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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven 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.

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Custom Printing: Revising a New Asphalt Paver Logo

October 15th, 2018

Posted in Design | Comments »

A short while ago I wrote a blog posting about a new logo I’ve been designing for a local asphalt paver. I described its genesis as a coroplast sign that morphed into a logo commission and then into cups, hats, and finally a large format print vehicle wrap. With my fiancee’s input, I provided three options a few days ago and then heard nothing back from the client. I started to get nervous. I assumed he had hated them. Then I reviewed the logos again, and I wasn’t so sure anymore either.

So today I shared the PDF of the three options with a friend and client of mine who designs print books. Interestingly enough, she used to be an editor, and I started her down the path of design, and since then I have consulted with her on the design of many of her print books, which are for such high-profile clients as the World Bank.

Turning the tables and having the student educate the teacher was humbling but very instructive. It is a lot easier to tell someone how to improve a design than to come up with a good one yourself.

That said, this is what she suggested, what I learned, and what I created for the revised, new logo. As with the initial batch of logo options, we can only wait and hope the client will be either pleased or at least articulate about what he likes and dislikes. Fortunately he called me this morning, and since then we have been playing phone tag.

What I Had Initially Created

As a recap, this is what the first three logo options looked like:

  1. Option #1 was a background rectangle picture box containing a photo of asphalt. Over this I had placed type in Gill Sans, flush right, with the name of the state in all caps and the word “asphalt” below in lowercase letters. I made the first line white and the second line a darker gray than the background asphalt photo. I also added a black and red stylized road above the state name, with a dashed line in the center.
  2. The second option was the same type treatment over the state map (both color and black and white versions).
  3. The third option was the irregular outline of the state map with the type superimposed over the map image. I made the “A” in the word “asphalt” red to provide drama and immediately grab the viewer’s attention.

What My Friend and Client Said, and What I Did in Response

My fiend/client said the road would be more recognizable with a yellow line down its center rather than a red one. I had initially chosen red because of its impact. My friend was absolutely right. I should choose a color that is relevant to the logo, and the line down the center of the road is not red. It is either white or yellow.

She also suggested putting the asphalt image within the outline of the letterforms. I tried this with both the name of the state and the word “asphalt.” It seemed to be too much, so I made the name of the state red and then reduced its size and increased the size of the word “asphalt.” Because of this, the rocks in the image of asphalt (within the outlines of the letterforms) were more visible. Moreover, the image of asphalt was really only pertinent to the word “asphalt,” so it made sense to only have the image within this one word.

In addition, I used the colors of the state flag, rather than the flag itself or the outline of the map. As noted before, I replaced the red in the stylized road with a yellow dashed line. I also made the all-capitals name of the state red (the other color in the flag). So the color palette now reflected the colors of the state flag without my directly including imagery of the map or flag, and at the same time this simplified the overall look of the logo considerably.

Finally, my friend and client had suggested simplifying the overall design by making the top line and bottom line justified rather than flush right. I had resisted this idea. I felt that flush right would be more unique (less expected) than flush-left type, and that justified type would only create an undifferentiated rectangle (the shape of the exterior boundary of the logo). There would be no drama.

Therefore, as a compromise, I enlarged the word “asphalt” (as noted before), reduced the size of the state name, positioned the type with a flush-right alignment, and then added a stylized road (with the yellow, dashed line in the center) immediately to the left of the state name.

Because of these graphic decisions, I had created a continuation of the rectangle on top (the shape of the state name rendered in all capital letters) with the simulated road extending (to the left) to the same vertical axis as the left edge of the “a” in “asphalt.” On the right, I vertically aligned the final letter in the state name and the final letter in the word “asphalt.”

The gist of what I just said is that I had a rectangle. All visual elements of the logo nestled tightly into one another: the simulated road, the state name, and the word “asphalt.” Everything was tight, simple, and airy (in that the logo was not superimposed over a rectangular image). Moreover, the logo includes the texture of the asphalt within the word “asphalt.” So it has a humorous tone.

This is a viable fourth option for my client. We’ll see what happens.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. I hadn’t thought of this until just now, but not having either a map or the image of the flag (or the image of the asphalt) behind the logotype will make the overall logo more flexible. It will be easier to coordinate the design of the business card and the vehicle wrap (at vastly different sizes) without a background image. The shape of the words will also be more evident and therefore more immediately recognizable (since the viewer will more readily see the descender of the “p” and the ascender of the “h” in the word “asphalt”). Plus, the slanted letterform of the letter “t” in “asphalt” will also be more visible. The take-away is that you should check your own logo design in a similar manner. Think about what is all uppercase and what is all lowercase. The eye will immediately identify a lowercase word (or one in uppercase and lowercase letters). It will recognize the shape of the word (without needing to read all the letters). If you put part of the logo in all caps, it’s shape will be just a rectangle. This will slow down the viewer’s reading speed. This doesn’t have to be a problem. You just have to be aware of it.
  2. Think about where the reader’s eye enters the image of the logo. In the case of the logo I just created, the eye enters along the simulated road with the dashed line. The yellow grabs the reader’s attention. Then the horizontal line of the road leads the viewer’s eye to the all-caps name of the state (in red). Since the final word, “asphalt,” is larger than anything else, that’s where the eye goes next. It would go there first if not for the yellow in the simulated road and the red in the state name. In your own work, be able to articulate how the viewer’s eye enters the design, where it goes next, and where it goes after that. Make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel comfortably through the entire logotype and image.
  3. Finally, see what the logo looks like when you make it very large and very small. After all, it may be reproduced on both large format print signage and a business card. Also see how it looks in black and white as well as color. In the case of my project, a black-and-white-only logo directs the viewer’s eye to the word “asphalt” first, not to the yellow line in the middle of the road.
  4. Then put the mock-ups away, and don’t look at them for a day or so. When you see your work again, you will have more objectivity. You will see both the good points and the flaws.
  5. Finally, show the logos to other people, particularly other designers. You don’t have to take their advice, but it will help to get different points of view on your work. It may even give you new ideas to pursue. Then show your logos to your client.

Posted in Design | Comments »

Book Printing: Unique Book Binding/Finishing Formats

October 8th, 2018

Posted in Book Binding | Comments »

My fiancee recently brought home from the thrift store two intriguing books for the grandchildren. The first is The Slant Book, written by Peter Newell, and the second is How Does the Show Go On?, written by Thomas Schumacher.

What makes both of these books particularly interesting to me is their unique binding methods. Both are striking. I’ve never seen anything quite like them before. In addition, the uniqueness of each reinforces the theme of the print book. That is, the special effect is not gratuitous. The form reinforces the meaning.

The Slant Book

One of the attributes of every print book I’ve read until now has been the quality of squareness or rectilinerarity. Abutting edges have always been set at a right angle: 90 degrees. Trimming knives I’ve seen at book binderies have also been set at a right angle. It has been a given, an expectation.

That said, I was intrigued to see that The Slant Book is more of a rhombus. Opposite sides are equal and parallel (the bind edge and face trim; the head trim and foot trim), but the angles themselves are not 90 degrees. The book tilts upward. The top of the spine is at an an angle greater than 90 degrees, and the bottom of the spine is at an angle less than 90 degrees.

This brings up a lot of questions for me, and the Internet was not forthcoming with answers. First of all, I wondered how you would put it in a bookcase. Since I am somewhat obsessive compulsive, this would be the first question that comes to mind for me. The second was, How did they do that? After all, trimming knives are set at right angles to one another on all of the finishing equipment I’ve seen.

The first question was easy enough to answer, assuming that the face trim margin of the book would stick out above the line of equally tall books, while the spine was flush with the spines of the other books on the shelf.

