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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 February, 2014

Commercial Printing: Keeping Diecutting Costs Down

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

My fiancee and I just installed a standee for 300: Rise of an Empire. It was large, complex, and surprisingly reminiscent of another large format print standee we had recently installed for The Hobbit. Not that the graphics were in any way similar. Rather, it was the structure of the standee that gave me a deja vu.

I looked up the photos for the two standees in our iPhoto database. Both consisted of side-by-side graphic panels of movie characters. In the case of both 300: Rise of an Empire and The Hobbit, there was a central panel, then two panels (one on either side) set back about a foot, then two more panels (one on either side) set back another foot.

Working from the center outward to the left and right, both standees were symmetrical. In each case, the left and right panel for each tier was set back an equal distance, creating a staircase effect, with the center panel closest to the viewer and the rest of the panels recessed further and further back.

Why Is This Relevant?

Right away I saw that the structure of the 300: Rise of an Empire standee was exactly the same as that of The Hobbit standee. I surmised that the film studio had designed the standees in such a way as to use one set of diecutting dies for both in order to save money.

I have mentioned before that making a cutting die for custom pocket folders or any other diecutting job is expensive. In fact, I just gave a print brokering client of mine an estimate for 1,000 8.5” x 11” print booklet covers (front and back cover sets). The job requires two separate dies that will cost more than half the total printing price (about $550.00 of the approximately $900.00 total).

Saving money by reusing dies is smart. My guess is that even though The Hobbit has seven panels and 300: Rise of an Empire has only five, the five panels that the two standees have in common may well have been cut using the same dies. I’m not absolutely sure. All I know is that it would have been a great way to save money.

But what about the sixth and seventh panel of The Hobbit, which were not included in 300: Rise of an Empire (which was only a five-panel standee)? (Keep in mind that I’m only speaking of the background elements—top, bottom, left, right, and back panels that go together to create boxes supporting the flat graphic panel for each level.) Well, at least it would have been cheaper to create dies for two additional panels (plus the five panels both standees have in common) than to create all twelve from scratch with all different dies.

Applying This Diecutting Concept to Your Work

If this seems unduly complex, let’s simplify it and apply it to custom pocket folders. On the simplest level, if you choose a standard format, you will use a pre-made die that the printer keeps on hand for such jobs, and you will save $300.00 to $500.00 on your project. This is a significant savings.

Granted, you will need to choose a standard size, standard pocket shape, standard placement for business cards, etc. But this need not be a problem if you create sufficiently distinctive artwork to set your custom pocket folders apart from everyone else’s.

Nevertheless, in some cases, depending on your intended use, this won’t be practical. Maybe you will need a “build” in one pocket so the folder can hold a larger number of inserts than usual. In this case, you would need to pay for the printer to create a custom die. At least this would be yours to use again for subsequent jobs.

To expand upon this concept a bit, let’s say you were to diecut the cards you plan to insert in the pockets of the folder. In this case it would save you money to approach the design as a unit and perhaps create a diecut pattern that could be repeated for the various step-down cards. You might ask the printer to reposition the same metal cutting die as needed to diecut the cards. If you use the same general outline, you can make one die and just move it as needed. Again, this would save money.

General Rules of the Diecutting Trade

Printing companies that produce a lot of custom pocket folders will probably have a variety of standard dies from which you can choose. You’re essentially using someone else’s die in this case, or, more specifically, you’re using one die from the printer’s common pool of dies.

If someone else has a custom die made for their project, however, you cannot use it for your job. Conversely, although the steel cutting die that was custom made for your project will remain at your printer’s place of business, he cannot use it for anything but your work.

Conclusion: Plan Ahead for Diecuts

So the smartest thing you can do is plan ahead, group die cutting tasks together to minimize the number of dies needed, and use standard dies where possible. If you can use the same die the following year for the updated version of your annual project, even better. Forethought will save you a lot of money.

Book Printing: Avoid Assumptions with Web vs. Sheetfed

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

I learned something new today about book printing.

