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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 March, 2017

Book Printing: Kids Really Do Prefer Print Books

Monday, March 27th, 2017

I was very pleased to come upon this article recently: “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens.” It is from The News and Observer, 3/10/17, and it was written by Teresa Welsh.

Granted, I’m a commercial printing broker, so I have a vested financial interest in liking this sort of thing, but what made it stand out for me was that it challenged my beliefs. In my more cynical moments, I had always thought print would die out once today’s kids grew up. I figured they preferred digital books to print books. Maybe that’s not so true.

Here’s the gist of the article. (It is very short, but it includes a number of links to equally compelling information.)

  1. Kids who have multiple electronic devices tend to read less.
  2. Kids who do read a lot tend to not read on electronic devices.
  3. Electronic devices might be less appealing because of the easy access to games or a website. That is, these easily accessible distractions might provide instant gratification but derail the long-term gratification of reading a book.
  4. In spite of the proliferation of tablets and e-readers, the sales of print books has been going up, not down.
  5. Print books actually help young readers focus on the books they are reading.

Background Articles Referenced in The News and Observer Piece

Teresa Welsh’s article in The News and Observer links to some interesting information. First of all, she bases the article on a study done in Australia, and a link in Welsh’s article takes you to an abstract of this research. (Computers & Education, Volume 109, June 2017, Pages 187–196, “The influence of access to eReaders, computers and mobile phones on children’s book reading frequency.”)

This is the study Welsh’s article references: “2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading.” The abstract noted above describes the behavior of kids with access to digital reading devices and their choice of print books for their recreational reading (i.e., when it was their choice rather than their teacher’s or parents’ choice as to what they read and how). This study correlates with the findings in Welsh’s article, but it also notes the external pressure on children to use digital reading devices (i.e., the high utilization of electronic reading devices and similar technology in schools, plus parents’ desire to ensure their kids’ digital literacy).

The study also found that increased access to mobile phones (another reading device) correlated with less reading by the children.

A second link in Welsh’s article takes you to “Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens,” from, 3/9/17, by Margaret Kristin Merga and Saiyidi Mat Roni.

This article notes: “… that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens.”

Ironically, the assumption I had made about young people being highly digitally literate and preferring this medium can be traced back to a 2001 article by Marc Prensky in which he used the term “digital natives,” suggesting that young people are not only fluent in digital technology but that they also prefer it for reading. According to Merga and Roni’s article (“Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens”), this is not necessarily backed up by research. However, it has exerted influence on schools, which in many cases have leaned toward digital reading devices and away from print books in their buying decisions.

According to Merga and Roni’s article, “…by doing this, libraries are actually limiting young people’s access to their preferred reading mode, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on how often they choose to read.”

Merga and Roni’s article then goes on to note that children like print books because they are easier to focus on without the distractions digital reading devices offer. The article then encourages parents and teachers to foster a love of reading in children by doing the following:

  1. Those who love to read can inspire children to do the same, so make sure the children see that you love reading.
  2. Provide reading opportunities (ample time and quiet spaces with good light).
  3. Provide print books.
  4. Discuss ideas in the books with the children.
  5. Find out what the children like to read and encourage them to read it.

What You Can Learn from These Articles

This is what I gleaned from all these articles:

  1. Print books are actually proliferating, not going away. In a world with more and more electronic devices, “paper book sales are increasing. In the first half of 2016, paperback book sales grew 8.8 percent over the first half of 2015, to $1.01 billion. Electronic books were down 20 percent to $579.5 million” (from “Kids actually like reading paper books more than screens,” The News and Observer, 3/10/17).
  2. We shouldn’t assume that all marketing data reflect actual preferences (even if kids are in fact “digital natives,” they apparently still do prefer print books over e-books).
  3. Kids model behavior of those they respect. If you are seen to be a reader of print books, and a lover of the tactile nature of print books, your kids will be inspired to do the same.
  4. As a culture, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The immediate gratification of unlimited digital options (access to a game or website when you’re reading a book) detracts from reading. Reading takes commitment (time and attentiveness), but it provides a deep gratification. Multitasking has been proven to be a myth. It just allows you to do a number of things at the same time badly.
  5. If you are a book designer or printer, don’t lose heart. There’s still room for your skills and knowledge.
  6. Print books provide a tactile experience. Digital books only provide a virtual experience.
  7. On the plus side, digital products are interactive in certain ways that print books are not. Some young readers benefit from this difference (an e-reader’s highlighting a part of a word, for instance, may help a particular child learn to read more quickly). Therefore, the ideal approach is to determine whether a print book or a digital book is more appropriate for a specific child and a specific learning task. Both have their place.

