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Large Format Printing: Exciting New Vinyl Substrates

April 18th, 2018

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

When I think about substrates for large format printing, I don’t usually get excited. It’s not a sexy topic.

Granted, I understand how paper substrates for print books and brochures can make a huge difference. I know that the roughness or smoothness of the paper, and even its color, can dramatically affect both the look and the feel of a printed product. It can even reinforce or detract from the tone of the piece. For instance, a textured, uncoated paper just “feels” more environmentally sensitive.

This is valuable information for marketers.

But what about substrates for signage? You don’t touch a vehicle wrap or building wrap. So it has to make its visceral impression without the viewer’s sense of touch.

With this in mind, I was surprised at the implications of the new signage materials referenced in Brenda Hodgson’s article, “Special Effects Vinyls,” published on 3/25/18, on

Hodgson describes the following products that have been recently developed by 3M and other manufacturers. They are important because they are visually striking. They immediately grab viewer attention, and they have the durability to last, providing marketing benefits over a longer than usual period of time. Keep in mind that these are just the substrates. You can print on these using UV, latex, solvent, or eco-solvent inkjet equipment.

The New Vinyl Films

  1. Avery Dennison Supreme Wrapping Film Color Flow Series with Easy Apply RS Technology is offered by trade vendor William Smith. It is 80 micron premium cast film. It has a 12-year life span, comes in 12 colors (with gloss or satin finish), and is ideal for vehicle wraps. This product has a high level of opacity, so it will block out high-contrast surfaces. The adhesive it employs is repositionable, slidable, and bubble free. It is especially conformable to both convex and concave three-dimensional surfaces (such as the contours, nooks, and crannies of vehicle exteriors).
  2. 3M offers a new product called Wrap Film Series 1080. This product takes advantage of color-flip technology that allows the color of the vehicle wrap to shift and change depending on the ambient lighting and the viewing angle. This can provide an especially striking result at night. And since it can be purchased in 1.52-meter-wide rolls, installers can apply the film to large sections of vehicles without visible seams. This product is durable and long-lasting. It has “excellent dimensional stability and repositionability” (“Special Effects Vinyls”), as well as good adhesive properties. The particular technology used for the “flip colors” provides one transmitted color (light goes through the film) and a completely different reflected color (light bounces off the film). This means that the film substrate can shimmer and change from cyan to gold, for instance.
  3. 3M offers Dichroic Glass Finishes. These also have both a transmitted and a reflective color, providing a shifting and shimmering effect based on the lighting and angle of view. What makes this particularly attractive to marketers (or interior designers) is how easy it is to use compared to actual dichroic glass. Wikipedia describes dichroic glass, noting that:
  4. “One dichroic material is a modern composite non-translucent glass that is produced by stacking layers of glass and micro-layers of metals or oxides which give the glass shifting colors depending on the angle of view, causing an array of colors to be displayed as an example of thin-film optics.”

    So from a manufacturing point of view, dichroic glass is complicated and expensive to make. Therefore, being able to simulate this effect with a printable film is a major breakthrough. Plus, it can be applied to both flat and slightly curved surfaces, it is durable, and it can be used to create a privacy barrier. In addition, you can use the film to cut out detailed designs or letterforms.

  5. William Smith also provides a dichroic film (Vion Dichroic Film, Ambience), as well as other decorative films for glass, such as 3M Scothcal Series 5525-300 and Vion Crystal 5500 Series. These are 75-micron translucent film products. They can be used both indoors and outdoors, and their adhesive is not only clear, pressure-sensitive, and permanent, but it also releases the air bubbles when it is being applied. Due to its multi-colored nature, it is especially good for not only interior and exterior displays but also for internally-lit displays.
  6. 3M offers the Di-Noc product range, which “mimics the effect of everything from wood grains and stone to leather and textile” (“Special Effects Vinyls”). There are more than 800 different designs, and these films can be used on interior and exterior walls. They will allow a company to much more easily and inexpensively change the look of its walls and floors (when compared to removing and replacing the actual building materials).
  7. Alumi Graphics is an aluminum foil medium for floor and wall graphics. (It’s ideal for “pavements, concrete columns, tiled surfaces, brick walls, and tarmac.”) (“Special Effects Vinyls”) You can print directly on it using solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inks. It is durable enough to last for between six months and two years outdoors without overlamination (so it’s easier, faster, and less expensive to install). It’s also more environmentally-friendly and can be recycled with other aluminum products. In addition, it can be cut with digital cutters and plotters. From a design perspective, Alumi Graphics will adhere tightly to the brick or concrete surface, maintaining its rough base texture (the image will appear to have been painted on the surface).

Benefits These Films Offer

These are the main implications I see for these large format printing films:

  1. They are becoming easier to install. The fact that they will conform to the irregularities (recesses) of a vehicle exterior makes installation faster and less tedious, and therefore less expensive. The fact that bubbles can be easily removed during installation also makes the process easier.
  2. These products are more flexible. You can print on them with solvent, eco-solvent, UV, or latex inksets using most large format printing equipment.
  3. They are durable, lasting between six months and two years. For the vehicle-wrap film, they can even last up to 12 years. This means that changing the graphics on an entire fleet of business vehicles will be less expensive over time since it will need to be done less often.
  4. They are good at simulating actual patterns and textures (wood, leather, stone). Therefore, the entire look of a building’s interior can be changed without ripping out walls, glass, and floors. You can just replace the surface coatings of the walls, glass, and floors.
  5. More importantly, they provide the “wow” factor. More attention has been given to providing a striking appearance, from the simulated grain of wood and texture of stone and leather to the multi-colored, shimmering effects of the dichroic films. Those who have created these special films clearly know how to grab the viewer’s attention.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: Update on Billboard Advertising

April 12th, 2018

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

I had always assumed that digital billboards were going to eclipse print advertising, from my first glimpse of the constantly changing signage on my trips to Ocean City. They were soon showing up in the malls my fiancee and I frequented when installing standees: large, high-resolution screens displaying make-up ads two stories high.

So I was surprised to learn recently that print billboards are not only going strong, but they are in fact a burgeoning industry, surpassing many other advertising venues.

On this subject, I recently read an article entitled “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” written by Allison Shirk and published in EDGE on 04/01/18. The article notes some interesting facts about both digital and print billboards, and about outdoor advertising in general.

