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Archive for January, 2014

Book Printing: Yearbooks Provide Digital Niche Market

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

I hadn’t thought of it, but it’s a no-brainer. Digital book printing is perfect for yearbooks.

I just read two articles on digital printing that point squarely in this direction: “Sunrise Digital Releases Video Comparison of Book Binding Options, Ideal for School Yearbooks” ( Newswire, press release, 1/9/14) and “I-Sub to Show Off Digi-Foil at Trophex” (, PrintWeek Team, 1/13/14).

Digital Printing Is Ideal for Yearbooks

The first article addresses yearbook editors and designers directly, describing a video instruction guide to binding options for yearbooks. This is noteworthy on two counts. First, video is becoming the go-to approach for instruction about technical processes. It’s ideal for showcasing custom printing techniques, since you can actually see what’s happening, and since it can be difficult to describe in words exactly how to bind a print book. The first part of the article describes four types of binding a yearbook editor might consider for such a project: saddle-stitching, spiral binding, perfect binding, and case binding.

Secondly, the Sunrise Digital release is noteworthy in that it presents digital printing as the ideal method for producing a short-run print book like a yearbook.

In prior years, according to the PRWEB article, the expensive set-up costs have often made it prohibitive for a small private school to offer quality yearbooks, given their small number of students. The press runs haven’t justified the cost of the process. Conversely, up until recent years, the quality of digital printing has not been commensurate with that of offset printing. Schools have had to settle for lower quality photos, inaccurate color, and binding problems in their yearbooks.

“Sunrise Digital Releases Video Comparison of Book Binding Options, Ideal for School Yearbooks” notes that the high printing quality of current digital processes is perfect for yearbooks for a number of reasons:

  1. The technology lends itself to short runs, so pricing will be attractive.
  2. Digital printers can provide a one-off proof that will exactly match the final copies, since the press used for the proof is the same equipment used to produce the actual press run of print books.
  3. Book printers can usually offer faster turn-around on digital printing jobs than on offset printing jobs. Since it’s sometimes hard for a yearbook staff to collect everything to hand off to the printer, a quick turn-around can be a blessing.
  4. Although the PRWEB article does not address the personalization capabilities of digital printing, I think this could be a selling point for yearbooks as well. After all, for such a book that showcases the achievements, relationships, and spirit of students at a school or college, being able to personalize each copy for each recipient would be an affordable and emotionally powerful selling point.

Add Digital Foil Stamping to Your Yearbook

The second article, “I-Sub to Show Off Digi-Foil at Trophex,” starts off where the first article ends. Although it doesn’t directly address yearbook editors and designers, I-Sub Digital’s Digi-Foil technology is perfect for short-run print books.

According to the PrintWeek article, Digi-Foil “employs a Mimaki UJF 3042 or 6042 printer together with a heated applicator to apply foiling effects without the need for foil presses or dies, and can apply foil on areas as small as 0.3mm.”

Although the article touts this digital process as being ideal for prototypes, one-offs, and short runs, I think it’s also perfect for yearbooks. After all, the usual cost for a foil stamping die (let’s say $500.00) might be prohibitive for a small private school with only 500 students.

According to “I-Sub to Show Off Digi-Foil at Trophex,” the foiling effects are “identical to those produced by traditional foiling techniques, but could be achieved much faster and at a fraction of the cost.” Therefore, a small school with a yearbook press run of 500 copies would not need to either forgo a foiling technique or settle for a sub-par foiling effect.

Will 3D Printing Transform Shopping?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I just read an article in Space Daily (, 1/9/14) that gives a sense of perspective to the new technology of 3D custom printing (or additive manufacturing). The article in the Tech Space section is entitled, “3D Printing Poised to Shake Up Shopping.”

It points beyond the 3D “buzz” of the moment toward future implications for creating and distributing new products and replacement parts for existing products. In fact, it even envisions a future in which people will print what they need themselves rather than either going to a store or having online vendors ship products to them.

(As a disclaimer, keep in mind that if commercial printing has been traditionally viewed as creating a virtual world on paper—one that engages the reader with words and images—then in my view 3D printing just takes this one step further by populating the physical world with more three-dimensional products. Hence, it’s still custom printing.)

