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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for January, 2023

Business Card Printing: Designing a Corporate Identity Package

Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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I know the words may sound overly business-like: “corporate identity package.” Another term for this is your “collection” of print business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, and anything else related to your “brand.” This might even include a pocket folder or a coffee mug. All of the items need to look like they go together, but the design of the individual items can’t be so similar as to be predictable or boring.


Way back when, cowboys with herds of cows branded them to ensure their immediate recognition as “their cows.” A burned-in mark on the cows couldn’t be rubbed off, and a unique mark conveyed more than indisputable ownership. It reflected quality.

Today a brand does the same thing. It reflects quality. It also identifies the owner of the brand. Think about Starbucks. I don’t even drink coffee, and yet I recognize the specific green color, the twin-tailed mermaid (called Gorgona in modern Greek), and every instance of this mark on Starbucks store signage, Starbucks cups and mugs in the thrift store, gift cards my fiancee receives, and even on the Starbucks products and signage at the grocery store, where there’s a lot competing with this signage for my attention.

So how do you create a brand look that can be reflected in all of the printed material a company sends out?

Build (or Grow) Outward from the Logo

When I was an art director/production manager for a government-education non-profit foundation back in the 1990’s, we freshened up our logo. It was still an eagle, to represent the US government, but the style was very different from its predecessor: simpler, more stylized, and more contemporary.

The logo had been designed by an outside design firm, which specialized in corporate re-branding. When their logo design had been approved, it was up to us to implement it. We had to grow, organically (even more so than build out), a recognizable look. It had to be reflected in all print business cards and letterhead materials, but it also had to be reflected in all of the brochures, signs, and print books we produced during the year. Plus, all of these printed items had to retain their own individual look as well.

I was new to this aspect of publications design at this time, and we didn’t have as widespread access to imagery on the internet as we do now, so the in-house graphic designer and I worked together with printed samples that exemplified superior brand design, along with the designer’s own drawings and mock-ups, to implement the logo and create an overall branded look for the non-profit foundation. This was one of the most challenging jobs (at least to do well), and at the same time one of the most important jobs, I participated in during my time as an art director. And I started with the logo and the best in-house designer we had.

Elements of Brand Design

If I were approaching the same job today, the first thing I would do is Google “corporate identity packages.” I would encourage you to do the same, if you need to grow a logo into a complete identity package. When I do this now (using Google Images) and peruse the myriad photos that come up, I see the following general elements of design to consider for such a design task.

The Logo

As noted before, this is the central element of the brand package. This particular discussion presumes that you already have one. (Otherwise, approaching the design of a logo would probably constitute a book-length explanation in itself. This is probably why the bosses of the organization at which I was an art director farmed out this part of the job.)

The logo has to be recognizable and attractive at many different sizes, from very small to very large. Think about the twin-tailed mermaid of Starbucks fame. Throughout its history and its various iterations, it has been simple. Usually just green and white, or maybe green and black and white, with or without the name Starbucks Coffee, and with a logomark (the mermaid) crafted from only a few lines and no gradations. Because of this it is recognizable at a postage-stamp size or on the side of a building as a banner.

A more complex design might be more nuanced, but the few details of the actual logo (flowing mermaid hair, crown, twin tails) make the image more immediately recognizable and understandable. And as with anything else in marketing (particularly in a grocery store where thousands of visual impressions are competing for your attention), immediate recognition is essential. If you can’t get my attention in an instant, you’ve already lost me. Don’t waste my time.

The Typefaces

For a moment I’d like to shift back to the internet, Googling corporate identity again. It’s a lot more general than the Starbucks example, but when you see photo after photo of “laydowns” (like clothes laid down in a clothing catalog photo) of multiple corporate branding elements all together, the design concepts start to sink in. Many of these are probably fictitious. I don’t recognize any of them. It doesn’t matter. I see patterns.

This is what you can learn. In some way or another the logo is on everything. It is prominent, but it is often larger or smaller from item to item, although the treatment of colors is consistent. If the exact same logo colors are not used, it seems (from all the online samples of corporate identities) that solid black versions or logos reversed to white out of a solid color are optional presentations. When business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, pocket folders, shopping bags, notepads, coffee mugs, caps, etc., are laid down together in these Google Images photos, the same logo, in different sizes, presented in either identity colors or black or white, all look like part of the same family. That, of course, is the goal.

Working organically, a logo is composed of a mark (drawing) of some kind, the name of the company, and sometimes a tag line. These words are rendered in a typeface relevant to the tone, feelings, values, and images one might associate with the company. This specific typeface (or these typefaces) should be repeated elsewhere, brought into the design of the paper coffee cup, calendar, custom label, or anything else the company prints. For instance, there might be additional copy on the pocket folder and surely on a brochure. This typeface, or these typefaces, if they are consistent with the typeface(s) in the logo, will create a cohesive look. Unity: a principle of design. Variety is another principle of design. You can create interest by varying the size and placement of the words set in this typeface.

