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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 December, 2020

Custom Printing: Always, Always Proof Early and Often

Wednesday, December 30th, 2020

Photo purchased from …

My Own War Story About Proofing

About thirty years ago, as I was developing as a graphic designer and taking risks visually, I chose two colors for a print book cover design: a purple and a light green.

Back in the day, we didn’t have a color printer, and our monitors were all grayscale. We didn’t even have a scanner. We did all of the layout of our books and promotional materials on a computer (in black and white only), but we cropped and scaled photos manually and made color placement decisions based on our experience, judgment, PMS color books, and duotone sample print books.

So in this particular case, I was designing a two-color cover (which was what we could afford) using a PMS purple and a PMS green but no black. In the center of the design I positioned a black and white photo from which I asked the printer to create a purple and green duotone. Elsewhere on the cover I included overlapping solids of green or purple and either reversed type or purple type for the cover text.

Boy did I get lucky. The solid colors worked well. The type was readable. And based entirely on good fortune (and probably on the specific colors I had chosen and their relationship as almost opposites on the color wheel), I came out with a warm, deep purple and green duotone that was very close to a multi-level black and white photo but with a much warmer hue.

I did get a color proof from the printer. (Matchprints and Cromalins were what the proofs were called back then, depending on how they were made from the separated negatives, using powders or overlaid films). There were no inkjet proofs (although pricey Iris inkjet proofs were starting to be made).

Since I didn’t know how lucky I had been, the following year I tried two new colors. The proof came. The background hues were nothing like what I had envisioned. I was heartbroken, and actually a bit scared (since I liked my job and didn’t want to lose it).

The scheduling manager of the publications department at the educational foundation for which I worked said something I’ll never forget: “Don’t worry. That’s why you get a proof. Nothing has been printed.” I thought about how relieved I was, and what might have happened without a proof (if the 20,000 or more print books had been delivered looking like this).

I changed the colors, made the cover more conservative, and the final books arrived looking quite good. I had dodged the bullet. But I never ever forgot to get an accurate proof after that. Also, as all design and pre-press tasks moved onto the computer (as we purchased scanners and moved the color choices online), we started to not only mentally envision but physically see (on the computer screen) what we could expect in the final printed product. We did not yet call this virtual proofing or PDF proofing. We were just relieved to have visual feedback for our graphic design work before receiving printers’ proofs.

My Client’s Proofs, Thirty Years Later

In light of this slice of life story, I was grateful recently when I could help one of my commercial printing clients with a proof of the cover of a floor sample binder, a large presentation book containing sample wood chips for a floor manufacturing company.

The designer had received a proof of her project, but instead of a (four-color) background hue built to match the signature blue in her client’s logo, the proof had a dingy, almost-black background. Everything else was good, but the background color was just wrong. (Also, it would have cost more to print than a black-only background while not being as crisp a black.).

Moreover, the prepress operator at the commercial printing shop said that he had produced the proof based on the art files as submitted by my client (i.e., it was not a printer error). Needless to say, my client didn’t want to absorb the cost of an additional proof or pass this on to her client, the flooring manufacturer.

I knew exactly how she felt.

What Happened Next?

As my client’s representative, I initially assumed her files were correct and the printer had made the mistake. However, I quickly realized I had no logical reason to believe one side over the other. So I stopped, took a breath, and considered how to approach both my client and the printer to find out what had happened and what to do, in the least painful and least expensive manner possible.

I thought about my own experience thirty years prior, and I was glad I had encouraged my client to do the following:

  1. Pay for a physical prototype of the entire floor sample presentation binder before handing off final art files.
  2. Show and tell (visually in the PDFs and also in written form) exactly where the color would go, in terms of the background hue of all exterior panels (mostly promotional material and photos) and all interior panels (mostly descriptions of the 32 wood sample chips that would be inserted into the little 2” x 3” die cut “wells” or “windows” in the presentation box).
  3. Go one step further and provide a short video showing how the wood chips would be positioned and how the fold-in panels of the presentation box/binder would operate, along with a voice-over in which my client described in words exactly what she wanted.

It should be noted that at various points in the process, there were minor miscommunications. This is understandable, since the floor sample display case was a one-of-a-kind design. And this is exactly why I had encouraged my client to slow the initial process down, and to add proofing steps to minimize miscommunication.

Although my first impulse had been to call the printer and say, “My client was perfectly clear. She said she wanted a blue background to match the signature logo color in her client’s cover image,” I paused. I realized this would be counter-productive. I considered the best way to proceed.

Fortunately, my client had already been communicating with the prepress operator in the printing plant. They had started to develop a mutually supportive working relationship. I knew that as a commercial printing broker, an outsider, I might inadvertently shift the printer’s approach from one of collaboration to one of confrontation if I intervened. I knew that would achieve nothing.

