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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 May, 2011

Printing Companies Serve You Better if You Understand Paper Weights

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Printing companies share something in common. For the most part, they all put ink on paper. Knowing how to communicate your paper needs will go a long way in helping you get the results you expect from your printing services, whether you’re working with catalog printing companies, large format printing services, or book printers.

The Difference Between Text and Cover Weights

Why do 80# text and 80# cover stock feel so different but have the same basis weight?

Clearly it is prudent for paper manufacturers to distinguish between text and cover weight paper. Multi-page publications often contain both. But the weight equivalence can easily confuse you—until you realize that cover stock and text stock are measured from different sized sheets (known as different “basic sizes”).

First of all, what exactly does “80# text” mean? It means that 500 sheets of 80# text paper will weigh 80 pounds.

Text stock has a basic size of 25” x 38”, while cover stock has a basic size of 20” x 26”. Therefore, for a stack of 500 sheets of 20” x 26” paper to weigh as much as an equal number of sheets that are 25” x 38”, each sheet of the smaller sized paper has to weigh more. For this to happen, each sheet must be thicker (actually almost twice as thick).

To add further complexity to this concept, keep in mind that it is only for the weight measurements that the 20” x 26” cover stock and 25” x 38” text stock basic sizes are used. Paper comes in other sizes as well. For instance, a printer can buy 28” x 40” stock for a 40” wide printing press. The extra width of this press sheet will allow him to take advantage of the two extra inches in the width of the press.

Regardless of the actual size of the paper the printer loads into the press, the weight of the paper depends on the weight of 500 sheets of the chosen stock at the basic size: 20” x 26” or 25” x 38”.

What About Papers Other Than Cover and Text Stock?

Let’s expand the field. Not all paper is text or cover. For instance, printing companies can buy index, tag, bristol, or bond paper. Each of these is usually measured in pounds, just like text and cover stock, but their basic size is different: 25.5” x 30.5” for index, 22.5” x 28.5” for tag, 22.5” x 28.5” for vellum bristol, and 17” x 22” for bond paper.

What About Points?

Another paper measurement system is used for some kinds of paper: points, or thousandths of an inch. This reflects thickness rather than weight. For a business reply card, for example, you would specify 7pt. stock (.007 inch)–if the card is small–and 9pt. for larger cards (based on US Postal Service requirements). Cover weight stock (for book covers) is also sometimes specified by thickness rather than weight. For instance, you might request 10pt., 12pt., or 15pt. C1S (coated-one-side) or C2S (coated-two-sides) stock depending on how stiff you want the cover of your perfect-bound book to be.

How About Metric Paper Measurements?

Finally, to add even further complexity, some paper companies state the weight of their papers in metric system measurements. This may be due to the increasingly global nature of the paper market and the fact that most countries other than the United States use the metric system. Look for “gsm” (grams per square meter) in the paper sample books.

Take the time to learn about your paper options. Knowing how to communicate your paper needs in a language printing companies understand will go a long way in helping you get the results you expect. This particularly holds true for traditional book printers, on demand book printing services, and catalog printers, since they often consume a larger amount of paper in their operations than commercial printing companies.

Printing Companies Can Save You Money When You Specify Paper

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

It is a fair assumption that the majority of custom printing jobs are printed on paper. In many cases paper costs are a large portion of the total price you pay printing services for their efforts. This is particularly true when you work with book printers or catalog printers (or other print companies that provide multi-page “signature” work). In some cases, paper can comprise up to 30 percent of the total cost of a business printing project, so it behooves you to consider what you are buying.

Here’s a way to save money buying printing. Specify paper based on qualities rather than name brands. You do this in the pharmacy when you specify generic brands, and you probably do it in the grocery store as well. Why not do it when buying printing?

In many cases print companies will have certain paper stock “on the floor.” That is, they will probably have negotiated with paper suppliers slightly discounted prices for those paper stocks that many or most of their customers will order (in contrast to the specialized paper one client may order for a particular job). While it is sometimes desirable for you to choose a specific stock, you don’t always need to do so. Print companies can usually pass on some of the discount received for buying paper in bulk. Therefore, to share in your printer’s lower paper costs, specify paper qualities rather than brand names.

