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Archive for the ‘Paper Coatings’ Category

Custom Printing: Fooling the Eye with Cover Coatings

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

A lot of good things in life involve fooling the eye. It’s what magicians do. Once you know the trick, it’s no longer magic. But once you know the secret, perhaps you appreciate something larger, such as the skill of the magician and the limits of human perception.

In this vein, I was recently pleased and surprised by a print book my fiancee found when we were thrift-store shopping, our favorite passtime.

Selp Helf (that’s not a typo) by Miranda Sings, a comedian with a penchant for original spelling rules, has an intriguing book cover dust jacket. The title is printed in what looks like black magic marker. I wouldn’t call the font a typeface; it’s more of a hand-scrawled title.

What makes the print book cover unique is that the hand-printed title appears to be actually written on two strips of masking tape. When you run your finger across the two strips, the texture confirms it. There’s the roughness you’re familiar with. In fact, at a couple of points around the edges, the tape feels like its bunched up. You even automatically try to work a fingernail under the tape.

To complete the mental picture as you visualize this cover, Miranda Sings’ byline is set in Courier (typewriter type), and a photo of this comedian is on the right, bleeding off the cover and looking up and back at the print book title on the masking tape.

What’s the Magic?

The fine arts term that pertains to this book cover is “trompe l’oeil.” It is French for “fool the eye.” Wikipedia defines the term as follows:

“Trompe-l’œil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.”

You may have seen paintings in galleries in which the subject matter (often flat images of postcards and similar small objects attached to a flat surface like a bulletin board) looks absolutely real (unlike, perhaps, a painting of a landscape). The tromp l’oeil painting looks so real that you want to touch it.

Miranda Sings goes one step further. (You could say she takes the leap from painting–analogous to the print book cover–to sculpture, because once you touch the faux masking tape, your brain registers the texture as “real” as well as the appearance. Therein lies the magic.

Moreover, using the tools and techniques of commercial printing to achieve this visual and tactile result showcases one of the benefits of physical printing over the Internet. Images on the Internet (or even images created with computer virtual reality) can be immersive. They can envelop you and transport you to another realm that “feels” real, but this magical achievement does not involve the sense of touch (at least it doesn’t do this yet). A print book is a physical experience. The Internet and any other virtual (computer-generated) experience is not.

How Did They Create the Magic?

Commercial printing uses a set of tools and techniques (building blocks, if you will) to elicit a mental and tactile response. In this particular case, three of the tools are low-relief embossing, the introduction of hand-drawn images (the print book title) into the computer workflow with a scanner, and the art of contrasting different cover coatings against one another.

You could go even further, and you could say that the chemistry of cover coatings (many of them UV coatings; some based on varnish) is another magical tool. This is particularly true these days, since numerous kinds of textured UV coatings have been developed in recent years.

To begin with the embossing, you can see how the technique was done by removing the dust jacket. (Again, remember that the cover I mentioned really is the dust jacket. The book itself is case bound. The actual cover is made of red paper and cloth and only has printing on the spine.)

When you remove the dust jacket and look at the back of the press sheet under a good light, you see (and can feel) an ever so slightly formed embossing that includes the bumps along the edge that my finger had perceived as the edges of absolutely real masking tape. For me, what makes this so intriguing is how slight the embossing is. It feels only as thick as masking tape. Other embossing and debossing I have seen has been much deeper. The artistic term for this is “bas relief.” It means “low relief.” It’s not a new concept, but it has been especially well done (i.e., supremely effective) on this dust jacket.

Let’s move on to the hand lettering. While it is possible that there is a hand-drawn font that looks like magic marker scratchings (with multiple overlapping lines made to look thicker), to me it looks more like someone drew the title on paper and then scanned it and placed it in the InDesign art file.

Interestingly enough, when you look closely with a 12-power printer’s loupe you can see that all four printing inks have been used to create a bold, heavy black ink. (The printer’s term is “rich black,” and it is composed of various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.) What you see when you look closely with a loupe is halftone dots of all these colors laid over over one another at slightly different angles.

