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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 August, 2012

Custom Printing Case Study: Delivery of a Damaged Print Job

Friday, August 31st, 2012

I recently brokered a calendar printing job for a client of mine. I received my sample copies today and they were breathtaking, so I contacted my client who was not at all happy. A portion of the 200 copies had been damaged in transit.

Specifications and Background of the Job

To give you a bit of background, the job was a 200-copy run of a 4-color calendar bound with white metal Wire-O binding coil. The commercial printing vendor had produced the job on an HP Indigo to accommodate the short press run while ensuring brilliant color for the large images in the calendar.

My Immediate Response to My Client and the Printer

I called the custom printing supplier immediately and explained the situation. The printer was supportive and not at all defensive, asking me for a description of the damage and its extent as well as photographs of the damage (small JPEGs that could be easily sent as email attachments). The printer needed these to substantiate a claim to the third-party freight carrier that had damaged the three cartons of calendars in transit.

At first my client just sent me photos of the boxes. It turns out that the printer had double boxed the calendars for protection, but the delivery carrier had dropped the boxes and in one case punctured the cardboard of both the exterior box and the interior box.

I asked my client to take some additional photos. Apparently, when the boxes had been dropped, the edges of the calendars had been bent, and the Wire-O binding coil had been pulled out of its holes in some calendars. I wanted my client’s photos to reflect the type and extent of the damage, so she photographed several stacks of about ten calendars each.

Interestingly enough, in reviewing the damage, my client found that the calendars had been stacked on end in the cartons rather than flat. Granted, since each carton of calendars had been placed in a slightly larger carton for protection, it was not possible to determine whether the calendars in the interior box had been intentionally or inadvertently placed such that the calendars were upright. That said, it seemed that when the boxes had been dropped by the freight carrier, the weight distribution caused the edges of the calendars to be damaged. Had they been flat (parallel rather than perpendicular to the ground) the damage might not have been as great.

As I was composing a letter of explanation to the commercial printing supplier, describing the damage to the calendars and substantiating this with my client’s photos, I heard back from my client again. Out of a press run of 200 copies, she had found 47 damaged copies and 153 salable copies. I passed this information on to the printer.

Two things are important to note. My client is a professional photographer. Therefore, the quality of the final custom printing job is of utmost importance. Less than perfect calendars cannot be sold. In addition, my client had a backlog of orders for the calendar. Fortunately, she had 153 salable copies with which to fulfill these orders, so the commercial printing vendor would have a little time to reprint the 47 copies.

What Will Happen?

This is actually a fortunate (or, at least, less dour) occurrence for the printer. It would be significantly more expensive and time consuming for the printer to go back on press and reprint damaged copies of an offset printing run. Reprinting 47 copies digitally will cost the printer a certain amount of money, but he will undoubtedly recapture this from the freight carrier that damaged the boxes. In addition, it is fortunate for the printer that my client has enough copies to fulfill advance orders for the calendar for a few months (although I’m sure the custom printing supplier will still want to remedy the problem immediately).

What Can You Learn from This?

  1. First and foremost, this is why developing relationships with printers works better than just buying printing based on price. Printing is not a commodity service. Things happen. The cheapest printer might not step up and correct the problem when he has made a mistake.
  2. Respond immediately. Check selected samples of a job once the cartons have been delivered. If you see any sign of damage, alert the printer at once.
  3. Check the entire press run. If there are thousands of copies, randomly check a number of copies within each carton.
  4. Both describe and quantify the damage. Then back up your claim with photographs.
  5. Ask the commercial printing vendor for what you need to be made whole (a discount, a partial reprint, or a full reprint). Also, negotiate a schedule based on when you will actually use the product.
  6. It is human nature, if you are angry, to ask for more than you actually need. This is why the first item in this list is so important. If you have cultivated relationships of mutual trust with your custom printing suppliers, you will have confidence that they will correct any problems that arise to your satisfaction.

Commercial Printing: Case Study in Negotiating Skills

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I had a rather intense discussion today with a custom printing vendor who had offered to trim a step-down brochure printing job by hand to save my client the cost of the die, but who was now having trouble due to the complexity of the job.

The Specifications for the Job

The custom printing job is a booklet with thumb tabs. The front and back cover extend a full 6” x 9” to allow for tab closure to meet postal regulations. Starting with the first page spread, and proceeding throughout the 16-page booklet, each right-hand page has a diagonal cut-out thumb tab. And each cut-out is slightly less deep (by about 3/4”) than the following cut-out. To complicate matters, there are diagonal, printed color bars, one on each right-hand page thumb tab. Turning the pages of the book reveals the color bars one at a time.

