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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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Custom Printing: Look Books and Branded Furnishings

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.

6 Responses to “Custom Printing: Look Books and Branded Furnishings”

  1. Chris says:

    Custom printing is very much live and effective if it done right. The point is to make it more appealing.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment, Chris. I agree completely. It takes creativity and an understanding of how to use print effectively as a vital component of the media mix. I’m seeing growth in a lot of areas of printing as well, such as labels, packaging, large-format, digital roll-to-roll and roll-to sheet, variable data printing, and printing outside the United States. Print is not dead.

  2. Banners Expo says:

    This post is really helpful. Thank you.

  3. TOM MCANA says:

    Digital printing allows a customer to easily target a specific market while reducing the costs associated with the completion of a product.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree. And it’s a particularly effective approach to printing now that the quality of digital press technology has improved so much.


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