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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 January, 2013

Commercial Printing: Optimizing Photos in Photoshop

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

I’ve been doing some consulting recently, helping a designer prepare photographs for a personal history print book. The photos are quite old, from World War II. This is the designer’s first exposure to photo preparation. He is changing careers. Although he is learning the techniques rapidly, this will be a trial by fire due to the work needed. My task is to teach him what he needs to know and oversee the photo manipulation.

The Process of Optimizing Photos

I have suggested that the designer (let’s call him Bill) follow a protocol to make photo preparation more routine. This should speed up the process, and make it more intuitive. After all, there are a lot of photographs to process.

I suggested the following workflow.

  1. Change color space from “RGB” to “Grayscale.”
  2. Scale and crop photo to final reproduction dimensions.
  3. Ensure that photo is 300 dpi at final size.
  4. Use cloning tool to correct small imperfections, such as dust spots.
  5. Adjust levels or curves to ensure a wide range of tones.
  6. Lighten the photo slightly to compensate for dot gain.
  7. Use unsharp masking in the filters menu to sharpen the image.

I read once that this series of steps would correct most problems with almost 95 percent of the photos a designer will need to manipulate.

I would add one further approach to the photos, given the massive number for this particular print book. I call it “triage,” from the medical term referencing the decisions for treatment based on the severity of the wound. If you are preparing photos for a brochure, this will be less important, since you will probably have only a handful to correct. But you have 50, 100, or more photos, it will be important to decide whether an individual photo is worth correcting. If it has major flaws (not enough tones from the lightest lights to the darkest darks, tears or scratches across faces or other detailed portions of the image, and so forth), you will need to invest a huge amount of time in a single photo. If you are batch processing 50 photos, you can’t necessarily afford to get stuck on one photo. You need to ask yourself whether it’s worth fixing the photo or whether it is a better use of your time to find another.

So to expand a bit on the photo processing list, here are some thoughts:

Color Space

Normally you will receive digitally scanned photos in RGB mode. However, if you will hand them off to a digital or offset commercial printing vendor, you will need to convert the images to CMYK (4-color process). To allow for the best reproduction, it’s best to keep images in RGB mode until the end of the process and then convert them to CMYK. On the other hand, if you will be producing black-only halftones (which is what my client is producing), change the color space from RGB to Grayscale first. You’ll get a clearer view of what you’re doing, since images can look very different in black and white than in color. The grayscale command is in the image menu under “mode.”

Scale and Crop

It’s best to come at least close to the final size and cropping when you place a Photoshop TIFF image in InDesign. And remember to avoid (like the plague) increasing the size of an image.


Assume that you will need twice the custom printing vendor’s halftone line screen’s worth of pixel information in a photo. If your printer is using a 150 lpi line screen for halftones, make sure your photos will be at 300 dpi resolution (at the final printed size). Otherwise pixels may be visible.


Use the clone tool in the vertical menu on the left side of the Photoshop pasteboard. It’s called the “clone stamp tool,” and it is about halfway down the series of tools. On the top horizontal menu, look for “opacity.” If you’re worried about damaging the photo, you can work gradually to correct flaws by reducing the opacity of this tool. Option click on a spot you want to use as source material to cover a flaw. Then point the cursor at the destination (the flaw) and click and draw. You will be drawing with the pixels you had selected, effectively covering the “destination” area with the “source” pixels.

Levels and Curves

Books could be written about these tools. Research them on the Internet. Your goal should be to give an image a wide selection of tones from black (if you’re working in grayscale, like my consulting client) through the dark grays, mid-tone grays, light grays, and white. Avoid abrupt changes in tone (they appear as spikes in the “histogram,” a graph that shows how many pixels of each grayscale tone a photo contains).

Lighten for Dot Gain

Ink spreads on paper as it flows into the fibers. In addition, your LCD monitor will make photos appear lighter than they will print. So compensate a bit by lightening your photos prior to handing off your job to your custom printing supplier. If you have any concerns, send sample photos to your printer and ask for advice.

Unsharp Masking

Unsharp masking (found in the “filter” menu under “sharpen”) makes images appear sharper (less blurry) by accentuating the tonal difference between light and dark pixels. Too much adds artifacts and halos. This looks painfully bad. You have three variables for unsharp masking: amount, radius, and threshold. Check online for starting values (i.e., amount: 75, radius: 1, and threshold: 10, as noted in one online tutorial by Simon Mackie for “soft subjects”). Experiment. If you see graininess or halos, you’ve gone too far, so back off.

Then save the image as a TIFF file.

Custom Printing: What to Print on Your 3D Printer

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Real-life stories about 3D custom printing are beginning to resemble science fiction. They’re also beginning to reflect deeper questions about what 3D printing will be good for and in what directions the technology might progress.

I recently read two short articles in Digital Trends about this new technology (“Nokia releases free case designs you print yourself—3D printer sold separately” by Joshua Sherman and “A $300k 3D-printed burger exists, because why not?” by Natt Garun). Both raise compelling issues.