To answer the second question, I had to make assumptions based on experience. After all, Google came up dry. To start with, opposite sides of the book were parallel. Therefore, it seemed to me that to cut both the print book block and the binder’s boards (The Slant Book is a case-bound volume), either a single guillotine cutter or two parallel knives of the three-knife trimmer could be used.

In addition, and to keep control of the precise placement of the book during its trimming, perhaps a wooden jig of some kind had held these print books in exactly the same position for each trim. As to the printed litho paper laminated to the boards and turned over the edges, plus the fabric covering the spine and extending about an inch onto the front and back covers, this might have been done by hand.

Granted, the work would have required precision. After all, I’ve seen badly bound books that neither open nor close easily because of imperfections in the binding angles, paper grain direction, or any number of other reasons. Because of this, I was very impressed—as well as perplexed.

From the point of view of the content, I was also more than a little bit amused. The illustrations, and even the backward slanted type on the left-hand pages, made the format look not only intentional but also most appropriate. Starting on the cover, the characters of The Slant Book go slip sliding down the incline, from a runaway baby carriage to a police officer knocked off his feet to a push cart full of trinkets. Even the cover expresses this slantedness, with the characters seeming to run forward quickly due to the inclined cover surface.

The book format and the cover and text content work together perfectly, hand in hand.

How Does The Show Go On?

The second book is aimed at an older audience. You could say that adults might appreciate it as much as children, given the full-color treatment both on the cover and throughout the text, along with the flashy photos of Broadway, the playbills, and the tickets.

Again, what sets this print book apart is its binding. Like the first book, the second is case bound. This is also a square format, but with a vertical split right down the center of the front cover. I’d call this a “barn-door” effect (similar to a gatefold but with equal emphasis given to the left and right panels that both open outward). The photo on the cover is a theater stage, and the panels opening to the left and right reveal the first page of the book, much as a rising theater curtain reveals the scene of the play being presented.

How was this done, you might ask. The left panel of the case-bound cover is a shortened front cover binder’s board with the litho-printed stock laminated to the chipboard. It begins at the half-way point and extends to the left, toward and around the spine and then fully across the back of the book. Then it continues vertically (another small binder’s board) up across the face trim of the book. Finally it comes back to the center of the print book, where it vertically meets and abuts to the first half-panel.

So the entire cover creates a wrap. A little box with no top or bottom. Just sides. It’s absolutely perfect for a print book whose contents are all about revealing and then showcasing what’s on the stage. Interestingly enough, even the full-bleed photo immediately under this unique cover creates a sense of movement. Half of this photo is the pasted down endsheet for the cover (a photo of wooden running and jumping creatures with horns–perhaps gazelles), and the other half is the loose flyleaf (a continuation of the image on the left) covering page one of the text. Again, form follows content. The image is revealed, but it is also made up of two traditional print book binding components: the endsheet and the flyleaf.

True to form, the interior of the book (even though this is an article on binding) also includes some striking finishing techniques. For instance, a full-size, bound theater playbill is tipped onto a hanger and glued to a book page. It looks exactly like one you would receive when shown to your theater seat. Later in the book, and also tipped onto a hanger glued to a book page, is a small pocket folder containing theater-related drawings. There’s also an acetate sheet–with printed hair and moustache–attached above an image of a man without the hair and beard (that is, you lay down the clear acetate, and the actor’s costume facial hair is attached to this face). And the list of intriguing finishing operations goes on. Each provides access to an element of theater. Each is a discovery.

In all cases, the physical approach to the book and the binding and finishing techniques used complement the content of the book.

What We Can Learn From These Print Books

  1. In your own design work, use both the page design (type, color, and imagery) and the physical properties of book design (materials, folding and cutting operations, tip-ons) to reinforce and enhance the meaning of the book. These should be intrinsic to the design and theme, not pretty add-ons.
  2. Always involve your commercial printing supplier early. For books like these, choose your printer first and then work with him to realize your vision.
  3. Expect to pay a lot for these enhancements.
  4. Remember that there’s a reason books are still with us, even if we have access to eReaders. None of these special treatments could have been done on a digital, screen-only product. All of them are tactile, and all engage the reader actively and physically (for instance, you have to pull the inserts out of their pockets to read them).

Posted in Book Binding | Comments »

Custom Printing: A Trip to the Modern Printing Plant

October 1st, 2018

Posted in Printing | Comments »

I’ve been attending press inspections at commercial printing plants for almost thirty years. Each time, I learn something new, so even now I get excited when I get a chance to go on a plant tour.

I had lunch this week with a friend of mine who is the CEO of a large, local custom printing company with a number of offices in the local DC Metropolitan area. Before we ate, we went through the new plant he and his company had just acquired (he had bought another commercial printing supplier’s business). I found it to be a most intriguing and educational experience.

What I Saw: An All-Digital Workflow

First of all, I saw relatively few people and a lot of equipment. When I started in the commercial printing field as a graphic designer and photographer, there were many more people in prepress. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, men and women at light tables manually stripped together large negatives shot from pasted up “mechanicals.” The mechanicals held the type and patches (called windows) for the photos, and negatives for these page elements were combined into the large flats (usually a press form of eight pages for printing one side of a press sheet). Passing bright light through these negatives “burned” printing plates that could then be hung on the cylinders of offset presses.

Today, in this particular printing plant (as well as others across the country), I saw almost no one in this department because all of the manual activities were now performed on computers, and the files were directly output to platesetters. Lasers burned the images of each eight-page side of a press form right onto the plate material with no intermediate film-based step. In fact, my friend’s platesetters didn’t require chemistry to develop the plates; the printing plates could just be washed with water on press, and they would be ready to print.

Where the Most Activity Was

I saw a lot of activity in large format inkjet printing and in laser-based digital printing. Again, relatively few people operated the handful of huge flatbed and roll-fed inkjet presses. One of these was a Mimaki. It printed the large vinyl banners, building wraps, car wraps, and magnets, while another flatbed router cut out the decals, window clings, and any other irregularly shaped, digitally printed jobs. (I knew from experience that other Mimaki equipment could actually inkjet print decals and then cut irregular outlines around the printed material using the same machine.)

The router I saw could also cut thick metal letters for signage with a different cutting tool (a plotting knife was all that was needed for the vinyl, paper, plastic, and other, less rigid substrates). I noted to my friend, the CEO, that I had seen videos of lasers cutting through large format print signage, and we agreed that this seemed to be the wave of the future.

What I took away from my visit to the grand-format inkjet press room was that marketing materials were a large market segment for commercial printing sales within this company. I also saw that items such as magnets could be inexpensively printed on huge sheets of magnetic substrate that could then be easily cut down as needed. These seemed to be very popular, as were the hemmed and grommeted banners made of scrim vinyl. Clearly they could be inexpensively produced by only a few inkjet printing press operators, and these simple products could pack an effective and memorable marketing message.

Digital Flat Sheet Presses

The CEO and I then walked through a room with both a Kodak NexPress and an HP Indigo. (I’ve often written in these PIE Blog articles that I consider the HP Indigo to be a superior digital press, and clearly my friend the CEO would not have otherwise purchased it.) But it was interesting to learn that he could laminate press sheets printed on the NexPress but not press sheets produced on the HP Indigo. It was my understanding that the fuser oil used in the HP Indigo did not readily accept film lamination. I thought this was particularly interesting since I knew of (and worked with) another printer who was in fact successfully laminating Indigo press sheets. Perhaps there are differences in the laminating film used by the two vendors, or maybe there are other factors of which I am unaware. Nevertheless, this piqued my interest.

Other digital presses in this commercial printing plant were more focused on black-only text. These were also laser-based. Interestingly enough, my friend the CEO spoke of the upcoming transition from digital laser printing (also known as xerography or electrophotography) to digital inkjet printing. He noted that both web-fed (roll-fed) presses and cut sheet presses might replace the Indigo and other laser-based custom printing equipment for printed book work as well as large format graphics.

