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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 February, 2016

Book Printing: Six Lay-Flat Paperback Binding Options

Friday, February 26th, 2016

A book printing client of mine does contract work for a multinational world organization. I know this sounds like a plot for a movie, but like all government organizations and NGOs, this one produces a lot of printed material. For this I am grateful.

My client’s boss needs to print a handbook in Africa for local use. Having some questions about this project, my client has secured my services as a consultant on certain aspects of this book printing project.

The Book Project

Like most of the work my client produces for this government organization, the print book will be a medium format, soft-cover book of approximately 200 pages plus cover. It will print in four-color process ink throughout. Other than that, a lot of the production details are sketchy and open to review and revision.

My Client’s Initial Questions

My client forwarded an email to me today from the printer in Nairobi, Kenya. First of all, he wanted to know what text stock would be used for the book block (text pages without covers). He suggested 115 or 130 gsm, noting that the thinner paper would make the book less bulky (presumably a reference to a lower cost for distribution), and the thicker stock would make the book more durable.

First of all, it’s an eye opener to realize that most of the world measures physical items (including commercial printing paper) on the metric scale. Starting to do even a small amount of international business intrigues me as well.

With the metric information in hand, I typed the following keywords into Google: “paper weight conversion.” I find this kind of site supremely useful in comparing text weight printing stocks to cover weight stocks, or for converting paper weights expressed in pounds to comparable weights expressed in points (i.e., by paper thickness rather than by basis weight).

This particular chart (found at also converts pounds and points to “grams per square meter” or gsm, the unit of measurement sent to me from the African printer. For 115 gsm and 130 gsm I found comparable text weights of approximately 80# and 90# respectively. Since I have often specified paper for posters as 100# gloss text, I thought either of these would produce a substantial 200-page book, and I told my client as much. For durability (rather than weight, thickness, and delivery cost), I also suggested the heavier stock, noting that for a 200-page book, the spine of the book would be just under 3/4” (since the caliper of the paper is .006”).

The Next Question: Binding Methods

The client also wants the print book to lie flat when open. This is not a bad thing. It just points toward the following binding techniques:

  1. The client can bind the book using GBC technology. This is a plastic comb that would fit through holes punched through all pages near the binding edge of the book. It is hand work and therefore very expensive for all but the shortest press runs (100s, not 1,000s). Pages also tend to come unhooked from the plastic comb. It’s not my favorite binding. Fortunately, the end-user client (the multinational government organization) didn’t like it either.
  2. The client could bind the book with plastic coil. A quick search on the Internet put the page limit for such a binding at 450 pages (so 200 pages would work just fine). I like this technology because the plastic coil has “memory.” If you try to squeeze or damage it, it immediately comes back to its original shape. Unfortunately, the client didn’t want this option.
  3. Spiral wire (or Wire-O) binding (which are separate technologies) would be two other options for this length of a print book, but both could unfortunately be crushed. That is, stepping on the wires would bend them easily, and the book would no longer allow for easy page turning. Accidents do happen. But the client didn’t want this option either, which was fine since mechanical bindings (such as GBC, plastic coil, spiral wire, and Wire-O) are all rather expensive and therefore more appropriate for short press runs.

The Final Option

Lay-flat binding is the final option. This is what I also consider the best option since it is more professional looking (and less similar to a notebook). In this binding method, the text pages (grouped as press signatures) are attached to thick gauze at the bind edge. The gauze, called a “liner” or “crash,” extends out from the spine on either side, far enough to be attached to the front and back covers just beyond the scoring made by the printer for the spine of the print book.

The binding side of the gathered press signatures never touches the actual paper spine of the book. The book block just hangs on the covers. This is in direct contrast to a perfect-bound book, in which the signatures are roughed up on the bind edge and then glued directly to the spine. Such a perfect-bound book will not lie flat; however, by attaching the book block to the covers but not to the spine, the entire book will lie flat.

If you look closely, you might see a similarity between a lay-flat softcover book and a case-bound book. In fact, you would approach binding a hardcover book in much the same way as a lay-flat paperback. In most cases (except with a “tight-backed” case-bound book), you would “hang” the book block on the front and back covers and then paste the book’s front and back endsheets over the extended “crash” or “liner.”

Lay-flat binding comes in several branded options. One of these is “Otabind.” When queried, the printer in Nairobi, Africa, noted that he doesn’t have Otabind capabilities. However, he does have “swing bind” capabilities. Another quick search on the Internet came up with relevant photos of this technology, which appears to be approximately the same. So we have the beginnings of negotiation, depending on the quality of the sample print books.

