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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 May, 2012

Custom Printing: Drupa Highlights Future of Printing

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Wikipedia defines “bellwether” as “any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings.” In the arena of offset and digital printing, this word fits drupa perfectly.

drupa (spelled with a lowercase “d”) is the quintessential printing trade show. Held for 13 days in Dusseldorf, Germany, this event brings together experts from all aspects of the printing field to share knowledge and discuss trends. In many cases it is the top managers of various firms who attend, and since major commercial printing equipment manufacturers have booths at drupa, many of these managers order their new presses, folding equipment, and such, right at the drupa trade show.

In addition, according to the Packaging Europe website, this year’s drupa reflects an international presence, including more than 190,000 foreign visitors, with the highest number of attendees representing Germany, India, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland, and Italy.

What Does This Say About the Future of Custom Printing?

When you consider the international nature of drupa’s attendees and their “decision-maker” status, plus the list of new equipment on display by such vendors as Goss and HP, plus the high number of actual orders for heavy press equipment placed during the trade show, you can see that divining the trends at drupa can give us a global view of the state of printing.

These are my assessments based on reading I have done about this year’s drupa.

  1. Print is not dead. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are investing heavily in new commercial printing processes and devices (digital and offset) because they have buyers for their equipment.
  2. Print is pervasive. The international nature of the attendees attests to the international market for custom printing.
  3. Major trends in printing reflected in drupa seminars and exhibits include the following: digital printing, printing of packaging materials, hybrid technologies mixing offset and digital printing, new technologies such as Nanography ™, environmentally sound printing practices, and automation in commercial printing technology.
  4. More workflow-oriented rather than technology-oriented trends include integrated media campaigns; the future of print books, newspaper printing, and magazine printing; dialogue marketing; and packaging.

On a More Global Level, What Does This Mean?

  1. Print must compete with digital-only media. E-books are creating an ever-larger footprint. Many newspapers are merging the staffs for their digital and print editions and reducing the frequency of print editions to a few issues a week.
  2. However, print (both offset and digital) can do things digital-only media cannot. Textured UV coatings (soft-touch and sandpaper) show that digital-only media cannot provide a tactile experience. And this is still important, on some level, for some printed products, to the vast majority of people.
  3. Print buyers are demanding a faster turn-around for more customized work. Equipment that offers both offset and digital capabilities can accommodate short, variable-data work on a tight deadline.
  4. Buyers, in general, will not accept being “talked at” by advertisers. Increasingly, advertisers are developing ways to interact with prospective buyers, through integrated promotional efforts involving digital and offset printing as well as various forms of social media. Studies are beginning to reflect the synergistic nature of cross media initiatives. For instance, combining a direct mail campaign with a QR code and a PURL can yield a much higher response rate than would a print-only or email-only advertising initiative. Clients want vendors to interact with them. Integrated media serves this purpose.
  5. Packaging isn’t going away. When we enter a grocery store or a computer store, the packaging contributes to the saleability of the products. That said, being able to create one box or 1,000 is becoming important, so digital custom printing technology has been making inroads into packaging work.
  6. Digital printing in general seems to be the wave of the future. Many of the high-end sheetfed digital presses are accommodating larger press sheet sizes (and in so doing are competing head-to-head with offset sheetfed presses). In addition, web-fed inkjet presses are coming into use for newspapers and books. The digital equipment is larger, faster, and better, increasingly rivaling or exceeding the quality of offset lithography.

So here we are. It’s an exciting time. The next drupa will be held in Germany in June 2016. Who knows what will be on display (maybe even some of the new 3D printers).

Custom Printing: Sappi Addresses Color Management

Monday, May 28th, 2012

After reviewing The Sappi Standard #5, I checked out the Sappi website and found another booklet entitled The Sappi Standard #2, Managing Color. I thought this would contain useful information, so I ordered the print book, and I wanted to share it with you.

Although the book addresses ways to extend the color gamut with touch plates, ink substitution, and hybrid 6-color printing, I think it’s most useful information pertains to controlling color from the monitor to the inkjet proofer or laser printer to the final offset printed copy.

Without color management, you will have no idea whether what you see on your monitor will match what you see on press. That’s scary, given the high cost of mistakes in custom printing. The goal, as the Sappi book notes, is to coordinate the color profiles (ways color is defined on each piece of equipment in the design and printing chain) and map these to each other and to an objective standard, so that a job printed anywhere in the world will match the same job printed anywhere else.

