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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 June, 2013

Custom Printing: Seven Things You Might Not Know

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

I discovered a few interesting facts and figures last night reading Claudia McCue’s article “Is Print Dead” on (6/5/13) and the website:

  1. “45 trillion pages are printed annually.”
  2. “Profits in the US printing industry were up every quarter in 2010 and 2011.”
  3. “Since 2004, direct mail response rates are up 14%, while email marketing response rates are down 57%.”
  4. “96% of news reading is still done using print.”

I find it very comforting to know that custom printing is not dead. In fact, here are three more commercial printing arenas that are growing:

Item #5: Newspaper Readership Is Up in the Far East

The 6/4 article “Daily Chart: Fold the Front Page” references The World Press Trends report on newspaper circulation and revenues. Although the news is particularly bad for the United States (daily circulation down 14.9% from 2008 through 2012), Great Britain (down 26.6% from 2008 through 2012), and Denmark (down 41.9% from 2008 through 2012), other countries have experienced explosive growth in the same time period. Saudia Arabia newspaper circulation is up 16.9% from 2008 through 2012, Luxembourg’s is up 19.8% from 2008 through 2012, and China’s is up 33.2% from 2008 through 2012.

The notes that both circulation and ad revenue have declined, and ad revenue from websites, web apps, and other digital sources has not compensated for the drop in print ad revenue. However, newspaper printing has not died. It has just moved to the Far East.

According to the chart, newspaper circulation has dropped overall from 537 million in 2008 to 530 million in 2012. So digital media and newspapers are coexisting at the moment.

Item #6: You Can Float Ink Images on Water for Printing on Irregularly Shaped Objects

When I read about “water transfer” technology in Claudia McCue’s article “Is Print Dead” on, I was fascinated. She even included a video to show exactly how the process works. First a pattern, or graphic, is printed on film, which is floated on water. A solvent is then sprayed onto the surface of the film, dissolving the carrier sheet and leaving the ink floating on the surface of the water. When one dips an irregular shaped item into the water (the video shows a custom auto wheel being treated), the ink in the water adheres to the contours of the item. One can then remove the item from the liquid, coat the piece, and then cure and dry it. The video even showed images of dollar bills floated off the carrier sheets and then adhered to irregular plastic items dipped in the fluid. Apparently this is also used for custom printing woodgrain textures on automotive dashboards. Waay cool.

(Somehow, though, this process reminds me of watching bookbinders in Colonial Williamsburg dipping book blocks in ink to tinge the edges of the books with the swirls of color they had prepared in the shallow ink troughs.)

Item #7: You Can Decorate Sheetcakes with Inkjet Custom Printing

I saw one of these cakes at a party given at a publishing house in the late 1990s. It had the photographic likeness of the birthday boy (or girl) printed right on the cake. I was hesitant to eat a cake that had been inkjet printed—especially in a newsroom. I expected to taste printer’s ink.

But even back in the 90s the process was quick, easy, and digestible, since the inks were food dies sprayed onto the white icing of the cake, no different from the other solid colors used for cake decorating. One benefit of inkjet custom printing is the ability to print on thick substrates: in this case the thickness of a sheet cake.

Why You Should Care

Digital media are exciting, powerful–and useless when the power goes out. In contrast, ink on paper and other substrates–from auto wheels to food–still exists in tandem with images on smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

It will be interesting to watch just how digital media and commercial printing will shift to complement one another, how they will be used in concert, each to reinforce the other’s message.

And in all cases, there will be room for those who can design, those who can write, and those who can print—if they stay alert, continue to learn, and are flexible.

Custom Printing on Ceramic Tiles

Friday, June 21st, 2013

I’ve been fascinated recently with the convergence of industrial printing and digital inkjet technology. Over the last several years, I have become aware of the vast store of commercial printing that has nothing to do with marketing goals or editorial commentary: the arena of functional, or industrial, printing.

As I look around the house I see custom printing of some sort on all manner of things, from the computer keyboard to the monitor, from the microwave control panel to the telephone. As I’ve noted in prior blogs, industrial printing is custom printing that serves a function. It actually does convey marketing information as well, now that I think about it, since the logos on the computer, keyboard, and monitor do highlight the brand. However, the main goal is functional.

