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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 February, 2013

Commercial Printing: Five-Day USPS Delivery–Ouch

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I have concerns and questions about the effects of the upcoming change in postal service deliveries. On August 5, 2013, mail delivery will be cut from six days a week to five.

I understand the congressional mandate to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees (although I also believe this requirement does not pertain to any other government, or quasi-government, organization).

I also understand the need for the Post Office to be solvent (although I personally would pay more for services). But overall, this reduction in delivery days scares me. Here are a few reasons why.

Magazine Printing Schedules May Be Compromised

I spent over a decade consulting for an organization that publishes news magazines. Over this time, I became acutely aware of how magazine content stays in flux as long as possible to keep the news current (and keep the print advertisements coming in). But, for many periodicals, once the editorial and ad deadlines have closed, the magazine printing schedule runs like clockwork to ensure magazine delivery on Friday or Saturday, when the subscribers will have time to comfortably read and digest the material. Pushing delivery to Monday may change how the news content is taken in. Instead of being embraced as a recap of the prior week’s news, a magazine that arrives on Monday may be greeted by readers who have already moved on to the new week.

So the magazine printing businesses will need to close their issues earlier to complete production and get the magazines into the mail earlier (compromising coverage of the news), or they will need to deliver the periodicals on Monday or Tuesday.

Granted, a lot of magazines will move from Post Office delivery to private delivery firms. This will keep delivery schedules intact, but it may also raise costs, which could damage the viability of the periodicals.

Omitting weekend delivery of magazines may also affect shopping trips by readers interested in print advertising in these very magazines, and this may cause further erosion of print magazine advertising and a move toward Internet ads.

Will Magazines Be Processed Over the Weekend?

Here’s another concern. Will magazines entered into the mail stream over the weekend even be processed over the weekend, or will they be processed on Monday? Or, will there be slippage of extra processing work into Monday, as there often is over a holiday weekend? These are relevant questions that the USPS has not yet answered.

Will This Encourage More Magazines to Produce Online Issues Only?

In many cases print magazines have embraced digital technology to remain solvent. Having both print copies and digital distribution has made sense. But with a shift from six-day to five-day delivery, the digital edition of a magazine may be available a number of days before the print version lands on your door stoop. Will this further erode the distribution of print magazines? Will advertisers opt for the quickest distribution route and pull ads from print issues to place them in online news venues?

How Will This Affect Direct Mail Advertising?

Moving from six-day delivery to five-day delivery is a 16 percent decline. That’s simple math. However, the big question is whether this decline will affect direct mail package production and delivery. Will more businesses advertise online? Will direct mail packages disappear?

I’m actually quite hopeful in this area. Everything I’ve read recently has emphasized the effectiveness of printed marketing collateral. People seem to like its tangible nature. They often have so much junk mail in their email boxes that a few dramatic direct mail pieces can interest them far more than all of their email newsletters and ads.

But I’m not absolutely certain. This remains to be seen.

What About First Class Mail?

People seldom write letters by hand. In fact, if you want to show respect and appreciation after a job interview, send a hand-written thank-you note. So few people do this that it will set you apart from your competition. It shows class.

Will five-day delivery affect First Class Mail delivery? And if so, how?

Private Delivery Services

I had lunch today with the VP of a local, private delivery services, a friend of many years (we’ll call him George). We discussed this issue. Although his organization stands to benefit from the shift away from six-day delivery to five-day delivery, George made a good point. Private delivery firms such as his keep their prices low by delivering only to certain ZIP Codes. George delivers multiple bundled copies of a number of magazines, tabloids, and broadsheets to downtown locations (i.e., saturation-level), and then delivers fewer individual copies (one at a time), to selected suburban subscribers within a limited distance from the center of town. “We’re not the Post Office,” George said. “They can’t even do it for what they charge.” He made a good point.

The Rise of FedEx and UPS

FedEx and UPS are great. But I’m always surprised at how expensive they are. USPS prices almost always seem to be more reasonable. Will privatizing delivery services cause prices to rise further? Will this increased cost of doing business be the death knell for magazines and newspapers? Will it be so cheap to have only an online news presence that printed copies cease altogether?

The Business Case for Five-Day Delivery

The Post Office has been losing money for a long time. I can understand the push toward reduction of services or even privatization. I can even understand the push toward letting more efficient companies step in and fill the void. That’s the basis of capitalism. However, I’m just concerned about the magazines and newspapers.

