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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 August, 2021

Online Prints Are Helpful for Several Businesses

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Every business in today’s times need to be able to reach out to its own shareholders and the audience, for which it requires online printing services. Most of the online printing websites are offering both offline and online services. Digital prints can be used for magazines and newsletters as well, many of which are used for internal communication. Though it is easy to get such services due to the number of companies providing them, it is important to choose a company with good market reputation.

A World Full of Customized Prints

Today’s world is one in which both individuals and companies like to buy customized items, whether notepads, cards, mugs, keychains, or T-shirts. Such items can be created with the help of customized prints available on online printing websites. Here are the names of some customized prints that can be created by the best companies:

  • Plastic Cards
  • Standees
  • Grocery Bags
  • Brochures
  • Pamphlets and flyers
  • Hologram Stickers
  • Leaflets
  • Car Wraps
  • Membership Cards
  • Banners
  • Mouse Pads
  • Posters
  • Letterheads

Whether customized or not, online prints are heavily used for the following industries:

  • Advertising and Marketing – Flyers and brochures have to be printed for direct marketing
  • Education – Drafts for flyers, magazines, certificates, and newsletters are designed online
  • Healthcare – Remote printing solutions in hospitals and medical centers are necessary to print patient reports

Main Advantages of Online Prints

  • Highly Cost Effective
  • Highly accurate in terms of proofing
  • Suitable for low volume print jobs like printed newsletters
  • Greater print speed than traditional prints, enabling companies to meet their deadlines easily. Even detailed samples can be prepared in no time.
  • Various alterations in colors, images, and text can be made without affecting the speed of the print process
  • Diverse marketing campaigns can be printed using digital technology

A substantial amount of time needs to be spent on the Internet to find the most suitable printing service for any company. Personal as well as online references are most helpful in selecting one print vendor over another. The best part about online print is that the order for the task can be given in any part of the world and be received from there as well. Online payment gateways have made it possible to pay over the Internet.

Different Types of Paper

Paper specifications for companies may vary. Since businesses would be different from each other, it is likely that the type of paper needed would also be unique. Here are the paper options that cover most industries:

  • Bright White Paper
  • Glossy Paper
  • Inkjet Printer Paper
  • Matte Paper

Customer Satisfaction is Important

Every company that contacts a printing vendor is a B2B customer. Therefore, it is necessary for such interactions to be pleasant experiences, ranging from interactions about scope of work to order tracking. Of course, the quality of print job has to be the most important. As print vendors take responsibility for print quality, companies will be able to prepare their marketing strategies.



3 Ways Direct Marketing Can Help You Over Email Marketing

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

We’re at the point where technology has drastically changed how we communicate with people. Using an email client, a social media site, or even a smartphone, we can exchange messages to other people in just seconds. For companies, however, the success in which the recipient will respond to your inquiries may vary, even if you manage to obtain their email address via lead generation.

This is why direct mail is still relevant. While it takes much longer to get to your recipient’s address, a physical piece of mail comes with many benefits over an email, which can play a part in the recipient signing up or making that purchase you were hoping for. Here are three reasons to start a direct mail marketing campaign over one involving email.

Direct Mail Can’t Be “Deleted”

Many companies prefer to go with email because it takes less time to create and send. However, the recipient can also take as much time to disregard and delete the email from their inbox, never being read apart from perhaps the subject line. Many web users have been conditioned to ignore emails they feel are spam, even if companies are legitimate and serious with their inquiries.

Direct mail can’t be discarded in the same way. While it can be tossed in the trash, recipients can still find curiosity to open an envelope to find out who it’s from and what they are offering. At the very least, your potential customer can at least make an effort to read the message before they make a decision.

Direct Mail Is Convenient

Direct mail can contain one of many marketing materials you can order from online printing sites, such as stationary, brochures, business cards, postcards, and more. These things can contain important information like an address, phone number, or special code. Anything useful for your recipient to want to use later can be placed on a desk or nightstand or in a pocket, purse, wallet, or bag, and will be very handy when using a phone or computer at the same time.

While emails and other messages can be saved on a smartphone or computer, the access and convenience of a small piece of paper can’t be beat. Should your leads also recommend your business to others, this material can be easily passed on without needing to use the internet and looking for it on an inbox.

Direct Mail Can Be Personalized

Presentation is another reason direct mail is more appealing to leads. A printing company can be able to create a custom set of envelopes for you to invite people to open. You can include your brand colors, freebies, and even a personalized message as if you’re talking to the recipient directly.

Simply put, an envelope has much more to pitch than a subject line in an email. As subject lines only consist of one line of text, they’re not really flattering in the eyes of inbox owners. And even any attempt to try to be creative and attractive just makes the email resemble spam.

Though email is the dominant means of marketing to potential leads, the success that businesses experience is rather hit and miss. Direct mail, however, is still effective in making new customers and introducing them to your business while also giving them something appealing in terms of promotion and incentive.


While email marketing is the most common way of marketing to potential buyers, there is still an appeal to choosing direct mail. This physical mail can invite recipients to open it, is more convenient, and allows you to be more creative.


Top Benefits of Hiring A Professional Color Printing Service

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

Hiring a professional colour printing service becomes crucial if you want to boost your business marketing goals and rewatch the organizational goals rapidly. You will need printing services to create an incredible piece of marketing content for your business. Nowadays, every business needs online colour printing services for their marketing and promotional goals. Whether it’s the need for promotional flyers or contracts and proposals for clients, you can take the help of printing services to boost efficiency and benefit your business.