For instance, you might choose Opus, a paper stock produced by Sappi, a large paper manufacturer. On your specification sheet, you might list “Sappi Opus 60# White Satin Text” for a web offset print project. It has a brightness of 92 and is a #2 sheet.

If your print job will consume a large amount of paper, consider requesting a press sheet “comparable” to Sappi Opus 60# White Satin Text instead of specifically ordering this paper. In this case list the qualities you require, as follows:

1. 60# text (a good text weight for a book; more substantial than 50#)
2. white (ask whether it’s blue white or yellow white and how accurately it reproduces colors, flesh tones, etc.)
3. satin (a finish between gloss and dull); or any other finish (not all papers come in all finishes)
4. a #2 sheet, 92 brightness (not the brightest white, but still crisp; a #1 sheet would be brighter)

You can also specify caliper or thickness (7pt for a small marketing reply card, to be acceptable to the US Post Office), surface texture (such as wove, antique, linen, laid, etc.), and opacity (also known as “show-through”: the extent to which paper obscures images on one side of the sheet while you’re viewing the other side of the sheet). Also, let the printer know of any special finishing needs (such as diecutting, folding, or scoring, since some printing papers respond to these operations better than others). If you will need to print letterhead and then run these preprinted pages through your laser printer, note “laser compatible” as a specification as well.

When you work with book printers or catalog printers (or any other print companies that consume a large amount of printing paper), discuss paper options with your custom printing service early in the process. By being mindful of specific paper qualities, rather than just buying brand names, you can save money on your next business printing project.

Custom Book Printers Provide One Final Chance to Proof the Hardcover Case

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Of all the different printing services you will purchase as a print buyer, hardcover books will cost more than most business printing jobs. It therefore pays to get everything right with these projects. Print companies that specialize in custom book printing will often send you a sample case upon request so you can review the part of the book the reader will see first, one last time before the book has been bound.

The Problem: The Book Printer’s Sample Case Saves Lives (or at Least Jobs)

A client called me today with a problem. She had found a typo in the foil stamped text on the sample case she had just received. It was an additional digit in the ISBN number, so it had to be deleted. Period.

The good news: 1) She caught the error (that’s the purpose of a proof). 2) The digit was an extra “9” at the beginning of the ISBN number. The book printer was able to hone off the number on the foil stamping die so it would not print (although the extra space where the printer removed the digit would remain).

Things could have been much worse. If the printer had not been able to hone off the extra digit, or if the digit had been wrong, rather than superfluous, my client would have provided a new text file for the hardcover case. The book printer would have commissioned a new die, and repeated the proofing process by sending out a new sample case. The new die alone would have cost upwards of $450. And time would have been lost, possibly compromising the book production schedule.

Sample Case: What’s Included?

The sample case of a custom book printing might seem irrelevant when it arrives with the other proofs, but it is unwise to ignore such an important proofing opportunity. Essentially an actual one-off copy of the book cover that will encase the text signatures of your job, the sample case allows you to see:

1. the exact thickness of binder boards used for the casing
2. what fabric will cover the boards (color, thickness, and weave)
3. the quality of the turned edges (how the fabric will adhere to the outside of the boards and how it will look turned over the edges and glued onto the inside of the case)
4. how the foil stamping will adhere to the fabric covering the boards (crispness of the type, consistency of the foil application, and even whether the text will be centered on the spine)

What will be missing?

1. Your sample case will not include the endsheets and flyleaves (the paper covering the inside surface of the binder boards).
2. It will not include the headbands and footbands (small fabric pieces that hide the bind edge of the text signatures).
3. The sample case won’t include the “crash” or “mull” (a mixture of thick mesh and glue attached to the spine of the text signatures to stiffen and reinforce the binding edge of the book).
4. And, of course, the text signatures will be missing.