That said, going forward this area will be very big for commercial printing suppliers. Think about Apple. The premium that Apple can charge for its products depends heavily on the industrial design of the iPhone, iMac, and iPad, and all of these depend in one way or another on industrial or functional printing.

Industrial Printing on Ceramic Tiles

Let’s shift from computers to ceramic tiles. As the housing market rebounds and people start upgrading their homes again, homeowners will add tiling to their floors and walls. These tiles usually have some coloration or patterning. Although it has had a long history going back to clay pots fired in the ground by native peoples across the globe, this decoration or embellishment is quickly moving toward inkjet printing, due to its speed, variability, ability to print on numerous substrates, high resolution, and price.

First, Some History

Analog: Contemporary decoration of ceramic tiles started with analog processes, such as printing with a laser-etched relief plate wrapped around a drum (flexography) or custom screen printing. Due to the enormous set-up and clean up costs involved, it was necessary to produce very long runs of tiles all with the same design in order to spread the costs across the entire print run and still make money.

Dye sub: Dye sub technologies using water based inks came next. Designs were printed onto carrier sheets and then transferred onto the tiles. For this to work, the tiles had to be specially coated to accept the ink, which seeped through the coating into the tile. The coating then protected the ink from scuffing. (All of this followed the ceramic firing process, since the high heat of the kilns would otherwise have incinerated the colorants.) Unfortunately, even though dye sub yielded a wide gamut of vivid colors, the process was slow and the product was not durable enough to withstand UV light (sunlight) or scuffing.

UV Printing: Flatbed printing of UV inks came next. This process yielded tiles with designs printed on the surface of the tile rather than within the tile (as was the case with dye sub printing). The tiles could tolerate UV light (sunlight) without fading, and the colorants were more durable but still not as durable as the analog-printed tiles. In addition, the speed of production did not come close to that of custom screen printing or flexography. Solvent and resin pigmented inks fell short as well.

Inkjet Printing: In the early 2000s inkjet became a viable ceramic printing technology due to its variability, speed, and ability to print on thick substrates. Ceramic tile printers were able to inkjet mineral pigments onto the tiles prior to their firing.

But there were some challenges:

  1. The colorants were limited. They were mostly opaque earth tones, unlike the transparent process colors used in offset printing, which could be overlaid to produce other hues.
  2. The mineral pigments had to be ground into very fine particles to pass through the nozzles in the print head arrays. In addition, the inks had to be thick, and ink droplets large, to achieve the solid ink coverage needed. Fortunately, organic oil worked well in the print head arrays as the ink solvent, and as an added benefit it would burn off during the heating of the tiles in the kilns.
  3. It was difficult to keep the mineral pigments suspended in their binders without their settling to the bottom of the fluid.
  4. Color calibration was a major challenge, since the process was not based on the traditional CMYK workflow, and since the high heat of kiln firing changes the hues of mineral pigments. In addition, the interaction between the glazes and the heat of the firing affected the ink colors.

The Up Side

For two reasons inkjet technology has been moving forward like a tidal wave into ceramic tile printing in spite of the challenges:

  1. The high resolution and overall quality of the output is stellar.
  2. There are huge financial rewards. In fact, some digital printers can make back their investment in ceramic tile presses in six months.

Why You Should Care

If you’re a graphic designer, your employment options extend beyond websites and print media, regardless of what happens to books, magazines, and newspapers. If you’re a commercial printing supplier, it may be time to broaden your outlook beyond publications, marketing collateral, and signage. There’s a whole new world of industrial and functional printing out there.

Book Printing: Thinner Paper, But Still “In-Spec”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Oops. The printer called me today and said the paper he had ordered for my client’s hard-cover print book had arrived, but it was slightly thinner than had been requested.

I was concerned at first, but the book printer explained that the caliper of the paper was thinner by only .000235-inch per sheet. From prior experience and study, I knew that this happened from time to time. Products manufactured by paper mills vary slightly from roll to roll. This is normal.

After all, uncoated book paper (which was to be used for the hardback book’s text stock) is an organic substance. It is made on a Fourdrinier machine, which starts with essentially a liquid syrup and ends with a flat (but porous and slightly uneven) paper surface, even after the custom printing stock has been fed through numerous sets of metal rollers.

