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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 October, 2020

Custom Printing: The Future of “Web to Pack”

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

Not that long ago (perhaps the 1990s to 2000), I remember sending out perfect-bound book printing jobs that took six weeks to produce and brochures that took five to seven (or even ten) days to print and deliver. That was the norm. Everything was analog (offset lithography). No one said the printers were slow because we had nothing digital to which we could compare the analog work schedules.

Then digital commercial printing went from the low quality laser and inkjet machines we had for proofing to full-fledged work horses, and the expected turn-around times on digital jobs got shorter and shorter. It even became possible to upload an InDesign or PDF file to a website (web-to-print), push print, and get business cards or flyers delivered within a few days.

So now, as I read “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing” by Pat Reynolds, VP Editor Emeritus, (dated 7/26/19), I am not surprised that a Shenzhen, China, firm called Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. allows you to order folding cartons online and get them in 72 hours.

Beyond the fact that China is a long way from here, this is still remarkable, as is the equipment footprint of this particular Chinese printer.

Here’s why.

What Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. Can Do

  1. First of all, Xianjunlong Colour accepts orders over the internet, so the process starts off with a bang. Presumably an increasing number of clients will now accept PDF proofs (as opposed to hard-copy proofs), so the overall proofing process can proceed swiftly and smoothly. Compared to earlier days in commercial printing, the time from file upload to actual printing would now seem to be negligible.
  2. Then a Heidelberg Primefire 106 prints the carton stock. This particular equipment accepts B1 press sheets, which are 40” wide. This means the company can impose multiple images on each press sheet (in contrast to smaller digital presses). More sheets (i.e., more images) can run through the press faster, so Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can produce much more work for less money. The company makes more; the clients pay less (certainly less than locally produced jobs printed in the U.S.).
  3. A dmax 106 coating system from Steinemann with an in-line dfoil digital foiling module does in-line coating and foil embellishing. These two processes can occur simultaneously in one pass.
  4. Finally, a Masterwork Group Co., Ltd., digital laser system does the final creasing and cutting of the digitally produced folding cartons.
  5. Then the job gets delivered to the client by air carrier. Done. 72 hours. A game changer.
  6. According to “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing,” the Chinese company’s equipment footprint doesn’t stop there. They have 50 offset presses, “which makes them huge compared to nearly anything you’d see in the rest of the world” (Jordi Giralt, Sales Director of Primefire at Heidelberg, as quoted in “Is Web-to-Pack the Next Big Thing”). In my eyes, a company this large should be paid attention to. They clearly have done their homework, and they understand what customers want and in which direction commercial printing is going.
  7. The process uses food-grade inks. This means they are water-based and non-toxic, acceptable (presumably) to the FDA. So food packaging is an ideal target market for Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd.
  8. The digital laser cutter and creaser from Masterwork Group can do its work offline. Even though this sounds like a drawback (and is therefore counterintuitive), it is not. If the custom printing, embellishing, and cutting and creasing were all done inline, there might be bottlenecks. The cutting and creasing could slow down the work flow. As is, Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. has options. They can prepare and cut and crease one job while another job is being digitally printed, coated, and foiled. This speeds up overall throughput.

What This Means

Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can accept, preflight, and correct jobs using cloud-based, industry-standard software, reducing prepress to a bare minimum and getting to the printing stage almost immediately. Over time, this might well eliminate the need for proofing entirely.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can print the jobs on large format (B1-sized) digital inkjet equipment with food-safe inks—quickly and economically.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can coat and embellish the jobs (apply foil embellishment) simultaneously.

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can crease and cut the folding cartons without metal dies in record time (avoiding the extra cost and extensive time involved in traditional die making).

Then Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. can deliver by air freight the folding-carton commercial printing work that rivals anything else on the planet. They can do this while taking advantage of all the digital decorating applications (various coatings and foils) available for packaging work (i.e., making short run jobs that are digitally coated and foiled look like they were embellished with high-end analog processes).

Why This Is Important

  1. Consumers are demanding shorter and shorter runs of personalized packaging. Digital processes are ideal for this market.
  2. There’s more and more packaging on the shelves in stores. Everything competes with everything else. It helps a brand stay relevant if it can change packaging for local initiatives or special events or even provide personalized packaging printed for individual clients.
  3. The “unboxing process” is also becoming more important. People are carefully studying exactly what happens when you take a product home and open the box. They are asking how the appearance and feel of the box contribute to the “wow” factor of the overall experience. (Think about how it felt to open a package on Christmas or Hanukkah or any of the other major holidays.) The fact that digital equipment can now add the gloss and textures provided by foils and paper coatings (dull, matte, glossy) allows manufacturers to make opening the carton a special event. Designers and marketing psychologists are now committed to learning the best ways to do this.
  4. If Xianjunlong Colour Printing Co. Ltd. has this kind of digital custom printing footprint in China, that’s a sure sign that digital folding cartons and web-to-pack are the future of the commercial printing industry.

Why You Should Care

If you are a printer, print buyer, or graphic designer, it behooves you to study all aspects of packaging, from “flexible packaging” to “corrugated board” to “folding cartons” (these are the industry-specific terms to Google). The more you know, the more useful you will be—in researching potential markets and selling these products and processes, in designing packaging, and/or in buying these processes for your company.

If the number of printed pages (books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs) is declining, or if work is migrating to online media, that doesn’t mean commercial printing is dead. It just means that other venues are opening. Chief among these are packaging and labels, large-format inkjet printing, and digitally printed décor (an offshoot of large-format inkjet). With these markets actually growing (and especially with packaging work growing exponentially at the moment), there will be significant demand for what you know and what you can design and produce.

So any time spent studying digital custom printing technology, design, marketing and promotions, and the psychology of consumers is time well spent.

Commercial Printing: A Thoughtful Approach to Direct Mail

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

By mid-morning I have upwards of sixty emails to read. In contrast, when I go out to my physical mailbox, I only find a few, well-designed mail pieces. In the first case, I do whatever I can to delete the emails without missing anything important. In the second case, I find it relaxing to look through the physical mail.

