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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 July, 2014

Custom Printing: Backing-Up Files to Avoid Catastrophe

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

I have mentioned in prior blogs that my fiancee and I experienced a house fire about three months ago. After the damage was done, I collected a number of items, including computers, external hard drives, CDs, and USB drives. My fiancee’s son, who was helping to collect undamaged items, uttered words I will remember forever: “Don’t save the computers; save the data.” He was referring to the fact that my hard drives, CDs, and other media held the most valuable part of my work: the spreadsheets, design files, and word processing files that represent the content of my work. Computers could be replaced; the effort reflected in the back-ups could not, without considerable heartache.

How I Knew I Needed The Back Ups—After the Fire

Now we are three months past the fire. This week a client came to me for an estimate on a design project. I knew I needed to hit the ground running. So I collected my media:

  1. I had USB drives that I had updated during the year on a daily basis, saving InDesign files, all of my PIE blogs and articles, and any spreadsheets and documents related to custom printing sales. Anything I had changed on the computer, I backed up that day. I kept these USB “keys” by the computer. Once the jobs were complete, I placed the disks into the fire safe (which is specifically rated to keep CDs and USB sticks safe). Needless to say, this would not have saved my data from the fire if it had reached my office. Therefore, I now copy all files to USB disk at the end of each work day, but I save all work weekly to a USB disk that I keep in the fire safe.
  2. I had an external drive that periodically—and automatically—backed up my dedicated design-work computer (an iMac). Unfortunately, this computer succumbed to the fire (actually to the smoke rather than to the flames). On this hard drive I had a copy of everything on my computer. This included all fonts, application software, and any design jobs I had not yet offloaded to DVD or CD.
  3. I had DVDs of the design applications I use: Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. These were in the fire safe with the USB drives. When I buy a new iMac, I can reinstall all of my programs.
  4. I had CDs of all past design work that I no longer actively used. This included my client’s 4-color calendar from a few years prior. Unfortunately, I also lost my CD reader, but I could replace this easily and cheaply if necessary.

Finding My Client’s Prior Year Job

I spread everything around me so I could access whatever I needed, but I started with the easy-access files first. My fiancee’s iMac had made it through the fire, so I reviewed the USB drives first. I also did some research into how I could access the iMac Time Machine back-ups on my external hard drive, if it came to that. Plan C would have been to buy a new DVD/CD reader to comb through my CD back ups looking for my client’s calendar from two years prior.

I got lucky. It was the last USB drive I plugged in (#7 of seven drives), but I found the file—with no photos. Not a problem. The calendar would have been for a new year and would have therefore needed new photos. I had a disaster plan (USB, external disk, DVD/CDs) and it worked, although I had gotten lucky as well. (For instance, what if I had needed the photos I no longer had?) If the fire had done extensive damage to the house, it would have been harder to easily grab, install, and open an InDesign file of my client’s calendar.

What About Off-site Copies?

I used to do these when I had two offices, but now that I have only one, keeping a back-up copy off-site is impractical. However, over the past few years the “cloud” has become a good repository for back ups. I wouldn’t use the cloud instead of saving files on a USB drive, DVD, and external hard drive, but even now I store some things on Google’s version of the cloud. I’m sure that numerous other options for cloud-based storage exist, for free or for a price.

Had my fiancee and I not been so lucky, the lack of an off-site back-up would have been a problem, but possibly not an insurmountable one, since I had back-ups in the fire safe. However, it might have taken longer to find a back up file I could start with.

The Outcome

My client actually awarded the calendar design to another professional. (I didn’t win the design job, but I will broker the printing.) It really doesn’t matter that much, though, because I was able to find the InDesign files, install them on my fiancee’s iMac, and be ready to update the design if needed—all in a half hour. That’s the power of a back up.

The goal is never to need to rebuild a job from scratch. That would have been tedious, unbillable design work.

However, I also learned that having a disaster plan needs to be a fluid process involving thought and review. Going forward, I will back up more religiously to the USB drives that I store in the fire safe.

Twenty-five years ago a colleague told me to save my work periodically when writing or designing. She said I should save my work every ten minutes or so. What she was really telling me was to never go longer without saving my work than I could tolerate recreating the same work in an emergency (i.e., a computer malfunction). The same thinking goes for a disaster plan for a computer.

Learn from my mistakes, and from my good fortune in only losing the computer and not the data. Back up your files, and avoid rebuilding a design for custom printing from scratch.