Color Usage

Many of the samples I see in Google Images incorporate only one, two, or three corporate colors into the overall design. Some of these “paint the press sheet.” That is, they are used in heavy coverage, and they bleed off the edges of the printed item. This provides an “ample” look, a feeling of abundance.

In many cases, from corporate item to corporate item, the colors are used in different (but complementary) ways. For instance, the color of a brown logo printed on one item (in a small-sized space) may be repeated on another item as the background color bleeding off all edges (i.e., what was the accent color on the first item is now used more abundantly on this other item). This creates a “rhythm,” which is another element of art (both the fine arts and graphic design) along with unity and variety.

The Takeaway

The best way to start thinking along these lines (where unity, variety, rhythm, color usage, typography, and such become second nature) is to view collection after collection of corporate identity materials online (which is easier than collecting them all in physical form).

Then, once you have an intuitive grasp of the concepts, once you kind of know on a pre-verbal level what you want to do next, start making thumbnail sketches. Make them simple. That’s why it’s not good to skip this step and move directly to designing on the computer. You’re not committing more than a few seconds to each drawing. The idea is to sketch out as many ideas as you can, free form. Then you can go back, edit them, choose a few you like, and start making more developed mock-ups using your computer. I always try for at least three different approaches (not just alternate iterations of the same concept).

Then you can start applying the logo and surrounding bits of text to the business card, letterhead, custom envelopes, etc. Lay everything out on a table. In fact it doesn’t hurt to print laser proofs and then cut them to size, and tape the laser proofs to a pocket folder or mug (or whatever other physical item you’re working with). See how everything looks together as a family of promotional items.

Then be ruthless in your editing. Decide what works well individually and what works well together. Make changes. Print out new laser proofs and cut and paste them to make your revised collection. If you have a color printer (inkjet is fine), all the better.

Then show people you trust and respect. Consider their suggestions. Make changes. Rinse and repeat. It’s a lengthy process (perhaps even a journey), but each revision will get better and better, and the group of items will look more and more cohesive.

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Quality in Inkjet and Offset Printing

Sunday, January 22nd, 2023

Photo purchased from …

I would like to begin by saying that there is no right answer to the question I’m about to pose. Rather there is, perhaps, just an approach to answering it in your own print buying and design work. The question is, “How do you determine quality when choosing offset commercial printing vs. production inkjet?”

First a definition. What is production inkjet? It is the blending of inkjet technology with the traditional durability of offset printing presses along with increased custom printing speed. It is a good choice for short- and medium-run print books and magazines and particularly for variable-data work. Production inkjet is not your traditional large-format inkjet press made for wall banners, car- and bus-wraps, and such. It is a hard-core, real commercial printing press in a durable frame.

A Little Background on My Client

In this context I recently bid out a 256-page, 1,000-copy or 1,500-copy, perfect-bound print book for a husband-and-wife-owned publishing house client of mine. In an environment in which perfect-bound books with French flaps, hinge scores, and other elements of superb print production are expensive when compared to the cost of digital electronic books, my clients choose to give their readers the tactile experience of reading. The feel and smell of the paper. The joy of reading a print book.

Pricing for this print book came back to me from three vendors, and one, which was the low bid, had a notation on the bid about J Press printing of the cover. The J Press, which I researched in detail, assuming initially that it was a digital inkjet (production inkjet) press, is made by Fujifilm. Its main selling points, in addition to its variable custom printing capabilities, are its color gamut (even with only four process inks), its flexibility in acceptable printing paper choices, and the minimal set up time (especially when compared to offset commercial printing). Within certain run lengths, all of this translates into high quality and lower costs.

Needless to say, since my clients, with whom I have worked for more than a decade and therefore whose goals for visual and tactile quality I understand and appreciate, had to be comfortable with the technology. The lower price point would not be a good enough reason to choose this vendor.

Moving Toward a Decision

The first thing I did was ask the book printer to send a comparable printed sample to my clients. I knew that nothing would help them make a decision regarding offset printing vs. digital inkjet printing as well as a physical sample. The reader’s eyes and fingers don’t lie.

I also asked the printer to send a sample because I had seen numerous inkjet printed products, and while their color gamut was extraordinary, with vibrant hues and subtle transitions between colors, I had seen in some inkjet samples a lack of crispness in detail. This concerned me. They were not as sharp (the contrast between adjacent edges of color or value) as the offset printed products I had been used to. Without knowing more, I had wondered if this was due to the differences in ink composition and printing paper. After all, inkjet ink is thinner than offset ink. Inkjet ink in this case is also water based unlike oil-based offset inks. (Granted, this had nothing to do with the color range or color fidelity, which I had come to believe usually was equal to that of offset printing.)

I had assumed that the thinner ink would have been more likely to seep into the paper fibers (in contrast to the thicker, oil-based offset ink, which sits up on the surface of the paper). This is called ink “holdout.” It makes for a crisper image and more detail, as well as more vibrant colors.