Why Choose Professional Color Printing Services?

The most intelligent business decision is to outsource your printing services to professionals to ensure the top-notch quality and on-time delivery of the services. If you choose the right printing services, you can enjoy reprint options with no additional cost if the service is not up to your expectations. It’s always better to outsource your printing requirements to professionals as they have years of expertise to manage and deal with various print designs.

Benefits of Professional Color Printing Services

Apart from clean, clear-cut edge printing, online colour printing services have several other key benefits that you must know.  

1. Affordable Cost of Service

Whether you have small-scale, medium-scale or large-scale businesses, you can always choose to opt for professional online colour printing services. The cost for these services is cheaper and affordable for almost every type of business in the world. From a startup to a big company, everyone can avail of this service at the same affordable prices.

2. Time-Saving Service

If you choose to outsource your business printing services to professionals, you will save a lot of time. If you’re a startup, you will run with a shortage of labour. In such a case, you have to focus on the primary aspects of your business operation rather than printing. Thus, hiring a professional printing service will save you time and the labour force as a startup.

If you have a medium or large-scale business, you will need to focus on the various business operations for expansions. In such cases, outsourcing printing services can save a lot of time for your business. Also, these services can deliver within a few days, which can become essential at times of quick promotional requirements.

3. Professional Assistance From Experts

One of the key benefits that every business enjoys after hiring a printing service is professional assistance from experts. These professional service providers have years of experience and practice to ensure the best quality print and print designs for clients. They assist you in boosting your business with the right print design ideas for your marketing or promotional campaigns. They will help the campaign with innovative ideas that will fit right into your budget.

4. Superior Quality Print Results

If you choose customized online colour printing services, you can rest assured that you will enjoy superior quality print. If you opt to make custom prints or any print design on your own, you may end up with a good design but a poor-quality result. The primary key to a successful promotional or marketing campaign for a business is displaying its quality product and services. If the print results display poor quality, then chances to achieve those campaign goals can become challenging. This is why outsourcing printing services to professionals is beneficial, as you will undoubtedly enjoy the most superior quality print results for your business.

5. Easy Accessibility And Customization

With rapid technological advancement, accessibility to online printing services has become easy and hassle-free. You can quickly access their websites and enable customization options to modify the print design and quality according to your business requirements.

Ending Note

So, contact the best online colour printing services to enjoy all the benefits mentioned above. Get your business prints from professionals today.









Custom Printing: When Press-Ready Art Files Misbehave

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

I received a harried email from a colleague earlier this week. Her print book supplier was having problems with her art files. More specifically, a rather complex graphic background used for the print book cover and then repeated on the divider pages was not showing up when the file was opened on various computers in the commercial printing shop.

Things like this used to also happen frequently when I was an art director/production manager at a local nonprofit organization. The designers would come into my office frustrated, asking me to fix their computers.

And, ironically, this is the same kind of brain freeze I experienced a few days ago when my fiancee’s and my laser printer stopped working.

What Do All of These Computer Problems Have in Common?

My fiancee always urges me to take a breath and approach a computer crisis with logic. And as (probably) most of you who do graphic design work on computers know, this is initially almost impossible.

When I was an art director and the designers came to me for help, I could (usually) quickly get their computers up and running or fix an error in the application files because I was not involved in the art preparation. To me, it was a computer problem to be resolved. To the designers, it was an impediment to their progress in their design work. Clearly these are two entirely different frames of mind.

With my fiancee’s and my non-functioning laser printer, decoding the pattern of lights on the console made the problem clear (there were no lights). Online documentation and a phone call to a laser printer vendor suggested that in this specific printer the power supply was vulnerable to voltage spikes. From this I inferred that I needed to replace both the printer and the surge protector (surge protectors take one power spike and then are no longer good protection).

I further surmised that the same power surge would have knocked the two televisions offline and made their Netflix connection problematic. (This had just just occurred as well, and although it was unnerving, it made sense in light of the printer problem. A power surge had apparently disrupted the televisions and killed the laser printer.)

So how does this help you if you are a designer?

  1. When you’re having problems with the hardware, note the pattern of console lights (on printers, hubs, switches, etc.) and look online for their meaning. Lots of hardware manuals are online and available for free research.
  2. Turn everything off. Let it reset. Then turn everything on. Work from hardware (first) to software (second). Let everything have a moment to settle.
  3. Look for patterns. Come up with a logical hypothesis. Try to isolate the problem. In my case with the two televisions and the printer, once I had resolved the TV issues by turning everything off, letting it rest, and then turning everything back on, and once Netflix had reset, I only had the printer to worry about.

This is a psychological issue, but for me it makes it easier to solve daunting problems when I have a measure of success in solving smaller ones. Little successes breed bigger ones. This may be equally true for your computer and printer, computer operating system, design software, and problematic files (in that order). In my case with the printer, having checked the lights and determined their meaning, I knew the next step was to get online and buy a new one.

