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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for February, 2011

F&G’s: A Proofing Tool to Help You and Your Printer Minimize Errors on Press

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Whether you’re working with hardcover book printers or soft cover (perfect bound) book printers (custom book printing) to produce your next title, consider requesting an “F&G” to check your book prior to binding.

First of all, what does F&G stand for? The letters stand for “folded and gathered,” and the term refers to a stack of folded, but untrimmed, signatures that will become your book once they have been bound. Essentially, it is a book without a cover.

A signature in a conventionally printed offset book may be 16, 32, or even 64 pages (if your printer has an oversize offset press that takes a sheet larger than 28” x 40”). After the press sheets have been printed, they are folded down into little 16-, 32-, or 64-page booklets. At this point, their edges have not yet been trimmed, but they still comprise everything that will become your book (except for the cover).

Why is it prudent to check the process at this point? If you become aware of any major printing errors, your print provider can go back on press and reprint just the signatures affected by the problem. Then he can proceed to bind the book.

This mitigates a potentially horrible situation, and provides a remedy that is faster and less expensive than the alternative. If, for instance, an ink/water balance problem causes your type to be watery and runny in one signature (or to print streaks in non-image areas), it’s far better to remedy this at the F&G stage rather than tear the covers off the bound books, reprint a signature, and then rebind and retrim the job.

So basically the F&G is an interim proofing step that benefits both you and your printer. If something is wrong, you can catch it early, and your printer can do less work to fix the problem.

F&G’s are normally produced by printers as a checkpoint for themselves, so handing one off to you as well usually does not cost extra. That said, if you are worried that the F&G review will slow down the production of your book, you can ask for a “confirming” F&G. The printer then will proceed with binding, while you review the F&G, rather than wait for your approval before continuing with the job. (This really is not as effective a tool as actually having your printer wait for your approval before binding.)

The good news is that printing and binding are not done on the same equipment or even in the same part of the printing plant, so it’s usually possible to get a few extra hours to check the F&G prior to binding without compromising the schedule. To facilitate matters, you can always view the F&G on-site at the printing plant if time is of the essence.

Always mention your need for an F&G at the beginning of the job when you are soliciting bids. Just include the F&G request in the specification sheet you distribute to your book printing and publishing companies (finding a book printing company).

Custom Screen Printing Services Offer an Alternative to Offset and Inkjet

Friday, February 25th, 2011

You may think that screen printing is only appropriate for two-color printing on binders and hats. Well that’s no longer true. Color screen printing companies (screen printing) now offer a myriad of options that rival offset. And the ink is thick and vibrant.

In the screen printing process, a squeegie is used to force ink through a synthetic mesh screen onto a substrate. A stencil attached to the screen blocks the ink in certain areas.

For instance, for a poster incorporating a 4-color image and an area with display type, a screen printing company might begin by creating four separate stencils for the four process colors. Each stencil will block out all but the defined area for that particular color. If the type on the poster is black, the screen printing company would create a reverse of the type (with everything but the reverse of the letters blocked out) so the ink can be forced through the letterforms attached to the screen and onto the substrate.

Here are some of the benefits of screen printing:

  • Whereas offset printing might limit you to various thicknesses of paper and board, you can screen print onto plastic, fabric, even metal. If you’re producing a screen printed plastic globe, for instance, you can print the ink on the back of the plexiglass. Then you can extrude the plastic into two half spheres and attach them to form the finished globe.
  • Using UV screen inks instead of conventional screen inks, and then instantly drying these inks with UV light, you can produce a large format print that rivals an offset printed poster. The line screen (and hence the resolution of the image) will probably be far less coarse than you would expect for screen printing, allowing for brilliant halftoned images.
  • You can print longer runs for less money. Whereas the unit cost for a large format print produced on an inkjet printer would be the same whether you’re printing 100 copies or 1,000 copies, for a screen printing company, once the set-up charges have been accounted for, the unit cost actually decreases as the press run gets longer and longer.

Custom screen printing services can offer you options not available with conventional offset printing, whether you need to print descriptive wording on the wall of a museum exhibit, create a printed element of extruded plastic for use in industrial design (like the front panel of a Coke machine), or produce a back-printed plexiglass achievement award.

InDesign Software Tips for Books, Magazines, Brochures, Catalogs, Digital Poster Printing…

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Whether you’re preparing InDesign files for a book printing job, a catalog printing job, or your digital poster printer (book printing, catalog printing, digital poster printing), here are some tips for catching errors prior to sending your job to press. These tricks with InDesign should save you both time and money.

