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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 September, 2011

Book Printing: Read Between the Lines of an Estimate

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Selecting a custom printing service and approving a contract involve much more than choosing the vendor with the lowest price. Of course, price (as reflected by the total cost of the estimate), and quality (as determined by a review of the book printing vendor’s samples and phone interviews with his references) are highly important, but here are a few other considerations. If you look closely, you’ll see them in the custom printing estimates or hear them in discussions with printer’s representatives. If not, be sure to ask.

The book printing and delivery schedule may or may not be flexible.

Last year for a small run of a perfect-bound book, a rather large printer in the Midwest provided the lowest price of all the custom printing vendors on my list. Unfortunately, this company needed four to five weeks to print and bind the job—plus a few days for delivery. My client needed the entire book printing run in her office in two weeks. She opted to pay more for the shorter schedule and printed the job locally.

Keep in mind, however, that a custom printing vendor may be able to produce a job more quickly than his initial offer might suggest. Of course, this could necessitate adding extra equipment and staff, which would be reflected in the total cost. In addition, the schedule the business printing provider offers might reflect the amount of work already in his “pipeline.” During a slower time, a printer might complete your work more quickly than during a busy period.

Delivery costs for shipping books from printing companies to your office add to the total price.

The printing cost is not the total cost. Your vendor must get the books from his plant to your office or storage location. If he’s a local vendor, this might be included in the cost (i.e., as a value-added service to remain competitive with other printing companies).

If, on the other hand, you have chosen a printer half a continent away since the printing cost was so low, you might be surprised by the cost of freight. Books are heavy, and mailing 100 cartons across the country can wipe out the savings of the lower printing cost. Then again, if your printer mails the books directly to your subscribers (a service called “mailshop” or “fulfillment”), freight might not be an issue. Or the book printing cost might still be low enough that the sum of the printing cost plus the freight cost might still be less than the total cost provided by a local vendor.

Terms of payment with printing companies may be negotiable.

A client of mine started a relationship with a local printer by producing a perfect-bound directory. Since this was the client’s first job, the printer requested half of the payment up front. This year, another printer is bidding on the work. This printer is willing to forgo requesting half payment up front and instead do a credit check and invoice my client after the job is complete. Last year, the schedule was more important than the terms. This year it may not be.

Keep in mind that many items are negotiable, and most will be on the printer’s estimate. However, some, like the payment of a portion of the job up front, may not be. So be astute and discuss terms with your printing companies.

The custom printing vendor may not have bid on the paper you specified.

You may have specified Finch Opaque for your book printing project because the whiteness, brightness, and opacity appeal to you. But maybe the estimate of a printer with an especially attractive price includes a paper substitution. Maybe this printer’s house sheet is of a lower quality than Finch Opaque. Maybe it’s not as opaque as Finch, leading to potential “show-through” of photos and solids (text and images visible from the back of the page when you are reading the front of the page).

Be astute in comparing bids from different printing companies, and be aware that some specifications may differ from those you requested. Be especially wary if a vendor just sends your email back with a price. After all, in that case, how will you know on what specifications the custom printing vendor has based his estimate?

Book Printing: “Wavy” Pages, or Fluting, Can Ruin a Book

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

An attache at the Embassy of Chile, who had just taken delivery of several thousand perfect-bound books for the ambassador, called me and said that the entire book printing run had “wavy” text. The covers were flat, but the text blocks were consistently rippled. I hopped in a cab and went right over.

The attache and I opened a number of boxes and checked random book printing samples for occurrences of the wavy text paper, and, in fact, he had been right. The problem was pervasive.

Why does fluting occur in book printing?

The technical name of this printing flaw is “fluting.” Fluting occurs in web offset presswork because the paper absorbs moisture during the inking process, and then the drying units of the web press “flash” away the moisture with brief, intense heat. As the paper comes to equilibrium in the web press chill rollers and later on the pressroom floor, the paper again absorbs moisture. All of this happens unevenly. Fluting usually doesn’t occur in the covers of these perfect-bound books because even web printing companies usually produce the covers on sheetfed presses.