Back to My Colleague’s Art File

So when I received my client’s press-ready PDF file to review, here’s how I proceeded:

  1. I knew it was a software glitch, unlike my own problems with the televisions (still computers, in essence) and laser printer.
  2. My colleague said the commercial printing vendor had noted the following: The complex graphic pattern (a green and gold abstract effect behind the text of the cover) appeared on some computers and not on others. Therefore, I tried to open it on my fiancee’s Macintosh, my Linux-based IBM computer, our iPad, and my Android smartphone.
  3. The smartphone and iPad could not open the file at all. From this I surmised that it was possibly too large, too complex, or damaged.
  4. The complex graphic pattern was missing entirely from all divider pages when viewed on the Macintosh. On the Linux-based computer, however, the image was in place, consistently, on all divider pages. While I was perplexed that the two computers displayed two different versions of the same PDF file (with and without the graphic), I was pleased that each version was internally consistent (either no complex graphic patterns visible or all graphic patterns visible). I would have been stumped if the problem had been intermittent within one computer operating system or the other.
  5. This was relevant to me for a number of reasons. From my own experience in attending commercial printing plant tours, I had seen that print shops often use Macintosh computers for prepress work (when the files immediately arrive from the clients) and sometimes Windows-based IBMs or Unix (and perhaps Linux) computers further down the pipeline, for storage, servers, plate-making, and such. Noticing that the problematic file worked on the Linux computer but not on the Macintosh was potentially a useful piece of the puzzle.

What I Told My Colleague at This Point

  1. I suggested that my client send the original art file (both the native Photoshop file, in which she had created the graphic pattern, and the InDesign file, in which she had placed the graphic pattern) to the custom printing supplier. The prepress operators could troubleshoot and repair them if necessary and then make a new press-ready PDF file. In contrast, my client’s version of the press-ready PDF file would essentially be unalterable (either usable or not usable as it was, but not repairable). I thought a more knowledgeable person who focused exclusively on prepress matters might have suggestions.
  2. I asked my colleague to check the Photoshop and InDesign files for issues in PDF creation, including bleeds, flattening of layers (in Photoshop), compression algorithms, and anything else related to the complexity of the file. In my own experience, complex files can choke peripherals, such as printers (i.e., they can send too much information, overwhelming the printer and halting the processing of the file). Although this is primarily true for printing jobs to a laser printer, I thought it was still worth confirming that the files were as simple as possible, particularly since the abstract green and gold graphic was already a large, complex image.
  3. On a whim, I asked my client if she had sent the file to the printer uncompressed. The safest way to send a file over the internet is as an archive. Macintosh computers can make an archive of a file easily with a right-click of the mouse. Windows-based computers can use WinZip. Compressing files in this way makes them smaller and protects them in transit. My colleague said she had done this.
  4. I also noted that in a pinch the commercial printing vendor might be able to place a new PDF version of the graphic (made from the original Photoshop file) on all divider pages (the digital equivalent of “stripping in” corrections). This might cost a little extra, but it also might solve the problem. Sometimes it’s better to find a work-around rather than spend an inordinate amount of time looking for the cause of the problem.

My Colleague’s Solution, and What We Can Learn from This Case Study

I found out a few days later from my colleague that the problem had been a specific Photoshop “Luminosity” command (which pertains to the value or lightness/darkness of an image rather than its color information). I believe this explanation had come from the prepress operators at the commercial printing supplier.

That said, being able to diagnose your own computer and printer problems, or at least making an attempt to do so, is an excellent first step. In many cases a logical approach to isolating the problem will help you resolve it.

Here’s what we can learn from this process:

  1. Look for the quick fixes first. For instance, always compress files (make an archive) when sending them online. This will protect them from corruption in transit over the internet.
  2. Simplify files whenever you can. Flatten Photoshop files, for instance. This makes them simpler and smaller. Use the proper resolution but don’t be excessive. (For a 133-line printer’s halftone screen, a 266 dpi image is of sufficient resolution in Photoshop. More than that just makes the files excessively large and slows down processing.)
  3. Consider the simple answers. Turn everything off. Wait. Turn everything on and try again. Sometimes this fixes the problem, particularly when it resets the software.
  4. Rely on the printer’s knowledge (the prepress operator’s knowledge in this case). Don’t hesitate to place the problematic image into a separate InDesign file to see if it still doesn’t print or show up in a distilled PDF file. The key here is to isolate the problem.
  5. When in doubt, give your custom printing vendor your native files (Photoshop and InDesign) as well as the press-ready PDF files. The prepress operator can alter these to fix errors, whereas a press-ready PDF file is essentially locked down and is only editable in minimal ways.
  6. Remember to take a breath and approach the problem with logic. This is often the hardest thing to do when something doesn’t work.
  7. Consider work-arounds. Having the commercial printing supplier electronically strip-in a problematic image, chart, page, etc., can often be easier than spending an inordinate amount of time trying to fix the problem in your own digital file.


As I reread this PIE Blog file (which I will admit is abstract, detailed, and perhaps a little dull), I was reminded about a comment I once heard about a car repair manual. If your car is running, an auto manual is painfully dull. However, no other book is nearly as exciting to read when your car has broken down and you’re stranded.

Before you need it, consider the aforementioned approach to fixing misbehaving computer graphics files.

Custom Printing: Polishing Hand-Drawn Illustrations in Photoshop

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Forty-five years ago when I started as a writer, editor, photographer, and layout person in publications, I was in college. I was also studying fine arts, learning how to draw and paint. Until I started using this fine arts training in the art therapy work I now do with my fiancee, my skills had lain somewhat dormant. After all, I needed to make a living, and publications work offered solvency whereas painting and drawing did not.

