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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 March, 2012

Book Printing Case Study: How to Approach a New Job

Friday, March 30th, 2012

A client recently came to me with a print book proposal. She wants to create a notebook for American soldiers deployed abroad. She came to me for advice, perhaps some design work, and connections to commercial printers. I thought several aspects of the job might interest readers of this blog.

The Binding and Format of the Notebook

My client’s goal is to produce a notebook in which service personnel can write notes and collect various kinds of memorabilia. It will have a Wire-O binding, a pocket on the back inside cover, and an elastic closure surrounding the book and allowing users to secure any inserts so they don’t fall out.

How might you approach this information, if you are producing a similar print book?

  1. Consider that mechanical bindings, such as Wire-O, spiral, and GBC, will allow your book to open easily and lie flat on a table. (Ota-Bind, or lay flat adhesive binding, can do this as well.)
  2. A pocket added to the front or back cover of the book will allow readers to collect related materials, whether articles or photos. However, you need to consider the shape of the pocket (4” horizontal—for instance–attached at the bottom and outside edge, or a diagonal or curved pocket, or a vertical pocket).
  3. You will also need to consider whether to include a “build” for the pocket. This is a thickening of the pocket by adding extra paper all around the edge of the pocket in order to allow for the insertion of more papers, photos, and such. Keep in mind that a build pocket can be crushed more easily than a flat pocket. In addition, you should expect to pay extra (up to $500) for the die for such a pocket. That said, ask your book printer about using a pre-existing die, if you’re flexible as to the dimensions of the pocket.

Choosing the Paper Stock

I had initially suggested synthetic paper to my client, since it is so durable and tear resistant. I thought the service men and women would appreciate a notebook that would accept rough treatment. Synthetic paper accepts abuse. You can even put it under water. However, when I learned that my client wanted the service personnel to be able to write in the book, I changed my views. Instead I suggested a thick, matte coated sheet and a thicker than usual cover stock.

(Apparently, upon further research, I have seen claims that some synthetic paper can be written on. I’ll withhold judgment for now, but I’ll also do more checking before encouraging my client to choose one paper over another.)

How might you approach paper selection, if you are doing a similar project?

  1. If you plan to write on the paper stock, consider an uncoated sheet. A matte coated stock would be a good second choice. Writing on a gloss sheet is inconvenient at best. The ink smears off if you don’t press down hard enough to break through the paper coating. Dull coated stock is very smooth as well. If you want to write on paper, it really needs a bit of “tooth” or texture.
  2. Paper thickness is a consideration if you want a durable product. Assuming that most (or at least many) paperback books use 10 pt. cover stock, you might want to specify 12 pt. instead (or thicker). If you’re used to specifying 60# or 70# text and you want a thicker sheet for the book pages, consider 80# or even 100# text. Keep in mind, though, that the thicker sheet will yield a larger and heavier book. On the Internet, research the thickness of your chosen paper (PPI, or pages per inch) when you have determined the page count of your book. This will tell you exactly how thick your book will be. If your custom printing vendor will be mailing the book, its weight may be an issue.
  3. If you have any doubts at all, have the book printer request a paper dummy from the paper merchant. You will see immediately how much the print book will weigh, how thick it will be, and how the cover and text pages will feel if you specify a thicker paper stock.

How the Files Will Be Supplied to the Printer

My client has produced a prototype of the book in Photoshop. I am a bit concerned, and I have suggested that the text pages be recreated in InDesign. The collages that comprise the visual imagery of the book will be fine, since they can be placed in picture boxes in an InDesign book file. The resolution of the photo collages will be acceptable as long as they are 300 dpi. The text within the images should be fine as well, for two reasons. The text is part of a collage and hence artistic in nature. It is also large type, and at 300 dpi it should not show any pixellation.

That said, text for the non-image areas of the book would be better prepared in InDesign, since the type will then render at the highest resolution of the commercial printer’s imagesetter or platesetter.

What can you learn from this?

  1. Create images in a bitmap editor like Photoshop, and do your page design with page-composition software. It is possible to do single page documents in Photoshop, or even Illustrator, but for multi-page documents in which text needs to be crisp and precise, InDesign is the preferred software package.
  2. If you have collages in your book incorporating text and images, do these in Photoshop. Use the vector type layers for the text to maintain its high resolution. Do keep in mind, though, that the file may need to be flattened (all the layers merged into the background layer) before rasterizing the file for the book printer’s imagesetter or platesetter.

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Custom Printing: What Is a RIP and What Does It Do?

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

I think it’s fair to say that a RIP is one of the more important elements of a successful commercial printer’s prepress workflow. A RIP translates the arcs and curves of PostScript code into a matrix of dots that can be printed by the custom printing vendor’s platesetter or imagesetter. It is a universal translator, a Rosetta Stone for printers. It can print the pages you compose in InDesign or Quark, or if your files are not created appropriately, the RIP can choke and not print your work.

A RIP in More Detail

The fonts and graphics in your page composition software are composed of Bezier curves. These are mathematically defined arcs that will be of the highest resolution possible when printed by the target imaging device. A 600 dpi laser printer will print the text at 600 dpi, while a 2400 dpi platesetter will print the same file at this higher resolution.