But when I researched the Fujifilm J Press, I learned that it would also accept more paper substrates than other inkjet printers (including coated paper), that even with only a 4-color inkset it had a remarkable color gamut, and that it incorporated improved ink coagulation technology and heat-based ink drying technology (presumably to allow even an aqueous-based, thinner-than-offset ink to dry or cure on the surface of the paper without bleeding into the paper fibers).

So I decided to keep an open mind and see what my client thought of the printer’s J Press-printed sample (which turned out to be a glamor-based magazine, a perfect-bound book just like my client’s art books of poetry and fiction). The reason the subject matter is relevant is that glamor, food, and automotive are the three best subjects with which to judge both photography and commercial printing. These are subjects that require consummate precision in everything from the photographic lighting to the custom printing technology, and these particular clients (and their marketing agencies) usually spare no expense to ensure quality.

Now we will see what my clients think.

Keeping All Options Open

I have no vested interest in selecting this printer over one of the other two, other than the fact that I have worked with them for many years and trust their quality and integrity (actually good reasons, beyond price, to choose this vendor).

This vendor also has offset printing capabilities. Plus one of the other two printers is very costly, and the other is less expensive but not as willing to absolutely commit to a schedule (in these times of paper shortages, when printers are often taking much longer than in the past to produce custom printing jobs).

So these are the next steps, as I envision them.

My clients have seen the initial sample glamor catalog. They like the brilliance of the color, but they are a little concerned about the images, which seem to be of a slightly softer focus than they would like. They are not sure that this is not intentional, since soft focus is sometimes intentionally used in glamor photography.

Because of this concern, I have asked the printer to provide pricing for a single proof of my client’s actual print book cover on the Fujifilm J Press. If my client likes the sample, we have our printer.

Plan B would be to ask this printer for prices for offset printing the book. This will be more expensive, according to the sales representative. That said, my next questions are more nuanced:

  1. Since the press run will be 1,000 or 1,500 copies of a 256-page book, I believe we may be at the crossover point at which an inkjet-printed book becomes more expensive than the same book printed via offset lithography (after all, at 1,000 x 256 pages or 1,500 x 256 pages this is a sizable run, and inkjet printing is economically beneficial primarily for shorter-run printed products). Plus, we’re comparing one vendor’s inkjet-printed product to two other vendors’ offset-printed products. We actually don’t know yet that the vendor with the J Press won’t still provide lower offset-printing prices than the other two printers when we shift the pricing model from digital to offset.
  2. Or, we even may have the option of doing a hybrid job: an offset-printed cover (a short run of 1,000 or 1,500 covers) bound to a digitally-printed book text block. This might cost less than a fully-offset-printed book while still retaining the consummate quality of offset printing for the four-color cover. After all, the interior of the book is, presumably, just black text on a page with no screens or photos. This would be ideal for inkjet printing.

The Takeaway

You may say that this is putting the cart before the horse, adjusting everything to work with a specific commercial printing supplier. But from my vantage point it takes into account that not all printers are as committed to quality and schedule as this one has shown itself to be in past jobs.

Fortunately I also have the luxury of time. I can make sure that my clients see samples until they are either satisfied or ready to move on to an alternate printer. Also, regarding schedules, this particular printer will produce the book in less time than the vendor with the mid-level price but more slowly than the most expensive printer. A longer schedule may compromise my client’s ability to prepare the manuscript and have the book designed and final art files prepared in time. This is because my client’s book distributor has provided an inflexible, hard deadline.

So there are a number of considerations beyond money, including the technology to be used, the schedule, and the quality of the printed product. In your own design and print buying work, I would encourage you to give thorough consideration to all of these factors.

Custom Printing: A Handful of Ways to Improve Your Type Design

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

As you can see from the undifferentiated mass of letters above, one major goal of good typography is to organize type for the reader. How should she or he read the brochure, sign, or print book you have designed? It is through your type choices (everything from the typeface to the type point size, from leading to line length to tracking, kerning, and color—as well as your placement of the type on a grid you deem appropriate for the content of your project) that the reader’s eye can know where to go first, second, and third. It’s your responsibility to lead the viewer around the page.

Beyond this, which I would call typographic design, there is another area of tweaks, perhaps subtle ones, which can make reading word after word, page after page, a more pleasurable experience and therefore one leading to better understanding and greater content retention. After all, the reader is usually picturing in her or his mind’s eye the elements of the story your brochure, poster, or print book is telling. Anything that facilitates this is worth doing.

Some Examples

I’m currently reading Graphics for Visual Communication, which I found at a thrift store. It was written by Craig Denton. It’s about thirty years old, but the rules of design are as appropriate now as they were then. Here is a random sampling of rules noted in Denton’s book that will set your type above desktop publishing and into the realm of actual typesetting. Follow along below, and you’ll get some great tips from this print book.

