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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 September, 2016

Custom Printing: Harnessing the Power of Sticky Notes

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Without deeper consideration, you might just think the lowly sticky note, that little notepad on your desk, might not offer a wealth of marketing mojo, but that would not be the case.

Just think about it. If your company name were emblazoned on all sticky notes on a potential client’s desk, it would make an impression (conscious or unconscious) every time he or she had to write a note.

Granted, this would also be true for a branded notepad, but a sticky note is more likely to be seen by others as well. So let’s just say your prospective client sends a stack of papers to a colleague. He or she puts a sticky note on the top sheet as a marker to note what’s in the stack of papers. The sticky note and papers circulate around the office, and any number of new potential clients see the name of your company. That’s good advertising, particularly when you consider the low cost of the product.

A “Repositionable Note” Workhorse

At a colleague’s suggestion, I did some research into a South African company that manufactures “SAP,” which stands for “Specialized Adhesive Process.” The company is called Perfect Finish. I found it online at, and this is what they offer:

  1. Depending on the exact model, SAP is an A3- and A4-sized sheetfed “padding system” for sheets of repositionable notes, which are also known as Post-Its (the brand name) and sticky notes. A3 is the international paper system designation, which converted to the US standard would be 11.7” x 16.5”, whereas the A4 size is 8.3” x 11.7”. The larger size can yield a set of 16 standard sticky note pads (known as 16-up per sheet).
  2. The equipment can start with a stack of press sheets produced either via offset lithography or digital printing (laser or inkjet), so there’s flexibility in the SAP process.
  3. The SAP binding equipment essentially adds strips of glue between the individual press sheets as they travel through the machine. The glue can be precisely positioned, so the individual pads can be different sizes (from traditional sticky note squares to vertical bookmarks to mouse pad sized sticky notes).
  4. After the gluing step, the 16-up (or whatever number) pads can be trimmed into their individual final sizes on a guillotine cutter.
  5. One thing that makes the SAP machine stand out is that it’s very small (2,600 mm x 700 mm, which is 102.36” x 27.56”) and surprisingly inexpensive. To a commercial printing vendor, this means it’s affordable, easily positioned on the factory floor, and potentially very lucrative (since this is specialized work, and not all custom printing suppliers have a padding machine). To the buyer, this means the sticky note pads will be relatively inexpensive.
  6. The paper has to be long grain and uncoated, but it can be of various weights (usually about 80 to 90 gsm, which is about 60# uncoated stock), including a thicker backing sheet on card stock (up to 250 gsm, which is just over 90# cover stock). The backing sheet can also be printed. In this case, when you run out of sticky notes, you have a note on the thicker base paper telling you where to order more.
  7. The flat press sheets travel through the machine, which coats them with a thin layer of glue using a gravure roller system, and then flash dries the glue with infra-red lamps.
  8. When the guillotine cutter separates the printed and glued press sheets into smaller, individual pads, the pressure of the guillotine clamp tightens the grip of the padding glue.
  9. Since you can produce the press sheets on digital equipment, you can print and collate them to personalize or even sequentially number the resulting pages in each sticky note pad. You can even collate different colored press sheets into the pads.
  10. The process lends itself to either small or large runs, and either static or variable data commercial printing.
  11. The make-ready is minimal (almost nonexistent), and the first sheet is usable. Wash-up is quick and easy, and the equipment can be operated with minimal training.
  12. New jobs can be loaded while the SAP machine is already operating, so the process avoids downtime.
  13. The pads can even be die-cut into irregular shapes (the SAP website mentions heart-shaped sticky notes) off-line after the gluing process.
  14. The padding glue is a water-based, eco-friendly adhesive.

What This Means to the Designer, Marketer, and Print Buyer

While promotional in nature, the SAP website from which I learned all about this process does have some serious, positive implications for marketing, both from the standpoint of the designer and copywriter, and from the business viewpoint of the commercial printing vendor.

First of all, anything that gets a client’s name out there in front of multiple viewers is a good marketing tool, particularly if it is simple and inexpensive. In fact, sometimes the simplest marketing vehicles are the most effective (think of postcard print runs, for instance). Sticky notes just work, because the user sees them repeatedly and then usually hands them off to one or more colleagues (on the top of a stack of papers).

Secondly, from the vantage point of the custom printing supplier, buying this kind of padding equipment could be a good business decision in that it’s useful to clients, not everyone provides this service economically in both long and short runs, the equipment costs relatively little, and the machine takes up very little room on the pressroom floor. To me that looks like a “win-win” for everyone.