Check it carefully. Once the book printing company sets the text blocks into the covers, there are no remedies for errors other than tearing off the covers and reprinting. It is wise to review and approve the sample case within 24 hours of receiving it so as not to impede book production.

Custom Printing: Flexography Excels in Package Printing

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Custom printing services comprise multiple technologies, from letterpress to gravure, from digital to offset, from thermography to engraving to flexography. Whether you want to print custom labels to affix to your wine bottles or print custom decals to advertise your business, a printing technology exists that is ideally suited to your needs. Among these, one form of business printing with which you may not be familiar, but which you hold in your hand every time you pick up a carton of milk, is flexography.

What Is Flexography, and How Does It Differ from Offset Printing?

Flexography is a relief printing process that uses plates made out of rubber (wrapped around a cylinder on a printing press) to print text, halftones, etc., on paper or another substrate. The key word here is “relief.” Flexography (also referred to as “flexo”) uses plates on which the image area is raised and the non-image area is recessed. This is not unlike letterpress or even typewriter keys.

When you ink the raised portion of the rubber plate, it will print the text, photos, or art, but the recessed non-imaging areas, which receive no ink, will not print. In contrast, offset printing uses a flat printing plate and relies on the natural separation of oil and water (oily ink and water, in this case) to distinguish between printing and non-printing areas. Ink is attracted to the image areas (which are receptive to oil), while non-image areas repel the oily ink and attract water (and therefore do not print).

Flexo Is Ideal for Product Packaging.

The boxes of milk and prepared food you see in grocery stores more than likely were printed via flexography. So were the plastic bags you fill with oranges and apples. Or the fancy shopping bags and wrapping paper you use on holidays. Metallic foil, acetate, even corrugated boxes and brown kraft paper are often used as substrates for flexo printing services. Another item often printed this way is self-adhesive (Crack’n-Peel) labels. Some newspapers even print via flexography rather than offset.

Flexo inks are water-based rather than oil-based (unlike offset inks). They are also not as thick as offset inks, and hence they dry faster (which allows for faster production operations and therefore lower costs).

How Do You Know When a Printed Product Was Produced Via Flexography?

1. Offset lithography will print finer type and halftone dots than flexography, so look for crisp (or slightly fuzzy) edges with your loupe to determine the printing technology. Dot gain is also higher on a flexo press than an offset press.
2. From one press sheet to another you will also see more consistent output with offset than with flexo printing.
3. Look at the area screens and halftones. Flexographic minimum (highlight) dots will not be lighter than 2-3 percent. In other words, an offset press can reproduce a lighter halftone dot than a flexo press can.
4. Finally, using a loupe, look for halos around the type. The outside edges of the type letterforms may be denser (or ever so slightly raised) on a flexo printed sheet than an offset printed sheet. It may look as though someone had traced around areas of ink (type and art) with the same color of ink.

The good news is that this custom printing process has been improving, but if you’re trying to determine the printing method used, these tests will help. Plus, you can factor in the substrate (such as the non-porous food packaging materials) when determining how a product was printed.

Choose flexography for printing custom decals, custom labels, wrapping paper, or flexible packaging for such items as food. In your research, look for printing companies that specialize in this process, since most commercial business printing vendors do not have this capability.

Printing Companies Offer Three Levels of Proofs

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The terms “Level 1, 2, and 3 proofs” are distinctions made by offset printing companies to qualify certain proofs as being of a higher color accuracy than others. Level 1, 2, and 3 are inkjet (not laser) digital proofs. This is a particularly useful designation for multi-page print jobs produced by paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, and magazine printers, since the proofs vary widely in cost, and over the course of a multi-page job, the price difference can really add up.

Level 3 Proofs

Level 3 proofs are not meant for color fidelity, just for position. Also referred to as D4 proofs by some printers, these proofs show placement of all elements, distance of type from trim margin, and general color. They are analogous to the film-based bluelines that used to be provided prior to the direct-to-plate workflow.