(As an aside, when I started doing graphic design back in the early 1980s, a typesetter would set type on a typesetting machine based on my stated specifications, and I would lay out and paste up the galleys of type using the phototypesetting paper printouts she or he provided. These were two separate professions, actually. Typesetters were artists in their own right, massaging the individual letters to make the copy as readable as technically possible before handing it off to graphic designers for the final layout.)

Letterspacing and Readability

Each line of type is made up of a number of letters. How close they are to one another can either foster readability or impede it. When you are setting type, make sure the letters are neither too close to one another nor too far apart. If there’s too much letterspacing, the words no longer read as complete, individual items. (The reader looks for the shape of a recognizable word. She or he does not read every letter.) If the letters are too close together (with too little letterspacing), the words will all run together. The spaces between the words will disappear and the text will become illegible.

The function in your layout program that you would look for to control letterspacing (hopefully a design tool such as InDesign rather than a word processor) is often called “tracking.” It is different from “kerning,” which controls the space between pairs of letters, such as a capital “A” and a capital “V.” If you’re setting a headline, for instance, such letter pairs as “AV” will often be too far apart. Kerning allows you to tighten them up (much as you would tighten up a full line of type with a tracking command). When you do this, the reader will not get visually stuck at the “AV” letter pair. It will not bring the reader out of her or his imaginative experience of reading to focus on what looks wrong about the typography (just as seeing a typo might derail your train of thought).

Learning how to control both letterspacing and kerning will improve the overall look and the readability of your typeset copy. And as a side note, both of these are more problematic–or visible–in larger type than in smaller type (headlines compared to body text, for instance). I personally do not kern letter pairs in body copy. It would take too long, and it would be below the threshold of visibility for most readers. That said, I believe there are global controls in high-end design applications that will still allow you to automatically kern all problematic pairs of letters you choose. (At least this is what I did in the mid-1980s, before the advent of desktop publishing, when I was setting my own type on a Mergenthaler typesetting machine.)

Line Spacing and Leading

It used to be that typesetters would add extra “lead” (the metal) between lines of type in certain instances. This was before phototypesetting. At that time lines of type were typeset in molten metal (lead) and printed via letterpress rather than offset lithography. Adding lead or leading opened up the space between lines, and this made large blocks of type more legible.

Why? Because once the reader’s eye reaches the end of a line, it must return to the beginning of the next line, back on the left (usually) side of the page. Long lines of type can make it difficult for the eye to travel back to the left and immediately find the starting point of the next line. So adding a little space between lines (or extra leading) can make this task easier.

Type set without extra leading is “set solid.” If you choose 11 pt type and set it without extra leading, this would be noted as 11/11 type. At any line length, this is usually harder to read (although it gets progressively harder as the width, or measure, of the line increases). A more reader-friendly balance would be 11/13 type (11 pt type with two points of lead).

Widows and Orphans

If you have a design with multiple columns of type (actually even when you set print books with a single column extending from page to page), watch for widows and orphans. “A widow is a line less than one-third of the column width at the end of a paragraph or the first line of a paragraph left unattached at the bottom of a column,” according to Graphics for Visual Communication. “An orphan, a portion of a line at the top of a column, must be eliminated by rewriting copy or changing the line spacing or column depth,” according to Graphics for Visual Communication (p. 96).

The reason these are problematic is that they trip up the reader. They look like errors. So they become a distraction. Any short piece of text left at the bottom of a final paragraph (or the top of the initial paragraph) in a column is a distraction.

Type Alignment

I mentioned earlier that the goal of typesetting is to facilitate reading and make it a pleasurable experience. In all cases, the reader’s eye has to return to the beginning of a line once it has finished reading the prior line. Type alignment can either make this easier or harder.

Graphics for Visual Communication notes that the most readable options are flush left type and justified type (in that order). Flush left type has a consistent left-hand margin, but the right-hand margin varies based on the length of the lines, which change based on the length of the words (and any hyphenation of words). In all cases, the space between words is consistent.

In contrast, justified type is set flush with both the left-hand margin and the right-hand margin. What makes this work is the varied spacing between the words. Unfortunately, if the lines are very short, or if the hyphenation is not ideal, the space between some words can be dramatically larger than between other words, leading to “rivers of white,” trapped white areas that appear to run down the page of type.

So justified copy is not quite as legible or attractive as flush-left copy.

Even less readable are the two other alternatives: flush-right text and centered text. In the case of flush-right copy (with a consistent right-hand margin and a left-hand margin that varies depending on the length of the words, but with equal spacing between the words), the eye has to return to a different position to begin each line (on the left), even though each line ends at the same right-hand margin. Actually the same is true for centered copy, but the eye has not only a different right-hand margin but also a different left-hand margin for each line.

This can be a problem. That said, some designers will use flush-right copy, for instance, in a limited amount (perhaps for a few lines of a pull-quote or callout). And maybe that designer will increase the legibility by adding a few extra points of leading between the lines of copy.