It looks like I’m not alone. I just read “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” written by Lynne Kingsley and published as an Ironmark blog. What it says about direct mail portends well for self-mailers, postcards, and other such commercial printing products. According to the research she includes, people tend to trust the permanent, physical nature of direct mail. It seems to stick in people’s memories better than email. They like its tactile qualities. And there’s a manageable amount to absorb, unlike online email.

So the hue and cry of several years ago that direct mail was ever so “yesterday” seems to be fading as direct mail printing makes a comeback.

What We Can Learn from Lynne Kingsley’s Article

(First of all, it bears reading, and it can be easily found online.)

What I found most helpful about “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost” was the mental to-do list it offers for planning and budgeting for direct mail products, as well as these two caveats:

  1. Direct-mail campaigns are recurrent, so plan for follow-up mailings.
  2. Direct-mail campaigns are incredibly effective, so consider direct mail an investment rather than a cost.

Here are some of the talking points from Kingsley’s article:

Consider your options. These include postcards, self-mailers, marketing letters, invitations, booklets, brochures, and catalogs, to name a few. Postcards have the benefit of a lower postage cost, plus they can be read without opening an envelope. If they are well designed, they can stand out from among the other mail and grab a prospect’s interest.

Things to consider include mailpiece size and thickness. Kingsley includes a chart, but what I would suggest is that you either research bulk mail online or visit a USPS branch and request a business reply mail book. Meeting the Post Office size requirements will save you lots of money, so consider the time spent learning about direct mail requirements to be a worthy investment.

Also, decide how you’ll be paying for postage. Research stamps, postage metering, and bulk mail permits (the mail “indicia”), as well as business reply mail permits in general.

Self-mailers go into the mail without an envelope. You start with a large, flat printed sheet, and you fold it down to mailing size. (Research this size. Too large, and you’ll pay a premium. The wrong aspect ratio of height to width, and you’ll pay a premium.) Heavy stock feels opulent. However, a mailer produced on cover stock will require more postage than a folded self-mailer printed on a commercial printing text stock.

Like postcards, self-mailers broadcast the mailer’s brand immediately, without the need to tear open an envelope. These days self-mailers are sealed shut with removable fugitive glue (a little like rubber cement). Unlike wafer seals (the prior method), removing fugitive glue doesn’t damage the printing.

Having designed a lot of these when I was an art director, I’d encourage you to follow size and paper weight specifications from the Post Office, and to make sure you’re not printing on areas of the self-mailer that should be left blank. This also pertains to wafer seal placement (if you use them instead of fugitive glue). (Research machinability and automated mail.)

If your self-mailer can go through all the automated mailshop machinery without causing problems, and if you have sorted and addressed the self-mailers correctly, you will reap postal discounts. It’s worth the research. (In fact, it’s also worth making friends with the Business Mail Specialist at your local Post Office branch. Show her/him your printed mock-ups for self-mailers, and ask for feedback.)

Kingsley’s article, “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” then goes on to discuss letters in envelopes. The only downside is this involves printing both the promotional letters and the envelopes. Plus it involves addressing the envelopes. One way around addressing the envelopes, however, is to buy window envelopes. If the address on the mailing letter shows through the window on the envelope, you don’t have to separately address the envelopes. This saves money.

(Research #9 and #10 envelopes. Your outgoing envelope will be a #10 envelope, and it can contain a #9 business reply mail envelope along with your marketing letter. Don’t rule these out. These are very effective, even if they involve printing the mailing letter and also buying envelopes. A few other things to consider are the size of standard vs. custom envelopes and the products they contain, how thick the envelope paper should be, and how many inserts the envelopes will hold.)

Kingsley then goes on to discuss invitations. Consider whether you want flat cards or fold-over cards. Make sure you’ll have room for the invitation, the reply card, the envelope for the reply card, and any inserts you want to include. Also, I’d encourage you to consider paper weight (24#, which is comparable to 60# text stock, or 28#, which is comparable to 70# text stock). When I used to design these, I’d make paper dummies of all inserts, make sure everything (based on size and thickness) fit in the envelope, and then hand off the mock up to the printer to make sure everything was printed and then inserted (mailshop work) as intended.

I’d also consider paper color and texture. There are some elegant or fanciful paper stocks out there to choose from.

Booklets, brochures, and catalogs! These days, intriguing design, including creative paper choices and unique use of gloss, satin, and dull coatings, can make booklets, brochures, and catalogs a real knock out. People can carry them anywhere and page through them at their leisure. You can even use these printed materials to direct clients to your website to further the marketing conversation. People trust the permanence of print. Take advantage of this, and also use the tactile benefits of these three sales tools to your benefit. (Play to the strengths of print: those qualities that set print apart from digital media.)

But, again, be conscious of size, thickness, and weight requirements of the Post Office. (Research postcard, letter, and flat.) If you keep to the size constraints, you’ll save money. If not, you might wind up sending a “package” or “parcel” by accident, which will cost you more (particularly over the course of a large mailing). Check these requirements online and/or discuss them with your USPS Business Reply Mail Specialist.

(Most printers now have not only mailshops in house but also postal employees right in the commercial printing plant preparing the mail for drop shipping. So you may do well to ask your printer about all these issues as well.)