Facts and Figures About Digital and Print Billboards

  1. Shirk’s article opens with a reference to digital billboards installed by Fairway Outdoor Advertising after Stephen Hawking’s recent death. They were able to set up ten billboards in honor of Hawking within a few hours. In contrast, print billboards need between 20 minutes and an hour for installation, and that’s after they have been inkjet printed. As Shirk’s article notes, digital billboards can be “changed with the click of a button.” And after installation (and programming with multiple advertisements), the billboards can be changed remotely as often as every ten seconds. (And that’s just because of the regulations ensuring that drivers aren’t distracted by even shorter ads.)
  2. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) data shows that outdoor billboard advertising revenue has increased steadily over the last nine years, from $5.9 billion in 2009 (across the country) to $7.6 billion in 2016. During this same time, advertising revenue for other media has decreased. In addition, the article references The Pew Research Center’s figures showing a $30 billion drop in newspaper advertising revenue from 2006 to 2014. Shirk’s article goes on to attribute this to consumers’ increasing dependence on their cell phones and social media for news, reviews, etc.
  3. Fairway Outdoor Advertising, the outdoor advertising agency noted in “Signs of the Times: Digital Boards Offer New Versatility to the Billboard Industry,” has more than 17,000 print billboards and digital billboards distributed across the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest. It is the “nation’s largest privately held outdoor advertising company” (as per Shirk’s article). That said, according to the article, Fairway has more than 1,500 static (printed) billboards and 43 digital billboards. So outdoor print advertising isn’t going away in the near future.
  4. Determining whether to use a large format print billboard or a digital billboard involves the following considerations, according to Shirk’s article. Static, printed vinyl billboards are good for consistent, long-term display. In contrast, a digital billboard can display up to eight ads in less than two minutes. Certain kinds of advertising information will lend itself to print (perhaps reinforcing brand awareness); other advertising information would be more appropriate for digital display (perhaps a rotation of ads for a series of concerts). In addition, location, advertising duration, content, and cost are other determining factors.
  5. Digital billboards have some unique qualities that static print billboards cannot match. For instance, Shirk’s article references an ad for heating and air conditioning that can be automatically displayed when the temperature reaches a certain point.
  6. I was personally surprised at the pricing, assuming digital billboards would be much more expensive. According to the article, larger print billboards run from $250.00 to $1,200.00 each week, depending on their location, while digital billboards cost from $375.00 to $750.00 per week. Smaller billboards, called “posters,” are closer to $200.00 per week.
  7. There are regulations for the display of outdoor advertising, specifying placement, lighting, and size. The goal of the regulations is to avoid confusing or distracting drivers. For instance, digital images must remain in place for at least 10 seconds.
  8. In terms of manufacturing and installation costs, digital advertising is economical, since it eliminates the cost of the vinyl print substrate and the time and expense of installation (20 minutes to one hour, as noted before).
  9. Fairway Outdoor Advertising does a good business with other media. Shirk’s article includes a quote from Fairway, noting that “all the other media are our clients—television, radio, even print.” In addition, Fairway combines advertising on billboards, computer screens, and mobile phones, providing an integrated presentation across multiple media.

What This Means For Print (Specifically) and Advertising in General

  1. Starting with Fairway’s multi-channel advertising approach noted above, repetition makes ads more effective. Each time you see an ad, the brand makes an impression on you. Therefore, integrating print ads and digital ads is prudent. In fact, adding vehicle wraps, television ads, radio spots, or anything else (including special events) to your advertising mix is wise. It is clear that outdoor large format print advertising isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with the improvements in large format inkjet printing, outdoor print advertising should expand even more.
  2. If anyone else was under the impression that, due to their complexity, digital billboards are more expensive than print, it’s good to see the data. If you can afford print billboards, you can afford digital billboards. So the question becomes which will be more effective for a given advertising subject and goal.
  3. Certain attributes of print and digital small format printing can make one a better choice than the other. (For a print book, for example, you can produce tactile effects with cover coatings, but a digital book provides no such tactile experience.) In a similar vein, certain design goals will favor either print billboard or digital billboard design. If weather temperature can trigger a digital heating and air conditioning ad, for instance, perhaps there are (or will soon be) other relevant triggers. For example, around lunch time or dinnertime, digital restaurant ads might be programmed to play on billboards across the Interstate highways.
  4. The advertising survey information from The Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) is sobering in that ad revenue has been declining for all other media (including newspapers). I guess it is not surprising. That said, this data highlights a potentially lucrative market for outdoor signage in many forms. And this means large format printing will continue to be a vibrant opportunity for marketers, printers, and graphic artists. Print seems not to be dying out but just reorganizing itself around other venues (such as large format printing, packaging, and the like).
  5. Shirk’s article presents some interesting observations about the attention span of consumers and their ability to process information. For instance, if static advertising is more effective in establishing brand awareness than ever-changing digital advertising, and if transmitting a large volume of information (such as a list of upcoming bands for a musical event) lends itself more to digital signage, this awareness of consumer needs and behavior can be priceless for advertisers.

So the bottom line is that large format print advertising is a growth industry, and digital advertising is just one more tool in the advertiser’s arsenal, to be applied at the most appropriate time and place.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Large Format Printing: Bold, Economical Standee Design

April 8th, 2018

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Last year two of my print brokering clients expressed interest in standees, so I solicited custom printing bids for them. I contacted one of the manufacturers of the standees my fiancee and I install at movie theaters. I chose this particular vendor based on the quality of their standee design (both the graphic design and the physical structure of their standees).

(To back up a bit, a standee is a large format point of purchase display. You’ve probably seen one at a movie theater. They are usually made of cardboard (although my fiancee and I have installed giant beach balls printed with movie information; and a huge dinosaur eye made of fiberglass, installed in a wood enclosure with a motor to make it move back and forth). We’ve been doing this for eight years, and if we observe the standees closely, they yield a wealth of information on commercial printing and die cutting, marketing, and shipping.)

The clients I mentioned wanted the cheapest design, so I asked the standee designer/printer about “flat cards,” which are approximately 6-foot by 9-foot billboards supported by a die cut and folded cardboard easel behind the flat graphic. Standard-size flatcards are (relatively) inexpensive to produce because the cutting dies are simple and have already been made. This is basically a stock item. You just provide the image for the front graphic panel. However, as simple as this sounds, you still get a 6-foot by 9-foot display area that will grab your viewer’s attention.

To bring this back to the present moment, the most recent standee installation my fiancee and I did for Strangers Prey at Night, a horror film, piqued my interest because it provided a lot of “bang for the buck.” It was a standard (or perhaps larger than usual) flat card, but it had a number of graphic additions (called “lugs”) attached to the standard background. It was large, effective, and economically made.

A Description of the Standee

More specifically, the Strangers Prey at Night standee was a photo opportunity standee. These are set up with a fake floor (often printed with a silhouette of shoes, so you’ll know where to stand), a back graphic to set the scene for the moviegoer’s cell phone photo, and a front graphic. If you want your photo taken, you stand between the front graphic and the back graphic with your head in a die cut opening, and it looks like you’re a character in the movie. In the case of the Strangers Prey at Night standee, it specifically looks like one of three masked psychopaths has you pinned by the neck with a long ax handle. Very grisly.