Custom Printing: Shoe Boxes as Promotional Art

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

My fiancee and I stopped at a local upscale outlet store this week, a number of times, to collect designer shoe boxes for our autistic students. In art therapy we have been creating small shadow boxes (also known as dioramas), or miniature rooms decorated for Halloween. We’ve had our autistic members combine miniature skeletons (some wrapped as mummies), gauze, paint, Halloween stickers, and any other sculptural elements we could find.

All of that aside, my fiancee kept about four of the shoe boxes for herself—just because she liked them. And as a commercial printing broker and student of custom printing, I found her behavior intriguing. I surmised that:

  1. Product packaging sells product (and is a powerful and persuasive sales force).
  2. Product packaging sells itself. I think people buy in part because they like the feel of the packaging as well as its look, and as well as the look and feel of the product in the box (in this case, shoes).
  3. Based on comments my fiancee made, this is especially true for shoe boxes, since a lot of people store their shoes in the boxes after buying them and bringing them home. So unlike a blister pack that you cut or tear away from a product and then discard, shoe boxes can be an ongoing extension of the “brand.”

Sample Box #1

I just went into the art studio in our home and chose four sample boxes that had not yet been used by our students (the art project was so well received that we’ve offered it in four of our classes over the last few weeks).

Under a good light and with access to a printer’s loupe, I see that the first box has been printed on a thick, glossy cover stock prior to being folded and glued into a three-dimensional shoe box. The exterior walls of the box are covered with purple, red, and dark blue squares and other geometric forms. In contrast, the inside has been printed solid orange. It provides simplicity and stark contrast to the exterior.

If you look closely, you can see that the sides of the box are composed of double walls made from the flat, cover-stock press sheet. The box converter assembled the folded press sheets and hot melt glued sections to produce four vertical sides and a bottom. In the same way, the converter created a smaller box cover.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

I’ve said it in earlier blogs, but closely observing how product packaging goes together, how it is “converted” from a flat press sheet into a three-dimensional product (with its own value) is fascinating, and it casts light on a skilled and often overlooked aspect of “finishing,” the activities that occur after the ink has been laid down on the flat press sheet.

In terms of design, this product packaging shows that bright colors and active geometric imagery will appeal to a certain clientele when selling a certain product. The packaging is not sedate. Then again, it shouldn’t be sedate if the shoes in the box are flashy and upscale.

Sample Box #2

The first thing I notice about the second shoe box is that it is composed of thick gloss text paper laminated to fluted cardboard.

In contrast, the first box is composed of just two layers of thick cover stock with a dull coating (perhaps a dull UV coating). The walls of the second box are much thicker than those of the first box, but the two boxes weigh just about the same. This shows one benefit of corrugated board for product packaging: It is light but durable.

However, there is a marked vertical pattern of the fluted ribs visible on all sides of the box (even through the litho printing paper that has been laminated to the fluting). The ribbing is visible through the solid yellow exterior of the box and the yellow, green, and black interior ink.

Like the first box, you can see that the second box started as a flat sheet, was die cut, and then was folded up into a three-dimensional physical product, held together with glue or with folded tabs inserted into slots.

What We Can Learn from This Sample

Like the first box, the second has a simple design. All images are line art, but they didn’t have to be. Since the press sheets that had been converted into both boxes were either laminated to fluted board (in the case of the second box) or converted into a box without fluted board (as in the first box), offset lithography could have been used for either box.

Why? Because no fluted board would have been in direct contact with the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers.

In contrast, printing directly on fluted board must be done with flexography. This process avoids the heavy pressure of the offset press rollers. However, it also requires simpler custom printing designs.

In terms of design, this particular box shows that kinetic artwork combined with intense primary colors (the yellow of the box exterior) will capture the interest of presumably young, fashion-conscious clientele.

Sample Boxes #3 and #4

These are really two variants on the same theme: minimalist boxes produced on brown fluted board. They are simple, but they are actually quite elegant, and they present less of an “in-your-face” style and more of an “earth-friendly” vibe.

