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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 November, 2011

Book Printing: Reduce the Cost by Changing Trim Size, Paper Weight, Color Placement, and Binding

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

A print brokering client of mine recently provided specifications for a small-format book printing run. One option for this 64-page directory included 16 pages of color and the balance in black ink only. The other option assumed process color throughout. I found a custom printing supplier in Texas with a large-format press that could handle 32-page signatures, yielding a price much lower that those provided by local printing companies. However, the total cost still didn’t meet the budget. The job exceeded budget targets whether printed with only 16 pages of color or process color throughout, whether saddle stitched or perfect bound.

The Client’s Goals

The primary goal became cost reduction. To complicate matters, a secondary goal involved spreading color throughout the book. The color pages were for advertisements, and advertisers wanted flexibility in ad placement.

Regarding color placement, if the commercial printer had saddle stitched the book, the 16-page color signature would have fallen as follows. Eight pages would have been in the front of the book, and eight pages would have been in the back of the book. This is because saddle-stitched signatures are nested, one within the other.

In contrast, signatures in a perfect-bound book are stacked one on top of the other. Therefore, the color signature could be placed between any other signatures in a perfect-bound version. This would include placing 16 color pages at the front of the book, placing color between one 16-page black-only signature and another 32-page black signature, or placing the color signature at the back of the book). The commercial printer could even break up the 16-page signature into smaller color signatures and distribute them throughout the book.

A Novel Option for Saddle-stitching the Book

The custom printing vendor made a novel suggestion. If we were to saddle stitch the book (a 16-page color and 48-page black-only version), we could break up the 16-page color signature into smaller units. Instead of printing and binding one 16-page color signature (with 8 pages landing in the front and 8 in the back of the book), we could print the same sized signature and trim it into 4-page and 8-page signatures that could be interspersed between the black-only signatures.

In simplest terms, we solved the problem by breaking larger color signatures into smaller ones, and then positioning them among the black signatures, giving the impression of more color within the book.

Pricing Concerns

This solved the problem of color distribution, but it did not lower prices. In fact, it might have even done the opposite. Press work would have involved the same number of signatures, but finishing (cutting, folding, binding, and trimming) would have involved more steps and therefore would have potentially cost more.

More Options

So I went back to the custom printing supplier and suggested cheaper paper and a smaller format (at the request of my client). I reduced the weight of the cover stock from 100# to 65# . I also reduced the weight of the text stock from 60# to 50#.

In addition, I considered alternate sizes. The initial bid assumed a trim size of 8-1/8” x 10-7/8”. I suggested a reduction of the page size to 5-3/8” x 10-7/8” with an increase in pages. This assumed that the commercial printer could fit more pages on the press sheet. More pages on the press sheet would yield larger signatures and therefore fewer of them (i.e., fewer press runs).

I suggested these options: process color throughout, a 16-page color signature with the balance in black ink only, and black ink only for the text.

I gave all of these options to the commercial printer and told him the pricing goal: $4,500.00. Basically, I asked what my client could get for this price, given her goals.

Regarding color usage in a black-only book, I suggested printing the cover 4CP / 4CP (process color on both sides of the press sheet) and placing the color ads on the inside front cover, inside back cover, and outside back cover. This would at least offer advertisers three ad positions.

I haven’t heard back from the custom printing supplier yet. I’ll keep you posted.

What We Can Learn from This Experience

Here are some general ideas you can apply when approaching printing companies, as culled from my experience:

  1. Tell your commercial printer what your goals are (e.g., color throughout, cost reduction). Think about what you’re willing to give up to save money (i.e., paper quality and thickness).
  2. Present alternatives (changing page sizes and page counts, breaking up the color signatures into smaller color signatures and spacing them throughout the book, limiting the amount of color).
  3. Consider binding alternatives: perfect binding vs. saddle stitching.
  4. Ask your commercial printer for suggestions. When all else fails, remember that your custom printing supplier knows his equipment better than you do. He can often make suggestions to reduce cost.

Commercial Printing: Books and Magazines in the Future

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the future of print.

