and coatings, and in particular including tactile coating treatments.
  6. The equipment prints high-resolution, photo-realistic images.
  7. The IDS 250 can print from the base all the way to the cap of a packaging tube, with no visible seam.

Prior Technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. Prior to direct-to-shape commercial printing (or more specifically, prior to Velox’s IDS 250), a print shop could mass produce decorated packaging tubes using the following technologies: dry offset, screen printing, and flexography. All of these required considerable set-up time and effort. Therefore, they were cost-effective only for longer runs. In contrast, the IDS 250 can produce quality comparable to the analogue methods, albeit with faster make-readies, faster and therefore more economical production runs, and the ability to vary the content of the custom printing.

Here are a number of benefits that even surpass the quality and flexibility of the prior analogue methods:

  1. You can print on the packaging tube, its “shoulder,” and its cap. That is, all surfaces of the product packaging can incorporate the design. Therefore, you have a larger, more dramatic “canvas” on which to print your marketing message. In most cases, prior custom printing technology could not achieve this look.
  2. You can print on the seam of the packaging tube. In addition, you can not only cover the entire tube; you can do so without overlapping any portion of the design (as was necessary with prior analogue technologies).
  3. You have all the flexibility of digital custom printing. That is, you can produce a prototype packaging tube (a one-off product), then show the prototype to your client, then make any required changes, and then produce the entire print run. Unlike prior digital printing options, you can even produce a long final run, since the Velox IDS 250 can print 250 containers per minute.
  4. As with other digital technologies, you can personalize your decorated packaging tubes. For example, you can make each one unique, incorporating the recipient’s name into the design. Or you can target a specific demographic with a short print run, or perhaps create a seasonal product that also has a short run. Unlike analogue printing, digital direct-to-shape printing can be cost-effective with short runs as well as long ones.
  5. Velox’s IDS 250 incorporates so many ink colors (up to 15 colors and embellishments) that it can reflect a much wider color gamut than traditional analogue methods can achieve. Therefore, you can match more PMS colors (for corporate logos, for instance), and also you can print colors of amazing vibrancy.
  6. The textured coatings available on the Velox IDS 250 add a tactile dimension that in many cases was unavailable with prior analogue printing methods. These include matte, glossy, and embossed coatings incorporating raised particles. Such coatings add another element that can enhance the customer’s emotional experience and bond with the product and the brand.
  7. According to Skoda’s article, the Velox IDS 250 will provide “full functionality on any material or coating” (“A New Dimension of Digital Printing”).
  8. Overall, this means you can focus exclusively on the creative message rather than on the limitations of either the custom printing method or the printing substrate. At the same time, you can reap the marketing benefits of precise targeting and personalization in order to strengthen the bond between the customer and the product.
  9. At best, all of this used to be achievable only by printing and applying digital labels. Now it is available digitally (without labels) within a cost-effective structure that allows for consummate flexibility and creativity. And unlike many other digital custom printing technologies, the process can also accommodate longer production runs.

What You Can Learn From This New Technology

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Packaging is clearly a growth industry within the realm of commercial printing. Given that direct-to-shape (DTS) digital printing has been making the aforementioned strides, it seems that DTS might even capture work from the custom label market. Furthermore, according to Skoda’s article, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals are two major markets for DTS technology.
  2. With this in mind, I think it behooves both creative designers and larger commercial printing vendors to closely study the following: digital printing, direct-to-shape printing, marketing, personalization, and “big-data” analysis.

I think the future will be all about understanding the psychology of the buyer, and then using digital technology to speak directly to her or him in a way that engages the senses, the emotions, and the intellect.

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Digital Direct-to-Shape Printing

Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

February 18th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

I still do some design work each year. Not as much as when I was an art director, but enough to keep my skills up and stay current with new technology. In addition to the extra money this affords, it also keeps me alert to the same issues PIE Blog readers who are designers must address each day.

At the moment, I’m completing a print book of essays for a local university. I’m just about to upload it to the book printer. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing for this particular commercial printing vendor and some ways other printers might address the same steps.

The Cover File

When producing art files for print books, I used to prepare the front cover (to size, whether 8.5” x 11” or 6” x 9” or whatever format was appropriate), the back cover, and spine separately. I then asked the book printer to determine the spine width and stitch all three pieces together into one file. I’m sure I paid for this assistance.

Now I ask the printer to determine the spine width based on the caliper of the paper. For instance, if the uncoated book paper used for the text is 60# in weight, it might have a caliper (or paper thickness) specification of 450 ppi. This means 450 “pages per inch,” so a 100-page text block would require a spine that is .222” thick.

In the case of the book of essays I’m producing, I created one art file containing a rectangle broken into three pieces with crop marks on the four edges and fold marks at the top and bottom of the combined book cover (back cover, spine, front cover) to indicate the placement and width of the spine. Then I extended the cover background color (turquoise, based on percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) one-eighth of an inch beyond the outer trim margin of the cover. This I did to account for bleeds.