That is, not only should the soft proof on the designer’s computer monitor (rendered in the RGB color space) match the output of the commercial printing vendor’s inkjet proofing device, but the printer’s inkjet proofer should also be “fingerprinted” to his offset press. But color management should go even further. The printer’s press should be calibrated to an objective standard (such as G7). Presumably, all G7-certified print shops will come up with visually identical (in terms of perceptible color information) print products regardless of the press equipment they use.

The Sappi promotional print book, Standard #2, Managing Color, could easily be 500 pages of dense technical material. (The book is actually very short, but there’s that much information in this area of prepress.) That said, here are a few concepts to get you started in your own research into color management.


Images rendered on a monitor use red, green, and blue light to produce a given hue. In contrast, images produced on a laser printer, inkjet printer, or offset press employ the process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) to create a given color. Since the RGB color gamut is larger than the CMYK gamut (more reproducible colors), software must adjust “out-of-gamut” colors, mapping them to the next closest reproducible CMYK build when converting from the initial on-screen image to the file that your commercial printing supplier will print on his offset press. By doing this, the color mapping software must compress the color gamut (from the larger RGB color space to the smaller, press-ready CMYK color space).

Color Management

Color management software can measure, in numeric form, the perceived colors visible on a scanner, monitor, proofing device, or printer. This data file, called an ICC device profile, describes the behavior of color on that specific scanner, monitor, proofer, or press. These profiles can then be compared and adjusted to ensure consistency from one device to another.

What Is G7?

G7 is a standard, a protocol of sorts, that allows commercial printing suppliers across the world to match the output from their proofing and custom printing devices. According to the Sappi color management book, they do this by “defining the gray balance and neutral print density curves.” That is, they reference the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black halftone dot area used to produce a neutral gray color on a device.

It’s All Up to You

All of this becomes either very abstract or very scary. Eventually, you, the designer, must take responsibility for the color on your computer and monitor to ensure that the color you see will be the color you get in your final printed product.

The Sappi Standard #2, Managing Color gives you a list of what you need to do:

  1. Request your offset or digital printer’s ICC color profile. Your goal will be to match this offset or digital press characterization to your own system.
  2. Use off the shelf software and hardware to measure and characterize (or profile) the elements of your design system (particularly your monitor and inkjet printer).
  3. Do this every two weeks (or at least calibrate your monitor and inkjet printer once a month).
  4. Remember that monitors will change their ability to render colors as they age, and each device will have a different color profile (even monitors of the same make and model).
  5. Keep the area surrounding your design workstation visually neutral (gray or muted colors in the background) so as not to affect your perception of on-screen color.
  6. Remember that ambient light in your design studio, such as sunlight, will affect your perception of color as well as contrast.
  7. Paper weight and quality will affect color rendition. The more ink the paper can hold, the more faithful the color will be.

My Personal Advice

Color management is difficult to master. Personally, I’d always request a hard-copy proof for a color critical job. Make sure the proofing device is fingerprinted to the press (your commercial printing supplier will know what this means). You want to make sure your printer can match the proof you see to the final offset printed product.

If you don’t like the proof, just be happy that you caught the problem before your job went to press. Consider the cost of a proof an investment in the success of the job rather than an expense.

If the color on the proof is wrong (or the image has a color cast), adjust the original files, and then request another hard-copy proof. When the proof meets your standards, then and only then give your custom printing vendor the approval to go to press.

Commercial Printing: Sappi Paper Book Revisited

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I continued perusing the Sappi Standard #5, and I saw some other custom printing and finishing options I wanted to share with you. This print book is just too good to summarize in one PIE Blog posting.

Metallic Foils

On one page of this print book, the Sappi paper company designer has included a robot composed primarily of contrasting metallic foils that seem to move and blink as you shift the paper. Small portions of the robot were created with process ink for contrast, but the majority of the design plays solid metallics against metallics composed of reflective dots and holographic foils.

Such an effect can be accomplished by your commercial printing supplier using custom metal dies to cut through the foil material, and then heat and pressure to affix the foil to the substrate. The printer can do one or multiple passes to lay down any number of different foils. If the design includes any offset custom printing work, this would be done on a separate pass using different press equipment.

Metallic foil provides a striking effect, but you might also consider colored pearlescent foils, white foil, patterned foil, or even transparent foil. Some metallic foil effects don’t even require actual metallic film. The Sappi Standard #5 describes liquid foil, which is actually a UV coating. It looks and behaves like an ink, so it can be added inline on an offset press, but once it has dried, it gives the impression of a metal foil. Sappi notes that this product goes by the following names: Mirafoil, Liquid Foil, and Super Silver.

In addition, you might even want to apply foil to a press sheet and then emboss the area to make it really stand out.