Book Printing: Folding Tolerance for Book Signatures

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

I received an interesting question from a PIE Blog reader today. I think many other readers will benefit from the answer. Here’s the email:

“Hi Print Industry,

“I’ve been following the Print Industry blog since I started creating a book and looking for a printing business to produce it. I have a question from the customer side, and I’m hoping to establish whether or not the printer I’ve chosen can still do the job.

“I have a book that involves two separate, but side-by-side, images on each page. The images are to be separated by a line of perforation. There’s also another perforation line because each sheet needs to tear out from the book right at the edge of the image. I was contacted by the graphics person at this printer yesterday, and he said they couldn’t get the perforation perfect on every page, so some [perforation] lines might run onto the image. [He suggested that I] put white space between the perforation and image. He said this was because of the nature of perforation on paper and implied that this would be a problem everywhere.

“Is it true that perforation can’t be right on the mark on every page, or should I be looking to leave behind my deposit and look for a printer who can do this?

“Thanks so much,


This was my reply:


Books, in particular, are problematic, since the book printer starts with a large press sheet and folds it into a smaller signature (i.e., the press sheet is folded multiple times). Each fold can move a page slightly (and progressively) out of alignment. Therefore, when creating anything (especially a print book or other “signature-based” printed product, like a magazine), it is prudent to remember that folding is a mechanical process that is far from perfect, and to design the piece so a flaw in folding is not obvious. This includes avoiding “crossovers,” in which one graphic element continues across facing pages (unless they are side by side on an unfolded signature press sheet).

The same thing is true for other processes such as perforating, which will move slightly from sheet to sheet during the folding and trimming process.

Basically, your printer is trying to protect you from being disappointed. Some commercial printing suppliers producing some printed products on some equipment will do a better or worse job (depending on these variables: size, number of folds, operator skill, and equipment). However, this will be a challenge for all custom printing vendors, and there will be flaws. Personally, I’d defer to the suggestions of the book printer for avoiding problems–as long as you have confidence in his skill (based on his printed samples and other clients’ views of his work).

Thank you,



This PIE Blog reader’s question has several implications. Here are some thoughts:

How do you know when to trust/not trust a printer?

Like any good relationship, a relationship of mutual trust with a commercial printing supplier takes time to develop. Personally, I like to start by talking with the sales rep to get a sense of the printer’s strengths. Then I like to read the printer’s equipment list, request and review printed samples, and get some feedback on the printer from references. I check the samples closely for precision (trimming, for instance), color fidelity in the images, consistent ink coverage, and binding. Any flaws will say something not only about the printer but also about the sales rep who chose the samples. Then I start the printer off with a small job (a test). From there I gradually build a mutually supportive relationship with the printer, which takes time. Once I have developed mutual trust with the printer, I listen closely to his advice, since he will know more about his equipment and capabilities than I do.

What is reasonable tolerance?

For this kind of job, the book printers I spoke with said 1/32” in either direction. However, in a lot of print jobs, I’ve seen closer to a 1/16” tolerance (in either direction).

This means that if two halves of an image come together (as in a gatefold), there is a possibility that the image may not line up exactly across the fold (or page break). In fact, the match may be off by plus or minus 1/32” (or a total of 1/16”). In addition, the more folds your job has, the more this tolerance will add up (1/32” plus 1/32” plus 1/32”). If the fold is misaligned initially, it will get worse with each successive fold.

It is therefore prudent to discuss your job’s folding requirements with your printer and ask for suggestions about designing your job to minimize this inevitable problem. Designing signatures of a publication with this limitation in mind (for example, placing an image that crosses from page to page in the center spread of one signature rather than with half of the image on the last page of one signature and half on the first page of the following signature) can maximize alignment accuracy.

What printing/finishing processes are more challenging?

The more folds there are in a press sheet, the more problematic alignment can be. Therefore, a tri-fold brochure might be less of a challenge than a 16-page signature of a book. This is true for a fold, a perforation, or a trim. For instance, printing a rule line around the front cover of a book and expecting it to be perfectly centered on all trimmed copies of the press run is asking for trouble. If you omit the rule line, your eye will be more forgiving of any misalignment, but if the rule line is even a fraction of an inch out of alignment, it will bother you.

Basically, in my experience finishing equipment (folding, stitching, perfect binding, and trimming equipment) seems to have more fluctuation than printing equipment, and offset printing equipment seems to have a tighter tolerance (less movement of the paper) than digital printing equipment. That said, there are major improvements being made to all printing and finishing equipment (even as we speak), so the overall precision of print jobs has been improving in leaps and bounds in recent years.

The safest thing to do is ask your book printer or commercial printing supplier for advice and printed samples. If you have a good working relationship, believe what he says to you, particularly when he suggests ways to provide a superior printed product.


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