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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 July, 2012

Custom Printing: Consider UV Inks for Your Print Needs

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

UV inks have been around for some time, but they may bear serious consideration for at least some of your commercial printing work.

Background: UV Inks vs. Traditional Inks

UV inks are cured through exposure to ultraviolet light, in contrast to traditional printing inks, which dry through oxidation, evaporation, and/or absorption. More specifically, ultraviolet inks are “dual-state” inks. They are liquid until they are exposed to UV light, at which time they instantly harden.

Traditional custom printing inks contain pigments and vehicles, liquids in which the particles of pigment are suspended: oils, resins, and solvents. In sheet-fed offset work, when ink has been printed on a press sheet, the solvent penetrates the paper fibers (absorption), and the resin sits up on top of the surface and hardens as the chemical reaction with the atmosphere (oxidization) occurs, eventually leaving a film of dry ink.

In contrast, heatset web inks dry through evaporation. Exposure of the ink and paper to high intensity ovens followed by exposure to chill rollers first flash off the ink solvent and then set the ink on the paper substrate as the paper travels through the web offset press. (On coldset web presses, the ink solvent dries through absorption into the paper fibers.)

One Benefit of UV Ink: No Drying Time

The greatest benefit of UV inks is the speed at which drying occurs. Essentially the process happens instantly, as soon as the inks are exposed to UV light. Using traditional inks, a stack of press sheets must sit for up to 24 hours before the ink is dry enough to print the back of the sheet without marring the ink on the front, or before post-press operations can begin (such as folding, trimming, etc.). Using UV inks, subsequent press and post-press operations can occur immediately, significantly improving the speed and efficiency of the commercial printing run.

Another Benefit of UV Ink: Ability to Print on a Variety of Substrates

Traditional custom printing inks need to seep into the paper fibers to set. Because of this, they cannot be applied to non-porous surfaces such as plastics, or they will easily rub off. In contrast, the drying of UV inks (called polymerization) allows them to adhere to non-porous surfaces. The resulting dry ink is resistant to scuffing or marring.

More Benefits: No Solvents or VOCs

Traditional inks can contain up to 70 percent solvent. As these inks dry, the solvents evaporate (are given off as gases that enter the atmosphere), and these emissions are toxic (known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs). Using UV-cured inks in commercial printing eliminates these VOCs and is therefore much more environmentally sound.

Still Another Benefit: Less Dot Gain

Since UV light cures UV ink immediately, the ink sits up on the surface of the paper (called “hold-out”) better than traditional inks. Traditional printing ink seeps into the paper, and the halftone dots spread and become “fringed” (this is known as dot gain). Dot gain can cause the ink colors to shift or make the ink seem muddy (or fuzzy) on the press sheet. In contrast, since UV inks cure immediately, it is possible to hold sharp halftone dots while applying thicker ink films, or in some cases it is possible to maintain brilliant colors while actually using less ink, since the ink sits up on the top of the press sheet.

Drawbacks of UV Ink

There aren’t many drawbacks, but there are some:

  1. UV printing requires separate inks, press blankets, and rollers from traditional offset work.
  2. UV printing is therefore more expensive than printing with traditional inks.
  3. Printing with UV inks requires you to find a commercial printing supplier with different/increased skills and experience.

Jobs You Might Consider for UV Ink

There are a number of instances in which you might want to consider UV inks for a custom printing project.

  1. Consider UV if you’re on a rush schedule, since the process eliminates almost all of the drying time.
  2. Consider UV if you’re printing on a non-porous surface.
  3. Consider UV if you’re printing on an uncoated sheet and you want a “crisp” look. This is an option when you want the subdued appearance and feel of an uncoated offset sheet, or textured sheet, but you want to avoid the subdued look of the ink that usually accompanies printing on an uncoated sheet. In most cases, traditional ink will seep into the paper fibers and become somewhat dulled. Printing UV inks on an uncoated sheet avoids this drawback, allowing the ink to still sit up on top of the substrate due to the immediacy of the drying process.

Talk with Your Printer Early

Not all custom printing vendors are set up to run UV inks, and even if they are, you may not like the cost. So involve your printer early in the discussion process if UV inks appeal to you for a particular commercial printing project.

Custom Printing: Qualities of the Best Printing Companies

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

There’s more to a good printer than price. Printing is not a commodity. You’re buying a process, and that requires mutual trust and an understanding of the particular skills a printer can, and cannot, offer.

I’ve been working on a rather complex project with a print brokering client of mine. It will be an expensive job, so I’ve been discussing the design goals with many of the suppliers I work with: a letterpress shop, two printers that focus on high-end marketing collateral, a smaller print shop, and a mid-size printer. I want to make sure I can advise my client on the most striking, efficient, and cost-effective custom printing techniques and paper choices for this print project.