So it was interesting last week to come full circle with a new graphic design client who needed spot illustrations for her self-published print book.

I was already realizing while preparing sample drawings and paintings for my fiancee’s and my art therapy classes that I still had the skills I had honed four decades prior. I also learned about the illustrative effects (illustration as opposed to fine arts) I could achieve with gouache (opaque watercolors, which are ideal for commercial illustrations). With all of this in mind I did some sample drawings of eggplants for my client’s print book, and we were off and running. Now I am also a book illustrator.

A Learning Experience

At this point, you may be asking yourself how my situation pertains to yours. Presumably if you are a graphic designer, or if you work with graphic designers, you understand that layout and illustration are two different skills. When I was an art director, I used to hire (or subcontract to) different people to perform these two functions. (It’s a little bit like the 1980s, during the advent of music videos and MTV, when people assumed a musician could make an unforgettable music video just because she or he could sing or play an instrument.)

So the first takeaway from my recent experience is that if you are an art director and you need spot illustration work, look for an illustrator, not a graphic designer or a fine artist (or at least review samples if someone says they have all three skills).

Blending the Power of the Computer with the Creativity of the Pencil

What I think is more intriguing about my recent opportunity is the concept of marrying hand-drawn art with computer embellishment. (When I was painting and drawing back in college and shortly thereafter, I was just beginning to hear about friends who had purchased home computers. It was the early 1980s, and they were very expensive and had only minimal graphics capabilities.)

I’m not talking about using the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator to create outlines, flat shapes, and flat colors, although this also has merit. I’m also not talking about using a Wacom drawing tablet (or the current iteration thereof) to draw bold brushstrokes in a raster image editor like Photoshop, although this also has merit.

What I’m describing is sketching (in this case) eggplants using pencils and paper, creating both contour drawings (essentially outlines) and heavier modeled drawings (darker images showing highlights and shadows to give a 3D look to the art). I did these and also a gesture drawing (sketchy, showing movement) of a vine, which may run up a scholar’s margin in the layout of my client’s print book.

In all cases I had to consider whether the style of the rendering of the subject matter would complement or detract from the type treatment, photo, color screens, and colored type of the double-page spread.

First I scanned the contour drawing of the eggplant and the vine into the computer, saving each as a grayscale TIFF. For the mock-up I used a resolution of 266 dpi. Had I chosen to render the drawings as line art (as black-only pen and ink drawings), I would have opted for a much higher resolution (to avoid seeing any pixellation). However, I wanted to preserve the gray shades of the pencil drawing, so I produced the art and scanned it as a softer image with various levels of gray.

I did the same for the darker, modeled eggplants and for the more sketchy vine and eggplant contours. (Keep in mind that this is early in the design process, so having a handful of options for the spot illustrations is a good thing.)

Using Photoshop Tools to Adjust the Scanned Drawings

This is where it got interesting. I then used Photoshop’s Levels command to selectively lighten and darken the images of the vine and eggplants, just to experiment. Too dark, and they would compete with the photos and type on the double-page print book spread. Too light, and they would disappear.

I also had drawn the images larger than their final size. With the contour (line-only) drawings, significantly reducing the final image size when placing the drawing in the InDesign file made the contour lines around the vegetables too thin and hence too light. So I had to go back to Photoshop and adjust the Levels command to darken everything. I tried the Threshold command, but it rendered the image entirely in black pixels (no shades of gray), and this looked too heavy.

In contrast, for the scanned drawing of the vine, I had inadvertently captured too much of the background tone of the paper. When I placed the art in InDesign, I could see the shaded background. So, again using the Levels dialog box, I lightened the background while darkening the pencil lines: only not too dark, since I didn’t want them looking like pen and ink drawings.

I also used Photoshop’s “Dodge and Burn-in” functions to selectively lighten and darken areas within the heavier, more developed image of the eggplant. In addition, I found that using the Smudge tool (the little index finder icon), I could blur areas as I might do by hand with a charcoal drawing or a paper “blending stump” or “tortillon.”

I even used the eraser tool to omit extraneous lines from the drawing. I found that by using a large brush shape with “feathering,” I could make smooth gradations between light and dark areas of the eggplant drawing.

Finally, I used various blurring and sharpening filters (Gaussian Blur, for instance) to either sharpen focus on the pencil strokes or minimize them.

So, essentially, I did on the computer all the things I might normally do with a soft drawing pencil and a gum rubber eraser on an actual drawing on paper. Fortunately, and unlike an actual drawing on paper, I could make copies of a drawing file, try different things with each, place them in the InDesign file, and distill and print a PDF copy. Then I could compare them. You can’t do that with just paper and pencils.

Recoloring Images

Using the hue and saturation controls in Photoshop, I found a way to turn the black and white drawing into a purple one, just in case. I thought my client might prefer that, and I didn’t want to remake the original drawing using colored pencils. Fortunately, I was able to set the original coloration (which was black only) and the “target” coloration, which I created in the Photoshop dialog box by specifying amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. This was a “replace color” function, and in the research I did it seems that there are a number of ways to do this. Fortunately, in my case I instantly changed the color of everything in the drawing. If this interests you, you may want to check Google for descriptions and video tutorials.

