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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 September, 2021

Benefits of Choosing a Printed Newsletter for Your Business

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

The world is becoming a digital space, and no one can deny that it gets exhausting after a while. Thanks to printing companies, they are still working to provide offline advertising services and give us some time off the screen. Newsletters are an excellent way to keep staff and stakeholders informed about company happenings. They can also be used as external marketing tools for products or services, making them useful in any sales campaign. Let us know a few more benefits and why printed newsletters are important in today’s era!

You Can Hand Them Out Easily 

Printed newsletters are considered a better distribution channel than electronic ones. E-newsletters can only be accessed on your handheld device or desktop computer, but physical copies of the paper have many different places they could end up. This could be like sticking out in front of people at work during their break time, left beside coffee tables and waiting rooms where visitors may pick them up along with other marketing material such as brochures, included among other publications when handed out to potential customers etc.

Best Way to Add Ons

Physical, printed newsletters also offer the potential for additional add-ons. These include tear-off order forms that people might find helpful if they want to order your products or services. Other than that, you can also use coupons and discounts offering special offers and voucher codes that customers can use in online and offline stores.

It Saves You Money if You Think the Right Way

Printing costs can add up quickly, but there are ways to lessen your printing budget.

By following a few things like:

  • Vet carefully the mailing list of clients and customers you have so that out-of-date addresses don’t get printed
  • standard paper sizes will ensure fewer copies with lower quality than if they were on heavy or uncoated papers
  • consider using a lighter weight colour cardstock for better prices when possible in order to save some extra few bucks

Print Marketing is the New Age Technology!

The myth that print marketing is dead has been one of the most persistent and stubbornly held beliefs in business today. In reality, advances in technology have transformed this once outdated form into a powerful medium for reaching customers with targeted messages at low cost – especially when considering variable data printing, which lowers production costs while maximizing design possibilities! So, if you think newsletter printing is a waste of time and money, then we suggest you think once again!

Your customers will be more likely to read your newsletter if it is delivered in a printed format. The convenience of receiving an online email can’t compete with the tangible experience of reading information on paper. If you want to grow your business, make sure that you are sending out both digital and print newsletters so that all possible subscribers have access to important updates about what’s happening at your company. Do you currently use any other offline marketing techniques? Let us know how we can help!


Three Benefits of Using Brochures

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Though it’s a technology-driven world, however more and more companies are making use of brochures. Why? It’s because brochures convey a message of your business being reliable, professional as well as committed to providing good quality services. If you’re thinking of using brochures in your next marketing campaign, take a look at the following advantages as well.

  1. Brochures Are Convenient to Distribute

You can place your brochures strategically in a wide variety of locations. This lets your company reveal accurate and positive information to more people and attract new customers as well. It’s easy to keep brochures in promotional giveaways that you place on tables in your office or send through the mail.

You may wish to give away certain other tangible items with the brochures. Perhaps while advertising at a local fair, you could hand out your brochures to the people along with bags, Frisbees, or T-shirts. The free gift would attract people, and they would easily grab your bundle containing the brochure. However, later they would go through your brochure and learn in-depth info about your business. This marketing strategy lets you reach out to a lot of new customers.

  1. Brochures Are Very Cost-Effective

Compared to certain online marketing options, brochures comprise a low-cost plan of marketing. Plus, we help you get the cheapest brochure printing quotes from professional online brochure printing shops as well as offline brochure printing shops. They would work with you to not only design but also produce sleek brochures that are within your budget. The price of brochures also decreases if you buy in bulk quantity. Many companies are participating in trade shows or using mail advertising by purchasing brochures in bulk quantity.

Furthermore, brochures mostly have details regarding your business, making them useful for a lot of purposes. You can easily share them with loyal clients, potential customers, other individuals, and business contacts. You save money and time when you have a good and attractive summary of your services and products easily available in your brochure.

  1. Brochures Form Trust

Once the eyes of your possible clients read your brochure, you can easily form a trusted bond with them. Most companies outline their goals and objectives in their brochure. This information is beneficial for the clients to observe the devoted and caring side of your company. When clients read about how your company cares, they start trusting your company more and more.

A brochure also informs the customers about your seriousness with dependable business practices and reliable credentials. Many clients desire to see the evidence of experience before doing business with a company.

Need help with designing brochures? Our strategic marketing team at Printing Industry Exchange can help you find the cheapest brochure printing cost from commercial printers. Now request bids through, and we will connect you with printing companies from around the world to help you find the best rates for quality brochure print service so that you can create a brochure that not only helps you achieve your goals but also looks great. Now get started today!!

Pros of Picking an Online Printing Company for Your Business

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Online printing services have become a staple in the lives of many people around the world. These days, it is frequent to find people ordering business cards and even wedding invitations online. Thanks to digitalization, our work has become so easy. All you need to do is place an order, and you will receive everything with the best quality in no time. More benefits come along with this type of service, and they are:

Get Services Throughout the Day

Nowadays, we are all about convenience. Traditional printing means you have to drive or walk to your local printer and wait in line for hours, if not days, before getting what you need – but now there are online services where templates allow customers like yourself access from the comfort of their homes! With just a few clicks on these websites (or even while watching TV), anyone can order custom cards with professional designs according to their convenience.