The Custom Printing Supplier’s Dilemma

This is an exceptionally difficult job to trim, particularly by hand, particularly without a die. So when the printer came back to me and asked to raise the price by almost $500.00, I sympathized with him. After all, with a press run of 2,500 and all these diagonal cuts on each press sheet, trimming the job would be torture.

That said, I knew the client would not go for the additional cost for the following reasons:

  1. The printer had been explicit about not needing a die and instead trimming the step-down pages by hand.
  2. Although the designer had changed the specifications after the initial bid by increasing the number of pages that would need to be trimmed, the designer had provided a PDF of the job and the printer had increased the cost to cover additional hand-trimming and stitching. The client had accepted the charge as necessary and reasonable. At this time, there might have been an opportunity for the printer to acknowledge the increased complexity of the job and request the cost of a die. But he did not do this.
  3. The client had found it challenging to acquire additional funding to meet the increased cost. This involved a bit of fundraising. Alternatives such as design changes and a reduced press run were even considered before the client finally committed to the total cost and specifications.
  4. The commercial printing vendor’s request for additional funds came at the color proof stage, after the job was already under way.

My Response to the Printer

I made it clear that I understood the printer’s dilemma. I even reminded him of my initial concern with foregoing the die and trimming by hand. I noted that I did, however, trust his skill completely based on prior complex jobs, so I had deferred to his professional assessment.

I told the printer that I could not “go back to the well” under the circumstances. I asked what he could do.

He thought for a moment. He then said that his initial plan to hand-stitch the books might not be necessary. He had reviewed the job and could do this portion of the work on his finishing equipment rather than by hand. He thought this savings would cover the additional cost of the die for the step-down tabs. The printer said he understood why I could not ask the client for more money at this point. He was very reasonable, in addition to being creative in finding a solution that would not add to the cost of the commercial printing job.

Plans for Future Commercial Printing Jobs

Each of us—the printer and I–saw the other’s dilemma, and we found a solution that would meet each of our needs. This supplier’s integrity and willingness to compromise makes me want to bring many more jobs to his commercial printing shop.

After we had resolved this difficulty, we worked out a plan to identify potential problems that might increase the cost of similarly complex jobs in the future.

The printer had reviewed the digital file provided by the graphic designer, but there had been some confusion. I suggested that, in upcoming jobs of this complexity, the designer be asked to provide not only a digital file but also a folding dummy. This would show exactly how the thumb tabs would work and how each page would cover the color bar at the diagonal trim of each successive page. The printer agreed. This would avoid assumptions and clarify any points of confusion. We had a plan for future work.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Print Buying Work

  1. Question everything. If the bid seems to leave out a critical element (such as a die for die cutting), ask the printer to explain. Review the bid several times. Questions may arise, or you may catch errors, on each pass through the estimate.
  2. Understand that the printer may need to adjust pricing when he sees the actual artwork. This is reasonable. However, at this point you can negotiate alternatives and compromises with the printer.
  3. Once the job has actually begun (at the proof stage, for example), it is reasonable to push back if the printer requests more money. Do this forthrightly but respectfully, asking for specific reasons for any cost overruns.

Magazine Printing: There’s Still Life in Niche Magazines

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

I just read three interesting articles about the future of magazines: “The Future of Magazines” by Thad McIlroy, as presented on the website The Future of Publishing, “Size and Segmentation of the Magazine-Publishing Market,” by Jay Delahousay, of Demand Media, and “The State of the News Media,” by the Pew Research Center. All three are available on the Internet, and I would encourage you to search for them.

What I find interesting about these articles is that they do not assume the imminent demise of magazine printing.

It All Comes Down to the Advertisers

Although “The Future of Magazines” addresses a number of issues related to the current state of periodicals (general interest, scholarly, business-to-business, etc.), I want to highlight McIlroy’s assertion that:

“Few magazine publishers could survive the loss of ad revenue if they discontinued their print versions. While they are becoming increasingly adept at generating revenue from their web sites, web-only publishing models cannot supplant a print and web model.”

The second article, “Size and Segmentation of the Magazine-Publishing Market,” makes a similar point:

“Consumers still have a more positive attitude toward advertising in magazines over other mediums, including TV and the Internet.”

It is my understanding that print ads still command a higher price from advertisers than do online ads. For now, it seems that if readers are in fact more comfortable with print advertising (or perhaps are so inundated with online advertising that they tune it out), then the ad dollars that pay for magazine printing will continue to flow toward print magazines. If the goal, from the point of view of the advertiser, is to increase exposure to their ads (the number of eyeballs served up for a particular advertisement), it stands to reason that advertisers will continue to buy ads in printed magazines and that magazine publishers will maintain circulation to provide exposure for the advertisers who pay the bills.

