Printing and Design Tips: October 2020, Issue #231

Best Typefaces for E-Books and Print Books

A print brokering client of mine, who is a fashionista for whom I regularly print color swatch books to help in cosmetic and clothing choices, recently asked me the following question:

"I am going to do a rewrite/update of my color analysis book. I have a physical copy and e-Book. What are good fonts for the physical book and the e-Book?"

This was my answer:

In a physical, printed book, the eye absorbs content more easily and comfortably when the type is set in a simple, serif font. For large blocks of copy, I suggested that my client avoid Modern typefaces (with more dramatic variants between the thick and thin strokes of the letterforms).

On screen, the opposite is true. Presumably due to the nature of the bitmapped video screen, which may distort the serifs on the letterforms slightly, or perhaps due to the backlighting, or even due to the less-readable (onscreen) thick/thin transitions within serif-typeface letterforms, sans serif type is easier to read onscreen.

In both cases consider the size of the type (vis a vis readability by your target audience). Keep in mind that the muscles in people's eyes become less flexible with age, so smaller type (in a book or onscreen) is harder to read than larger type.

Also, in general, it is more tiring to read onscreen, because you're looking into a light source. This affects the readability of such things as italic type, bold type, type reversed out of a solid color, etc. To be safe, add extra leading between lines of type, and make column widths short. Keep paragraphs short. And so forth.

I told my print brokering client that, personally, I would print out copies as she designs the pages (for both the print book and the PDF screen version). The screen can be deceiving. I said that she may even want to show a page spread to other people to see if the versions are easily readable. Also, I encouraged her to check them on different computers (tablets, phones, laptops, and desktop computer monitors).

That was my advice to my colleague.

Thoughts on Scratch-Off Inks

Another client came to me with the following project:

He said, "My Fiancee and I just spent the last two months designing and preparing our version of the scratch-off poster for print. Our final design is 18" x 24". So far only one printer we have reached out to says they can print that size with scratch coating. This particular printer says they use screen printing to apply their scratch coating. They also expressed that they had difficulty in the past when preparing scratch maps because of the intricate details."

Then he posed these two questions:

1. "Is screen printing the appropriate technique for this application? I am also concerned about the cost associated with the labor for screen printing if it isn't automated."

2. "Do I really need to go to a printer that specifically states they can print scratch offs or can any lithographic printer successfully apply a scratch coating if they use the appropriate ink with their existing equipment?"

This was my response:

Without having more than a general knowledge of this particular aspect of printing, I'd say yes (regarding choosing a screen printer) because of the thickness of the ink used. As I recall, scratch-off material is rubber-based (or at least very thick). Screen printing is ideal for thick ink.

I agreed that screen printing make-ready is labor intensive. So I told my client that the higher the number of copies he and his fiancee can afford to print, the better. I said they would be dividing the cost of make-ready by more final copies, so the unit cost will drop.

I also noted that I wouldn't take a chance in having a general offset printer experiment with their job. I said that I would go to a printer who specializes in this work--or a screen printing vendor. I said they should go by word of mouth and check out printed samples.

I ended by encouraging them to put this job up on the PIE web server as a live job to attract new printers. I also encouraged them to ask printers who have no-bid the job if they know vendors who do this kind of work. In addition, I suggested they check the Internet (I suggested looking specifically for scratch-and-print or scratch-off vendors). Finally, I offered to check with one of the printers I work with (hence opening up the possibility for a new print brokering relationship).

(As an aside, since I first wrote this article, I have found an excellent printer to do this job for my new client. The four-color process work will be done first. Then one coat of flood UV will be laid down for protection. Then multiple coats of black (at my client’s request) rather than silver scratch-off coating will be added. My client will request a separate prototype (11" x 17") of the job for a $330 payment. We agree that this will be in addition to the included contract color proof. It will be an insurance expense, an investment of sorts, to ensure the quality of the printer and the process before the final commitment to the job, the printer, and the overall cost of the job.)

Opaque White Ink on A Black Shirt

Other than used books, my favorite product at the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent is t-shirts emblazoned with pithy statements about life.

Over the years I have found their quality improving, from vinyl decals heat welded to the fabric to the recent surge of inkjet, screen printing, and dye sublimation technologies. One of the improvements I have seen involves the use of opaque white ink to achieve a brilliant ground (particularly on dark t-shirts) against which the colors of the art on the shirts appears much brighter.

What Is Opaque Ink?

Opaque white ink provides a solid background. If the colors used to print the shirt are transparent or translucent (as are most 4-color inks), the background will be visible. What the opaque white does is block out all background color while also lightening any transparent ink printed over the white.

This is similar to a canvas used in fine art painting that has been pretreated with white gesso. In decades or centuries past, the white gesso, made with opaque white among other things, was a particularly good light-blocker for painting a white ground over wood, masonite, or even canvas or linen, which was not necessarily white when initially stretched over the wood strips or solid background support.

You’ll find the same general principle in some movie posters. I remember installing a clear acetate poster (back when my fiancee and I installed movie standees) that included an image of Tonto and the Lone Ranger. On the front of the poster, you could see the multi-colored hues of inkjet or screen printed ink, but if you turned over the poster, you could see flat, white ink covering all image areas visible on the front.

This was a dot-for-dot underprinting of opaque white. Without it, there would be no background for light to bounce off, back to the viewers’ eyes after traveling through the transparent, overprinted inks. Without the white background over the transparent, plastic substrate, ambient light would have traveled through the transparent inks and disappeared through the clear plastic background. The viewer’s eye would have registered this process as creating dulled-down color in the movie images printed on the front of the acetate sheet.

Back to the T-Shirt

The art for the t-shirt my fiancee found for me at the thrift store includes the words "Viva La Vida" in opaque white ink (you can see through a 12-power printer’s loupe that it is extremely thick ink--presumably screen printing ink). Behind the words is a multi-colored image from what looks like the French Revolution (I Googled the image). Behind all dark colors, all you see (through the loupe) is the image color. Behind all light color, you see the opaque white.

The overall appearance this treatment yields is one of brilliant contrast between the lightest lights and darkest shadows. A striking image.

So what exactly is opaque white (beyond the background-masking effect it creates)?

With the screen printing inks used for a t-shirt such as the one I bought at the thrift store, the inks (particularly the white, as noted above) have a much higher proportion of pigment (what makes the color) to vehicle (what makes the ink a liquid). So when the inks dry or cure, they are much thicker and less transparent (more opaque) than the 4-color process (or other colored) inks.

[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.]