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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 January, 2021

Book Printing: A Captivating Print Book About Cleopatra

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee and I were recently looking for new art projects for our art therapy work with the autistic. Since we had found a plastic mummy kit in the thrift store for educating kids in the religion, mythology, and embalming processes that ensured ancient Egyptians a safe passage to the next life, we decided to have our students build and decorate a cardboard sarcophagus (essentially a mummy case).

Along with our art projects for the autistic, we like to provide visual aids and background information to educate/interest the members, their aides, and their parents. In that light, I dug around in our stash of thrift store print books and found a beautiful book about Cleopatra to share along with the little plastic mummy kit.

And that is what I want to share with you, because the print book is gorgeous, and it reflects qualities and techniques you won’t see in an ebook.

As I always say when addressing design issues in these PIE Blog articles, if you like a design, be able to articulate why it works. There’s no better way to learn design (which I consider a lifelong process). So taking my own advice, here is a description of the book about Cleopatra and my analysis of why its design is superb.

The Overall Print-Book Format

This is a perfect-bound book designed by the National Geographic Society as a companion to an exhibit on Cleopatra. It is 8” x 10”, printed on a dull, bright-white paper stock.

Unlike many other books, Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt has French flaps partially covering (and partially revealing) a full-bleed, gold Egyptian pattern on the inside front and back book covers. The gold coloration (metallic printing ink) along with the French flaps and the thick paper (probably 100# white gloss text) adds an air of opulence to the book. Clearly this is an appropriate tone, given the wealth and power Cleopatra commanded. (Again, as I always say in the PIE Blog articles, when you design anything, make sure the form reflects or supports the tone and content of the print book or any other printed product.)

Although the text paper is a bright, blue-white, dull stock, which makes reading easier, the designer has also gloss varnished the images. This is particularly effective in creating contrast (i.e., making the photos “pop”).

The backgrounds of many of the pages are black, with full-color images of Egyptian coins and statuary and captions set in reverse type in a simple, easy-to-read-at-any size, sans serif type. These pages are often facing other pages with white backgrounds and black text for captions. This shift from black to white to black sets up a nice visual rhythm. So the print book is comfortable (the book’s size and format–as well as its light weight–plus the qualities of the paper stock) and interesting to read. It would still be so even if I couldn’t read the language, simply because it is attractive and easy on the eyes.

Achieving a Visual Rhythm

All of the design niceties I have mentioned pertain more to the design of a page or page spread (and the readability of the type) than to the overall print book design.

However, what sets this book above most others is that the designer approached the organization of the book (as well as the “look” of the page spreads) as a design challenge. Between the two covers (and their opulent French flaps and gold-patterned printing), thought has gone into crafting a design grid that allows for the reader’s immediate recognition of what she/he is reading. This the designer achieved by using only a limited number of different page grids.

The chapter dividers include a large, all-caps treatment, sans-serif type that has been letter-spaced (spread out slightly). These are one- or a-few-word titles surrounded by a thin rule, above which is the chapter number spelled out (i.e., “CHAPTER FOUR”), again in all caps but in a contrasting serif typeface. The type on each divider-page spread is white, reversed out of the richly colored background photo. Even with the type’s thin letterforms, the all-cap headlines are graceful but powerful (perhaps a little like Cleopatra herself). Finally, there is a white border (about 3/4”) all the way around the double-page photo.

Over the course of the multiple chapters, these divider pages set up a rhythm, an expectation in the mind of the reader, which allows her/him to group the pages of the book into digestible chunks. Moreover, this visual “look” is also carried consistently through the four-page chapter introductions. These have one large column of text on each page, placed toward the center of the book with a “scholar’s margin” on the outside left and right.

Consistent with the divider pages, these chapter intros have a white border running around the perimeter of the double-page spread. In this case a dark brownish-red rule (the same thickness as the white rules on the divider pages) surrounds the text columns, crossing over from the left page to the right.

In line with the letter-spaced type on the divider pages, the headlines on the intro pages are also spread out slightly. They are set in the same sans-serif type as headlines on the divider pages, and the body copy is set in the same serif face as the all-caps chapter numbers on the divider pages.

The wide columns of body copy in the intros have extra leading (space between lines), which makes reading them easier. In addition, setting the heads in thin, letter-spaced type while also spreading out the leading between lines of type adds to the sense of luxury and opulence in the book. This is fully consistent with the character of the book’s subject, Cleopatra.

To begin the initial paragraph in each chapter introduction, there is also a drop-capital letter, in gray, extending five lines deep.

To highlight the headlines (both main heads and subheads), the designer printed these in the same brownish red color, which goes nicely with the rich gold and black tones throughout the print book. This brown is also used for the large pull-quotes, which are set in italics and nestled into mortises cut out of the single text column on these intro pages. (These quotations also extend into the scholars’ margins.)

Maintaining the Visual Rhythm

The long and short of this is that the designer has set up a visual rhythm. This fosters the reader’s expectation of what is to come and shows how each element relates to everything else.

Good visual rhythm works best when it has a counterpoint every so often, something to contrast what could otherwise become visually monotonous. In this case, there are the pages following the introductions that include a catalog of images (everything from coins to silhouettes of small statues).

There’s a lot of varnished gold ink on these pages, which, as noted before, alternate between having a white or black background. Occasionally, there are also “text” pages reversed out of a black background along with a silhouetted full-color image. These have three-line drop caps, printed in red, as well as a thin vertical line (in red ink) running the length of the text block between the two narrow columns (for consistency with the thin rules on the divider pages and intro pages).

Of course, the interior of the print book is sandwiched between front matter (table of contents and such) and back matter (index and such), followed by the interior back cover page with its opulent gold pattern slightly covered by a French flap.

