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Archive for June, 2015

Analyzing Effective Marketing Packages

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Coordinating a marketing effort using all available tools (commercial printing, the Internet, and a telephone) would seem to be straightforward, but I think it is not often done effectively or with finesse. Or at least you could say that it is a supremely challenging assignment worthy of note when it succeeds.

The Sample Campaign

It has been over a year since our house fire, and my fiancee and I are just completing the rebuild of the house. At this particular point we are considering options for window treatments, specifically blinds.

In light of this rebuild, my fiancee recently received a marketing package from a blind and wallpaper vendor. I was quite impressed when I saw it, not necessarily with the edgy graphics and photography but rather with the usefulness of the package itself and with how easy this print collateral makes it to contact the store, select blinds, and order the right product.

Breaking It Down

My fiancee had ordered the samples: four miniature horizontal window blind slats that looked like thin, color-coordinated tongue depressors. The marketing package came to her in a synthetic 6” x 9” envelope, similar to Tyvek but with cross-hatched ribbing (like duct tape), presumably for strength. Clearly this envelope would protect its contents from damage or loss.

The custom envelope graphic, which contained a lot of information and visuals, included the following:

  1. The name of the company in an immediately readable size and sans serif font, along with the address and a large phone number. Upon receiving this marketing package, you would immediately know how to contact the vendor. This is not true about many marketing packages.
  2. A composite photo of about twelve different blind products, from flat slats to honeycombed blinds. In addition, the front of the custom envelope included a photo of the owner of the company.
  3. A star burst referencing a coupon, using reversed, all-caps sans serif type, as well as other large, reversed type referencing a guarantee for the lowest price. (An immediate offer of guaranteed low prices will catch the attention of any serious buyer.)
  4. A second copy of the phone number in large type, in case the reader has missed the first, along with an offer for the reader to call with any questions. The sincere nature of the wording (i.e., we’re here to help, not to sell you something you don’t need) also makes a difference.

This is just the front of the custom envelope. The back repeats the company logo, phone contact information, Internet contact information (website and e-mail address), photos of sample products, and a note (“Free samples inside!”) in bold type right on the flap of the self-seal, open-end envelope.

You cannot miss the important information. All of it is arranged logically, with color and type size clearly indicating the levels of importance, and color and type size used to lead the reader’s eye through the page. As much information as the envelope contains (i.e., you could argue that it is “busy”), you can immediately see all the facts you need.

The Product Samples

The sample blind slats are all labeled with the color name and number of the product as well as the product’s name and thickness of the blind slats.

In addition, each sample blind slat includes the name of the company, the phone number, and the website information.

The Brochure

Using type size and type color, as well as solid areas of color, to set apart chunks of copy and contact information, the brochure’s front and back covers repeat and expand upon the information on the custom envelope. In some cases, the designer even enlarged the first few words of a copy block to act as a running headline, again to draw the reader’s eye to a particular location.

On the front and back of the brochure, the company refers to its “100% lifetime lowest price guarantee,” to the reader’s immediate access to phone assistance and live chat, and to the company’s commitment to “your satisfaction.” (Nothing sells like a commitment to the customer.)

Inside the brochure the company has included a useful tool, a step-by-step guide to measuring windows for window treatments. It’s comprehensive, explaining ways to mount blinds either inside the window frame or outside the window frame.

Moreover, since the task seems a little daunting, the blind company includes a QR code. Readers can scan the code to get immediate access to help in measuring their own windows. Or, more specifically, the blind company has seamlessly leveraged QR technology, print design, and its website to help the customer easily buy window treatments.

The Coupon

To sweeten the deal, the blind and wallpaper company includes a coupon on laminated, thick card stock. It offers three levels of savings tied to three brackets of spending ($75-$124.99, $125-$174.99, and $175 or more). This just about covers any purchase. In addition to repeating the logo and all contact information in visually digestible chunks, the coupon makes the offer time sensitive (“coupon expires 7 days from today”). Nothing motivates a buyer like a sense of urgency.

The Take Away

Here are some thoughts to consider while designing marketing collateral:

  1. Make sure all contact information is immediately recognizable and repeated multiple times across the print campaign.
  2. Appeal directly to the customer. (Use the word “you” whenever you can.)
  3. Leverage all channels of contact with your client: print collateral, Internet (web and e-mail), and the telephone). Some people prefer one channel; some prefer another. Wherever possible, coordinate the various channels to present an integrated message and to use the qualities at which each excels (for instance, you can include a “live chat” option for those who prefer this to a conversation over the telephone).
  4. Include photos of your product and images of friendly, smiling staff to reinforce your message that contacting the company will be a pleasurable and productive experience.
  5. Look everywhere—especially in your own mailbox—for successful examples of integrated marketing campaigns like this, and then analyze, deconstruct, and study them. Learn from the masters. Better yet, if you receive print collateral in the mail and really, really want to buy the product, ask yourself why, and then consider all the methods the marketer has used to pique your interest.