The paper weight, paper type, and design (i.e., ink coverage and placement) significantly influence the presence or absence of fluting. Printing companies cannot do anything to eliminate this problem, although over time the waviness relaxes somewhat and the paper lies flatter. In addition, printing companies cannot do anything once fluting occurs, and, until the job is on press, there is no way to know whether fluting will occur.

How can you minimize fluting in book printing?

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize fluting, so keep the following in mind as you design your web offset custom printing job:

  1. Lighter-weight paper shows fluting more dramatically than does heavier-weight paper.
  2. Heavy ink coverage on the front and back of a press sheet shows the most fluting. If you print heavy coverage four-color process work on one side of the sheet, consider limiting the other side to one color.
  3. Uncoated stock shows fluting more than coated stock.
  4. Create your publication design, and work closely with your printing companies, to position heavy coverage pages in line with one another to minimize fluting. That is, when looking at an unfolded press sheet (for instance, a sixteen-page signature with eight pages on one side of the sheet and eight pages on the other, with four pages on top and four pages below), the pages with heavy ink coverage should be above or below each other, not side by side.

Good fortune and drier weather saved the book printing run.

Sometimes you get lucky. After it was clear what had happened, I got on the phone with the custom printing vendor. Since fluting is outside the control of printing companies, the printer wouldn’t budge. He was sorry it had happened, but he could do nothing to remedy the situation. Sitting across from me in his office, the Chilean attache was unhappy. He understood what had happened, but he was not pleased that the book printing run appeared to be flawed. And he knew the ambassador would be unhappy.

There was one last resort. When the custom printing vendor had delivered the books to the Chilean embassy, it had been raining. The air had been damp for a number of days. As an experiment, the attache and I put some books under a heavy weight. I called him a few days later, and learned that the fluting had subsided markedly as the weather had improved and the air had turned drier. That gave the Chilean attache a measure of hope. We touched base a few times over the next several weeks, and thankfully the combination of time, dry air, and weights on the books had completely solved the problem.

Book Printing: How to Discover the Source of a Printing Flaw

Monday, September 26th, 2011

I recently emailed a client to follow up on a book printing project. I hoped, and expected, to hear good things. Unfortunately, there were three problems with the books:

  1. There were bubbles and scratches on the gloss UV cover coating.
  2. The text was not centered on the spine (not equally distant from the fold line of the front and back covers).
  3. A subscriber had called my client to complain that the pages were falling out of the binding.

Ouch. Part of the job of a printing broker is to discover the cause and extent of problems like these, and find a solution that will satisfy both the client and the custom printing vendor.

Check samples to confirm the extent of the problem.

First I asked my client to spot check samples from the book printing run in the approximately 40 cartons that comprised her 3,000-copy delivery. She didn’t need to check all boxes or all books in any one box. She just needed to make a thorough random review. My client checked about ten cartons thoroughly and found no further flawed books. Most of the books in the first box she had opened had problems, but the problem books seemed to be contained in that one carton.

I also asked the custom printing vendor to check all books at the plant. He found no problems.

What about the spine that fell apart?

That’s a serious and worrisome flaw. However, only one subscriber had called my client and requested a replacement book. If the problem had been pervasive, a number of subscribers would have requested replacements.

I called the business printing service again. The sales representative did some research and found that the perfect binding run had gone smoothly, with only a few brief stops of the perfect binding equipment during the run. He found out that PUR glue had been used for the hot-melt glue binding (to hold the pages in place). This particular glue has “brand equity.” It has been around for a long time. It is well regarded by printing companies as a durable glue that is flexible enough to allow bending of the spine but relentless in holding onto the pages. It has stood the test of time. Printing companies swear by it.

This was the real cause of the problem.

The custom printing vendor did find out one thing, though, from his research in his bindery. If the perfect binding equipment is halted for more than a short time, one or two books that have received the glue application but that have not yet had book covers attached will have problems with the glue. If the glue has started to harden or cure, and then the machinery is started up again, the book cover will not adhere properly to the book block, and the pages will eventually come out. It is the operator’s responsibility to remove these few books from the machine prior to restarting the perfect binder. It seems that he did not do this.