A Book Printing Case Study

A client of mine wants to produce a 68-page, 5.5” x 8.5” perfect bound print book of poems. It has a press run of 2,000 copies, and she wants French Flaps (the flaps at the face trim of each cover that fold back into the book, giving the impression of a dust jacket). It’s an upscale “look.” The text is black only, and the cover is 4-color process, printed on the exterior and interior covers.

I didn’t really think about where I was going to send the book for estimates, since I had done a lot of work with this one client at a large book printer with plants across the country. My contact at this printer knew exactly what my client wanted, how to produce the French Flaps, what paper would match prior print books my client had published, and how to achieve the faux deckled edge on the face trim of the book block that my client liked. I had also submitted specs for another book, a 450-page perfect bound job with French Flaps, Sebago Antique text paper, and a faux deckled edge.

So I didn’t think about the technology the custom printing supplier would use, or its limitations.

The next day I heard back from the book printer. He could not print a 68-page book. He could print either a 64-page book or an 80-page book.

I did the math. Oops. I had jumped the gun. My assumption that the job could be produced as four 16-page signatures plus a 4-page signature was incorrect for this particular vendor. It would have been fine for a sheetfed press, but this printer had planned to run the job on a web offset press. To avoid hand-work, which would have driven up the cost of the project, the printer planned to produce the print book as two 32-page signatures plus one 16-page signature. Hence, the options would be a 64-page book or an 80-page book.

Moreover, for the 64-page book, the printer would need to saddle-stitch the project. The text was too short to perfect bind. In addition, French Flaps were not an option if the book were to be bound on the saddle stitcher.

When you add to this scenario the fact that my client would need to cut four pages, this option didn’t look good.

My initial reaction was that my client would have trouble collecting enough new material (for a poetry book) to bring the text length up from 64 pages to 80 pages, so I asked about 68 or 72 pages printed via sheetfed offset lithography. (Fortunately this book printer is huge and has plants all across the country with both sheetfed and web-fed equipment.)

My contact at the printer told me that sheetfed offset would be more expensive. In fact, an 80-page perfect bound book would be cheaper to produce on the web press than a 68- or 72-page book would have been to produce on the sheetfed press.

What I Learned from This (And What You Can Learn, Too)

Here are some of the things I learned from this experience that might benefit you in your own print buying work:

1. When possible, it’s always nice to have friends in print shops who will take the time to discuss your printing options. Nurture these relationships. You will benefit from the wisdom of these professionals.

2. When possible, choose a vendor with multiple printing technologies. The printer I’m working with in this particular case has web-offset presses, sheetfed presses, and digital presses. My contact at this printer can make suggestions as to the most efficient and cost-effective way to print any job, based on its trim size, press run, binding, etc.

3. Don’t make assumptions. I would have thought that a 68-page book with a press run of 2,000 copies would have been ideal for a sheetfed press. After all, you can get a lot of 5.5” x 8.5” pages in a signature on a press sheet, and 2,000 copies is a short run. In fact, I would have considered the job inappropriate for a web press due to its short print run. And I was wrong. Apparently, a short-run, 64-page book (saddle stitched, with no French Flaps) or 80-page book (perfect bound, with French Flaps) exactly fit this printer’s web-fed equipment, even at such a short press run length. Expect to be ignorant from time to time. Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions, and learn. However, don’t assume one printer’s equipment will be the same as another printer’s equipment.

4. Presses are becoming more efficient. It’s eye opening to see that a web press can be efficient on such a short run. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind for future jobs. This print book has black only text, which probably also made a difference in the pricing and printing limitations. If I had to rebid the job with a 4-color interior, I would not assume it could go on the same press, or that it would be as efficient (i.e., reasonably priced).

5. Don’t make assumptions for your client. I brought the options to my client. She chose the 80-page option with perfect binding and French Flaps. To my surprise, she actually could come up with an additional twelve pages of copy beyond her initial request.