The gist of this is that I couldn’t just say, “Send it back.” The paper was still “within spec” and perfectly acceptable by commercial printing industry standards.

Would the Client See the Difference?

One would think that a .000235-inch difference from the normal paper thickness of 60# Finch Opaque Text stock would be unnoticeable. And in many ways this is true.

I asked the book printer whether my client would notice a difference in the following characteristics of the custom printing sheet:

  1. Thickness, or bulk of an individual sheet
  2. The overall thickness of the book (it was to be 552 pages in length)
  3. The opacity of the paper

I wanted to make sure my client would not feel a difference when turning pages. I also wanted to ensure that she would not find the bound print book to be thinner overall than expected (since the book is produced yearly, and subscribers might not accept any semblance of cheaper materials).

I also wanted to make sure the book pages would have opacity (or light stopping power) equal to last year’s edition. It would not be acceptable for screens, heavy type, and photos on the front of a page to be visible through the back of a page.

The book printer confirmed that my client would experience no difference.

What Needed to Be Changed?

But there was a caveat. Over the course of the 552 pages, the book would be about 1/8” thinner than expected, and this would throw off the centered artwork on the spine of the dust jacket. The solid ink coverage of a PMS color that would cover the spine and end exactly at the folds (at the front and back of the dust jacket) was no longer accurately positioned in the art file. My client’s graphic designer would need to adjust the dust jacket artwork to compensate.

What About the Foil Stamping Dies?

There was a happy accident. I was immediately concerned about the metal stamping dies that the book printer had already sent out to be created. The front cover, back cover, and spine of the cloth-bound book included the book title and other text in gold foil on the green fabric. As with the dust cover, this type had to land precisely in the center of the spine as well as the front and back covers. I feared that the metal dies would need to be remade.

Fortunately I was wrong. Since the artwork for the spine did not extend to the folds (as the dust cover artwork did), the metal dies could be positioned to compensate. The front cover, back cover, and spine art (which consisted only of words and line art) could be moved separately from one another to account for the difference in the overall book thickness. In contrast, the art for the dust jacket was all of one piece and could not be separated. And the art for the spine extended to the edge of the spine (to the folds) and therefore would be unforgiving (without adjustment, the solid color would have wrapped onto the front or back cover).

So I learned something, the designer adjusted the artwork for the dust jacket, and everyone was happy that the cover foil stamping dies would be just fine and didn’t need to be remade.

Custom Printing: Controlling Eye Movement with Design

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

I read an article today called “Designing Your Email Around the Letter ‘F’” in the 5/16 MailerMailer Email Marketing Blog (a post written by Jean).

I know that email design doesn’t pertain to design for commercial printing. Or does it?

The article posits that most people scan email. I’d go a step further. I’d say that readers scan printed direct mail that arrives in their mailbox in a similar manner. By scanning, the article means skimming from left to right in search of content that “resonates” with the reader’s interests.

People have shorter attention spans than they used to because there’s so much more information out there. If you’re a marketer, and you want your message absorbed, you have only a few seconds to grab your reader’s attention. Knowing how readers skim, or scan, content can help you do this.

The Science Behind Scanning

The MailerMailer Blog article references the Nielsen Norman Group’s study on eye movement in reading web-based material. The study notes that readers spend:

  • “69% of the time viewing the left half of the page and only 30% viewing the right half”
  • “80% of their time looking at information above the page fold”

Another study on eye movement by Jakob Nielson describes a discovery using eye-tracking heatmap technology. Researchers found out that the reader’s eye follows an “F” pattern, scanning the title first (the top of the “F”), then moving down a bit and reading the subheads (a bit shorter “left to right” movement than for the headline, akin to the middle bar of the “F”). Then the reader scans down the left side margin looking for content of interest.

The Implications for Digital Design

“Designing Your Email Around the Letter ‘F’” has implications for digital designers. These include:

  1. placing important information where people will look when scanning copy
  2. placing important information at the top of the page
  3. using subheads, bulleted lists, and bold type to catch the reader’s eye

In short, one should design digital marketing to conform to the reader’s habitual eye movements.