The imaging device (laser printer, imagesetter, or platesetter), however, does not understand PostScript code. Therefore, the “vector” code of lines and arcs must be rendered into a fixed pattern of dots on a grid, a “raster” image. A Raster Image Processor, or RIP for short, does exactly this.

RIPs come in a variety of flavors. Some are dedicated hardware devices that come with the imagesetter or platesetter.

Other RIPS are firmware, built into the printer’s circuits (a laser printer might have such a RIP).

Finally, some RIPS are software only, and they can be used with a number of different printers. For example, if you buy an inkjet printer, you will also need to buy a software RIP if you wish to print out the complex graphics (EPS images and such) created by your PostScript software. (In the case of high-end inkjet proofing devices, however, the RIP—either hardware or software—may come bundled with the proofer.)

Sometimes There’s No RIP

In some cases you might not have a RIP at all. Instead, you might rely on a printer driver to allow the originating application to communicate with the destination printing device. This may be fine, but if you are producing complex documents, you will probably need a RIP, and if you just want added functionality, you may also want a RIP.

For instance, unlike a printer driver a RIP may add these additional capabilities to your commercial printer’s workflow:

  1. A RIP can collect and process a group of print jobs (known as a “queue”) and batch process these files while freeing up your computer to do other creative work. Offloading this task will keep your computer from slowing down while you do page composition and also keep your printer from slowing down or ruining your print job with artifacts or banding. (That is, when a computer must switch between two complex processes–printing and page composition–quality and speed will suffer in both cases.) A RIP takes the load off the computer.
  2. A RIP can handle imposition (placement of pages on a press sheet so that the sheet will have all the pages in the correct order when it has been folded and trimmed).
  3. A RIP can handle trapping (the adjustment of design elements to create a slight overlap where items of different colors touch one another, so that if the job is printed slightly out of register, there won’t be white lines between the colors).
  4. A RIP can handle color separations (breaking a 4-color image into separate cyan, magenta, yellow, and black printing plates) and halftone screening (simulating different shades of a color with screens made up of grids of larger or smaller halftone dots).

How to Avoid Problems with the RIP

Here are a few potential problems with RIPS that you may want to consider while you build your design files:

  1. Large files slow down a RIP. Therefore, simplify files where possible. Do not leave elements on the pasteboard (area around a page). Also, crop images in the photo editing program rather than the page composition software (Photoshop rather than InDesign). A portion of an image hidden by an InDesign picture box will still add to the size of the file and therefore lengthen the RIP’s processing time. Also avoid nesting one file in another (an EPS in another EPS, for instance).
  2. Keep in mind that not all RIPs are created equal. A PostScript Level 3 RIP will do more than a Level 2 RIP. Your file may need capabilities not built into your commercial printer’s RIP. So ask your custom printing vendor about his RIP level and its compatibility with your design software.
  3. Corrupt files or fonts will stop a RIP in its tracks. If you get error messages, you may need to rebuild the file, save it under a different name, or replace fonts that have become corrupted.
  4. To avoid both RIP compatibility issues and corrupted graphics or fonts (or problems with overly complex graphics), a good rule of thumb is that if the job cannot be printed on your laser printer, it won’t RIP properly on your custom printing vendor’s equipment. So test the document before you upload it to your commercial printer’s FTP site.
  5. InDesign and most other page composition software packages will include a limited array of preflight tools. Dedicated preflight applications will have even more preflight capabilities. Get in the habit of checking your files before submitting them to your custom printing supplier.
  6. Before you use TrueType fonts, make sure your printer can handle them. In addition, don’t mix Type 1 and True Type fonts in a single document.
  7. Distill your PDF files with Adobe Acrobat Distiller, not PDFWriter.

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Book Printing: Be Aware of Paper Substitution

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

I recently solicited bids for 3,000 copies of a 600-page casebound print book. The estimates I received ranged widely from about $12,500 to $22,500.

I had specified the text paper as Finch Opaque because I like the sheet’s whiteness, brightness, and opacity. Also, in prior years this hardcover print book had been produced on Finch, and I wanted to maintain the year-to-year consistency.

The Paper Specifications for Finch

These are the specific qualities I like about Finch:

  1. Opacity: 93 (This refers to the show-through from the front of a printed sheet to the back of the sheet. Higher numbers are better. Opacity is the light-stopping quality of paper. It keeps a photo on the back of a press sheet from being visible while you’re reading the text on the front of the sheet.)
  2. Brightness: 96 (Brightness is not the same as whiteness. It refers to the amount of light reflected back by the paper stock. Out of 100, 96 is quite good, particularly when you consider that a #5 groundwood sheet used for an automotive parts catalog would be about 72 bright.)
  3. Whiteness: blue-white shade (Blue-white actually appears brighter than its specification would suggest. Neutral white or yellow white are the two other options. A blue-white press sheet is also referred to as cool white, while a yellow-white paper is considered warm-white. Blue-white paper increases the perceived contrast between the paper and the images, and text, on the page.)
  4. PPI: 426 (PPI, or pages per inch, refers to the thickness of the custom printing paper. If a particular paper stock is 500 PPI, the individual sheets are thinner than paper with a 426 PPI. If you check Finch’s website, you will see that 60# Finch Opaque Smooth is 500 PPI, while Finch Opaque Vellum—a rougher sheet—is 426 PPI. For an annually produced book such as my client’s index, producing a book of comparable thickness from year to year is important. Subscribers might resist paying the same amount for a thinner print book.)