Book Printing: 2 Print Books That Make You Look Twice

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

I found two intriguing books in a thrift store yesterday and quickly snapped them up for my fiancee. Both exemplify the element of surprise and the tactile quality only available in a print book.

A Unique Book About Elvis Presley

The first is a book about Elvis Presley (Elvis Recording Career, 50th Anniversary, Forever in the Groove, by Susan Doll). What makes this book special is its shape.

Picture a book with three quarters of a spine (from the bottom of the spine almost to the top). Then picture the bottom of the book (the foot trim). This extends three quarters of the way from the spine to the face trim. Then picture a circular arc extending upward and outward from the top of the truncated spine all the way around and back to the bottom face trim of the book (i.e., almost ¾ of a circle attached to the spine and bottom of the book).

The print book is black, with a circular paper applique in the center. It looks just like a record with a label on it. The record even has grooves debossed into it (i.e., sunken into the cover material, just like a real vinyl record).

When the book is open flat on a table, it looks a little like two records side by side, with an almost circular left-hand page and a mirror of the circle comprising the right-hand page.

The interior of the print book traces Elvis’ career in words and pictures. It’s quite compelling, but it’s the unusual shape of the book, both open and closed, and the simulated record on both the front and back covers with a label and record grooves that sets this book apart from its peers.

Binding Observations for the Elvis Book

On a side note, it’s interesting to closely inspect the interior covers, where the endsheets are pasted down over the turned edge of the cover printing paper. The debossed cover, a 4-color printed gloss litho press sheet laminated to extra thick chipboard, has been cut at approximately 3/4” intervals, and then each little triangle of paper has been turned over and pasted down onto the interior front and back book covers.

Ultimately, this allows for the simulation of the curve of the vinyl record. The endsheets are then pasted down over these small triangles of paper. In this way, the binder was able to create an illusion of the curve of the record. The thickness of the cover binder’s boards also gives a heft to the book that reflects its air of importance.

Book #2: A Recycled Keyboard Blank Book

The second print book is a play on words, of sorts. I like it because it’s both humorous and unique. The book is approximately 5” x 7” and is case bound with cloth. On the cover, the bindery has glued the remains of a used computer keyboard. The keys tilt a little in various directions and have a rubbery feel. Some are printed with commands like “page up” and “scroll lock.”

In a world full of computer “tablets,” it’s refreshing to have a paper tablet (the name for a pad of paper when I was growing up). With the cover of the book closed, it looks like a computer appliance. With the cover open, it’s a functional blank print book ready for your notes and drawings.

Moreover, since the keyboard seems to be real, and since the frontispiece of the book clearly notes that “recycling is key, 80 page notebook, made from recycled electronics” (made by Two’s Company), the book has added merit. You can feel good that used computer parts have found a second life.

Finally, this little book “just works” as a design piece because the clunky keyboard gives you something to grab onto and run your fingers across. It has deep grooves between the keys, and the keys are rubberized. It feels good and substantial in your hands, whether the book is open or closed.

What We Can Learn from These Samples

Here are some of the things that came to mind when I held and played with these two books, trying to decide why they appealed to me so much and what set these print books apart from digital-only books:

  1. These books had weight and substance. They felt good in the hands, and their unusual shapes made holding them an distinctive experience.
  2. These books both looked—and felt—like the physical objects they were supposed to simulate.
  3. Each book had a playful quality, a humorous sensibility based on its being both a print book and a record or keyboard. This humorous quality was based on their unexpected, dual nature.

So, when you’re called upon do design a print book, if you want it to stand out from the crowd, consider starting with the question: What will make this different from an eBook? What qualities can I bring to the design job that an eBook cannot touch?

Custom Printing: Heidelberg’s “Game-Changer” Press

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The introduction of the new Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor is really quite exciting. In an age of digital custom printing, Heidelberg has made dramatic strides in–of all things–sheetfed offset lithography.

