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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 July, 2016

Custom Printing: New Digital Equipment Is a Game Changer

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

A commercial printing vendor I’ve been working with for about a year just hit the trifecta. They installed three new pieces of digital printing and finishing equipment, and I think this will be a game changer for this firm. I just received their press release, and I want to share the information with you and then explain why each piece is a step forward, both for this particular vendor and for the industry as a whole.

The HP Indigo 10000

I have written many times about my high regard for the HP Indigo press. For the first time, I strongly believe that with this particular technology digital commercial printing can match or even exceed the quality of sheetfed offset printing. That said, up until recently the maximum sheet size for the Indigo was approximately 13” x 19”. This left out many jobs otherwise ideally suited for digital printing (such as short-run pocket folders).

In contrast, the HP Indigo 10000 that this particular printer just installed takes a B2 sheet. This makes the press competitive with other 29” sheetfed presses, allowing for digital production of short-run or versioned pocket folders, large-format brochures with multiple folds, etc.

In addition, due to the liquid toner technology of the HP Indigo, this digital press has no dot gain to worry about, and there are no problems with trapping (printing one color slightly overlapping another, in order to avoid gaps between colors). The ElectroInk dries instantly, so wet-trapping is unnecessary, and all trapping is dry-trapping.

And with the extended inkset (up to seven colors, including ElectroInk white), the Indigo can accurately match the greater majority of Pantone colors. Therefore, PMS colors used in corporate identity logos can be faithfully simulated.

The HP Indigo 10000 can print on substrates ranging from 45# text to 150# cover. The press will accept coated and uncoated sheets, as well as colored and metallic papers, and stock used for folding cartons. In addition, the Indigo 10000 will print both sides of the sheet at once (which is known as duplexing).

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

  1. First of all, this commercial printer will now be able to compete with sheetfed offset printers using 29” presses. The trim sizes of their jobs can be much larger than with the prior generation of HP Indigo digital presses.
  2. This commercial printing supplier will be able to offer quality equal to or better than its competitors who are using offset equipment.
  3. Since the HP Indigo accepts a much wider selection of paper than many other digital presses, this commercial printing vendor will not be limited in choosing printing stock. If a designer specifies a particular press sheet, either the printer will be able to use the name brand stock or substitute a comparable press sheet.
  4. This commercial printer will be able to help its clients better target marketing prospects. Because every piece produced by the HP Indigo can be customized, it will be possible to personalize each product and tailor the content to a specific audience (or even to individual prospects). In the long run, this will save money in postage. It will also increase the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

The Horizon Cross Folder AFC

The custom printing supplier I work with also bought a Horizon Cross Folder AFC, which is an automated folding and cutting machine. Here are some of its features:

  1. The folder has a 15-second set-up time. An operator can set up any of 17 pre-programmed folding patterns from a touch screen console.
  2. The Horizon Cross Folder AFC will accept a wide range of paper stocks and will operate at up to 42,000 sheets an hour.
  3. The folder will even set the paper roller gap automatically based on the thickness of the paper inserted into the machine.
  4. The folder rollers are made of steel and polyurethane, which will ensure both longevity and a good grip on the paper, which will produce accurate folds.

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

Basically this translates into speed and accuracy. The equipment will do an excellent job, but it will do it faster than older folding equipment and with less operator intervention. This will therefore translate into lower production costs, and that will allow for shorter production schedules that will cost less money.

The Horizon StitchLiner

The printer I work with also bought a Horizon StitchLiner. According to the press release, this saddle-stitching equipment performs flat-sheet collating, scoring, folding, stitching, and three-knife trimming in line. What this means is that magazine and book signatures don’t need to be folded on one piece of finishing equipment and then taken to another for stitching and trimming into booklets. All processes can be done using one piece of finishing equipment.