Suggested Uses for 3D Printing

3D printing may actually be more than just a new technology, according to the Space Daily article. It may actually change the way people think about things they want to own. Instead of buying a “thing” from a business, they may just acquire the product “specifications” or “blueprints” (length, height, depth, material, weight) and jet print their own. Gone would be the need for a “store” or a “distribution center” or “warehouse.” Self-reliance would replace dependence on a “supplier.” The conceptual existence of a “thing” as a set of specifications that can be bought and sold would take precedence over the “substance” or “physical existence” of the thing itself.

Here are some uses that “3D Printing Poised to Shake Up Shopping” suggests for 3D custom printing right now—uses that are in fact already happening.

Prototypes: If you’re short of cash but have a great idea for a product, you can bypass all the start-up costs (buildings, machinery, materials, and labor) and create a prototype yourself (printers of various qualities now range from $497.00 to $6,500.00). (Think back to the DVD players that once cost $1,000.00 but that you can now buy for $60.00. Even the high-end 3D printers will eventually come down in price.)

One-offs: If you live in Africa and you need a single prosthetic hand, you can produce one for a fraction of the usual cost (already done with a MakerBot printer).

Replacement parts: If your home appliances break and need new parts, why buy completely new appliances? (The Space Daily article quotes Andrew Boggeri of Full Spectrum Laser, who referenced “a study indicating that the average US home could save up to $2,000.00 annually by printing their own replacement for 27 commonly broken household items.”) According to the Space Daily article, people can just jet print appliance handles, ball bearings, and gears—or whatever.

Toys: Interestingly enough, the article proposes that “independent toymakers will be among those leading to making 3D printing mainstream.” (Download the digital specs and then use liquid plastic to jet print your kids’ toys. This works well for toymakers who don’t want to invest in buildings and machinery—see “prototypes” above.)

3D Printing Compared to iTunes

Not too many years ago, I used to go to the record store and pick out albums to buy. Later, I went to the music store and chose CDs. But when services like Napster, iTunes, and YouTube came into existence, the whole concept of recorded music changed. I didn’t need to buy a collection of songs in a specific order on a physical medium (a record or CD). I could select songs I liked, buy only what I wanted (not the extra songs on an album that I didn’t absolutely love), and then play the songs in any order. Or I could go to YouTube and see videos of the songs (granted, without owning them). It was a sea change in my approach to recorded music.

3D Printing Compared to the Desktop Publishing Revolution

The same thing happened when I worked in the graphic design field in the early 1980s. First I learned to set type on a Compugraphic and then a Mergenthaler dedicated typesetting machine. Then in 1987 the desktop revolution began. I could set type, do paste-up, draw illustrations, and enhance photos right at my desk. And then—not too many years later—instead of handing off physical mechanicals for the printer to photograph to produce negatives with which to burn printing plates, I could just upload a digital InDesign file for direct laser platesetting.

Again, it was a disruptive technology. In fact, it was so disruptive that some businesses thought they could just buy a Macintosh and have the secretary write, design, and print the in-house newsletter in her/his free time. Photoshop even went from being a noun to being a verb. (In response to a bad photo, someone would say, “Just Photoshop it,” as though a program could turn a snapshot into an award winning image.)

The respect of prior generations for the skills of the type compositor, graphic designer, and photographer dissolved as advertisements suggested you could save all this time and money and have one person (on one salary) do everything in-house.

But People Experience Inertia

Lest we get carried away, people do experience inertia. Most people do not want to change the way they do things. To be a “game changer,” a product must be of superior quality with an intriguing design (think Apple iPod). An experience must fill a deep-seated human need (think Starbucks’ “third place,” a venue for human contact that’s not the home or workspace). Or a technology must be revolutionary (think 3D printing—perhaps). For this, people will change their habits and/or pay a premium.

What Will It Take?

Based on my experience in graphic design during the desktop revolution, my assumption is that quality, ease of workflow, and cost will be the determining factors in whether and to what extent (and in what arenas) 3D printing will gain traction.