This is a specific approach to the combined book cover. In contrast, for the interior book pages, which need to be imposed separately as PDF files (as per the printer specs), I omitted the crop marks, designed the pages separately, and pulled any bleeds out beyond the page trim.

More importantly, I created the book pages to size (6” x 9”), in contrast to the combined panels for the cover file components, all of which fit on a much larger single-page InDesign file.

This approach is based on the way the printer will actually produce the cover on press. It will all fit on a single press sheet (possibly multiple times side by side, depending on the size of the press sheet). In contrast, the interior book pages will not be repeated on a press sheet because there are 98 pages (in contrast to the single back panel, spine, and front panel of the cover).

You may say that a 98-page book is not a multiple of 4-, 8-, or 16-page press signatures. In this case the book will be produced on a digital press, which can handle single leaves (the front and back of a book page). So I did not have to compose the book in full 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures, as I would have done if the book had a longer press run. (I will only need 42 copies of the book, so digital commercial printing is appropriate. If my client had required 500 copies of the print book, it would need to be reproduced via offset lithography.)

To further complicate matters, some book printers might produce the covers via offset lithography, if I needed 300 copies (for instance), and then print the interior text blocks digitally. This might yield a higher quality of cover printing. But for 42 copies, digital is the only option.

The final file for the cover (an InDesign file) must be distilled into a high-quality, press-ready PDF file and then uploaded to the printer’s FTP site. He has asked for a PDF rather than a native InDesign file. Some printers might prefer a native InDesign file with fonts in order to correct any problems with the cover without needing to reject a file and have me correct it. In contrast, this printer wants the PDF. He also wants it to be 300 dpi minimum, single pages (not page spreads), and without crop marks.

The cover crop marks in my case are part of the file, not added in the making of the PDF. I left them in to indicate placement and bleeds. The prepress operator at the book printer can (and probably will) delete the crop marks on his (or her) computer prior to imposing the job (setting up the press form for a certain number of covers side by side on the press sheet).

Prior to distilling the file into a PDF, I will check for any errors (InDesign has a preflight function), make sure I have not included any extraneous colors in the file, and check for any unused fonts. Then I will distill the file as a press-ready PDF.

In your own work, don’t assume you will be doing exactly what I did. Another book printer I work with has his own preferences file for InDesign that will adjust additional PDF options such as bleeds, additional printer’s marks, downsampling specifications, etc. This InDesign PDF preferences file becomes a part of the final PDF without requiring the user to check multiple options in five or more screens’ worth of PDF preparation information.

Fortunately, this particular book printer does not require this level of detail. In your own work, ask your printer for his PDF-creation guidelines to ensure that the files you send him will print. Also, rest assured that he will preflight your files and let you know if any errors have been flagged. So you will know where you stand before the hard-copy proof arrives at your office.

The Text File

The text of the book of essays I’m preparing will be easy to distill because there are no photos, bleed colors (areas of color that extend beyond the page trim), or anything else beyond simple text. So I will be able to save the pages at the 6” x 9” size, as individual pages (not spreads), without crop marks (as requested by the book printer).

Again, if this were another printer (as noted above), he might very well provide an InDesign preferences file that would check off all the specific choices that fit his workflow, prior to my distilling the InDesign art file into a press-ready PDF.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Own Work

  1. The main thing to remember is to ask your printer for all PDF-creation information that will make your hand-off of book art files as flawless as possible, based on his specific hardware, imposition software, and workflow. Then follow this information religiously, to the letter.
  2. Ask to be informed when the PDF files have passed preflight. Learn from any mistakes you make, but also remember that they may be pertinent to only this particular printer.
  3. Get a hard-copy proof, and check for complete copy, placement of color, quality of halftones, etc. I personally think it’s easier to miss something on a virtual proof (screen-only PDF) even for something as simple as a black-ink-only book. And it’s always better to catch the errors in the proof rather than the printed copy, so I personally look at the cost of the hard-copy proof as an investment rather than a cost.
  4. The best kind of proof to get if your project will be produced digitally is a bound proof. For the job I’m working on, the printer will provide a single bound proof on the same text and cover paper as the final job. That means I will see exactly what the final job will look like. I will see whether the type will align perfectly on the book cover spine. I will see how the cover color will look. There will be nothing “virtual” about the proof. It will be exactly what the readers will see and hold in their hands. This can’t be beat. Fortunately it has been worked into the price (which was most competitive).

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: Final Steps Before Uploading a Book File

Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

February 11th, 2019

Posted in Design | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Design Approaches for Specific Media

I attended a freelance group meeting yesterday. Most members were writers and designers, some of whom I had known for two decades. One of the designers, who had been a director of publications at a non-profit before venturing out on her own, showed us several PDFs (on her computer) of the booklet designs she had done in the 1980s, 1990s, and recently.

