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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 July, 2011

Custom Pocket Folders: How to Choose a Printing Press

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

A client came to me recently with a question about custom pocket folder printing. She and I had been working with a local custom printing service with an HP Indigo digital press. My client had a short-run pocket folder (250 copies) to print, and she wanted to know whether the Indigo would be appropriate. The pocket folder dimensions were 9” x 12” plus a 4” pocket with no build. Could an Indigo print this short-run custom pocket folder job?

First Determine the Sheet Size

First of all, let’s look at this not as an individual job but rather as an approach to buying digital printing services. The first question would pertain to sheet size. How large a press sheet will an Indigo accept? I researched this on the Internet and was led to an HP Indigo monograph, which noted that the maximum sheet size slightly exceeded 12” x 18”. Would this be large enough for custom pocket folder printing?

I then turned to the dieline for the 9” x 12” custom pocket folders. (This is a drawing of the diecut pocket folder blank prior to folding and gluing). Although the finished size would be 9” x 12”, the unfolded pocket (prior to assembly) would require a larger-sized press sheet. Picture the pocket folder open on the table with the glue removed from the folded-up pockets and the pockets lying flat. You would have a printed, diecut paper form 18” wide (9” x 2, the front and back of the folder) by 16” deep (the 12” height of the folder plus the 4” unfolded pocket flaps). (Of course, you would also need to add room on the press sheet for the diecut glue tabs used to assemble the pocket folder, as well as space for bleeds and the gripper margin.)

Since the maximum HP Indigo sheet size is slightly larger than 12” x 18”, this digital press cannot accept a large enough press sheet to produce the pocket folder. Now for a 250-copy press run of almost anything, a digital press is ideal. Printing this few copies on an offset press can become expensive, not because of paper costs but due to make-ready (i.e., set-up costs for the offset press). All the money goes into preparing the press, which will only operate for a short time.

The Location of Your Printer, and Your Printer’s Equipment, Can Save You Money

The printer actually only bid about $600.00 for this job, which was surprising, since it was slightly more than half the next lowest vendor’s bid.

There are two reasons for the low price (and I did confirm with the custom printing vendor that the job would in fact be produced on an offset press). First of all, the printer was located in an area of the country with low overhead. (You can find cheap printing–low price, rather than low quality–in several parts of the US, including the Midwest, the Shenandoah Valley in the Northeast, Florida, etc. It will reward you to do some research.) The second reason was that the business printing service with the HP Indigo digital press also owned small-format offset equipment.

More specifically, you can print custom pocket folders with no build (i.e., the pockets are flat and have no depth) within approximately 16” x 18” of space on a press sheet (plus room for bleeds, gripper margin, color bars, etc.). And a small format press that will accommodate a 20” x 26” sheet (the basic size for cover stock) will be both a perfect fit and less expensive to run than a larger press (for example, a press that could print a 28” x 40” press sheet).

Lessons Learned: Use the Internet and Do the Research

So what do we learn from this? You can save a lot of money by doing a little research on the Internet. If you were doing this job, you might search the Web for printing companies in Michigan, Richmond, Florida, or the Shenandoah Valley with 4-color, 20” x 26” presses. Most custom printing services have equipment lists on their websites that will help you find these small-format presses.

Remember to ask the printing companies about shipping costs, since the cost to print and then ship the job to your office might exceed the total manufacturing and delivery cost of a locally printed job, depending on prices in your part of the country.

So start by determining the sheet size you will need, the number of copies you will print, and the number of ink colors the press must have. Then use the Internet to find this equipment. Once you have found it, you can get bids, samples, and references from the custom pocket folder printing companies that own these presses.

Large Format Printing: Selling Sex Appeal

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Let’s face it. Pure and simple, it’s sex appeal. The “Wow” factor. When you see Michael Jordan slam dunk a basketball on a poster hanging the entire length of a building, it takes your breath away. And with large format printing, this is just the beginning.

What is large format printing?

At home or at work, most of you print to an inkjet device every day, a small, quiet printer on your desk that consumes ink cartridges and paper. The device sprays measured amounts of thin, fluid ink onto your letter-sized paper. Picture this device and then magnify it from an 8.5-inch wide sheet to a 130-inch wide roll of paper, film, canvas, or plastic. It’s basically the same technology.

