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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for May, 2020

Choosing Between Printing With Uncoated Or Coated Paper

Monday, May 25th, 2020

Almost all companies will get to the point where they need to print information on paper for clients, customers, or other people to read. Printing companies are capable of printing quality collateral for other businesses in high quantities, making them more ideal in most situations than printing collateral with one’s own printer.

For printing commercially, there are two types of paper to choose from, both of which printing companies can use within chosen design patterns. These are uncoated paper and coated paper.

The Difference Between Both Paper Stock Types

All paper originates as an uncoated paper stock ( like the paper you use in your desktop printer, e.g. 20lb. bond or 50lb. white offset, porus to the touch ). When manufacturing a coated paper stock, the paper mill takes an uncoated stock and adds a clay and chemical mix coating. This is like waxing your auto paint finish. This clay and chemical coating thus fills in the pores of this uncoated stock in creating a smooth and more reflective finish after calendering ( or buffing ) the paper stock.

Uncoated Paper Stock vs. Coated Paper Stock

An Uncoated paper stock absorbs ink ( offset presses ) like a spunge. The pores allow less reflective values as light enters the uncoated stock pores. Thus, less sharper images reflecting back to any eye.

A Coated paper stock has a smooth buffed / calendered finish in which ink dries predominantly on the surface. Thus, much less paper interior ink absorbed inside any coated paper stock. This smooth finish and like waxing an auto paint finish, allows light to reflect back much better – like a mirror to any eye delivers sharper and more crisp image reflections.

If one seeking sharp and crisp images with their printing project, coated paper is highly recommended. Uncoated stocks and Coated paper stocks offer numerous choice variations within each category.

Uncoated stock: brightness, stock thickness, white or colored shades of stock, etc.

Coated stock: Brightness, thickness, & finishes as gloss, semi-gloss, dull gloss, matte ( a flat coated white finish ) , etc.

Uncoated Paper

Depending upon any specific custom printing project, choosing the right paper stock is paramount in receiving your best and targeted design quality results. For one, Uncoated paper can be as light or as heavy as you need it to be. Uncoated paper can be thin for little booklets and brochures, or thick for applications that anticipate wear and tear, such as temporary outdoor signage.

Uncoated paper comes with more texture ( porous finish ) than Coated paper. It is easier for commercial printers to print on Uncoated stock since it can absorb ink easier in having more texture. The majority of Uncoated paper finishes are actually quite softer and ideal in seeking no slickness as you would receive from most Coated papers.

Coated Paper

Coated paper is the less common of the two types of paper, both for small businesses and small business printing services. Coated paper reflects light in an attractive way thus yields a more classy and sophisticated design ( higher cost ). The printed content on a Coated paper yields sharper and crisper images than Uncoated paper. Again, if image quality detail is high on your list, using a Coated stock is highly recommended. Coated paper is most ideal for printing photographs and color images as a Coated paper is the only way in showing off design details.

Choosing Between Uncoated and Coated Paper

Both types of paper can be used to print posters, flyers, brochures, postcards, business cards, calendars, catalogs, and other types of collateral. Which one should you go with for your application?

Choose Coated paper if:

You have colorful graphics that you want to grab people’s attention with.

You want the best quality and not an average look from an Uncoated paper.

You want your paper to look more reflective within design choices.

You want to use graphics or photographs showing fine details.

Choose Uncoated paper if:

You want your graphics to look beautiful, but look subtle, and in a way that isn’t flashy or

in-your-face.

The color inks used are mostly black or black + 1 PMS ( Pantone Matching System ).

You want your paper to feel soft and comfortable to the touch.

You are on a budget and high-quality printing is not one of your priorities.

Summary

There are two types of paper that businesses need for their collateral: Coated paper and Uncoated paper. They are different in many ways. While Uncoated paper is traditional and simple. Coated paper is slick and usually shiny. We do not consider one to be better overall than the other.