The Same Rules Apply to Design for Commercial Printing

This article brought back memories of graphic design texts I had read in the early 1980s that described the designer’s task as one of collecting, organizing, and presenting material on a page spread. The concept in these print books pertained to posters, brochures, page-spreads—any and all custom printing.

These graphic design books, the titles of which I don’t even remember anymore, taught the budding designer that readers start at the top left of a page and work their way down. Adding a graphic element such as a large initial cap or a photo can show the reader where to look first, second, third, and so forth.

In fact with a bit of thought–and with attention to the conscious placement of columns of type, areas of white space, headlines, and such–a designer can lead the reader around the page spread, revealing content in precisely the order that the designer has chosen. This actually helps the reader (rather than manipulates her/him), because it groups editorial and design elements, using visual devices to show the reader what is important and what elements are similar. It simplifies the morass of information and gives it a hierarchy of value.

Knowledge Empowers Digital and Print Designers

When I compare 1980 to 2013, the first thing that comes to mind is not that we now have electronic media but that we now have far more information to process. We have computers, tablets, and smart-phones. We read blogs, emails, and text messages, as well as magazines, print books, and newspapers. We need ways to contain the information so we can digest it.

Knowing how the reader’s eye moves (and how you can direct the reader’s eye) empowers you, whether you design for digital media or commercial printing. You can add color to an important visual element and draw the reader’s eye right to that element of the page layout. Or you can position a small item strategically in a large expanse of white space, and the reader will look there first.

Knowing how the reader scans a page, and understanding how to leverage this knowledge with strategic use of color, type, photos, and illustrations will allow you to surprise and delight the reader, grab his or her attention and interest, and present your brand’s message in its best light. You only have a few seconds.

Custom Printing: What Does a Print Broker Do?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

A few days ago a potential client of mine asked what my fee would be to coordinate a job with the commercial printing supplier. I thought about the question, and after reassuring her that I had already included my fee in the total price (i.e., she would owe nothing extra), I realized that a lot of people don’t know what a print broker is.

What Is a Print Broker?

I think of a print broker as an “outsourced print buyer.” If you need a knowledge base that goes beyond your professional experience, or even if you are just so busy that you don’t have time to research the best avenues for a custom printing job, a trusted broker may be a valuable ally.

A reputable commercial printing broker will provide the following services:

Finding the Best Vendors

Let’s say you’re producing a direct mail package that includes a series of diecut keys printed on card stock, hooked together on a keyring, inserted in a polybag, and mailed out to your prospects. Last year a client of mine did a job exactly like this. For such a complex job, you may need several vendors to produce, assemble, and ship the direct mail package.

A good commercial printing broker will discuss the job with you, draft a list of specifications, and then go to work finding the best equipped and most economical vendors. Some printers will specialize in offset printing, digital printing, large-format printing, or even letterpress. At this point it’s important to find several vendors specializing in the specific kinds of work you need, distribute specifications, solicit pricing, and vet the vendors to put together a team that will make the job happen on time and within budget.

A good printing broker will come back to his or her client with a short list of potential vendors that can do either the entire job or the individual components of the job (printing, assembling, mailing). The broker should be able to provide not only pricing but also samples and relevant personal experience with the vendors to justify choosing one over another. A printing broker’s long history of working with the various commercial printing suppliers is his/her greatest asset at this point.

Managing All Components of the Print Job

Let’s go back to the initial example of the diecut keys on the keyring. Last year I found the best printer for my client. The vendor specialized in high-profile marketing materials. While most printers can do such work, some focus on simpler jobs like brochures and postcards, and others regularly produce jobs involving intricate work, including diecutting and foil stamping.

In addition to finding the most appropriate printer for the marketing piece, I also found a source for the rings that would hold together the printed, diecut keys. And I found a source for the custom envelopes. In the process, I had the vendor send my client mock-ups of her assembled job (which she had provided) in various kinds of envelopes to see whether one was better than another for protecting the contents. After all, a banged up set of cardboard keys on a ring would reflect poorly on my client. If the keyring had punched a hole in the envelope during transit through the mail, that also would have been problematic. It was important to test everything. This is the kind of service a reputable printing broker provides.