So I advised my client to contact the prepress operator directly, reference her emails asking for a blue background that matched the floor manufacturer’s logo color, and also reference the video in which my client had explicitly laid out (visually and verbally) her design goals.

I also suggested that she ask the prepress operator what had happened, and to find out why she had not been contacted if her art files as provided had not matched the mutually-agreed-upon objectives.

The Outcome

Fortunately, the prepress operator suggested that he himself adjust the art files to match the stated design goals. His boss, the customer service rep, and the management of the commercial printing plant offered to make the changes and send my client a revised proof at no charge.

I was relieved. My client was relieved. And I was thankful for the lesson about proofing that I had learned thirty years’ prior.

Since that time, the revised proof for my client’s project has been sent out and approved. The color was dead-on, and the ship date has been scheduled.

What We Can Learn From This Case Study

Here are some takeaways:

  1. If something goes wrong in a custom printing project, stop, breathe, and do nothing for a moment. (This is counter-intuitive.) Then, research exactly what happened to see how best to proceed. This is why it’s essential to keep extensive, accurate, written records (emails are fine).
  2. If you’re creating an expensive or unique product (such as a point-of-purchase display, or a product binder or presentation box), slow down the process. Create your own physical color mock-up, and then pay a bit more to have the commercial printing vendor create a one-off prototype (or mock-up) to make sure you, your client (if you’re a freelance designer), and the printer are all in accord as to the desired appearance and operation (if it’s a binder or other 3D product) of the final manufactured piece. How it will look, how it will feel, and how it will be manipulated or operated are all equally important.
  3. This includes the paper (thickness, color, tint). Get samples (printed and unprinted) if the proof or prototype will not incorporate the final paper stock(s).
  4. Provide the printer with written descriptions of your goals as well as mock-ups and printed samples of similar work.
  5. If anything is unique (as was my client’s floor sample presentation case), make a video (use your cell phone camera). Include a voice-over description of your goals (colors, papers, folding, etc.).
  6. Your goal is to describe in as many ways possible exactly what you want, and then to get as many kinds of proofs as you need to ensure that the final printed product matches your vision exactly.

So proof early and often. You’ll be grateful you did, and so will your custom printing vendor. He wants more than money. He wants your satisfaction. It means you’ll encourage others to work with him, and it means you’ll come back next year with the new and updated version of the job and maybe even new jobs.

Custom Printing: Options for Die Cutting Work

Sunday, December 20th, 2020

Prologue and Background

The key word that got me thinking was “tooling.”

My client had reviewed a commercial printing estimate, and had asked what the tooling charge was for, particularly since her client had already paid the printer for the prototype. The print job was a flooring sample presentation binder that would contain 32 wood chips (.5” x 1” x 2”) to showcase the flooring product.

My client had commissioned a one-off prototype (sample of the final production run) to show exactly how the presentation binder would be constructed, how the sample blocks of wood would be inset and glued into the die cut “wells,” and how the overall design/decoration would be applied to the box. It was sort of a proof, but actually more than a proof (an almost-exact copy of what her client, the flooring company, could expect).

So I confirmed with the printer that the “tooling” was, as I had expected, the creation of the metal die that would die cut the product sample wells and any other intricate elements of the presentation binder of sample wood chips.

But my first thought at that point was why the metal die had not been billed along with the prototype of the sample box. Then I realized this was a silly question. Here’s why.

How Do You Die Cut a One-Off Product?

Die cutting chops irregular shapes out of custom printing paper on a special press. The process involves setting metal rules into a wood base locked up in a letterpress, then laying a printed press sheet over the cutting die, and then cutting out the shapes (and removing the waste).

(A letterpress is a “relief press” in which type and art rise above the surface of the custom printing plate. This is in contrast to an offset lithographic press, in which both the inked surface of the plate–the image areas–and the uninked areas–non-image areas–are on the same level of the plate. The inability of greasy ink and water to mix, called “immiscibility,” makes offset lithography work by keeping the image areas separate from the non-image areas.)

In contrast, letterpress is a “strike-on” process in which the raised areas of the plate hit (and deposit ink on) the paper substrate. Die cutting is much the same process, but it uses metal cutting rules instead of type and artwork on an inked plate.

To die cut anything (which would include all but square-edged exterior boundaries of a book page, for instance), you need a die. In my client’s case this includes cutting the interior wells into which the sample blocks of wood will be glued. On a pocket folder, the die cutting would include all the flaps, tabs, and extended areas that you would see if you disassembled the pocket folder into a completely flat press sheet with cut-outs.

Metal dies, which cost around $500.00 (or more) to create, are only cost-effective for producing multiple products in a print run. The dies are expensive, and the die cutting process on the letterpress is an additional expense, driving up the overall production costs even further. Only by spreading the expense over a long production run do you lower the per-unit cost.

