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Archive for November, 2012

Commercial Printing: B&B’s “Look” Hits It Dead Center

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I visited a retail clothing store with my fiancée today. I went in because she wanted to see the shop, but I quickly got lost in the way the décor of the store, its wall and floor signage, lighting, wall paint colors, merchandise tags, music, and avant garde employee attire all came together to create a coherent, bold atmosphere. (Let’s call the store B&B, to make it somewhat of a hypothetical example of good marketing and design.)

The first thing I saw upon entering the store was the print catalog, right near the door. I paged through it as I walked past the clothing, and then I saw backlit images on the walls of some of the same models I had seen in the catalog. Clearly, I thought, print is not dead if this vibrant clothing store (which had a huge line at the cash registers) was actively using a print catalog, within the store, to sell the store.

Bold Signage and Clothing Tags

As my fiancée shopped, I sought to deconstruct what I was seeing to better understand its effect on me. The informational signage was printed in a bold sans serif type, either black ink or reversed out of heavily saturated primary colors. Type was set in all capital letters, tightly letter-spaced with minimal leading to present a dynamic look. Interestingly enough, there were also block letters cut out of wood to denote the various sections of the store. These three-dimensional sans serif letters reinforced the look of the large format print signage.

Large format print images of models had been produced with inkjet equipment, I assumed. (They appeared to be continuous tone, with no discernible dot pattern.) Images printed on paper were framed. Others were mounted on lightboxes and were backlit with bright lights.

At my feet I saw a large, round, inkjet printed floor banner that echoed the wall signage. It had been attached to the floor with an adhesive.

Attached to the clothes I saw either black hang-tags with the store’s logo embossed and covered with a registered clear foil stamp or tags without embossing but still using either clear foil or a spot gloss UV coating to highlight the logo. Some of the other tags were printed in black ink on thick chipboard, offering a more environmentally friendly look.

Dramatic Lighting and Interior Design

Spot track lighting brought out the vibrant primary colors and the pastels and increased the apparent saturation of the color scheme. Collections of yellow and fuscia clip lights balanced the groupings of colored clothing items and accessories, often arranged by color rather than usage. And simple white (almost childlike) “drawings” adorned the walls. They appeared to be made of clear or colored foils glued to the wall paint. It would not surprise me if they had been cut out of vinyl using an automated plotting printer with a knife controlled by digital information from a design file.

It was clear to me that bright color depends on bright light, and the saturated pinks, purples, and greens in the clothing, lighting fixtures, and signs gave the room intensity and an avant garde feel.

Insistent Music, and “In Your Face” Employee Dress

Instead of the Hip Hop I was used to hearing in the neighborhood, the speakers of the music system pounded out electronic dance music. It seemed to match the intensity and immediacy of both the interior design and the bold imagery in the print catalog, with lifestyle photos interspersed among the photos of models wearing branded clothing. And the mohawks, piercings, and tattoos of the employees along with their varied dress (some with screen printed shirts covered with bright fashion images) suggested the forward-thinking, experimental clientele the store sought to reach.

The Website Reinforced the Experience

When I got home I checked out the website. I assumed it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I saw the same typefaces, colors, and bold looks. And there were some of the same models I had seen in the print catalog and the large format prints in the store.

The Catalog Revisited

After I got home I looked through the catalog again. It seemed to be as much a magazine as a catalog, showcasing articles by stylists and designers as well as lifestyle photos to reinforce brand identity and to ensure reader affiliation with the brand. I have always read that print catalogs lift sales, and I could see why. The catalog presented fashion as “power” or “mojo.” It reflected an understanding of trends and popular culture. And it gave the shopper a free reference point he or she could use to extend the experience of the retail store once having left the premises. The photos exuded attitude, sex appeal, and confidence. The catalog was a marketing piece, but it was clearly also an art book.

Why You Should Care

It is very easy to create an overall impression that a marketing campaign has been created by a committee. It is much harder to present a simple, unified look that appeals to a targeted clientele. The lighting, signage, music, employee dress—and let’s not forget the print catalog—of this retail establishment all work together to reinforce a mood and an approach to clothing that distinguishes this store from other clothing stores in the neighborhood.

This store exemplifies the successful confluence of print, architectural, and interior design.