In a Book, It’s All About the Story

In an article by The Sun Daily, the author quotes The Ottawa Citizen: “All the arguments against e-books are about external incidentals—the feel of a book, the crinkle of the pages and so on. None of these things has anything to do with what makes a book worth reading—that it’s a well-written, thoughtful and compelling story.”

Granted, a book’s value arises from its compelling story; however, I think there’s more. I have been aware recently that several print books (as opposed to digital books) I’m currently reading appeal to me in part because their dust jackets are coated with a dull film laminate. I like the way they feel while I am reading them. It is part of the experience. It affects how I feel and therefore how I take in and absorb the information in the print book. I think others may agree.

A Print Book That Beats Its Digital Edition

Another article, this one in Publishers Weekly, describes a book by a Japanese novelist. Entitled 1Q84, this book, according to the article, has “managed to reverse another trend: it has made the book more popular in print than in digital.” More specifically, 1Q84 has sold 75,000 copies in hardcover and 25,000 copies in electronic format as of the date of the Publishers Weekly article.

Clearly, there is something here that people want. In particular, the article describes the design of the cover (the subtle interplay of text and photography) and also refers to a translucent vellum dust jacket. These offer a physical experience that reinforces the effect of the “well-written, thoughtful and compelling story” (to re-quote The Ottawa Citizen). Knopf, the publisher of 1Q84, has acknowledged a desire to make the print book “look beautiful” and “match the tone of the novel itself.”

A digital book may tell an engaging story, but the lack of packaging makes a difference as well. Think about the Mona Lisa without a frame, just a stretched canvas on an easel. The framing brings the viewer’s attention to bear upon the image. Consider also a Cartier watch thrown into a pawn shop case versus the same watch in a high-end jewelry store. For good or ill, people appreciate the trappings. They complement and augment the experience.

Magazine Printing: More New Titles

Here’s another item from a newsletter sent to me by a Midwest printer. It’s a bit old, referring to the first quarter of this year. The title of the article, “More New Magazines in First Quarter,” references MediaFinder, which notes that “54 new titles were launched this year versus only 25 in last year’s first quarter.”

Many of the periodicals I read note that magazine printing and newspaper printing either are being replaced by the Web or will be replaced by the Web. But the aforementioned quote suggests otherwise. More than twice as many new magazine titles were initiated in the first quarter of this year than in the first quarter of last year. Maybe this is a harbinger of an improving economy. Maybe it is a trend.

In my travels I also see a lot of stacks of newspapers and magazines here in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. Most are small tabloids or newsprint booklets. Clearly both are holding their own in niche markets. Maybe there are fewer magazine issues in some cases, but some of these are longer and more elaborate. Sometimes they are even joint ventures, with a print version and an Internet version.

No one has a crystal ball. Things are changing, but that doesn’t mean print is dying—any more than radio died when TV was born.

One Final Thought

One area that will most probably be transformed by digital imaging is school textbooks. High school, college, and graduate students in the not too distant future may carry around a single tablet computer containing all their textbooks loaded in its memory. Not only will they be able to search their electronic books for immediate answers, but they will feel relief in not carrying the weight of multiple physical texts. It’s also cheaper to produce textbooks this way.

When they enter the workforce, these students may be more used to reading on-screen text than we their predecessors have been. We shall see.

Large-Format Printing: Standees Encompass Most Printing Technologies

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I may have mentioned this before. In addition to brokering printing, I install signage in movie theaters. This includes “standees,” the large, cardboard advertising environments and statues promoting upcoming movies.

At a recent install, I thought about all the various skills, areas of knowledge, and technical operations that go into creating and distributing a standee. And I thought you might find it interesting to see how many of these pertain directly to commercial printing.

Offset Custom Printing

Most of the standees are printed via offset lithography. I know this for several reasons.

  1. Under a loupe, I can see the rosette patterns in the halftones (circular patterns of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black halftone dots). Xerography (digital printing) shows a pattern of dots under magnification, but not true rosettes. Inkjet (also digital printing) shows minuscule spots of ink under a loupe, not halftone dots or rosettes.
  2. I can see offset color bars on the edges of the enamel litho paper on which the standees have been printed. Printing companies add these notations to press sheets to show solid ink colors and color combinations as well as halftone tint percentages.
  3. Standees go to multiple locations. It would be most cost-effective to print these larger press runs on printing companies’ offset litho presses rather than digital presses.