All of this is like a frame, presenting the lush imagery inside the book as well as the content of the text. A frame should never detract from the painting it showcases, but a structured scaffolding, if you will, of thoughtful design, can make reading a print book a more fluid and enjoyable experience.

In this case, the designer knew how to use the elements of design to highlight and showcase the substance of the book.

What We Can Learn

Here are some quick thoughts:

  1. Good design breaks an otherwise undifferentiated mass of content (photos and words) into manageable chunks of information, which can be seen as related to one another in a particular way and a particular order of importance.
  2. Good design (as evidenced in the designer’s use of color, typeface, column grids, etc.) should reflect the tone and content of the book.
  3. Good design should structure the content without calling attention to itself. The frame is not more important than the picture.
  4. Readability is the prime goal. Every element of design should guide the reader through the reading experience. If the reader gets tired or loses interest, you’ve lost your audience.

Three Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Online Printing Company

Saturday, January 30th, 2021
Finding a reliable printing company that addresses the needs of the business takes some time and effort. Also, one can’t deny that finding an ideal printing company is essential in enhancing the visibility of a business through digital and traditional printing methods. Therefore, the quality of the materials like brochures, flyers, logos, book covers, and t-shirts can make a world of differences between elevating the brand’s image and tarnishing its reputation. A reliable printing company works dedicatedly and professionally to prioritize different customers’ different needs to offer utmost satisfaction. However, most people aren’t aware of the tips to find the best printing companies and tend to make mistakes during the hiring process. Unfortunately, this can entirely damage a brand’s reputation if the quality of the print material degrades. So, there are a few questions that one must ask in the beginning before hiring the best online printing company. Let’s take a look at the following questions below:
1. Do they Have In-house Experts?
There are printing companies that outsource their projects to some other companies. However, it can be a real deal-breaker for businesses, especially when it takes too much time to produce the print materials. It depends on the individual’s preferences and business requirements. One must inquire about this factor before hiring the printing company to stay prepared for the delay or unsatisfactory event. The best online printing company always focuses on providing quality materials to their clients even if they outsource the projects, but it may increase the turnaround time when a printing company focuses on quality. So, businesses must place their order in advance to avoid facing any unsatisfactory events in the future. Asking this question allows businesses to stay prepared for all kinds of possibilities.
2. Do they Provide an Estimate?
A professional printing company needs to provide an estimate before they start working on the project. It helps the clients to stay financially prepared. Also, it should be noted that getting a quote from a printing company is free. Most printing companies allow their clients to enter the details of their printing project to get a quote online. People must ask if the quote received is the actual cost or the estimate. Sometimes the actual cost slightly differs from the estimated price. So, this is an important question to ask before partnering with any printing company.
3. Do they Offer A Guarantee?
A reputable printing company always aims at providing customer satisfaction more than anything else. Therefore, they offer a guarantee on their printing work. In case, the customers aren’t satisfied with the end result, they either offer a money-back guarantee or strive to improve their print materials to match the customer’s requirements at no additional cost. So, communication with the printing company is extremely crucial to ensure the quality of the printing materials. One must ask these above-mentioned questions to evaluate the quality of a printing company.

6 Benefits of Web Offset Printing

Saturday, January 30th, 2021

A form of offset printing which constantly puts in a roll of paper through the press is known as web offset printing. Such presses are able to print on both sides of a paper simultaneously. These days, this job is outsourced to various printing companies around the world, and the Internet has made it easy to reach out to them.

Top benefits of web offset printing

1. Highly cost effective- Rolls of paper cost only half of the price of precut paper, making this a cost effective printing solution. The use of rolls instead of sheets also makes this process more efficient than others.

2. High speed- Web offset presses manage to print several thousands of paper rolls every hour. Operators do not have to worry about reloading these machines with precut sheets. A company that wants to obtain many copies of its catalogs or magazines can easily get it done through web offset presses.

3. Consistent quality- When a printing service makes use of Advanced Interface systems and the latest technology, high quality results with consistent levels of quality can be expected every time. The turnaround time is also pretty quick here.

4. Less money for black and white prints- The cost of printing black and white is significantly lower here than most other processes

5. Large scale prints- Looking to print in huge volumes? If yes, then a web offset press is a great solution. One can expect large scale prints here with no sacrifice on quality.

6. Flexible- Additional tasks such as folding, perforating, and cutting paper can also be accomplished here. Heatset web presses come with large drying lamps to set ink quickly on a high quality image.

7. Some Sheet Fed presses are equipped with a “Sheeter”, thus using rolled paper ( like web rolled paper ) feeding than using cut sheets.

Choose a well known company

For fulfilling the above printing requirements, it makes sense to choose a reputed printing company, irrespective of its location. Through the Internet, it is now possible to get in touch with an agent who can find the most suitable print company. Expertise in the field is necessary for obtaining a good quality product, and one should always give time to the same.

Timely delivery of a printing assignment is very important. There are many cases in which books are required at the end of a month, or magazines are necessary at the end of a week. It is important that the printing company gets the message about timely delivery, so that deadlines are not unnecessary missed. Keep a few days in handy for editing as well.

Printing can help build brands

Good quality of print helps to build a brand. When books and magazines printed beautifully reach the customers, they tend to remember company names for a long time. Similarly, when magazines are rolled out for employees and not for the public, the same logic is applicable. Strengthening a brand helps to build a large and loyal customer base over the years.

Good quality always shows that a company cares for its employees, or customers. Therefore, one must get in touch with printing companies for the best results in this aspect.


Custom Printing: What Print Buyers Look for in Printers

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

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When it comes to print buying, I know how I choose a printer. What I don’t know is how others approach print buying. So I found it intriguing to read an analysis on of NAPCO Research’s survey of 200 print buyers or print buying influencers. The article is entitled “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection.” Written by Lisa Cross, this article was published on PIWorld’s website on 11/23/20.

