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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 the ‘Printing’ Category

Custom Printing: 3 News Items for the New Year

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

I’m writing this blog post on New Year’s Day. Therefore, it seems fitting to discuss some new trends I’ve been reading about. It will be interesting to see how these come to fruition in the coming year.

Print Books Are Making a Comeback

A long-time associate and friend recently brought to my attention an article on the resurgence of print books. As a commercial printing broker, I was particularly glad to see it.

A 12/19/15 article published in Quartz ( and written by Amy X. Wang (entitled “Against all odds, print books are on the rise again in the US”) notes that “At least in the US, sales of physical books have experienced a renewed surge of interest, according to Nielsen BookScan, a data provider that collects data on roughly 85% of the print market.”

According to Wang, the Nielsen BookScan notes that in 2014 559 million print books were sold, and then in 2015 this number rose to 571 million. Apparently readers are buying print books by online celebrities, adult coloring books, and paperback and hardback copies of certain noteworthy titles that have already been released as e-books.

At the same time, according to Wang’s article (and supported by a PEW Research Center study), people are buying fewer e-readers (and therefore presumably fewer e-books).

What this means to me is that print books offer something e-books cannot replicate—a physical presence. Book-lovers have written on- and off-line for years that the tactile experience of the physical, print book makes a difference to the reader. I’ve wanted to believe this. I’ve believed it for myself based on my own preferences. Now it’s gratifying to see the love of the printed book reflected in both online and off-line surveys.

I don’t think e-books will disappear. Nor should they. There are things I prefer to read online, and there are other things I want to read on paper. Having access to both means being able to choose the appropriate medium for the occasion. I love books. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

Apple Enters the 3-D Printing Arena

The same friend and colleague sent me another article about Apple, entitled “Apple Patent Application Reveals 3-D Printer Plans” (12/29/15, from Print+Promo, and written by Brendan Menapace).

Apple is entering the 3-D printing arena (also called additive manufacturing), having submitted plans for a patent in May 2014.

According to Menapace’s article, “The proposed printer would use fused deposition modeling (FDM), which involves a thermoplastic filament heated to its melting point and pushed out layer by layer to create the 3-D object.”

(In simpler terms, this is akin to inkjet printing insofar as the printing substance comes out of a nozzle, but unlike inkjet printing, 3-D printing builds up multiple layers of plastic to create the finished product.)

What makes Apple’s proposed printer different is that it colors the extruded plastic as the three-dimensional product is printed. One print head dispenses the plastic to form the item, while the other print head adds coloration. Most other 3-D printers add color after the printing stage. (Apple has also submitted plans for this kind of 3-D printer.) According to Menapace’s article, “There are a few others that can produce multicolored products, such as the Cube Pro and Dreammaker Overlord, but coloring the item as it prints would be a new addition to the industry’s technology.”

Having read this, I now see two important trends reflected in Apple’s plans. First of all, Apple produces products for consumers. It’s target audience is “regular people,” not businesses. Moreover, Apple has built a reputation upon making technology user friendly. My guess is that Apple’s new printer will be expensive but not unaffordable. It will also be easy to use.

Moreover (unless the product is altered before coming to market), since Apple’s 3-D printer will produce the item in the actual final colors, this will be a giant leap beyond other 3-D printers that may use colored materials for extrusion but that may still need to add the final, precise coloration at the end of the process. Apple’s products will come out of the printer looking lifelike. This will be a game changer.

Textile Printing Will Be Big

I just read two predictions for 2016 by Andy Wilson, joint managing director of PressOn, as published in PrintWeek on 01/01/16.

First off, Wilson has seen a trend this year toward longer digital press runs. According to Wilson, “We’re chipping away more quickly and getting more of a market share using digital print against more traditional methods. For example, we’ve seen bigger jobs coming though here that would’ve gone screen printing before.”

In addition, when asked by PrintWeek, “What do you think will represent the single biggest opportunity for printers in 2016 and why?” he replied that “There is a lot of interesting new technology in that fabric printing market. I think that market is going to open up for a lot more of us that haven’t previously specialized in dye sub.”

My take-away from the first comment is that digital commercial printing is becoming efficient at longer runs (and offset, based on my reading elsewhere, is becoming cost-effective at shorter runs). This will provide a number of options to print buyers. In addition, sheet sizes for digital presses are getting larger, allowing more options in imposition (and the printing of larger-format projects).

My take-away from the second comment by Wilson is that textile printing will be a huge market. People want immediate printing, shorter press runs, and the kind of variety and personalization you can’t get with custom screen printing. Going forward, I think digital printing will gradually erode the screen printing base in textiles.

Custom Printing: A Commitment to the History of Print

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

A friend and colleague within the commercial printing industry just forwarded me an article regarding a sizable donation towards preserving the history of printing.