Commercial Printing: The Direction of Digital Printing Is Up, Up, Up

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

I read an interesting article today about the future of digital custom printing. It seems to be very, very bright. The article on, entitled “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print” notes that “…there were 46.1 billion color digital pages printed in 2010, and that number will jump to nearly 130 billion by 2015.”

In an time when the media tout the death of print, digital custom printing is expanding prodigiously due to the improved speed, reduced cost, and improved quality of the technology.

“In 2009, EP [electrophotography] accounted for about 9% of the total global print market; it is estimated that it will account for about 13% by 2014,” according to David Zwang’s article. These numbers are impressive, given the bad press about printing. It seems that as a culture we still want an ever increasing amount of printed paper products.

Furthermore, “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print” notes that “Indigo customer global page volume will reach approximately 100 billion pages by 2016.”

What This Means

What this really means is that the image quality of digital custom printing has improved exponentially, along with its speed and reduced cost, such that digital printing now can compete directly with offset printing. The introduction of digital presses that accept larger sheet sizes (as reflected in product offerings at the recent drupa) gives digital printing an even stronger footing.

Zwang’s article notes the migration of jobs from offset, gravure, and flexography to digital custom printing as the various digital technologies improve. However, print jobs shift not only from the traditional analog technologies to the digital technologies but also from digital process to digital process based on speed and cost. Of these, the article distinguishes the following digital options:

  1. Electrophotography (i.e., xerography), which entered its heyday in 1990 with the DocuTech
  2. ElectroInk, which is the technology used in the HP Indigo
  3. Inkjet, which has been expanding with the introduction of continuous feed inkjet, an ideal technology for transpromo work (transaction and promotion materials such as bills that include marketing elements) and digital book printing
  4. Liquid toner, which is offered in Océ and Xeikon products (based on mineral oil vehicles that are more environmentally friendly than oils with a high VOC content)
  5. Offset inkjet, which includes the new Landa Nanographic technology (which sprays water-based ink onto a blanket, heats the blanket to evaporate the water, and then offsets the image onto the substrate)

Competition Among Digital Custom Printing Technologies

Cost, quality, and productivity are the variables that determine which digital printing technology will be most appropriate for a particular job.

  1. For instance, the liquid toner printers produced by Océ and Xeikon are ideally suited to labeling, direct mail, and packaging work due to their ability to print high-quality, heavy coverage images.
  2. Landa Nanographic technology is fast (11,000 or 12,000 sheets per hour on 20-inch and 29-inch press sheets). This exceptional speed combined with the offset (rather than direct printing) nature of the process allows print shops to use a wider than usual selection of commercial printing substrates. And the process of flash drying the water-based inks on the press blankets affords greater ink density, more saturated color, and less dot gain. All of these qualities put this particular offset inkjet technology in a competitive position relative to traditional offset printing.

Why You Should Care

  1. If you are a graphic designer, the growth of digital commercial printing and the jockeying of the various digital technologies for prominence bode well for your future print production work. These venues are expanding, not contracting, and this reflects increased consumer demand for digitally printed products.
  2. If you are a commercial printing supplier, it may be time for you to consider bringing digital technology into your printing plant alongside more traditional equipment. For long runs, offset will still be appropriate, but according to “drupa 2012, the Inkjet drupa…Again? The New Face of Print,” digital horizons are expanding rapidly, and there are opportunities to pursue.

Commercial Printing: New Technology Saves Both Toner and Money

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

A colleague brought to my attention an article from, “The Print Tech That’s Turning Saving Pixels into Saving Millions,” written by David Shamah and reprinted from Tel Aviv Tech.

The article describes a new commercial printing technology developed by an Israeli company, Preton, that shaves off the edges of pixels when depositing toner on paper. The technology is based on the fact that computer monitors produce images with square pixels, while digital printers create images using round spots. As digital printer drivers convert square pixels into circles for printing, they enlarge the round spots, “trying to ‘recreate’ the squares on the screen,” causing them to overlap, and using an unnecessary amount of toner or ink.

According to Shamah’s article, Preton’s Pixel Optimizer technology “uses proprietary algorithms [to] determine which pixels can be removed, and deletes them.” Due to dot gain, the ink or toner expands on the printed sheet as it enters the paper fibers, smoothing out the gaps where the toner had been removed.

The custom printing process actually saves a lot of money over time, since the greatest expense in digital printing is the ink or toner (50 to 60 percent of the total cost, according to Ori Eizenberg, CEO of Preton).

