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Archive for October, 2013

Large Format Printing: After You Print It, What Next?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Large format inkjet printers are all the rage these days, with environmental graphics, vehicle graphics, and point of purchase signage sprouting up all over the nation. The custom printing process seems rather straightforward, albeit increasingly fast and accurate. But what happens after you print your job?

Laminating the Large Format Print

The most common finishing technique is lamination. This involves adding a clear, protective coating to the inkjet print, either in-line, as the printing process is going on, or afterwards, using anything from brushes and rollers to a mop to distribute the liquid laminate over the inkjet print.

Lamination may also take the form of a plastic sheet laid over a large format printed product. Layers of adhesive on the sticky side of the lamination film hold the plastic firmly against the print. One benefit of this method is that it does not involve a liquid. Another is that it does not involve heat, so temperature sensitive inks or toners will not be damaged.

Lamination is used to protect a large format print from sunlight and moisture, and is highly advisable for graphics used outdoors. That said, since sunlight (i.e., ultraviolet rays) also come through the windows, lamination can protect an interior large format print as well.

Like ink, certain liquid laminates can be air dried (with the solvent or the water base evaporating), while others can be cured using ultraviolet light sources. In the later case, the liquid laminate coating polymerizes when exposed to UV lights on the lamination equipment.

Preparing Rigid Graphics After Printing

What happens to the printed piece depends a lot on what it’s made of and how it will be used. For instance, if you have inkjet printed an image of a guitar on thick plastic, aluminum, or wood using a flatbed printer, you would need a digital cutter/router to trim away the scrap (i.e., any part of the plastic, aluminum, or wood that is not the guitar image itself).

Digital router/cutters use the digital information included in the art file to trace the contour of the guitar with a knife, routing blade, or laser. Since the cutting information is digital, it can be changed for each item the router/cutter processes. Like the flatbed inkjet printer that produces the initial image on rigid board, the router/cutter travels horizontally suspended above a flatbed table to which the artwork has been attached (unlike inkjet printer/cutters that are used for roll-fed media).

Easels for Large Format Prints

If your large format inkjet print is light, and has been printed on litho paper and then laminated to a corrugated board, it may be ideally suited for a cardboard easel back. In this case, a folded cardboard (or chipboard) panel can be added to the print with hot melt glue, such that the printed piece will stand up on its own. You may have seen printed images of famous people, such as the president, cut out of a flat board and mounted on an easel back.

Sewing Flexible Large Format Banners

Let’s say you’re producing a large promotional banner you plan to hang from the ceiling at a trade show. After the banner has been printed, you will need to hem (or sew) the edges. This will keep them from fraying. In addition, you will probably also want to add grommets around the edges of the large format print. These will keep the ropes used to suspend the banner from the wall or ceiling from tearing through the vinyl or fabric material.

Installing Banners and Signage

You’d be surprised at how heavy some of these large format graphics can be, so it’s no wonder that there are companies dedicated exclusively to installing them. This may take the form of wrapping huge panels of an environmental graphic around the exterior wall of a building, installing billboards, or using heat guns to slowly apply adhesive vehicle wraps to the edges and contours of buses, trucks, or cars. This is specialized work, which requires not only patience and a steady hand but also a knowledge of the adhesives used to adhere vinyl graphics to motor vehicles. In most cases, all of these large format print applications involve carefully stitching together (metaphorically) various panels of printed signage into a complete image.

Large Format Printing: Cosmetics Environmental Design

Friday, October 25th, 2013

In addition to installing “standees” and large format print signage at movie theaters, my fiancee and I install environmental displays for a high-end cosmetics firm. As an example of large format printing, custom screen printing, and the overall marketing effect of a sophisticated environment, I have found these installations to be very instructive.

The overall set-up of the last staging included make-up tables, director’s chairs, carpeting, and large format print banners suspended from geometric stands. Clearly the overall purpose of the environment was to provide space for skilled cosmetologists to apply make-up to clients, showcase the brand’s cosmetics, offer free samples, and (hopefully) entice clients to buy more.

Creating a sense of exclusivity, sophistication, culture, and opulence was paramount. Here’s a little background information I gleaned from closely observing how each element of the environment had been constructed and how all elements went together to reinforce this effect.