Here are brief descriptions of a few interactions I have had with these printing suppliers to illustrate qualities I seek in a good commercial printing company.

A Good Printer Makes Suggestions, Even If They Don’t Benefit Him

My client’s marketing design piece could be produced on a number of different paper substrates, ranging from an uncoated sheet like Cougar to a metallic sheet like Petallics to a gloss sheet with a UV coating. It could be a letterpress job or an offset custom printing job. The product will be 6” x 9” and will include about ten diecut pages (130# cover for the front and back and 100# cover for the interior pages). Here’s the rub: There will be 5,000 copies, so the total number of printed pages will be 50,000. It will be a large job, consuming a lot of paper.

The letterpress printer suggested producing only the covers on a letterpress due to the cost of printing three colors on so many sheets.

The high-end marketing collateral printer reviewed the paper choices with me, and in addition to bidding on the entire job, he disclosed the actual amount included for paper. It was about $3,000.00 to $4,000.00 of a $21,000.00 job, not an insignificant amount.

What makes this particular printer especially helpful in my opinion is that he also researched the price differences for alternative paper stocks. When I asked about making the front and back covers chipboard, for a more environmentally friendly look (and potentially to reduce the cost of the paper component of the job), he did the research and said it would actually cost more.

This commercial printing vendor also broke out the cost of the envelopes and envelope printing, as well as the cost for mailshop services (assembly of the job as well as inserting the job in envelopes, inkjetting the envelopes, and mailing the job). By doing so, he left open the possibility of my having him focus on what he does best (producing high-end marketing collateral), while having a smaller printer produce the simple, one-color envelopes and a mailing house prepare and mail the job. In this way I could potentially lower the overall cost of the project.

You might say that this printer was giving away the store by providing all this information. I would disagree. By working with me to meet my client’s budget, he cemented our relationship. I trust him more: for his level of knowledge and the expertise of his print shop. I know he will do a stellar job on the high-end work I send him, and I plan to send him a lot more work.

A Good Printer Is Candid

Two of the printers I approached expressed concerns. My client had wanted a metallic look in her design as well as die-cutting. This would involve dies, metallic foils, possibly even screen printing to ensure a thick, even film of color on the substrate.

Basically, both high-end printers acknowledged which portions of these services they would have to subcontract. Subcontracting work such as die-cutting, foil stamping, etc., lengthens the production schedule, increases costs, and decreases the custom printing supplier’s ability to control the work (it’s far easier to ensure quality for work done in-house). Both of these printers then went on to make suggestions that would provide a quality product, reduce the overall cost of the job, and keep the work under their roof. Basically, both printers said their “sweet spot” is work they can do in-house.

One might say this is compromising, and to some extent all print jobs require compromise. I prefer to look at it this way: The printers were candid about both their skills and their limitations, and they offered suggestions as to how they could provide their best quality product. It was then up to me, and my print brokering client, to decide which of the printers to choose (if any).

GD USA’s Views on the Qualities of Good Printers

In a GD USA article entitled “Print is Getting Smarter And 11 Other Things I Learned From Our Annual Survey,” Gordon Kaye lists the following top ten qualities the survey respondents look for in a custom printing vendor:

  1. “Quality
  2. Price
  3. Customer Service
  4. Trust
  5. Technical Knowledge
  6. Digital Capabilities
  7. Geographic Proximity
  8. Paper Knowledge
  9. Eco-Friendly Practices
  10. Company Reputation”

The examples I described in this article actually reflect a number of these qualities. I’d include quality, customer service, trust, technical knowledge, and paper knowledge as printer attributes I experienced in my initial foray into producing this high-end print project. And I would say that being candid, even when it doesn’t seem to benefit the supplier in the moment, reflects integrity, a quality on which any commercial printing company’s reputation must stand.

Book Printing: Complexities of the Invoice

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I recently checked a preliminary invoice from one of the larger printers I work with. It was to be sent to a client of mine for a case-bound print book. Since the invoice did not match the estimate exactly, I drafted an email to my client to explain the discrepancies so she would not be surprised when she received the final bill.

Here’s a Summary of the Specifications for the Print Book

The job was a 640-page, 8-1/2” x 10-7/8” case-bound textbook, printed black-only inside on 60# Finch Opaque stock. It had a press run of 1,000 copies. The custom printing job also included a dust jacket printed in four non-metallic color(s) by the sheet-fed offset process on an 80# enamel text sheet with a lay-flat gloss lamination applied to the outside only.

Signatures were gathered with end sheets, adhesive bound, and trimmed square on three sides. Cases were made over .098 board with Arrestox B materials and stamping foil measuring approximately 30 square inches. Dies were billed as additional. Books were cased-in round, loose back with head and foot bands, wrapped in preprinted jackets, and packed in 275# single-wall RSC cartons.

Prices were quoted as FOB printer’s plant.