The Takeaway

So what can we learn from this? Most of the designers I know will produce everything from scratch in a vector illustration program (like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw), usually using the pen tool and solid strokes and fills of color. Or they will use Photoshop for bitmapped drawings. Personally, I find this tedious and time consuming, particularly when I don’t know whether a client will like the final look. In contrast, I can draw something or at least produce a quick sketch pretty quickly.

I think it’s a wonderful option to be able to blend traditional drawing or painting methods with the capabilities of the computer. These include ease in revising drawings (you can make one version, copy it many times, and then change these copies in myriad ways), the ability to copy parts of images or entire images instantly, the ability to change the overall tonal range of a drawing (one small area or the whole thing), and the ability to colorize an image.

If you’re a print book designer or illustrator, you may be doing this already. Or you may just be creating art from scratch using the computer. But do consider this hybrid approach. It could make your life a lot easier, especially for sketchy illustrations you might need for roughs, just to communicate your design vision to a client.

Custom Printing: Art Print Lithography vs. Offset Lithography

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

What is the difference? How can you make sure that the old print you found at a thrift store is not from a huge print run of offset lithographic posters?

First of all, some backstory. I have a fine arts background that predates my 45 years in the commercial printing and publications field. So, early on, when I saw the artistry in the custom printing field, I became interested in the similarities and differences between fine arts lithography and offset lithography. I started going to estate sales and art auctions, and even now my fiancee and I always check out the art print section of our favorite thrift store.

The Lithographic Process in General

Here’s a recap of lithography in general. Water and oil do not mix. Therefore, if you first mark a flat printing plate with a greasy substance that will attract commercial printing ink to the image areas, and then dampen the plate with water, you can lay a sheet of paper on the plate (in either a commercial or fine art press) and apply pressure to the back of the paper, such that the ink will be transferred onto the paper in exactly the right places. The water will keep the ink away from the non-image areas. The image can be quite detailed and still remain separate from the non-image areas. In addition, keep in mind that the printing plate is absolutely flat (planographic). Only chemistry is keeping the water and ink apart.

(This is in contrast to relief printing, like letterpress, in which the image areas are raised from the surface of the plate. It is also in contrast to intaglio printing, like engraving, in which the image areas are recessed, or sunken below the surface of the plate.)

Traditional Lithography

As is the case with many inventions, traditional lithography was based on a happy accident in 1796. Alois Senefelder (according to my research) found that if he printed his literary works (scripts, actually) on limestone using a greasy crayon, he could roll ink onto the limestone, apply paper to the limestone (plate), and make multiple copies using pressure to transfer the ink from the stone to the paper. The printing ink would adhere only to the marks he had made with the greasy crayon.

Over the ensuing years, metal plates were used in the same way (aluminum or zinc) because they were easier to transport than blocks of limestone.

As lithography matured, the following processes were added. The printer rubbed a layer of powdered rosin onto the already marked (greasy) image area and then a layer of talc. Then the printer would brush on a layer of gum arabic (alone or with a mild acid). All of this “fixed” the already-drawn image area and allowed the non-image areas to absorb water (which would then repel the ink).

Then the drawing on the plate was washed down with lithotine (which left only a light image of the initial drawing), and asphaltum was rubbed into the entire image. At this point the plate was ready for printing.

And to go back to the general description of lithography, the plate was dampened with water, ink was applied (sticking only to the image area), moist printing paper was laid over the plate (along with a board that was used as padding, and the firm pressure of the printing press transferred the image from the plate to the paper. This had to be done an additional time for every additional color of ink used. (Things started out in black and white, and then printers began to incorporate color as this process was further developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.)

Essentially, this is the process that’s still done today.

Offset Lithography

When you strip out all of the computerized and mechanized elements of offset lithography (the comparable process used for commercial printing), you have the same ink/water separation, flat printing plate—pretty much the same process as original, traditional lithography. It is an art as well as a science.

However, here are some differences:

  1. Offset lithography, as the name implies, involves offsetting the printed image. That is, the commercial printing plate first deposits the image on a rubber (i.e., compressible) blanket. From here the image is transferred to the press sheet. (That is, in offset lithography, the plate never comes in direct contact with the paper.) In contrast, in traditional lithography, the plate does come in direct contact with the paper.
  2. Offset presses can print one of the four transparent process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) or a PMS color—or not print it—but only as a solid color (without gradation). There is no “in-between.” It is not possible to create lighter or darker tones of a hue (tints and shades): that is, no lighter or darker cyan. Because of this limitation, as offset lithography developed, the concept of the halftone was created. Images were converted from gradations of continuous tones into halftone dot patterns. Larger dots in the equally spaced halftone grid gave the impression of darker tones. Smaller dots gave the impression of lighter tones. When halftone dot screens for the individual colors were tilted relative to each other (prior to platemaking), printers could achieve the visual approximation of tints, shades, and even full color when printing these overlaid, transparent process inks.

So What Do You Look for in a Print

Essentially, what makes an original fine art litho valuable is twofold. First, the artist did the handwork of preparing and inking the stone or aluminum plate, and participated directly in all other aspects of print creation. Even though there’s more than one original (unlike an oil painting), you know the artist made all of the design decisions.

Because of this, you will see the artist’s signature on the lithograph as well as the print number (let’s say 1/500, which means the first litho taken from a press run of 500 copies). If you find one that has an “AP” noted, that means “artist’s proof.”