Custom Printing: The Art and Craft of Letterpress

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

I saw a most heartening article today in the 2/4/13 called “Old Fashioned Printing Method Is Just Her Type.” It’s by Krys Stefansky of the Virginian-Pilot, and it extols the virtues of a slow, beautiful, custom printing process using oil-based ink on fine paper.

The article describes Joy Ragland’s journey of discovery. She was given an old letterpress, learned how to use it, and fell in love with the process. The story is heartening because in this age of digital media it’s nice to know that some people love the attention to detail and all the tactile qualities of letterpress.

What Joy Ragland Does

Joy Ragland “painstakingly hand-sets type from her growing collection of font styles—one itty-bitty letter and decorative detail at a time.” She prints short runs of stationery, note cards, coasters, business cards, bookmarks, gift tags, announcements, birth announcements, graduation announcements, and wedding invitations. Ragland has a viable clientele of those “who appreciate a beautiful font inked on quality paper.”

The Process of Letterpress Custom Printing

Letterpress is a relief process. The type and images rise above the non-image areas, and, when inked and pressed against the paper, the type and images leave both ink and a slight indentation in the paper. There is something very tactile and sensuous about the process and the product.

Ragland’s press is a clamshell platen press, which means the two elements of the press open and then come together much as a clam or other mollusk will open and close its shell. One side holds the slugs of type set by hand using a composition stick—one letter or ornament at a time—locked into a metal chase, or frame. The other side holds the paper. Bringing the two sides together in a commercial printing press such as this by turning wheels or pulling levers will create enough pressure to transfer the ink from the raised letters onto the printing paper, one sheet at a time.

Why Joy Ragland Loves Letterpress

For Joy Ragland it is a love born of a personal history of using her hands. She was raised by parents who kept sheep and grew their own vegetables. Her father was a blacksmith. Ragland knitted and sewed, and made pottery, prints, and jewelry.

She was given the 200-pound letterpress by a friend who had salvaged it from a college in West Virginia. (Presses like these were common in shop classes and art classes during the 1960s and 1970s. Many came from abroad—from countries like West Germany—while others were made in the United States.) Ragland had to first learn letterpress printmaking from diehard enthusiasts who have kept the art alive. For instance, she studied at the Augusta Heritage Festival and also at a hobby shop in Northern Virginia.

Once she knew what she was doing, Ragland had to rebuild parts of her own press, including changing the ink rollers and replacing the metal chases that lock in the pieces of type, as well as removing the rust that had frozen all moving parts of the press. She had to depend on contacts at hobby shops and time spent on the Internet.

For Ragland, the joy comes from “the problem solving, the experimenting and improvising…[and] working with luxurious papers and colors and seeing a finished stack of gorgeous printed cards.”

The Implications for Commercial Printing

I think the resurgence of letterpress printing reflects some very human needs:

  1. Letterpress is the most tactile and sensuous of all printing technologies. You can feel the indentations each letter made as it struck the paper. You can appreciate the surface formation and tooth of the printing stock as well as its color and finish. Letterpress straddles the boundary between fine art and communication. I think people need this is an increasingly virtual world.
  2. People also need to communicate in a personal way. When was the last time you wrote or received a hand-drafted letter or card? Receiving such a card or letter is an intimate experience because it is rare and because it shows how much time and attention someone spent selecting the piece and writing a note. It shows how much they value you. Email provides a far less personal vehicle for communication.
  3. People crave a sense of history. They often want to do something their parents or grandparents did, something artistic with their hands. It gives them a sense of continuity and connection with something larger than themselves, something extending back for generations.
  4. People need art. In addition to being tactile, letterpress is artistic. Think of the variety of letterforms within all the historic typefaces, as well as the viscous ink and the rough paper.

There is something very humanizing about letterpress. I think it will live on for generations.

Business Printing: Thoughts on Logo Use and Branding

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Many years ago when I was an art director, the firm I worked for commissioned a logo redesign by an outside designer. Then, to create a corporate identity using the logo design, my company brought the job in-house.

I assigned the branding job to my best designer. She had come to work for me straight out of college, and had been in her job for about six years. She was uncertain of her abilities with such a high-profile job. I told her I had the utmost confidence in her ability, and I encouraged her to break the job down in the following way to make it more manageable. You may find these suggestions useful in your own work, creating an identity package and related collateral for your own organization.