Here’s a Synopsis of the Bid I Had Initially Sent to My Client

1,000 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$955.00: estimated freight

Here’s a Synopsis of my Client’s Invoice (Which the Printer Sent Me for Approval)

1,242 copies
$13,201.00: base price
$901.65: actual freight
$1,035.00: authors alterations (69 pages)
$1,873.52 for 242 overs

Why I Explained the Bill to my Client

First of all, I believe that successful commercial printing sales and successful print buying require trust. I wanted to make sure my client understood the cost overrun. After all, for many commercial jobs the custom printing vendor does not charge for overs. In addition, if the printer is local to the client, the cost of freight may be included in the overall price.

That said, I have found that in most cases book printers do charge separately for freight and also charge for overs. Fortunately, both of these issues were noted in the initial bid and in the boilerplate contract my client had signed with the book printer. Nevertheless, I wanted to avoid any surprises.

Freight Costs Explained

As per the contract, prices had been quoted as “FOB printer’s plant.” That is, the prices did not include freight, and the ownership and responsibility for the books transferred to my client at the book printer’s loading dock (not at my client’s office, the delivery point). The printer had arranged for a freight carrier and had provided an estimated cost of $955.00. Fortunately, the actual cost as noted in the book printer’s invoice was $901.65, a lower amount than quoted. The printer had paid the freight company and therefore needed reimbursement from my client.

Cost of Author’s Alterations

If a client catches a printer’s error in a proof or an F&G (folded and gathered, printed but unbound, signature), the printer absorbs the cost. However, if the client finds an error (in the content, for instance) that he or she had not caught prior to submission, the client pays the cost.

My client had changed and then resubmitted 69 pages of the 650-page book. For labor incurred, the printer had charged $1,035.00.

In some cases, this can be a volatile issue. For instance, if the client had unknowingly prepared the files in error (formatting, type color, extraneous marks, type omissions—the list is endless), he or she might be inclined to blame the book printer without understanding that he or she had actually made the mistake. Conversely, a client may request a change that a printer inadvertently overlooks. (To be realistic, human error does creep into complex processes such as prepress and printing.) If the printer makes the error, then the printer absorbs the cost.

In cases in which responsibility might be unclear, it is important to have prior laser proofs, digital proofs from the printer, emails, and F&G’s to help determine the point at which the error had been introduced.

Policy for Overs/Unders

As per the contract, the printer can charge for 10 percent overs, or up to 250 copies on anything below a 2,500-copy press run. The printer had estimated a $12.201 unit cost for 250 overs but had only printed 242 overs and had billed them at a reduced rate of $7.74 per unit.

Printers do not produce extra copies to make extra money. In the course of all the printing and finishing operations required to produce a book, copies get damaged. Perhaps one is spoiled on the trimmer and another gets damaged during case binding. In order to ensure a final delivery of as close to 1,000 copies as possible, the book printer had to be able to produce up to 250 extra copies to allow for potential spoilage.

For short runs, like a 1,000-copy case-bound book, the usual percentage (10 percent overs or unders) may not be enough to prevent coming up short. Hence, this printer has a rule that 250 copies will be the acceptable overage up to a press run of 2,500 copies. Thereafter, the 10 percent overs (or unders) rule applies.

One thing to keep in mind that the printer does deliver all overs, so you’re not paying for anything you don’t actually receive.

What Can We Learn from This?

All of these items are noted either in the estimate or in the boilerplate contract from the printer. They adhere to industry standard customs (Printing Industry of America). Therefore, it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with standard industry practice, read the contract carefully, and ask your printer to review with you such issues as overage, freight, and author’s alterations.

In fact, it’s quite reasonable, if you find an error in the proof, to ask what it would cost to fix it. Depending on the cost, you may opt to leave the error in the book. For instance, let’s say you found an error in the F&G’s–not the digital proofs–that would require reprinting a complete signature to repair. If the error is insignificant but would cost $2,000.00 to remedy, you might forgo the change.

Book Printing: Sometimes Moving Text 1/8” Can Save $1,300 or More

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

In prior blogs I have always been a great proponent of making your custom printing vendor an ally and partner. Develop trust and a two-way relationship. It will benefit you both.

This week in my print brokering work I received a suggestion from a commercial printing supplier to whom I had bid out a 11,000-copy perfect-bound book. With a 6” x 9” format and 312 pages, the job involved a lot of custom printing paper, and therein lies the key to the savings.

The Commercial Printing Proposal

The book printer told me that if my client moved the position of type in the book 1/8” to adjust the face and gutter margins, my client could save approximately $1,300.00. He was proactive because he wanted the job. I’m fine with that, since he provided a way my client could save a considerable amount of money. I wanted to give him the work since he had delivered stellar print jobs on a number of prior occasions.