In graphic arts, people soon became aware that it took both technical understanding and design skill to create a good printed product. Those producing print books had to understand binding options. Those creating large format print signage had to understand everything from typography to marketing to the effect of environmental conditions on vinyl substrates and signage inks. Levels of skill were required, and this cost money.

Conversely, for a simple print newsletter, a secretary untrained in graphic design could use a template and type new text right into the InDesign document. Not every project had to be stellar. Good enough was good enough.

I think the same thing will happen with 3D custom printing. People will experiment with everything from printing body parts to printing gothic-looking rooms to printing hamburger meat to printing guns. Then some applications will appear to be ideal for the technology and others won’t.

As noted in the Space Daily article, I would agree that replacement parts, one-offs (like the prosthetic hand, the plans for which have been downloaded 55,000 times according to the article), and especially prototypes will thrive in the 3D printing niche. Beyond this, only the future will tell.

Custom Printing: Marrying Print and Digital Marketing

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

I read two interesting articles tonight about marketing. On the surface, they didn’t seem to pertain to one another. Upon further reflection, however, I saw that they both make the same point: nothing succeeds like cross-media marketing that presents a consistent message.

The first article (“Motorola’s Interactive Print Ad Changes Colors with a Touch,” on, by Ross Brooks, 12/20/13) describes an ad for Moto X printed in the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine. A device incorporating LED lights, circuitry, and polycarbonate paper allows you to actually change the color of the phone in the magazine ad. The print ad campaign has been coordinated with outdoor large format print signage that changes phone colors to match the color of the observer’s clothing.

The second article: “Does Direct Mail Have a Future?” (, by Summer Gould, 1/6/14), touts the enhanced effects of coordinated marketing, in which an initial physically printed direct mail package brings a prospect to a website to experience the service or product–and brand–online.

The first article focuses on a print ad campaign (albeit one enhanced with electronics). The second article extols the virtues of multi-touch marketing.

A Bridge Across Multiple Media

What creates a bridge between the two articles is the increasing realization among marketers that a coordinated effort across marketing channels carries a stronger message than does one channel alone.

Moreover, the element of surprise (either through unexpected technology or through the coordination of a brand message from print to Web) is more likely to delight and interest the viewer than a single online exposure to the message and brand.

The Wired magazine ad for Moto X is powerful because it has been enhanced with electronics. Because of this, it distracts the reader’s attention from competing ads in the magazine. Moreover, since the imagery appears again as large format printing on bus shelters and storefronts, Moto X reinforces its brand message through repetition.

If You Don’t See It, an Ad Doesn’t Exist

For me, the take-away from the two articles is that if you don’t see an ad, it doesn’t exist. The unexpected color change of the Moto X ad (both print and signage) makes it memorable. A postcard that lands in your mailbox and directs you to a personalized web landing page is more visible, and hence more memorable, than a banner display ad of the same size on your computer.

In fact, you may not have even seen the ad on your computer. Perhaps you’ve trained yourself to ignore such ads—or perhaps you missed it because the online ad has no physical presence.

“Does Direct Mail Have a Future” notes that marketers still send letters, catalogs, and postcards because they are effective. They are an essential ingredient in the marketing mix. However, what has changed in recent years is the scattergun approach of sending the same message to everyone.

Nowadays, using analytics and predictive modeling, it is possible to segment a population into specific groups (or even individuals) and offer a relevant message to each person. Perhaps fewer postcards are mailed to a more select audience, but they are still essential. They trigger the next step to the Internet.

Now marketers can select the right individuals and provide relevant information at the right time. They can send out direct mail packages based on prospective clients’ needs and preferences, and direct them to an online view of the product or service using text messages, emails, PURLs, QR codes, and/or computer augmented reality. Moreover, marketers can produce and mail the print collateral and then alter the follow-up, computer-based information as often as needed.

Print Provides the Initial Contact

Without the initial print marketing, however (be it a print catalog, a letter, or a postcard), there might be no way for the prospect to know about the offer. Even if a large percentage of buyers do seek out product or service information online, at some point in time they didn’t know they needed the product or service. Print provides the initial contact.

As “Does Direct Mail Have a Future?” notes,

“With direct mail driving the initial engagement, the recipient will have the ability to seamlessly link to all marketing channels. This will continue to allow marketers ease of coordination and increased ability to accurate track ROI. The physical link with the digital world will drive the future of marketing.”

