Printing and Design Tips: August 2016, Issue #181

Unique Format Print Books

I recently came upon an intriguing paperback at a thrift store. The subject matter caught my interest: a book on Mary Magdalene. Then, when I picked up the book and paged through it, I noticed its heft and its hard gloss cover finish (probably a film laminate). But what struck me as unique and compelling was the use of a taller-than-usual format.

I measured some of my other books when I got home, and the norm seemed to be about 5.5" x 8.5". And yet this book on Mary Magdalene was a full inch taller at almost 5.5" x 9.5".

Normally, you wouldn't think this would make a lot of difference. But to me, along with its height, the book's 1" spine; thick, cream text pages; and opulent margins gave it a sense of stature.

Inside the book the single column of type was justified and set in a light, stately serif typeface. In addition, there were running headers in all capital letters set in an italic version of the text font. The folios were positioned at the bottom of the pages with brackets on either side of the numbers, but with additional space between the folios and the brackets.

Throughout the book, there were photos of religious icons, both statuary and paintings, and between sections the designer had positioned simple but elegant dingbats (also known as "printer's flowers"). Along with the cream shade of the paper, the overall tone of the book design was one of gravitas, scholarship, and beauty.

What Can We Learn From This?

I spent many years as a book designer. So even now I like to deconstruct a book that appeals to me in order to understand what specific elements of design have caught my interest.

Therefore, the first thing I would encourage you to do is to observe. If something appeals to you, ask yourself why, and then analyze all aspects of the design, from the text and cover papers to the cover coating, from the tint of the paper to the use of color or black and white imagery. It's even a good idea to keep a "swipe file" to which you can refer for design ideas when you're working on a project and you get designer's block.

Many contemporary books use ragged right type to create a more casual tone. However, in this book the justified type seemed more appropriate for a scholarly work on a religious figure. So when you design a book for a client, make aesthetic choices that support the tone and purpose of the book. (For example, a bright white printing sheet and color photos might have clashed with the sedate tone of the book on Mary Magdalene.)

A lot of these design decisions, such as whether to use one Old Style typeface over another to give a lighter or darker overall look to a page of type, may have a profound subliminal effect on the reader.

These are some of the joys and challenges of designing a book. When the physical properties of the project (the dimensions of the book, its binding, the paper selection, the cover coating) and the graphic design choices (the type selection and placement of type on a page, the running headers and footers and the folios, the amount and placement of unused white space on a page) reflect and reinforce the author's message, you have created a successful book design.

For me, the initial attraction to the design of the book about Mary Magdalene came from its unique, vertical format. In your own work, consider distinctive ways to set your project apart from the rest.

Growth in Corrugated Board Printing

It's like being on a sailboat and trying to catch the wind and keep it in the sails. As a printing broker I'm always looking for trends in printing, those processes and techniques that are growing in demand. I've found that labels, textile printing, folding cartons, and flexible packaging are four areas experiencing growth, but recently I've also been also reading about corrugated board printing.

First of all, until recently there were only a few ways to print on corrugated board without crushing the fluting that keeps it light while giving it strength. Offset printing rollers would bear down too heavily on the fragile fluting, so printers usually choose flexography to adorn corrugated boxes. This has limited the complexity of the box designs, since flexography is not as precise as offset. Therefore, many corrugated boxes have been adorned with simple type treatments and solid color blocks.

If a designer needs to add process color to a box design, he or she can offset print an enamel press sheet and then laminate it to the fluted board. In fact, a version of this approach has been an option on a much larger scale. That is, vendors can print a huge run of what is called the "liner" (the outer paper wrap of a corrugated cardboard box) and then laminate this paper sheet to the corrugated fluting to create the ribbed stock that can then be converted to boxes. This is an expensive option (in terms of set-up costs), but for a large corrugated box press run this can actually be economical on a per-piece basis.

In recent years digital inkjet printing has also become a viable option, one that can produce intricate designs and even halftones directly on the corrugated board without destroying its fluting since the inkjet printheads never actually touch the substrate.

And considering the wide color gamut of inkjet printing as well as its precision with halftone image reproduction, you can sidestep both flexography and offset printing box liners.

For short press runs, and particularly for manufacturers personalizing their packaging or printing successive short runs in response to market demand, this technology is ideal.

However, for long press runs inkjet printing is a slow and expensive process. Digital presses run at only a fraction of the speed of offset presses (an example I recently read noted an offset press running at 18,000 sheets per hour and a digital press running at 4,000-5,000 sheets per hour). In this case, either using flexography for simpler package design, or offset printing the liner and then laminating it to the corrugated fluting, would be more cost-effective.

So with this survey of corrugated box printing methods in mind, I found the statistics for the corrugated box market to be encouraging. Based on my reading, it seems that corrugated box printing is expected to grow a little over 21 percent in the coming year, with the technology of choice being mainly flexography ("Global Corrugated Boxes Market Worth USD 76.76 Billion by 2021 - Analysis, Technologies & Forecasts Report 2016-2021" - Cascades, DS Smith, Mondi - Research and Markets, Dublin Business Wire).

Interestingly enough, this particular article also notes that flexography is ideal for corrugated box printing both because it doesn't crush the fluting and because it allows for printing on uneven surfaces. (That is, the rows of corrugated fluting create an uneven printing surface even if the liner on top of the fluting appears to be flat.)

This article on box printing also notes a growing customer demand for sustainable packaging as well as a move toward personalization and shorter press runs. All of this will promote growth in digital printing, even though inkjet is still a small, albeit expanding, portion of overall spending on packaging design.

[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.]