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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 March, 2013

Commercial Printing: Why You Shouldn’t Use MS Word for Layout

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Every so often someone asks me whether they can design their commercial printing projects in MS Word. This is particularly true for staff at large companies in which most people have a copy of MS Word, or for government workers who initially draft their publications in MS Word.

I’d like to give a cogent answer, other than just to say, “Aagh; please, don’t!” So I did some research among colleagues of mine who are designers and custom printing professionals, and I came up with a few reasons why using MS Word instead of InDesign or QuarkXPress is a bad idea. The key here is the output. For printing to a LaserWriter, it’s fine, but for professional digital and offset printing, it’s wise to avoid both MS Word and MS Publisher. Your commercial printing vendor will thank you.

Why Not Use MS Word?

Formatting Limitations

Word processors such as MS Word are descendents of typewriters, while applications such as InDesign and QuarkXPress are descendents of dedicated typesetting machines. Word processors do not have the precise control over tracking, kerning, justification, alignment, ligatures, and other nuances of fine typesetting that dedicated layout programs can provide.

Within a word processing application, one has less control over both the individual characters in a document and also the overall look (or “color”) of the text. Minuscule details within a block of copy combine to either facilitate or detract from the overall ease of reading.

In addition, multi-column layouts are very difficult to create or control in MS Word, but they are easy to create using a layout program.

Another reason to use professional layout programs rather than MS Word is that fonts provided for InDesign and QuarkXPress produce repeatable results on laser printers and platesetters. These fonts are designed for professional typesetting. In contrast, fonts available for MS Word and similar applications are system fonts lacking the nuances of type font design (such as ligatures, extended character sets, etc.).

Problems with Moving Graphics

Simply put, graphics often move within a MS Word file. It is very hard to anchor them to a specific position within the text or to wrap text around an image.

The Wrong Color Space for Printing

MS Word is an RGB application. It processes color within a RGB (red/green/blue) color space. This is not appropriate for commercial printing, which works within a CMYK color space (cyan/magenta/yellow/black). Converting from RGB to CMYK to prepare a MS Word PDF for custom printing can dramatically alter the color. In addition, black text within graphics (like labels in a chart or graph) will become a color build (composite percentages of RGB or CMYK) rather than 100 percent black. For small type (like 9 point labels in a chart) the offset press cannot hold the color register accurately, and the type may appear to be surrounded by colored halos.

Problematic PDF Creation

Creating a press ready PDF that an offset printer will accept is far more challenging when starting with a MS Word document than with an InDesign or QuarkXPress document. In some cases it may not even be possible.

Options to MS Word (and MS Publisher)

Between the suggestions my associates have made and the research I have done, it seems that there are a number of alternatives to MS Word when designing jobs for commercial printing. The two most popular applications are InDesign and QuarkXPress. However, for longer documents, you might want to check out FrameMaker or even LaTeX (good for text formatting but not as good for design, since it is not a visually oriented—WYSIWYG, or “what you see is what you get”–program). And for simple design, you might look into Apple’s Pages. Formatting controls are not as extensive as in InDesign or QuarkXPress, but for a two-page newsletter, it should be fine.

For those without much design experience, it’s possible to acquire templates for the various design programs. Placing your text into these preformatted documents will make it a lot easier for you to create attractive printed pieces if you are unsure of your own design ability.

What Is MS Word Good For?

I actually use MS Word (or the OpenOffice word processor) for its search and replace functions and to clean up and simplify copy before placing it in InDesign. After all, since most copy for publications I design initially comes to me in MS Word format, I use it for its strengths; however, I only use it as an interim step in the process of designing for custom printing.

Book Printing: Self-Publishing as a Labor of Love

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

I wrote a blog article a few months ago about a self-published World War II personal history book. I have had some insights as the print book design has progressed, and I thought you might find them useful in your own design work.

A Recap of the Print Book Specifications

As I mentioned in the prior blog, the client is producing a 9” x 12” print book that will be perfect bound with 3.5” French flaps folding back toward the inside front and back covers. The author plans to print 50 or 100 copies for family members and then provide a CD version of the book for other interested parties. The cost of the CD pressing will be minimal compared to the book production costs, much of which will go toward producing the covers and binding the books.

To maintain high quality standards, the book covers will be offset printed (4-color plus a cover coating), and the interior of the print books will be digitally produced (one-color, black). Printing the entire book via offset lithography would be wasteful and unnecessary due to the short run and the single-color interior book design. In addition, since the text paper will be a rough, uncoated vanilla press sheet, it will be far more forgiving of any imperfections than a gloss coated sheet would be.

