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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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Catalog Printing: Views on an Upscale Bath Catalog

One of the major benefits of rebuilding a house after a fire is looking through all the print catalogs of things you might want to buy for the house. (Another is being able to see through all the wood studs with no drywall in the way—it makes the house look like one big room.)

One of the print catalogs my fiancee brought back to the condo took my breath away. And being a student of commercial printing, I had to deconstruct it and share with you exactly why I think it’s fabulous.

Description of the Catalog

First of all, the cover of the 8.5” x 11” print book is simple, perhaps even stark. The background is printed in full-bleed, luxurious silver (probably multiple hits of the metallic ink), with one rectangle of text for the title, subtitle, and branding (all nestled together in a tight geometric form). Interestingly enough, this block of copy falls below the center of the cover, almost at the bottom of the page. The effect is that your eye falls on the abundant silver ink first (this is the real subject of the cover) and then travels down to the text block.

“Bath” stands out in an austere, all-caps treatment using a thin, angular, sans serif typeface and abundant letterspacing. The word is reversed out of the silver and is about two inches in height. The tittle of the print catalog and the branding logotype are nestled above and below the word “Bath” to create the aforementioned rectangle of type.

In addition, the cover has a vertical press score about 3/4” in from the spine. On such an austere cover it functions as a vertical design element and also allows the cover to be opened without revealing the spine and binding glue. It is simple and elegant.

Treatment of Text in the Catalog

All explanatory mater at the front of the catalog is arranged in a simple, geometric grid with ample leading between lines of type. The sans serif typeface accentuates what first appears to be a Sweedish Modern ethos in the design of the catalog and the design of all bath fixtures within the catalog. Interestingly enough, the company is actually a Spanish firm with stores across the globe, Porcelanosa Grupo. The company specializes in ceramics and bathroom fixtures and furniture.

The text appears to be almost gray, but with a loupe you can see that it is black. It is the combination of the extra leading between lines of type and the thin letterforms of the sans serif type that gives the overall appearance of gray or silver type. The overall effect is an air of luxury. The type treatment extends throughout the following pages of bathroom fixtures. Who would imagine that a plumbing catalog could exude sex appeal?

Treatment of Photos in the Catalog

Overall, the color usage in the catalog is sparse. It looks either achromatic (only black, white, or grey) or almost a cool, upscale silver. If you look more closely, however, you will see an accent of color here and there. Each double-page spread showcases one item or fixture, and occasionally there will be a red highlight within the explanatory text, or perhaps a pink or green bottle of handcream, or a towel, in the photo. The effect is a subtle humor. “Find the color, if you can.” It also looks incredibly delicate, like trees covered in ice after a freezing rain. If you look closely you can appreciate the delicacy of the photography.

The Tonal Range of the Images

From a technical point of view, the photos are breathtaking because of their extended tonal range. Upon close inspection with a printer‘s loupe you can see that many of the photos that appear to be black and white only have been rendered in four-color process inks. These are also known as “quadtones.” What this technique provides is an extended range of intermediate tones within the images.

Whereas a one-color halftone (perhaps black only) can only focus on a narrow range of tones (perhaps the shadows and a bit of the midtones, or the intermediate tones and the highlights), a four-color rendering of a black and white image can showcase detail in the shadows, three-quarter tones, mid-tones, quarter tones, and highlights—the entire tonal range. Granted, in this print catalog the images are not quite black and white even in appearance. There are a few accents of color here and there. But the overall look is a monochromatic, or even achromatic, air of elegance with precise attention to detail.

It also looks as though the photos themselves were shot in extremely high resolution. You can see the individual water drops coming from one of the shower heads, and the mirrored reflections in the metal fixtures, as well as the icy white porcelain sinks and tubs, give a frozen look to the images.

The Paper on Which the Catalog Is Printed

As I’ve often said before, the paper on which a job is printed exerts a powerful subliminal force. It works on the reader’s subconscious. It either supports or detracts from the overall effect of the printed piece. It seems that the paper stock for the text of the catalog is a brilliant white, 100# dull text sheet. (The dull coating diffuses all light and has no sheen.) The cover of the catalog appears to be a thick, brilliant white, 100# dull cover sheet.

For me, the overall effect of using paper with such ample weight and stiffness is to echo the feeling of opulence suggested by the print catalog. The bright, solar white sheet reinforces this as well, as does its blue-white shade. “Icy” is the word that comes to mind—and “flawlessly precise.”

The Overall Look of the Catalog

What makes this catalog work for me is that all design elements, from the blue-white paper tone and heavy paper weight to the stark imagery; from the monochromatic hues to the extended tonal range in the photos; from the choice of typefaces to the attention to letterspacing and leading—all of this supports the overall tone of the catalog and the brand attributes to which potential customers might aspire.

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