Second, and very much related to the “1/500” notation above, is that there are only a limited number of prints. (Scarcity of good things makes them valuable.)

An offset printed poster is neither rare nor (usually) hand-signed by the artist. Hence, it is far less valuable than a true art lithograph.

Here’s what to look for to distinguish an art litho from an offset litho.

If you look at a fine art lithograph under a printer’s loupe (mine is 12-power), you will see a light and random dot pattern that indicates the texture or tooth of the rough press sheet. The key, however, is that the dots are random. Also, the different colors of ink overlap (as in offset lithography) and the films of ink are thick (unlike offset lithography).

But here’s the real key, and here’s why you might want to keep a loupe with you when you’re trolling the estate sales. If your print is an offset lithograph, the dot pattern (which was irregular in the traditional litho and was due to the roughness of the paper) is perfectly regular in the offset lithograph. In fact, in the color photos, you’ll also see the “rosettes” (they look like flowers) that are due to the halftone dot screens’ having been tilted slightly in relation to one another.

If you see the rosettes (for full color) or halftone dots (for a tint of an individual color), you may also notice that the offset printed ink layer is very thin and transparent.

Also, you probably won’t see an artist’s signature, and if you do, it was probably already on the art when the designer took the photograph to then print as a poster.

So here’s the key. A print at the thrift store with a halftone dot pattern is probably one of hundreds or thousands of similar copies, which were never touched by the artist. They were just reproduced using photography and commercial printing. Buy them only if you like the way they look, because they essentially have no intrinsic investment value.

In contrast, a print that you find in a thrift store—and they are there to be found—that has a random dot pattern, thicker inks, and the artist’s signature will be worth significantly more than the $3 to $10 you may have paid for it, and far more than the poster version produced via offset lithography.

But even more importantly, it’s kind of cool to find an original, signed piece at an estate sale. Since you know how it was made, and since you know how integral the artist was in its creation, you have far more of a bond with the artist than you do with a poster.

So keep your eyes open at the thrift store. And bring a loupe.

The Magic of Altered Print Books

Friday, August 13th, 2021

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As I’ve mentioned before, among other things my fiancee and I do art therapy work with the autistic. Often our projects bridge the gap between fine art and graphic design. Sometimes we do simple custom printing work that I also write about in the PIE Blog (for instance, cutting designs into styrofoam plates used in meat packaging and then inking and printing them). Other times we will discuss elements of commercial design when we’re creating collages that incorporate graphic type as well as images.

Within this context, over the past three weeks my fiancee and I have been working with our students via Zoom on projects referred to as “altered books.” These are based on traditional print books. That is, they always call attention to themselves as print books in some way, no matter how they have been changed or distressed.

Altered books may involve painting, drawing, sculpture, printing, collage. Some look like Victorian photo books. Others are more like scrapbooks, which are the current rage if you check out local craft stores. (These projects often have their own aisles in the art stores.)

Examples/How to Begin

My fiancee has created a lot of altered books. In fact, she made one print book into a clock. She cut a rectangular window through the cover of a case-bound book (and deep into the initial text pages), dumped a number of miniature perfume bottles into this hole along with lots of glue to hold everything together, then added a Jim Croce quote (“If I could save time in a bottle…”) using label-maker tape, then painted everything loosely in transparent red and black acrylic washes, then added a clock motor and hanging clock pendulum, and finally added side blocks of painted wood to lift the clock outward from the wall and allow the pendulum to move.

This is one example of an altered print book. Another sample my fiancee showed the class began with her gluing together multiple pages of the case-bound book. This made the collected pages strong (like canvas painting stock) and also limited the number of remaining page spreads. This left my fiancee with the cover and maybe ten page spreads before the back cover of the print book. Let’s consider these double-page spreads to be similar to a sequence of painted canvases, which (like pages in in a print book) would lend themselves to a rhythm. The images my fiancee would include as she crafted the book would relate to one another. There would be a progression.

Other Examples

For the three-session project we just completed on altered books, I found and shared with the autistic students numerous photos of options they might consider. For the sake of grouping them for discussion (both in class and here in the PIE Blog), let’s distinguish a handful of approaches:

1. Flat Art
2. Collage
3. Relief Sculpture
4. Full Sculpture in the Round

Flat Art

I would include in this category double-page print book spreads that started with text pages (or even with images and text) onto which the artist applied crayon, watercolor or acrylic washes, and perhaps their own handwriting as well. In most of the examples, the original layer of printed images and text was still visible, albeit changed in some way (with additional hand-drawn line work or color). It was still clear, though, that this was a book.


In this category the artists had added images and text cut out of other publications (such as magazines) and pasted onto the print book page spreads. Again, the underlying book text and photos (at least to an extent) were visible, albeit altered. The main difference between this category and the prior one was the inclusion of content from other sources.

And as in the former category, the artist had often included additional text, usually but not always hand lettered. I found the handwritten text to be both intimate and a nod to the nature of writing. This made the print book look like a journal, and the style of the handwriting often suggested the temperament of the artist. I was also, again, reminded that a book is an ongoing story that begins on the front cover (at least with a suggestion of tone through the imagery, type style, and colors) and then proceeds through the book, page spread by page spread.

