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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Added Paper Coatings

July 22nd, 2019

Posted in Paper Coatings | Comments »

I received an email link to a commercial printing website this week. Being curious in matters of custom printing, I followed the link to a blog about this vendor’s options for cover coatings, or, more specifically, UV coating options.

This motivated me to do some more research into cover coating options. Here are a few things you might consider when specifying cover coatings.

Coated and Uncoated Paper

First of all, commercial printing paper can be categorized as either coated or uncoated. Coated paper has an extra transparent coating over its entire surface that is composed of such materials as calcium carbonate, kaolinite, and talc. This coating keeps printing ink up on the surface of the press sheet rather than allowing it to seep into the fibers of the paper. (This is called “ink holdout,” and it allows for crisp, heavily coated ink solids, precise type letterforms, and detailed photos.) Such paper coatings come in various surface textures: dull, matte, satin, and gloss. Gloss coating makes photos “pop.” Matte coating or dull coating makes text easy to read.

The other option, uncoated paper, is ideal for text-heavy print books or even annual reports, particularly if your goal is to present an environmentally friendly tone. Uncoated paper feels softer, and photos printed on uncoated paper will be a little less crisp (softer) than the same images printed on a coated press sheet. This is because the ink seeps into the underlying paper fibers.

So there are good reasons to choose both coated and uncoated printing paper. It all depends on your design goals.

Additional Paper Coatings

Once you have selected a press stock for your job, you can also choose to add an additional paper coating. For the most part, however, you would choose to do this only if you’re using a coated press sheet. This is because surface coatings seep into uncoated paper, leaving the surface either looking like it has no coating or looking unevenly coated.

(To understand this, think about what it would be like to paint on a sponge. You would not end up with an even, coated surface. The paint would just be absorbed into the cellulose fibers of the sponge.)

If you choose to add a paper coating to a press sheet, you have a number of surface textures to choose from and materials with which to do the coating, and you can produce a number of artistic effects with the coating.

To start with the goals, you would usually coat a press sheet to protect the printed ink. For instance, if you have heavy ink coverage on the cover of a print book, you might want to add a cover coating to protect the ink from scuffing. Scratches, or even fingerprints and other damage from the oils in your hands, can diminish the pristine quality of a printed piece. It can look old fast. A cover coating can minimize this damage, even over time and under heavy use.

Another goal might be to highlight elements of a design. For instance, if you print your job on a matte or dull press sheet and then “spot” coat the photos with a gloss coating, your photos will appear to jump off the page. You can do the same thing with type or a solid block of ink. (For instance, you might want to spot gloss coat a large initial capital letter on a page of your printed job.)

Regarding materials, you have a number of options for coating paper: varnishing, aqueous coating, UV coating, and laminating. In most cases you would choose one of these based on the surface texture you want, the overall cost (some options are more expensive), and the level of durability you need.

Varnish is similar to commercial printing ink without color. It is transparent. You would print a varnish using one of the printing units on your offset press. Therefore, you might choose to either flood the press sheet with the gloss or dull varnish (for protection or a particular sheen or smoothness), or you might choose to spot coat the sheet (to highlight only the photos, for instance).

On the downside, however, over time a varnish can yellow, changing the perceived color of the paper it covers. Varnish is the cheapest option, but it may be wise to use it primarily for items that do not need to last very long (such as a postcard that will be read and then discarded).

Your next option is liquid aqueous coating, which is applied with a coating tower at the end of a commercial printing press. (This is called “in-line coating,” as opposed to “off-line coating,” which refers to coating added after the job has been printed and has dried.) Being an aqueous product, aqueous coating is environmentally friendly. However, you would use aqueous coating primarily as a “flood coating,” in part because its application is not as precise as the application of a varnish. However, by using an aqueous coating, you avoid any problems with yellowing that varnish can present. Aqueous coating is also more durable than varnish.

UV coating is a third option. This liquid is usually applied “off line,” after the printed job has dried and on different coating equipment (sometimes by a different vendor altogether). It can be applied as a flood coating or a spot coating, and it can be one of the shiniest options you can choose (it can be glossier than varnish, for example). UV coating dries instantly (this is actually called “curing”) once it is exposed to UV light. Once cured, UV coating is inert (and therefore environmentally friendly).

A fourth option is lamination (think of menus in a pancake house, which must take a lot of abuse and be wiped clean with a wet sponge repeatedly). Lamination is applied off line. It comes in a number of thicknesses (from 1.2 mils to 10 mils or more). Lamination is expensive. (UV coating and aqueous coating are less expensive, and varnish is cheap.) If your print job has a long press run, lamination can add a considerable cost. It can also add considerable weight to a printed product, which can drive up mailing (i.e., postage) costs.

Things to Consider

Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a paper coating:

  1. Varnish can be tinted with a little ink. This can provide a film of transparent color, which can be used for subtle, ghosted images. However, as noted before, it will yellow over time. The yellowing is more noticeable over unprinted paper than over process inks.
  2. Aqueous coatings have a higher abrasion resistance than varnish. They can also be smoother and shinier than varnish. Because they seal the underlying press sheet entirely, they can keep air away from metallic inks, keeping them from tarnishing. If your printer can specially formulate the aqueous coatings, you can write on them with a No. 2 pencil or overprint them with a laser printer. (Otherwise, you need to “knock out”–or omit varnish or aqueous coating from–any area that must be written on or mechanically addressed.) Finally, aqueous coatings are best on thicker press sheets. Thin press sheets (one article says less than 80# text) may curl or wrinkle.
  3. Aqueous and UV coatings can chemically interact with the underlying inks (certain hues like Reflex Blue and Rhodamine Violet have changed or burned out or bled, according to some of the articles I read). Time, heat, and exposure to light can cause these changes to occur, sometimes suddenly, up to months or years after the press run.
  4. UV coatings come in a lot of different surface textures (as noted on the printer’s website I mentioned at the beginning of this article). The particular custom printing vendor who sent me the link includes “soft feel,” “rubber feel,” and “sandpaper” among their offerings. This can be especially exciting depending on how it is used. For instance, no online advertisement can be as dramatic as a print ad for an oceanfront property with a spot sandpaper UV coating over the sandy beach in the photo. That said, UV coatings can be tricky. Some printers want to only use them with UV inks; others require that the underlying inks be wax free and be allowed to dry completely before the application of the UV coating. Some recent ink developments involve hybrid inks that minimize drying problems and surface texture problems when used with UV coatings.

The Takeaway

Ask your commercial printing supplier for samples of any paper coatings you are considering. See exactly what they will look like before you commit to one coating or another.

Ask about any potential liabilities (drying problems, yellowing, etc.).

Ask about the potential for cracking if the print job folds and the coating extends across the folds.

Consider the cost (and the press run length). Choose an option that fits your budget.

Also consider any weight a thick coating (like laminating film) can add if you plan to mail your printed product.

Posted in Paper Coatings | Comments »

Book Printing: Read the Fine Print in the Contract

July 14th, 2019

Posted in Printing Contracts | Comments »

It could be argued that nothing is more boring to read than a contract, except perhaps an insurance policy. However, if you buy commercial printing for a living, it behooves you to at least skim the contract looking for a number of key agreements between you and the custom printing vendor. It will save you money, undue surprise, and overall stress.

First of all, if you’re buying a commercial printing job like the printing of a brochure, you may never see a contract. I regularly get pricing for small jobs in the body of an email. Granted, even this is a contract, but the more lengthy contracts usually accompany estimates for book printing. I’m not sure why, although I’ve noticed this for the past (almost) 30 years I’ve been buying printing. Perhaps it’s because book printing costs tend to be high when compared to many final bills for commercial (non-book) print jobs.

What to Look For

I received a book printing bid today accompanied by a section entitled “Terms.” “Terms and Conditions” and “Printing Trade Customs” are other phrases to look for because these address such issues as who pays for delivery, who is responsible for damages during delivery, what kind of “overage” you can expect to pay for, and other, similar issues.

First of all, anything entitled “Trade Customs” or “Printing Trade Customs” or any similar language will be broad in scope because it will usually pertain to agreements considered reasonable across the entire commercial printing industry. It may help you to contact your printer, request such a listing, and familiarize yourself with it.