More Focused–or “Segmented”–Magazines Do Better Than General Interest Magazines

I base my curiosity about the current state of magazine printing on the conflicting information I have read online and in various trade journals. On the one hand, I hear about the death of custom printing and the migration of news stories toward tablet computers and other e-readers. At the same time, I’m seeing more local, focused magazines and tabloids popping up.

A colleague of mine just started a magazine in Northern Virginia. He focuses on a narrow segment, one small city close to Washington, DC, but he includes diverse articles on the food, arts, activities, and attitudes of the residents of this city. The advertising in my colleague’s magazine focuses tightly on the lifestyle and interests of this one segment: the people of this vibrant city and the goods, services, and activities they buy or pursue.

In a similar vein, on several trips I have taken to Ocean City in the last year I have seen many magazines and tabloids devoted to beach events, cultural activities, restaurants, and real estate.

In the Washington, DC, area, I have also seen numerous magazines focusing on the Hispanic population and the African American population—again, smaller segments than the general interest publications of prior years.

The key word in all of these cases is “focus”: tight segmentation. The niche market for magazine printing seems to still exist and to perhaps even be growing.

They’re Not Gone Yet

Some magazines are actually folding, or their ad revenue and circulation are declining. “The State of the News Media” by the Pew Research Center attests to this fact. However, at least for the moment, it seems that “niche” magazines are doing well:

“Traditional newsmagazines have faced increasing competition from nontraditional niche or elite news magazines. These publications continued to gain ground in 2011. Of the four niche or elite news magazines we track, only The Atlantic suffered a total circulation decrease, with a fall of 2.7%.”

Granted, the Pew article focuses on The Week, The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Atlantic, which are a particular kind of niche magazine, but I think the idea is the same: the narrower the market, the more resilient the magazine.

It Has Been a Better Year for Magazines

“The State of the News Media” by the Pew Research Center goes on to say that:

“New magazine launches were also on the rise. In all, 239 new magazines were launched in 2011.”

“Only 152 magazines folded during the year, a sharp improvement over the 176 that shut down in 2011 and the 596 that died the year before.”

This is a hopeful sign. At least for now, magazine printing and online news distribution seem to be peacefully coexisting.

Large Format Printing: Standee Lightbox Case Study

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

As a commercial printing broker and designer, I think that certain avenues for graphic design are still expanding, in spite of the drop off in others. I’ve read a lot over the last few years about the growth in label production (particularly personalized labels), flexible packaging, and large format printing.

With the advent of inkjet large format printing as well as the refinement of screen printing to hold finer halftone dots, I think that large format printing is in a growth phase, which will continue at least until digital signage and menu boards become more ubiquitous.

New Standee: A Lightbox for the Film DREDD

That said, I was installing a new standee last week for DREDD, an upcoming science fiction action film. It was a lightbox: a large format acetate sheet printed with a graphic design and lit from behind with fluorescent bulbs. The whole electric and graphic structure was encased in black cardboard (printed through flexography, except for the offset printed title and film credits).

The graphic film panel came rolled up, and covered on the printed side with a thin protective sheet of plastic film. Unlike most prior lightboxes I had installed, this one was not very heavy. Other lightboxes had showcased thick lenticular graphic panels (printed to simulate movement when the viewer moved to one side or the other in front of the lightbox). To protect these fragile lenticular prints, they were always attached to a protective sheet of plywood prior to shipping, which was discarded prior to installation and which made the entire standee box weigh approximately 50 to 80 pounds.

In contrast, this graphic panel was just an image on clear acetate lit from behind, far lighter and clearly more economical to ship to thousands of movie theaters than the lenticular posters.

What I Saw When I looked Closely at the Acetate Graphic Panel

The graphic was “back printed” on the dull side of the acetate sheet. That is, it was printed “wrong reading,” or backwards so as to be “right reading” when viewed through the glossy side of the acetate (the front of the graphic panel).

There also seemed to be a layer of white ink to diffuse the light (although this could have just been the effect created by printing on the dull side of the film). I suppose that along with the even lighting of the five fluorescent bulbs behind the graphic panel, the goal of the white diffusion coating was to eliminate any “hot spots” that would draw undue attention to the lights themselves.

I looked closely at the perimeter of the acetate lightbox panel. The edges that were to be covered by the flexo-printed cardboard (outside the image area on the clear acetate) included color bars, much as you might see on a press sheet produced by an offset custom printing provider. I could see cyan, magenta, yellow, and black patches as well as overprints of various colors. The inkset had been augmented with green and orange ink, as well as white ink for the diffusing background layer.

I carry a magnifying glass with me when I install standees and other signage in case I want to look at the manufacturing work in fine detail. I saw a dot pattern in the color patches. It did not present as rosettes (indicative of offset printing) or as the fine stochastic spray of inkjet printers, so I thought the DREDD graphic panel might have been screen printed. I also saw commercial printing registration marks (overlapping cross-hair targets to show the alignment of the colored screens during printing).

