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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: Two Old-School Printing Options

I had two “Aha!” moments recently about the commercial printing field, and I’d like to share them with you because they reflect the current values of popular culture and the commercial media.

An Actual, Physical, Post-Office-Ready Letter

As a printing broker I’m always looking for new clients, usually by referral because it just works better that way. I was given two names by a former colleague, and after researching their companies, I drafted a letter to send to each describing the services I could offer them.

But when I was ready to send the emails, I couldn’t do it. Their websites had no email contact information. There were just phone numbers. One led to an answering machine, and the other led to a receptionist who didn’t have the potential print buyer’s email address.

I was stumped. What to do next? I considered these two potential clients to be warm leads, since my former colleague had spoken well of both and had said they would be good people for me to know.

Then a lightbulb went off over my head. Send a letter. Of course. A physical, hand-signed print letter. I had the address for both firms. Why not?

What We Can Learn From This “Aha!” Moment

First of all, most people get well over 100 emails a day. I personally do whatever I can to glance at and then delete as many of mine as I can. They all look alike. They all have a subject line that looks the same. I wouldn’t blame my two potential clients for avoiding contact via email.

But a letter is personal, physical, something to hold in your hands.

Those of you who get upwards of 100 emails a day probably do not also get 100 pieces of physical mail in the mailbox. If you’re like me, you at least look briefly at each of the pieces of physical mail that arrive. The more personal they look, the more attention they get. A letter is hand-signed. It’s printed on paper with a pleasing texture and color. It has a presence. It has a duration (it’s permanent, even if it gets wet or torn) unlike the evanescent email.

Think of these things when you need to communicate with someone, even if it is a marketing effort that will reach hundreds or thousands of people:

    1. If you choose a memorable medium for the communication, either letters or print postcards, your message will stand out more than one of the hundreds of emails that reach your potential client’s in-box each day. It will have more impact because it will have less competition.


    1. Making a letter seem more personal involves the paper choice (color and texture). It also involves the weight of the paper (thicker paper gives a message an air or importance, so consider a 70# text stock or thicker, perhaps with a texture or “tooth”).


    1. You can get precanceled stamps through your Post Office. Direct marketers have found that people are more likely to open mail that has a stamp instead of a permit indicia or postage meter mark. It seems more personal. So ask about precanceled stamps.


    1. Signing a marketing letter means there’s a real person behind the machine. It makes the letter more personal, even if you offset print (or digitally print) the signature (I realize this is cheating). You might also consider using more casual, readable, and even “friendly” typefaces for your marketing design.


  1. Finally, consider print postcards as an alternative to letters. The postcard has one advantage over a letter. The recipient doesn’t have to open it. The message is immediately visible.

So if you can’t reach someone through email, and the phone rolls over into voice mail, consider the printed, hand-signed letter or postcard as a viable and perhaps even more personal, direct, and effective option.

Direct-to-T-Shirt Photo Printing

When I first read the term “direct-to-garment” printing in a commercial printing journal, I envisioned inkjet and dye sublimation printing on the clothing of jet-setters, literati, and models. I imagined high-end fashion venues and catwalks.

So when my fiancee and I were strolling on the boardwalk at the beach, I was surprised to see a small t-shirt printing store offering to print photos “directly from your iPhone” onto their t-shirts.

Now this really is a measure of the current zeitgeist (the mood or tone of this particular period in history). It is the marriage of the “selfie” and the t-shirt. Moreover, it reflects the glorification of the amateur photographer. These aren’t professionally shot images of romantic beaches. They are your own photos on your own t-shirts, photos shot by you (maybe even photos of you).

What We Can Learn From This “Aha!” Moment

In sales, they say that to a prospective client nothing is more pleasing to hear than the sound of his or her own name. This is probably true. In this case, we can assume that to a lot of people no image is more pleasing than their own. The coining of the term “selfie,” as well as the proliferation of “selfie sticks” that allow you to hold the camera far enough away from your face to take your own photo, will attest to this.

So if you’re a marketer, keep this in mind. Consider also that people like to wear t-shirts that make a statement. For those who don’t wear suits to work, the t-shirt has become the new “power tie,” an opportunity to make a personal and even political statement about one’s likes, dislikes, values, aspirations, etc.

If you add to this the recent advances in direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, you can basically take the world’s favorite canvas (the t-shirt), use the world’s easiest to master printing press (the inkjet printer), add the world’s favorite image (one’s own face), and make a truly personal statement.

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