Embossing raises an image off the page, and debossing lowers the image below the surface of the paper. The Standard #5 includes a number of embossed effects, including a rubberized spy coat (covered in soft-touch UV coating) with various spy tools hidden in the coat, such as listening devices, a magnifying glass, and a small motorcycle. All of these are slightly raised off the page using blind embossing (a process using a metal die, heat, and pressure, but no separate ink or foil). In these cases, the raised image itself creates the design under the already printed image of the coat.

As a designer, you might want to go one step further and create a sculpted emboss. This process still uses a metal die, but it includes more nuances in the multiple levels of the die, creating a more sculptural, carved look.

Commercial printing suppliers use various metals for these dies. For shorter runs with less complexity in the dies, copper and magnesium are appropriate, but for complex, multilevel dies or long press runs, brass is a better choice, since it is a more durable metal.


The Sappi Standard #5 also includes samples of a technique called “flocking,” which involves applying an adhesive to a portion of a press sheet , and then adding small particles of a natural or synthetic substance to the adhesive area. Sappi created a white Abominable Snowman on a bright white press sheet to demonstrate this technique. The artist gave the image a white, raised, fur-like coating using flocking material. Once the flocking material had been added to the adhesive surface, the custom printing vendor vacuumed away the flocking particles that were not on the adhesive image area, thus creating the image of the Abominable Snowman. On a separate pass, the printer had already defined the face and hands of the creature using 4-color process offset lithography.

Reticulated Varnish

This is an effect that appears to have originated as a mistake. When the viscosity of a UV coating is increased past a certain point, it can no longer be spread evenly on a press sheet. So the coating beads up a bit, creating a stippled, or granular, appearance.

On the page opposite the Abominable Snowman, The Standard #5 has included a barely visible image of Sasquatch using reticulated varnish. The reticulated varnish effect allows for a subtle contrast between the background foliage and the body of the creature. Reticulated varnish is not quite as even as sandpaper UV coating, and it has a larger, more visible patterning. Therefore, it appears to be a special effect aimed more at the visual rather than the tactile senses.

These Books Are Great Sources for Ideas

As noted before, it behooves you to collect books of sample printing techniques. Not only will they teach you how these effects can be achieved by your commercial printing shop, but they will give you fresh ideas for your graphic design. In addition, you can always show the effects to your custom printing supplier to help you articulate the exact “look” you want to achieve.

Commercial Printing: Sappi Paper Book Highlights Tactile Options

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I received a book in the mail today from Sappi Paper, and I wanted to share some of it with you. Sappi makes paper. It is a paper manufacturer, in contrast to a paper merchant, which sells paper for a number of mills. A paper merchant is somewhat like a broker.

So Sappi makes paper, and this particular book is called The Standard #5. Obviously there are four books that precede this one (discussing everything from color management to preparing files for print to scoring and folding to paper coatings), and I would encourage all of you to request all of them. They show you what’s possible in the realm of printing and what’s available in the paper market. Think of paper merchant’s promotional books such as these as a showcase by the paper mills of their best work.

If you request samples (and I would encourage you to request both unprinted paper swatch books and the promotional books), the paper merchants will happily oblige. Why? Because if you like what you see, the paper manufacturers think you will probably ask your printer to buy paper from their mill or the paper merchant (which you probably will).

Printing Options Abound

That said, what does The Standard #5 say about printing?

  1. Varnishes: Look at the print book under good lighting. You will see various treatments using varnishes (both gloss and dull) and UV coatings. Under bright lights you can see the subtle way the commercial printing vendor has played these surfaces against one another, contrasting a gloss coated photo, for instance, with the dull background of the text sheet.
  2. Raised Gloss UV: On other pages you will notice that raised gloss UV coatings over a bottle containing a miniature ship can give the impression of actual glass (because of its intense sheen). Moreover, the gloss UV coating applied to only the image makes it stand out and look three-dimensional.
  3. Textured UV: In addition, there are now textured UV coatings that simulate sand (called “sandpaper UV coating”). Juxtaposing sandpaper UV and “soft touch” UV (which can simulate fur), the designer of the Sappi Standard #5 has created a mounted boar’s head with rough bristles and a furry snout. On another page, the soft-touch UV gives Henry VIII a furry textured shirt and hat.
  4. Thermography: In most cases you will see thermography used for letterhead or business cards. Powder is applied to wet offset ink, excess powder is vacuumed off, and then the printed product is heated, making the powder and ink bubble up to create a raised image. This simulates engraved text, like you might see on a fine wedding invitation. However, in The Standard #5, thermography has been used to create a faux-woodcut pirate. The simple lines of the drawing are raised, providing a pleasing tactile experience as you run your hand over the art. The custom printing supplier has given the pirate a gold tooth and a copper earring using metallic foil (applied with heat and pressure in a single pass on press).
  5. Color Usage: Don’t limit yourself to cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The Standard #5 includes images of pirate tattoos printed in process colors augmented with touch plates of fluorescent magenta and green. These hues extend the color gamut (i.e., colors reproducible on press) by printing additional color in specific areas of the images. However, you could also ask your commercial printing supplier to replace the usual cyan, magenta, and yellow with one or more fluorescent versions of the process colors (for less than the cost of touch plates).
  6. Laser Die-cutting: One page in The Standard #5 features a laser die-cut head created with various-sized squares (not unlike various sized halftone dots). A metal die would not have been precise enough to achieve this effect. Instead, a laser burned through the paper to create the image. The print book does note that it is possible for the laser to singe the paper during this process, but if used in a skillful and restrained manner, laser die-cutting can open up possibilities traditional die-cutting could never fathom.
  7. Lenticular Printing: This deserves a print book of its own. Lenticular printing is created with 3D software that interlaces multiple images to simulate movement and depth on printed plastic sheeting. Sappi Standard #5 includes a number of samples of this provocative technique.

