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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 September, 2012

Plastic and Paper Bags: How Are They Printed?

Friday, September 28th, 2012

I was curious recently as to how plastic and paper bags are printed, since they are everywhere you look. I assumed that the options would be flexography and screen printing, but since I wasn’t sure, I did some research. I found the answer interesting, so I wanted to share my findings with you.

Long Print Runs of Plastic Bags

For the most part, I found that plastic bags were printed in different ways depending on the size of the press run. One vendor put the cut-off at 3,000 copies. For the longer runs, the more economical technique involved a large web-press. A roll of plastic (composed of two sheets, one atop the other) is held in tension by the press as the plastic sheet travels through a number of inking units. Further research revealed that flexography, not offset lithography, was the appropriate commercial printing method.

Flexography is a process in which the raised image area of rubber printing plates deposits ink on the substrate. (This is unlike offset lithography, which uses flat, or planographic, plates.) The flexo plates are affixed to the press rollers with adhesive, and as the rollers turn and the plates strike the ribbon of sheet plastic traveling through the web press, the plates print the graphic designs on the plastic. This process allows for printing of a number of colors, but it does not allow for as tight register of the colors as does offset lithography.

Once the ribbon of sheet plastic has traveled through the press and has been rewound at the delivery end of the equipment, a post-printing step can be done in which the bags are cut off the single sheet of plastic (i.e., cut at the top and bottom) and fused with heat (at the top, bottom, and sides), creating a plastic bag.

Short Print Runs of Plastic Bags

I also found a video from Asia showing thicker plastic bags being placed one at a time in a platen press, a letterpress in which a round “platen” (pressure plate) comes down onto the bed of the equipment to press the inked plate (with raised image areas) against the plastic bags. In the video it was clear that the process was slow and manual, in direct contrast to the web flexo press. The video also showed that one color was being printed at a time.

Screen Printing on Plastic Bags

Unlike the web of uncut plastic used on the flexo presses, videos of the screen printing option showed the custom screen printing operator placing an individual bag around a wide, flat support structure not unlike an ironing board (also called a “platen”). This kept the bags stable as the operator lowered the metal screen onto the bag and dragged the squeegie and ink across the screen. Like the platen letterpress from Asia, this seemed to be a labor intensive process (i.e., only good for short runs of the bags, printed with only a few colors).

Inkjet Imprinting on Plastic Bags

I also learned about the use of inkjet printers with plastic bags, although this technology seemed to be more appropriate for imprinting tracking numbers than for printing graphic images.

Ink Colors for Printing Plastic Bags

In my research I found that most printers would produce bags within a limited palette of “standard” colors (for instance, one or two distinct blues instead of all possible PMS blues). For an additional fee, however, they would mix a PMS color.

Printing on Paper Grocery Bags

I found videos showing brown paper grocery bags composed of a single, thick sheet of Kraft stock being printed on custom screen printing equipment. Operators were printing the bags by hand one at a time, laying the open bags over a “platen” (the flat, ironing board-like structure), and then lowering the screen and applying ink through the screen with a squeegie.

Printing on Luxury Department Store Paper Bags

I found that high-end department store bags (like Tiffany bags) were printed in two different ways. One video showed an automated screen press turning a pre-made high-end department store bag over to allow the ink screen and squeegie access to either side of the paper bag. This was for a simple design screen printed in one color.

For more complex design work, I learned through my research that the bags are initially offset printed on flat press sheets and then die cut, folded, and converted into laminated bags with the exterior paper stock folded over the edges of the bags and pasted into their interior. These often have specialized rope or fabric handles affixed to the bags through die cut holes. As with other offset press work, various coatings, hot-stamp foils, and embossing effects can be used. In some cases an additional layer of paper covers the interior of the bags. These are high-end, specialized works of art in themselves produced by highly skilled commercial printing establishments.

Custom Notepads and Post It Notes: More Self-Promotion Ideas

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Over the last several blogs I have suggested that printed magnets and stationery packages are in fact advertisements or miniature billboards because they reinforce both your name and the quality of your work in the minds of prospective customers.

I would like to add custom notepads and post-it notes to this list.