Insights from the Design Process

That said, I have learned a lot by watching the interactions between the author and the two print book designers. Self-publishing is not the same as corporate publishing. In a corporate environment, the book design and production quality would probably hold a much higher level of importance.

In contrast, self-publishing involves more personal preferences and emotions. Therefore, the quality of individual photos, layout, and editorial may (perhaps not in all cases) take a back seat to “telling the personal story.” A self-published work may be more like a journal and less like an objective piece of literary art or reportage.

This need not be a bad thing. It just means that the print book designer will need to be especially sensitive to the needs of the author. Supporting his or her story telling may need to take precedence over producing what the designer may think is a “good design.”

Work Arounds for Some Technical Problems

Too Many Versions of the Same Photo

One of the first things I noticed in seeing the page proofs of the self-published World War II book was the number of photos the author had included of the same person. Again, since this is a personal history, this is important to the author (in a very intense and personal way). Plus, he’s paying the bills. Therefore, to give variety to the text design, I suggested enlarging the best photos and putting the photos of a lesser technical quality in the scholar’s margin in a much smaller size. This variety actually gave the book a freer and more interesting look than would have been possible had all the photos been printed the same size.

Documents of Questionable Quality

Another problem involved reproducing World War II documents that were of questionable technical quality. As much as I try to avoid upsampling photos, I found that enlarging the photos of hand-written letters and passports and then using a combination of “Despeckle,” “Median,” and “Gaussian Blur” (Photoshop filters that slightly blur images) and “Unsharp Masking” (a Photoshop filter that sharpens image detail), I was able to make the documents readable. They were not perfect. However, I knew they would be printed on a rough text stock that would minimize flaws. I tried this with a few document photos, and then I handed off the work to the designers, suggesting that they experiment with the filters to see whether they could improve some of the images.

I did not suggest that the designers use this approach for photos of people; however, depending on the size of the document photos and on whether they needed to actually be read (or whether they just needed to give a sense of what the World War II documents looked like), I thought this might be a good work-around.

Printing Test Pages on Both a Desktop Laser Printer and a High-End Indigo Press

The book printing vendor had suggested producing a few test pages of the print book on the HP Indigo digital press. This would highlight any flaws in the photos prior to the actual proofing cycle or final printing. The printer had suggested choosing the best and worst photos (technically) to see what adjustments would need to be made. This would be an inexpensive way to get feedback early in the printing process.

I went a step further and suggested that the designer gang a number of photos on a few sample pages prior to making the HP Indigo proof. I thought this would allow the largest number of photos to be included in the smallest amount of space. I thought that grouping a number of photos on the test pages would be more effective than printing the same number of actual book pages, with mostly text and only a limited number of photos.

In addition, I suggested that the designer make his own proofs even before sending the sample pages to the book printing supplier for output on the Indigo. I encouraged him to buy some vanilla resume paper at an office store. Running this paper through his desktop laser printer would provide an additional proofing step, offering similar output to the HP Indigo, since both would provide toner-based output on rough vanilla-tinted paper. This would allow the designer to output any number of photos for a much lower cost per page. He could then make changes as necessary in Photoshop before committing to a final test on the high-end HP Indigo printer.

Why You Should Care

This case study might actually be helpful in your own book printing work. Keep in mind that not all jobs are alike. A good designer has to be a diplomat and a sales-person. In addition, a good designer has to understand that different clients will have different goals.

For self-publishing, an untrained author may want a final product that comes closer to a journal than to a slick, professional publication. In some cases you can provide work-arounds to minimize technical problems. However, in some cases the author’s goals for accuracy and the emotional tone of the printed book may take precedence. Being sensitive to this will help you both.

Book Printing: Polybag Scuffing Problems in the Mail

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

For the past few years I have been designing, laying out, and brokering the printing of a non-profit educational foundation directory. For the most part, the process has gone like clockwork. It’s good money, and I enjoy working with the organization.

This year, when the job was complete and I had just submitted my invoice, I received an email and attached photographs showing damage to the polybags in which sample copies of the book had been mailed. Ouch.

Other than that, the book was great. My client was happy. However, polybags with little holes and tears didn’t showcase the design of the book in the best light. I agreed heartily. So I called the printer and asked some questions.

Specifics of the Book Printing Job

Let’s step back a bit. The directory in question was a 216-page, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound book inserted along with a promotional letter into 1.3 mil polybags and then mailed. The book covers had been UV coated for protection.

