Printing and Design Tips: March 2017, Issue #188

Always Ask for a Proof—Even for a Reprint

A client of mine is a “fashionista.” Every three months or so I coordinate the reprinting of her 22 color books, which are 144 pages (72 cards) with a color swatch on the front and text on the back of each card. Her clients use them to choose colors consistent with their complexion (winters, summers, springs, and falls). It’s like a beauty version of a PMS swatch book. Each of the 3.54” x 1.42” books is round cornered and drilled, and a screw and post assembly keeps everything together.

That said, it would be easy to forgo a proof for such a reprint. After all, my client has done at least two reprints since the initial run. However, there are 22 originals to cover all possible customer complexions, and each book therefore includes slightly different colors.

Really, this is as much of a coordination issue as a printing issue. Getting the right colors in the right books is essential, and the job could easily become a disordered mess. So each time my client reorders, I have the printer add the proofing step.

Granted, my client does not need to see hard-copy proofs. PDF proofs are fine in this case since she has already approved the colors (and seen them in physical form during her initial print run). More than anything, a screen proof just shows her that the printer will provide exactly the right pages in each of the 22 original books.

Why, you may ask, does she not just defer to the printer and forgo the proof? First of all, in the case of this particular printer, this would probably be a safe bet. The printer is that good. However, a PDF proof is a “contract” between the printer and my client. There can be no confusion regarding my client’s intent. Conversely, this actually protects the printer as well. Since there is no chance of miscommunication, there would be only an infinitesimal chance that the printer would be asked to reprint the job to correct an error—because there is a “contractual” proof to which both parties have agreed.

So in your own work, always ask for a proof. Even if you know the job has been done many times before. And keep in mind that a reprint (even for a printer error) takes time. (In my client’s case it would take extra time not only for printing but also for die cutting round corners and drilling the hole for the screw and post assembly.) Avoid the time and hassle. Ask for a PDF proof.

A Standee Made with Clear Sheet Plastic, Ink on Paper, and LED Lights

I have mentioned before that my fiancee and I install standees in movie theaters. For the uninitiated (as we ourselves were seven years ago), a standee is a large-format print that has been diecut and converted into either a sign or an actual “environment” of movie characters. The purpose of the standee is to spark interest in an upcoming movie.

Some of these are quite elaborate. We have assembled standees incorporating motors, sound devices, and lights. In one case we even installed a huge, printed beach ball, which had to be suspended from the upper level of the theater.

Last week my fiancee and I installed a rather intricate standee for a new movie called Ghost in the Shell. I bring this to your attention because it stretches the bounds of printing. If you are a designer, you may want to consider the multiple media the standee incorporates. You may find ways to bring additional materials into your own work.

In the case of the Ghost in the Shell standee, the first thing you notice (once it has been assembled) is that it is a triangular solid of about two feet in depth, making it appear a bit like a prism. I say prism because it is surrounded with clear plastic on the front and sides.

The background graphic panel of the standee (a 4” deep triangle) holds the Scarlett Johansson movie character silhouette suspended about a foot and a half away from the back panel and exactly parallel to it. To do this, the standee designer has used three clear plastic pieces (each made from a flat plastic sheet and folded into a four-sided rectangular solid).

On the back of the Scarlett Johansson figure, there is a thin adhesive-backed strip of perhaps 100 LED lights controlled by a computer chip to change color periodically. All lights change together and cycle through at least three or four hues.

These lights cannot be seen directly from the front of the standee. Rather they create a reflected image bounced off the back graphic panel of the standee, and this light also comes forward through die cut slits in the character image.

All of this is encased in a printed triangular front piece that is made of clear acetate and that wraps around the Scarlett Johansson figure and the back panel. So the entirety of the standee appears to be encased in a clear plastic shell, with the title of the movie emblazoned on the front panel.

As a printing and finishing project, this standee involves a number of technologies.

First of all, the large title on the clear plastic front panel was either screen printed or inkjet printed. This would depend on the length of the print run. If the designer in fact had the job inkjet printed, it was probably done with UV-curable inks to allow the ink to adhere to a non-absorbent substrate.

Beyond the printing, the plastic pieces involved intricate die cutting to form tabs and slots, as well as scoring to allow the plastic to be bent. In the case of installation, the standee design studio had to provide cloth gloves so the installers could work with the plastic without marring the transparent surface of the clear panels.

The back of the standee had to be printed via flexography. To tone down the light brown color of the substrate, the designer had specified a black ink on all visible pieces of the corrugated board. You can tell this is so because as you assemble and install the standee, the black ink comes off on your hands. Also, you can see that the ink is a dull, flat black. All of this suggests flexography.

And the image of the Scarlett Johansson character, along with the background triangle graphic panel, has been printed on gloss litho paper via offset lithography and then laminated to the background corrugated board.

To add to this, pieces of the overall standee have incorporated die cutting and pattern gluing to allow for strength and easy assembly.

What can you learn from this standee that you can apply to your own large-format design work?

First of all, I’d say that you should consider materials beyond ink on paper. Clear plastic can be printed, die cut, folded, and assembled into three-dimensional objects. Since you can print on this material, you can display images, editorial text, or even a logo or other identity graphic on the clear substrate.

Lights that transition from one color to another add a fourth dimension, the dimension of time, or change, to a large-format piece. This gives you more than just length, width, and depth to work with. Think of the mobiles created by Alexander Calder. While they move and shift as they hang from the ceiling, the viewer gets multiple, different views of a single sculpture. In a similar vein, adding changing lights to your work will provide multiple different views of an otherwise static image.

Moreover, these lights are cheap, particularly if purchased online. You can buy an assembly that includes a button battery, a string of LED lights, and the computer chip needed to control the color change in the lights, all as one item.

So expand your horizons. Think outside the box, or (in the case of this standee) outside the clear plastic shell.

[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.]