Here’s Why Custom Notepads and Post-it Notes Are Effective

  1. They reinforce your “brand” because they capture the tone and values of your product or service. This is primarily a function of their design.
  2. They reflect your attention to detail. This is primarily a function of the production qualities of your personalized pads and post-it notes. By this I mean the paper choice, the simplicity and lack of clutter in the design, and the attention to such elements of typography as kerning (i.e., the precision in the letter spacing of the type).
  3. They reinforce your name or the name of your company. They actually do this because they are useful to your prospective clients. Just like the calendars emblazoned with your logo, the memo pads put your name in front of your client repeatedly, every time your client jots down a note.
  4. I’d like to add one more reason. This is conjecture on my part, but I firmly believe it. I have read in many books on memory retention that making notes by hand reinforces the content of the note in three distinct ways. First, you write the content of the note, so the sight of the words reinforces their meaning or content. Second, you usually hear the words in your “minds-ear” as you write them. Third, you have a physical (kinesthetic or muscle) memory because you are physically forming the words as you print or write them cursively on the paper. To this I would add my belief that making notes in this way on a custom notepad or post-it note bearing the name of your company will subconsciously reinforce your name in the mind of the person making the note. It’s a theory, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

Some Specifications to Consider When Ordering Custom Memo Pads and Post-it Notes

First of all, both custom notepads and post-it notes share the following quality. They are pads. That is, they are cut sheets of printed paper with one edge slathered in glue to hold all pages together. On the bottom of each pad (below the final sheet), custom notepads usually have a supporting piece of chipboard (heavy cardboard). Of course, post-it notes do not have such a backing sheet.

Beyond that, personalized pads and post-it notes may come in different sizes, shapes, color configurations, and numbers of pages.

Size of the Notepads: Many commercial printing vendors will suggest a few popular sizes, such as 4.25″ x 5.5″, 4″ x 9″, 5.5″ x 8.5″, or 8.5″ x 11″. While any printer can cut notepads into any size you want, it may be useful to consider their intended use. For instance, certain leather or Cordura nylon folding portfolios will more readily accept 5.5” x 8.8” or 8.5” x 11” pads. In contrast, an odd size, like 2.75” x 2.75”, might work better as a tall stack of post-it notes on a client’s desk.

Shape of the Notepads: You may want to die cut the pad into a simple shape. However, be aware that this will cost more than a square-edged pad, since you will have to buy a custom metal cutting die. That said, your printer may already have a selection of dies from prior notepad printing jobs. Keep in mind that any die cutting must be simple. After all, there must be an edge to which your custom printing vendor can apply the glue that makes the memo pad a “pad.”

Number of Pages: Many printers provide a set number of pages in a pad, although of course this is negotiable. You might consider 50 or 100 pages. On the other hand, if you’re creating a cube of post-its, you may want the finished product to be 2.75” wide, 2.75” long, and 2.75” tall. The number of pages needed to achieve this height will depend on the paper you choose (one post-it vendor notes that such a cube would comprise 650 sheets).

Quality of the Paper: Your first goal will be to make the pad useful to your prospective client. This means that he or she must be able to write on it comfortably. While a gloss coated sheet might look attractive, you can’t write on it. So I would stick to an offset, uncoated sheet or a text sheet (slightly upscale from offset). As an alternative, you might choose a matte coated sheet (easier to write on than dull coated paper and much easier to write on than gloss coated paper). Consider the color of the paper as well.

Weight of the Paper: In addition to the surface qualities of the paper you need to consider it’s weight. As a rule of thumb, I would think that 70# or 80# stock will be perceived as more substantial or opulent than 60#. I wouldn’t suggest 50# stock. It is light, and your clients may perceive it as being of a lower quality. A good rule of thumb is that 20# bond is the same thickness as 50# offset, 24# bond is the same as 60# offset, and 28# bond is the same as 70# offset (since bond and offset come in different size press sheets).

Ink Color: Don’t forget to specify the ink color or colors. You can choose to produce 1-color, 2-color, or even full color (4-color process) notepads or post-its.

Stationery Package Printing: Effective Self-Promotion

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

In the last blog I noted that refrigerator magnets are miniature billboards. I’d say the same thing about business cards. In fact, I feel very strongly that every piece of printed material you produce is an advertisement for your services.

A stationery package is a prime example of such self-promotion. When a client opens a letter you have sent, he or she unconsciously (and perhaps consciously as well) judges the quality of your design work, your professionalism, your attention to detail, even your ability to spot current marketing trends and distill them into your self-promotional print design work.