The Custom Printing Vendors’ Prices

One book printer provided an extremely attractive price, about $1,500 less than the vendor that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book.

To make sure the price was accurate, I carefully compared the book printer’s specifications to those I had submitted for the estimate. Everything matched except for the paper specification. This printer had substituted another press sheet without disclosing the name of the paper. However, the PPI specification (435 in this case) clearly indicated that the paper was not Finch (otherwise, it would have been 426 PPI).

I asked the custom printing vendor about the paper and was told it was Husky (a Domtar product). I am familiar with Husky, Lynx, and Cougar (all made by Domtar) and know they are good uncoated printing sheets. Therefore, I was still excited about the price savings. But I didn’t stop there. I checked the specifications for Husky:

The Paper Specifications for Husky

  1. Opacity: 93
  2. Brightness: 94
  3. Whiteness: blue-white shade
  4. PPI: 435

Comparing “Apples to Apples”

In comparing the prices of one book printer to the other (I was down to two printers at this point), I could not make an “apples to apples” comparison due to the differences in the paper. As you can see by the numbers, Husky is very close to Finch, but Finch is a brighter sheet as well as a slightly thicker sheet. Since I thought my client (and my client’s subscribers) would see a difference in the final printed book, I asked the vendor with the lower price to bid the book on Finch.

I was surprised when the pricing jumped more than $9,000. The book printer acknowledged that Finch is an exceptional sheet and yet not their house paper stock. Therefore, this custom printing vendor would need to buy the paper for my client, and there would be a minimum order, hence the $9,000+ upcharge.

My next step was to approach the book printer that had produced the prior year’s version of my client’s casebound book. I asked if there would be a price savings if the print book were produced on Husky.

(At this point I want to also make it clear that I had already vetted both book printers. The first had a proven track record from the prior two years. The second vendor came with a superior recommendation from an associate of mine.)

When I received the updated pricing from the vendor that had produced the prior year’s book, I was surprised. The cost would be exactly the same if the book were printed on either Finch or Husky.

The Final Analysis

This is what I can infer from the information provided by both book printers.

  1. The prior year’s printer, which had initially bid the book on Finch, buys Finch paper as a house sheet. That is, the printer keeps a ready supply of this stock for the greater percentage of its jobs. Therefore with its economy of scale, the printer can negotiate superior pricing for Finch paper.
  2. The low-bid vendor, which had bid the book on Husky, buys Husky as a house sheet. It is of a slightly lower quality than Finch based on the specifications, and this explains the lower price.
  3. The prior year’s vendor came up with the same price for Husky as for Finch because it would have needed to buy the Husky paper stock for my client (individually, with a minimum order) just as the other printer would have done for the Finch stock. This actually raised the price of the custom-ordered Husky above that of the superior house sheet, Finch.

How You Can Apply This Information

  1. Don’t assume all printers have bid on the same specifications. Read all bids carefully and ask questions if you find a discrepancy between your specs and their printer’s specs.
  2. If you do not need a specific press sheet, ask about the printer’s “house sheet.” Or ask about paper substitutions if the final price seems high.
  3. Don’t assume that all printers use the same house sheet.
  4. When in doubt, request paper samples (both printed and unprinted) and a paper dummy (to show the overall look and thickness of the book).

Book Printer Resolves Lamination Debacle

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

When you’re a print buyer, nothing is better than a book printer willing to step up and make things right when a job goes South.

I received an email from a print brokering client recently. I was attending a baby shower when I read the dreaded words: “The lamination on the initial 50 sample copies is coming up off the cover stock, and the job must be reprinted.” I had visions of depleting my retirement savings to make things right as I called my client. The job was a large one, a photo book (professional quality photos of flowers) with a press run of 1,000 copies.

The Cover Film Laminate Did Not Adhere Properly

It seemed that the dull film laminate was not properly adhering to the hinge score (the vertical fold that runs parallel to the spine), causing intermittent air pockets between the lamination film and the cover stock, and peeling up off the edges of the book as well. To make matters worse, the book was a very small format (6” x 6”), and the cover had a heavy coverage black background. So the flaw was more obvious than it might otherwise have been. It was bad enough, in fact, to render the book unsalable. After all, this was an art book. It had to be perfect to justify its sales price.

Potential Solutions to the Lamination Problem

I discussed possible solutions with the printer. Then I discussed them with my client. The first option was to tear off the covers, reprint them, and rebind the book with the new covers. Unfortunately, in most cases this necessitates retrimming the book, which makes the book smaller. For a photo book such as my client’s, the balance of white space and images was crucial to the design. My client refused the option of a cover replacement and requested a complete reprint and rebinding at the expense of the book printer.

