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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 January, 2012

Printing Case Study: Proofing Cycles for Critical Color Images

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

The following case study may give you insight into options for proofing offset custom printing jobs, whether they be digests, books, catalogs, magazines, or any other signature work. For that matter, I think even smaller jobs like fold-over cards, brochures, and such, might benefit from this proofing workflow.

The Job Parameters

My client is producing a book of photos of flowers. Each left-hand page is a full-page image, and each right-hand page is a quote from a famous author. You could envision this as a meditation or contemplation book, intended to provoke thought and reflection by the reader. The format is 6” x 6”. The book is 190+ pages at this point, and it will be perfect bound.

My client had initially produced eight separate fold-over notecard designs, each with a photo on the front and a quotation on the back. The cards had a short press run (500 copies of each) and therefore were best suited to the printer’s HP Indigo digital press. This job, the perfect bound print book, will need to complement the photo cards, but will be printed via offset lithography. Why? Because it is a high-page-count book with a 1,000-copy press run, thus not a good candidate for economical digital printing.

The Goal: Critical Color

Unlike many other custom printing jobs, the goal of this job is not “pleasing color” but “critical color.” Pleasing color implies more tolerance for color shifts. Critical color implies none. Critical color work would include food, automotive, and fashion photography (and, in this case, custom printing for a professional flower photographer).

Furthermore, the client had color corrected on-screen the 90 photos comprising the print book. The monitor had been calibrated. The ambient room light had been controlled. But the images had not been physically printed prior to the job. In addition, since the images had been color corrected within the RGB color space (with a larger color gamut than CMYK) and then converted to CMYK for proofing and final offset custom printing, it was especially important for the client to see repeated series of proofs until she was happy. Anything less would risk having the final offset printed product both surprise and displease her.

The First Proofing Cycle

Under the circumstances, I suggested an initial series of Epson proofs of the photos only, plus the front matter and one quotation page. The text pages would give my client the overall “look” of the book, but for this first series of proofs, the goal was really to establish the correctness of the color in the flower photos. For a 190-page print book (half photos and half quotations), this meant just under 100 pages of photo proofs at $1.00 a page, well worth the money.

The Epson inkjet printer at this particular custom printing vendor had been “fingerprinted” to their offset press. (That is, it had been calibrated to provide the closest possible color match between the proofing device and the press. It was color calibrated regularly and therefore provided a benchmark standard that was considered a “contract proof.”

My client found errors in approximately half the images. Ostensibly this was due to color shifts in the conversion from RGB to CMYK for both inkjet output and final offset custom printing. RGB colors that have no exact match within the CMYK color space (since it is a smaller color space) shift to the next closest CMYK color during the conversion process. Also, the Epson proofs were my client’s first hard-copy proofs, and there really is a difference between color produced on-screen with light and color printed on paper with ink or dyes. So having half the images correct on the first try really was quite good.

The Next Proofing Cycle

I gave my client a choice for the next proofing cycle. She could have another set of Epson proofs or an Indigo proof. The Indigo proof might look better. The color would be close to that of the final offset printed output but not quite as close as the output from the Epson proofer. However, the printer could produce a trimmed sample book on the Indigo (unbound, but exactly accurate to size, on paper comparable to the final offset custom printing output).

Unfortunately, there might be some dot gain on the Indigo. The xerographic dots of the Indigo (amplitude modulated, similar to offset press halftone dot rosettes) would be larger than the minuscule inkjet spots (dithered frequency modulated spots) of the Epson printer. Because of the Epson’s smaller dots (entailing no dot gain and hence more accurate color) and because the Epson had been specifically fingerprinted to the final offset lithographic press, I encouraged my client to request another Epson proof of the updated photos. After all, what good would it have been to get a great looking proof that did not (contractually) match the expected custom printing output?

The client chose a hybrid solution. She requested 37 new Epson proofs of the photos for approximately an additional $37.00. She also requested an HP Indigo (laser) proof of the entire book as a “position proof” to show exact placement and cropping of all elements on all pages. She got the best of both worlds. She also asked that both proofs arrive together, so she could compare the two.

Requesting F&Gs as a Final Step

I suggested F&Gs as well. These are essentially a stack of press signatures (4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page increments of the print book), stacked and set in a cover but unbound and untrimmed. At this point the commercial printer will have printed the entire job but not yet bound it.

Getting F&Gs is a good idea for color-critical signature work (such as magazines, books, catalogs, or digests), since an error is easier to correct. If my client finds an error in three pages within one signature, for instance, the custom printing supplier can merely reprint one signature. If my client waits and finds the problems after the book has been bound, this will necessitate tearing off the covers, reprinting all copies of the individual signature, rebinding the book with the replaced signature, and retrimming the book (yielding a smaller book in the process, which might look awkward).

So the commercial printer will print all copies of the cover and all copies of all signatures. He will send my client an F&G and then wait for her approval prior to binding the print book.