My client had sent several copies of the book to other employees in order to see exactly what subscribers would receive in the mail.

The six photos I received (which were incredibly helpful, both in terms of what I learned and in what I could easily communicate to the book printing vendor) showed various levels of damage. Four of the photos showed damage to the polybag material, one showed a damaged label attached to the polybag material, and one showed actual book cover damage through the plastic in which the cover of the book was either torn or the ink had been scraped off.

Solutions (Alternate Polybag Material)

In addition to sending the photos to the printer, I asked about using thicker plastic for next year’s polybags and also about other options for cover coatings for next year’s book.

The commercial printing sales rep researched the plastic material and came back to me with an option. Although 1.3 mil plastic is standard for such a job, the book printer could provide 1.5 mil plastic for next year’s mailing of the directory. He would also provide samples to my client as we got closer to the next version of the book.

On a side note, the sales rep did note that the extent of the scuffing of the polybag material and the book cover suggested heavy treatment during mailing. In other words, this was unusual. He did not think this problem was widespread.

Solutions (Alternate Cover Coatings)

The printer’s sales rep also offered suggestions about the coating applied to the cover of the directory. In this case the book covers had been UV coated. This had been applied at the printer’s shop. A thicker coating could have been applied—lay-flat laminate or liquid laminate—but this would have required subcontracting this part of the job and would therefore have added time to the schedule. It would have also increased the cost by approximately $600 to $800 (or about $.30 to $.50 a book).

(One thing you might want to consider in your own print buying work is that different commercial printing and book printing vendors have different equipment. Another printer might have had in-house laminating capabilities. However, I’m satisfied enough with the overall skill and responsiveness of this printer after three years’ of producing this book that I would not change vendors for that reason alone. But if you’re looking for a new printer for a job and you want to add a cover lamination, it may pay to ask about the printer’s in-house capabilities.)

I asked the printer’s rep about other cover coatings, just to be sure. He mentioned varnish, aqueous, UV, and laminate in the order of durability, from least durable to most durable. (I also knew that in addition to being the least durable, varnish can also yellow over time or even change the color of the ink below the cover coating.)

No Discount Requested

I believed the printer’s comments about rough handling by the Post Office. For one thing, we had developed a relationship of trust over a number of years’ worth of book printing work. In addition, I had not heard from my client in years past that any problems such as these had occurred. Finally, my client had made it clear that he only wanted to improve the process for the following year. He was very satisfied with the end product. He did not hold the printer responsible for the damage (particularly since only the polybagging—and one book cover–had been damaged). My client also trusted the printer’s word (and this speaks highly for the value of long-term relationships with custom printing vendors).

One Final Suggestion (Padded Envelopes)

The printer made one final suggestion, which might increase the price a bit. He suggested including the printed directory and the accompanying promotional letter in an addressed padded envelope. He said this would be the safest mode of transport, providing the greatest protection for the print book.

Custom Printing: Quark Xpress Is Still Alive and Kicking

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

I just read an article about Quark in the 12/26/12 online issue of “Catching Up with Quark” by Jay J. Nelson. I was pleased to see that Quark is still alive and kicking.

History: From PageMaker to Quark

In 1987 I started my automated design work with Aldus PageMaker, pleased by the coming end of cutting, waxing, and pasting up galleys of type that had been coded line by line. From 1987 to about 1996 I used PageMaker exclusively. It was fast and easy.

In 1996 a designer who worked for me left her position, and I had to learn QuarkXPress to complete her design jobs. I hated how complex and counter-intuitive it was, but through baptism by fire I gradually learned to operate the software. Over time I actually grew to appreciate its precision. I could manipulate type with a flexibility and accuracy that went far beyond PageMaker’s capabilities. The learning curve was painful, but eventually I knew what I was doing.

I used QuarkXPress until 2011, long after all my friends had switched to Adobe InDesign. It did what I needed it to do, particularly since I was focused exclusively on design for commercial printing.

Magazine Printing with Quark

From 1998 through 2007, as I consulted for a magazine printing organization, I noticed that the entirety of the editorial and design staff worked with a program called QPS (Quark Publishing System). A subset of this electronic publishing environment, Quark Copy Desk allowed all writers and editors to compose and alter the content of the magazine, which would then flow into the predefined magazine layouts, all in real time. Everything was connected. It was, as Nelson’s article says, “a collaborative publishing environment.”