When the keys had been offset printed and diecut, I made sure the individual elements were hand-assembled correctly and then transferred to the mailshop (a separate vendor). It was essential that all variable data digital custom printing work supporting the mailing was accurate as well. In short, I had to ensure timely production of all elements of the job by all vendors, and then coordinate a mailing that would put the keys in the hands of prospects exactly when my client needed this to happen.

A reputable print broker will make sure everything goes as planned.

But What If It Doesn’t Go As Planned?

I had another client that same year whose print book started to delaminate. It was a crisis. The coating started to bubble and peel off on all copies of the book.

As a custom printing broker, I made it my business to collect samples, take photos, research the problem, and present all of this information to the printer with my client’s needs for remediation. The printer stepped up, figured out what had happened, and offered a solution. He would remove the covers, reprint and laminate the covers, and affix and cut them by hand, carefully trimming the job to make sure it was perfect. He also provided a schedule for the reprinted job that would accommodate my client’s print book orders from her clients.

In the case of a job gone bad, it is the responsibility of a good printing broker to step up, find out exactly what happened, and mediate a solution that will satisfy both the printer and the client.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term “honest broker.”

So for some commercial printing jobs, you may want to consider bringing a print broker into the mix.

Commercial Printing: Proofing Options

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Here are some options from which you may choose when proofing anything from a print book to a brochure. Some are more expensive, some less, but in all cases it’s wise to first decide what you are trying to see on the proof and then think about price.

Paper Dummy (or Folding Dummy)

It never hurts to see an unprinted (but folded and trimmed) sample of your custom printing product on the actual paper stock. Your printer usually doesn’t create a folding dummy himself (although he might do so); usually his paper merchant does this. And it’s usually free.

Virtual Proof (Also Called a Screen Proof or Soft Proof)

These are the least expensive proofs. You view them online through such computer portals as InSite or Rampage Remote. Besides the price, one benefit is that no physical proof travels from the custom printing supplier to you and back. This can shave a lot of time off the production schedule.

In addition, these are “post-RIP proofs.” Your printer has already turned all PostScript vector data (lines and curves) into bitmapped data the platesetter can read. It is extremely unlikely that any unforeseen technical errors will occur after this point (such as font substitution or any other flaws). What you see on the proof is what you’ll get in the final press run.

That said, I’d be careful about approving color on a soft proof. Usually a commercial printing vendor will not certify accurate color on a virtual proof. In addition, your monitor may be out of calibration, or you may be viewing the file in different ambient lighting than your printer (i.e., sunlight coming through the window, no sunlight because it’s nighttime, etc.).

Low-Quality Inkjet Proofs

One of the printers I work with calls these “Level 3” proofs to distinguish them from the higher quality “Level 1” proofs. You can check completeness and position of images and text elements with these proofs, as well as the margins and trim of your job. They’re inexpensive and useful but not adequate for proofing color work. Some printers also call these “plotter proofs” because they’re plotted as large, low-res flats on inkjet equipment and then folded down into press signatures.

High Quality Inkjet Proofs

Many printers will use the name of the inkjet printer in their description of such a proof. These are the “Level 1” proofs noted above. They are more expensive than a plotter proof; however, they are still only continuous tone inkjet proofs (not halftone dot proofs).

One of my clients recently saw some pixellation on a few Level 3 proof pages of a print book she had sent to press. The printer then produced Level 1 proofs of these pages. The pixellation disappeared due to the higher quality of the proof. Problem solved.

These high-resolution, high quality proofs are good for ensuring an exact color match in a job. For a color critical job, it’s smart to request both a plotter proof and a high-quality contract proof (an Epson, an HP, a Fuji, or whatever other “contract” proofing device the your custom printing supplier owns).

Halftone Dot Proofs

The Kodak Approval is an example of a proofing device that simulates the actual halftone dot patterns that you will see on an offset press. It is a laminate-based, laser imaging system that can print CMYK and spot colors. The Approval prints donor sheets, which then transfer the images to the actual custom printing paper. This is especially good for producing one-off packaging proofs on the actual stock to be used. Another benefit of such a proof is that it will reflect such artifacts as “moire” patterns, undesirable conflicts between halftone screens and patterns within the images, which you cannot see on a continuous tone inkjet proof.