Custom Printing and Digital Copyright

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

I recently designed a print book of poems for a local writer, and a print book of flower photographs for a local photographer. In an attempt to solicit more design work from another potential client, I considered emailing the prospective client PDF samples of the two books I had just completed. After all, I considered this akin to showing a digital portfolio, just as I used to open my physical portfolio and display printed copies of my design work. Fortunately, I paused before acting. I then sent emails to both the poet and the photographer asking permission to share their work.

Both Custom Printing Clients Plan to Sell Their Books.

I heard back from both clients. Both would approve my sharing their work, but they wanted me to only show potential clients a PDF of the cover and one text spread of their respective print books. I could not share the samples indiscriminately. I had to show them individually to potential new clients. In addition to my citing attribution for her photos, one of the two clients asked that I also send my potential new client a web link to her photography website.

The clarity and precision of both clients’ responses got me thinking, as did a comment from another associate, who is a writer and who noted that the copyrights on most of her books and articles had been violated.

The key here is that the poet and the photographer plan to sell their print books. In years past, when soliciting new design work, I would take the print books and brochure printing samples out of my portfolio, show them to a potential client, and take them away with me when I left the interview. But a PDF can be printed rather easily compared to a hard-copy of a book that I might have inadvertently left behind after an interview. An unscrupulous person might photocopy the physical print book sample and share the poetry with others for a small fee, but the output would be of marginal quality—hardly salable at the same price as the original.

In contrast, if I had distributed complete PDFs of the photo book or poetry book, even if my goal had been merely to demonstrate my graphic design skill and get more work, I would have left behind a digital document that could have been either published on the Internet or printed by an offset or digital printer. The printed quality of the pirated job would have been far superior to a photocopy of a sample print book.

Hypothetically, even digital copies of the two books could eat into the authors’ potential sales. After all, why buy the photo book or the poetry book when you can see the photos or read the poems online for free? This would be true even if the PDF of the books never made it into physical form as pirated print books. So my clients, who had already paid for the design work and the physical, custom printing would then have a smaller universe of potential buyers for their books.

What About Protection for Photos?

Photo agencies have a similar exposure to digital piracy. Think about it. If you are a graphic designer scanning images in online photo databases, you might be tempted to download a photo for free. It’s a simple action: right click on the mouse and hit the “save image as” command.

Fortunately, digital photographers, who might also lose innumerable sales to such piracy, have recourse. The photos that can be downloaded for use in mock-ups usually have digital watermarks (the name of the agency splayed across the image). This defacement of the downloadable copy gives the designer just enough picture information to create a mock-up but not enough to create a press-ready file for duplication.

In addition, owners of online picture agencies have a second line of defense in protecting the intellectual property rights of their photographers. That is, the images downloadable with a right-click of the mouse are very small and of low resolution. If enlarged, they immediately become pixellated and blurred. So potential digital pirates will be dissuaded from downloading images and using them for free. When the designer has purchased the rights to use the image, the website will allow the actual download of the high-resolution photo in a large-sized format without any digital watermark information obscuring the image. The designer can then use the downloaded image file as final art for the commercial printer.

Think Twice Before You Share PDFs.

I almost made a big mistake—unwittingly and only to show the design work I had just completed. But that still might have taken sales away from my clients. Fortunately I thought twice and asked permission, and requested parameters for sharing the PDFs.

It is possible to easily and even unwittingly copy—or cause to be copied, or fail to prevent from being copied—the work of visual and literary artists who depend on the originality of their work, and on the control of its distribution, to eat and pay their bills. Piracy costs you nothing (if you don’t get caught and prosecuted—or sued by the visual or literary artist), but it costs the artists dearly.

So be considerate, and thoughtful, and ask before using.

The Espresso Book Printing Machine Revisited

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

First of all, I misspoke.

A PIE Blog reader just brought to my attention that the price Politics and Prose charges for a single print book produced on Opus, their Espresso book printing machine, is not, as I had noted, $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred or fewer pages. This is just for “public domain” titles.

Public domain refers to works for which the copyright has expired, such as the works of Shakespeare. Such works are available to the general public for use without regard to ownership.

Politics and Prose goes on to say in another part of its description of Opus that custom titles one might upload to their Espresso book printing machine incur other charges. While these charges are quite reasonable, they point toward the variety of skills, techniques, and arenas of knowledge involved in print book publishing.