Specifically, the textbook had a face margin of 1/4” and a gutter margin of slightly more than 1/2”. The book printer told me that my client should move the column of text toward the gutter 1/8” on each of the facing pages, leaving a 3/8” gutter margin and a 3/8” face (outside) margin. He could do this automatically. My client would not need to adjust the art files she had produced.

This small change would allow the book printer to use a smaller press sheet for the job. Instead of buying a 28” x 40” press sheet on which to lay out and print the signatures of the book, he could use a 25” x 38” sheet. For 10,000 copies this would save approximately $1,300.00, and for 11,000 copies it would save approximately $1,500.00.

The Details of the Savings

The custom printing supplier explained to me that the goal would be to position the pages of the book signature on the press sheet to allow for an 1/8” grind off for the spine. By grinding the spine edge of the stacked signatures in a perfect-bound book, the printer can give a little more surface area into which the binding glue can seep, holding the print book together better as the reader opens and closes the book repeatedly over the years.

In short, moving the column of type in the print book slightly toward the gutter allows the printer to lay out the pages of a signature on a press sheet more efficiently, leaving enough room for this “grind-off” while placing the same number of book pages on a smaller sized press sheet. This is efficient planning.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. The greater the level of trust you can develop with your book printer, the more he will perceive you as a partner (and vice versa). Therefore, when he knows you have a particular budget to meet, he can research various ways to save you money. Whether this means suggesting a different paper stock (the same printer suggested Soporset as an alternative to Finch for my client’s textbook, although my client did not like the roughness of its surface and decided to stay with the Finch stock), or adjusting the imposition of the print job to use the paper more efficiently, if you have developed a relationship of trust with your printer, he will make suggestions to help you.
  2. The higher the page count and the longer the press run of your print book, the more paper you will use. This is obvious. What is not as obvious is that a small adjustment that can save a small amount per page can provide a sizable savings over the course of a long press run. The potential savings of $1,300.00 to $1,500.00 that the book printer offered my client was due to the large amount of paper consumed during print production. A shorter book with a smaller press run would not have saved anywhere near as much money with this simple design change.
  3. A small change can make a big difference. My client would not need to change the trim size of the 6” x 9” book at all, just the placement of art on the page (i.e., the print book margins). The moral is that you should always ask the printer if your particular design yields the most efficient use of the press sheet. Remember that each printer will have different equipment (potentially different sized presses that accept different sized press sheets), so the answer may differ from vendor to vendor.


My Client’s Final Decision

People have different motives and different goals. I was surprised to learn that my client wanted the book to match the prior year’s version more than she wanted to save $1,300.00 to $1,500.00.

Actually, I can understand and respect her decision. Even 1/8” might be problematic if the text were to fall too close to the gutter. In this case, my client was concerned that some of the 11,000 readers might be uncomfortable with the smaller gutter margin. For her, quality and consistency with prior years’ versions trumped a price savings. (If you’re selling custom printing, it is important to understand the client’s goals. If you’re designing a print book and buying printing, it’s important to understand your boss’ and your reader’s goals.)

Commercial Printing: Domtar’s Dream Paper Promotion

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

I just received the new paper promotion booklet from Domtar called Dream. It showcases some dramatic printing techniques on Cougar paper. I thought you might find the book interesting.

Overview of Dream

First of all, I’d encourage you to contact Domtar and request this promotional book yourself. You will be included in Domtar’s marketing database and start receiving free print books like Dream on a regular basis. Nothing beats seeing what a paper company can do with good commercial printing paper and creative design. The paper mills put a lot of money into these promotions, and they are great educational tools.

If you get this print book, first page through it for the overall effect, and then jump to the “production notes” section at the back of the book. Almost every paper promotion book includes a section like this, with a thumbnail photo of each page spread and a description of exactly how the paper company achieved the custom printing effects.

Paper Use in the Promotional Book

Reading the production notes, you can see that Domtar printed the cover of Dream on 130# double-thick Cougar cover stock, smooth finish. Double-thick cover is also known as duplex cover stock. It can either be composed of two different stocks laminated (glued) together, or it can have one side printed one color and the other side printed another color. Paper mills can even produce commercial printing paper with different finishes on the two laminated paper stocks (smooth and antique, for instance). Duplex stocks tend to be thicker than usual, from 100# to 160# (the one used for the cover of Dream is 130#).

The inside of the book is printed on 100# Cougar cover, smooth finish. Since the surface texture of both the cover and the text pages are the same, the book has a consistent “feel.” The smooth, uncoated sheet makes the photos on the cover and inside the book appear silky (not as crisp and harsh as photos printed on a gloss press sheet). But the brilliant white of the uncoated Cougar stock gives the ink colors a vibrant look.

Normally, 100# cover stock would be exceptionally thick, but if you compare the double-thick 130# cover paper to the inside text pages, the text pages seem quite a bit thinner in contrast (one of the benefits of duplex cover stock).