“Printing Trade Customs” boilerplate language usually addresses such matters as who owns the intermediate work of a print job (after you submit files and before the job delivers). When negatives of book pages were produced (prior to direct to plate) and these negatives were stored, a printer’s policy on this matter would be useful to know if you, as a print buyer, ever required reprints of a job.

Now, in a completely digital world, it helps to know for how long your printer will store your electronic files. For instance, a print brokering client of mine regularly reprints selections from her 28-copy color swatch book series. These are fashion color print books (like PMS swatch books but specifically for choosing fashion and make-up colors). Each book is 118 pages plus cover in length. For my client, it helps that the book printer saves all of my client’s master copies on his digital storage drives.

To initiate this last reprint, all my client had to do was upload one revised PDF file of one page for one of the 28 master books, and then approve the proofs for all master books and release the job to print. If the printer didn’t have a policy for saving customer art files for a certain length of time, my client would have to resubmit the 28-master-copy job each time.

So issues such as these are often addressed in the boilerplate printing contract language, and it is therefore wise to familiarize yourself with the wording and its meaning.

File Submission Guidelines

To get back to the “Terms” section I received today with a book estimate, this particular document addresses file submission guidelines (how to prepare PDF files for the text and whether to submit native InDesign files for the cover of the print book job). The contract sent me to a website describing all PDF parameters and presumably offering downloadable “plug-in” files to set up the documents in ways compatible with the printer’s prepress workflow software.

The document also notes that the first half hour of system time the printer must spend to fix any problems in my file is free, but that additional time will be billed at $50.00 per hour. This is noteworthy for two reasons. It shows that submitting accurate, press-ready art files will save you money, checking the files a few times to cull out the errors will save you money, and retrieving any problematic files from the printer to fix yourself will save you money. Fortunately, this particular printer will notify you if file repairs will exceed one hour of their system time.

Printing Issues You Didn’t Mention in the RFQ

You may have forgotten to mention the heavy ink coverage or bleeds when you sent specs to the book printer and requested an estimate. It’s easy to forget this. But in this particular printer’s “Terms” section, the printer notes that upon receipt of the files, if there are any inconsistencies between your specs and the actual job, revised pricing will be sent to you before the job begins.

Granted, it’s better to know this before you get the final bill, but you can always avoid this surprise (sticker shock) by specifying all bleeds, heavy coverage, halftones, die cutting, foil stamping, and anything else that might cost extra money. If you’re not sure of what to include, then it’s smart to print out a laser copy of your job (selected pages, if it’s a book), mark these up with notations on color usage, cover coating, bleeds, and such, and then send the hard-copy sample to the printer.

You can also send a printed sample if you’re looking for a special effect, like a particular cover coating or perhaps a sculpted embossing job.

More Boilerplate Contract and “Terms” Language

“Materials prices are subject to the market rate” means that if paper prices go up, you cover the increased cost. A good way to control this cost is to keep your bids current. Most bids become stale (out of date) within a certain period of time. (The estimate I received today says the pricing is good for 45 days.) However, even within this time, if there’s a spike in paper prices, I’ll have to pay for it (or my client will). This is all “industry standard” language.

The “Terms” section also notes that I can be charged for 10 percent overs or credited for 10 percent unders. If I absolutely need a certain number of copies of a job (i.e., no unders), I’ll usually have to accept more overs than standard. (In this regard, 10 percent overs/unders is the norm.) Some printers don’t charge for overs. Others only charge for a lower number, such as 3 percent overs.

It’s prudent to discuss this with your printer early in the process, particularly if you can’t accept fewer than your requested number. (Let’s say you have a 3,000-name mailing list and you order exactly 3,000 brochures, but your printer shorts you by 300. That’s a problem—but it’s probably still industry-standards compliant. So discuss this early.

Also, look for the word “tolerance” in your contract. This is an important word. It means the acceptable amount of error for a trim, for instance. Post-press cutting equipment isn’t perfect. For this particular printer (according to the contract I received), a 1/8” error is acceptable. To you, this means that you should keep any page numbers (folios) or any other printed matter away from the trim edge. Or you might lose it or part of it to the trimmer.

Also, remember that for successive folds and trims, folding and trimming errors become magnified.

“FOB Printer’s Plant” means the printer puts the job on the freight carrier truck at his press plant, but then it is no longer his responsibility. Personally, I like to have the printer arrange for the freight. Then the job is mine only after it has been delivered to me or my client.

Usually under “Terms” (as is the case with the contract I received today), the printer notes the cost of using a credit card as payment. In this case it’s three percent. This just means he is passing on to me what Visa charges him.

Finally, this particular “Terms” contract notes that if something goes wrong, the printer is only liable for the print job, not lost sales or any other damages. This is how this relates to you: If your job has to be somewhere at a particular time or it’s useless (let’s say a particular marketing brochure), it’s up to you to work out a schedule that both you and the printer can meet. If the job is delivered late, you can’t sue for lost sales.

What You Can Learn From This “Terms” Document

Be forewarned. This is just a sampling of information that could probably fill multiple books on printing contracts. I just pulled a few terms from the contract I received this morning. The best way for you to be prepared is to request such a document from your printer and read it carefully. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to get several contracts from several printers.

Also, Google “Printing Trade Customs” online and see what comes up. Think of all this research as an investment, and expect it to be a process you spread over a number of years, learning a little bit at a time. But do make it a practice to learn the trade customs. It will save you money.

“Plan B” is to be proactive. Write everything down. Compose your own spec sheet and job description. Print out a complete laser copy of the job (as mentioned before) with notations for color placement, tabs, die cuts, bleeds, cover coating, varnish, etc., etc, etc. Then collect any relevant printed samples, and meet with your printer to discuss everything.

In fact, the best thing you can do to avoid surprises is to consult your printer early in the process and follow up often thereafter.

Posted in Printing Contracts | Comments »

Custom Printing: A “Look Book” for Choosing Illustrators

July 7th, 2019

Posted in Illustration | Comments »

My fiancee and I love thrift stores. In fact, there is seldom a question of what we want to do when we have free time. She likes the clothes, and I like the print books.

That said, my fiancee always looks for books relevant to our art therapy work with the autistic, and this week she found The Directory of Illustration 26 produced by Serbin Communications, Inc.

Granted, this particular edition is from 2008 (that’s what you get at thrift stores), but it illustrates (so to speak) a number of things about acquiring the rights to reprint images in your own publications work. It also provides good ideas for artwork, and it even says something about the persistence of print books.

A Description of the Print Book

The Directory of Illustration 26 is a case-bound volume, over 550 pages in length, full color throughout, printed on what feels like 80# or 100# gloss text. It is massive, almost two inches thick (given the combination of the luxurious paper and the ample page count). The binding indicates that it is also made to last.

Let’ start with the purpose of the book. Beautifully printed in full color, this is a “look book” for illustrators. When you are an art director or graphic artist, you may or may not be an illustrator as well. They are two separate disciplines, just as being a graphic designer and being a photographer are two separate professions. If you are designing magazine spreads, for instance, and you want to provide a visual interpretation of the editorial content, you might need an illustrator, particularly if your subject matter has more of a fantastical or interpretive nature than photography can capture.

So how do you proceed? This book is, for the most part, broken down into groups of illustrators represented by specific agencies. The agents negotiate the financial terms, while the artists they represent focus on creating art. Essentially, you page through the book to select particular styles of illustration that appeal to you (based on drawing skill, style of rendering subject matter, color usage, overall creative vision—whatever criteria you choose). You may even choose based on subject matter. (For instance, if you are producing a medical journal, you may need illustrators well versed in both artistic anatomy—how to draw heads and hands–and the particulars of drawing internal organs, cells, and such.)

The key here is that not all illustrators do everything, just as not all designers are also illustrators or photographers.