My response was to ask if the quality was there yet, in his opinion. The CEO noted that no, it wasn’t. However, most people could not tell the difference. Others thought “good enough” was good enough, as long as the marketing message came through. For high-end work, such as fashion, food, and automotive advertising, the CEO did say that higher quality (better color fidelity and higher resolution) was needed and that certain digital equipment could provide this.

Marketing Work

At this point I also found it interesting that marketing work was in such high demand. Apparently people still responded to direct mail pieces discovered in their mailbox. With hundreds of emails showing up every day in computer in-boxes, it seems that the handful of paper direct mail pieces in the physical mailbox have a more immediate appeal. They are tactile; real, as opposed to virtual (existing only on the computer screen).

This particular printer also had hybrid presses. He had mounted inkjet heads on offset presses, so it was possible to print variable data (inline, right on the offset presses) directly onto offset printed marketing materials. He also had inline inserting equipment that could collect a number of personalized, digital or hybrid-printed pieces, and insert them into a mailing envelope.

And to speed up the mailing process, the CEO had on-site US Postal Service personnel doing all of the presorting and labeling, as well as bagging, tagging, and paperwork, so the direct mail pieces could ship right from his commercial printing plant.

What I found especially interesting, though, was a room with two roll-fed, laser-based presses. A roll of printing paper went through the first, which printed one side of the paper. Then this roll fed into a second press (the exact same model). The ribbon of custom printing paper turned this way and that (using turning bars, or rollers that could reposition the moving paper at right angles).

When the paper entered the second digital laser press, the opposite side of the roll could be printed. Then the paper was wound up into another roll, a receiving roll that could then be folded, trimmed, and inserted into envelopes. To me this was especially interesting, since I had been used to either cut sheets coming off a sheetfed press or completed and folded press signatures coming off a web press, but not a roll of commercial printing paper at the delivery end of the press.

But apparently this was an efficient way to process all of this direct mail: feeding it from a roll of paper, printing it, winding it into another roll, and then finishing it (all of the sheeting, folding, and trimming steps) from a roll instead of from press sheets.

And all of this was happening on a digital level, so the printed marketing materials I was seeing could be personalized as they traveled through the two presses as a single ribbon of paper.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Everything is automated. Some of the equipment needs far fewer operators than before. Other equipment can be operated remotely (with no on-site operators), except for loading and unloading the machines.
  2. Some of the digital presses are being built onto sturdy metal frames. That is, the build quality of offset presses is being introduced into the digital presses.
  3. Marketing is the main focus, at least in this plant. Managing databases of customers and potential customers drives the process. With this in mind, the digital marketing data and the creative art files are fed into offset or digital presses and then sent directly into the USPS mail stream.
  4. Large format printing is also hugely popular. Marketers want to grab your attention by wrapping buildings and vehicles with their imagery and tag lines. This way they get you to see their marketing message first.
  5. Digital inkjet is the coming wave, and it may eclipse digital laser printing.
  6. Acceptable quality for a particular job may not be the highest possible quality. “Good enough” may be good enough. That said, for certain markets (such as fashion, food, and automotive) only perfect color matches and the highest image resolution will do.
  7. Everything is changing at a blinding pace. Printers need to buy the latest equipment to stay competitive, but this equipment often becomes obsolete quickly. What this means is that large printers will get larger, and many smaller printers that can’t keep up will disappear.

Posted in Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

September 23rd, 2018

Posted in 3D Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

I just read an article online that captures in three pages the gist of the new 3D commercial printing wave. Written by Tyler Lacoma, this article, entitled “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know,” presented on Yahoo News, delivers just what its title promises. If you’re interested in the subject, it’s worth your time. It will get you started on your research.

What the Article Includes

Lacoma’s article first defines and explains 3D commercial printing, then breaks down the process into its component parts, then lists and defines five different approaches to 3D printing, and then ends the article with a description of some of the uses for this technology.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing has also been termed “additive manufacturing.” This term distinguishes the process from what I grew up with, “subtractive manufacturing.” The latter involves removing metal, for instance, from a block of the raw substance. In the case of producing metal pieces for assembly into an engine, subtractive manufacturing would involve milling or grinding: that is, removing everything that is not relevant to the engine component. Once all the components have been ground, carved, or milled, they can then be assembled.

In contrast, Lacoma’s article defines additive or 3D manufacturing as creating a component part by adding material until the component part is complete. “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know” focuses on (essentially) a process not unlike inkjet printing for the creation, layer by layer, of the individual components of a machine (or any other project).

Before I explain this more fully, I do want to add my belief that injection molding would also be considered additive manufacturing, since you add material into a premade mold, then remove the mold to access the part you have created.

I’d also like to go further and note that as with subtractive manufacturing, you can in fact produce a complete item if it comprises a single part. For instance, using 3D custom printing, you can print a shoe buckle, a ring, or any other single component item. Or you can manufacture the myriad parts of a complex product.

What makes 3D printing so compelling is that it is, in most cases, digital. If, for example, you are making an object using injection molding (also an additive manufacturing process), you have to first make the mold. This costs money and takes time. In contrast, the 3D printers that are now sold in computer stores create products layer by layer from digital files. These files require no molds. Hence, you can alter the design at will. You can change every product you print. All you need is the digital data.

You might envision this more effectively through an offset commercial printing (and finishing) analogy. If you need to die cut a product, you would normally create a metal cutting die. This would cost money and take time. It also would stamp out the same design, product after product. But if you use a programmable laser (run on digital data) to selectively burn away the scrap in a die cut product, you will have no need for the metal die cutting rule (or the time and cost it involves). And you can also change the die cutting pattern for every printed product.

To get back to Lacoma’s article, here are the three components of digital additive manufacturing:

  1. The digital file. This file breaks down the 3D modeled image into very precise layers and drives the printer.
  2. The printer itself. Just as an inkjet printer has print heads that go back and forth depositing ink as the paper is fed through the machine, a 3D printer has print heads that produce the 3D product layer by layer as the printed 3D product is moved away from the print heads. And instead of using ink to make marks on paper, the 3D printer uses various substances that can be extruded through the print head nozzles in a measured fashion driven by the digital data files. Basically the 3D printer includes a box in which to produce the 3D item and the custom printing heads. In some kinds of 3D printing, the print head nozzles are replaced with (or accompanied by) lasers that can set or cure the printing material as it is produced in layers. Many of these 3D printers are complex, involving precise temperature controls. Some only print within a vacuum.
  3. The printing material. This may include plastic, nylon, resins, synthetic sandstone, ceramic materials, or even metals (steel, silver, gold). I have read other articles describing the printing of body parts and organs (using biological materials) and even food (using food products). Lacoma’s article also notes that hybrid raw materials can be used (plastics plus other substances, for instance) to include the qualities of all the component materials.