If you look closely, you will see that the printer scored all folds. This is a necessary step when working with such thick commercial printing stock.

Samples of Foils and Paper Coatings

The production notes refer to “dot-for-dot” dull varnish. Such a coating would normally seep into the paper fibers of an uncoated sheet like Cougar. Varnishing uncoated stock is a little like putting paint on a sponge. That said, it actually does seal the heavy ink coating (for protection and to avoid scuffing and offsetting). The designer chose “dot-for-dot” varnish rather than flood varnish. This means that only the printed halftone dots of the image were varnished. In contrast, flood gloss or flood dull varnish lays down an even overall coating on both the ink and the unprinted paper.

Other pages in Dream include examples of silver metallic foil and clear foil stamping. The clear foil stamping looks like a gloss UV coating. On the page under the front cover flap, which includes a portion of a face, there is a dramatic contrast between the iris (covered by clear foil) and the rest of the eye and face (produced with only ink on the dull, uncoated Cougar press sheet).

Clear foil is ideal for adding a uniform gloss sheen to a portion of an uncoated stock, since it sits on top of the paper rather than seeping into the paper fibers. The silver metallic foil on the child astronaut page of the Dream book works well, too. Unlike silver ink, the silver metallic foil keeps its full intensity on uncoated stock, and its smoothness contrasts well with the rough tooth of the surrounding uncoated black paper.

Process Inks and Touch Plates

The production notes show where four-color process inks were used and where additional touch plates were added. In one case, the background of a photo in which a man is playing a trumpet has been augmented with fluorescent pink ink added with a touch plate. This extends the color range of the image significantly. Without the touch plate (an additional printing plate on an additional press unit) the 4-color process inks alone could not have achieved such richness of color.

On another page, an image of a skyline at dusk was printed with dense black and fluorescent yellow touch plates. The former accentuates the black (sometimes black ink can look washed out on uncoated commercial printing stock), and the fluorescent yellow ink gives all the lights in the buildings an ethereal glow.

What We Can Learn from Domtar’s Dream Promotion

There’s no better way to learn design and commercial printing techniques than to study the work of the masters. Paper companies put all their skills and financial resources behind these promotions. Their goal is to sell paper, but you can learn a lot from them as well.

In addition, always review the production notes section of a promotional piece. It’s dry reading (a little like reading a cookbook). But you can learn the intricacies of custom printing from a close study of these descriptions.

Large Format Printing: Movie Standee Lightboxes

Friday, July 13th, 2012

As I have noted in many prior PIE Blogs, I install “standees” and other signage in movie theaters as part of my multi-faceted custom printing life. One such standee promotes The Rise of the Guardians, an upcoming animated film. Although this 14-foot wide and 8-foot high cardboard display portrays six of the movie’s main characters on zig-zagging boxes stacked on a wide base, what makes this particular installation intriguing is its structure. The entire standee comprises a set of six “lightboxes.”

How Lightboxes Work

A lightbox is a device incorporating semi-transparent film or paper placed over a light source. Fluorescent, incandescent, or LED bulbs attached to an electronic light-timing device, and positioned within the structure of the standee, illuminate the transparent graphic panels from behind to give drama to the photographic images of this large format printing display.

This is a little bit like a slide or transparency placed on a lightbox, or even more like the backlit advertisements you can find in subway stations and the airport.

What makes lightboxes dramatic is the level of contrast (the difference between the highlights and shadows) in an image. A slide or transparency, or a lightbox at the airport, or even a lightbox in a standee, has a greater color range due to the back lighting than a similar large format printing graphic panel would if it did not have a source of light behind the image. The light source immediately draws the eye to the graphic panel on the standee. Moreover, by placing the lights strategically behind the graphic panel, the designer can accentuate certain elements in the image and downplay others.

How the Rise of the Guardians Lightbox Works

With the aforementioned in mind, here’s how the huge Rise of the Guardians lightbox was designed. Six graphic panels showcasing six movie characters each consisted of printed semi-transparent plastic film sheets stretched over boxes constructed from unprinted cardboard. Immediately behind each semi-transparent panel was a cardboard sheet with cut-outs for one to three fluorescent bulbs strapped to the cardboard with cable ties. Each lightbox also included multiple strands of LED holiday lights controlled by a timing device. Pushing the button on the controller would change the pattern of the flashing lights.

From a graphic design approach, the lights served a purpose. The fluorescent bulbs illuminated and accentuated the movie characters (usually their faces, since the printed graphic film through which the light shone was more transparent in the lighter colors). LED flashing lights were set behind images such as birds or sparks coming from a magic wand. The flashing lights simulated movement.