  • In the bottom left-hand segment of the InDesign screen is an automatic preflight tool. Look for a red or green light. When you get a red light, click on it and a window will pop up explaining your error. This is a great tool. It’s better for you to catch and correct your errors than to receive a call from your printing company.
  • Under the InDesign “Window” menu is an option called “Links.” Any photos (Tiff files) or drawings (eps files) you have placed show up here. If you move the linked file to another folder without thinking (i.e., if you break the link), this menu will alert you and allow you to “re-link” the live art (drawings and photos) to your InDesign file prior to submitting the job to the printer.
  • Under the “Type” menu is an option called “Find Font.” Perhaps you have chosen a font that you really don’t have (or there’s some other problem with the font, like it’s damaged). You can use this feature to find all instances of that font and replace it globally with another font. (Maybe your book is set in Garamond, and for some reason one of the “space” characters between words is set in Times Roman. This little feature will search the whole book automatically, find that one instance, and correct it.)
  • Maybe you forgot to change all the TIFF files from RGB to the CMYK color space. Bad error. The “Package” command under the “File” menu will run another preflight check (“Package,” then “Summary”). This particular error-check will flag all these bad color-space decisions, allowing you to make corrections prior to submitting the files to your printing company.
  • Colors (under the “Window” menu, then “Color” then “Swatches”): Make sure that if you’re producing a four-color book, you are not picking a PMS color to accent a headline. Instead, be sure to pick “Process” in the “Swatches” window. The “Swatches” window will list all colors in use in a file. On the left side of the box you’ll see a colored square, then the name of the color, then (if your color is a 4-color build, for instance), you’ll see a little square made up of four triangles: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Click on the name of the color in question, and the “Swatch Options” window will come up, showing the name of the color and whether it is “process” or “spot.” Then you’ll see under “Color Mode” every possible color space you might want (you’ll probably use some variant of Pantone, or CMYK). Then below that, if you’re in the process mode you’ll see percentages of C, M, Y and K that you can change. If you’re in the PMS arena, you can choose a PMS swatch. Remember to delete any colors you’re not using, and name the colors exactly the same in all your programs (i.e., InDesign, Illustrator, etc.)

All print jobs, including business stationery printing and envelopes, digital poster printing, or book printing, should start with clean, accurate art files. InDesign helps you achieve this goal.

Die Cuts, Embossing, and Paper Textures Make Your Invitations Stand Out (Part #2)

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Here are a few more unique things you can do with paper and finishing techniques when you’re designing an invitation:

Paper Textures

  1. Foil stamp your design on a faux velvet-textured sheet.
  2. Foil stamp or silk-screen your artwork onto a pigskin-textured sheet around Superbowl time.
  3. Print or foil-stamp your artwork onto a patterned holographic sheet (link to stickers and labels). When you turn the invitation in the light, the holographic pattern will appear and disappear.
  4. Choose a pearlescent sheet for your job. The subtle metallic sheen will be an eye catcher.
  5. Use a translucent sheet for your outgoing envelope (OGE). As noted in the prior blog post, a translucent sheet can be classy and elegant for an invitation, but it can also be appropriate for an envelope for a different reason. It gives you a subtle glimpse of the envelope’s contents. A teaser, if you will.

Letterpress Options

  1. Start with a heavily-textured printing sheet that looks like it was made by hand. Some available sheets have deep wells and crevices and are thick like chip board, soft like paper, and rough like stone. Use a letterpress to print your artwork. The words and images will be recessed into the paper. Remember that unlike offset printing, letterpress is a strike-on process. It not only adds ink to the surface of the paper, but like a typewriter, the raised letters of the letterpress strike the paper and dig into its surface. Think Williamsburg and hand-operated printing presses.
  2. Include a deckled edge on your invitation, or add a colored insert glued within your envelope. A deckled edge is the feathered paper edge you may have seen on formal invitations. It is created by a stream of water when the paper is being made and actually resembles the feathers of a bird. Or a burgundy sheet (perhaps with a pattern) laminated to the interior of the envelope can be a nice addition when you want an especially formal presentation. (link to envelopes)

Marketing 101. “Wow” the people who receive your invitations.