A friend and associate brought this development to my attention, so I did some research into Heidelberg’s new press, and I already see some game-changing implications.

Digital printing has improved significantly over the last two decades, and it has recently come amazingly close to offset quality. But that’s just it. It comes amazingly close. Once in a while, you need the quality, speed, and efficiency of ink on paper.

Heidelberg’s Claims (and Their Implications)

According to an ad by Heidelberg, the XL 75 Anicolor provides “the perfect formula”:

  1. “300 sheets to break even vs. digital”
  2. “1000+ Pantone colors”
  3. “40% lower cost per job”
  4. “45% higher production capacity”
  5. “0 click charges”

Here’s an explanation of these claims, made “in comparison of 29 [inch] digital vs. 29 [inch] Anicolor with average run length of 545 sheets” as well as some thoughts on their ramifications:

1. Due to the time and materials required for make-ready, it has (as a rule) taken a mid-sized press run to make a job competitive on an offset press. Until the advent of this new technology, you might have printed 5,000 copies of a brochure on an offset press or 500 copies of the same brochure on a digital press. Your unit cost for the digital print product would be higher, but your overall cost would be lower than that of the offset run. In contrast, if you were to print 500 copies of the brochure on an offset press, you’d pay almost as much as you would for 1,000 copies. All of your money would be going into preparing the press and getting the color right. So Heidelberg’s claim that the XL 75 Anicolor will print “300 sheets to break even vs. digital” is provocative.

2. Most digital presses only print process colors. Some add a few spot colors. In most cases, the digital presses must simulate Pantone colors using process inks (CMYK) along with an extended color set (maybe green and orange; or light magenta and light cyan; or a red, green, and blue). The accuracy of matching PMS colors has improved over the years, but for a printed logo or corporate color scheme, sometimes you just need Pantone colors. And an offset press will print Pantone colors, so Heidelberg’s selling proposition, “1000+ Pantone colors,” is most compelling.

3. The two following claims, “40% lower cost per job” and “45% higher production capacity” imply the following. With shortened make-readies and reduced waste, as well as repeatability, ease of use, and speed, it is now possible to drive down the cost of producing a print job on the Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. In addition, the higher production capacity is due to the overall speed of an offset press. I just did some research online and found one source that says an HP Indigo will print just under 5,000 sheets per hour. According to Heidelberg’s promotional literature, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor can print up to 15,000 sheets per hour. The speed of the press means greater throughput and hence lower costs (i.e., more billable work done in less time).

4. If you’re a commercial printing supplier, you usually lease digital equipment. Or you own an offset press. To allow for wear and tear on a digital press, a printer usually has to pay a surcharge “per click,” or per imaged page. This offsets the maintenance costs associated with replacing worn out components of the digital press. So Heidelberg’s claim of “0 click charges” means a print provider can reap higher profit margins on his work.

But There Are Even More Benefits

If you read further in the ad, Heidelberg briefly mentions two other benefits: “new, larger format” and “consistently high print quality.”

To address the first item, the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor has a 19.69” x 27.56” format. Most digital presses have a 13” x 19” format. (Granted there are some new digital presses like the Indigo 10000 that accept a 29.5” x 20.9” sheet, but these machines are not yet common. What this means is that you can print oversized items like customized pocket folders on the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor. Such a product (a flat sheet prior to conversion into a folded and glued pocket folder) would not fit on the 13” x 19” digital press sheet size.

Regarding the second claim, according to Heidelberg promotional literature, the Anicolor “zoneless short inking unit,” “inking unit temperature control,” “optimized washup programs,” and “automatic ink feed from cartridges” make offset custom printing not only faster and easier but also more repeatable. So the process is more stable and is ideal for standardized jobs in which consistency is of paramount importance.

Environmental Benefits of the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor

Finally, the whole process is easier on the environment. Heidelberg notes that the Speedmaster XL 75 Anicolor cuts paper waste by 90 percent. This is truly good news.