So a press run of one copy, for my client’s prototype of the flooring sample presentation binder, would be a problem if you have to make a separate die. The extra $500.00 for the die making plus the cost of die cutting would make the single prototype cost-prohibitive.

What I Thought / What I Found Out

Having made different kinds of mock ups for jobs when I was a graphic designer, I actually realized that for a one-off product, the best way to die cut the prototype flooring sample presentation binder would be to cut it out by hand (kind of like making a balsa wood model of a boat with glue and an X-ACTO knife).

So when I was discussing the die cutting (or “tooling”) costs with the printer’s sales rep, I was pleased to find out that the die cutting process for the prototype had been automated and digitized. The sales rep sent me a link to a video in which a plotter used a knife to cut out all the irregular edges needed to prepare both the chipboard base and the paper liners for the prototype binders and boxes the printer produces.

This video focused on what looked like a large-format inkjet press. Only instead of print heads jetting ink onto the large press sheet, the automated cutting head of the machine, driven by digital information in a computer art file, zipped back and forth across the large press sheet cutting out the tabs and edges of the box (and liner).

I would also compare this machine to a “plotter” (which has a pen in place of an array of inkjet heads). The pen of the plotter can be used to draw a large-format image like an architect’s blueprint (or any other drawing) on a commercial printing press sheet.

So everything I saw on the presentation binder printer’s video demonstrated how to die cut a single box without making a $500.00+ cutting die.

So What Can You Do?

Now to go back to the initial product for my client, since both she and her client, the flooring-maker, liked the prototype, they intend to produce a final production run of 200 copies. At this point in time, this particular presentation binder maker is charging a $500.00 tooling expense, which means they are making a metal die rule, insetting it into wood, and then die cutting all of the irregular shapes for the box using a letterpress.

But for a press run of 200 copies, this is still not cost-efficient. Just for the die, for example, each unit cost goes up by $2.50. That said, for a per-unit cost of $58.00 for 100 copies or $43.00 for 200 copies, the $2.50 is not a lot of money. But it is something, and it takes extra time to make the metal die and to die cut the box blanks on a letterpress.

Enter Highcon

Now there’s a new option that requires no dies. You may want to research this company: Highcon. Highcon makes equipment that uses lasers to either score (crease commercial printing paper) or die cut it.

If you research the Highcon Euclid or Beam, you will see how digital information within a computer design file can run lasers to cut press sheets and also remove the unneeded scrap paper. (And for scoring or creasing, the equipment extrudes a line of plastic onto a plastic plate, much like a bead of hot-melt glue, that can slightly crease a printed sheet to make folding possible without a metal scoring rule.)

In both cases, this eliminates the need for a metal die. Moreover, the equipment now works with press sheets from the typical (approximately 13” x 19”) digital press size up to the larger offset printing sheet sizes (up to 30” x 42”, depending on the particular Highcon equipment model). It can even process everything from paper up to cardboard and even fluted, corrugated stock.

What this means is that it’s not a toy. It can be used to cut and crease actual press sheets off an offset press as well as both smaller and larger press sheets produced on digital commercial printing equipment.

The process is fast. It reduces overall waste (i.e., it’s more environmentally friendly). It eliminates the cost and time needed to create a metal die or creasing rule. It eliminates the cost to store metal dies for future use by the clients who had initially paid to have them made. (Imagine a smaller manufacturing plant, with less staff, lower heating and cooling costs, and a lower cost to inventory the stored metal dies.)

So my overall takeaway for this article is that it’s worth your time to do some research. Highcon is the up and coming digital die cutting and scoring technology. If you need one box or presentation binder (perhaps as a prototype) or a short run of boxes or binders (maybe 200 pieces), this could be the technology for you.

Therefore, you may want to start looking for a printer with Highcon equipment, because the same process is used for die cut pocket folders, for presentation report covers with little die cut windows that allow you to see the report titles, and even for intricate folds on promotional mailers.

Interestingly enough, though, if you’re producing a long run that requires die cutting, metal cutting dies have not disappeared entirely. I believe it’s actually cheaper–for a certain print run length–to still do die cutting the old fashioned way with metal cutting dies. So ask your commercial printing provider for the optimal (price-wise) cut-off point between digital and analog die cutting.

(It’s kind of like the cut-off point between digital and offset commercial printing, or between digital inkjet and custom screen printing. Personally, for longer runs, I don’t think analog processes will ever disappear completely.)

Custom Printing: Achieving Visual Contrast in Print

Monday, December 14th, 2020

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If you’ve ever seen the high-contrast drawing of one vase or two faces (called the “Rubin Vase,” if you Google it online), you understand that contrast makes “things” stand out: like the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” quote suggests. One’s perception of the Rubin vase switches back and forth between two black facial silhouettes and one white vase (called a “bi-stable image”) only because of the contrast between the stark white and black achromatic “colors.”