Collect Samples of Printed Collateral You Like

It’s always good to have a swipe file. After all, no design is truly new. All the better if you can grab several pieces from a company: perhaps a business card, an envelope, a sheet of letterhead, a brochure, and a larger work like an annual report.

Design magazines are useful, too. I get GD USA each month. This print magazine often showcases brochures, print books, websites, packaging, large format printing, etc., from various companies. It’s a great education in itself just studying all the photos, to see how other designers have produced coherent identity packages. Other design magazines I’ve found useful have included Print and Communication Arts.

In addition, you also might find it useful to buy a book on the fundamentals of design (grids, typefaces, white space, color usage, etc.). I’ve been in the field for 36 years and I still study the fundamentals. I make it a habit. It reminds me to focus on the few simple elements that underlie every great design.

Collect Samples of Custom Printing Work from Your Field

Samples of work you like are useful, but it’s important to also create your business identity within the context of other publications from your competitors. If you understand what they are doing graphically, you can make your work stand out while still retaining the flavor of the industry.

Collect Paper Samples and Color Swatches

It’s important to start your designs with a few things in mind, such as balance, eye movement, repetition, focus, and the hierarchy of importance. I usually start in black and white. When I like the direction a custom printing job design is taking, only then do I add color and consider paper choices.

Keeping coherence is important. I wouldn’t suggest printing most of your pieces on a white stock, for example, and then shifting the flow and printing a piece on a tan or vanilla stock. Keep ink color choices and paper colors and finishes for all of your organization’s publications in mind when you create your corporate identity. The goal is to make every commercial printing job recognizable as coming from your business.

Start with Drawings Before You Boot Up Your Computer

Having too many variables can be confusing. Personally, I usually start my design work by drawing out a few page spreads on a sheet of paper with a pen or pencil. These are sketches. I don’t commit much time to them, so I can throw all but the best in the trash. This loosens me up. Starting a design on a computer can sometimes lead to over-committing to a less desirable design option. This also keeps me focused on line, form, and balance before I introduce color into the design. You may want to try this.

Make Mock-ups of Two or Three Different Designs

I usually try to come up with a few different designs, perhaps a treatment that focuses on an image and then a type-only treatment, or a more modern and a more formal treatment. Giving the client, or the owner of your company, two or three different options is smart, particularly at the beginning, before you spend a lot of time going in one direction that may not be acceptable to the decision-makers. Make the mock-ups “finished” (or “polished”) enough to convey your goals, and make sure your boss knows you will be sharing your progress in various stages to ensure “buy-in.”

Design Multiple Items Together

It’s all too easy to make one item perfect and then find out your concept won’t work elsewhere. The treatment of a logo and corporate identity has to work in large and small formats (signage and business cards, for instance), in black and white and color. (Maybe you still need to fax information to clients. If so, your identity must be graphically sound in black ink or toner as well as in your chosen PMS corporate colors.) Also, since everything has to work together, designing an overall “look” for all of your custom printing jobs is prudent.

Spread Everything Out to See Whether Items Cooperate or Fight Each Other

Just as it makes sense, when you’re designing a print book, to produce laser copies of selected pages (cover, frontispiece, table of contents, dedication, and a few page spreads) to see whether there is coherence and flow in the overall work, it’s a good practice to spread your design mock-ups around on a table or on the floor to see how they look together.

You may find the computer more efficient. It depends on what you’re used to. But the idea of seeing everything together from a bird’s eye view bears thought.

Be Mindful; Look at Design Everywhere

Particularly while you’re doing a rebranding or corporate identity make-over, look closely at everything you see, from print design to web design to packaging. Look at billboards, magazine ads, brochures. Go into department stores and see how the large format printing, hang-tags, color usage, even the lighting, all go together to create a single unified whole. Let all of these observations work on your subconscious. When you like something you see, always ask yourself why it works. Deconstruct it. Look at the colors, typefaces–everything. See what you can learn and apply to your own rebranding project. Your final design package will be all the better for it.

Large Format Printing: Printing Bikinis and Houses

Monday, February 18th, 2013

In the last PIE Printing Blog article, I discussed novel uses for 3D custom printing, including the specifications Nokia has made available to enable phone owners to 3D-print their own phone cases, and a stem-cell 3D printing firm called Modern Meadow that 3D prints hamburgers.