Overall Costs to Consider

Finally, Lynne Kingsley discusses production costs. I found this most useful as a mental checklist:

  1. Creative (writing and design): Assume $75 to $125 an hour, and plan for one hour per page of anything your designer creates. This is just a starting point. If you make lots of changes to the design and copy, the price will go up. (I personally would not skimp on this. You can pay less, but how your printed product looks and how dynamic the copy is will determine the success rate of the marketing initiative.) Remember, this is an investment, not an expense. Personally, I’d base my choices of writers and designers on references from people I trust.
  2. Printing: Kingsley’s article, “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” notes $.10 to $2.00 per piece as a starting point for your budget. The cost will depend on everything from paper choice (consider printer’s house stocks) to number of inks printed, from page count to special bindings and paper coatings. I’d select a few printed pieces you like and find out what one or two printers you trust would charge to produce the number of copies you need. Then draft a specification sheet and share this with a few more custom printing suppliers, and you’ll get an idea of the total cost of producing your direct mail package. This is the time to find out whether your printer can perform all of the mailshop activities and then enter the final promotional pieces into the mailstream.
  3. Mailing Lists: Kingsley suggests that you assume up to $.30 per record (per potential client name/address). But if you use your own list, it’s free. Either way, make sure the mailing list has been cleaned (bad addresses removed), sorted, and CASS Certified (i.e., everything has been done to ensure accuracy and USPS formatting requirements). If you rent the list for multiple uses, the price (i.e., the average cost per record that you pay) will go down.
  4. Envelopes, Labels, Postage, and Fulfillment: “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” assumes $.25 to $2.00 per piece. You should get estimates, but this is a good starting point (a good list of necessary processes to consider when budgeting). Personally, I’ve used both dedicated mailshops and mailshops in commercial printing establishments. So I’d encourage you to shop around. In all cases, finding a knowledgeable, responsive advocate is more important than saving a few dollars.

The Takeaway

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Direct mail is making a comeback. People increasingly prefer printed mail to the overabundance of digital marketing mail they receive.
  2. Direct mail drives sales. It is an investment, not an expense.
  3. Don’t fight the US Post Office. Learn their requirements for size, weight, sortation, and mailability, and you will reap postal discounts.
  4. Find someone more knowledgeable than you to help with the process (a commercial printing sales rep, Business Mail Specialist at the USPS, etc.). But also research the intricacies yourself online and/or through USPS publications. Take the time to study, and you will reap postal savings.

Creating and Publishing Coffee Table Books

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

If you are into self-publishing, then you understand why book specs are so important, especially when it comes to coffee table books. When we talk about coffee table books, they have to be vibrant and appealing. A picture speaks a thousand words, and a coffee table book must incorporate photographs and illustrations that are meant for casual reading. Coffee table books are placed on a coffee table at cafes, lounges, or homes so that visitors can go through them while they enjoy their coffee.

Today, modern cafes and coffee shops use coffee table books as a way of disconnect from reality or as a symbol of class. If you were always into photography or love drawing illustrations and want people to see them, then there is nothing better than converting your art into a coffee table book. The best part is that with online printing services, the coffee table book printing costs are quite reasonable. Here is what you need to know.

Work on a Theme

The first step towards creating a coffee table book is brainstorm themes. Your coffee table book can have any theme as long as it is intriguing and appealing to the readers. It can be anything from wildlife photography to dramatic selfies, glamorous interior designs, and even distinctive portraits. The primary goal of a coffee table book is to inspire others and have them start a conversation. It is all about celebrating your favorite form of art. A good coffee table book comprises a cluster of images with little context. So, you have to work on a theme and curate the best pictures. You are always free to ask for a second opinion before sending in the photos to the printer.

Design and Layout

Once you have curated your best pictures and decided on a theme, work on creating an outline of your project so that you know in which format you want it to be. Creating a layout will help you in making necessary changes before it goes for the final print. While the online printer will provide you with a plethora of designs and layout, you would want to create your own layout given the fact that it is your artwork, and nobody knows better than you. It is highly important that you only choose high-resolution pictures for a clean and crisp effect.

Choose the Paper Wisely

The coffee table book printing costs can be significantly reduced if you choose your paper wisely. If you are on a budget, always go with the standard size for the book and use the regular paper that other publishing houses use. This way, you will be able to maintain the feel and look of your coffee table book while cutting down costs.

B&W Photographs

Nothing can give you the premium feel and classiness as black and white photographs. Nevertheless, printing high-quality images in B&W is much more affordable than printing images in color. Or you can have a mixture of color photographs and black and white photographs to give your book a distinctive appeal.

Last but not least, always have a good design by your side when designing and creating a coffee table book. A designer will make sure that everything looks appealing.

Custom Printing: Designing Mock-ups for Our Boss’s Tattoo

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

Photo purchased from …

I usually like to limit my writing to subjects I know, understand, and/or have researched heavily. But earlier this week one of our bosses (my fiancee and I have multiple gigs we have cobbled together, including art therapy with the autistic, graphic design, writing, and commercial printing sales) asked us to help design her new tattoo. For free, obviously. She is our boss. She also needed it immediately.

Even though we had done nothing of the sort before, my fiancee is an art therapist, and I have a background in fine arts, commercial art, and commercial printing, so designing for ink on skin seemed do-able. After all, design principles are design principles—whatever the substrate.

This Is How We Approached the Assignment

Our boss is becoming a member of a religious organization, and she had found two relevant phrases, in Latin, that she wants permanently emblazoned on her arm. Our task was to come up with designs she would approve and then pass on to her tattoo artist the next day.

We started with the two Latin phrases and our boss’s comment that she wanted something feminine, and we went to the computer. Since the computer in question has no design software at the moment, we opened a word processor file and copied the two Latin phrases four times. My fiancee and I both had the idea that a script font would be the ideal rendering, so we chose four script fonts (on which we could both agree), set the type, and sent a PDF off to our boss.

We figured she would choose one of the four, and the script type renderings of the phrases would be the base of the tattoo design. We would then embellish the words with floral artwork. She chose the Latin phrases set in Zapfino, a legible script face (of key importance but not always a foregone conclusion for script typefaces).

She wanted the Latin phrases enhanced with flowers, birds, and such. So we went online and found samples of floral flourishes for her approval. Being old and somewhat less technologically advanced, we regressed to our cut-and-paste roots, and took photos of the computer screen to text to our boss.

She liked the flowers, so we proceeded to quick-and-dirty sketches, known back when I was doing graphic design for a living as “roughs.”