Good for: the overall look of your job and completeness of the job (to confirm that no elements are missing or too close to the trim margin)

Level 1 Proofs

Level 1 proofs reflect true color fidelity. They are “fingerprinted” to the press (calibrated to show exactly how the job will print on press) and are considered “contract proofs.” The Spectrum is an example of such a proof. Epson also makes high-quality inkjet proofing devices.

Some high quality Level 1 proofers show the halftone dot structure (rosettes). These include the Spectrum and the Kodak Approval. They also use a colored ink set that is congruent with traditional process C, M, Y, K inks. Other proofers are continuous tone printers that do not display a visible halftone dot pattern. These printers can be calibrated to be color faithful, but their ink sets only simulate traditional process colors, and accuracy and repeatability over time are not as good as for halftone dot proofing devices.

Some people prefer the dot proofs, saying that potential (problematic) moire patterns can be more easily predicted before the printing process. Others believe the continuous tone proofs are fine. In both cases, the accuracy of color, the actual percentages of halftone screens, fine type serifs, etc., are visible. What you see on the Level 1 proof is exactly what you should see on the final printed job.

Good for: accuracy of color, confirming that the screen percentages you specified are not too light or dark, showing accurate contrast between area screens and any type surprinted over them

Some printing companies will offer a mid-range proofing option between the Level 1 and Level 3 proofs. Many of these vendors regard only those proofs showing the actual dot structure as being Level 1 proofs, and consider the mid-range Level 2 proofs to include the high-quality continuous tone inkjet output. Level 3 would be the position-only lower quality proofs.

How to Proceed

If you are producing a case-bound book, for instance, with black-only text and a two-color dust jacket, the best plan would be to start with a Level 3 proof of your entire book. Then request Level 1 proofs for any color work, including the book cover, dust jacket, and the like.

Level 1 proofs are more expensive, so you would not want to pay for an entire set for a black-ink-only book. It would be of no benefit to you.

That said, if you see problems in the Level 3 proofs (perhaps type on a screen looks too light or too dark), you can request a Level 1 proof for a sample page, and then make a more informed decision as to whether to change anything.

Knowing how and when to request the various levels of proofs, whether from paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, magazine printers, even vendors that print newsletters or provide brochure printing, can help you see a more accurate representation of the final printed product.

Printing Companies Negotiate Standards for Overs/Unders

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

As a general rule, printing companies can charge for up to ten percent overs. This goes for paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, magazine printers, even vendors that print newsletters or provide brochure printing. They can also deliver up to ten percent fewer copies than ordered. This is industry standard.

What does this mean?

First of all, “overage” refers to copies above and beyond the stated press run. These copies are produced to allow for make-ready (set-up operations) and spoilage during the various components of the printing and finishing process. If a custom printing service produces exactly 1,800 sets of text signatures for an 1,800-copy case-bound book order, portions of the books (both signatures and cases) will be inadvertently damaged during the manufacturing process. This is referred to as spoilage. So to be safe and not wind up with too few copies, a printer will produce more copies than needed (up to a stated amount). The printer can then bill for these copies to recapture costs.

The flip side of overage is “underage.” Since spoilage cannot be absolutely controlled, sometimes (although rarely) a printer will deliver fewer copies than requested. In this case, if spoilage is especially high for a particular printed product, the printer could contractually deliver fewer copies than ordered up to the same number as for overs. The final invoice would reflect either an addition or a discount.

Why would spoilage be this high? Let’s say you’re producing 300 invitations on handmade paper on a digital press, and every other sheet jams the printer due to the uneven thickness of the stock. You could spoil a lot of paper very quickly in this case.

If the client does not want to accept fewer copies, the printer can provide up to double the overage, to compensate.

A client of mine recently solicited printing for 1,800 copies of a 600-page case-bound book. I told my client about the printer’s overage policy (250 overs or unders on any press run under 2,500 copies), noting that according to the contract, she should expect to receive and pay for 250 copies multiplied by the unit cost (just under $8.00). I noted that the potential total cost could come close to an extra $2,000.00. Therefore, the big question was whether my client could meet the needs of subscribers if the printer delivered 250 fewer books than actually ordered. To avoid having too few copies, my client increased the press run from 1,800 copies to 1,900 copies.