Tonight’s articles of note include “RELLECIGA Bomb You with the Latest Stylish Digital Print & Lace Bikinis” (Sacramento Bee, 1/28/13) and “Architect to build home using 3D printer” (CNN, Doug Gross, 1/23/13). Both articles extend the notion of custom printing just a little further.

“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”

I reviewed the lyrics for Brian Hyland’s song released in 1960 about a girl in a bikini. I didn’t see any references to inkjet printing, but it actually seems to be a good way to print this fabric, if you read RELLECIGA’s promotional material.

In prior years, fabric printing had been the domain of rotary screen presses, with each print job comprising several thousand yards of fabric. Considering the time and cost involved in preparing screens for multiple colors, custom screen printing runs have had to be long (in much the same way as time, effort, and capital must go into make-ready for an offset printing run, with unit costs dropping as the run lengths increase).

The first half of the article, “RELLECIGA Bomb You with the Latest Stylish Digital Print & Lace Bikinis,” sounds like most fashion marketing collateral, with references to the “beauty of its design, its intricate handiwork, and the dignified taste of the wearer,” but the tone quickly shifts, and RELLECIGA begins to explain the benefits of inkjet printing the bolts of bikini fabric compared to custom screen printing the fabric.

These benefits include small batch printing, customization, prototyping, and experimenting. The article also notes that “RELLECIGA Digital Fabric Printing Process can reproduce unlimited colors and shades” and that this “reflects the beautiful intricacy made possible by digital printing.” And when there are no screens to prepare for printing, you can print as little as one yard of fabric economically (rather than thousands).

Interestingly enough, as fabric custom printing technology improves (whether it be inkjet or dye sublimation), digital printing is becoming the preferred technology in many cases. With manufacturers producing inks that can maintain color contrast on various fabrics and that are formulated for each type of fiber, and with designers becoming adept at the post-press operations used to cure the ink (such as applying heat or steam, or washing and drying), inkjet printed fabrics can withstand multiple washings and day-to-day wear.

Finally, the article notes that the technology is priced within reach of the “average illustrator.” When technology is inexpensive enough, manufacturing processes can migrate from the factories back into small shops, where quality and uniqueness can prosper.

Print My House

No, really? All it takes is a large 3D printer. The CNN article “Architect to build home using 3D printer” references architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars’ “Landscape House,” comprising “one surface folded in an endless Mobius band.” Basically, when you walk through the house, you can “seamlessly merge indoors and outdoors.”

The house doesn’t come cheap. It will cost between $5 and $6 million to construct. However, there’s already a market for this architect’s work (including museums and individuals).

The crowning achievement will be to produce this house using 3D custom printing technology. Janjaap Ruijssenaars has found a huge aluminum 3D printer that uses sand, which it forms into a solid material similar to marble.

Ruijssenaars will use the 3D printer to produce solid blocks that are approximately 20 feet by 30 feet. He will add fiberglass and concrete reinforcements as he constructs the “Landscape House” from these large blocks. He plans to complete the first house in 2014.

Newspapers, Newsprint, Tabloid Publications: New Signs of Life

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

There may be new signs of life in newspaper printing. I just read an article in the 1/28 International Business Times written by Christopher Zara and entitled “Newspaper Launches Innovative New Print Format: Will Bucking the Digital Trend Pay Off?”

According to Benjamin Marrison, editor of the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s third-largest newspaper has initiated “three-around printing.” The technology allows the newspaper press cylinders to print three, rather than two, broadsheet pages per revolution. The pages are still broadsheet pages, but they are about a third shorter than they were previously.

The recent trend for newspaper publishers has been to reduce page size, whether in broadsheet publications or in tabloids. Along with this move, many newspapers have shortened their products and reduced content, in some cases ending publication of entire stand-alone sections–or even becoming Internet-only publications.

In contrast, the Columbus Dispatch will be custom printing a smaller format but at the same time will be increasing the page count. For example, the newspaper will be reintroducing its stand-alone business section.

The overall result will be a more compact, sectioned broadsheet publication that takes less time to produce due to the “three-around printing” technology. According to Marrison, the Columbus Dispatch will be “more akin to a magazine than a daily metro newspaper.”

Not an Impulsive Change

In an age in which the media tout the death of commercial printing, this is a curious move, reminiscent of Warren Buffett’s 2012 purchase of numerous print newspapers. If corporations and wealthy individuals eschew losing money, why is a business-savvy organization like the Columbus Dispatch investing money in retrofitting existing custom printing equipment to handle “three-around printing”?