My Discussion with the Printer, and the Printer’s Suggestion

Before I asked the book printer to reprint the entire press run at his expense, I drafted a detailed email describing the problem and explaining why the client would not be satisfied with a replacement of the covers and a retrimming of the book, thus making it smaller. I supplemented my written information with a number of photos illustrating the problems.

The book printer took responsibility for the inadequate dull film lamination, and proposed a solution. He would carefully tear off the covers (a hand-work operation that would be done to all 1,000 copies). New covers would be printed, and the book printer would perfect bind these to the coverless book blocks. The book printer would then trim only the covers, and not the text. If the client was not satisfied with an initial 50 samples, the printer would reprint the entire book. I worked out a schedule with the printer. My client accepted the proposal and waited to see the results.

The Details: What The Printer Actually Did

The custom printing vendor reprinted 1,000 covers and sent them out to be dull film laminated. Then he sent the book blocks out to be perfect bound to the covers. To give my client a few options, the printer produced a deep hinge score in a few covers with his folding equipment prior to sending them to be perfect bound to the book blocks. He also had the perfect binder produce a sample with a shallow hinge score, and one with no score at all. Then the book printer sent my client samples of the three binding options for her to review.

To complete the job, the printer trimmed the cover right up to the text pages without trimming into the text pages themselves (as would normally be the case). To the credit of the printer, this reflects very precise trimming. Instead of using his three-knife trimming equipment to simultaneously effect a face trim, head trim, and foot trim (i.e., all but the bind edge), he used a single-knife guillotine cutter. He cut each side individually in three passes for each book.

Of course, compared to the time it would have taken to bind new covers and trim them on a three-knife trimmer, the procedure actually took a huge amount of time. Although it was not hand work, it still had to be done slowly and precisely to avoid damaging (cutting into) the text pages of my client’s book.

Therefore, I went back to my client to devise a mutually acceptable schedule. She needed books fast. She had numerous preliminary book sales and nothing to send her clients. However, she didn’t need all 1,000 books at once. In fact, she agreed to accept an initial shipment of 100 books. This would fulfill the first orders. It would also give the printer a reasonable amount of time to continue binding the balance of books. I didn’t want the book printer to rush or risk making mistakes. I only wanted a steady stream of books coming from the printer to my client, as she needed them.

The Final Books: An Analysis

I noticed a few things when I met with my client to review the sample books:

  1. My client pointed out that the dull film laminate seemed darker than in the original press run. I looked closely and realized that the film appeared darker because it had been bonded to the black paper stock of the cover far more securely than in the first run. This was a high-quality film lamination job. My client was very pleased.
  2. The covers extended a barely perceptible amount over the text pages of the book. To me it actually looked intentional, although I presumed that this had been done to avoid trimming the book block text pages. My client was very happy. So I asked the printer to proceed, and we negotiated a schedule for rebinding the balance of the books.

One Last Request to Protect the Books

I made one final request. I asked the printer to pack the books more carefully than usual since a few copies of the original press run had been damaged in transit.

A Point of Information from the Book Printer

The printer raised an interesting point. Very heavy ink coverage (i.e., rich black builds) will continue to give off gas for a number of days as the ink dries. If the lamination has not been applied with enough heat or pressure, that gas will look for the weakest point to escape, such as a hinge score or trim edge of the book.

What Really Happened, and What Can We Learn from This?

I’m not sure anyone knows exactly why this happened. I’ve yet to work with a printer over a number of years without a major problem occurring. The ones I continue to work with are those who correct the problems that arise. Printing is not a commodity. It is an art and a craft with multiple processes that can and often do go wrong.

In the case of this book, the dull film laminate material may have been faulty. Or perhaps its application. The small size of the book may have contributed to the cover coating bubbling up when scored and perfect bound. And the heavy ink coverage may have given off gas as it dried, forcing the laminate to lift off the paper stock. Unfortunately this was not caught before the books had been sent out to the client. Or maybe it even occurred during the shipping of the books to the client (if the gas escaping from the heavy coverage ink had caused the problem during the drying process).

But the bottom line was that the book printer made the job right, and the client was far more than satisfied. Not only has she already sold books to clients pleased to see her beautiful photographs, but she also has many friends who want to produce books of their own. I’ll bet you already know where I’m taking the custom printing work.

Large Format Printing: Double-Sided, Backlit Movie Posters

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

In addition to my print brokering, design, and writing work, I install movie “standees” and signage. This side work gives me a unique view of a number of printing processes, up close. It lets me see first hand exactly how a number of promotional items have been designed, printed, and assembled.

One Sheets Are Printed on Both the Front and Back of the Poster.

The next time you go to the movies, pay attention to the multitude of light boxes lining the walls, displaying movie posters for all the new releases.

Among these large format printing posters are “one sheets.” One sheets possess a number of intriguing qualities, foremost of which is their two-sided nature. On the front is the image of the poster, and on the back is the exact same image (text and photography) printed backwards (“wrong reading” in commercial printer’s language).

Why Print on Both Sides?

One sheets are installed in a light box. In some respects they are similar to the back-lit films (Duratrans) that you may see in light boxes in subway stations or at the airport. The back-lighting makes colors in the one sheets appear more brilliant than posters merely hung on a wall. The double-sided commercial printing actually gives more of an impression of depth and dimensionality as the light travels through the gloss paper stock.