Not only is the equipment comprehensive, but it is also fast. According to the press release, each station on the stitcher can be set up in less than 30 seconds (from 8.5” x 11” to 5.5” x 8.5”). The operator can do this on the touch screen by noting the sheet size and booklet size. Make-ready can be done in less than 60 seconds.

In addition, the operator console will save up to 200 different pre-programmed jobs, and the equipment can stitch and trim up to 11,000 two-up booklets an hour.

What This Will Mean for the Local Printer I Work With

As with the Horizon Cross Folder, this stitcher will speed up production, reduce operator intervention, and lower consumer prices. At the same time, the equipment will allow this commercial printing vendor to meet or exceed the quality of prior work.

A Few More Observations

Moreover, what I personally find interesting about this equipment is the recent move by equipment manufacturers toward digital finishing. Prior to this, jobs produced on digital presses had to go through traditional folding, stitching, and trimming equipment. This push to automate finishing and to group together multiple finishing operations bodes well for the industry.

All of this equipment is ideal for packaging work, and this alone implies good things for the packaging and folding carton arena of commercial printing.

As mentioned before, in the realm of digital printing, the move toward larger sheet sizes also positions digital printing to compete head to head with offset. Clients and printers will be able to choose the appropriate technology—digital or offset—based on the length of the press run and the need for personalization.

Finally, these advances have spurred new developments in equipment for traditional offset printing.

This is an exciting time for both digital and offset custom printing.

Commercial Printing: Working with a New Printer

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

When you decide to work with a new printer, a moment comes when you just take a leap of faith. At this moment, and in the time leading up to it, what can you do to ensure success?

Backstory: A Case Study

I recently priced out a 4- or 8-page self-cover booklet to a printer I work with regularly. It is a short run (250, 500, or 1000 copies) of an almost square job (8.5″x9.5″ folded), so the printer has priced the booklet on his HP Indigo digital press. Based on the client’s description of the piece, I gave the printer the option of running the job using offset equipment (as a 2-color job) or digital technology, and he thought digital printing would be more cost-effective.

His prices were great and very much in line with my expectations. Given that this custom printing supplier is usually the low bid, I didn’t bid the job to any other commercial printing vendors. My client was happy with this plan.

However, my client’s client asked for a second bid (for due diligence), so I bid out the job to a new printer. I had been referred to this particular commercial printing shop. The reference had been stellar, but in my prior attempts to start working with this printer, his prices had been too high.

I therefore expected the second printer to come back with prices that were higher than the first printer’s bid. But they were significantly lower, and they were based on offset custom printing (2-color offset).

What could I do? I actually wasn’t prepared for success. This had been a perfunctory second bid.

Factors in Choosing a New Printer

As a printing broker, I had to decide whether to encourage my client to consider this new printer. The price was right (several hundred dollars lower). The associate of mine who had recommended the printer had done a lot of work with him. The printer was therefore a known quantity. I felt I could depend on him.

Still, I emailed the printer and asked for samples of comparable work, something in line with my client’s specs. Based on the samples, I’ll decide whether to share the new printer’s bid with my client. I will look for such things as even trims, pleasing color, and tight register (which will be visible under my 12-power loupe).

And then presumably I’ll have to take a leap of faith. Granted, it is a reasonably small job, and I usually like to start a new printer out with something relatively small and easy, and develop trust from there.

Other New Printers I’ve Chosen This Year

I have also thought about the two other new printers I have added to my list this past year. Here’s how I made my decision to hand over a real job, to take the leap of faith:

Printer #1

The first one, a book printer, had been courting me for a year. I had seen samples and had liked them. The pricing was good, but for almost a year I didn’t have a live job that fit this printer’s equipment. I had spoken with the sales rep on the phone numerous times, and I trusted her. Again, it was an intuitive thing, a gut feeling. But the book printer’s website, equipment list, samples, and references were good. Even though the printer was halfway across the United States, I eventually had an appropriate job and gave it to this printer. In some ways I think the sales rep made the ultimate decision easier. I liked and trusted her. I had based my decision on the quality of the samples and the pricing, but I think on some level we all choose vendors based on our feelings of trust and connection with them. I was very pleased with the final print job, a digital print book with a case binding. I plan to go back to this book printer as soon as I have another appropriate job.