Both boxes (in slightly different ways) have been die cut from single printed sheets of fluted cardboard. Then, using folds, tabs, slots, and hot-melt glue, both have been converted into product packaging.

The first has been printed with both white ink and black ink. You can see with a loupe that the ink film is thin (i.e., not custom screen printing but flexography, the other option for adorning fluted cardboard without squashing the ribs of paper). But this doesn’t make the box look any less attractive, just more functional (i.e., “functional chic”). The short side panel of the box is actually a halftone (lightly inked) of a mountain climber (or camper) holding up a sign with the brand name in large letters. For climbing shoes, this is a much more appropriate approach than the heavy ink coverage and glossy look of the first box, produced on cover weight press stock. Overall, the box design underscores the functional nature of the shoes it contains.

Sample #4, the second box produced on unbleached corrugated board, works in exactly the same way. It has even less adornment than Sample #3: just the logo printed on the four vertical exterior walls of the box (in black and a light, transparent yellow over the uncoated, fluted cardboard), plus the impression in black ink—inside the box—of two shoe soles. It looks like the designer had dipped the shoes in black ink and then pressed them against the interior floor of the box.

What We Can Learn from These Two Samples

Humor sells. The interior of the box, which is most of the custom printing, looks like ink has been tracked in on the wearer’s shoes—or mud has been tracked into the house, if you will.

Simplicity also sells in this age of environmentally friendly, sustainable packaging. For practical shoes, this approach works.

Appropriate treatment (in terms of design, as well as the physical substrate used to build the box) makes the biggest difference. Selling shoes for an evening dance in unbleached corrugated board would miss the opportunity for the box to reflect the tone of its contents. Conversely, putting athletic shoes in a frilly box would dilute the brand, confuse the buyer, and miss the opportunity to align the product packaging with the product it contains.

Book Printing: Why Not Print Your Book in Asia?

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

I believe in synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences,” as described by psychologist Carl Jung. Sometimes important things just seem to happen simultaneously, and if I’m aware at the time, I can learn from them.

Within this past few weeks I have had three experiences that have pointed me in the direction of actually producing a client’s print book in the Far East, which for me would be a first. (I’ve always felt more secure contracting work to local commercial printing vendors.)

  1. The first event was meeting a prospective client who was in the process of producing an important coffee-table print book at a Chinese printer. She seemed very knowledgeable about book printing, and she had produced a number of books in Asia.
  2. The second was having a Midwest US printer ask me if I and my client wanted them to produce the book in-house or broker it to a Chinese print vendor. On the one hand I was surprised. (I didn’t see a reason, as a broker, to go to another broker.) On the other hand, I was intrigued. I was seeing a pattern.
  3. The third incident actually involved using the Printing Industry Exchange server. I listed a job on the PIE website, and a number of Asian vendors sent me bids—immediately. Faster than printers in the US. I was starting to open my mind. Granted, seeing prices that were dramatically lower than those of the US vendors made a difference.

The Next Steps

I actually received a number of bids from Asia: one from Korea, the rest from China. One of the things that opened my mind to doing business overseas was the immediate follow-up on a bid from the Korean printer.

I’m a night owl, so curiously enough I found myself emailing the printer and receiving immediate answers at 2:00 a.m. (After all, even though it was 2:00 a.m. here, in Korea it was obviously the middle of the business day.) I liked the printer’s (or in this case the printer’s sales rep’s) attentiveness to my needs and questions.

With an especially attractive bid for my client’s project, an associate’s good words about a Chinese printer she was currently working with, and the customer service of the Korean printer I was becoming acquainted with, I felt comfortable moving forward.

So I asked for printed samples, an equipment list, and references from the Korean printer (all standard practices, just the same as if I were becoming acquainted with a local print shop). I was surprised to receive the sample box two days later, along with real-time messaging of exactly when to expect the delivery.

Even without opening the box, I had learned two things:

  1. The Korean printer wanted my business enough to spend a significant amount of money to send about twenty pounds of print books to me in two days, all the way from Korea. Moreover, he wanted me to contact him once I had received the samples to give him feedback. In short, I felt he valued my potential business.
  2. I started to let go of the preconception that Korea was inaccessible, in spite of its being far away. The printer said I would receive all proofs of any live jobs via DHL with the same speed as the samples.