All rules can be broken. It’s just prudent to compensate, to find ways to balance things that reduce legibility with things that improve legibility.

Breaking Up Headlines Into Complete Thoughts

Graphics for Visual Communication uses the following headline to make a point: “The Wisely Designed Display Head.”

If you can get the entire headline on one line, that’s great (perhaps over several columns in a newspaper). One complete thought, no breaks. If you can’t do this, what’s the next best option?

Graphics for Visual Communication draws a contrast between typesetting “The Wisely Designed” on one line and “Display Head” on the next (in the first option) and, in the second option, “The Wisely” typeset on the first line, followed by “Designed Display” on the second line and “Head” on the third line.

The first treatment breaks the words of the headline into logically related groups of thoughts. Simplicity in thought makes for easier reading. The second option, according to Graphics for Visual Communication, may better fit the available space, but the words grouped together are not as intuitively and logically related as they are in the first option. And this will slow down the reader.

The Takeaway

All of this may seem like minutiae. And it is. But good typography does not call attention to itself. Rather it makes reading easier and more enjoyable. In typesetting, the details make all the difference.

Commercial Printing: High-end Inkjet for Fine Art Prints

Sunday, January 15th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

What is a giclee? Actually, the word, which is derived from the French, means to “spray, spout, or squirt” (Wikipedia). It refers to a high-end inkjet print used as a work of art (perhaps like the one printed above).

Back in the 1980s when I was a graphic designer, inkjet was a very new technology. Instead, analog color prepress proofs (Matchprints, Color Keys, and Cromalins) were made from mixed color powders or overlays on a base that was different from the final selected commercial printing paper.

So late in the ‘80s when I started reading about IRIS proofs, and seeing them when our custom printing sales representatives delivered prepress proofs, I was impressed.

And so were a lot of other people, among them fine artists. In the late ‘80s the artists’ community needed a way to reproduce original artwork for sale. For instance, a large, $4,000.00, one-of-a-kind painting might be reproduced in a series (a limited run of high-quality reproductions) for maybe a third of the price of the original.

There has always been a market for prints. I myself have many lithographs (actual art prints without halftone dots but made in a way similar to offset lithography), as well as serigraphs (screen-printed pieces produced with multiple mesh screens each printing a single color on a base paper substrate).

The IRIS Phenomenon

Prior to the inkjetting technology of such printers as the IRIS, these were the options for an artist who wanted to produce multiple copies for sale from a “matrix” (usually but not always a printing plate of some kind): lithographs, engravings, etchings, and custom screen printing. So the IRIS opened up a number of options.

Artists and galleries worked to resolve the two main problems with Scitex’s (eventually bought by KODAK) IRIS inkjet process. The process, which involved wrapping the commercial printing substrate around a metal drum and then jetting colored ink onto the paper, had to be modified for thicker media (such as canvas). And then the image produced via the inkjetting process (which faded over time) had to be made more stable.

After all, when I was getting IRIS proofs from my commercial printing supplier in the late 1980s and early 1990s, all that I (like other designers) needed was to check critical printing color in a continuous-tone (as opposed to halftoned) proof. The proof itself was irrelevant once the job had been printed and delivered.

But the IRIS held promise, in spite of its higher than $100,000.00 price tag, and artists had a new technology to use along with screen printing and etching for a limited series of salable art prints.

The Move to Large-Format Inkjet

Eventually it was no longer necessary to depend on the single IRIS technology. Overall, inkjet technology had improved, and companies such as HP, Canon, and Epson were offering large-format inkjet equipment at a lower price point than the IRIS. Equipment using dyes or fade-resistant, pigment-based archival inks, as well as substrates such as watercolor papers, coated and cotton canvas, and vinyl, replaced the former IRIS technology of choice.

These were now not only archival prints (created using technologies and materials that yielded final art prints with an exceptionally long life span), but they also provided a wider color gamut than before.

For instance, instead of just the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), large-format inkjet printer manufacturers such as Epson, HP, and Canon offered up to 12 colors in an extended inkset, all available at the same time on their inkjet equipment. These might include light magenta; light cyan; maybe an additional photo black; or red, green, and blue; or violet, orange, and green. All of these provided a much wider color gamut (more distinct colors) than a 4-color-only (CMYK) inkset. They also allowed for more subtle gradations from one color to another.

The Marketplace

When my fiancee and I go to the thrift store, we often see framed prints that look like originals. However, under a 12x printer’s loupe I can see the halftone dots of the offset lithographic process. This is different from both a traditional lithograph and a high-end giclee (inkjet print). And given its customarily lengthy press run, the individual offset lithographic prints are not worth much.

In contrast, individual copies from a traditional lithographic run (of maybe 250 copies) are worth a lot more (depending on the esteem in which the artist is held, whether the prints are signed, etc.).