Quark’s Current Suite of Products

So I was pleased to read in Nelson’s article that Quark has continued to expand its capabilities. It still has merit, even though it no longer holds the position it once had, when, according to the article, “Quark was used for 90% of all professional publishing and design.”

As “Catching Up with Quark” notes, Quark creates all software based on the conviction that “content needs to be generated for multiple media and devices simultaneously, so that the readers may consume the same information in print, on websites, smart phones, and tablets.” In contrast to the early days I described above, today’s design software must go beyond static images and embrace variable data and rich media.

Here are some of the capabilities offered in Quark’s current suite of products:

  1. Quark Xpress 9 can be used for print design as well as interactive graphics, e-books, and Web pages. In conjunction with App Studio, it will also create apps for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android products.
  2. App Studio (a cloud-based application) allows designers to use QuarkXPress, InDesign, and (XML-coded) Microsoft Word documents to create apps for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android products. App Studio is based on open-source HTML5, which will support current and future digital appliances.
  3. Newspaper and magazine printing organizations can use Quark Publishing System (which includes QuarkXPress, QuarkCopyDesk, and QuarkXPress Server) to write, edit, design, lay out, and track their publications from concept to offset printed–or digitally printed–copies.
  4. QuarkCopyDesk can edit Quark documents within a collaborative publishing group without using QuarkXPress. It is for those who need editorial, but not design, capabilities.
  5. Quark DesignPad allows users to do simple layout tasks and then save files as PNG graphics or QuarkXPress documents for later refinement.
  6. Quark Brand Manager and Quark Web-to-Print System allow companies to control the look of their graphic products by providing branded design templates, which sales reps and other employees can modify for their own needs (such as brochures, booklets, or sell sheets) while maintaining a consistent, corporate appearance.

Quark’s Overall Capabilities

This seems to be the gist of Quark’s capabilities, as I understand them from “Catching Up with Quark”:

  1. Quark allows designers to produce layouts in whatever program they choose, be it InDesign or QuarkXPress.
  2. Quark allows writers to draft articles in Microsoft Word using Quark XML Author to apply style sheets to the text.
  3. Quark then combines the layout and editorial elements of the job, delivering multiple print, Web, XML, PDF, HTML5, tablet, and mobile products and apps as needed.
  4. During this process editors can preview and adjust the text and design in real time as the documents are being created.

Particularly for the kind of large work groups involved in corporate or professional publishing, Quark seems to be a viable alternative to Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Commercial Printing: Adobe Creative Cloud Suite

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

I’ve been receiving Adobe Creative Cloud promotions in the mail for several months now, so I thought I’d do a little research into the new service. After all, I do a little graphic design on the side in addition to my writing and commercial printing brokerage work.

(As a side note, I was pleased to see a coordinated marketing effort, using both upbeat online ads and printed direct mail packages. I always like to see proof that custom printing is still viable, and nothing confirms this like seeing a digital company use print advertising to sell digital products.)

Basically, Creative Cloud is software “as a service.” You rent the software; you don’t buy it. And the software in question is Apple’s Creative Suite (CS6), the de facto standard for graphic design, including everything from InDesign to Illustrator to Photoshop. But it doesn’t stop there. Creative Suite includes software to produce websites (Dreamweaver), video, multimedia, and audio. It also includes Acrobat Professional (unlike Acrobat Reader, Acrobat Pro allows you to not only read PDFs but also create and modify them).

CDs or Downloads of Individual Design Suites

I bought Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Standard about two years ago. It cost over $1,200.00. As a print designer, I needed only custom printing design tools (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat).

Had I been a Web and print designer, I could have bought Design and Web Premium for about 50 percent more. This would have allowed me to produce Web applications (and iPad apps) and interactive designs as well as print media. The software suite would have included such applications as Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks.

Adobe CS6 Production Premium would have been my choice had I been a video editor or motion graphics artist. The cost of this suite would have been commensurate with the cost of the Design and Web Premium edition. With this license I would have received Premiere, After Effects, Prelude, Encore, and a number of other video applications.

Or, if I had been flush with cash I could have bought everything (the Master Collection) for about twice the price charged for the Design Standard suite. This would have made sense had I been a cross-media designer, producing and then repurposing media for print, multimedia, interactive kiosks, mobile applications, and so forth.

Upgrades of Software Components

First of all, I don’t object to the price, even though the software cost me as much as my new iMac. I made back more than the initial investment with the first custom printing design job I produced (a perfect-bound, non-profit education directory).