Make-Up Tables

As I built these tables with my fiancee, the first thing I noticed was their heft: 60 to 80 pounds each. The cosmetics company had spared no expense to give these make-up stands the solidity that would suggest quality workmanship. They were angular, generous in size, and painted matte jet black. The brand’s logo adorned both sides of each table, screen printed in thick, white ink.


Carpet tiles marked the perimeter of this environment. Everything within this magic space reflected the company’s branding colors, logos, and ambiance. Everything outside the carpeted space was separate (outside the magic sphere). Therefore, great care was put into the fabric, weave, and coloration of the carpet.

Banners and Banner Stands

Most banner stands I have seen hold banners that curl or have frayed edges. Usually these are printed on thin canvas or vinyl, and the overall appearance is pretty but cheap. In contrast, the banners we installed had been inkjet printed in rich colors (probably augmented with extra inks to extend the color gamut). The fabric was a thick, flexible cotton or polyester. The banners had the feel of thick linen table cloths. Between the digitally printed ink colors and the fabric, the black-and-gold-themed banners exuded opulence.

The matte black posts that held the large format print banners also provided a sense of stability and sophistication. Each triangular “girder” had one panel that was solid as well as two that were constructed of short crisscrossing sticks. Overall, the structure provided a modern architectural look. On the outer panel of each side of the banner stand was the screen printed logo in the same ink used for the cosmetic tables.

Director’s Chairs

The company had chosen black enameled director’s chairs to seat their clients during the make-up application. The cotton duck canvas comprising the seat and back were also black, except for the brand logo screen printed on the back of each chair: again, in the same size and color as applied to the tables and banner stand posts.

Rip-Stop Nylon Cases for All Elements of the Display

Although no one but the installers would ever see the fabric cases for shipping the component parts of the tables and stands, these also showcased the company’s attention to detail and quality. They had spared no expense to protect the elements of their display and to brand them in the process.

The Overall Effect

From the installation process, it seemed that the cosmetics company wanted to project its commitment to pampering its clients and prospective clients, and making them feel special. Clients entered an exclusive club when they sat down in these chairs within this environment. They were also in a magical, timeless zone in which they held the exclusive attention of the finely dressed and made up cosmeticians.

How You Can Apply This Mindset to Your Design Work

Whether you are designing a brochure, a website, a large format print banner, or an interactive kiosk, you should be aware of the tone, mood, and effect you wish to evoke within the reader or participant. If you put into practice all of the tools of the design trade, from fonts to color choices to paper stocks while being sensitive to their effects on the reader or participant, you can dramatically increase your value as a marketing professional. The goal of marketing is to make the sale, and it is within your purview to facilitate this through your design choices and choice of materials.

Book Printing: Print Brokering Book Case Study

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

An associate of mine is an importer/exporter. He has a source in China for LCD books: small marketing booklets with a video screen imbedded in the inside back cover, along with speakers, volume controls, rechargeable batteries, and all the other components needed to play one or more videos (or replace the videos as needed).

These LCD video books make a dramatic marketing impression, combining the tactile and personal nature of a print book with the added sensory stimuli of sound and motion that come with video. They give the viewer an immersive experience, allowing her or him to absorb marketing information about a high-end service or product. For the marketer, this technology provides an opportunity to speak (literally) directly to the prospective buyer.

The Challenge: How to Produce an LCD Video Book

That said, these books are expensive, the supplier has a minimum run of 100 copies, and the books are all the same within a press run (i.e., static as opposed to variable).

My associate wants options. I suggested finding a way to produce the job in the US instead of China, and finding a way to combine the LCD video book format with digital custom printing rather than offset printing.


My associate and I do foresee a market for the offset printed LCD video books for high-end marketing. A Lexus dealer, for instance, might order several hundred copies to give to prospective clients on the verge of buying a Lexus luxury automobile. A take-home marketing piece that blends video and print might “seal the deal” by giving the client a way to relive the experience of driving a Lexus. After all, video is powerful and persuasive.

However, on a more personal level, a middle-aged family member might want to give his or her parents such a video book as a birthday gift, showcasing the events and successes in the lives of the grandchildren. With a minimum print run of 100 copies, such a gift would be prohibitively expensive for most people. The same goes for a wedding party or a special vacation. In these cases, only a few copies of such an LCD video book would be needed. Yet there might be a sizable market for such video books, just as there is a market for photo print books at “big box” stores like Costco.