What about the inks?

Granted, the inks used for large format printingcan be a bit different from the cartridges you insert in your table-top inkjet printer. It depends on the use of the banner you’re printing. If the large format print will be installed outside, it must be lightfast and weather resistant. Solvent-based pigmented inks will withstand moisture, heat, wind, and sunlight. Dye-based inks will fade in the light, and water will wash unprotected dye-based inks away. These would be more appropriate for a large format poster you would hang indoors. That said, dye-based inks are more vibrant than pigmented inks, and you can add a protective lamination. (When protected from air, water, and sunlight, pigmented inks will last for decades. Manufacturers are continuously improving these inks, and pigmented inks are becoming more vibrant, while dye-based inks are becoming more durable.)

In contrast to the inkjet printer on your desk, large format printing equipment uses an extended ink set. Manufacturers add to the usual cyan, magenta, yellow, and black colors such additional inks as light magenta, light cyan, additional black inks, perhaps orange and green, or even red, green, and blue. Not all of them, just various combinations. The result is a huge color gamut (i.e., the ability to reproduce multiple colors outside the normal realm of offset printing).

What if the poster is wider than the inkjet printer?

The huge building wraps you see from blocks away clearly are wider than a 130” inkjet printer. So how do they do that? Basically, the large format print vendors print out strips of the huge image onto vinyl (or whatever other substrate they are using), align the various pieces of the photographic image, and then stitch together the sections. Imagine a huge sail. It would be stitched together in a similar manner. The custom printing service can add holes reinforced with grommets around the edge, and the signage installers can then hoist the banner up the side of the building and tie it down with rope.

What about flatbed inkjet presses?

New inkjet presses have hit the market. They are very different from the roll-fed devices described above. Inkjet print heads still travel across the substrate, spraying the image onto the medium. But instead of printing to a roll of vinyl or canvas or paper, flatbed presses print to “rigid media.” For example, if you want to print an image on a flat piece of wood or metal—or maybe on the glass doors to your office meeting room–you would use a flatbed inkjet press. This way you could avoid needing to unroll the printed image, cover the back of the substrate with adhesive, and roll the large format print flat onto the base surface: metal, wood, Foam-cor board, doors, wall, or table.

What can you print?

What can’t you print? With large format printing, you can print posters, signs, flags, billboards, trade show graphics, vehicle wraps, and point-of-purchase displays. You can even print textiles. (For example, designers can print patterns on bedsheets.)

Granted, once you have produced the large format print, you must install it. Heat, pressure, and an adhesive mixture—plus a lot of time and skill—can turn a city bus from a vehicle into a work of art, a billboard promoting a company, an event, anything.

Mass customization

Large format printing is a mass-customization industry. Every copy of a large format print can be different from all the others. So consider printing large format inkjet images–with color, resolution, and durability that are beyond belief.

Book Printing With Online Printing Companies: Subliminal Design Elements

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

A dear friend and I recently had a misunderstanding based on the imprecise nature of Internet communications. Fortunately he called me on the phone, we reconnected, and everything was good. We had both been trying to be respectful and kind through our emails, but the inability of email to reflect tone and nuance of speech had hindered our communications.

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator and philosopher, coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” By this he meant that the form of a message influences how the audience perceives the message.

The brightly back-lit computer screen can give undue harshness to the words in an email or on a website. In addition, unlike other venues on the Internet, email carries with it no aural information. You can’t hear anything. When you speak with someone face to face, you have the visual cues (the person’s body language, their carriage). You have the sound and inflection of their voice. And you have the words themselves. In an email you have only the words. From a straightforward email without these cues, one might infer a tone of sarcasm or an overly formal and distancing tone—even if none were present—because you can’t see the person or hear his or her voice.

How can we apply this to book printing?

We have been talking in previous posts about the message carried through such additions to a perfect-bound book as French flaps, cream stock, and a deckled edge (or rough-front trim). If the medium is the message, these components of the books my clients produce send a message. Perhaps it is a subliminal message, but it is a powerful message nevertheless. My clients want their readers to relax, relish the tactile experience of reading a print book (as opposed to an e-book), and immerse themselves in the story. The paper, the extra flaps, and the other elements introduced by the online printing company lend an air of luxury to the experience of reading fiction and poetry, a leisure activity for which many people no longer have the time.