It’s all about finding the right mix of print and online marketing, analyzing customer behavior, and tracking return on investment. One without the other misses the mark.

Commercial Printing: The Upcoming USPS Postage Rate Increase

Monday, January 20th, 2014

If you design periodicals for a living, or direct mail, or anything else that must go through the USPS mail stream, you’ll be getting a rate increase on January 26. First Class stamps will cost $.49 (up from $.46); stamps for postcards will cost $.34 (up from $.33); and bulk mail, periodicals, and package delivery costs will rise six percent. This rate increase has a limited life of two years. It is specifically designed to help the Post Office recover from the decrease in mailing caused by the Great Recession of 2008.


A confluence of events has caused the US Postal Service to lose an increasing amount of revenue. Here’s why:

  1. The increasing shift of correspondence from paper to the Internet in the form of email
  2. The economic downturn of 2008 and its ensuing effects over the years
  3. The congressional mandate for the US Postal Service to fund $5.6 billion a year in expected health care costs for future retired postal workers

The Effects of the Postage Increase

  1. Unfortunately, postal rate increases cause a vicious circle. Although they are needed to stop USPS revenue losses, they have the side effect of driving direct mailers and periodical publishers to other modes of distribution. As the Internet has reduced customers’ need for the Post Office, increased postal rates have actually fostered this migration from print to digital distribution.
  2. Brick-and-mortar stores (such as print bookstores) must compete with online-only vendors. Due to their storage and distribution requirements, physical stores often cannot beat prices offered online. With shipping costs on the rise, this will further erode the profits of brick-and-mortar retailers.
  3. Non-profit organizations can be crushed by the yearly postage increases. Although direct mail has proven to be an effective channel for fundraising, non-profits on a limited budget may need to find alternatives.
  4. Although not directly related to the rate increase, the possibility of canceling Saturday mail delivery has arisen as a way to ease revenue loss. Unfortunately, this will hurt magazine printers and publishers. In an environment in which magazines and newspapers must already compete with online news sources, lengthening delivery times will make print publications even less timely and potentially hasten their decline.

Ways to Mitigate This Postage Increase

To combat the effects of the rate increases, here are a few ways to save money in your mailing efforts:

  1. Clean your mailing lists. Make sure all addresses are complete, accurate, current, and consistently formatted. This involves processing your lists through CASS certified addressing software (for accuracy and completeness) and NCOA software (for updates brought about by a move or change of address). It will also save you money if you add Intelligent Mail barcodes to your addresses. Your goal is to make sure everything you send actually gets to the intended recipient—quickly, easily, and without postal worker intervention. Talk to your USPS representative about your options.
  2. Look into “drop shipping” and “co-palletization.” Drop shipping involves shipping your periodicals or direct mail packages to the bulk mail center closest to your final destination. Co-palletization involves mingling your mail pieces with other publishers’ or direct mail marketers’ materials to reduce overall costs by sharing them with the other mailers.
  3. Follow all USPS formatting requirements to reap the greatest possible discounts for automation. That is, if the USPS equipment can read and sort your mail without operator intervention, this will keep your costs down. These USPS specifications pertain to mail piece size; aspect ratio (ratio of width to length of a mail piece); address formatting and placement; proper use of tabs, wafer seals, and glue seals; etc.
  4. Follow all requirements for bulk mailing, especially sortation of all mail pieces to the finest level possible. Again, the more you do, the less the Post Office must do. And the less the Post Office must do, the cheaper your postage bill will be.
  5. Research the most appropriate postal class for your mail. Standard costs less than First Class, for instance. If you can qualify for Nonprofit rates, this will cost you 40 percent less than Standard.
  6. Consider the trim size and weight of your mail piece. If you make a print catalog a little smaller, for instance, it may qualify as a mini-catalog or a letter (instead of a flat), and this will reduce postage costs. If you print on thinner paper, your overall piece weight for a print catalog or direct mail package will be less, so the postage will also be less.
  7. Use two-way custom envelopes for direct mail or transpromotional mail (like a cell phone bill). When designing your piece, make margins smaller and/or use smaller type sizes in your text. But be mindful of the legibility, appearance, and “ease of use” of the direct mail package. Reducing postage costs won’t help if you drive away potential clients.
  8. Invite a Postal Representative to speak to your office as a group, noting ways to reduce postage costs without affecting the quality of service.