Are There Other Uses for Preton’s Pixel Optimizer?

Based on my reading of David Shamah’s article, it seems that the target audience for Preton’s Pixel Optimizer technology is the corporate world. The article refers to a system administrator’s ability to control toner usage as well as the added reporting functionality of the technology, which creates an audit trail of networked printers and their toner usage.

What I would find interesting is the application of the same technology to digital printers used in a commercial printing venue. For example, does every digital platform from Kodak’s NexPress to the HP Indigo face the same issue when converting square pixels to round printer spots, and would similar pixel reduction capabilities conserve ink and toner for commercial printing establishments as well as corporations? Or do the NexPress and Indigo already have toner reduction capabilities?

Furthermore, since inkjet printing is essentially a dithering process on large-format digital presses, would Preton’s Pixel Optimizer even be appropriate? More specifically, on large-format flatbed presses such as the Inca Onset, since the print heads spray a scatter pattern (FM screening, or dithering) of minuscule spots of ink rather than round dots (as on a digital laser printer), would there even be a place for pixel optimizing technology on such a digital press?

According to David Shamah’s article, the Spanish government’s social security agency (Seguridad Social) has saved $1.2 million annually over the past few years with Preton’s Pixel Optimizer. If the technology were applied to digital commercial printing, would the toner reduction in large and small digital printing shops across the United States add up to a considerable savings?

Finding More Cost-Savings in Printing

Preton’s technology actually exemplifies a much larger issue. In general, as a lot of custom printing work migrates to digital platforms, technology that saves money will be big. Digital presses reduce makeready and waste to almost nothing. Even contemporary offset presses can now achieve spot-on color quickly enough to make short press runs economical. Going forward, I think that offset and digital printing will keep their relevance if they meet two criteria:

  1. They must be economical, compared to all-digital communications, which require no ink or toner, no paper, and no warehousing of printed products.
  2. And they must provide value unavailable on a computer monitor.

The second criterion is being addressed by such tactile coatings as Miracure Soft Touch UV. Anything that appeals to the sense of touch will set printing apart from digital-only media.

And Preton’s Pixel Optimizer is addressing the first criterion, saving money in printing. In the near future, I think there will be an abundance of technologies geared toward reducing the cost of putting ink and toner on paper.

Custom Printing: There’s a Growing Market for Package Printing

Friday, November 16th, 2012

As I’ve said many times in past PIE Blog posts, I’m always looking for growth sectors in commercial printing. Not only do I believe they exist, but I’m also seeing proof in the articles I read every day.

One of these growth sectors is packaging, and more specifically short-run, versioned package printing. I just read an article in the November 1, 2012, issue of Print Week entitled “The Packaging Bandwagon That Is Worth Jumping On,” which was written by Jenny Roper.

Developments in Package Printing

According to the article, here are some new developments in packaging:

  1. Packaging is becoming more personalized. Roper notes that “Heineken will now deliver a six-pack of beer personalized with your own message and a cherished photograph on the labels.” Other companies are updating the design of their packaging on a regular basis rather than committing to tens or hundreds of thousands of units per press run. This makes packaging stand out amidst the competition by virtue of its changing images.
  2. Brands are targeting their markets more precisely. Based on market research, brands test their designs more rigorously, avoid over-printing and needing to store packaging materials, and request more frequent, smaller press runs.
  3. Packaging is beginning to incorporate more QR codes, leading clients back to the websites of the manufacturers, and this often results in more personalized, smaller package print runs.
  4. Marketers want to buy packaging responsibly in order to protect the environment via their sustainable print buying.

How This Affects Both Digital and Offset Package Printing

Improvements in digital custom printing have made the technology quite capable of producing labels, folding cartons, and flexible packaging, according to Roper’s article. Of course much longer runs, printing on rigid plastics, and printing on metal will remain the purview of more traditional package printing technology for the time being.

The plethora of substrates acceptable to digital presses such as the Indigo 5600 have also made digital printing more appropriate for package printing. For instance, it is possible to print on synthetic substrates and plastics as well as much thicker stocks than in prior years. Commercial printing vendors can now print on stocks 500 microns in thickness, allowing package production on rigid board.