Finally, the designer knew how to use cover coatings. These are the chemicals applied to the press sheet (usually) after the printing ink. To help you visualize this, the commercial printing paper itself is often porous. Therefore, it is often topcoated with a dull or gloss coating. The printing press deposits ink on this coated surface, and the inks stay put. Because of the coating, the inks are less likely to seep into the porous paper fibers on the base custom printing sheet.

In contrast, the cover coatings I speak relative to the faux masking tape on the book cover dust jacket are applied after the ink has been deposited on the press sheet. These can include UV coatings (gloss and dull), aqueous coatings (dull, gloss, and satin), film and liquid laminates (dull and gloss), and varnish (and, again, they are applied over the printed sheet). That said, they can be “flood” coats, in which case they cover the entire press sheet (or in this case the entire dust jacket). Or they can be “spot” applications placed only in specific locations. What makes this magical is that you can cover one area with a spot gloss coating (in the case of this dust jacket it would be everything but the masking tape) and another area with a dull coating (in this case the masking tape itself). The contrast between the two then creates the perception of the masking tape.

Now to expand upon the various options contemporary designers have at their disposal, print book cover coatings have multiplied significantly in the past seven to ten years. You now have a lot more options than just dull and gloss. (And many of these are related to UV–or Ultraviolet–inks, which are cured or dried with UV light.)

Some of these coatings have a rubbery feel that seems to grab your fingers. In fact, I once received a print book of sample cover coatings from a paper manufacturer that showcased an image of a spider. On the hairy underbelly of the spider the printer had applied just such a rubbery coating. Other parts of the spider were gloss or dull coated. Touching the belly of the spider was unsettling, to say the least.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Printing is a physical medium. Think about what this means (compare physical printing to computer-based, or Internet-based, experiences), and then use the differences to your advantage. Capitalizing on the physical attributes of commercial printing makes holding and reading a print book a unique experience. In fact, in recent years it has become an increasingly tactile experience. If you’re designing books, it behooves you to learn about and then exploit these differences.
  2. Call your printer or paper merchant and ask for a few paper sample books showcasing the effects that can be achieved with different cover coatings. This will help you in two ways. It will open your mind to the multitude of effects, and it will make it easier to communicate your goals to your book printer or commercial printing vendor. You may even find some of these books on sale (or for free) online if you look for paper merchants.
  3. Ask your printer about the following: textured UV coatings and reticulation varnish. I mention this because the most dramatic effects I’ve seen have been crafted with UV coatings. I also mention reticulation varnish because it’s a unique effect (similar to seeing water droplets bead up on the surface of your car after a rainstorm). It’s not for every occasion, but it’s worth exploring. (You may also want to Google reticulation varnish online for an explanation of the chemistry behind this process.)

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Added Paper Coatings

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

I received an email link to a commercial printing website this week. Being curious in matters of custom printing, I followed the link to a blog about this vendor’s options for cover coatings, or, more specifically, UV coating options.

This motivated me to do some more research into cover coating options. Here are a few things you might consider when specifying cover coatings.

Coated and Uncoated Paper

First of all, commercial printing paper can be categorized as either coated or uncoated. Coated paper has an extra transparent coating over its entire surface that is composed of such materials as calcium carbonate, kaolinite, and talc. This coating keeps printing ink up on the surface of the press sheet rather than allowing it to seep into the fibers of the paper. (This is called “ink holdout,” and it allows for crisp, heavily coated ink solids, precise type letterforms, and detailed photos.) Such paper coatings come in various surface textures: dull, matte, satin, and gloss. Gloss coating makes photos “pop.” Matte coating or dull coating makes text easy to read.

The other option, uncoated paper, is ideal for text-heavy print books or even annual reports, particularly if your goal is to present an environmentally friendly tone. Uncoated paper feels softer, and photos printed on uncoated paper will be a little less crisp (softer) than the same images printed on a coated press sheet. This is because the ink seeps into the underlying paper fibers.