Print Book Production: Boxed Sets

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

I believe the term is “critical path” in project management speak. What this really means is that certain processes within the flow of production will take the most time, and everything else that depends on this critical sequence of events must conform and take this into account.

Print book production is an example of project management. It may not seem like it when you’re in front of an iMac designing page spreads, but every element of the process, from preflight to printing to finishing to shipping to delivery is connected and must fit not only within a specified budget but also within a specified time frame.

My Client’s Boxed Set of Books

Over the last few weeks I have been working closely with a print book brokering client to develop a set of 6” x 9” saddle-stitched booklets that will fit into a box sleeve. The booklets focus on individual topics in government education for high school students. Three copies of each of four originals will fit into each box.

Most of the time to date has been spent determining what the particular page count of the booklets will require in terms of the interior width of the box. We have discussed paper thickness as well, which has brought up such issues as the opacity (or show through) of the paper. On 70# Finch Opaque text stock, there will be less of a chance that photos printed on the backs of pages will be visible through the fronts of the pages than there would be on 60# stock.

But beyond the specific choices involved (paper, inks, bleeds), the print books have a due date. To be useful, the boxed sets must arrive in Florida early next month.

What This Means in Terms of Time

Working backwards from the delivery date, this means the boxed sets must leave the printer on 5/4. This will leave ample time for a 5/8 delivery.

Printing the books themselves can be done relatively quickly. Most printers can produce saddle-stitched books of this press run (about 3,300 copies of booklets ranging from 56 to 72 pages plus covers) in approximately seven to ten days, from uploading of art files through 24-hour proofing (presumably screen proofs), through printing and binding. Hard-copy proofs might lengthen this schedule by a day or two.

However, producing the box will take time–that’s the kicker–for two reasons: 1. It will involve a lot of steps, and 2. It will involve outside labor.

First the dieline must be created for the box. This is a flattened out drawing of the front, back, bottom, top, and sides of the box as they will fit on a press sheet (before being folded up into a box). It must be created precisely to size, since a metal die rule will be created to cut these box “blanks” out of the press sheet and the fluted corrugated board to which the press sheets will be laminated. Size matters. It must be precise, or it will need to be redone, and this will burn time and money.

The book printer responsible for all aspects of the job (including the subcontracted box printing and conversion) has committed to a fifteen-day schedule. Most of this time will be spent in die creation, box printing, lamination of press sheets to the corrugated board, diecutting the boxes and removing the scrap, then folding and gluing the flat box pieces into completed box sleeves. Of course at this point the books (which will have been printed on different equipment by the book printer, not the box converter) will have been printed and bound, and readied for insertion into the boxes prior to the final shrink-wrapping of the boxed sets. They will then be cartoned and shipped to the client in Florida.

Getting back to project management, it becomes clear that the most crucial portion of this job is the box production. Creating the die and printing, diecutting, and converting the boxes will make or break the schedule.

To Complicate Matters: Not Having a Firm Press Run Yet

Today my client finalized the page counts for the booklets. She laid them out in InDesign (text, photos, and charts) and then gave me page counts from which the printer will determine the necessary width of the boxes: three books each of 56 pages, 60 pages, 68 pages, and 72 pages plus covers. The width of all 12 stacked books inserted in a box will depend on the paper thickness. My printer and I believe a better product can be made on 70# than 60# text stock due to the opacity of the paper. At this point we will see how this factors into the actual box width.

To make matters more complicated, my client has a buyer who may want anywhere from 25 to 100 extra sets. Waiting to hear back from the buyer could compromise the schedule. Pushing the buyer could prevent the sale. What to do?

Suggestions (in Case This Happens to You)

  1. Give the buyer a little time to make the decision (based on the actual time needed for box creation: the critical path of the job).
  2. Realize that it’s cheaper to print too many copies of anything and then throw some out than to print twice. A reprint would be expensive.
  3. Consider the fact that making a commitment to the number of boxes must occur immediately, but printing the books could start at a slightly later date. It could ostensibly be on a different schedule and still come together with completion of box production in time to ship the sets of boxed books.
  4. Consider ordering a generous margin of extra boxes, and then either ordering the correct number of books at the later deadline, or, at worst, ordering extra copies of the books and throwing some away. This may still be a prudent decision. It will still be cheaper to throw some away than to reprint any portion of the job.