Although dedicated digital carton printing equipment is not yet available, “The Packaging Bandwagon That Is Worth Jumping On” notes that additional equipment (kits) for digital presses such as the Indigo 5600 and Fuji Acuity will allow digital custom printing suppliers to produce point of sale materials, mailing materials, food packaging, and pharmaceutical packaging of shorter press run lengths.

Offset lithographic printers that choose to buy digital equipment with packaging capabilities can augment their services and pick up additional work from existing customers. Of course the longer press runs will still be the domain of lithographic presses.

These very printers that have extensive experience with direct mail, and particularly the versioned and personalized materials suited to digital presses, may be ideally positioned to expand into this market. These printers understand promotions, marketing, and targeting, and packaging is moving quickly in this direction.

Granted, as Roper notes in her article, package printing is a three-dimensional arena, whereas direct mail is usually two-dimensional in nature. Package printing involves more construction knowledge (tabs, seams, etc.) and in some cases additional equipment as well. Commercial printing vendors may need to augment both their knowledge base and their equipment.

Convergence Between Digital Technology and Offset Lithography for Package Printing

Interestingly enough, as printers consider buying digital printing capabilities to offer new services to their clients as other areas of printing decline, offset lithography is becoming capable of printing shorter and shorter press runs economically. Computerized color-control loops allow for much quicker make-readies with far less waste. This puts offset lithographic equipment on a par with digital presses for quick change-overs between runs.

So it seems that digital and offset are converging in the realm of packaging. Large printers may be buying digital equipment to offer their larger customers who had been buying packaging runs in the tens or hundreds of thousands of copies a shorter, more personalized or versioned option, while small printers expand their services, providing (for example) both books and the personalized boxes for these books.

A Related Note: Digital Die Cutting

Interestingly enough, a prior issue of Print Week (December 2, 2011) references the Highcon digital die cutting machine, called Euclid. Created by two ex-Indigo employees, the Euclid digitally creases and cuts printed packaging board (from a single unit up to 10,000 units) up to a maximum thickness of .6 milimeters. This technology uses lasers and optics to eliminate the cost and time associated with conventional die making and die cutting. Data included with the digital art file can get the die cutting job up and running within fifteen minutes (rather than the day or more needed for conventional die making and die cutting).

It seems to me that this technology, which is just coming to market, would be of major interest to those producing flexible packaging with digital printing equipment.

Why You Should Care

  1. If you are a designer, you should know that package printing is a growing printing arena. It requires the ability to think in three dimensions and demands specialized knowledge of digital and offset printing, manufacturing, and design. Nevertheless, package design may interest those graphic artists who prefer ink on paper to Internet-based design.
  2. If you’re a printer, you need to know that package printing is expanding because this will allow you to offer new services to existing clients as other aspects of commercial printing begin to wane.

Large Format Printing Services: Printed Bed Sheets

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

My fiancee brought home new printed sheets last week, and I was truly impressed with the strides that have been made in digital large format printing on fabrics. The sheets were covered with handwritten letters and images of envelopes spread across the large, queen-size format. Handwritten text in some areas included drop shadows in gray type, and there were stamps printed in orange and black.

I want to contrast this bedsheet with two drapes for which my fiancee had paid significantly more money a number of years ago. As beautiful as these drapes are, covered in large gray handwriting, the artwork is much simpler than the art on the sheets. The cursive strokes of the handwriting are all one color. They are beautiful, but simple.

Based on my research, this is how I think the two vendors printed the fabric art. I think the drapes were produced by a screen printing company in a light gray type on sheer white curtains, and I think the sheets were produced by the newer technology of direct to fabric printing, which includes both inkjet-based large format printing and dye sublimation direct to fabric printing. Both of these large format technologies are relatively new.

Moreover, given the difficult news about magazine printing and newspaper printing, I’m always glad to see growth in the commercial printing field. In addition, my fiancee’s insight into the pricing for these bedsheets reflected the consumer demand for this technology. Specifically, she had seen the sheets online at a local bed and bath store. Unfortunately, they were out of stock in all store outlets. However, they were listed on eBay for significantly more than the bed and bath store had charged. That’s consumer demand.

The Technology Options

I did some research into the technology involved.

Apparently large format inkjet printing works best for cotton fabric, whereas dye sublimation works best for polyester. More specifically, inkjet commercial printing becomes duller on fabric as the amount of synthetic material increases.