The same is true for a giclee print. In this case, the artist has just used a digital process for creating multiple copies rather than a serigraph screen or etched copper plate. She or he has used the finest archival inks and acid-free paper or canvas, and has been closely involved in the production of the limited edition. Hence, the signed copies do have value, and they will last a long time, just like the prior editions of serigraphs, engravings, lithographs, and such.

Moreover, a fine artist might choose to print copies of the fine art piece one at a time as they are purchased (perhaps a color-corrected, high-quality photographic image of a large oil painting that might otherwise sell for $4,000.00). And the buyer is happy because she or he can afford to buy a piece of art for maybe a third of the price of the original oil painting.

So overall, the production process is much more under the control of the artist, and the prints are much more affordable to the buyer. Plus, the process of giclee custom printing can provide copies of photographs, flat artwork, and even computer-generated art, all meticulously color corrected and color controlled by the artist.


Having collected serigraphs, lithographs, monoprints, and such, over four decades, I initially had a distrust for this technology. “How can this be any more valuable than one copy from a press run of many offset-printed posters?” I thought. But over time I came to view giclee custom printing as nothing more than a controllable technology suited for producing a limited run of archival prints, just as the prior technologies had done. I realized that if I couldn’t afford a $4,000.00 oil painting, I could at least afford a giclee at a third of the price. And I knew that the artist’s involvement in the process (attested to by her or his signature and the numbering of copies in the limited press run) had been confirmed.

With this in mind I was interested in the advice I saw online from a number of artists and galleries as to the process of valuing giclees. The general consensus is that artists should factor in all expenses, including materials, time spent in the creation of the giclee, color scanning and correction of the original, and a reasonable amount for profit. That said, the key determinant would also be the renown of the specific artist in question, or how well regarded she or he is by peers and patrons.

It’s a little like pricing your graphic design work. If you’re good, and well known, you can charge more. After all, the value of a piece of art is what a willing buyer will pay to acquire it from a willing seller.

That said, many of the articles also included pricing grids (as a starting point), noting low-end, median, and top-end pricing of giclees based on their size (say 8” x 10” vs 36” x 48”).

And, of course, the press run makes a big difference as well. If you’re an artist and you’re selling 50 copies of your giclee work, you would command a higher price per copy than you would if the press run were 250 copies (the same idea as a custom screen printing or etching run of 50 signed copies rather than 250 copies).

Again, giclee is just the technology used to accurately print a limited run of color-corrected, archivally produced art prints, just like the lithographs and even the IRIS prints that preceded the current spate of Canon, Epson, and HP large-format inkjet giclees.

Book Printing: The Beauty of Old—and I Mean Very Old–Books

Monday, January 9th, 2023

Photo purchased from …

I’ve mentioned before that my fiancee and I consider our second home to be the thrift store. I love the books and CDs. She loves the clothes and furniture. We recently found a new venue that actually has a “free” section that includes two plastic bins of print books.

One of my recent finds is a book of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry dated 1899. It’s not in the best shape I’ve seen. (Granted, it’s 123 years old.) But even a cursory observation of the book yields information on typesetting, printing paper, book binding, and foil stamping, to name only a few arenas of print book design.

Here’s what I have seen and learned, and why I find this particular print book worthy of note.

The Text Paper

When I dig through my home library I find books I read in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s. In many of these, the text pages have yellowed and become brittle. This is because the paper has a number of impurities that make it acidic (rather than basic). This means the pH (which ranges from 0 to 14, with neutral being 7) is below 7. Acidic paper turns yellow and becomes brittle. This can be a problem if you want the books you’re manufacturing, or reading, to last a long time.

In contrast, most of the paper in the older print books I have collected over the years is basic (i.e., the paper has a pH above 7). That is, impurities have been removed in the paper-making process, and in many cases buffering agents such as calcium carbonate have been added. Over time these buffering agents neutralize acidic elements that are either absorbed from the atmosphere or created as the paper ages.

But why would publishers print books on paper that will turn yellow and become brittle? Well, at the present time most paper is acid-free, but back in the 1970s, when I acquired some of these books, presumably the acid-free paper was more expensive. After all, many of my books were novels, intended to be read and then discarded within a few years, so they really didn’t need to be pristine for that long.

As a side note, newsprint is also highly acidic. My fiancee has a number of old newspapers from the 1960s. In all cases these have to be handled carefully, since they are also yellowing and becoming brittle.

But to get back to my 123-year-old book of Longfellow’s poetry, the text paper (it is a case-bound print book without a paper cover) is in exceptionally good condition. Apparently acid-free paper, which is similar to archival paper (which, in addition to not being acidic, also contains no artificial paper brighteners) has a life span of over 200 years. It is especially good for valuable books of poetry and also for ledger books you might buy at Office Depot (since these, too, need to last for a long, long time).

