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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 September, 2014

Custom Printing: Printed Wristband Is “All the Rage”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I used to make fun of silicone wrist bands. I don’t know why. Maybe I thought they were a fad. But when I was given one recently I became a convert.

These little promotional pieces are an excellent value, cheap to produce, and sought after with almost religious fervor.

Here’s a rundown of the product and the process. You may want to include these in your marketing arsenal.

The Product

Silicone rubber is not new. In fact for a number of years you may have seen silicone cookware, such as baking sheets for muffins, which are ideal because they can withstand high heat without melting. However, the material is also easily stretched, and it comes back immediately to its original shape (it has memory). Therefore, the material is perfect for bracelets. It can stretch to go over the user’s hand and then come back to its original shape once on the wrist.

In addition to their stretchability, these silicone gel bands can be easily and cheaply personalized. If you check the Internet, you’ll find any number of suppliers that offer a long list of colors, messages, and typefaces. They also allow to use your own custom printing art, for a reasonable fee.

The Process

Silicone, which was originally invented as an insulating material, can be pre-dyed in various colors and then extruded into ropes or strips, which can be compression molded (pressed into the desired shape using a mold, heat, and pressure) into the round circular wristbands that are all the rage. Although most are perfectly round, you may find such shapes as hearts as well. These wristbands tend to be about 7” to 8.5” in circumference, about 1/10” thick, and about 1/2” wide. However, longer circumferences and wider strips are also available.

The Options

Flat Custom Printing: Single-level printing on silicone wristbands is done via serigraphy (custom screen printing). The screen printing ink is thick, and it adheres well to the rubber bracelets.

Multi-level Printing (Embossing): Letters of the marketing message can be slightly raised above the silicone rubber surface (approximately two milimeters) using a compression molding process.

Multi-level Printing (Debossing): Letters of the marketing message can be recessed into the silicone rubber using a compression molding process.

Multi-colored Printing (Debossing): The recessed letters can be colored differently from the surrounding rubber band. This color contrast will make the marketing message more prominent.

Even more options: In addition to the preceding choices, many wristband makers will offer textured bands (I have seen a tire-tread texture, for instance), fat bands (wider than usual), layered bands (multiple colors laminated to one another), and swirl patterns (multiple colors swirling into one another without a pattern).

Why They’re Effective

In my opinion, silicone wristbands reflect the perfect marketing storm, a confluence of ideal attributes.

  1. They are cheaper to make, relative to their selling price, than most other promotional products, such as t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags.
  2. Because they are so flexible, they fit almost any wrist. They return to their original length without stretching out of shape.
  3. They come in a myriad of brilliant colors that are visible from a distance.
  4. Over the past years they have become a cult item among younger and older people alike, who want to express their affiliation with a cause (such as cancer prevention). They have equity as a marketing device.
  5. They are also ideal for increasing brand awareness. Companies of all types can produce these in bulk and then distribute them as premiums, just like pens. And unlike calendars and notepads, which prospective customers may see and touch only a few times a day (if that), brilliantly colored wristbands go wherever the wearer goes. They are the proverbial “string around the finger,” reminding them of the charitable cause, the sports team, or a particular brand.
  6. The soft, pliable, slightly matte-textured surface of the wristbands feels good to the touch.

What You Can Learn

If you’re a marketing manager looking for the next big project to increase customer awareness, then go beyond the usual products: pens, cups, tote bags, notepads, balloons, and t-shirts. Give your prospective customers (or your support base) a new toy.

Magazine Printing: Be Open to Different Binding Options

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

I have mentioned in a prior blog posting that I’m brokering a magazine or print book project in the form of a graphic novel. It’s very exciting, but it’s also a study in the art of print book binding.

Backstory for the Book

The magazine, or book, started as a 9” x 12” saddle-stitched product with three gatefolds. After discussing the project with a large custom printing aggregator (an owner of multiple print shops) with printing plants across the country containing every imaginable piece of printing and binding equipment, it became clear that to produce the saddle-stitched product my client desired, the magazine division of this large printer would be more appropriate than the book division. This division had significantly more experience in inserting gatefolds as well.

The printer provided a price for 5,000 copies, saddle-stitched, on 60# gloss text, with 70# gloss text for the gatefolds and a 100# text-weight cover. The format was 8.5” x 10.875” to fit a full-size heatset web press.