The article, entitled “Graphic Communication Receives $2.3 Million to Preserve Printing Industry History,” issued as a press release on 11/23/15 by California Polytechnic State University, notes that “Well known printing industry expert Raymond J. Prince has donated $2.3 million to Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department to preserve the history and knowledge of the printing and imaging industry.”

I found the article very encouraging as well as supportive of the future of custom printing.

Here are the four areas funded by the donation (italics are mine), as noted in the press release:

“The first is a named endowed scholarship honoring Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Gary Field, a highly regarded imaging scientist, professor, writer and speaker on issues of color management and related topics.

“The second is a named endowed scholarship honoring Professor Brian Lawler for his lifelong work advocating for the importance of print as a creative and influential communication medium surviving more than six centuries.

“The third area is a cash donation to supplement funds already raised to support what has become the world’s largest library on graphic arts technology and management. The library, already named the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Collection, is housed in Cal Poly’s Graphic Communication Department and includes more than 30,000 volumes.

“The fourth is a bequest that will perpetuate the ongoing growth and development of the library’s collection and graphic communication education at Cal Poly.”

Why This Is Important

After reading the article, I carefully considered exactly why I found this donation to be important. Here are my thoughts:

  1. This is a time in which many people have proclaimed the imminent death of print. In this light, for a major technical university to develop and maintain such a printing knowledge base demonstrates the value the university places on commercial printing. Clearly Cal Poly believes custom printing is relevant in this world.
  2. The focus of the grant extends beyond printing to communications in general. Cal Poly understands the goal of printing is to foster communication.
  3. The donation confirms a commitment to maintaining the knowledge gained in the six centuries since the birth of printing. This unbroken lineage will in turn benefit the future of printing in particular and communications in general.
  4. The donation confirms a belief that preparing young people for jobs within the printing field is important, that the industry is not dying but just changing. Moreover, providing the best education possible in commercial printing will ensure continued technical innovation. Preserving knowledge of what has gone before is the best way to give students a base on which to build the future of commercial printing technology.
  5. The press release notes that a broadly maintained library of all aspects of the history of printing will allow for “patent development and challenges.” This will ensure a well-ordered experimentation in, and development of, new technologies for printing. Both faculty and students will benefit. The university values both the future leaders of the commercial printing industry and its current experts, the faculty. Continued innovation will improve the equipment, processes, and workflows used on a daily basis in commercial printing establishments.
  6. In the press release, Douglas Epperson, dean of Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts, notes that “Because of Ray and others who continue to donate to the collection, our students, faculty, scholars and industry personnel can access the world’s largest collection of graphic arts resources and materials.” (I am reminded of the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most comprehensive libraries of the ancient world.) Such a diverse collection of materials on custom printing will benefit those in the printing field who build upon its wisdom and insight as well as others around the world.

Custom Printing: Branded Grocery Signs and Products

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Every week I shop at Harris Teeter, as well as a few other grocery stores. And over the last several years–being a student of commercial printing, marketing, and design–I have paid close attention to store branding. I’ve been very impressed with Harris Teeter’s presentation. There’s nothing like visiting local businesses on a regular basis to get a sense of just how store design and product design interact and work on the buyer’s conscious and subconscious awareness. When done well, this makes people want to shop more and buy more. I can appreciate the skills and knowledge required.

A Sample Product: Boxed Egg Whites

Harris Teeter is owned by Kroger. Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing focus on store brand merchandise. The quality of organic produce and even canned and bottled goods has increased, as has the number of organic products available.

This last week my fiancee took photos of one product in particular to make sure I would look closely at its packaging when we got back home.

The product is HT Traders Cage-Free Pasteurized 100% Liquid Egg Whites, and here’s what I can discern from the product packaging:

  1. Unlike all of the other packaging I saw, this one had a photo of an egg with all of the type (excluding the HT Traders brand logo) hand written on the curved eggshell. First of all, this is unique, as most other packaging separates its typography from the images. Even if the type has been surprinted over an image, it’s still separate. It’s not written on the product.
  2. Since the egg has a curved surface, the curvature of the hand-printed product information makes for a unique presentation. All other typography is flat; this typography is curved and therefore intriguing.
  3. The hand lettering creates a casual tone. Moreover, you could say it creates a tone of honesty and directness, and this heightens credibility. In fact, it’s almost like the farmer has written on the eggs with a Sharpie marker at a farmer’s market. The tone suggests freshness, healthfulness, integrity, perhaps even a focus on sustainability and local produce—all the good qualities of a healthy meal.
  4. The lightness (almost a beige pastel) of the background color of the box (which is structured like a pint-sized box of milk) gives an almost porcelain appearance to the product, while echoing the colors of the early morning.
  5. Even the printed logo (typescript as opposed to hand-lettering) is done in a fun, bouncy typeface in which the baseline of the letterforms moves up and down, providing an almost childlike immediacy and enthusiasm to the packaging. Along with a hand-drawn apple, fish outline, and loaf of bread, the logo is friendly and approachable. The overall appearance makes you trust the HT Traders product.