First of all, what is NAPCO? According to “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection,” “NAPCO and PRINTING United Alliance research teams develop research and economic models that solve customer business problems.” The article goes on to say that “NAPCO Media research teams survey, analyze, and monitor critical trends related to marketing, printing, packaging, non-profit organizations, promotional products, and retailing.”

So, essentially this survey analyzes and addresses both the printing and the (general) business technologies and processes the PIE Blog discusses every week. Therefore, for me, NAPCO is a “guru” to which I listen with rapt attention.

What makes the NAPCO survey interesting to me, actually, is that print buyers these days appear to be very knowledgeable, very savvy in terms of processes, technologies, and equipment. This didn’t used to be the case. Years ago when I started in the field, in the 1980s and 1990s, designers may have learned their craft of design expertly in college, but many if not most had little experience creating printable art files, understanding how offset printing was done, or knowing which technologies and specific printing equipment were appropriate to best (and most economically) print their projects.

Well that has changed, and Lisa Cross’ PIWorld article is very specific as to how. Here are some takeaways from her custom printing article.

Increasingly Savvy Print Buyers

According to Lisa Cross’ article, print buyers increasingly understand the processes they are buying from print sales reps. Perhaps this is through personal experience, but I would expect that having internet access (both to written descriptions of printing technologies and to online videos of these processes) accounts for a big part of this increasing knowledge.

Print buyers also learn online and in trade journals that they have multiple resources immediately at hand. They can buy these printing technologies and processes from any number of commercial printing vendors.

Because of this abundance of print buying options, “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” notes that savvy print sales professionals need to understand buyers’ new-found technical knowledge, the buying options they have, and their expectations for the vendors with whom they work.

To quantify this, NAPCO Research, as noted in Lisa Cross’ article, says that “over two-thirds of survey respondents (67%) report being extremely familiar with the printing processes used to print their company’s materials.” And “86% of print buyer respondents indicate they specify print processes and/or brands of printing devices used to produce their print work” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

These findings by NAPCO Research are completely consistent with my own experience in selecting the best print vendors for my commercial printing clients. Let’s say I’m looking for a printer to produce a client’s short-run poster job. Since it is a short-run job with critical color requirements, I might want to print the poster on an HP Indigo press. I might know a handful of vendors who have this equipment. I might also know whether their particular HP inkjet presses are of sufficient size to accept a large press sheet (and not just the smaller 13” x 19” size many digital presses will print).

Apparently, other print buyers have similar experiences. According to the survey discussed in Cross’ article, “70% of respondents report that [the brand of equipment] is a key decision factor.” Presumably print buyers’ decisions are increasingly informed by their own growing awareness of current commercial printing technology, gained from readily accessible equipment specifications and product/process reviews, as well as their own buying experience.

Interestingly enough, according to “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection,” this means that savvy commercial printing suppliers are increasingly taking into consideration their customers’ requirements for such equipment when making purchases for their plants. To a good extent this is because knowledgeable print buyers know they have options. They can buy from outside vendors or perhaps even print their jobs on in-plant equipment. They can print jobs via offset lithography or via digital inkjet or electrophotography.

Focus on Color Matching and Color Consistency

“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” also notes that savvy print buyers are increasingly looking for ways to ensure color consistency across multiple technologies (offset and digital, for instance, if they have both long- and short-run printing needs or a need for versioning and personalization).

When I was an art director/production manager in the 1990s, we used to attend regular press inspections for most of our high-profile custom printing jobs. Now, onsite press inspections are far less common (except, perhaps, for color-critical work like food, fashion, and automotive). To a good extent this is due to better on-press, closed-loop color control, which provides immediate feedback regarding color accuracy.

Nevertheless, print buyers still want assurances that the color will be accurate throughout a job and from one job to another, and since this depends on the skill of press operators (as well as the capabilities of their equipment), the new breed of print buyers looks for printer certifications. Two important color management certifications noted in “Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection” are G7 and ISO 9000.

Cross’ article also references print buyers’ interest in sustainability certification (presumably, such as a printer’s use of FSC-compliant—or Forest Stewardship Council-compliant—commercial printing papers).

The Value of Educating Print Buyers

If you are a custom printing supplier, according to Cross’ article, it benefits you to generously share your technical knowledge with your clients. Clients are most interested, according to the NAPCO Research study, in information on “the print production process…digital printing technology, and improving color quality and consistency.” They also want to learn more about “preparing print job files, substrates, digital enhancements, and combining print with other media” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

If you are a commercial printing vendor, educating clients benefits both you and them. This fosters customer loyalty and also helps ensure accurate, print-ready files. It “enhances relationships, while increasing production efficiency and productivity” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

The Importance of Personal Connections and Vendor Reliability

Savvy print buyers expect and require outstanding, responsive service. Again, this benefits both them and the print vendors, since jobs get completed quickly and accurately. The NAPCO Research study makes it clear that print sales reps need to understand both the technology and their customers’ needs in order to efficiently and cost-effectively solve their problems.

Job Submission, Monitoring, and Control

Print buyers want to understand how to best produce art files that will work the first time. They want to know how a job is moving through the various print manufacturing processes, and they want to be able to control not only the quality but also the cost. Furthermore, they want tight control over their brand.

NAPCO Research’s study of 200 print buyers and influencers found this reflected in the fact that “81% of print buyers prefer working with a print service provider that offers an online ordering tool” (“Print Buyer Survey Reveals Key Factors Influencing Provider Selection”).

The Takeaway

What can we learn from this article as print buyers and students of commercial printing?

  1. Study everything you can about custom printing. Start with online articles and videos.
  2. Then ask your print providers about anything you don’t understand.
  3. Ask printers for samples produced with the various print technologies. Closely observe any differences. (Look closely at the general color fidelity and intensity, tint screens and solid areas of color, photographs, type, etc.)
  4. Look for printer certifications, such as G7 and ISO 9000. Also ask your printers about the sustainability of their materials (FSA printing papers and soy-based ink, for example).