If the medium is the message, it behooves the book designer to consider how the book will be perceived. After all, a book, like an email, is a communications device. The goal is to communicate something of value to the reader, and, in addition to the content of the book, its form will either amplify or detract from this message.

What elements can influence the reader’s perception?

Here is a short list. I’m sure you can think of more elements:

  • The paper on which the book printer has printed the book.
  • The binding method: whether the book printer has bound the book with a hard or soft cover.
  • The choice of typeface. Is it a classic serif face or a bold and definitive sans serif face?
  • The leading (space between the lines). Does this make it easier or harder to read?
  • Margins: Are they ample or tight?
  • Paragraph length: Does the text feel heavy and dense, or do the shifts from paragraph to paragraph make reading comfortable?
  • The imagery on the cover of the book and the tone it conveys.
  • The coating the online printing company has added to the book covers. A gloss finish can give an air of harshness, while a dull film laminate can provide a more soothing first impression.
  • Even a hinge score (the folding line running parallel to the spine) can give a sense of precision and quality to the custom book printer’s work, while making the reading experience a little bit easier.

Granted, you may not want every reading experience to be pleasurable. You may want to challenge the reader to think and act differently. If so, your design and production choices should reflect this goal as well.

Marshall McLuhan was right. Book printers and designers should take note. When you design and print a book, be mindful of the subliminal cues offered by the physical elements of the book. This is one thing that sets a print book apart from an Internet page. It may not speak in words and sounds, but it does communicate volumes.

Your custom book printer can help you make the design and production choices that will touch your readers in subtle but powerful ways.

Book Printing Case Study Update: Hardcover/Softcover Split-Run Error

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Online Printing Services

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about a client of mine whose online book printer had transposed the number of hardcover copies and the number of softcover copies of a book he was producing for her. I just learned the outcome, and I wanted to share this with you.

To recap:

Upon learning of the error, the book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to make my client whole. He had offered her three options:

  • Accept the printing as is, but pay for the additional case-bound books at the lower cost of the perfect-bound books.
  • Cut off the hardcover cases, print new soft covers, and rebind the books with the new covers.
  • Reprint the additional 800 softcover books.

My client chose option #3. She decided to have the softcover books reprinted (only the copies that should have been softcover in the first place) at the online printing company’s expense, as he had offered.

This is why I think my client made a prudent decision:

Custom printing is an imprecise art and science. Cutting and trimming operations in particular can magnify errors. If the original book blocks had been the least bit off of “true” once the covers had been removed, the retrimming process could have made an imperceptible error into a visible one. The text margins may not have aligned exactly with the cover trim. Or, what had been an adequate face margin might have become an uncomfortably tight one. And it is possible that the trimming of the books might not have been of the same quality throughout the run.

Each copy of the book my client planned to send to her subscribers would, essentially, have been an advertisement for her company. Would she really want to risk sending out a problematic copy and tarnishing her company’s reputation as a book publisher? Her clients were paying a premium for each book.

I think my client chose the best option. The online printing service would produce the 800 books from start to finish, rather than altering the erroneously bound books. Interestingly enough, a colleague of mine noted that my client had lost a few weeks in the completion of the job due to the book printer’s error. She asked whether my client should not only have requested a reprint of the 800 books but also a discount for the late delivery.

I’m a great believer in compromise and in treating one’s printing companies as partners. The book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to reprint the problematic books. That showed good faith. Rather than asking for an additional discount, above and beyond the reprint, I think my client chose to foster the future working relationship with the custom printing vendor by compromising. She accepted the late delivery of the 800 books. That was her compromise. The book printer chose to incur a substantial extra cost by reprinting the 800 books at his expense. That was his compromise. Both parties can now feel secure working together on future projects.

As an extra point, I do want to say that removing book covers and adding new ones does have its place. I personally have seen it done successfully by another local book printer.