Digital Printing

The huge wall banners promoting upcoming films are probably produced via inkjet technology, because:

  1. The banners are much larger than the offset presses owned by printing companies could produce.
  2. The banners are produced on vinyl, which would not hold its dimensional stability on an offset press (i.e., it would wrinkle and move around, or stretch).
  3. Under a loupe, you can see minuscule ink spots in no regular pattern (i.e., dithering, which is indicative of inkjet printing).


The bases and pedestals of many of the standees are printed in matte black ink directly on the corrugated board, whereas the graphic panels of the standees are printed on gloss litho paper glued to the corrugated board. This is a dead giveaway that rubber flexographic plates were used to print the matte black ink on the bases of the standees, and that printing companies produced the graphic panels via offset lithography.

Finishing Techniques

Here are some general finishing techniques used in standee construction:

  1. The standee graphic panels are often laminated (covered by the printing companies with a thin film of adhesive plastic sheeting for protection).
  2. Panels are scored (probably on a letterpress by a commercial printing company) to allow for folding. After all, the cardboard elements of the standee arrive flat and must be accurately folded by hand.
  3. Tabs and slots are diecut, along with screw holes (also probably by commercial printers on a letterpress). Tabs, slots, and screws allow standee installers to put all the pieces together into the huge movie environments.
  4. Often portions of the standee are silhouetted. That is, the figures must be die cut on a letterpress by a commercial printing company.
  5. Printing companies use pattern gluing to attach pieces of cardboard to other pieces of cardboard. For example, separate fold-out tabs may be glued to the back of a movie character within the standee environment.

Exotic Fabrication Techniques

  1. One standee for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax included a composition plastic molded figure (or possibly fiberglass) that was approximately three feet tall. It had been masked off in various areas and (probably) spray painted in a number of oil-based colors. Most printing companies do not do this kind of work, but three-dimensional fabricators often use skills related to printing.
  2. Lollipop poles coming out of the Lorax standee had cardboard circles attached to their tops. The circles were covered with faux fur. This involved not only the die-cutting of the lollipops but also the pattern gluing of the fur material.

The Larger Picture: Marketing Design, Production, and Distribution

All of the standees come in flat cardboard boxes. All of the cardboard pieces must be punched out (non-image areas of die-cuts removed from image areas), folded, and assembled based on the accompanying directions. Picture this as a huge, 3-D puzzle. But it is only a component in a larger scheme.

Someone has to design the standee. It has to fit into a marketing strategy to promote the film all over the country. It must be able to be assembled (i.e., the standee designer must take into account logical construction concerns based on physics). The standee must stand by itself, bear weight in some cases, and last for months.

Unassembled, the standee must fit into a carton of a certain weight and dimension that will be transportable by a freight carrier. It cannot break apart. The carton must protect the contents, so small pieces of the standee don’t get broken (which they still often do, requiring artistic skill on the part of the installers to repair the standees).

Someone has to choose destination theaters and send the boxes, track them, and make sure installers show up and assemble the standees correctly (confirmed through photographs uploaded to a “cloud-based” database).

A huge amount of thought and money go into this. It is a true marriage of art and science.

Digital On Demand Book Printing: How Many Copies? How many Pages?

Monday, November 21st, 2011

A print brokering client of mine publishes literary works of poetry and fiction. She came to me last week with a book printing job to estimate: 100 copies of a 315-page perfect-bound text, black-ink-only with a four-color cover. These are “reader copies” of the book, and are also called “galley proofs.” Reviewers will make suggestions that the author will then incorporate into the finished book printing run.

My client wants the books to look polished. Keep in mind that in the ’70s and ’80s, galley proofs weren’t even bound. My client had considered a local photocopy shop and wanted higher quality.

What Are the Custom Printing Options?

I had two ideas of how to proceed: digital and—a long-shot—a huge offset book press running black ink and printing very few, large signatures.

