Printing and Design Tips: January 2016, Issue #174

A Unique Holiday Card

I received an especially attractive holiday card this year from a printer. I was impressed for a lot of reasons. First, I knew this was an advertisement of sorts enticing me to buy from this vendor. As a printing broker I can appreciate that, particularly when the product is this good. So, first off, the card showed me that this vendor is both creative and skilled in paper choices, printing techniques, and overall design—and clearly in marketing as well.

To make this more concrete, here is a description of the card. Without pulling out a ruler, I would say the final folded size is approximately 5” x 7”. It appears to be a three-color print job (red, yellow, and black). With color builds, the printer created an orange for what appears to be a stylized sun. The rays are orange, and the center circle of the sun is a darker screen of the red over the yellow to form a much deeper red than that of the rays of the sun. Most of the type is black, but there are accents of dark red on a few important words (peace, love, and happiness, appropriately enough for the season). On the back of the card there is minimal type: the printer's logo and a black dove with a green olive branch built out of black, cyan, and yellow ink. Even at an incredibly small size, the green of the olive branch is still visible.

All of this is on the right-most panel (front and back). So most of the card is the unprinted paper, and for this the printer chose a thick (maybe 130#) uncoated cover stock with deep texture (i.e., the hills and valleys of the paper are not only visible under a good reading light, but they feel good in the hand).

What sets this card apart from all the others I received over the holiday season is its folding and especially its unique die cutting.

The holiday card is formatted with an accordian fold, a zig-zag pattern for the eight panels (four on each side of the sheet). When folded up it becomes the 5” x 7” holiday card.

Three of the four (or rather six of the eight) panels have diecuts, which when laid over each other (once the card has been folded to its final size) land squarely on top of one another. On the front-most panel there is a diecut holiday wrapping box with a bottom, a top, and an intricate bow, all masterfully cut out of the thick paper stock. This surrounds the next diecut image (the same dove that appears on the back of the card with a printed green olive branch in its beak. The bird is a diecut; the olive branch is a build of the cyan, yellow, and black ink. And the dove falls exactly in the center of the box.

Immediately in the center of the bird is a red heart (maybe 1/2” at most in width, diecut from the next panel. The heart diecut allows the red from the following panel to show through (a red heart), but when you open the card you see that the red of the heart is really the red of the sun on the back panel.

All of this comes together beautifully. It's symbolic and thoughtful.

Why This Works So Well

All stellar printed pieces share a few traits, in my opinion. A successful piece brings together good design, well-chosen paper, and flawless printing skills. And all of this comes together seamlessly to convey a message. This card succeeds on all these levels.

1. In particular, the design has a purpose. It speaks of peace, emotion (the heart), and celebration (the wrapping box). The design supports the message.

2. The tactile nature of the uncoated cover stock reinforces the simplicity of the message and reminds us that the card is a physical object, not just an image on a computer screen. This makes the print vendor's sentiment far more personal than an email card (or even a card on a gloss coated stock).

3. The complexity of the diecutting reflects the skill of the designer in coming up with such a piece, but it also reflects the skill of the printing and finishing departments of this print service vendor. Doing something this difficult is noteworthy. Doing it with such grace goes even further. And the subtle interplay of printing ink against unprinted, diecut areas of the card delights both the eyes and the hands.

I am impressed. A holiday card of this caliber shows just how good this printer's work can be.

Remember the Bleeds on Your Jobs

A print brokering client of mine just submitted a PDF for a book with a bleed on the cover. This is a simple enough portion of the job to prepare. The image bleeds on the top, right, and bottom, and therefore it needs to extend 1/8” beyond the trim. Not to do this risks having visible white space between the image and the trim margin if the blade of the trimming knife is not precisely positioned for trimming the book cover. Trimming is a physical operation, and there will always be a slight tolerance (i.e., the possibility of imperfection) in a trim. When artwork that bleeds off a page actually extends 1/8” beyond the page, there's room for error.

What my client inadvertently did was drag the boundary of the picture box (in InDesign) 1/8” beyond the trim without realizing there was only 1/16” of actual photo image within the picture box. With the “selection” tool in InDesign, my client could see the accurate bleed measurement (the shape, placement, and boundaries of the picture box), but she needed to check the image within the picture box using the “direct selection” tool to actually see the complete cropping boundaries of the photo.

Once she did this, she noticed that the cover image was too short and that it therefore extended only slightly beyond the trim line. She could then resize and reposition the image slightly within the picture box, save the file as a press-ready PDF, and then send it off to the printer.

Here's How We Found the Problem

First of all the printer alerted us to the problem. This was fortunate, and much better than if the printer had not said anything. He then asked for a replacement page, and we were on our own to determine the problem.

My first thought was that since my client had many pages with bleeds and that the printer had only flagged this one, the problem was probably localized. In prior iterations of the job no bleeds had been visible in the PDF, so I had taught my client how to define the bleed in InDesign and then ensure that it was included in the final PDF file.

I had my client check the PDF creation parameters to make sure all bleeds were 1/8”, which they were. In this case, it was odd that this particular problematic bleed edge extended only 1/16”. It seemed that either there would be no bleed or 1/8” bleed—consistently—in the creation of a PDF from an InDesign file.

My client and I therefore reasoned that the problem affected only this one side of this one image. From there we saw that the actual photo itself was not wide enough.

In your own design work, you may find it helpful to use this kind of logical progression of thought to determine the cause of an error, so you can fix it and then resubmit the file to the printer. (But do remember to rename it, so the printer knows it is a replacement page.)

[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.]