The more you know, the better you will be as a print buyer, and the higher the quality of custom printing you will get from your vendors.

Custom Printing: Learning to Look at, and Really See, Typefaces

Monday, January 25th, 2021

It seems to be a major truth about life that when you pay close attention to something and learn as much as you can about it, you start to see it everywhere. You also start to understand intuitively how it works. I think this is also true about typography for commercial printing, one of the main building blocks of good design. Or, more specifically, becoming fluent in typography will allow you to consciously give a particular voice, or tone, to whatever you design, from logos to posters to brochures to print books.

With that in mind, one of the best things you can do to increase your awareness of the nuances of typography is to learn to classify typefaces (i.e., to both recognize and articulate their similarities and differences).

Type Classifications

(First of all, I’d encourage you to use Google Images to find the following typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Bodoni, Clarendon, and Helvetica. If you can get a printout of all uppercase and lowercase letters for each font, that’s ideal.)

The first classification is “serif” vs. “sans serif.” Serifs are the little tails on the letterforms that help you connect the letters as your eye passes horizontally across a line of text. Sans serif faces do not have these tails. In print, they are harder to read. On a computer screen, however, they are easier to read than serif typefaces.

Next, there’s the history of type: Old Style, Transitional, and Modern are the classifications for serif faces. If you refer to the Google Image pages you’ve printed out, you can identify Garamond as Old Style, Times New Roman as Transitional, and Bodoni as Modern.

How do they differ?

Old style letters have graceful transitions between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms (and actually not that much difference between the thin and thick strokes). They also have a slant (just the thick and thin portions of curves) slightly to the left (called a back-slant). Finally, their serifs have graceful (not abrupt) curves smoothing out the transition from the serifs to the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal strokes of the letterforms.

Transitional typefaces are similar to Old Style, but they have more of a vertical orientation (in the thick and thin portions of the letterforms). That is, they don’t have the slant of the Old Style letterforms. They also have wider serifs and more contrast between the thick and thin portions of each letter.

Modern typefaces are visibly different. They have far more contrast (more of an abrupt and less graceful transition) between the ultra-thick and ultra-thin strokes of the letterforms.

Finally, there’s one more serif classification: slab serif (Clarendon is an example). Slab serif typefaces have much thicker, chunky serifs without graceful curves (the graceful curves are called bracketing). Slab serif faces are also called “Egyptian” typefaces.

Among the sans serif fonts is Helvetica, noted in the list above. It has no serifs, no little tails. However, it comes in thinner or thicker varieties (light, regular, bold, demi-bold, black, or similar names). It also comes in condensed and expanded versions. So it’s a very versatile typeface. (It can whisper, or it can shout.)

Most sans serif faces have equally thick strokes throughout an alphabet (in contrast to serif faces). However, this is not always true. Fonts such as Optima have no serifs, but the strokes become thicker and thinner throughout the letterforms.

More Classifications

Here are three more classifications: script, novelty, and dingbats.

Script typefaces look like hand lettering. Moreover, some even look like cursive handwriting. They are, for the most part, hard to read and therefore primarily used in short amounts of copy (as in a formal invitation). If you use these fonts, keep the lines of type short and add lots of space between the lines.

Novelty typefaces are hard to read but they have character. They have names like Gypsy Switch and Buzzer Three (as per Jim Krause’s Design Basics Index). They can convey a mood or tone, but if you set any more than a few words in these fonts, your reader’s eyes will quickly tire (i.e., she/he will stop reading).

Dingbats, also known as printer’s flowers, are the little pictures that come in individual font sets. They are convenient if you need a checkmark, a star, a cross, or a little flourish mark between paragraphs (or any number of other non-alpha-numeric characters).

Cap Height, X-Height, Ascenders, and Decenders

Here are four more type terms you may find useful in distinguishing one typeface from another. In fact, it might be a good exercise to take the sample alphabets you have printed out from Google Images (Garamond, Times New Roman, Bodoni, Clarendon, and Helvetica) and start comparing individual letters from one typeface to the same letters in another typeface. You’ll start to see similarities and differences. You may even start to see how one typeface might be “whimsical” and another typeface might have a sense of “gravitas.”

Back to the classifications:

Cap height refers to the height of a capital letter (measured using flat-top letters like an “H,” not curved letters like an “O” or pointy letters like an “A”). If you compare one uppercase letter from one font to another with both set at the same point size (a 24-point headline, for instance), you’ll see that some fonts will look slightly bigger (larger cap height). And if you do the same thing with a lowercase letter (measured from the baseline to the top of the lowercase letter), you’ll see that some fonts include larger lowercase letters that are therefore (usually) easier to read.

This is especially useful when setting type, because if you have letters that are larger and easier to read without necessarily being wider, you can get more words in the same space compared to the same words set in another typeface. This may not look like much of a savings on one print book page, but if you’re typesetting a 480-page book, the x-height of the lowercase letters may make the difference between your producing a 480-page book and a 512-page book (i.e., one less 32-page commercial printing signature to print and pay for while still maintaining the readability of the text—and therefore the interest of the reader).

Ascenders are the parts of the letterforms that rise up above the x-height to the top of the cap height (like the top of the two “h’s” in the word height). The bottom squiggle of the two “g’s” in the word “squiggle,” along with the downward stroke of the “q” are descenders. They reach below the type baseline (the horizontal line on which all the letters sit).

Now if you take all of this information and start comparing the alphabets you printed out in different fonts, you’ll start to see some intriguing and nuanced differences. You may even want to start with such lowercase letters as the “g” and “a,” since in these letters there’s often a lot of dissimilarity (aka, individuality) to be found from typeface to typeface.