Custom Inkjet Printing on Wood

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

You can inkjet print on practically anything these days, from garments to wallpaper to sheetcakes. So I wasn’t surprised when I read an article about custom printing on wood (“Digital Printing for Wood: Advantages in Finishing,” in Woodworking Network, by Karen Koenig, 1/24/14).

Although I had always believed that woodgrain printed on veneer looked cheap (consider the office desks of the 1970s and 1980s), clearly a lot has improved over the years.

When to Use Digital Technology to Print on Wood

The article lists the following, for starters: “furniture, flooring, store fixtures and point-of-purchase displays, wall paneling, and even cabinetry.” To this, another article by Karen Koenig (“Picture This: Digital Printing on Wood,” Woodworking Network, 1/24/14) adds wall paneling and ceiling tiles, noting the benefits of this technology for large format printing within retail environments and trade show exhibits.

Benefits of Inkjet Wood Printing Technology

Keep in mind that prior to the recent strides in inkjet technology, printing anything on wood required expensive set-ups (both time and materials) of custom screen printing paraphernalia. You would need to print a huge press run to recapture your set-up costs. In contrast, you can now print “one or one thousand,” as Koenig notes, “quickly and easily.”

So speed, press run flexibility, and ease of use make this technology as appealing for wood as for paper or fabric. It also allows for economical one-off printing. That is, you can produce one custom design for a client in a cost-effective manner. With prior technologies, you couldn’t do this. Therefore, both mass customization and prototyping are now affordable.

Along with the ease of use comes speed. Unlike custom screen printing, inkjet printing requires almost no makeready, so printed wood products can be produced and sent to market much faster than before. The technology also requires less staff, since there are no set-up and clean-up tasks.

In addition, there’s the ever-improving quality of inkjet technology. High-resolution images of woodgrains, photos, drawings, corporate logos, or patterns can be inkjetted onto wood with photo-quality resolution.

But quality is more than high resolution. It also demands color fidelity. And with the newer inksets (UV or aqueous versions of CMYK inks or even extended color sets), this equipment can print a wide color gamut on wood-based products.

Multiple substrates can also be employed. On large-format (or grand format) flatbed equipment, you can print on solid wood, composite wood panels, plastic products, veneers—the list goes on. (This is also due to the newer options for custom printing on rigid substrates. Prior iterations of inkjet printers were roll-fed, so rigid substrates required an interim transfer step.)

In addition, the environmental benefits are material. The inkjet printing facility can be smaller, since there’s a limited need for inventory. After all, the designs are repeatable and can be produced on an as-needed basis. And since flatbed printers can inkjet images directly onto substrates, no interim supplies and papers are needed for transferring images. All of this saves energy, space, and raw materials.

Aqueous inkjet inks also have a lighter impact on the environment. Inks low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be used, as can UV inks that are cured with UV light rather than heat. Without the need for large ovens to dry inks, the UV inkjet printing process allows for a much smaller custom printing plant.

Limits of Inkjet Wood Printing Technology

As with anything else, there are limits with printing on wood. Karen Koenig’s articles note the following:

  1. You cannot “replicate the wood flip” (“Picture This: Digital Printing on Wood,” Woodworking Network, 1/24/14). That is, when you look at real wood or wood veneer from different angles, the woodgrain looks different as well. Inkjet custom printing cannot simulate this.
  2. If you print on wood or veneer and the flooring (or wall) is severely damaged, the pattern or image will also be damaged. In contrast, even gouged wood still has the same woodgrain, since the grain extends throughout the wood. To protect against damage, therefore, it is important to add the proper “topcoat” for protection.
  3. It is also essential to properly prepare the wood surface prior to inkjet printing. Otherwise, the substrate will absorb the inks and make them less consistent and vibrant.

Book Printing: Specifying Hardcover Books vs. Galley Proof Books

Monday, February 10th, 2014

A print brokering client just came to me by referral. She has a prominent consultancy, and she wants pricing on a hardcover print book. We discussed the specifications today over the phone. She also mentioned needing a galley proof (a lesser quality print book for reader’s comments and edits prior to the final hardcover book printing).