Printer #2

I chose a second printer last year based on a 17-year business relationship with the two principals of the commercial printing firm. At the time, they had been working for another print vendor, but I had developed a high level of trust with them over the prior 17-year period. Granted, I also visited the new printing plant, solicited a number of bids on selected jobs, and closely checked a number of printed samples. But on a certain level, I was willing to take the leap of faith and send the printer a live job (a rather complex one for a first job) based on the personal and business relationship I had developed over the years with the two principals (i.e., the level of personal trust).

I think that ultimately, after I have vetted the samples, estimates (for completeness, accuracy, and attractive pricing), and references, I select vendors with whom I have a feeling of personal rapport and trust. That is the ultimate deciding factor, particularly when selecting a new vendor. It’s an intuitive decision, ultimately, but not one based entirely on feelings. Rather it is based on a mass of data that comes together in a gut feeling of either wanting to work with the vendor or not wanting to work with the vendor.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Start with measurable qualifiers. Check estimates carefully. Look for errors and omissions from the specs you submitted.
  2. Look closely at printed samples. Check the printer’s attention to color register. Are all the plates aligned? Is the folding neat and precise? Are trims and margins accurate? If any of the samples are problematic, bring this to the sales rep’s attention.
  3. Check references.
  4. Consider visiting the printing plant. Look for happy workers and a clean pressroom. It’s a good sign if the presses are running rather than idle, and it’s also a good sign if the lighting is good, the workflow of the machinery makes sense, and there is an attention to cleanliness and order.
  5. Think about how you would feel working with the sales rep. Do you trust her/him? Answer this carefully, since he/she will be one of your prime contacts at the plant: i.e., your lifeline. Do the same with the customer service rep.

Book Printing: Coordinating All Aspects of a Print Job

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

I’ve been asked by a client of mine to not only find a suitable book printer for her 488-page plus cover, 8.5” x 11”, perfect-bound textbook but also handle the warehousing and fulfillment. She has also asked me to research e-commerce options for these tasks.

This is how I’m approaching the job.

Determining the Custom Printing Parameters

The first thing I did was review a PDF of the book to determine its specs. It seemed to me that starting with the finished product, as well as the press run and budget, would be the best approach. Then I could consider storage and fulfillment issues.

I had been given a book printing budget of $10,000. In reviewing the PDF of the book, I saw that it was very long (essentially a textbook) and that it would need to be printed in 4-color throughout (very expensive).

Two years ago I had actually solicited bids for this job (which had never been printed but only formatted for the organization’s website). Here it was again, and the book printing budget was about a sixth of what it had been. (That is, I realized that the approximately $6.00 unit price from the prior year’s estimate would go up dramatically as the overall cost dropped by $40K.)

I started by approaching one of my favorite book printers. I knew this firm had in-house binding and that it was in the Midwest (where pricing is much lower than here on the East Coast). I had assumed a press run—based on the budget—of no more than 1,000 copies. Nevertheless, based on my client’s preferences, I requested pricing for 1,000; 1,500; and 2,000 print books. I also requested warehousing and fulfillment information and fees.

A Rude Awakening

When the estimate appeared in my email, it was more than twice the budget. So I called up the sales rep. She noted that the quality of her vendor’s sheetfed printing was outstanding, but for the lower price I sought, I needed a heatset web offset printer.

With this thought in mind I went back to the prior year’s estimates, since two of the vendors had been heatset web book printers. Granted, the pricing was lower, but it was clear that a revised bid for the lower press runs would still exceed the budget.