What to Do with All This Information

More than anything, learning to distinguish among typefaces, to see the shades of difference and uniqueness between one and another, teaches you to look very closely, and then to select wisely. If you can learn to see the “ear” and “loop” of a lowercase “g” (the ear is the little tail on the top right of the uppermost portion; the loop is the enclosed circle of the “g” below the baseline), you can choose one font over another for a logo design and in so doing add a bit of personality to the design. Even more importantly, the personality or tone you add will more likely be congruent with the brand, or ethos, of the company for which you are crafting the logo. (And your reader may never know this consciously. It may only be a subconscious appreciation of the rightness of your choice of type.)

(As an aside and slice of life story, in the 1980s I studied bicycles in depth before buying a new one—during the start of the health craze. The more I studied, the more bicycles I saw being ridden in the neighborhood. Fifteen years later I took a motorcycle course, and I started seeing more motorcycles on the streets. There weren’t more bicycles or motorcycles. My awareness just made me see the ones right in front of me. Studying typefaces and learning to distinguish one from another—and determining when to use one vs. another and why—will make you far more likely to see typography wherever you go. Choosing typefaces will become an unconscious part of your make-up, and your design work for commercial printing will most likely improve dramatically.)

Custom Printing: How to Approach a New Print Job

Monday, January 25th, 2021

Seven Mistakes to Avoid When You are Getting a Print Material Done

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Banners, binders, e-books, envelopes, decal, note cards, placemats, handouts, stickers, calendars and so on, there are many things that you may be looking to get printed. Your motive behind them can be having something personalized, or for your business branding or to create an effective advertising campaign.

When you want to have something printed, you look for affordable printing services, and quality backed printing. This is where avoiding some key mistakes becomes highly important. So, what are those mistakes? Read on to know:

Poor Design

A poor design not only means an unattractive design flow but also means sticking to something obsolete. It also means not following the basic guidelines for the print. When you want something visually appealing, you should go for an exceptional and unique design finish that is also effective.

Text Errors

Textual errors like spelling mistakes and wrong use of words can put your effort to waste. This is something that is very basic and must not be committed at all. While we all are liable to make spelling mistakes repeatedly, print material has to be done fully right. This is where a thorough proofreading of the design draft is necessary.

Overcrowded Design

What purpose will your print material do if it is illegible and annoying to read? There has to be the right balance between color, design, font, and use of text. Overcrowding, even a single element will make it look shabby.

Low Resolution

In the times of high-resolution images and videos everywhere, why commit this gross mistake of keeping the print image to a low resolution that can be denoted easily with tiny dots of color? Make sure that you look at the DPI of your print material. Consult your service fully regarding this. If the print draft or sample looks even a bit blurry go for a higher DPI.

Picking the Wrong Print Material

Are you getting a calendar printed? Are you looking for posters? Have you considered the material on which your design will get printed? For different print types, different print materials correspond to. Ensure that you have sorted this out with your service provider. Go for a few samples to ensure that product is right.

Using the Wrong Format

While you may think that the result will get physically printed why put thought into the format. But this is where many printing mistakes occur. There are certain formats like .png and .gif which don’t translate into high resolution in the prints. Make sure your print file format is that which can handle high PPI.

Choosing the Wrong Service Provider

Chances of the above mistakes occurring drop-down when you work with a quality, reliable, and experienced service provider. Ensure to look for a printing company with expertise in different printing materials, specific to meet your requirements.

The printing process isn’t as simple as it may. It involves different levels and procedures. Therefore, start looking for document printing online that cater to your requirements well by avoiding serious mistakes is recommended.

Book Printing: But There’s Only One Bleed in the Book

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

To be perfectly fair, my book printing client did know enough to ask me about the potential cost increase for bleeding a halftone off an interior page of the print book she was designing.

We had discussed pricing for her client’s book for about six months, and all of the estimates I had requested from the printer had specified no bleed for the text and full bleed for the cover.

To give you some context for this book, it is now a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book with a page count of 480 pages, a press run of 1,000 copies, and a 12pt. C2S (coated 2 sides) cover with 60# white offset text stock. The cover will be gloss film laminated, and there will be a press score parallel to the spine.

So it’s a straightforward treatment of a trade paperback with no special features. Anything spectacular in the print book design will depend on the cover art (which is actually quite dramatic).

Interestingly enough, the cover is so powerful that my client repeated the cover art inside on the title page (in black ink only as a gray halftone, which, like the cover image, bleeds on all sides). It’s a good design decision. It makes use of the dramatic cover photo twice, in two slightly different ways (4-color vs. black and white).

However, it may require a different approach than that reflected in the initial specifications, and this might affect the price.

A Potentially Higher Price

First of all, here’s why it might cost more. It’s easy to make design decisions without thinking about financial ramifications, so in your own print buying career or print book design career, you might do well to consider bleeds early in the design process.

Next, exactly what is a bleed? My client is producing a 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book. Without a bleed, each page would be exactly this size. With a bleed, my client would need to add a 1/8” extension to the page in all directions to allow the press to print ink beyond the final trim size. My client’s dramatic image that bleeds on page 3 will extend beyond the trim size and then be trimmed down to the final format after printing. At that point it will look like the image extends off the page.

The same process is used for a full-bleed cover. However, my client’s full-bleed cover had already been factored into the (approved) price by the printer’s estimator.

Here’s why this change (for even one page) might be problematic: Because a print book is composed of press signatures (so many pages lined up–known as the “imposition” of the press signature—above or below each other on the press sheet). The same number of pages will be on the back of the press sheet. When the finishing equipment folds the press sheet, it delivers a “booklet” consisting of the number of pages within the particular signature (4, 8, 16, or 32, for instance). Once the head (top), foot (bottom), and face (opposite the bind edge) have been trimmed to size, you have a little booklet with the proper pages in the proper order held together at the spine. If you’re producing a saddle-stitched product, the press signatures are then nested, each inside the next. If you’re producing a perfect-bound book, the press signatures are then stacked (aligned side by side).