Not many printers have these proofing devices, and the proofs are expensive. Similar dot proofing machines include the Fuji FinalProof and Kodak/Creo Spectrum.

Digital Proofs

If your job will print on an HP Indigo digital press (or a Xeikon), your proof can be produced using the actual press. If you’re custom printing a job via offset lithography, all of your proofing options except for a press proof provide only a close simulation of the final product. In contrast, if you’re printing your job digitally, the proof is an exact copy of the final digital product.

Proofs for Variable Data Jobs

Let’s say your job is an invitation or brochure that is personalized for every recipient. How do you make sure all the names and addresses are correct? You can either request virtual proofs of some (or all) of the addresses, or you can ask for hard-copy proofs. Keep in mind that for such a job you will be using a digital press (like the HP Indigo), so what you see is what you will get.

Proofs of Die Cut Jobs

Let’s say you’re producing a packaging job and you want to see one copy of the job to make sure that the color is accurate, the placement of all images and text is correct, and the die cutting will be done right. This is the time to ask for a packaging comp. If your printer has a digital diecutting machine (one that uses digital information rather than a metal die to cut the paper stock), he can usually print a copy of the art right on the comp, and then cut, fold, and glue the sample as it comes off the digital press and the digital cutter.

Offset Press Proofs

Trust me. You don’t want to do this. It’s extremely expensive to actually fire up the press to produce a press proof. That said, if your book cover includes a duotone made with two spot colors, a press proof is the only way to actually see the PMS colors on the actual stock. For some custom printing jobs, this is worth the expense—but not for many, given all the other proofing options available.

Digital Custom Printing: Museum Quality Required

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

I recently read an article in Graphic Repro On-line (4/17/13) that acknowledges just how far digital printing has come. “HP Indigo 10000 Prints for the National Gallery” strikes me close to home. I live a short drive from the National Gallery, and I recently attended the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit. I looked through the art books in the gallery shop afterwards and was reminded of just how high the standards are for print books sold in this art museum.

National Gallery artwork has been reproduced in a minimum of the four process colors in these commemorative print books. In many cases, touch plates have been added to expand the color range. Books have been Smyth sewn in most cases—even the paper-bound books. In perusing the books I got a real sense of quality, of an attempt by the National Gallery to include only those print books that reflect the work of the various artists in their best light.

Back to the Graphic Repro On-line Article

The Graphic Repro On-line article references the work of Pureprint Group, Ltd., of Uckfield, East Sussex, which produced “a commemorative fine art and poetry book” for the National Gallery Company on its HP Indigo 10000.

What makes this noteworthy is that only recently most books of this sort would have been printed via offset lithography with additional color plates in order to maintain the highest standard of quality.

In this case, 2,400 copies of Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian (a 56-page, 5.82”x 8.26” format, perfect-bound book) were produced conventionally, since the publisher was unsure of demand. When the National Gallery’s book quickly sold out, Jane Hyne (production manager, National Gallery Company) had a choice: take the six weeks needed to produce new copies conventionally (and risk losing customers) or produce the print book digitally.

The Pureprint Group produced a second run of the book (1,250 copies) within two weeks. They used an HP Indigo 7500 for the 4-color text of the book and printed the covers via offset lithography. Pureprint chose this route because the covers included French flaps and were therefore too large for the HP Indigo 7500 maximum digital sheet size.

Nothing Less Than Stellar Quality

This whole process speaks to one main ingredient: quality. There was no way the National Gallery would risk compromising the quality of its product or its reputation. According to Hyne, “The print quality more than matched the original litho run.” “Nobody noticed the difference.”

A Third Printing of Metamorphosis: Poems Inspired by Titian

Between the second and third printing, Pureprint Group acquired an HP Indigo 10000. This allowed production of the text in 16-page signatures since the B2 format of the press accommodates a 20.9” x 29.5” maximum sheet size. Pureprint could then produce the text more economically and quickly, and the larger sheet size accommodated the cover along with the French flaps. And due to the wide range of papers the HP Indigo can use, it was possible to run the same Hello matte sheet used for the conventional first custom printing in both the second and third digital press runs.