The Take Away from This Print Book

  1. Use your imagination, but involve your commercial printing vendor early in the process. Also, expect to pay more for these special effects. That said, it’s often worth the cost, and it may be less expensive than you think.
  2. Get in the habit of requesting sample promotional books from your commercial printing supplier and paper merchant. These will stimulate your creativity. Many of them will also teach you about various custom printing technologies and techniques.
  3. Printing is a tactile medium. The computer, tablet, and smart phone are not. Printing and finishing technologies are stepping up to set printing apart as a viable alternative that can provide options unavailable with digital-only media.

Large Format Printing: Faux Beer Cans on a Standee

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

My fiancee and I installed a standee this week for the movie That’s My Boy. It came with three or four beer cans.

A few years ago, while installing another standee, I thought I had seen everything when I opened the heavy standee box only to see a bag marked “bricks.” (They had been ballast for a Lazy-Susan type of rotating display stand.) But the beer cans really took the cake.

Interestingly enough, assembly instructions for the beer cans appeared in the four-page instruction manual. The text showed exactly how to twist them so they would look like the remains of a fraternity party. To keep them in place, each can had two strips of double-sided tape. The instructional print book showed exactly where to place them on the “lawn” portion of the standee.

How Is This Relevant to Custom Printing?

You might ask how this relates to commercial printing. I see two very direct connections.

First, if you looked closely, you could see that the faux beer cans were not metal. They were cardboard canisters with applique’s of a nondescript beer. Someone had printed and assembled cylinders, each with a top and bottom image and another image wrapped around and glued to the sides. The custom printing vendors had done a lot of work.

Why cardboard and not metal? I haven’t a clue, but here are some thoughts:

  1. Liability: If broken or torn apart, an aluminum beer can could have a jagged edge that might cause an accident. The movie studios, standee designers, and movie theaters increasingly attempt to avoid accidents to those who interact with standees, particularly as more physical materials are used in standees and as standees become more interactive.
  2. Sensitivity in Marketing: Perhaps the designer of this large format printing piece wanted to avoid promoting a particular beer (again for liability issues regarding product placement). Perhaps the studio wanted to avoid explicitly promoting beer to minors who might see the standee (after all, a cardboard beer can with a nondescript label glued to its surface can give the impression of a beer can without identifying a particular beer or any beer at all).
  3. Cost: Creating a fake beer can out of cardboard allowed the designers at the movie studio to avoid the need to have aluminum beer cans mocked up. Perhaps the cost to create simulated aluminum cans exceeded the (considerable, I would assume) cost to mock up a cardboard tube, print the beer can label in four colors on 80# or 100# enamel printing paper, and then, using hot-melt glue, affix the appliques onto the sides, top, and bottom of three cans per standee (multiplied by the majority of movie theaters in the country, presumably).

What About Your Large Format Printing Work?

What can we learn from this? First, consider multiple custom printing options and a variety of materials for your large format printing work. Cost is one factor. The number of copies you will need to produce as well as the accessibility of the particular materials are two more considerations. Talk with your commercial printing suppliers early. In fact, the more outlandish the project, the earlier you should start making physical mock-ups of the large format printing piece, and the sooner you should involve the printing suppliers.

Also Consider Shipping Logistics

When you create something as easily crushed as three beer cans, you need to consider shipping logistics. The standee company inserted all three cans in an additional carton within the main carton that contained the standee. Not to have done so might have compromised a lot of work and wasted a lot of money. So don’t just design a large format printing piece. Also think about how you will get it to it’s destination for assembly.