So apparently that was the cause of the problem, and that was its extent.

Trust but verify.

The fact that only one subscriber had called my client for a replacement book corroborated the custom printing supplier’s findings about the bindery problem. That said, I asked for a guarantee from the printer that if another subscriber, or multiple subscribers, were to call my client in the future and complain that the book pages had fallen out, the printing company would stand behind its work and resolve the problem to my client’s satisfaction. The printer agreed. Now the printer and my client can do business in the future with a level of mutual trust.

What do we learn from this?

Here are some thoughts:

  • If you receive a custom printing job and open the first box only to find that there are problems, don’t assume that every book is bad. Do a spot check throughout the run. Document the problem and its extent.
  • Distinguish between the inevitable flaws and the unusable books. Occasional bubbling in the cover coating, or even the presence of scratches localized in a few books, is not the same as binding that falls apart.
  • Ask the custom printing vendor to research the problem as well.
  • If the problem seems to be small, ask the business printing service to agree to stand behind the printing work should the problem be revealed over time to be more severe.
  • Depending on the severity of the problem and its extent, you have options, including a reprint or a discount.
  • Look to your business printing supplier as a partner, not an adversary, in remedying the issues. This will yield better results. The only goal is to produce the proper number of acceptable copies of your job. Laying blame does not fix the problem or ensure that it won’t happen again.

Brochure Printing and Large Format Printing: Mass Personalization

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Not that long ago, when your custom printing supplier delivered your job, you received 500, 1,000, or 10,000 copies that were all the same. This is called “static printing,” since the output is fixed, rather than variable. It has served us well since Gutenberg invented movable type. However, direct mail companies that have sent the same brochure to all prospects have historically received about a three percent return. Only a few prospects have turned into clients. Part of this has been due to the generic nature of the printed direct mail. There was nothing personal to distinguish the printed pieces recipients found in their mailboxes.

What is personalization?

Over the last decade, mass production has turned into mass customization. Using digital printing technology, printing companies can tailor each individual item in a brochure printing, large format printing, postcard printing, or calendar printing press-run to a different recipient.

  • You can include different text or photos, depending on the demographics or psychographics of your intended audience.
  • You can digitally print addresses on the envelopes and begin the direct mail letter with a salutation including the prospect’s own name.
  • You can include a link to a special website aimed only at that one prospect.
  • You can even write the prospect’s name in the sand in a beach photo (using image personalization techniques).

Why now?

The short answer is that the technology has improved that much. The first inkjet and laser prints I saw in the 1990’s as an art director were ugly. Now custom printing produced on digital equipment rivals offset printing to all but the most technically astute (with a loupe and extensive printing knowledge).

What are the benefits of personalization?

Marketing is about getting the attention of potential clients. We are bombarded with thousands of images each day from custom printing products, from huge building wraps to business cards. We are only aware of a small number of them, and of this small number, we only remember a few.

Nothing is sweeter to the ears of a potential client than the sound of his or her name, and a personalized direct mail piece produced by someone who took the time to get your name, understand your interests and needs, and incorporate these into a custom printing piece just for you will be more likely to cut through the clutter in the mailbox. The technology now exists to do this in a polished manner, with quality printing and targeted address databases. You can offer a potential client relevant information that will educate as well as persuade, addressed directly to him or her.

Think of it as “mass personalization,” the 2011 version of a “mail merge” program.

What might you personalize?

With high-end digital laser presses (such as the HP Indigo) and sheetfed and roll-fed inkjet presses, your custom printing vendors can print personalized information on almost anything, but here’s a short list to get you started:

  • Your business printing service might be able to personalize the address information on an envelope in which you include an invitation to an event, noting a different consultation time for each potential client.
  • Your custom printing vendor may be able to include a person’s name on all twelve images of a yearly calendar. Using image personalization software, your printer can write the person’s name on a theater marquee, in the sand, or in vapor in the sky as though a skywriter had written the name using the exhaust of a jet.
  • Printing services that produce your direct mail may be able to write each prospect’s name on a vanity license plate attached to a Ferrari in a poster aimed at your high-end clientele.