The actual process is mechanized, with the flat sheet being folded into a signature, then collected and inserted into the multiple pockets of the binder (one signature per pocket), then bound, and then finally trimmed to size.

Potentially, you could fit a 32-page signature (16 pages per side) onto a 25” x 38” press sheet when the book page size (or trim size, or format) is 5.5” x 8.5”. This is a common press sheet size (25” x 38”) of a ream of paper ordered by printers from paper mills. Presumably, such a press sheet could be printed on a 40” offset lithographic book printing press.

To get a picture of this in your minds eye, think of four 5.5” x 8.5” pages printed across the 25” dimension of the press sheet. Side by side they would equal 22” of the 25” available inches on the short side of the press sheet (assuming the paper grain is parallel to the long side of the sheet).

Going the other way (the 38” dimension), picture three more rows of four pages, each with a height of 8.5”. So you have four rows of four pages. The depth would be 4 x 8.5”, or 34”, out of a potential 38” dimension of the 25” x 38” press sheet.

So far, so good?

Sixteen pages on one side of the sheet. Sixteen pages on the other. That would make exactly 15 press signatures (15 x 32 pages) in the 480-page trade paperback. This is ideal. Only 15 press runs (compared to producing the print book with 16-page signatures, which would necessitate double the press runs).

However, here’s the rub. If you add a bleed to the text block of the book (even one page), you need more room around the pages to allow for the bleed image to extend past the edge of the page and then be trimmed off. (Actually, you also need room for printer’s marks and the gripper, which pulls the press sheet through the press.)

Why the Print Book Might Actually Cost the Same With or Without a Text Bleed

To recap our computations, if you look at the short dimension of the press sheet (25”), you can fit four 5.5” pages across within a space of 22”. That leaves 3” for printer’s marks and the 1/8” bleed on all sides.

And going the other direction (the 38” dimension), the four-rows down layout takes up only 34” of the 38” of available space. That leaves 4” in this direction for printer’s marks, gripper margin (since the leading edge of the page is where the gripper grabs the paper, and since presumably the 38” dimension of the paper would be entering the 40” press first).

So if you put aside the math for a moment, it looks to me like everything should work (i.e., fit on the press sheet), and there should be no upcharge. This will probably be the case with my client’s print book, but to be sure I have asked for the book printer’s confirmation (in writing, on a revised estimate).

What Would Happen If I’m Wrong?

Let’s say the printer needs more room or is doing things differently, has a smaller press, or whatever.

If the printer needs more room, the job might need to be produced on a larger press. A larger press usually is billed at a higher hourly rate (than whatever press you’re using before you add bleeds). So the overall price might go up.

Another thing that can happen is, if the printer doesn’t have a larger press (maybe a 50” press dedicated to printing long signatures of print book texts), your job will need to be produced on a smaller press. Instead of being composed of 15 32-page signatures, your book might now be composed of 30 16-page signatures. Even at a lower hourly rate (since it’s a smaller press), your increased number of press runs could raise the overall book printing cost significantly.

So What Can You Do?

My book printing client is pretty savvy. She told me that since she didn’t want the cost of the book to rise, if there was an upcharge (based on the explanation above), instead of bleeding the page she would end the screen (or photo) before the 5.5” x 8.5” trim. So the photo on page 3 would have an unprinted border all the way around. To me this looks like a work-around. It’s an inexpensive solution, granted. But the photo won’t have the expansive quality a full bleed provides (the photo looks so much larger than the page because it seems to extend in all directions). Moreover, if my client has to provide a .5” margin on all sides, the photo on page 3 will no longer have the same look or feel as the cover photo, which does bleed off the page.

We’ll have to wait and see. I look forward to reviewing the updated book printing estimate.

What Can You Learn From This Case Study?

The short answer is that you should plan ahead for bleeds. If you’re unsure of what you want to do with your design, ask the printer to bid on both a text-bleed version and a non-bleed version.

The prices may be the same (depending on your printer’s press size and the size of the press sheet you’re using). But if it’s more expensive to bleed the text pages, it’s better to know early in the process than to make a quick design decision at the end of the process.

Book Printing: Trends in Print Buying (An Anecdote)

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

I’ve been noting the direction the wind has been blowing in my own commercial printing work recently. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, and it only relates to print books, and only to a few of my clients at that, but I’m finding it instructive.

Government Textbooks for an Educational Foundation

For many years I have been brokering the printing for a 6” x 9”, perfect-bound textbook for an educational foundation that brings students to Washington, DC, to learn about government by interacting with congressmen, senators, and other policymakers. It’s a great organization. I worked there for 17 years starting in the early 1980s.

Once a year, my client prints about 3,000 copies of this book. Since the textbook is popular, she usually comes back to me for a reprint of 300 to 400 copies about nine months later, to tide her over for the remaining three months. The offset printing costs about $3.50 a book, and the digital reprint costs about $10.00 a book, but the final cost of the offset job is about $13,500.00, while the final cost of the digital job is about $3,500.00. Another way of looking at this is that my client pays a premium for the digital printing on a unit-cost basis, but the overall cost is less than an offset run. In addition, since she only needs about a tenth of the initial run, it’s much cheaper to produce the second set of print books digitally (since there’s minimal make-ready when compared to offset printing).

This year she let me know that the educational foundation had put a lot of money into a new online service. They plan to print a small number of books, but nowhere near as many as in prior years.

What Can We Learn from This Experience?