In the background is the front of an old, beat up car (it looks like it’s from the 1950s or ‘60s). This is actually a lug. Since this sticks out a bit, it provides a 3D effect between the three psychopaths, the person having her or his photo taken, and the final back panel graphic. Then the large flat card graphic panel extends outward behind all of this (to approximately a 6-foot by 9-foot rectangle). It includes background imagery, the title of the movie, and other related information.

So, again, if a friend or family member takes a photo of you in this photo-booth standee, it looks like you’re a character in the movie, surrounded by masked psychopaths.

The Benefits: Why This Is an Effective Standee

The question is what makes this an example of efficient, effective large format printing.

  1. As with my two clients last year who had expressed interest in a flat card standee because it was a simple, standard design and therefore less expensive to produce, this was a simple standee. However, it was large. It immediately grabbed the viewer’s entire field of vision from a reasonably close vantage point.
  2. It was a build-out of a standard flat card. Therefore, it depended in part on standard cutting dies. Presumably, only the lug of the car and the psychopaths in the front required new cutting dies. This reduced the overall manufacturing cost.
  3. By including background, middle ground, and foreground images (the back panel, the front of the car, and the three psychopaths), the standee designer provided a multi-level environment. (That is, a similar design without the front of the car–or with the front of the car only depicted in the background photo–might have been less compelling.)
  4. Compared to many of the larger standees we have installed, this had relatively few pieces and therefore fit in a lighter-than-usual shipping carton. Keep in mind that the shipping cost difference between an 80-pound carton and a 10- to 20-pound carton can add up quickly when multiplied by the number of theaters that display the standee.
  5. This was a photo-opportunity, or photo-booth, standee. It engaged the moviegoer. She or he participated in the fantasy of the movie. Moreover, she or he left the theater with a memento: a photo to commemorate the experience forever.
  6. From a functional standpoint, interactive standees must be durable (in contrast to standees you merely look at). People tend to stand on and otherwise abuse standees. In so doing, the moviegoers need to be safe. So the structural integrity of a photo-booth standee is important. Unlike some photo-booth standees, this standee had a completely flat fake floor and no cardboard surface to sit on (i.e., it had no built-up layers that could be crushed).
  7. In addition, since die cut lugs of some standees have fragile elements and can be easily knocked over or torn off, the durability of the lugs is important. In this case a single graphic panel contains all three of the masked psychopaths, and there are no easily-torn-off cardboard arms or legs. In addition, a four-sided cardboard pole extends from the background base art to hold the front panel in place. It is large and sturdy, so the front panel is kept rigid at the proper distance.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

If you’re designing a point of purchase display of any kind (even one much smaller than this standee), think about how to create a sense of depth (foreground, middle-ground, and background). Remember that a point of purchase display is a three-dimensional object.

Also, keep in mind that more complex is not necessarily more effective. You can design something that is efficient and therefore less expensive but that still intrigues the viewer. It can be cheaper to print, cheaper to die cut, and cheaper to ship without losing any of its punch.

Finally, do what I did with my clients. Since I didn’t know anything about printing standees at the time, I found some that I really liked and then contacted the manufacturer. This is pretty much the same as selecting a commercial printing vendor and then requesting printed samples. Only in my case, the printed samples were right there in front of me in the movie theater.

Posted in Large-Format Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: New Foiling Machine for Precise Imprints

April 5th, 2018

Posted in Foiling | Comments »

A friend and colleague recently sent me a press release from Roland DGA describing new laser foiling equipment. The article, entitled “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” published on 3/23/18 in various online publications, describes the machine, which uses metallic and holographic foils to imprint small items including pens, cell-phone covers, cosmetic cases, and even paper (such as corporate letterhead) with logos, text, and graphics.

Roland DGA notes that this foil press is ideal for short runs. In addition, due to its focused laser it can not only decorate products with much smaller legible type and graphic detail than prior technologies, but it can also avoid potentially melting plastics, a problem that occurred with prior hotter lasers. This makes it ideal for polycarbonates, ABS, and acrylic.

The press release, “Roland DGA Launches the World’s First Laser Foil Decorator – the DGSHAPE LD-80,” goes on to note that available materials include gold and silver (as well as other) metallic foils and holographic foils, which can be used to produce striking, detailed, and precise effects.

The software that runs the DGSHAPE LD-80 provides a broad range of fonts, adjustable font sizes, and the capability to incorporate vector art (such as logos) into the product decoration.

Since the machine has a small footprint and since it runs on standard electrical current, it can fit easily to an existing commercial printing workflow, and it can even be transported to an event site for immediate personalization of promotional items.

Furthermore, the press release describes the safety features of the DGSHAPE LD-80, which has been specifically designed in such a manner that no laser light is visible during operation, and laser foiling will stop immediately if the covering hood is opened.

Why This Is Important

This is not just another press release. It reflects certain trends within digital commercial printing and finishing:

  1. For a long time the focus was entirely on digital custom printing, starting with laser printers (electrophotography) and then inkjet presses. These improved significantly over the years, but there was little attention given to finishing operations (such as trimming and folding equipment). Now I’m beginning to see more of a focus on incorporating the digital printing workflow into the rest of the pressroom by addressing finishing capabilities (which also include hot foil technology, such as the DGSHAPE LD-80).
  2. Prior to laser foiling, custom-made steel dies were used to cut foil and apply it with heat (to book covers or other objects). The dies were expensive and time consuming to create. Laser cutting and laser foiling (in this case) sidestep the need to make these metal dies, thus saving money and time.
  3. In the past, commercial printing on pens and cosmetic cases would have been done with custom screen printing technology (and, perhaps, pad printing technology). Based on the consistency of the ink used, and my understanding of these processes, this would not have allowed for the kind of precision (the small type, for instance) made available by this new DGSHAPE LD-80. In addition, the kind of holographic and metallicized foils the press release describes would most probably not have been options for either custom screen printing or pad printing. Now, vendors can personalize items with small type and detailed line work.
  4. “Swag” sells a brand. Little trinkets like pens emblazoned with a company’s logo are the gift that keeps on giving. Every time a prospective customer picks up the pen on his or her desk to write a note, the name of the company is right there. It’s an advertisement that she or he sees again and again, reinforcing the brand message.
  5. Based on photos I’ve seen of the DGSHAPE, this foiling machine looks a bit like a 3D printer, and based on the kinds of items it decorates (also based on the photos), the technology seems to be akin to “direct to shape” custom printing. This is important because it allows users to place an image on an irregular surface (a cylinder, in the case of the pen and the cosmetics case in the website photos). In prior generations of digital technology (digital printing, for instance), printing on an irregular surface often entailed first printing a flat label and then affixing this to the irregular surface. Printing (or in this case foiling) directly on a curved surface is a step forward. It simplifies the decorating process, reducing the number of operations needed. In the case of the DGSHAPE LD-80, it does this while improving the detail in imaging.
  6. Based on my online research, the DGSHAPE Corporation is a spin-off of the Roland DG Corporation. Based on the logo, logo colors, and the name, there seems to be a direct connection to the Manroland AG company that manufactures sheetfed and web-fed offset presses, as well as newspaper presses. (In fact, I just found another website linking the two logos and company names.) Therefore, DGSHAPE has a company history of manufacturing durable printing and finishing equipment. It is not a newcomer to the commercial printing world. Therefore, I would expect an exceptional build quality in the equipment as well as an ability to integrate this foiling machinery into existing commercial printing workflows.
  7. At the moment, there seem to be two major kinds of foil decorating equipment in existence. I have read about the original “hot foil stamping” process done with steel dies. (The new DGSHAPE laser-based option that cuts and affixes foil to a substrate appears to be a digital version of this approach.) I have also read about “cold foiling” equipment that applies foil to precisely placed adhesive (and then tears away unused foiling film). But beyond hot and cold foiling technology, I have also read about equipment that builds up layers of synthetic foiling material. (Scodix decorating equipment would fit in this category.) Scodix seems more akin to 3D custom printing (also known as additive manufacturing), in which polymer materials are built up in layers. However, in contrast to Scodix, the DGSHAPE process seems more akin to actual hot foil stamping applied to book covers and similar products. It just seems to be laser-based (digital) and appropriate for a wider range of substrates (paper, plastic pens, plastic cosmetic items, etc.).