The list goes on. The only limit is your imagination. Bring all of your printing companies into the direct mail design discussion early to ensure that the vendor you choose has the digital printing capabilities to make such projects a success.

Brochure Printing: Is It Digital or Is It Offset?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

A custom printing service I work with stepped up today and put quality above profit. Although I was not surprised, I was pleased. I had received samples of a single-page brochure printing job that would be a companion piece for a pocket-folder and step-down card package for a client.

The press run for the entire custom printing job was 250 copies. Normally, I would assume that such a small job would warrant digital printing. However, since the pocket folder (prior to folding and gluing) exceeded the largest press sheet size for the digital press (an HP Indigo), I knew the pocket folder had to be offset printed. That said, I had assumed the series of step-down cards had been digitally printed. After all, five masters and 250 copies of each seemed much too small a run for an offset press.

Offset vs. digital custom printing runs

At this point it is important to note that much of the cost of offset printing (relative to digital printing) goes into makeready: that is, all the procedures involved in preparing to put ink on paper. Because of this, the longer the press run, the better—for offset lithography. The closeness in the cost of a 5,000-; 7,000-; or 10,000-copy press run of a single-page brochure would probably surprise you. The longer the run, the less each copy of the custom printing job costs to produce.

Digital printing, on the other hand, is priced at a “per-click” rate: The unit cost of one brochure, 100 brochures, or 500 brochures is essentially the same (at least for the printing). Of course, the prepress work and postpress work (such as folding and binding) will add to the cost, but the printing cost itself is on a “per-click” basis.

This is why you might print 250 copies of a brochure on a digital press but 500 or 1,000 copies on an offset press. Up to the cut-off point, the makeready costs of offset drive the overall cost of the job above the cost of the 250 digital copies. This switches at approximately 500 copies, as the digital price starts creeping up on a linear basis, while the unit cost for offset becomes less and less.

Back to the samples: Look for the dot patterns in the custom printing job.

I received samples of the brochure from my printer. I checked the samples with my loupe (high-powered magnifier), and I saw rosettes (a halftone dot pattern created by all the process color screens being at slightly different angles from one another). Under the loupe, the orange highlight color of the brochure was composed of the circular, rosette dot patterns of an offset printed piece.

I understand that even a color laser print (which is what an HP Indigo press essentially is) has a dot pattern. Under a loupe, you can see varying sizes of dots from laser printer output that come close to what a rosette looks like, but the mathematical algorithm of dot placement is slightly different on a digital laser printer, so you usually just see overlapping, or non overlapping, colored dots in digital press output, not a rosette pattern.

When I brought this to the custom printing vendor’s attention, asking about the printing method not as a criticism but as a point of information for my own edification, he said that he had run the job offset to match the five inserts (5 x 250 of each) and the pocket folder.

From this I inferred that he had chosen offset over digital in the initial job so the inserts would match the pocket folder, and then he had chosen offset over digital for the additional brochure to make sure all components of the job looked alike.

Business printing providers hate losing money.

This was beyond generous, particularly since the owner of the custom printing shop would not have told me or my client had we not asked. The printer had charged a fair price for the five inserts (approximately $400.00), assuming all could have fit on one press sheet. But for the accompanying brochure printing run, he charged only $139.00—clearly the price a digital press run of 250 copies would have cost.

This is how I think he avoided losing money.

This particular custom printing provider has a digital press and a small-format offset press, as well as larger press equipment. Apparently he also does not like to use spot colors (because they require wash-ups of the press). In my mind, this means that by using a very small press (which costs less to buy, own, and operate than a larger press), and by constantly running 4-color jobs on this press (and using four-color builds to simulate PMS colors), he is able to keep prices remarkably low.

But it still means that this business printing vendor cared enough to scrape by for almost no profit in order to give a client a superior brochure printing job that would match the other elements of their marketing campaign.