Affordable in Price

There are a lot of businesses that work on a tight budget and look for something affordable. If you are looking somewhere else, make sure to research adequately and select the one with relevant reviews only! You won’t find a lot of free printing websites or companies that have an affordable price list but, with us, you can create a unique yet affordable marketing package for yourself.

Get Access to High-Quality Printing

If you want to experience high-quality printing, then you must know that it doesn’t come cheap but, here with us, you will afford top-quality printing services along with affordable prices. Who will give a deal like this in today’s world? Except for us, of course. Online printing companies also provide you with a thousand different design options to choose from. You will never feel short of templates, even if all your printing material has another type of template.

Order from Anywhere in The World

The process of ordering a copy is quite simple. You do not need to go through the reprinting editions because you can order from anywhere in the world, and it will be delivered right to your doorstep. If there’s an internet connection available and a device to open the website, you are all set to go! We will always provide you with safe payment methods that help you keep trust in us when your order is in transit. What we don’t suggest is that you blindly trust other companies and pay without checking for safety.

It’s no surprise that as our society moves more and more towards a digital age, we see an uptick in demand for online printing companies. These businesses provide convenience and affordability to customers who want their products quickly and without hassle. If you own a business or know someone who does, it makes sense to explore how an online printer can help your company succeed and learn about the benefits that come along with it. Our company possesses all the qualities that make the best online printing company. If you are looking for one, then we would like to help you! Contact us today to know more.

Top 04 Business Documents You Need To Have in the Printed Form

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021

None of us wants to stay deprived of anything in life. Even though we have a business generating massive revenue each month, we still want to enter other fields to make money. For example, maybe you are running a top-notch restaurant in Bluffton; still, you may want to launch a personal training company in nearby areas. So, the question is, how will you let your target audience know that you have started a personalized training firm and they should visit it to get personal services. That’s where flyers come in.

Do you know what a flyer is? It is a form of paper advertisement that online printing companies( print in bulk to distribute to many people in public places. If you reach out to a specific company for flyer printing directly, they may ask you to pay a high price. But if you visit a trusted platform where thousands of clients meet hundreds of printing companies, it would be easy to compare and negotiate your printing cost. Let’s see five crucial reasons to print flyers:

Have you left keeping pen and paper with yourself and leveraging digital technologies to the fullest? Do you store every business document in soft drives now? We want to let you know that your approach for storing all the essential documents on a virtual server is not a great idea because there are instances when you might need physical copies to access specific information. Who knows when you fail to access your computer, or there is some other issue? Having a physical copy of the essential documents is necessary.

You can find scores of printing companies for document printing online, but you must contact them through a trusted platform where a myriad of print buyers meet several print companies.

Custom Printing: More on My Client’s Fabric Printing Saga

Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

Aside from being a writer I am also a commercial printing broker. I’m a bit like a “tracker,” one who tracks animals in the wild, since I find the best custom printing supplier for a particular client’s job needs. I also make connections (like fascia tissue in the body). I make sure the communications between the printer and the client are accurate and understood by both parties. And I make sure my client is happy with the product, or I work with the printer (and client) to make things right.

That said, success hinges on finding the right equipment at the right vendor. The latter pertains to price, quality, and schedule, among other things, whereas the former pertains to the kind of work the vendor can actually do.

I have written blog posts about this before, but one of my long-time clients has printed color swatch books for fashion for about seven years. Her proprietary color system helps her clients choose make-up and clothing based on their complexion. Now she is branching out and looking to print scarves and dresses based on this color scheme. Given the fast-growing nature (an understatement) of digital fabric printing at the present moment for both apparel and interior design, I think my client is on the crest of a huge wave.

In that context, I am looking for the proper digital printing equipment. Not just the proper vendor. In fact, not necessarily the vendor first and the equipment second. I have in fact been approaching Mimaki, Mutoh, Epson, and Kornit sales managers to find out to whom they have sold their dye-sub (for polyester) and inkjet (for cotton) large-format printing equipment, so I can approach these vendors directly and then do my due diligence (prices, samples, references, etc.).

This has been the ongoing process (as noted in prior blogs), but this is how this process may pertain to you if you buy not just fabric printing but any kind of specialty commercial printing. In your own case, if it seems relevant, consider not just uploading your custom printing specs to the PIE online printing server (which is a marvelous idea as well) but also identifying the equipment you need and then finding it in the United States.

Counter-Intuitive Approach

I know this is counter-intuitive. Usually I choose a printer (or three) and have them provide bids and then produce my clients’ jobs. Prior to this stage I will have closely reviewed samples and checked references. But for specialty work like fabric printing, which is new, not every printer even knows other vendors doing quality, cutting-edge work. Starting with the equipment and finding who has purchased it usually narrows the field to a few qualified vendors.