Book Printing: Preflight a Print Job to Avoid Headaches

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I received an InSite preflight report for a client today. I thought it might be helpful to share it with you, and to describe the feedback it presented as well as my response to both the book printer and to my client.

First of All, What Is InSite?

With the advent of on-line proofing, services such as Rampage Remote and InSite have become increasingly popular. They reside on your printer’s IT system and allow you to upload files (like a printer’s FTP site). Then they allow the printer to preflight the files (run a series of tests to identify potential errors in formatting, image resolution, font availability, and such). Then they provide client access to an online proof.

The Format for the Print Book

In the case of my client’s print book, (an annual 8.5” x 10.875”, 576-page, hard-cover publication with a press run of 1,000 copies), I had advised my client to upload files to InSite rather than to the printer’s FTP site because she had already gone through this process the previous year. She was used to the procedure, and I knew she would get a comprehensive preflight check in the process. My client requested hard-copy proofs in addition to the on-screen proof (she was more comfortable catching errors on paper than on a computer screen), and the book printer was happy to oblige.

What Issues Did InSite Identify?

The art files passed almost every test, but the preflight software did note that the space for the gutter margin (the space extending from the text into the binding) was smaller than optimal. The software noted that the art files had a gutter margin of .5” whereas the book printer preferred a .625” gutter margin for such a book (notch perfect bound within a hard-cover). The report asked whether my client wanted to resubmit the files or proceed to print with these margins.

Before contacting my client, I called the printer’s prepress department. I asked about the .125” difference between the gutter margin in my client’s InDesign file and the optimal gutter margin. The prepress operator told me the difference would not be a problem. I also learned that the prior year’s print book had been created with exactly the same gutter margin. Since my client (and her readers) had been satisfied with the prior year’s book, there was no reason to reject the proof and produce new files. I then contacted my client and made sure she agreed. She also confirmed that she had in fact created the new print book with the same gutter margin as in prior years.

Another issue flagged by the preflight application concerned rich black text within a black-only book. A rich black is an ink composed of black plus halftone screens of the other process colors (magenta, yellow, and cyan). This technique produces darker blacks in a printed piece or gives a warm or cool tone to the black ink. This is appropriate for a process color print book but not for my client’s project, which had a black-only text block.

Nevertheless, in prior years there had been problems with the proofs’ containing rich-black text on certain pages. On the proofs, the letterforms of the text had appeared with slight halos. I raised the issue with the printer’s prepress operator and was told that the preflight errors had been inaccurate. Rich black text would not appear in the final printed piece. Nevertheless, I asked my client to review the hard-copy proofs carefully, looking specifically for any halos, since they had appeared in the prior issue’s hard-copy proof. I told her that I did not expect the problem to show up, but given the preflight server’s notation, it was worth a close look.

Finally, the preflight application noted that the book was 8.5” x 11” rather than 8.5” x 10.875”. This might have been due to a prior year’s issue of the book, which had been initially uploaded in this larger format. (The smaller format indicated that the text would be printed on a heatset web press rather than a sheetfed press. This is because the slightly smaller print book size allows press signatures to fit better on the heatset web press sheet.)

Apparently, my client had adjusted the format this year to meet the 8.5” x 10.875” size requirement. In the prior year’s book, rather than having my client adjust and resubmit the book art files, the printer had merely trimmed the press sheet smaller on the top and bottom (head and foot margin). The head and foot margins were both slightly tighter than originally intended, but the quick fix was acceptable and avoided reflowing the text within the entire book.

To be safe, I asked the book designer to confirm that she had in fact provided this year’s files as an 8.5” x 10.875” document.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some things to consider in your own design and print buying work:

  1. Virtual proofs such as InSite and Rampage Remote bypass the delivery of hard-copy proofs and can therefore shave time off your schedule. For simple black-only bookwork, you might consider them (i.e., when no color proofing is required). If your computer monitor is precisely and regularly calibrated and your design studio ambient light is controlled, you might even consider virtual proofing for color work. Or, like my client, you might just use the system for uploading and preflighting art files, and then request a hard-copy proof.
  2. If the virtual proofing system flags anything, ask the printer’s preflight expert what to do. Even if he/she says the problem is not really a problem, confirm this on a hard-copy proof (to be absolutely safe).
  3. The preflight operator in your printer’s shop is an invaluable ally. He/she has knowledge that will save you money and ensure an accurate printed product. Learn from him/her the best practices for creating error-free InDesign files.
  4. Before you design a print book, find out what kind of press will print the job (sheetfed offset vs. web offset). Then ask your printer for the optimal page sizes for this press, so you won’t have to adjust or reflow an entire book at the end of the process.