A Postscript: An Even Better (But Far More Expensive) Option

Interestingly enough, the client emailed me (after I had written this blog post) to discuss Smyth sewing. In this (sixth) option, the press signatures are stitched with string. Then the crash is glued to the binding ends of the signatures, and the extensions of the crash (or liner) are attached to the paper cover. This technology can also be used for case binding. The stitching makes the book pages lie flat, but it also makes the books extremely durable. You might find such a book in a museum gift shop.

Custom Printing: Small Business Printing Clients

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Let’s say you’re an individual looking to buy custom printing for a small but complex job. What do you look for in a printer?

The Back Story

I have been working with a client for more than a year to prepare her fashion color book for press and to find a suitable vendor. I have written many blog articles on its unique qualities. Paramount among these is the number of original color books (small swatch books, like PMS color guides but for fashion) and the short run-length for each of the originals.

My client just asked me directly whether she would have to proceed with the job if she and her partner didn’t like the proof.

While frustrating to hear, this comment actually gave me some insight. I thought about the job through the eyes of my client:

  1. First of all, the prior iteration of the job had been done overseas. My client had had little control over the process and did not like the result. The color was off, and my client found she had no recourse. She paid for the job, but she was not happy.
  2. My client is not a corporation. She is an entrepreneur. She is producing the job with a partner, and they are financing the job themselves with the hope and expectation of making more in selling the color books than they will have spent in producing them. The job budget is about $6,000. To a corporation, this would be a minimal expense, but to my client it is a huge amount of money. She needs the process to work. She needs the color books to be spectacular.
  3. Not everyone wants to establish credit. Smaller clients may want to pay by check or Visa up front. My client was pleased that I could arrange this with the printer she and I had chosen for this digital job. Knowing how payment would be done seemed to increase her level of comfort.
  4. Given the prior job’s having had major problems, my client needed to see exactly what she would be getting. Therefore, after choosing the press (an HP Indigo at a local printer), I arranged for the printer to produce a single-sheet test run on this specific equipment. The printer would take a ganged-up file (8.5” x 11” sheet containing multiple pages from the color book) and provide a single sheet test on the chosen paper stock with a UV coating for protection. This way my client would see the color fidelity (her files compared to the printed product). She would also see the paper thickness, texture, and weight, as well as the effect of the coating on the final printed colors.
  5. My client was new to InDesign. She couldn’t afford to hire a designer, so I encouraged her to buy a Creative Cloud subscription through Adobe for one application (InDesign). I helped her get up to speed on its capabilities and use. I also created a template for her to follow in building all 22 color-book master copies. Doing the art preparation herself saved my client multiple thousands of dollars, which to a two-person small business (as opposed to a corporation) might be the difference between creating or not creating this print book. I also ran both the template and the sample PDF of a handful of pages through the commercial printing vendor’s preflight department for approval and suggestions. I wanted to ensure my client’s success and also make sure she was not going off in a wrong direction (and wasting her time creating 22 master copies with potential errors).

In short, I helped my client learn the page composition software that would allow her to save money by creating the job files herself, and then I had the printer check everything and provide physical proofs of her file (showing paper, color, and coating) so she would have no surprises. After that, I suggested that she submit the first 100-page color book alone for a complete proof, with the understanding that any color fidelity problems could be corrected not only for this book but for all the others as well, before any further proofs of the remaining 21 books were done. (Keep in mind that most books would include many of the same colors from book to book.)

Tonight she emailed me, asking how to proceed. She also noted that she had shown the test sheet to her partner and financial backer, who had been very pleased with the initial sample.

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. In many cases, particularly in the case of a small business or individual, the commercial printing job in question has a lot riding on it. Financially. Emotionally. It’s your hard-earned cash, your hopes and dreams, and perhaps your reputation. Making sure it’s a stellar product, one that totally satisfies your expectations, is of paramount importance.
  2. Nothing helps instill confidence like seeing a sample, on the chosen paper, and then proofing the entire job in a way that will faithfully show the paper stock, the ink or toner colors, the images, everything that makes up the job.
  3. Discuss financial terms for a project early. Make sure you’re comfortable with them.
  4. It’s not about selling the job. It’s about satisfying your needs and expectations. If your custom printing supplier doesn’t demonstrate that your job is of prime importance, choose another vendor.