Design Letterhead, Envelopes, and Business Cards Together

Because an identity package is so important to your image, it is wise to design all elements together. There should be an overall cohesiveness to the design. You can accomplish this with consistency of the typefaces you use, the point sizes, spacing, and alignment of the typefaces, and similar treatment of such graphic elements as logos.

Find samples of business cards, letterhead, and envelopes that appeal to you and analyze them to see how the designer approached type size and placement, design grids, balance, and placement of graphic elements. Then design a few samples of your own. Try different typefaces. See how the overall image suggested by your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes changes as you set the text in a serif face (perhaps a more traditional image) and a sans serif face (perhaps a more modern image).

Try different alignments of type (flush left, flush right, centered). Try different colors and color placements. Lay each set of mock-ups on the table in front of you (business cards, letterhead, and envelopes) to make sure they give a unified look, and then make changes as needed. Show your work to colleagues to get their reactions. Strive for more than just a graphically pleasing appearance. Try to capture a reflection of your business: it’s goals, values, and overall tone. A lot of this is very subjective, but I think you’ll know when you’ve hit the right design. It may even help to jot down a few words or sentences describing your business before you work on the actual design of your identity package.

Sometimes it’s even a good idea to put the samples you have designed aside for a day. When you come back to the work, you can approach the design more objectively. Ask yourself what you would think if you received your mocked-up business cards, letterhead, and envelopes from a prospective custom printing vendor. Would you like what you see? Would you want to meet with the commercial printing supplier and perhaps send business his way?

The Paper Is Crucial, Too

Even more subliminal than the effect of the typefaces, point sizes, and logos is the effect of the paper on which you have printed your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes.

In my print brokering business, when I make suggestions to designers regarding their identity packages, I often suggest that they start with Crane, Neenah Classic, and Strathmore papers since these have integrated papers for identity packages. That is, they may offer a coordinated 60# or 70# stock for the letterhead and second sheets (printed, or blank, pages following the first page of a letter). They also may have 80# cover, or perhaps 110# or 130# cover for business cards, and they may have 24# or 28# stock for the envelopes.

There are many other identity paper manufacturers, particularly if you’re looking for a more avant garde look. The best thing you can do is either contact your commercial printing vendor or your paper merchant and ask for a selection of printed and unprinted samples.

When you are deciding which paper to choose, consider the color of the paper (brilliant white or a cream stock, or perhaps something entirely different like a pastel).

Also consider the surface of the paper. Do you want a pattern such as a “linen” or “laid” stock, or do you want a press sheet without a pattern (such as a “wove” sheet)? Think about whether you want a rough paper surface or a smooth paper surface. Review the samples your printer or paper manufacturer provides in different kinds of light (fluorescent, incandescent, and even sunlight). It might actually be good to use your inkjet printer to produce mock-ups of your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes in color right on the sample papers. Your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant can get you extra sheets of any currently available paper stock you see in the paper swatch books.

Again, remember that the identity package is often a client’s first impression of you. If all the component parts present a well-crafted image of who you are and what service or product you can provide, this will work wonders in helping you get your first meeting with a potential client.

Promotional Products: Refrigerator Magnet Printing

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Think of a marketing magnet as a miniature billboard. It’s an advertisement, and as the election approaches, this format can give you another viable option for name recognition. In fact, even if you’re not producing political signage for candidates, you may find this a useful tool for building brand recognition for your clients—or yourself.

New Custom Printing Options vs. Old

To begin with, magnets used to be printed by specialty printers. They were considered novelties. You would screen print a simple design in one or two colors. Then you would die cut the contour of the magnet using a metal cutting rule on a rotary or cylinder press.

You would first need to pay the set-up charge for the custom screen printing. Like offset printing, this make-ready phase took time and therefore cost money. Unless your press run had been rather long—let’s say 300-1,000 copies or more–your unit cost would be high.

Furthermore, once the job had been screen printed and the ink had dried, your custom printing vendor had to die cut the magnet. Traditional die cutting uses a custom-made cutting rule inset into a piece of wood or some other material. The die itself was expensive to make (up to $400.00 or $500.00), and its creation added time to the overall manufacturing schedule. In addition, the die cutting had to be done on a different piece of equipment than the custom printing.

