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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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Commercial Printing: Print Samples in a Hotel Room

My fiancee and I are now living in a hotel. We had a house fire, just like a surprising number of other tenants on their way through hotel rooms to their final accommodations in a long-term rental house or condo. Fire is a big business.

The again, so is commercial printing. And one item I managed to extract from the house is my printer’s loupe. Another is my sense of adventure and my love of custom printing. Needless to say, living in a hotel room with these tools, I have noticed samples of printing that I want to share with you.

The Printed Plastic Key Cards

I looked at the key cards under my loupe and didn’t see a dot pattern in the graphic images adorning my fiancee’s card and my own. Therefore, I surmised that neither offset printing nor laser printing (electrophotography) had been used to print these plastic keys. Since this leaves inkjet printing, my educated guess is that the images and text had been inkjet printed using UV inks or solvent inks, since plastic is not porous. The cards might also have been laminated, but this didn’t seem to be the case.

An online search made it very clear that magnetic strip technology and RFID are booming, with plastic key cards being the preferred security vehicle for numerous industries.

From a design point of view I was equally impressed. My fiancee and I each had a key card. However, the two images were not only attractive and branded to the hotel chain, but they were also totally different. My fiancee and I could tell immediately whether we had both keys. And given our experience at the first hotel after the fire, we were clear that the keys could be easily encoded and rendered void as needed. Can you say that about a metal key?

The Usual Amenities: Soap, Shampoo, Etc.

I didn’t want to leave out the usual amenities you find in a hotel room, since these include the most basic staples of the commercial printing industry: the door hanger, boxes of soap, printed shampoo tubes, even flexible packaging containing shaving cream.

While these were not especially dramatic when compared to the full-color images on the keycards, they were nevertheless quite useful (there’s nothing like the first shower and shampoo after a house fire). Also, they’re clearly keeping both printers and graphic designers employed, and when taken together they provide a portfolio of grooming amenities analogous to an identity package (business card, envelope, and letterhead) for a small business.

The Wall Signage

While not as theatrical as the large format print standees my fiancee and I install, the functional hotel signage played an important role in our stay. Plastic relief signs (the letters were raised and printed in a secondary color to contrast with the background) showed where the laundry room was and how to get out of the building in case of fire. (I would think that many of the long-term residents at this extended-stay hotel already had learned how to get out of a fire at their own homes.)

It looked like these signs had been produced with custom screen printing due to the thick ink used on the raised letterforms. Furthermore, I would think that the background plastic material had been tinted beige with some sort of dye added to the liquid plastic prior to its thermoforming.

One sign showing the escape routes had actually been printed on fiberglass (I noticed the filaments on the four sides that had been cut to create the sign). When I looked closely with my loupe, I saw that the text and drawings had been recessed beneath the surface of the sign. It seems that the printing is either inside the fiberglass sign or there is a coating over the sign. Regardless, the sign isn’t going anywhere. It’s bolted to the front door.

Another plastic sign notes the penalty for smoking (the clean-up fee). Fortunately I don’t smoke. Under a loupe, I can see the equal sized dots that suggest the text had been printed onto the plastic using inkjet technology (probably solvent or UV inks, again, since the plastic substrate is nonporous).

The Refrigerator Magnets

Adorned with everything from “Have a nice day” to a description of how you might want your morning cereal at the hotel’s continental breakfast, the printed magnets all carry a message on small-format, magnet-backed vinyl sheets. Based on their appearance under a loupe, I would say they had been offset printed (probably due to the length of the press run, since digital printing would have been the alternative for a shorter press run). Other samples with thicker ink may have even been produced via custom screen printing.

The Room Service Menu

I can always eat, no matter what disaster has befallen me and mine, so I read the menu at the first hotel (I hadn’t taken any print books out of the fire-damaged and condemned house). Printed on thick paper and coated with a laminate, this menu clearly will tolerate numerous greasy fingers.

The Table-Tent Hotel Instruction Manual

This may not quite be a table tent, but the free-standing, four-ring binders with directions to all manner of hotel-related subjects clearly had required commercial printing, lamination, drilling, and assembly onto the rings. Moreover they were attractive as well as useful.

It All Comes Together to Create a Brand

The piece de resistance was that all items went together on a graphic level to ensure a coordinated branding of the hotel chain. Now that’s foresight.

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