What I wanted to know was how the job had been printed.

I Called a Signage Shop

After closely observing the DREDD graphic panel, I thought I had a good idea of the manufacturing process used, but I wanted to confirm my hunch. Therefore, I called a local large format printing vendor I work with. This shop focuses on screen printing, inkjet large format printing, and custom printing images on flat plastic and then molding the plastic into three-dimensional forms using heat and pressure. So I consider this vendor an expert.

This is what the printer said. Due to the lack of small, random spray dots (indicative of inkjet digital printing) and the presence instead of a visible, regular dot pattern, the signage vendor thought the DREDD graphic had been produced via screen printing. This would make sense, given the large distribution. (Probably thousands or tens of thousands of copies of the DREDD lightboxes had been printed for delivery to theaters across the country and beyond.)

The signage vendor noted that screen printing would account for the color bars, extended inkset, and white background diffusion ink (both inkjet and screen printing can use extra PMS colors to increase the color gamut of large format printing projects).

Here’s an Option for a Short Press Run

If the job had been a backlit poster with a short press run (say one copy to several hundred copies, but not 1,000 copies or more), the preferred printing technology would have been inkjet large format printing. The “give away” in looking at such a digital print under a magnifying glass or loupe would have been the minuscule, irregularly spaced dots (all of equal size). This pattern indicates inkjet printing.

What All This Means to You

I would encourage you to always be expanding your knowledge of printing, particularly of those types of printing that are growing. The more you know, the more valuable you will be as a professional, the better and more cost-effective design and production decisions you will make, the more options you will have for various projects, and the more enjoyable your work will most probably be.

Catalog Printing: IKEA and Fossil Integrate Print and Digital

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

I read a short article yesterday about digital enhancements IKEA has incorporated into its 2013 print catalog, plus IKEA’s strong commitment to maintaining a print catalog presence along with its digital marketing initiatives. What I find interesting is that in an era of dour predictions forecasting the death of custom printing, some avenues for print seem to actually be growing. Here is an example of one: the print catalog.

IKEA’s Cross Channel Marketing Work

I have included two quotes of interest from PrintCAN, 13 August 2012 (“IKEA adds digital enhancements to printed catalogue”):

“The printed catalogue remains the cornerstone of our marketing campaign globally.”

“As we enter new markets, the [catalog] production will increase.”

While restating their commitment to the printed catalog, which is actually delivered to approximately 210 million homes around the world (according to PrintCAN), IKEA is expanding the capabilities of the catalog and integrating the print version with IKEA’s digital presence.

Specifically, IKEA provides a downloadable app, which allows one to point a smartphone at a print catalog page and “access films about IKEA products, experience 3D models, look behind closed doors with an x-ray function or change the curtains and get creative” (Madeline Löwenborg-Frick, public relations manager for IKEA Canada).

In addition, the catalog itself is available in digital format at IKEA’s website.

IKEA and its marketing team (ad agency McCann New York) have focused on “enhancing [the catalog] with technology and storytelling.”

More Than Just Anecdotal Evidence

While one story does not confirm a trend, I will say that I believe IKEA exerts a certain amount of heft within the retail furniture market due to its global reach, so I believe this short article from PrintCAN is provocative. I would add to this anecdotal evidence my reading in marketing periodicals provided by the US Post Office as well as various trade journals I receive, all of which confirm this trend.

Still More Anecdotal Evidence: the Fossil Catalog

I’m speaking now as a print buyer, a graphic designer, and one who appreciates consumer leather goods.

I went shopping in the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth, MD, last week. Since I like watches and leather briefcases, I visited Fossil. When I had checked out the store, I wanted to take home something to remember the shopping experience and perhaps use to get more information on various items. So I reached for the stack of print catalogs. The thick matte paper stock, the consistent chocolate hues that carried through the magazine, and the alternating lifestyle photos and product shots kept Fossil’s brand and the quality I had experienced in the store (store design, ambience, service, and quality products) at the top of my mind.

Next I went to the Fossil website and saw the same overall color scheme, the same typefaces, and images of the same models I had seen in the catalog. I could look up items that interested me, and the combined effect of the Fossil outlet store, print catalog, and online experience reinforced a sense I had that Fossil goods would all be stylish and well made, and that the Fossil company itself would be knowledgeable, reliable, and courteous.

I know all of this is marketing finesse. In fact, I know that it is effective marketing because I understand the nuances. I know the entire experience is crafted by savvy marketing professionals. But I also have seen and used the products, and they don’t disappoint.

What This Really Means

What this really means that a marketing team can create a synergistic effect through multiple media. A retail establishment can position itself as a provider of quality goods by coordinating its store design, its online experience, and its print catalog. Each experience augments the others.