Speed vs. Perfection

In making the decision of whether to remove and replace the covers or whether to reprint the problematic books, I think the key is the following question: What level of quality do you need for this job? Not all jobs need to be of showcase quality. For example, an industrial parts catalog that needs to be distributed immediately might be a perfect candidate for removing and replacing the covers. In this case speed trumps perfection in binding. My client, on the other hand, was selling a reference book for a high price, and this required quality over speed.

Custom printing is a process with multiple steps, and things do go wrong from time to time. How the business printing service makes things right is what distinguishes true quality.

Working With Catalog Printing Companies: Specifying Very Thin Paper

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

We’ve been discussing thicker paper in the PIE Blog recently, how to buy paper for catalog printing that will feel substantial between the fingers of an avid reader. But there are equally important reasons, in some cases, to specify very thin paper when requesting bids from catalog printing companies.

When or Why Would You Want to Do This?

Let’s say you are designing an industrial parts catalog. I just received one yesterday listing various custom printing related items, like the fork lifts printing companies use to move large webs of paper. The book was about 360 pages long but only half an inch thick. On one hand, if the catalog were much thicker, it would be an inconvenience. A two-inch thick book, like the old Sears Catalog, would be unwieldy and difficult to read comfortably. It would be heavy. More importantly, it would be expensive for the business printing vendor to mail because of its weight. And in a world where many print catalogs have moved online (making the cost of mailing and postage disappear entirely), a heavy catalog is anathema.

What Are Your Options for Light Paper?

First of all, going back to a prior blog entry about book printing paper, 70# Finch Opaque “mics” to 416 ppi (pages per inch). That means that a 416-page print catalog produced on this stock would be one inch thick. In contrast, Consoweb Advantage, a 36# LWC sheet (lightweight coated), would yield a much lighter and thinner catalog. The ppi of this paper is 954 ppi, so a catalog made from this stock would be approximately .38 inch thick.

Furthermore, let’s say the weight of the catalog printed on 70# Finch was 1.5 pounds. And let’s say the weight of the catalog printed on 36# Consoweb was 10.5 ounces. If you multiply this out by, say, 3,000 copies, your postage cost will be much cheaper for the catalog printed on lightweight paper. If you multiply the weight difference by a truckload of catalogs, your freight charges for direct shipping could also be significantly higher or lower based on your choice of paper.

One Big Consideration

Lightweight papers, which include #5 LWC stocks, like Consoweb, and supercalendered paper (SC-A, SC-A+ and such, which are pressed between multiple sets of metal rollers during the paper-making process to create a thin sheet with a hard paper surface)–these all run only on web presses (note the “web” in “Consoweb”). You will need to solicit bids from catalog printing companies with web presses (roll-fed rather than sheetfed). But this needn’t be a problem. After all, if you are printing a catalog, the chances are that your press run is long and your need for the showcase quality printing (dead-on color) you get with sheetfed presses is not an issue. And web presses can save you thousands of dollars in printing costs compared to the same jobs being printed by a custom printing service with sheetfed equipment.

What to Look For

Paper grades are listed as follows. You can buy a No. 1, No.2, or No. 3 coated freesheet (CFS). These paper stocks will become less bright as the numbers increase, but they will still be relatively bright (approximately 84 to 94, give or take, on a 100-point scale). Over the last several years, even the lower grades have become brighter.

Then you have paper such as No. 4 CGW (coated groundwood: i.e., more impurities and lower brightness). Then comes No. 5 LWC (lightweight coated), then the supercalendered stocks (note the spelling, “calender,” not “calendar”), then newsprint.

At the lower end of the scale (No. 5, LWC for instance), you will note a dramatic decrease in brightness. Consoweb’s brightness is in the low 70’s, compared to that of Finch Opaque (96 bright). If you’re producing a catalog of industrial printing materials (drums for ink and solvents, conveyor belts, ladders, etc.), the brightness of the paper would be less important than its thinness and lightness.

Talk with catalog printing companies to familiarize yourself with your paper options and the nuances of thin paper. Between the web presses most catalog printing services have on their pressroom floor, and the thinner than usual paper, you can save thousands of dollars in paper costs, postage, and freight.