How Do They Do This?

More than anything, this double sidedness attests to the precision of offset custom printing. That a huge printing press can align an image on the front of a press sheet exactly with the reverse-reading image on the back of the press sheet, while maintaining color that matches on both images, reflects the skill of the pressman, the close register a press can hold, and the consistency of color that can be achieved on press.

These Posters Are Not Always the Same Over Time.

If you pay close attention, you may see changes over time in a movie poster. Not always, but sometimes. The first posters may be swapped out with others providing new promotional information about the upcoming theater release. These changes may be subtle, maybe a small addition, but they reflect the ongoing nature of movie advertising as a dialogue between the moviegoer and the studio. The goal is to pique the interest of the viewer while providing the most up-to-date information on the new movie release. In some cases, a series of almost identical posters introduced over time may be the answer.

The Posters Are Always Vertical.

The lightboxes into which these double-sided posters must be clamped are always vertical. (A sheet of glass covers the lights, and clamps on the top, bottom, and sides hold the one sheet flat. Then another sheet of glass in a frame covers the posters.) Therefore, the large format printing posters must always be designed in the same “landscape,” as opposed to “portrait,” orientation.

The Posters Are Always Rolled.

In the past, movie posters like one sheets used to come to theaters folded with one vertical fold and three horizontal folds. Now they always come rolled. Therefore, you cannot see any creases when the posters have been installed in the light boxes.

The Dimensions of the One Sheets Are Always 27” x 40” or 27” x 41”.

These posters are consistent from theater to theater because the light boxes are uniform, giving equal prominence to all of the movie posters lined up side by side.

Movie Studios Provide a Larger Poster for Major Productions.

However, there is another version of the movie poster called the Bus Stop/Shelter. This fits in a backlit display case as well, or you may see it outside in an actual bus stop enclosure. Like the one sheet, the bus stop poster is presented in a vertical format. It may or may not be double sided. Usually measuring 45” x 70”, the bus stop series gives more prominence to a particular movie than does a one-sheet. The large format poster is usually printed on a thicker coated stock or vinyl-like material, and like one sheets these are shipped by the commercial printer to the studios or theaters rolled rather than folded.

The Studios Control the Posters.

Like “standees,” movie posters (both bus stops and one sheets) are advertisements. The movie studios control all uses of these images very tightly, making sure that all exposure to these promotional items will foster their marketing goals.

Therefore, if you ask for these large format printing posters after their useful life, most movie theaters will turn you down. The posters are owned by the movie studios and must either be returned to the studios after use or destroyed.

In this way they are similar to the printing plates from which a limited number of offset art prints have been produced or a mold used to create only a few plaster sculptures.

In all of these cases, the value of the image or item lies in its scarcity. And in the case of the movie posters, the value lies in its controlled presentation to those groups of people the movie studios consider prime prospects for potential ticket sales.

How Does All of This Relate to Your Design or Print Buying Work?

What can we learn from these large format printing posters, beyond their individual aesthetics and their pull toward the diversion and imaginative nature of movies?

  1. They may not be high art, but as advertisements these posters are powerful. I make it a point to study the overall design, color, and typography of all movie posters that hook me. Then I can apply what I learn to my own design work. In addition, you can learn a lot about promotional work and advertising in general by studying the standees and signage in a movie theater.
  2. You will have an additional option for your own design work if you consider back-lit large format printing posters as an option for a promotional job. (You might consider either two-sided paper posters for installation in a lightbox or back-lit posters printed on Duratrans film.)
  3. You may get a deeper appreciation for both the precision a printing press can achieve and the need for precision in preparing art files when you see how one sheets have been printed on both sides of the paper in perfect register.

Printing Technology: The Option of Waterless Lithography Printing

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Traditional offset lithography depends on the fact that oil and water repel each other. The image area of a traditional lithographic plate attracts the oily ink and repels the dampening solution (water and alcohol), while the non-image area attracts water and repels the oily ink. When the commercial printer achieves the correct ink/water balance, the press can accurately print type and images from the planographic (flat surfaced) printing plates.

Unfortunately, offset lithography has its environmental drawbacks:

  1. It wastes a huge amount of water.
  2. It takes a lot of makeready time for the commercial printer to achieve the ink/water balance, so paper waste is high.
  3. The custom printing vendor’s dampening solution contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds such as alcohol) that are hazardous to the environment.

But There Is an Alternative: Waterless Custom Printing

Waterless printing, originally patented by 3M in the ’60s as “Driography,” is based not on chemistry but on the physical properties of the plate coating, the plate surface, and the ink. In contrast, offset lithography distinguishes between image area and non-image area based on the mutually exclusive chemical properties of oil and water.

Unlike offset lithography, waterless custom printing uses silicon-coated plates. Silicon repels ink (ink slips right off is surface). Therefore, by exposing the printing plate with a laser and removing the silicon in the image areas, the commercial printer can produce a plate on which ink will only be attracted to the type, line art, and photos. (More specifically, UV light travels through the silicon and activates the underlying photopolymer layer of the plate, breaking the bond with the silicon and allowing it to slough off.)