I also have opened the search to the entire United States. After all, my client’s fabric printing press runs will initially be small, so the cost to ship finished garments from anywhere in the country to my client will be marginal (particularly compared to shipping print book jobs, since books are heavy and therefore more expensive to ship).

What I’ve Done So Far

When I last wrote about this process, I had contacted Kornit and had found two small large-format inkjet print shops. I had called them, and I had gotten a sense of their approach to their work. Both responded immediately. One, however, had bought the equipment but not yet opened his doors. (I will not rule him out, but I will want to wait a bit until he has established himself. I will also definitely want to see samples.)

The other is more established. I read some articles about this small printer and also called her to discuss my client’s needs. I liked that she and her husband had set up a small cottage business. Being small, she would be interested in my client’s initially small press runs (one to five units produced from two patterns). She also was knowledgeable, discussing digital patterns with me as well as requesting a description of the placement of the designs on my client’s scarves and dresses. In addition, she offered cut-and-sew capabilities and said she would be willing to use my client’s fabric rather than her own fabric.

So far, all of this looks good. For the newer of the two printers, I will go through a similar vetting process, later when he has set up shop and has completed some work. But in both cases, the vendors are small enough and hungry enough to need not only my client’s work but also her satisfaction with their work (which is not necessarily true for all large vendors).

The Newest Part of the Process

Since I wrote the first installation of this blog-post saga, I have contacted three more vendors. These manufacture dye-sublimation large-format printing equipment. The first, Kornit, seems to focus more on inkjet equipment. Since my client’s scarves will be polyester, I will need dye-sub custom printing capabilities for their production as well as inkjet printing capabilities for the (presumably) cotton dresses.

Another OEM (original equipment manufacturer), Mimaki, was also especially responsive, probably because I had sent an email describing my client’s goals and the vendors she had approached so far. The email presumably established my client’s and my seriousness and provided an opportunity for Mimaki to promote its brand.

The other two OEMs have not yet replied, but that is ok. One out of three is fine.

In the interim I had found through my online research a consultancy that sold Mimaki equipment (a “VAR,” a value-added reseller) and also helped clients set up fabric printing businesses. (I thought I had hit paydirt. This was even better than one printer with one Mimaki.) I called, discussed the work, and sent emails to the owner of the business.

Then I received a call from Mimaki. The Mimaki rep knew of the fabric printing consultancy I had just contacted as well as the small cottage-industry vendor I had been dealing with for the inkjet work. Providing him with not only the business names but also the names of the principals I had contacted gave me credibility in his eyes. He suggested that I contact the remaining two principals of the fabric printing consultancy and use his name. He also gave me their phone numbers and his personal cell phone number, and said he would call them directly on my behalf.

So doing the research, understanding the fabric printing processes, and backing up my questions with company names and the names of employees this Mimaki dealer had also contacted won me his support.

We’ll see what happens next. For the moment, I have a large-format inkjet printer (the cottage-industry vendor ), one other new printer, and the fabric-printing consultancy. This is a good place to be, since my client is just beginning to gear up for garment production.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Consider this approach if you’re doing something not everybody else is doing or something involving new technology. Maybe you’re looking into direct-to-object printing, like printing directly on a football or a thermos. Maybe you want to do screen printing and instead of printing flat colors you want to find a skilled printer who can screen print 4-color halftone images.
  2. Start early. Make sure you’re not in a rush.
  3. Read everything you can on the subject first. Your knowledge base and your ability to articulate your needs will establish your credibility. This in turn will elicit the help of those who know more than you (the consultants and vendors themselves). And it really does seem to me that people are happy to help you when they know you’re serious and you’ve been trying to do some of the research yourself.
  4. Unless you’re printing heavy goods (print books, for instance), consider vendors from all regions of the United States. Personally, I’m less excited about going outside the country’s borders, since this is more complex (import/export laws and fees that you have to research), although I have done this as well. If you are shipping something heavy like books, just research the cost of both shipping and manufacturing in comparing one printer’s location to another.
  5. Contact any vendors the OEMs give you. In my case, my client slowed down this last week. Instead of just letting the two vendors I had recently approached wonder what was happening, I sent each a short email noting the status of the job and saying we were interested but it might be a little while until we want to proceed. (I wanted them to stay interested and not forget us.)
  6. Print buying is about relationships. People will do business with other people they like. Being honest and respectful with vendors will go a long way in eliciting their help. And for specialty printing like fabric printing, direct-to-object printing, screen printing, and probably many other niche printing venues, it helps to have friends.

Digital Custom Printing: The New World of Direct to Fabric Printing

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

For the last seven years I’ve had a client who prints small color swatch books for fashion use. Think of them as miniature PMS swatch books but for garment and make-up choices based on one’s complexion. (She also makes “chin cards” that can be held up to one’s face to confirm these color choices without actually putting on make-up or clothing.)

My client has a proprietary set of colors she includes for this print work.

Over the last few years, however, she has been preparing to print the very same colors on garments: scarves and dresses to start, but on other garments as well. Personally, I think this is a fabulous idea, because on an almost nightly basis, in the Google Aggregator feed I receive on digital and offset commercial printing, there’ a blast (like water from a fire hose) of articles about digital printing on fabric. This printing arena is hot. Smoking hot. Crazy hot. So I’m pleased to be a part of my client’s journey.