Once you understand that this print book is a directory, you’ll understand why the paper is bright and heavy and why the binding is so sturdy. In essence, this is a book that will be used heavily for at least a year. It will probably either be in the design studio as a reference for all designers in a design firm or in the possession of only the art director. It is a reference book. Moreover, it is also an advertisement for each and every illustrator it represents. Illustrators make their money acquiring new clients through print books like this. And agents make their commissions representing them. Regarding the bright blue-white paper, the brightness and whiteness make the transparent printing inks “pop.” So the images jump off the page. And the thickness of the paper suggests luxury and opulence.

The History of Illustration Directories

But why not do all of this online?

Back in the 1990s, when I was an art director/production manager, all of the books like these were, well, books. When the photo editor came into my office and suggested that we acquire stock images (set-up shots he himself didn’t have time to do) on CD or via the Internet, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept. As an art director, I was used to going to brick-and-mortar picture agencies (in physical buildings) and reviewing the 35mm slides they gave me based on my specific content requests. A new alternative at the time was to page through books, such as these, containing photos and illustrations.

Now all of this is online. You just type in a few words to search for specific content or styles, and you’re on your way. That said, I still think some graphic designers and art directors enjoy paging through well-designed “look books” (which are essentially portfolios of artists’ work) to make their decisions, particularly if their own work will show up in physical form. (After all, computer screens are backlit, so the images appear brighter than they do in print. Personally, I’d choose illustrators for print books from just such a print book—if these “talent directories” still exist.)

How to Pay for These Images

Back when I was an art director, we had in-house photographers. They took candid photos of the educational programs our business offered. But once in a while we needed more specific and perhaps more stylized images for print book covers. So we often staged these. We did photo shoots, with special lighting and perhaps a model. We created the image we wanted in a tailored way, in contrast to the candid images, which were more reportage than stylistic images.

Once in a while we needed photos from other parts of the world for the print book covers, to illustrate the global content of these particular books. This is when we approached picture agencies. Later, we choose photos from books like The Directory of Illustration 26 (in my case photography rather than illustration). Then you could buy generic photos and illustrations on CDs offered in stores or on the Internet. Now you would do the same thing by choosing images online.

But the key to all of this is that depending on what you would buy, you would pay on a different scale.

In the most generic sense of photos and illustrations, if you got it for free (or on a CD), the image was generic, and anyone could use it. Now, you can start your search for free images through Creative Commons (look online). Many of these images are specifically offered without royalties, but do be careful and read the fine print. If you break the copyright laws you can be sued. Understandably. Photographers and illustrators work hard to make these images, and they deserve payment.

Other images are “rights managed” or “royalty free.” When I was choosing images at picture agencies for book covers, the payment (royalties) for use of the images (because we didn’t own the images; we just had purchased rights to reproduce them in specific ways) were based on the following:

  1. How many copies were we printing?
  2. Was the image to be used in the text of the book or on the cover of the book?
  3. Was the publication intended for marketing use, or was it an editorial publication?

Most of what we bought at the time was “rights manged.” We had to follow the parameters noted above, but there was almost no chance that other people/marketers/organizations were using the same images. We paid a premium for this, and the reproduction rights were for a limited time.

In other cases we would buy an image that was more generic, with fewer use constraints, for far less money. In both cases we had to credit the photographer or illustrator in a particular way in the publication (very visibly), but we had more flexibility. In paying less money, we also knew that many other non-profit and for-profit organizations (our competition) were also using the exact same image.

What You Can Learn from This Illustration Directory

As a designer or art director, you can’t do it all. It’s often cheaper to pay to use images (either illustrations or photos) than to hire a staff illustrator or photographer.

Regardless of what you do, read the contracts carefully. (And ask about all options, not just rights managed and royalty-free contracts). Don’t assume that even old images from, let’s say, the Great Depression, are out of copyright, or that everything you think is “Creative Commons” is in fact free to use. Also, keep to the contract, to the letter, regarding how you use the image, whether you alter it and how, whether you use the image to sell something. In short, follow the contract.

And if you’re hiring an illustrator (through a book like The Directory of Illustration 26, or through an online contact), get several estimates, check samples, but also make sure the style in which the illustrator works (the overall look of the illustrations) matches the brand image you’re trying to convey. That is, choose a medical illustrator for medical images, or choose a more simplistic illustration design for a children’s book and perhaps a more realistic or stylized approach for a print book for adults.

Posted in Illustration | Comments »

Book Printing: Why Skill in Typesetting Is Important

July 1st, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

One of my new clients is a “wordsmith.” She helps authors get their books into print and then promotes them. I have a lot of respect for her. Just recently, though, as I understand her situation, a new client of hers asked her to not only edit the text of his print book but also lay it out in MS Word. He wanted to save money by not paying a designer to lay out the text of the book (fortunately, he did pay for a professionally designed cover).

I want to clarify the direction in which my thoughts are going. My client referred to the text design of the print book as “desktopping.” This term, in itself, does not carry the weight of the skill and experience of the proper term, “book designer.” In fact, it is easy to assume that just because one can process the words of a print book, add photos, add a table of contents, and such, that this is of the same caliber as the product created by an experienced designer who understands typography, layout, page grids, the use of white space, and all the myriad of nuances that make a professionally designed book aesthetically appealing (and easier to read).

When I started in the field of publications management, back in the late 1970s, I would take the manuscripts for the magazine (I was the managing editor) to the typesetter. She produced galleys (a photographic process of setting each line of type on a dedicated computer). These were then physically pasted up on grid paper based on a mock-up of the design that I had created. (The key here is that the typesetter did nothing but set type. She was an expert in this aspect of publishing.)

Granted, this was before desktop publishing, which democratized publication design by making it “possible” for anyone to produce text. But the typesetter understood the various classifications of type, how the type letterforms differed, why to choose one over another, and how to “tweak” type with such precise controls as kerning and tracking. She also understood such elements of design as adding letterspacing (moving successive lines of type slightly apart to improve readability).

The designer who then pasted up the magazine also understood these elements of design. She knew exactly how to specify these type nuances and communicate directly with the typesetter such that both professionals could work together to create a readable, attractive magazine based on the paper mock-up I had taped together (using photocopies of the strips of typeset manuscript—the galleys). Everyone understood their own and everyone else’s job. Everyone could communicate based on this understanding. But since everyone’s respective job differed from everyone else’s and since each required a depth of knowledge not held by the others, it took all of the participants to produce a quality magazine.

Then, in the late 1980s, everything changed. At that point, everything could be done on a desktop computer. Granted, this made the publishing process faster, easier, and cheaper. Untrained staff could produce a newsletter for next to nothing. For certain things, that’s great. (I’m a great believer in doing what is necessary in a particular situation, neither more nor less. For certain publishing tasks, good enough is good enough. Most people won’t see the difference. When I started in the field, I couldn’t tell the difference.)

Back to My Client

I don’t want to disparage my client. I think she is wonderful and highly skilled. However, in order to help her prepare the text for her client’s print book (with me working as her commercial printing broker), I have had to teach her to look closely for a number of things. Catching and correcting these errors will make her client’s book look more professional and be easier to read. If you are new to design, these are some things you might want to consider as well, whenever you design a print book:

  1. My client set the entire book—excluding the cover–in MS Word rather than InDesign. Some printers won’t accept MS Word files. When processed in prepress, some MS Word files can apparently develop problems. I believe these include reflowing of copy and/or potential inadvertent font changes. This may have been addressed and corrected in the recent past, but I was always taught by printers to use InDesign or Quark. Typesetting functions of these dedicated page composition software packages are more nuanced and more precise. In my client’s case, she will save the MS Word file as a PDF (which should eliminate problems, or at least keep them from creating unexpected results). However, I have asked the printer to check the files carefully as well. When my client reviews the hard-copy proofs of the print book, she will also be able to look for any anomalies (changed fonts or reflowed copy). But if she had used InDesign, there would have been far less opportunity for error.
  2. The Takeaway
    Always use a dedicated page composition program for laying out your publication, brochure, or any other commercial printing job. Don’t use Microsoft Publisher. Don’t use Illustrator. Don’t use Photoshop. Use InDesign or Quark.

