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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 October, 2014

Book Printing: Use the Proper Page Layout Software

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Don’t try this at home. No, really. You’ll wind up spending more money, and you probably won’t be happy with the results.

I’ve been working with a client to prepare a color swatch book for press (a small print book of single pages attached with a metal screw and post assembly, with color on the front of each page and black text on the back).

Backstory on the Job

The job, which comprises 16 separate print books in a series, and which will require digital custom printing due to the short run of each set, is almost a direct reprint of the prior version of this set of books.


The text and color swatches will only require minimal revision. Therefore, to save money on layout/art production (which essentially would entail making all 16 books again, from scratch in InDesign), my client wanted to compose the pages herself in MS Word and save each book as a PDF.

Or, more precisely, my client wanted to start with the prior year’s PDF proof (provided by the prior year’s commercial printing supplier as a high-resolution file), turn this into a MS Word file, make the corrections, and turn the job back into a PDF.

As a start, I asked the printer to preflight last year’s PDF of one of the color swatch books. The PDF passed the test. Essentially, this meant the printer would be able to produce an exact replica of last year’s print book (using only this PDF proof) on his Kodak NexPress. This was good to know.

Problematic Steps in the Process

The next step was a bit more worrisome. I had my client copy the PDF of one book, convert it to a MS Word file, and then change a few pages. She replaced the art for the cover with this year’s artwork. She made some text changes, and she changed some of the color swatch information (the CMYK values that comprise the color). I also asked that she keep the number of pages in the test file to a minimum (fewer than 20 pages).

I wanted to make sure that the conversion from PDF to Word and back to PDF would be accurate and would not cause problems. The printer agreed and said the best way to test the revised file was to send him a copy prior to adjustment, and a copy that had been updated, and then see how they differed.

Moreover, he did use the following words, which sent up red flags: “MS Word makes weird things happen—a lot.”

Now I don’t want to cast aspersions on MS Word. It’s a fine product—for word processing. But what we’re doing here is page composition for commercial printing, so even though the final product my client planned to hand off to the printer was a PDF (i.e., a “locked-down,” unalterable file), the printer’s concern weighed heavily on me.

I asked him in particular about maintaining the resolution of placed art (the cover art, for instance). I noted that in the sample PDF my client had sent me, the resolution of the cover art seemed to have been somewhat diminished. The printer was concerned, too. He said, “You have your answer.”

I also mentioned my concern that the colors might change (either a lot or ever-so-slightly) in translation from PDF to MS Word and back to PDF. He said, “It could happen.”

I also voiced a concern that my client had been unable to bleed the artwork on the covers in one direction (they wouldn’t extend past the boundary of the page). This didn’t sit well with him either. I didn’t tell him that my client had needed to add extra text boxes just to make some of the text bold in the MS Word file. (I’m not sure he would have liked this either.)

A Transition Back to InDesign?

I hated the thought of confronting my client, but I did it anyway, and I told her that the direction she was going would potentially cost a lot more than expected (i.e., for the printer to correct all the potential problems introduced by a MS Word workflow). And I was concerned that the final product might still not be satisfactory, even after all the stress and strain—and money.

In short, it would cost my client a lot for her attempt to save money by doing art production in-house and not paying a designer to do it correctly using InDesign. Even if MS Word could create PDFs and even if the final product looked exactly like the pages in MS Word.

For roughly 2,000 pages over the course of 16 books, design services would not be cheap. In fact, they would be about $5,600. But I thought this would be money well spent, now and for future reprints.

A Solution That Meets the Budget

My client finally agreed.

What I’m doing now is working with the printer to determine the number of sets of 16 books my client can afford within her stated budget, after factoring in the cost of design and art/production, digital custom printing, freight, overs, etc. The total number of printed sets will not be as high as she might have liked, granted. However, she will have original, accurate art files for all 16 books, and she will be able to reprint them as she sells more and makes more money.

I think this is an example of paying a little more to ensure accuracy of the art files, knowing that in each successive print run my client can pay a little less (i.e., no art/production fees).