Options for Producing the LCD Video Book

Right away my client and I identified the risks in buying these books from China. What if the designer’s art files were not as expected, and the books the Chinese vendor delivered had flaws. Granted, we would see proofs, but China is far away, and how can you seek redress for a custom printing job gone wrong in such a case, particularly when you have paid in full prior to delivery?

Moreover, if we had a local commercial printing vendor digitally produce the press sheets that would then be sent to China to be converted (scored, folded, and glued) into these LCD video books, wouldn’t we be taking a big risk? If the press sheets weren’t exactly to spec (or if there were any miscommunications between the local printer in the United States and the converter in China, who would use the press sheets to build the exterior of the LCD video book and then add the video screen), it would be a catastrophe.

How to Find a Local Vendor

First of all, I made an “instructional video.” Using a sample LCD video book, I made a 30-second movie with an iPhone to show exactly how the screen fit into the interior back cover (cover #3). I showed how the book opened, where the mini USB port was (for installing new videos and charging the unit). I wanted something that would let local vendors immediately understand the structure and technology of the video book.

I sent the video to a US commercial printing supplier I trust that focuses on integrated media and not just ink (or toner) on paper. This particular printer helps clients merge traditional print marketing work with video, social media, and such, to help present a unified marketing campaign to its clients’ clients.

I asked them how they could help and what they would suggest.

How to Coordinate Work from Two Vendors

We have discussed the following options. Nothing has been decided, but the goal at this point seems to be to use an HP Indigo digital press to produce a short run of printed sheets that would somehow be attached to blank video boxes supplied by my colleague’s Chinese vendor.

If we were to buy a number of unprinted boxes (fully converted, with the video screens already embedded), and then attach the printed marketing material and upload the video, we could vary the images from box to box. We would not need to have 100 or 100,000 copies of the same box. Therefore, we could distribute a larger press run from China to multiple clients here in the United States after individually imprinting them locally.

With that goal in mind, the next step is determine how to adorn the boxes. I have suggested a four-color custom label that would be printed on adhesive stock on the HP Indigo and then hand-applied to the box. If the design of the custom printed label were such that the edges of the box (the 3/4” “build”) could be white, then the labels would not need to be wrapped around the edges of the box. We could just diecut a window for the LCD video screen on cover #3. The front cover label, inside front cover label, and back cover label could all be a consistent dimension (say 4” x 6”).

That’s where we are now, a long way from production. The cost to produce the blank boxes with imbedded video screens in China, added to the cost to print and affix the custom labels, would need to be less than the market rate for such an LCD video book—but we can cross all of these bridges as we come to them. For now, this is an exciting challenge.

Commercial Printing: Primer on Folding and Scoring

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Often as designers and print buyers, we’re so focused on the page design or the texture of the press sheet that we forget the physical properties of the custom printing paper itself. Here are some thoughts on paper folding and scoring, two elements of your print job that will be essential, but invisible to the reader, if done correctly.

What Is Paper Grain?

Like wood, paper has grain. There’s a single direction in which the majority of paper fibers that make up a sheet of paper will align. It is parallel to the direction the paper traveled through the paper-making machine.

You can determine the direction of the fibers easily by tearing a press sheet. If you’re tearing with the grain, your tear will be much straighter than if you tear the paper against the grain.

You can also moisten one side of the sheet to determine the paper grain direction. In this case, the paper will curl parallel to the grain.

Fold With the Grain or Against the Grain?

Why does the direction of the paper grain matter?

If you’re designing a brochure and you fold with the grain, the press sheet will be less likely to crack, delaminate, or wrinkle. This is because you’re not folding the fibers; you’re folding the other elements of the paper mixture: the fines and the fillers.

That said, a fold “with the grain” is not as strong as a fold made “against the grain.” This may be a concern when you’re producing a pocket folder. In this case, to strengthen the spine of the pocket folder, you might want the printer to fold the spine against the grain rather than with the grain. In this case, you’re actually folding the paper fibers.

The paper fibers comprise the hinge between the front and back cover. This gives a strength to the fold on the spine that would not be present if the fibers ran parallel to the spine. In contrast, the parallel folds of the two pockets of the pocket folder are not structural and do not move back and forth as the spine fold does. Therefore, they can afford to be less durable than the fold of the spine.