In recent years this process has changed. I recently wrote a blog about a new integrated inkjet printer and digital die cutter. This is state of the art equipment. In the article I described the vendor’s ability to print labels in one pass and then die cut them in a second pass (using digital data and an automated knife), without removing the job from the inkjet equipment. The commercial printing vendor with whom I spoke about this equipment had been producing digitally die cut, peel-n-stick labels.

What I find exciting about this technology is that it can also be used to print refrigerator magnets. Your commercial printing vendor can purchase thick vinyl sheeting bonded to a magnetic backing and then feed this into the integrated inkjet printing and die cutting equipment. If you wish, he can then laminate or UV coat the magnets for a glossy appearance and for protection.

Features and Benefits of Digitally Produced Magnets

It’s easy to understand the technical benefits of integrated inkjet printers and digital die cutters and how they shorten make-ready times, speed up production runs, and thus yield a cost savings. Beyond this, there are aesthetic benefits as well.

For instance, a decade or two ago you might have chosen a simple, text-only treatment for your magnet in only one or two colors.

Now, you have access to full color printing of the entire magnet produced on digital inkjet equipment. In addition, the increased color range of many large format inkjet presses (due to an extended ink set) allows you to produce vibrant photographic images and to match PMS colors more precisely. The increased resolution available on inkjet equipment also allows you to produce finer detail than possible with the coarser halftone rulings available for custom screen printing. You get almost continuous tone images.

In terms of financial benefits, you will have more vendors that can print your magnets, increasing competition and fostering lower prices. Setting up a screen printing operation is an expensive proposition, so fewer commercial printing suppliers will commit to this technology. In contrast, a commercial printing vendor can buy a large-format inkjet press for proportionately less money. And it will allow him to produce everything from backlit signage to banners to vehicle wraps to magnets.

More printers will therefore have the incentive to buy this equipment. Over time as the technology improves, the combination of increased vendor competition and lower equipment and supply costs should drive down prices for printing your magnets. And you can print one, ten, or a hundred magnets (instead of 1,000) without worrying about set-up costs.

Why Magnets Are Small Billboards

Here’s the real reason you may want to consider custom printing magnets for your clients or yourself: They put your name in front of your client, or your client’s client.

Think about it. If you design and produce a refrigerator magnet and send it out to a prospective client, every time he or she goes to the refrigerator, he or she will see your name. It’s Marketing 101: exposure to the brand. And on a unit-cost-basis, this is an incredibly inexpensive way to advertise your services.

How do you get the prospective client to put your magnet on the refrigerator? Make it useful.

Think about all the calendars you receive in the mail each year. A 4” x 6” magnetic calendar with your name emblazoned across the top can be both useful to your prospective client and a good, inexpensive advertisement for your product or service as well. And since it provides useful information, it will probably stay on the refrigerator for a year.

Large Format Printing: Your Options for Political Signage

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

With the presidential election less than two months away, it’s definitely the season for political signage. And surprisingly enough, there are multiple options to consider if you need to produce this printed product for a client.

Methods for Custom Printing Your Political Signs

While it is certainly possible to use offset custom printing technology to produce paper signage on thick cover stock, by far the more common methods are screen printing and digital inkjet printing.

If you will be printing a one-color or two-color job, you might want to approach a screen printing company. Screen printing uses metal or synthetic screens through which a thick ink is forced with a squeegie. Open areas on the screen allow the ink to pass through onto the printing substrate, while areas blocked out on the screen keep ink from passing through the screen onto the paper.

Set-up charges are rather expensive for screen printing, so the longer the press run the better. For instance, one vendor charges over $8.00 per sign if the press run is 10 copies but only $2.00 per sign if the press run is 100 copies. Long runs drive down the unit cost significantly.

Some screen printing companies do not count the background color (white or yellow, for instance) but only charge for each additional color for type and graphics printed on the sign. One thing to remember is that screen printers often give you a list of standard colors (one particular blue or red, for instance), but if you want to match a particular PMS color, they will charge you extra for the PMS match.

An alternate technology used for much shorter press runs (such as one copy or five copies) is digital inkjet printing, using four process colors to simulate the full color spectrum. Digital inkjet is also a good option for signage incorporating photographs into the design. And with the increasing use of UV ink technology, it is possible to produce political signage that will withstand exposure to both sunlight and rain.