I think all of this bodes well for the future of digital finishing in general, and digital foiling in particular.

Posted in Foiling | Comments »

Custom Screen Printing: A Good Choice for Coating Offset Sheets

April 3rd, 2018

Posted in Screen Printing | Comments »

A friend and colleague of mine is a sales rep for two different book printers. (This is a little like what I do, although I’m completely independent, working with multiple printers as a representative for my clients. In contrast, as a sales rep my colleague has the firm backing of two specific book printers. One printer focuses on color work. The other focuses on black-ink-only print books.)

Recently, my colleague sent me information on a custom screen printing press one of these two printers had bought and put into service to apply special coatings to print book covers.

I found this interesting, primarily because it is a hybrid process involving both offset printing and serigraphy (custom screen printing). So I did some research online in order to share this process with you.

The Equipment

My colleague’s book printer has a Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII screen press, a cylinder press which accepts a 29.5” x 41” press sheet and cures the screen printing inks and coatings using UV drying technology.

According to its online specification sheet, this screen printing press can print up to 4,000 images an hour on substrates ranging from .003 inches to .032 inches in thickness.

When you watch this press operate online in one of a number of YouTube videos, it’s a rather interesting machine. The overall build of the machine resembles a small offset press, with its automated feeder at one end of the press and its bin for completed press sheets at the other end. But in the middle, it has a stationary squeegie with a movable serigraphy screen underneath. When the screen moves, the squeegie forces ink (or cover coating) though the mesh screen and onto the cut sheets traveling through the press along the internal conveyor.

The Sakurai does not look like the multi-unit carousel screen printing presses used to print textiles. These have more of a wheel-like operation, with multiple screens accessible to the printing platform, all of them in a circle that can be rotated as needed to reposition new screens to print additional colors.

Rather the Sakurai looks and sounds more like an offset press.

If you continue to watch the videos, you will see the press sheets leaving the screen printing section of the press and traveling through the UV dryer. This drying process is based on the ability of UV inks to cure instantly when exposed to UV light. That the equipment specifications also reference LED ink-curing suggests that low-power, but equally effective, LED lights are used to cure the ink. This reduces the heat of the press and dryer (and also the resulting cost to cool everything).

How Would You Use Such a Press?

If this press lays down only one ink at a time, how would you use it?

According to its promotional material, the particular book printer my colleague represents uses this press for “specialty finishing applications over offset printed material, including: spot raised UV clear/high gloss, spot glow in the dark, and spot soft touch [coatings].”

What this means is that this book printer does not need to dedicate one unit of an offset press to a special coating process. Rather he can focus on printing the maximum number of inks in one pass on the offset press, and then after the press sheet has dried, he can send it through the Sakurai screen press to lay down a thick coating on the book cover (a coating that might not be appropriate for use on an offset press). Moreover, the printer’s promotional literature notes that the application can be either a “spot” application or a “flood” application. (It can cover the entire press sheet or only a portion of the sheet, allowing for a subtle, or not so subtle, contrast between one coating and another on the same book cover.)

The printer’s promotional information on the Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII screen press goes on to describe the substrates on which the equipment can print: “The Maestro is capable of printing on a wide range of substrates such as plastic film for electronic applications, membrane switches, display panels, touch screens, etc., as well as paper, board, and foil….”

This makes the Maestro useful not just for book printing and promotional printing but also for industrial or functional printing (printing on objects like computer screens or printing circuit boards for electronic devices).

But for a book printer it also opens up avenues for more dramatic cover coatings, such as the thick, almost rubbery soft-touch product, a tactile coating that will set a print book apart from any screen-based ebook.

The specification above also includes foils as substrates, allowing a printer to create metallic book covers. And with the UV formulations used in the process, the inks can easily cure and adhere to the non-porous surface of foil.

Now let’s revisit the size and speed of the press. When you consider the fact that a lot of specialty presses are rather small in format (closer to 13” x 19”), the 29.5” x 41” maximum sheet size accepted by the Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII is more than ample. So a book printer can impose multiple copies of the book cover onto a press form, which will allow more copies to be printed (or coated, as in the case of this book printer) more quickly. This is a real press that accepts standard press sheets.

Moreover, the 4,000-images-per-hour press speed noted in the printer’s promotional sheet is a respectable speed. (To put this in perspective, a Komori Lithrone offset press, which I just found at random on the Web, prints at a maximum speed of 13,000 sheets per hour, and this is a high-speed offset press, not a screen printing coating unit.)

Finally, it is useful to remember that not all coatings will adhere to all printed products. For instance, some digital presses using toner and fusing oil will have serious problems with various kinds of coatings not adhering to printed products. In the case of my colleague’s printer’s Sakurai Maestro MS-102AII, the coatings have been formulated to work well with offset printed book covers, providing both durability and visual enhancement to the printed product.

One Final Suggestion

My colleague’s promotional literature from the printers he represents doesn’t tell you this, but not every book press has this kind of coating equipment on the pressroom floor. If you are producing this kind of job, you will get better pricing and faster turn-around if your printer does not need to subcontract the cover coating work (which many printers need to do for certain coating processes). In this light, it will serve you well to request samples of the coating options your printer can provide with in-house equipment.

Posted in Screen Printing | Comments »

Custom Printing: Thoughts on Promotional Magnets

March 29th, 2018

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A friend and colleague in the commercial printing field recently brought to my attention a flyer from a magnet company, or, more specifically, a manufacturer of magnetic paper used for custom printing.