It also demonstrates one benefit of digital printing. My client can pay for what she can afford now, then sell the initial sets of 16 books, then reprint the books as necessary. It’s not quite as cost effective as printing a long run. But it’s a lot cheaper than doing multiple press runs via offset lithography.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’ve ever heard the term GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), you’ll understand that starting with the right page composition software allows you to create the best possible art file. And nothing will print as well as a press-ready file made with the correct software for the job.

Custom Printing: What Is Flexible Packaging?

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

When I was a boy, we had milk bottles delivered to our door. Glass bottles. Boy, have things changed. Now, beverages are just as likely to come in boxes or pouches with straws.

These containers fit into a particular segment of the package printing industry called “flexible packaging.” A PowerPoint series I found by Peter Schottland, produced for the American Packaging Corporation, called “An Overview of the Flexible Packaging Industry,” defines flexible packaging as:

“A package or container made of flexible or easily yielding materials that, when filled or closed, can be readily changed in shape. The construction may be of paper, plastic film, foil, or any combination of these. Includes rollstock, bags, pouches, labels/wraps, lidding, shrink sleeves and stretch film.”

What makes this of particular importance to me is that these are fertile areas for custom printing and graphics. The market is growing, and as a printing broker I find this intriguing.

Further on in Schottland’s presentation, he notes that the increase in flexible package printing is due to lower materials costs than for rigid packaging (rigid cartons, for instance), improved technology, reduced materials consumption, and the benefits of the paper, films, and foils used in this process.

How Do They Print Flexible Packages?


According to Peter Schottland’s presentation, the main commercial printing technologies used for producing flexible packaging are rotogravure and flexography.

To provide a brief review of these processes, unlike offset lithography rorogravure does not use plates. Instead, the text and images of a page or package are engraved directly into the rotogravure cylinder using lasers, diamond-tipped tools, or chemicals. The deeper the wells engraved on the cylinder (with images, solids, screens, and type composed of dots), the darker the ink. The ink from the ink fountain fills the wells as the rotary press cylinder turns. Then a doctor blade removes the excess ink. Then the rotating rotogravure cylinder makes contact with the web of paper (a roll, not sheets) and deposits the ink on the substrate. Heat dries the ink before the paper enters the next color unit.

As you can see, the process involves a direct deposit of ink, unlike offset lithography (in which the image is transferred from the plate to the blanket to the printed substrate). Also, this is an intaglio process (as opposed to a relief process), since the ink wells are recessed into the rotogravure cylinder.

Rotogravure is a good choice for flexible packaging because it maintains exceptional quality over exceptionally long press runs (millions of images, for instance). In addition, it will allow for custom printing on webs of foil, film, or paper. According to Wikipedia, rotogravure has the “ability to print on thin films such as polyester, OPP, nylon, and PE, which come in a wide range of thicknesses, commonly 10 to 30 micrometers.”

The down side, other than the need to print hundreds of thousands of images to make the process cost effective, is that the text as well as solids and images are composed of dots.


Wikipedia defines the term flexography as a “modern version of letterpress which can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate, including plastic, metallic films, cellophane, and paper.”

As noted in prior blog articles, flexography (a relief process, as opposed to the intaglio process of rotogravure) employs rubber plates with raised type and images to print on webs of paper, film, plastic, etc. Lasers or chemicals are used to image the raised plates, which are mounted on the press in exact register. The press inks the plates, and a doctor blade removes any excess ink before the rubber plates apply the image to the substrate.

Again, this is ideal for flexible packaging since it allows for custom printing long press runs on rolls of foil, film, and paper.

Other Technologies

Although rotogravure and flexography are the technologies of choice for flexible packaging, some flexible package printing is done via custom screen printing (for long runs) or digital printing (for very short runs).

Why This Is Important

As with other commercial printing technologies experiencing a growth spurt, it is prudent to be aware of what flexible packaging is, what it looks like, and how it is produced. Look around in the grocery store, and you’ll see little pouches of apple sauce where there were once only glass bottles or metal cans. Learn to identify this packaging, and understand how to print it, and your graphic design skills will stay relevant and in demand.