Technologies for 3D Printing

These are the methods for digitally printing 3D objects that Lacoma describes in “What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know”:

  1. Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM): Nozzles melt and then extrude plastic filaments (that look like spools of plastic wire) layer by layer to create the 3D object. The molten filaments cool and solidify into the final printed object. This is akin to the 3D printers I have seen in computer stores.
  2. Stereolithography (SLA): A laser is fired at a liquid resin to instantly harden the material. The object being created is removed from the liquid layer by layer. This can produce more detailed objects than Fusion Deposition Modeling. (In addition, it is not a new process. It was invented in the 1980s.)
  3. Jetting Processes: Lacoma’s article notes the similarity of this process to Stereolithography. However, he also notes that instead of pulling the created object out of a vat of liquid raw material, the jetting process sprays liquid reactive polymer onto a base and then hardens it instantly with UV light (in a method analogous to inkjet printing with UV inks and then curing them instantly with UV light). This 3D printing process proceeds layer by layer. (Other versions of this process use powders and glue to build up the layers.) This technology can produce detailed results, so it is often used for industrial products.
  4. Selective Laser Sintering: This process uses polymides and thermoplastic elastomers, which are powders (not the plastic filaments used in the 3D printing methods noted above). A laser fuses these powders into layer upon layer of the 3D product being created. These products are very durable. This technology is good for both individual production of prototypes and mass production of industrial parts.
  5. Metal Printing: In this method, the 3D object is built on a platform, which is lowered as the object is built up layer by layer. Powerful lasers (selective laser melting) or electron beams (electron beam melting) melt the powdered metal with considerable precision within very controlled printing environments. (Lacoma compares this process to welding.)

What Products Can Be Made?

Lacoma’s article notes a handful of popular products that lend themselves to 3D manufacturing. Here is a selection:

  1. Shoes: Manufacturers include Feetz and 3D Shoes. What makes these products interesting is that the digital nature of the process allows for customization of each pair of shoes.
  2. Houses: Lacoma’s article references 3D printed houses that can be produced and painted within 24 hours.
  3. Healthcare products: These include everything from mass produced items like 3D printed cups to custom products like prostheses, which can be tailored to an individual’s unique bodily requirements. Skin grafts made from biological material are another product Lacoma’s article includes.
  4. Custom orders: Essentially this would be analogous to ordering a print book online (a web-to-print product produced only after you have ordered it). Now web-to-print products can include 3D printed items.
  5. Theatrical set design: 3D manufacturing is ideal for creating component props for a dramatic presentation. You can make anything from science fiction props to historical props.

Why This Matters

“What Is 3D Printing? Here’s Everything You Need to Know” explains why this is a game changer. Because you don’t need to buy expensive milling and grinding machinery or even make expensive injection molds, 3D digital printing is an inexpensive way to make things. You can produce prototypes, and then you can change them before committing to mass production. This is also often the quickest option, allowing a manufacturer to bring a product to market much faster than in the past.

Why This Matters to Print and Web Designers

The short answer is that this is the future, and it also involves the principles of design in the same way that sculpture involves the principles of design. In addition, for many applications, 3D commercial printing will push the creation of objects downstream, from centralized shops with expensive machinery to (perhaps even) the individual end-users (or at least to local shops).

This 3D manufacturing process can operate in much the same way as a commercial printing job can be sent over the Internet from a designer on the East Coast to a local print shop on the West Coast, then printed, then delivered locally—without using an expensive trans-continental delivery service.

Posted in 3D Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: A Concise 3D Printing Primer

Book Printing: More Thoughts on the Color Chip Book Snafu

September 16th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

I’ve written many blog postings about a small color chip print book for which I broker the custom printing. It is only a few inches long, 118 pages plus cover, laminated, drilled, and attached with a metal post and screw assembly. There are 22 master copies of which each requires only three to six copies for my client’s clients. My client is a fashionista. Her clients love these little books. So she reprints the job every few months.

When I last wrote about the print book, the inside pages of the color books (a tool used to suggest make-up and clothing colors that match one’s complexion) had not been laminated. (It was my fault, and I present this as a strong suggestion for all PIE Blog readers to check the list of specifications for all of their jobs one extra time, or more.) It’s so easy to think something is there when it’s not. The spec sheet is your primary contract with your commercial printing supplier. Approach it with respect.

That said, the printer reprinted the job and sent the books to my client. She then sent them on to her clients who had been waiting. Fortunately, the first press run (unlaminated) was color-accurate, so these books could be used to temporarily fill my client’s back-orders. This made for good public relations and probably even attracted some new customers.

When the reprinted and laminated (this time) books went out, my client got five complaints. The colors on one side of the color swatch book pages didn’t match the descriptions on the back side of the pages.

What to Do?

Needless to say, my client has been remarkably patient. Practically anyone else would have found another commercial printing supplier. Fortunately, my client trusts me, and both she and her business partner (separately) had had many problematic printings over the past several years (inside the United States and abroad). This may explain her patience.

My client was actually at an advantage for the following reasons:

  1. She had requested a preliminary press run (at cost) to make sure the colors were all as she expected. (After all, prior book printers had produced color swatch books with color shifts.) All of the colors were ganged up, so there were only a handful of full-size HP Indigo press sheets containing all 300+ hues (that showed up in various locations within the 22 master books).
  2. She had requested and carefully reviewed all virtual proofs the printer had provided for this particular press run. You might consider these PDFs to be akin to position proofs, like bluelines. We knew the colors were right. The goal of the PDF proofs was to ensure complete copy and colors placed in the right location with the correct margins. The time my client spent making sure these were accurate will have been well spent, since she will have proof of the misprinting (correct colors on the front, incorrect copy on the back).
  3. She informed all clients of the potential problem via an email newsletter, but she fortunately only heard back from five clients (apparently the other print books were ok). This was after several weeks, so she is reasonably certain that the extent of the problem is five books out of 126. (What had started as a much larger problem eventually filtered down into a five-book problem.)
  4. My client had in her possession at least one copy of all master print books (all 22 titles) except for two. She checked these and found no problems. Moreover, the problem books her clients had flagged were copies of the two master books my client did not have samples of (she had sent them out to paying clients).

Next Steps

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of quickly articulating and then quantifying a problem with a commercial printing run. In this case my client can say she needs five good books in exchange for five bad books she is returning. Granted, if this were offset lithography, this would be a crisis for the printer. Firing up an offset press to produce five 118-page-plus-cover books would be pretty much the same as firing up the press to reprint 100 or 200 books. The entire cost—a sizable one—would go into makeready. But for digital printing (remember, in most cases my client only had needed three or four copies of each of the 22 master books), this would not be a crisis for the book printer.

(As a point of information, if this had been an offset printing run, the printer would have been responsible only for the cost of the misprinted books, not for replacing them.)

I personally believe that the ideal sale involves both the client’s and the printer’s benefiting from the transaction. My client needs to reprint the job again, since she already has a substantial number of new pre-orders for the book. At the same time, the printer that messed up the fronts and backs of five books has been dead-on accurate in the color (all 300+ colors). Given the problems with past printers, this is a highly significant fact in their favor.

Therefore, my suggestion to my client at this point is the following:

  1. Have the current printer produce the new run of books. Give them enough lead time to do all the hand work (laminating, in particular) to ensure that quality standards are high. Avoiding this printer’s needing to rush will benefit my client as well as the printer.
  2. Send back the five books retrieved from my client’s clients along with the PDF proof showing that the final product was different from the proofs my client had approved (i.e., there’s no room for interpretation of the error or the responsibility).
  3. Ask that the printer add five new books to replace the five bad books (doing this during the new run will minimize effort and reduce the chance of error for the printer, which will also benefit my client).
  4. Send specs, target pricing, and sample books to two more printers (also trusted vendors) and ask for estimates. This way, if anything goes wrong with relations with the current printer (including its going out of business, as our prior printer did), there will be a “Plan B.”
  5. Take the time to thoroughly vet these two new book printers. This will include getting samples printed from the color swatch book files themselves (not just attractive book samples from the printers).
  6. By uncoupling the search for a back-up printer from the actual reprinting of the next set of my client’s books, we will ensure good decisions. After all, we don’t ever have to move the job, or we can move the print job at some point in the future. We just don’t need to shift printers immediately–in a panic–just to ensure that my client’s clients get their color swatch books on time.

What Is Not the Printer’s Fault?