Custom Printing: Design Your Job with Paper in Mind

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Paper is a resource. In addition to coming (mostly) from trees and therefore being worthy of preservation, paper as a significant materials cost of commercial printing bears consideration. Paper is expensive. Don’t waste it. In fact, it is sometimes a rather large portion of the overall cost of your print job.

For example, if you’re printing 100,000 copies of a 352-page perfect-bound textbook, two things you should seriously consider–and discuss with your printer–are the cost of paper and the cost of shipping (in addition to costing money in large-page-count, long-press-run projects, paper is heavy and costs a lot to transport).

So how do you save money buying paper for your custom printing job?

I’ve addressed this in prior print blogs, but I just came upon a few more suggestions in Mark Beach’s and Eric Kenly’s Getting It Printed, my all-time favorite book on commercial printing. In no particular order, here are some suggestions:

Consider the Purpose of the Job

If you are mailing out an invitation to a fundraising gala dinner, the paper has to be perfect. However, if you’re printing an in-house newsletter for your employees, you don’t necessarily need the finest printing stock.

This isn’t as much about the particular paper you choose as it is about your mindset. Getting It Printed even suggests asking your printer what kind of extra paper he has in his inventory, perhaps partial reams of paper that may not exactly match but that might be perfectly adequate for an in-house newsletter.

I once did this for a client who needed hang-tags for her clothing designs. She was self-employed, and every dollar counted. I did what Getting It Printed suggested, but I took it a step further. I found waste paper (the last few unused sheets from a few reams in my printer’s inventory) that had the same feel but that came in different colors: as I recall, a pink, a green, and a brown. Just by digging in the printer’s paper stacks among paper selections too small for a full job, I gave my client a rainbow of colors for her hang-tags and business cards.

Discuss these options with your printer. Sometimes even a slight difference in color or surface texture will be irrelevant to the audience for your print product but could save you some money.

Group Your Jobs

When I was an art director/production manager, I used to get an annual list of over 100 publications that had to be designed and printed within the following year. (I didn’t take the following advice, but I think you should consider it.) Getting It Printed suggests that in such a situation you talk with your printer (or maybe a few printers) about grouping your jobs.

The list I received when I was an art director included a number of textbooks, a number of newsletters, a number of invitations—the list goes on—each year. There really was only a short list of different kinds of jobs we designed and printed. What would have saved us money at the time would have been to group these publications, by type, and request bids for a number of them.

Getting It Printed suggests this. For instance, we could have compiled specs for five different newsletters produced on the same commercial printing stock, along with any additional printing specs, and spread these over twelve months within a predetermined schedule.

The good news is that printers in such a situation can often provide an overall discount for additional, regular work, and can sometimes even provide a discount on the particular paper stock based on a larger commitment over a longer time. You can presumably negotiate terms that would involve your only paying upon completion of each job.

The bad news is that this requires foresight and forethought. Back when I was an art director, everything was always a rush, so I never quite got around to doing what I’m suggesting. Learn from my mistake.

Paper Size and Job Trim Size

The elusive goal of paper management is to eliminate waste entirely. Although this will never happen, it will save paper (and therefore save you money) to consider the size of the poster, flyer, or book page for the job you’re designing. This is not just on an individual page-size level, but also in terms of how many copies you can get on a press sheet.

This gets a bit complicated when we’re discussing press signatures, so we’ll start with short jobs.

Let’s say you’re printing a pocket folder (before it’s converted from a flat press sheet into an actual folder). When you take apart last year’s model, you’ll see that the pockets have glue tabs and other little flaps and protrusions that turn an unassembled pocket folder into a much larger flat item on a press sheet.

If your printer can give you an idea of the press sheet size (based on the size of the press he will be using), then you may see that you can get (for example) two of these flat, unfolded pocket folders on one press sheet (including all the tabs and flaps that will need to be folded and glued).

The ideal situation is that when you lay out two of these folders on a press sheet (which is called imposition, and which is a task your commercial printing vendor will handle), there will only be enough room for bleeds, printer’s bars (color targets and such), and the gripper margin (the gripper pulls the press sheet through the press)–and nothing else. No waste. That is ideal. If you work with your printer to determine the best press, the best press sheet (both its size and its availability on the market), and the best size for the flat printed job, you can often minimize paper waste. And this may lead to a paper cost savings.