My fiancee and I were discussing this concept with our autistic art therapy class recently, and I thought about how contrast as an important element of design in the fine arts was equally relevant to graphic design for commercial printing. After all, if you research the famous masters in art history print books, you will notice that many of them were also graphic designers.

Contrasting Images

With this thought in mind I did some research in the Design Basics Index, my go-to textbook on publication design. Jim Krause’s print book notes one of the cardinal rules of design, “Styles between images should be either identical, or noticeably different” (p. 200, Design Basics Index).

This echoes one of the maxims of the first boss I had from whom I learned graphic design, “Whatever you do (regarding contrast), make it big.”

In Design Basics Index, Jim Krause says the same thing. Krause includes three versions of an advertisement to illustrate “contrast in style, agreement in theme” (p. 200, Design Basics Index). All three versions are of a symmetrically designed ad (its balance achieved with all elements centered vertically), with a large photo of the arch above a (presumably) cathedral doorway, in color, containing a half-circle stained glass window with radiating sections (like a cross section of an orange). In its presentation, the image looks “painterly,” as though it had been rendered with a brush or even with colored pencils.

Below this image in all three versions of the ad is the tag line in what looks like actual handwriting (it might be a faux handwriting font). This approach resonates with the artistic treatment of the 4-color image above. Below this is a small, vertical photo of another part of the building, then three lines of type (two in a brown hue and one in a more yellow ochre tone).

Finally, in a grey tone, at a larger point size, is the logotype for the historical society the advertisement promotes. Behind all of the type, and abutting the 4-color image of the arched window above the cathedral door is a cream-colored background screen to tie everything together. The screen unifies the design along with the earth tones in the photo, the “antique” look of the handwritten headline treatment, and the browns and yellows of the type in the bottom half of the ad.

So here’s the difference (from one ad to another) and the lesson Jim Krause is teaching with the three versions of the advertisement. The smaller image alone changes from ad to ad. In the first ad, the small image (which appears to be an architectural support on a Gothic cathedral) is a warm-toned (sepia, perhaps) image, which contrasts with the more painterly treatment of the large image of the cornice and stained glass window.

In the second rendition of this ad, the same small image is treated as a high-contrast photo overlaying a ghosted and much larger version of the same image in the background.

In the third version of the ad both the larger image of the stained glass window above the door and the small image of the curvilinear support structure are rendered in the same 4-color, painterly style.

What Jim Krause teaches us with these examples is the following:

  1. Treating both photos the same (both in a 4-color, artistically distressed manner) makes the two photos compete for the viewer’s attention. They are too similar, even if one is much smaller than the other.
  2. The high-contrast-positive image of the support structure (and the screened back, much larger version of the same image in the background) hang together and provide ample contrast with the large, 4-color, stained glass window photo at the top of the ad.
  3. The thematic associations (hand-written headline, earth tones for the type, light cream background screen to tie everything together) all visually unify the ad.
  4. But the treatment of only the larger photo in a saturated, 4-color, painterly manner gives this image prominence because of its contrast with the remaining type and monochromatic imagery.
  5. Or, as my old boss said, “Whatever you do (in this case, contrasting the treatment of images on the page), make it big.” (Another way to say this is that minor contrasts between images look like an accident, whereas major contrasts create drama.)
  6. I would even go one step further on this theme: The huge difference in size between the large image of the arch with the stained glass and the support structure of the (presumably) Gothic cathedral creates drama in and of itself. Difference in size also creates contrast and interest in a design (in both the commercial arts and fine arts).

The Same Is True for Type

As I was learning graphic design (on the job, over many years), I always read that you should limit the number of font changes within a design to two or three typefaces at most. In fact, I learned that it wasn’t even a bad idea to design something with only the various weights (bold, italic, etc.) of a single typeface.

I also learned that, when choosing a typeface for headlines and a different typeface for body copy, I should make the contrast obvious. Choosing two similar sans serif typefaces was not a good idea, and choosing two similar, but not quite the same, serif typefaces was not advisable. If a headline type and a body copy typeface looked almost the same, that would give the impression that the choice was an error, an oversight. Making the contrast between the headline type and body copy type a “big,” or dramatic, one would create more energy in the design of the ad, publication, poster, etc.

Interestingly enough, the ad I deconstructed above, from Jim Krause’s Design Basics Index, actually illustrates this point with its choice of typefaces.