The Immersive Experience

As an aside, I want you to know how real these looked. The manager of the movie theater came into the room we were using to assemble the standee, and looked disgusted when he pointed at the beer cans and asked, “What are those?” Apparently he had thought we were drinking on the job.

Large format printing, as reflected in movie standees, is moving away from cardboard-only assemblages toward real-world objects. Over the last month I have assembled one standee with a metal street sign pole affixed to a base covered in simulated grass. I have also assembled two photo opportunity standees with fabric-covered chairs.

Anything that looks real captures the interest of the movie-goers and draws them into the fictional world of the movie (and the movie standee). I think it’s powerful marketing. I also think it is fascinating that this is happening at the same time as computer technology is embracing both virtual reality and augmented reality.

There is room for custom printing, it seems. However, to make offset and digital printing viable alternatives to entirely electronic media, it helps to accentuate the tactile qualities of print. After all, you cant touch anything on a computer screen.

Printing Services: Can a Digital Press Print Quality Wedding Materials?

Friday, May 11th, 2012

A reader recently commented on my blog post about problems with the color register of a client’s wedding materials on an HP Indigo digital press. She made an interesting point. She said she would not have printed a suite of wedding materials (invitation, thank-you notes, RSVP, envelopes, etc., on a digital press).

Is Digital Custom Printing Appropriate for Wedding Materials?

I hadn’t thought about it, because the article was a case study about determining the cause of fuzzy type on a proof. However, I actually do agree with the reader. Although digital printing has come a long way over the years, it is still may not be the best option for an elegant wedding package.

Unfortunately, for my client a press run of 150 copies of five items (three cards and two envelopes) would not have been economical.

  1. One of the two envelopes, an envelope for the thank-you notes, had no printing. It was a blank A2 envelope that cost $25.00 for 150 copies.
  2. The other envelope (an A7) included variable data printing. Each copy had a different address. Therefore, offset printing would not have been an option.
  3. The invitation (a 4/0 digital job) could have been printed on a small duplicator press with two colors, but it still probably would have exceeded the cost of the 4-color digital job.
  4. The thank-you note was 4/0 (and could have been printed 2/0 via offset lithography, again probably for more than the cost of the digital run).
  5. The RSVP card could have been printed via offset lithography, but it was 4/4 (printed both sides). On a small duplicator press it could have run as a 2-color job printed on both sides. Again, it probably would have cost more than a digital custom printing job.

Essentially, for a short-run, five-item wedding materials package including variable data, price trumped quality. My client chose digital printing.

How to Make the Best of Digital Printing

  1. Digital custom printing to all but the most discriminating eye really is quite good. That said, it does vary in quality from digital press to digital press, so I chose the best digital press I know: the HP Indigo. It comes closer to offset commercial printing quality than anything else on the market.
  2. My client chose a brilliant white uncoated sheet for the wedding materials: 100# Mohawk Via Felt Pure White Cover. I have found over the years that the rough surface of an uncoated sheet affords a more forgiving substrate for digital printing than a high-gloss coated paper. And the brightness of the sheet provides good contrast for the liquid Indigo ink (i.e., toner).
  3. With digital printing, it’s important to watch the color register. Use a loupe to check the proof.
  4. Here’s one final note to keep in mind. With electronic media taking precedence over offset and even digital printing in some arenas, there has been a tremendous push to improve both the speed and the quality of digital commercial printing to keep it competitive. Since some items will always need to be printed (such as product packaging and marketing collateral), the reduction in cost, increase in quality, and varaible data capabilities of the newest digital printing equipment bode well for wedding materials produced via digital custom printing over the next few years. Stay abreast of the media, and read any discussions of the newest commercial printing technologies and equipment.

What Are Some Other Options?

There are a lot of reasons to just pay more for wedding materials. After all, this may be the most important day of your life. So here are some options for wedding materials if you don’t want to go the route of digital custom printing:

Offset: As noted before, you will get slightly higher quality with offset printing than with digital printing. If you do choose offset lithography, consider including fine color screens, gradations, intricate line art, dull and gloss varnish treatments played off one another, or other items that might not be as high a quality if printed via digital (due to the lower halftone screen rulings of a digital press). In other words, design your work to benefit from the strengths of offset lithography.

Letterpress: If you choose letterpress, you will see flattened indentations on the paper where the custom printing plate has struck the substrate and deposited ink. This is a very tactile medium compared to the smooth surface of either offset lithography or digital printing. Design to its strengths. Consider using blocks of solid color, or maybe screen back a color by using hatch marks rather than halftone dots.