Commercial Printing: When Print Jobs Go South

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Sometimes things just seem to go South from the beginning.

A print brokering client of mine is producing a large textbook. But it really could be any project, from a magazine to a catalog to a brochure. Printers have a series of written or unwritten rules that allow for a seamless hand-off of accurate art files; smooth proofing; and a printing, finishing, and delivery process that drops the printed product at the client’s doorstep, warehouse, or fulfillment center on time.

When these rules aren’t followed, the entire process suffers, and overall costs can skyrocket.

Background of the Digital Print Job

My client’s job is a textbook. It’s almost 600 pages, case bound. Last year it took six weeks to print and bind conventionally. This year the client needs it in three weeks.

Therefore, I found a commercial printing vendor with digital printing capabilities and in-house perfect binding, and we negotiated a schedule.

These were some of the the ground rules that would allow for such a tight turn-around:

  1. Submission date met by customer.
  2. Art files press-ready and trouble-free.
  3. Proofs turned around within 24 hours of receipt.
  4. Not more than five corrected pages (to be provided by client and replaced by the printer).

If these were not met, the schedule would need to be renegotiated.

This particular project is a book. However, the importance of following these rules would pertain to any multiple-signature job, including a catalog, a smaller booklet, or a magazine. Smaller jobs would also not fare well, but the scope and complexity of multiple-signature custom printing work can lead to a catastrophe if these rules are not followed.

What Happened to My Client

First of all, the press run was to be 650 copies delivered all at once. Because the initial copy submission deadline could not be met, the job was broken into an initial 250-copy delivery (what was needed immediately to fulfill orders) and a follow-up delivery of the remaining 400 books (inventory for future sales).

So the first rule was broken, or at least bent. Printers consider file submission to have been completed if the job is uploaded in the morning. If the job is uploaded in the afternoon or evening, the production schedule starts on the next day. This can be problematic for multiple-signature commercial printing work on a tight schedule.

The art files were press ready and trouble free when they were uploaded to the custom printing vendor’s FTP site. However, the printer noticed some errors. Primarily these included a bar code on the dust jacket and case stamp that did not match the ISBN number in the book. In addition, the book pages needed to be reorganized (and blank pages added).

The printer created a new pagination for the project (for my client to approve), which changed the page count and therefore the width of the spine (and therefore required adjustment of the dust jacket art and case stamping art). Fortunately the printer could fix this (and could also adjust the bleeds in the dust jacket art file that had been forgotten).

So now that I review this process, the files really were not trouble free. Fortunately, the printer stepped up to identify these problems and even remedy most of them. Many commercial printing suppliers will not do this. Many will just request corrected files.

Needless to say, the proofs (hard-copy proofs, which take longer to turn around, since unlike virtual proofs these need to be delivered—both ways) went out late, albeit just by a day. Only 250 books were needed within the three-week period, but custom printing processes that should have happened earlier were starting to creep into the second week.

Now the Proofs

The proofs arrived on a holiday, so no one was on-site to proof the hard-copy pages. Fortunately the printer had sent the proof to my contact’s house. She had reviewed them and had found errors. Therefore, she chose to send them on to the editors in the actual business location for receipt the next morning.

So we lost another day. The proof was to be turned around in 48 hours instead of 24 (see ground rule #3 above).

When I heard back from my client, she told me the editorial staff had found errors in eight sections of the book, plus the front matter. (See ground rule #4 above.) According to the printer, these author’s alterations might also require repaginating the book. If the repagination changed the length of the book, the case stamp art and dust jacket art would need to have their spine widths adjusted.

The printer had received multiple correction pages, which would need to be collated back into the book’s digital imposition and then rechecked for errors. This would take time and risk human error (mispositioned pages). So he asked for a complete, press-ready file from the client instead. Essentially, this meant starting over at almost the halfway point of the three-week schedule (which still included foil stamping the cover, case binding the books, and producing the dust jacket). Of course, reproofing the book would be necessary as well.

I asked if the schedule could be met. The printer said probably not. So I advised my client to work with the fulfillment house to make any necessary plans. The drop-dead date would be missed, and we needed to accept this and do damage control (i.e., come up with a reasonable Plan B).