Die Cuts, Embossing, and Paper Textures Make Your Invitations Stand Out (Part #1)

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

As as extension of the last PIE Blog entry on my invitations project, I want to suggest some unique things you can do with paper and finishing techniques when you’re designing an invitation:

Die-Cutting and Embossing

  • Start with a printing stock that has a pattern. Neenah Classic Columns is a good choice, with regularly spaced columns embossed into the paper. Then blind emboss the name of the company onto this sheet. The company name will seem to rise up out of the paper, like words chiseled out of stone. It’s classy and elegant. You can make the colums run up and down, or side to side, on the page depending on whether your design is mostly horizontal or mostly vertical. (link to brochures and direct mail packages)
  • Do the same thing as above, and then accent part of the design with clear foil (foil for foil stamping now comes in metallics, clear foil, pastels, and a myriad of other colors). This will give a sheen to part of the page without adding color. It will accentuate the base color of the printing sheet.
  • Choose a multi-level embossed design. This gives a more sculptural effect. Many embossed images are flat plateaus rising above the surrounding paper. Perhaps the edges are beveled (slanted), but basically it’s a one level design. An interesting option would be to have your supplier create a multi-level die (an embossed leaf, for example, that has many levels and nuances just like a real leaf plucked off a tree).
  • Consider debossing the artwork. Whereas embossing raises the image up off the page, debossing lowers it below the surface of the sheet.
  • Foil stamp an image on a translucent printing sheet. “Glama” is an example of this kind of paper. You can see through the printing sheet slightly, and this creates a nice contrast between the paper and (for instance) a balanced, centered type treatment foil-stamped onto the paper. Classic.
  • For a wintry snow-scene invitation, emboss the image of a building on the printing sheet and then scatter foil-stamped stars around the embossed image. (link to postcards and notecards)

The key-word is “unique.” Do something your client (or the end-user) doesn’t expect.

Cultivate Your Suppliers: Networking for the Print Buyer

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

In addition to writing about printing, I also broker printing, and I have a new client I want to impress at a meeting on Thursday. She is the marketing manager for a famous, well-circulated, local magazine, responsible for events (large-format), and marketing collateral. Her request, when we first spoke, was for sample invitations (postcards, rack and door hangers). Her magazine had produced numerous invitations in the past, mostly short-run digital work, but she wanted something different.

This is what I did to prepare for the meeting.

I approached a friend who is a sales representative for a high-end printer. She said her shop wouldn’t be competitive because most aspects of invitation printing (the foil stamping, faux textures, specialty coatings, die-cutting, embossing, etc.) would need to be jobbed out (subcontracted) to other vendors. Hence, her shop would have to mark up the job and either make no profit or decline to bid. She was honest. That was good.

Even better, she gave me the name of an embosser/diecutter (a person high up the food chain at the company). When I called, not only did he offer to send me samples, but he gave me a contact high up the food chain at a letterpress shop. When I called the letterpress shop, my contact also offered to send me samples.

I thought hard, and I remembered another high-end printer, a local shop. When I called my contact, he said this job was perfect for his company, and he offered to send samples.

I also called a paper rep that serviced the printers in question. I knew he would want me to send work to his printers and specify paper from his sources. I knew he would personally benefit from this job. So he stepped up and sent me samples. He was very interested in the potential work.

After four packages arrived at the door, I had eighty samples, including an invitation that felt like suede, another invitation that had the texture of a football, intricate die-cuts that could only have been done with a laser, folds that reminded me of Japanese paper-folding art, coatings of all types, shapes of all types—enough ideas to give birth to a hundred more invitations.

And I now have reliable contacts at a letterpress, paper merchant, diecutter/embosser, and high-end printer whom I hadn’t met prior to this effort. All of them are enthusiastic about potentially working together, on invitations for this magazine and successive jobs as well.

I think I’m ready for the meeting.

So how does this relate to you? If you’re a designer or print buyer, consider the following:

  1. Network: Make friends in many industries related to printing, not just offset printers. You can get a wealth of knowledge from a paper merchant, a diecutter/embosser, a high-end printer (catalogs, magazines, brochures), and a letterpress. Consider finding a reputable large-format printer (large-format) as well, and/or maybe a digital printer (digital printing, VDP) with an HP Indigo, or some other such high-end digital press. You may even find ways to mix and match their services, and they can teach you how to produce dramatic work in a cost-effective manner. Better yet, they can give you samples, so you can see for yourself. Get to know people who are high up enough in the various companies to have experience, contacts, and authority.
  2. Develop a swipe file of all the printed samples that you like. Update it periodically (add and subtract). Make notes about the paper stock used, the printing and finishing techniques employed, and perhaps even the cost. Consider the audience and goal of each printed piece and how each achieves that goal: that is, how the design, type treatment, color, paper stock, and finishing all work together to achieve the goal and astound the target audience.

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