At first glance this seemed like a mundane topic. After all, everyone has magnets on their refrigerators, (calendars or ads for some car company or plumber). But as I thought about it further, I realized a few intriguing things.

Magnets Are Effective Marketing Tools

The effectiveness of a promotional item is directly proportional to the number of times a client sees it. Think of it as a form of subtle hypnotism. If a potential client to which you have sent a calendar magnet refers to this calendar every day for a year and then needs someone in your particular field for an upcoming job, whom do you think he or she will call? Who will be “top of mind,” as the marketers say. You. And your phone number will be immediately available because you will have included it on your refrigerator magnet.

Magnets Can Be Printed in a Number of Ways

The particular flyer my friend and colleague sent me included the following kinds of custom printing for which its magnetic paper would be ideal: “laser, flexo, offset.” After reading this, when I was doing further research on the Internet, I also saw reference to gravure and inkjet printing, as well as to serigraphy (or custom screen printing).

What this means is that you have a lot of options for printing on magnetic paper, ranging from extra long press runs (with “static” imagery; that is, type/art that doesn’t vary) on gravure equipment to extra short press runs or even one copy on digital printing equipment. You can even personalize each and every magnet. Your magnet printing job can therefore be economical because the technology can be directly tailored to your budget and business goals.

You Can Even Print Magnets Yourself on Your Office Printer

Upon further research, I also learned that you can buy small-form magnetic press sheets that will fit in your home or office digital laser or inkjet printer. Some of these come from the stationery store on a pre-die-cut sheet, so after you print the job, you can just peel the backing and scrap away to reveal a die cut oval or other standard-shaped magnet. Other options for magnetic paper might not have this die cut feature, but given the relative thinness of the magnetic sheet (a thin plastic substrate just a bit thicker than a heavy-weight business card), you could just cut it with a scissors.

Or You Can Have Your Commercial Printing Provider Print and Diecut the Magnet

One of the printers to whom I bring my clients’ commercial printing work has a Mimaki inkjet press and plotter. When you go to the printer’s website, you can see a short video of this equipment both printing the magnets (it can also produce die cut labels) and then trimming the intricate contours of the magnets with a plotting knife. I believe lasers can be configured to do the same thing on some other digital presses. What you get in this case is the expanded color gamut of your printer’s inkjet (up to seven or eight colors) plus the custom magnet shapes such large format print-and-cut equipment can produce.

What Are Some of the Options?

I mentioned calendars before, and these definitely are great for reinforcing your brand, but there are other options as well.

You may have one or more trucks in your business. For those who don’t want the added expense of “car wraps,” painted signs, or other high-ticket marketing options, you can spend relatively little for large, durable magnets you can just attach to the left and right doors of your truck. While not as striking as a car wrap, this product will still make a professional statement while displaying your phone number to prospective clients. And the car signs I have seen are also durable: 30pt in thickness.

Magnetic business cards are another option. These can stick to the metal on your desk and be immediately available when you need a phone number. Larger versions of the same thing (i.e., postcard-sized magnets) may be of interest as well. Since they are larger than the business card format, they will command more attention.

Things to Think About

About a year ago, I presented a nature seminar about magnetism. It was for the autistic students with whom we do art therapy. So in preparing for the seminar I learned quite a bit about magnetism. Interestingly enough, I learned that heat kills magnets (just as banging the magnet against something kills the magnetism). For some reason, both the heat and the jarring of the magnet cause the electrons to reposition themselves, which reduces or eliminates the magnetic charge.

In light of this, what I find interesting about digital printing on magnets is that manufacturers seem to have resolved this liability. After all, laser printers expose the magnetic sheets to especially high temperatures to fuse the toner to the substrate.

That said, storing the magnetic paper would still probably require a reasonable room temperature.

Another thing to consider is that some magnetic paper can be magnetized by the user. In the case of the flyer that my friend and colleague sent me (for Flexible Magnet Company, China), a special tool can be purchased and rolled across the surface of the magnetic paper to magnetize it either before or after printing.

Apparently an electric charge from this special roller tool brings the electrons into alignment in the paper to infuse it with a magnetic charge. This seems to be a major selling point, since time can also erode the magnetism of a product. I had a stack of printed refrigerator magnets to be used in a future art project. They were in the (hot) art studio for a number of years, and when I checked them out recently, their magnetic charge had diminished significantly. Such a tool as Flexible Magnet’s magnetizing product can ostensibly turn otherwise useless inventory back into functional magnets.

Finally, printed magnets are cheap. They are the postcards of magnetic marketing (lots of bang for the buck). The business card magnets, postcard magnets, save-the-date magnets, and heavy duty car magnets can project a professional brand image even for a business on a limited budget.

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Book Printing: Thoughts on Choosing Printing Paper

March 24th, 2018

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I found a perfect-bound mythology book in the thrift store this week that I had last read and loved in 1981, so I bought it for a dollar. But what struck me even more than the surprise of finding it again was the publication date (1976) and the fact that the cover, cover coating, and interior paper showed absolutely no sign of age. None.

Unlike many other print books I had seen recently in the thrift stores, both the text stock and the cover stock of this book showed none of the yellowing around the edges that I was used to seeing in much more recently printed books. All of the photos on the crisp uncoated stock were pristine and exactly as I had remembered them from my first reading of the book thirty-six years ago.

This brought to mind a few thoughts about paper.

First of all, reading a book is a tactile experience, and for me the thickness and feel of the paper and gloss cover coating as well as the roughness of the paper and even the thickness of the book were relevant to my overall reading experience. None of these qualities can be replicated on an e-reader.

My next thought was that certain qualities in the paper made this print book look as good as the day it had been published. Since there was no discoloration or yellowing, I made an educated guess that alkaline paper had been used. This is considered to be of archival quality, in contrast to other books I have from the 1970s that are now yellow and brittle due to the highly acidic content of their text paper. These are not considered to be of archival quality.

When you compare these two paperbacks to some of the hardcover books printed and bound in the late 1800s, it is interesting to see that the older print books in many cases seem to be in much better shape than the paperbacks from the 1970s. Again, this has to do with the quality of the materials used.

Paper is not cheap, and alkaline paper is often more expensive than acidic paper, so the paperbacks I had collected in the 1970s were probably meant to be read and then discarded, or at least not kept for the ensuing forty years. This is fine. I paid very little for them.

How Does This Relate to Contemporary Book Printing?

In recent years, a large percentage of books have migrated from hard-cover and paperback format to electronic media only, as files for e-reader devices. This has been leveling off or decreasing recently. People are not giving up on print books. But in many cases publishers are choosing a print format to highlight particular print qualities not available in electronic media. Many of these involve properties of printing paper that will improve the tactile experience of book-reading. Therefore, it behooves designers and print buyers to learn a bit about commercial printing paper.

