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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 June, 2021

Commercial Printing: Creating and Selecting Color for Graphic Design

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

When I look at the photo above, all I can say is, “Ahhhhhhhhh.” Nobody chooses color schemes better than nature. In fact, if I saw this image in a brochure for island travel, I’d buy a ticket and go.

Understanding color in commercial printing or, in this case, marketing can take a lifetime of study. How do you choose what colors to pair in a marketing brochure? What colors will work together to be the most emotionally evocative?

How Is Color Created?

First of all, color is a function of light and vision. In the dark, no color exists, and until the rods and cones in your eye interact with color, it also doesn’t really exist. (Actually, it’s the cones that help you discern color; the rods help you see objects in low light. But they do work together.)

Regarding RGB and CMYK, there are two ways to create color. One is with light. The other is with pigment (paint, printing ink, etc.).

When you combine the three additive colors (RGB), you create white light. Your computer monitor does this. Filters covering theater lights do the same thing. That said, you can create an amazing number of distinct colors by varying the amounts of red, green, and blue light.

The same is true for subtractive colors (CMY or cyan, magenta, and yellow, plus the additional K or black), which are used for creating color with ink, paint, and other physical pigments (i.e., not with light). You can also create a huge number of distinct colors this way, although the color gamut (range of colors you can create) is smaller for CMY(K) than for RGB. This is why many people prefer to keep their photos in RGB format until the time comes to submit the art files to the commercial printing supplier. At that point, designers can either change from RGB to CMY(K) (and see on their computer monitor what changes occur) or leave the conversion to the printer (which usually happens automatically, or “on the fly”).

In contrast to additive colors (red, green, blue) which create white light, subtractive colors when combined create black (or actually a dark brown) ink (or paint). To darken this muddy brown, custom printing vendors add black ink (“K,” which stands for “key,” so as not to be confused with “b” for “blue”). Hence we have CMYK.

To get back to additive vs. subtractive color, when you add red and blue light, you get magenta. But with subtractive color, combining cyan and magenta removes or subtracts yellow light and creates the perception of blue. (That’s why I noted above that color is a function of light and one’s vision. You have an “experience” of perceiving color.)

Why Is Color Powerful for Marketing?

We associate different emotions with different colors. Interestingly enough, this is often specific to a particular culture (i.e., different from culture to culture). The emotions that colors evoke are often intense, and they are often related to the characteristic of warmth or coolness in a particular hue. That is, yellows, reds, and oranges are warm colors and are often perceived emotionally as being more active and outgoing—or warm, like “warm,” outgoing people. In contrast, cool colors, such as blues and greens, are often perceived as more reserved. They don’t “jump out” the way warm colors do.

An effective marketing designer makes it a point to be conscious of the audience’s associations of color with emotion (from culture to culture) and to use this awareness in persuasive ways while designing promotional pieces. The photo at the beginning of this article is one example. To make the design of a publication incorporating this seaside view more powerful, the designer might bring the color scheme of the photo into the surrounding type and area screens. Maybe she or he would bring the blues of the sky into the color of the headlines, and perhaps the background colors could echo either the light brown of the sand or the warm yellows and oranges of the sky.

Choosing Color for Publications

Personally, I find the process of selecting color from photos within the design to be much easier than devising a color scheme arbitrarily, so I depend on color combinations most often seen in nature.

That said, you can also use the following information as a starting point. It is based on the (subtractive) color wheel, which is a commercial printing model with cyan, magenta, and yellow equidistant on the circle. These are the primaries, and if you’re drawing your own color wheel, you can add the secondary colors next. Between magenta and yellow you have red. Between magenta and cyan you have blue. And between cyan and yellow you have green.

So now, with the primaries and secondaries noted on the color wheel, you have six colors, with the secondary colors being a mix of the primaries. You can even go a step further and add the tertiary colors which are mixtures of one primary and one secondary (yellow mixed with green makes yellow-green, for instance).

Colors opposite each other on the color wheel will vibrate visually when placed next to one another. This can be somewhat jarring, unless the tone of your publication matches the “energy” of the complementary colors being placed together.

For other visual effects you have other options. For instance, an achromatic color scheme involves the absence of color (i.e., black and white). A monochromatic color scheme includes colors based on the same base hue (screens of a particular blue, for instance).

Triads are created from three colors equidistant on the color wheel. Analogous colors (which would be more subdued than complementary colors) are side by side on the color wheel (green, yellow, and yellow-green, for example).

And split complements, which bring in a third color, include the two colors on either side of the complement of the first color you select. Another way to say this is that you pick a color, like red. Then you determine its complement (opposite on the color wheel), which is green. Then you choose blue-green and yellow-green to use along with the initial red. These three hues will be somewhat vibrant, but you may in fact want this. (Otherwise you might select analogous colors for a softer effect, as noted above.)