Book Printing Case Study for Hardcover/Softcover Split Run: Oops!

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Like anyone else, printing companies make mistakes. After all, custom printing is a process with multiple steps. It is not a commodity.

I received a call today from a consulting client whose book printer had accidentally reversed the number of soft-cover and hard-cover copies of a textbook pressrun. My client had requested 1,500 case-bound copies of the book and 2,300 perfect-bound copies, but the business printing vendor had mistakenly printed 2,300 case-bound books and 1,500 perfect-bound books.

Keep in mind that the case-bound books sell for a premium, and marketing research (and orders to date) suggest that more perfect-bound copies of these particular books will be ordered than case-bound copies.

So my client really did need the extra 800 softcover books. Fortunately, the book printer was most apologetic and wanted to make things right.

My client came to me with three options and asked my opinion. The options were:

  1. Accept the printing as is, but only pay the book printer for what was originally ordered. In other words, pay for the additional case-bound books at the lower cost of the perfect-bound books, reducing the overall manufacturing costs.
  2. Have the business printing vendor retrieve the extra case-bound books from my client, cut off the cases, print new soft covers, rebind the books with the new covers, and ship the books back to my client within three weeks, all at the printer’s expense.
  3. Have the printing company go back on press and print the additional softcover books. Then have the printer retrieve the additional case-bound books from my client for repulping.

This was my response:

  • Since the cases would be cut off in option #2, the remaining “book blocks” (or gathered signatures) would need to be slightly trimmed down (on the head, foot, and face margins). For this to work and not look like a mistake, there would need to be sufficient margins in the books to allow for the retrimming process. In addition, if the retrimming were inaccurate in any way, the text blocks might not be evenly (or squarely) cut all the way around.
  • If she chose this option, I suggested that my client have the book printer check all retrimmed copies for accuracy, and that she herself spot check the books when delivered. I also encouraged my client to stipulate that if the results of the printer’s tearing off the covers, rebinding, and retrimming were unacceptable, she would ask the book printer to go back on press and reprint the books.
  • I ruled out option #1, since my client needed all the books in order to fulfill current and expected book orders from clients.
  • I noted that the best option for my client would be #3. After all, the books would be created from start to finish, not altered. I suggested that if my client chose option #3, her position of compromise with the printer (and all negotiations go better when both parties compromise) could be the lateness of these copies. She would accept their being late for delivery to her customers if the printer would be willing to absorb the cost of reprinting the affected copies.

We’ll see what she chooses.

Custom printing is a process with multiple steps, and things do go wrong from time to time for all printing companies. It is the measure of a reputable business printing service (the kind with which you will want to work through such difficulties) that the printer will want to make things right. Such a vendor, whether a book printer, catalog printer, or whatever kind of printer, is worth holding onto.

Custom Book Printing Paper Choices: When Is 55# Stock as Thick as 70# Stock?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

One of my clients needed a custom book printer. This husband and wife team produces paperback fiction and poetry books with high quality paper, French flaps (the flaps that fold back in so the book looks like it has a dust jacket), and deckled edges. (Also known as a “rough front” trim, this provides an uneven face margin to help the reader grasp the pages when turning them.)

I recently received a bid for this book in which the book printing company had specified 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Book paper. Since I had requested a 70# natural white sheet (cream, or a yellowish-white shade), I was concerned. After all, Finch Opaque is a blue-white sheet.

This particular book printer looked high and low but could find no alternative paper to suggest. All the 70# cream stocks he could find would drive up the price of the finished book. (Cream stocks are often, but not always, more expensive than white sheets.) Then I received an email with good news. The book printing vendor had sent me a paper sample via overnight mail.

The next day, I received a few sheets of 55# Sebago, Antique Finish. The paper exactly matched the sample book I had received from my new client.