(Just as an aside, the text weight for the cover is not a typo. I learned as a consultant at a DC-area political magazine that an excellent pairing of text and cover for a magazine is 100# text for the cover and 60# text for the interior of the magazine. This gives a tactile sense of the difference between the cover of the print book and its interior, but the product feels like a magazine, not a book.)

This printer was comfortable saddle-stitching this product.

A New Printer Added to the Mix

Having secured a reasonably priced estimate for one complete approach to this graphic novel, I opened up the bidding to other vendors.

I chose three magazine printers I had worked with before. I needed vendors I could trust completely. I sent out specification sheets, and when the printers contacted me to discuss the job further, I went into more detail with them. I also made it clear that I was open to their suggestions. I wanted to hear how they would approach the project, particularly considering the three gatefolds it would include.

The second magazine printer to submit a complete estimate declined to bid on a saddle-stitched option. This vendor had increased the paper weight (but will reduce it again to 50# on the revised bid); however, even with 50# text stock for the interior pages and 70# text stock for the gatefolds, the second printer was concerned. The sales rep said that including three gatefolds in a saddle-stitched magazine of 160 pages would be asking to have the pages fall out. The gatefolds would be opened and closed repeatedly, and this would eventually compromise the stitched binding. So this magazine printer provided pricing for a perfect-bound product only.

I did not take this badly. In fact, I was pleased to have an option for perfect binding provided by a vendor who had taken seriously my request for suggestions and advice. Furthermore, I knew that this was an area of concern to keep in mind with any other vendor. In addition, I liked the pricing. It was much lower than the first vendor’s pricing, in spite of the printer’s being two-thirds of the way across the country; i.e., the price was lower even with a huge freight estimate.

An Approach to the Gatefolds

What I found intriguing was the printer’s specificity regarding gatefold placement. The 160-page magazine would be broken down into five 32-page signatures, and the center 32-page signature would be split in half (32—32—16—16—32–32). This would allow for insertion of the center gatefold (dead center in the perfect-bound book). The other two gatefolds would fit between the first two 32-page signatures and the last two 32-page signatures.

Furthermore, the gatefolds would open to the right. If my client wanted them to open to the left, that might be possible. The printer would look into this.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I thought this case study would be particularly useful for any of you who produce magazines. Here are some thoughts:

  1. If a printer no-bids a portion of a job (or changes a portion of a job in the estimate), be mindful that this might be a challenging operation for any vendor. The resulting product might not be durable. Or, it might just require specific equipment that only certain print vendors own. Ask for clarification.
  2. Be flexible. Consider different approaches suggested by various custom printing suppliers. Not all vendors will approach the job in the same way. You may learn something new, and you may save money in the process.
  3. Ultimately, it comes down to your level of confidence in, and comfort with, a vendor. Does the vendor have the right equipment, the right expertise, and the right price. Don’t force the printer to do something to which he is resistant. You might be disappointed.

Custom Printing: The Power of Integrated Media

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I had lunch today with the CEO of a local commercial printing shop. We discussed cross-media marketing. He really “gets it” in a lot of ways and has positioned his business accordingly. Specifically,