Here’s a list:

  1. Art Production and Art File Review: Politics and Prose will review the art files and PDFs for your print book. This assumes that you have hired a graphic artist to create a design and lay out the book, then distill the document into a press-ready PDF. Politics and Prose will provide design services if you so desire. The process of book design alone encompasses skills in layout, photo manipulation, illustration, type usage, color usage, art production within InDesign or Quark, prepress knowledge related to distilling press-ready PDFs, and an overall awareness of custom printing paper specification and book printing and binding.
  2. Copyright: Politics and Prose will provide a copyright page, if requested. This ties into the whole area of copyright, or intellectual property rights management, which is an aspect of common law that bears study and perhaps even advice from counsel. Information is readily available, but one’s rights and responsibilities shouldn’t be taken lightly. One should familiarize oneself with the laws and make informed decisions.
  3. ISBN: These numeric codes reflect a print book’s edition and publisher, plus qualities such as trim size, page count, and binding. Booksellers and libraries identify print books by their ISBNs. I’m not absolutely sure whether Politics and Prose addresses the issue of ISBNs, but this is a realm of expertise that must be considered.
  4. Promotion: Politics and Prose will put your books on their shelves and display them on their website. If your books sell, the bookstore will take a 20 percent commission. This is very reasonable given the amount many other self-publishing venues will take. That said, you might want to promote your print book yourself. You may want to send out press releases, postcards, or promotional bookmarks. You may want to hold a book launch. Your goal will be to generate buzz, to make it known to potential buyers that your book is available and to get them to want it. Public relations, promotion, marketing–in most for-profit businesses, these comprise one or more discrete departments. There are many skills to acquire, many choices to be made, to effectively promote your book.
  5. Distribution: My guess is that output from the Espresso book printing machine goes to the bookshelf, it is sold, and you get your portion of the proceeds. But there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. In most cases you would print and store the books, pay someone to warehouse them, keep track of how many you have, and collect and send them out as needed to those who submit book orders. Warehousing, inventory control, and and order fulfillment in most businesses also comprise an entire business department. Fortunately, at Politics and Prose you produce a book, it goes on the shelf, and someone buys it. Then Politics and Prose prints another copy (or a few more). That said, it’s still useful to understand the process of storage and distribution. After all, what if you want to give a handful of books as a gift or a donation to charity. How would you do so? Or what if you become a popular author and you want to sell your book at multiple bookstores. What distribution rights do you have?

This Is Nothing New

The same sort of thing happened when typesetting, paste-up, and prepress (assembly of negatives onto goldenrod sheets at printers and prepress houses in preparation for platemaking) were folded up into the Macintosh. Multiple disciplines pursued by skilled professionals collapsed into a single machine, and it became conventional wisdom that anyone with a computer could produce a publication. Only gradually did it become evident that the process encompassed multiple disciplines that had to be mastered.

I’m sure Politics and Prose does a great job for a reasonable price. I personally like the idea that independent authors can get their books printed and distributed when they might otherwise not have had this opportunity.

I even understand the criticism that not every one of the explosion of book titles will be worth reading, that the democratization of publishing will have its down side. Perhaps we need “curators” to help steer interested parties toward better book purchases.

But I do like the idea that more people will publish and more people will read.

While it may look like Opus is a giant vending machine, that you can insert a few dollars and a bound book will drop into the hopper a few minutes later ready to hand off to a willing buyer, just is not the case. It’s more complex and nuanced than that, and it bears thought, reflection, and study.

Large-Format Printing and the Fine Arts

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The “originality” of a fine art large-format print is of prime concern to artists, and sometimes even more so to art distributors such as galleries, and art fair and art festival sponsors. The value of a work of art depends on its originality and limited nature, but in this era of computers, scanners, and inkjet printers it is relatively easy to digitize an original and create an unlimited number of copies.

What Constitutes an Original Print?

On its website, the International Fine Print Dealers Association defines an original fine art print as:

“a work of graphic art which has been conceived by the artist to be realized as an original work of art, rather than a copy of a work in another medium. Prints are produced by drawing or carving an image onto a hard surface (known as the matrix) such as a wood block, metal plate, or stone. This surface is then inked and the image is then transferred to paper by the application of pressure, thus creating an impression, or print.”

The description goes on to discuss the concept of the “edition”: multiple impressions, each created from the inked plate, which are then signed and numbered prior to the destruction of the plate (to make further copies of the original matrix impossible).

Therefore, the value of a fine art print comes from the following characteristics (beyond the aesthetic qualities of the piece):

  1. Its limited nature
  2. The artist’s direct involvement in the process (quality control), as certified by a signature and number

The Problem with Duplicates

A photo can be made of an original and with considerable skill an offset commercial printer can produce hundreds or thousands of copies, even augmenting the process colors with touch plates of a fifth or sixth match ink. Or a custom screen printing vendor can make a master copy and produce multiple reproductions, or a large-format printing shop can digitize either the original art or a photo thereof, and produce an unlimited number of beautiful copies via inkjet technology.

All of these reproductions would most likely be of little artistic value since they would not be original prints, they would not have the artist’s direct involvement in the reproduction process, and they would not be of a “limited nature.”

Yet, to complicate matters, without a commercial printer’s loupe (high-powered magnifier), most people could not see either the halftone dot rosette patterns of the offset lithographic print or the random miniature spots of the inkjet print’s dithering process (FM screening). So a reproduction might be mistaken for an actual print pulled from a printing plate (unless the observer could distinguish the flat, even colors of the original prints from the dot patterns of the reproductions).