First off, let’s discuss why I came up with the idea of the large-format offset press and why this was actually inappropriate. I had recently received an extraordinarily low bid for another book printing job from a Texas commercial printing company that had planned to produce the job on an eight-unit perfecting press. I knew that the size of the press allowed for large press signatures and therefore fewer press runs. The fact that my client’s literary book was to be 316 pages in length made me think it would not be cost effective for a digital on demand book printing press. I thought it had too many pages. So I considered offset, even though the press run was only 100 copies. I knew the make-ready would drive the price up. I didn’t think this would be a good fit for any commercial printer.

The representative of the Texas printing company with the large-format press “no bid” the job. He said the make-ready on such a press would render it inappropriate for offset. Only if the press run had been closer to 500 copies or 1,000 copies would such a large press have produced the job in a cost-effective manner. In spite of the length of the book, the rep suggested digital on demand book printing. (I made a mental note for future jobs and future clients: No matter what the page count, only consider offset printing for press runs exceeding 500 copies.)

What About Digital On Demand Book Printing?

I thought about digital options. I bid the job out to a printer with an HP Indigo press. I knew the digital output from this equipment would provide high-quality covers for the 100 copies of my client’s book. However, I thought that for a black-only book block (all the text pages), the Indigo would be excessive. The Indigo is geared toward color work, not black text. I thought a 316-page text block would be too expensive to print on an Indigo.

Black-only Digital Printing

As an experiment, I asked a commercial printer with a Canon digital press to price out the book block only. I had assumed that the Canon digital press excelled at black-only-text work, but the printer corrected me. He said that running black-only toner on such a press would damage the Canon engine, since the cyan, magenta, and yellow rollers would be turning but not applying toner. He suggested a DocuTech, a digital on demand book printing press made for imaging black-text-only. He offered to price the job (text pages only, provided as loose, gathered sheets, and delivered to the printer with the Indigo). The printer with the Indigo press would then print the covers and bind the book. Everyone agreed to work together. (I made another mental note: For black text only, look for a DocuTech, not a Canon digital press.)

Having Two Printers Work Together to Produce One Job

Last night I received the price for the second printer to produce only the black-ink text block. It was twice the price the first printer had offered to print the entire job on the Indigo.

What if it had been less expensive? After all, other printers have DocuTech digital presses. And using a dedicated black-only, digital on demand book printing press for a book block is still a good idea. Maybe another printer would not have charged as much.

There’s one thing you may want to consider here. After all, you might need to coordinate the work of two separate printing companies one day. Moving incomplete books from one printer to another for finishing touches costs money. Remember to add this freight expense to the total cost. In addition, like the old adage says, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” If you attempt to marry the efforts of two vendors, make sure it’s worth the savings. After all, if the job goes South, each vendor may point the finger at the other.

What About FedEx Office or On-line “Web-to-Print” Vendors?

Just to put the cost into perspective for my client, I priced out the job at both the local FedEx Office shop and an on-line printer.

The FedEx Office price was over $25.00 per book. At eight cents per page, that really wasn’t bad. After all, it was essentially a photocopy job.

I went online and picked a “web-to-print” vendor at random. (You upload the book design files; they send you finished books.) The unit cost would have been just under $8.00 per book. I thought there would be no way that the printer I use with the HP Indigo could match this. I was concerned. After all, I am passionate about the quality output of the Indigo digital on demand book printing press, and I wanted the books to look really good.

Final Price Estimates

To my surprise and pleasure, the price for printing the book on the HP Indigo was only slightly higher (less than $100.00) than the online vendor’s price. My client would get the stellar customer service of the printer with the high quality Indigo press, all for approximately the same price as the online vendor would charge.

It pays to shop around.

Book Printing: Fit the Job Specs to the Printer’s Equipment

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

If you buy a number of different kinds of printing from a number of different printing companies, you may be surprised that a vendor providing a low estimate on one job may actually submit a high bid on another. I was quite surprised recently with the large pricing spread in three book printing estimates.

My client submitted an RFQ for a 64-page booklet, with 16 pages in process color and the balance in black ink. She also requested an option to print process color throughout the book. The press run was 5,000 copies.