Relief Sculpture

For relief sculpture, the artists often cut round or square holes into the stack of book pages (usually including the cover) to provide a “shadow-box” effect. There was still a flat background (i.e., it was a relief sculpture), but items could stick out of the flat, double-page spreads (half a paper cup glued to one page, for instance, giving the illusion that the other half of the cup was behind the flat page). Still another sample included a haunted house inset into one of the “holes” cut into the book and covered with fake cobwebs and a plastic spider.

Sometimes a circle cut out of one page would not be filled except with the text from the following even or odd page. That is, there was a window through the current page and into the following page spread, (hence my comment that a book is a progression of ideas over time). You could look through the “hole” into the next page spread.

Full Sculpture in the Round

Sculpture in the round implies the ability of the viewer to walk around the sculpture. It has no flat background from which it protrudes (i.e., as does a relief sculpture). The samples my fiancee and I showed the class members included an open book on which there were two birds and a birds’ nest. The nest had clearly been made from print book pages fed into a paper shredder, while the birds themselves were paper sculptures crafted from book pages into three-dimensional birds.

Another sample comprised an open case-bound book suspended from the ceiling. Pages had been removed, but the remaining pages were curved back into the central gutter of the print book, forming a series of loops built out upon one another like a cascade of teardrop-shaped curls.

Still another sample included multiple pages glued together (for strength and stability) and open and spread outward and upward, with the ends of the paper turning into hand-cut butterflies, flying up and away.

And the artist who had created the final sample had (presumably) used a jigsaw to cut the books into two facing mountains with a paper foot bridge to link the two halves. This she, or he, had mounted on a wood presentation pedestal.

So How Does This Relate to Printing?

I think there are numerous answers to this question, but the first one that comes to mind is that an altered book is homage to the concept of the print book, which is a progression of a story through time (even a history book or some other nonfiction book tells a story of some kind). An altered book always reminds you that it started as a print book someone might have read cover to cover.

Altered books also remind us of the emotional effects of typeface choice and choice of images because, again, the original matter of an altered book seems to always shine through, meaning you can see how the original author had chosen graphic elements (and perhaps why these were chosen) before the altered book creator responded to or built upon the original.

Finally, the sculptural books, like the two facing mountain ranges carved out of a stack of books, make a statement about the nature of reading. Books contain marks on a page. That’s what type is. The words only hold the meanings we as individuals within various cultures impart to them. A story occurs in the reader’s mind. It is the active interaction between the author’s words and pictures and the reader’s consciousness. And all of this became available to the general public with the invention of the printing press.

04 Know Top Benefits Of Flyer Printing Services You Were Not Aware of

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

One of the many benefits that you may not know about flyer printing services is how they can help promote and advertise your business. Flyers are cheap to produce, meaning this might be an inexpensive way for a small-business owner just starting out their company to get started on marketing without going into debt.

Printing flyers is an effective way to promote your business. With the advent of print on demand technology, you can create personalised flyers at a fraction of what it used to cost. Flyers are a great way to combine creativity with marketing. Flyers can range from being informative and straight-forward, or they may be more on the creative side of things. Regardless of what type you opt for, one thing is certain: flyers will help your business make an impact in its community.

Have you started your business recently? Aren’t you getting enough customers? Do you need an actionable solution? Well, I can provide you with one if you want customers to come through your doors. All you need to do is hire a flyer printing company and order them to print hundreds of product-centric handbills. Then, once you have got your handbills, distribute them among your target audience and wait for some time to see the effect.

Commercial Printing: Is the Job Your Printer Just Delivered Acceptable?

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

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“Acceptable” is a slippery word. In the case of offset and digital printing, acceptable delivery has more to do with whether you can tell your custom printing vendor that you are satisfied with the product and he can bill you for the job. It’s a question of quality, and you have an important decision at this point, which you should not make lightly.

With this concept in mind I thought back through my 45 years’ of buying commercial printing, looking for examples of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable quality, and I also found a list of things to check in Getting It Printed, by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly, one of my favorite books on custom printing.

What to Check Upon Receipt of the Job

“Completeness”(Getting It Printed)–If you collect prior mock ups of a print job and paper samples, you are in a good position to start your review. First of all, as Beach and Kenly’s book notes, check for completeness of the product. This is especially important for a multi-part project, such as a promotional package with multiple inserts in an envelope, but it also pertains to projects like books and brochures. Is everything as you expect? This includes tints, reverses, photos, trim size, everything you noted on your job specification list. Also check for any spot or flood coatings (like UV and aqueous). The goal is twofold. Did you get everything you expected, and did you get everything you’ll be paying for?

“Quality” (Getting It Printed)–Is the level of quality as you expected based on prior work from this printer and/or the printed samples the company provided? Look at the accuracy of colors in photos, consistency of tint screens, evenness of the trim on a page, thickness and consistency of the cover coating on a print book, quality of the binding, precision of register of each spot color to the others. This is not just subjective. There are tolerances that are considered “industry standard,” within the “printing trade customs,” and you may want to Google this or look for it on the back of your commercial printing contract in the terms and conditions section. Some post-press procedures such as trimming are not as precise as the press work, so you will need to be forgiving in some cases. Again, it helps to have a grasp of industry standards/tolerances. If you see something you don’t like, though, don’t make assumptions. Ask your printer about it directly. Also, if you find an error, check a number of random boxes of your delivery to get a sense of how extensive the problem is. Flaws may or may not be in every copy. Often they are not.