An Easier Approach

Once you get the general idea of the physics and color theory I’ve described, it’s much easier to choose colors in the following ways:

    1. Do what I often do, and pay attention to colors that go together in nature.


    1. Look for graphic design books that show combinations of two or three colors formatted as swatches of color alongside one another. (This approach can be somewhat misleading when you’re putting type in a color, because the thin serifs and strokes of letterforms don’t really use up much ink. Therefore, they may look much lighter than a solid or even screened color sample when printed.)


    1. Look for already-printed publications with color schemes you like, and then use these color schemes in your own design work. (One benefit is that you can see what type, screens, and solids will look like in various colors, and you can see whether type set in a particular color will still be readable.)


    1. Then design with the colors you have chosen and print out a color mock-up (inkjet or color laser). Don’t assume that, just because you like what you see on the computer monitor (color made with light), your choices will work well when printed (color made with pigment or, in this case, ink).


  1. Buy sample color books (unfortunately, they are expensive) that show type, a photo, a solid, and a screen in each of a myriad of colors. These are often set up based on PMS colors, but you might also find the same kind of print books based on CMYK color builds.

Three Factors to Consider While Selecting Book Printing Online Services

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Publishing a book is a complex task. Writing a book itself might feel overwhelming but the next and more important thing is the printing. Printing plays an important role in publishing any marketing content or books and novels that will communicate well with the audience. There is a reason why people spend their time searching for different color printing online companies as the main goal is to have an outcome that is completely perfect and aligns with the expectations of the publishers. When it comes to books and novels, the first thing that readers notice is how clear and perfectly the words are printed in the book. Generally, books include visuals and graphics in a large amount. The visuals are a great way for readers to relate to the story and interact with the characters. Regardless of how amazing the graphics are, printing is always more important.

Factors to Consider While Selecting Printing Services

Amongst the factors that contribute the most in increasing the value of a publisher, printing quality tops the list. In the course of publishing a book, the most important task is to find the best color printing online services. Finding the best service takes a lot of consideration. There are several essential factors that one needs to consider while choosing professionals to get the best value from the printing company. These guiding factors will result in achieving the best value return on your investment. Let us discuss these factors in detail:

Favorable Rates

The whole process of publishing a book is set on strict budget and most importantly the budget for the printing process of books needs to be maintained. If you do not want to go out of budget you should ask for the printing rates from the company as the first thing. The quotes vary from company to company and it gives you an idea of whether the services come under your budget or not. It is recommended to know the printing quotes of more than one printing company as there are chances that some of them will offer the same service at different prices.

Experienced Professionals

Hiring printing services that have years of experience has higher chances of bringing quality results. Experience provides you a wider view of the profession and you know the nitty-gritty of it inside out. Experienced professionals have faced every kind of challenge in their long journey and know how to master all kinds of printing requirements. They understand your needs and preferences better. Experience of the printing company will directly be visible in the output.

Latest Equipment

The biggest factor that determines the quality of printing services and the result is the printing equipment. The printing industry has evolved in terms of several advancements in technologies and equipment to provide the best quality printing. However, it is your job make sure that the printing services you choose are using the latest printing equipment as it will naturally bring the best quality printing to your books.

Print quality reflects the brand image and value. The poor-quality print looks highly unprofessional.

3 Benefits of Using Professional Flyer Printing Services for Advertisement

Monday, June 28th, 2021

A consistent goal of every business is to target potential customers with the right marketing strategy and increase sales. An effective marketing tool with the proper information about your products and services has the ability to increase the customer base. Flyers are one of the effective advertising tools for business. Flyers are a low cost promotional material that reaches the doorstep of customer with the essential information of products and services. Regardless of any event or occasion that your business is organizing or introducing products, flyers are the primary need of the situation to pass on the information to customers in a less time. To ensure flyers make the best first impression on customers, it is important to choose professional flyer printing services.

Benefits of Hiring Professional Flyer Printing Services

There are a wide range of marketing materials that businesses publish to communicate with readers and develop potential clients. The printing Quality of flyers is an important factor in deciding how impactful the marketing material will prove to the customers. Low quality printing makes a poor impression on customers and there are chances they do not even read them completely. The printing service provider plays a major role in maintaining the quality of the marketing material. Let us now discuss the advantages of hiring best flyer printing services:

Hassle Free Service

Professional printing services with experienced experts are highly convenient. You just need a computer or any other smart device and can easily contact or communicate with a printing service provider. The hassle of searching for validation or how to achieve perfection in the job will not be there anymore. After finding your printing service provider, you can check out their samples and designs to brief them about your needs and preferences that they will easily understand.