Press Signatures

All of this becomes a bit more complex when you’re producing multiple-press-signature work. For instance, if you’re printing a 32-page saddle-stitched booklet, presumably this will be composed of two 16-page press signatures, each with eight pages on each side of the press sheet.

Each press signature will constitute one press run. Each signature (eight pages on each side of the sheet) will fit on the press sheet ideally with no waste. That is, with nothing but the press bleeds, printer’s bars and color targets, and gripper margin. For this to happen, the size of each booklet page has to be determined and each page has to be positioned on the press sheet.

For instance, if your book is 8.5” x 11” in format, and you have four pages across by two pages down on each side of the sheet (eight pages, four above, four below—and the same number on the back of the sheet), you need at least 34” across (4 x 8.5” across the width of the press sheet) and 22” down (2 x 11” along the length or depth of the press sheet). Plus, you need room for the gripper margin, printer’s color bars, bleeds, etc. If your printer can run a 25” x 38” press sheet through his press (very likely), you’re golden. You have almost no waste.

Talk with your printer. Get these specifications and match them to your preferred book page size, and see whether everything fits on the press sheet. If not, ask your book printer by how much you need to reduce your page size (sometimes only slightly).

Granted, this assumes a 16-page signature. Some book signatures are four pages, some eight, some even 32 pages. Sometimes your printer will even print two copies of the same (often a four-page or eight-page) signature on a press sheet. But this, at least, is a starting point for discussion with your printer. It’s also useful for you to start considering press sizes and printing paper sizes, as well as the trim sizes of the publications you design and print. In the long run, this expanded awareness will save you money.

Consider the Post Office

With the preceding information in mind, you might be inclined to change the size of your publications. For instance, you might want to make a fold-up self-mailer larger, since larger pieces often stand out more dramatically in the recipient’s mailbox.

But be aware of the ramifications. The “wow factor” of a large printed piece is only one criterion for the success of the job.

Unless you have a business mail template from the Post Office, by lengthening one dimension of your fold-up self-mailer, you might inadvertently change the ratio of length to height and unknowingly make the job unmailable. Or it might require a postage surcharge. It might look great, but in the process of redesigning the self-mailer, you might have unknowingly made the overall job (printing and mailing) more expensive, even if you reduced paper waste by using more space on the press sheet.

Or, if your job will go out in an envelope (for a job that’s not a self-mailer), your (slightly larger than usual) printed marketing piece might not fit in a standard envelope. You might need a custom envelope (which will cost more), and the size difference might cause you to incur a Postal Service surcharge.

What can you do to avoid making these mistakes? Get a business mail template and booklet from your Post Office, and learn everything you can about aspect ratios (length to width), size requirements, paper weights, how to keep your mail piece machinable and automatable, and how to reap the greatest postal discounts. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to find a business mail specialist at a local Post Office and give her/him your mock-ups for feedback. Then you can approach your printer, as noted above, regarding presses, paper sizes, and waste from a more knowledgeable position.

Reasons to Get Postcards for your Business

Friday, May 15th, 2020

From cost-effectiveness to versatility to efficiency to tangibility, there are plenty of reasons why postcards are the best marketing tools. However, to realize all these benefits, you have to work with the best postcard printing services.

One technology advancement example within the digital press arena in printing postcards. In creating a provided your mailing list, the use of Personalization Printing. Thus, adding the recipients full name or gender images in having the postcard creating a better bonding effect.

The advancements in technology have seen a transformation in the way businesses do marketing. Today, there are ten times as many platforms as there were decades ago – and that’s a good thing. However, some things never go out of fashion, and that includes postcards. Postcards have been around for ages, and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, they are widely embraced for the incredible benefits they offer to businesses today. In case you are new to the concept of postcards, then here are reasons why you should try them out.