Custom Printing: 3 Printing Surprises in the Past Year

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I recently read four “end-of-the-year” articles noting trends in industrial custom printing and book printing (or magazine printing). I thought you might find their content both intriguing and encouraging.

Ink-Jet Printed Circuits

The first article by the Atmel Corporation is called “Printing Circuit Boards with the Atmel-Powered EX1.” It showcases the capabilities of the EX1 to layer silver nano-particles onto paper, fabric, plastic, glass, wood, silicone, or practically any other surface to create a printed circuit board.

In fact, one of the photos accompanying the article shows two alligator clips attached to a small cloth rectangle onto which a circuit board has been printed. If you look closely, you will also see a black rectangular integrated circuit sitting up on the raised circuit pattern.

Apparently the EX1 printer jets out two separate chemicals from two inkjet-like containers, and when the chemicals mix they produce silver nano-particles on the substrate.

What makes this new technology intriguing is its potential for creating wearable electronics. (Imagine smart-clothing containing electronic circuits.)

Advances in 3D Custom Printing

The second article is “Core77 2013 Year in Review: Digital Fabrication, Part 2 – Materials, Processes, and Business Developments” (, 12/27/13, by Rain Noe).

In addition to a reference to the bioengineered, digitally-printed meat from Modern Meadow, which I had mentioned in a PIE blog many months ago, this Core77 article highlights a new wooden 3D printing substance (LAYWOO-D3) that can be jetted into any form and then cut, sanded, and painted. The printing filament is composed of 40 percent recycled wood.

The article then goes on to describe an inkjetted spray composed of metal particles, which can restore the surfaces of worn metal parts giving them new life (imagine gears and other metal parts within an engine, or perhaps a plumbing application). The GE Research Center’s Coating and Surface Technologies Lab is working to develop this new inkjet technology.

Another item of note in the Core77 review of 2013 inkjet technology is a new jet-printing material created by Materialise (a Belgian digital fabrication company). Their product (TPU 92A-1) is “flexible, durable, abrasion-, and tear-resistant,” and when it is produced in “a matrix-like form,” it will hold its “memory” (i.e., once compressed and then released, the substance will come back to its original form).

A third article (“3D-Printed Room Looks Like Gaudi on Steroids, Could Signal a New Age of Architecture” (International Science Times,, 12/30/13, by Ben Wolford) showcases “an impossibly ornate room [created] entirely from 3D-printed blocks.” The sandstone art piece (called “Digital Grotesque”), created by architects in Zurich, was jet printed in 64 blocks from digital blueprints. The hollow pieces were then assembled into a 172-square foot room with 10-foot high walls.

According to the article, what makes this particularly interesting—other than the fact that the architectural display has 260 million distinct surfaces—is that these complex surfaces cost no more to make, and took no more time to fabricate, than a plain box.

In essence, there’s no cost premium or time premium for a more ornate structure, or a more personalized structure, and this will have a dramatic effect on the business of architectural jet printing.

The Rise of “Bookazines”

As newspaper and magazine sales have declined over the past several years, a new category of custom printing, or book printing, has actually had increasing sales. takes note of this movement in “A Glimmer of Growth Amidst the Newsstand’s Gloom” (12/10/13).

Bookazines (also known as special issues) are usually single-topic publications produced by magazine brands on high quality custom printing stock with specialized content. According to the article, subject matter includes “tributes to dead celebrities, in-depth looks at a single topic, and recipe books.”

To put this in perspective,

  1. “Bookazines accounted for more than 10% of total newsstand sales last year, and that share seems to be growing rapidly.” (DeadTreeEdition)
  2. “Unit sales of the special issues in the U.S. and Canada grew at nearly an 11% annual rate from 2008 to 2012, with annual revenue up 80%.” (DeadTreeEdition)
  3. “During the same period, total unit sales of magazines decreased about 10% annually.” (DeadTreeEdition)

The big question is why people will spend $10.00 or more for information they can access on the Internet. Apparently, there’s more to a print book than its content.