Best in Quality

Professional printing services never scrimp on the quality to maintain their reputation. They are equipped with the latest technologies and tools that ensure every marketing material achieves the highest standard of quality. They are doing this job for years and know what works well and what does not, so you can assign them the order without any stress and achieve guaranteed quality results.

Excellent Customer Service

Printing companies are known for providing excellent customer service. Right from the start they are truly transparent and are accessible to the customers 24/7 through phone or e-mail. Service inquiries or complaints are well-received even after the job is done, in case there is an error. You can trust them well with your printing material as they work until customers are completely satisfied.

Like any other marketing collateral, flyers are also an essential part of any brand. They not only connect readers to your brand but also establishes your brand personality in the market. Many printing services these days also offer tracking details online so that the customers can easily track their orders and know if the timeline is being followed or not. It reduces the stress of delay in delivery and makes it easier to solve any issue regarding the delivery status of the flyers.

Commercial Printing: Manipulating Color Value for the Best Effect

Sunday, June 20th, 2021

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I recently discovered an exceptional commercial printing textbook that focuses exclusively on color. Needless to say, my fiancee and I found it at our favorite thrift store. The print book is entitled Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers, and it was written by Linda Holtzschue. It’s accessible and comprehensive. If you can get a copy online, it’s worth it.

Summarizing this book would take a book in itself, but since color holds such emotional power in graphic design (as well as in fine arts and also in real life), I’d like to share a few points of interest from this text. These include real life examples of my own based on the descriptions of color usage in the print book. I think you may find them useful in your own design work.

One Color Is Affected by Its Surrounding Background Color

I saw a calendar recently that included a striking photo of the sun as dusk approached. The sun was still bright yellow, but there was a lot of purple in the clouds extending outward on the page. What intrigued me was just how bright the sun looked. After all, it could not physically have been lighter than the white press sheet on which the image had been printed. But it did seem to radiate a brilliant light.

What this shows is that a color looks different depending on the colors that surround it. First of all, since yellow and purple are complementary colors (i.e., directly opposite on the color wheel), they vibrate visually when placed next to each other. In the case of the sunset in the calendar photo, the yellow of the sun and the purple of the surrounding sky, as complementary colors, seem to be more vibrant due to their proximity.

Moreover, the yellow of the sun in the calendar photo I saw appeared to be brighter than even the press sheet on which it had been printed because of the striking contrast in the value of the yellow and the surrounding purple. Value is the property of color related to its lightness or darkness, separately from its hue (the name of the color, like “blue” and “red”). While red and green (also complementary colors) are much closer to one another in value, purple and yellow are very different. A fully saturated purple is extremely dark, but a saturated yellow is extremely light. So, placed in close proximity, the yellow makes the purple look darker, and the purple makes the yellow look lighter.

If you read Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers, you will see examples of one color square surrounded by another color, as well as the same initial color with a different background. (Let’s say a light green surrounded by either blue or orange.) The same color (in the center) can look very different depending on whether the background is orange or blue. It can look lighter or darker, for instance. You can even make two different green swatches (two slightly different hues) look the same depending on the colors of their backgrounds.

So how does this affect you in real life, you may ask. If you’re an interior designer, for example, and you choose a neutral gray carpet for a room, you may find that depending on the other colors in the room, the neutral gray carpet may appear to have a color cast. It therefore helps to understand the properties and behavior of color and also to be alert, in case you or your client perceives such a color cast.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of science, optics, and commercial printing technology referenced in Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers regarding colors in proximity to one another. If you can get this print book, you may find this information interesting. If not, it still helps to know the cardinal rule: Colors look different based on their surroundings.

Type on a Background

Overprinting colored type on a colored background is similar to the aforementioned topic, and it’s therefore something to fully understand when designing for custom printing.

Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers includes a swatch of orange with blue type surprinted over the background to illustrate this point. The rule of thumb in Holtzschue’s print book is that value (lightness vs. darkness) rather than hue (the named color) determines the readability of such type. Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers actually includes three separate orange swatches (same hue) overprinted with light, medium, and dark type.

The lightest version of the blue text is the same value as the orange background. It is therefore almost completely unreadable. The medium version of the blue is better, but my aging eyes still find reading the text difficult. More than a few words, and the designer would have lost my interest. (And in an ad, the advertiser might have lost my purchase.)

As in a famous fairy tale about bears, the third option, the dark blue, is “just right.”

So what can we learn? First of all, separately from the fact that two colors are composed of the four process colors and therefore may include common elements (which complicates matters), the best way I know to predict the readability of colored type on a colored background is to trust your eyes, mention your concern to your printer, and request a proof.