Books Have Special Folding Requirements

If you’re producing a perfect-bound or case-bound print book, you do not have as much flexibility in choosing the paper grain direction. In this case, you will want the book printer to ensure that the paper grain of the text sheets runs parallel to the spine. If the paper grain were to run perpendicular to the direction of the print book’s spine, the pages would not lie flat, and the book might not open or close correctly.

Scoring to Allow for a Crisp, Flat Fold

When you fold thicker commercial printing paper against the grain, you need to score the press sheet before you fold it. Otherwise, the fold will be uneven, cracked, or buckled.

Scoring involves placing a metal rule (or some other device: even a string) against the press sheet as it goes through a rotary press or flatbed press (usually a letterpress rather than an offset press, although scoring can be done on an offset press as well; it just will damage the offset blanket). The weight of the printing press cylinders forces the rule into the paper, creasing it, and allowing for a later, more even folding process.

The bump that the scoring rule creates should be inside the final fold rather than outside of it. This allows for more even folding and less stress on the paper fibers.

Why You Should Score Before Folding

When a commercial printing vendor scores a sheet prior to folding it, any heavy-coverage ink, or varnish, will be less likely to crack when the sheet is folded. This may be useful for you to consider if you’re producing a pocket folder with a flood coating of ink, or even a brochure with photos, screens, or solid colors that cross a fold.

A good rule of thumb is that you should score any commercial printing sheet heavier than 80# text if you’re folding against the paper grain, and you should score any cover stock thicker than 50# regardless of whether you’re folding with, or against, the grain.

Printing Technology: NewPage’s Book on Interactive Print

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Periodically I get a copy of This Is Ed from the NewPage Corporation, a paper manufacturer. I’m a voracious reader of anything related to printing technology, particularly when it’s free. And as a paper manufacturer, NewPage goes to great lengths to showcase its paper products through educational publications.

NewPage Book Showcases Interactivity of Print

The latest issue of NewPage’s This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print focuses on the interactive nature of commercial printing, highlighting a number of current technologies you can incorporate into your design and print buying work to connect with, and communicate with, your audience.

NewPage identifies five elements that are essential to success in business communication: “attention, clarity, emotion, differentiation, and memory,” noting that:

“You want your messages to be noticed, then clearly and easily understood. You want to create a personal, emotional connection. You want to be perceived as different and better than your competition. And you want to be remembered when the time comes to buy.”

Mixing media, or “combin[ing] multiple communication channels to get the message out” most effectively and efficiently achieves the five goals NewPage has identified.

Techniques for Engaging the Reader

This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print suggests a number of ways to utilize the interactive nature of custom printing. They fall into the following categories: diecutting, special inks, and interactions between print media and the Internet


On one of its page spreads, NewPage includes a brochure printing sample that mimics the design of an “S”-shaped, multi-unit couch using a diecut and folding pattern of squares laid out in the same “S”-shaped format as the couch.

Another page includes an illustration of a woman with bangs. Printed on a separate layer of paper, these bangs have been diecut so that you can lift one or more of them to reveal the woman’s face below.

A third page includes a spiral diecut of an orange peel. When you lift the spiral cut-out, you see the interior sections of the orange below.

In all of these examples, the reader does something to participate actively in the reading experience. The techniques benefit from the tactile nature of commercial printing, something digital-only media cannot replicate.

Using Special Inks

In a little pouch hooked onto the wire-O binding of This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print, you will find what appears to be a blank booklet. It looks like a 3” x 3” paper folding dummy. However, when you take the booklet out into the sunlight, the “sunlight-sensitive inks” interact with the rays of the sun to reveal the art and text on its pages.

Another page in the book shows a printed magazine advertisement that uses “water reveal technology,” ink that becomes visible when exposed to water. It was the perfect metaphor for the MiO corporation’s process that adds “flavor and color to water without adding calories.” It is not only a good metaphor; it is also interactive custom printing. And the reader of This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print can access a video of this process through the NewPage booklet, using a downloadable app.

Finally, the book includes a sample of thermochromatic inks. Depending on the ambient temperature, the page will appear to have been coated with dark gray ink, or it will be light gray and will reveal the text below. Touching the page with your finger will also leave lighter fingerprints where your body heat has temporarily affected the ink. Another example of interactivity—and a playful trick to engage the reader.