Technical Implications of Lightboxes

With the design implications in mind, I also thought about the technical aspects of this large format printing piece. For instance, some of the 100 to 200 miniature lights lay in direct contact with the cardboard standee. In this case I was not concerned. After all, the amount of heat given off by LED lights does not come close to that produced by incandescent bulbs. (My concern was for a potential fire hazard.) Regarding the fluorescent bulbs, I also had no concern. They give off minimal heat, and they were held in a fixed position within recessed cardboard light-holders using plastic cable ties.

Other Lightboxes

I have installed many other lightboxes in movie theaters. None has been as dramatic as this 14-foot construct (which took 14 hours to assemble), but most have been built around a fluorescent light source. However, one lightbox for a Katy Perry film included a semi-transparent mirror. On the back side of the mirror (within the cardboard structure of the standee) four or five incandescent bulbs were alternately turned up to full intensity and then turned off—repeatedly–using an automatic light dimmer. My concern in this case was due to the nature of the lights and their installation. The bulbs were incandescent and therefore gave off more heat than fluorescent bulbs and LED bulbs in other lightboxes. Furthermore, their sockets were just pushed into holes in the cardboard and then lights were screwed into place. So I was concerned that there might be the potential for contact between a hot bulb and the cardboard of the large format printing standee leading to the potential for fire. I have not heard of this actually happening, so perhaps I was just overcautious.


I find the use of fluorescent, LED, and incandescent lights within such a structure to be most interesting.

I also find it intriguing to see how marketers can custom print images on semi-transparent plastic films, and then light them from behind with various kinds of bulbs timed in precise patterns, to accentuate elements of the backlit graphic panel and create movement within a dramatic large format printing job.

Such a project forces the designer to balance aesthetic needs with such diverse sciences as physics and electronics to create a compelling yet functional custom printing piece.

Custom Printing: More News on the Power of Print

Monday, July 9th, 2012

I subscribe to a monthly magazine called GD USA (Graphic Design USA). An article by Gordon Kaye entitled “Print Is Getting Smarter” in the June 2012 issue of the magazine challenges the notion that commercial printing is dying with their 2012 GD Print Design Survey.

I find this interesting, and you may as well, since the survey supports a number of pro-print assertions with both statistics and commentary from the design community. Who is better than a designer to know what kind of custom printing work is being produced and why?

It’s a long article, so I’d encourage you to search for it on the Internet through the GD USA website, but I want to share with you a few of the survey’s findings under the actual subheadings of the GD USA article.

Finding: “Designers Still Value Print”

Quotations in this section of the survey focus on the unique character of custom printing work as a personal, sensory experience (in contrast to the primarily visual nature of the computer screen). The designers quoted in the survey used such words as “tangible,” “texture,” and “dimensionality” to describe print. One designer even noted that “holding something in your hands can have more impact than just seeing it on a screen.”

Finding: “Print Is Crucial to the Business of Design”

This section of the GD USA survey quantifies the importance of custom printing in the mix of communications channels. The survey notes that 74 percent of the average designer’s time is spent working on print projects and 71 percent of the average designer’s projects include a print element.

Interestingly enough, the accompanying list of the kinds of media the survey respondents have designed in the past year includes print and online in the top two positions (96 percent and 72 percent respectively) and point of purchase/packaging (at 62 percent) as the third medium.

This actually supports my own view, expressed in prior blogs, that boxes and cartons, and at least certain types of signage, will be with us for some time. More importantly, however, it shows that almost every designer who responded to the GD USA survey creates custom printing projects.

Finding: “Brochures and Collateral Are Bread and Butter”

The top ten kinds of commercial printing projects respondents have created in the past year include brochure printing and collateral at the top of the list, then sales promotions and self-promotions, invitations and announcements, direct mail, posters, advertising, identity materials, packaging/point of purchase, annual reports, and finally publications.

From this I can infer the following: While printed periodicals and corporate documents may have become less pervasive, advertising, graphic displays, and the simple but direct vehicle of the brochure still exert a strong print presence. Somebody must read them because marketing firms are paying lots of money for their production and distribution.

Finding: “Print Is Getting Smarter”

The GD USA survey notes that 72 percent of respondents are “designing print projects that have digital or interactive components (QR Codes, etc.) built in” and 70 percent are “designing print projects that are extended or repurposed from online versions.”

Commentary on this aspect of commercial printing work notes the important place of digital printing. The variable nature of digital presses allows publishers and marketers to tailor their printed products to the specific needs and interests of their audience.

Moreover, the ever increasing ability of marketing firms to segment and target their prospective clientele allows them to reduce the number of printed pieces while ensuring that each printed piece conveys important information to an interested reader. And the increased number of ways to respond to a printed direct mail piece (for instance through QR Codes and PURLs) allows interested prospects to immediately connect with the company, research their interests in greater depth, and take the next step in the buying process.

In short, the goal is to use custom printing wisely as one of many coordinated channels for communicating with one’s audience.