Second, I have respect and gratitude for the software. It just works. It does everything I need it to do—beautifully and consistently.

That said, I bought CS5, but CS6 is now for sale. Even an upgrade license (from CS5 to CS6) costs approximately $500 (more or less, depending on where and how I buy it—less if I were an educational institution). If I did graphic design, or any of the other tasks listed above, on a full-time basis, I’d need to upgrade regularly, and this would involve a lot of money over time. For a design studio, on the other hand, this would be just a cost of doing business.

Enter Creative Cloud

For approximately $50.00 a month, you can now rent, rather than buy, design software. That’s $600.00 a year. Two years’ worth would match the amount I paid for CS5 Design Standard.

For this amount, however, you get far more than the software I purchased in CS5 Design Standard. You get access to all the Adobe Creative Cloud design software. You can download any of the software and any updates–for print, web, video, and audio. The software then resides on your computer. You might even argue that by downloading and learning these extra software packages, you could broaden your design skills and expand your business enough to cover the additional monthly cost of Creative Cloud.

What Is Creative Cloud?

Basically, your monthly rental fee allows you to download any Creative Cloud design software, and also provides access to cloud-based storage for your design files. Instead of paying one large amount for a CD, or for the right to download an unchanging software package, you are paying for reliable, broadly functional, constantly updated software, cloud-based storage, support, and tutorials (for individuals or teams). You also get new tools and services as they become available, such as Muse (for creating websites for desktop, tablet, and mobile, without writing a line of code). Since you can save your files in the cloud (20GB of storage), you can move from your office computer to your home computer or tablet and still do your work. You’re not buying a program; you’re buying a “solution” for all your design needs.

When you compare $50.00 a month to the revenue you can generate, that’s not a lot of money. When you compare that same $50.00 to the cost of constant upgrades, it’s a great deal, too (as long as you would normally upgrade about every two years—if my math is correct).

If, on the other hand, you do only a few design jobs a year, you might not want to commit to a long-term contract. Instead, you might want to buy the prior version on CD (CS5 when CS6 is the current version), or you may choose to hold onto your current software until you just can’t stand it anymore (kind of like keeping a car until it rusts out).

Then again there’s the “aggravation cost.” If you sign on to Creative Cloud, everything just works. If you buy software on the seconds market, or use an older version for ever and ever, sooner or later you will run into compatibility issues. Not having the aggravation may be worth $50.00 a month.

It all depends on your goals and circumstances.

Envelope Printing: Standard Envelopes Need Not Be Boring

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Many months ago in a PIE Blog article, I listed a number of envelope printing options. I focused on paper weight (the thickness of the custom envelopes you might choose for a business letter vs. a formal invitation, for instance) and on how to leave enough space for the enclosure without needing to print and convert an odd-sized envelope for a premium price. (That is, you should choose a standard envelope printing size first and then create a slightly smaller enclosure that will fit. If you design the insert first, you may need a custom-made envelope to fit your piece.)

These rules of thumb are helpful, and they keep your expenses down by standardizing the size and paper weight of your envelopes. That said, there are still numerous envelope printing options that need not be custom diecut and assembled. Your envelopes need not be boring. Here are a few of your options.

Business and Correspondence Envelopes

The #10 envelope (4 1/8” x 9 1/2”) is the workhorse of the industry for business use. Within this category, you can find a number of different flap designs, including commercial flap, wallet flap, side seam, policy, and square flap.

Commercial flap envelopes have diagonal seams that converge at the center of the open envelope under the flap (this part of the envelope is called the “throat”). In contrast, side-seam envelopes have wider backs with (almost) vertical seams running much closer to the sides of the envelope.

Wallet flap envelopes have squarish (not exactly square) flaps that extend down over the back of the envelope. These are quite useful if you need a large area on which to imprint information about a charitable donation, for instance.

In contrast, standard square-flap envelopes have side seams and an almost square flap. This design offers a nice contrast to the more shallow and pointed flap of a commercial envelope. You might choose a square-flap envelope to add a contemporary look to your business correspondence.

Unlike the other standard #10 envelopes, a policy envelope opens on the side, has a square flap, and has a single center seam.

Keep in mind that both commercial flap and side-seam envelopes are fine for machine insertion, but square-flap envelopes are only recommended for hand insertion of their enclosures.

In addition to the varied flaps available on these printed envelopes, you may have multiple options in terms of paper color, weight, texture, and finish. Ask your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant for paper sample books. These will show unprinted samples of corresponding stock for envelopes, letterhead, and business cards. In some cases you might also find less corporate, and more colorful, options for informal business correspondence.