So there are good reasons to choose both coated and uncoated printing paper. It all depends on your design goals.

Additional Paper Coatings

Once you have selected a press stock for your job, you can also choose to add an additional paper coating. For the most part, however, you would choose to do this only if you’re using a coated press sheet. This is because surface coatings seep into uncoated paper, leaving the surface either looking like it has no coating or looking unevenly coated.

(To understand this, think about what it would be like to paint on a sponge. You would not end up with an even, coated surface. The paint would just be absorbed into the cellulose fibers of the sponge.)

If you choose to add a paper coating to a press sheet, you have a number of surface textures to choose from and materials with which to do the coating, and you can produce a number of artistic effects with the coating.

To start with the goals, you would usually coat a press sheet to protect the printed ink. For instance, if you have heavy ink coverage on the cover of a print book, you might want to add a cover coating to protect the ink from scuffing. Scratches, or even fingerprints and other damage from the oils in your hands, can diminish the pristine quality of a printed piece. It can look old fast. A cover coating can minimize this damage, even over time and under heavy use.

Another goal might be to highlight elements of a design. For instance, if you print your job on a matte or dull press sheet and then “spot” coat the photos with a gloss coating, your photos will appear to jump off the page. You can do the same thing with type or a solid block of ink. (For instance, you might want to spot gloss coat a large initial capital letter on a page of your printed job.)

Regarding materials, you have a number of options for coating paper: varnishing, aqueous coating, UV coating, and laminating. In most cases you would choose one of these based on the surface texture you want, the overall cost (some options are more expensive), and the level of durability you need.

Varnish is similar to commercial printing ink without color. It is transparent. You would print a varnish using one of the printing units on your offset press. Therefore, you might choose to either flood the press sheet with the gloss or dull varnish (for protection or a particular sheen or smoothness), or you might choose to spot coat the sheet (to highlight only the photos, for instance).

On the downside, however, over time a varnish can yellow, changing the perceived color of the paper it covers. Varnish is the cheapest option, but it may be wise to use it primarily for items that do not need to last very long (such as a postcard that will be read and then discarded).

Your next option is liquid aqueous coating, which is applied with a coating tower at the end of a commercial printing press. (This is called “in-line coating,” as opposed to “off-line coating,” which refers to coating added after the job has been printed and has dried.) Being an aqueous product, aqueous coating is environmentally friendly. However, you would use aqueous coating primarily as a “flood coating,” in part because its application is not as precise as the application of a varnish. However, by using an aqueous coating, you avoid any problems with yellowing that varnish can present. Aqueous coating is also more durable than varnish.

UV coating is a third option. This liquid is usually applied “off line,” after the printed job has dried and on different coating equipment (sometimes by a different vendor altogether). It can be applied as a flood coating or a spot coating, and it can be one of the shiniest options you can choose (it can be glossier than varnish, for example). UV coating dries instantly (this is actually called “curing”) once it is exposed to UV light. Once cured, UV coating is inert (and therefore environmentally friendly).

A fourth option is lamination (think of menus in a pancake house, which must take a lot of abuse and be wiped clean with a wet sponge repeatedly). Lamination is applied off line. It comes in a number of thicknesses (from 1.2 mils to 10 mils or more). Lamination is expensive. (UV coating and aqueous coating are less expensive, and varnish is cheap.) If your print job has a long press run, lamination can add a considerable cost. It can also add considerable weight to a printed product, which can drive up mailing (i.e., postage) costs.