If I were making decisions such as those shown in the three options in Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers, I’d print a an inkjet proof. Then I’d decide visually which value of the blue is readable on the orange. I’d also ask the printer for advice, and I’d look very closely at the printer’s contract proof prior to final printing. Or I’d take the safest route and print black type on the orange background.

Needless to say, the takeaway from this example is that the readability of type printed in color depends on the contrast of value between the text and the background.

How Color Translates to Value

Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers includes six images of birds and four images of butterflies in one of its discussions on color values. So this is actually related to the other examples I have cited above.

More specifically, the birds are printed side by side in green and red, orange and blue, and yellow and purple. Interestingly enough, each of these pairs contains two complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel). Furthermore, all six images appear to be “coordinated” visually. They go together. They appear to be six different colored images of the same bird (a simple black-and-one-color rendering).

But if you read the accompanying text, you’ll learn that (as noted earlier in this article) colors distributed around the color wheel have different values. At full saturation (intensity, color purity), the birds would appear different and might compete or even clash visually. Some would be lighter in value and others would be darker. They certainly would not feel coordinated.

Therefore, the print book presents the birds’ colors at different levels of saturation to make the color values consistent. For instance, the yellow bird appears to be of the same value as the other colored birds because the yellow is fully saturated, but the purple is more subdued (less intense, less saturated). Therefore, the purple bird actually has the same value as the yellow bird. Interestingly enough, the green and red birds are almost equal in value, so they are equally saturated, and the blue and orange colors seem to be in more of a middle ground (not as similar in value as red and green, but not as different as yellow and purple).

So what do we learn from this? If you want an even, coordinated effect, consider adjusting the saturation of the color (not the hue) to vary its value. And the way to reduce saturation is to add gray or the complement of the color.

(This means that, at least in one color model, the three variables are hue, saturation, and brightness or value. If you do some research into this and other color models—ways of describing color in the commercial printing field–in your Photoshop documentation, you’ll find a wealth of information regarding their implications, benefits, and usage.)

Understanding Color: An Introduction for Designers includes one other set of images, four butterflies printed in black only. Like the birds noted above, they are simple line drawings with several tints of black added. Unlike the birds, in which color values have been adjusted to make all the birds appear to be alike, the value distribution in the black and white butterflies is all different. It’s beautiful. It’s an interesting effect. But each of the four butterflies, unlike the six birds, looks different from all of the others. What you can learn from this is that you can alter the viewer’s perception based on whether the values of repeated images are different or the same, and you can alter the value of a color by varying its saturation while maintaining its hue.

Book Printing: Two More Paper Specifications to Know

Monday, June 14th, 2021

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A single print book started my education in commercial printing (Getting It Printed by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly). If you read this book you will learn far more than you thought possible about paper—everything from the difference between whiteness and brightness to how paper is made to the difference between long- and short-grain paper stocks. It may make your head hurt, but it will vastly improve your design skills and print negotiating skills. It did for me. This used to be an area in which my knowledge was lacking.

Two paper qualities that aren’t always addressed along with whiteness, brightness, surface formation, and caliper are “bulk” and paper sheet sizes as they relate to paper weight and thickness. You may find these useful to understand.

Caliper vs. Bulk

First the easy and short one: bulk vs. caliper. When you design a print book, you may choose to specify the cover stock as 10pt. C1S. This means that when you use a micrometer, it will show the thickness of the paper to be 10 points (.138009”). Personally, I’ve usually specified either 10pt. or 12pt. stock for 6” x 9” perfect-bound books I have designed. This is a good starting point. You may want to get paper samples from your book printer before you make your decision. You may even want to choose a thicker paper stock for larger-format books.

As an addendum, this is what the C1S means: “coated one side.” For a print book cover, that means the inside front and back covers will have the same uncoated surface as the (often) uncoated paper used for the text. If your text pages are coated, however, you’d want to look for C2S (coated two side) alternatives (such as regular 65#, 80#, or 100# cover stock).

Both 10pt. and 12pt. stocks are specified in absolute measurements, unlike 60# text (used for the interior of the print book). When you choose a 60# text stock, that specification reflects the weight of 500 sheets of 25” x 38” paper. This size (which may be only one option for the sheet size a printer may buy) is called the “basic size” for that particular paper, and the 60# specification is the “basis weight.” That gives a consistent measure to all paper.

In contrast, 65# cover stock reflects the weight of 500 sheets of the thicker cover stock. The reason this makes sense is that the basic size of cover paper is smaller (20” x 26”), so compared to 500 sheets of text paper, it will be significantly thicker (even though it still weighs 65#).