I see that Fossil has included on the back cover of the catalog three icons: one for Facebook, one for Twitter, and one for Pinterest. They’re working all the digital avenues. I don’t see a QR code, but that may appear in the next issue of the print catalog.

Clearly Fossil, like IKEA, has seen value not only in oneline marketing but also in the legacy marketing device: the printed catalog.

Book Printing: Things to Consider When Checking a Proof

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

A book printing client of mine reviewed the hard-copy proofs of her job today, and a few issues came up that I thought you might find interesting and instructive. She found four pages that needed simple text edits and one correction on the back cover of the print book.

My client also noted a comment from the book printer that four of the graphics were of lower resolution and might be objectionable when printed (i.e., visibly pixelated).

Who Makes the Corrections, the Book Printer or the Client?

Let’s start with the first issue: the text corrections. My client asked whether the printer or the designer should make the corrections. That is, which would be the more economical and expedient choice.

I said that the designer should make the corrections in InDesign and then only upload those specific pages as press-ready PDF files, under a revised name to make it clear that these were corrected files. I told my client that this particular printer preferred to receive uneditable PDF files (rather than editable, native InDesign files). Therefore, this particular book printer wanted the client make all corrections himself/herself and then submit corrected PDFs.

I also noted that other printers I have worked with preferred to receive native InDesign files instead of PDFs, just so they could make changes themselves if necessary. (So such preferences do vary from printer to printer.)

For the sake of time, accuracy, control over the process, and in deference to the book printer’s preference, I asked my client to have her designer make the corrections and resubmit the files.

What About the Pixellated Graphics? What Are the Rules?

It appeared that the designer had saved bitmapped graphics (black and white only, with no shades of gray) as 300 dpi bitmapped TIFFs. Normally one would save a photograph (grayscale image with tones, not just black and white) as a 300 dpi image, but one would save line art (black and white only) as a 600-1200 dpi image. Using such a low resolution as 300 dpi risked having visible pixels (known as pixelation) in the image, and this is what the offset printer had flagged.

In most cases I would have asked the designer to resubmit those particular print book pages with higher resolution images. However, these were hand drawn images made to resemble woodcuts. They were supposed to be rough. Moreover, this particular print book will be produced on Sebago Antique Vellum stock, which has a pronounced texture. Rough paper is more forgiving of minor flaws within the art and type than a gloss coated press sheet. I believed that with all the peaks and valleys of the rough paper surface, the slightly jagged simulated woodcut images would not be a problem.

Finally and more importantly, the client liked the proof “as is.” So I confirmed with the printer that once the book had been printed, the images would not be more jagged than they were in the proof. Then I asked my client to approve the digital proofs. As they say, the customer is always right.

That said, if you are a designer, I would still advise you to save photographic (grayscale) images in a resolution of twice the printer’s line screen (300 dpi if your printer uses a 150 lpi halftone screen). And I would encourage you to save any bitmapped images (black and white only, with no levels of gray) as “digital line art” at 1200 dpi.

“Confirming-Only” F&Gs or “Approval” F&Gs

After my client’s designer has uploaded revised print-ready PDF files for the pages with “Authors’ Alterations,” the next step will be for my client to review PDF proofs of these pages (as provided by the printer). This is almost instantaneous on-screen proofing, and it will not require any hard proofs to travel to and from my client (i.e., this last approval step will not compromise the schedule).

After my client has approved the revised proofs, the book printer will print all signatures of the book. He will then send a collection of the stacked (but not bound or trimmed) signatures plus cover to my client for review. However, the printer will not wait for my client’s approval before completing the binding process. Therefore, these F&Gs (folded and gathered print book signatures) are known as “confirming-only” F&Gs.

My client could have requested “approval” F&Gs. In this case, the book printer would have taken the book out of production to wait for client approval of the F&Gs. This would have added at least five days to the production schedule (based on the printer’s current workload).

Since F&Gs only reflect printing problems (i.e., any problems would be the printer’s responsibility, and there would be nothing visible in the F&Gs that would not have been visible in my client’s hard-copy proof), I advised my client to accept “confirming-only” F&Gs in this case.

I stressed that printing problems such as scumming, slurring, or any other defects in the application of ink to paper would be the printer’s responsibility (he had a contractual obligation to match the proof exactly). In addition, any problems that would be visible in the F&Gs would probably come and go during the course of the press run (i.e., they would not be problematic throughout the entire press run).

My client needed the books fast. I told her that “confirming-only” vs. “approval” F&Gs came down to a trade-off between time and absolute accuracy. My client agreed with my assessment and requested “confirming-only” F&Gs.

In your own work, if you are a graphic designer, you may want to consider both of these options when requesting F&Gs as one final review prior to book binding.