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Many of the alterations were simply dates of the book, presumably in the running headers or footers. They were not substantive errors in content. So the first thing to learn is, “Proof early and often.”
  2. The next thing to remember is that when you have an impossibly tight deadline for the printer, you need to follow all of his rules to meet the delivery date. This is particularly true if the job requires extensive or elaborate finishing (like hot foil stamping, die-making, and case binding). The printer’s schedule is not arbitrary. It is actually in place to ensure that you get what you have been promised.
  3. Follow the printer’s preferred PDF creation steps (send a sample file for feedback—early—if you are unsure of how to do this). Also ask for a template for the cover and stamping die (if any) to ensure accurate spine width. When you have uploaded the files to the printer’s FTP site, alert him. Send him the name of the folder and files. Be proactive.
  4. Turn the proofs around immediately. This is a priority. Maybe you won’t catch any errors. But if you do, you’ll be thankful that you started early.
  5. Be in constant communication with the printer’s customer service representative. Be completely candid if anything goes wrong so any problems can be corrected.

Honor the schedule and the printer’s ground rules. They exist to ensure your satisfaction with the product, price, and timing of delivery.

Commercial Printing: Digital Die Cutting and Creasing

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

A friend and business associate sent me a press release today entitled “mori and Highcon Announce Strategic Business Partnership” (02/04/16, by mori and Highcon).

According to the press release, “Komori will be selling and supporting the Highcon™ Euclid digital cutting and creasing solutions in the Japanese market. This partnership is a key step in Komori’s strategy to provide comprehensive solutions to their customers, covering both analog and digital workflows, and spanning printing and finishing alike.”

The Backstory

I find this exciting for these reasons:

  1. Prior to the advent of digital finishing, jobs that had been digitally produced on laser or inkjet equipment still had to go through analog finishing processes. As Highcon described the implications on its website, this not only slowed down the commercial printing schedule, but it also required “highly skilled employees, high expenses, and a time-consuming, complex supply chain.”
  2. In addition to folding and trimming (usually done in-house), finishing often included die cutting. And die cutting usually necessitated subcontracting (since it was not economically feasible for many custom printing shops to own die cutting equipment). In addition, dies often had to be remade to correct errors, driving prices even higher. And in most cases the dies had to be stored after being used (to accommodate possible reprints).
  3. The advent of digital finishing will make most of these problems disappear. The bottlenecks will cease since no outside services will be needed. There will be no need to make or store metal dies, so costs will drop and storage issues will disappear. And the whole process will proceed faster than analog finishing.

The Technical Side

Basically, the digital process involves cutting and creasing printed press sheets using lasers run by digital information from computer consoles. So there are no metal dies to be made. All die cutting work occurs in-line.

Here’s Highcon’s description of the technology and it’s specific attributes:

“The machine combines the patented DART technology to create the digital crease lines, with a unique high speed and high quality laser cutting solution. The machines handle sheets up to a maximum 760mm x 1060mm (30” x 42”), enabling output from both conventional and digital presses. [The machine supports] label and paperboard thicknesses from 0.2mm to 0.6mm (8-24 pt.), and N & F microflute up to 1.2mm (47 pt.)”

Why This Is Important

Consumers and businesses want shorter and shorter print runs now. They also want jobs delivered more quickly. According to Highcon’s website, “…from the client perspective, market segmentation, whether by region, language, season, age or gender, requires ever shorter print or packaging runs but at an even more demanding pace. Time to market is critical while the product lifetime gets continually shorter.”

According to Highcon, the Euclid II+ can do intricate, detailed cutting work. What this means is that no quality is lost in the transition from metal dies to digital laser cutting. The laser cutting system can actually do jobs that metal dies cannot do conventionally.

This also means that designs for folding cartons and other packaging work can be prototyped before a full commitment to a press run. The Euclid II+ can be used to create one sample box or package, or a short run for test marketing.

What This Means: The Implications

According to the press release, “mori and Highcon Announce Strategic Business Partnership,” Highcon has installed Euclid equipment in more than 20 jobsites worldwide.

What this means is that:

  1. The process is not just theoretical. Neither is it just for trade shows. Real commercial printing suppliers are using the equipment in real-world business settings. This bodes well for future expansion of digital finishing.
  2. Real-world usage of digital finishing will make any problems or issues in the technology very evident, allowing for any retooling necessary to improve the process.
  3. Analog printing (i.e., offset custom printing) can also benefit from digital finishing and for the same reasons. Offset printed jobs such as pocket folders that used to be jobbed out to die cutting subcontractors can now be completed in-house more quickly and for less money.
  4. Since most commercial printing establishments have both offset presses and digital printing equipment, digital finishing can benefit most printers.