Binding Qualities

The book of Longfellow’s poetry is case bound to increase its durability and longevity. Given how old it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if perfect binding had not yet been invented (actually, I just Googled it, and perfect binding was invented in 1895 but not used in book binding until 1931, according to Advantage Bookbinding (

The spine of the print book has been rounded, which is a process that involves pushing the central pages of the text outward from the spine during binding, such that the pages as seen at the face margin (the front of the book opposite the spine, when you look at it from the side) are concave (curved inward), just as the spine is convex (curved outward).

The book binder also foil stamped the fabric-based cover-casing material using heat and pressure in a “strike-on” process (probably using a letterpress) to transfer the foil material from a roll to the fabric cover of the print book.

There are also fabric headbands and footbands at the binding edge of the book to obscure the glue and folds of the book press signatures where they are attached to the paper “crash,” or “super,” which is hung on the front and back endsheets and binder boards. That is, the interior spine does not touch the outer spine of the book case itself except when the book is closed. This is not a “tight-backed” print book. That is, when the book is opened, the text block (the group of folded and gathered press signatures) moves forward, away from the exterior fabric and paper spine. When the book is closed, the text block moves back into place.

The Printing Process

In the present time, if you want to typeset a print book, you use a computer application like InDesign and burn commercial printing plates directly from these electronic files. Then you hang the plates on an offset press and print the book forms (the flat press signatures prior to folding).

In contrast, the book of Longfellow’s poems (considering the date of publication was 1899) was printed in one of two ways: either via the newly invented offset lithographic process (invented in 1875) or via letterpress.

Offset lithography uses the incompatibility of ink and water to keep the image area full of ink and the non-image area free of ink, using flat printing plates. In contrast, letterpress uses plates with raised image areas (called relief plates).

Even now, letterpress is used occasionally, and a similar technology called flexography–which uses rubber rather than metal relief plates–is used extensively for custom printing sheet plastic (bread bags, for instance) and wrapping paper.

Since the technology was so new when this print book was manufactured, I would not be surprised if letterpress was the technology used.

The Typesetting Process

So what about the typesetting?

Mergenthaler invented the Linotype typesetting machine in 1886 (again, very close to the publication date of my Longfellow poetry book). The Linotype machine allowed type compositors to set an entire line of type at one time. (The machine produced a slug of lead with raised typographic letters for use in the letterpress printing process.)

Prior to this, the type compositor had to select upper and lowercase letters from a wooden case (a box or drawer), one at a time, and compose each line backwards (so it would print forwards) in a composing stick. The lines of type were then laid into a “chase” (along with any incised images, instead of halftones, which hadn’t yet been invented), and then everything was locked up so the various elements wouldn’t move when inked and printed.

Once the print job was done, all of the letters had to be re-sorted into their various job cases (“upper case” letters in the upper case of the type storage unit and “lower case” letters in the lower drawers or cases of the type storage unit). Misfiling these individual metal letters would lead to typographical errors (typos) in the final printed product.

So depending on the reliability of the new technology (and the type compositor’s level of comfort with the new technology), these would have been the two options for typesetting this book of Longfellow’s poetry.

The Process of Printing Images

This book of Longfellow’s poetry has a number of black and white “plates” or images. Had the book been printed today, they would be halftones. But back when this book was published the halftone process for printing had just been invented (in 1869), which may be why the images in this book are engravings instead. You can tell because there are no halftone dots but only hatched and cross hatched lines to simulate shades of gray, depending on how close together or how far apart they are.

And in the front of the print book, between the frontispiece (an engraving on the left-hand page) and title page (on the right-hand page) there is a transparent sheet of tissue paper (glued to the right-hand page close to the binding and slightly smaller than the trim size of the book) for protection of the title page (to keep the ink on the frontispiece plate from offsetting to the title page).

The Takeaway

I personally think that one can appreciate the artistry of an old print book (especially a very old print book) when one understands both the technologies used and the date these technologies were invented. Beyond everything else, book printing and binding are art forms and crafts done by skilled tradesmen who put love and attention into the details of their work.

And it becomes even more intriguing when one realizes that in some cases the materials and techniques employed have allowed people in future years (in this case 123 years after the book was printed) to appreciate the quality workmanship.

Commercial Printing: The Raw Power of Movie Standees

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

Photo purchased from …

For almost a decade, along with our other gigs, my fiancee and I installed standees at movie theaters.

First of all, what is a standee (we asked the same question over ten years ago)? A standee is, more often than not, a physical environment made out of cardboard, with commercial printing press sheets laminated to corrugated board or chipboard, and usually involving the die cutting and spot gluing of the assorted pieces. Standees arrive at movie theaters in boxes weighing up to 100 lbs, with all of their flat, unassembled components stacked in the shipping cartons.

The job of a standee is to sell the movie. The job of the standee installer is to read the multi-page assembly instructions; to assemble all the pieces into movie characters using tabs, slots, bolts, and nuts; and to attach all of the movie characters to the printed backgrounds, creating environments that will inspire viewers, elicit a desire to participate (many of the standees move in response to viewer interaction), and ultimately buy tickets to the movie.

These standees are often accompanied by banners, posters (called one-sheets), or other large format print media.

