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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: A Wedding Package Case Study

A client came to me with a three-element wedding package. Interestingly enough, it had been designed through an on-line print design vendor to be sent to my client for final offset or digital custom printing.

The three pieces included an invitation, an envelope, and an RSVP card. As a separate commercial printing job, my client wanted a thank-you note and envelope. She sent me a low-res PDF of all elements to help me visualize the job

A Small Print Run

First of all, my client wanted only 100 or 150 copies of all wedding package elements. The small press run put the job in the arena of digital rather than offset custom printing. My client had initially wanted a two-color job (black and a single PMS). Due to the nature of digital printing (i.e., both inkjet and xerographic printers use 4-color process inks), the PMS and black would need to be simulated with process color builds.

Letterpress vs. Thermography

My client had seen samples of letterpress printing and thermography and wanted to know if these were possibilities.

First of all, I love the aesthetics of letterpress printing, in which letterforms are recessed slightly below the surface of the paper. This is a “strike-on” process in which metal plates with raised image areas actually strike, and press into, the paper fibers as they deposit the printing ink. Letterpress would yield a beautiful wedding invitation package. Unfortunately, letterpress custom printing was too expensive, so the bride chose not to pursue this option.

Engraving would have been another good choice, with its slightly raised letterforms. (In the engraving process, type and images are incised into a metal plate, and the pressure of the printing rollers forces the paper into the inked, recessed image areas of the plate, resulting in slightly raised letters on the paper.) Unfortunately this was too expensive, given the 100- to 150-copy press run.

Thermography would have simulated the effect of engraving, but the job was too short for an offset printing run. (Here’s how offset custom printing relates to thermography: The thermographic process initially involves an offset printing job. Thermographic powder is deposited onto the wet offset ink, and intense heat causes it to bubble up, creating a raised appearance resembling engraving.)

So we were left with digital commercial printing on the HP Indigo, which in itself is not a bad alternative, depending on the design of the wedding package elements, and the paper on which they are printed.

Considerations with Color Builds

I asked my client to consider the following when she designed the job for the digital press. The sample PDF of the wedding package elements included wispy type with fine strokes. My client wanted to print these in color. I suggested that she choose a color build with only a few of the four component colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). For example, she could build a dark blue color using cyan and black. I suggested this to dissuade her from building fine type serifs with four sets of xerographic dots (C, M, Y and K). Such an attempt could result in fuzzy type if the HP Indigo were out of register even a little.

Choosing the Right Paper

Using a few evocative words from my client describing her goals for the paper choice (“a rough/tactile quality; weighty enough to “feel” formal and high quality; white, though not brilliant white, and slightly off-white paper options; looking for a formal feeling; envelope options should avoid the cheap/thin paper that would undermine the overall presentation”), I asked the commercial printer for a few suggestions. I also asked that paper samples be sent from the paper merchant to my client.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study?

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. The combination of the press run and the amount the client is willing to spend will determine the printing technology. That said, do consider a number of alternative custom printing techniques for your job (offset, xerography, inkjet, thermography, engraving, and letterpress).
  2. The right paper choice can make a simple custom printing job look more expensive and elegant. Ask your commercial printer or paper merchant for unprinted paper sample books (make sure they are recent; there’s a date on the back of each paper book). Also see if your printer or the paper merchant can send you printed samples on the paper choices that interest you.
  3. Thermography is great for simple text. Keep in mind, however, that it is not precise. Therefore, if you have a wedding invitation with intricate artwork and simple type, consider printing the artwork conventionally and the type with thermography. In addition, choose typefaces for thermography that don’t have thin strokes and serifs.

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