Things to Consider

Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a paper coating:

  1. Varnish can be tinted with a little ink. This can provide a film of transparent color, which can be used for subtle, ghosted images. However, as noted before, it will yellow over time. The yellowing is more noticeable over unprinted paper than over process inks.
  2. Aqueous coatings have a higher abrasion resistance than varnish. They can also be smoother and shinier than varnish. Because they seal the underlying press sheet entirely, they can keep air away from metallic inks, keeping them from tarnishing. If your printer can specially formulate the aqueous coatings, you can write on them with a No. 2 pencil or overprint them with a laser printer. (Otherwise, you need to “knock out”–or omit varnish or aqueous coating from–any area that must be written on or mechanically addressed.) Finally, aqueous coatings are best on thicker press sheets. Thin press sheets (one article says less than 80# text) may curl or wrinkle.
  3. Aqueous and UV coatings can chemically interact with the underlying inks (certain hues like Reflex Blue and Rhodamine Violet have changed or burned out or bled, according to some of the articles I read). Time, heat, and exposure to light can cause these changes to occur, sometimes suddenly, up to months or years after the press run.
  4. UV coatings come in a lot of different surface textures (as noted on the printer’s website I mentioned at the beginning of this article). The particular custom printing vendor who sent me the link includes “soft feel,” “rubber feel,” and “sandpaper” among their offerings. This can be especially exciting depending on how it is used. For instance, no online advertisement can be as dramatic as a print ad for an oceanfront property with a spot sandpaper UV coating over the sandy beach in the photo. That said, UV coatings can be tricky. Some printers want to only use them with UV inks; others require that the underlying inks be wax free and be allowed to dry completely before the application of the UV coating. Some recent ink developments involve hybrid inks that minimize drying problems and surface texture problems when used with UV coatings.

The Takeaway

Ask your commercial printing supplier for samples of any paper coatings you are considering. See exactly what they will look like before you commit to one coating or another.

Ask about any potential liabilities (drying problems, yellowing, etc.).

Ask about the potential for cracking if the print job folds and the coating extends across the folds.

Consider the cost (and the press run length). Choose an option that fits your budget.

Also consider any weight a thick coating (like laminating film) can add if you plan to mail your printed product.

Commercial Printing: Mixing Printing Paper Coatings

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Anytime you use the words “paper coatings” and “mixing,” you are in the realm of not just commercial printing but chemistry as well. Mixing can cause problems. Chemicals can be incompatible. But a good printer can usually come up with a work-around.

To give this point some context, I’ve been brokering a book printing job recently for a small literary publisher. It’s a husband and wife team, and they use their own money, so the price has to be competitive and the printed product has to be outstanding. Before attending a meeting with them to choose a paper stock for the text of their most recent print book, I collected paper samples from the printer they had chosen in the Midwest.

Along with the folder of paper swatches the printer had sent me (many book printers only offer a limited number of paper stocks, presumably to avoid surcharges for special-order paper), they included sample cards showing foil stamping and matte and gloss cover coatings they could offer on their printed books. I can’t tell you how valuable these are as teaching tools and a tangible focus for selling commercial printing. Nothing shows how cover treatments will look better than a physical sample.

In this light, you might note that all of these gloss and dull effects can also be applied to other products than books. For instance, you might want to mix foil stamping with a dull and gloss coating on a brochure, or any other printed product your clients will touch and hold. These are very tactile products. Another area in which these coatings are used a lot is the packaging industry, which has been one of the fastest growing arenas of commercial printing in recent years.

Foil Stamping Over Gloss and Matte Lamination

The first two samples in the collection I received show how foil stamping will look over a glossy and a dull surface. What makes these interesting to me is that according to my representative at this printer, you can add foil stamping over a dull or gloss surface but only if the surface is a film laminate (an actual sheet of plastic lamination adhered to the surface of the paper).

To grasp this concept, keep in mind that foil stamping is applied with heat and pressure using a metal die stamp. The stamp cuts the foil out of a roll and attaches it to the substrate. For whatever reason (heat, chemical incompatibility), if you did not choose a film laminate as the base (lets say you first laid down a UV coating), the foil would not adhere to it. It will adhere to the gloss film laminate (a slick surface) but it will not adhere to a liquid layer of UV varnish (another slick surface). To work around this, the printer would need to knock out the UV (i.e., not print) wherever the foil stamp will adhere.