On an entirely different note, another client of mine created the back cover, spine, and front cover art file for a perfect-bound textbook based on the text paper thickness (pages per inch), as noted on the book printer’s cover template. She positioned the text for the spine slightly off center (vertically, that is, between the front and back cover). She herself missed this on the proof, and yet she had somehow expected the printer to still catch and correct the error before printing the job.

Some printers would have caught this and fixed it just to make the client happy. This printer did not miss it on purpose. Obviously it was just a slight misalignment (not obvious when the flat cover sheets came off the press). It was a shame that it happened, but it was not the printer’s fault.

Fortunately, my client came back to this printer the following year (actually for a reprint of the art files he already had archived, which was a benefit). For this reprint, the printer did adjust the art file so the type on the spine was positioned correctly. My client was happy with the printer again.

The Take-Away

In your own work, always request a proof: every single time, even if it’s just a PDF (virtual) screen proof. Personally, I’d advise you to rule it out in pencil (to show the trim size) to make sure nothing is off center or too close to the trim (this is mostly for a PDF proof or an untrimmed cover proof). Or at least check the folds for accuracy (on a hard-copy proof). Also check the type position and completeness (make sure nothing is missing or out of place).

Your proof (and the accompanying sign-off sheet that shows the paper on which the job will be printed, how many copies will be printed, etc.) is an incredibly important document. Consider it to be a contract (like your spec sheet). It is the point in the process at which responsibility for the accuracy of the job passes from the printer to you. If something is wrong in the final job but correct on the proof, your printer has to make you whole. But if you missed something, it’s no longer the printer’s responsibility.

Posted in Book Printing | 4 Comments »

Commercial Printing: Personalized Package Printing

September 9th, 2018

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Personalized Package Printing

I just read an article by Tom Egan, vice president, industry services, at the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, entitled “Package Printing Gets Personal.” It was published online at on 7/30/18.

What makes this article intriguing to me is Egan’s ability to articulate the immense power of personalization. Basically, even when you buy a bottle of water (which is one of the examples he cites in the article), you’re making a statement about who you are: your essence, your individuality and values. And when the brand, as reflected through the packaging of the water, engages your emotions and makes you want to buy one kind of water over another again and again, it is clear that the marketing information on the product has created a tidal pull on you, both intellectually and emotionally.

When you think about this, it’s pretty amazing. And according to Egan’s article, the ability to personalize packaging design dramatically enhances the “pull” of the brand. Furthermore, it is the increasing ease of personalization, as well as its economy, plus the increasing quality of digital commercial printing, that are creating the perfect storm for package printing today.

Breaking It Down

Here are some of the words and phrases Egan uses in “Package Printing Gets Personal” to characterize the emotional pull of good packaging design:

  1. “Beverage manufacturers are looking to captivate customers with packaging that offers some form of personal resonance.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  2. “Whether referencing a lifestyle choice, a fond memory, or an important goal, a beverage label that can connect with consumers on a deeper level has the power to stick.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)
  3. “Today’s consumers will likely not reach for a drink when they simply feel thirsty, but instead when they feel understood.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”)

Particularly the last quote has an almost transcendent feel. It’s not about the product; it’s about the experience and the values the product resonates with in the mind of the consumer. Using typefaces, the principles of graphic design, copywriting skill, and custom printing acumen and technology, marketing departments wield immense power to influence their customers.

Beverage Packaging Examples

Egan goes on to describe a number of bottling promotions and their beverage packaging.

  1. For instance. he describes a promotion in which Johnnie Walker, the whiskey company, created Jane Walker whiskey, a limited edition from which a portion of the proceeds went to organizations that empower women. So those who bought this whiskey could be affiliated with a brand that values strong, successful women and that shows this commitment through financial donations. This commercial printing initiative attracted “the female demographic typically not considered a whiskey-drinking group” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”).
  2. Another example Egan describes involves Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack whiskey, aimed at a demographic that “associates fine whiskey with a premium sipping experience.” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”) To distinguish this premium product from value brands, the manufacturer employs tactile labels and tinted glass to give the bottled product a more sophisticated look.
  3. A third example in Egan’s article involves promoting smaller cans and bottles of beverages, since there is a current drive toward portion control. So, in essence, bottling companies can command a higher price for smaller amounts of their product while making their customers feel good about their decision to drink less (less sugar, less alcohol, or just “less”).

Benefits of New Commercial Printing Technologies

Egan references the “Share a Coke” campaign in which Coca-Cola cans were personalized with customer names. This “strengthened customer loyalty and created buzz around the brand” (“Package Printing Gets Personal”). And it was only because digital custom printing can infinitely vary its printed output that such a powerful and persuasive campaign could be done, particularly for a reasonable cost. In addition, since high quality commercial printing is such an integral part of premium packaging, the fact that digital printing is now achieving such high quality makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of digital labeling. After all, if a customer is asked to pay a premium for a personalized product, the printing has to be stellar.

Sustainability is another draw of this new technology. Digital printing creates less waste and uses less energy. For environmentally conscious customers, this reflects well on the beverage makers and bottlers. Vegetable-based and aqueous inks provide excellent quality printing while releasing few if any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere.

The same holds true for UV inks. These are cured instantly with UV light, so fewer VOCs are released, plus this technology allows for printing directly on non-porous substrates such as glass and plastic bottles. Furthermore, such direct printing is eye catching and dramatic when compared to traditional labels.

What this means is that beverage companies can produce their alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and get them packaged more strikingly and in a shorter time frame, so their products can be fresher when purchased by the consumer. And at the same time, the entire production cycle can be better for the environment. Moreover, since digital printing allows for versioning and immediate printing, it’s possible to keep less product in inventory or change the product more often (perhaps on a seasonal basis to focus on special calendar dates).

Another benefit of the current digital technology is the amount of coverage possible with some of the newer technologies. For instance, Egan in “Package Printing Gets Personal” focuses on both shrink sleeves and paperboard packaging, noting the benefits of each. That is, the shrink sleeves holding a six pack of a beverage provide a lot of space for dynamic images; however, they are often torn off and discarded. In contrast, some bottlers choose to package a six pack in cardboard, providing a longer-lasting visual display. The consumer can see the imagery and read about the brand story whenever she/he goes to the refrigerator. In both cases, the printing and wrapping of the product have benefited tremendously from digital printing and finishing technology.

Specialty inks can also add to the brand appeal. For instance, Egan’s article references the use of thermo inks in Coors Light packaging. The color of the imagery will change depending on the level of coldness of the beer. When the beer gets to the right temperature for drinking, this will be reflected in the color of the ink on the cans. (This is both useful and fun for the consumer.)

This reflects the growth in specialty inks, which have been crafted to change with temperature, and which can adhere better to metal cans. At the same time, other inks are now on the market that are light responsive or more tactile than traditional inks. And in addition to better technologies for coating metal cans, there has been an increase in the resolution of the imagery that printers can produce when printing beverage packaging.

The Take Away

Tom Egan’s article, “Package Printing Gets Personal,” basically says that if you’re a commercial printing vendor, the newer digital printing technologies, as well as advances in inks and coating methods, will help your brand tell its story. If you can create an experience that resonates with the consumer’s values and aspirations, and if you vary the appearance of the packaging to keep making the buying experience new and interesting, you can drive customers to your product year after year.

Posted in Packaging | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Personalized Package Printing

Commercial Printing: Designing a Magazine Experience

September 4th, 2018

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Designing a Magazine Experience

After 14 years of driving a Jeep Cherokee, my trusted ride became unreliable. At about the same time, my fiancee decided to get a new, used car because her Subaru had reached the 14-year-old mark and was no longer trustworthy for long-distance driving.

I needed nothing more than a glorified moped for local errands, yet my mechanic’s suggestion that I buy a used Toyota or Honda seemed daunting. (How would I find a good one? How would I know it would last another ten years?) Everywhere I looked I saw CR-Vs and RAV-4s that had been invisible before this car search because I hadn’t been looking for them. At this point I could recognize all of the car logos, even without seeing their accompanying brand names.