As you can see, it’s all a game of estimating costs and predicting future demand. But its vital to keep in mind the connections among the various portions of the job and the time it takes to complete each task in order to meet a deadline as well as to make the sale.

Custom Printing: Enhancing Logo Design

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

I discussed logo design in a PIE Blog posting last week. Jim Krause makes a number of suggestions on this topic in Design Basics Index. He suggests starting with an image, transforming it into an icon, and then presenting it along with the business name in a dramatic way that reflects the essence of the company.

Tonight, I turned to another design text: Design Workshop by Robin Williams. She includes a number of logo creation suggestions in her print book as well.

“Tweak a Letterform”

One section, called “Tweak a Letterform,” illustrates ways to make a logo stand out by altering the type a bit. For instance, an italic treatment of the Goldfeather logo draws out the base of the “f” letterform into a swash (like a flourish with an ink pen) and then adds a feather to the top of the “f.” All of this is printed in gold, while the rest of the logo prints in black. What makes this logo treatment effective is the addition of an image that reinforces the company name.

Another sample Robin Williams includes is the Lightning Studios logo. In this case she replaces the second “i” in “lightning” with a lightning bolt. The lightning bolt prints in yellow, while the rest of the logo is black and beige. As a bright, dynamic color in contrast to the balance of the logo, the lightning bolt jumps off the page.

In another logo for Hamlin Garden Townhomes, Williams does much the same thing by swapping the letter “i” in Hamlin for a large tree with ample foliage.

The Take-Away

In all three examples, Williams’ logos work because they contain an element of surprise (the letter replaced with an image) and they use an image directly relevant to the company. The replaced letterform brings an associated image directly into the name of the company, a simple and elegant way to associate the name of a company with its actual business focus.

“Add Elements”

The next section of Williams’ Design Workshop expands the options for logo design by marrying a graphic to the name of the company (in ways other than replacing a letterform with an image). This might include adding clip art, illustration, and various stylized icons. (This is similar to Kline’s discussion of icons in Design Basics Index.)

A number of Williams’ sample logos appear to be for technology firms. Williams has added various swooshes and multiples of dots in bright colors, perhaps to indicate flashing lights on a console. The simplicity of the type choice in the five iterations of the ChromaTech logo, for instance, highlights the contemporary, bold nature of such a company.

Another interesting logo treatment for a company called Riverside Mall uses repeated, interlocked swooshes in various shades of blue to suggest waves. The five overlapping marks placed under the words of the logo provide a visual base while at the same time referencing the river (presumably) in front of the mall. Williams chose a modern sans serif typeface for the logo. Several of the letterforms have unique and unexpected strokes, and the thinness and grace of the letterforms impart a sense of elegance to the presentation.

The Take-Away

All of Williams’ logos include a visual element in addition to the type treatment. In all cases the visual elements suggest something relevant to the company but only in a stylized manner. For instance, the image suggests elegance or movement or a futuristic bent. Unlike the logo marks Williams includes in “Tweak a Letterform,” these logomarks seem more abstract. They suggest rather than state outright. However, in all of these cases the logomarks are simple and dynamic presentations of some actual item (computer indicator lights, waves, the rays of a sun).

“Add Clip Art” and “Add Illustrations”

Robin Williams includes two more sections on logo design, giving designers the option of adding some form of illustration beyond a simple icon.

The logo for the Soup Kitchen, for instance, benefits from an actual illustration in a way no icon could accomplish. The artistic style of the soup, the steam coming off the soup, and the glass of wine suggests a relaxed mood. The illustration is effective specifically because of its more complex rendering. In addition, the typeface Williams chose for the company is informal and playful, complementing the tone of the image.

Another example in this section of Williams’ print book is the Idea Swarm logo. Williams added a handful of lightbulbs (clip art) above the playful typeface to suggest a swarm of ideas, and then adjusted each of the letterforms so they would not be on the same baseline and so they would be tilted in some cases. This gives the logo a sense of movement—like a buzzing swarm of ideas. Finally, she moved one of the lightbulbs slightly away from the others to give it more prominence.

The Take-Away

Humor goes a long way to make a logo memorable. And an unusual treatment of the type in a logo (like the bouncing letterforms in Williams’ design) can complement the humor in the illustration. Also, don’t assume that clip art has to be boring or commonplace. It all depends on how you use it (multiple images in this case).