  1. He believes that printers cannot survive by merely putting ink on paper. Rather, they must become marketing advisors, teaching clients how to use offset, digital, and variable data printing in tandem, along with social media and other electronic vehicles to broadcast their message and spark customer interest. He gets “multi-channel marketing.” Furthermore, he understands the role of the printer as a “consultant,” not just copying and distributing a print job but actually helping clients identify, target, and interact with their markets.
  2. This filters down into this printer’s choice of press equipment. In addition to the traditional sheetfed offset presses, he has large-format and grand-format inkjet presses, as well as roll-to-roll and roll-to-sheet digital laser presses (both color and black/white).
  3. He and his staff integrate the output from these presses with access to digital storefronts, web-to-print, and social media, to integrate the marketing benefits of both custom printing and digital communication. He knows that print is not dead.
  4. In addition, using the variable data capabilities of his digital custom printing equipment, this printer tailors the printed products to the end-users. He can provide both personalized content (specific descriptive text, offers, and pricing that are focused on individual buyers, based on demographics) and personalized address information for match mailings. Therefore, the content chosen for those who actually get the printed products in the mail can be sent directly to them.
  5. This printer also understands the value of market research. He and his staff don’t just base their suggestions for a client’s print marketing and Internet marketing campaign on their own intuition. They base their strategies on demographic data and web analytics, making their market research a science as well as an art.
  6. The printer has brought an additional medium into the fold: video. YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. This is profound. And I think it’s particularly effective, since people can see what they’re buying being used rather than frozen in a static image. If the video portrays a spokesperson describing a product or service, it can more easily elicit the viewer’s trust, as well as an affiliation with the product or service and its brand values.
  7. Finally, this printer understands that even in the excitement of embracing a new technology—video—it is better to know when to use a particular medium than to become fixated on it. Video is great for many reasons. Knowing when to use it and when to use social media or custom printing to communicate with clients is even better. That’s why this printer is a consultant. He provides knowledge and wisdom in combining these media into a coordinated marketing message.
  8. Then he knows to always test and test again. Only by analyzing the results of a campaign can this custom printing vendor really provide a service to his clients, and this is what distinguishes him from his peers.

What This Means to You

  1. You may produce content for one or many of these technologies: print, large-format inkjet, variable data digital, social media, or video. Or you may be engaged in digital database management or marketing. The more you understand their interactions and their individual strengths (and this means becoming a student of art, business, psychology, and marketing), the more effective you will be, whether you’re designing a campaign or searching for vendors to help you.
  2. The custom print vendor I have described is not alone. There are many others out there you can approach who “get it.” Granted, there are many who don’t, and the last several years has seen many of these absorbed by other companies or forced out of business altogether. Keep your eyes open for such a resource, and make him a partner and advisor.
  3. If you approach commercial printing as one component (a vital, extremely effective one) within a matrix of communication venues, and if you understand how these media can be combined to increase buyer interest–or to touch, educate, or persuade individuals–you will become increasingly valuable in your particular business. You will become the “go-to” resource for your peers.

Large Format Printing: Fooling the Viewer’s Eye

Monday, September 15th, 2014

My fiancee and I were driving back to our apartment tonight, when she noted a large format print banner hanging from the side of a multi-tiered parking lot. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the neighborhood (we’re still displaced from our burned-out house), I saw what I expected to see: a graphic image with a type treatment hanging above a section of the parking lot wall composed of bricks.

“Since when do bricks have creases and folds?” my fiancee noted. I looked again and realized I had been fooled. The parking lot wall was completely white concrete, and the bricks had been included on the large format print signage. Wow.

The French have a term for this: “trompe l’oeil,” which according to Wikipedia means “deceive the eye.” Wikipedia goes on to describe trompe l’oeil as “an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”

Now this is a term I had heard a lot in my prior studies of the fine arts, both drawing and painting. Until today I had not really seen this artistic technique used within the commercial arts field. So I was particularly pleased.

Trompe l’oeil most often (at least in the paintings I have seen) refers to a still life of either flat objects against a flat background or three dimensional objects against a flat background.

If you check out Wikipedia, you’ll see a painting by William Harnett called Still Life Violin and Music and another painting by Evert Collier, simply noted as Trompe l’oeil painting.

The former includes such items as a violin, sheet music, and a horse shoe hanging up against a wood door with metal hinges (the key is the flat background, which acts as a bulletin board of sorts).

The latter painting includes various printed scraps of paper and a quill attached to a wall with leather straps. Again, the wall is integral to the design, as it is in the first painting. In both cases, the fact that the background is flat, facing or parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the still life all contribute to the illusion of perspective that makes these paintings intriguing to the viewer.

How Does this Relate to the Large Format Wall Banner of Bricks?

Once I had realized that the bricks in the large format print signage had been inkjetted onto the vinyl substrate, and that they were not a part of the parking lot, I was intrigued. How, I asked myself, could these appear to be so real?

First of all, like the trompe l’oeil paintings shown in Wikipedia, the background of bricks was flat, parallel to the viewer, and immediately behind the other elements of the design on the signage. One thing I would add is that the image of the bricks was patterned and regular, like the door in the Harnett painting Still Life Violin and Music and the board with leather straps holding pieces of paper and a quill pen in Collier’s painting.