I selected three printing companies and called all of them to discuss the job before providing the specifications. I wanted to make sure each custom printing vendor considered the job to be within its “sweet spot,” the ideal match between vendor capabilities and client’s job specifications.

The First Printer

The first custom printing company I chose had always provided ultra-low pricing on short-run marketing materials. I therefore assumed, erroneously, that this job would also receive a low bid. I did not take into account at the time that the printer only had a 28” press.

The Second Printer

The second business printing vendor falls under the heading of general commercial printing work. They have mostly 40” presses, but they also have one 41” x 56” 6-color press. This is relevant because a 64-page book can be broken into two 32-page signatures. Larger signatures mean more pages per signature and therefore fewer passes through the press. This lowers the overall cost (less money spent on press time, plates, wash-ups, etc.).

The Third Printer

The third printer has an eight-unit, 51 3/16” perfecting offset press with roll to sheet capabilities. What this means is that this custom printing company can also produce two 32-page signatures (since the press will accept a 51” press sheet).

Compare this to the first printer, which must print much smaller signatures (fewer pages at one time) on its 28” press. Smaller signatures mean more press runs, more plates and wash ups, etc.

The third custom printing vendor can also buy paper in rolls (cheaper than sheets) since they have roll to sheet capabilities, and then cut the rolls into sheets prior to printing. This saves money.

Since the press has eight printing units and perfects the jobs, this vendor can print 4-color on both sides of the press sheet simultaneously (or 4-color on one side of the sheet and black on the other, if the client chooses that option).

So the larger press sheet will yield larger signatures (and fewer of them), and the press can print both sides of the sheet simultaneously with either of the client’s two options for color placement. In spite of the fact that the hourly rate to print on this monster press is absolutely exorbitant, the job will run so quickly and smoothly (with a savings on paper due to the roll sheeter) that their price was actually about half the price provided by the (usually) much cheaper first commercial printer with the smaller press.

Not all jobs fit all printing companies. Take the time to not only discuss the job with the printing services you identify but also to research their printing equipment. Their equipment list can usually be found on their website. It is dry reading, but well worth your time.

Interestingly enough, the third commercial printer is in Texas. The other printers are on the East Coast. The printed job will need to be delivered to the West Coast. Shipping is expensive for heavy items, and printed books weigh a lot. Upon receiving the printing bids and freight estimates, I was pleased to see that the estimated freight from the Texas printer was just over a third of the estimate provided by the other two printers.

What Can We Learn from This?

  • Keep an open mind and become a student of printing. Review printing companies’ websites and look for their equipment lists. Ask questions to help you understand the differences between presses. Learn what presses are appropriate for your different kinds of jobs, and select printing companies with appropriate equipment before distributing specs for bids.
  • Keep an open mind about the location of your printers. It costs less to ship a job from Texas to California than from Virginia to California. If you are on the East Coast, does your printer really need to be on the East Coast as well?
  • Regardless of the attractive pricing you may receive, check out your printers thoroughly. Follow up on references, request and review printed samples, and if at all possible start the working relationship with a smaller, low-profile job (don’t start with an annual report).

By the way, the second printer and third printer provided prices that were very close. However, the fact that the second printer only had a 6-unit press and could therefore not perfect the job (print four colors on both sides at once), plus the fact that the second printer did not have roll-sheeting capabilities, put the total estimate a little over a thousand dollars higher than the estimate provided by the third printer.

The third custom printing vendor’s capabilities exactly matched the job.

Magazine Printing: It’s Always Wise to Have a Back-up Plan

Monday, November 14th, 2011

About seven years ago, when I was a custom printing consultant, I received a crisis call on deadline night. I learned that a tornado had ripped off the roof of the business printing vendor that had already started producing a 64-page weekly issue of the Monday magazine. The printer couldn’t complete the job. It was Friday night at about 8:00 p.m.