How to choose?

By this time I was beginning to open my mind to buying the Subaru from my fiancee as a minimal-mileage-per-year vehicle. Interestingly enough, the Subaru magazine that had come to our house for 14 years (and had heretofore held no interest for me) was beginning to look inviting. I liked the design, the paper, the lifestyle stories it contained.

I was hooked. I was rolling around the proverbial “sales funnel,” getting ready to drop through the hole and “convert.”

How Do They Do It?

As a student of commercial printing, design, and marketing, I was amused that I had been “sold” (but not in a manipulative way; after all, I was looking to buy). But at the same time I could see how the design of the magazine along with its contents, its tone and message, and the less obtrusive but equally powerful custom printing specifications, could be a powerful tool of persuasion once I was “open” to receiving the sales message. At that point, it wasn’t really a question of the magazine’s “selling” me, but rather of my “consuming credible content” that supported my buying goals. I needed a new, used car. The magazine told me about one of the best brands (with which my mechanic was very much in agreement).

Here are some of the elements of marketing, design, and commercial printing that I identified as useful in promoting the Subaru brand and encouraging Subaru owners to become emotionally tied to, and affiliated with, the Subaru label. Together these elements were most effective, for me, and I’m sure that other brands have done the same kind of marketing in an equally effective way:

  1. The front and back magazine cover—The front cover focuses on a smiling woman and her trusted dog, Winston. She’s happy, and he’s grateful (presumably, sitting up close to her) for having been rescued and treated like a king. She is wearing the same color lime green sweater (under her brown jacket) that her dog Winston is wearing in his lime green neck scarf. As an accent, he has a purple tag. Both the purple and the lime green are repeated in the color of the Subaru magazine: the drive magazine title, and the solid blocks of color from which the hand-printed (really a script typeface) subheads have been reversed.
  2. The lowercase word “drive,” the title of the magazine, and the faux-hand-printed type provide an informal feel to the magazine cover. The human subject is happy. It’s the weekend (presumably), and she’s doing what she loves with her trusted companion. The title of the magazine is also rendered in an italic, sans serif font. It is casual but energetic (since as an italic typeface it slants forward: i.e., to the right). Other than the Subaru branding (logo and taglines), there is relatively little on the cover. The smiling woman is also looking directly at the reader. The message? It’s all about the reader. The reader can “participate in the lifestyle.” He or she can also become a member of the exclusive Subaru club, or “tribe.”
  3. Photos inside the magazine include members of multiple ethnicities, men and women, as well as children, to ensure that the magazine embraces all those interested in the Subaru identity.
  4. The paper is a thicker than usual (for a magazine text sheet) gloss paper, and the cover weight is also substantial. Based on the “nature” theme (e.g., the magazine article about covered bridges in the United States: i.e., where to drive your Subaru on your days off), I had assumed the cover and text paper would be uncoated. However, the substance and weight of the cover and text paper suggest seriousness and a commitment to quality. (A thinner paper might have sent a subliminal message of lower overall quality, presumably of not only the reader’s experience but also the car-buyer’s experience.)
  5. The articles focus on “lifestyle,” or how the Subaru owner approaches her or his life and how this life includes vehicles made by this brand. There are articles, long and short, pertaining to cooking, traveling in the United States “wilderness,” family, sustainability, etc. All of these relate to the brand and the automobile, seeking to convert the reader into a fan not only of the car but also of the values espoused by the brand.
  6. That said, the magazine does include articles about the Subaru “ride.” These highlight the safety of the cars, and this approach reinforces Subaru’s commitment to the family. (Keeping your loved ones safe is the prime goal.) The articles are also well researched, suggesting that the targeted reader is educated and has researched multiple vehicles based on their safety, quality, etc. The Subaru buyer is multi-faceted, intelligent, and an independent thinker, influenced by facts and statistics, not just by the appearance or style of the car.
  7. The colors of the magazine interior are predominantly earth tones. This is relevant not only because of the rugged, Earth-centered “personna” (the targeted buyer, the amalgamation of all market research on the demographics of the potential buyer) to which the magazine is aimed but also because of the approaching season: autumn. However, it is clear that the target reader also values family time spent after work hours within the rural landscape. (“Save the Earth, but also experience and love the Earth.”) This is echoed in the photo on the inside front cover of the magazine, an image of a sunset in Nippersink Creek, Glacial Park (Illinois). The Subaru aficionado takes time to commune with the wonders of nature. He or she also drives a Subaru to these locations because the car is reliable and durable, and because it reflects a sensitivity to the environment.

What We Can Learn from This Magazine

All of this is not manipulative, but rather persuasive—in a consistent but understated way. Every detail of the magazine contributes to the sales goal by reinforcing (and restating, again and again) the values Subaru has baked into their brand. To read the magazine, buy and drive the car, and participate in the lifestyle (everything from the choice of activities pursued to the choice of clothes and food purchased or consumed by the multicultural audience portrayed in the magazine) supports “affiliation with the brand.” If you do, or own, all these things, you will be a part of a select group that embraces these values.

Subaru has grasped the nuances of this target audience and has honed its brand and its printed marketing materials to appeal to this target audience. Not all brands can do this sort of thing quite as effectively. It takes a perceptive staff that observes and listens carefully, and then incorporates the elements of persuasive writing and design (as well as custom printing) into their overall message.

When you can do this sort of thing well, you can sell a quality product (and overall experience) to an audience that is ready and willing to buy it.

Posted in Magazine Printing | Comments Off on Commercial Printing: Designing a Magazine Experience

Custom Printing: Troubleshooting Lamination Problems

August 26th, 2018

Posted in Lamination | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Troubleshooting Lamination Problems

I heard back from a client recently that the lamination on her fashion color chip book pages had air bubbles on all pages of all copies. This is the little print book of color chips I have written about many times in this blog, and given the problems we have had with the scheduled reprint, I was not pleased to hear this news.

Fortunately, the books were salable. My client did not want to reject the job, since it had been reprinted and laminated, and since the colors produced on the HP Indigo had been dead-on accurate.

The collection of color chips bound with a screw and post assembly had had a long history. This had included printing the books in Australia, and producing them locally at a book printer that had recently gone out of business. (Before going out of business, the commercial printing vendor had upgraded their equipment, with the result being that their HP Indigo no longer printed my client’s fashion color books with accurate colors.)

So this has been a nightmare. But this is how I approached the bad news.

Next Steps in Analyzing This Job

First I asked my client to check a thorough sampling of the print books to see whether the air bubbles in the lamination had been a consistent–or just a localized–problem. In short, I was trying to determine how much of the print run had been affected.

Then I asked my client to send me samples of the prior commercial printing run (by the other digital printing vendor), since she had been satisfied with the lamination on this job. I also asked for samples of the test-run copies from earlier in the year. (Apparently, the air bubbles were visible on these color swatches as well, but just not as obvious.)

By this time, my client, who has been a long-term buyer of these fashion color chip books (very similar to a PMS book only smaller in format), had decided to accept the print job and try to work with this printer to make future print runs of this job better rather than to look for a new printer.