Why This Is Relevant to the Current State of Commercial Printing

I think this is noteworthy for several reasons:

  1. The quality of the seven-color HP Indigo 10000 allows companies to match the volume they produce to the expected demand, even for a short run. Print books need not be warehoused (or can be warehoused in limited quantities). Conversely, being out-of-print when demand picks up need not result in lost sales. Jobs can be printed quickly, as needed.
  2. The HP Indigo 10000 produces the highest quality product. If a major metropolitan museum is satisfied, that’s definitive proof.
  3. The B2 format of the digital press allows custom printing full 16-page press forms rather than just 4-page signatures, increasing efficiency and lowering cost.
  4. Book printers can now use the same press sheet for both conventional and digital products. This means both versions of a book will match. Moreover, if a printer wants to produce the covers of a book via offset lithography and the text via digital custom printing, the cover and text will match (as long as both are 4CP process work).

Envelope Printing: “In Your Face” Design Just Works

Friday, June 7th, 2013

In my hand I’m holding an envelope. It’s not just any envelope. It’s pink, or, rather, magenta. Actually I think it’s fluorescent magenta, which is even better. Sappi Fine Paper of North America sent this to me as the OGE (outgoing envelope) for a paper promotion called “Ideas That Matter.” All type is reversed out of the bright background on this 9.5” x 13” carrier envelope, as is the address block (so all postal information and the Intelligent Mail barcode are readable by the OCR equipment at the Post Office).

When I removed the envelope from my mailbox, the light was blinding. I’m only kidding, but it was the very first envelope I opened that day.

How many direct mail marketers would like that enviable position: the first envelope opened?

Analysis of the Custom Envelope (or Why It Just Works)

Let’s look closely at why this promotion (or the envelope, even before I saw the promotion) worked.

  1. Bright colors capture your attention. Sappi Fine Paper understands marketing. I’m not surprised. This is a bright color, but the radiance of the color suggests the use of fluorescent inks. When you’re doing your own design work, ask your custom printing vendor about either adding fluorescent elements to the ink or replacing one or more process colors with a fluorescent ink.
  2. The custom envelope‘s simplicity grabs you. Sappi went beyond just using a bright color. The heavy-coverage ink bleeds off all sides of the envelope. It is a solid color, and the simplicity of the design (nothing but the fluorescent magenta) makes it stand out from all other envelopes in the mailbox. The simplicity distinguishes this printed envelope.
  3. Reversing the type accentuates the brightness of the color. Sappi could have surprinted black ink over the magenta (or knocked out the magenta behind the black). But, again, the contrast would have been less dramatic. The sans serif typeface with its simple but bold letterforms further accentuates the contrast, as does the bright, white knock-out panel for the address information. I’m sure the Post Office was happy, too. You couldn’t miss the address.
  4. The size makes a difference. Sappi could have mailed a smaller piece, but it would not have been as dramatic. In fact, even a 9” x 12” envelope would have been adequate for an 8.5” x 11” enclosure. But Sappi went a step further and opted for an oversize envelope: 9.5” x 13”.
  5. Paper weight makes a difference. I pulled out my caliper and measured the thickness of the envelope paper. It “mic’ed” (as in micrometer) to 7 pt. Then I looked at an online paper weight conversion chart and saw that this “caliper” fell between 90# and 100# text paper. To put this in perspective, most envelopes are 24# or 28#, which corresponds to 60# or 70# text paper. So this envelope paper is just under 50 percent thicker than most heavy-weight envelopes. Why does this matter? It suggests opulence, just as the full-bleed, thick magenta ink suggests opulence.
  6. The envelope had to be converted. Sappi did not print this heavy-coverage ink on a pre-made envelope. Actually, beyond the 9” x 12” envelope, the standard sizes would be 9.5” x 12.625” (booklet, opening on the long side) or 10” x 13” catalog (opening on the short side). Basically, this is a custom envelope. Sappi printed the heavy-coverage magenta on a 100# gloss text sheet and then diecut, folded, and glued the “flats” into custom envelopes (a process more costly than just printing on pre-made blank envelopes). Granted, the heavily laid down ink and the fact that the ink covers one full side of the press sheet (known as “painting the sheet”) would actually necessitate Sappi’s printing on a flat press sheet and then converting the job into a custom envelope. In short, this also implies opulence.
  7. The size and weight make the promotional piece cost more to mail. Again, this implies opulence. Sappi is saying that this direct mail item is important. Sappi spared no expense (custom printing, converting, or mailing) to put its message in front of prospective buyers. The buyers need to know it’s worth their time to drop everything else and open this custom envelope.