It was most interesting to see the differences among the samples, both from the point of view of how publication design has changed in twenty years and also in terms of the changes made to facilitate reading on current media.

My Colleague’s Design Samples (and the Basis for Her Design Approaches)

In the 1980s my colleague designed booklets with 4-color covers. But between the covers, my client’s print books were black-ink-only products with designs based on text and photos. Overall, the two-column print book interiors were formal in design. As a flourish, in certain cases she had used “caps and small caps” for the titles, which provided a classic tone. (“Caps and small caps” means there are large capital letters at the beginning of each word, and subsequent letters in each word are typeset in uppercase letters but of a slightly smaller point size than the initial letter.)

My client’s more recent samples (between five and ten years old) still included full-color cover treatments, but they also included generous use of process color in the text of the print books. My colleague explained her design decision in this way. The cost of printing process color had been higher when she had designed the first sample books with only 4-color covers and black-ink-only interior text blocks. To meet budget, then, she put all of her dramatic images and color on the book covers to grab the reader’s attention.

By the time my colleague was designing the books with both 4-color covers and 4-color text blocks, the presses at the printers she used had more color units (six or eight), so she could not only add more color, but she could also add multiple coatings to the book covers or use PMS colors to maintain color consistency from press signature to press signature (for background, full-bleed solid colors and screens that had to match exactly on all pages). By this time (five to ten years ago), all of this technology (plus inline spectrophotometers and closed-loop color correction) was available and affordable through her printers. For this reason, the quality and consistency of color in her samples improved, and she could do far fewer press checks to maintain this quality.

New Design Approaches and New Technology

What I found most interesting was the shift from these samples to the next ones, the most recent books my colleague had designed (again, for the same non-profit foundation, although at this point she was freelancing for the same organization).

These new books were much more sparse in their design. There were a lot of 4-color photos but no bleeds and no heavy-coverage color solids. Interestingly enough, the overall design was simpler and cleaner. There were also no background screens of color. The type, for the most part, was sans serif. Even the headlines were set in a simple, bold, and readable sans serif typeface.

She explained her design choices as follows:

  1. At the present moment, most of her book designs existed only online. There was no print version, so there was no inventory of print books. Clients could either read the books online or print out selected pages on their own desktop printers.
  2. Therefore, the goal was online readability. Even though serif typefaces in print books have been more legible (traditionally) then sans serif typefaces, the opposite is true on the computer screen. The simplicity of the sans serif typefaces my colleague had chosen improved their legibility, but it also gave the books an austere, modern “look.”
  3. Most of the clients who downloaded PDF versions of the books could not print bleeds. There were always white margins surrounding the image area on each page. Therefore, the current book designs had no bleeds. Although this was a functional design choice, it nevertheless made the book design seem simpler, lighter, and more crisp. I liked the simplicity. When I thought further, I realized that by removing the background screens, solid colors, and bleeds, my colleague had not only simplified the book design, but she had also provided much more background white space. And since white space on a back-lit computer screen brightens the entire virtual book design, everything looked light, airy, and bold.

What You Can Learn from This

These few samples spoke volumes about the changes that have taken place in print book design over the past twenty years, based in large part on the way we read and the devices on which we read. Here are some thoughts.

In your own work, design appropriately for the device on which your reader will consume the material. Back-lit screens tire the eyes eventually, and a lot of people still like the feel of a paper print book. Choose your printing paper wisely to enhance the look and the readability (consider the brightening effects of a blue-white press sheet, for instance).

Alternately, if you’re designing for online reading, consider simplifying the design, increasing the space between lines of type (the leading), and increasing contrast between heads and text. If your heads are in color, make sure they are not too light in value.

For my colleague’s clients, a third approach was necessary. The book pages had to look good when printed on desktop printing equipment. This involved making sure a black and white laser print would produce high quality black and white photos from color originals. (The PDF versions were in color, and many readers would print their pages on color inkjet equipment, but other readers who only had laser printers could only produce monochrome versions of the book pages.)

In your own work, the best way to ensure readability is to print out a few pages on an inkjet printer and a black and white laser printer and then confirm their readability. Or, if you’re designing for computer-only reading, you may want to view a PDF of the file on multiple platforms (a large computer screen, a laptop screen, a tablet screen, and a smartphone screen, for instance).

No matter how you present your book, the first goal is legibility. If the reader has to work hard to read your book, or if your reader’s eyes tire due to the back-lighting, she or he will stop reading. Even something as simple as whether to use a single-column or two-column layout can affect readability on a screen-only (or screen-first) book. (Think about it. If you scroll down to read a column of text, and then you must scroll the screen in the opposite direction to come back up to the top of the next column, you might just stop reading.)

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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.

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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

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