Nokia’s Phone Case

To quote the aforementioned article, “Nokia has released the 3D specs for its Lumina 820 shell, allowing anyone with the right tools to create a 3D case for their phone.”

I think Nokia’s releasing these specs reflects three goals on their part:

  1. To embrace a technology Nokia believes will be significant within the near future.
  2. To present Nokia as being technologically savvy (and thus to increase brand awareness: i.e., marketing).
  3. To have fun (i.e., to position Nokia as being “cool”: i.e., marketing).

I know I sound cynical. But companies don’t spend money to link themselves with a new technology in their customers’ minds unless they believe the technology will prosper. So I see this nod to 3D custom printing by Nokia as portending a bright future for 3D printing.

Moreover, the Digital Trends article by Joshua Sherman notes that:

“In reality, anyone can already make a case for their phone if they really wanted, but the process would be extremely difficult as you’d need to (probably through trial and error) make a case based on your own measurements, and not those from the manufacturer.”

Think about it. Companies (and even entire governments) work hard to keep proprietary information under wraps (including blueprints, videos, and computer code). Acquiring information used to avoid the trial-and-error process of making something yourself dramatically empowers the end user. Being able to print out your own phone case (if you have the reasonably inexpensive printing equipment) changes the landscape of retail sales. Think of all the clear plastic bubble packages containing colorful phone cases that will no longer need to be shipped from the Far East to Target, Best Buy, and Walmart.

The Digital Trends article goes on to say:

“It won’t be long until communities play with the design to make their very own cases with crazy things like E Ink displays built into them, crazy new colors and designs, or something even more amazing.”

In the past, if you acquired digital source code, you could mock-up, duplicate, and distribute a computer program that someone else had toiled countless hours to initially create (they called this industrial espionage). Or, if a government acquired blueprints or video of an enemy’s stealth bomber, it could create its own version of the aircraft and thus level the playing field (or battlefield).

But acquiring freely distributed source code to create an “object” from a custom printing device goes a step further. And given the propensity of hackers to alter computer source code to tailor digital information to their own needs, it is clear that digital specifications for objects like this Nokia phone case will be hacked, altered, and customized.

I don’t think this is necessarily bad. I don’t even think that giving away proprietary information is necessarily bad. It just changes the landscape of retail sales, potentially eliminating brick-and-mortar stores and warehouses, and bringing “object creation” into the home.

After all, in 1987 the Macintosh II and the first generation of Linotronic RIPs and imagesetters brought typesetting and design together, took them out of printing plants and design studios, and placed them squarely on your desktop. Did that mean that every secretary was as good a designer as Herb Lubalin?

And then the Internet made news and classified advertising “want to be free”–until people started to realize that you get what you pay for, and digital information resources started to erect paywalls to charge for their services.

So the essence of my argument is that giving away specifications allowing individuals to produce their own commodities clearly will change commerce.

3D Hamburgers

To quote from the second article, “A $300k 3D printed burger exists, because why not?”:

“In the future, cows and pigs may be roaming free now that we’ve got a 3D printer along the way that’s capable of spitting out slabs of edible meat.”

This quote refers to Modern Meadow, a startup that fuses “the process of bioprinting with edible food.” Granted, this is an expensive process at the moment (it will become less expensive over time, just as other economies of scale have brought down the cost of other manufacturing processes). It is also reminiscent of work scientists have been doing to print actual body organs with specialized stem cells (which is what Modern Meadow does). The new part of the paradigm is the concept of printing food.

The process is mind expanding. Those who condemn the slaughter of animals for food won’t have to settle for soy products like tofu. And algorithms could be written to increase or lessen the amount of fat in a piece of meat.

The Implications

Implications exceed anything your commercial printing supplier can offer. After all, we’ve gone way beyond printing text and images on a page using offset ink, toners, and inkjet ink. We’ve even moved beyond printing physical objects with layer upon layer of liquid plastic. Now we’ve entered into the realm of custom printing body parts that (hopefully) won’t be rejected by your immune system. And printing food that won’t make you sick (and that actually may be nutritious, tasty, and safe). Wow.

Commercial Printing: More Solutions for Problem Photos

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

In life, challenges seem to come in waves, so I haven’t been surprised lately as a number of clients have had problems with photographs to be used in their custom printing jobs.

The issues have generally focused on how to make bad photos usable or, more specifically, what to do with photos with insufficient image resolution.

The ideal situation would be to have a photo that has twice the line screen’s worth of image data. For instance, if your commercial printing vendor will use a 150-line-per inch halftone screen, and your image is the same size as the final printed product (with no reduction or enlargement), your target would be 300 dpi or ppi (150 x 2).

But sometimes you just don’t have that photo.