Envelope Printing: Choose Standard Sizes to Save Money

Friday, September 16th, 2011

I found about 75 beautifully printed fold-over cards on good quality cover stock at a discount store this weekend. Unfortunately all the flaps of the custom envelopes had stuck to the envelopes. So I had perfectly good cards and no way to send them to clients.

Here’s what I did.

First I measured the cards. They came in two sizes, so I chose the larger one. It came to 4.5” x 6.5”. Then I looked up “envelope sizes” on the Internet. Printing companies specializing in custom envelopes almost always have charts on their sites listing popular envelope sizes.

Here’s the caveat. If you choose custom envelopes that are a standard size (A-2, A-6, #10, Baronial Lee), whether you are printing a job for your boss or a client or just using the printed envelopes (or blank envelopes) to send out holiday cards, the price will be reasonable. If you start with an odd-sized enclosure and then focus on the envelope, your business printing vendor will need to have a custom envelope printed and converted, and this will cost money. The conversion will be done by a separate vendor, it will be an extra step in the process, and it will require an envelope cutting die that might cost several hundred dollars.

Choosing a size for printed envelopes (or unprinted envelopes)

As an example, let’s look at the cards I found: 4.5” x 6.5”. The standard rule of thumb is to allow 1/4” clearance for both the height and width when choosing an envelope for a particular card. In my case, that would suggest a 4.75” x 6.75” envelope. Looking at a list of standard envelope dimensions from an envelope printing vendor’s website, I found a 4.75” x 6.5” envelope (an A-6 or a 6 Bar, depending on whether the flap was square or pointed). One dimension would fit comfortably, but the other dimension was exactly the same size as the fold-over card. No room. Bad news.

The next size up was the A-7, according to the envelope size chart. This 5.25” x 7.25” envelope would surely accommodate a 4.5” x 6.5” card. However, there’s ¾ of an inch of play from side to side in the envelope, and the width of the card would fall ¾ of an inch short of the height of the envelope. This isn’t ideal. After all, it would look like a mistake. Most people expect their cards to fit snugly but not too snugly into their printed envelopes. In addition, a card that floats around in an envelope may get damaged.

(As an additional point of interest, you might want to increase the standard rule of thumb for 1/4” clearance for both the height and width when you will be using automated inserting equipment. In this case, increase it to 1/2”. This also may be wise if you plan to insert multiple items into the envelope. To be safe, get a sample envelope, make a mock-up of each enclosure, and assemble the whole package. The Post Office, your custom printing supplier, and your mailshop will all find this mock-up useful for everything from weight—i.e., postage—to dimensions, to paper, etc.)

What were my options?

To return to my example of the cards from the discount shop, I now have two options. I can trim the cards to 4.5” x 6.25”, using a straight-edge and an X-acto knife. Or, I can buy the 5” x 7” envelopes and hope for the best. How do I know this? Because the chart in the envelope printing website includes the following information (as will most envelope charts you will find). It includes the number of the envelope (A-2, A-6, etc.), the envelope dimensions, the dimensions for a typical insert (very useful information), and whether it is a letter or a flat (a letter becomes a flat when its height exceeds 6 1/8” and/or its length exceeds 11.5”.)

A few more envelope printing items to consider

  • The cost to mail a flat is roughly double the cost to mail a letter.
  • The Post Office adds a surcharge if you want to to mail a square envelope.
  • Envelopes usually come in boxes of 250 or 500. Your business printing provider will probably charge you for the entire box, whether or not you use all the envelopes.
  • Envelopes usually come in 24# or 28# weight (which corresponds to 60# or 70# text-weight offset paper).
  • Envelopes are either open-end, called “catalog” envelopes, or open-side, called “booklet” envelopes.
  • Specialty envelopes are either “announcement” envelopes (square flap) or “Baronial” envelopes (pointed flap). “Lee” is the name of the 5.25” x 7.25” Baronial envelope.
  • And then there are business and commercial envelopes, with or without windows. They are the regular envelopes you get in the mail, containing letters, bills, statements, etc.