Large Format Printing: Finishing Techniques

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Large format printing is big now, not just in terms of size but also in terms of popularity. Just look at the sides of buildings, buses, and cars, decked with large format print work. Ink jet printing has revolutionized advertising in the last decade. Therefore, it behooves us to understand some of the options for finishing, within the arena of large format printing, as well as understanding how the ink is sprayed onto the paper or plastic substrate.

Mounting Large Format Prints

In many cases, the product that comes off the inkjet press is relatively thin paper or plastic. (This is true for roll-fed inkjet presses at least. Flatbed presses can print directly on much thicker substrates.) Therefore, in many cases you will want to mount the print on a rigid base, such as Gator Board, Fome-Cor, Coroplast, Sintra, or even metal.

Gator Board and Fome-Cor are similar in that they both have a lightweight foam center covered on either side by paper or plastic. This makes them very light (as well as rigid), but they can be easily dented or crushed (Fome-Cor more so than Gator Board). Gator Board is also more durable than Fome-Cor since the front and back sheets of Gator Board are made of paper, plastic, and adhesives, while the front and back sheets of Fome-Cor are paper.

Sintra is a solid PVC plastic board. It is very strong. However, it is also a little heavy for its size.

In contrast, Coroplast is very light. Imagine a plastic version of corrugated cardboard, with fluting inside covered with a top and bottom sheet of thin plastic (strong, light, and easy to cut). You may have seen this material used for political signs or real estate signs on people’s front lawns, or signage on the back of buses.

You can mount your large format printing posters directly on these materials, using anything from spray adhesive to dry mounting film (using a machine that applies heat and pressure to activate an adhesive tissue sheet). Or, if you have a flatbed press, you can print the large format graphic directly on the rigid board. (Or you can even screen print the graphic directly on the rigid board.) The benefit of the above-mentioned mounting materials is that the art stays flat and does not curl.

Laminating and Coating Large Format Prints

Another way to present (and preserve) your large format print is to cover it with a film of clear plastic. This is known as lamination. Lamination protects the print from the elements (sun, moisture, dirt), gives it a bit of a sheen, makes the colors more vivid in some cases, and, along with the mounting board, keeps the large format print flat.

As an alternative, you can add an aqueous coating (water based) or UV coating (cured, or hardened, by exposure to ultraviolet light) over the print in much the same way as you would cover the large format print with a laminate. This will also protect the underlying large format piece, but unlike a laminate you can choose to cover either the entire print (flood coating) or only certain portions of the print (spot coating).

Cutting Large Format Prints

Sometimes you will want your final printed piece to not be square or rectangular. In these cases, you will need to cut the mounted piece into an irregular shape. For this task, your options include metal dies, lasers, routers, and knife-based plotters.

Like cookie cutters, the sharp edges of a custom fabricated die will cut away anything that’s not a part of your design (for example, they will cut out the silhouette of a stand-up figure, if that’s the end-use of your large format piece). Using a letterpress, cylinder press, or other equipment, the commercial printing supplier will press the custom-made metal die into the paper of the large format print to cut away the excess printing stock.

Lasers and plotter-based knives will also cut irregular shapes, but unlike metal dies, lasers and knife-based plotters use digital information stored in a computer file to position the cutting elements. Therefore, they are much faster than physical dies. In addition, you do not have the added expense of creating the metal die. Also, you can produce much more intricate die cutting work with a plotter-based knife or a laser than with a metal die, and, by using variable data, you can even alter the die cutting for every piece that comes off the inkjet press (which you can’t do with a traditional metal die).

Routing is more complex than laser, knife, or traditional die cutting. One would use routing equipment for more intricate cuts or grooves, perhaps to fabricate individual elements of a larger graphic structure, or signage with beveled letterforms cut out of wood.

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on a Printed Calendar

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

I have recently been designing a calendar for a client of mine. She is a professional photographer. She takes photos of beautiful flowers. In preparing the files and reviewing digital proofs today, I addressed a number of issues I thought you might find useful in your own design and custom printing work.

Backing Up the Press Sheet

The calendar will have a limited distribution, so the job will be printed on an Indigo digital press. The commercial printing vendor sent my client a final PDF for approval prior to proceeding, and my client came back to me with an interesting question. All of the calendar pages were upright, and all of the floral images were upside down. Why?

I knew this was a press imposition issue, but I didn’t immediately realize the obvious. When you look at a calendar that has been spiral bound, with a calendar page on the bottom and a photograph on the top, the photograph must be upside down on the press sheet. Otherwise it will be upside down on the final printed calendar.

Try it yourself. Check out a commercial, spiral bound calendar with the binding running horizontally between the upper photograph and the calendar grid. All photographic images will have been printed upside down on the back of the calendar pages.