Affordable marketing

One of the main problems that most startups, small and mid-sized businesses face are marketing costs. Postcards provide excellent marketing at low rates. It’s safe to say that they are the most affordable form of targeted marketing today. In addition to the affordability of best postcard printing services, you get to enjoy lower postage rates.

Campaigns are easy to track

Tracking is an essential component of any marketing strategy. If you cannot measure results, then you won’t know whether you are making progress or not. The good thing about postcards is that you will have a clear picture of the number of cards you’ve mailed out, as well as the resulting inquiries, leads, and sales.

They are as versatile as your imagination allows

With postcards, the limit lies within your head. We say this because postcards can be used for any reason. Whether it is to announce a special offer or sale, launch new solutions, drive traffic to a website, invite prospects to an event, seminar or tradeshow, serve a coupon, and so on.

They are efficient

One thing that sets postcards apart from other marketing platforms like direct mail is the fact that they aren’t enclosed in a packet or envelop. So the recipient can quickly get the message as they browse through their daily mail.

Keep competition in the dark

Unlike newspapers and other marketing platforms, postcards allow you to market in secrecy, without giving your competitors a heads up. This is an excellent thing because you can overtake it without them even seeing it coming.

Better branding experience

Postcards can brand your company in ways that other marketing strategies can’t. For example, if you become a regular on a specific postcard-mailing program, your customers will start associating you and your brand with the postcards. This may give your company a particular reputation in the market.

They are time savers

In the world where things are moving so fast, there is just no time for marketing strategies that consume a lot of client’s time. Otherwise, you will end up losing out. According to recent research by the US Postal Service, only 14% of letters get read. But postcards enjoy a whopping 94% read through ration.

Conclusion

In addition to the benefits above, postcards are easy, space-saving, and effective. If you were thinking of ways to boost your marketing strategy, then you should consider printing postcards.

Custom Printing: Embossing, Debossing, and Foil Stamping

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Since the dawn of time humans have sought to embellish things. This is evidenced by everything from the floor mosaics in Rome to the illuminated manuscripts hand-copied by monks.

So it was no surprise to me when an associate of mine asked about embossing, debossing, and foil stamping as methods for decorating print books, certificates, and the like. Therefore, I went to school on the subject, and this is what I found.

Paper Embossing and Debossing

Paper embossing and its close cousin paper debossing involve pressing flat sheets of paper between two components of a die to either raise an image above the surface of the paper or lower it below the surface.

In either case, an engraver prepares a metal die for the top of the paper and a corresponding die for the bottom of the paper. These dies fit exactly into one another. That is, recesses in one half of the die correspond to raised areas in the other, whether these are strokes of letterforms (for text) or line artwork. When a special press is used (with one half of the die apparatus above, and one half below the press sheet), the force of the printing press against the dies (plus additional applied heat) causes the paper trapped between the dies to rise above the surface of the paper or fall below the surface of the paper (embossing or debossing, respectively).

It is the skill of the engraver who makes the dies and the quality of the fibers within the flat sheet of paper that allow the image to rise or fall without tearing the paper. Because of this, it is important to choose typefaces (and type sizes) as well as thicknesses of rule lines that are wide enough to not cut the paper and to be readable after the embossing or debossing process. (It pays to consult your custom printing supplier on this.)

There are several options for embossing and debossing. The first is the “blind emboss,” which involves only the raising or lowering of the image on the paper (and not printing or foiling anything). This creates a subtle, sophisticated effect. You may have seen the results of blind embossing on a notarized document or even a “This book is the property of…” stamp inside a print book you have borrowed. (You can get such personal embossing stamps online for your own library with your own name on the die. If you look closely, you will see the two interlocking elements of the die.)

The second option is the “registered emboss.” That is, for such an embossing or debossing process, you raise or lower the image in exact alignment with a corresponding printed or foil stamped image (more about that later). If the effect is created with ink and embossing dies, the process is called “color registered embossing.” If metal foil is used with embossing dies, the process is called “combination stamping.” In either case, the goal is to have the embossed or debossed image in precise register with the inked or foil-stamped image.

