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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 May, 2014

Book Printing: Consider the Subtleties of Paper

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

I’m brokering the custom printing of two books for a husband and wife publishing team. Both print books will be 5.5” x 8.5” in format, but one will be 450 pages plus cover (the fiction book) and one will be 80 pages plus cover (the poetry book).

In this particular stage of the process, there will only be 50 copies of each, because reviewers will read and comment on these “galley” proofs, and then each title will be printed in a much larger final press run with French flaps, deckled edges, and on thicker paper. These print books are essentially an attractive version of a laser proof.

Paper Choices for the Two Books

Due to the short press run of 50 copies, the commercial printing vendor offered to charge the same amount for either 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Text or white offset stock. Keep in mind that even for the longer book of fiction, there would only be 50 x 450 = 22,500 5.5” x 8.5” book pages, so the amount of paper used in the entire job would be limited compared to any offset printed press run. And as expected due to the size of the press run, the printer will be producing both books on an HP Indigo digital press (with liquid toners, using an electrophotographic process).

I asked my client about her paper preferences, and she said the book didn’t need to look as good as the final copy at this point. It just had to be readable.

I played devil’s advocate, saying that any job coming out of her publishing house at any stage of development really is an advertisement for her (and her husband’s) publishing firm. Therefore, particularly if the pricing is the same, I would definitely choose the superior paper. My client appreciated my candor and agreed.

To explain this a bit further, Finch is an opaque, bright-white commercial printing sheet with a blue-white shade. It looks crisp, and the black type of my client’s poetry will stand out against the background of the paper. White offset stock does not block light as well as Finch Opaque. That is, the ink on the back of a sheet might be visible when reading the front of the sheet. White offset is also not as bright as Finch Opaque, and the Finch will have a superior surface texture.

What About the Paper Weight?

The book printer had offered 70# Finch Opaque Vellum Text, white (or an option for 60# white offset) for the same price. For the short book of poetry, I thought the 70# stock would be ideal. After all, I usually specify 60# for longer books (or at least I start at this paper weight and then adjust based on my client’s preferences). But for a short print book, the slightly heavier than usual paper stock would give the 80-page book a more luxurious feel and a bit more heft. It would make for a more substantial product with a thicker spine. (The book will be perfect bound, even though it is short enough to be saddle stitched. The perfect binding will also give the book a more sophisticated look.)

That said, I suggested only specifying 60# Finch for the 450-page book of fiction. I did this because the caliper of the 70# stock would make the book thicker (1.14” rather than just under an inch for 60# Finch). Since the Finch paper is brilliant white with a superior opacity, I thought the 60# would be adequate. Using 60# stock would also make the print books a bit lighter and therefore potentially cheaper to mail to the reviewers. My client agreed.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Both of the books I’m brokering are reader’s galleys, not final editions. Therefore, while it is important to give the reviewers the best possible product (to promote the quality of both the books and the publishing house itself), it is smart to take into consideration the end use. This also includes such issues as shipping costs. In your own design and print buying work, be mindful of the goals of the printed product. Then select the most appropriate paper based on these goals.
  2. Consider the following qualities of paper when you specify a stock for the text pages of a book: thickness or caliper (thicker paper can feel a bit more luxurious; it will also have better opacity), paper weight, surface texture (from smooth to rough), shade (blue-white or yellow-white), and opacity (light stopping power, which keeps you from seeing images from the back of the page while reading the front of the page).
  3. Negotiate paper with your book printer. If the job is small, and your supplier offers the particular stock you want as a house sheet (i.e., he has the stock on the pressroom floor) and doesn’t have to order it specifically for your job, you can often get a great price for this component of the job.

Large Format Printing: How (and Why) to Use White Ink

Monday, May 5th, 2014

My fiancee handed me a food label the other day and showed me where white ink had been printed under process inks. She then asked me how the commercial printing vendor had produced the label. She asked if the white ink had been printed before the process color layers or at the same time. I didn’t have an answer, so I went online and did some research.

The Nature of Process Colors

I knew from many years in the custom printing field that process colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—are transparent, unlike many spot colors, which are opaque.

I knew that the transparent ink films act a bit like filters placed over theatrical spot lights, although in the case of commercial printing inks the filters actually subtract certain wavelengths of light to produce the colors you see. Furthermore, I knew that if you were to inkjet print (or screen print) process colors directly onto transparent media (such as acetate) with no white background, nothing would reflect the light back to the viewer. Therefore, the colors printed directly on clear plastic would appear muted. Having a white background on the other hand would make the process colors printed on top of the white jump out, giving them more definition and brilliance.

But how could you do this on an inkjet printer? Would you first print a white layer of ink and then come back and print the process colors on top?

YouTube proved quite helpful. I found a number of videos showing white ink being printed in exactly the positions onto which the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inkjet inks would then be printed. Due to the immediate curing properties of UV inks (inks “dried” instantaneously under UV lights), the inkjet print heads could travel back and forth, laying down the white undercoating followed by the process color inks of the actual artwork in one pass, as the printheads moved from the top to the bottom of the substrate.

When to Use White Ink

I could see in the videos how this process could add brightness and opacity that might be essential in the following projects:

  1. Backlit signage, in which the white would act as a diffusing layer under the colors. In fact, I had seen an example at a cosmetics counter, when the sales attendant had opened a back-lit signage case, showing me the white background behind the full color advertisement.
  2. Static clings. Not only would the bright white background increase the brilliance of the hues printed on the surface of the vinyl clings, but this would also allow for printing one image on one side and another image on the reverse side. Once placed on a window pane, the static cling could then be viewed from either side.
  3. Standees with clear panels. In a prior blog article, I had mentioned the standee for The Lone Ranger, which included clear acetate panels onto which images of the two main characters had been printed. From the back of the panels, you could see white ink covering only those areas over which process color images were visible from the opposite side.
  4. White backgrounds on inkjet printed shirts. I saw another video in which an inkjet printer was printing white letters on a blue sweatshirt. Beyond the intriguing nature of the video, which showed exactly how ink could be printed on a fully made piece of clothing (which was positioned firmly on an unmovable platen), the video also made me think of other garment printing applications.