The Columbus Dispatch did significant research to ensure that readers would welcome the change in format. Sample groups reflected “overwhelmingly positive” regard for the changes and embraced the new format.

The Implications for Newspapers

Here’s a quote from an article in the June 2012 issue of entitled, “Warren Buffett to Buy Small Texas Daily, Will Own 88 Newspapers”:

“Berkshire Hathaway agreed to buy most of Media General’s print newspapers last month, and Buffett has talked about buying more. With the addition of The Eagle, Buffett now owns or has agreed to acquire at least 88 weekly and daily newspapers in Iowa, Nebraska, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, New York, and Texas. In a letter to editors and publishers of Media General’s papers last month, Buffett said future newspaper purchases would take place in ‘towns and cities with a strong sense of community.’”

From my reading of the International Business Times and articles, I get a strong sense that certain kinds of newspapers will continue holding their own. In fact I think these points warrant consideration:

  1. Prominent individuals and organizations have been buying, changing, or expanding their tabloids and broadsheets. In my own experience in the DC metropolitan area and the Maryland and Delaware Eastern Shore, I have seen numerous smaller tabloid newspapers focusing on real estate and the arts, or addressing concerns of the African American and Latino markets. (I think the key here is the narrow focus on specialty subject matter and ethnic communities.)
  2. Warren Buffett uses the word “community” in his defense of buying numerous print newspapers. His comment matches my own anecdotal experience. The larger newspapers seem to be having trouble, but the smaller, local tabloids and broadsheets seem to be in demand.
  3. Manufacturing efficiencies are crucial. The Columbus Dispatch has found a way to produce its newspaper faster for less money. This is essential when competing with digital-only media.
  4. Money is going into developing large inkjet web presses for custom printing variable-data and versioned newspapers quickly, inexpensively, and with high production quality.
  5. For many people, for whatever reason (logical or not), there is a craving for the physical experience of reading a newspaper printed in ink. For them, digital-only just doesn’t do the trick.

I think these facts, figures, anecdotes, and insights point to a vibrant future for at least some kinds of newspaper printing.

Large Format Printing: New Presses from AGFA

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Digital printing manufacturers are getting more serious—and creative—with their offerings. I recently read about two AGFA products, the :M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard, which combine large-format flatbed inkjet printing and custom screen printing in various (changeable) configurations.

This is exciting because it allows suppliers to produce double-sided prints on numerous flexible and rigid substrates, with exceptionally high-quality output, lower materials costs, and added variable data information, while incorporating spot colors, metallics, opaque white, and varnish using the inline screen printing options. This makes digital custom printing competitive with traditional multicolor custom screen printing for short, medium, and some longer runs.

Why These Are Such Impressive Inkjet Presses

  1. Image quality—The two digital inkjet presses (:M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard) include 64 grayscale drop-on-demand variable drop piezo print heads, which vary inkjet drop sizes between 10 picoliters and 26 picoliters (a picoliter is one millionth of a millionth, or 10 to the 12th power, of a liter). The smaller ink drops allow for precise text (down to 4 pt. type) and line art, while the larger drops provide increased image saturation. Together, the larger and smaller ink drops provide both clarity and vivid color along with smooth gradations and flat tints, all without any banding.
  2. Color gamut–Agfa’s :Anuvia HD (UV cured) inks provide an exceptionally wide color gamut compared to similar inkjet equipment.
  3. Varied substrates—Since both the :M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard are flatbed inkjet printers, they can produce both indoor and outdoor materials on everything from backlit material to paper, metal, corrugated board, PVC, and self-adhesive vinyl. This translates into all manner of products, from point of sale materials to backlit signage, from vehicle wraps to building wraps. And these large format printing presses can print on substrates up to 2” thick.
  4. Cost-savings—These two inkjet printers lay down a very thin film of ink; therefore, the lower ink consumption keeps the overall cost of operation low. (As a beneficial side effect of the thin layers of ink, the :M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard allow for smooth overprinting with special coatings and additional colors.)
  5. Immediacy of UV inks—The UV dryer that can be configured with the system makes printed products ready to use immediately after they exit the press.
  6. Multiple configurations of inkjet and screen printing—Printers can configure these flatbed inkjet presses along with their custom screen printing units in different ways. For instance, the screen printing can follow the inkjetting unit, or it can both precede and follow the inkjetting unit (i.e., you can incorporate two custom screen printing units into the overall press configuration). Depending on where you locate the screen printing units, you can add primers, thermal ink, or even scratch-‘n-sniff inks without compromising productivity and throughput. By using two screen printing units in the press, you can even lay down a film of high-density white ink before proceeding to the 4-color inkjet unit and then on to the post-press screen printing unit.
  7. Variable data printing—For point of sale imaging, as well as flexible packaging, it’s possible to use the :M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard to produce multiple versions of printed items depending on the demographics of the target audience (i.e., you can change the packaging to make it more personal to the buyer). This allows for shorter consecutive press runs with less makeready, providing printed products that can be more effective in capturing audience interest.