In both of these paintings and in the brick images on the large vinyl mural, the regularity of the background pattern, across the viewer’s immediate field of vision (as opposed to being set into the background of the painting), tricks the viewer’s eye and makes this element of the painting seem real: whether it be a door, a board, or bricks. The manipulation of perspective in each case deceives the viewer.

What You Can Learn for Your Own Graphic Design Work

Good graphic design draws upon many elements of the fine arts, not the least of which are subject matter and perspective. The main difference between the large format print signage on the side of the parking lot and the two paintings in Wikipedia is that the former is selling something: in this case it was selling homes in the new development for which the parking lot had been built. Commercial art is still art.

So as you prepare your graphic design pieces for commercial printing, be mindful of the fine arts. You may find inspiration in their techniques or subject matter.

Another thing to consider is that good commercial art grabs the viewer’s attention, and playing with perspective (such as photographing the subject of an advertisement with an intriguing perspective or from an unusual vantage point) will catch the viewer’s interest.

Moreover, many people find humor in trompe l’oeil. This is because they think it is one thing at first glance, but then it turns out to be something entirely different. (In just this way, what I thought were actual bricks in a wall caught my attention once I saw the folds in the banner and realized they were only images of bricks inkjet printed onto signage.)

In short, humor and the unexpected can make your graphic design work stand out. If you can intrigue the viewer, you will get him/her on your side, and he will be more open to the message your large format print signage conveys.

Commercial Printing: Inserting Gatefolds into Magazines

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

A print brokering client of mine is producing a magazine. Actually, it is a graphic novel that initially was to be a perfect bound product, but my client has been increasingly interested in saddle stitching the book.

To give a brief overview of the specs, it is 8.5” x 10.875”. It was initially 150 pages (which I increased to 160 pages to equal five 32-page signatures—i.e., a more efficient custom printing sequence with fewer, but longer, press signatures).

Due to my client’s interest in saddle stitching the product (for the overall “magazine” look), the white gloss paper stock had to be 50# text (or thinner) for the printer to be able to saddle stitch the magazine. (Normally a 160-page book would be too long to saddle stitch if the paper were 60# gloss text or thicker.) Therefore, the job had to be produced on a web-offset press to accommodate the thinner press stock.

My client had initially requested a 9” x 12” page size. While this is not out of the question, it will be significantly more expensive to produce than an 8.5” x 10.875” format (fewer pages in each press signature and therefore more press runs needed to produce a 160 page book). The 8.5” x 10.875” format is ideal for a full-size heatset web press.

Why Is All of This Preliminary Information Relevant?

This preliminary information is relevant for the following reason. Initially, I had approached a large commercial printer with numerous printing plants across the country for a bid on the job and for advice on its design and production. Due to the initial plan’s having been to perfect bind the book, my customer service representative at this large commercial printing firm had approached his company’s book division for a quote.

This was fine, at first. But as my client shifted to wanting a saddle-stitched product and added three gatefolds to the design, the books division “no bid” the job. This division said the page count of the print book could not exceed 120 pages to be saddle stitched, and the book could not have a gatefold in the center spread.

Why the Books Division Set These Limitations

The printer’s books division said that gatefolds in the center of saddle-stitched books tend to fall out (come unhinged from the saddle stitches). Also, the books division said that even with 50# gloss text stock, a saddle-stitched book longer than 120 pages would be hard to bind and might come apart or lose some of its center-most pages.

I knew of all these pitfalls, but I had also grown up reading Playboy magazine, and had seen 150-page or longer magazines with gatefolds in their center spreads.

Moving from the Books Division to the Magazine Division

The CSR I work with at this large printer noted my client’s desire for a saddle-stitched product, and he too had seen longer saddle-stitched magazines with centerfolds. So he offered to discuss the print job with the magazine division of his firm.

Now this in no way implies that the books division lacks competence in binding. Rather, it implies that the magazines division has bindery equipment more suited to the task. It also shows the benefits of working with a commercial printing supplier with multiple plants and a huge amount of varied equipment.

Gatefold Options—Perfect Binding and Saddle Stitching

At this point my client potentially has two options for binding the print book: saddle stitching and perfect binding.

If the book is perfect bound, the five 32-page signatures will be stacked (one on top of the other) before binding. If it the book is saddle stitched, the signatures will be nested (each signature placed in the center of the preceding signature and then stitched in the center).