As noted above, the headline of the ad (all three versions) is either handwriting or a handwriting font. All of the remaining type (two font choices, as my old boss taught me) is in a tall, narrow, and perhaps severe Moden typeface (that is, with dramatic shifts between the thick and thin strokes in the letterforms). I can think of no typeface that would contrast as dramatically with the handwriting font (or handwriting) as a stark Modern font. In addition, the handwriting is also more horizontal and less tightly tracked (the space adjustment between successive letters) than the more vertical treatment of the narrow (perhaps even condensed) lines of copy and the logotype at the bottom of the ad.

Again, a big difference in letterforms (from one section to another) creates contrast and drama.

What Can We Learn from This Deconstruction and Analysis of an Advertisement?

  1. The first thing is to learn to observe. Look closely at every ad that appeals to you, every print book design, every magazine that takes your fancy. Then consider what design elements the graphic artist has used to create visual interest, a sense of unity, and even contrast in order to evoke a dramatic mood.
  2. Realize that contrast comes in many flavors: contrast in size, contrast in typeface design, color contrast, contrast in artistic treatment, and so forth.
  3. When you’re designing something, make sure that all of your design decisions support the thematic whole. That is, make sure every choice of type, photo treatment, color, and placement of design elements is congruent with the intended message—what you’re saying and even the mood you’re trying to evoke. Making something look good for its own sake is not enough. To quote a famous architect, “Form follows function” (Louis Sullivan).

8 Steps To Get Your Business Card Printed In The Best Way Possible

Friday, December 11th, 2020

No matter what business you are in, a business card is a crucial marketing material that can win a lot of new customers when utilised in the right way. It is one of the major things a potential customer will see in regards to your business, and therefore, it’s essential that it makes a lasting impression.

If you want to create a long and lasting impression with your business card, then you need to make sure that you opt-out for the best online printing companies. Obviously, almost any business card design will be unique but the more unique and impactful you can make your card. Often dull and boring cards will get thrown away or forgotten about, but a colourful and vibrant business card will ensure that the individual remembers your business.

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Custom Printing: Scratch-off Inks for Printing Posters

Monday, December 7th, 2020

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I’m sure all of you have seen scratch-off tickets, many of which are for lotteries. They have a rubbery, usually silver, material covering a portion of the card. You use a coin or your fingernail to scrape off the silver ink to reveal what’s beneath.

Well this isn’t all you can do with scratch-off coating. I learned this almost accidentally this year as two of my commercial printing clients came to me with large posters they wanted printed and then coated in numerous places with scratch-off ink. One wanted silver coating, and one wanted black coating. One was contacting me from Utah, and the other had recently moved from Italy to Toronto, Canada, and was moving her poster business to her new home.

Since I knew nothing about scratch-off coating material at the time, I did some research. Printers who do this kind of work (at least the ones I approached) would first print the posters (4-color process in both cases). They would then coat the posters with an aqueous (water-based) flood-coating material to protect the printed artwork. Finally they would apply the thick scratch-off coating using a custom screen printing process.

My research online confirmed this as the preferred method as well.

This made sense to me due to the thickness of the rubber-based scratch-off coating, which appears to be similar to the viscous ink used for custom screen printing on hats, shirts, and messenger bags.

Initial Thoughts, and Non-Disclosure Agreements

As with any new project, I asked the clients for PDF samples of the final printed posters, particularly showing the items on the base printed sheet that would be obscured by the scratch-off ink as well as the contours of the scratch-off ink itself (i.e., not only where the silver or black coating would be applied, but also whether the applications would have square edges or an irregular shape). I thought the commercial printing vendors I approached would find this useful in preparing an estimate.

The first client would agree to send the art for the estimate only if the printer would sign a non-disclosure agreement. I understood the client’s request, since he planned to sell the poster, which was unique. He didn’t want anyone to steal the concept. I did mention that copyrighting the poster would probably achieve the same goal without putting the printers on the defensive. Unfortunately, he refused to do so, and both printers (mind you, not everyone prints scratch-off posters; it’s specialized work) backed off completely and no-bid the job.

The second client, the one in Canada, agreed immediately and sent me a PDF of the poster. Both of the printers (the same two printers) jumped at the chance to provide bids.

So, I guess from this we learn that while non-disclosure agreements may be understandable, printers (like most people), prefer to be approached in the spirit of trust, and NDA’s, like prenuptial contracts, may backfire.

Paper Weight

Like real estate, printing can often be “all about location.” I am on the East Coast. One client was in Utah; the other is in Canada. In both cases, since completed print jobs are often heavy when cartoned, the cost of shipping may not be insignificant. Fortunately, in the case of the first client, the final press run would be 1,000 copies. This is not a lot of weight. And for a US destination it is also not a lot of postage. However, with the new client in Canada, shipping may be a lot more expensive. Fortunately, she only needs a short run initially: 500 vs. 1,000 posters. This will keep shipping costs down.