With both inkjet and dye sublimation, the wet ink is cured using heat and pressure on additional equipment (a heat press or conveyor dryer).

In inkjet printing, the water based dye or pigment ink is sprayed onto the fabric. In dye sublimation fabric printing, dye is turned directly from a solid into a gas without first becoming liquid. It becomes infused into the fibers of the fabric as it turns back from a gas into a solid and bonds with the polymers of the synthetic material.

Some dye sub printers produce the image on an intermediate transfer sheet. They spray the dye (in a liquid carrier solution) onto the transfer paper, and heat and pressure sublimate the dye (turn the solid ink on the paper into a gas) and transfer the dye to the fabric. The carrier solution stays on the transfer paper.

In dye sublimation printing, heat also makes the colors more vibrant because the dyes are specifically designed to bond only with polymers. Images on the transfer sheets tend to look dull until heated and transferred to the fabric. In fact, the greater the synthetic (i.e., polyester) content of the fabric, the more brilliant the colors appear.

I have also read about a dye sublimation process used by Velotex that sprays the dye directly onto the fabric using a large format inkjet printer. The fabric then travels through a separate heating and roller assembly that sublimates the dye and infuses it into the fibers of the fabric. This eliminates the transfer sheet and allows for continuous, unattended operation of the dye sublimation equipment.

Another benefit of dye sublimation digital large format printing is that the resulting printed fabric is very soft (has a smooth “hand,” in industry parlance). Since the finished product is softer, it retains the draping qualities of the fabric.

Alternate Technologies

Another resource that I found describes an inkjet process for non-synthetics using textile dyes or pigments. A pre-treating step is added in which steam-set inks are used, or a washing process follows the printing step using mordants (substances that facilitate the dyes’ or pigments’ bonding with the base fabric).

So there’s more than one way to achieve digital large format printing success.

What About the Sheets My Fiancee Bought

This is what I think, although I’m not certain. First of all, the bed sheet is very large, so I would assume that either the job had been inkjet printed using fabric dyes or printed via dye sublimation using direct to fabric technology without a transfer sheet. Moreover, the bedsheet includes three panels sewn together into one large sheet. This would support my theory that a large format (perhaps a 64-inch) inkjet printer had been used.

Which of the two processes the manufacturer chose (inkjet or dye sublimation) would then depend on the fabric composition. I looked at the tag attached to the sheets and noted that they are 100 percent cotton. Therefore, I would assume that dyes or inks had been printed directly onto the fabric using an inkjet printer and then the sheets had been treated with heat and pressure to cure the dyes or inks.

My fiancee mentioned that her online research revealed that some people who had bought the sheets complained of a strong smell. Wikipedia includes the following as mordants used to facilitate the bonding of dyes to fabric: “…tannic acid, alum, urine, chrome alum, sodium chloride, and certain salts of aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, iodine, potassium, sodium, and tin.” This would explain the strong smell prior to washing the sheets.

If, on the other hand, the sheets had contained a high percentage of polyester, I would have assumed that dye sublimation had been the digital large format printing technology of choice.

Annual Reports: Slick Magazines for the Corporate Set

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Wikipedia defines an annual report as “a comprehensive report on a company’s activities throughout the preceding year.” It is “intended to give shareholders and other interested people information about the company’s activities and financial performance.”

Companies (particularly those listed on a stock exchange) prepare these documents according to standard accounting rules in order to comply with regulations of various financial and taxation authorities, but more than anything, they are used to present a credible snapshot of a company’s finances over a short period of time, so investors and other stakeholders can understand and analyze the health and stability of the company.

Therefore, the only real requirement of an annual report is for it to present selected financial information. This would include the following (according to Wikipedia):

  • Accounting policies
  • Balance sheet
  • Cash flow statement
  • Contents: non-audited information
  • Profit and loss account
  • Notes to the financial statements
  • Chairperson’s statements
  • Director’s report
  • Operating and financial review
  • Other features
  • Auditor’s report

More Than Just a Financial Snapshot

Over the years, annual reports have become much more than financial snapshots. Companies have sought to give stakeholders a more complete picture of the operations of their firms, including discussions of their environmental practices, management goals, corporate ethics, etc. All of these have been illustrated with breathtaking photography printed on thick coated press sheets by commercial printing establishments. Annual reports have become high-end magazines for the corporate set.