  3. My client set the text of the book justified, without hyphenation. Therefore, MS Word either jammed words together (with too little word-spacing) or put too few words on a line (sometimes only three words with large spaces in between). This minimizes readability, because the spaces between words are so different from line to line throughout the 428 pages of the book. And minimized readability tires the reader’s eyes, making it less likely that she or he will continue reading. Moreover, if the type looks amateurish, people will question the accuracy of the content. It’s like a bad proofreading job. If your manuscript has spelling errors or errors in grammar, the reader will wonder whether the facts in the print book are also incorrect. It’s human nature. In fact, it may not always even be conscious. And at best, it slows down the reader’s progress.
  4. The Takeaway
    Avoid justified text whenever possible. Flush left/ragged right text is easier to read because the space between words is always the same. The reader’s eye gets used to this, and she or he gets into a reading “rhythm,” proceeding more quickly through the text. If you have to justify copy, use hyphenation to minimize differences in word spacing. But also carefully review the text (on a printout, not the computer screen) to identify problematic lines of type (which create a condition known as “rivers of white” running down the page).

  5. My client left some subheads at the bottom of pages without the paragraphs to which they referred.
  6. The Takeaway
    Make separate review passes through the entire print book text, looking for a number of errors and inconsistencies: in hyphenation, spacing between lines of type and particularly between typographic elements such as bulleted items (anything where the spacing is different from that of the running text). Make sure there are no “widows” or “orphans” (parts of words at the beginning or end of pages). Leave subheads with at least a few lines of the following paragraph, and start a new page with at least a few lines of copy.

  7. My client kept all photos as RGB images in a book text file that was for a black-ink-only print job. While the digital printer will automatically convert these to grayscale (black and white halftones), some of my client’s images will become too dark in this transition. So I have asked her to change the mode from RGB to grayscale and re-import the images. This way she will see how she can expect the final printed images to look. If they are too dark, she can lighten them before sending the job to press.
  8. The Takeaway
    Never send a color job to press with RGB images. Images for print should be CMYK (if the book is full color). For black-ink-only text blocks, always use grayscale, not color or bitmapped, images.

  9. On the title page, my client did not kern the letter pair “Wa” (in the word “War”). In large type, pairs of letters such as “Wa”–or, worse, “WA”–will appear to be too far apart. In my client’s case, this looked amateurish because of the size of the type (the title of the book on the title page). The type size magnified the flaw.
  10. The Takeaway
    In your own work, print out a copy of the text, and look for too much space in the pairs of letters, particularly in larger type. Learn how to tighten type using the “kerning” function (again, something like this will be superior in InDesign and Quark because these applications are intended for typesetting).

Why Is This Important?

Everything you design, print, and distribute is an ad. It reflects the quality of your work. If your type design looks amateurish, this will make your reader question the accuracy of the content, at worst, or tire his/her eyes, at best.

What’s the Most Important Thing You Can Do to Avoid These Problems?

Study typography. Learn the difference between Old Style, Transitional, and Modern typeface classifications. Learn to kern type. Make the study of type an interesting, lifelong pursuit. Understand how typography fits into the overall design of a printed piece. Look at printed jobs you like and try to articulate why they are attractive. Expect your knowledge base to grow and expand, but assume this will take time. If you don’t have the time, hire a professional designer (not a “desktopper”), and then focus on what you yourself do best.

Posted in Book Printing | 2 Comments »

Book Printing: Disc Binding, a New Bindery Option

June 24th, 2019

Posted in Book Printing | 6 Comments »

In commercial printing, I’m almost never surprised by new technologies, whether these involve closed-loop sensors that use computer feedback on a press to keep color accurate, or new printing technologies such as the ink transfer method called Nanography. I’m always excited by these things. But in post-press finishing and binding equipment, I’m more surprised by new technology. Somehow I expect to always see the perfect binding, saddle stitching, velo binding, tape binding, GBC (or plastic comb) binding, post-binding, and plastic coil binding I’ve grown used to over the past 40+ years.

But I’m happy to be wrong.

A friend and colleague sent me an article this week about a new binding technology called disc binding. I have actually seen samples before in stationery stores, but until now I haven’t looked at the new technology closely.

What Is Disc Binding?

If you can picture a disc with an extended rim, like a wheel, that extends beyond the central disc on both sides, you’re well on your way to grasping this concept. Disc binding is similar to the three-ring binding of a notebook, but the rigid wire loop has been replaced by a series of solid discs with extended rims.

To bind a notebook with this new method, you hook pre-punched pages onto the ridge on the disks. The pages, when punched, have holes and little tabs that will grasp the ridge of the discs, which can be applied one by one, every inch or every few inches down the length of the bind edge. Even though this sounds like a lot of work to set up, it is similar to a binder in that you can easily remove pages and reorder them within the notebook.

Presumably, you would then add a cover at both ends of the stack of pages. Just like the interior pages, the covers are also pre-punched with little tabs that grasp the extended ridges of the disks.

If you want to add your own pages, you can buy a notebook hole punch that will match the pre-cut holes on commercially produced pages.

What Are the Benefits?

When I first saw these little books in the stationery store, I could see some benefits. Compared to a three-ring binder (even a small one), a disc bound notebook is slim, compact, and attractive. Clearly the designers wanted to make this an aesthetically appealing product.

You can also fold back the covers, which you cannot do with a three-ring binder. Therefore, writing in a disc bound book takes a lot less space. (Your “footprint” on the desk, if you will, is much smaller.) Of course, you can also do this with a spiral bound book, a Wire-O bound book, or a plastic coil bound book.

Unlike a spiral bound book, however, facing pages of a disc bound book (when laid open, flat on a table) exactly align with one another. If you have any image or text extending from a left-hand to a right-hand page, this can be a benefit. (It’s impossible with a spiral wire book because of the ascending/descending nature of a spiral. Facing pages will always be just slightly out of alignment with one another.)

With traditional mechanical binding methods (which include GBC, plastic coil, Wire-O, spiral, velo, tape binding, and notebook ring binding), you often have size limitations. If, for instance, you have a long print book, the page count may exceed the capacity of the binding method.

Let’s say the book printer tells you your 400+ page print book won’t fit the minimal binding capacity of a plastic coil. In this case, even though the plastic coil is more aesthetically appealing, you may need to move to GBC binding (which is a plastic coiled comb that curls through the holes punched in the collated paper sheets of your book). In my experience, this binding method can cause problems, since pages often come unhooked from a GBC bound print book. It’s also a very cumbersome process to unhook the plastic comb and then add sheets of paper to the print book.

If you’re using the disc binding system, it is much easier to expand the capacity of the rings. You can just replace them (swap out .5” rings with 1.5” rings, for instance). This is easier and more aesthetically appealing, and it allows you to add, remove, or reorder pages when you swap out the rings. So overall, assembling the disc bound books is an easier process than assembling traditional, mechanically bound print books.

Unlike some other mechanical binding methods, disc bound books also lie perfectly flat. This isn’t even true about most perfect-bound books, not to mention print books with mechanical bindings, like post binding, tape binding, and velo binding (all of which grip the pages with enough pressure to limit your ability to open the book so the pages lie flat). With disc binding, you can easily lay your book flat on the table, making writing in it a breeze.

Another benefit is the variety of cover materials, including textured, leather, and poly. Presumably, since the process is easy and the styles are standardized, you can swap out these covers at will.

Is It Ready for Primetime?

As with all new technology, from Barry Landa’s Nanography to the science behind the HP Indigo press (light years ahead of its cousin, the photocopier), things take time to become useful.

Currently disc binding does not come in all sizes. I’ve seen reference to 5.5” x 8.5” and 8.5” x 11” formats. In contrast, you can make a spiral bound book almost any size you want. Then again, three-ring notebooks also only come in standard sizes. But unlike three-ring binders, disc binding is based on adding a new ring every inch or every few inches based on the length of the book’s spine.

It seems to me that you would have a lot more flexibility with this overall concept than with the three-ring binder model. After all, the rings in a ring binder are attached to a metal strip running down the book’s interior spine. This has to be a fixed length. In contrast, with disc binding you can add more or fewer discs as needed (based on spine length), and there’s no need for the fixed-length “metal” (as the mechanism holding the binder rings in a three-ring binder is called).

