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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 June, 2014

Custom Printing: Useful Thoughts on Choosing Color

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Understanding color and using it well in your commercial printing and web design can be a major challenge for some and a natural, intuitive process for others. For me it took a lot of study, but I was fortunate to have found many useful books on color over the years. I would encourage you to do the same. When done with a critical eye and observant personality, learning about color can be a rewarding life challenge.

In this light, I recently paged through Digital Color and Type by Rob Carter and found a few choice facts about color that may help you choose color schemes for your own custom printing design work.

What Is the Difference Between a Monochromatic and Achromatic Color Scheme?

I used to mix these up, but here’s a helpful clue to avoid confusion: Monochromatic (“mono,” meaning one) color schemes are based on a single color (or “hue”) along with its tints and shades (i.e., the addition of white or black).

An achromatic color scheme, on the other hand, has no color (a-chromatic, from the Latin for “without color”). If you’re designing with an achromatic color scheme, you’re using white, black, and any number of grays.

Aside from being able to communicate well with a commercial printing supplier, it helps to understand these two terms if you design or coordinate the design of printed materials. Both color schemes will provide a consistent “look” to the piece you’re designing. Another term for such consistency is “color harmony,” which is based on the idea that keeping colors within a design piece to a minimum of related hues will provide a sense of unity to the design.

Use Colors That Work Well Together

Rob Carter includes a brief aid to choosing colors in Digital Color and Type. Carter lists some rules of thumb to get you started:

  1. Choose a dominant color, and then add only a few other hues to this dominant color.
  2. Choose colors with a common element. (It will help you to study the color wheel to learn what colors can be mixed to create other colors. This includes mixing primary colors to get secondary colors—i.e., blue and yellow create green–and mixing primary with secondary colors to get tertiary colors.) Carter goes on to say that harmony can result from using colors that are side by side on the color wheel or colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel (i.e., both similar colors used together and dissimilar colors used together can create color harmony).
  3. Pair vivid colors with their tints and shades rather than with too many other vivid colors. This will unify the design and avoid the vivid colors’ competing with one another.
  4. Pair achromatic colors with “pure hues” (Carter), tints, and shades. (Stated differently, black, white, and gray go well with any other color.)

Most of the rules in this section of Carter’s book focus on choosing a dominant color and then augmenting your color palette with less vibrant hues. Carter also encourages readers to study the color schemes (primary, secondary, tertiary, monochromatic, achromatic, complementary, split complementary, analogous, neutral, and incongruous). Starting with this knowledge base, readers can then experiment.

Consider Both the Type and Its Background (and Strive for Readability)

The color of a design element only exists in relationship (and in contrast to) other areas of color. When you’re setting type in a color, be mindful of the background. Carter notes that “You arrive at the most legible combinations [of colors] when you strive for strong contrasts of hue (warm vs. cool), value (light vs. dark), saturation (vivid vs. dull), and combinations of these (Digital Color and Type, p.16).

Moreover, the extent of contrast in the value of a background area and the type placed over the background will do more to ensure legibility than will any other contrast in the above-mentioned list. (Another way to say this is that dark type on a light background–or light type on a dark background–will be easier to read than a mid-toned type of any color on a mid-toned background of any color.) And to a graphic designer, legibility is crucial.

Carter does note that it is easier to read darker type on a lighter background. However, to create a particular graphic effect for a custom printing project, it’s quite acceptable to position small amounts of lighter type on a darker background.

Commercial Printing: More Intriguing Facts About Fonts

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Here are a few more facts and suggestions regarding fonts, a topic about which volumes could be written.

More Type Distinctions

“Regular,” “Bold,” “Semibold”–the list goes on. The best way to acquaint yourself with the font choices available to you in InDesign (or any other page composition software package) is to select “Font” under the “Type” menu and review the pop-up font listing menu (or you can do the same thing if you have a font management utility such as Suitcase).

In InDesign, you will see an “A,” an “O,” or a “TT,” or maybe even another designation. These indicate Adobe, OpenType, and TrueType fonts (three popular font formats), then the name of the font family (such as Helvetica), a sample (actually the word “Sample” in the specific typeface), and then an arrow. Touch the arrow with your mouse pointer, and you will see a list of the faces available within the fonts (such as regular, italic, bold, and bold italic).

Personally, I find the families of type (such as Helvetica) with the greatest number of typefaces to be the most useful in designing a print book, brochure, large format print, or whatever. One of my own Helvetica type families includes the following:

  1. Light Condensed
  2. Light Condensed Oblique
  3. Medium Condensed
  4. Medium Condensed Oblique
  5. Bold Condensed
  6. Bold Condensed Oblique
  7. Black Condensed
  8. Black Condensed Oblique
  9. Black
  10. Black Oblique

As you can see from the listing, this particular family of Helvetica type (and there are many other families of Helvetica) starts with a light version and works its way through a medium, bold, and then black version. If I want to stay within one font family in a print book, for instance, I can provide various levels of emphasis, or contrast, by choosing a lighter or darker typeface from the same type family. At the same time I can give the print book a unified appearance by staying within one family of type (for the heads, subheads, text, captions, sidebars, etc.).

In this particular type family, all of the Helvetica fonts except for the last two are condensed (narrower than usual). I have other Helvetica font families that contain regular, italic, and bold versions of Helvetica without any condensing of the typefaces. Personally, I like the condensed Helvetica fonts because their narrow width allows me to include more words in less space. The same character count in the standard, non-condensed type might be the difference between a 120-page print book and a 150-page print book (i.e., this one design decision could save a lot of money over an entire press run while still providing an attractive, readable print product).