So, basically, we were discussing two jobs with completely different goals. The hardcover book is to be a 6.5” x 9.5” product with a dust cover and a “three-piece case binding.” (This is also called a “quarter-binding.” In high-end print books this involves wrapping an additional piece of leather around the spine to strengthen the binding. In less expensive volumes, it is done with an extra sheet of fabric wrapped around the spine and extending about two inches onto the front and back covers.)

The hardcover version will have a laminated, four-color dust jacket, head and foot bands (little pieces of multi-colored fabric covering the folds of the book signatures where they are glued into the spine). The paper will be a high-quality opaque sheet (probably Finch Opaque Vellum Book), and the book will have a reasonably long press run (5,000 to 10,000 copies of a 600-plus-page book). It will also include two 16-page signatures of photos printed on 70# gloss text stock.

The Goal of The Hardcover Book

My client’s consultancy will have this book produced for a prestigious university, so it will have to look spectacular. It will need to exude all the tactile qualities that make people choose certain print books over ebooks.

The Goals of the Galley Proof

In contrast, the galley of the same book will be a “reader’s proof.” Back in the 1970s, when I started in the field of publications, galley proofs were bound volumes, but they had the lowest possible production values since their only goal was to be read by reviewers and marked up with corrections for the author.

In my client’s particular case, this galley proof will only have a short run, maybe 50 or 100 copies. When I brokered a job like this for another client (albeit for a shorter print book), I was able to get a price of under $1,000 (as opposed to the $10K to $20K for the final press run). So the goal is twofold: make it readable, and make it inexpensive.

What I Plan to Suggest to My Client

First of all, since the hardcover book will have a 5,000- to 10,000-copy press run, I’m thinking of taking this book to a web offset printer. It’s a 600-page book with black-only text. A web press will save a lot of money while producing a quality product.

In contrast, the 50- to 100-copy galley will lend itself to a digital print run. It will be expensive, since it will be 600 pages, but it will be far less expensive as a digital job than as a sheetfed offset or web offset print job. In fact, since the only goal is to make it readable, I’m thinking of having it printed on a lower-end digital machine rather than a high-end HP Indigo.

If the photos are critical, I can always have the two 16-page photo signatures produced on an Indigo. If they’re just for position, I can even have the photo signatures printed on an offset text sheet. In fact, it would save money to print the entire book on 60# white offset rather than 60# Finch Opaque Vellum Book (which, as mentioned earlier, is my suggestion for the text of the hardcover version).

The galley proof would not be case bound. It would be perfect bound on the 9.5” dimension with a cover printed on a 10pt. press sheet. I wouldn’t even laminate the cover (as I would laminate the dust jacket for the hardcover version). For the galley, a press varnish on the cover will provide adequate scuff protection. After all, the hardcover book will be a permanent addition to the reader’s personal library. In contrast, the galley proof will be nothing more than an editorial tool.

A Different Approach for Each Job

The take-away from this case study is that you should choose an appropriate printing technology and appropriate production materials based on the intended use of the final printed product.

For a short-run job, consider digital processes (and select the level of quality needed for your product). For longer runs, choose offset lithography (sheetfed or web). If you’re unsure of the cutoff point for making this decision, consult your book printing supplier.

Once you have chosen the technology, select materials that will either have a long or short lifespan depending on your client’s design goals. For a brochure, newsletter, or newspaper, you might choose more disposable materials, since the product will be read and discarded. In contrast, for a product you want your reader to keep forever, you would choose the highest quality paper, binding materials, and paper coatings.

Printing Industry: Designing for the Visually Challenged

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

We all get older. It’s much better than the alternative. But as we age, our eyes find it more difficult to read text, and perceive color and contrast. I’m going to be 56 shortly, and I’m already noticing this. If you design printed products for a middle aged (or older) crowd, it is even more important than usual to consider the eyesight of the audience when you design brochures, print books, or any other custom printing product.

