Printing and Design Tips: July 2015, Issue #168

Domed Decals

Digital printing will never cease to amaze me. In this age in which some are still forecasting the death of print, digital printing is amassing tools and options to appeal to multiple senses. One example of this is the printing of “domed” decals.

A domed decal is, as the name implies, a label coated with a raised layer of plastic.

What this technology affords is a clear dome that resists water, sunlight, rust, scratches, salt, chemicals—the list goes on. But in addition to being durable, these labels stand out more due to the raised bubble of plastic coating their surface. This tactile dimension sets domed labels apart from their flat competition, drawing attention to their information as well as their branding.

Vendors who sell domed decals will print them on numerous substrates, including white, clear, or chrome base stocks, with durable, pressure-sensitive adhesives that last.

Beyond the startling raised appearance of the final product and its durability for indoor and outdoor use, printers offering this product have incorporated new digital technology into the finishing process.

Some vendors still create metal dies to cut the decals into the varied shapes requested by customers. However, others either use digital plotters with knife blades that cut the outlines or digitally controlled lasers that burn through the backing material.

Cropping Photos for Maximum Impact

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It's true, but how you crop the photo makes a huge difference as well.

I found a graphics textbook from the '90s at a thrift store recently, Graphics for Visual Communication by Craig Denton, and although the technology has moved forward considerably in the intervening 25 years, the fundamentals of good design still apply. The book's section on photo cropping made some good points using several series of photos.

1. The first series shows a girl in a water park coming down a water slide. Each of the four photos crops down more closely on the girl. If you look closely at the series, you will see that the looser cropping focuses more on the activity itself, showing the water, the girl, and the slide. As the cropping gets tighter and tighter throughout the series, the focus gradually shifts from the activity and surroundings to the personal experience of the girl. In the tightest cropping, the girl's expression and body language are more prominent, and the water slide is less prominent.

2. Another set of photos focuses on a child and teacher in a classroom. The teacher is reaching over to touch the boy's head in a supportive gesture. One of the two photos shows just the teacher and the boy. It has a stronger composition because the reader's eye travels from the teacher's face, down her arm, and on to the face of the child seated in front of the chalkboard. The second photo opens up the image crop a bit to include the raised hand of another student. By altering the crop, the narrative of the photo either focuses solely on the interaction between the teacher and the student or sets the interaction within the broader context of a classroom. So the crop matters a lot.

3. Another set of photos shows a foot race. The first version includes three runners and implies a close race. The second photo crops down on two of the three runners, accentuating their facial expressions. With only two athletes, and based on their expressions, the image implies that the lead runner is sprinting ahead and the other runner is falling behind. The closeness of the crop makes the facial expressions the subject matter of the photo rather than the group of runners.

So the take-away is, when you're cropping photos, consider both the aesthetics of the final image and the story the photo tells.

Alignment of Type in a Logo

A client of mine recently submitted an art file for a cardboard box. The box will be printed via flexography (since offset printing would crush the fluting of the corrugated board). After the box has been printed and converted from a flat, die cut press sheet into an assembled, glued box (called “converting,” or “fabrication”), the printer will use it to deliver sets of perfect-bound textbooks to my client's mailshop. The packed boxes will then be forwarded to the end-users.

After my client had sent the initial art file for the cardboard box, she thought better and sent a revised art file within a few hours. Here's what she changed.

  1. First of all, the box imprint art included the logo, address, website URL, a thin rule line, and then the title of the book and edition, plus the quantity. All of this information was set in the same type family, with some information in a lighter or darker face, in various type sizes to create emphasis and to make the lines of type (all stacked one above on the other) justified.
  2. In the first version, the final letter of the company logo, a “P,” is flush with the right-hand margin. In the second line, the address, “Washington, DC,” ends just short of the “org” in the website URL. (So the right-hand margin of the block of type is not precisely justified.)
  3. My client's revision of the box art sets all type flush with the right-hand vertical margin except for the final “P” in the logo, which sticks out slightly beyond the right-hand margin.
  4. What this means—whether it was a good or bad design choice—is that certain letters need to be visually aligned rather than mathematically aligned.
  5. And what this implies is that certain strokes of a letterform will appear to be visually balanced, centered, or aligned over other letters in different ways based on their unique shapes. The only way to create this alignment in an aesthetically pleasing way is to typeset a few different versions and compare them side by side. This is very much an intuitive process.

If You Cancel a Job

Another client of mine had arranged for some boxes to be printed on two sides via flexography. However, the deadline for final delivery of the job (when the books would actually be needed) was moved up, and there was no longer time for the subcontracted box converter to fabricate the cartons. In order to get the books to the end-users on time, it was necessary for the printer to produce labels in-house and pack the books in larger cartons.

So what will my client owe?

This has not yet been determined, but the total cost of the flexo-printed, converted boxes would have been about $450.00, so the total cost will not exceed this amount.

However, at this point (the job was just canceled today), no actual flexo printing has occurred. Only the prepress has been done, the proof has been created and sent to my client, and perhaps the corrugated stock for the boxes has been ordered.

At present, my guess is that my client will be responsible for the cost of prepress tme and potentially the cost of the fluted paper board needed to fabricate the boxes. Maybe this will cost $200.00 of the $450.00 total. That said, the printer, who stands to make about $10,000.00 for the entire job, may step in and offer to pay some of this in order to keep my client happy, for now and for future jobs.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]