Another problem is that disc bound books have no spine on which to print a book title. Now this doesn’t need to be a problem. After all, only a few of the mechanical bindings I have mentioned have spines. These include the three-ring binder (onto which you can screen print a title) and GBC binding (plastic comb binding), which also provides a screen-printable spine. In contrast, Wire-O, spiral wire, velo-binding, tape binding, and plastic coil binding do not have printable spines.

Final Thoughts

I realize that disc bound books, at the present moment, are high-design novelties you can buy one at a time at stationery stores. That’s their current purpose: a one-off product. That said, I personally look at the technology as a book printer might and ask how these can be used for long runs of print books.

In my experience, mechanical binding has always been the choice for short-run products (prior to the advent of digital commercial printing and short-run binding). For instance, a corporation hosting a seminar might produce 100 bound reports or workbooks for an event, and the technology of choice might be GBC binding.

For longer runs, mechanical binding has never been quite as efficient (i.e., it costs more per unit) because mechanical binding is usually labor intensive (i.e., it requires a lot of hand work). It also does not look as crisp and professional as the automated bindery methods (such as perfect binding).

That said, I can envision a seminar leader passing out disc bound workbooks. Since they’re so futuristic in design, this would even reflect well on the company brand. In fact, I can see disc binding potentially replacing many of the other mechanical bindings due to its ease of use.

When it comes to competition with long-run automated binding, such as perfect binding and saddle stitching, I don’t think this technology is ready for prime time yet. However, I could be wrong. All it would take would be a robotic assembly system that could add all the binding discs to a book at the same time. And that is within the realm of possibility.

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Book Printing: A Cover and Page Design Analysis

June 17th, 2019

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A consulting client of mine is a print book designer. She does work for government organizations like the World Bank and NATO. About five times a year, when she hits a snag in her book design, she brings me in to offer design suggestions. Having been a book designer myself at one point as well as an art director–and now working with my fiancee doing art therapy with the autistic–I can offer my consulting client (and long-time friend) a unique point of view.

My client’s strengths include her ability to balance simple page geometry (crisp, sparse design) with intriguing font usage, ample white space, and integrated color schemes. Keep in mind that the content of the print books is often rather dry, focusing on economic and social conditions in countries across the globe. So an approachable design that promotes readability is a major asset. This my client does well, and periodically I help.

The New Book Cover Design

In this instance, the print book addresses the ecology of a small African country, Malawi. My client sent me a PDF draft of her page design, including the cover and all interior text pages. She requested my design feedback since she felt the overall look could be improved.

To start with the cover, the design was based on a central photo of several people seated in a small boat. A man standing in the rear of the boat guided a long paddle back and forth to move the boat forward. Above this cover photo, my client had typeset the title of the book in an informal font that looked hand-drawn, and had then (for contrast) typeset the subhead in an austere, sans serif typeface.

One of the elements of the design that I felt worked well was the color scheme. This she had taken from the colors within the cover photo, the browns and greens and mustard color of the foliage behind the boat in the water. All together, these colors evoked an earthiness that was also reflected in the informal headline type. My client used a yellowish brown and then a dark brown (to emphasize words) in the coloration of the headline type, and then switched the placement of these two colors in the subhead (using the yellowish brown this time for emphasis).

What she achieved was the following. By using hues sampled from the photo to add color to the head and subhead, she unified the cover design. The type and photo shared a color scheme, providing a sense of balance and unity to the cover. For contrast, the bright green of some of the foliage in the photo stood out against the reds and browns and yellows (in both the type and photo). This is because green is the complement of the predominantly brownish red of the dark headline type. And because complementary colors are opposite one another on the color wheel, each of these hues will intensify the other when they are placed in close proximity.

In addition, the blue of the water was aesthetically pleasing next to the green of some of the foliage. (This is because green includes blue and yellow hues, so the two of them together create a sense of unity.) At the bottom right of the cover, my client placed the logos for the organization, which include bright blue elements. (These also fit nicely with the blue water and the green foliage.)

Moreover, the image of the boat on the water, the earth tones of the foliage beside the river in the photo, and the informal typeface for the headline all work together to create a natural, relaxed feel to the cover. Not only does this work on an aesthetic level, but it also makes what would otherwise be a dry textbook appear more inviting.

Inside the Print Book

My client then continued the color scheme of the cover within the book’s interior, using the yellowish brown and the dark brown in the heads, subheads, and callouts of the text. This unified the design of the cover and the text, particularly since my client also brought the casual cover headline type and sparse sans serif subhead type of the cover into the design of the print book’s interior.

To make the interior text approachable, my client used the sans serif typeface from the cover as the main typeface for the text. She created a page grid comprising either one or two columns (slightly offset toward the center of the book, leaving a larger scholar’s margin to the outside of the book pages). Within this scholar’s margin, my client placed the folios (page numbers) reversed out of what appeared to be a horizontal stroke of yellowish brown paint (with jagged edges like a brush stroke) in the same color she had used on the cover. And under any large heads at the top of the page (section headlines, for instance) she placed a rule made in the same fashion (like a swoosh of paint). The distressed and reversed type of the folios and the horizontal rule at the top of the page added to the approachable, informal feel of the print book while unifying the design of the interior pages and the cover layout.

As noted before, my client is very good at simple page geometry. She groups all related elements into simple geometric shapes to make their relationship immediately clear. In this case, my client did this by setting type in justified columns, in the sans serif type noted above, and with generous leading (extra space between lines of type). She also included generous amounts of white space around the columns of type (this allows the eye to rest periodically; it also helps the reader’s eye group the columns of type together visually and cognitively as being related).

As I now look at a string of my client’s book pages along the left panel of my computer screen, with the large book page in the adjoining window of the PDF page image, I can identify everything in the approximately 1” x 2” thumbnail images. By color, relative size, and placement in the generous surrounding white space, I can see what is a headline, a subhead, an initial capital letter, a run-in subhead, and text copy. Because the images are so small, I can’t even read the largest headlines, but I can identify the purpose of each chunk of type and each color. That is good design. Why? Because it leads the reader’s eye through each page. The reader never has to wonder what to read next.

And because the overall “look” of the cover is echoed throughout the text of the book, there is a sense of unity. The reader can be carried onward, from the cover to the front matter to all interior text pages of this print book.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Although I have read many books about book design, and design in general, what has taught me the most about the craft of design is actually looking at printed samples I like and learning to articulate why I like them. I would encourage you to do the same. Keep a file of brochures, books, and posters, or any other commercially printed items that appeal to you.

Then look at the typefaces, color usage, page layout grids, and paper choices, and think about how these were chosen to give a sense of visual unity to the printed piece.

Then consider the use of white space. White space is anything that is not subject matter (not images or type). Nevertheless, white space is just as important as the subject matter in conveying to the reader what visual elements are related as well as their levels of importance. Ideally, when you look at a print book or brochure, you should be able to identify the hierarchy of importance for all visual elements, even if the printed piece is in a language you don’t read or speak.

The best way to learn this craft is to study the design work of those who are better at it than you. That’s how I learned. In fact, I often look at this client’s design work and say to myself, “I wish I had done that.” She’s that good.

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Book Printing: Considerations for Perfect Bound Books

June 10th, 2019

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A print brokering client of mine is a husband-and-wife publishing team. Each year they give me titles of poetry and fiction books to bid on, along with readers’ galleys for each new print book. The galleys are perfect-bound, 5.5” x 8.5” print books, and the final books have French flaps, deckle edge text paper (faux deckle edge, actually), press scores, and lay-flat soft-touch film laminate. In other words, the first set of books are for my client’s readers to review and critique, and the second set of the same titles are salable print books with superior production values (all the bells and whistles that set print books apart from their digital cousins).

The reason I bring this up is that I just bid out three sets of these books, and a number of issues arose that you might find interesting as either a print book designer or a print buyer.

The Trim Size and Page Count of the Books

Based on specs I had not yet adequately updated, I bid out the final books and the galleys with the same trim size: 5.5” x 8.5”. When the bids on the final books came back, the printer had changed the trim size to 5.75” x 8.5”.