Sticker Printing: Some Thoughts on Window Signage

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

I had to install a window static cling in a theater last night. Ironically, it was only 8.5” x 11” in size, the dimensions of a sheet of letterhead. Given all the standees I’ve installed with my fiancee, from a 15-foot, multi-level dinosaur that reached the tiles of the theater’s suspended ceiling (and even lifted one tile up slightly) to the giant beach ball for the movie Rio, I’m used to large standee and banner installations. This was very small. It was to be installed in the ticket window.

Perhaps because of its size, and the ease of the small installation, I paid closer attention than usual. And I learned something about window signage.

The Window Cling: Not Really a Cling

Instructions accompanying the small, letter-sized poster referred to it as a static cling. Upon close observation, however, I noticed that the “face” of the small poster held an adhesive, not the back. Therefore, I went inside the theater and installed the poster on the inside of the glass, facing out.

Since it stuck to the window with an adhesive, I realized that in spite of the positioning instructions, the poster was not a static cling but in fact a vinyl poster with an adhesive face.

Upon Closer Observation of the Window Sign

I had the good fortune to have an extra poster, so I took it home and looked closely. This is what I saw:

  1. Working from the backing sheet outward (the backing sheet was analogous to the backing sheet on a crack’n-peel label, which you remove and discard), the first thing I saw was the adhesive. Under a high powered loupe it looked like a sea of glistening suction cops on the printed face of the small poster.
  2. Under the glue, I saw the four-color image. I saw halftone dots, so it wasn’t an inkjet job. But it also didn’t look like offset litho, and how could you offset print on sheet vinyl anyway? A little online research made it clear that I was looking at a sample of flexography (or perhaps custom screen printing), both of which are good for printing on vinyl.
  3. Behind the image was a coating of white ink, brilliant white actually, to make the colors in the photo really “pop.”
  4. Looking down on the white backing, I could see that the image really was sandwiched between a white ground and the throw-away backing sheet. It was the exact opposite of most labels I had seen, which had adhesive on the back (you peel away the backing and then stick the label on the outside of the window, or on a bottle or jar, or even on a package you’re about to mail).

More Signs on the Way Home

After taking photos of the installation, I walked home and passed a number of stores with outdoor signage.

I saw window clings on the inside of one store. They were printed on much thicker vinyl than the poster I had just installed. They also had transparent backgrounds, unlike the small poster. I could see small bubbles, where the static cling installer had not squeegied the signage enough to remove the air pockets trapped under the plastic. I made a mental note that this static cling had been installed inside the retail shop rather than on the outside of the glass.

I also saw the windows of a Chipotle restaurant under construction, plastered with large format print signage. The images ran from the top to the bottom and side to side of all windows in brilliant full color. I looked closely.

  1. The vinyl of the posters was thick, and it had been affixed to the outside of the glass. I ran my fingers over the edges. I had once read that there were building permit differences between signage placed inside the window (part of the business establishment) and window signage on the outside of the windows.
  2. Unlike the static clings in the prior retail establishment, this full-window signage was clearly attached for the long term. It was very thick, and the adhesive on the edges seemed to be firmly bonded.
  3. Unlike the small poster I had just installed, this window signage had its adhesive on the back of the image, not the front. It was glued outside the building, against the window. My poster had had the adhesive on the front.
  4. I also thought about the signage I had seen on the windows across the street. This was a music instructor’s shop. He or she had wanted people inside the building to see out, but had also wanted people outside not to see in. So he or she had affixed large format print signage (called 60/40 perforated film) to the windows (60 percent image and 40 percent holes). In contrast, the Chipotle images completely blocked the view. After all, the restaurant was under construction. There was no reason to see in or out. But there was a need to display mouth-watering signage to get people ready for the restaurant’s opening night. And the product chosen for the signage did just that.

The Moral

Give thought to these options when producing large format printed window signage:

  1. Consider whether it should be installed inside or outside the window.
  2. Consider whether it should be temporary or permanent.
  3. And consider whether it should be transparent or opaque.

There’s a lot more to large format printed window signage than the image on the vinyl.