The Samples

When I opened the box, I saw about ten of the nicest sample print books I had ever seen. The case-bound books were all flawlessly bound. The heavy ink coverage on the pages of the three graphic novels he had sent was beautiful. All of the perfect-bound books looked great (both the printing and binding work). I was very pleased. He even sent Korean copies of Allure and Vogue.

This is what I learned from the samples:

  1. Any printer that Vogue and Allure will allow to display their branding must be good. Why? First of all, color-critical work usually includes the following: food, beauty, and automotive imagery. Vogue and Allure fit right into the beauty/cosmetics genre. Moreover, magazines are repeat work. Presumably these were not the first and only issues this printer had produced for Vogue and Allure. Finally, the printer had included magazine issues with foil stamping on the cover (primarily type, and small type with serifs to boot).
  2. The three case-bound graphic novels could have been a mess, given the amount of ink on all pages (four color, full coverage). Instead, they were crisp, evenly inked, gorgeous. And so was the binding.
  3. The printer’s sales rep was clearly knowledgeable, or he would not have selected these specific printed samples to showcase these specific, and challenging, aspects of commercial printing and finishing. This went a long way with me, since I need to know I’m communicating with someone who understands custom printing—thoroughly and in depth.


Anyone can give a stellar reference, just as anyone can send someone else’s samples. Granted, most people have integrity, but we’re talking about my advising my clients to spend serious money for print book production.

Since I have known the CEO of the Printing Industry Exchange for 25 years, I asked him outright about this book printer. He told me the printer had been a PIE member since 2001 with no complaints. (I guess it’s like checking with the Better Business Bureau and finding an “A” rating.) I felt completely secure.

What’s Next?

While I’m not always comfortable with change, I will admit that I have sent work to Canada—successfully. So I’m at least keeping an open mind here. These are the issues I will need to address before I encourage my client to buy her print book from a vendor in the Far East:

  1. The schedule will be important. Given the kind of product my client wants (a book that is not time sensitive), this may be an appropriate job for printing in Korea. Then again, I’m hearing from other sources that some Far East printers can even come close to the schedules US printers offer.
  2. Will shipping be prohibitive? Or will it be worth paying more for shipping since I’ll be paying less for printing?
  3. Will language be a barrier? I’m reading the emails closely to make sure I get the answers I need, and the technical specs my client needs.
  4. Will I get enough proofs to avoid any surprises? In my client’s case, for this particular print book, I will need to see high quality proofs of the photos as well as the digital book blues and contract-quality cover proof. I’ll also want to see F&Gs (folded and gathered—but not yet bound—book signatures).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Go slowly. Ask questions. Get samples and references.
  2. Make sure someone you know well and trust gives you the references. Preferably someone who has been doing multiple jobs in the Far East. Find out what the printer does when problems arise.
  3. If you can, start with a small job—as you would with any US printer.
  4. Make sure your job is appropriate for long-distance printing. A print book with no fixed deadline may be ideal. More timely material may not.

As with anything else in life, at some point you have to take a leap of faith. I’m not quite ready yet—but I’m getting very close.

Custom Printing: Transformative Technology of 3D and 4D Printing

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

I hadn’t done much research into 3D custom printing recently, so I thought I’d check out the current state of the technology. I was pleased to find that it is very much alive and thriving. I found three articles I’d like to share with you.

First of All, What Is 3D Printing?

An inkjet printer’s printheads move from side to side as the paper feeds through the machine producing a two dimensional copy of whatever is in your computer file. In much the same way a 3D printer has printheads that move not only from side to side but also up and down. Such printers use plastic resins (instead of ink) to build up layer upon layer of material to create three-dimensional products.

This approach, also known as additive manufacturing, is a step beyond traditional manufacturing, which involves either grinding down some material into a usable item (or part of an item) or injection molding an item, which involves making a hollow form into which plastic, molten metal, or some other substance is injected. When the mold form is removed, you have your item (or component part of an item).

Injection molding requires making molds, which is slow and expensive. In contrast, if you have a 3D printer and a computer file, you can easily and cheaply make one item (or parts for an item that you would then assemble).

The Articles on 3D Printing

I would like to preface this by saying that many of the articles I had been reading during my prior study of 3D custom printing had involved using additive manufacturing to print hamburger-like meat (which I thought was interesting, albeit very expensive) and handguns (which concerned me). However, I had also been pleased to read about attempts to 3D print replacement body parts (out of biological matter).

Interestingly enough, over the past few years I have also noticed computer vendors such as Micro Center selling these 3D printers for a reasonable price.