Custom Printing Considerations

If you are designing an annual report for a client, or for your employer, you may want to consider the following:

  1. Design with distribution in mind. Copies of you annual report will need to fit in standard or custom envelopes and be mailed. To keep prices down, consider various standard envelope sizes (avoid square envelopes, for instance, to avoid postal surcharges) and determine the appropriate enclosure size for the envelope. However, this does not mean that your annual report must be 8.5” x 11”. Sometimes a narrower or wider format will grab the reader’s attention more effectively.
  2. Choose commercial printing paper with photography in mind, and don’t hesitate to use more than one paper stock. For the introductory material replete with dramatic photos, you may want to choose a gloss coated stock to make the photos “pop.” For the text-heavy financial pages, you may want to choose a matte press sheet or a high-end uncoated paper to facilitate reading.
  3. Consider environmental implications. Sustainability is big now. You may choose a recycled, uncoated sheet to reflect your company’s sensitivity to environmental issues. Paper choice can send a message to readers, just as photography and color choice can.
  4. Consider quadtones instead of full-color. If you want to make your annual report look less opulent so as not to give company shareholders the impression that you spent their hard-earned money on custom printing, you can subdue the colors (perhaps use less process color). However, this doesn’t mean that the photos need to suffer. If you print the photos as four-color black/white images, you can increase their depth and expand their tonal range. This will improve detail in the highlights, midtones, and shadows. You can achieve this by using all the process colors to create the impression of black-ink-only photographs.
  5. Maximize the tactile quality of print. With all the hoopla about the death of print, producing an annual report can give you an opportunity to showcase the tactile nature of custom printing, something online media cannot offer. You can create textures by contrasting spot gloss varnishes against spot dull varnishes on images or text. Or you can give a relief texture to an element using thermography. Add a rough feel to a design element with sandpaper UV coating, or smooth out an area with soft-touch coating. Add depth with embossing, or add sparkle with foil stamping. Use your imagination along with the plethora of new paper coatings.
  6. Ask your commercial printing vendor for a paper dummy. If you are using multiple paper stocks in your annual report, consider asking your printer for a paper dummy (cut to the proper size, with the proper page count). This will show you (and your client) just how the final printed annual report will feel in your hands.

Holograms vs. Lenticular Prints: Labels, Stickers, Decals, and Pressure Sensitive Products

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

What is a hologram and what is a lenticular print? How can you distinguish between the two, and when is it appropriate to print one vs. the other?


Holograms are produced with special lasers. They are also best seen under special lighting conditions. Without illumination with lasers or precisely directed lights, they can appear a bit colorless. However, under the proper conditions, they can be dramatic, presenting on a two-dimensional surface a precise rendition of a three-dimensional scene (without the need for special 3D glasses). As you move around and look at holograms from different directions, you can see the objects within the images from different perspectives, as though you were actually walking around physical objects.

Interestingly enough, if you tear a hologram into ten or twenty pieces, you will still have a complete image within each fragment of the original hologram.

Holograms Used in Printing

I have actually seen holograms used in labels, stickers, decals, and pressure sensitive products. However, if you look at your driver’s license or your credit cards, you may also see what looks like transparent foil reflecting a rainbow of colors. My driver’s license, for instance, has “MVA” (Maryland Vehicle Association) printed across the front of the license numerous times. You can only see it under bright light, and then it takes on a multicolored appearance.

These holograms are specifically used to thwart forgery and tampering (or at least to make any tampering or alteration evident). They’re also used on software packages, banknotes, passports, stock certificates, and anywhere else that identity theft or the theft of intellectual or financial property might occur. In recent years traditional offset, as well as flexographic and even digital, printers have become versed in this custom printing technology.

And, of course, holographic printing can be used in the production of labels, stickers, decals, and pressure sensitive products as well.

Lenticular Printing

Perhaps a more appropriate method for reproducing moving images is lenticular printing, which may also be used in printing labels, stickers, decals, and pressure sensitive products.

In lenticular printing, digital files are specially prepared and printed onto lens material (plastic composed of “lenticules” or special lenses). Essentially your commercial printing vendor prints a different image (of a series of two or three images) in an interlaced pattern on the lens material such that when you move the plastic, you will see movement or depth (i.e., background, middleground, and foreground) within the image.