Unlike the flat plates of offset lithography, waterless plates are intaglio in nature (they have recessed image areas) once the silicon has been removed. This allows waterless presses to carry and deposit a greater volume of ink than traditional offset presses (a stiffer, thicker, and more viscous ink with a higher tack, since no water is involved). And the ability to print a greater volume of thicker ink yields a larger color spectrum than can be achieved with traditional offset lithography.

Where Can You Find Waterless Presses?

Waterless lithography has been around since the 1960s, but it is not a pervasive technology. Direct Imaging presses are waterless. These would include the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI (as well as Presstek’s, Screen’s, and KBA’s direct imaging presses).

In addition, some presses are hybrids. These can be used for offset lithography and waterless printing, but they must include a special cooling apparatus, in which hollow tubing carries water through rollers in the ink train to maintain a constant ink temperature. Otherwise, the thicker ink would cause friction in the ink rollers and press plates, raising the overall ink temperature and compromising its viscosity.

Why Choose Waterless Printing?

Waterless offset provides a number of benefits:

  1. The process allows for higher halftone screen rulings since the ink is stiffer, tackier, and more viscous than offset press ink. This yields better halftone dot reproduction and hence better image definition.
  2. The higher screen rulings allow commercial printers to achieve increased print contrast and a wider color range while eliminating the halftone rosette patterns of traditional offset lithography.
  3. A waterless press will hold a tonal range from a .5 percent halftone dot to a 95.5 percent halftone dot. This greater tonal range provides more mid-tone and shadow detail than traditional offset lithography.
  4. Waterless printing produces less dot gain (spreading of the ink on the paper), so there is greater image detail, particularly in shadows and midtones. Reduced dot gain also allows the custom printing vendor to use a thicker ink film, which yields brighter colors.
  5. The thicker, tackier ink allows for exceptional ink holdout on a multitude of coated and uncoated printing stocks (i.e., the ink sits up on the surface of the press sheet).
  6. Since the commercial printer does not need to maintain a stable ink/water balance, he can reduce paper waste and improve the efficiency of the custom printing job. The commercial printer can also hold more consistent color throughout the press run once he has achieved optimal color on press.
  7. Eliminating the dampening solution also eliminates the paper stretch that results from wet paper. The higher dimensional stability of the paper affords the custom printing vendor better control over color register on press.
  8. The environmental benefits include the elimination of water waste, reduced paper waste, and the elimination of hazardous chemicals.

Custom Printing Options for Creating and Proofing PDFs

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

We are inundated with PDFs today. Almost every application you own can create a Portable Document Format file, from OpenOffice to Microsoft Word to Adobe Acrobat. But if you are a graphic designer, how do you know that the PDF you are creating for your commercial printer is appropriate for the target offset or digital printing technology? How do you know your job won’t go horribly wrong?

What Is PDF/X, and How Does It Differ from PDF?

Those PDF files you can distill from standard office applications can include a multitude of options (including such features as hyperlinks or dynamic forms) that don’t pertain to custom printing. In the case of digital and offset printing, you actually need fewer rather than more features. You need to limit your options to ensure accurate results.

Enter PDF/X. PDF/X is a subset of standard PDF that addresses such graphics exchange issues as “output intent” (the conditions for the final custom printing device), color management, definition of the printable area including trim and bleed specifications, and “active content” issues (essentially the exclusion of rich media such as audio and video, and interactive features such as comments and forms).

Here are some of the options explained one at a time. A book could be written about this information, so consider this just a starting point for discussion with your commercial printer.

  1. Printing Conditions: This includes color and ink data targets, one of which might be “CGATS TR 001 SWOP,” which refers to a specific collection of “Specifications for Web Offset Publications” (SWOP). These standards addresses such custom printing issues as color separation, screen angles, total area coverage of ink, undercolor removal, gray component replacement, color and ink data targets, and proofing processes, to name just a few. In short, these variables address how your final job will look and with what technology it will be printed.
  2. Color Management: This specification focuses on the color space of the print job, including whether it is CMYK and whether it includes spot color information. Data on the ICC profiles (i.e., the color profiles for the custom printing job) can be addressed as well, along with any information on calibrated (color managed) RGB elements (in most cases, of course, your offset job will be CMYK and/or a spot color rather than RGB).
  3. Definition of the Printable Area: This specification includes information on the “Media Box, Trim Box, Art Box, and Bleed Box.” All of these pertain to the job size and format and whether and how the ink will bleed off the page.
  4. Active Content: PDF/X will omit the following from your print-ready files: embedded audio and video, signatures, interactive forms and comments, and other PDF features that are appropriate for the exchange of inter-office documents or forms but that don’t pertain to offset and digital custom printing.

Flavors of PDF/X

To complicate matters within this technical arena, PDF/X comes in many varieties (including PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, PDF/X-4, and PDF/X-5g. Most of the variables used in determining which of these sub-specifications to use involve:

  1. whether the transfer from the designer to the commercial printer is “blind,” (i.e., requires no intervention by the printer)
  2. the extent of the acceptable color information (CMYK plus spot colors, vs. other color spaces)
  3. issues such as transparency
  4. issues such as whether the PDF can reference graphics outside the PDF (usually, the PDF includes all fonts and graphics, but some of the alternative PDF/X formats allow printer replacement of graphics).