The gatefold in the center spread of the saddle-stitched option would be bound by the staples. The other two gatefolds would be bound between signatures. Therefore, for a six panel gatefold (three on each side of the sheet), two pages will either stick out (and need to be folded in) in front of the center spread (with the remaining panel–two pages, back and front–in the back of the book), or this will be reversed, and the single page will be in the front of the book and the remaining pages will come after the center spread.

If my client opts for a perfect bound book, the gatefolds will simply be bound between signatures. This is because there is no center of a print book in a perfect bound product in the same way that there is a center spread in a saddle-stitched book with nested signatures.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

The best thing you can learn is to develop long-term professional relationships with your vendors. Then you can draw upon their extensive experience and knowledge.

In addition, keep an open mind. There’s usually more than one way to achieve a desired result in custom printing.

Finally, show the printer samples of the effect you’re after. Nothing communicates your goals like a sample printed product.

Custom Printing: Look Books and Branded Furnishings

Monday, September 1st, 2014

My fiancee and I just installed a cosmetics display and related signage at a major department store, and on the way out I collected a few print marketing products to take home. Needless to say, I was most pleased to see print media used in tandem with web promotions and interior design.

Hooking the Consumer—Make Them Want to Buy Something

On the way home in the car, my fiancee and I discussed what we had seen.

First, we agreed that custom printing still held a place of power in the marketing mix in this particular store. We had seen brochures, a tabloid newspaper showcasing people and products from Shinola, and Nordstrom look books (print books used to showcase style but without price notations). Their overall mood and design complemented the signage in the department store as well as the labels and tags attached to the merchandise. Custom printing was alive.

We also agreed that the goal was a specific “look” that defined and promoted the brand values. Although this sounds like marketing voodoo, the approach made sense when broken down into its component parts. Showcasing attractive young models engaged in everyday activities while clad in clothes and accessories from the major brand, the tabloid, brochures, and catalogs played to the viewer’s need for affiliation.

Perhaps the reader would think subconsciously about the models in the look books, and want to be like them, share the finer things in life, pursue the same sports, promote the same causes. Perhaps they would start by dressing like the people in the look books and decorating their homes in the same way. My fiancee and I saw items in the store such as vases, wall hangings, and cooking supplies that would complement the shirts, pants, dresses, and accessories in the store as well as the large format print and digital signage that echoed the same look.

We noticed that in the home furnishing section there were many items that spoke to the prevalence of words in our culture. There were individual letters cut out of print books with either lasers or mechanical cutting devices. An entire hard-cover book, for instance, had been cut into the letter “G.” Then there were relief metal letters affixed to a wood backing. These could be arranged to make words: the design equivalent of scrabble.

Vases made by Lenox had entire quotations printed on their sides in what looked like handwriting, perhaps using a UV ink cured by light rather than heat. All together these items reflected the sophistication of a culture with a love for the design of typefaces, the manipulation of the letterforms themselves, and their ultimate goal of expressing lofty ideas.

In the global scheme of department store design, it was not lost on my fiancee and me that this housewares section was right across the aisle from large format prints of glamorous women and men in the branded attire.

In short, if you dressed like the models (and the attendants at the counters), wore watches, rings, and necklaces from the jewelry counters, and thought the deep thoughts printed on the Lenox vases, you would be like the people in the look books.

In fact, you could even take the look books with you when you left the store, to take home a memento of your aspiration to this look, this culture, this lifestyle. At home you could meditate on the ethos you would bring into your own life.

Not bad for a little money spent by the advertisers on selected tabloids, with gritty photographs, all-caps headlines with ample leading, condensed typefaces, famous sayings bracketed with oversized quote marks, and images of people, nattily attired, with quizzical or wry expressions, who make you wonder what they’re thinking and where they will be going next.

What You Can Do with this Information

Good design has purpose. It does more than look good. It reflects values and shows the viewer what to think, how to feel, and how to look. It is persuasive speech. It’s up to you to make it convincing, to capture the imagination of the viewer by hooking into his or her dreams and aspirations, his or her need for affiliation–using words, images, and all the other tools of copywriting, design, and marketing.

That’s powerful. Sort of makes you want to go out and buy something.


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