If your lenticular print will be displayed on a wall (as a poster or back-lit image), the lenticules will be printed such that a side to side movement will show the moving image. This way, when you walk past the sign, you will see the image change. In contrast, if your lenticular print will be hand held (attached to a postcard or brochure), the movement will be triggered with an up and down motion (rather than a side to side movement) of the lenticular print.

Think of a lenticular print as a high-tech “flip book”: that is, a series of similar drawings on consecutive sheets of paper. When the edge of the pages are flipped, the image seems to move. The more images in the book, the more dramatic the movement will be. So by including a series of progressive images reflecting small increments of movement, you can actually simulate motion within the lenticular print.

Lenticular prints are produced on a traditional four-color offset press and are therefore ideally suited to printing postcards and labels, stickers, decals, and pressure sensitive products. They are also quite durable. You can even send a lenticular postcard through the mail (i.e., without an envelope) and not damage the image.

Similarities and Differences Between Holograms and Lenticular Printing

So, in short, both holograms and lenticular prints can show movement and depth. Holograms need special lighting to be perceived in all their glorious detail and color. However, they’re great for security documents to prevent forgery or tampering. In contrast, lenticular prints are durable and need no special lighting to reflect their movement or depth.

Rack & Door Hanger Cards: A Cheap and Effective Way to Advertise

Monday, November 5th, 2012

The goal of a rack card is to capture the attention of paying customers while they wait in line to complete transactions. Traditionally, rack cards have promoted services and destinations related to tourism.

You have probably seen a rack of cards in a hotel at one time or another. These vertical cards are all lined up, side by side, row after row. Or perhaps you have been in a bus station and have seen card racks promoting various destinations.

Think of rack cards as a “middle step” between a business card and a brochure.

Rack cards take advantage of a captive audience. However, if you’re standing in line at a hotel, you might be wondering what to do now that you have reached your destination. So these cards promoting theme parks, museums, and the like may actually be a welcome sight. And in recent years they have expanded their subject matter to include such services as dry cleaning, massage spas, and restaurants.

Rack cards often include a 2” perforated card at the bottom, which can be a coupon for a discount or a promotion, a ticket, a business card, or even a map.

Door hanger cards are similar to rack cards in their vertical format, but they are left on your door, often in a hotel. A “Do Not Disturb” sign would be an example, but you may have received many other door hanger cards on your front door at home, cards offering lawn and home repair services and the like.

Printing Considerations for Rack & Door Hanger Cards

Rack & door hanger cards have been around for a long, long time because they are effective sales tools that are cheap to produce. Rack cards have a traditional size: 3.5” x 8.5” and 4” x 9”. It is prudent to keep to these sizes since they will fit in most card racks. Door hangers are usually 3.5” x 8.5” or 4.25” x 11” (with a hole at the top for hanging on the door knob).

You will also need to choose a paper stock (most rack & door hanger cards are printed on standard stocks ranging from 13 to 15 pt. gloss, matte, or uncoated cover). Many printers offer gloss aqueous or UV coating for durability, and some even offer foil stamping on the rack & door hanger cards to better catch the eye of the viewer. By standardizing the format and production methods, commercial printing suppliers can keep the prices low.

If you will need fewer than 500 rack cards or door hanger cards, your printer may choose to print the job digitally. For more cards, your commercial printing vendor may opt for offset printing.

While you’re compiling custom printing specifications and working on the design, also consider whether you will want rounded edges on the cards and whether you will want the cards shrink wrapped (and if so in what quantities).

Design Considerations for Rack & Door Hanger Cards

First and foremost a rack card must compete for the viewer’s attention with all other cards in the rack. If you think back to the last time you saw a rack of cards, you may remember ten, twenty, or even a hundred cards in the rack.

This is the time for a bold photo and a gripping headline. It’s also prudent to focus on the top half of the rack card first, since the cards are staggered in a metal rack, and each set of cards obscures a portion of the cards immediately above it. So focus your design on the first few inches at the top of the card.

Unlike a brochure, your card will be seen from a distance, surrounded by numerous other cards. So use color dramatically, and consider making a mock up and placing it in a card rack. This will help you see whether your design is eye catching from a distance and whether it stands out from a group of other rack cards.