What can we learn from this experience:

  • Not all 55# paper is as thin as you might expect. Think of a piece of styrofoam or Foam-Cor board. Let’s say it’s 1/4” thick and weighs three ounces. If you run it through a series of metal rollers, it will get much thinner. But it will weigh the same. This particular Sebago sheet the book printer had suggested had not been “calendered” (passed between metal rollers during the papermaking process to make the paper smoother) as much as the 70# Finch stock. It was lighter than the Finch, but it “bulked” to the same thickness.
  • How did I know this? Because the paper bulk noted on the sample sheets from the custom book printer indicated that it was 360 ppi (pages per inch). Finch Opaque “mics” (the same as bulks) to 364 ppi. Therefore, a 300+ page book made with 70# Finch stock would be approximately as thick as a book made with 55# Sebago paper.
  • While this does not need to be important, some people might like a thicker book rather than a thinner one. Another Finch paper, a 50# sheet, has a ppi of 606. So a book produced with a 50# sheet when you’re used to a 70# sheet might be a bit disconcerting. After all, at 606 ppi rather than 360 ppi, it would be a much thinner book.
  • I had the custom book printer reprice the job. (Always remember to do this when you change any specification on your spec sheet, or when the book printer–or any custom printing vendor for that matter–includes erroneous specs in a bid.) Fortunately, the price stayed exactly the same. This was in spite of the general rule that cream paper costs more than white. In this case, the Finch was a pricier sheet overall, and I benefited from the paper substitution the book printer had made.
  • The specification sheet accompanying the samples from the custom printing supplier noted additional useful information. The Sebago has an “antique” finish. This is the roughest surface of an uncoated sheet. Fortunately, the roughness of the book printer’s sample also matched the roughness of the sample book provided by my client. Interestingly enough, it probably also explains the difference between the Finch and the Sebago sheet. Rougher sheets require less calendering. Smoother sheets require more. Finch Opaque is a smoother stock than the Sebago antique, so a 70# sheet (having been compressed more during the manufacturing process) will be of almost equal thickness to the less compressed, rougher 55# Sebago antique sheet. So always read the spec sheet that accompanies the paper samples. You will find a wealth of useful information here.
  • Finally, I checked the paper in sunlight as well as under my desk lamp. The shade exactly matched the paper in the sample book my client had provided.

A little resourcefulness from a custom printing company goes a long way with me. If your book printer takes the extra time to help you choose a paper stock, consider him a partner and not just a vendor. These are the best book printing companies to work with.

Custom Book Printing Estimates: Read Every Word Carefully

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Choosing the right paper for a custom book printing project is a subjective and important decision. It can also have financial consequences, since the cost of paper can be upwards of 30 to 40 percent of the cost of a custom printing job.

I recently requested bids for a client’s perfect-bound book. I specified a “70# natural white sheet.” That is, instead of specifying Finch Opaque Vanilla Vellum 60 lb Text, I opted for a more generic specification (70# natural white) to encourage the printing companies to suggest a house sheet. I knew this would save my client money on the cost of printing by allowing the book printing companies to match paper qualities rather than brands, and to make substitutions or suggest optional paper stocks, wherever possible.

Unfortunately, when I received the first estimate, I noticed that the book printing company had listed Finch Opaque in the specifications for the bid. This is a blue-white sheet, not a yellow-white sheet.

In some cases, cream stocks (yellow-white rather than blue-white) can be more expensive than bright white sheets. At the very least, and regardless of price, had I not caught the difference in the paper specification on the custom printing provider’s bid, the final product would not have been what my client wanted.

What can you learn from this? Several things:

  1. Check the bids your book printing companies provide very closely. They are contracts. Don’t assume that just because you specified a blue-white or yellow-white sheet, your printer has included these in his price calculations. Also don’t assume that the weight of the paper included in your custom printing provider’s bid will be as you had specified. After all, books are printed with 50#, 60#, 70# (and even higher weight) stocks.
  2. The shade of the paper (and even its finish, such as smooth, wove, or antique) will affect the price, particularly since some paper stocks will be on the printer’s factory floor for use by multiple clients while other stocks will need to be custom ordered.
  3. Always request samples. When I discovered the discrepancy in the specifications, I had my book printing vendor send me a sample of the stock he had included in the book estimate. I checked it under sunlight (Sunlight is 5000 degrees Kelvin—the color of the light, not the temperature–which matches the light used by printing companies to check proofs.) The printer’s paper sample was a much bluer-white shade than the paper in the sample book my client had given me to match. I asked my printer for warm-white (natural white, ivory, cream) stock suggestions, and also asked that he send me new samples.
  4. Using my caliper, I determined the thickness of the paper in the sample book and apprised my book printing company. I assumed the paper in my client’s sample was 70#, but I wasn’t sure. That said, printing paper receives different amounts of “calendaring” (being passed through sets of metal rollers during the paper-making process, which compresses the fibers while creating a smoother paper surface). What this really means is that multiple samples of printing paper with the same basis weight might have different thicknesses. To be certain, then, I wanted my book printing vendor to match the thickness of the paper in the sample book rather than its basis weight.
  5. You should consider buying a paper caliper, too. It will cost less than $50.00 and can be purchased from a scientific instrument vendor (check the Internet). This is the tool printing companies use. It’s a good investment, allowing you to communicate very precise paper thicknesses to your printer. One thing it will let you do is measure the thickness of the paper you want to match so you can give this information to your printer. It will also allow you to measure the thickness of paper in a paper merchant’s swatch book. For instance, let’s say you have a sheet that you know is 8 pts in thickness (using your caliper to measure it). A paper conversion guide (also available on the Internet) will tell you that it is probably 65# cover stock. While this is not always accurate (note the discussion above about calendaring paper), it’s still a good start for discussion with your custom book printers.

Printing Services Provide Options for CD Pressing and CD Cases

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

A client recently asked me about CD duplication. He also wanted 4-color printed sleeves for the CD’s. I contacted a few of the business printing vendors I work with regularly. Perhaps you can learn from the following synopsis of my experience.

First of all, this is specialty work. Although most printing companies can produce some sort of sleeve for a CD, the duplication itself is something only a limited number of vendors will do. I contacted a “premium item” or “promotional product” company first: a vendor that specializes in novelties such as pens, mugs, custom print t-shirts, hats, etc., emblazoned with company names and logos. This business printing vendor had a source, a subcontractor that duplicated CD’s.

I also contacted one of the larger offset printing companies I know, a “consolidator,” with printing presses across the United States. They do almost everything in at least one of their various plants, including CD pressings.

So you have a few options if you need to duplicate a CD: ask around for specialty (or novelty, or promotional) printing companies, look for a huge printing family that owns companies in multiple locations, or (and here’s a third option I didn’t pursue) check the Internet.

What You Will Need to Consider and/or Discuss with the Printing Services?

  • Start with the CD. How many do you need? CD duplication is rather painless. You do it yourself one at a time on your own computer, dragging files from your hard drive to your DVD or CD burner. This is just the automated version for reproducing hundreds or thousands of copies from one master CD.
  • Will you want to print on the CD? Most likely the answer will be yes. Dedicated inkjet equipment can do this in 4-color inks directly on the disc. It is called an “imprint.” Screen printing is another option (for spot colors). For process color work, some printing companies even have special offset presses that hold CD’s in trays, so the pressure of the offset rollers does not damage the plastic discs. Printing directly on the CD is infinitely preferable to printing on a label and then affixing the label to the disc. After all, if the label starts to peel off, it can destroy the CD player.
  • Then there’s the box, jacket, sleeve, or whatever else you would call it. If you will be producing inserts for a “jewel case,” that’s pretty straightforward (flat slips of paper the business printing company will insert appropriately into the plastic box).
  • However, if you will be producing a cardboard sleeve, be clear about the dimensions. Is your sleeve just the front and back (two pieces of printed cover stock with appropriate tabs for gluing)? Does it have a fold-over flap? Your custom printing provider may ask for a “dieline,” which is an accurate drawing showing all the panels of the CD jacket, the flaps, folds, glue-tabs, etc. It is used to make the die, which cuts the printing paper into the proper shape to be used to glue together the CD case. It would save you money to ask the printer about using an existing die. In this case, you would ask to match the printer’s dieline.
  • Keep in mind that in most cases your job will be “gang-run” with many other cardboard CD cases laid out on the press sheet. Therefore, the color fidelity will not be 100 percent accurate. You are sacrificing a little quality to save money by sharing the press run with other clients. To be sure you’re comfortable with the quality the custom printing service can produce, request samples before you sign the contract. You may also want to check references.