Book Printing: Nothing Shows Printing Companies What You Want Better Than a Sample

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I met a potential new client at an art opening this weekend. We discussed an upcoming book printing run. She wants to produce a 5” x 5” case-bound book of her photographs. I started thinking about how to approach this new job prior to our upcoming meeting to determine how I might be most helpful. First off, I asked her to start collecting book printing samples that she likes, with formats, sizes, and materials she thinks most closely reflect the nature of her photography. Nothing communicates a client’s goals for a new project like a physical printed sample. Printing companies can understand and reproduce what they can see. If you’re designing a book and are faced with a similar situation, consider these sources for sample books.

From Used Bookstores

The best reasons to start your search for samples at a used bookstore are the low cost of the books and their wide variety. You can afford to collect a number of different samples, odd formats, unique materials, and bindings that are out of the ordinary. Used bookstores often have books in their stacks from the last twenty to thirty years, so the different book printing design trends will be evident in their manufacturing and style.

From Paper Merchants

Paper merchants (intermediaries who broker papers from a number of paper mills) can get unique samples for you for free. Their job is to interest you in a specific paper, so you will encourage your custom printing vendor to buy the paper for your job from them. Not only do paper merchants have access to promotional pieces showcasing the best design work on various press sheets, but they often have extensive knowledge of custom printing technologies, paper options, bindery methods, etc.

From Business Printing Vendors and Binderies

Printers have access to the same paper merchants (and samples) that you do. However, they can also provide samples of custom printing jobs they themselves have produced. And they have direct knowledge through personal experience of the benefits and pitfalls of various materials and processes. Don’t forget specialty printers such as letterpress vendors. It even behooves you to request samples directly from binderies, since they will know more about this aspect of book manufacturing than even the printers.

From Paper Shows

Design trade groups such as AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) present periodic trade shows. Custom printing vendors, paper merchants, binderies, letterpress shops, and other related suppliers attend these shows and bring samples of their best business printing work. It’s worth the nominal fee to attend the show and peruse the vendor floor, going from booth to booth and collecting samples of what you like.

What to Look for

  • Binding methods (perfect binding, saddle-stitching, side-stitching, and mechanical bindings such as plastic coil, plastic comb, etc.)
  • Shape (upright, oblong, square)
  • Size (from ultra small to ultra large)
  • Cover material (fabric, leather, paper, even wood)
  • Cover diecuts, embossing, or materials such as photos inset into, or glued onto, the cover of the book
  • Interior paper (thickness, color, texture)

This list is just a start. If you take some time to visit a used bookstore, visit with your paper merchant or custom printing vendor, or attend a paper show, you will start to develop a “swipe file,” which will help you get ideas for your next book project and also communicate these ideas to your client, your boss, and your business printing service. Nothing communicates your intent like a book printing sample.

Brochure Printing: Experimenting with Unique Inks

Monday, September 5th, 2011

When you’re designing a brochure printing run for your custom printing service to produce (or any other kind of publication, for that matter), one of the first decisions you must make, along with format, size, and paper, is what ink colors you will use. First to mind often are the process colors and PMS colors. But you needn’t stop here. Be creative. Reach beyond the norm. Here are some options.

Fluorescent Inks

Have you ever noticed that a full-color image printed on a glossy paper really “pops”? This is because all of the ink sits on top of the press sheet (called hold-out). In contrast, when your business printing service prints a four-color image on uncoated stock, the ink seeps into the paper. Although a wet press sheet may reflect intense ink colors under pressroom lighting, when your job is dry and you’re looking at the image under normal lighting, it may seem a little dull (this is called dry-back).

One way to inject visual intensity into process colors printed on an uncoated press sheet is to ask your custom printing vendor to replace some or all of the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) with fluorescent versions of these inks.

Paper companies often print promotional booklets on uncoated stock showing full-color images with one, two, three, or four of the process colors replaced with fluorescent inks. You can get these booklets from your business printing service or your paper merchant.

Tinted Varnishes

Printing companies mix their inks using pigments and vehicles. The pigment is the material that creates the color or hue (usually minerals of some kind), and the vehicle is the fluid that allows the printing ink to flow and spread on the press sheet. In simplest terms, varnish (which is a major component of the vehicle) is ink without pigment.