Window Envelopes

To keep the envelopes consistent (presumably for the US Postal Service automation equipment), standard window envelopes include a 4.5″ wide by 1.125″ deep window (almost always the same size and in the same position regardless of the dimensions of the envelope). It is located 0.875″ from the left edge of the envelope and 0.5″ from the bottom of the envelope. This diecut window may be covered with a “patch.” Over the years these have been made of transparent materials ranging from glassine to plastic to cellophane, but they are now usually made of plastic.

Booklet vs. Catalog Envelopes

Booklet envelopes open along the top, or larger dimension. They have side seams and are ideal for machine insertion of enclosures.

Catalog envelopes open on the side, or short dimension. They have center seams (one seam running down the center of the envelope). This single seam makes the envelope more durable, and ideal for heavier enclosures such as catalogs (hence the name).

Announcement Envelopes

You have three options for announcement and invitation envelopes (A-Style, Baronial, and Square).

A-Style envelopes have side seams and a square flap. Hence they provide a more contemporary look.

Baronial envelopes have a deep pointed flap and diagonal seams. They give a more traditional look to announcements, invitations, and cards.

Square envelopes are just what the name implies. With a square flap and side seams, they are ideal for bold announcements and advertising material. Their equal-sided dimensions make them arresting in their appearance. However, the US Postal Service charges a premium for mailing square envelopes.

Ask for an Envelope Printing Chart or Find One Online

In addition to requesting sample paper books to help you determine specifications for your envelope printing needs, look for a chart that shows the dimensions of all standard envelopes (along with their preferred enclosure sizes). This will become a useful, treasured tool as you design and order more and more envelopes over the years. It will help you converse with envelope printing suppliers and also keep you from making sizing mistakes.

Commercial Printing: This Standee Epitomizes Industrial Printing

Monday, March 4th, 2013

I was installing a standee tonight with my fiancee and thinking about industrial design: the concepts and goals discussed in “Industrial Print Has Awesome Potential. But What Is It Exactly?” Marcus Timson’s article in the 2/8/13 edition of, which I summarized in the last issue of the PIE Blog, had broadened my awareness.

The standee we were installing was a photo opportunity standee. I have written about these before. The goal of this particular type of standee is to place the participant within the fictional world of the movie and then provide a photo opportunity to record this interaction between reality and imagination.

The standee we installed promoted The Croods, an animated film. It consisted of a background graphic panel containing all the characters of the movie along with the movie title. Essentially it was a printed rectangular box about six feet wide, seven feet tall, and three feet deep.

Attached to the front of the graphic panel were two “lugs,” graphic panels depicting two characters sitting in approximately one-foot deep movie theater chairs. Between them was a printed and physically constructed movie chair for the audience member to sit in. My fiancee and I took as long to build the chair as to assemble the rest of the standee. To a great extent, this is because the chair had to be functional, while the remainder of The Croods standee was promotional.

Building the Chair for the Standee

As I studied the assembly instructions for the standee, the first thing I saw was just how many more printed and diecut pieces there were for the chair than for the much larger graphic panel. The seat base, back, left and right arms, and seat cover all had printed cardboard covers along with an unprinted, structural inside box, and inside this box there were cardboard assemblies to hold the weight of a human body.

The inside of the chair back and base included a honeycomb structure of corrugated board with strips set at right angles to one another (like the cardboard inserts in a case of wine bottles). Even though these were essentially made out of paper (fluted cardboard), the way they were made to distribute the weight of the person sitting in the chair proved that a cardboard structure that has been properly designed can be very strong. The inside of the seat cover, in contrast, consisted of eight flat pieces of cardboard (for comfort and equal weight distribution, I imagine).

Overall, even though the standee was nothing more than a cardboard assembly intended to promote The Croods, an awful lot of thought had gone into its construction. Some designer had carefully considered the physics of weight distribution as well as the aesthetics, printing, and diecutting of the custom printing job.

Safety First

As my fiancee and I assembled the background graphic and then the chair, and then attached the two, I could see the attention to safety that had gone into the industrial design and custom printing of the standee. Not only had the interior cardboard structures been designed for comfort and support, but a matrix of screws and washers bolted elements of the chair to each other and to the background graphic panel. In addition, the assembly instructions made it very clear that the entire structure needed to be placed up against a wall and not out in an open space. Although the chair and background graphic panel had been constructed with safety in mind, it was clear that the designer wanted to make absolutely sure that rowdy teenagers jumping into the chair to have their photo taken would not flip the entire standee over and get hurt.