The Two Imaging Technologies

In my research (which I have already shared in this blog a few times), I have learned the following general rules.

If you print on fabrics like cotton, nylon, and silk, you need to use an inkjet press. You can print directly on the garment if the image is localized. You use a stabilizing bed to keep the t-shirt (for instance) in place. Or, you can print a pattern on a bolt of fabric using a large-format inkjet printer. Then you can cut the pattern out and create the garment.

Inkjet-printed images can fade with repeated washing.

There are a number of kinds of inks and dyes you may want to research, which pertain to different fabrics and different fabric colors.

The fabric can be chemically pre-treated and then steamed after printing to improve both the ink receptivity of the fabric and the durability of the image.

This is an exceptionally brief and generalized review of inkjet commercial printing for fabrics. In my client’s case, it will not be relevant for the scarves (because they will be polyester), but it may be relevant for the dresses (if they will be cotton).

The other option is dye sublimation. This is used for polyester-based synthetic fabrics. I personally think it is a wonderful option because of the brilliance of the coloration and the durability of the custom printing work.

In dye sublimation, the image is first printed on a transfer sheet (kind of like printing an inkjet product but using special dyes instead of pigment-based inks). This transfer sheet is then placed flat against the garment or uncut fabric, and then intense heat is applied. The heat turns the dye from a solid coating directly into a gas (skipping the liquid state; hence, “sublimation”). The colored dye particles enter the fibers of the fabric and bond with them. This makes the dyed fabric especially color fast (even through repeated washing), specifically because the dye has become a part of the polyester fibers. In some cases, people are even working with ways to chemically modify cotton so dye sublimation can be used. (I haven’t read much recently as to whether this has been successful.)

So these are essentially the two options: one technology for cotton and the other for polyester.

My Client’s Case: How I Have Proceeded

With this general overview, I started contacting vendors in order to help my client bring her fashion and make-up color scheme to digital fabric printing. And these are the issues that have arisen. Interestingly enough, a number of the smaller vendors have been families. Apparently the technology is inexpensive enough and easy enough to use that some families have given up their day jobs to work at home, custom printing fabric and making garments to sell.

How I Found the Vendors

I started by going directly to the print technology manufacturers. I called the sales departments, noted that I was a commercial printing broker, and asked for vendors who had purchased their specific equipment. In this case, since my client had been in touch with Kornit (a heavyweight in large-format inkjet), I started with them. They gave me Spoonflower and two small vendors close to my client’s home state. I’m currently vetting these vendors.

I also plan to check out Mutoh, Mimaki, and Epson because in my research I have learned that they specifically manufacture dye-sublimation printers. Since I know that my client’s scarves are a polyester blend, these vendors may have recently sold their dye sub equipment to local printers who would be interested in my client’s work.

Once I have specifications, I also plan to upload a request for quote to the PIE web server.

What I Looked for in the Vendors in Addition to Equipment

My client wants to start with between one and five units of two kinds of garments. Not all printers will be interested in such small (albeit growing) jobs. In contrast, the families who bought digital commercial printing equipment may be very interested in small clients.

My client does not want to print on pre-made garments. So she needs “cut-and-sew” capabilities at the printer I find for her. That is, they will need to take her pattern and then not only print the fabric but also cut and assemble the garments. Skill in this area will be especially important for the dresses, since size and manufacturing quality will be complex issues to address when compared to the simpler scarves.

My client will be providing the fabric and the digital patterns. Not every fabric (presumably) will work in every digital printing press, so my client and the new vendor will have to test the process. My assumption is that this will be a little harder than letting the vendor use their own fabric, which they will have chosen based on their own custom printing equipment. (I have no reason to believe this will be a deal-breaker, just an important area for testing.)

To return to the issue of digital patterns, I personally find this concept most interesting. I had assumed that the pattern would be printed on the entire bolt of fabric as it travels through either the inkjet printer or the dye-sublimation printer. But this is not necessarily true.

Instead, imagine bits of paper from Simplicity Patterns pinned to fabric to guide the tailor in cutting out the pieces for assembly into a dress, and then imagine this process transferred to a computer. My client’s designs can be specifically positioned within the boundaries of the digital pattern, such that once printed these pieces will be ready to be cut out and sewn together into a completed garment. There will be no waste. Nothing will be printed outside the boundaries of the digital outline of the dress pattern. Remarkable.

What Kinds of Art Files Are Appropriate?

My initial assumption, having come into print brokering via graphic design and art direction, was that the required art files would have been Illustrator vector files. I assumed they would be crisper and more consistent. So I went to school on the subject.

I found the opposite to be true. Spoonflower (one of the largest fabric printers) asks for raster (bitmapped) files, not vector files.

That said, an article I found online called “A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Textile Printing” by Kate McInnes encourages readers to first create the file in Illustrator and then color the images and copy and repeat them to make patterns. She also suggests using color groups and brushes (the Blob Brush, which you can control for size and smoothness) to simplify the illustration work, and to let the computer do the repetitions and adjustments for you, all within a square digital “canvas.” You can even go back and change the coloration of various elements as you wish.