Commercial Printing: Using Paper Sample Books

Monday, October 20th, 2014

One of the downsides of having had a house fire is that all my printed samples and paper sample swatch books are gone. This is a problem for a print broker.

Actually, I have one paper book, from NewPage, that a digital printing supplier sent me this week.

Benefits of the Paper Swatch Book

Commercial printing involves putting ink or toner on paper. Paper is an important element of the product, and it’s often easy to forget this in the rush to write copy or create the graphic design. Moreover, it is sometimes confusing to specify paper. “Make it like this” is a less than specific way to describe to your custom printing supplier the kind of paper you will need. Therefore, if you have the same paper swatch books your printer does, you can, for instance, say you want “60# white gloss text, or a 10pt matte coated cover stock.” Immediately you and your printer will be communicating about the exact same paper.

So here’s a crash course based on the sample paper book I just received.

Paper Weight (Pounds vs. Points, Cover vs. Text)

Cover stock comes in a particular standard size, which is 20” x 26”. Other sizes are available, but for the sake of standardization, this is called the “basic size,” and the weight of 500 sheets at the basic size is called the “basis weight.”

Let’s say you want to print a postal mailer on 130# cover stock (your paper swatch book will note this information on the sample sheets). This basis weight is the same as 10pt. stock. That is (and you can find paper conversion charts online), the thickness and stiffness of 130# coated cover paper and 10pt. coated cover paper will be approximately the same.

My NewPage paper swatch book is ideal on this count. On the front cover of this (approximately) 5.5” x 8.5” wire-O bound book, the headline notes that I’m looking at Productolith paper. Inside, on the page I’m reviewing at the moment, the printed text notes that I’m considering “Productolith Pts., 10pt. (134 lb.) semi-gloss C1S Tag.”

This rather cryptic description includes the name of the paper, its basis weight in points, its basis weight in pounds, its coating (semi-gloss, as opposed to matte, dull, gloss, satin, or uncoated), and “tag,” a specific category of paper (a lower quality sheet used more for tags and labels than for high-end marketing collateral). The description also tells you that the coating is only on one side of the sheet (C1S, as opposed to C2S). You might use this paper if your job requires full-color heavy ink coverage on one side of the paper and just a little black ink on the other.

The printed specs do not distinguish between “cover” and “text” stock because the paper is obviously very thick. But you will need to keep this in mind when you specify paper (or review a different paper book). Most paper books will distinguish between the text sheet (for instance, 100# text measured at a basic size of 25” x 38”) and the cover sheet (for instance, 100# cover measured at a basic size of 20” x 26”, as noted above).

Paper Color (Whiteness vs. Brightness)

Paper brightness tells you how much light a paper will reflect (96 is brighter than 90, for instance). In contrast, paper whiteness tells you the color of light the paper reflects (a blue-white, or cool-white, sheet will actually appear brighter than a yellow-white, or warm-white, sheet).

Paper Surface Finish

As noted above, you have a number of options starting with high gloss (which is a good coating if your printed product includes a lot of photos–it makes them “pop,” as they say). For text, this is less ideal, since it tires your eyes. If your job includes a lot of text, you might consider a dull or matte coated sheet (a less reflective paper surface). In between gloss and dull, you’ll find silk or satin. These surface coatings have a little texture (you can feel them when you run your hand across the sheet), but they don’t have a high gloss coating.

Keep in mind that not all sheets come in all coatings and some companies have different names (some call matte paper dull; some call satin paper silk). Just think about the three textures (glossy, not glossy, and something in the middle).

All of these are coated sheets (a mixture of clay and additives added to the surface of the paper to seal the sheet and allow the ink to sit on top of the paper rather than seeping into the fibers). In addition to coated paper, there’s uncoated paper, which has a nice, natural feel. There are also other variations in texture such as “linen” (which has a criss-cross pattern), “felt” (which is like the fabric felt), and “laid” (which has a ribbed texture). The best thing you can do is ask your custom printing vendor for a handful (or several boxes full) of paper swatch books. These will become a valuable tool for communicating with your printer (and educating yourself).