The second client, in Canada, just moved there from Italy. And another client of mine who prints small color swatch books to help women choose fashion and make-up colors based on their complexions, is actually considering selling her printed products in Italy as well as the United States.

In the case of the color swatch book client, the initial prices I requested for shipping printed products to Italy were high. (Perhaps I will research Media Mail rates, since these are really print books.)

So, in both cases, where my clients will or will not print their posters or color swatch books will depend on the cost of both the custom printing and the shipping. (And if you are a printer, graphic designer, or print buyer, what I learned can be useful information for you as well.)

Paper Thickness for the Posters

Closely associated to the overall weight of the printed job (and its relationship to shipping costs) is the weight of the paper. This also pertains to packaging.

The first print client wanted to produce substantial, thick posters. He therefore chose an 80# cover stock. Because of this choice, all of these copies needed to be priced as shipping flat and wrapped in Kraft paper. His product was 18” x 24”. Since this is a heavy paper stock, I made it clear that the posters could probably not (but not definitely) be rolled for sale. This would depend on the poster’s size, of course, but for an 18” x 24” product it would be a bit like rolling a flat, open manilla folder into a cylinder and then shipping it in a tube.

The second client’s poster is actually larger (60 cm x 100 cm, since Canada and Italy are on the metric system, or 24” x 40”). Of course, it’s easier to roll a large poster without cracking the paper fibers, but it’s still a risk. Fortunately, the second client has opted for a 100# text stock (more of a regular poster thickness of paper). I noticed that her informational photo of her scratch-off poster included an image of the product packaging / shipping box, which made it clear that the product will be distributed rolled.

So from this we can learn that paper thickness is important to consider not only for shipping weight but also for product packaging (flat, folded, or in this case rolled).

Other Thoughts from a Commercial Printing Vendor

Today I found a relevant article on scratch-off inks on It is entitled, “6 Tips for a Successful Scratch-Off Ink Project.” (The article has no other by-line than an attribution to PrismTech Graphics.)

Here’s a list of things to consider, as noted in the article:

    1. Use coated stock. Matte or gloss coated press sheets allow release of the scratch-off ink better than rough, uncoated sheets (even accounting for the overprint varnish or, in my printers’ case, aqueous coating in between the printed poster design and the scratch-off ink).


    1. Use less anti-set-off powder when printing via offset lithography. And if printing on digital equipment, do a test first. The fuser oil used in digital printing may make printing the necessary varnish (which is what allows the scratch-off ink to be released from the substrate by rubbing) an impossible task.


    1. Screen back the message behind the scratch-off ink so it will not be (potentially) visible through the scratch-off ink.


    1. Leave plenty of drying time for the ink before doing any post-press operations that might mar the scratch-off ink. Scratch-off ink is not like UV ink.


    1. Mark the top press sheet with press gripper and guide information. This will help you ensure alignment (register) of the scratch-off ink and the image below that you want it to cover.


  1. If anything differs from press sheet to press sheet (let’s say versioning of the type or art that will be obscured by the scratch-off ink), make sure you note this outside the image area. Once you have applied scratch-off ink to the press sheet, anything it covers will no longer be visible.

The Takeaway

There are pitfalls in this kind of project, or at least issues to consider carefully. So discuss your goals early with your printer, and request printed samples to ensure that your printer can do this kind of work expertly.

The best starting point for a discussion with your printer is a PDF mock-up showing the design of the poster but also its physical requirements (i.e., scratch-off ink placement, size, shape, etc.).

Also, consider such incidentals as shipping costs and product packaging when you are choosing a stock for a scratch-off poster.

And, as I did, if this is something new to you, go to school on the subject. The internet is a blessing for learning new things about commercial printing. And YouTube allows you to actually see videos of most printing operations.

Advantages of Online Printing Companies

Monday, December 7th, 2020

None of the businesses today can function without online printing services. In fact, the number of companies providing both online and offline print services are more than the ones providing offline print services. Magazines or newsletters still have to be printed in many companies for the sake of internal communication. The technologies for online printing companies is very different from offline ones.

Customized prints are in

We are living in the period where all individuals like to own customized items, which help to showcase to the world who we are. Items such as mugs, cards, keychains, T-shirts, and notepads cam make use of customized prints, which are made possible through online printing companies.

More items that can be printed include:

  • Standees
  • Pamphlets and flyers
  • Brochures
  • Grocery bags
  • Hologram stickers
  • Plastic cards
  • Car wraps
  • Posters
  • Leaflets
  • Membership cards
  • Banners
  • Letterheads
  • Mouse pads

Positive customer satisfaction

Any company which gets in touch with a printing vendor is a B2B customer. Every interaction with a reputed vendor will be a pleasant experience, from interactions on the company portal to order tracking. This will be much easier than the efforts needed to work with local printers. While companies focus on product marketing, the printing company will get the material ready.