Then McInnes encourages you to save the Illustrator file as a PDF, which you can import into Photoshop and save as an 8-bit uncompressed TIFF (no quality loss due to compression) in LAB color with a resolution (for Spoonflower, at least) of 150 pixels per inch. Other vendors prefer JPG or GIF formats, so always ask for specific file requirements.

In addition, in my client’s case, the first vendor I called requested two items to help her provide an estimate. She wanted the digital pattern and also the position of the printed elements on the garment. You also may want to offer this information when requesting bids.

Custom Printing: Digital Printing on Woolen Fabric

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

On a daily basis I get a Google Aggregator list of articles about both digital printing and offset printing. I find these extremely useful on two counts. First, even if I just read the headlines, I can immediately see what’s trending in commercial printing. I know what to research. Second, I can click through and research in depth any subjects that interest me.

So I’d encourage you to set up a similar feed of articles if you are a student of custom printing, as I am.

Over the last several months, I have noticed an uptick in the number of articles about digital printing on fabric. This includes both direct-to-garment (DTG) work and printing on rolls of fabric. In the case of DTG, fully formed pieces of clothing are stretched over a platen in the printing equipment, and some form of inkjet printhead array decorates a portion of the clothing. In the latter, images are printed on rolls of fabric, which are then measured, cut, and sewn into complete pieces of clothing.

The two imaging techniques I have found are direct inkjet, which works for cotton fabrics, and dye sublimation, which works for polyester fabrics. The goal is to get the coloration deep into the material, where it can bind to the fibers of the fabric.

Direct inkjet technology sprays droplets of color into the cotton. In contrast, dye sublimation starts with the direct digital printing of the image onto transfer paper using dyes. Then, in a separate step, with the transfer sheet flat against the fabric, applied intense heat causes the printed image from the transfer sheet to migrate into the mesh of polyester fibers and bind to them (it goes from a solid to a gas, skipping the liquid state, and then solidifies again in the fabric). This is a very strong bond. In fact, it is my understanding that dye sub on polyester is even more durable than inkjet on cotton. And, there have been forays into direct dye sublimation of images onto polyester (skipping the transfer sheet but retaining the high heat), although the challenge is to keep the fabric completely flat during the transfer process.

So these are the options, using different coloration technologies for different substrates (cotton and polyester).

But What About Wool?

Yes, exactly. What about wool? We have made clothing out of wool for centuries. Now, finally, I’m beginning to read Google Aggregator articles on the custom printing of woolen fabrics. How exciting.

First, a little backstory. For most of history, the preferred way to decorate wool has been to dye it, in bulk. (Imagine vats of liquid dye.) This consumes a huge amount of water. Much of the coloration runs out of the fibers during the washing process. And there is no way to get photographic-quality image detail and resolution, which even now you can find on polyester and cotton bathing suits at the beach. But this is changing.

First, here are the benefits of wool:

  1. Wool is warm.
  2. Wool absorbs moisture.
  3. Wool is flame retardant.
  4. Wool has good drapability (ability to conform to whatever it is draped on, like the human body).
  5. Wool is resilient (returns to its original form).

Here are the challenges with decorating wool:

  1. The coloration has to get deep into the fibers, quickly and easily.
  2. The color has to stay there.

Recent strides in commercial printing technology have improved the surface characteristics of woolen fabric in such a way as to improve its color receptivity to fabric dyes, the pigment depth (ability to get coloration deep into the fibers), and the color fixation and color fastness (keeping the dyes attached to the woolen fibers). This has been done with chemical pretreatment and/or additions to the ink paste mixture (including, for instance, some of the following: monoethanol amine, benzyl alcohol, urea, and ammonium persulphate). Some of this processing actually strengthens the wool as well.

(If all of this technical information interests you, you might want to research Redox System; Dr. Suman Pant’s “Techniques to Improve Printing Performance of Wool Fabric,” 09/2010; and Think Positive, experts in the UK on direct-to-fabric custom printing.)

Here’s how it’s done (based on my recent reading about Think Positive). This includes printing on woven wool and knits, wool blends such as wool denim, wool velvet, lightweight wool twill, and wool fur.

(Keep in mind that wool is now considered a “luxury” fabric, particularly when compared to cotton and polyester. For instance, such famous brands as Vivienne Westwood benefit from this technology.)

The Process

In my reading, the custom printing was done directly onto rolls of fabric, as opposed to printing onto fully formed garments:

  1. Printers first pretreat the wool with a blend of seaweed thickener, urea, salt, and lemon juice (citric acid).
  2. The printers then use a water-soluble textile dye.
  3. The process sprays the dye through an array of inkjet print heads. (In the case of Think Positive, the digital press incorporates an 8-color inkset from which more than a billion colors can be mixed.)
  4. The fabric is held in place during imaging by a “sticky belt.”
  5. The printed fabric (with the dye sitting on top of the wool) is passed over a heat tray, which dries the dyes to the touch.
  6. Steaming the fabric opens the fibers and allows deep ink penetration into (and bonding with) the wool fibers. This sets the coloration (and images) and makes it permanent and durable.
  7. The printer washes out the precoating solution.
  8. There has even been experimentation into custom printing both sides of the fabric.