Here’s a starting point.

On another trip to the thrift store I found a paper handbook from the 1980s. It was specifically written for those who sell or buy paper. I’m sure contemporary paper mills, printers, and paper merchants can provide similar books. All you have to do is ask. Here are some of the subjects the book addresses.

Paper Properties

These include “whiteness, brightness, color, surface texture, finish, opacity, stiffness, flexibility, grain, and gloss” (Walden’s Handbook for Paper Salespeople & Buyers of Printing Paper, Second Edition). These are just the visual properties. More tactile qualities include thickness, bulk, resistance to tearing, smoothness, opacity, ink receptivity…. The list goes on and on.

If you were to boil down this list into a few key concepts, they might be:

  1. The thickness and stiffness of the paper as it feels in your hand (and the appropriateness of the thickness for the product you’re printing).
  2. The color of the paper (whether it has a bluish-white or yellowish-white tone, or whether it has a more intense color altogether like a dark green tinted sheet used for a holiday invitation and printed with silver ink).
  3. The quality of the paper, or its formation (its consistency across the sheet when held up to the light), since an even paper formation allows for evenly printed halftones and text.
  4. Whether the paper is coated or uncoated, and if coated whether it has a gloss or dull finish.
  5. The runnability of the paper. That is, does the paper possess those qualities (such as dimensional stability) that will make it run through a commercial printing press easily without causing problems. A related concept would be ink receptivity, or whether the paper absorbs ink evenly into the paper (if uncoated) or whether the ink sits up on top of the paper surface (if coated).

The Paper-Making Process

A paper handbook such as this will also explain the process of making paper, from the essentially liquid form in which it starts to the final cut sheets that are ready to load into the commercial printing press.

You will also find descriptions of paper flaws to look for (such as wavy edges) or the propensity of a paper for picking (having pinpricks of the paper—along with the ink–come off during the printing process). Dimensionally unstable paper is another flaw to avoid, as is paper that is not trimmed squarely.

Paper Tests

The Walden Handbook also describes a number of tests to ensure the quality of the paper, such as the burst test and tensile strength test, which relate to a paper’s propensity for tearing.

In addition, the paper handbook describes opacity testing (related to the light-stopping power of a particular paper). This paper property is particularly useful if you have a photo on one side of a sheet of paper and text on the other. Using an opaque sheet will ensure that you won’t see the photo on the back of the paper when you’re reading the text on the front of the sheet.

Charts Describing Paper Options

A paper handbook such as this will also discuss (and even include drawings of) formats for envelopes. (You can get the same information from the US Post Office.) In addition, it will include charts showing the relative thickness of different kinds of paper (text stock weights compared to cover stock weights, for instance). This is useful in converting from one type of paper to another. Usually, such a chart will also show the “basic size” to which these “basis weights” refer.

Information for the Printer

Such a paper book will also list the standard dimensions of cut sheets of commercial printing stock as well as useful information for printers regarding storage and conditioning of paper prior to printing. This section will include information on skid packing of paper, characteristics of paper rolls, and how cut sheets of printing paper will arrive in cartons.

All of this information may make your head swim. It’s a bit like reading a dictionary. However, over time you will start to recognize certain paper qualities, and the more your knowledge grows, the more precise you can be in designing printed products that benefit from different paper choices. You will also be better able to discuss these paper properties and potential pitfalls with your printer or you paper merchant.

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Commercial Printing: Enlarging Low-Resolution Photos

March 22nd, 2018

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A print consulting client of mine recently asked a question on Facebook regarding the best software package to enlarge photos that were not of sufficient resolution. I responded, voicing my concern that she might not like the results.

First, to give this some background, my client is laying out a print book for her father-in-law. She herself is a writer, and her background is somewhat spotty in graphic design and printing. Her print book is 220 pages plus cover, 6”x9” in format, perfect bound, with black-only text and a 4-color cover. It will contain a number of halftones, so her question on Facebook pertains to these photos.

With this in mind, here’s the response I posted on Facebook. I noted that all photos should have a resolution of twice the printed halftone line screen. That is, if the photo halftone line screen in her final print book will be 150 lines per inch, then she should make sure all of her photos are 300 dpi. In a pinch, however, I noted that 266 dpi would still yield a good halftone image.

That said, I told her that the resolution needs to be computed at the final printed size of the image, since, for instance, a 300 dpi image that is then enlarged (let’s say doubled in size) would otherwise have a resolution of half the original or 150 dpi. At this size the pixels would be visible. There would be a squarish, moasic-like pattern across the image, which would be the visible picture elements that make up the photo. At a smaller size, let’s say 300 dpi at 100 percent of the size to be printed, these pixels would be below the threshold of visibility.

Both enlarging and increasing the resolution of a low-resolution image, however, could cause problems. As noted above, just enlarging the photo would make the pixels visible. However, also resampling it (called upsampling when the enlargement of the image is combined with an increase in its resolution) actually creates picture information that is not in the original image. It fabricates color or black-and-white hues and tones based on averages of the pixels that are actually present, and this can cause visible irregularities, noise, and artifacts. So for important images, it’s usually not a good idea to upsample.

Options for My Client

As with anything else, rules are meant to be broken. It just helps to have some knowledge and to know what problems might occur.

Here’s one work-around I have used. I found this online.

If you open the bitmapped image (raster file) in Photoshop and then open the “Image Size” box, you can check the “Resample Image” option and then choose “Bicubic Smoother” from the menu to its right. According to the information I read, the next step is to change the document dimension pop-up menu to any value between 105 and 110 percent. (You can enter percentages in this dialog box as well as actual sizes.) Then you click OK, and you’re done. Each time you perform this operation, the image increases in size. Photoshop does add pixels (as I noted before), but there is very little image degradation.

I myself have tried this work-around and have been successful. However, if you attempt this, make sure you only increase the size in small steps of five to ten percent at a time. This will yield the best results. Online information I’ve read stresses this last point as well.

The one thing I would add, from my own experience, is to encourage you (and my client) to view the resulting image in Photoshop at various sizes, especially at 100 percent of the size to be printed but also at larger sizes, to make sure you see (and can live with) any image degradation that might occur. Based on my experience and the articles I have read, if you upsample the images in this way, there’s a good chance of success, but I just like to be safe. It’s better to see the results on your monitor, where corrections can be made for free, rather than in a printer’s proof (or the finished print book).

Another Option

Another visitor to my client’s Facebook page suggested a different approach: using PhotoZoom Pro 7. I have not used this software package myself, but interestingly enough, an earlier version was referenced in the same article from which I learned the trick regarding the 105 to 110 percent successive enlargements. So I’d suggest that you research this software if you need to enlarge lower-res images.