“Paper” (Getting It Printed)–Depending on what paper you have chosen, it may be easy to miss this one. Make sure the cover stock is as thick as you had specified. Make sure the interior paper of a print book is as you expect. Check whiteness, brightness, caliper. Is everything as you had requested?

“Quantity” (Getting It Printed)–Beach and Kenly suggest that you count the contents of one or two cartons to make sure you received the correct number of copies. Usually the total is also written on each box. Don’t assume you have everything. This is the time to check and to contact your printer if anything is amiss.

“Alterations” (Getting It Printed)–Whether you make changes on the proofs or request changes on press (if you attend press checks), all of these alterations will show up on your bill. It is a good rule of thumb to only make absolutely essential changes, ask about their cost prior to approving them, and then compare your final invoice to these agreed upon charges.

“Extra Charges” (Getting It Printed)–If any charges show up that you didn’t expect, ask about them. These may include higher freight costs (probably reasonable, but do ask for shipping manifests if anything seems amiss) and overage (can be up to 10 percent overs/unders according to industry standard, but this is usually noted on the printing contract).

“Schedule” (Getting It Printed)–Did the printer meet the agreed upon schedule? Your contract may stipulate a discount for missed delivery deadlines.

“Shipping” (Getting It Printed)–Beyond noting any discrepancies regarding shipping costs (as mentioned above), it would be wise to make sure all copies were delivered as expected (proper destination, proper copy count).

“Taxes” (Getting It Printed)–Some businesses will be tax exempt for various reasons. Maybe you’re selling the products and collecting the tax yourself. Or maybe you’re a tax-exempt charity organization. Make sure your printer has your appropriate paperwork and licenses early in the commercial printing process, and make sure the tax is noted on (or omitted from) the bill correctly.

“Arithmetic” (Getting It Printed)–Don’t assume that the printer’s math is correct. All it takes is an errant keystroke in a spreadsheet program to make a mistake. Add everything up yourself.

Beach and Kenly also note that paper prices fluctuate (paper is a direct cost, which can be passed on to the customer for the amount at which the commercial printing supplier bought the paper stock).

The “Analyzing a Job for Payment” list in Getting It Printed seems to me to be a good one. However, I’d also be mindful of your own situation and pay attention to any potential problems specific to you. Also, Beach and Kenly are approaching this quality check from the position of having both the product and the invoice in hand. In many cases, if you have established credit terms, your printed products will be delivered a while before your bill arrives. In this case, don’t wait to check and approve the job. Check it immediately for those items noted earlier in the blog. Then, when the bill arrives, recheck the relevant information.

What to Do If Something Goes Wrong

In my 45 years’ in the printing field a lot has gone wrong. In my experience, these are the best steps to take in such a situation:

  1. Contact the printer. If you’ve chosen the printer wisely (samples, references, as well as pricing), you will have a partnership relationship with your vendor rather than an adversarial relationship. This is why price is only one of many factors in choosing a vendor.
  2. Determine the extent of the problem. As noted before, check random copies in random boxes.
  3. Send your printer photos of the problem. You may want to follow up by sending him physical samples as well.
  4. Make sure no copies are distributed. If you have a problem with your job requiring a reprint (if it’s a printer error at the printer’s expense), and you use any of the bad copies, you’ll have to pay for them.
  5. Determine whether the printing problem makes the job unusable. Be honest with yourself and your printer.
  6. Ask the printer what he can do about the problem. Be open to a discount rather than a reprint.
  7. Focus on solutions, even though it’s easy to get caught up in blame.

Painful Examples

Here are some random examples from my 45 years’ in printing:

  1. I was producing a print book for a nonprofit organization about 30 years ago at a printer halfway across the country. They chose that instant to go bankrupt. Therefore, they couldn’t buy paper on credit. So my organization bought the paper and had it shipped to the printer. Then the book printer got behind schedule. So we agreed that for every day the book delivery was late, we’d discount the final bill by a certain amount. The job was completed and delivered. I never heard from the printer again after that.
  2. I received a box of letterhead for the president of the aforementioned non-profit organization. It was a new printer (the samples had been good). The register of the red and blue elements in the stationery was unbelievably bad. The sales rep was there when I opened the box. I asked him to take away the box and never send me a bill. I found another printer.
  3. A printer flopped a photo (printed it backwards, reverse image). The photo included text (on the person’s shirt). I asked for the delivered boxes to be retrieved and the job to be reprinted. Now, thinking back, since I’m 30 years older, I probably would have only requested a discount.
  4. A print brokering client called me and said the pages in all of his print books were wavy (not flat). Oops. I called the book printer, who said that storing the cartons upside down with weight on the books would remedy the situation. Thankfully it did. The waviness of the paper subsided.
  5. A client called me to say the film lamination on all copies of her print book was coming up off the paper. (I was at a pre-wedding event for my fiancee’s daughter. I remember it like it was yesterday.) Since I knew the printer’s CEO, who was reasonable, and since I had photos and physical samples, he had the covers removed and replaced, and the books retrimmed, at the printer’s cost. My client kept working with me, and I kept working with this printer.

The Takeaway

All printers make mistakes. All of them. It’s how they rectify the errors that makes you want to work with the printers again or move on. It’s like a marriage. Choose your vendors wisely, not just because their pricing is low.


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