(As a side note, for long runs of signage including 4-color imagery, screen printing can actually be an option as well, since it is possible to use finer halftone screens than in the past.)

The Substrate onto which You Will Print Your Political Signs

Large format printing companies offer a wide variety of substrates for your signs. Cardboard “fold-over” signs are one option. The front and back of the sign are screen printed onto one side of the press sheet, and the sign is then folded in half. A wire structure underneath the cardboard provides the frame that is stuck into the ground.

Polybag plastic sleeve signs are another option. The sign is printed on the front and back of (essentially) a bag with a black interior coating, which creates an opaque barrier between the two sides of the sign. The “bag” fits over a wire support structure, which you can stick into the ground.

A third option is Coroplast, a corrugated plastic similar in structure to the corrugated cardboard in paper cartons. Coroplast has a flat front and back attached to a center made of plastic fluting. Coroplast is both lightweight and durable. You can screen print or inkjet print right on the flat sign material. Wire supports can then be inserted into the fluting of the Coroplast, and the stakes can be inserted into the ground.

For more durable political signage, some custom printing suppliers use .040 aluminum sheets. These can be screen printed or digitally printed depending on the number of colors required and the press run of the sign. The printer can then laminate the sign, which will give it a high gloss appearance, both protecting the ink and increasing the sign’s visual impact.

Unlike political signage produced on Coroplast or cardboard, aluminum signage needs a more substantial mounting structure than just thin wire. Sandwich-board stands (like a tent) are one option. Another option is an inverted “L” bar from which the sign can be suspended (with the base pole inserted into the ground). Other structures for hanging aluminum political signage involve frames made of metal or plastic into which the rectangular signs can be slipped.

Banners: An Alternative to Political Signs

Political signs need not always be printed on rigid material such as thick paper, Coroplast, or aluminum. You may also want to consider inkjet printing your political signage onto vinyl banner material. Large format printing vendors can heat weld the seams of such banners (for added strength) and insert grommets (holes reinforced with metal) through which you can add ropes for handing the banner.

How to Specify Political Signage to Your Printer

Here’s a recap of specifications to consider when you contact your commercial printing supplier:

  1. Printing technology
  2. Size of sign
  3. Number of copies
  4. Number of colors
  5. Whether to print on the front only, or on both the front and back of the sign
  6. Substrate (Coroplast, cardboard, or aluminum)

Custom Binders: How to Specify 3-Ring Binder Jobs

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Once in a while as a print buyer or graphic designer you may be asked to produce a 3-ring binder, perhaps for a convention or seminar. How do you communicate your needs to your commercial printing supplier? First, you break the job down into its component parts: the binder, the text pages, the tabs, and the assembly process. I’d suggest that you contact a vendor that focuses on 3-ring binder production since this is a specialty item, and not every printer produces binders.

The Binders Themselves (Materials and Ring Mechanisms)

As newer plastics have been developed, your options for binder materials have expanded. You can order high-end, turned-edge binders with leather, fabric, or paper glued over thick chipboard binder boards. The edges of the cover materials extend over the edges of the binder boards and are pasted onto the interior panels of the binders. Then a separate sheet of paper covers the front and back inner panels of the binder.

You can also choose binders with the cardboard binder boards sealed in vinyl and crimped along the edges. A variation on this is the view binder, which provides additional clear pockets on the covers and spine. You can insert offset or digitally printed graphic panels into these pockets and then seal (or not seal) them.

Turned edge and vinyl binders can also be manufactured with interior pockets for business cards or CDs. These can be positioned on the inside covers of the binder or even on the back cover. In addition, plastic inserts can be purchased with pockets of various sizes and shapes for hanging on the ring mechanisms within the binders.

You may also want to consider whether to buy sheet lifters (these lift the covers of the binders slightly above the printed text sheets to protect the ink or toner and keep it from offsetting onto the binder covers).

As an alternative, you may select polyvinyl binders. In this case, the binder material is thick enough to completely replace the cardboard binder boards, so the entire binder is plastic. However, depending on the thickness of the plastic, this binder material may be flexible (or somewhat floppy). If you want rigid panels, there are binders made with thick, rigid front and back plastic panels.