Why This Exemplifies Industrial Custom Printing

In his article, Marcus Timson defined industrial custom printing as “print that does not have the primary purpose of carrying a promotional message…print that is part of a manufacturing process…that either enables the function of a product or that enhances its appearance or decoration.”

Clearly the design of The Croods photo op standee and chair reflects both art and science. The amount of offset custom printing, flexographic custom printing, and particularly the diecutting of all the individual elements of the chair (both the exterior graphics and the interior honeycomb structure) all came together to provide a functional experience as well as a promotional and aesthetic one.

The Croods Standee Compared to Other Photo Opportunity Standees

My fiancee and I have assembled and installed numerous photo op standees. The Dictator and Dark Shadows come immediately to mind since they also included chairs. While the Dark Shadows chair was attached to a floor panel attached to the background (but not directly to the back panel as in The Croods standee), the chair for The Dictator was completely separate. I think the chairs attached to the background were actually safer in their construction, and the bolting of the chair to The Croods standee made it the safest of all three standees.

Interestingly enough, the Dark Shadows chair and The Croods chair were both offset printed onto cover stock, which was then laminated onto corrugated board. However, the Dark Shadows chair had the added texture of real velvet. And the chair used in The Dictator standee was composed of actual fabric stretched over stuffing and a plywood base, arms, and back. The standee designers had gone to great lengths to achieve realism in their photo op standees, and the distributors had paid a premium to ship these heavy standees to theaters.

Why You Should Care

One might consider all of this irrelevant to commercial printing since most of the interior work was unprinted. It was, however, diecut in exquisite detail, and all with functionality, structural integrity, and safety the paramount goals. Hence, this was industrial custom printing in the purest sense.

If it hasn’t happened yet, you may one day be called upon to design and print a functional object. Maybe it will be a part of a promotional piece. Maybe it will be a point-of-purchase display that will hold hair products or stacks of magazines. In any case, you may be called upon to consider the design piece as a physical object in space as well as a flat image. It may have structural requirements or safety requirements. In either case, you will need to consider not only the elements of design but also the physical requirements of printing and diecutting, and maybe even the elements of physics.

Custom Printing: What Is Industrial Printing?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I just had my mind opened by an article entitled “Industrial Print Has Awesome Potential. But What Is It Exactly?” I read the article, written by Marcus Timson, in the 2/8/13 edition of A very interesting read.

So What Exactly Is Industrial Printing?

Timson’s article defines it as “print that does not have the primary purpose of carrying a promotional message. It is print that is part of a manufacturing process. That either enables the function of a product or that enhances its appearance or decoration.”

As I make a cursory visual scan of my office desk, I see a number of items that fit this description. And I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface. For instance, all the keys on my computer keyboard as well as my calculator have been printed with alphanumeric characters along with function keys and branding (“emachines,” for instance). The monitor is an Acer, and its bezel includes a screen printed logo as well as screen printed notations for the “on/off” switch, volume control, etc.

Why Does Industrial Custom Printing Matter?

All of these electronic gadgets would be useless without this custom screen printing work. The notations don’t promote anything (except, perhaps, the logos), but they convey vital information, information absolutely essential for the use of the equipment.

Timson’s article goes on to note that industrial printing may not necessarily be done with ink. For example, the seven layers of silicone screen printed behind the glass of a tablet computer, which allow the tablet touch screen to operate, fit the category of industrial custom printing.

Another reason industrial printing is important is its potential for growth. Since many of the venues for print, such as magazine printing and newspaper printing, have been shrinking, it’s encouraging to see areas of commercial printing that are in fact expanding—such as industrial printing.

Industrial Custom Printing Embraces Multiple Technologies

Industrial printing is “process agnostic,” according to Timson’s article. It depends on multiple technologies, including screen printing and inkjet printing. And I would assume that flexography has a place in industrial printing as well.

About a year ago I visited a local custom screen printing operation, and I was intrigued by the geographic globes and molded plastic machinery panels the vendor was producing. He had screen printed the underside of the tinted, semi-transparent material, and had then heated and molded it into intricate 3D forms, such as spheres (the globe) and contoured control panels.

With the definition of industrial printing noted in Timson’s article, we can look at electronic printed circuits in a new light as well. The electrically conductive paths in the circuit boards are screen printed onto the plastic base material. This also qualifies as industrial printing.