The Fallback Plan

I spoke with the magazine publisher and mapped out my suggestions. A second business printing vendor was already producing a much shorter, daily magazine for the company. They wanted more work. They also had sheetfed equipment, in contrast to the printing company responsible for the weekly magazine. I told the publisher that the sheetfed printer was used to impossible deadlines. I also noted that sheetfed printing was of higher quality than web printing, and I suggested that the magazine’s advertisers would like the printed product. Their ads would be of a visibly higher quality.

For the magazine to land on subscribers’ door stoops by Monday morning, a decision had to be made immediately. The publisher concurred with my solution, and I called the plant manager of the sheetfed commercial printing company. I asked him to help. He was pleased by the vote of confidence.

The Execution of the Plan

The publisher’s advertising coordinator sent all electronic ads via FTP to the new business printing vendor. Film-based ads (it was seven years ago) went to the new printer by courier. The magazine editorial department diverted all text pages to the new printer, also via FTP. I had the editorial department send a back-up disk by courier. All of this occurred between 8:00 p.m. and midnight on Friday.

Needless to say, the new commercial printing company stepped up, printed the job through the night, and bound and addressed the magazine in the morning. Mail copies went to the Post Office Saturday afternoon, and the business printing vendor handed off copies for courier delivery on Saturday afternoon as well.

The Aftermath

The magazine cost more to produce. Sheetfed printing almost always costs more than web (roll-fed) printing. But the crispness of the color and the photography, the superior paper, and the fact that the commercial printing company had met all deadlines made everyone happy. To the subscribers, it was as though nothing had happened.

As soon as the contract with the first printer expired, the second printer acquired the new weekly magazine. New pricing structures were addressed, along with new schedules and workflows. The new commercial printing company proved itself beyond a shadow of a doubt. The rest was details. When I tell the story, I like to say that the first printer’s comment, “You’re on your own,” combined with the extraordinary performance of the second printer, created a vacuum that sucked all remaining work out of the web printer and into the new sheetfed printer.

What Can We Learn?

This is an isolated incident that happened to one publisher seven years ago. But it could also happen to you at any time. So it helps to have a back-up plan.

Consider the following:

  • The power could go out at your custom printing vendor’s shop during a deadline. What would you do?
  • The trucks that deliver your magazines could break down. What would you do?
  • A traffic accident could snarl traffic and slow down delivery of your publication. What would you do?

Disaster recovery should be a part of your plan. It is very reasonable to ask your commercial printing company about their disaster plan for a power outage, a hurricane, or a tornado. Do they have a strategic relationship with a comparable custom printing vendor? It is also prudent to either groom a second business printing supplier to take over in an emergency or at least to develop relationships with a number of local printers with similar equipment.

Book Printing: Offset vs. On-Demand Digital; Local vs. China

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

I have two custom printing clients who are bucking the trends. They are self publishing books, but they want me to hook them up with offset printing companies. They have chosen not to self-publish with online, on-demand printing companies. They do not want to send their custom printing jobs to vendors in China. They want actual ink on paper, printed locally.

Here are some of the reasons this particular niche market exists.

The Clients Want a Certain Level of Quality Available in Offset Printing.

These are all art books of one sort or another. One is a book of photos and quotes. Two others are poetry and fiction. In all cases the authors want very high production values and are willing to pay for them. The perfect bound literary works will have French flaps (cover flaps that fold back in toward the book, in order to give the impression of a dust jacket) and deckled edges on the paper.

The photo book is a coffee-table book produced to showcase the work of a local photographer. The authors want to encourage readers to experience the full tactile range of the books (the feel and smell of the paper, the sound of the binding when the books are opened, and so forth).

Offset custom printing lends itself to this level of quality. Digital on-demand book printing can come close to offset in image quality, but a photographer or other artist would be able to see the unevenness of the digital toner compared to the offset ink.

Longer Works (More Pages) with Longer Press Runs Lend Themselves to Offset Printing.

All of the books in question exceed 200 pages in length. Photo books that can be purchased online cost about $20 to $30 each, which for a short run is not bad at all (you can buy 50 for $1,000 to $1,500). However, this pricing usually includes 20 or so pages, with each additional page costing a premium (perhaps an additional 80 cents to $1.00). For even a single digital copy of a 200-page book, the extra page rate would drive the unit price close to the $200 mark. For a 20-page photo book, the price is right. For a longer book, like my client’s photo book or the two literary works, digital on-demand book printing is not cost effective.