  1. The first thing I’m learning is that many of my book printing clients have been shortening their print runs. I think some of this is based on budget cuts. They have a good reason to do so because book printing consumes a lot of paper, so overall it is an expensive prospect. In addition, print books cost a lot to ship. Providing books to students in a primarily online format sidesteps both of these costs.
  2. Overall, digital printing is a good option for short press runs. Moreover, it is a good option for just-in-time printing. My digital printing clients don’t need to store inventory. They also don’t need to estimate exactly how many copies they will need for the upcoming year. If they run out of books, they can always reprint a short press run for a reasonable overall (as opposed to unit) price. This saves money in storage and inventory tracking. Of course, it would be ideal to exactly estimate the number of books needed each year, but this usually can’t be done. At least with digital printing, there’s an alternative.
  3. Since my client’s books have a 4-color cover and black-only text, the covers can be printed via offset lithography for a minimal amount (approximately 350 copies plus spoilage for this client’s reprinted version), and the text blocks of the 264-page print books can be digitally produced and still be of high quality. Once printed, the offset-printed covers and digitally printed text blocks can be bound together.
  4. Given how long this particular client has been printing 3,000 or more copies (I think I printed about 50,000 copies in the 1980s, when I worked at her educational foundation), there still is a need for physical printed textbooks–just not as many as before, and with a mixture of offset-printed, digitally printed, and on-screen versions as options.

Poetry and Fiction Books for a University

A second client of mine is producing a book of poetry and fiction incorporating the works of her creative writing students. She is a university professor. The book will be 6” x 9”, about 100 pages, with a press run of 40 copies. It will be perfect bound, due to its length, and it will have a nice soft-touch film laminate on the covers.

I have one vendor I work with who can produce the whole job in-house for a little over $300.00. That’s a great price. Even though the unit cost is comparatively high for 40 copies, you can’t touch this overall price for an offset print job—even for a print run of brochures, let alone a perfect-bound book with press scores and laminated covers.

This vendor came in with a price almost $200.00 lower than the nearest competitor’s because he has in-house perfect binding capabilities. Many printers do not. This will not only make the vendor with the lower bid less expensive to work with, but he will be able to do the job faster and have more control over the final product, since he already has the binding equipment on his pressroom floor.

My client has also been asked to look into online-only printers, such as Amazon.

In speaking with my client, I learned a lot about her job but also about her university’s approach to print books (as well as her own views and her students’ views).

For instance, since the production budget is very tight, she has been asked to consider publishing the book of poems and fiction online using WordPress. My client doesn’t think this would provide the same experience as the hard-copy version. She thinks the readers will appreciate a physical book to read more than a web page to visit. It will be a more personal, tactile experience.

My client also noted that students as a rule seem to prefer physical textbooks, in spite of the initial surge of interest in ebooks. After all, they can underline passages in the print books and write notes in the margins. It still appears to be a more comfortable way for her students to learn. Granted, this is just anecdotal evidence, but it is still interesting to hear.

What Can We Learn from This Experience?

  1. My client has been given an exceptionally tight budget. She plans to pay for about half of the cost herself in order to have a physical book for her students. That says a lot about her commitment, but it also says a lot about her students’ (and other people’s) desire to still read print books. Granted, it also says that university administrations must balance their students’ needs and desires with their own need to meet their tight budgets.
  2. When I think about how many of my clients have been reducing the press runs for their books—or moving them to an online option only–I have to pause. On the positive side, I see an increasing number of other clients self-publishing their work. Because of this I have been getting lots of bids from lots of printers who want to compete with online book printers like Amazon. The brick-and-mortar printers I frequent have been lowering their prices to get more work. Granted, in some cases this has meant reducing the number of options. A commercial printing vendor offering digital books might only provide a limited number of paper options. Or, perhaps they can do case binding of digital books but only using certain papers and not book binding cloth. By doing this they can offer pricing that lets them compete with online-only vendors.
  3. Self-publishing clients are using their own money. Therefore, press runs are exceedingly small. I call them micro-runs. And overall prices have to be minimal as well. So the total “spend” per client seems to be going down further and further. In spite of this, people still seem to want print books of high quality (with thick paper, smooth cover coatings, French flaps, etc.). They definitely like the tactile experience. It’s just very different working with an individual creating books for friends and colleagues than working with an educational foundation cranking out textbooks.

Commercial Printing: Views on the Future of Printing

Monday, January 11th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

None of us in commercial printing can read the tea leaves or a crystal ball and know exactly where custom printing is headed, but it’s pretty clear that the field has been changing. Fortunately, it’s just changing but not going away.

In this light I was pleased to find on the Ironmark website an article entitled “The Future of Print,” by Lynne Kingsley. (The article was previously printed in Image Nation Magazine, Spring 2019 edition.

“The Future of Print” is based on a discussion with five custom printing experts: Michael Cooper, VP, General Manager, Lindenmeyr Munroe; Jay K. Goldscher, President and CEO, PGAMA (Printing and Graphics Association of the Mid-Atlantic); Kenny Grady, Manager of Global Print Production, Gartner; Stephanie Hill, Senior Business Development Manager, HP Graphic Solutions Business, Americas; and Ryan T. Sauers, President, Sauers Consulting.

If the names don’t ring a bell, you can take my word for it or Google them. As a group they represent multiple decades of experience in the commercial printing field. Therefore, I was pleased to see a compendium of their views, which is the next best thing to having a crystal ball.

General Trends in Printing

In distilling the article into a series of trends, Lynne Kingsley’s article includes the following sections:

  1. “Embracing Innovation”
  2. “Integrating with Digital Technology”
  3. “Getting More Customized”
  4. “Inkjet Technology”
  5. “Wide Format”
  6. “Packaging”
  7. “Subscription Boxes”
  8. “Online Integration”
  9. “Personalization for Print”
  10. “Web-to-Print Portals”
  11. “The Amount and Speed of Change”

Here’s my own summary of the trends noted by Lynne Kingsley and the five print professionals listed above.