When hundreds or thousands of dollars change hands for original artists’ prints, reproductions quickly become a problem. However, in the current economic climate most people cannot afford original art. For artists to stay solvent, many are starting to sell reproductions on a lower-tiered price structure. You may notice these reproductions in bins at art fairs. To maintain the distinction between the original art and the reproductions, those who sponsor the art fairs, or who maintain the galleries, are quite stringent about keeping them separate. Some will not even allow the reproductions in the art fair booths. Others require them to be sold in bins only (not hung on the gallery or art fair booth walls), labeled as reproductions, signed and numbered within a limited edition, and marked with a description of the offset lithography or digital inkjet custom printing process.

The problem has been magnified as the quality of digital inkjet custom printing has improved, as archival inks have been brought into use, and as substrates such as watercolor paper and canvas have replaced the more fragile prior generation of inkjet custom printing materials, thus providing a much longer life to the reproductions. The term “giclee” has even been coined to describe inkjet custom printing using archival materials and techniques to produce reproductions of fine art under the strict supervision of the artist himself or herself.

What About Altered Art?

The processes of offset lithography and digital inkjet can be used to create a direct replica of an original, or they can be used in the creation, enhancement, or alteration of original art. Many artists will scan an original into their computer and either augment the digital file in Photoshop or print out an inkjet copy and then paint on it or alter it in some other way. At this point, it can be argued that the output itself has become a new original.

This is not a cut-and-dried process. There are fine nuances. But, understandably, the artists want their art to be affordable as well as beautiful, and the art dealers want to preserve their reputation for distinguishing between original art and reproductions and pricing each accordingly.

A Print Book-Making Machine for a Washington, DC, Bookseller

Monday, January 16th, 2012

An independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics and Prose has installed a new book-making machine (Espresso Book Machine) that poses a number of profound implications for print books. This machine can produce a paperback book of between 40 and 800 pages, in a multiplicity of sizes up to 8” x 10.5”, with most print books ready in four to ten minutes, for a cost of $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred—or fewer–pages.

This remarkable machine is called the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) — it is a print on demand (POD) machine that prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book in a few minutes. Politics and Prose has nicknamed their machine “Opus.”

What Are the Implications?

I do not know how many machines like this exist in the country or the world at this point in time, but given the specifications of the custom printing product (of quality equal to the perfect-bound books already on the bookstore shelves), I think this may provide an alternative to both mass-produced print books written by established authors and e-books, which provide content without the physical experience of reading a book.

These are my thoughts:

Access to Out-of-Print Books

The Espresso Book Machine (nicknamed Opus by Politics & Prose) allows customers to access millions of out-of-print books and produce attractive, durable, and affordable physical copies. For the most part, due to the cost of shelf space (overall expenses involved in running a bookstore divided by the square footage of the bookshelves), booksellers need to purchase and sell products that will move. If more people want to read Stephen King than Plato, there will be more copies of the former in a bookstore than the latter. In fact, in most cases, out-of-print books may be unavailable altogether. With a machine like Opus, this can change. People can buy what they want to read, not just what’s popular. And with such a reasonable price-point (comparable to other books in the store), these books will be within reach for most people.

A Venue for Independent Publishers

Due to the bookseller’s need to fill shelf space with popular material that will sell, a few sought-after writers can command a premium for their work while most authors have few options. (Of course this is changing with the advent of e-books, and for a similar reason. (E-books are cheap to produce because their production consumes no raw materials, requires no warehousing, and incurs no delivery costs.)

What Opus will do for small publishers and individual authors is allow them to find a buyer and then individually produce a copy of their book for that buyer. An author can produce one copy or a hundred copies, and as long as the sale price exceeds the production cost, the writer can distribute his or her work and make a profit. There’s no need for a huge up-front expense to produce a long print run or to warehouse their inventory.

What this means beyond the practical business terms outlined above is that readers will have access to independent authors, and independent authors will have access to readers.

The Experience of Physical Books

As one who appreciates the physical experience of reading a print book (the smell, feel, and sound of the paper; the interesting variants of binding technology; the nuances of paper color, embossing, debossing, and gloss and matte paper coatings), I’m happy to know there are alternatives to e-books. I think others may appreciate print books for similar reasons. And this machine (as well as other similar machines that I expect will show up across the country) offers this option at an affordable price.

The Specifics of the Process

Essentially, Opus works like a digital, on-demand book printing press. You either download a PDF of an out-of-print book, or you upload a PDF of your own custom printing job. A black and white laser printer produces the text pages on 8.5” x 11” paper, while an inkjet printer produces the cover on 11” x 17” stock. The machine perfect-binds the pages into the cover with cool-bind glue, and then knife blades trim the book to size (anything from 4.5” x 5” to 8” x 10.5”).