Things to Consider When Specifying Binders

  1. Consider how many binders you will need. This will help you decide whether to have the printer screen print the binders (for long press-runs printed directly onto the vinyl or poly binders), or laser print the binders (for short press-runs, with the graphic panels offset or digitally printed on paper inserts that are slipped into the clear plastic exterior pockets of the binders).
  2. Some of the higher-end turned edge binders (fabric or leather) can be further enhanced with foil stamping, embossing, or appliques.
  3. Consider what kinds of rings you will want. Depending on the binder manufacturer’s selection, you can choose between “D” rings and “O” rings (and even slanted “D” rings), which can be attached to the spine or the back panel of the binders. Rings can be made of steel or plastic, depending on the style of the binder and its manufacturer. For vinyl or turned-edge binders, the rivets used to attach the ring mechanism to the binder can be exposed or covered by the binder fabric (this affects the appearance only, not the strength).
  4. An interesting option for binders is the “easel binder.” In this product, the binder boards are split horizontally. In this case, the top (or bottom) half of the binder boards is not attached to the central ring mechanism. This allows either the top or bottom portion of the binder to fold away from the metal ring mechanism, forming a support for the binder rings, text pages, and divider tabs, and holding them at approximately a 45 degree angle, perfect for “hands-free” reading (and ideal for a cookbook). Other designs for easel binders may involve bending the front and back panels of the binder into a “tent” assembly, with the rings at the top and the text pages hanging forward and downward.
  5. Finally, consider how you will print on the binder and where (front, back, spine, or maybe the inside covers). All of this information will affect the final price.

Specifying the Divider Pages and Tabs

Consider how many divider pages and tabs you will need based on how you will want to break up the text pages inserted in the binder. For example, you might have a 200-page print book divided into five sections. Each one will have a flat divider page that is thicker than the text-weight paper of the book. You can print on the “body” of the divider page or leave it blank. Each divider will also have a short, die-cut “tab” that extends beyond the pages in the binder (this is usually printed). The tabs will probably be laminated with mylar to strengthen them. To be safe, you may want to also laminate the holes through which the ring mechanism will be attached to the divider pages.

When you specify the tabs, you will need to tell the printer how many ink colors to print: 1/0 or 1/1 (one color on one side or both sides of the dividers), 4/0 or 4/4 (four colors on one side or both sides of the dividers), etc. Also specify whether to print on the tabs only or both the tabs and the body of the divider pages. All of this information will affect the overall cost.

One good starting point for the divider page paper would be 110# Index stock. It’s thick enough, and it’s a relatively inexpensive paper stock. Your binder vendor can make other suggestions as appropriate.

When producing the InDesign art files for this bank of five tabs (or whatever other number of tabs you will need; “bank” is the printer’s term for a series of tabs in a binder), you will start by dividing the vertical dimension of the insert pages by the number of tabs. For example, if you have an 11” sheet to be inserted into the binder, each tab will be approximately 2.2” wide (unless they overlap each other). You will want to discuss the exact width and depth of the tabs with your commercial printing vendor before you prepare your final InDesign art files.

Pages of Text to Be Inserted into the Binder

We’ve almost forgotten the contents of the binder, the reason it exists in the first place.

Let’s say you are printing an 8.5” x 11” book that is 200 pages long. Your printer will translate this from pages into leaves (or sheets of paper: each sheet is two pages, front and back). The number of pages will determine the binder spine size. (For example, one local manufacturer specifies the capacity of a 2” binder as 200 sheets (i.e., 400 pages). Granted, the actual capacity will depend on the thickness of the paper. Therefore, decide whether you will want 50#, 60#, or 70# white offset (or any other paper) as the base stock from which to produce the 200-page text (or any other length) to be inserted into the 3-ring binder.

You will then want to have the printer drill holes (three holes for a 3-ring binder, or more or fewer as appropriate). This is done by the printer on a 3-hole punch.

Assembly of the Entire Package

Once the binders, divider tabs, and text have been produced, they need to be assembled into a usable product. This usually involves handwork, which gets expensive.

To minimize costs and maximize protection in transit, this is what I have always done for my own print brokering clients.

  1. I have the text for each binder shrink wrapped to chipboard after being three-hole drilled.
  2. Then I have the printer place the divider tabs in the back of each binder (in the proper order but not on the rings) so neither the tabs nor the ring mechanism will be damaged if the transport is rough.
  3. Then I have the printer place the shrink wrapped text within the binder but not on the rings.
  4. Then the printer packs up the binders.