    After all, if you’re custom printing a bright image on a black sweatshirt, a background of white inkjet ink would prevent the black cotton substrate from dulling down the transparent process colors printed on top.

    At the beach last summer, I had seen numerous shirts like these, on which colors could be much brighter than the fabric of the dark shirt itself. I knew this could be done with custom screen printing, and I had seen similar techniques used to offset print process color images on dark paper (with an intervening layer of white, on top of the press sheet but under the process colors).

    But the YouTube video showed exactly how inkjet technology could do the same thing with the same result, allowing white ink to be positioned and then immediately followed, line by line, pass by pass, by the brilliant process color images on top.

Custom Printing: A Few Color and Type Design Tips

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Here are some things to think about when designing commercial printing products in black and white and color:

Designing with Black and White Type on a Gray Screen

Picture two lines of type on a gray screen. Let’s say you’re designing a promotional flyer for an art museum. The first line of type is the name of the artist printed in a sans serif typeface. Let’s say you want to reverse it out of a 20 percent gray screen. The second line of type is the same size. Perhaps it is the title of the art exhibit. Let’s say you want to surprint it (print it in black) in a light serif face, for contrast, on the 20 percent gray screen. Above the name of the artist, you set some type in a much smaller type size (in black ink), and below the name, in white type (i.e., reverse type), you set a subtitle referring to the title of the art exhibit.

For the sake of argument, let’s say this is only one panel of a six panel, 8.5” x 11” brochure that folds in thirds for insertion into a #10 custom envelope.

From a design point of view, you can watch an interesting phenomenon if you change the percentage screen of black (the background of this particular panel) within InDesign (or any other page composition software).

If the background screen is 20 percent black, the second line of large type printed in black is dominant, and the first line, the artist’s name, reversed out of the screen (i.e., white type) is secondary in visual importance. Why? Because there is more contrast between the type printed in black and the background screen than between the white type and the background screen. And contrast draws attention to a design element.

If you raise the percentage screen from 20 percent to 50 percent black, both the white type (name of the artist) and the black type (title of the exhibit) hold equal visual importance. Your eye will come to rest on either (or move back and forth between them) as though neither were predominant.

Finally, if you darken the background screen further to 60 or 70 percent black, the white type (name of the artist) jumps off the page. However, the black type on the dark gray background sits back visually and commands less attention. It becomes secondary in visual importance due to diminished contrast between this type and the background screen.

You can do the same experiment by changing the background from a screen of black to a screen of brown (or even a light beige tint, or any other color). You will see that the “value” (lightness or darkness) of the background screen apart from its “hue” or color wavelength will determine whether the white type or black type (again, of equal size) will appear to be predominant.

What You Can Learn from This

Small changes in type and color can change the visual importance of design elements. If you’re producing an ad, large format print poster, print book cover, or any other print product, it is vital to show the reader what to look at first, second, and third. You have the responsibility as a designer to lead the viewer through the printed page, emphasizing or de-emphasizing the elements of design. One powerful way to do this is to vary the tone, or value, of the background.

Emphasizing Words and Ideas with Your Type Choices

Imagine a print advertisement with one word—the word “apple”–printed on a field of light beige. Let’s assume the word is typeset in a light sans serif typeface (one with thin letterforms) at a large point size, such as 72 pt. This will give the viewer a certain feeling, or provoke a certain thought or reaction. (Of course, it will probably be different for everyone.)

Then without changing the size of the type, change the weight of the type from a light sans serif face to a medium sans serif face. This will turn up the volume a bit. The word “apple” will have more emphasis.

If you change the typeface from medium to heavy, the viewer’s reaction may change even further. He or she may perceive the “weight,” or importance, of the apple to increase as well. In short, by increasing the visual emphasis of the word “apple” using light, medium, or heavy weights of the same typeface at the same point size, the designer can influence the viewer’s perception of the word.

What You Can Learn from This

Type has personality. Consider how changes in even one type variable—such as the weight of the letterforms—can affect the perceived tone or meaning of a commercial printing job.

Contrasting Words and Ideas with Your Type Choices

Let’s change the “apple” example noted above to “War” and “Peace.” How would you distinguish one from the other visually, using black type only, with both words set in the same point size?

One way might be to choose contrasting typefaces. For instance, since “war” is a heavy, onerous topic, you might use a heavy sans serif type (a no-nonsense type), and you might set all three letters in uppercase: WAR. You would be shouting, using only a visual treatment to make your point.

In contrast, for the word “peace,” which might bring up more lilting images with a more optimistic tone, you might choose a serif typeface, and you might set the word in upper and lowercase letters. You might even choose to set the word in italics. All of these choices would work together to provoke in the viewer a light and happy feeling in response to the word.

If you put the two words–“War” and “Peace”–side by side on the page in your InDesign file, you will see the dramatic contrast in tone and meaning they create, both in terms of the connotations of the words themselves and the visual interpretation of the words.

What You Can Learn from This

Type has character. Based on your choice of a typeface (or the contrast between typefaces), you as a designer can evoke emotions in your viewer that will reinforce the meaning you are trying to convey. An effective custom printing designer will use his or her awareness of these nuances and connotations to make the design of a print piece echo its meaning.


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