Update on the Book Set

Monday, June 15th, 2015

I mentioned in a recent PIE Blog article that a client of mine is producing a set of 6” x 9” booklets that will be inserted into a printed, corrugated box sleeve. Getting them to fit in the box is crucial (not too tight, and not too loose), and this challenge has been compounded by my client’s not having a firm page count for the print books.

A Quick Review of the Specs

The product comprises four original books in a slip case. The books will be 6” x 9” saddle-stitched translations of government education articles aimed at a high school audience. The covers will print in four-color process, and the text pages will be black ink only. There will be three copies of each of the four books in a box, or 12 books total.

The covers will be printed on 12pt. C1S (coated one side) stock, and the text pages of the print books will be produced on 70# Finch Opaque white text stock. (The first bid had specified 80# Finch, but a paper dummy of all the books provided by the printer fit very tightly in the sample box used for the prior year’s version of this project, so my client reduced the paper thickness to 70#.)

The front of the box slip case will be only 5” high, and the back will be the full 9” height of the books. This will protect the books but also allow for their easy removal from, and replacement into, the box. The (initially planned) 2.5” width of the box will need to allow all twelve books to sit comfortably in the box sleeve.

Once printed, the books will be saddle stitched and inserted into the boxes, and the boxes will be shrink wrapped.

Based on the initial specs, the projection was that the books would be 48 or 52 pages (two books of each length). In the prior year’s version, the books ranged from 44 to 56 pages (this is relevant insofar as it provides a good estimate of how many book pages will fit in the 2.5”-wide box).

However, when my client laid out the initial proof of the books, the page count increased. Now the books are 54 pages, 60 pages, 64 pages, and 68 pages (three copies of each in a boxed set).

The Implications of the Page Count

Normally, the length of a print book is not of particular concern. However, in this case the books all need to fit into the slip case box, so to determine the proper width of the box, it is good to start with the total page count and the paper thickness.

The initial printing of this boxed set included ten books. When you add up the number of pages, this equals 484 pages plus covers. The box for this initial job was 2.5” wide. Hence, the printer’s initial bid for this job assumed a 2.5” box. It was assumed that this would not be a problem, since there was extra room in the last version of the boxed set once all books had been slipped into the box.

But this year’s print books were initially specified as 80# text, not 70# as in the prior year’s version. In addition, even the initial page estimate (three sets of each of two 48-page books and two 52-page books) yielded a total of 600 pages plus covers. When stacked together, the books would include a 24 percent increase in book pages over the prior year’s product. In addition, there would be an increase in paper thickness from 70# to 80# text stock (a 14.28 percent increase).

To compound matters, the first page proof yielded longer books than expected: 54 pages, 60 pages, 64 pages, and 68 pages (rather than two 48-page books and two 52-page books). Multiplied out, these page counts equal 738 book pages plus covers.

So the books jumped from 484 pages to 600 pages to 738 pages, and the thickness of the paper jumped from 70# to 80# text.

My client had already produced a box template (art for the dieline from which the metal dies will be made that will be used to cut out the boxes). At the book printer’s suggestion, she had made it a 3” wide box rather than a 2.5” wide box. However, I’m still not completely comfortable. After all, the page count has risen more than 52 percent over the prior year’s version, and the paper has increased in thickness.

Projections for the Boxed Set

The printer made a complete paper dummy using the prior year’s box and mocked-up versions of the books. He had done this on 80# text stock (the covers were to be the same as the prior year’s version: 12pt. C1S stock). Even at the initially proposed book lengths (48 and 52 pages), the dummy books just barely fit into the box sleeve.

Now that the (closer to) firm book lengths have been established, my client has reduced the paper stock, reverting to the 70# thickness of the prior year’s iteration. This will help. Now the printer can make a revised set of paper dummy books to see how thick 12 of them will be. This will provide a realistic interior box width that will comfortably contain the print books.

Why This Could Have Been a Disaster

Boxes are cut with metal dies, and the dies are both expensive and time consuming to make. Had my client, or the printer, not made paper dummies (and revised paper dummies) to see for sure how the books would fit in the box, there could have been unnecessary delays and additional costs for revised dies. This could have compromised the book production schedule, getting boxes to the end-users past the deadline.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

First of all, you get what you pay for. This particular printer is not the cheapest in town. However, he has always delivered a superior product on time. Paying a little more to know he will make the paper dummies, and confirm the proper width for the box, is priceless.

In your own work, if the page count for a similar product changes, request a second paper dummy. Don’t assume, don’t guess. Be certain.

Remember that a book set in a box is a physical product with certain physical requirements and limitations. This is why a paper dummy is so helpful. You can not only see but also feel exactly what the final job will be like.