Custom Printing: The Color Swatch Book Revisited

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

A print brokering client of mine is producing a color swatch book for fashion purposes. I have written about her color book before, and after a year of preparation, we’re almost ready for file submission.

The Specifications for the Project

As a recap, let me describe the job. It is a series of 22 print books, each containing over 100 pages. On the fronts of the pages are CMYK builds of colors to be matched in choosing clothing colors (and I assume make-up as well) based on one’s complexion. The pages will have rounded corners and will be joined in the bottom left with a metal screw-and-post assembly.

History of the Color Book Printings

In writing about this ongoing project, I don’t believe I’ve told you about the prior series of color books. They were printed overseas, and they did not meet my client’s expectations. It seems that proofing was incomplete, resulting in poorly printed colors that did not match my client’s intent.

Avoiding Past Problems

Throughout the process, I have therefore encouraged my client to break down the project into little steps, proofing often to ensure color fidelity. For instance, she is now reviewing a single-page document I asked her to create for the HP Indigo press. This single sheet includes a ganged-up selection of color swatch pages, a few text-only pages (describing the color choices), and a few cover images (logos, fashion photos, and such). All of the smaller print book pages were cobbled together on a larger sheet for this test (since printing one sheet costs less than printing many).

The goal of this process is multi-fold:

  1. I want my client to see the actual paper on which the job will be run, along with the UV cover coating that will protect all color swatches from fingerprint oil and abrasion. This coating may change the colors slightly, so my client needs to see this and decide whether it is acceptable (varnish would change the color slightly as well).
  2. Part of the reason for her seeing the paper that will be used will be to ensure that it is thick enough. I spoke with my client’s boyfriend, who had opened the delivery envelope prior to sending the sample on to my client. He said the single-sheet test page had been creased in transit. Even though the test page is much larger than the color swatch book pages (8.5” x 11” vs. approximately 1.5” x 2.5”) and therefore more susceptible to being bent, the paper choice for the print book pages may need to go up from 12pt. to 14pt. to ensure the book’s durability. After all, it is a design tool (like a PMS book) that needs to last. So my client’s boyfriend’s response that the single-page test sheet had been damaged was actually quite useful information.
  3. I want my client to see whether the HP Indigo will match her expectations for the CMYK color builds she applied to her color book pages. Fortunately, she had selected color builds based on their own hues and not on their resemblance to specific PMS colors (which in some cases might not be accurate).

Where to Go From Here

Tonight my client emailed me and asked how much the next step would cost: printing one copy of an entire color book (the first of 22 originals) as a proof.

This is a good question. The printer had provided a breakdown of the number of copies of each book my client could print for her total budget of approximately $5,200.00. Granted, a single proof of each of the 22 books is included in this price, but the payment schedule will be important to negotiate as well (even if all this testing is included in the price).

One of the printers I work with requires 110 percent of the total cost up front for those who choose to pay cash (instead of going through a credit check and securing a line of credit with the printer). The extra cost protects the printer against the liability of overage (extra print books produced during the book production process).

Another printer requires an up-front payment of 50 percent of the job, with final payment before shipping. Again, a credit check for securing a line of credit with the printer would be an alternative.

So my client’s question bears discussion with the printer. What I will probably do (as part of being a printing broker) is arrange “terms” with the printer (perhaps 50 percent up front and 50 percent prior to shipping, since my client would like to pay by Visa). Nevertheless, there will probably be a premium for using a credit card (often a 3.25 percent surcharge to cover Visa’s surcharge to the printer).

Whether this commercial printing vendor will agree to these terms (or will want to adjust them) will depend entirely on the printer’s policies and desire to work with me and my client. Every printer will be different.

The Benefit of the Single-Page Test and Full-Book Proof

By slowing down the process, creating a single-page test file, and then producing the full proof of the first book, my client will be able to do the following:

  1. See the paper, cover coating, and color accuracy of the upcoming 22 books.
  2. Catch any errors in the color choices early. Many of the colors will be common to multiple print books. Any errors caught in the first proof can be fixed in all master files before my client submits the remaining 21 books to the printer.
  3. Save money. The printer will do less work to ensure the accuracy of the project, so when the multiple copies of the final 22 books are running on press, there will be far more likelihood of their accuracy (and my client’s satisfaction) without any reprinting costs



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