Along these lines, I recently read a useful article on legibility for older readers on The article is called, “Type Talk: Designing for the Aging Eye” (Ilene Strizver, 10/16/13), and it makes a number of good suggestions about how to select the most readable type for a print book, print newsletter, or any other job. After all, if your audience can’t see something, or if their eyes tire and they stop reading, no amount of aesthetically pleasing design will make up for this.

Choose Legible Typefaces

The article lists the ideal attributes of readable type. These include typefaces with tall x-heights (the height of a lowercase “x”), open counters (the enclosed parts of a letter, like the inside space of the capital letter “Q”), and uniform strokes (not too much contrast between the thick and thin lines of a letterform).

The article also suggests using sans serif type for body copy, avoiding condensed and expanded typefaces, and using a minimum number of fonts per page (two would be ideal, according to the article).

Basically, when you’re designing custom printing products for the middle aged, for seniors, or for the visually impaired, you would want to avoid complex display typefaces or script faces. These may be ideal for conveying the tone of your printed piece, but they impede reading. In fact, the simpler the type—i.e., the typefaces most people are used to seeing: the boring ones–are actually the most readable typefaces.

Make the Type Larger Than Usual

“Type Talk: Designing for the Aging Eye” encourages designers to make type for the elderly a bit larger than usual. If you’re used to specifying body copy at 9, 10, or 11 pt. (with one or two points of extra leading), then use 12 point type on 15 points of leading (12/15, or three extra points of leading) as a starting point. (For a more visually challenged reader, you might even want to set the text in 16 point type.)

Choose Type Weights That Are Neither Too Light Nor Too Heavy

That is, set your type in “roman,” “book,” or a similar weight. Avoid weights like “extra bold,” “black,” or “light.” According to the article, “research indicates that italic type is 18 percent more difficult to read than Roman (upright) letters.” Therefore, if you want to emphasize a word, consider making it bold instead of italic. Also, avoid the urge to make a style of type (such as all captions in a book) all italics.

Keep Type Formatting Simple

Uppercase and lowercase letters are easier to read that all uppercase letters. This is true for anyone at any age. For middle aged eyes, it’s particularly true. Therefore, set all body copy in uppercase and lowercase type. If you feel the need to use all caps, use them only for short headlines.

The article also notes that ragged right (flush left) copy is easiest to read (because the space between words does not vary, unlike justified type). It also suggests making column widths neither too narrow nor too wide (experiment, and solicit feedback from a few readers). Making sure the letterspacing (overall space between letters) is a little wider than usual is also a good move.

Keep Good Contrast Between Type and Background

It’s always easier to read type that stands out from the background substrate. Black type on a white background is ideal—all the better if your reader’s eyes are aging. Screening back type makes it harder to read, as does printing type over a busy background (like surprinting type over a photo). Conversely, having too much contrast can tire the eyes. For instance, if you’re designing a single-page flyer, avoid printing black type on bright fluorescent paper stock.

Break Up the Copy into Chunks of Information

The easier you make it for your reader to navigate the printed page, the more pleasurable the reading experience will be, particularly if your reader has diminished eyesight. According to the article, breaking body copy into shorter paragraphs, creating bulleted lists, adding extra white space to the page, including a number of subheads, and, in general, laying out copy in easily digested chunks all make for an easier reading experience.

Finally, make sure the hierarchy of editorial importance (as reflected in size differences and type differences between heads and subheads, body copy, captions, and such) can be grasped immediately—even at arm’s length. For anyone, this will make reading easier; for the visually challenged, it may make the difference between your custom printing job being read or not being read.


Be sensitive to your reader’s eyesight. Don’t assume that everyone’s vision is the same as yours (which is a very easy assumption to make). Think about your readers and their challenges. Then compensate as needed using the tools of the design trade. Your reader will love you for it, and you will get your message across.


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