How to Design a Company Logo

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

One of my favorite and most useful design books is Design Basics Index by Jim Kruse. I’ve discussed various suggestions from Krause’s book in prior PIE Blog articles, but I am always surprised and pleased at how helpful this print book can be.

I was paging through the text this evening, and I came upon a step-by-step presentation of a logo for a company (possibly fictitious) called Rototech. This section becomes even more useful when paired with another section that explains how to create icons from physical objects.

To explain the thought process behind the logo creation exercise, let’s start with the icon creation exercise. In both cases, the photos and drawings Krause includes are as helpful as the written explanations.

Abstracting the Essence of Images for the Logo

Krause includes four hand tools in his section on icons: a saw, a screw, a C-clamp, and pliers. To demonstrate the process of extracting the most important elements (functional as well as visual) of these tools, he has circled the teeth of the saw, the head and threads of the screw, the entire shape of the C-clamp, and the jaws of the pliers. On the opposite page he shows icons of the four photographs, or images “created from the stylistically rendered details taken from only a tiny portion of the object’s entirety.” (page 159, Krause)

All four icons are set within blue circles. Each has an outline in white of the simple shape of the tool (in most cases just a portion of the tool), and the tool itself is rendered in light blue. The key is simplicity and immediacy.

In another section of the print book, Krause shows four more renderings of a wrench, ranging from a lifelike silhouette showing the jaws, gear, and handle of the adjustable wrench, to a dot-matrix image of the tool, to a “sketch” of the wrench made up of simple red lines drawn over a blue background shape.

Krause explains the goal of reducing the image down to its most essential elements in creating an icon. It must “directly and vividly convey its meaning to the viewer.” (page 159, Krause) In Design Basics Index, Krause notes that the goal is to “simplify and stylize” the image (page 159, Krause), and states that this is a difficult and time consuming task which is an art in itself.

Krause’s Design Process for the Rototech Logo

In the logo creation section of the print book, Krause simplifies the blades of a fan in a handful of different ways to explore options for creating movement. Most of the fan shapes include three blades in slightly different but analogous colors. He also tries these three-blade, simple shapes as a reversal (to white) out of a solid green circle.

In this exercise, Krause discusses such graphic tools as style and volume (showing the fan blades in both flat and dimensional renderings, and in both sketchy and more hard-edged representations). Clearly Krause’s goal is to get the reader to experiment as he or she explores options for a logo mark.

The final section of this lesson involves the “presentation” of the logo image. That is, Krause displays the fan image within a type treatment of the firm’s name. At this point he has selected the three-part fan image in dark, medium, and light orange. The fan blades are simple and stylized. The repetition of the simple shape along with the shift in colors creates apparent motion.

All of the type treatments Krause includes for this logo are tightly kerned, all-caps versions of the word “Rototech” in a geometric, sans serif typeface. The first shows the fan repeated five times above the name of the company. The name is reversed out of a blue rectangle, and all fan images except one (the one in the three shades of orange) are represented in lighter or darker shades of blue. The repetition of the form of the fan increases the sense of movement, while the warm colors of the central fan image draw the eye to the center of the presentation and then down into the reversed word Rototech. The simplicity of the all-caps letterforms give a futuristic and “techy” feel to the presentation.

Krause shows a different approach in the next image by filling the second “O” in Rototech with blue and then superimposing the orange, three-part fan over the letter. This places the emphasis on the word Rototech instead of the fan logo mark.

Another treatment positions the three-part orange fan in a blue square above the word Rototech, and a fourth treatment reduces the size of the fan blades and blue square box to the height of the company name, and places the logo mark to the left of the word itself. Again, this gives predominance to the name of the company over the orange fan icon.

What You Can Learn From Krause’s Design Exercise

This is what I learned from the samples in the book as an approach to logo design:

  1. Start with the icon. Choose an image relevant to the company and then simplify it.
  2. Create multiple, different approaches to the presentation of both the logo mark and the associated words (name of the company, tag line, etc.).
  3. Make sure the logo mark and the associated words complement one another (in tone and style) and reflect the essence of the company.
  4. Create versions that highlight the name of the company, and also create versions that focus more on the logo mark or icon.
  5. Don’t become wedded to one version. Experiment. Approach the design challenge as play rather than work.

A Case Study in Saddle Stitched Booklets

Monday, June 8th, 2015

A print brokering client of mine has been asked to take on a job from another designer. The job comprises two saddle-stitched booklets that have been provided in PDF format. My client has only these PDF files from the prior year’s printing. She does not have an InDesign file. Today my client came to me to discuss printer’s specs for a bid as well as some workflow considerations.