Use the front of the card for the headline, photo, a call to action (or an offer), and contact information. On the back you can include a list of benefits (to encourage the viewer to buy your product or service). You may even want to include a map to your establishment. If your business is a restaurant, consider adding a menu on the back of the card.

In short, remember that a rack card has two sides when you are considering what to include and how to lay it out.

A Final Step

As with real estate, location is of prime importance with rack cards. Think about where your promotion will be seen by the most people (in restaurants, hotels, airports, and such), and then distribute the cards far and wide. You’re looking to capture foot traffic. The good news is that unlike a sign, a rack card is meant to be taken. Your prospects may hold onto it as a reminder of what they want to do, or buy, in the near future.

Used with thought and marketing savvy, rack & door hanger cards can be inexpensive, and yet incredibly effective, tools for advertising your business.

Catalog Printing: Online Marketing May Not Be Enough

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Depending on what you read, direct mail is either a viable marketing tool when paired with online promotions or it is dying.

I prefer to believe the former, that direct mail marketing has an important place in informing and persuading customers. I just discovered a white paper written by Brown Printing Company that explains why. I think it is well written and its arguments are solid, so I want to share this monograph with you. It is called “The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix.”

The white paper starts with the following premise: “Every customer exists in the offline world, and reaching out to them with more tangible, physical marketing materials can solidify an existing relationship and convince prospects to take a closer look at your products.”

As presented in this white paper, here are a few goals attainable when you pair a print catalog with your other marketing materials, even if your business is entirely online.

Increase Traffic to Your Website

Print catalogs drive readers to vendors’ websites both for more information and also to buy products and services. US Postal Service surveys have confirmed this. Print catalog mailers see increased activity online after a promotional mailing.

A savvy print catalog mailer can showcase merchandise in lifestyle photographs and then direct readers to specific URLs for more information on selected products. Or they can use QR codes to direct interested print catalog readers to selected web pages. They can also use the opportunity to capture demographic information from the readers once they are online. So the goal is not to use print catalogs or online marketing alone but rather to use them in concert to improve the reach and effectiveness of both.

Lift Conversion Rates

“The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” notes that shoppers who go online to your website after having received a print catalog are more likely to buy (or become a repeat buyer) than those who come to your website via search engines, email, or display ads. They are more knowledgeable and interested when they arrive.

The article notes that “of the 10 e-commerce websites with the highest conversion rates, nine of them also mail catalogs.” Success speaks volumes.

Print catalogs bring higher quality visitors to e-commerce websites (i.e., those prospects more likely to buy, or “convert”). The tactile nature of catalogs combined with their visual appeal makes them more persuasive than online advertising. They also command more undivided attention. Print catalog readers are more likely to focus on the catalogs in an undisturbed environment, in contrast to computer users who multitask and therefore divide their time between reading sales promotions and engaging in other online activities.

Moreover, since catalogs hold a powerful appeal for readers, your company can tell a story about your merchandise that grabs a reader’s interest, making price less of a determining factor in buying than the compelling nature of your brand. Customers spend more and then come back to buy your products or services again and again, thus increasing their lifetime value to your business.

Attract New Customers

“The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” also includes the following facts about print catalog “open rates” vs. email “open rates”:

“The ‘open rate’ of direct mail, including catalogs, is 79 %.” (DMA 2011 Annual Fact Book)

“The clickthrough rate for online display ads is below 1%. The average marketing email has an open rate around 23% and a clickthrough rate around 5.4%.” (based on Epsilon/ECC’s Email Trends and Benchmarks Study)

If prospects to whom you have emailed your marketing materials don’t see them either because their spam filters have deleted them or because these prospects are inundated with online mail, then your offer goes unnoticed. In contrast, print catalog readers come to your website ready to research products and buy them.

The Wisdon of Multi-Channel Marketing

People buy more when targeted through more than one medium. Pairing online marketing with a print catalog can increase the average spend of your new clients.

Here are two more compelling quotes from “The Top 4 Signs You Should Add a Catalog to Your Marketing Mix” proving the efficacy of catalogs:

“Opinion Research Groups…revealed that 43% of the retailer’s shoppers used multiple channels, and they accounted for 66% of its sales.”

“The McKinsey study ‘Steering Customers to the Right Channels’ found that multichannel customers spend 20% to 30% more than single-channel ones.”

The more channels through which customers can interact with your brand and buy your merchandise and services, the more money they will spend.


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