That said, I still would encourage you not to take a 72 dpi image from the Internet and try to upsample it and make it usable for digital or offset printing. After all, it is important to remember that you are still creating picture elements (pixels) that were not originally in the image, so the final result will be less than optimal.

To give you some background on PhotoZoom Pro 7 (from the BenVista website), the software is for both enlarging and reducing the size of images, and it works both as stand-alone software and as a plug-in for Adobe products (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Lightroom) as well as Corel products (such as PHOTO-PAINT and PaintShop Pro).

PhotoZoom Pro 7 is optimized both for final printed output and also for on-screen viewing (such as websites).

To quote from the product information: “PhotoZoom Pro 7 is equipped with S-Spline Max, a unique, award-winning image resize technology which excels at preserving clean edges, sharpness, and fine details.” It allows you to avoid the noise and JPEG compression artifacts that usually appear when upsampling images.

Furthermore, PhotoZoom Pro 7 automates many of the image manipulation options, so once you have tweaked the photo to your liking, you can batch process your other images using the same settings. (In the case of my client’s print book for her father-in-law, this would be most useful, given the potential number of photos the 220-page book will contain.)

In addition, PhotoZoom Pro 7 includes multi-processor support, 64-bit support, and GPU (graphics processor unit) acceleration. (All of this speeds up image processing time.)

So, as with everything else, rules were meant to be broken. Just understand the potential pitfalls and break them wisely.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you are a graphic designer, all of this information will not be new to you. The rules of resolution your book printer or commercial printer requires will still apply, but fortunately there is a work-around (or in this case actually two work-arounds) if you ever need to use a lower-resolution image. Also, fortunately, the flaws that usually crop up (artifacts, noise, blurry images, loss of fine details, and jagged edges that should be clean and crisp) can often be successfully avoided.

Beyond this, it does help to understand why the printer (digital or offset) wants you to submit the crispest possible images at the proper resolution and why upsampling is generally a risk yielding disappointing results.

My assumption is that in addition to PhotoZoom Pro 7 and the work-around I found (involving successive small increases in image size from 105 percent to 110 percent), there are more image processing software packages in the market that now do this sort of thing. Since I know nothing about them, I’d invite you to do careful research on your own before taking the leap.

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Custom Printing: New Digital Print Technology from Kodak

March 19th, 2018

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I was excited to see the new digital printing technology from Kodak, the NEXFINITY platform, referenced recently in the printing trade journals. I have been a devotee of Kodak’s competition, the HP Indigo, for years due to what I perceive as its superior color fidelity. However, I can’t help but believe that strong competition in the realm of digital printing technology will “raise all boats.” The new printing platform that Kodak has crafted will benefit all digital print buyers by encouraging the constant improvement of digital print technology in the marketplace.

The New Technology

The first article I read on the subject was a Kodak press release, “Kodak Launches the NEXFINITY Digital Press Platform,” published on 3/1/18. Here’s how they describe their new approach, called “Dynamic Imaging Technology,” which will be available in the spring of 2018.

The technology applies “algorithmic adjustments to specific areas of an image,” enhancing the quality and consistency of the content within each portion of the printed page. That is, it can produce high-resolution type, crisp lines, soft flesh tones, and clear skies on the same page. The technology maximizes the image quality of each, even though all of these require different treatment.

The press release notes that this improved technology will benefit package printing, commercial printing, direct mail production, and publishing.

Moreover, the NEXFINITY platform can do this by utilizing “the industry’s highest information density at more than 1.8 billion pieces of image information per square inch” (Kodak press release). This produces consistent, flat fields of color and detailed imagery. According to Kodak, the NEXFINITY “can reproduce fine details on the fly, like highlight areas and consistency in mid-tones by adjusting the exposure levels….” Kodak’s press release goes on to say that “The LED writing system provides 256 levels of exposure on the imaging cylinder, compared to laser systems that only are on or off.”

Furthermore, the new Kodak technology allows press operators to change the order or combinations of digital inks depending on the needs of the specific job. This, along with closed-loop color control, produces outstanding results.

More Digital Press Features

Here are a few more items Kodak touts in its press release on NEXFINITY.

  1. The new Kodak press can be seamlessly integrated into existing workflows, so finishing operations can be done smoothly and quickly.
  2. NEXFINITY is compatible with existing digital workflow software (including PRINERGY, among others). The printing unit can be operated in stand-alone mode, providing imposition; trapping; color management; and print job specification, management, and reporting functions. Or it can be integrated into existing software utilizing JDF and JMF data. All of this allows for a smooth transition of the new equipment into the pressroom as well as quick, efficient production of all print jobs.
  3. One operator can successfully control up to four NEXFINITY units simultaneously, using a Kodak Multi-Press Station to coordinate all printing activities from a single console.
  4. In terms of runability, the NEXFINITY press can accommodate stocks up to 24pt. in thickness and 48 inches in length, and it can print between 83 and 152 pages per minute. In addition, the technology allows for fast “RIPing” of detailed imagery and complex variable-data jobs.
  5. In terms of substrate coatings, the NEXFINITY press can efficiently and cost-effectively print specialized coatings (including dimensional coatings, security elements, and special finishes).

The Implications of the Technology

All of these features reflect the following benefits:

  1. Flexibility, in terms of the varied substrates the NEXFINITY can image.
  2. Much higher speed and productivity, in terms of the kinds of jobs that can be efficiently produced, from short-run jobs (hundreds of copies) to much longer ones (thousands or millions of copies). This makes these digital presses better able to compete with offset technology in longer-run jobs.
  3. Integration, in that the NEXFINITY can easily link to existing commercial printing and finishing equipment. Therefore, it will complement rather than disrupt the current workflow, making the custom printing supplier more efficient. It can even make current staff more productive or reduce the number of operators needed.
  4. Access to new markets, due to increased press sheet lengths and paper thicknesses. For instance, the 48-inch press sheet can allow commercial printing vendors to produce large lay-flat photo books, and the 48pt. paper thickness can give custom printing vendors access to the burgeoning packaging and signage markets.
  5. Differentiation from computer-display-only products. Since NEXFINITY can efficiently and cost-effectively print specialized coatings, such as dimensional finishes and security elements, it can set custom printing jobs apart from their non-tactile, computer-screen-only counterparts.

What Does This Say About Digital Printing in General?

I’ve given thought to the implications of Kodak’s new technology within the overall commercial printing market. Here are some ideas:

  1. The focus on enhancing digital custom printing technology suggests that Kodak and other equipment manufacturers expect physical printing to be around for some time. Instead of abandoning print, Kodak sees opportunities for developing those capabilities only available within the physical print process.
  2. Many of Kodak’s developments improve the efficiency of the digital printing process. This allows digital printers to compete with offset printers in increasingly longer press runs. My expectation is that digital printing technology will eventually marginalize offset printing, making it still essential for selected products but no longer as pervasive as digital printing.
  3. Kodak’s Dynamic Imaging Technology, which allows for adjustments to specific areas within a printed page, reflects a focus on image quality, as does the expansion of the color gamut through extended color sets. I think the goal is to not only match the quality of offset printing but eventually exceed it. At this point, the variable imaging capabilities of digital printing will make it more attractive for many jobs than the static nature (printing the same page again and again) of offset lithography. Only by making digital presses run at comparable speeds to offset presses (and therefore making them as efficient to operate for longer press runs) can this actually happen.