This thickness (on an absolute level) is called “caliper” (as noted before, regarding 10pt. and 12pt. cover stock).

In contrast, “bulk” refers to the relative comparison of paper weight to paper thickness, and this can vary from paper to paper. And the way you can compare one sheet to another is through the “ppi” specification noted on your custom printing contract. PPI means pages per inch. One text paper might have a bulk of 350 ppi, while another may have a bulk of 400 ppi. The first has a higher bulk (fewer pages for the same one-inch measurement). You can determine the thickness of a print book text block by dividing the page count by the ppi (500 pages divided by 400 ppi would be a 1.25” text block, for instance).

There are benefits to selecting a paper with a higher bulk. There is less chance for show through (seeing ink printed on the opposite side of a book page when you’re reading). (Paper thickness and opacity reduce show-through.) Also, a thicker page (your fingers will know the difference) can make a print book feel more substantial.

One of my print brokering clients (a husband and wife publishing team), for instance, used to print all of their book text blocks on 55# Sebago Antique, an uncoated paper with a higher bulk than most 60# white offset press papers. It was cheaper, but it made the pages feel more weighty because of the higher bulk.

In contrast, it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re specifying a coated paper for the text of a print book. Your inclination might be to select a 60# white coated sheet, but since coated sheets usually have a lower bulk than the 60# white offset you might have otherwise chosen, it might be prudent to upgrade the text paper to a 70# gloss coated sheet.

Again, ask your printer about this, and review printed sheets of all paper weights you’re considering. Look for show-through. Check book pages printed on both sides of the paper, and make sure you can’t see halftones and area screens or solids on the back when you’re looking at the front of the paper.

For all of this to make sense, you might want to imagine a sponge. Initially it has a certain thickness, but if you squeeze it (equally and completely flat, perhaps with a flower press used for drying flowers), the sponge will get thinner without its weight changing. It will still weigh the same amount that it did before you compressed the sponge. In a similar vein, paper fibers are squeezed together to a greater or lesser extent based on the “calendering” process (running the paper through a series of heated metal rollers during the papermaking process).

Calendering ensures a smooth, hard, glossy paper surface, and this allows commercial printing ink to sit up on the surface of the paper (called “holdout”). A paper with good holdout keeps ink from seeping into the paper fibers and makes the colors of the ink appear crisper, brighter, cleaner. Newsprint has minimal holdout. A gloss coated press sheet has superior holdout. However, the calendering process makes the paper feel thinner for the same weight (i.e., its bulk), and you may want the paper to not feel flimsy, so you may choose to print your book text on a 70# white gloss coated paper instead of a 60# white gloss coated sheet.

Paper Sheet Sizes

So now you see how all of this is somewhat of a moving target. Cover papers in pounds, text papers in pounds, cover papers in points. Plus the different sheet sizes from which these measurements of 500 sheets (or a ream) are taken.

But there are a few easy ways to compare paper weights. The first rule of thumb is that you may want to pair (like a wine and a food) a 100# cover sheet with a 100# or 80# text sheet for the interior of a book (let’s say an annual report). This is a good starting point, but you may want to get a paper dummy (an unprinted sample of the bound paper annual report made by the paper mill) to see how it feels. Again, your fingers will know. Does it feel substantial? Does it feel flimsy?

Another good way to compare paper weights is to search online for a paper weight comparison chart. These charts align comparable weights of papers with different basic sizes (cover, as noted before, is weighed at 20” x 26”; text is weighed at 25” x 38”; index has a different size altogether: 25.5” x 30.5”; bond is 17” x 22”). The paper charts also list the absolute thickness (or caliper, like the 10pt. or 12pt. stock noted above) of each paper weight.

What these charts do is show you how one paper will feel compared to another. However, as noted above, the bulk of comparable-weight papers can vary, so it behooves you to review the paper books and samples your book printer provides to make sure you like the bulk of a particular paper.

Another Thing Paper Charts Will Teach You

Text paper may be weighed at 25” x 38” to yield the 60# paper weight of 500 sheets, but your printer may have presses that are different sizes from other printers’ presses, so he may want a different sized sheet. That’s fine. Depending on what’s available, for instance, he may order 28” x 40” paper. This may still be 60# text when 500 sheets of 25” x 38” standard stock are weighed, but the stack of press sheets may fit the press better.

