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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 As Far As the Eye Can See

Having just finished installing an environmental display for a cosmetics event in a major department store with my fiancee, I paused and looked around.

It could have been any upscale department store in the country: a Saks, a Macy’s, a Nordstrom. As far as my eyes could see, there were samples of commercial printing, graphic design, logo design, product design, fashion design, packaging design, digital signage, and more. The store was a kaleidoscope of images to be absorbed and digested. I just wanted to breathe it in for a moment, to bathe in the coordinated ambiance.

Print and Digital Signage

Let’s start with large format printing. There were the banner stands I had just assembled. If the fabric wasn’t linen, I had certainly been fooled: by the thick, soft fabric, by their opulence and rich golden hues. The models in the photos had perfect skin, hair, and make-up. The extended color gamut of the large format printing gave depth and richness to the images.

Moving outward within the same branded cosmetics counter, I saw backlit signage. I looked up close and saw no halftone dots or any other semblance of a screening algorithm. It was clear that this backlit signage had been printed on film at the highest resolution to simulate continuous tone images. I surmised by the brightness of the photos that a backing of opaque white had been printed behind the photo to evenly diffuse the light from behind. I was struck by the use of the same beige tones and the same models who also appeared on the paper and fabric signage.

On an LCD screen built into the cosmetics counter, a video of the same models brought a visual consistency to the branding. I thought back to prior years, when all of the signage was static, and when large format printing in itself was breathtaking, even without movement.

Product and Packaging Design

In such a fashion setting, everything focuses on the otherworldly ideals of beauty, grace, and fantasy. No expense is spared to create the magic of this glamour.

It was clear that thought had been invested in the shape of the bottles of perfume and the boxes that contained powders and lotions. The grace of the curved plastic and the texture and heft of the glass bottles had clearly come from years of research into cultural fashions and the dreams and aspirations of the clientele.

I could see examples of custom screen printing on the bottles using thick, rich inks. Clearly no other technique, except possibly pad printing, could have provided the same quality. And in every case the intense spot lighting accentuated the nuances of the product containers.

There was folding carton packaging to be seen for each product as well. Hot stamped foil adorned the packages, along with laminates, metallics, and spot UV coatings. The metallic inks and the overall sheen radiated opulence, like gold in sunlight. The golden hues not only in this particular display but in other, adjacent locations worked in concert. The designers obviously wanted to create products aimed at a certain social strata, products that reflected the ambiance of the department store but at the same time distinguished themselves from the competition.

Ironically, it was not the overall look of the cosmetics counters but rather their contrast with the earth tones of an adjacent footwear display that stood out. The footwear display used earth tones and slab serif type to give a rugged and utilitarian aura to the products in that station. The contrast between the cosmetics counters and the ecologically minded footwear display was striking.

Even the typefaces sharply contrasted one another. The logotype of all products in the cosmetics display depended on the simple, elegant lines of sans serif type. “Less is more” made perfect sense in this environment.

In contrast, the product logos and typefaces within the footwear display signage were more functional and clunky, reminding me of the difference between a Ferrari and a SUV.

Print Collateral and Identity Packages

I was pleased to still see print catalogs and brochures as well as business cards. There was a consistency in all printed identity packages and collateral, as well as as well as an appreciation for the timelessness and elegance of paper in a digital world. It was not their particular design but rather that they were there at all. Clearly the affluent still value ink on paper, fine writing instruments, and crafted paper products.

All print collateral pieces reflected a refinement that comes from many years of design experience and an awareness of styles and trends. Clearly the finest designers had contributed their artistry to the overall look of this department store.

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