Final Caveat

Printers will often forget to tell you this when they deliver your boxes of paper swatch books, but it bears repeating. Like three-day old fish, paper swatch books have a shelf life. On the back of the paper swatch book (usually in very small type), you will find the date the book was produced. (My Productolith book was produced in 2012, so it’s not that old.)

Let’s say you’ve found the perfect paper for your new marketing campaign, and your chief marketing officer has approved the stock. But let’s say that the paper book has a date of 2001 rather than 2012. Chances are, the paper has been discontinued. This could be a problem. So make sure your paper books are “fresh.”

Getting the Paper Swatch Books

You can get paper swatch books from your commercial printing sales rep or your paper merchant. Both of them want your repeated business, so I’m sure both will be most helpful in getting you a selection of these invaluable paper books.

Custom Printing: An Example of Functional Printing

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

I’ve been brokering a functional printing job for one of my clients. It’s a color swatch book, much like a PMS swatch book but for the arena of fashion design rather than graphic design.

What makes this interesting to me is how different its purpose is from most of the material for which I either provide design or print brokering services.

It is a product, an object. The goal is not to inform or persuade, as might be the case with a print book or brochure. It is a functional piece. In essence, the graphic designer and I are doing product design.

Description of the Color Swatch Book

As I have mentioned in prior blog articles, this color swatch book is a series of rectangular cards digitally printed on a Kodak NexPress, drilled for a screw-and-post assembly, round cornered (diecut), and assembled. There are almost twenty versions of this product, each containing different colors.

The Approach: Very Different from Commercial Printing

As I help the designer and client conceptualize the job, create a template and mock-up, and coordinate the final production of the multiple color swatch books, I’m noticing how the difference in the goal (functional rather than commercial printing) affects many of the design and production choices. Here are a few examples:

  1. In a commercial printing job, the paper is important. It has to make the colors look their best. In this functional printing job, the paper substrate must be a bright enough white sheet to showcase the colors in their most vivid nature. However, the whiteness of the sheet is more important. It must be neutral. It cannot alter the colors of the swatches. Their CMYK values must be maintained for the product to be useful.
  2. In a commercial printing job, the coating used on a cover of a book or a brochure is often added for its decorative qualities. It may also be applied for the durability it provides (if a print book cover will sustain heavy use). But in this functional printing job, the color swatch book will need to last a long time and not be damaged by fingerprints or fingernails. Durability is essential to the usability of this functional design job.
  3. A binding method for a book often depends on its length. For instance, an 80-page book might be saddle stitched, and a 160-page book would most probably be perfect bound (for aesthetic reasons and to keep the pages from falling out). However, in the case of the color swatch book, the drilled pages and metal screw-and-post binding serve a more practical purpose. They allow the book to be disassembled, so pages can be added or removed depending on the color needs of the end user. This capability will make the book more functional.
  4. The final and most complex of the characteristics of functionality in this particular job is its variable data nature. The multiple versions of the book will involve database work, or at least a focus on creating multiple products with certain common colors and certain unique colors. Having the right colors in the right order is essential. So accurate assembly is a huge part of the job. This is what makes the printed product a useful fashion design tool to those who pay a premium to own it.

In all of these cases, the common element is functionality, not aesthetics. In addition, the product does not need to persuade or educate.

What Are Other Examples of Functional Printing?

Inkjet printing in particular has opened many avenues for functional or industrial printing. For example, an inkjet printer can use a conductive material in lieu of aqueous ink to print circuit boards for electronic products.

In addition, three-dimensional printing of everything from jewelry and shoes to bodily organs and food (depending on the substance used in the digital inkjet equipment) would also qualify as functional printing.

How You Can Apply this to Your Own Work

Staying relevant as a designer or a commercial printing vendor involves being aware of trends in the industry. In the wake of the “death of printing” meme, I’m seeing a very different future materializing. From my reading, I’m seeing the growth of labels; folding cartons and flexible packaging; large format printing; and functional or industrial printing, to name a few. All of these provide opportunities for savvy designers and printers. None of these products will migrate to the Web.