Another thing to consider is the order of these separate processes. First you print the image(s) on the press sheet. Then you emboss the press sheet on a separate press. If you think about it, this makes sense, since the pressure of offset commercial printing would crush the delicate embossed or debossed image(s). So anything you need to do other than the embossing or debossing step has to come first. This includes varnishing and laminating as well as custom printing.

Correspondingly, the press used for the stamping process is more like a letterpress than an offset press. That is, the two pieces of the press come together vertically, up-and-down, to press the image into the paper fibers (in contrast to the rotary nature of offset commercial printing). Names of presses to look for online to see this process in action include Kluge, Heidelberg, and Kingsley.

Regarding the dies used in embossing and debossing, the metals for their fabrication include zinc, magnesium, copper, and brass. For the following reasons, embossing and debossing can be very expensive:

  1. Die-making is a specialized skill. A limited number of vendors can make dies. This also adds to the time needed for their fabrication.
  2. Embossing and debossing are processes separate from the printing component of your job, and they are done on presses that not all printers may have. This also adds to the cost and the turn-around time.

To go back to the combination emboss noted above, which both foil stamps and embosses an image, this process accomplishes both goals at the same time using the same die apparatus. This die is sculpted, usually made of brass, constructed to maintain tight register between the embossed image and the foil-stamped image, and made to also trim away the waste foil (any non-image area not needed for the registered embossing). Again, you pay for this ingenuity.

Foil Stamping

I think a description of foil stamping at this point will make the whole procedure of combination stamping easier to visualize.

For metallicized foil stamping, a roll of foil is used that has a liner (the base layer of the sheet, also called a release layer), the adherent (glue) layer, and a layer of chrome or aluminum. The metallic layer can be made to “simulate” gold, silver, copper, and bronze. In addition to metallics, printers that offer foil stamping can use colored foil that is not metallic but that has a gloss or matte finish as well as the pigment. They can also use holographic foils. (You may see that these have been used on some paper money or, perhaps, on your driver’s license as well.)

Using the same or similar presses to those used for debossing and embossing, the foil stamping process applies heat and pressure to attach the adhesive foil to the substrate (for example, a diploma with a foil-burst seal of achievement). At the same time, the die cuts away any scrap (anything that’s not the image area).

So when you want to bring together the die-based processes of embossing/debossing and foil stamping, you can create elegant effects using these combination sculpted dies.

Uses for Foil Stamping and Embossing/Debossing

Embossing/debossing and foil stamping, either by themselves or together, can be used to adorn paper or leather. Therefore, they’re especially useful for specialized art books. But if you look closely, you’ll also find these techniques used in a lot of functional printing (industrial printing) as well. For instance, hot stamping is often used to mark or embellish plastic pieces of televisions, kitchen appliances, and audio equipment. You can also see foil stamping on cosmetics and cosmetics packaging, as well as RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags. As noted before, you’ll also find them on some paper money and identification cards (like driver’s licenses) and other security-printed items.

What You Can Learn from This Discussion

Think about ways you can use either embossing/debossing or foil stamping (together or separately). Keep your eyes open, and you will see these techniques more and more. Walk through a department store and check out the cosmetics counters. Look at print book dust jackets in book stores. You’ll see foil stamped bursts on some of the dust jackets. All of this will give you ideas for using these adorning techniques.

If you want to apply any of these techniques to your own work, approach your commercial printing supplier early in the process. Discuss both costs and scheduling. Add extra time to your production schedule. In particular, ask about what fonts and type sizes will work the best as well as how thick to make your rule lines (for underlining or boxes). Be safe. Ask for printed samples to make sure you and your printer envision the same results.

Stay abreast of emerging digital adornment (or enhancement) technology. You may want to Google “Scodix Based Printing.” It is increasingly possible to build up surfaces, textures, and colors (including metallic colors) digitally (kind of like 3D printing) to simulate the look of both embossing and foiling. Personally, I find this exceptionally exciting, since it makes die-making (and the related costs and extended schedules) obsolete.

5 Steps You Should Take to Find the Best Print Company

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

Summary: Here are five things that should be of concern to you when you are looking out for a print company.