This is why my client’s decision was so important:

  1. If she had rejected the job outright, I would have approached the digital book printer immediately with a description of the problem and an estimate of its extent (how many of the 126 overall copies of her 22 master books had been affected–some originals had 3 copies, some 30). Time would have been of the essence, and I would have been asking for some kind of “consideration” to make my client whole. This might have been a discount or an additional press run.
  2. Making a distinction between this particular problem with the fashion color chip print books and a plan for future printing showed that my client valued this printer. She had taken my word as to the usual quality this printer provided, based on my ten-year history of their successful print production work.
  3. Another reason my client considered it prudent to work with this book printer to resolve the problem was her history of other printers’ not accurately matching her specified fashion swatch book colors. One printer had even “no bid” the job, saying he could not guarantee accurate color on his digital equipment. In contrast, the current printer had maintained color fidelity throughout the initial test run and the following 126 books.
  4. My client acknowledged that all of the print books were salable to her clients. The bubbles in the lamination did not obscure or alter the color of the fashion color chips. (The bubbles were annoying, and the prior printer had done the job without introducing air bubbles, but the prior printer had not matched the colors accurately and then they had gone out of business.)

How to Approach Future Print Runs of This Job

My client’s having accepted the print job, albeit with concerns for the future, made the next steps less urgent but equally important. I didn’t need to approach the custom printing vendor immediately. I could take the time to collect the samples and carefully decide how to proceed.

For now, this is my plan.

  1. I have seen this kind of problem before. One of my other clients had produced a square, perfect-bound book of flowers (a day-book with beautiful photos and pithy quotes about life). The cover had been offset printed with heavy-coverage black ink and then laminated with a dull film laminate. The printer had not allowed the heavy coverage ink to dry sufficiently (which involved the “gassing off” of the ink vehicle, the liquid in the ink). Since the ink had continued to dry after the covers had been laminated, the ink had released VOCs (volatile organic compounds, or in this case gases) that had produced the air bubbles. In this case, to fix the job, the printer had needed to remove the covers from the book, reprint and re-laminate the book covers, and then rebind the job and trim the books (ever so slightly to avoid making them too small and compromising the book’s design). So the release of gas during the drying of the ink had been the cause of the problem.
  2. This is a digitally printed book. One question is whether the drying of the liquid digital ink (leaving the pigment behind) could cause such gassing off. This remains to be seen. But I will ask the printer once he receives my client’s samples.
  3. A number of years ago I had heard from one printer that, due to incompatibilities between the fuser oil in digital ink and the lamination film, sometimes laminates would not properly adhere to digitally printed cover stock. I plan to ask this printer if this could have been part of the problem. However, since the prior printer (who had gone out of business) had laminated the color chip pages without introducing air bubbles, I will ask why. The printer will have samples of the prior run with no air bubbles and the current run with air bubbles. I will look to him for a plan for future work.
  4. To go back to the initial problem with the other client’s flower book (with heavy coverage black ink on the book cover), the job had been problematic due to the printer’s having laminated the press sheets too soon after printing. The ink had needed time to dry. In this case, I will ask the printer if a longer lead time would have avoided the air bubbles. If so, I will ask my client for more time for the next printing.
  5. I also plan to ask the printer whether he sees any difference in the lamination film itself. The prior printer was successful in avoiding air bubbles. This printer was not. Would a different brand of laminating film be more chemically compatible with the printed press sheets from his HP Indigo press?

Why Take the Time to Work This Out?

As with any relationship, if my client and the digital printer actually resolve this issue, my client will have a vendor who can accurately match her colors, and the printer will have repeat work three or four times a year. Both sides will be happy. Just deciding to abandon this printer and move the next job might not have solved the problem. After all, any number of new print vendors could have sworn up and down that their printed jobs would be better than this printer’s work. But who knows if they could have delivered on their marketing claims?

That said, considering my client’s history with this color chip book both in the United States and abroad, it is clearly not an easy job. It has potential problems. And solving these problems now, before the next print run, is prudent and worth the trouble. In another case, if the color were not critical, or if the relationship with the printer had not been such a long-standing and successful one, I would have encouraged my client to change vendors. But in this case, I think it is smart to move slowly and thoughtfully, showing the printer all the samples (prior and current) and asking for help to resolve the problems.

Posted in Lamination | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Troubleshooting Lamination Problems

Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

August 24th, 2018

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

What do you do when a job goes south? It can happen in any number of ways. I have a client who regularly prints a color-chip book for fashion. I’ve written about her work a number of times in this blog. Her product is akin to a PMS swatch book for make-up and clothing based on one’s complexion. It is small (3.54” x 1.42”); 118 pages in 4-color process, produced digitally on an HP Indigo; and then drilled and assembled on a metal screw and post assembly. Depending on the particular press run, my client might print anywhere from 3 to 30 copies of each of her 22 master copies (each master copy addresses people with particular hair and facial complexion). Because of the ultra-short press run for each master copy, my client’s job needs to be produced digitally.

The Backstory

About two months ago my client put in an order for copies of her color swatch book. It was the first time the current commercial printing shop had done the job. To be safe, we had asked the printer to produce a complete, untrimmed set of all colors used in the 22 master print books as a test. Each swatch had the CMYK percentages noted below the solid color as well as my client’s proprietary name for the hue.

To determine if there would be a perceptible color shift once the sheets had been laminated in the final press run, we had the custom printing vendor produce one set of laminated, untrimmed swatches (as many as would fit on an approximately 12” x 18” press sheet) and one set of unlaminated swatch pages. I had seen in prior iterations of this job produced by another printer that some of the colors in the blue range had shifted slightly. I wanted to make sure that if there were color problems, they could be definitively attributed to either the custom printing or the lamination.

So we thought we were ready to go, once my client and her business partners had approved the test sheets. We also thought this would be a good way to ensure consistent color if we should ever need to change commercial printing vendors. After all, the prior printer had gone out of business just after one of my client’s reprints: hence the need to move the job.

My Oops

What we hadn’t foreseen was a simple error in the specification sheet: The covers had to be laminated, but somewhere in the process this notation had been removed from the specification for the text pages. Due to the heavy ink (actually liquid toner) coverage, without lamination the heavy solid colors on the swatches could easily be scratched. I actually tested this on a sample, and I found the problem to be marginal on light colors and more pronounced on darker colors. (This was due not to the toner coverage but to the eye’s tolerance for flaws in yellows, for instance, but not in dark purples.)

So the job came back with laminated covers and without laminated text. The printer’s customer service representative had caught the error (the inconsistency between the initial laminated but uncut proofs and the unlaminated text sheets in the actual press run), but he had assumed—without asking–that it was intentional. He had deferred to the specification sheet.

It was not the printer’s fault. It was mine, as the commercial printing broker. So I cut a check to my client to cover the printing. Fortunately I had not needed to do this up until this point in my history as a printing broker. It was unpleasant, but it kept my client happy.

The Next Steps

At that point, my client had a full run of unlaminated color swatch books. The colors were superb, but the pages were fragile since they were unlaminated.

Since my client had effectively paid nothing for these (since I had reimbursed her), she then paid the printer for a reprint—which turned out to be a much longer run. This one would be laminated.

Fortunately, my client still had 96 salable books (albeit salable for less than the usual price, since they were not laminated). I encouraged her to use these to keep her clients (she has a 4,000-name client list) happy while waiting for the new, laminated print books. I explained that she had an equity base. The books were usable. This would be a good, temporary, public-relations fix.

The Reprint Process

The reprint process didn’t go as well as planned. It was supposed to be a three-week turn-around. I understood that the lamination film had to be hand loaded, a sheet at a time, by the printer. There was going to be a lot of hand-work, but the good news was that all steps in the process, including the drilling, round cornering—everything—would be done in house.

The problem was that this printer is a small shop. In terms of service, that’s a good thing. I have been working with the printer for more than a decade, and I have always received a premium print job for a lower-than-usual price. In fact, I just sent this commercial printing vendor my sales commission invoice for the hundredth project we have done together.

But being a small shop, the printer had been hit hard recently when a number of key employees had to be out for health reasons, deaths in the family, and any number of other crises.

You may say that I’m naive. I believed the printer because of our ten-year-plus history. What I did do, however, was work out a plan with my client for daily (or every two days) status updates from the printer.