Ask Your Commercial Printer for Help

In most cases, you will probably only distill PDF files for print as PDF/X-1a compliant. You will probably also limit the color space in your job to only CMYK plus spot color. And you will probably embed all fonts.

It is essential that you discuss the various PDF options (PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, and such) with your commercial printer to make sure you set up your PDF document correctly. Different printers use different PDF workflows for various kinds of work (offset printing vs. digital printing vs. packaging printing). Finding a trusted and knowledgeable prepress operator within your custom printing vendor’s shop can save you stress and disappointment. In addition, your commercial printer can preflight your files to ensure that they are PDF/X compliant.

Reviewing a PDF Proof

Many people ask me what the difference is between the PDF they submit to their printer and the PDF proof they see if they request only a screen proof (virtual proof).

The difference between your PDF and the proof is that the proof has passed through the printer’s RIP (raster image processor) and has been converted from the curves and arcs of PostScript into a bitmapped format understandable by the platesetter.

To ensure accuracy, when you review a PDF proof from your commercial printer, you will need to check any logos you have placed in the file as well as any special type characters (such as the trademark symbol ™ and copyright symbol). You will also need to confirm that there was no reflow of copy (i.e., none of the type has moved from column to column or from page to page).

Beyond this list of things to check, your job should be fine as long as you have correctly embedded all fonts in the distilled PDF file. (Basically, any problems introduced between the submission of your PDF file and your receipt of the commercial printer‘s PDF proof should be confined to these areas.)

Book Printing: Attending to Details in Cover Design and Production

Monday, March 5th, 2012

I’m brokering the print production for a perfect bound book with a unique cover. It has images and type on both the outside and inside covers, as well as French flaps. Therefore, the design and production of the cover reflects a number of concerns for both graphic artists and production managers.

Printing Gold Ink on the Cover

In addition to the process colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—the cover designer has used a match gold ink for the perfect-bound cover. Process color builds can simulate a lot of different colors, but they cannot simulate metallics. The closest 4-color custom printing can come is a yellowish brown. Gold ink actually includes flecks of metal in the liquid suspension of ink, and it is this metal that gives the ink its sheen.

Since nothing can be printed over the gold ink, other than the film lamination, the cover designer will need to add an extra Photoshop spot color channel with knock outs and standard trapping for anything that would touch the gold ink.

It is my understanding that the cover designer has created the art file in Photoshop rather than InDesign. Therefore, he will distill the Photoshop file as a press-quality PDF prior to uploading it to the book printer. Although the more recent versions of Photoshop can preserve the high resolution of vector type layers (allowing the platesetting software to determine the final resolution of the type during the rasterization process), the book printer may ask the designer to flatten the Photoshop file (merge the various layers, including the type layer) to avoid choking the RIP (overpowering the software that turns the PostScript curves and arcs of the type into a matrix of dots for the platesetter). All images will need to be 300 dpi or higher, and small type may suffer slightly compared to type produced in InDesign.

Laminating the Cover

Gold ink needs to shine to be considered gold and not brown or yellow. I had initially suggested a dull film laminate as a cover coating to distinguish the print book from its peers (fewer books seem to have dull coating than gloss, and any difference stands out on bookstore shelves).

Nevertheless, I was advised by the book printer to choose a gloss film laminate instead of a dull laminate, since the dull coating would subdue the gold ink and rob it of its sheen. Point taken, and a good lesson.

Adding French Flaps

The print book will have French Flaps, also known as a “double gatefold” cover. The 3.5” flaps will fold inward and give the impression of a dust jacket on a hardcover book. They will also add 3.5” of space in front of each interior cover for author photos and promotional text.

Specifying Paper Grain Direction

Paper grain direction will be parallel to the spine. That is, the direction of the majority of fibers in the cover paper (which are similar in appearance to grains of rice) will match the vertical backbone of the book. This will allow the pages to easily open and lie flat without becoming wavy. Were the grain to lie perpendicular to the direction of the spine, the print book would be harder to open, and the paper might be wavy or rippled.

Allowing for the Imprecise Nature of Presswork and Folding

No custom printing operation is perfect. Acceptable tolerance for cover printing, folding, and trimming is plus or minus 1/16” from side to side (1/8” total) and plus or minus 1/8” up and down (1/4” total). Therefore, while designing the book, the graphic artist must not position any graphic element too close to the trim margins or the fold of the spine, or imprecise folding and trimming could cut off either type or another element of the cover art.

Keeping the Inside of the Spine Free of Ink and Coating

Unlike many covers, in the case of this particular book, the inside front and back covers will be printed as well as the outside front and back covers. The important point is that no ink or coating is allowed on the backbone area (the inside spine of the book between the front and back interior covers). This is because the glue used to bind the print book and attach the cover to the gathered signatures must adhere to the fibers in the backbone area, and ink or a coating would lessen the strength of the glue bond, leading to the pages either falling out or being easily pulled out of the binding glue. To be safe, the book printer also requests 3/16” of clearance on either side of the interior backbone for any ink or coating.