Another Example: A Fold-Over Card

Here’s another example of how the obvious can trip you up. Imagine a horizontal fold-over card with an image on the front and text (perhaps a credit for the photo) on the back. When you lay out this card in InDesign, you will create a flat, two-page spread (one page above the other) for the inside of the card and another two-page spread for the outside of the card. (For instance, for a 5” x 7” card you would create a template 7” wide and 10” tall. This would then fold over horizontally to create the finished 5” x 7” card.)

The inside of the card might have a quotation on the bottom panel, and the top panel might be blank. There’s nothing complicated in that.

However, the outside of the card will have the photograph upright, taking up the bottom half of the 7” x 10” two-page panel (one page over the other to create the back and front of the card). The key to not making a bad mistake here is to flip over the photo credit (and whatever else goes on the back of the card) in InDesign and position it on the top half of this 7” x 10” panel.


Once the commercial printing supplier has printed, trimmed, and folded the card, all type will appear in the proper orientation—just like my client’s calendar pages. But unless you do this counter-intuitive step of flipping the type over, the finished, folded card will have upside down type on the back of the card.

What Does This Really Mean to You?

It means you have to be alert and think of the final, printed item as an object, not just a design. If you take a little time to make a physical mock up of a job like a calendar or fold-over card, you can see how the final, printed piece will operate in physical space. On the computer, something may make perfect sense but be entirely wrong.

One More Useful Step

My client found four typos in the proof (not photo coloration problems at this point, just typographic errors). Granted, this was the best time to find them, prior to the custom printing work. However, since only four text pages and no photo pages were involved, I elected to only distill PDF pages of the four affected pages to resend to the commercial printing vendor. I started to distill the entire document as a new, press-ready PDF, but I stopped short and changed my mind.

Here’s why.

  1. My client had already approved all other pages of a hard-copy proof provided by the custom printing supplier. The printer had already imposed the job for the press. Starting over with a complete file would have only added time and trouble to the process (and the potential for error).
  2. Since my client had approved (in writing) all other pages, matching these pages on press was now the printer’s responsibility. At this point, my client was only responsible for the four new type-only pages. Again, there was less room for error.

(After all, a new file may have inadvertently included new errors in one or more of the photo pages or other calendar pages. Accidents happen. We knew for sure that the printer’s copies of all other pages were absolutely correct, so it was prudent to only submit the four new pages.)

So when you get to this final proofing opportunity, my personal opinion is that it’s best to only provide individual press-ready pages in PDF format. Just a thought.

Book Printing: Thinking Creatively to Meet a Budget

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I wrote a blog entry a while ago about a print book consisting of about fifteen diecut pages of various sizes attached by an “O” ring, the kind used in printed 3 ring binders. The total run was to be 5,000 copies spread over three separate mailings (a few pages sent out with each mailing that the reader could add to the “O” ring).

The pricing came in at approximately three times the budget (approximately $21,000). Here’s what my client and I are doing to bring the cost and available funds more in line with one another.

Background of the Custom Printing Job

The initial estimate included about $4,000 in foil stamping costs. Fortunately the commercial printing vendor had broken out this cost, which I found very helpful. The printer also had noted that the total cost included about $3,000 for paper and $1,000 for the binder “O” rings. Again, this was quite helpful. Finally, he said that putting all elements of the booklet on the same paper stock would save money. After all, having two different paper stocks (interior pages vs. covers) would require elements to be laid out on two press configurations for two separate press runs.

To put my thoughts in order, I created a spreadsheet listing all the elements of the job. I separated out custom printing, die cutting, assembly, envelopes, and mailshop. I wanted to be able to focus on each line item, whittling away the cost as I could.

Changes in the Paper Coating

First we dropped the idea of foil stamping or laminating, and instead chose to go in the opposite direction. We chose an uncoated sheet with a “tooth,” a rough-surfaced paper called Finch Vellum. Not laminating or foil stamping (and thus creating a more subtle and understated look) would save a lot of money.

My client did not want to have all elements of the print book produced on one thickness of paper. She liked the idea of incorporating both covers and interior pages into the book design, as well as a few, heavier-stock short pages. I agreed. It was better to spend money on this component of the job than compromise the print book design.

Mailshop Changes

My client is a freelance designer. Her client, the end-user, offered to do the mailshop work in-house to save money (in-house mailshop would be spread over all in-house departments and would therefore not directly affect the budget for this job). This removed $6,000 ($2000 x 3 mailings) from the total.

In addition, my client’s client (the originator of the job) elected to do only one mailing instead of three.

Format and Press Run Changes

Since there would only be one mailing, some of the otherwise redundant information (elements of the print book that would be sent out in the second and third mailing as well as the first) could be eliminated. It was therefore possible to reduce fifteen book pages to ten book pages.