Large Format Printing: Subtle Differences in Standees

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

My fiancee and I installed two more standees over the past few days. These were for the new movie X-Men. I was surprised to see more versioning, and I have given thought over the past few days to the goals the movie studio might have had when creating two versions of the large format print standee.

Description of the Standees

Both versions involve dynamic graphics of two faces with transparent “X”’s over them. You can see the tightly cropped faces through the transparent “X,” and if you look closely, you will see that the image within the “X” is actually a totally different face, so you’re really looking at a mosaic of four movie characters (two per face) rather than two. The effect is subtle but very cool.

Both versions of the large format print standees include the same tightly cropped faces. What differs between the two versions is the treatment of the movie title. In one case, the type is on a central panel between the two faces, run vertically up the narrow panel. In the other case the type is horizontal and printed at the bottom across both faces. In this case, there is no central panel.

Personally, I think the design differences reflect an “A/B Test” (described in a recent PIE Blog article) to determine which is the more effective design treatment.

The other potential reasons for the movie studio’s producing two versions of the large format print standee would be the following:

  1. The standee without the central panel is narrower than the other version by about two feet. This might allow smaller theaters to display the smaller version of this particular standee.
  2. One panel’s worth of a corrugated box plus a covering graphic panel and some screws were omitted from the standee without the central panel. This would have saved money on printing, diecutting, and shipping, when you multiply the item cost by the multitude of theaters across the USA showing X-Men.

Again, this is all speculation, other than the fact that there are two almost–but not quite–identical versions of the same standee. Unlike these X-Men standees, in the past, standees for the same movie had differed substantially. For instance, the studio promoted Walking with Dinosaurs with a flat card (flat, large format print image supported by a cardboard easel) and an alternate version with a thermoformed plastic eye that bulged out of the structure and actually moved from side to side as an animatronic device and motor system operated. In contrast to this standee “set,” the two X-Men standees were almost identical to one another.

The Real Reason for the Change (I Think)

For me this was an object lesson in legible type. In one version of the standee, the two X-Men portraits were separated by a central panel on which the title and subtitle of the movie (X-Men, Days of Future Past) had been turned counterclockwise 90 degrees to run up the vertical space. Mind you, they are not vertical (one letter above the other). They are completely rotated. You have to tilt your head 90 degrees to read them.

From a design point of view, it’s a dramatic treatment. Very powerful. However, from the point of view of legibility, it’s not quite as readable as a horizontal text treatment of the title would be. Here’s why.

All type of the title and subtitle are set in all caps (X-MEN and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST). Unlike words composed of lowercase letters, which form recognizable shapes (as words) with their ascenders and descenders, words composed exclusively of capital letters have a rectangular shape (no ascenders or descenders to extend out of the rectangle).

(Draw a box around the shape of an all-caps word, and you’ll see it’s a rectangle. In fact, if you draw a box around any word composed of all uppercase letters, you’ll see the same rectangle—just of a different width.)

As we read a passage of text, or a movie title, we don’t read and identify each letter. We look for the recognizable shapes of the words. This is why it’s harder to read a passage of type in a print book that’s set in all caps. However, when you turn the text on its side on a standee, the words become even harder to read.

This Isn’t Always Bad

Have you ever seen the cover of a journal or print newsletter with the magazine’s title slightly obscured by the cover art? Perhaps a model is in front of one of the letters. If you read the magazine regularly, you recognize the typeface, color, and wording of the title, even without seeing every letter. You don’t have to see everything to know what you’re looking at.

Movie promotions depend on how recognizable the movie images are. In fact, I have surmised over the last four years’ of standee installation that movies that are very popular actually need less promotion than new movie franchises. Hunger Games, for instance, had a huge following. When the prior installment of the film came out, my fiancee and I only hung a small banner in most theaters. Moviegoers didn’t need to see a 14-foot, large format print standee to convince them to buy a ticket. All they needed to know was when the movie would be shown.