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we would usually start with “thumbnail sketches” (small, loose drawings by hand just to suggest the “concept,” the idea behind the logo. (A logo is the closest thing I can envision—within the corporate world–to the tattoo my fiancee and I were in the process of designing.) Since we already had the concept (approved by our boss), we skipped the thumbnail sketches and went directly to the “roughs” and then the “comps.”

Now in normal circumstances, if I were designing this alone, for my regular rate, for a client with a budget and a reasonable time frame, I’d probably do the roughs and comps directly on the computer using proper graphic design software. I’d save the PDFs and then send them on to the client. I’d include comps developed from full-size roughs developed from numerous hand-sketched thumbnails. My client would first approve the concept through the thumbnail sketches, then pick perhaps three of them for me to develop into full-size renderings and then an almost-finished final comp.

But my fiancee and I were doing this as a favor. This was an immediate design challenge to address, and I had to get back to my other work. Also, all our boss needed was a handful of somewhat-developed ideas (i.e., more akin to the “roughs” stage noted above).

So I reverted to the handwork, tape, and photocopying I did in the ‘80s and ‘90s because I could do this in my sleep, quickly, without needing a computer or printer (once I had the raw materials).

I printed out two sets of the text file and various sizes of the drawings of flowers, vines, and such, to cobble together by hand until my fiancee and I both liked the results. My fiancee took a set and I took a set, so we could do two different options simultaneously (and so our design ideas would not be potentially in conflict).

This Is What We Tried to Do

Whether it’s a design on paper, banner fabric, or skin (as a tattoo), presenting type and imagery has to address certain design fundamentals. Here is what we had to consider:

  1. The rendering had to be legible. Custom printing in ink, applied with a tattoo gun on our boss’s arm, would require a typeface of a readable size and type design (as noted above). It had to be script but it couldn’t be too floral because it had to be readable from a distance at a reasonably small size (two phrases, one above the other, containing three Latin words each).
  2. The flowers we added had to be recognizable at a small size. Our boss wanted the dots above two letter “i”s to be birds, and she also wanted a sun between the two phrases. We showed her in our quick-and-dirty paste-ups rendered with paper, scissors, and tape, that even at a large size these would be difficult to grasp as images.

(We knew that anyone who saw the tattoo would also see it only briefly, so—like a logo—immediate recognition and simplicity of design would be of paramount importance.)

When all was said and done our boss had three options created by the two of us, in quick-and-dirty format for her tattoo artist to review and amend.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Design principles are the foundation of everything from the paintings in the Louvre to print books and magazines to tattoos rendered on people’s arms. Here are some things to consider, no matter what you design.

  1. The message is key. In the case of the tattoo, the readability of the text was more important than the attractiveness of the flowers, sun, and birds.
  2. That said, the frame enhances the portrait. The floral style of the type and the flowers nestled in between and around the words provided a tone or atmosphere for the overall tattoo.
  3. Size matters. If the overall image looked good at the large size at which we had created it but then became illegible when reduced down for application to our boss’s arm, it would be useless. It would not communicate its message. Think about this if you’re designing a logo. If you can’t read it on a business card (or if a logo mark is confusing), you’ve lost your audience. Conversely, if you will need to enlarge the logo for a sign, a vehicle wrap, or an exterior banner for the side of a building, make sure you look closely at a physical print of the final-size logo (or other image). Does it still look as good?
  4. Think about the substrate. In the case of our boss’s tattoo, the substrate was her arm. Arms move around a lot compared to business cards with logos on them. You can easily miss the tattoo words or floral design. Design accordingly. You may only have an instant to create an impression.
  5. In addition, colors are affected by their surroundings. In the case of the tattoo, our boss is Caucasian. Perhaps too much yellow in the tattoo would be excessive. Perhaps blues and purples would create a nice contrast. Consider this when you’re printing four-color work on a cream paper stock. The cream paper will affect the colors of flesh tones.
  6. When in doubt, hire a professional. That’s why we handed off the drawings (photos of the rough options for our boss’s tattoo) and let her move on to the next steps with her tattoo artist.

Catalog Printing: Newspapers Are a Different Breed

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

A few weeks ago I started a new print brokering project: an offset-printed adult-education print catalog for a local nonprofit. It’s a catalog of classes for people interested in various subjects for their own sake, just for the love of learning. Having been out of college for 40 years, I liked the idea.

The Backstory

Based on the page count (64 pages of an 8.5” x 11” saddle-stitched booklet, with 70# gloss text for the cover and 50# white offset for the text, with black-only interior printing and a 4/4 cover–color on both the inside and outside covers) and the press run (1,100; 1,200; or 1,340 copies), it seemed that offset printing was the way to go.

That is, without sending the job out for bid yet, at the time I assumed the overall printed page count (64 pages x 1,340 copies) would exceed the ideal, economical level for digital custom printing (although I was willing to have the printers tell me otherwise).

So I bid out the print book and waited. Pricing, exclusive of mailshop and postage, ranged from about $1,400 to $3,400, exclusive of my commission. Fortunately, I had had a long relationship with the low-bidding vendor. Also, he had equipment providing multiple ways to run the job (digital, offset, and even newspaper printing).

Meeting the Client’s Board of Directors on Zoom

The next step was to meet with my client’s organization’s eight-member board of directors on Zoom. (With the Zoom gallery view and each member in a different window, it did feel a little bit like the opening sequence of the 1960’s show, The Brady Bunch.)

We discussed options. I explained the printing processes and noted that I could probably come in at about 30 to 50 percent less than their current unit cost ($2.70-$2.90 per catalog, exclusive of mailshop and postage costs). That said, the group was also interested in increasing the press run (a lot) without increasing the overall expense for commercial printing (by very much).

So we discussed newsprint alternatives. My client suggested a tabloid newspaper and showed me a sample from another adult education (post graduate) group.