What You Can Learn from Sappi

Think carefully about the design of an OGE (outgoing envelope). Weigh the costs against the benefits. It should definitely not be an after-thought. In fact, its design and custom printing will weigh heavily on a prospect’s decision whether to open this envelope before all the others—or throw it away.

Large Format Printing: Maps Provide More Than Just Directions

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

When was the last time you used a physical, printed map to navigate from point A to point B? Let’s say you’re traveling in a new town, or trying to find a location in part of your own town with which you are unfamiliar. If you’re like most people these days, you use a GPS (global positioning system) dependent on satellites circling the globe. Or you type your location into your iPhone (also a GPS) or your BlackBerry. Mostly this has eliminated the need for large format print maps—but at what cost?

Sioux City Addresses These Questions

An article I just read by James Q. Lynch (of the Sioux City Journal Des Moines Bureau) takes a look at maps created by the Iowa Legislature and Department of Transportation. “UNI Prof: Digital Road Maps Lack ‘Sense of Geography,’” offers some insight into printed maps, challenging some people’s belief that digital technology is always the best answer.

According to this article, the Iowa House and Senate will be custom printing their free maps every other year instead of every year. They may also decrease the overall press run from printing to printing. After all, printing maps is expensive, the article notes, as is drafting the map (i.e., ensuring the accuracy of the coordinates, roads, distances, etc.), and as long as people are migrating to GPS equipment, this makes financial and practical sense.

However, James Lynch’s article includes several thought-provoking quotes by Patrick Pease, associate professor and head of the University of Northern Iowa Geography Department. These comments point out the limitations of digital-only information devices.

Too Focused on Too Small an Area

Paul Trombino III, Iowa Department of Transportation Director, comments in Lynch’s article that there is still demand for large format print maps because “a lot of the communities and things that we place on the map [are] hard to find…on a GPS unit.”

To this Patrick Pease responds that GPS devices are so focused on a small area that you “lose the spatial characteristics” of the area in question. Digital maps “don’t do a great job of representing a large geographic area the way that when you fold out a map you can see the entire state.”

Digital maps also often omit topographical and geographical information such as “rivers, forests, mountains” that would be evident on a printed paper map. You can see how to get from Point A to Point B, but there’s more to a map than just getting directions.

Pease goes on to say that because it is easier to find your way using a digital map, “a person may have no real understanding of how they got there, no real idea of the trip they just took.” “You could ask them if they drove north or south and they may not know (because) there is no sense of movement, no sense of geography.”

Pease notes that “there is something about the shared experience of people looking at the same map that may be lost when they are looking at their own digital versions of that map.”

What About Consensual Reality?

This is my take on the matter, and I think it goes far beyond maps.

A map is more than a folded sample of large format printing. It is a metaphor for consensual reality. We all look at the same map, and we agree that cities are positioned here and there in fixed spots, with rivers, mountains, and lakes also in fixed locations. North is in one direction; south in another. We agree because we have a shared document (the map) symbolizing a shared reality.

What About Digital vs. Print Journalism?

Think about how this relates to magazine printing and newspaper printing, and how these physical print products differ from the digital news feeds that serve up bits of information precisely chosen to meet your interests (as divined by computer algorithms that translate your buying patterns and other “likes” and “mentions” into assumptions of your beliefs, preferences, and interests).

Pretty soon everyone is reading a slightly different newspaper, tailored just to them, just as everyone is reading a slightly different map on their own dedicated GPS equipment or iPhone. Maybe this detracts just a little from their shared experience. And maybe it’s important to have at least some shared experience (and some agreement as to what is real and important).

So “UNI Prof: Digital Road Maps Lack ‘Sense of Geography’” offers us food for thought. Perhaps large format print maps serve an important purpose. And maybe getting a newspaper or magazine that includes some articles with which you disagree, or articles about subjects outside your expressed interests, holds value as well.


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