There are a lot of options beyond the standard. And you will notice, if you look closely, that the sizes are usually based on some multiple of 8.5” x 11” (in the United States, that is; elsewhere the standard would be metric). For instance, on a 25” x 38” sheet of paper, you can get four pages across and two down on either side of the sheet. That’s eight pages per side or a full 16-page press signature when folded. (Here’s the math: 4 x 8.5” = 34” plus room for the gripper and printer’s marks and perhaps bleeds. The other dimension would be 2 x 11” = 22” plus room for any bleeds or printer’s marks.) And the reason this is relevant is that your goal in print buying is to use as much of the press sheet as possible and print as large a press signature (in terms of the number of pages) as possible—without waste. Any paper that gets trimmed off and thrown in the trash still gets billed to you. Efficiency is paramount.

So the takeaway is that you might want to get a copy of Getting It Printed (or a similar printing textbook), study all of this information on paper sizes, paper caliper, and bulk, and discuss matters with your book printer. Get samples, too. And go on a press tour. Even consider going on a tour of a papermaking mill. The more you know, the more effective you will be in designing your print books and in buying commercial printing.

Custom Printing: Trade Printers and Printing Brokers

Monday, June 14th, 2021

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Among my other gigs (writer, graphic designer, art teacher), I am a commercial printing broker. I find the printer with the most appropriate skills and equipment for a particular client’s job. Unlike a printing sales rep for an individual company, I have access to printers across the country. Many of them I worked with when I was a production manager/art director in a local educational foundation. I have been doing this for 20 years (of my 44 years in printing and publications).

Recently, I found a new printer for a client’s post-graduate catalog, a newspaper-like, saddle-stitched product. (As I recall, I found this printer through the Printing Industry Exchange website.) Their prices were outstanding. When I approached the printer to discuss the job and make sure they worked with printing brokers, I was told they only work with printing brokers and printers. They are a “trade printer.” They do not sell to the end-user (i.e., my clients).

What Is a Trade Printer?

A trade printer lowers the prices it charges in order to be able to sell through brokers and commercial printers, whom they know will mark up their services. Trade printers want to be competitive. If they charged prices commensurate to those of other printers, the commissions I would add as a printing broker, or the mark-up a commercial printing supplier might add, would price them out of the market.

So what are the benefits of using a trade printer? First of all, they might have exceptional (and/or specialized) skills and knowledge. They might have exactly the right equipment for a particular job: such as the ability to case bind an ultra-short-run of a print book with specialized binding cloth, foil stamping, and such.

Most printers do not do all work in house. Die cutting, foil stamping, and case binding are usually “jobbed” out to a trade printer (or a trade shop). When a printer subcontracts printing or finishing tasks, he usually works with a trade shop (a shop that only does work for other printing professionals) rather than a regular commercial printer.

If You Are a Printer…

If you are a printer, you are responsible for the quality of the product or process provided by the trade printer or trade shop (as well as your own portion of the job). You get the financial benefit of your mark-up, but you have to choose the supplier wisely. This is exactly the same as if you were a printing client choosing a printer (checking references, reviewing printed samples–due diligence, if you will).

For your client, your taking responsibility for everything is an advantage. You are coordinating both your printing work and the subcontracted work, so there’s no chance of “finger pointing” if something goes wrong. Your client will just look to you, as the primary supplier, to make everything right. This is highly valuable to your client.

If you’re a printer without specialized equipment such as die cutting, foil stamping, or case binding capabilities, you may have no other option than to work with a trade shop. In fact, in one geographical region, a large number of local printers might go to the same bindery subcontractor and get quality work for a reasonable price without needing to buy this finishing equipment and pay labor costs for specialized work that may be required only occasionally.

(Any printer’s goal is to run all of the equipment on their pressroom floor all the time. If a printer only has occasional case binding work, it would be a financial drain to have the equipment and operators sitting idle. So subcontracting some work to a specialist—such as a dedicated bindery—would be a smart move.)

If You Are a Commercial Printing Broker…

This category of clients who frequent trade printers actually includes more than just printing brokers. It also includes graphic designers who offer to not only design their clients’ jobs but also get them printed. It also includes marketing agencies that provide complete marketing services (concept to marketing campaign). Anyone who resells the trade shop’s services fits into this category.

Trade printers will not contact your clients directly unless you ask them to (to clarify job details, resolve prepress technical issues, etc.). If you want them to, trade printers will even send out the final printed product in “blind cartons” (that is, with no distinguishing company logos).

However, trade printers are not set up to run credit checks, review client references, or extend credit to end users. So what that means if you’re a printing broker is that you have to front the money for a job yourself. You cannot do what I do: get a printer’s price, add your commission, and pass the total amount on to your client; and then bill the printer for the commission after the client has taken delivery of the job and has paid for the job in full. You buy the printing, and then you resell it.