Reviewing the Cover Template

Fortunately the book printer has provided a cover template based on the number of pages and the particular text paper chosen for this book. Using the thickness of the text stock (in this case 55# Sebago Antique Text, which is 360 ppi, or pages per inch), the book printer has calculated a spine thickness of 1.11” (400 pages at 360 ppi). The template the printer has drawn includes the precise size of the spine and front and back covers, as well as notations of bleeds and the permitted live area for type. A cover template like this is invaluable, offering the designer a roadmap of sorts, showing exactly where to place design elements and where to avoid placing them.

Printing Companies Can Stay Relevant by Shifting Their Approach to Marketing

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

A close friend recently gave me a book called Disrupting the Future. Written by Joseph W. Webb, Ph.D., and Richard M. Romano, this book proposes ways commercial printers can continue to be relevant as ink on paper becomes only one of many channels for communication.

The book discusses a shift in focus from offset printing and binding as an end in themselves to custom printing as a medium for communication. The vehicles for this communication will expand from offset lithography to include variable data digital printing, digital large-format printing, web to print, PURLs, and social media.

To stay relevant, commercial printers will need to become consultants and brokers as well as custom printing vendors. They will become experts in the various media and will understand how clients can leverage these options to improve their ROI (return on investment). If these commercial printers have in-house offset or digital equipment to provide the printed products their clients need, so much the better. If not, they will outsource and coordinate this work. They will become trusted advisors, helping clients devise and execute the strategies to grow their businesses.

Making Adjustments in Marketing Strategy

Disrupting the Future addresses the shift in a number of relationships people have with media of all kinds. These include Permanence, Portability, ROI, Intent, Cross Media, Reference Point, Media Selection, Personalization, and Direct Response. Let’s discuss them individually, and consider how offset and digital custom printing can still be relevant.

  1. Permanence: Webb and Romano distinguish between the past, in which a marketer or vendor printed information (let’s say a directory or catalog) and then delivered some copies and stored the rest for future distribution. The information was located in a warehouse or other storage facility. Now information is immediately accessible online. That said, according to the trade journals I have read, there is still a direct correlation between increased consumer purchasing activity and distribution of print catalogs. Apparently, more people buy when they have access to both a print catalog and a website rather than just a website.
  2. Portability: People used to take a printed product with them (such as a catalog). They could read it in the subway on the way to work. Now they want to connect on multiple devices, according to Disrupting the Future. Actually, this can include a print catalog, as well as information on a tablet or a smart phone. The issue is less about the medium and more about the ability of a marketer to carry a message in a consistent way across the various media. Will the reader see a consistent presentation of the brand in the print catalog, on the smartphone, on the tablet, at home on the desktop computer, or on the digital large-format printing of an inkjet bus wrap?
  3. ROI: Webb and Romano note that in the past it was possible to easily match the cost of the printed information to the revenue it generated. However, today’s multi-channel marketing initiatives and information dissemination don’t always show a clear connection between cost and return on investment. For instance, using a Twitter feed and a website landing page along with a print catalog may increase sales dramatically when compared to an Internet-only, or print-only, approach. However, the incremental sales amount due to the social media component can’t always be easily determined.
  4. Intent: Now marketers “lure” prospective clients. In the past they “nudged” them. People are inundated with information. They have learned to tune it out. They want to be informed, not pushed to buy. They want your information to be immediately available for them to reach out and grab.
  5. Cross Media: Disrupting the Future notes that successful messages (persuasive or informative) are now “parallel” rather than “serial.” In the past, a firm would mail a print catalog so many times a year, and then roll out a print advertising campaign. Now the product information is simultaneously available through multiple media: on kiosks and printed signage when the prospective client visits a mall, online when he or she clicks through an Internet advertisement, or in print when he or she reads a catalog. To be relevant, all these parallel media must deliver a congruent message and consistent information. As Webb and Romano note, success hinges on creating an effective and congruent marketing strategy.
  6. Reference Point: In the past, a successful marketer presented authoritative information on why the prospective client should buy a product or service. Now a successful marketer provides a “gateway to context.” That is, according to Webb and Romano’s book, a marketer offers both information and a link to the opinions of others just like the potential buyer. Marketing has become a “dialogue between users.”
  7. Media Selection: Now a marketer will saturate the media with information from which potential buyers can “pull” what is relevant to them individually. In the past, marketers tightly controlled images, ads, and information. For a marketer to omit a channel (for example, to only advertise online and not provide a print catalog) can actually detract from sales.
  8. Personalization: Disrupting the Future notes that marketers in the past would segment a potential client base, sending specific information to targeted groups based on demographic information. This information was often outdated or useless to a certain number of recipients. Now, by combining the Internet with variable data printing, marketers can provide information that is current and pertinent to each prospective client. A potential buyer can receive a print catalog that has been personalized to his or her tastes and interests, and the information delivered online can match his or her prior Internet searches.
  9. Direct Response: Webb and Romano distinguish between “groundswell” and “targeted from above.” Sales prospects now reach out for, absorb, and respond to information and promotions based on their knowledge and interests in an organic, grassroots manner. As Disrupting the Future makes clear, people no longer tolerate being “herded to specific locations or actions” by an overarching authority.

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