An alternative would be to pack all the text blocks (i.e., the inserts), divider tabs, and binders in separate cartons; however, this would leave a lot more work for the client to do. Keep in mind that even this amount of assembly will cost extra. After all, it’s labor-intensive handwork.

I would strongly encourage you to not have the printer collate the tab dividers within the text blocks and then hang the dividers and text blocks onto the actual binder rings. Any rough handling in transit could severely damage the binders, inserts, and tab dividers.

Custom Printing: 4 Examples of Successful Integrated Marketing

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

I recently read an article by TJ Raphael in Folio called “Backstage Ties Print and Digital Together with Redesign.” It got me thinking about those companies that successfully integrate print materials and the Web, at least those I have come across in my own life. I wanted to find examples of companies that embrace print catalogs and magazines, not those in the process of shifting their focus from print to digital.

Here are a few companies successfully blending print and the online experience: Backstage, Sappi, Ikea, and Staples.

Backstage Magazine

The Folio article noted above describes a magazine focused on the needs of actors. According to John Amato, chairman and CEO of Backstage (as quoted in the Folio article), “What we’ve tried to do with this magazine is take almost every part of it and lead it back to the Web.” As a reflection of its commitment to custom printing as well as the Web, Backstage has recently transformed its magazine from a tabloid newspaper to a glossy 9” x 10.875” print book.

Amato notes that “We’re literally trying to incorporate how you process the magazine and interactions with Backstage online into one cohesive product that is Web and print.” Print “keeps you relevant as a brand, it gives you a currency that being online only doesn’t give you.” The goal of Backstage management is to blend the magazine experience, the website experience, and social media to provide both news related to the performing arts and utilities that will serve actors (such as casting listings or information on how to find an agent).

The Backstage print book is definitely viable with a circulation of 60,000.

Sappi Paper Company Books

Sappi is a premium paper manufacturer. As a commercial printing broker, I periodically receive high-end promotional print books such as The Standard, a knowledge base of offset and digital custom printing techniques all produced on paper created by Sappi.

However, Sappi also has a website, tied visually through its look and branding to the promotional publications I receive. While Sappi spares no expense in using its commercial printing services to promote its custom printing papers, it also provides online information on paper and printing. You can order promotional books and read descriptions of its print books, such as Life with Print (focusing on “Direct Mail,” “Internet Integration,” and “Engaging New Generations”), all of which demonstrate the relevance of printed publications.

Ikea Print Catalog

I mentioned Ikea in a prior blog posting because this company has demonstrated a commitment to ink on paper as well as the Web. Ikea’s print catalog is delivered to approximately 210 million homes around the world.

I checked out the Ikea website last night. Ikea’s online catalog mirrors the print catalog. You can point with your mouse and turn the pages online just as you would review the printed book.

However, the online version provides additional content that expands on the information in the print catalog. For instance, in one case you will see a furnished room in the online catalog spread. Using the mouse you can change the room, adding different colored doors, more or less furniture, or additional window treatments. On another digital page spread, you can click the mouse to activate a video that supplements information provided in the print catalog. Still another page spread reveals an animation that displays alternate room designs and alternate color schemes.

Staples Online Flyer

Each week I also receive an email flyer from Staples. It is a screen version of the paper-based circular, also available in the store on newsprint paper. However, as you move the mouse over individual products online, the screen reveals extra information about each item. Like the paper version, you can turn the pages using your mouse as a pointer. The design of the online flyer makes the print version in the store immediately recognizable (and vice versa).

What We Can Learn

If you are designing a marketing campaign that will successfully coordinate both a print-based experience and an online experience, keep these thoughts in mind:

  1. Tie the print component and Web component together graphically as well as editorially. Make them a complementary visual experience provided in a coherent manner.
  2. People are accustomed to page-turning paper circulars and catalogs, so give them an analagous experience on-screen (a page-turner). Then add supplemental content (words, images, video) to expand upon the prospect’s initial experience with the flyer, circular, or catalog while reinforcing the brand values and providing ways for the prospect to contact your business.
  3. Coordinate the print and online experiences so they are clearly from the same vendor. Provide additional information within each medium, not just the same information duplicated in a different venue.

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