Custom Printing: How to Approach Print Job Deliveries

Monday, October 6th, 2014

It is very easy to wait until the last minute to collect delivery information for a custom printing job. You’re focusing on getting the art files to the printer, looking at proofs, and a myriad of other tasks. The last thing you’re thinking about is the actual completion of the job.

Well, this can make for a tumultuous end-game for a print book production run, a print run of marketing collateral, or any other large commercial printing job for that matter.

Things to Consider About Deliveries

I’ve been brokering three 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound print books for a small publisher. They are fiction and poetry books. It’s nice to do something creative for a while. Although the client and I had been clear at the beginning of the printing process that copies would go to a Midwest book distributor, there were more deliveries to address as the book printing process wound down.

In addition to the book distributor, there were deliveries to be made to a warehouse, a little further South, and there was a delivery to the home of the authors for various book signing events. The authors live on the East Coast.

Create a Delivery Spreadsheet

So this is what I did, and this is what I’d suggest that you do if you’re printing almost any kind of large job. The larger and more complex the job, in fact, the more important it is to get all this information in writing in one place. This will help your printer, and it will help you focus. You’d be surprised at what questions arise when you create this kind of spreadsheet.

This is what I included in the spreadsheet (and what I’d encourage you to include in your delivery form as well):

  1. I had the client break down the number of copies of each book title to be sent to each of three delivery points, and I alerted the book printer. This was the first section of the spreadsheet.
  2. I collected all delivery address information from the client. I made sure I also included contact people, phone numbers, and email addresses. I shared all of this with the book printer’s customer service rep, who would be coordinating the deliveries.
  3. I found out who would be responsible for each delivery. You will find, when you look closely at a printing estimate, that many printers (particularly book printers) have simply noted “FOB printer’s loading dock” on the estimate. This means their responsibility ends at this point, and whatever delivery service you have contacted separately has to take responsibility for the safe delivery of the job. You may choose to have the printer arrange for delivery (I think this is a good idea). However, in some cases, with book distributors, warehouses, and the like, it can be more cost effective to have the book distributor’s or warehouse’s truck come to your printer and pick up the job.
  4. I found out when the job would ship and when it would be delivered. Along with the customer service rep at the book printer, I also determined who would coordinate the shipping and ensure that the book distributor and warehouse staff were alerted to the delivery date and time.
  5. I discussed with the customer service rep such issues as the number of cartons, whether they would be stacked on one pallet (all three book titles), how high the skid could be packed, and what information would be printed on “flags” (sheets of paper with barcodes) placed under the pallet shrink wrap to identify the contents, the number of cartons, the number of books per carton, and the total number of books in the job. I also discussed the book distributor’s and warehouse’s requirements for carton weight and for labeling the pallet with a purchase order. In this case, the entire skid would be seen as a single “box,” so only two labels needed to be included (and visible). In your case, things might be different. You might need to put a sheet in every box for your particular warehouse. So find out early, since this kind of labeling would be done in the bindery as the job is being cartoned.
  6. Since the client’s copies were few (200 per title), I discussed delivery options with the book printer’s customer service rep. She agreed to check into the advisability of sending the 600 books (200 x 3 titles) via UPS Ground or as an “LTL” (less than truckload shipment).
  7. In all of these cases (and I realize your particular situation will be different from mine), I’d strongly advise you to rely on your printer’s expertise. Ask questions, and request competitive delivery pricing if you want, but no one will understand this like your printer or his customer service rep.

Book Printing: How to Approach a Huge Design Job

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

In the late 1970s I found a book by cartoonist B. Kliban entitled Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. The title stuck with me, as did the image of a getting more than you can handle.

Well I did just that. Oops. What to do next?

The BackStory on the Print Book

This case study concerns a print book I’m brokering for a client. I have mentioned it in prior blogs. It is approximately 120-pages, 4-color on one side and black-only on the other side. It’s small in format like a PMS color book, and it will be drilled and then assembled onto a screw and post (a mechanical binding that can be disassembled to add more pages and then reassembled).