Newspaper Options

One of the board members (one of the nine windows on Zoom, fortunately displayed on a 72” TV) held up a sample tabloid. I knew it had been printed on a newspaper press because the paper was so thin. (My client noted this as well.) So I also asked him the following questions:

  1. Was the paper somewhat dingy (less than bright white)? He said yes.
  2. Were the pages in the front half of the book all slightly shorter or longer than those in the back (a press “lip,” or “lap”)? He said yes.
  3. Was the edge of the paper jagged (even, but with a bit of a saw-tooth edge)? He said yes.
  4. Was it stitched or just nested (one four-page tabloid signature nested inside the next but without any staples)? He said it was not stitched.

So I told him it had definitely been produced on a newspaper press. I also suggested that we approach the low-bid printer from the first option and ask for a second option of 5,000 copies, 8.5” x 11” page size, with color on the outer four pages. My client also noted that the paper was coated. (I said it was actually supercalendered, or rolled to a hard surface between stacks of metal rollers after being made into paper. It was thin, and it could take 4-color commercial printing work, just like the inserts in the Sunday paper.)

What The Printer Said

First of all, the printer couldn’t do the job on that particular paper. His newspaper press only printed on newsprint, not supercalendered paper. However, the press could print color on selected pages, although it would be more expensive to print color on both sides of the 4-page cover.

He could also produce the job without saddle stitching it, and as long as it was tabbed (wafer seal tabs to keep the catalog from opening up on the automated US Postal Service machinery, it could be mailed “as is”).

However, the page size wouldn’t work on this printer’s press. The tabloid would have to be based on a 9.5” x 11” printed page size (as opposed to my client’s current 8.5” x 11” page size).

I told the printer that it would still be worth my client’s taking a look at the pricing and the specific parameters for the job. Fortunately this printer also produces another newspaper course listing exactly like this for a local college. The very same product. At that point I not only knew they could do the job, but I also knew I could have the printer send a relevant printed sample to my client.

Implications of the Printer’s Newspaper Press Requirements

My 20-minute phone call to the printer yielded a wealth of information.

  1. First of all, if nothing else, we now have a low bid (compared to about six others) from a trusted vendor. We have a baseline that’s 30 to 50 percent lower than what my client is now paying.
  2. If my client wants to increase the press run from 1,340 to 5,000 copies, chances are that this particular printer will be very competitive based on his other pricing, his pricing history over the years, and the fact that he has digital, offset, and newspaper custom printing capabilities that are all (probably) commensurately priced.
  3. That said, we know that there will be compromises. If the client accepts these, the overall price may not be that much higher than the overall price for the offset-printed job at 1,340 copies (how much, I don’t yet know). But the unit cost will drop significantly, because the make-ready costs will be distributed over 5,000 copies rather than 1,340 copies.
  4. These are the compromises: The tabloid would have a 9.5” x 11” page size instead of an 8.5” x 11” page size. Color could only be placed in specific locations, maybe not even on the interior covers (based on price), as has been the case until now. And we would have to use newsprint paper rather than the supercalendered, hard-surfaced paper my client had hoped for. So the key is compromise, and the big question is whether the cost savings will eclipse the limitations. If not, I can always approach other newspaper printers. After all, different newspaper presses print color on different pages, press signature configurations differ, and page sizes are different, depending on the specific newspaper press.
  5. If this works, my client will have oodles of newspapers he can drop off in stacks (of, say, 50 copies) everywhere: grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. There will be an abundance. This is a catalog of classes, so the information it contains is more important than whether the overall look is crisp and sexy. It’s a short-lived, purely functional product. If it generates 10, 20, 100 more paid members of my client’s organization and sells some classes to more people, it will have been worth it. And who knows, my client might even opt for a hybrid approach. He might print some copies for current members in the initial, slick version of the catalog, and then an additional 5,000 on the newspaper press for marketing purposes.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study

Here are some thoughts if you’re in a similar position, looking at newspaper printing as an option for one of your jobs:

  1. Research newspaper printers online. There will only be a limited number, since newspapers are becoming increasingly rare.
  2. Check out newspapers on the PIE website. You may find newspaper printers you hadn’t thought of. Of course, always get samples and references. Vet them like you would any other commercial printing vendor.
  3. Ask the newspaper printers about paper options, color placement, and page-size options. These don’t have to be problematic. You just have to know.
  4. If you want a nice bright newspaper stock (an oxymoron), consider 50# Hi-Brite. When you realize that most newspaper stock is 30# to 35#, you understand that 50# Hi-Brite is thick. And when you consider that newspaper stock is approximately 75 bright (as opposed to 92 to 98 for a quality offset sheet), even Hi-Brite paper is still not a brilliant white.
  5. Consider the purpose of the printed product. If it’s a throw-away piece, or if the main purpose is to provide information (not glitz), newspaper printing can give you a lot of bang for the buck.

Commercial Printing: A Few Thoughts on Printing Trade Customs

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Photo purchased from …

Assumptions tend to get us into trouble, as much a part of human nature as they might be. And in the arena of commercial printing, this is no exception.

I have been working with a client for several weeks to find a commercial printing supplier for his rather unique poster, an 18” x 24” piece on 80# cover stock that will be printed (4-color process, with bleeds), UV coated for protection, and then coated with between one and three passes of black scratch-off coating in selected spots.

Based on past experience, I found a printer rather quickly with whom I was comfortable going forward with this particular print brokering job. Then my client, who wants to protect his own business interests (quite understandably), made it clear that the printer would need to sign a non-compete agreement to proceed with between one and three separate poster printings.

The incident, which didn’t go well with the printer initially, got me thinking about all the assumptions we make about the commercial printing trade. Now, perhaps with the Covid-19 lockdown and other current events, it’s easy to become polarized with a vendor and miss an otherwise mutually advantageous custom printing partnership (for both the printer and the client).

First, I will tell you what I suggested to my client. Then I will list a few more–sometimes spoken, sometimes assumed–printing trade customs with which you should familiarize yourself if you buy commercial printing.

The Non-Compete Agreement

First, I asked my client to put in writing what he wanted, and felt he needed, to protect his design from competition. He wrote a short statement, which the printer’s CEO declined to approve. My client felt dismissed and planned to walk away from an otherwise advantageous deal. So I offered to ask the printer how he would amend the non-compete agreement to make it acceptable. He agreed to at least consider it. And my client and I were happy (provisionally) again. Of course, I did look for, and select, a back-up printer who could potentially do this specialized work.