In addition, the press runs are much longer for the two literary books and the photo book. All three clients want 500 to 1,000 books. If their books were short, with a press run of 10, 20,100, or even 200 copies, the on-line, on-demand book printing vendors’ prices might be attractive. But for longer press runs, it’s much cheaper—on a per-book rate—to go with offset custom printing. Even with case binding, a ribbon place-holder, and process color throughout, the unit cost for the photo books came in at just under $13 per copy including freight. Again, this was due to the longer press run.

For a digital job, each unit costs the same. For an offset job, a lot of money goes into makeready, but the longer the run after the initial set-up, the less each book costs.

The Clients Wanted Access to the Printers, So Vendors in China Were Not an Option.

Many book printers in China can do an outstanding job of producing full-color, case-bound books for a low price, even those with longer press runs and higher page counts. That said, some buyers want to be able to sit down with a book printer’s representative (or in my case a broker) and discuss all the options: the paper, the binding, and all the other intricacies and nuances of the job.

Printing companies half a world away may do a great job. But what happens if they don’t? These clients with the photo book and literary works wanted to know that if something went wrong with their custom printing jobs–the binding, the schedule, or the delivery–someone local would address and remedy the problem(s).

Custom Printing: Print Flyers vs. Online Flyers

Monday, November 7th, 2011

I read an article today suggesting that on-line flyers would replace print flyers, not immediately, but in the next five to ten years.

The article noted that flyer printing is a large expense for retail establishments, and from the point of view of the offset or digital custom printing services, flyer printing generates abundant revenue.

I have some thoughts on digital flyers, since I have been receiving them in my email box for some time now.

1. Digital flyers are useful for researching goods or services: When I’m already on the computer, digital flyers are welcome and useful if I am searching for a particular item. Therefore, I often read or at least skim email flyers about computer hardware and software. Some digital flyers or magazines even have useful links to product reviews or videos.

2. But they can be annoying when you’re not interested in the product or service: If I’m not looking for a particular item, I’ll delete the digital flyer without even skimming it. In fact, I delete about 90 percent of the promotional emails I receive without glancing at them, based entirely on their subject lines. (But I don’t throw out any physical mail or print flyers without at least glancing at them.)

3. Print flyers are hard to dismiss entirely: In contrast to digital flyers, I like to peruse the print flyers from the local community newspaper: computer circulars, entertainment items, sporting goods, etc. I am more likely to give these a little more time than online flyers, and I may notice sale items I had not actively been looking for. Granted, I’m middle-aged and grew up reading paper-based flyers. Younger folk may approach this differently.

4. Smartphones have tiny screens, so reading online flyers can be difficult: If I’m not in front of my computer, there’s almost no chance that I’ll look at a digital flyer. My smartphone screen is too small, and the browser is too slow to make viewing an online flyer pleasurable. And, I like the spontaneity of a paper-based flyer. I can glance at it, put it down, and pick it up later. Tablets may change this over time, although I think notebook computers and netbook computers (or anything else that doesn’t give instant access to a web browser of sufficient, comfortable reading size) won’t compete with paper-based advertising when I’m not actively searching for information on a computer.

5. Mixed reviews: I’ve read in various marketing journals that mobile advertising is expanding its reach. However, I’ve also read in other marketing magazines and US Postal Service periodicals that print catalogs drive people to the Internet and that more people buy from Internet sites if they have also received and reviewed a print catalog. In other journals, I’ve even read that many people actually find the plethora of online ads distracting or irritating.

6. Online is eco-friendly, or is it: Online flyers are touted as an eco-friendly alternative to paper. Personally, I think the motive in embracing eco-friendly technology is laudable; however, I have also read that computer server farms consume a lot of energy created from fossil fuels. So maybe they’re not so eco-friendly. I’ve also read that more trees are planted by paper manufacturers than are harvested for making paper. Custom printing on paper ensures that timber lands remain timberlands and are not replaced with roads and buildings. Again, being eco-friendly is notable, but I think this is a more complex issue than it appears on the surface.