Engraving: The pressure applied to the etched printing plate causes the moist paper to rise where the ink has been deposited (i.e., the wet paper is pulled into the recessed engraving channels in the printing plate).

Thermography: Thermography mimics engraving, for less money, using powders that are added to the wet offset lithography ink. When heated, the powders bubble up and produce raised type. However, true engraving can’t be matched for elegance. You can feel the difference as you run your fingers over the raised letterforms.

The Cost: What to Expect

Expect to pay significantly more for letterpress or engraving than for offset or digital. In addition, remember that varying the text on the envelopes will not be possible with offset, letterpress, or engraving. As a test, you might want to approach a letterpress shop and an engraver when you design your wedding materials, and request estimates. Compare these to the bids for offset and digital printing. The pricing may fit your budget, so it’s worth a try.

That said, the quality will be superb. You will pay for this, but sometimes it’s worth it.

Printing Services Case Study: Digital Type Out of Register

Monday, May 7th, 2012

A custom printing client of mine is producing a number of elements of a wedding invitation package. She received her hard-copy proofs of the invitation, RSVP card, thank-you note and envelopes and noticed that the type appeared fuzzy on some of the proofs.

She asked for my opinion, and along with her email, she sent a JPEG photo of a particularly egregious example of the fuzzy type.

Here’s How I Approached the Problem

First, I looked at the facts:

  1. The job was short run and therefore digital. It would be printed on the HP Indigo press.
  2. Because the job was digital, the two ink colors of the wedding package job would be process color builds, not true PMS colors.
  3. The two colors, a salmon color and a dark navy blue, were composed of the following percentages of CMYK liquid toners on the Indigo (C0, M70, Y50, K0 for the salmon and C100, M80, Y0, K50 for the blue).
  4. The blue type was a simple gothic face with a relatively even thickness of strokes in the letterforms. The salmon colored type was a script face.
  5. The script face did not appear to be fuzzy on the proof.
  6. The fuzzy type appeared to be more evident on the blue type and on only a few of the wedding package items.


I Asked the Commercial Printing Vendor to Explain

I called the printer and spoke with two different prepress operators. I was told the following:

  1. The Indigo digital press provides lower resolution output (and coarser halftone line screens) than conventional offset custom printing. Therefore, the fuzzy type will be more evident to the eye than similar type printed via offset lithography.
  2. Since the salmon color was composed of screens only (no 100 percent solid colors, but rather C0, M70, Y50, K0), the blue type should be crisper than the salmon (blue was C100, M80, Y0, K50, so it had a 100 percent solid cyan letterform).


I Didn’t Immediately Believe What I Was Told

For a few reasons, I didn’t agree with the prepress operators at the commercial printing supplier:

  1. The problem was with the dark blue type, not the salmon colored type. Based on the custom printing company’s explanation, since the 100 percent coverage in the dark blue should have created a definitive letterform, the blue type should have been fine, and the salmon colored type should have been problematic (i.e., since all salmon colored letterforms would have been composed entirely of halftone dots). But this was not the case.
  2. The salmon colored type had wispy serifs, and the dark blue type was composed of simple block letters. The problem should have been more obvious on the salmon script face, with it’s thin, uneven strokes. But it was not.

Instead, I Believed That the Type Was Out of Register

  1. Granted, the salmon colored type was composed of only two colors (magenta and yellow, or C0, M70, Y50, K0). I realized that a mitigating factor would have been the lightness of the color. That is, yellow is very forgiving. If it’s out of register, it’s so light that you usually don’t notice this.
  2. The type in the photo my client had sent me was fuzzy on only one side. Upon further magnification, I saw halftone dots on only one side of the letterforms.
  3. Most of the proofs were fine. Only one was really bad. It seemed to me that if the comments of the prepress operators at the commercial printing company had been correct, all proofs would have been equally fuzzy, and the type would have been fuzzy on all sides, not just one side.
  4. My concern that the type was out of register was based in part on the composition of the dark blue ink (i.e., liquid toner). It was composed of three colors (C100, M80, Y0, K50). The percentage of each color equaled or exceeded 50 percent coverage. And there were no light colors (no yellow at all). Basically, since the color was composed of high percentages of three dark hues (cyan, magenta, and black), I knew any color misregistration would be more visible than usual, in spite of the simplicity of the gothic letterforms.
  5. The photo my client sent was a dead giveaway. When magnified, it showed a row of halftone dots hanging out on one side.