Always Use the Actual Typeface

Many computer applications allow you to highlight a word and then select an icon to make it bold, italic, or regular (or “roman,” which is the traditional name for regular). This is usually available in the Style menu. Resist the urge to do this. It’s always best to highlight the text, go into the actual Font menu, and choose the specific Helvetica Bold typeface (or any other typeface). Otherwise you may notice font substitutions when you get the actual type back from your commercial printing supplier (the proof or the printed document).

Kerning vs. Tracking

Here’s another definition and distinction. Page composition software will allow you to tighten up (or loosen) the spaces between letters to improve the readability of text. When you do this to a block of copy, this is called “tracking.” When you tighten up a pair of letters, it’s called “kerning.”

More specifically, this is a useful tool to use when you have pairs of letters like “AW” or “AV,” particularly when they are set in capital letters. Due to the shape of the two letterforms, there is often too much space between them. Kerning allows you to tighten this up, which improves readability and gives a more professional look to the typography.

Extended Character Sets

Known by various names, the extended set of characters available in some type fonts will include letters with accents (umlauts, the cedilla, etc.), ligatures (sets of two letters traditionally run together such as “fl” or “fi”), fractions, swash capitals (capital letters with a script-like flourish), superscripts, and subscripts. You may also need to add a trademark or copyright symbol to your print job, or even a degree symbol if you’re referencing a temperature, and all of these would be located in this extended character set as well.

Access these “glyphs” (which is the traditional name and also the name used by InDesign) through the “Window” / “Type and Tables” / “Glyphs” path.

Handing Off Fonts to Your Commercial Printing Vendor

When you send your InDesign file of your job to press, also send copies of your fonts (screen and printer fonts) to your printer in order to avoid possible font substitutions, which could reflow copy in your file.

Another way to ensure the accurate printing of the fonts is to hand off a PDF of the file with all fonts “embedded” (included within the PDF). Your file will print exactly as expected.

If you’re designing a poster, or another job with minimal text, your third option is to convert the text to outlines (go to Type menu, then use “Create Outlines”).

Custom Printing: Why We Buy from a Particular Vendor

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

I heard some affirming words from a custom printing client a few days ago (even though I didn’t get the work). I had suggested that she consider the prices of a printer in the Southwest who had just bid on a small saddle-stitched booklet. His price for printing the 5.5” x 8.5” 12-page booklet was a bit high, but his combined printing and mailshop prices were very attractive.

My client said she was happy with her mailshop. She wanted to have whatever printer was chosen to produce the print booklets ship the finished job to her mailshop because her client was satisfied with their work. They had a long-standing professional relationship.

This is actually gratifying to hear in an economic climate in which price is often the determining factor in a sale. The new commercial printing vendor could have ostensibly saved my client some money, but there were more important reasons for her to stay put.

What You Can Learn From This Print Brokering Scenario

  1. First of all, don’t be afraid to consider printers outside your geographical area. This may open up a number of possibilities in your print buying work. Granted, you probably cannot attend a press inspection several states away, but with advances in commercial printing, this is usually not a problem. In addition, many areas of the country seem to have a wealth of high-quality, reasonably priced printers. For books, I often look in the Midwest. I have also found Texas and Florida to have competitively priced commercial printing suppliers. For those of you on the East Coast, the Shenandoah Valley may also be a good place to look. Or you may have your own pockets of great printers here and there around the USA.
  2. If your printer is out of state, consider having him not only print but also mail the job. Think about it: If you’re on the East Coast, and your printer is in Texas, you can either have him ship you the final job for mailing, or you can have him mail the job himself. In the case of Texas, you actually have a centralized point of origin for mailing to the entire country, so your project may get to subscribers much faster if mailed directly from the printer. (And you won’t have to pay extra to have the job shipped to you first.)
  3. Conversely, if your printer always prints and mails your job, don’t be afraid to split the job up and have one vendor do the offset or digital printing and another vendor do the mailshop work. This includes assembling the job, adding wafer seals, maintaining and cleaning the address list (CASS certifying, verifying and updating addresses, and de-duping or removing duplicates from the address database), completing the postal forms, and mailing the job. Sometimes a specialty vendor such as a dedicated mailshop can do a better, faster, and cheaper job.
  4. Price is not the only determining factor. Would you buy something you didn’t want quite as much just because it was slightly less expensive than an alternative? Of course not. Is it unfair to the vendors from whom you have solicited bids to choose a printer who didn’t offer the lowest bid? Of course not. Buying any service depends on much more than price. My client had a long-standing relationship with her client’s mailshop. Stated differently, she had developed a sense of mutual trust with this mailshop. She knew that if she awarded the mailshop portion of a print job to this vendor, the vendor would “get it right,” or fix any problems that cropped up. The quality and dependability of a product or service within the commercial printing arena is easily as important as, if not far more important than, the price.

How to Make the Buying Decision

Ultimately, a buying decision in the custom printing field, or any other field, is a leap of faith. Pricing is just the first step. It’s always wise to go a few steps further:

  1. Get samples of the vendor’s work. If it’s a mailshop, ask about the complexity of the jobs the vendor regularly handles (the number of elements in the envelopes, whether the jobs involve the multiple matching of addresses, etc.). Also request samples of prior jobs.
  2. Ask for references, and follow up with them. Ask references about their past experience with the vendor. What does the vendor do if problems arise? Does he work to quickly and accurately make the situation right?
  3. If you can afford to do so, take a tour of the offset or digital printer, mailshop, bindery, or any other custom-printing-related vendor. Not only will you see the operation in action, but you’ll be able to sense the commitment and attitude of the workers in the plant. And this “tone” or “feel” of the place will go a long way in telling you whether it’s right to buy your custom-printing-related services there.
  4. Always trust your gut reaction. If something seems wrong, walk away and buy elsewhere.

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