This is not unusual. It just means that one has to read closely and match the specs of one’s project to the specs the printer provides in his estimate. Seeing the discrepancy, I questioned the sales rep, and he said the book had to be 5.75” x 8.5” due to the deckle edge.

To begin with, a true deckle edge was created (actually as a flaw) on the oldest paper-making frames. These feathered edges were often trimmed flush. Later, certain paper-making machines simulated this feathered effect.

In my client’s case, the deckle edge is really a rough-front face trim. That is, the outer side of the pages (the long dimension parallel to the spine) is uneven (some pages longer, some pages shorter), a quality achieved (as I understand it from several printers) by turning off (or adjusting) the trimming knife that chops all pages flush. When I was growing up in the ’60s, most of my family’s hard cover books had this uneven face trim. It added to the tactile quality of the pages, and I found that it actually made grasping the pages a little easier. For my client, it just adds to the overall feel of the perfect bound print book as a quality product that readers will want to hold.

The point of this is twofold. When you’re specifying the trim size for a book, discuss with your printer the following issues:

  1. the most efficient size (that will fit his particular press equipment)
  2. and the physical requirements of the binding process (in this case, to ensure that the folded French flaps cover the rough-front trim, and to ensure the accuracy of the rough front trim)

In my client’s case, there were also changes in the page count. For one book, my client specified 100 pages; the printer bid on 104 pages. For another, my client specified 250 pages; the printer bid on 256 pages. In each case the printer changed the page count to the nearest number either divisible by 32 pages (ideally), 16 pages, or 8 pages, but not 4 pages. This was to ensure a fit (compatible press signatures) with his particular press equipment. The ideal was a 32-page signature (for example 256 pages = eight 32-page signatures). In your own print buying, remember to discuss this early with your printer.

The French Flaps

French flaps are part of a book’s cover. They extend 3.5” (more or less, depending on the book design) beyond the face trim of the book and then fold back part of the way over the blank (or printed) interior covers (front and back) of a book. They make a paperback book look and feel like it has a dust jacket. These, apparently, are very big in Europe. I think they add a cosmopolitan feel to a book, and since these particular clients of mine publish books of fiction and poetry, the French flaps are ideally suited to the ethos they want to project.

So far, French flaps have worked just fine on the 5.75” x 8.5” format of my client’s print books, but if you decide to incorporate these into your own print book design, discuss the size with your printer to make sure everything works on his printing and finishing equipment.

One additional thing I have found over the years is that for these flaps to fold in and still extend over the face trim of the book, the book must be trimmed twice. That is, the face trim of the book’s text block must be trimmed separately from the covers. If the folded front and back covers with the attached (and folded in) flaps were trimmed at the same time as the text block, the flaps themselves would be chopped off at the fold. Instead, the folded flaps must either be trimmed too short (they must not reach the edge of the text paper) or too long (they must extend over the edge of the text paper).

(If you look at the perfect-bound magazines in the grocery store, you’ll often see some space between the face trim of the magazine and the folded covers. The folded magazine covers with their French flaps–used to add space for an additional fold-out advertisement attached to the cover–often end about a half inch–more or less—short of the the trim of the interior magazine pages.)

The take-away from all of this is to discuss with your printer—early in the process–any French flaps or other cover extensions or modifications.

In the case of my client’s reader’s galleys that precede the final, salable books, the book trim size can actually be a true 5.5” x 8.5”, since the reader’s galleys have no deckle edge and no French flaps.

The Reader’s Galleys

Let’s get back to the reader’s galleys. These are probably even more unusual than a print book these days. When I was in college in the ’70s, I first came upon a reader’s galley at a thrift store. It was taller than a usual book, and it had no pictures, just text. The cover was simple. Later, when I learned to set type and do paste-up (a manual process that has become fully computerized in the last thirty or so years), I would cut up the long rolls of typeset material to paste up into book pages. Presumably, the galleys of this particular time period were taller than usual to allow for fewer book pages to print. After all, the sole purpose of this printed galley was as a final proofing tool. Publishers produced galleys so that authors could see their books typeset and make any final corrections to the text prior to the final book printing run.

(Advance reader’s copies are similar but a little more polished, since they are used for book reviews and marketing purposes.)

In the case of my clients, the 5.5” x 8.5” versions of the books (actually used as both galleys and reader’s copies) without French flaps, hinge scores, soft-touch lamination, or faux deckle edges just give reviewers an extra look at the text for their final suggestions.

In the age of the digital book, what I find interesting is that my client still wants a good number of galley copies prior to the final print run. This year the husband-and-wife publishing team asked for 75 galley copies of each title instead of 50. The reason I think these are popular with my clients’ reviewers is that you can easily write in a physical print book. My clients’ readers can easily annotate the text with all of their suggested corrections and comments.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Consider the small additions that make a print book a joy to hold, those qualities that add to the tactile experience. In my clients’ case it was the faux deckle edge, the French flaps, the press score, and the soft-touch laminate. Remember that holding a book is a physical experience.
  2. Discuss all of these variables with your printer to make sure that you understand the requirements of his press and finishing equipment as well as the cost.
  3. Ask for samples. Nothing speaks to the quality of a printer’s work like a physical sample, and nothing makes it easier to tell a printer how you want your book to look than a sample book with a comparable printing, finishing, or coating effect.

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Book Printing: More Thoughts on Paper Choices

June 3rd, 2019

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I received an email today from a reader who had taken issue with a few of my comments on choosing paper for a book project I was brokering. Needless to say, I felt a bit chastened, but I was also very excited to know that people were carefully reading the PIE Blog, and that someone in particular had taken the time to draft a long email.

I write about a huge number of custom printing subjects, ranging from paper characteristics to various printing technologies to graphic design to marketing. I am a student of printing, not an expert. Since everyone has room to learn and grow, I took this as an opportunity to acquire more knowledge.

In that vein, I want to share with you what I had written in the initial PIE Blog article and what this particular reader had presented as an alternate point of view.

Moreover, this is a good opportunity to reiterate that no one knows more than your printer about how to put ink or toner on paper. This particular reader has been in the field for 23 years, working directly with equipment I have only read about and seen in custom printing plant tours. In your own work, as a designer, print buyer, print sales professional, or whatever other aspect of commercial printing you pursue, it is wise to learn from those who actually perform prepress, printing, and finishing operations themselves. They have learned the hard way by making (and correcting) mistakes on the job.

Choosing a Coated Stock

In a prior PIE Blog article I had said, “If you choose a coated stock, choose gloss coated paper for a photo-heavy book and dull coated paper for a text-heavy book that still includes some photos.”

I had written about how light is reflected off a gloss sheet directly back to the reader’s eyes and about how matte or dull stock scatters the reflected light, sending the light rays in different angles rather than directly back to the viewer’s eyes. I had said that this makes photos printed on gloss stock “pop” but tires the reader’s eyes if the book is text heavy.

The reader who wrote to me noted that on his equipment in his shop (mainly Xerox digital presses), a glossier effect can be achieved by printing photos on matte paper rather than on glossy stock. Over the reader’s 23 years’ of experience, he has also used other digital equipment to the same effect. He now specs matte stock whenever possible to ensure the customer’s satisfaction with the photos.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Always ask the printer’s opinion. If your job is a photo-heavy print book, tell the printer you want the photos to pop. In contrast, if you’re worried that your text-heavy print product might tire the reader’s eyes on a certain paper, voice this concern as well. It is often prudent to describe the results you want and then ask the printer how best to achieve them.
  2. Consider the technology in use. When I learned what I believe about gloss and matte stock (for photos vs. text-heavy content), it was the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the work I did (almost all of it) was traditional offset lithography. It would be my best guess that toner-based printing technologies (the ones the PIE Blog reader references with the Xerox printer) may yield different results from offset lithographic presses (regarding making photos “pop” on certain paper). It’s always best to talk with your printer and request printed samples to help you choose the right commercial printing stock for your job.

Choosing a 100# Gloss Coated Stock

The PIE Blog reader noted that he would have steered the customer away from such a heavy, glossy stock for such a long print book. He said it would have made the book heavy and unwieldy. I actually agree.