While none of this technology is new, given the plethora of inkjet and laser printers in commercial printing shops (everything from a Docutech to an HP Indigo), what’s new is the venue. You normally wouldn’t enter a commercial printing shop to order one or five copies of a book. Yet with a machine such as Opus in the book shop you visit to relax, you might just spend a little to produce your own book.

Lamination and Large Format Printing, Book Covers, Posters, Menus

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

If you research the term “lamination” online, in print books, or by talking with commercial printers, you’ll see that the concept has two distinct meanings.

The first and more common refers to the addition of a plastic protective sheet to the surface of a custom printing job, whether it be a book cover or a large-format print.

The second and less common definition describes an item composed of multiple parts glued together, such as “double-thick cover stock.” It can also be used to reference an undesirable coming apart of composite items, such as when the surface of a custom printing paper stock delaminates.

Protective Lamination

Let’s start with the first definition. If you wish to protect a large-format print from moisture, fingerprint oil, and such, you would coat the sheet with film laminate. You could cover one side of the poster printing run with film, or you could even cover both the back and front with separate sheets, effectively sealing the custom printing paper completely into a plastic pouch of sorts. This is what is done with some restaurant menus and placemats, since they receive rough treatment and endure multiple spills.

Print book covers are treated in much the same way. Either a film laminate can be laid over and adhered to the substrate, or a liquid laminate can be used to coat the sheet, using a metal blade to distribute the thick, protective fluid.

Unfortunately, when only one side of a press sheet is coated, as with a perfect-bound book cover, moisture can enter the uncoated side of the paper surface and cause the sheet to curl. A unique coating exists called “lay flat laminate,” which has microscopic grooves that allow the coating to expand and contract to prevent curling. These coatings can also be made of a porous material such as nylon, which is permeable by water and air, and which allows the outside covers and inside covers to maintain an equilibrium, thus avoiding curling.

Lamination Defined as the Adhering of Component Parts (Such as Different Papers)

Picture the recurved wood bows of prior decades, which were composed of wood and fiberglass glued together (laminated) into a strong and flexible hunting weapon able to deliver arrows with precision. This is the idea behind laminated paper.

For instance, you might choose a double-thick paper stock for a high-end promotional project. One side of the sheet may be an uncoated green tinted cover sheet, while the other half of the thick paper might be a white cover stock. Both are glued together flawlessly to give a bit of interest to the cover material and at the same time to create a strong paper substrate.

Another use for lamination is to glue a coated press sheet printed via offset lithography onto a coarser grade of paper. For instance, the graphic panels of a movie theater “standee” are coated press sheets glued to corrugated board. The corrugated board gives the structure lightness and rigidity, while the offset coated sheet provides a gloss coated surface that can go through the heat and pressure of an offset press (unlike the corrugated board itself). In fact, the custom printing vendor might also add a transparent lamination (gloss, dull, or silk) over the gloss offset press sheet. This film might then protect the ink on the paper surface from the oily fingers of moviegoers while also adding dimensional strength to the finished and assembled “standee.”

On the undesirable end of the spectrum, if the ink on press had too high a tack, the surface tension of the ink could pull apart the surface of the paper running through the press. This is called delamination. The fibers compressed by the Fourdriner machine into the press sheet during the papermaking process can come apart if the tacky ink (acting like glue in this case) pulls apart the paper.

Book Printing: Sometimes It’s Wise to Submit InDesign Files, Not PDFs

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Normally I send PDF files to commercial printers or book printers I work with. In handing off a design job, this is often best. If I’m unsure of a printer or just don’t have a personal working relationship with someone in prepress, I can rest assured that the custom printing job that is delivered will match the design files I upload to the commercial printer.

That said, I have a different approach with some printers.

This is a case study of a photo and poetry book I just uploaded to a commercial printer in native InDesign format.

What I Did and Why (Transmitting the Files)

At the request of my contact in prepress, I sent compressed versions of “packaged” InDesign files for the book cover and text via the commercial printer’s FTP site. The compression protected the Macintosh files in transit. I used the FTP site because the files were so large (about a gigabyte in total). In fact, I broke the links file in two (half the photos in each of two folders). Then I did three separate uploading sessions: one for each of the two compressed photo folders, and one for the native InDesign text file and the native InDesign cover file. In the final transmission, I also sent a low-res PDF of the cover and text so the prepress person at the commercial printer could see exactly how I wanted the final job to look.

How to Upload Your Files

Consider these items when you upload your files to your commercial printer or book printer:

  1. Find someone you can trust in the prepress department. If he or she wants to work with PDF files, great. If he or she prefers that you send InDesign files, as many printers do for complex items like book covers, having someone you trust and can call with questions makes a huge difference.
  2. Start with the “Package” command in InDesign (which will collect in one folder all fonts and linked art and photos as well as the InDesign file itself). Then right click on the folder, drag down to “Compress” and create a compressed file. (If you’re using a PC rather than a Mac, look into acquiring similar compression software such as WinZip.)
  3. Always send a PDF along with your native InDesign file to make sure the commercial printer knows how the final job should look.

