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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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Custom Printing: Seven Things You Might Not Know

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.”


    1. “Profits in the US printing industry were up every quarter in 2010 and 2011.”


    1. “Since 2004, direct mail response rates are up 14%, while email marketing response rates are down 57%.”


  1. “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.

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