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Large Format Printing: Printing Art and Photos on Canvas

March 12th, 2018

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I read an article yesterday by a company that prints clients’ photos on canvas. The article, entitled “The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints,” written by Jessica Stewart and published on on 3/6/18, got me thinking not only about the history of canvas but also about the sense of importance and permanence it conveys.

On a related note, my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic, and many of our projects, such as collages of photos, fabric, and paint, could be prepared on paper. For the paintings we do, we could hand out canvas board (panels with canvas glued to chipboard). However, we have found that the autistic members with whom we work get more of a sense of pride and accomplishment when we give them stretched canvases stapled on wood stretcher strips. This three-dimensional substrate showcases their work. To quote from Stewart’s article, it gives the work “a sense of prestige.”

Jessica Stewart’s Article About Canvas

Stewart’s article provides a brief history of canvas, noting that it is “a rather recent development in art history.”

In Venice in the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance, painters started using canvas for two reasons. First, it was better than applying paint to wet plaster (in frescos), which had trouble drying in the humid Venetian environment. It was also better than applying paint to wood panels, which tended to warp and crack in the humidity. And canvas was plentiful in Venice since it was used to make sails for ships.

There was one other benefit, which had nothing to do with the humidity of Venice in the Italian Renaissance. Since canvas was thin and light, it could be attached to the wood stretcher strips in a very large format. It could also be removed from the stretcher strips and then rolled up.

The Spanish followed in Italy’s footsteps and started to paint on canvas, and by the 17th century this new substrate for painting was being used throughout Northern Europe and had become more prevalent than wood panels as a base for artwork.

Jumping forward to the present, if you attend a street art fair, you’ll now see large, stretched canvases with brilliantly colored photographs inkjetted onto their surface, as well as reproductions of paintings produced with large format printers on stretched and framed canvas.

What Is Canvas?

“The Rise of Canvas in Art: From Oil Paintings to Photo Prints” then goes on to explain exactly what canvas is. Stewart notes that the word “canvas” comes from the Latin “cannabis,” since it used to be made from tightly woven hemp, or in some cases linen. Both of these were more expensive than the material that came to be used for canvas in modern times: cotton. In addition to being less expensive than hemp and linen, cotton will stretch, which protects the artwork from cracking. Depending on its weave, it is also very strong. That said, many artists today still prefer to use linen for their canvases.

Once the canvas has been stretched onto wooden strips (and tacked or stapled in place), the artist primes the canvas with “gesso.” This base layer keeps the oil paints from actually touching the canvas and therefore prevents the decay of the canvas substrate.

While I was studying painting just after college, an art teacher of mine had us prepare our own gesso to apply to wood panels. This traditional ground included rabbit skin glue (an adhesive that also served as a sizing) and chalk or marble dust, (or in our case titanium white paint, due to its brightness and opacity). Since this gesso was not flexible, we had to apply it to wood panels. In contrast, the acrylic gesso you’ll find on prepared canvases in art and craft stores is based on an acrylic polymer medium, calcium carbonate (chalk), and titanium white paint. This kind of gesso is flexible, so it is ideal for priming stretched canvases.

Inkjet Printing on Canvas

Large format printing on canvas is an ideal way to showcase photos in a dramatic but flexible format. It is also ideal if you’re a fine art painter or print-maker and you want to produce multiple copies of your work in an easily frameable format. (Granted, they won’t be as valuable as the original painting from which they have been made, but depending on the materials and inkjet custom printing technology used, they will still be works of art.)

Specifically, a large-format inkjet printing device can be bought with an expanded inkset (more than just cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). Some inksets include two shades of magenta and two shades of cyan; and/or different black inks; or even orange, violet, and green ink. Whichever colors are chosen, these additional inks greatly expand the color gamut. That is, you can print a wider range of far more intense, color-faithful, and fade-resistant hues than you can with the usual CMYK inks. Color gradients are also smoother, and the apparent image resolution is higher.

In addition, as Stewart’s article notes, you can choose special archival paper, canvas, or vinyl as a substrate for custom printing your artwork. Therefore, you can produce and sell prints that are more intense in their color and that have a much longer lifespan than those made with lower-quality materials. Because of this, in the 1990’s Jack Duganne (a printmaker) coined the term “giclée” (which comes from the French verb for spray, spout, or squirt) to distinguish prints made with pigment-based inks and archival papers from prints made with standard inks and papers.

The initial giclée prints were produced on an Iris printer, a large format, high resolution proofing device used by commercial printing vendors. This term later was used in reference to all high-end inkjet prints, including Canon, Epson, and HP proofs.

While not cheap, giclée-level, large format inkjet printers can be within the financial reach of many individual artists. Therefore, with a good scanner and skill in Photoshop, they can produce individual prints on canvas, watercolor paper, or another substrate that are color corrected and otherwise enhanced with fine attention to detail. Artists can also produce the prints on demand, so maintaining an inventory (and storing the work) becomes unnecessary. In addition, the art can be printed with latex inks, which are water-based, solvent free, and environmentally friendly.

From the perspective of the buyer, this process is ideal because it makes art affordable. Even though giclée prints are more expensive to produce than standard inkjet images (up to $50.00 per print, not including scanning and color correction, vs. $5.00 per print for an offset-printed image–as per Wikipedia), a customer can buy a work of art for $60.00 to $150.00, rather than upwards from multiple hundreds to multiple thousands of dollars.

What You Can Learn From This Discussion

First, keep in mind that there’s only a thin line between fine art and commercial art. Such fine artists as Andy Warhol, Ben Shahn, Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Piet Mondrian also produced commercial art and illustration.

Another take-away is that custom printing a work of art on canvas gives it a sense of prestige that sets it apart from works on paper.

Finally, take the time to find samples and study the effects of an expanded inkset on inkjet custom printing. Compare the enhanced color gamut to those colors available through 4-color inkjet and even 4-color offset printing. Then apply this to your own graphic design work to enhance the intensity, fidelity, and brilliance of the colors you use.

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Print Custom TShirts
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Shortrun Book Printers
Tabloid, Newsprint, Newspapers
T-shirts: Custom Printed Shirts
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Printing Industry Exchange, LLC, P.O. Box 2238, Ashburn, Virginia 20146-2238, (703) 729-2268 phone · (703) 729-2268 fax
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