Custom Printing: More Uses for Interactive Print

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

As I looked through NewPage’s This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print, again after writing the last PIE Blog posting, I noticed two more stellar examples of print ads combining ink on paper with digital technology.

I also found a related article and video showing a Veja Rio (a Brazilian magazine) print ad that actually includes a solar cell, allowing users to charge their cell phones while on the beach.

Here’s a rundown of the three convergent media campaigns and their relevance to print.

Australian Wine Maker Yellow Tail Combines LED Technology and Offset Custom Printing

NewPage describes a novel use for LED lights (light emitting diodes) in its description of an Australian wine maker’s ad for its Yellow Tail brand. Apparently the company ran an ad in 600,000 copies of Real Simple magazine including LED lights inserted behind fireflies printed in the ad.

These lights not only mimic the behavior of an actual fireflies, but they also stop the reader cold. After all, who would expect lighting effects in a print ad? LED technology provides two benefits in this case, according to This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print. The lights can be programmed to change color and/or fade in and out, and they’re also an inexpensive add-on, costing only 10 to 15 cents per unit.

If it hasn’t been done before, a marketing technique will grab and delight the reader. I think three elements of this ad make it memorable:

  1. The light behaves exactly like a firefly.
  2. The intimacy of a print ad (reading is usually a quiet, personal experience) makes the interactive experience more surprising.
  3. The expectation that print is always a static medium makes this a one-of-a-kind experience.

And moreover, the print ad was an essential element of this campaign. Flickering firefly lights in a digital ad would have been far less surprising.

RSA Combines SMS Technology and Offset Custom Printing in Auto Insurance Ad

This Is Ed, #15 Interactive Print also includes a description of an RSA ad for an insurance quote.

Since digital equipment has shrunk over the years, RSA was able to include an illustration of a smartphone with an actual working keypad. The device uses SMS technology to allow the reader to contact RSA directly (and instantly) for an automobile insurance estimate. If you type in your mobile phone number and auto license plate number, you will receive an auto insurance estimate via text message shortly thereafter.

NewPage does note that this technology is expensive, ranging from over $20.00 per unit to over $50.00 per unit. Fortunately, the device can be used by a number of the reader’s friends to get multiple estimates for insurance, thus defraying the unit cost by spreading it over a number of prospective clients.

NewPage included both of these ads (for Yellow Tail and RSA) in a section labeled “The Gateway.” I think this is a particularly apt name, since in both cases the print ad launches the reader through a static printed facade into the realm of movement. And in both cases, the gateway of print is essential to the complete experience. The tactile and personal nature of print over digital-only brings the reader from a quiet, personal experience into a more dynamic, interactive realm.

Nivea Sunscreen Ad Combines a Solar Panel and Offset Custom Printing

I saw an incredibly cool Nivea ad in a YouTube video and read about it in two magazine articles (noted below, if you’d like to check them out):

(MailOnline, 6/4/13, “Magazine ad for sunscreen features solar-powered USB insert so beach-goers can charge their cell phones in the sun,” by Margot Peppers; and Adweek, 5/30/13, “Solar Panel Inside Nivea Print Ad Generates Power to Charge Your Cellphone,” by David Gianatasio)

The ad agency Giovanni + Draftfcb included a thin solar panel and requisite plugs and wires to allow the reader of the Nivea ad in the Brazilian magazine Veja Rio to charge her or his cell phone while basking in the sun on the beach. It promotes Nivea Sun skincare products. But it does far more than this.

First of all, not everyone has access to an alternate power source to recharge a cell phone on the beach. The print ad provides the tool: the solar panel. In this way, the ad underscores the importance of print advertising over digital-only advertising.

In addition, this ad sets the bar higher for interactive media. As Giantasio’s article, “Solar Panel Inside Nivea Print Ad Generates Power to Charge Your Cellphone,” suggests, “adding novel functionality to traditional campaigns could be a smart way to stir things up.” If it’s all about “stopping power,” then the movement of print advertising into the realm of interactive media could make commercial printing both relevant and unique.

Granted, this technology is expensive and time consuming to produce. According to Margot Peppers’ article, “Magazine ad for sunscreen features solar powered USB insert so beach-goers can charge their cell phones in the sun,” the “full-page advertisements apparently took eight months to produce, six months to develop the technology, and two months to print.”

Yes, but they just work. And marketing is an investment, not just an expense.


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