So what can we learn?

  1. Everything is negotiable. However, not everything will be agreeable to both partners (printer and client). The best thing to do is ask for what you want (in writing), and then be willing to entertain options. At an impasse, you might do well to even suggest the counter-offer yourself.
  2. We live in a litigious society. Don’t take it personally. Just understand why a printer might not want to sign something like this.
  3. Look into other ways to get what you need. Both the printer and I, separately, suggested using copyright protection to do the same thing as a non-compete agreement.

Nothing has been decided. We’ll see what happens. It is, however, in the printer’s interest to get new work, and it is in my client’s interest to work with a printer who understands how to properly use UV coating over process inks, and then apply rubber-based scratch-off covering such that the product arrives in my client’s hands in pristine condition.

Overs/Unders (Overage/Underage)

Here’s another assumption. When you ask for 10,000 copies of something, that is what the printer will deliver. Actually, a printer, according to trade custom, can deliver up to 10 percent over or under this amount—and charge you, or credit you, for the cost as appropriate. This is because in most cases (in offset printing more often than digital printing) you will need to produce extra copies of a job so the expected amount of spoilage (already printed press signatures of a book, for instance, that will get damaged during the perfect binding process) does not unduly subtract from the overall delivery amount. Hence, the printer can deliver up to 10 percent more or fewer copies within the accepted standards of the printing trade.

This is often negotiable. Some printers I work with only charge for three to five percent overs/unders. Some give away overs for free (usually only on small jobs—almost never on print books). Other printers (most) will allow you to request “no unders.” However, in this case the printer can charge you for double the standard overage. So read the contract carefully.

Payment Terms and Credit

Things are tight now. Some printers have to fight to get paid. Understandably, most of my clients are “cash” customers. This means they don’t need to have the printer check their credit and “offer terms.” The terms are essentially payment within a particular time after delivery of the job, with a potential discount if the balance is paid by a specific, earlier time.

Cash is easy. As noted, it avoids a credit check. It does, however, also involve payment up front–not after delivery. The usual terms requested by the printers I frequent are 50 percent before the job starts and 50 percent before the job ships to the client.

In a world where we usually get something and then pay for it, this may be counterintuitive. It protects the printer because a lot of labor and materials go into producing a commercial printing job (for instance a $60,000 run of perfect-bound textbooks). This includes all of the activities of the people in prepress, the printer at the press, and the people in the finishing department (who do the folding, cutting, and binding). It also includes the cost of paper. Understandably, the printer doesn’t want to risk losing a lot of money, so he requires payment up front, as noted. So it’s a good idea to ask about payment terms early.

That said, it is also industry standard practice to ask the printer to send out samples of a printed job prior to final payment. You don’t get the whole job after just paying for half, but you do get to see the samples and make sure they are acceptable before the final payment, before the entire job is shipped to you.

On another note, you can often pay with your credit card. But, that said, if the printer incurs a service charge (let’s say a 3 percent “convenience fee” from a particular credit card company), the printer will understandably pass this on to you.

“FOB” and Delivery

Depending on where you look, this can mean either “freight on board” or “free on board.” “FOB printer’s warehouse,” or “FOB origin” means you own the goods–and are responsible for the cost of transport plus any damage that might occur during shipping to you–once the job leaves the printer’s loading dock.

As with anything else, everything is negotiable. You may want to ask for “FOB destination,” which means the ownership doesn’t transfer from the printer to you until the job is delivered. Either option might have a different price. Some printers deliver for free. (Actually the truth is that they work the delivery into their price.) Working with such a printer may well be worth the cost.

What Can We Learn from This?

Your specification sheet is a contract. You will sleep better at night if you approach it this way. Thirty years ago when I started buying commercial printing, I would review the printers’ contracts and estimates and notice that they were often incomplete. So I started making up my own all-purpose printing specification sheet to deal with everything. You may want to do the same. You can use it as a guide when you read your printers’ estimates and contracts.

You may also want to read all of the information on the back of the printers’ contracts. This “boilerplate” holds a wealth of information on what is, and is not, acceptable trade custom in commercial printing. This includes overs, unders, shipping, even damage and acceptable flaws in the final job (trimming tolerances, for instance). You may even want to Google these terms, or look for a book entitled Getting It Printed by Mark Beach. (This book has a section addressing such trade customs.)

As they say, “Caveat emptor.” Buyer beware. Forewarned is forearmed. The more you know about printing trade customs and what is and is not acceptable delivery, the better you will be at buying the highest quality commercial printing work for a reasonable price. Now the corollary, and the good news, is that most of the printers you will work with (particularly the ones with whom you cultivate professional relationships over time) will know these terms and conditions/printing trade customs, and when a problem arises, they will work with you to resolve it.

Custom Printing: Random Thoughts on Selecting Inks

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

So, you’re ready to go to press. You’ve designed your print book, poster, or brochure, and chosen your paper stock. What about ink? Any ink will do. Right? Not by a long shot. You have more options than you could ever imagine.

Process Inks for Full-Color Images

Back in the ‘90s when I was an art director, I learned two profound things about process color printing just from attending press inspections.

(Back then, for color critical design work, it was helpful to be on press for the printing of the various press signatures, just to make sure everything was correct. Much better to catch serious errors on press than after delivery.)

What I learned was that commercial printing suppliers can adjust the process inks to make their own mix. That is, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black are not necessarily absolute colors. One particular printer with whom I worked would add a certain amount of fluorescent ink to some of the process colors, and by so doing would make certain elements on the printed image “pop.” For instance, if the photo contained yellow flowers, a bit of fluorescent yellow would make the image even more dramatic. If you’re in a similar situation, discuss fluorescent inks with your printer.