The Benefits

Here are some thoughts culled from the articles I read:

  1. Wool is a high-end fabric. Printing on wool opens up areas of high fashion once accessible to only cotton and polyester fabrics.
  2. Dyeing wool used to be a long, complex, arduous process, which consumed copious amounts of water. (Also, some wool dyeing was done not at the fabric stage but at the yarn stage, dyeing skeins of wool.) Now, using digital commercial printing technology, it’s possible to print ready-to-wear items much faster.
  3. This lends itself to printing short production runs and even prototypes.
  4. Due to the quick make-ready, the digital process eliminates the need for large runs. Therefore, there’s no need to store inventory (which might go out of fashion). Also, presumably, it’s possible to personalize individual items.
  5. Design flexibility has gone through the roof. Think about the detail and photographic resolution of digital printing vs. dyeing fabric.
  6. The process is sustainable and environmentally friendly. It uses far less water than prior technologies.
  7. The dye itself is environmentally friendly. In addition, excess dye can be recycled.

The Takeaway: How Can You Benefit as a Designer or Printer?

If you’re a designer or printer, how can you benefit from this new technology? First of all, fabric printing in general opens up two hot industries for you: apparel and interior design. The ability to print close to photographic quality designs on wool puts your design and commercial printing skills and knowledge in high demand.

If you’re a printer, it seems to me that buying the equipment required to produce and sell fabric printing would be less of a hurdle than adding traditional fabric dyeing technology (vats of colored dye) with its high water usage and need for storage of large printing runs.

So, as with any new commercial printing technology, my advice is to first read everything you can find on the subject of fabric printing for apparel and interior design (wall coverings, bedspreads, etc.) to see how you might apply your current level of expertise and what more you need to learn.

This is just the start. It’s really quite exciting, don’t you think?

Custom Printing: The Current Wild West of Print Buying

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

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I’ve just received five print book titles to price for two clients. Two of these books have French flaps (the 3.5” flaps that fold in on the front and back cover of a perfect-bound print book, making it look a bit like a case-bound book with a dust jacket). They are a poetry book and a book of fiction respectively, both 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound books. One is 272 pages plus cover; one is 72 pages plus cover. Each of these two has a corresponding “reader’s galley,” a book (without French flaps) for 75 selected readers to review and comment on prior to production of the final editions.

The galleys don’t need the same high-quality production values as the final editions. After all, they are editing tools. However, they must look good enough to pique reader interest, since many of the 75 readers for each title have clout in the literary market.

In contrast, the final editions have to look spectacular, with beautiful design, flawless print quality, and such embellishments as French flaps and a hinge score. These will cost more to print but will also command a premium from regular print book buyers. The audience for these copies includes readers who like the feel, look, and smell of a physical book (compared to a digital book) and are willing to pay for this experience. For each title there will be 1,500 to 2,000 final-edition copies printed.

That’s four books. The fifth is a 220-page hardback book, 8.5” x 10.875”. It is a reprint of articles on governmental proceedings in Washington, DC. It goes to 300 subscribers who want a physical book rather than a digital edition. Each year the book gets shorter, and the press run drops.

The Case-Bound Book

Let’s start with the final editions, the case-bound books. These books used to go to a huge printer, a consolidator that owned many individual plants across the country. Each individual commercial printing plant would specialize in a particular kind of custom printing work: black-only text vs. color text, digital printing, long-run web-offset work vs. sheetfed-offset work. This particular printer started no-bidding the job as an offset product when the press run dropped below 1,000 copies.

I could have had the original book printer estimate the job as a digital printing project, but at that particular time this printer offered only limited binding options (i.e., not including the fabric used over the binders’ boards for the case binding, and the particular color and pattern of the endsheets, etc., for my client’s book). Why? Because it was no longer cost-effective to provide clients with unique, specific production materials when only a few customers would require them in a year’s time. Having one client buy the minimum run of binders’ cloth wouldn’t work either. It would make a job prohibitively expensive. So this particular printer had to standardize (i.e., pare down) its offerings.

You could say I was being obsessive in specifying a particular binding cloth, weave, and color, and a particular endsheet paper, but these books were specifically destined for paying subscribers who had bought the very same book (earlier editions) for many, many years. All editions had to look and feel the same, as the cost was especially high (due to the particular information the books contained about government proceedings and votes).

One year I happened to find a book printer that specialized in short runs. They were in the Midwest and didn’t realize how attractive their pricing was to a big city client on the East Coast. They could match the binding specifications (which was surprising, as noted before). So they printed the book (digitally) for a number of years with superior quality at a reasonable price.

Then Covid-19 hit. Estimates that used to take two days began to take two weeks (literally). Last year the production schedule stretched out at least four weeks past the agreed-upon date. And the quality went down. It was unpleasant, to say the least.

