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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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Commercial Printing: Displaying “Words” As “Art”

Back when I was growing up it was the bumper sticker: “Make Love, Not War.” Easy to print in volume and cheap to buy, the bumper sticker was the mainstay of commercialized, personal self-expression—other than protest signs, of course, and some t-shirts (Che Guevara or the Rolling Stones).

With the advent of digital printing, things have become more diversified, and I have seen a multitude of definitive statements about life in the most intriguing places:

    1. I have seen quotations screen printed on wood or ceramic wall hangings, everything from how to be a true friend to pithy comments on the virtues of good food and wine.


    1. I have seen more and more websites popping up with edgy quotes and comments on cotton and polyester t-shirts.


    1. My fiancee recently bought two dish towels with comments about friends, food, and happy birds with French fries.


    1. More and more, I’m seeing tattoos that are complete quotations, not just the Chinese pictograms for “happiness” or “opportunity” as in past years. Here’s one from a Google Images search: “Not all who wander are lost.” (from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien). If you check out some of the photos, you’ll see complete poems and Biblical verses as well.


  1. I’ve even seen die cut quotations ink jetted onto plastic that can be peeled off a backing sheet and stuck to your bedroom wall.

What Does This Say About Society?

I have a few theories about the reasons for this rise in popularity of the written word printed (even the tattoo is a form of custom printing) on diverse substrates:

    1. We live in an increasingly word-laden society. Even though YouTube (i.e., videos) shows that images are rising quickly in popularity, we create more and more words: documents for work, emails and texts for leisure. Perhaps the computer has increased our sense that we can control our lives through our words. Books did this for centuries; now, with the analytical functions of the computer as well as its text processing capabilities, we have further deified the printed word.


    1. It follows from the increased importance of the word that presenting it artistically (on a t-shirt, on the skin between your shoulder blades, or on your wall) has also become increasingly popular.


    1. People define themselves and express themselves to others through their choice of quotations. If you listen or read closely, you can even see the values inherent in these choices. For instance, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” (Kelly Clarkson then turned this into gold in her song, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”) The underlying message reflects the culture’s high regard for strength acquired through adversity. By tattooing this on your arm, you permanently display your affiliation with others who share your values.


  1. People need maxims to live by, particularly in this age of commercialism and media hype. Whether on a shirt or on your torso, a commitment to live in a certain way takes the ambiguity out of life. The more permanent the statement (a wall hanging vs. a t-shirt vs. a tattoo), the more indelible the sentiment. I think that particularly in a world in which the supports of family, friendships, and religion have in many cases weakened, a commitment to a maxim helps assuage existential anxiety.

What Does This Say About Opportunities for Commercial Printing?

So how does this translate into ink or toner on paper? I think there are many venues opening up as technology advances:

    1. Large format inkjet printers in some cases come with knife-based plotting attachments that can run on your computer’s digital file to cut out the letters the inkjet heads have just printed on the substrate. Creating wall clings with repositionable adhesives can allow you to produce complete quotations for your living room wall. If you own a restaurant, all the better. You can affix the quotes for public display.


    1. Digital information can run routers as well as plotters. In this case you can cut intricate designs including individual words or even full quotes out of planks of wood. Lasers can do this as well.


    1. Quotes can adorn any kind of fabric art, from textiles used as wall hangings to wallpaper materials permanently attached to the walls. Within this vein of architectural design, digital information can even etch glass that will be used in building construction. Custom printing for architectural embellishment (and not just using grand-format inkjet technology) is growing in popularity.


  1. Quotations can be inkjet printed onto materials used in laminates. For instance, you can add a layer of writing within your surf board or the countertop in your basement kitchenette.

The Written Word As Both Communication and Art

Throughout history, the written word has reflected an aesthetic sensibility along with its purely communicative function. To slightly alter the words of Marshall McLuhan, people are coming to value both the message and the medium.

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