The other thing I learned was that there could be more than four colors in a process color press run. Normally you would use transparent versions of only cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. With these you could conceivably create all colors in a full-color image. However, back in the ‘90s I learned that you could add orange and green (presumably made transparent) to create what was called Hexachrome printing. Granted, instead of producing halftones with four screened plates (back then, negatives were produced first and then plates were produced from the negatives), you would separate the color images into six colors with six negatives to produce six plates. You would then print the job on a six-unit (rather than a four-unit) offset printing press.

A similar process involved “touch plates” or “kiss plates.” These were additional plates used to accentuate a color in an image. For instance, by adding a fifth press unit with a kiss plate of a purple PMS hue, you might increase the intensity of a photo of purple flowers.

It was an expensive proposition, but it yielded spectacular results. Interestingly enough, digital presses (inkjet printers in particular) can now achieve the same results just by adding more ink reservoirs to the equipment.

What all of this does, in essence, is expand the color gamut, the number of colors offset printing, or digital printing, can produce. If you’ve read my prior blog posts regarding the difference between color produced on the computer monitor and color produced on press, you will understand. Color produced on a computer monitor is created with red, green, and blue light. The universe of distinct colors reproducible in this way is much larger than the number of distinct colors reproducible with offset ink, inkjet ink, or toner.

Colors produced via digital or offset printing are created not with red, green, and blue light but rather with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink or toner. This method also has a color gamut. But when you compare the CMYK color gamut to the RGB color gamut, CMYK is much smaller. That is, you can create many colors visible on your computer monitor that will not reproduce accurately when printed. They will be “out of gamut.”

What adding colors to an ink set (whether offset or digital) does is expand the CMYK color gamut so it can more closely approximate the total gamut of visible hues. This is true whether you’re using touch plates or kiss plates, or whether you’re using some variant of Hexachrome (the branded but presumably discontinued process–also referred to as high-fidelity color), or even if you’re using a 10-unit inkjet printer with multiple variants of black, multiple variants of some process colors, and even orange, green, or purple.

Talk with your printer. See what he can do for you. For a high-profile print job, it may be worth it. Keep in mind that most printers will only have one or a few of these technologies at hand. But it’s definitely worth a discussion. Also make sure you discuss with your custom printing vendor how the paper you choose will affect color reproduction.

Metallic Inks

You can also add metallics to your inkset. But be careful. These are made with a mixture of metal dust and varnish (i.e., the pigment and the vehicle). The pigment is not real gold, silver, etc. It just looks like it. Unfortunately, metallic inks can tarnish, and they are not resistant to scuffing. That is, their colors can shift, and they are not durable. But they are rather dramatic, so if your job is flashy but not permanent (maybe a promotional brochure), this might be right for you.

If you choose metallics, coat the sheet with varnish for protection. Also, print the colors on a coated sheet, not an uncoated sheet. This will preserve the metallic sheen. Also consider a “double hit” of a metallic color, as these inks can be bright but somewhat transparent. Printing an image twice will increase the perceived opacity of the ink application.


This acronym means “magnetic ink character recognition.” Bank checks are imprinted with this magnetic, toner-based material, and the bank numbers can then be read automatically with character recognition software. Regular toner will not work.

Invisible Ink

Actually, this is just clear ink, but you can print security information with it. For example, if you want to minimize the chance of fraud or counterfeiting, you can print information on a document that cannot be seen or that can only be seen under certain light (such as UV light). Some toner-based digital presses (such as the Kodak NexPress) have extra press units that can be used for security inks. If you’re in the business of producing passports, for instance, you might find this information useful. On passports, UV light can make printed elements of the document (rendered in special inks) either appear or disappear.

Security ink is also useful if you’re in the pharmaceutical field. When used in the packaging of pharmaceuticals, security ink can ensure the accuracy of the drug the package contains and avert sickness or death.

Security inks are a perfect match for digital printing technology, since they can take advantage of the “one-off” capability of digital custom printing. Whether you’re printing a passport or a blister-pack for a new medicine, chances are that you’ll want each product package to have a distinct serial number (which is the perfect task for a digital printing press).

Food-Safe Inks

If you’re producing packaging for food (let’s say a folding carton for fine chocolate or even a box for a frozen dinner), it’s important to know that your custom printing inks are “food safe.” That is, the US Food and Drug Administration must certify that there is no “migration” of printing inks into the food the package contains.

Part of the safety precautions involves the interior wrapping (such as the bag that contains the wheat crackers or cereal within the outer carton), but beyond this, the inks used to print the box of crackers, or the plastic bag the bread comes in, or the cardboard container for the frozen dinner—all of this ink and all of the cover coatings must be non-toxic.

What You Can Learn from This Discussion

Ink choice is not a given. You have a lot of options. However, some of these options may be expensive, and not all printers can work with all of these inks.

That said, given the development of digital commercial printing (both inkjet and toner-based) over the last 30 years, you now have a lot of choices for both static printing (with all images being the same) and variable data printing (with all images being different, such as the security numbers on pharmaceutical packaging). If you’re printing something out of the ordinary (even something like a scratch-and-sniff product, or a product with inks that smell like food or perfume, or lottery tickets with scratch-off inks), specialty inks might just be what you need.

Why We Need Flyer Printing Services

Monday, October 5th, 2020

One of the most economical ways of marketing any business is with the use of flyers, which are one or two page documents in colored prints. The main idea behind using flyer printing services is to attract customers through attractive pictures, colors and text. A lot of emphasis is given to the layout, which is then given form with the efforts of the printing company.

Design flyers with these points in mind

Companies which design flyers for your firm would benefit through the following tips:

  • The flyer must always have the brand logo, which will be important for identification of products and services, as well as brand recall
  • Images with rich colors create greater impact on consumers than dull images
  • Copywriters need to come up with catchy messages on the flyer. Despite no long sentences being used, they must ensure that there are no spell errors in the final copies.