Finding: “Everything Old Is New Again”

Here’s a good quote from a GD USA Survey respondent: “It is special receiving a well-designed printed piece in the mail or on my desk. It cuts through the online noise like nothing else.”

I get a whole lot of spam in my email box. Granted, some is useful. Sometimes I relish the information that comes to me through news aggregators, online brochures for computer equipment, and blogs about printing. But I do get a huge number of emails.

I can therefore appreciate the views noted in the survey by designers who see a particularly well-executed print project as rising above the crowd of other marketing messages.

Here’s one final quote: “Print may have a smaller market share, but it will have a larger impact on people’s attention.”

In Conclusion

Print is not going away. However, it is no longer the only communications medium. The goal is still to make one’s message stand out from the noise. Savvy marketers and other communicators are those who can successfully convey their message through an effective mix of the available media to interest and influence their readers.

Check out the rest of the GD USA Annual Print Design Survey. It addresses other issues as well, including views on sustainability, what designers expect from their printers, the role of the paper mills, and online print buying.

Magazine Printing: Options for Paper Management

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

In an earlier PIE Blog posting I mentioned that buying paper on the spot market was an option worth considering for magazine printing publishers.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article in Publishing Executive by Steven W. Frye called “Tips for Picking the Best Paper Source” ( I thought you might find the information helpful in purchasing paper for your longer (multiple-page-count, multiple-copy) press runs, so I’m including a synopsis of Mr. Frye’s article.

Here are a selection of paper sources for your magazine printing work, along with a few benefits and pitfalls of each choice. Since there are so many kinds of custom printing paper available (with such variables as opacity, whiteness, brightness, texture, and caliper to consider), it helps to know where to find the experts with the most reliable and up-to-date information on commercial printing paper qualities, paper availability, and pricing trends.

Paper Merchants and Brokers

Both paper merchants and paper brokers represent several paper mills. The main difference between the two is that a paper merchant actually takes delivery and ownership of the paper and then turns around and sells it to customers. In contrast, a broker does not take ownership. He or she just finds the client, determines the client’s needs, finds the paper, negotiates terms, and coordinates delivery.

What this means is that a paper merchant can actually buy paper when prices are low and hold it in inventory, whereas a broker cannot. So you can sometimes get better prices from merchants. Of course, when paper prices drop, the merchant is stuck with excess inventory.

Working with a paper merchant can benefit you in a number of ways. A merchant represents many publishers, so he or she can collect all the paper orders and act as a single, large buyer. He or she will purchase significantly more custom printing paper than an individual publisher, so the volume discounts and payment terms will be much better than an individual small publisher could get directly from the mill.

The Spot Market

I mentioned the spot paper market in an earlier article, noting the potential for buying odd-lot paper at a significant price discount. These papers represent excess inventory or remnants, paper made for other publishers that no longer need it, or lower quality paper that may not be as “runnable” as higher quality stock (not as usable on press without incident). Think of odd lots as comparable to remnants in a fabric store (bits and pieces made but not used). You may find exactly what you need at a deep discount. Or you may not. Given the unpredictability of the spot market, you may want to buy the majority of your stock from your custom printing vendor, the merchant, or the mill, and then get some discounts occasionally through the spot market.

Keep in mind that paper brokers and merchants do not represent the spot market, so you must do a little research on the Internet to find these specialty suppliers.

The Paper Mill

The paper mill makes the paper. They are all about quality and supply, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a good deal buying from the paper mill. It just means that if you develop a relationship directly with the mill and your paper stock becomes less readily available, you will have an edge in acquiring what you need for your magazine printing work.

However, in contrast to the paper merchant, who represents a number of buyers (and hence becomes one large buyer himself/herself), if you buy from the mill, you are ostensibly just a small buyer, and you don’t get the discounts that come from the economy of scale.

What to Consider

As you can see from the preceding sections, these are the variables you should consider when buying paper:

  1. Accessibility of the paper stock (being absolutely certain the paper will be there when you need it)
  2. Quality of the paper
  3. Price (more expensive at the mill–but you’re certain of getting your stock—and potentially much less expensive on the spot market; however, you can’t always get the quality or the immediate access to a particular paper stock)
  4. Simplicity (it’s easier to have the printer buy the paper, but you may not get as good a deal)
  5. Storage (if you buy the paper–instead of the printer–he may charge you to store it)
  6. Responsibility. If there are problems with the paper, and you supplied it to the printer, you are ultimately responsible for replacing the paper, accepting any printing delays, etc.

More Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The mill provides all buyers with the same price for the same paper (by law). However, if you order a huge amount of paper or pay especially quickly, you can get volume or financial discounts.
  2. Buying paper through a merchant is no more difficult than having your magazine printing vendor order the paper. It is in your paper merchant’s financial interests to make the process simple for you, so all you need to do is specify the format of the job (size, page count, paper stock) and the press run, and the merchant will acquire the paper and deliver it to the printer (or store it, as needed).
  3. Since you are ultimately responsible if you buy your own paper through a merchant or broker, it behooves you to carefully vet the supplier. A merchant’s or broker’s paper buying mistake can cost you a lot of money, whereas a commercial printing supplier’s mistake won’t cost you anything (since he buys the paper).