What About Coding and Other Marks?

Think about the MICR printed alphanumeric characters on the bottom of your checks. These are not just ink; they are magnetic ink.

Essentially, Mark Timson has expanded the definition of printing from ink or toner on paper to the application of “a functional fluid that actually enables the product to work or that codes, marks, or provides some kind of functional contribution to the product itself.”

This Includes Architectural Design, Too

Timson mentions doors, ceramics, and glass in his article, and includes an industrial drawing of a modern house, with call-outs showing all the various ways industrial printing has contributed to the final living space. He even includes textiles such as wall coverings and window treatments: all manner of small print runs on “unusual surfaces that play a decorative role.”

Why You Should Care

I think that opening one’s mind to the concept of industrial custom printing is an important step. It’s a new way of seeing printed products: a new lens, if you will, through which to view printed material. I for one am looking at my keyboard, monitor, even the microwave, with different eyes. I am seeing what had been invisible, or at least I am seeing those commercial printing applications to which I had become inured through constant exposure. I am also seeing the artistry. There is room for aesthetics in this arena of printing. Clearly the industrial designers have applied design principles to their work (for instance, think of the artistry of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad).

The other reason I’m intrigued and encouraged is the persistence of print. As long as consumer products need markings, labels, or even packaging, there will be room for ink, toner, and other fluids printed on plastic, fabric, glass, wood….

Newspaper Printing: Four Newspaper Success Stories

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

I have some good news about the newspaper printing business.

According to “Four Revenue Success Stories,” written by Mark Jurkowitz and Amy Mitchell (2/13/2013,, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has published a report documenting “a year-long effort to identify newspaper successes in the search for new business models.”

The report follows a trend in increasing revenues over the last few years for the Naples Daily News (FL), the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (CA), the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), and the Columbia Daily Herald (TN). The report seeks to explain the increase in revenue and discover the leadership traits leading to rising revenue in a declining newspaper printing market.

The four newspapers went about their restructuring and new growth in different ways, ranging from overhauls of the sales force and its operating goals (Naples Daily News), to creating ancillary businesses such as a digital agency providing online marketing services (Santa Rosa Press Democrat), to expanding digital capabilities and narrowing the editorial focus of the newspaper (Deseret News), to creating a mix of print and digital initiatives (Columbia Daily Herald).

As other newspapers analyzed by the Pew Research Center were losing money, or were unable to stem the loss of print advertising dollars with increasing digital advertising money, these four newspapers were unusual in their rising revenue. So they came under close scrutiny in an effort to identify the elements of their newspaper printing success.

What the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism Discovered

The case studies in the Pew survey illuminate “the degree to which [these newspapers’] innovations had developed into essential components of their organization and culture, because their innovations showed tangible and positive revenue results and because their stories offered lessons worth sharing—ranging from leadership to market customization.” The case studies analyzed the newspapers’ markets, the nature of their innovations, their challenges, the quantitative measure of their success, and their knowledge gained.

According to “Four Revenue Success Stories,” here are some of the lessons learned:

  1. “Manage the digital and the legacy business separately.” The newspaper printing component will shrink as the digital component grows. But both are important. Keeping them separate is wise. The separate digital entities can benefit from the brand equity of the newspaper as a trusted source of information. This also allows for a culture of innovation in digital product development.
  2. “Keep developing niche editorial products.” Narrow the editorial focus, and provide unique editorial content based on the knowledge of the staff and the interests of the readership. Don’t focus on general interest news. Focus on what you know best.
  3. “Decentralize decision-making power.” Give ad directors and account executives greater contract-making authority. Manage fearlessly, and be willing to take risks. “Clarity of vision” among managers is essential, as is “strong, aggressive leadership.” Not taking risks is a death sentence. Leaders need to embrace risk-taking.
  4. All staff and leadership need to commit to improving editorial quality, even with diminishing resources. They need to “dig deeper…[with] more ambitions, enterprise reporting…improve the news product…and view quality as essential.”
  5. “Don’t give up on print.” The article goes on to say that “in communities where conditions are favorable, a substantial bet on print can still pay off.” News organizations should be all about “reinvent[ing] print,” focusing their efforts on the not too distant future in which each copy may be individually produced based on the newspaper reader’s interests and needs.

What Newspaper Printing Management Can Learn

Be bold, be focused. Do what you do better than anyone else. And diversify. It’s not about digital or print; it’s about how best to mix the two.


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