What the Printer Sent Back to Me

After my prepress contact preflighted the native InDesign documents I had uploaded, he made some changes to the files:

  1. The spine was too wide for the thickness (caliper) of the actual printing paper and page count, so the prepress operator adjusted the flat cover file (back cover, spine, and front cover on one large document page). He made the spine narrower and suggested that I reduce the type size of the spine text. He was concerned that the type might wrap onto the front or back cover if there was any variance in the binding process.
  2. Had I sent him PDF files only, my contact could not have fixed the file. He would have sent it back for me to fix. Given the length of our professional relationship, I don’t think he will charge for this service.
  3. My contact in prepress also broke the job into individual pages. I had set up the job in InDesign using page spreads. Apparently, for perfect binding on this printer’s equipment, individual pages are preferable.
  4. My prepress contact sent me a link to his website, so I could download the preflighted files that he had corrected. He asked me to use these files to make any further corrections to the job. This will save me time and ensure that the files the printer receives back with my corrections will be press-ready.

What This Means to You

  1. Ask whether your commercial printer would prefer that you set up your InDesign file as individual pages or page spreads. Different commercial printers will probably differ in their answer depending on the binding method, the printer’s equipment, and the printer’s preferences.
  2. Understand that the kind of custom service I received should be discussed first. Some commercial printers and book printers will charge for this exemplary service. Others consider it part of their “value-added” proposition and are proud to distinguish themselves from their competition. Granted, any printer will charge for extensive corrections to your files.

This Is Actually the First of Two Proofs

If your book is “photo-heavy,” like the one I’m producing, you may want to ask for two proofs. Consider requesting only the photos in the first round. This will save you money. You may also want to request a few text pages to make sure the type point size is ideal. This interim step could cost you an extra $100.00+, but it may well be worth the expense for a $10,000.00 job. Here’s why.

  1. Not all computer monitors are the same (or adequately calibrated, or used in consistent ambient light). Therefore, your monitor may mislead you. You may think the photos are perfect and then receive a nasty surprise when the hard-copy proofs arrive. They may be very dark, for instance, if you’re using a back-lit LCD monitor to evaluate your Photoshop work. Colors on these monitors may appear lighter and brighter on-screen than in the printed output. It’s better to find this out early so you’ll have time to adjust your Photoshop files. Or, you may actually alter the color in the photos in the conversion from RGB to CMYK and not see the changes accurately on your monitor.

    (By the way, before the advent of computerized page composition, when photo separations were done on a press camera, the commercial printer used to provide “randoms” or “scatter proofs,” which were hard-copy color proofs of the photos. This way a designer could see—and judge and request alterations on–the individual images prior to receiving a composite proof with all images and text in place.)

  2. If you’re like me, you design on a large monitor, which shows the pages in full-sreen mode, backlit, crisp and with good contrast. The on-screen type point size may be misleading. Granted, you can print out laser copies to see how the actual type will look, but just as the screen looks different from the laser proof, the laser proof looks a bit different from the printer’s contract proof, which looks a bit different from printer’s ink on paper. It doesn’t hurt to see a printer’s proof of a text spread at this point.

Book Printing: Saving a Job That’s Going South

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Sometimes a job needs to be saved.

I had been working on and off for almost a year designing a friend’s cookbook, as her time had allowed. Design fees were adding up. Fortunately the book was to have a limited press run through a digital, on-demand book printing vendor, but the overall price was still rising, and the custom printing cost would add to this substantially.

The following case study reflects my suggestions when my client decided to put the job on hold and rethink the approach. I did not want her time or money to have been spent in vain.

The Scope of the Job

The print book was to be a lengthy cookbook including multiple recipes from various parts of the world. Due to the variety involved, there was already a disjointed look in the design (this was a stumbling block that had not yet been resolved). The book would be a perfect-bound custom printing job with multiple photos (requiring multiple photo shoots).

Possible Directions for the Future

  1. I suggested simplifying the design and production. Dramatic designs might be less useful than a simple method for organizing the recipes from various parts of the world.
  2. Instead of printing several hundred pages on gloss text, I encouraged my client to consider, perhaps, producing recipe cards that could be included in a pocket folder or even tied together in related bunches with twine or some other natural material. This way, the cards could be removed if the reader wanted to prepare a certain recipe. The cards could be more practical in the messy kitchen than a high-quality glossy book.
  3. My client could have custom labels printed to carry the design elements. Crack-n-peel labels could be affixed to pre-purchased, natural fiber custom pocket folders, saving my client a lot of money.
  4. My client could even attach the crack-n-peel labels to plastic or wood recipe boxes rather than custom pocket folders. This would give the cook a unique storage case from which individual recipes might be removed for use.
  5. If my client bought custom printing services for the various elements that required printing, and then assembled and fulfilled the kits herself, she would save a lot of money. She could still provide a usable and memorable item branded with her unique, overall design.