Top advantages of digital prints

  • Digital prints are much faster than traditional print methods, making it easy to meet deadlines. Detailed samples can also be prepared quickly.
  • Highly suitable for low volume print jobs, one of them being printed newsletters
  • Highly cost effective
  • Very accurate in terms of proofing
  • Any alterations in images, colors, and text can be made without slowing down the print process significantly
  • One can print diverse marketing campaigns with this method

The best way to search for a suitable printing service in today’s times is to spend a lot of time on the Internet. One can locate a suitable print coordinator here to coordinate with many of the top printing companies around the world. Any chosen print company will have to work through the coordinator, which makes it easier to choose from various choices. It is not necessary to travel to another location to get the print anymore, since payment gateways are available online. One can easily check the popularity of a printing company on Google.

Various kinds of paper

Every company can ask for a particular type of paper to get its product printed. The requirements of one business would be different from another. One is likely to find the following paper options:

  • Glossy paper
  • Matte paper
  • Bright white paper
  • Inkjet printer paper

Industries which need online print

Online printing is suitable for the following industries:

  1. Education– Magazines, flyers, newsletters, and certificates are still used in the education sector, though their drafts are designed online
  2. Healthcare– Several patient reports have to be printed here, and they require remote printing solutions
  3. Advertising and marketing– Though most advertising is online, flyers and brochures still need to be printed

Four Reasons Why Flyer Printing is Crucial for Business

Monday, December 7th, 2020

One of the essential components of business growth is its marketing strategy. It’s crucial for every business that the targeted customers come to know of it. Otherwise, businesses won’t be able to scale out in a brief time. However, promoting a business is a daunting task. There are innumerable marketing strategies that need to be taken into consideration in order to make the brand visible to everyone. A single wrong decision can lead to a major downfall in the long run. So, marketing strategies and tools play a crucial role in terms of business growth. One of the most preferred forms of marketing is flyer printing. It’s accredited as successful by major businesses of various industries. It’s a part of the traditional marketing plans, but it can be leveraged to build brand reputation and recognition. This is the reason why flyer printing services are booming in the market. Nowadays, there are online flyers printing services available that one can leverage instantly without any hitch. This flyer printing can be beneficial for businesses in several ways. Let’s take a look at the following:

1. Cost-Effective

One of the best benefits of using online flyer printing for brand marketing is that it’s cost-effective. Some businesses invest a huge amount of money in high-tech marketing equipment, but the impact of this traditional marketing material can never be overlooked. That’s the reason why major businesses have shifted to traditional advertising rather than digital advertising. Flyer printing can help a business to be successful without spending tons of money. Especially companies that are starting out in the industry can immensely benefit from flyer printing.

2. Highly Impactful

Preparing a marketing strategy isn’t a cakewalk. It involves a lot of creative frameworks to create a successful marketing strategy without spending too much. Also, it requires time as well. However, flyer printing can save a lot of time as it doesn’t require people to conduct any background research. It requires only a little effort and time to attract customers with the flyers, but it’s highly impactful if used in the right manner. The only thing where people should be careful about flyers is its place. The flyers need to be placed in the right position so that it becomes visible by the targeted customers.

3. Scope for Creativity

The success of marketing strategies largely depends on their creativity. Businesses can brainstorm unique ideas to use flyers in the most creative manner. People can receive professional assistance from flyer printing services. These professionals help their clients to create a top-notch creative flyer using high-quality printing materials. Businesses can also use personalization with their flyers to help it stand out among its competitors.

4. These are Appealing

Traditional marketing has its own unique benefits. Businesses of all sizes can immensely benefit from these traditional marketing materials, especially the flyers. The best part of using flyers is that people can be instantly attracted to these flyers due to their appealing features. So, flyer printing can certainly help a business to succeed in the long run.

Custom Printing: Inconsistent Color in Package Printing

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

My fiancee and I were in the grocery store a few days ago, and I noticed two packages of brown Jasmine rice. The packages had the same art, typeface, design, etc., but the colors were different. It was only a slightprinted variation. Perhaps no one else would have seen it. But I did, and I pointed it out to my fiancee.

I explained to her that printing on a plastic bag required a different technology from offset lithography. In my experience and study I have always seen flexography used to print on plastic sheeting for bags of bread and rolls, as well as many other product packages in the grocery store, such as milk cartons and frozen food packages.

Flexography uses fast drying inks that work well on non-porous substrates (such as plastic sheeting). It is my understanding that flexography also avoids the high pressure of the offset lithographic rollers, which can disturb the dimensional stability of plastic sheeting (even when the plastic is fed from a roll and kept at high tension to maintain its “flatness” during printing).