For me, the financial arrangements noted above make sense. I can’t afford to front the money, so I don’t use trade shops. A graphic designer working from home might be in the same boat. She/he might also not have the financial wherewithal to front money for a large job. Hence, she/he might use a regular printer instead of a trade printer. (Granted, she/he might not have room in the overall price for a large mark-up, but she/he wouldn’t be putting any money at risk.) In contrast, a marketing agency probably does have sufficient cash flow to cover paying printers (so in this case they can work with trade printers).

Another way to grasp this distinction is as follows. If you work with a trade printer, you actually buy the service and then resell it to an end user. So when I say I’m a printing broker, what’s really true is that I’m an “agent.” The financial relationship (when I add my commission to a printers price, pass it on to the client, and then bill the printer for the commission after the client has taken delivery of the job and paid all bills) is between the printer and my client. I am more of a locator of skilled personnel and relevant equipment, an advocate for the client, and a consultant.

Why Work with a Printing Broker?

When I was the production manager/art director of a nonprofit educational foundation in the 1990s, I worked primarily with individual printers. I knew what each offered. We built mutually advantageous professional relationships. But I also worked with one printing broker. I went to him regularly because he offered superb prices, quality work, specialty services (he used to do multi-part forms for the organization, for which I otherwise did not have a reliable, reasonably-priced source). He offered suggestions I hadn’t considered for various projects. As they say in management-speak, he “added value.”

So here are some reasons clients might want to use a printing broker:

  1. The broker might also be a graphic designer, as noted earlier (i.e., one-stop shopping).
  2. The print broker might offer a wealth of knowledge/experience, perhaps offering design or prepress suggestions, paper suggestions, and suggestions on how to save money in the process.
  3. The printing broker might know where (in any number of states in the US) to get the best prices for the exact kind of specialty work that you are doing (maybe an ultra-short-run of posters with scratch-off coating on multiple irregular areas of the poster). (An individual printer has deep knowledge about his own shop, but a print broker has a broader awareness in many cases of the offerings of printers across the country or even the world.)
  4. The print broker might do press inspections for you (although this is usually only necessary for the most color-critical work now).
  5. If something goes wrong with a job—and things do go wrong occasionally—your print broker can be your advocate, speaking for you from a position of knowledge to get your printer to correct the problem or extend a discount on the work.

If your print broker just places an order for you and marks up the final price, perhaps you would do well to go directly to your own printers. But if she or he adds value in the ways noted above, a print broker can be a real asset.

Is it worth it to pay a premium? Actually, this doesn’t even need to be an issue. If your commercial printing broker gets lower prices than you can (perhaps from a trade printer or just from a lower-priced vendor in a part of the country with overall lower prices), and then adds value to the process with her/his knowledge and experience, you may just get the best deal of all: lower prices plus superior service, all in addition to the skilled, quality work of the custom printing supplier himself.

Custom Printing: Gatefolds and Inserts (Perfect Binding vs. Saddle Stitching)

Monday, June 7th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

I was looking through the art books in the thrift store yesterday and saw a perfect-bound print book with a few gatefold pull-outs in various places scattered throughout the text. Since I’m more familiar with gatefolds in saddle-stitched magazines (such as the Playboy magazines I saw in the ‘70s), I had to think for a while about just what prevented the gatefolds in the art books from being easily pulled out.

In light of this, I also thought back to some of the graphic design magazines I had received in the mail back in the ‘90s. They had regular text papers (probably 80# gloss text) for the editorial pages, but in multiple positions throughout the design magazines there were bound-in paper samples printed on much different stocks. These were samples intended to inspire designers to specify cast-coated press papers or heavy, uncoated papers with a rough texture.

Just how did these stay attached in the perfect-bound magazines without being easily pulled out?

The Answer

The second example was easier to understand. I took apart one of the magazines with an X-Acto knife. Without its spine, the perfect-bound magazine separated into press signatures and inserts (between the press signatures).

Keep in mind that pages of a magazine or book are laid out (imposed) on a much larger, flat press sheet, such that when the press sheet is folded, you have a little booklet of consecutive pages.

To understand this, you can make a paper folding dummy. Fold a piece of laser paper in half, then in half again and again, until you get a little booklet with eight pages on either side of the (unfolded) sheet. If you number these pages consecutively, when folded, and then open up the sheet, you’ll see that the page numbers aren’t consecutive.

All of your multi-page documents are created like this. Both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound books are made up of 4-page, 8-page, 16-page, and 32-page signatures. The longer the signatures, the fewer the press runs needed for a complete book.

To take this a step further, in a saddle-stitched print book, these press signatures are “nested” or inserted into each other and then stitched (stapled) through the fold. (A saddle-stitched book has no spine.)

