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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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Custom Printing and Digital Copyright

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.

2 Responses to “Custom Printing and Digital Copyright”

  1. stickers says:

    Very nice site!


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