To bring this back to the X-Men standees, the less legible type on the larger version with the vertical type panel would not be a problem for those who already recognize the X-Men movie franchise. Those waiting for this particular film to come out would grasp the images and text instantly.

However, those who are just being introduced to the X-Men ethos might need to read every word, and the legibility of the horizontal type across the bottom of the alternate standee version might just make the difference between their buying—or not buying—a ticket.

How This Relates to You

Here are a few take-aways you can apply to all commercial printing design jobs:

  1. Consider your audience. Are they familiar with what you’re designing? If not, make sure everything is not only dramatic in its design but consummately legible as well.
  2. Remember that all-caps text is harder to read than upper and lowercase type. Also, remember that horizontal type is easier to read than vertical type.
  3. Legibility comes first. If your audience can’t read your design product, it doesn’t matter how cool it looks.

Custom Printing: Digital Printing in Architectural Design

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I read an article in MyPrintResource tonight called “House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture.” (, 12/11/13, Ron Gilboa and Arianna Valentini). I found the title intriguing, in light of recent advances in 3D custom printing. In the recent past, I had also read articles about fantasy environments created with the new additive manufacturing jet printers, but I had not realized that digital custom printing has such a bright future in so many different aspects of architectural design.

“House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture” showcases the digital offerings of The Architecture Boston Expo (ABX). The ABX website promotes this venue as “one of the largest events for the design and construction industry in the country, and the largest regional conference and tradeshow.” In their article, Gilboa and Valentini note the following arenas of architectural design influenced by digital printing.

Architectural Glass

Both traditional and digital techniques can be used in tandem to make anything from a glass privacy partition to a solely decorative glass panel. As an example, Gilboa and Valentini note that texture could be added to one side of a glass panel using traditional methods while a design is digitally printed on the opposite side of the glass.

Customized Flooring

“House of the Future = On-Demand Architecture” also describes the offerings of a flooring vendor called We Cork that displayed products at ABX. The firm creates a wood base for their flooring materials, then adds a layer of cork with digitally printed wood grain, and then covers the product with a protective coating for durability.

In addition to allowing customers to specify the appearance of their floors, the company offers a product that is ideal for sound proofing and insulating. (I would think it would also be comfortable to walk on due to the resilient nature of cork.)

Digitally Printed Laminates

The article goes on to describe laminates in which digitally printed layers of imagery can be combined with successive layers of material and then treated with high pressure to become cabinetry, walls, and counter tops (displayed at ABX by Formica Envision).

Ceramic Tiles

Gilboa and Valentini’s article then describes ceramic tiles by Best Tile that had been digitally printed to provide the “look and feel of Carrera marble.” The technology is reaching the point that the consumer can no longer distinguish between traditionally produced ceramic tiles and digitally produced tiles.

Looking Beyond The Architecture Boston Expo

I thought back to other digital large format printing articles I had read about such topics as fabric printing and wallpaper printing, both of which are increasingly dependent on digital inkjet technology, and both of which have architectural applications as well. For instance, anything from sheets and bed-covers to drapes can be digitally printed on large format printing equipment. As architects envision the outer structure of a building, they can also consider the interior design treatment of the walls, floors, and furniture.

I also thought back to the articles I had read about entire fantasy environments created using 3D custom printing equipment to produce components that would then be assembled into much larger living spaces. It seems that these techniques would find application in more utilitarian architectural design as well as fantasy environments.

Implications of Digital Printing in Architecture

What this article began to awaken in me was the awareness of interior and architectural design as two sides of the same coin, with artistic merit both in the aesthetics of its three-dimensional structure and in the artistic treatment of its surfaces.

More specifically, as 3D custom printing matures, it will be necessary to consider the item or architectural structure you want to print, and it will be equally important to consider the designs, colors, and textures to apply to the surfaces of the architectural structure.

Unlike ink on paper, or even large format printing on paper, vinyl, or canvas, which focuses predominantly on imagery printed on a flat (albeit sometimes textured) surface, the future of architectural design will focus in a more dimensional, or sculptural, way on physical items in three-dimensional space.

To put this in perspective, this has already been done in the area of product design. Think about Apple’s computer offerings, which depend as much on aesthetics (color, texture, shape, weight) as on their operational features.