The Two Jobs

One of the jobs is a policy brief for a government organization. It is an 8-page, 9”x12” self-cover print booklet that will be produced in four color process ink (with bleeds) on 80# white gloss text or white gloss cover. (My client does not yet know whether her client will want thicker or thinner stock. I have suggested 100# white gloss text as a middle-ground option.)

Regardless of the stock, the covers will be UV coated or aqueous coated, depending on the capabilities of the book printer chosen for the job. The booklet will be saddle stitched on the 12” dimension.

The second job is a print catalog for the same government organization. It is a 32-page, 8.66” x 8.31” booklet that will print in four color process ink (with bleeds). Although my client’s client may want a self-cover book (like the short policy brief), it is more likely that she will want a 28-page text block and a 4-page cover. Hence, the book will most likely be printed on 80# white gloss text (for the interior) and 80# white gloss cover (for the four-page cover). The covers will be either UV coated or aqueous coated. The booklet will be saddle stitched.

As you can see, the sizes are non-standard (for the United States). The books will be used in Africa, hence the more international page sizes. However, since the second book’s dimensions are close to square, I have asked that my client’s client note whether the print catalog should be slightly taller or slightly wider. With this information, the printer will know on which dimension to saddle stitch the book.

Extra Information

Even though my client will only have the PDF from which to work (which may be difficult to edit), I could gather all the information needed for the specs by reviewing the PDF of the two books. After reviewing both jobs, I asked my client to request the following information from her client:

  1. The number of copies of each print book that will be needed.
  2. Whether the job will be digitally printed (if the press run will be very small) or printed via offset lithography (if the press run will be longer).
  3. Proofing requirements (hard-copy vs. PDF virtual proof).
  4. The printing schedule from submission of art files to delivery of books.
  5. Delivery requirements, including any mailshop or fulfillment work (such as inserting the books in envelopes and then addressing the envelopes).

The initial specs my client had drafted did not include this information. Since job specs such as delivery requirements will increase the overall cost of the job in a material way, I asked her to query her client (the final decision-maker).

What You Can Learn From This

The specs for the two books are relatively straight-forward. What is more important is that my client had omitted some information that would have affected the accuracy of the printer’s estimate.

Therefore, in your own print buying work, always consider requirements for proofing, delivery, mailshop (addressing and fulfillment), and scheduling when you approach your commercial printing vendors. It’s easy to focus exclusively on the design and production of the product itself (in this case a print book) and forget these other aspects of the job.

In addition, it’s important to consider the complexity of the job and the need for color fidelity when you choose a proofing method. For critical color, I’d always suggest that you pay the added cost (and take the extra time) for a hard-copy, contract color proof. You may then want to use PDF screen proofs (viewable on your monitor) for successive rounds of proofing (text changes and such) after you have approved the color on the hard-copy proofs.

Workflow Issues

My client’s other concern was the job workflow. The PDFs would need to be edited. Since my client does not have preflight software, she plans to use Adobe Acrobat Professional to make minor text corrections, if her client determines that only minor corrections are needed.

However, if my client’s client requires major changes (more than a few words here and there), I have advised my client (the designer) to recreate the file from scratch in InDesign. Even if this will require more preliminary work to set up the art files, the overall product will benefit. There’s only so much you can do to correct a PDF before you need the native InDesign files.

A second issue I saw when I reviewed the PDF files was the lack of bleeds. Granted, the commercial printing supplier can enlarge the pages slightly so the photos and color solids that now just come to the edge of the page will bleed. But enlarging photos and rasterized text leads to fuzzy images and type and/or visible pixellation. (It will depend on whether my client can get away with only a small enlargement: say 105 percent of the original size.)

To make matters worse, the text, rule lines, and folios come very close to the trim in these PDF files. My concern is that the printer’s cutting equipment may trim through live-matter text or photos. Most printers want live matter (any text or images that don’t bleed) to be at least 3/8” from the trim to avoid being cut off. (After all, trimming equipment is not perfect.)

This alone, plus the lack of bleeds on the art, may be enough to convince my client, the designer, to reformat the entire job from scratch in InDesign. You could argue that if the job is updated yearly, this initial effort will be rewarded by having an InDesign file for successive years that will be both accurate and editable.

What You Can Learn From This

Be wary if your client only has a PDF for you to update. There are work-arounds for minor editing, but tweaking a PDF file to add bleeds and account for live-matter text and images too close to the print book’s trim can be a recipe for disaster. Sometimes it pays to start over.