So this year (and I’m grateful that my client still wants to work with me), I found a new small printer. They can match almost all the binding specifications. (Keep in mind that, regarding printing as opposed to binding, most printers can produce the 220-page text, which is a simple digital print job.) If my client is willing to make a substitution for the endsheets, everything else in the bindery work will match. And the price, quality, and schedule are great.

This success is unusual for this particular time, during Covid-19 (i.e., given the smaller commercial printing staffs and less overall printing work, plus paper price increases). To be safe, I contacted a number of other printers as well, including the huge one I had worked with before. Interestingly enough, this printer now offers all of the specialized binding materials I had described.

Schedules are all over the map, from four weeks to 10 weeks after proof approval. To put this in perspective, back in the 1990s, I could get a six-week turn-around on 65,000 textbooks. And from 2000 to about 2019 I could get a four-week schedule (or less) on shorter press runs.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study (How This Pertains to You As a Print Buyer)

  1. Larger printers can often save you time and money, but they may call the shots in terms of schedule length and specific job parameters.
  2. These limited job parameters may include signature length or book length (80 pages but not 72 pages, for instance).
  3. These job parameters may include having only a short list of paper finishes, colors, or weights (60# offset stock but not 70# offset stock for books, for instance).
  4. Minimum press runs may start at a higher level than you need (e.g., 100 copies rather than 75 for my client’s reader galley proofs).
  5. Specific bindery materials, or anything else only you and perhaps a handful of other clients may need, may be unavailable.
  6. Paper prices will be higher (I have heard there have been four price increases in the last eight months). If you have a long press run of a long book (maybe 300+ pages), your paper costs can add up. This could be a problem.
  7. Due to Covid-19, staffs are smaller. So estimating—and printing–may take longer than usual. One printer went from two days to two weeks for an estimate. Plan accordingly.

Four Books for the Small Publisher

My clients, the small publishing house with whom I’ve been working for a decade, had been paying a premium for superior commercial printing quality and dependable schedules. After all, you get what you pay for. The particular printer in question produced the last set of galleys and final editions of my client’s poetry and fiction books.

This year they were hit with four paper price increases. Let’s say their overall book-production cost went up 50 percent. My client found the pricing for the galleys to be prohibitive, so I shopped the job around elsewhere and found a small printer with good prices and a reasonable schedule. The sales rep had called on me when I was an art director and production manager in the 1990s, so he and I have a sense of mutual trust. (Relationships, or knowing both you and the vendor will keep commitments, goes a long way, particularly now.)

This vendor can’t do the final editions because his shop doesn’t produce French flaps. My client, however, is pleased with the price for the galley reader copies of the book (not the lowest) as well as the schedule (which will provide enough time for reader feedback plus production of the final edition of books within the book distributor’s firm schedule). All she and her husband need to see are printed samples and an unprinted text-stock sample.

So now I’m still shopping for printers to produce the final editions. All RFQ’s (spec sheets) have been distributed. I have a little time. I’ve submitted specs to the Printing Industry Exchange server, and contacted vendors I have worked with in the past, plus some vendors these printers have suggested if unable to meet my specific needs.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study (How This Pertains to You As a Print Buyer)

First of all, please reread the “What We Can Learn” list in the prior section. All of these suggestions pertain to this set of four print books as well.

Here are some more things to consider:

  1. Not every printer can produce French flaps. (This is also an expensive procedure.) If you want the folded-in flaps (i.e., the cover) to be flush with the face trim (the cut-off of the interior text pages), you may have to trim the book twice (to avoid cutting through the folds in the flaps). The alternative is to ask for a short fold, which lets you see a fraction of an inch of the text pages (which, in my opinion, doesn’t look as good).
  2. It’s ideal, if you have two books that go together, to have the books printed by the same vendor. However, depending on their production specs, this may not be possible.
  3. If your printer says his production schedules change daily, plan for a cushion in your time frame. If your delivery date is firm (a drop-dead date, as with my client, whose print book distributor will reject books that arrive late), you may need to look elsewhere.
  4. Smaller book printers may be the answer. If they have the equipment on site and are lean and hungry, you may have found a gem.

Final Thoughts

It’s the Wild West out there due to smaller staffs, printer consolidation and bankruptcies, paper-price increases, and competition from online communications. Consider smaller vendors. And contact vendors you’ve worked with in the past. Their requirements may have changed. If not, they may know other printers who can help you out.

Custom Printing: Ghosts and Other Ink Density Problems

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

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What Are Ghosts?

Ghosts are scary things. Well, maybe not so scary in commercial printing, but they are extremely frustrating and time consuming to eradicate, and a pressman’s ability to remove ghosts demonstrates the knowledge base that makes him an artist and a craftsman.

First of all, what are ghosts? They are unplanned images from elsewhere on a press form that show up on your press sheet. They are always a repetition of something already on your plate, either text or an image. In my experience they usually appear as a lighter image in a solid area, but sometimes they appear as a darker image within a lightly screened area.