To create a faint image on a press sheet, you can have your business printing vendor add just a little ink color to varnish and print a design element of your brochure (some type or a photo) in this way. The visual effect is a bit like screening back a PMS image or process color image, but you get the added effect of the gloss or dull varnish, sort of a faint pearlescence.

Silver Ink

Having your custom printing vendor print an opaque white ground of ink below sections of an image can make the image stand out and seem to float above the page. In a similar manner, having your business printing service add silver ink to a PMS or process ink can give the image a shimmering, metallic look (due to the actual metal flecks in the ink). In addition, since it is more opaque than most other inks, your custom printing provider can use silver ink to create a ground on which to print other inks without the background color of the press sheet’s altering the hues of the inks.

Magnetic Ink

Using magnetic inks really isn’t a design choice; rather, it is a functional one. Banks and other financial institutions have business printing services print the numbers on the bottom of checks with magnetic ink or toner. Unlike barcodes, these numbers are readable by humans as well as computers. In addition, since check printing companies magnetize the letterforms after printing, they can be decoded by machine even when other marks (such as check cancellations) obscure the magnetic letters. The accuracy rate for MICR (which stands for magnetic ink character recognition) is significantly higher than for OCR (optical character recognition).

Ask your printing companies about these options for your next brochure or other printing project. Custom printing services need to be involved early in the process to ensure success.

Book Printing and Brochure Printing: Ask for a Paper Dummy

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

If you ask him (or her), your paper merchant or custom printing vendor will give you what’s called a “paper dummy” of your job. It is an unprinted version of your project on the exact paper stock you plan to use. It has been folded, bound, and trimmed to the exact dimensions of your custom printing job. It will weigh exactly what an individual copy of your brochure, book, or flyer will weigh. Your business printing service or paper merchant will provide this as a free service. Here are some situations in which you might want to request one.

Post Office requirements

The Post Office is tricky about size, weight, and formatting requirements. If you don’t comply, or are not aware of a particular requirement, you will pay a per-piece surcharge. This can add up to hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars in extra postage costs, depending on the size of your mailing.

Although an unprinted paper dummy will not show the placement of address information or barcodes, it will reflect the size and weight of the piece. If you hand off a paper dummy and a laser print of your job to a US Postal Service representative, you will get advice on anything that will be problematic (from the aspect ratio–the ratio of the width to the height of the piece–to where the folds should be). Adhering to USPS requirements will save you a lot of money.

Postage costs for your job

Your postal representative can also weigh your paper dummy and tell you exactly what the per-piece postage cost will be. If you want to pay bulk mailing rates, make sure to take the address database with you to the Post Office, since the overall postage for a mailing may depend on the number of copies you mail, their weight, and their destination (depending on the class of mail).

Folding concerns you may have

If your custom printing vendor prints an accordion fold, or a wrap fold (also called a barrel fold), brochure on printing paper that is too heavy, and your printer folds it too many times to its final size, you might be disappointed with the result. Your barrel fold piece (in which all panels wrap around one another) might not lie flat. Your accordion (or Z-fold) brochure might be much thicker than you expected. Maybe the paper thickness will cause the brochure to gusset (crease in unsightly ways due to the trapping of air between the folds) when folded too many times. Perhaps even the book that you asked your custom printing supplier to saddle stitch, because it was cheaper than perfect binding the book, will be too thick and not lie flat. All of these potential problems can be foreseen and therefore avoided by requesting a paper dummy from your business printing provider or paper merchant.

The color and feel of the paper

Printing is tactile and visual. This is true even before printing companies apply ink to paper. Your custom printing supplier can show you swatch books of various paper samples, but if you have any concerns about how the brochure, book, or flyer will feel in your hands (its weight, the tooth of the printing sheet, or the color of the paper), it would behoove you to request a paper dummy. You won’t see how the printing will look, but you will get a really good idea of what a copy of your print job will feel like when your reader picks it up for the first time.


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