Embracing Innovation

As things change rapidly (and this in many cases means the consolidation of print vendors and the closing of many commercial printing plants), the vendors who survive will be those who embrace new technologies and reposition themselves as “communications companies, offering solutions well above and beyond a traditional print facility” (Michael Cooper, VP, General Manager, Lindenmeyr Munroe, from “The Future of Print,” by Lynne Kingsley).

This is what this means. When I first started in the commercial printing industry, back in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, all of the print production tasks were separate. A typesetter (who only set type) prepared galleys for the graphic artist, who pasted them up into artwork for the printer to photograph so he could make printing plates. The entire industry was like this. Everything was broken into separate professions. The people did separate tasks, usually manually.

In the late 1980s, graphic design and printing in general were becoming increasingly automated and computerized, and the distinctions among the various tasks started to break down. (For example, at that point, a graphic designer could set type on a Macintosh computer and also do page composition and other graphic design tasks.)

Now, in 2020 it is not enough for printers to put ink on paper (or even ink and toner on paper). They need to get involved in the process earlier, focusing with clients on the marketing, instruction, persuasion, and other communications goals eventually reflected in a printed product.

Those who don’t, won’t prosper.

Integration with Digital Technology

People like printed products. There is something about the feel of the paper. There is also a sense that print products have a permanence digital media does not.

Print media is also efficient in driving customers online. You read something in a brochure and you want to know more. Or you want to buy something, so you check the catalog for the company website information. The extent to which the analog process of printing and the digital online experience can be seamlessly connected is the extent to which both will prosper. Together the whole is stronger than either part individually. (You may want to research multi-channel marketing, or omni-channel marketing, which address what Lynne Kingsley’s article “The Future of Print” calls “the symbiotic integration” of print products and the online experience.)

“The Future of Print” also mentions 3D printing at this point, noting that it combines printing (you use equipment similar to an inkjet printer to extrude layers of plastic instead of liquid ink) and digital technology.

Personally, I would go further and include 3D printing as a category by itself, since it brings together 3D physical reality (you actually create a physical object you can use) and digital information. I’d also include digital video, augmented reality, and virtual reality, since I can foresee the integration of all of these with print products.


Back in the day, when I was an art director of a nonprofit educational foundation, we mailed out a huge number of sales brochures many times each year. Needless to say, the overall printing costs were much higher then than now. Also, at that time we considered a 3-percent to 7-percent response rate to be very good.

Now, since the infinite variability of digital printing can change each item during the printing process, it is possible to target individual prospects with an exceptionally high degree of accuracy.

So we don’t print as many copies of a brochure, for instance, and each brochure may have (slightly or vastly) different content. Plus, it might include the prospective client’s name and address. All of this makes for a more personal reader experience. It also increases marketing success, since the right information is more likely to get into the right hands, without the waste of extra printed brochures not pertinent to the reader’s interests.

Lynne Kingsley also adds that well-executed demographic research (data aggregation and data mining) can help make the print experience more personal. It can help the prospective client feel that a company understands her/his needs and wants to initiate a dialogue.

In both of these cases I myself would add another distinction. While personalization and customization are closely related, I think of customization as a changing of the content of a printed piece to provide the information a client needs (versioning, if you will). And I think of personalization as including such variable data as a potential client’s name, address, etc. Both are crucial. They imply that you know your audience and that you care about helping them.

Inkjet Technology and Wide Format Printing

According to the five experts quoted in “The Future of Print,” inkjet technology is taking off, and it is doing so in two ways. First, it can be used as an alternative to offset lithography for books and other page-based commercial printing. Production-level inkjet presses come in roll-fed and sheetfed configurations that are fast and cost-efficient. Moreover, there is now a wider range of inks available for inkjet printing (which support using a wider variety of substrates). The article even references advances in conductive ink, and Jay K. Goldscher, President and CEO, PGAMA (Printing and Graphics Association of the Mid-Atlantic), notes that “putting nano particles in the ink…[is]…probably one of the biggest innovations that’s coming down the line.”

The other venue in which inkjet excels is large-format printing. And this has been especially effective for marketing materials on walls, floors, and windows. These inkjet prints can also be replaced quickly and easily, keeping the overall cost contained.

And the same technology can be used to decorate ceramic tiles, fabric, and wallpaper: all of which are staples of creative interior design.


Lynne Kingsley’s article goes on to address the huge growth engine of product packaging and labels, not only for retail products but also for “subscription boxes,” which allow buyers to receive (at home) periodic deliveries of items of interest. (So, essentially, this is a shop-at-home option.)

In both cases, it is clear to marketers that buyers want the product packaging to be attractive, engaging, and pertinent to their interests. The box is no longer just a container. (Marketers refer to the “unboxing” experience.) It is a way to showcase the products and to evoke those thoughts and feelings related to the product.

Interestingly enough, Kingsley’s article, “The Future of Print,” also ties this focus on packaging into the online buying experience, noting that Amazon itself has created the largest market for customized, high-end packaging. And they do this so well that their clients won’t go anywhere else to buy.

Web-to-Print Portals

If you’re a marketing manager for a large company with a number of subsidiaries or just different departments, it’s hard to ensure visual brand consistency over a range of print publications. What a web portal does is allow those who need multiple copies of your brochures, sell sheets, or whatever, for a trade show or seminar, to access a template, add personalized or versioned information, and print copies, all without altering the company brand “look.” This is achieved by only allowing them access to certain design parameters (while locking down others, such as the logo design, size, position, and coloration).

The Amount and Speed of Change

Lynne Kingsley’s article basically distinguishes between the death of print (which isn’t happening) and the dramatic changes in print technology (which are happening). And all of this is happening really, really quickly. Those who are knowledgeable, savvy, and nimble will prosper. Others will not. So the take-away is that if you are a print supplier or designer, everything you learn about the future of commercial printing is an investment in your own professional future.


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