In certain press layouts the potential for ghosting is higher than in others. When it happens, it is usually because the necessary confluence of layout problems has been missed in prepress, plating, and even the pressroom.

Ghosting is a result of ink starvation, which is a result of the size of the commercial printing press and the placement of heavy-coverage solid ink on a press signature. For instance, I once designed a poster which included text, a large vertical photo, and a solid ink border surrounding the central image. The border bled off the poster on all sides. If the prepress department had not flagged the job initially, it could have caused problems.

Without alteration, as the poster press sheet (in this case, with only one poster on a sheet) traveled through the press, the press would have deposited a lot of ink on the top of the poster, where the heavy coverage border printed all the way across, and then relatively little along the sides of the poster’s border, and then a lot of ink where the bottom of the border ran through the press (with solid, heavy PMS ink all the way across the custom printing plate).

In simpler terms, the press shifts from a heavy deposit of ink to a lighter one and back to a heavier one. And sometimes the result is the faint (maybe 20 percent of solid) ink markings (lighter or darker than the surroundings) repeating an element from another part of the layout.

So What Can You Do?

I have seen such a dilemma resolved in three ways. The first, quickest, and cheapest way is to catch the problem before the job leaves prepress. Stopping the press and making new plates takes time and costs money. Avoid this whenever possible.

The second option is to add “take-off bars,” or “ghost bars,” to the sides of the poster (i.e., add a solid laydown of ink outside the image area of the poster on the press sheet). The ghost bars widen an area printed in heavy ink and make it more equal in size or total area (i.e., equal in the amount of heavy ink coverage) to the opposite dimension (width vs. height).

This avoids the quick shift from using lots of ink to using very little ink to using lots of ink.

Granted, ghosting can be far more elusive. In my case the ghosting (which was avoided) would have been just an unevenness in ink coverage on the vertical and horizontal segments of the border surrounding a photo. In other cases, bits and pieces of large display type or photos can appear where they are unwanted. The culprits are usually heavy solids, screens, large areas of type, groups of halftones, and reversed type (i.e., areas with a lot of ink separate from, but on the same press sheet as, areas with far less ink). So the best thing to do if you’re at all concerned is to ask your commercial printing supplier about the potential for ghosting.

To get back to my own press inspection and discovery of ghosting, the printer I was working with did something else, something I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. He tilted the poster on the press sheet. What this did was even out the laydown of ink on the press sheet and thereby avoid ink starvation. Due to the tilting of the entire poster, there was a more gradual shift from heavy ink coverage to light ink coverage and back to heavy ink coverage in printing the border surrounding the photo.

Similar Problems

Like ghosting, other ink density problems can occur during a press run. And the human eye is most unforgiving in these cases.

For instance, large areas of solid color can look uneven. The same is true for screens of color. A small press, according to Getting It Printed, by Mark Beach and Eric Kenly, starts to have problems when the size of the solid or screen exceeds 3” x 3” (and when the size of large type exceeds 72pt). A large press can hold consistent density for a solid or screen for a 9” x 9” area. So sometimes moving to a larger press will fix the problem of an uneven screen or ink solid.

But sometimes even this is not enough.

One way to rectify such uneven density is to print two “hits” of the same color, one over the other. This evens out the coverage. Another option is to print a screen of a color and then cover this with a solid pass of the same color. A lot of printers do this for a heavy coverage of black ink. Or, a commercial printing supplier may build a “rich black” using not only black ink but also certain percentages of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink. This can yield richer coverage and more consistency of color.

This struggle to maintain consistency in ink coverage can also occur in background screens that must be consistent from page to page (or, worse, from press signature to press signature). This is particularly problematic for neutral colors (close to gray but with a slight color cast). Since the human eye can perceive even small differences in color on pages laid side by side, printers often sidestep the potential problem by adding an additional PMS color for all large background screens that repeat (particularly from press signature to press signature).

Further problems of a similar nature can occur with “in-line” colors on a press sheet. Imagine a press sheet with four pages across the top and four pages immediately below these (eight on one side of the form and eight on the other), yielding a sixteen-page press signature. Now imagine that this is part of a magazine, with heavy-coverage solids, screens, large type, pages on the signature with very little type and large expanses of white paper, and other pages with multiple printed elements.

Mentally “scan” across and down, from the pages above (four across) to the pages below. If there is a shift in either ink density or color from the pages entering the press first to those immediately below them and therefore “in line” on the press sheet, there can be visible color casts. For instance, a heavy-ink-coverage advertisement in a magazine may either take on a color cast, or cause an in-line page to take on a color cast (maybe a reddish tinge, if the large photo in the ad includes warm flesh tones).

In this case the pressman may have to adjust the color across the sheet to compromise or just make the paid advertisement perfect while tolerating less than perfect color in the in-line page. (Keep in mind that the ink density can be adjusted from one side to the other across a press sheet, but in the direction the paper travels through the press (usually the wider dimension on a sheetfed press), anything that lines up along this axis will have equal-density ink coverage. And the only way I know to remedy these problems is to impose the pages differently on the press sheet, usually by producing smaller press signatures (which would require more press runs).


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