Or consider OXO Good Grips, a series of kitchen tools created to be functional, ergonomically sound, and aesthetically pleasing. The list goes on.

In this light, between the digital options for surface printing (such as ink jet and dye sublimation printing) and the digital options for producing substance and structures (3D digital printing), the horizons are limitless.

Book Printing: A Resurgence of Physical Books and Journals

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

I’ve read a number of articles recently that dispute the fact that print—and the printed book, in particular–is dead. I wanted to share some information from the articles because I find this new trend toward the coexistence of electronic media and print media to be heartening.

Article #1: “New Research Reveals Unexpected Positive Outlook for the Printed Book, Due to Love of the Medium”

This is a press release from Ricoh Americas Corporation on It discusses the findings of a Ricoh study called “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers.”

Here’s a summary of Ricoh’s findings from their survey:

  1. According to the study, “Nearly 70 percent of consumers feel it is unlikely that they will give up on printed books by 2016.” Although many readers buy both e-books and print books, they still have an emotional attachment to the sensory elements of reading a printed book.
  2. Even though there is a push towards eBooks for class textbooks, the study found that college students still consider print books more conducive to study. Apparently, it’s harder to concentrate on screen-based reading material than on a print book.
  3. According to the study, “60% of eBooks downloaded are never read.” The growth of eBooks and eReaders has leveled off and is declining a bit.
  4. Although fewer print books are being produced, more titles are being sold. Digital custom printing has allowed publishers to only print books that will be purchased, rather than warehousing and then potentially destroying the overage. In some cases, publishers are starting with offset printed runs of books and then defaulting to digital printing for additional orders of popular titles.
  5. Digital inkjet printers are particularly useful in the new business model. According to the study, “just 50 production inkjet systems owned by 25 book manufacturers produced more than ten percent of all printed book pages in the US in 2012.” (Ricoh press release)
  6. In spite of the growth in eBooks over the past several years, “even the largest publishers derive revenues of no more than 20-30 percent from eBook sales.” (Ricoh press release)

Article #2: “Online Publications See a Future in Print”

This article (by Matt Pearce, 12/13/13) notes that online news sources such as (indie music), Los Angeles Review of Books, New Inquiry (online journal), and Jezebel (feminist website) have branched out to include print editions.

Here are some of the findings of “Online Publications See a Future in Print”:

  1. By cultivating both an online and print presence, publishers are embracing a larger audience. This augments their bottom line.
  2. Although the Internet is perceived as more immediate and more conducive to two-way communication, print books and journals are more “authoritative” ( article) since they are permanent and unchangeable.
  3. The Internet lends itself to skimming a vast amount of information, but print books invite more focused and attentive reading of longer, more in-depth works.
  4. Books and journals committed to ink on paper are more likely to have higher production values (paper quality, design, etc.). They are usually produced in shorter runs as a boutique product, and are intended to be read and then kept for future reference. In many cases, they are not produced on as frequent a schedule as in prior years (quarterly rather than monthly, for instance).
  5. People like something tangible when they buy a product. You can hold a print book or magazine. An eBook does not have a physical presence.
  6. Readers can avoid online ads and usually choose to do so. In contrast, many people acknowledge that they actually like the ads in magazines. From a business standpoint, print ads command a premium to online ads. Vendors prefer to spend money placing ads in print publications since the ads are actually read.

Article #3: “Independent Bookstores Turn a New Page on Brick-and-Mortar Retailing”

This Washington Post article (by Michael S. Rosenwald, 12/15/13) adds a few additional thoughts from the vantage point of a Frederick, MD, independent bookstore (Curious Iguana).

Here are some highlights of the Washington Post article:

  1. The growth of eBooks has leveled off.
  2. There is a new category of reader, the “hybrid reader,” who buys both eBooks and print books.
  3. People want time away from the screens they’re always reading. They want to do something that’s physical rather than virtual.
  4. Indie bookstores such as Politics and Prose, Curious Iguana, Word, and Bookbug provide more than just easy access to books. People want the intellectual and social rewards that come from attending readings, classes, and associated trips provided by independent bookstores. They also like the fact that in many cases a portion of the print book sales proceeds will go to philanthropic causes.

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