An Alternative

What to do. So I contacted another, local vendor with an HP Indigo 10000. I knew this commercial printing vendor had just purchased this digital press and was excited about its use. I also knew it accepted a 20” x 29” press sheet (unlike smaller HP Indigo presses), and I thought this would make the process (a short press run of a long print book) more competitive. The request for quote is in this printer’s hands. We’ll see what happens. That said, the plant manager offered an intriguing suggestion for producing the book. Since my client has $10,000 to spend, this printer could digitally print an initial press run, and then follow up with an additional press run after my client has sold the books and reaped the profits. Given that this would be a digital press run, setting up the job to print a second time at a later date would be less expensive than if it were an offset printed job (since there would be far less make-ready work involved).

Fulfillment Issues

At the same time, I’m researching online vendors, for both book printing and fulfillment. Having worked with local and out-of-state brick-and-mortar shops, I’m somewhat hesitant to choose an online printer. I have a cadre of vendors with whom I have a history and level of mutual trust. That said, I will keep an open mind. At this point, I have the per-page cost from one of the online print shops (I’d call this a web-to-print vendor). I can now compare the $.07 per page cost to whatever pricing my usual vendors offer.

The same online vendor will unbundle the job and offer fulfillment without printing. If my client chooses this option, I would have the job printed traditionally at one of my brick-and-mortar shops, and then send all books to the fulfillment house. One of these has an online presence, so I could choose and bid on keywords, set up a pay-per-click ad account, and in this way entice potential readers to buy my client’s textbook. The company would then handle orders, pick-and-pack fulfillment, billing, warehousing, inventory calculation, and any returns.

I have listed all of these functions: printing, delivery, online marketing, warehousing, fulfillment, and returns, and will get multiple bids from both web-to-print and traditional brick-and-mortar shops. Then I’ll devise a pricing grid to compare the costs. I’ll also have a list of expenses to deduct from my client’s selling price, reflecting her potential profit on the print book sales.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

This is a learning experience for me. I would encourage you to approach it in the same way. Consider the following:

  1. Break down the printing and distribution process into all of its component parts: printing, finishing, delivery, warehousing, inventory management, marketing, order fulfillment, returns, etc. Then set up a spreadsheet to compare all estimates.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons of whether to have an online vendor or a brick-and-mortar printer complete all of these tasks. Consider the cost, but also consider your level of trust in the vendors. Remember that one shop does not need to do all of these tasks. You can split printing and fulfillment between two vendors, for instance.
  3. Consider the appropriate printing technology for the job: offset or digital. Talk to various printers about the length of the book and its press run to see what the cut-off point would be to make one technology more or less economical than the other.

Custom Printing: Post Mortem on Color Swatch Book

Monday, July 4th, 2016

I just received printer samples of my client’s color swatch book. To recap, I have been working on this job with my client for almost a year and a half now. It is a series of 22 swatch books not unlike PMS color pickers used in the graphic arts field.

However, in this case the print books help you choose fashion colors based on your complexion, hair color, and eye color. It seems rather scientific, although I couldn’t explain it when my fiancee praised the samples and asked how to use them. In addition to having different complexioned faces on their covers, all I see is a 60-color selection (per book) of swatches that seem to differ (from book to book) in terms of their color choice (for example, earth tones vs. bright warm tones) and intensity (saturated colors vs. more neutral colors).

The books look superb. Since I am a print broker, that’s what really matters to me. That the commercial printing supplier had sent me printed samples of the job made my follow-up conversation with my client much easier. After all, she lives almost halfway across the country. Fortunately, when we spoke, I learned that she thought the books were gorgeous.

Good Choices During the Production Process

Choice of Design/Production Workflow

My client was on a tight budget, and the initial pricing from the graphic designer was far too high for my client’s resources. So I suggested that she buy a month-to-month license to InDesign and learn to produce the art files herself. I made her a template to use, and then talked her through a number of rough points. But she did do it herself. My client made sure everything was exactly right, and saved a lot of money in the process. Of course, success in this area reflects her commitment to her work and her ability to learn new things quickly. Even though she had never done any design work, she did have an art background.