What This Means for You

If you are a designer, commercial printing supplier, or print buyer, I think you will find it useful to understand just how serious today’s press equipment manufacturers have become in their digital press offerings. Quality has improved measurably and has gone far beyond the output of desktop inkjet models. :M-Press Tiger and :M-Press Leopard are full-scale printing presses with large footprints. They automate printing processes, improve quality, allow for flexibility and personalization, and reduce costs. Ink on paper isn’t going away, but the landscape is changing, and digital custom printing is making major strides forward.

Commercial Printing: The Art of Paper Specification

Monday, February 4th, 2013

If the following specification from a printing estimate strikes fear into your heart, we need to talk:

“Stock: Body: Printer will furnish a 60# Finch Opaque, 426 ppi., pricing as of 4\11\11.”

It’s really just a printer’s short-hand way of expressing in a minimal number of words a vast amount of paper information. Think of it as poetry, or a mathematical formula.

Let’s Break It Down

Stock is the paper used for your custom printing job, whether the job is a brochure or a print book. However, the word “body” is another way of saying text, so this particular wording from an actual commercial printing bid I recently received pertains to a print book. Another line item within the estimate might refer to “stock: cover” or “stock: dust jacket.”

The words “printer will furnish” are important because they refer to the source of the raw materials for the custom printing job. It is not a given that the printer will furnish the paper. You can, in fact, supply your own paper, if you can get a better deal and ensure that the paper is delivered on time, is in good shape and runnable, and is the correct choice for the job. Personally I’d leave this to the printer whenever possible.

Paper Brand, Weight, and Opacity

The words “60# Finch Opaque” indicate a few things, including the manufacturer of the paper, its weight, and its light-stopping ability.

First of all, the weight. This is the weight of 500 sheets cut to the basic size, which for text paper is 25” x 38” and for cover stock is 20” x 26”. Again, it’s important to look for words like “body” or “text” here, because if you’re expecting a thin text paper and your job delivers on cover stock, you’ll be disappointed. Or, if you’re expecting a cover-weight sheet and the job delivers on a text-weight paper, you’ll be disappointed. (Therefore, particularly when the numbers match, such as 80# text and 80# cover, or 100# text and 100# cover, make sure the estimate reflects your expectations.)

Finch Opaque is just one product made by Finch Paper, LLC. Finch makes roll stock, cut sheets, opaque stock, digital and offset paper, to name a few. Finch also makes different colors of paper, including various shades of white plus vanilla.

It’s always smart to get samples. Online descriptions are helpful, but nothing improves your choice of paper like a sample book, a good light, and your eyes. Better yet, look at the samples under different lighting conditions: sunlight, incandescent light, and fluorescent light. Look at printed and unprinted sheets. If you want to be really prudent, have a few people look at the sheets and give you their opinions. Keep in mind that people see color differently, and men and women in particular see color differently.

“Opaque” paper stock is a good choice if you’re printed product will include heavy ink coverage or lots of photos. Opaque paper has higher light-stopping power than offset stock. (That is, it’s harder to see the ink on one side of the press sheet when you’re looking at the other side of the press sheet.) Therefore, Finch Offset and Finch Opaque are not the same. But your commercial printing vendor’s estimate might omit these specific words, so to be safe, ask about opaque vs. offset. (For coated sheets, you would just ask your printer if a particular press sheet has adequate opacity for the job you’re producing. You usually wouldn’t see the word “opaque” in a description of a coated press sheet.)