What Not to Do: Don’t Upsample, Ever

I once had a client for whom I was designing a CD jacket. He wanted a particular photo. I only had a 72 dpi version. I enlarged the photo and resampled it, creating a CD-sized image (approximately 5” square). I used Photoshop’s “Gaussian Blur” to blur the very obvious pixelation, and then I resharpened the image using “Unsharp Mask.” The image was not crisp, and there were artifacts and halos in the photo. It was a serious problem. So don’t do this. Save yourself the heartache.

Make It Smaller

In another case recently, I suggested that a client make the photo smaller in her print book design. She is using a grid for her layout incorporating two wide columns and a smaller scholar’s margin. I pointed out that her readers would not see the flaws if she reduced the problem photos and placed them in one column or in the even narrower scholar’s margin. Certain small flaws are below the threshold of visibility. That is, damage that would be overly time consuming (or impossible) to fix in Photoshop might not be visible if the photo is reproduced at, say, 2” wide by 2” deep. In contrast, the same image might be totally unusable at 4” x 4” because (for instance) the tear in the archival photo, which you unsuccessfully tried to fix in Photoshop, crosses someone’s face.

In short, use the limits of the human eye to your advantage. Also, consider the age of your readers (my eyes, at least, aren’t what they used to be).


I know I just emphatically said not to do this. As with everything else in life, rules are meant to be broken–in selected instances.

Let’s say you have a photo that you need to enlarge slightly for a custom printing job. The key word is “slightly.”

An article I read recently suggests using PhotoZoom Pro2 by BenVista or Genuine Fractals by onOne Software. I know nothing about either, but it’s a start for your research online. Both allow you to upsample images with very little loss of quality.

Another protocol mentioned in the same article just uses Photoshop to enlarge the photo.

  1. Open the “Image Size” window.
  2. Check “Resample Image.”
  3. Choose “Bicubic Smoother” from the options under “Resample Image.”
  4. Change the “Document Size” option to “Percent.”
  5. Choose your target resolution (such as 300 pixels per inch).
  6. Type anywhere from “105 to 110 percent,” and click OK.
  7. Do this multiple times to enlarge the photo incrementally.

This actually works. I have done it myself. Be careful, though, and check the image at high resolution to confirm its quality (and lack of pixelation). Start with a high quality image (with only one flaw: the fact that it’s just not quite big enough). Other flaws will be magnified, so I’d use this quick fix only in a dire emergency.

Make It Artsy

I had another client ask me recently about using images shot with a cell phone at 72 dpi for a print book cover. I said no, absolutely not.

However, I did made a suggestion. My client could use multiple small photos for the print book cover, or he could add artsy screens to the low resolution images. For instance, a rough mezzotint screen of fine dots (like a Seurat pointillist painting) would totally stylize the image in Photoshop. It would no longer be a “photographic likeness.” It would be art. It would be a mood piece.

Play with the filters in Photoshop. Consider such options as “Fresco,” Cutout,” or “Dry Brush.” With each filter, your flawed image will take on a different emotional tone. It will be more like a painting than a photo. This can wipe out a lot of flaws—or at least obscure them from the average reader’s eye.

Custom Printing: A 3D Printing Primer

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

What does the term “printing” really encompass? What are the boundaries of the word?

I wrote an article over a year ago about a device that dropped water in a pattern from a certain height. You could see an image for a few seconds before the water disappeared. I believe it was a clock, so the image was the changing digital numbers of the time of day.

A few months ago I wrote another article about three-dimensional printers. In fact, I recently saw a video of a 3D printer (similar to an inkjet printer, but spraying layer upon layer of polymer material rather than ink to finally build a three-dimensional object rather than print an image on paper). The process is improving, and prices are dropping. I see references to this transformative technology almost daily.

What Is 3D Custom Printing?

Another term for 3D printing is “additive manufacturing.” It is not new. In fact, the concept has been around since the ’80s. Additive manufacturing is based on the building up of successive layers of material to create an object or a part of an object. Digital information (cross sections of an object rendered in CAD/CAM software) controls the process; hence, the object can be altered from one “print” to the next.

The video I saw on YouTube showed the creation of a baseball bat using a desktop 3D printer. The first part of the film involved its creation; the second part involved using the polymer (or resin) bat to hit objects of increasing size and hardness in order to prove that the additive-manufactured baseball bat had weight and durability.

“Subtractive manufacturing” is the opposite of additive manufacturing. This is the more common technology, and it involves cutting, drilling, milling, and grinding to remove (rather than add) material. In auto manufacturing, for instance, many component parts are “machined” or “tooled” from metal and then assembled into a car.

Granted, subtractive processes can be automated and controlled using digital information as well, and additive processes can include pouring or injecting material (such as molten metal or liquid plastic) into molds.

So What Makes 3D Custom Printing Different?

Whether you’re cutting or drilling metal or wood, you need expensive, heavy machinery. Accountants distribute the cost of the machinery across the thousands of copies produced (usually multiple copies of the same object). You make a lot of metal bolts or car parts, and the cost of the equipment eventually gets distributed evenly (and in small amounts) among thousands of copies of the same thing.