My own customer was initially wedded to the idea of a gloss coated paper stock, so I provided an estimate on this paper. She had wanted the feel of a coffee-table book, which is why I had initially suggested 100# gloss text. For a gloss coated stock, the PIE Blog reader who wrote to me suggested a 70# or 80# stock rather than a 100# paper, which I do agree would have been adequate.

However, once I had seen the PDF of the print book and had noted that there were only about ten photos scattered across more than 400 pages, I suggested a 60# uncoated text stock.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Again, ask your print provider for his opinion. I tried to give the customer what she wanted. Perhaps I should have been more direct initially with my reservations. Fortunately, over time we changed the printing paper from 100# gloss to 60# offset. Once I understood the content of the print book, it was easier to offer advice on the best paper stock.
  2. So in your own work, consider the content of the book when choosing paper. If you’re producing a coffee-table book of photos, I’d still suggest a matte, dull, or gloss stock (depending on the printing technology). But, as the reader suggests, I’d also consider the length of the book (100# stock is still heavy if the page count of your print book is high).
  3. If you’re unsure of the results, request printed samples on your paper of choice. Or, you can ask for an unprinted paper dummy (a bound, blank book made with your chosen paper stock). The paper merchant will make this for you. Your printer can coordinate this. Requesting a paper dummy is based on the belief that nothing is as good as a physical sample. You’ll know exactly how the book will feel in the reader’s hands. (For example, the reader’s comment that a high-page-count book produced on 100# gloss stock would be unwieldy would be proven to be true with a paper dummy. The book would be very heavy.)

Rebidding the Job to All Printers

The reader who wrote to me said he would have rebid the job to all vendors after having changed the paper specs. He noted that some printers that had been competitive on one paper stock might be either more competitive or less competitive on another. That is, one printer’s prices on 100# gloss text (if the printer’s prices are low relative to the other printers who provided bids) might not be in the same position (low bid) after a change of paper to 60# offset.

I agree with this. In my own case, I was actually only getting a ballpark price at the early stage of production to see how the overall cost might change based on the new paper spec. I had approached maybe four printers, and I knew there would be more rounds of estimates in the future.

Furthermore, I knew that print estimating takes time and effort (unbillable by the printer), so I wanted to minimize my requests for pricing. (I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with multiple printers.) So I chose one (who had been low bid on a number of similar jobs) to get the initial cost of such a dramatic change (from 100# gloss to 60# offset).

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. If you want to do what I did (get an interim price to see if you’re going in the right direction with a major change, whether it be a change in paper, book format, or whatever), start by asking your printer. He may give you a ballpark idea (for instance, maybe a 20-30 percent price hike because the change affects a major element of the price, like paper in a long print book). Or he may choose to defer to the estimator.
  2. That said, once you know what you’re going to do (once you’ve decided on the final paper stock, for instance), it is wise to go back to all the vendors for revised pricing, keeping in mind what the PIE Blog reader said, that different printers may well change the relative order of their overall prices once you make a major change in specifications. This applies to paper, format, post-press operations like die cutting, etc. Don’t just assume the printer with the lowest bid will stay in that position.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that the PIE Blog is always grateful for readers’ comments. If you read something and really like it or really hate it, put your thoughts in an email. We welcome a healthy dialogue. It makes for better articles that are more useful to readers.

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Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

May 29th, 2019

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A client of mine regularly prints decks of small fashion color cards that are bound with a screw and post assembly. They are very much like a PMS swatch book. My client’s clients use these small books to help them choose clothing and make-up that match their complexion. My client reprints this job maybe four times a year, and I have brokered this commercial printing job for almost five years.

So this is a nice little job for my client, the printer, and me (as the custom printing broker).

Just recently my client decided to expand her offerings based on her proprietary color system. She now wants to print color chin cards with little curved notches die cut for the chin. This will essentially place the 8.5” x 11” color swatch sheet (huge in comparison to the original, approximately 1.5” x 3.5” color swatches) up against the subject’s face, where it will be easy to determine whether the color does or does not “work” for make up or clothing.

In each set, there will be 66 colors. On the front of the card, the digital press will print the full-bleed color swatch, and on the back of each card there will be a description and any other information my client wants to add. Unlike my client’s small color swatch book, these 66 sheets will not be bound. They will be loose but collated in a specific order.

Following, here are some of the issues that are arising as the job progresses. I thought they may be object lessons for you if you ever do similar design and custom printing work.

How to Spec Loose Pages

My client’s color swatch book is bound with a screw and post assembly. In contrast, the color chin cards are not bound at all. When I listed specifications for the swatch book, I noted that it comprised 118 pages, with 4-color process ink on the front and black-ink-only on the back. In contrast, for the chin cards, this is how I specified the job: 66 leaves (front and back, printed with 4-color process ink on the front and black on the back). The word “leaves” implies one piece of paper, front and back. If you are printing anything like a book that will not be bound, use this language in your spec sheet. You may also want to add the words “loose sheets” and “unbound.” In short, the more precise you are, the more accurate your printer’s estimate will be. In contrast, if you’re specifying the page count for a bound print book, each side of each “leaf” is one page (a right-hand page is called a “recto” and a left-hand page is called a “verso”).

Laminating Both Sides of My Client’s Chin Cards

The chin cards will be much larger than the 1.5” x 3.5” swatch cards. In addition, they may be used in damp environments such as bathrooms. If the back of the tiny color swatch book pages were to get a little damp, it is unlikely that they would curl, even though they are laminated on only one side. After all, when the book is not fanned open, all of the pages press on each other due to the tension of the screw and post binding. In contrast, the 8.5” x 11” chin cards are all loose, large, and potentially not laminated on one side. In spite of my client’s requested specification (to laminate one side), I suggested that she still ask for an additional price to laminate the back of each card. This extra lamination would seal up each individual color card. No moisture would be able to get in to the paper, so even if the collection of 66 pages is used in the bathroom to choose make-up and clothes, there will be no chance of curling. I expect this will cost an additional $250-$300, depending on the overall press run (how many sets of 66 cards she orders).

Producing a Prototype (Sidestepping Potential Problems)

This job will be printed on an HP Indigo. I already have preliminary estimates from three printers. One of them will print one set for $100. Another will print one set for $400. You would think this choice would be a no-brainer.

Nevertheless, I have reminded my client that the printer with the higher price has successfully produced the smaller color swatch books for a number of years (for a reasonable price). This printer’s color accuracy and color consistency from reprint to reprint have been excellent. In contrast, the printer offering the $100 price has had color problems in the past. In addition, there have been bubbles under the lamination (gassing off of the HP liquid toners trapped under the lamination).

You might argue that my client should buy the prototype from the lower-prised vendor and then the final press run from the higher priced vendor (to ensure the quality of the final press run). I would disagree. After all, what good would it be to have an inexpensive prototype that might not match the color of the final copies?

So there are three object lessons here:

  1. Not all color digital presses at all printers produce exactly the same colors. This is even true when you compare output from the same brand of digital press located at different printers.
  2. Therefore, printing a prototype at one printer and then printing final copies of the chin cards at another printer might lead to inconsistent color.
  3. Always start with a hard-copy proof of a job. Screen proofs do not reflect accurate color. There are too many variables, including the commercial printing technology you’re using (digital vs. offset), the ambient light around the monitor on which you are reviewing the screen proofs, etc. Once your printer has produced a color-accurate proof, you can use screen proofs (virtual proofs, PDF proofs) for all subsequent reprints of the job.

Making a Mock Up for the Printer

Finally, my client’s job has a die cut space for her client’s chin. In a case like this, a printer will ask, “Where should the die cut be positioned?” and “How large should it be?”