The job involves a press run of 100 copies of each of sixteen originals. Last night as I was creating a template and a mock-up, I did the math. I came up with over 2,000 original pages. Oops.

The commercial printing technology I had secured for my client was the correct one for the task. I had suggested a Kodak NexPress at a local printing vendor since it had an inline coating capability and produced excellent digital output. Normally I would have suggested an HP Indigo, but the inline coating option for the Kodak NexPress made the difference.

Other vendors that had bid on the job planned to subcontract the coating and round cornering (diecutting), and this had driven up their prices. The preferred vendor would be able to print and coat the sheets in one pass, and this would shorten the schedule and lower the price.

Regarding the choice of digital printing, I had deemed it appropriate for the following reason. The press run was short (100 copies of 16 versions of a 126-page-plus-cover print book).

The Moment of Awareness

Here’s something you can learn from my experience. Describing a job on a spec sheet is not the same as actually designing it or laying it out. I started to become aware of this (and to fully grasp the size of the 2,000-page job) as I was creating a template to make sure the job specs would be acceptable to the printer and creating a mock-up for a test run.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

  1. It never hurts to break a job down, particularly at the beginning. Start with a spec sheet. This will help you communicate your custom printing needs to your vendors. It will also get you to focus on such issues as paper choice and delivery requirements, which you might otherwise forget in your rush to design the job.
  2. Consider producing a single-page template for your printer if the job will be unusual in any way (an odd size or an unusual binding, for instance). Show the live matter boundaries (how close to the trim any image or type will be positioned), and make sure these are acceptable to your printer (in my case it’s 1/4”). Also show bleeds (1/8”), and make sure you leave room for the binding (in my first draft, I forgot the drill hole for the screw and post, so I had to redo the design).
  3. Ask the book printer to produce a few pages on his press (if it’s a crucial job and if it’s being printed digitally). This would be prohibitively expensive for an offset-printed job (it also has a name: a press proof). If your printer will produce a few sample pages for you, you can see whether the paper weight, caliper, opacity, brightness, and whiteness are to your liking—with your job actually printed on the chosen paper stock. You can’t beat this method for determining whether a design will or will not work.

How to Approach the Big Job

To get back to my 2,000-page job, this is how I approached the next steps after the template and mock-up:

  1. I asked my client for her print deadline, and I factored in the creation of the template and mock-up, the actual production of the 16 126-page-plus-cover originals, and the turn-around time the printer had given me for the digital printing (Kodak NexPress), diecutting (round corners), drilling, and assembly.
  2. I contacted a group of three related (same family) designers who had experience and comfort with print book production (as opposed to print book design). One family member also has an extensive background in database management.
  3. I sent them samples of the spec sheet, template, and InDesign file I had done. I requested an estimate for production of the 16 versions of the book and a proposed schedule. I will coordinate the job and ensure its consistency and accuracy; they will do the production based on my template and mock up.

What You Can Learn from My Experience

  1. If something seems huge, break it into its component parts. This will help you start breathing again.
  2. Involve others if you will need help (i.e., if it’s too big a job for one person).
  3. Don’t spread the job too thin. Make sure the assistants you collect will produce consistent work. It doesn’t help you to bring in several assistants and then spend time cleaning up their files (or making them match one another).
  4. If a job has multiple versions, then research the variable-data capabilities of your software. (In my case, I’m starting my research with the “book making” and “variable layout” capabilities of InDesign.)
  5. If the job is more of a database job than a design job, like mine, look for “patterns” and “logical rules” or any other way to simplify the production process. Think about which components will be in all of the versions of your project and which will only be in some of them. Draw pictures and flow charts if it helps. You may even find a way to merge a spreadsheet with an InDesign file to automate the production work.
  6. Let the computer do the repetitive tasks. (For instance, you may want to create one template, add elements common to all versions of the book, copy the file multiple times, and then add the pages unique to each book.)
  7. Consult your book printer for suggestions. There may be an easier way than what you came up with.
  8. Search the Internet for others who have used your particular page composition software to do similar jobs. (Chances are that someone else once had a project just like yours. Learn from their experience.)

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