Now I realize this is an esoteric concept, and I don’t even really understand why this is the case. However, there are two things I learned from this information that are far more relevant:

  1. If gloss UV and gloss film laminate look approximately the same, and if the foil will adhere to the film laminate but not to the UV coating, it is a smart business practice to defer to the printer’s advice. In addition, you’re apparently going to get a better product with the film lamination because there will be no chance of printing the coating out of register. (That is, if you knock out whatever is behind the foil stamp, and there’s the least bit of misalignment in the placement, the gaps around the letters (or other artwork) will be visible. If the foil can be stamped right onto the gloss film laminate with no knock outs, that’s the better choice.
  2. The other thing I learned was that issues with heat, chemistry, and adhesion should be researched and respected, and the printer’s knowledge and experience are invaluable in a case like this.

On the second sample, the fact that the silver foil can adhere to a matte background makes more sense to me. After all, a matte coating is less slick than a gloss coating (which really means more surface area and a rougher surface; kind of like gluing something to wood rather than to glass or metal).

From an artistic point of view, both effects are intriguing. Unlike a single surface (dull or gloss), you have in one case the gloss of the foil contrasting the smoothness and light absorbing (rather than reflecting) power of the matte background. The dullness of the background makes the foil seem to jump up off the page. In contrast, the foil applied to the gloss film laminate provides a more consistent look (gloss on gloss), but it also presents a nice contrast between the metallic gold of the foil and the crispness of the glossy background photo.

Foil Stamp Over Luxury Matte Lamination

From the feel of the background on this particular sample, I would say that it resembles other products I’ve seen that go by names such as Soft Touch UV. The background feels like rubber, and it has almost no sheen. It is hyper-dull, which works well in contrast to the reflective foil stamping. Since the background is a film laminate, and since it is rough in texture, based on what my contact at the printer said, I would assume the foil adheres directly to the matte lamination without any knock-outs behind the foil stamping.

Matte Etch Over Gloss Film Lamination

This sample particularly intrigued me because of how it was produced. At first glance, I would say that the glossy type had been coated with a spot UV coating or a gloss varnish and that the background was the original matte surface. (I would have been wrong.) On the contrary, based on the explanation I received from the print representative, a gloss film lamination had first been adhered to the entire surface of the paper substrate, giving an overall highly reflective sheen to everything.

Unlike liquid laminate, the gloss film laminate had been applied as a thin sheet rather than as a liquid. Then on top of most of this base substrate, the matte coating dulled down everything except the type. That is, the matte coating did not print on any of the type; the type was knocked out of the matte coating. Unless you knew how the printer had done this and why, I think you would have made the same assumption that I did: that the type had been treated to be glossy; not that everything else had been treated to be matte.

And based on my discussion with the printer, in this case a dull coating can still adhere to a gloss background as long as the background is a gloss film laminate and not a gloss liquid UV coating.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Remember that your printer works with papers and coatings every day. If he suggests a better way to produce a contrast between a foil stamp and a dull or gloss background, listen to him. You’ll avoid the potential cracking of the paper coating or the inability of one coating to stick to another coating.
  2. Consider subtle ways to distinguish one part of a design from another, using foil stamping and dull or gloss coatings. You can use these to focus the reader’s eye on one element of the design first, then another and another. But remember that foil stamping is done with metal dies. These are expensive and take time for the printer’s subcontractor to create.
  3. Always request samples of design effects like these. If all of the samples are of the same design (i.e., the samples I received were from a set that showed the same base art with multiple cover coating options), all the better. This will help you visualize different ways to present your own printed product.
  4. Don’t just use effects like these on book covers. Consider them for brochures and other projects such as product packaging. Or, if you’ve been producing print book covers that only use printer’s ink in their designs, consider contrasting a gloss coating with a dull coating or metallic foil treatment. This will give a book cover more depth visually. It will appear to have multiple layers (foreground, middle-ground, and background).

Great designs come about when you’re willing to experiment.

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