I suggested that my client use any program she preferred (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) and draw a mock-up showing exactly where to start the die cut (2.5” from the top of one long side), and how wide (6” in diameter) and how deep (2.5”) it should be. This will be invaluable to the printer. It will leave nothing to the imagination.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. It always helps to have a physical mock up. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Also, when you’re making the mock up, sometimes issues will arise that you hadn’t thought of before. For instance, if my client makes a physical mock-up of a chin card and it feels flimsy at that particular size, then she can adjust the paper specification (avoiding being disappointed with the final print job). (In my client’s case, we increased the paper weight from 12pt–which was the thickness of the swatch book cards–to 14pt. In addition, laminating both sides of each sheet will make her printed pages feel thicker.)
  2. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. The cheapest printer may not do the best work. Also, shifting from one printer to another for different components of a job might result in inconsistent color (particularly if some components of the job are printed digitally and others are printed via offset lithography). Usually you get what you pay for.
  3. Consider the ambient conditions in which your printed product will be used. My client’s chin cards are not unlike a menu. Both are used in damp conditions (the first with water, the second with food). Moisture can cause single-sided laminates to curl (think about print book covers you’ve seen). Paper is like a sponge, so consider sealing it up entirely by laminating both sides of certain print projects.

Posted in Digital Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Printing Large Fashion Color Cards

Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

May 21st, 2019

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

As with anything else, sooner or later you have to pay the bill for the commercial printing services you have purchased. Since printing involves both services and materials, there are certain established rules for payment as well as preferences among certain vendors. In your own print buying work, what is reasonable?

An Example

As a custom printing broker, I regularly negotiate payment terms for my clients with the printers I frequent. Most payment agreements are similar, but some are very different.

Net-30 is a common example—payment within 30 days. Some printers offer a discount for payment before the 30-day limit. (This would be for a credit account rather than a cash account, which is why payment can occur after the completed job has been shipped rather than before it leaves the printer’s plant.)

And here are a few other examples of negotiation terms (these terms, in contrast to those above, would be for non-credit accounts, which is why payment must be completed before the printer ships the job):

  1. 25 percent, 25 percent, 25 percent, and the final 25 percent after viewing samples but prior to shipping
  2. 1/3, 1/3, and a final 1/3 payment at specific points in the manufacturing process, prior to shipping
  3. 50 percent before the printer starts the job and the final 50 percent before the printer ships the job

Establishing Credit

One of the services printers have offered my clients is the ability to pay up to a certain amount of time after delivery of the printed products (i.e., the printers I work with bill the clients directly). I will start with this option because it is the most convenient for most printing clients.

Although it is much easier once negotiated, this option requires a credit check. Some of my clients (particularly individual freelancers and small publishers, or even self-publishers) have chosen to forgo the credit check and just pay by Visa or electronic transfer of funds. (If they pay by Visa, they usually need to pay the 3 percent service fee levied on vendors by credit card companies.)

In contrast to the small publishers and self-publishers, most of my clients in large organizations operate on credit terms, and in some cases if they pay quickly they get a discount. Paying early, particularly for multiple jobs over a length of time, will also give these clients more clout with the printers. That is, the printers have more of an incentive to keep prices low to ensure repeat work, and to quickly correct any problems if a job goes south. After all, nothing beats a customer who keeps coming back with more work and keeps paying on time or early.

If you’re an art director at a large for-profit or non-profit organization, and you plan to do a lot of work with a particular vendor, you might want to look into this.

Alternatives to Credit

One of my clients always arranges for an electronic transfer of funds from his bank to the printer before the printer starts his job. In fact, a prior printer of his required 110 percent payment prior to the onset of the job. Is this reasonable?

To answer this question, consider first that a commercial printing supplier has to do a lot of work before sending the finished product to the client. This is a labor- and materials-intensive field. A lot of people need to get paid for everything from prepress work to binding to carton packing. Plus there’s the cost of shipping. But beyond all of this, a printer has to buy paper (and other supplies that will go into the manufacturing of the client’s project). If, for instance, the project is a long-run print book, the printer’s cost for paper might be sizable, and he might have to pay for this up front.

To get back to my client, the book printer required prepayment of 110 percent of the estimate to cover any overage. That is, a printer is usually allowed to bill for up to 10 percent more copies than you order (this is often negotiable). Printers produce more copies than needed to allow for spoilage in subsequent operations. That is, if they printed text blocks for exactly 1,000 books (of a 1,000-copy print run), and then 50 books were damaged in the bindery operations (spoilage), the total number of copies they could deliver could be fewer than requested. In most cases, if you read the small print of a commercial printing contract, you will see that there is a range (called overage and underage) that the printer can deliver and bill for. Industry standard is 10 percent over or under the requested press run.

So in my client’s case, he was paying 110 percent in advance to cover any possible overage as well as to prepay for the paper and for all printing and binding operations.

Now the printer in question could not arbitrarily overcharge, of course. At the end of the process, sometimes my client had a credit in his account. He could then have the printer send him the funds or keep them on account for the next print run.

Cash Customers Pay Before the Ship Date

In most cases, with most of my clients, who at the moment are micro-businesses and therefore are paying cash (rather than going through a credit check to “secure terms”), the printers (many of which I frequent for various jobs) all require a certain amount of money before any work starts and then the balance of payment, including freight, before any boxes of print books (or whatever printed product) leave the printing plant. This is the norm. My clients understand this and abide by it.

But Some Printers Don’t Work This Way

I work with another printer that just bills my clients. This is unusual. But it’s the printer’s choice. This vendor just takes my word that the client will pay. That said, this is a mom-and-pop operation, a very small commercial printing establishment. Presumably, they are willing to take the risk of nonpayment from time to time to bring in the business.

As you see, everything is negotiable.

Paying Earnest Money

Over the past several years I have been frequenting two book printers, one in the Midwest and one in the Northeast of the United States. Recently, both have gotten very busy. Their schedules have tightened up and their lead times have lengthened. During the same period I have brought in three titles from a small publisher. Based on price and the quality of prior jobs produced by these two printers, I have asked my clients to accept the longer than usual schedules. I have also asked that they sign contracts early in the process and even put up “earnest money” in the form of deposits on the three print books.

Is this reasonable? They think so. I think so. Some would say absolutely not; just go elsewhere. My approach, and the sales rep’s approach at this particular vendor, is that earnest money makes a job “real.” These three jobs can be put in the printer’s schedule early, and the printer will have an incentive to do a good job on time.

Keep in mind that this is not the first job for this printer. I have done a lot of work with this particular vendor, so I was able to pose this as an option and get both the printer and my client to agree. What makes this so important in this particular case is that my client’s (the small publisher’s) print book distributor will reject the book outright if the printer delivers copies even a day late. The schedule is firm and non-negotiable. In this case I think it’s reasonable to “sweeten the pot,” to give the printer the incentive to provide the best possible work within the schedule, when so many other customers have strained this printer’s capacity in the near term.

Others may disagree.

The Takeaway

Paying for a print job is probably one of the least glamorous or creative aspects of the job, along with perhaps arranging shipping terms. However, nothing gets done unless both the printer and the client are happy. So, in your own work, it behooves you to think like a business person and to consider your goals and the printer’s incentives to meet those goals.

Here are some further thoughts:

  1. Negotiate only after you have developed a good working relationship. Prior to this, I would just ask about payment terms and options. Everything is negotiable, but it’s easier to successfully negotiate with a long-term business partner than a vendor who has never seen you before—or may never see you again.
  2. This is a good time to ask about allowable overage and underage amounts. Don’t let this slide and be surprised by the extra costs on your final bill.
  3. Consider your goals. If the job deadline has wiggle room (unlike my client’s print books that will be useless if the delivery date slips and the distributor gets the product late), you may want to choose another printer rather than pay a deposit a month or so ahead of the job.
  4. Remember the hidden payments. A 3 percent fee to use your Visa can really add up if the job is an expensive one. An electronic transfer of funds (which is often, if not usually, free) might be a better choice.
  5. Get in the habit of reading the small print in the contract. If your printer doesn’t provide a contract, you may want to ask for one. I personally do a lot of business just based on emails. More often than not I just receive contracts for large book printing jobs for my clients. But I do keep all of the email threads, in which everything is clearly spelled out, from the project specs to the freight costs, from the overage specifications to the schedules. Be safe. Do the same in your own work.

Posted in Printing | Comments Off on Custom Printing: Payment Terms or “Paying the Piper”

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