In some ways we can compare this to offset commercial printing, in which a lot of time and money go into the set-up, or make-ready, processes and the unit cost only comes down as you print thousands of copies of the same brochure, flyer, or print book.

This is also true for metal or plastic parts poured or injected into molds. Only after you have made thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies of the same part does the process pay for the creation of the machines that do the work.

But with the newer technology of digitally controlled 3D printing, you have equipment that is comparatively inexpensive to purchase, that will sit on a desktop, and that will produce a different item each time you hit “print.” Changes within the digital programming can immediately yield changes in the output. It’s more like digital printing of a brochure, in which the HP Indigo, iGen, or NexPress can print a different brochure each time it delivers a printed piece.

How Can 3D Printing Be Used?

Wikipedia lists “jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, graphic information systems, and civil engineering,” among other fields. Basically, the list is endless.

Moreover, 3D custom printing can democratize manufacturing. Back in colonial times (in Williamsburg, VA, for instance), “coopers” made barrels from start to finish in their small shops. Gunsmiths made flintlock muskets in the same way, from start to finish, by themselves.

Over the years, to speed up production and spread costs over multiple jobs, money was poured into building factories and heavy equipment. Items started to be made in assembly-line fashion. Granted, there were limited options, but items could be made inexpensively. In direct contrast to this approach, additive manufacturing can now create different parts for everyone just by changing the digital information from which the job is “printed.”

Additive printing holds the promise of bringing manufacturing back into smaller local shops and perhaps even right into your own home. If you need something, you can print it out yourself (or the pieces needed for its assembly). Or you can go down to the corner 3D printer. You don’t need to have parts shipped from China to be assembled in another plant across the country and then shipped to your home or local store. That’s what makes this exciting. That’s democratization of manufacturing.

New Uses for 3D Custom Printing Technology

Prototyping—Companies can quickly produce new items using powdered metals, resins, or polymers, along with casting materials such as sand, and then make necessary changes before committing to an entire production run of the item.

Rapid Manufacturing—In some cases, even the final component parts can be manufactured additively.

Mass Customization—This term has been used to describe infinitely variable, digitally printed marketing materials, in which each direct marketing piece matches the recipient’s personal needs. The same concept can be applied to additive manufacturing, in which customers can request changes to a prototype to meet their own needs.

Medical Items—This is where the technology soars into the realm of science fiction. As of 2012, biotechnology firms have been studying the potential for inkjet printing actual body parts and organs. In this case, layers of living cells would be sprayed onto a gel medium or sugar matrix. Picture a machine that can print a hip replacement. This is actually in process—now.

The Future Is Now

So printing is much more than putting ink or toner on paper. I think there will be a lot to say about 3D printing in future issues of the PIE Blog. So stay tuned. The future is now.

Commercial Printing: More Photo Optimization Ideas

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

I want to expand a bit upon my last PIE Blog article regarding preparing photographs for offset and digital custom printing. As I had mentioned, I have been helping a new designer prepare photographs for a personal history print book about World War II.

The designer has been sending me the photographs as he has completed them, based on the steps I had suggested in the prior article. About half of the photos have been great. By this I mean that the photos the designer has sent me for approval have included a wide range of grays (this is a black-only World War II print book, so all photos have been converted to grayscale images). In the best of the photos, you can see an indication within the “histogram” (a graph accessible through the “Levels” dialog box) that there are pixels in all tonal levels from white to black. This is indicated by a sweeping “mountain range” (by way of analogy) within the histogram, starting with the pure black pixels and extending to the pure white pixels.

(If you’re working in full color instead of black and white, you will also see this histogram, since this graph actually represents not actual shades of gray but brightness levels, or values from light to dark.)

The lower the humps of the “mountain range,” the fewer the pixels of that particular brightness level. If the humps of the graph are high, this indicates more pixels in a certain area (highlights, for instance, in a high-key photo, or shadows in a low-key photo). If there are gaps in the histogram, this means there are no pixels of that particular value. If there are spikes, that indicates an abrupt shift from one value to another.

Sample Photos from the Designer

Some of the photos the World War II print book designer sent me for review were either flat (gray overall, lacking in contrast), or they had pure white areas that appeared to have been painted onto the photo with white paint (or White-Out, for those who remember typewriters). Other photos had blotchy areas (obvious areas of lighter or darker gray that did not blend into their surroundings).

To teach the designer how to best use Photoshop to correct these problematic images, I had him open the photo itself for visual reference, the “histogram” in “Levels,” and the “Info” palette under the “Windows” menu. I wanted the designer to be able to balance an aesthetic, visual judgment of an image with the technical pixel information in both the histogram and the Info palette.

Ultimately, the picture has to look right, visually and intuitively. That’s the real goal. The Info palette (which shows the actual highlight or shadow value–i.e., an 8 percent printer’s halftone dot in the highlights of someone’s face) and the histogram in the Levels dialog box are merely tools to help judge the quality of a photographic image.