As you can see, standees are very much dependent on the marriage of marketing, graphic design, and offset and digital custom printing.

Given our current midterm election season and the upcoming presidential election in two years, I thought it timely to discuss two political standees, one that moved and talked when its motion sensor was triggered and one that was actually a “photo-op” character at a family gathering for one of our art therapy bosses.

The Talking Political Candidates Standee

The first standee included two separate political candidates. (I googled the film just now and couldn’t find its title. It was current in or around the year 2015.) They were die cut male images in suits with cardboard easels to hold them up. As I recall, when you got up close, a motion sensor triggered a solid state recording attached to a speaker, so both of the characters could talk. In addition, as I recall, there were small motors and plastic gears and other assemblies that caused at least one and probably more of the political candidates’ arms to move.

It was actually quite complicated, and the assembly directions were imprecise, so we struggled with the installation. However, it was memorable for a number of reasons:

  1. First of all, the majority of standees do not move. They are static environments in which you can imagine yourself along with the characters. But since there usually is no movement, those standees that do incorporate moving parts add to the realism of the promotional piece (which is actually a cardboard or paperboard sculpture of sorts). This is true even if the characters are just cartoon images.
  2. Standees are 3D physical entities, unlike posters. They depend on the rules and principles of physics. If, for example, the standee is top heavy, it will fall over. On a more complex level, if the standee incorporates movement, it will in many cases have a very elaborate mechanism comprising gears, belts, and moving supports to ensure multiple weeks’ worth of its repetitive motion. Observing how these movie standees have been conceived (presumably using both high-end computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing software) can be intriguing because of the mechanical logic and acumen involved in the standees’ successful operation.
  3. From the position of a commercial printing vendor, these standees can be intriguing because of all the custom printing and finishing operations that go into their construction. For instance, 4-color offset printing on (presumably 100# gloss text) press stock is only the beginning. This base imaging material is then laminated to corrugated board and then die cut in such a way that standee installers can break away the scrap, leaving silhouettes of movie characters that can be added to backgrounds built from much larger box-like structures cobbled together with metal screws, nuts, and die cut tabs and slots. In some cases additional corrugated board supports have been spot glued onto the various pieces to allow them to stand up and/or stand out from the background imagery that is also made of 4-color press sheets laminated to corrugated board.
  4. From the position of a student of marketing, it is intriguing to see how standees capture the attention and interest of passersby. Granted, some standees are specifically designed to be photo booths. In effect, you can step into the environment and have your photo taken with the movie characters. I think the standees pique the interest and entice the inner child of even the oldest adults. In my experience, the best marketing or advertising work does just this, by telling a story that brings adults and children out of their day-to-day routine if only for a short time.

Barack Obama: The Second Political Standee

The second political standee was a static one. That is, unlike the two political candidates with the motion-sensor operated voice box and moving arms, this standee was merely a die cut image of Barack Obama with a cardboard easel to hold it upright. It didn’t move.

The Obama statue was an addition to a family gathering hosted by our boss at one of the venues for our art therapy classes for the autistic. It was a primarily African-American group, and everyone wanted their picture taken with Barack Obama. My fiancee and I spent the evening taking photos of our boss’ family members and custom printing hard copies on a dye sublimation printer. We made a lot of people happy.

What made the photos intriguing was the transformation of Obama from a flat image on a cardboard easel to a participant in the photos. He was exactly the right height, and the reality of his image as a flat standee vanished when the camera collapsed an otherwise three dimensional collection of people into a flat photo. Obama looked just as real as our boss’ family members (and vice versa). That was the magic. It looked like everyone was getting their picture taken with the real former president.

Here’s what made this experience memorable, in my opinion:

  1. Many of our boss’ family members absolutely had to have their picture taken with the president. They loved Obama and they were proud of him, the first African-American president.
  2. This means that their inner child suspended belief for a moment, ignoring the fact that Obama was only a die cut photo laminated to corrugated board, with a cardboard easel spot glued to the die cut image to allow it to stand upright.
  3. This says a lot about marketing and psychology. People want to be affiliated with famous people, as well as with products and organizations, that reflect their own values. For the same reason that many of our boss’ family members attended the family reunion (perhaps a desire to be a part of something larger than themselves: the family), they also wanted to be photographed with even a cardboard standee of one of their personal heroes.
  4. I think this is the same reason people like seeing images of Batman and Superman (as noted in the photo at the top of this PIE Blog article). For the members of our boss’ family, Obama was a superhero as well.

The Takeaway

People are willing to suspend belief and to play. Perhaps virtual reality headsets are more high tech than standees, but the idea is the same. Immerse the viewer in an experience or environment that stimulates as many of the person’s senses as possible, and you, as a marketer, can make meaningful contact with the viewer. And as a designer, if you can bring this awareness into your graphic design projects (either 2D or 3D), you will go a long way in capturing the attention and piquing the interest of your audience.


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