I Sent a Photo of the Problem to the Commercial Printing Vendor

I emailed my client’s photo to the printer. The prepress staff forwarded it to the owner of the shop, who was responsible for actually running the Indigo press (a benefit of my contracting with a small print shop). He said he could adjust the HP Indigo to fix the color register for the final press run. Problem solved.

What You Can Learn from This Experience

If your proofs look fuzzy, consider the following:

  1. Think about the number of colors used as well as their percentages. If the proof is out of register, multiple colors will magnify the problem, particularly if they are dark colors (not yellow) and if they are high percentage screens of the colors.
  2. Consider the typefaces. Type with thin serifs will magnify problems with color register.
  3. When you get a proof from the custom printing supplier, use a magnifying glass (or printer’s loupe) to see whether all halftone screens are properly aligned.
  4. If there are problems, take digital photos of the problems and email them to the printer.
  5. Don’t just take the word of the commercial printer, poster digital printing service, or digital on demand book printing vendor as to why the problem occurred. Do your own research as well. Be an informed consumer.

Commercial Printing: What You Can Now Do with Digital Inks and Toners

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Not that long ago, if you wanted special ink treatments for your custom printing work, you had to opt for offset lithography. Digital printing just wasn’t there yet. But this has been changing, affording new options for short-run and variable-data work on digital printing presses.

Here’s a rundown of some of your options and some of the kinds of digital commercial printing equipment you should look for when researching this technology.

Textured Ink: a Tactile Experience

Let’s say you want to print a photo of an iguana in your short-run brochure print job, and you want the reader to get a visceral experience of the reptile’s skin when she or he runs a finger across the printed surface. Now you can achieve this effect with three dimensional inks.

On digital custom printing equipment such as the Kodak NexPress, you can add a clear textured coating over one of the inks (or over a particular area), using the fifth inking unit of the press for a clear ink. Basically, you would use InDesign, Photoshop, or Illustrator to isolate the particular color and then create a separate layer, in much the same way as you would isolate a selection for a varnish. Because the dimensional inks have larger particles than conventional inks, the heat of the fusing unit in the digital press will cause the dimensional ink to expand, providing a raised, textured surface.

Prior to the advent of textured digital inks, you had to use thermography to achieve this effect. First you would offset print the color on a traditional press, and then you would add powder to the still wet ink. The heat of a fusing unit would cause the ink and powder mixture to bubble up, providing a raised ink effect. This was expensive and time consuming.

Textured Ink and Faux Embossing

Using the concept of thick, raised digital inks, it is even possible to do digital embossing without needing to create a metal die for the job. The high-end HP Indigo press will actually allow you to run up to 250 passes of a textured ink to build up a raised surface. This raised surface can then be used as a digital die to emboss the remaining press sheets of your digital print job.

Expanding the Color Gamut

Offset lithography uses four process colors to simulate full-color imagery (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink). Since these colors can only create a limited subset of the hues visible to the eye, commercial printing vendors can add additional inks to expand the number of reproducible colors.

Now, digital presses can do this, too. For instance, consider the HP Indigo’s IndiChrome ink system, which can add orange, violet, and green to the CMYK process color inkset, dramatically widening the number of printable hues. In addition, for colors still out of the color gamut, the manufacturer in Israel can create spot color inks for the HP Indigo press.

In addition to process colors, the availability of various black and gray inks and toners has allowed the creation of fine arts photos with incredible depth and nuance. This has opened up the fine arts market to custom printing suppliers with digital equipment.

White Ink as a Color and as a Blocking Device

On the HP Indigo you can also print white ink. You might want to use this ink as an accent in your design, but you might also use it as a blocking device. For instance, if you have a clear plastic substrate (like a static cling) and you want to print a different image on either side, you can print a white ink base between the images. Or, you might choose a metallic substrate and then use white ink to block out the metallic in certain areas of the design.

Special Inks for Security Purposes

From a more functional point of view, here’s a brief selection of security-based effects you can create using a digital press:

  1. The Xerox iGen4 can give certain parts of a ticket or other document a gloss coating, creating a security watermark that’s difficult to counterfeit.
  2. Xerox digital presses can also add fluorescent ink markings visible under UV light, ink markings only visible under infrared light, or microscopic printing (as small as 1/100 of an inch) that can be verified under a magnifying glass but that appears only as a jagged pattern to the naked eye.
  3. The Kodak NexPress can add MICR (magnetic ink character recognition) ink for banking documents and checks.

The security ink functions of digital presses make them ideal for tickets, birth certificates, vouchers, and identification papers. Moreover, the CMYK halftone dots for the individual security features can be printed at different angles to the rest of the text, allowing these security features to be read separately from the main text without needing to add any other inks.