Custom Printing: Halftone Dots vs. Aboriginal Dot Painting

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I was recently preparing a lesson for my fiancee’s and my art therapy work with the autistic. We are going to do Aboriginal dot paintings on paper plates that we have made into tambourines (with washers and bells for the tinkling sound). They will be used in the group’s music class.

In my research and consideration for the background part of the lesson, I had noted the similarities between the Aboriginal dot paintings, the pointillist paintings of such artists as Seurat, halftone images produced for offset commercial printing, and the Ben-Day color screens that appear in both comic books (to simulate halftones) and in the Pop Art images of Roy Lichtenstein (to simulate the comics themselves, but on huge canvases).

Wow. I’m not saying that these disparate art movements are connected. Rather I am noting a fact about the human eye. Our eyes will connect and (along with our brains) make sense out of patterns of dots, such that we will see images of actual things when all that exists is the dots.

Halftone Dots

Let’s start with halftone dots because that’s what we all see whenever we look at a full-color poster, brochure, or print book produced via the offset lithographic custom printing process.

Offset printing is a binary process. You can print magenta or not print magenta, but you cannot print lighter or darker shades of magenta on a 4-color offset lithographic press. Therefore, the process of halftoning images was created. Photos are broken down into a series of smaller or larger dots (that will print in magenta, for instance) to simulate lighter or darker colors. When you add cyan, yellow, and black halftone dots to the magenta dots (and turn the halftone screens at angles to one another), you can produce full-color imagery from the four process colors.

And all of this rests on the ability of the human eye to group together all of these dots into recognizable items within a photograph.

Aboriginal Dot Painting

With this knowledge of the workings of the human eye, let’s jump back in time to the indigenous residents of Australia, the Aborigines, who used dotting sticks and paint to create images of animals, lakes, and the “Dreamtime” (the “world-dawn” in which their ancestors lived).

If you look at dot paintings of these lizards and snakes, you will see flat patterns of dots that may “read” as the back or tail of a creature, or even a light or shaded area like a lake. The body of the snake may just be multitudes of green dots surrounded by a line of white dots that constitute the outline of the snake, but the human eye nevertheless merges the dots into flat areas of color and distinct outlines.

Seurat and Pointillism

Now let’s jump ahead to France, to the Post-Impressionist painter Georges-Pierre Seurat, who placed dots of pure color side by side with painstaking detail.

Seurat put into practice the scientific discoveries of a French chemist who restored tapestries, Michel Eugène Chevreul. According to Wikipedia, he “discovered that two colors juxtaposed, slightly overlapping or very close together, would have the effect of another color when seen from a distance.”

Sounds a lot like the halftoning process.

If you look at the “Pointillist” paintings of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, you will see exactly this process in action. By placing discrete dots of color side by side, both painters were able to create colors that the viewer’s eye understood to be grass, trees, people, and boats on a lake.

Ben-Day Dots and Pop Art

Similar to the halftoning process are Ben-Day screens, which were named after Benjamin Henry Day, Jr., an illustrator and printer.

Accorrding to Wikipedia,

“Depending on the effect, color and optical illusion needed, small colored dots are closely spaced, widely spaced or overlapping. Magenta dots, for example, are widely spaced to create pink. Pulp comic books of the 1950s and 1960s used Ben-Day dots in the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to inexpensively create shading and secondary colors such as green, purple, orange and flesh tones.”

Unlike halftone dots, Ben-Day dots were all the same size and the same distance apart. You could buy Ben-Day overlay sheets with larger or smaller dots placed closer together or farther apart depending on the shade or hue you wanted to simulate. Then, using a burnisher, you would rub the back of the sheet to transfer the dots to the original art. Using different screens, you could create backgrounds, shadows, or surface treatments (of a face or body, or an area of grass—or anything).

Once photographed for use in either letterpress or offset printing, these screens of dot patterns would provide shading for the final printing plate (and final commercial printing product). And like all the other examples above, the concept was based on the principle that the human eye turns patterns of dots into recognizable objects.

Taken one step further than the comics or illustrations to which the Ben-Day dot screens were applied, within the field of graphic arts, is the fine art of Roy Lichtenstein. An American Pop Artist, Lichtenstein based the imagery for his paintings on American advertising and comic books, capturing in meticulous, hard-edged detail the faces and “word-bubbles” viewers were used to seeing in comic books (but presented in the grand scale of his huge canvasses).

For instance, instead of painting a wall, or face, or hair in one of these comic-book “cells” using a flat, single color, Lichtenstein would use a pattern of equally spaced dots to simulate the color. He would do this as a reference, or homage, to the comic books (with the tongue-in-cheek approach of parody).

What You Can Learn

So—you might be asking–what?