It’s a bit of a gamble. In most cases printers wind up producing more copies than needed. That said, I did have one printer provide ten percent fewer copies than requested for a particular job. It wasn’t malice, or a clerical error. It just reflected higher than usual (but contractually acceptable) spoilage.

With most printers, particularly in a competitive environment, overs/unders are negotiable. The industry standard is 10 percent, but I have negotiated contracts for 2.5 percent. Of course, in this case, the printer used higher prices to compute the estimate (a totally legitimate action, since ten percent overage is the industry standard and the printer otherwise would have potentially lost money).

The safest thing to do in this case is state your overage/underage requirements to all printing companies bidding on the job.

Finally, some printers don’t charge for overs. However, they are usually commercial printers producing smaller jobs like brochures. For a brochure, the unit cost for overs might be $.40; for a book it might be $8.00. So it is understandable that a printer would desire the contractual protection of an overs/unders stipulation. It’s just prudent for you to be aware of this and negotiate to meet your needs as well.

So, in particular, when you are working with soft-cover book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, and magazine printers, ask about overs. In other cases, it’s also a good idea.

Hardcover Book Printers: A Case Study on Book Binding

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

A custom book printer recently sent me a contract including the following proposal for book binding. Hardcover book printers are very specialized in their skill set, and their jargon is somewhat arcane. The following explanation will help you understand the contracts you receive from book printing and publishing companies. Contracts from book printers are often more complex than contracts for such jobs as custom envelopes, print newsletters, and the like. Ask your book printer to explain anything you don’t understand.

The Specifications from the Book Contract

Binding (Adhesive, Case): Signatures will be gathered with endsheets, adhesive bound and trimmed square on three sides. Cases will be made over .098 board with Arrestox B materials and 3 hits of foil stamp measuring approximately 30 square inches. Dies are billed as additional. Books will be cased in round, loose back with head and foot bands, wrapped in preprinted jackets, and packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons. Prices are FOB our plant.

An Explanation of the Specifications

Adhesive case binding: Printed book signatures are gathered, and the bind edge is roughed up to better accept the hot melt glue that holds the signatures together and within the case. The text blocks are then cased in (set within the paper- or fabric-coated binder boards that make the books hardcover rather than soft-cover). Adhesive case binding is similar to perfect binding (except for the case) and different from Smyth Sewn case binding, in which signatures are actually sewn together to strengthen the binding.

Endsheets: These are the papers attached to the inside front cover and inside back cover of the binder boards. Half of each sheet is attached to the binder boards, and the other half folds back and is loose (this part of the sheet is called the flyleaf). The text block is attached to the case at the folded edge of the endsheet. (The endsheet actually holds down a flap attached to the spine of the gathered signatures and keeps the text block firmly within the case.)

Case Materials, “.98 board with Arrestox B materials”: Arrestox B refers to a particular brand of fabric that will cover the outside of the binder boards. Ask for samples of fabrics and colors when you specify cover materials. Also note the thickness of the binder boards. For example, .88 boards are thinner than .98 boards, yielding a less sturdy book. If the book is smaller than 8.5” x 11”, this may not be a problem. Also note the color of the endsheets (Rainbow Antique Willow stock, for instance, refers to a particular green colored endsheet).

Foil Stamp: “Three hits totaling 30 inches” refers to the placement of the foil in three places (front cover, back cover, and spine) and the maximum area (30 inches) that will be foil stamped. (The name of the book and other information will be stamped out with a die and attached to the book with heat and pressure.) Dies are billed as additional. They are expensive. Budget $400.00 to $500.00 extra for this item for a case-bound book. (Caution: “Three hits” can also mean three separate colors, so be clear with your printer as to 1) how many colors you want, 2) where they will be placed, and 3) how much space they will occupy.)