Gloss/Dull Cover Coatings for Aesthetics and Protection

In contrast to security inks, extended color gamuts, and digital embossing, the normal process of coating the cover of a book or poster with a gloss sheen for aesthetics and protection is not dramatic. However, it serves an essential function, and the Kodak NexPress can do this commercial printing job quite well.


All of these effects were once only available in the arena of offset lithography. They were expensive. You needed to to use additional coating units on press, create metal dies, and add additional printing plates. Furthermore, the process only produced multiple copies of one original.

Now, due to the advent of liquid toner-based inks (rather than dry toner) for electrophotography (i.e., laser printing), commercial printing providers can vary the images infinitely, making each page different from the last. Or they can produce an incredibly short press run of 20 copies, or even just one. Or they can build up the thickness of one area of the custom printing job to create embossing dies or textures.

And in most cases the process does not involve an additional click charge for the digital printer, but only a modest additional charge for a variable-data and specialty-imaging software package.

Custom Printing: Nanography, a Breakthrough Printing Process

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I recently have been reading about a breakthrough custom printing process that will be unveiled in a few days at Drupa 2012, known as the “worlds largest trade fair for the printing and media industry.”

The process is called Nanography™, and it has sparked considerable interest and enthusiasm since its creator, Benny Landa, also launched the Indigo digital press back in 1993.

Why It’s So Special

Nanography will target the commercial printing, packaging, and publishing markets with its technology, which combines the varaible data management of digital custom printing with the quality and speed of offset printing, for a significantly lower cost per page than prior options could provide.

Here’s What It Involves

The Landa NanoInk™ used in Nanography contains exceptionally small particles of pigment tens of nanometers in size. (To put this in perspective, a human hair is approximately 100,000 nanometers wide.) Because these NanoInk particles absorb light so well, they provide image quality not seen before in digital or offset custom printing. The Nanographic process provides crisp, exceptionally uniform halftone dots, a high-gloss sheen, and an unmatched CMYK color gamut.

But There’s More

Durability: The process yields an extremely durable and abrasion resistant ink surface.

Varied Printing Substrates: Unlike many other digital commercial printing processes, Nanography allows for printing on coated and uncoated press sheets, recycled carton stock, newsprint, and plastic packaging film. Pretreating the substrate with a special coating is unnecessary, and no post-printing drying process is needed.

Cost-Savings: The thickness of the ink film (approximately 500 nanometers) is about half the thickness of a comparable film of offset ink. This significantly reduces the cost of ink for a job. Combined with the elimination of paper pre-treating costs and post-drying costs, the ink savings will add up to a dramatically reduced cost per page.

Eco-Friendly Process: Less ink benefits the environment. Moreover, the water-based process is also more eco-friendly and energy efficient than prior technologies, due to the combined benefit of reduced consumables and increased printing speed. Also, the Nanographic press is much smaller than other digital presses and tiny compared to offset presses.

Nanographic Presses

Landa Nanographic Printing presses are not just small and fast. They also are varied in their configuration. These commercial printing presses can be used with up to eight ink colors and can produce either 600 dpi or 1200 dpi print output.

The presses also come in both web and perfecting sheetfed versions, so in either case the presses can print both sides of the printing sheet simultaneously. And they’re fast: The sheetfed presses run at 11,000 sheets per hour, while the web presses run at up to 200 meters per minute (over 650 feet per minute).

What Kind of Custom Printing Work Will Reap the Benefits?

Due to the variety of press configurations (i.e., both sheetfed and web), Nanography should make inroads into all areas of custom printing, particularly general commercial work, books and magazines, direct mail work, carton printing, flexible packaging, and labels.

Due to the color fidelity, Nanography should even be appropriate for such aesthetically demanding work as food and cosmetics marketing.

Why Nanography Is Important

  1. One of the reasons electronic and social media have taken a foothold is price. It costs almost nothing to reproduce and distribute an electronic book relative to the cost of a print book. A new process, such as Nanography, that increases printing efficiency and quality while reducing costs holds great promise.
  2. A second reason e-books have taken a foothold is their speed to market. Nanographic presses can compete better with digital media because these custom printing presses are fast.
  3. Since Nanography is a digital, inkjet process, Nanographic presses can produce infinitely variable print pages, allowing for mass customization of printed products.

Why I Believe What I’ve Been Reading About Nanography

The short answer is the Indigo. I have found no better digital press. As a printing broker, I send more and more of my clients’ jobs to commercial printing vendors with Indigo equipment. Without question, Indigo rivals the color fidelity of offset. And if Benny Landa created the Indigo, I can’t wait to see how Nanography will change the custom printing industry.


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