7. Printing and distributing paper flyers is expensive. Granted. There may well be an argument for targeting prospective clients more precisely; cleaning mailing lists; reducing print runs; using variable data information to make flyer printing a more targeted endeavor; and pairing print flyers with online media.

The Internet Is More of a “Pull” Medium

Aside from the “pop-up” ads that appear on your screen when you least expect them, the Internet is more of a “pull” medium, and print flyers are more of a “push” medium, to use current marketing parlance. Each has its place. If someone leaves a print flyer rolled up and shoved bewteen your doorknob and the door jamb, you will probably at least glance at it before you throw it away. Maybe it will get you thinking about the new surface coating your driveway needs. If you’re online looking for vendors who will resurface your driveway, the Internet is a good way to garner a huge amount of information (including product and service reviews) quickly. But if you’re not looking for such a vendor, and an online flyer on driveway resurfacing appears in your email inbox, chances are that you will just hit “delete.”

Custom Printing: Adding Marketing Cards to a Magazine or Catalog

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

When you read a magazine or catalog, you’re thinking about content: the message it imparts, the articles, photos, and perhaps even the ads. When the publisher of the magazine looks at an issue, he or she must think about ways to pay for producing the magazine. This funding may include ads other companies have paid to insert in the magazine, but it may also include marketing items for the magazine itself. Subscription offers fall into this category, and there are several ways to add these promotional cards to a print catalog or a magazine.

Bind-in Card

The bind-in card lends itself to either a saddle stitched or perfect bound magazine. Bind-in cards are business postcards printed on a card stock of acceptable thickness to the Post Office, allowing potential subscribers to mail the cards back to the publisher without custom envelopes.

If your magazine is perfect bound, the card will be glued between magazine signatures. If your magazine is saddle stitched, the bind-in card can be stitched either in the center of the book or between signatures. In this case, half of the bind-in card will be visible within a page-spread before the center of the magazine, and half will be visible within a page-spread after the center of the magazine. (That is, the card will have two parts, either a business reply card and an unprinted tag, or two complete business reply cards, one for the front of the magazine and one for the back.)

Blow-in Card

If your magazine is either perfect bound or saddle stitched with a sufficient number of pages to keep the cards from falling out, you can blow in your business reply marketing cards. Finishing equipment at your printer blows the cards randomly between pages during the binding process. If the magazine is not thick enough for the weight of the pages to keep the blow-in cards in place, they will fall out. Unlike bind-in cards, blow-in cards cannot be precisely positioned. If you want the cards to fall between particular pages to complement advertisements, you should choose the bind-in option.


A bangtail is a hybrid. It combines a business reply envelope with an application of some sort. Usually bound into the center spread of the magazine, a bangtail is removed from the staples, and the application form is detached from the envelope prior to its completion and mailing. (You have probably seen a bangtail used in a catalog as an order form.)

Tip-on or Bind-on Cover Wrap

Occasionally you will see a subscription offer printed on an exterior cover wrap (a wrap that goes around the printed cover as though it were an additional cover). Often it is printed on an uncoated card stock.

Printing companies can attach cover wraps to saddle stitched publications using the binding staples holding the magazine together. The wraps can either extend the entire length of the front and back cover, or they can cover only a portion of the magazine. Printing companies can also attach cover wraps to the front cover only, near the bind edge, using fugitive glue (a substance similar to rubber cement).

On a perfect bound magazine, business printing vendors can add a cover wrap using fugitive glue. Since there are no staples with which to affix the cover wrap, printing companies can place a strip of fugitive glue on the front of the magazine cover near the bind edge (for attachment to the front cover only) or on the spine itself if the wrap extends across both the front and back covers.

What makes fugitive glue an ideal substance for such a wrap is its ability to be easily removed. You can peel off the cover wrap, peel the fugitive glue off the wrap, and then complete and mail the business reply card portion of the wrap—all without damaging the card.

Talk with custom printing services you trust to decide which of these options will fill your promotional needs and fit your budget. Catalog printing vendors and magazine printers will be your best sources of information.


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