Blending Custom Printing and Digital Media

This Is Ed includes a number of examples of how print can act as a doorway to further information or a richer experience through the Web.

Pointing a smartphone at one page (after downloading an enabling app) will take you to images of older Lincoln automobiles as an adjunct to a Latcha + Associates booklet on the new Lincoln MKZ.

Another page of This Is Ed showcases a Magnetique application that allows you to scan a magazine image of a fashion item and then takes you to both product information and outlets for buying the item (using geolocation information). Such a marriage of commercial printing technology and digital media makes the buying process easier for the consumer while allowing the vendor to interact dynamically with the buyer. In this case, the printed page leads the reader through a portal to a digital experience and from there to a sale.

Why You Should Care

The NewPage booklet is one of many that paper merchants make available for free. I encourage you to take them up on their offer. Contact your paper merchant and make the study of commercial printing a lifelong endeavor. It will make your work more enjoyable, and I think you will find learning about all the new developments in the field to be quite exciting.

Moreover, the more you learn about cross channel marketing and the interaction between the Internet and print–as well as the options for interactive print–the more valuable you will be as a designer and/or print buyer.

Large Format Printing: An Animatronic Dinosaur

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

My fiancee and I installed an animatronic standee tonight for Walking with Dinosaurs. The standee comprised an 8-foot by 10-foot by 3-foot box covered in printed foliage. At the center of the structure, a huge, three-dimensional dinosaur eye peered out of the flora. An internal motor made the eyeball shift back and forth in a natural—and perhaps slightly eerie—manner.

Why I Liked the Standee

This standee referenced an earlier standee of the dinosaur image. The initial standee had been a huge flatcard, essentially a large format print with an easel back. The design of the second standee was almost exactly the same, but in the first large format print the dinosaur’s eye had been rendered flat on the poster board. In contrast, the second standee enhanced the marketing theme of the first standee by adding dimension and movement.

In addition, I have always been a fan of standees that incorporate multiple media into their construction. The Walking with Dinosaurs standee makers went to great lengths to produce a realistic upper and lower eyelid and a striking eyeball using what appeared to be a thermoformed plastic resin. The surface of the eyelids had the rough texture of a dinosaur hide, while the eyeball itself was smooth and glass-like, reflecting its surroundings in its high gloss sheen.

Inside the cardboard structure that held the large eyeball (the attached eyelid and eyeball assembly was about as large as a flat panel television), a wooden scaffold supported both the exterior lid and interior eyeball while a motor and moving arm made the eyeball turn from side to side within the eyelid.

My fiancee and I attached a number of printed pieces of foliage to one another and to the outer standee box to create a forest scene, to give depth to the standee, and to cover the resin edges of the animatronic eye.

For me, what made this a memorable marketing piece was that beyond its three dimensions of length, width, and breadth (and it was a huge standee), the structure had a fourth dimension: movement.

In the past four years of installing standees, I have noticed that those structures that either invite a viewer into an environment (perhaps a chair and surrounding movie characters ready for a photo op) or engage the viewer with multiple sensory stimuli create a magical effect.

The physical composition of the Walking with Dinosaurs standee is primarily offset printed ink on paper, or pigment on plastic resin, but by bringing movement into the mix, the designer has created a marketing device that will startle the viewer and grab his or her attention. It looks like a huge creature is staring right back at them.

Why You Should Care

In a world where the role of custom printing is in flux, it is important for designers and marketers to recognize what makes a printed product valuable: that is, which qualities engage the viewer. In addition to color, photographic imagery, physical dimensions, typography, and the texture of multiple materials, movement and even sound will captivate the viewer.

However, because a large format printed construction such as an animatronic standee depends on the laws of physics as well as the aesthetics of design, it is important to consider the physical structure itself when you create a large promotional piece. In this case, a wooden scaffold supported a motor and moving resin eye. Someone had to create the physical as well as promotional elements of this device.

Therefore, as a designer of large format printed marketing items (whether they are point of purchase display cases for a product or a large format printed standee), it’s imperative to consider their operational requirements as well as their visual design.

Finally, it is wise to consider the effectiveness of repetition in both design and marketing. People get pleasure from recognizing one element of a marketing campaign that refers back to something they have already seen. If you do something once and then vary it slightly in successive images (or successive exposures to the same image), you will elicit recognition, reinforce a tone or theme, and invite a pleasurable response in the viewer.


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