What I Suggested (The Goals)

I asked the designer to look for spikes (pixel values that extended to the top of the histogram) and gaps in the histogram. I said these were less than ideal and that they would show up as posterization (visible stair-stepping of values rather than a gradual blending of white into gray into black).

I also suggested that he consider what was most important in an image. For instance, by darkening a background (one photo had the leaves and trees of a wooded area in the background), he could preserve the detail in the clothing of the people in the foreground. Since the people were more important than the trees, I encouraged him to do this. (Sacrificing the background detail brought out detail in the foreground.)

I also encouraged the designer to darken the light tones in the people’s clothing and faces to preserve detail in these areas in order to give them a sense of depth and solidity. The designer’s first attempts included white faces that lacked the details of the cheekbones, eye sockets, etc. Other photos had subjects in clothing that was almost completely white. By darkening the clothing slightly, the designer could give more of a three-dimensional, sculptural sense to the clothing, making the subjects of the photos look real and less flat.

The Best Photoshop Tools for This Work

I asked the designer to try both “Curves” and “Levels” to adjust the tonal values in the photos. Curves would allow him to isolate areas within an image so he could increase the midtones while maintaining the quarter tones and three-quarter tones.

I asked the designer to pay close attention to the value of pixels, monitoring the grayscale changes in the “Info” palette while observing the effects of these changes on the image itself. I wanted him to make sure there was some tonal information even in the lighter areas, and to avoid making any area completely white.

I also suggested that the designer consider using Photoshop’s “masking tools and techniques” to isolate entire regions within a photo so that they might remain untouched while the designer altered other areas with the Levels or Curves tools.

What You Can Learn from This Designer’s Photos

Photoshop is a comprehensive program about which many thick books have been written. It is very powerful, but it takes a long time to learn. I think you may find that a close study of its tools and techniques will be rewarding and will empower you, greatly benefiting your photo manipulation work. In addition, as questions arise for you, feel free to ask the prepress managers at your custom printing supplier for advice and help.

Postcard Printing: The Workhorse of Direct Mail

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Here are some things to think about when designing and printing postcards. A print brokering client of mine just ordered some, and as I reviewed the specifications, I thought you might find this list useful as well.

Why Send a Postcard?

Postcards may just be the most efficient, cost-effective workhorses of the ink-on-paper marketing set. Here’s why?

  1. Postcards are cheaper to mail than letters. The US Post Office website lists a postage rate of $.32 for a postcard up to 6” wide by 4.25” high. A one ounce letter starts at $.45. The difference in price between a postcard and a letter can add up quickly for a large mailing.
  2. Even large postcards are inexpensive. An 11.5” x 6.125” postcard, according to the same USPS website, costs $.45 to mail (the same as a letter).
  3. Unlike a letter, a postcard is already open when your prospect receives it. This can give you immediate access to his or her attention. Think of the postcard as a small billboard.
  4. If you want to collect information from your prospects, a fold-over postcard may be an efficient way to do so. When your prospect receives a fold-over postcard (which, depending on the weight, might cost a little more to mail), he or she can tear off one of the panels, fill in the requested information, and mail it back to you.
  5. Given the myriad ways you can design your postcard, you can take advantage of its size and your use of color to make the direct mail piece stand out from the other mail your prospect receives. Think “big” and “bright.” Inspire a sense of urgency, and include a call to action. This is your opportunity to present a professional image and reinforce the credibility of your company. To do this, choose readable and dynamic typefaces. Use bold headlines and simple bullet points to maintain a good flow in the text and design.
  6. You can also tie your postcard into an online marketing effort. Print the personalized URL (PURL) you want your prospect to access right on the postcard. Or use a QR code and have your prospect access your website (perhaps a video of your product or service) using a smartphone and QR app.

Some Things to Consider When Printing Postcards

Here are the US Post Office regulations for a postcard:

  1. To qualify for mailing at the First-Class Mail postcard price, your piece must be:
  2. Rectangular
    At least 3.5” high by 5” long by 0.007” thick
    Not more than 4.25” high by 6” long by 0.016” thick
    Otherwise, it will be priced at the “letter rate.”

  3. If you mail the postcards via Standard Rate Postage, there’s no discount for postcards vs. letters. You only get this discount with First Class Mail.
  4. Make sure your postcard does not exceed 6.125” high by 11.5” wide by 1/4” thick. Otherwise, you’ll pay the “flat” rate (the rate for larger letters).
  5. Make sure your postcard is not too thin (note the thicknesses above). Too thin a postcard will get caught in the postage equipment and will be torn up. Your message will never reach your prospect.