How You Can Apply This Approach to Fixing a Job

Sometimes things just don’t work, and you need to re-envision them. Here are some thoughts on how to proceed:

  1. Articulate your goals. If the job is becoming disjointed, look for the overall unifying factor.
  2. Consider how the product will be used. In this case, individual recipe cards might have been more practical than a bound book. Is the format of your project the best possible choice from a utilitarian point of view?
  3. Consider the production methods. Certain kinds of binding (if your project is a print book) cost more than others. A perfect-bound book, for instance, will cost less than a case-bound book.
  4. Give thought to which processes you need to buy and which processes you can do yourself. Storage and fulfillment cost money on a monthly basis. If you can do some of the work yourself, you will reap the savings.
  5. Conversely, don’t try to do something you’re unequipped to do. If your job is a large press run of a book, maybe you don’t have the storage space or the personnel to accept orders and fulfill them.
  6. Consider the technologies and raw materials for the job. Maybe you can design a two-color job on an uncoated stock that will cost less than a four-color job printed on a gloss sheet. If you are creative with the design, this will look intentional, even if the primary concern is saving money. Ask your commercial printer for suggestions.

Large Format Printing: Observations on Movie Theater Standees

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

As noted in prior PIE Blog articles, in addition to other custom printing related pursuits, I install “standees” and signage at movie theaters. This gives me first-hand access to many printed products I otherwise would not see. I’d like to make a few observations that you may find useful, whatever kind of custom printing products you yourself may buy.

Printing on Vinyl

Among other signage I install, static clings are an interesting custom printing product. They stick to glass with no adhesive, just because of their static charge.

I have noticed a few things about these transparent plastic signs:

  1. They appear to be printed via custom screen printing technology. I had initially thought that inkjet would be the main mode of production, so I checked with a loupe (high-powered printing magnifier). The images had a distinct dot pattern, and the dot pattern was closer to the rosettes of offset printing than to the minuscule scattered spots indicative of inkjet printing. I knew that offset printing was not an option. After all, an offset press could not hold sheets of vinyl flat enough to carry them through the print rollers.
  2. Another reason I judged the production method to be custom screen printing was the thickness and vibrancy of the ink, especially the opaque white ink. In fact, all the colors seemed to be opaque (unlike offset custom printing). I was also impressed by the crispness of the 4-color photographic images as well as the reasonably fine line-screens used for the halftones.
  3. Totally unrelated to printing, but very related to marketing goals, I’m not so sure how long static clings will stay up. Consider this before you choose static clings as a marketing vehicle, and do your own research. Upon my return to some of the theaters, I noticed that the static clings had peeled up or fallen off the windows. That said, if you’re using these signs as a temporary advertising item, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Wooden Sticks to Stabilize Portions of Diecut Standees

Somebody had been using his or her head, maybe even while they had been eating.

Fragile portions of standees (usually the diecut figures attached to the large graphic panels) often are made rigid with chopsticks glued to the back of the corrugated board. Keep in mind that many of the figures attached to the backgrounds have arms, legs, etc., that otherwise would have no support and could be easily dented, bent, or ripped off. By using a hot-melt glue gun to attach wood chopsticks in various configurations to the backs of the images, those who produce the standees had strengthened them quite a bit. By now I have seen 20 or more individual standees with this structural addition.

How does this affect you? If you’re designing three-dimensional point-of-purchase displays, use your imagination. Think about making fragile parts of your structures more resilient. If the displays must be shipped, choose something light to save on postage—like a chop stick.

Packaging Is Key

This is one problem of which standee creators seem a bit unaware. Fifty pieces of cardboard in a large carton move around. If these pieces are square cut, they will be reasonably safe, but with diecut fingers and toes, the figures attached to the background graphic panels of standees often get mashed before the job arrives at the theater. This can minimize the effectiveness of any point-of-purchase display. Think about it. If you come upon a giant Star Wars standee at a theater and all the main characters are dented, bent, and creased, that takes away from the overall “wow” factor.

So consider this in your print buying work, because it actually relates to all kinds of printing. Make sure your commercial printer packages the final job well. This goes double for fragile work. If you’re printing a book, you may ask that the covers be varnished, or perhaps you could request shrink-wrapping of a certain number of copies in the cartons. Or even paper slip sheets between every five or ten copies (within the cartons) would help. After you have paid dearly for a good custom printing job, why let the printed pieces be damaged in transit?

Access Holes in Standees

If you look closely at a standee from behind at a movie theater, you’ll see a remarkable thing: multiple holes the size of a teacup saucer. You might think these are to lighten the product, and this might well be a side effect. After all, standees are quite heavy when assembled, and they often must be moved.