In most cases, CD printing companies will provide you with a per-unit cost for copying the CD (based on the press run, such as $3.06 per unit for 500-999 copies, and $2.30 per unit for 1000 to 2499 copies), imprinting the CD (printing graphics and text directly on the disc), plus producing the CD case or sleeve. Don’t forget to ask about shipping charges. Also, make sure assembly charges (putting the CD in the case) are included in the custom printing estimates.

PIE has a CD/DVD replication/duplication form you might want to check out:

Printing Companies Save You Money on Digital Printing Jobs When You Accurately Estimate How Many Copies You Will Need

Monday, July 4th, 2011
  • Here is a case study meant to encourage you to buy the number of brochures or books or any other custom printing job that you actually need, rather than underestimating the press run. I always tell clients that it’s cheaper to throw away some copies from a brochure printing run, or a book printing run, than to have the printing company produce too few copies and go back on press.

A printing services client of mine recently requested an estimate for a 56-page-plus-cover book printing run. They wanted to see print pricing estimates for 200 copies of the book, 300 copies of the book, and a split run (200 now and 100 later).

The cost for 200 copies was $2,186.00 ($10.93 per copy.) For 300 copies the cost was $3,123.00 ($10.41 per copy.) And for a separate run of 100 copies, the cost was $1,245.00 ($12.45 per copy.)

Digital Printing Is More Cost-Effective for Shorter Press Runs

Keep in mind that for a short press run, the job would be printed digitally. Usually one can assume a relatively constant per-unit price for a digital job. This is borne out by the cost for 200 vs. 300 copies ($10.93 per copy vs. $10.41 per copy).

In contrast, you would start to see more of a dramatic drop in the unit cost of printed products from traditional offset printing companies as the press runs increase. The more you print, the less each brochure or book costs to print. Most of your money in offset printing goes toward makeready (set-up charges) and paper. It costs relatively little for your business printing provider to keep the offset press running for a few more (10, 50, 100) copies. A digital press, on the other hand, is often priced on a stable, “per-click” print rate.

Keep to One Press Run, Not Multiple Press Runs, Even for Digital Printing

To return to the 56-page-plus-cover book my client wanted to print, it is clear that producing 200 copies and then an additional 100 copies later would not be as cost effective as doing one press run, whatever the number. Assuming $65.00 or $90.00 in freight charges respectively for shipping 200 vs. 300 books from the custom printing vendor to my client, and assuming an additional $40.00 to ship the extra 100 books at a later date, this is what the approximate costs would be:

  • For 300 all at once, the total cost would be $3,213.00;
  • For a split run of 200 and 100 books, the total cost would be $3,536.00.

The split run would cost approximately 10 percent more. Of course it’s up to you to decide whether the extra cost is justified. Sometimes you’re not sure whether you will need as many books as you think. If the job is digital rather than offset, it does cost less for your business’s printing service to produce a second press-run. After all, they’re not putting as much into setting up the digital press and running the job. Set up costs for digital printing are much less than for offset. But as you can see, it’s still worth thinking through your actual needs and not making a hasty decision.

Preprinting Sample Books Is Expensive

To complicate matters, my client wanted 10 books up front. Her boss was attending a seminar and had requested sample copies. My client had found some errors in the proof, and since there was not enough time to correct the job and print the entire run, her boss wanted to print 10 copies “as is” and then correct the book and print the 200- or 300-copy press run later. The cost for 10 copies including overnight freight from the custom printing vendor would have been $275.00. That is, it would cost $27.50 per book rather than $10.93 per copy for 200 books, $10.41 per copy for 300 books, or even $12.85 per book for the extra 100-copy press run.

This was a huge amount of money to pay for 10 books to be printed. Granted, some of it would go to overnight freight. Regardless, this is a good object lesson. When you break up the press run, you incur extra costs, even in digital printing. Printing companies still need to stop what they’re doing, open your files on the computer, and print the extra copies. In addition, paying for a number of separate FedEx or UPS deliveries rather than grouping the entire job into one freight charge will also incur a premium.

Needless to say, my client’s boss decided not to print the 10 books and chose instead to make all text corrections and then print 300 copies of the book.


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