Here are some postcard printing considerations:

  1. If your postcard printing run is short (let’s say up to 500 copies), you may consider a digital printing run. Choose a good piece of digital printing equipment, though, to make sure you get a stellar printed product. I’d suggest a HP Indigo or Kodak NexPress. The NexPress can even print a textured coating on the front of the postcard.
  2. Remember that on a digital press, you may not be able to coat the postcard (depending on the technology used). You needn’t worry, though. Most digital printing can withstand the abuses of going through the mail unprotected. In contrast, if your press run is longer and you opt for offset custom printing, you will probably need to pay extra for a UV coating or aqueous coating on the front of the postcard to keep the ink from scuffing in transit. In either case, discuss this with your commercial printing supplier.
  3. Remember to talk with both your printer and the US Postal Service “mailpiece design analyst” to make sure the paper stock you have chosen is thick enough to travel through the mail machines.
  4. If you will be producing a variable data marketing initiative, discuss with your custom printing vendor the format in which your database should be provided (i.e., Excel, comma or tab delimited, etc.).

Short Run Book Printing: Add a CD in a Box or Sleeve

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

A commercial printing client of mine wants to produce 50 or 100 copies of a 352-page family history book. For those beyond the family who don’t want to pay the somewhat expensive unit-cost for such a short press run (approximately $70.00 per copy), my client wants to provide a CD of the book.

I just received prices for this component of the job. The CD ranges from about $4.00 to $5.00 for a 50-copy to 150-copy press run, and the accompanying 4-page booklet ranges from $2.70 to $4.20 for the same number of copies, including assembly of the job.

Since it is such an inexpensive portion of the entire project, I wanted to suggest that you give thought to adding a CD when you produce a print book.

Things to Consider When Adding a CD to Your Print Book

  1. A CD duplication run involves several components. First you will need a PDF of the print book. It need not be as high resolution as the press-ready PDF from which your custom printing supplier will produce the hard copy of the job. In fact, a 72dpi copy (a copy optimized for screen viewing) will suffice. This is your master copy.
  2. Consider whether you will need CD duplication or DVD duplication. Your commercial printing vendor can tell you. It will be based on the amount of data you will need to save on the disc. Unless you are adding multimedia capabilities (such as sound or video), I would think that a CD would suffice (700 MB of data), particularly since you will be saving a lower resolution version of the InDesign print book file as your master PDF file.
  3. Will you want to insert the CD into a sleeve attached to the interior back cover? If you can’t immediately picture this, look at computer books in a bookstore. Many of these include a CD of the book in a plastic sleeve attached to the inside back cover.
  4. Or will you want to insert the CD into a plastic jewel case? If so, you might want to print an additional 4-page slip sheet describing the CD. This may be helpful, since a CD in a jewel case will travel separately from the book, unlike the plastic sleeve that’s actually attached to the book.
  5. If you produce a booklet to go in the jewel case, here are some starting points. You might want to use a 100# gloss text sheet, print it via offset or digital technology, with bleeds, and have it folded into a four-page, 5” x 5” print book.
  6. Make sure your custom printing supplier includes a label on the CD. My personal preference would be for the printer to inkjet the label directly onto the plastic CD. This way it won’t come off and get stuck in your optical drive.
  7. Make sure that if you go ahead and order the CD, jewel case, and print booklet, your custom printing supplier includes the cost of assembly (affixing the label to the CD and then inserting the CDs and booklets into the jewel cases).
  8. Consider how many copies you will need. In the case of my client, the options will be 50, 100, or 150 copies, all of which would necessitate printing the CD booklet digitally. If you have a longer press run, you may want to explore offset printing the booklet.

Benefits of Adding a CD to Your Book

If you include a CD with your print book you will provide the reader with a number of benefits.

  1. Readers who get both the print book and the CD will have two ways to access the “content.” Some people prefer ink on paper and like to read a book from cover to cover. Others will benefit from the “search” or “find” functions available on PDFs. Those researching specific topics in your book can jump from one reference point to another quickly in this way. Then they can either read the pages on their computer or print them out on a laser printer. Of course, they can also email the PDF to their tablet computer.
  2. Beyond the “search” function and the ability to read the content on paper or online, a CD will increase the value of your print book project if you choose to add hyperlinks to additional media. This will probably require a larger storage medium (a DVD rather than a CD). If you include additional text resources, photos, interviews (MP3 audio only or sound plus video), you will provide a multifaceted learning experience. Your print book combined with additional text, sound, photos, and video will give your readers many more ways to experience and learn from the content you are providing. And this added value can be reflected in the price you charge.

Large Format Printing: “People Cut-outs”

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Have you ever seen a street vendor offering to take photos of passersby with a large format print of the president? Or maybe a celebrity or movie star?

Why do they look so real when you see the printed photos? It’s like the president is just standing there with you.

How These Large Format Prints Are Made

I thought about this as my fiancee and I were installing standees at movie theaters. There was a special kind of standee called a “photo booth,” made to entice the viewer to step into the scene and have his or her photo taken. In the particular standee I’m thinking of, you could sit on a velvet covered throne with Johnny Depp as the Dark Shadows vampire standing right behind you.