Books will be cased in round, loose back with head and foot bands: That is, the book will have a round spine rather than a flat spine. (You’ve probably seen the elegant, curved appearance of a rounded spine.) The term “loose back” means that the fabric strip attached to the book block spine (called the “mull”) is not itself attached to the case of the book. Having the book block attached to the case doesn’t allow the book to open as easily and lie flat on a table, although it is a bit more durable. Head and foot bands are the purely ornamental bits of colored fabric at the top and bottom of the book, immediately adjacent to the bind edge. They cover the book pages at the spine for a more polished look.

Wrapped in preprinted jackets, and packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons: The printer produces the hardcover books (in this case on a web press), prints the book jackets on an enamel 80# text stock on a sheetfed press, and then wraps the books in the jackets and places them (without shrink-wrapping them first) in cartons of sufficient durability to resist breaking (in this case 275# single wall cartons). (You can specify the weight of the final, packed cartons: such as 40# or less.)

Prices are FOB our plant: This means the client pays for the shipping and takes responsibility for the safety of the books starting when they leave the printer’s loading dock.

In particular, when you receive contracts from hardcover book printers, it is prudent to carefully review all specifications. Due to the complexity of the jargon used by book printing and publishing companies, these contracts from book printers can be confusing. Ask your book printer to explain anything you don’t understand.

Book Printing: Self-Cover vs. Plus Cover

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

When you work with book printers, catalog printers, or magazine printers to produce multi-page documents, it is important for you to specify whether your job will be “self-cover” or “plus cover.”

How Thick Is the Paper Stock?

The key is whether a heavier stock will be used for the outside four-page cover. For instance, if you design a 16-page booklet on 80# text stock, you would call this a “16-page self-cover booklet.” If you added a four-page cover on 80# cover stock, this would then be considered a “16-page-plus-cover” job. However, adding the same four pages but using 80# text stock rather than cover stock would yield a “20-page self-cover” job. The difference is the weight of the printing stock for the outer pages. If it’s thicker than the text stock, it’s considered a cover; if it’s the same, it’s part of the text.

This concept is important to remember for a few reasons. First of all, it’s easy to forget this specification when you’re getting prices from printing companies. If you do so, your estimate might not match your expectations when you receive the final invoice.

More importantly, you can use this information to save money when buying printing services.

How Many Pages Do You Have, How Big Is the Press, and What Is the Trim Size of Your Book?

First of all, let’s define a signature. Whether it is a book or booklet, a magazine, or a catalog, your multi-page print job will be composed of signatures. These are the groupings of four, eight, sixteen, etc., pages that are the final product after a single press sheet has been printed, folded down, and trimmed. For example, on a 25” x 38” press sheet, the printer can lay out sixteen 8.5” x 11” pages (eight on either side of the sheet). Some presses can accommodate a larger sheet size, and therefore the number of pages in each signature can be much higher (32 or even 64 pages, depending on the size of the press sheet and the size of each book page).

Now, let’s say you’re printing a 16-page booklet. Furthermore, let’s assume you had planed to add a cover but through a few editing and design changes, you no longer need the 4-page cover. In such a case, you could print one 16-page self-cover booklet in one pass on the press instead of one 16-page text signature and one 4-page cover signature in two press runs. By eliminating the cover signature, you could save yourself press time, ink costs, wash-ups, paper, folding and trimming costs, etc. (in short, you could save a lot of money).

When designing a booklet, you should ask the printing companies what size press will be used for the job, what size sheet the press will accommodate, and how many pages can be printed in one signature (leaving room for bleeds). In some cases, depending on the press size and the final trim size of your book, you might actually be able to shrink the trim size slightly and get more pages on the press sheet.

Be Mindful When Adding Pages.

It is also wise to be aware of the cost of adding pages. For example, on a 25” x 38” press sheet, you can lay out sixteen 8.5” x 11” pages. Were you to add four pages to the design of your book (even on the same text stock rather than cover stock), you would require an additional signature to accommodate the extra pages, and hence you would need to pay for a second press run.

Working with printing companies (whether book printers, catalog printers, or magazine printers) to produce multi-page documents requires you to specify whether your job will be “self-cover” or “plus cover.” Being mindful of the difference, as well as the size of the press, the press sheet, and the book page, can save you money.


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