Printing & Design Tips: MARCH 2009, #92


The more accurately you describe your print job when requesting estimates, the more likely you'll be to receive accurate, consistent estimates from all your print vendors, and the less likely you'll be to be surprised by the final bill. This is a given. However, one printing term that may be confusing, and may lead to inaccurate bids, is the difference between the "flat size" and "finished size" of your job.

Simply put, the flat size refers to the dimensions of your unfolded printed piece laying flat on your press sheet. Picture a six-page brochure (four 8.5" x 11 pages with a 4.25" flap on the right side). Unfolded (spread out flat on the press sheet), this job would have a flat size of 21.25" x 11" (8.5" + 8.5 + 4.25" x 11") and a finished size of 8.5" x 11" (when it's all folded up).

When you specify this job for your print providers, tell them both the flat size and the finished size, and note the "short-fold" flap (shorter than the other 8.5" page width). Also, tell your printers that this is a wrap-fold (everything folds in like you're wrapping a package, rather than folding back and forth in a zigzag manner).

So what do you do when you're printing a book rather than a brochure? A brochure has a readily identifiable flat size, but a 64-page book might comprise four 16-page signatures, each one lying flat on a 28" x 40" press sheet. So what's the flat size? How do you measure it?

In short, you don't. In this case, you just tell your printers that your printed product has a finished size of 8.5" x 11" (or 6" x 9", or whatever else is appropriate).


Process-color printing, or four-color process printing, includes four inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. This is not a surprise. However, one would think the final color, being black, would be referred to as "B," not "K." Why is this not so?

First of all, the "K" refers to "key," in printers' terminology. The key plate carries the detail of an image (its lines and contrast). It usually is the black plate.

Depending on which printer you ask, the lore is that "K" was chosen rather than "B" to denote the black plate in process printing to avoid confusion with the "B" in blue (since some printers refer to cyan as blue).

It is likely that you will get many different-and equally interesting-answers when you ask different printers this question.


Blow-in cards are the return mail cards that seem to always fall out of magazines as you're reading them at the newsstand. Finishing equipment in your printer's bindery actually shoots these cards into your magazine randomly (whether it is a saddle-stitched or perfect-bound magazine). Most stay in the magazines until the reader opens them, although this is not as certain as with another kind of card called the bind-in card.

In contrast to blow-in cards, bind-in cards are picked up by the saddle-stitching equipment just like a printed signature and stitched into your magazine, either between signatures or in the center of the saddle-stitched periodical. In a perfect-bound magazine, the bind-in card is added between signatures. Bind-ins are perforated for easy removal.

Bind-in cards are placed in a specific location in the magazine and "jog to" (are aligned with) the head or foot of the magazine (its top or bottom). In contrast, blow-in cards are blown into the magazine at random locations as noted before.

Due to their thickness, both blow-in and bind-in cards cause the magazine to fall open to the pages between which they have been placed when the reader begins to examine the magazine.


Glue comes in many varieties. These include the fugitive glue (kind of like rubber cement) that your printer uses instead of wafer seals to close direct mail pieces. Wafer seals are little tab-like stickers placed on folded mailing pieces to keep them from opening during automated bulk mailing.

The list also includes the glue that holds three sides of your envelopes closed (a glue that is not removable or repositionable without destroying the envelope).

A third kind of glue is remoistenable glue. That's the glue you lick on the envelope flap before sealing it shut. Unlike the glue holding the rest of your envelope together (which is applied-in liquid form--to the press sheet before the press sheet is die-cut and folded into an envelope), the glue you lick is liquefied first when applied to the press sheet and re-moistened--liquefied again--by you when you lick and seal the envelope flap.

[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.]