In a perfect-bound book, the press signatures are stacked, not nested. In both cases, the binding equipment (saddle stitcher or perfect binder) includes a certain number of “pockets” or little hoppers into which you feed stacks of press signatures, inserts, or the covers of the books. On a saddle stitcher the signatures are opened and dropped onto other press signatures (those closer to the middle of the print books) on a central “saddle” (on a conveyor) that holds all nested signatures of all books until they can be stitched.

On a perfect binder, the signatures are dropped next to one another (in book order), and then the bind edges are roughed up, glue is added, and the covers are wrapped around (and pasted onto) the book block.

How Does This Relate to Gatefolds?

If you add a gatefold to a saddle-stitched book, more often that not you will bind it in as the center spread. This is convenient, since it’s in the prime attention-getting spot. You just start the binding with this piece and nest all remaining 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures around it. Then you staple (stitch) the print book.

If you have two gatefolds, that’s a bit harder. All pages of a saddle-stitched book have two component parts: one in the front of the book and one in the back (the stitches are in the middle). So if you put a gatefold somewhere other than the center of the print book (or include a second one), you need to include a “hanger” (a piece of paper slipped between press signatures, providing a flap in the earlier part of the book (the low-folio side) and a flap in the back of the book (the high-folio side). To this flap you would then attach the fold-out (gatefold): that is, you would glue it to the part of the hanger on either the low-folio side or the high-folio side of the saddle-stitched print book. You would use either hot-melt glue or (if you want to be able to remove the gatefold) fugitive glue (similar to rubber cement).

Inserts have to go between signatures. Therefore, if your saddle-stitched book includes two 32-page signatures, and you have a gatefold in the center spread and an insert “tipped-onto” a hanger between signatures, depending on the placement you might have to break one of the signatures into two or more press signatures (a 16-pager and two 8-pagers, for instance). This adds extra press runs. And extra press runs add time and cost more.

The same is true for inserts and gatefolds in a perfect-bound book (although it is the binding glue that holds the pages together rather than saddle-stitching wire).

Let’s say you have a 96-page perfect-bound book that you have chosen to perfect bind because of its length. (That’s three 32-page signatures, which would probably be too large for a saddle-stitched book anyway. If you tried to saddle-stitch a 96-page book, depending on the thickness of the paper, the center pages might pull out. Even if this didn’t happen, the book would probably bow out like a barrel with that many pages. And/or you might want the more professional look of perfect binding. Or you might want to include type on the spine, which is impossible with saddle stitching because there is no spine.)

If you want to add gatefolds, or inserts printed on different paper stock (as in the case of my design periodicals from the ‘90s), you have to think carefully about where they can be placed. They always go between signatures.

If your perfect-bound book is 96 pages (three 32-page signatures) and you want the gatefold or single-page insert to go anywhere but between any two consecutive 32-page signatures, you have to break down the print book into smaller signatures. Maybe you could break down one of the 32-page signatures into two 16-pagers. Or, if you’re publishing the graphic design magazine I mentioned earlier, and you want to include five or six paper samples on unique stocks, you might need to break down the book into even smaller signatures.

Unless you can break up a single press sheet into two flat press signatures (prior to folding into booklets) side by side (i.e., two copies of the same “form” on one press sheet), you’ll have to increase the number of press runs. In fact, you might need to also make two passes on the binder if you get up to a high enough number of press signatures. (Let’s say your perfect-binder includes eight pockets for press signatures plus a cover pocket and an insert pocket, but you have still more press signatures to include.)

So this can run into money and time. It bears thought—early in the process.

Presumably, this is exactly how the production coordinators of the graphic design magazines I read in the ‘90s approached their binding issues. And when they wanted to include a gatefold along with the sample printing stock inserts, they would consider the best way to break up the magazine into press signatures such that there would be fewer rather than more press runs.

How to Use This Information

This is complex and perhaps even confusing/maddening information. Your printer will probably have to help you with these decisions. Only he knows how to economically break down the signature lengths and page-counts optimally for his own commercial printing presses and binding equipment.

However, if you understand the gist of the approach I have described, you can discuss press signatures and inserts or gatefolds thoughtfully with your printer. Moreover, you can better consider where to place additional bind-ins to save money. (For instance, maybe the insert doesn’t need to go right next to the paragraph that describes it.)

Also, consider making one of the folding dummies I mentioned (one laser paper sheet folded over again and again until you get eight pages on either side).

Now open up the little booklet again so it’s one flat sheet. Notice that you can tear these flat sheets into four-page signatures or eight-page signatures as well (with either two or four pages on either side, respectively).

This will give you more of a physical reference as to how flat press sheets get folded into the little stacks or nests of booklets (press signatures) that comprise both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound print books.


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