But the real reason for the holes is to give the installers access to the interior of the standee. This makes it possible to affix one piece to another with screws or diecut tabs. You can get your hands into the guts of the structure to attach everything that needs to be attached.

Now you may be asking how this pertains to you, particularly if you buy book printing or brochures or posters. In this case it probably doesn’t, but if you design or print any three-dimensional products, it behooves you to consider how they will actually be assembled and used.

For instance, maybe you’ve been tasked with producing a cardboard point-of-purchase display that will hold stacks of magazines at a political convention. It happens. I did this once for a client. In cases like these, it is prudent to remember that a point-of-purchase display is an object, not just a marketing design. You need to consider its physicality. You need to consider the stress points (i.e., will the weight of the magazines eventually cause the display to cave in?). You need to consider the weight (shipping costs add up). And you need to consider the ease of assembly—and probably other things as well.

If you buy custom printing for a three dimensional cardboard object like a display box, have a prototype made. It’s much better to use it, bang it around a little, and find out what will go wrong—before you buy 1,000 copies and have them sent all across the country.

Book Printing and Commercial Printing: Overage and Underage

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Printing trade custom allows offset printing companies to deliver up to 10 percent more, or 10 percent fewer, copies of a job. The commercial printer or book printer can then apply this surcharge (or discount) to your invoice for the actual number delivered. The key word here is “actual.” This is not an arbitrary number. The printer can only charge for what he hands off to the customer.

The reason for this is that printing and finishing operations destroy a certain percentage of the copies in the process. This waste is called spoilage.

What Is Spoilage?

There are many different manufacturing activities within the production process. For instance, one side of a press sheet is printed, then the other side is printed after the first dries. Once the presswork is complete, the printed press sheets are transferred to post-press for trimming, folding, collating, stitching, etc. Ink-jet addressing and other lettershop activities may follow. In the course of each production task, printed sheets are wasted. To eventually hand off to the client a completed press run of 50,000 copies of a publication, for instance, a commercial printer or book printer must start with many more copies, assuming that a certain number will be destroyed in each step of the manufacturing process.

Overs/Unders Are Negotiable, to a Point

Prior to the estimate, overage/underage is negotiable. Some clients do not accept overs. In those cases, the printer increases his base pricing to cover the materials and the potential for loss. So overage is then factored into the cost.

Overs/unders are billed at the marginal cost (i.e., the average cost less the cost of make-ready). Some printers call this the “run cost.” Therefore, the unit cost of overs is usually rather low. It is, however, a potential cost and should therefore be disclosed to the buyer.

You can request “not less than” a certain number of copies as well. However, to guarantee that you will receive not less than this number of copies, the printer can provide (and charge for) up to double the usual amount: i.e., twenty percent overage. In this case, the commercial printer or book printer makes sure that far more copies than needed are produced to ensure that not even 10 copies fewer than the requested limit are handed to the client.

Some printers do not charge for overs. Usually this would be the case for a commercial printer–not a book printer–since the materials cost of books is higher than for commercial work. (In contrast to book printing, commercial printing would include brochures, posters, and other work not composed of multi-page press signatures.)

The biggest question in negotiating overs is whether you will use the copies if you get them. If so, accept the extra copies, pay for them, and be happy for the surplus. If not, request revised pricing, but be aware that the surcharge will be factored into the new price in order to protect the printer from economic loss.

Here are a two “rules” that expand upon this trade custom:

  1. Less overage/underage can be expected for longer runs. Another way to say this is that by their very nature, longer runs tend to be more accurate, with the necessary allowance for spoilage being a smaller percentage of the entire run. For instance, you might expect 3 percent overage within a 100,000-copy press run.
  2. You can negotiate overage/underage limits with your printer. A printer I once worked with agreed to charge for only 2.5 percent overage/underage. However, this was for a weekly magazine. The printer and client also had a contract and had been working together closely for about ten years.

More Latitude for Digital On-Demand Book Printing

That said, there is somewhat more latitude with a digital press. In many cases the digital equipment incorporates finishing technology right into the press, or at least into an attachment to the press. When this is the case, there is a little more control over the final number of copies.

Of course, if the finishing requirements cannot be performed within the digital press, that’s a different matter. Larger sized pieces or jobs with multiple folds may need to be finished outside of the digital press on traditional folding and trimming equipment. In this case, finished press sheets produced by the digital printing equipment must be brought into the post-press department for binding, trimming, etc., and spoilage will increase.

Discuss Overs/Unders at the Bidding Stage of the Job

In all cases, it’s best to discuss overage/underage with your commercial printer or book printer early in the process. Your options are as follows:

  1. No underage, in which case you can be billed for up to 20 percent overs.
  2. Customary 10 percent overs or 10 percent unders.
  3. No overage or underage, in which case the printer will provide a higher price that covers him against loss, since the printer cannot know what will actually occur during the printing and finishing process.

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