From the time Gutenberg invented the first printing machine, there are so many changes that occurred to printing machines. Printing machines did evolve greatly, and they are helping us to get print material much faster with better quality and fewer errors. So many companies are offering print services today than ever before. But, this has created a lot of confusion than good.

If you check online, you will find so many printing services websites. Take some time to pick one that is best among all the options available. You need to check some things before using print services. Not many people know what exactly they need to consider.

Here are some tips or insights to find the best print services:

Visit Their Office: Now, this is one of the first things that you should plan on doing once you identify a printer. You do not have to visit all the printers in the city. Visit only them that have the best name in the market.

Avoid visiting the facilities of print companies that do not have an excellent name. If the facilities are well-kept, it only means they care about quality. Hence, you should take the time to check this aspect. The presentation of the facilities should be of concern to you.

Quality of the Work: You should take the time to check the quality of the work. Get some samples from each of the printing companies that you are planning to use. Go through their work to see if it is upto the mark. If yes, you should plan on taking things further. If not, you should continue to search for the best printing company. You should never skip this step if you have a determination to find the best print company.

The Customer Service: Yes, this is one more thing that should be of concern to you. You should take the time to find a company that provides excellent customer service to their customers. You do not want to work with a company that does not care about your priorities and feelings.

Now, this is the main reason why you should check for companies that try to understand your concerns and problems. A good company will prioritize customer service above everything.

Service They Provide: Yes, you must understand what kind of services a print company is offering. Take the time to check the printing services websites to get an idea of this thing.

A company that has vast experience will provide you with an array of services such as printing brochures, flyers, posters, magazines, and so forth. If the services they are giving is apt for your requirements, you should plan on using their assistance.

Check the Prices: Lastly, you need to take the time to check the prices for each of the services with various print companies. Take the time to understand the market pricing and to compare the costs with other vendors or print companies. Once you have a clear understanding of things, you should proceed forth to award the contract to a print company.

Custom Printing: Samples of the Fine Art of Advertising

Monday, May 4th, 2020

I have been absolutely intrigued by the art of advertising for the better part of my life, perhaps because it usually blends visual art, writing, humor, psychology, and storytelling.

First of all, I want to draw a (minor) distinction between advertising and marketing. I consider advertising to be more targeted, directly selling a specific product or service rather than just nurturing a favorable image of a company (public relations) or increasing public awareness of a company (marketing). But really, they’re all the same in that the purpose is to make people aware of what you’re offering (either a service or a product) and to convince them to buy something.

Another way to say this is that, in both print and broadcast advertising, you use words and images to initiate and develop an ongoing relationship with a potential customer.

I have had the opportunity during my 44 years in graphic design, publications, and commercial printing to create many print products that fit this general category. These have included print ads, brochures, posters, banners, invitations to various events, and catalogs. What I have learned is that everything is an ad. If you are a graphic designer, even the business card you design to hand out to clients is an ad because you use it to promote your business.

Another way to say this is that your daily business goal, before you do anything else, is to build your brand. Your brand is your “avatar” in the business world. Everything you do and every piece of commercial printing material you hand out or mail either builds or detracts from your brand image.

Promotional vs. Editorial

Let’s lump advertising, public relations, and marketing under a general umbrella, which we will call promotions, or promotional custom printing materials. If you’re a graphic designer creating materials for the Internet, you’re still producing promotional products. This might include email marketing, social media marketing, or even blogging (or video blogging). The common element is that you are presenting your business, yourself, and your product or service in their best light and encouraging your prospective clients to buy.

This is different, in many ways, from the design, writing, and production of editorial materials. In the case of editorial matter, you’re writing and designing something in order to educate and inform your clients. That said, if you are really honest, there is still a fair amount of marketing involved in editorial writing because you or your company still has to position itself as an expert in the field. You have to convince your reader to commit time to reading your editorial material. You have to convince her or him that you know what you’re talking about, that you’re telling the truth, and that you are providing valuable information they cannot get elsewhere.