(Let’s go through the math: 5,000 copies x 15 pages = 75,000 pages total. In contrast, a 10-page booklet would be 50,000 pages. Furthermore, the end-client cleaned the mailing list and reduced the press run to 4,500 copies: i.e., 5,000 more pages eliminated from the total.)

Reducing the amount of paper for the custom printing job (from 75,000 to 45,000 pages) is significant. Although I don’t have final pricing yet, I know that the paper cost (and cost for press time) will drop well below the initially quoted price.

Reducing the number of book pages might also allow more pages to be imposed on a press sheet (maybe yielding fewer press runs). This savings could add up (even if we will be printing two runs: one on the 130# cover stock and one on 80# cover stock).

Breaking the Job into Component Parts / Finding New Vendors Through the Printing Industry Exchange

To reduce costs, I brought in a smaller printer to bid only on the envelopes.

Since the print book would be bound with a looseleaf binder “O” ring through a drill hole, we chose a tear-proof synthetic envelope. The printer advised against printing directly on the envelope. (He said the synthetic envelope fabric might move during the commercial printing process and compromise the image on the paper.) So we agreed on a small custom label press run.

The mailshop work that the end-user (my client’s client) would do would include stuffing the envelopes, affixing the mailing labels (already printed digitally with the variable data address information by the smaller printer), and mailing the job.

(In your own print buying work, you might want to break the job into component parts–book printing and custom binding, printed envelopes and/or custom labels for envelopes, mailshop, etc.–and list the separate components of the job on the Printing Industry Exchange website. Once you have selected your custom printing suppliers, you can then coordinate their various activities yourself to save money.)

Final Outcome: TBD

At this point, my client (the designer) and I have reduced the overall price from about $21,000 to about $12,000. Fortunately my client’s client (the end-user) has also committed more funding to the project since it is a membership effort (an investment in future cash flow). We’ll see what happens. I’m waiting for revised pricing.

Sticker Printing: Any Size, Color, or Shape

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I just saw a video made by a custom printing vendor I work with in my print brokering business providing an education in the new realities of die cutting. The equipment showcased in the video is the Mimaki integrated inkjet printer and cutter. (I’m sure that many other printers have similar equipment, so you may want to ask your print provider, if this technology seems appropriate for your work.)

Printing and Die Cutting: The Old Way

To provide some background on die cutting, let’s jump back a bit to discuss how this process used to be done (and continues to be done in many cases). You will see that it is a time and labor consuming process, in contrast to what the Mimaki equipment can do.

First the product (let’s say a custom sticker) is printed on an offset or digital commercial printing press. Then on a separate rotary or flatbed press, a steel cutting rule (inlaid into a wood block to make sure it doesn’t move) in the shape of the custom sticker is pressed forcefully against the press sheet by the action of the press. The sharp edge of the die then cuts through the paper. The surrounding paper (scrap) is held to the press sheet by thin bits of paper (pins) that have not been cut. This keeps the die cut item from falling out of the surrounding paper and into the press. Finally, the paper surrounding the die cut element is pulled away (scrapped) and discarded.

A good analogy to help you visualize this process is a cookie cutter. You press a cookie cutter into the uncooked dough and then peel away everything that’s not the cookie.

What makes die cutting expensive is twofold. First, there’s the cost of the metal die ($450 and higher, in my experience). Then there’s the die cutting process itself, which most commercial printing vendors do not do in-house. (Outsourcing the die cutting work adds time to the schedule and also increases the cost.)

Printing and Die Cutting: The New Way

Custom printing vendors with integrated inkjet printers and label cutters can make labels any size, color, or shape.

First, the large-format inkjet equipment prints the 4-color labels. Then, as the Mimaki equipment shifts the paper back and forth, a knife blade (like the pen of a plotter) moves around the contoured perimeter of each label, trimming through the coated label paper but not through the underlying label backing (this is called “kiss-cutting”). Finally, the user can peel the label away from the backing.

In contrast to traditional die cutting, the Mimaki integrated inkjet printer and label cutter requires no metal die and no separate rotary or cylinder press. Of course this lowers the overall cost of die cutting, as well as the time required to die cut the labels. It’s a much simpler operation, one that depends on digital information to position and move the label cutting knife around the press sheet (and also move the paper back and forth as needed).

What Does This Mean to You, as a Print Buyer or Designer?

You can have more flexibility in creating personalized wine labels, medical labels, custom stickers, etc. You can even create individual prototypes for product packaging, or you can create mock-ups of other items that require die cutting, folding, and gluing.

An Even Newer Way

There’s one more way to die cut using digital information: laser die cutting. In this case, the custom printing supplier would use even newer equipment with a laser instead of a digitally manipulated cutting knife. After the inkjet printing, the laser would burn through the paper substrate instead of cutting it.


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