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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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Custom Printing: Restaurant Hang-Tag Printing

The first rule of commercial printing sales is to listen to your customer’s needs. Needless to say, when a print brokering client of mine came to me with her new client and a new project, I was very excited. My client is a graphic designer, and her new client is a restaurateur who needs die-cut hang-tags for his packaged Asian food (which complements his individually prepared restaurant food).

When I received my client’s email, which included a PDF mock-up and specifications, my excitement got a bit ahead of me, and I made some suggestions. We were planning to meet by phone two days later, but I wanted my client to think about a few things before our meeting—since she had asked my opinion on custom printing paper choices.

Job Specifications, and What I Suggested to My Client

My client had asked about using either uncoated 100# text or satin coated 100# text. She said her client would be hand-printing the hang-tags with rubber stamps, even though they would already have the branding of the restaurant offset printed in ink (i.e., a preprint of the logo plus the restaurateur’s hand-printed Thai glyphs above the logo).

My client was worried that a gloss coated sheet would make the hand-printed ink more likely to smear, and I agreed. However, I went further, as noted above, and suggested a thicker sheet than 100# uncoated. I said that 130# or even 170# DTC (double-thick cover) would make a hefty hang-tag, one with weight and gravitas. I also said that an uncoated sheet would have an earthiness that might complement the brand of an Asian restaurant.

I encouraged my client to even consider such unique substrates as hand-made paper with speckles or even bits and pieces of plants. If she really wanted to go all the way, I said she might even consider letterpress (which would impress the logo slightly below the surface of the paper, and give an even more sculptural feel to the piece). Of course, I did also encourage my client to make sure this was congruent with her client’s brand image and collateral paper stocks. After all, a really nice letterpress-printed hang-tag on hand-made paper would not fit the style of the restaurant if the menus had already been printed on a corporate-looking gloss paper.

When my client and I finally spoke on the phone the next day, I realized I had gotten ahead of myself. My client’s client needed to be able to tape the hang-tags onto some packed-up food boxes and tie some hang-tags onto other food items. So they couldn’t be too rigid. The 130# and 170# cover stocks were out. (This is why client meetings are so useful.)

Moreover, the hang-tags couldn’t be on a super-expensive stock, since they would need to be reprinted regularly. They were to be a staple of my client’s client’s business, presumably to be attached to all outgoing orders. So a special-order paper with a minimum purchase amount was not an option (i.e., no hand-made paper with bits and pieces of flowers and plants).

I was sufficiently chastened for my over-enthusiasm. However, after the meeting I had all specs in hand plus the PDF proof. In our conversation, my client and I had agreed that I would initially approach only one printer for pricing to give her (my client) a quick turn-around on the cost of the custom printing job. This particular printer fit the job specs (had the right equipment and tended to provide lower than usual pricing). We could always get additional bids after my client had discussed our budget with her client.

To put this in perspective, at this point the specs reflected a 10,000-copy press run on 100# white smooth uncoated text paper, die cut with diagonal edges and and a drill hole (like the proverbial furniture hang-tag), printed in one PMS color with no bleeds.

What You Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some thoughts:

    1. If you’re doing a job for a client, make sure you get all the facts before you get too excited. I didn’t have all the facts. In my case the hang-tags had to be more pliable than a 130# or 170# DTC (double thick cover) stock would have been.


    1. Do think about the intended use, in terms of ink. In my case a gloss coated paper would have been too slick a surface for hand-printed stamp ink. The ink would have smeared. In your case, if you’re designing hang-tags, your client may need to write on them with ballpoint pens. A gloss coated stock wouldn’t work for this use either. So the thing to remember is that the final function of the piece takes precedence over aesthetics.


    1. In my client’s client’s case, since the hang-tags will be used alongside food preparation, another useful question will be whether an uncoated stock will absorb oil from the food (or anything else on the food preparer’s hands).


    1. If the printed inks will be near food, will my client need food-grade inks? Consider this if you’re designing any packaging that may come into contact with food.


    1. When you’re designing one printed item for a client, make sure it will be congruent with other printed items your client will use. Chipotle does a good job of this, and I would encourage you to check out their printed collateral. Everything I’ve seen is printed on brown uncoated paper using black ink. Overall, it has a simple, earthy feel. This matches Chipotle’s brand values, as I understand them. When you’re designing something even as simple as a business card, visit your client’s business location. Make sure that the paper, ink choices, and everything else about your printed piece fits in with the client’s décor, printed collateral, and overall ethos.


  1. My client will print her hang-tags in one color: a dark green. On the uncoated press sheet, this will give an earthy feel to the product (congruent with the brand), but it must also be a consideration for custom printing technologies other than the offset lithography used for these 10,000 hang-tags. For instance, if my client’s client later needs a very short run of some product, this printer’s HP Indigo digital press might be more cost-effective than offset lithography. In this case the commercial printing supplier would need to “build” the signature green color out of process inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The question is whether the printer could then match the PMS green color with a process-color build. That’s something to think about if you are designing a printed piece and you need the corporate colors to match across all printed products.

So you see that even for a job as simple as a hang-tag, there are a lot of considerations that make the commercial printing job appear less and less simple. You have to consider the physical use of the product, custom printing ink durability, and aesthetics across the entire brand (from business cards to interior design). Wow. It’s a wonder that anyone prints anything.

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