Elements of Advertising

First and foremost, effective advertising tells a story. More often than not, it challenges the reader’s mind with facts and information, but it also touches the reader’s emotions, often with humor or the element of surprise. A reader who feels you are talking directly to her or him on a personal and emotional level will more likely become a loyal customer than one with whom you only connect in an abstract, cerebral way.

And the best way to do this is to tell a story with words and images. A story complete with concrete details and an emotional appeal helps the reader connect in a personal way with the essence of the particular company.

Another key component is humor, which is usually based on surprise or the unexpected. Humor catches the reader’s attention and transports her/him from the myriad details of day-to-day life into a lighter, magical, and creative realm.

An Example

Here’s an example, which I found in Creative Strategy in Advertising, written by Bonnie Drewniany and A. Jerome Jewler. The book showcases a series of three billboards for Chick-fil-a. Here is a description of the billboards and my interpretation of why they enhance the Chick-fil-a brand.

Each of the three billboards includes two cows. (I’m not sure from the photos whether they are three-dimensional or just silhouetted.) They appear to be real because they are outside the “frame” of the rectangular billboard. In addition, the cows in all three billboards interact with one another in some way. In two of the billboards they are looking at each other. They have their two forefeet hanging over the front of the billboard as though they’re keeping themselves from falling behind the structure.

In one billboard, one cow is holding onto a roller (like what you would use to roll down the paper or vinyl of the large format print to the billboard support structure). Earlier, I mentioned the power of “the story.” Here it is again, because you can assume that the two cows just finished installing the display right before you drove past the sign.

The third billboard includes the two silhouetted (or 3D) cows painting on the billboard. One is sitting on the other’s back to get up higher on the billboard. She has a paintbrush and is painting the words, which seem to be streaking as the ink runs down the face of the billboard. Her tail is draped over the side of the other cow as she sits on her back and paints.

The three taglines for the billboards are as follows: “Eat chikin or weer toast,” “Eat mor chikin,” and “Vote chikin. Itz not right wing or left.” Underneath these words is the Chik-fil-a logo, prominently displayed.

So in all three cases we have a story: the cows just installed the print signage. We have the unexpected: the cows are separate from the rectangular-format billboard (either silhouetted or 3D). The cows can’t spell very well (i.e., the humor that captures the reader’s attention in a landscape otherwise cluttered with more billboards).

What you get out of all three images is name recognition. The more times you see the same “chikin” vs. cows ad campaign paired with the Chick-fil-a logo, presumably the more likely you will be to buy the product.

The overall message is that Chick-fil-a is smart, fun, and edgy. This impression will promote name recognition. (You’ll recognize the logo when you pass the restaurant, and hopefully you’ll be willing to try the food.)

The Take-Away

Broadcast advertising can be equally captivating. Think about the Progressive, Liberty, and GEICO TV ads for insurance. Personally, I love these because they have quirky characters and they’re funny. Each one has a “story” of some kind. This captures my attention and distracts me from other competing activities.

Regardness, the humor (particularly if it’s edgy and quirky) and the storyline appeal to the emotions. People buy from companies they like, and they remember advertisements that are funny.

If you’re a graphic designer, how can you use this information?

  1. Study advertising. Find ads you like, and deconstruct them. Articulate the goals of the ads, and note how the elements of design and writing support these goals.
  2. Copy what you see until you’re good enough to do it yourself. (Not word for word/design for design, but the general approach, layout grid, use of typefaces, etc.)
  3. Study the ways in which good imagery (usually photography) and succinct copywriting work together to make an ad effective. Extend yourself beyond graphic design to an appreciation of effective word usage.
  4. Study humor. (It’s not random. There are usually rules and structures for humor based on challenging the reader’s or hearer’s automatic assumptions or expectations.)
  5. Train yourself to notice ads everywhere: business cards, billboards, brochures, posters. Become aware that every example of commercial printing is an ad. Either it helps the brand, or it hurts it.
  6. Study psychology, advertising, marketing, and consumer behavior. Thrift stores have a wealth of textbooks on these topics.
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