Choice of Printer

I had initially chosen another printer with a Kodak NexPress. Close to the beginning of the job, the printer confessed that his estimator had made a mistake. He had underpriced the job. It would cost at least twice as much. The estimator had been fired, but where did that leave me and my client?

Fortunately, another printer had been looking to me for new business. I listened to the sales rep’s pitch and also reflected on the fact that I had known her and another principal at the new printer for 17 years. Moreover, she was continuously offering suggestions on the other jobs I was sending her for estimates. When I made the switch from the first printer to the second (who also could meet my client’s budget), I thought it would be a good move. Looking back now, I think it made all the difference.

Proofing Continually

In producing the prior edition of the fashion color swatch book, my client had had a bad experience with an overseas printer. Among other things, she had not seen adequate proofs, and the final printed colors had been wrong. To remedy this, I made sure the new printer provided samples and proofs at all stages of the process: samples from the Indigo digital press, samples of the lamination, and samples of the binding materials. I didn’t want my client to have any surprises.

Fortunately, the printer was willing to slow down the process a bit to allow for the proofs. (Interestingly enough, my client only changed one or two pages, but seeing the various proofs and binding and coating materials gave her the confidence that the final product would satisfy her and her clients.)

What Went Right with the Job?

I’m going to start with the most recent choices, because these small details have made a big difference.

Round Corners

The client, the printer, and I chose 1/8” rounded corners instead of 1/4” rounded corners for the print books. This part of the process required making a metal die to cut the finished swatches after they had been printed on the HP Indigo digital press. Initially we had planned for 1/4” round corners, but the printer’s rep had seen samples and had thought that for such a small color book (approximately 1.5” x 3.5”) the 1/4” corners looked huge. To save time, she “texted” me photos of both options. I agreed with her assessment, and so did my client. Prior to text messaging, this step would have required several days to mail, receive, and check hard-copy proofs.

Lamination Instead of UV Coating

At the proof stage I had the printer send out samples of my client’s actual job produced on the HP Indigo press. The printer had also added a UV coating for protection. However, when my client ran her fingernails across the printed sheets, she could mark the printed color swatches below the UV coating.

My client’s clients would be paying a lot for these little swatch books, and anything that made them look old quickly would be a problem. So to remedy the situation the printer’s rep suggested 1.2 mil lamination instead of a UV coating. She sent me samples, and it seemed to be a much more durable option. I sent the samples on to my client, and she agreed. As I review the finished print book samples now, I see that this was a good choice.

A Metal Screw and Post Assembly

My client had mentioned that in a prior printing of this job, the print vendor had used plastic screw-and-post assemblies to bind the loose color swatches. Because my client (and her clients) had in some cases needed to disassemble the books to add or remove color swatches, these plastic screws had in some cases broken or become difficult to use. I had suggested metal assemblies for this second printing of the job. Now, looking at the finished product, I think that, in addition to the increased durability, the metal binding screws just make the job look more substantial. (And, again, for a high-cost product, a quality appearance goes a long way.)

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. First of all, do a post mortem on all jobs. Even if this just means that you reflect for five or ten minutes on what worked and what didn’t, you’ll learn a lot, all of which will contribute to the success of future design and print projects.
  2. Choose a good printer. Find someone interested in your job who will make suggestions and be flexible. In short, choose a partner, not a vendor. In many cases, it’s better to scale back the project goals to lower a printer’s price than to choose a low-cost printer just because he can meet your budget. After all, you get what you pay for.
  3. Ask for samples. Before you choose printing and binding processes and materials, it helps to actually see and touch them, to see how they work and feel. (After all, both printing and binding are physical processes.)
  4. Ask for proofs. Proof early and often. If something isn’t right in a proof, be thankful. It’s better to find the error at the proofing stage than to find it after your job has been delivered.

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