A Prosthesis for a Tortoise

The first article I read was entitled “Injured Tortoise Gets a Second Chance at Life Through 3D Printing.” It was written by Luke Dormehl and uploaded to on 8/22/16. The article references a veterinarian, Nicola Di Girolamo, who treated a tortoise that had lost a leg to a rodent attack (one leg had been so badly damaged by the rodent that it had required amputation).

The vet contracted with Roma Stampa, a 3D custom printing vendor, to produce a prosthesis for a tortoise. It was essentially a two-wheeled cart that could be attached to the tortoise’s shell using two neodymium magnets. What makes this different from other two-wheeled carts for animals is that it was produced precisely to the dimensions needed by the tortoise. In addition, because of the magnet attachments, the cart could be removed during the long annual hibernation period (up to six months) of the tortoise so it didn’t confine her.

So, you may ask, what makes this custom printing?

When you inkjet print a brochure, you are using a computer to digitally create a presentation of information and concepts. You are using printing ink and a horizontal and vertical matrix to create the reader’s internal “experience” and hopefully to empower the reader to think and act.

So when Roma Stampa produced the cart for the tortoise, it used an inkjettable material more substantial than commercial printing ink, a digital computer file, a 3D printer, and a three-axis matrix (length, width, and height) to create an object that empowered the tortoise to move and walk.

Creating 750 Human Hand Prostheses

The next article, “Volunteers Assemble 750 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands,” describes a 3D print run of all the component parts needed to assemble 750 human hands (22,000 pieces in all). The article was written by Beth Stackpole and published on on 8/25/16.

According to Stackpole’s article, “Autodesk has teamed up with the Enable Community Foundation (ECF) and Voodoo Manufacturing to conduct what they say is the world’s first global hand drive for 3D printed hands.” The goal of the initiative was “to serve children and underserved populations around the globe.”

The reason this is noteworthy is the cost and the turn-around time. It usually costs tens of thousands of dollars and weeks or months to make traditional prosthetic hands. In contrast, each of the hands made in this initiative cost only $50.00. All parts were produced in a month’s time by Voodoo Manufacturing and then assembled by 10,000 Autodesk employees around the world.

By using a 3D printing process (approximately 160 small Makerbot Replicator2 3D printers), Autodesk, ECF, and Voodoo Manufacturing have empowered 750 people around the world by giving them functioning hands. And like a digital inkjet press, this 3D printer was cost-effective and faster than traditional, non-digital options.

The Fourth Dimension of 3D Printing

If 3D printing involves length, width, and height, then 4D custom printing includes time (i.e., movement or change). In the realm of the fine arts, sculptor Alexander Calder invented “mobiles,” which included the usual three dimensions but also moved (whether they hung from the ceiling or stood on the floor). This distinguished them from other sculptures.

The third article I read addressed the theme of movement within 3D printed products. It was entitled, “Forget 3D Printing – Here’s 4D Printing.” The article was written by Lucas Mearian and published on 8/24/16 on (DigitalArts from IDG).

To quote from the article, “Researchers have demonstrated the ability to 3D print objects that can then change shape, even folding and unfolding, when heated through an electrical current or with ambient air temperature.”

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California printed 3D items using “smart ink” composed of soybean oil, polymers, and carbon nanofibres. According to the article, the scientists “programed” these “into a temporary shape at an engineered temperature that was determined by the chemical composition.”

If you find the article online, you can watch a video of two small boxes made from this material. When heated, one opens and one closes. (That is, the material has “memory.” These “shape memory polymers” (SMPs) change, or return to an original shape depending on the temperature.

The article, “Forget 3D Printing – Here’s 4D Printing,” quotes Jennifer Rodriguez, a post-doctoral researcher in LLNL’s Materials Engineering Division and the paper’s lead author, as saying “You take the part out of the oven before it’s done and set the permanent structure of the part by folding or twisting after an initial gelling of the polymer.”

The LLNL scientists foresee using this 3D printing technique in aerospace and medicine. For instance, a collapsed stent can be made to open up when heated, or a child’s splint can be made to change shape and lengthen as the child’s body grows.

The Take-Away

It makes sense for us to open our minds to new technologies, whether they involve ink digitally printed on paper from a computer file or polymer digitally printed in three dimensions. Like ink on paper, three-dimensional items produced digitally can empower people and transform lives.


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