Purposes of flyers

You may have already seen many of these showcased through flyer printing services. Even if you are unaware of some, here are the reasons for which flyers are used:

  • Making product sheets
  • Preparing marketing collaterals
  • Distribution of handouts at trade shows
  • Giving home descriptions
  • Data sheet printing
  • Preparing price lists
  • Printing information about new cars
  • Information about upcoming events in media kits
  • Home delivery menus for restaurants

All the text given in a flyer is prepared by experienced copywriters. This content has to be written keeping in mind the interest and the attention spans of the target audience. A flyer has to grab the customer’s attention within a very short time. For those who want more details, appropriate information must also be given in the colorful paper.


Suitable printing service is a good service example. You will find it convenient to get the flyers printed through a reliable printing service. In case you have a small business, it would help your company to tie up with a vendor who can give quality services at an affordable price. For this purpose, companies can now get in touch with print coordinators, who contact printing vendors in different parts of the world. In other words, you will always have a single contact point once you choose a suitable vendor.

Based on your task, all the vendors will place bids. You can choose from one amongst those bids, and the coordinator will make sure all the deliverables of that vendor are easily managed. In this way, you will always get the best quality of print as per the prices. It is clearly the best printing solution for the digital age.

No need to invest in print resources

These print vendors are capable of taking up several print jobs, which include printing banners, bank cards, newsletters, flyers, billboards, magazines, letterheads, and car wraps as well. It will enable you to concentrate on other important areas of expanding the business and will help script your growth story. The vendors have the latest print technologies and the capabilities for undertaking any print job, so why spend resources on an in-house team?

How to Get Personalized Items Through Custom Printing Services

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Irrespective of whether you have books, postcards or rack projects to be printed, you will require the services of a reputed printing company. Printing companies now provide their services online, making it really simple for clients to contact them. These days, you can get in touch with a suitable printing coordinator who shares your requirement with global print firms. Based on the nature of the print job, companies send their price quotes back to the coordinator, leaving you to pick one of them. To get quotes for these custom printing services, you will not have to pay a penny.

Custom prints for t-shirts

Custom t-shirts are hot favorites among the youth today. These t-shirts act as extensions of personalities and help them create their own spaces in the world. If your company is in the business of manufacturing or selling these t-shirts, you will need to get custom printing services. You will need to find a suitable printing company to keep costs under control.

Youngsters who are fond of such printed cotton t-shirts must keep checking the Internet for attractive offers. It would also be a good idea for them to monitor End of Season offers on various company websites. There will be nothing more satisfying for them than getting several printed t-shirts at excellent prices. Most of all, both genders are equally fond of these clothes.


You can offer print templates

As a retailer for t-shirts, you can always offer easy printing templates on your website. There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that their designs are part of the final print. For this, you need to ensure that the process of creating a new design is made easy through templates, or else customers will lose interest.

Custom printed t-shirts can be distributed among all members of a particular team building activity at any corporate organizations. Employees of a company can participate together at events such as:

  • Cycling events
  • Adventure sports
  • Marathons

Custom book prints

It will be a matter of great satisfaction for the customers who get their own custom printed books. Much of the text, images, and a number of other variables will give you special memories every time. Also, it does not take very long to print a custom book today as compared to earlier. Now it takes only a week to order, print, and then get it shipped to a customer. What’s more, you can order custom books of any sizes.

Self publishing experts can add the customization options such as custom end sheets, headbands and foot bands, and embossing to make custom books beautiful.

Custom printed postcards

Postcards, along with letters, are two of the best direct marketing requirements of any company. It is the most economical mode of increasing sales figures at any firm. For this, the firm will require custom postcards. Companies making them also have suitable tools to personalize each one of them. The postcards are versatile enough to be used for both public and personal occasions. Once again, they require printing services of excellent companies.

Grow Your Business Through Brochure Printing

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Do you need to get brochures and other marketing materials printed for your company? This will always be a long term requirement and so the contract must be struck with a highly reputed printing company. The company that provides brochure printing services must always give importance to quality. At the same time, it must be abreast with the latest in printing trends. Such print companies will continue to survive because print still appeals to a larger audience as compared to digital marketing.

Current printing trends

  • Technology- Manyprinting companies have incorporated modern technologies such as IoT-based web-to-print software to meet the needs of new generation media houses
  • Clarity of design- Too many images in the design is a big no-no. Instead, companies are focusing to have clearer and uncluttered designs on their printed pages.
  • Print buyers get free services –Certain print coordinating agencies help clients find the best online printing companies in the world. Such agencies share print quotes with their clients, who invariably do not have to pay to receive these quotes. Instead, the print companies pay the coordinators a meager fee to be enrolled with them.
  • Use of Artificial Intelligence-A few reputed companies have already entered the field of Al and are using the same technology for print. AI helps schedule printing tasks, with more possibilities in the next few years.
  • Customer security– Most businesses such as educational institutes, media houses, hospitals, and banks invest a tremendous amount of money in ID identification, to get printed reports. This will ensure that no employee gets access to confidential information. With its success, many businesses are using it within the printing business sector.

Over the years, many advances have taken place in the digital marketing space, which often makes it seem as though printed materials are not in use. Instead, the reverse is actually true; the demand for print has definitely gone down but still forms the main means of existence for many companies. Therefore, it only makes sense to use both brochure printing and digital marketing methods to create successful brand promotion strategies in today’s times.

Elements of a brochure

  • Color– You will normally get more than one color in the form of options for your company’s brochure. Full color print will always help attract your readers by the dozen. In addition, including high quality pictures inside will create a positive image of your company.
  • Type of paper– If you select a printing paper with a coating and slightly heavy weight, the final product will have a well finished look
  • Folds– Three fold options are available for brochure design- half fold (single fold with 4 pages), tri fold (left and right flaps to display promotional message), and Z fold (folds like an accordion)
  • Design and layout types– Based on design and layout, you can have:
    1. Self mailers
    2. Tri fold
    3. Catalogs
    4. 4 page brochures

In terms of sizes, there are two main print sizes for brochures in the market- 11”X7”, and 8.5”X11”. Complete the basic requests mentioned here for print companies to place bids on your job.


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