As graphic designers and buyers of commercial printing, it is helpful to understand both the history of the “dot” and the optical principles behind its use in graphic design and the fine arts.

The eye makes patterns into recognizable objects. The eye connects things that are separate into groups to make sense of them.

You can use this information to solve design problems, reference older styles of design to make an artistic statement, or just to have an additional set of tools to incorporate into your own design work for commercial printing projects.

Custom Printing: InDesign to PDF and PDF to InDesign

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

It’s surprisingly easy to create an art file for a commercial printing job and then distill the file into a PDF while missing some errors that will wreak havoc with your final desired output.

For instance, you might include an image that is not of sufficiently high resolution. You might neglect to include fonts necessary for accurate printing of your job (you might even include corrupted fonts by accident). Or you might create a print job in the RGB color space (rather than the appropriate CMYK color space). It’s easy to do. You are focusing on the design and content of your project, and it’s easy to forget to check all of the myriad technical details required for accurate output.

Unfortunately, if these problems go undetected, you will be unhappy with your final commercial printing job.

Preflight Software in General

Therefore, over the years software developers (such as Adobe, Enfocus, and Markzware) have developed applications to both check and correct the most common prepress errors prior to the proofing and plating steps of offset lithography. FlightCheck is one of these “preflight” applications. Acrobat Pro and PitStop are two more. They have saved most designers some form of heartache.

Especially Helpful Characteristics of Preflight Software

Preflight software not only catches errors in the PDF files you send your printer; it also corrects them. For simple problems, this sidesteps the need for the printer to always ask you to make the corrections and resubmit the PDF art files. In many cases he can make the changes himself.

Preflight software can correct problems with a print job’s color space, missing and corrupted fonts, and low image resolution, among other things. It is even possible to do minor text editing within a PDF file (without needing to access the native InDesign file).

By not needing to return all problematic art files to the designers, printers can often avoid production delays and compromised schedules. Since the great proportion of art files submitted to printers contain one or more problems, this software can be a major asset.

Preflight software is a “plug-in.” This means a printer does not need to purchase an additional software package; rather, a small additional piece of software can be installed and then accessed through Adobe Acrobat to make the required corrections.

Some preflight software will check not only Adobe Acrobat PDFs but also native InDesign, Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator files (and even some other file types as well).

Once the files have been preflighted, both you and your commercial printing provider can rest assured that your PDF files will generate press-ready printing plates.

What About Going the Other Way: From PDF to Native InDesign Files?

But what if you need to go the other way, from a PDF to an InDesign file? With all the focus on making press-ready PDFs from native InDesign files, there still is a need to create usable InDesign files from a PDF.

Here’s an example. A print brokering client of mine is producing a color swatch book for fashion and cosmetics. It is a bit like a commercial printing PMS book but for the fashion industry. My client will specify CMYK percentages for swatches printed on the front of each page and then typeset explanatory material for the back of each page.

From a design point of view, this seems easy. What makes this challenging is the following:

  1. There will be 16 separate “versions” of the color swatch books.
  2. Each version will include 60 specific colors. (Taking into account the introductory material for each book, and the front and back of each color swatch page, each version will consist of 126 pages.)
  3. Between 20 and100 copies of each version will be digitally printed on a Kodak NexPress or HP Indigo press.

That’s a total of 2,016 original book pages (16 versions x 126 pages).

My client has the prior year’s PDF of this job but not the native InDesign file. She has two choices. She can create all of the pages from scratch, or she can buy software that converts PDFs to other application formats, such as InDesign files.

Markzware provides such a product (PDF2DTP) and so does Recosoft (PDF2ID). Which one my client chooses will depend on her needs. My sense from reading the reviews is that some of these programs work better in certain situations while others work better in different situations. But the concept is sound, and these software packages are improving.

In my client’s case, this will allow her to start with the prior year’s PDF art files and end with editable InDesign files. My client can then adjust the color builds for the swatches and update the text.

This will save her a huge amount of work, even if she still has to do a lot of “tweaking.”

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This can save you a huge amount of work if you’re in the same situation as my client. However, be forewarned. The native design files you will end up with after converting from PDFs to InDesign format will still need more or less tweaking. Do your own research online to find the strengths and weaknesses of each PDF-to-native-design-file converter before making your choice.

Based on my research, it seems that for longer projects these programs can actually create more work for you than starting from scratch. Apparently, some programs break the text into multiple unlinked (but still editable) text boxes rather than a series of connected text boxes with a single thread of copy. So they might not be great for books. However, if you’re doing what my client is doing—processing a huge number of originals in the same simple format—this could be the answer you’re looking for.


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