Paper Thickness, or Caliper

The notation 426 ppi refers to the number of pages in an inch. If you specified a paper with a ppi of 350, the press sheets would be thicker than a paper with a ppi of 426 (i.e., fewer sheets needed to create a stack of paper one inch tall). When you’re choosing a particular paper with a particular ppi (referred to as a paper with a particular “caliper”), think about the thickness of the final product. A 426-page book would be one inch thick. A print book produced on a thinner paper might appear cheap and shoddy to customers who had bought last year’s copy printed on a thicker stock.

The final few words of the paper specification, “Pricing as of 4\11\11,” tell you something about the nature of custom printing. Specifically, it is a manufacturing process. Materials consumed in the production of a job will be factored into the estimate at the price at which they were purchased. That is, if you get an estimate from a printer in March, and paper prices go up in June, the book you print in July may cost more. This is a legitimate practice. In many cases, depending on the stock you want—and your willingness to have your commercial printing supplier substitute paper—your printer may already have an adequate supply on the pressroom floor. To be sure, you might want to ask for a “house sheet.” If a printer uses a large volume of a particular printing stock, he can often get better pricing than he can get for a specialty sheet.

The Best Way to Save Money on Printing Paper

To be safe, the more often you can specify paper by qualities rather than by name brand (i.e., “a #1 bright white opaque text sheet” rather than “Finch Opaque,” the more often your printer will be able to shop around for a good price. For example, Finch, Cougar, Husky, and Lynx might be equally good paper choices. As an alternative, you can request a particular press sheet and then tell your printer that you would be open to suggestions (or substitutions).

Direct Mail Packages: Your Brain Actually Prefers Them

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I have to be honest. I want print media to prosper, so I’m pleased when I read about the success of ink or toner on paper.

I recently read a synopsis of a study by Millward Brown, in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, regarding the use of brain scans to judge the effect of physical print media in direct marketing. The article is “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail.” It’s not new. In fact, the study is more than three years old.

The study compared the effect on the brain of exposure to both physical print materials and virtual media presented on a video screen, using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) to visually indicate the areas of the human brain affected by each. The fMRI technology actually demonstrates how the brain processes these different stimuli. Presumably, if emotional responses drive the success of a marketing initiative, then understanding the emotional processing of stimuli will provide valuable insight. This was the premise of the study.

The findings of the study suggest “that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than the virtual.”

The Protocol for the Study

During the study, the 20 participants viewed ads that had already been exposed to the public marketplace along with an equal number of “scrambled” images. The scrambled images acted as a control to account for the fact that test subjects respond to the physical materials using more than one physical sense (i.e., both sight and touch, in contrast to virtual materials that affect only the sense of sight).

The experimenters presented the same materials online and on printed cards, and while the participants interacted with the materials, the experimenters ran fMRI scans to assess the effects. Within the fMRIs, greater oxygenated blood flow, reflected in color changes, indicated greater stimulation by the physical or virtual materials presented.

What The Researchers Found

Millward Brown and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology identified the following (as noted in the article, “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail”):

“Material shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietal).”

“This suggests that physical material is more ‘real’ to the brain. It has a meaning and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spacial memory networks.”

“More processing is taking place in the right retrosplenial cortex when physical material is presented. This is involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory.”

“The medial PFC and cingulate are parts of the brain associated with emotional engagement. They are activated more by physical materials.”

“The brain’s ‘default network’ appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. This suggests that the individuals were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.”

What This Means in Simple Terms

  1. Direct mail packages affect more areas of the brain than online marketing messages, leaving a deeper impression.
  2. The brain gives greater credence to physical print materials. They are more “real,” having existence in time and physical space.
  3. Direct mail packages promote memory retention more than online marketing messages.
  4. Direct mail packages promote greater emotional engagement than online marketing messages, encouraging greater brand affiliation.
  5. Custom printing materials involve the viewer in a more complex internal thought pattern including associations with past personal experience.

The Implications for Neuroscience

  1. Such tools of neuroscience as EEG, eye tracking, and fMRI can be most useful in understanding the psychology of marketing and advertising.

The Implications for Marketing Professionals

  1. Don’t dismiss the power of ink and toner on paper.
  2. Conversely, don’t dismiss virtual marketing. A savvy blending of physical and virtual marketing materials can affect potential clients emotionally, improve their retention of marketing messages, and make their experience more personal, increasing their affiliation with the brand and their motivation to act.
  3. The key is the integration of marketing technologies: the use of the right tool at the right time.

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