What Else Can You Get from Your Merchant or Broker in Addition to Paper?

The goal is to get good paper for a good price with no headaches before or during the press run. A merchant or broker can keep you abreast of the paper market trends and prices; manage the purchase, inventory, and storage of paper; resolve disputes (if there are problems with the paper); and coordinate and track paper shipments to minimize inventory and therefore reduce storage costs.

Book Printing: Understanding Freight Terms Can Save You Money

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

I received an estimate today for a book printing client of mine. She had increased the press run for her company’s annual textbook, but the freight estimate had actually gone down significantly since last year. So I contacted the commercial printing vendor to question the change.

Truckload vs. Less Than Truckload (TL vs. LTL)

If you print a large, multi-page job, the cartoned books may actually fill an entire shipping container. This is known as a truckload (TL) and is an ideal situation. A truckload is dedicated to you. You don’t share the contents of the truck (or other container), so your job goes directly from the origin to destination (particularly useful if your entire shipment goes to one location). There are no other clients’ job cartons on board to be moved around, taken off the truck and perhaps even moved to another carrier (and hence less potential for damage). The pricing is even different (cost per mile rather than per pound) and is often much less. In the case of my client, the increased press run moved her job to a truckload shipper and accounted for the lower price.

The alternate approach to freight is LTL (less than truckload), which is what you will usually need for smaller jobs. Usually, your job and others will go to a hub, where they will be unloaded, inspected, sorted further, and reloaded for subsequent miles of transit.

Since LTL deliveries are routed indirectly, and handled and potentially inspected multiple times, it takes longer for an LTL shipment to reach its destination than a TL shipment.

Benefits of LTL Deliveries

In almost all cases, the size of the delivery will determine whether you will get TL or LTL pricing. And, normally you would want a dedicated truck. But here are some of the benefits of LTL service:

  1. If your job is small, you will still pay a fraction of the cost of hiring a dedicated truck to deliver only your job.
  2. In addition, many LTL vendors will offer additional services, such as “liftgate” service (if you don’t have a loading dock), residential delivery (which is more complicated than commercial pick-up or delivery), inside delivery, and pre-delivery notification. Of course these services come at a price (based on weight or offered for a flat fee). In contrast, many TL carriers will not provide these services, so there are benefits to LTL freight.


Putting Costs in Perspective

To put this in perspective, my client’s job, a 6” x 9” perfect-bound print book with a press run of approximately 11,000 copies, would cost about $700.00 in freight for a truckload (since the quantity of printed books filled an entire semi). Last year, since the press run was smaller (approximately 7,500 copies) the estimates for LTL freight came closer to $1,500.00. So the savings is rather dramatic.

While this is usually not something you can control, being moved from an LTL carrier to a TL carrier does offset the higher cost of printing more copies of your book (or other job), and it is something you might want to ask your commercial printing supplier to research. You might be pleasantly surprised at the pricing benefits you will reap if your job is large enough to warrant TL freight.

A Quick Checklist for TL Freight

If your finished and cartoned job:

  1. weighs more than 10,000 pounds
  2. goes from one point of origin to one destination
  3. and fills an entire truck container


then you might be eligible for TL service.

FOB (“Freight on Board” or “Free on Board”)

FOB stands for “freight on board” (at least in domestic shipping; for international shipping, it can mean “free on board”). It specifies who pays for the loading and shipping of your final job. “FOB Loading Dock” or “FOB Origin” will indicate that you bear the cost of transporting the job back to your office or warehouse. More importantly, if the carrier damages your product, it is your responsibility to seek redress from the carrier.

In my experience, FOB notations are listed on estimates for larger jobs, such as long runs of print books. However, even some smaller commercial printing vendors will charge separately to send your job to your office, particularly if the delivery is interstate.

Things to Consider

Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Like the cost of paper, the expense of transporting your job from your custom printing supplier to your warehouse may constitute a large portion of the total cost of a job. Therefore, it behooves you to discuss delivery with your printer and get the terms in writing.
  2. Local printers may have delivery trucks in your area regularly and may therefore roll the cost of delivery into the price they quote. Vendors located farther away may include a line item in the estimate for freight, based on the ZIP Code you provide for delivery. In either case, don’t make assumptions. Address freight directly, both in terms of cost and who is responsible.
  3. That said, you could conceivably arrange for freight yourself. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest this. I like the idea of having the commercial printing supplier take responsibility for the timely, accurate shipping of the job, without any damage. I can sleep easier when this is the case.

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