Upon close observation I could see that an image of the character had been printed via offset lithography. (I could see the rosette patterns indicative of four process color screens turned at slight angles to one another.) The flat, untrimmed press sheet had been laminated to a thicker sheet of chipboard (the kind of cardboard you find on the back of notepads, memo pads, and personalized pads). I suppose that corrugated board could have been used as a backing instead of chipboard. Anything rigid would have worked just fine.

Once the printed press sheet had been glued to the backing board stock for durability (and to make the image stand up straight), cutting tools had been used to cut along the perimeter of the image and remove everything outside its silhouette. In the case of the Dark Shadows standee photo booth, everything that was not Johnny Depp had been cut away.

My assumption is that either a knife-based mechanical tool controlled by digital data so as to precisely cut the outline of the figure, or a laser-based mechanical tool similarly controlled by digital data, had made the cuts on some sort of routing equipment.

I assumed that the Dark Shadows cut-out of Johnny Depp had been printed via offset lithography because of the rosette patterns in the image and also the printer’s marks (screen builds, targets, crop marks, register marks, etc.) on the edges of the mounted press sheet. This made sense to me, since a huge number of copies of the standee had to be prepared for theaters across the country.

However, for much shorter commercial printing runs I would assume that flat-bed UV inkjet presses (such as the Inca) can be used for custom printing just a few people cut-outs. In addition, if certain roll-fed inkjet printers include inline, knife-based cutting equipment run by digital information, perhaps the UV flatbed presses can be fitted to do the same.

So in either case, it looks like the approach would be as follows:

  1. Print the image.
  2. Laminate the large format print to chipboard or corrugated board.
  3. Use a router to cut out the image.
  4. Then add an easel to make the large format print a free-standing “people cut-out.”

Why People Cut-outs Are Effective

I have a theory about this. When I was learning to paint in oils and acrylics, my fine arts teachers told me to never paint from photos because they were “flat.” The photographic images lacked a sense of depth. My painting teachers said that if I painted from photos, my paintings would reflect that “flatness” and would not give a sense of depth and dimension.

So my theory is that since a photograph collapses the normal sense of depth and dimension that you see in real life using your two eyes, if you take a photo of your spouse with a cut-out standee of Johnny Depp as a vampire, the photo you take will eliminate the spatial sense of depth, and your spouse and Johnny Depp will both appear on the same flat “plane.” In this way it will look like your wife or husband is next to a vampire.

This is just my theory, based on what I know about the human eye, optical perception, commercial printing, and photography, but I think it may be a valid theory nevertheless.

Custom Printing: Addressing Problem Photos

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

I may have mentioned this before. I’m brokering the custom printing for a job with problematic photos. They’re from World War II. The job is a short-run book, but this is really irrelevant because the information I’m sharing here can be used for any commercial printing job involving photos: a brochure, a book, a calendar, anything.

The Problems with the Photos

I like to call my approach “triage.” It’s a medical term. In this case, it means identifying each photo’s problems and making a decision as to whether to use the photo or find a better one.

There are approximately 1,000 photos from which the designer can select images for this book. They fall into categories (given my “triage” approach). Some are photos of people, some are of objects (World War II trains, buildings and such), and some are of documents (passports, letters, and so forth).

  1. Many of the photos of people and buildings have dark shadows and blown-out highlights (i.e., bright white or heavy black with few levels of gray).
  2. Many of the scanned photos of people and things have patterns in the background: either a disintegration of the emulsion of the photo or a reproduction of the pattern or weave of the paper on which the photographic print had been produced.
  3. A number of photos of documents have the pattern of the document within the photo (the background of the passports, for instance). This may cause undesirable moire patterns when the printer applies halftone screening to the images. Folds within the paper documents are unsightly as well.
  4. A number of photos are of military insignia from World War II. Their backgrounds can be irrelevant or distracting.

These are just some of the flaws.

The Solutions I have Proposed

Here’s how I have encouraged the author, commercial printing vendor, and designer to proceed:

  1. I have suggested a cream uncoated stock for the custom printing job. The cream color of the paper will tone down (or minimize) the contrast between the darkest blacks in the image and the brightest whites. It will also give an archival look to the images (a little like a duotone, with the paper being one color and the black toner being the other color. (This is a short-run book, so it will be produced on an HP Indigo digital press.) The reduced contrast combined with the roughness and porosity of the uncoated paper will further minimize the visible flaws in the photos. (One way to grasp this approach would be to consider its opposite. Producing the print book on a bright white gloss coated press sheet would greatly magnify the flaws. The printing substrate’s gloss and brightness, and the contrast between the image and the substrate, would draw the reader’s eye toward all surface imperfections in the photos.)
  2. I have arranged for the commercial printing supplier to produce several samples of the photos on the printing stock that will be used (80# Finch Vanilla text). We will therefore see exactly what the photos will look like printed in the Indigo toner (IndiChrome inks) using the exact press sheet (a benefit of a digital job rather than an offset print job).
  3. I will ask the printer to analyze the photos the designer submits to determine the optimum image highlight and shadow for the chosen text paper and the printing technology (perhaps a range between a 7 percent halftone dot for highlights and a 93 percent halftone dot for shadows). The printer can also comment on the gamma of the images (midtones and overall lightness of the image). Using these targets, the designer will be able to prepare photos that will be neither too light nor too dark.
  4. I suggested that the designer slightly blur (gaussian blur in Photoshop) the documents with patterned backgrounds and then sharpen them (unsharp masking in Photoshop). This should minimize the chance for conflict between the image background patterns and the halftone dot patterns. We can also ask for Indigo proofs of problematic photos on the Finch Vanilla text stock.
  5. For the stippling on the photos (the degraded photo emulsion), the designer can use the clone tool (in Photoshop) to minimize the flaws. Reproducing (cloning) the undamaged parts of the image over the damaged areas may in some cases make problematic photos usable. (The goal will be to identify images that can be repaired quickly. Those that cannot should be replaced.)
  6. Levels or curves (in Photoshop) can be used to reduce the contrast in those photos with an overabundance of either black, or white, pixels.
  7. Military insignia can be silhouetted to remove cluttered or irrelevant backgrounds.
  8. When in doubt, the designer can choose a replacement photo.
  9. The designer can make a decision about a photo and then insert it into the book design for review. The author can see how the photo will be used and then decide whether it’s worth the expense (in some cases) of applying lots of Photoshop repair time to the particular image.

These are just some thoughts and approaches, but they should minimize the flaws while giving the print book an archival look. And here, really, is the crux of the matter. The author wants the antique photos from World War II to look like they’re from World War II. He wants an archival look. Therefore, some flaws will not only be tolerable, but actually relevant, to the overall look of the finished print book. The images shouldn’t look like they were shot in the year 2012.

Custom Printing: Send New Years’ Holiday Cards

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Here’s an idea. Do something unique. Send your clients and vendors a New Year’s holiday card instead of a traditional, December-type card. Stand out from the crowd. Make your business memorable.

Some Overall Goals

  1. Consider why you’re doing this. Through the last two weeks of December your clients will probably receive a passel of cards from their vendors. In most cases, your clients and vendors will have been incredibly busy at this time, handling not only their personal holiday affairs but also an uptick in their workload. Sending a card that will arrive after their return from New Years’ partying will add focus to your missive. Your card will be unique.
  2. Showcase your custom printing work—indirectly. This is not the time for a hard sell. However, if your holiday card is tasteful, perhaps even upbeat, and beautifully produced on a rich, tactile paper stock, this says something about you as well. You understand details. You appreciate quality.
  3. Show that you care. The fact that you are sending a physical card that you have taken the time and expense to produce, and that you have hand written, will show that you value your clients.
  4. Don’t forget your vendors. Remember to send them cards, too.

Some Design Suggestions

  1. Use bright colors and an upbeat theme. Winter is cold and dark. Make sure your holiday card reflects optimism, and a focus on the good things coming in the new year. Consider full-color printing for the card. Choose a brightly colored envelope, perhaps red, lime green, or orange, to make your card stand out in your client’s stack of mail.
  2. Choose a size that will be unique. However, check online to make sure your chosen size does not incur a US Post Office surcharge. For instance, square or oversized envelopes will trigger an additional fee. This starts to add up if you’re sending a lot of cards. The US Post Office has abundant information online to help you get the right aspect ratio (ratio of the width to the height of the envelope), size, weight, etc., to keep your postage costs under control. It’s possible to be both unique and economical.

Some Custom Printing Considerations

  1. Choose your envelope first, and then determine the proper-sized enclosure. This way your custom print envelopes will be a standard size (i.e., cheaper than a converted envelope). If you design the card first, your envelope may need to be printed separately on a flat sheet, then die-cut, folded, and glued to create a finished envelope of the proper dimensions. Listings of envelope sizes and insert sizes can be found on the Internet. Look for the words “envelope size chart,” or check out commercial printing websites for dedicated envelope manufacturers. Remember to leave adequate room around the enclosure. One website I just read suggested making the enclosure 1/4” smaller (height and width) than the envelope. The goal is to leave enough room for the enclosure to slip in and out of the envelope easily without leaving too much space. The enclosure can actually get damaged if the envelope is too large.
  2. Consider unique paper stocks for both the card and the envelope. This might include coated and uncoated paper; special text stocks; or linen, laid, or speckled paper. Check custom printing suppliers’ paper sample books to make sure you can get holiday cards and envelopes that will match.
  3. Consider paper weights. A 28# envelope might suggest more formality or stature than a 24# envelope. A good rule of thumb is that 24# envelope stock is comparable to 60# offset or text paper, and 28# envelope stock is comparable to 70# offset or text paper.
  4. Consider a unique format. If all of the cards you have received are fold-over cards, you might want to design a holiday card printed on the front and back of a single sheet of heavy cover stock.

Ultimately, anything you send will show your clients and vendors that you appreciate them. After all, you took the time and expense to create, hand write, and send something personal.


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