Initially, the job just seemed to sit there. But after a few days, things were back on track, and the job actually shipped today. I just looked at the calendar. The entire process had taken four weeks instead of three.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Sometimes things that look really bad can be salvaged. I salvaged the relationship with my client by paying for my mistake (and fortunately it was not a huge job). And what looked like an endless wait for the reprint turned out to be only a one-week delay.

I firmly believe it was because of a few important things:

  1. I had had a long, mutually beneficial, business relationship with the printer. This was not the first job. I made it clear that continuing the relationship was a priority. I also noted that other printers had not done as good a job with the color fidelity (which was clearly of utmost importance to my client for her color swatch book).
  2. Based on the length and quality of the business relationship, I was kind. I didn’t blame the printer. My goal was to complete the job to my client’s satisfaction, not to lay blame. Therefore, coming up with a way to leverage the initial printing to make my client’s clients happy while they awaited the new print books helped resolve the situation, as did requesting email updates from the printer (the written word seemed to make the process more formal and quantifiable).
  3. I focused on solutions. (Another job had gone south one other time in my 30-year history of buying custom printing. The printer went out of business during a textbook printing job. He had no credit and could not buy paper. So I urged the company I worked for at the time to purchase the paper for the print books at its own expense and then deduct this amount from the final payment to the printer. In this case, the printer was able to finish the books in satisfactory condition before closing his doors.)
  4. I did ask this printer to notify me in the future if anything seemed the least bit inconsistent in a job, between the specification sheet and any other verbal or email instructions.

In your own print buying work, think about the approach I have described. Just because you can blame the printer, pull the job, and send it somewhere else doesn’t mean you should. After all, a trusted vendor can often step up and work wonders, even in the midst of a crisis.

Oh, and one other thing. Read and reread your specification sheet—again and again. Even if you do this, once in a great while you will miss something, and you may have to pay for a reprint. Ouch. After all, the specification sheet is your contract with the printer. But the more often you check and recheck it, the less likely you will be to let a costly error slip by.

Posted in Book Printing | Comments Off on Book Printing: What Do You Do in an Emergency?

Commercial Printing: Inkjet Printing for Interior Design

August 21st, 2018

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

I found a most interesting article on on 7/18. I had been reading articles on the growth of inkjet printing as a tool for interior design, and I was aware that, like package design, corrugated board printing, fabric decoration, and large format printing, the use of inkjet technology in building interiors has been a growth industry within the overall commercial printing universe.

The inkworldmagazine article is entitled “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing.” It was written by Mark Sollman, application manager at Mimaki.

The article references five separate areas of interior décor design that can benefit from inkjet printing, which is one of the strengths of Mimaki. The five areas referenced in the article are wallpaper, upholstery, glass, tiles, and wood, and all together they provide enough printable surface area within a building interior to dramatically distinguish one company (or even a personal residence) from another.

(I also have used Mimaki’s digital, knife-cutting equipment, through a commercial printing vendor, for a custom printing client who needed digitally printed and diecut stickers, which can be produced all at once on the same Mimaki equipment, without the need for a separate metal cutting die.)


Sollman’s article distinguishes past eras of wallpaper–which could be simple and perhaps even boring in their generic qualities–from the current version of wallpaper, which can be produced on any number of substrates (with or without texture). These can include any number of patterns provided by the wallpaper company or even by the client himself/herself, affording an uniquely personalized approach. (For instance, a client can choose a particular color scheme or even base a wallpaper design on a personal photograph.)

Given the nature of inkjet printing, particularly on these substrates, wallpaper decoration can be especially fast and easy, leading to reasonable costs for highly individualized interior design.


I had mentioned above that fabric decoration has been appearing in the articles I’ve been reading (albeit mostly in terms of clothing design). However, in “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing,” Sollman broadens this to include everything from sheets and drapes to the covering of chairs and couches.

Again, the nature of inkjet custom printing allows for easy and affordable decoration of these items, making a person’s interior environment completely unique, and involving not only patterns but also the different textures available. For instance, inkjet printing can be applied to everything from silk to the thicker fabrics used on chairs and couches. In addition, Sollman’s article notes that, depending on the fabric substrate, sublimation printing can be used to achieve brilliant coloration, even including tropical colors. And, as with the other products in the Mimaki article, upholstery printing can be done even for a single item or select products in an environmental design while still being cost-effective.


Sollman’s article then moves on to glass decoration, noting that UV inks can be applied successfully to non-porous substrates, since UV light will cure UV inks instantly and adhere them to the base material, all while retaining the intensity of their coloration.

What this does is allow for personalized and intricate decoration of windows. (For example, you can create a memorable window treatment for a conference room that will provide both privacy and also an aesthetic appearance. Or, you can decorate the windows in a large hotel lobby in an artful way.) And due to the nature of printing with UV ink, the inks will be durable and resistant to scratching and water, unlike prior generations of inks.

Floor Tiles

Just as the new technology in inkjet printing can produce striking results on glass, Sollman’s article notes that printing on floor tiles is now a viable option for interior decoration. Due to the precision of inkjet custom printing, it is possible to produce an intricate design that extends across multiple tiles and creates a large mural effect. This can be used for a wall treatment or even a swimming pool, given the water resistant nature of UV inkjet inks. (In addition, I have read other articles that describe top-coating products that will increase the rub resistance of tile surfaces, protecting the inkjetted imagery in spite of heavy foot traffic.)


Finally, Sollman’s article, “Mimaki: Five Ways to Improve Interior Decoration with Digital Printing,” addresses inkjet printing on wood. What I find interesting about printing on wood is twofold. First of all, it is thick. Fortunately, as Sollman notes, some large-format flatbed inkjet presses can accommodate thick substrates, including doors. So you can basically print right on the object itself rather than on an adhesive substrate that you would then affix to the wood.

Or, depending on your design, you might want to print on wood panels, which can then be attached to walls. Or, you could just print on wood objects, depending on the kind of inkjet printer you use.

In addition, I would think that without any kind of barrier coating (like a shellac or varnish), the wood would provide an unevenly porous surface for the inkjet ink. Fortunately, as Sollman points out, UV inks can sidestep this issue. The inks will sit up on the surface of the wood, rather than seeping into the wood, because of the instant-curing nature of UV inks when exposed to UV light.

The article does not address laminates, but I have read other articles that describe interesting effects that can be achieved by printing on wood that is later coated (like laminated surfboards and such). So there might be similar applications in the realm of interior design.

What You Can Learn from This Article

  1. Inkjet custom printing makes all of this possible and affordable. Prior to the advent of inkjet printing (and UV inkjet printing in particular), such alternatives as screen printing would have been too labor intensive and costly, and therefore would not have been appropriate for a “one-off” interior design treatment. Inkjet printing makes this possible and affordable.
  2. The growth of inkjet printing for interior design is apparently quite dramatic. If you are a designer, it’s wise to take note. This could be your future in a world where many printed products such as print books, newspapers, and magazines are becoming less prevalent.
  3. UV inks allow you to print on almost anything, while keeping the ink up on the surface of the substrate. They are also very durable in terms of rub resistance and water-fastness.
  4. Practically any kind of interior you can imagine, you can create. In addition, it’s much easier and cheaper to change what is essentially the “skin,” or surface treatment, of an environment. (Wallpaper can be changed much more easily in a hotel lobby than interior walls can be torn down, moved, and rebuilt.)
  5. Non-porous substrates are printable (such as glass). This is new, and it is the result of advances in UV-curable inkjet printing.
  6. Thick substrates are not a problem. If you can print on a door, you can print on practically anything.

It’s wise, and potentially very profitable, for you to keep abreast of this technology.

Posted in Digital Printing | 2 Comments »

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