In contrast with offset lithography (a planographic process in which the image- and non-image areas of the plate are on the same level), flexography is a relief printing process. The image areas on the rubber printing plates are raised. The raised areas are inked as the rollers turn and then deposit the ink on the substrate using less pressure than offset lithography rollers.

Problems with Flexography

In my experience with flexography (mainly in printing labels), the registration of colors is not quite as precise or consistent as in offset lithography. It’s great for non-porous substrates. It’s cheap, efficient, good for long runs of labels and packaging, but in my experience the color work has not been quite as accurate as I would like. (I just read online that part of the problem is the slight movement of various printing press components during the process.)

When I think back to the flexo-printed bags of Jasmine rice, the first thing I could say is that the technology in use was most probably flexography (due to the plastic substrate). The second thing I could say with confidence is that when colors are out of register (i.e., when the commercial printing plates shift and therefore do not deposit their ink precisely), one of the results is that color shifts can occur. I’ve seen this in offset lithography as well.

Moreover, color shifts I’ve seen often occur in neutral colors. (An off-white might take on a pinkish cast, for example.) On the bags of rice, the color in the two brown backgrounds (neutral ink mixtures presumably containing heavy coverage of all four process colors) showed the most difference from one package to the other. The green grass was slightly off as well.

Why This Is a Problem

I thought about why this was a problem from a design, marketing, and custom printing perspective. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Certain colors, called memory colors, absolutely have to be accurate. For instance, the blue of the afternoon sky cannot be purple, but it can be a lighter or darker blue. Grass has to be within a tight range of green hues, or it just looks wrong. Flesh tones that are too yellow appear jaundiced. We expect certain colors to be consistent. Our eyes (and brains) do not tolerate as much variation in these memory colors as in other colors. On the rice packages, the green grass was “off.”
  2. When I saw the color shift in these two packages, they were side by side. The human brain cannot usually remember color for very long, but it can definitely see color shifts when two samples are side by side.
  3. From a marketing point of view, color shifts can be a problem. Just as one expects corporate logo colors to be consistent, one expects package coloration to be consistent. Subliminally, in the mind of the consumer, color accuracy can support or diminish the perceived quality of other elements of the brand (for example the taste of the rice). We expect a brand image to always look the same, just as we expect a Chipotle burrito to always taste the same. Even design and printing differences can “dilute” the brand.
  4. This is less true now than in the 1990s (when I was an art director/production manager), but there will always be a slight variation in color from press run to press run. If the two rice bags had been printed by two separate printers on two separate dates, there would be some difference in color. Again, it would be more obvious if two printed samples were put side by side. In addition, the color shift would be more pronounced if two different commercial printing technologies had been used (say flexography and digital custom printing) or if the printing substrates had been different.

What You Can Do in Your Own Work

Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you are using flat colors for backgrounds, particularly if they are neutrals (not primary colors like red, yellow, and blue, but, as in the case of my rice packages, such mixtures of multiple colors as tan or brown), consider adding a PMS match color. These are mixed, not created from overlaid halftone screens of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. PMS colors are always consistent. In contrast, if your CMYK process colors are out of register, you may see color shifts. But this won’t happen with PMS colors. That’s why designers specify PMS colors for corporate logos.
  2. Based on my own experience, it’s often helpful to avoid colors composed of equal amounts (particularly heavy coverage) of three or four process inks. If these colors are out of register, this can cause a color shift.
  3. I have also experienced color shifts when working with the less expensive online printers that often gang up print jobs to keep their prices low. A client of mine had an account with one of these commercial printing vendors, so I had to use its services for a job I designed. To be safe, what I did was design my client’s job with this potential limitation in mind. I chose colors and photos that would work well on a design level even with a certain amount of color variation. You may want to do the same thing.
  4. Be mindful of the potential limitation of each commercial printing technology you use. For instance, reversing type out of a heavy solid (composed of all process colors) on a digital press might be problematic. Or, at the very least, you might want to choose a typeface with thicker serifs and strokes in the letterforms (to avoid the serifs’ filling in if the ink flow is excessive). If you’re printing a job via flexography, make allowances in your design for any potential misregistration problems, since these can occur in this technology.
  5. When in doubt, ask your printer for samples produced via the commercial printing technology you plan to use.
  6. For a critical job, consider attending a press inspection. These are rare these days. I think the last press inspection I attended was in the late1990s. Color consistency is much better these days than in the past. But for food, automotive, and fashion imagery, a press inspection might be worth your time. In this case you will see successive press sheets throughout the press run under 5000 Kelvin lighting (blue-white light, which approximates sunlight). You will see any color casts right away.
  7. If you plan to match colors across different commercial printing technologies (offset, flexography, digital printing) and/or different custom printing substrates, make sure your printer can rise to the challenge. Again, it’s always prudent to request printed samples produced via all technologies you will employ (ideally using the same file).

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