Overall, this is a well thought-out design for a house-brand product. Granted, the product itself (or at least other products I’ve tried at Harris Teeter) is of high quality. Appearance alone without substance would detract from the brand and the store, but quality promotion of a quality product enhances its perceived value and encourages shoppers to buy. To me, this is success.

In-Store Signs that Reflect the Company Values

The second photo my fiancee took that night was of a refrigerator sign. I was immediately struck by the similar tone of both the egg-white product and the store signage, until I saw the “My Earth” logo with the same hand-drawn loaf of bread, apple, and fish as the Cage-Free Pasteurized Egg Whites box.

So My Earth and HT Traders products are visually related both through the apparent hand-drawn letterforms (possibly a hand-drawn typeface on a computer) and the image portion of the logo (the fish, bread, and apple).

The sign on the refrigerator notes how Harris Teeter increases refrigeration efficiency and reduces the cost of utilities with this particular technology. Although Harris Teeter has chosen to minimize energy use, it actually helps the branding to make this fact known to shoppers. An increasing number of people value sustainability, and are therefore more likely to buy from a business that shares this goal.

And presenting this information in a hand-drawn font visually connected to HT Traders underscores the low-key approach of the store. You know that this is a house brand (a reflection of the values of those who choose what products to include on the shelves). And you also know that the management is approachable, friendly, not stodgy.

All of this is reinforced by the consistent visual presentation, in both the store signage and the house-brand product packaging. In fact, as a shopper, I personally am more inclined to try a number of the dry goods, canned goods, and bottled goods in the store that have the “look” of the signage and the egg white packaging. I think others will be, too.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study

It used to rankle me whenever I heard the catch phrase, “Image is everything.” I think that’s because it implied dishonesty, that you can sell low quality goods if they’re packaged well. Now I prefer to think that if a product or service is of the highest quality, this can be better communicated to prospective buyers with effective branding. Effective branding communicates and reinforces the values and quality of the brand whenever the prospect sees the logo, signage, or product packaging.

As a graphic designer or marketing professional, you have the power to communicate this quality to your prospective buyers through a well-crafted, consistent approach to your commercial printing materials: your signage, product packaging, and collateral.

Custom Printing: Gloss UV vs. Clear Foil Stamping

Monday, March 14th, 2016

My fiancee brought home an intriguing circus print book from a thrift store yesterday. In addition to being all in French, which adds an air of romance to the already beautiful images of horses and costume-clad performers, the book includes the handwritten signatures of a number of the actors in black marker, on their individual pages. The 8” x 10” format, saddle-stitched book also has a striking front and back cover treatment: a gloss coating on the horse and circus name (on the front cover) and two silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover, also gloss coated.

Determining How the Designer Created the Gloss Effect

The gloss coating has an almost mirror-like brilliance, and the remaining background of the front and back covers has a more muted, satin-like coating for contrast.

I wasn’t exactly sure how the effect had been achieved, so I considered the possibilities:

  1. The gloss coating was too shiny to be varnish or aqueous coating. It also had a bit of a raised feel.
  2. The gloss could have been a clear foil stamping, but I knew this would have been an expensive way to approach this design problem, since a die would have been required for the foil stamping process.
  3. I knew that flooding a background with a dull or satin UV coating and then highlighting certain elements within the design with gloss UV coating was currently in vogue, and that it would have produced just this kind of effect at a lower cost than clear foil stamping (because no die would have been required).

Under the circumstances I made an educated guess that the UV option was the likely technology in use. I also checked online for images of gloss UV coating paired with satin UV, and the photos confirmed my assumption.

Other Things I Learned

I also learned some other things in my review of the online imagery as well as the descriptions of the process:

  1. Clear foil stamping seems to be used more for logos and words on a dark, uncoated but textured substrate. For instance, a lot of the clear foil stamped products were custom pocket folder covers or invitations with a few words on a blue or black linen sheet. The effect was similar to the UV gloss coating, but the clear foil stamping technique seemed to be used less as a coating (over imagery) and more as a design element in and of itself.
  2. The darker and more subdued the background, the more the gloss UV stood out. The gloss UV type on a satin UV background didn’t really need any other imagery. On it’s own, it was quite dramatic. In fact, some of the photos I found online were of business cards and postcards with just gloss type on a muted background. (Presumably, though, the fact that UV coating needs no die made the process cheaper and less time consuming than the clear foil stamping option.)
  3. I already knew this, but I also found descriptions of how UV light instantly cures the coating, allowing follow-up steps to be performed immediately, and how this process consumes less energy since it uses light rather than heat to solidify the liquid coating material.
  4. I learned that foil stamping (including clear foil stamping) works best on thicker paper stocks. This probably accounts for the use of clear foil stamping for invitations on a thicker felt paper substrate. One article I read noted that coated papers are seldom foil stamped since the coating traps gases and may cause bubbles to appear under the clear foil. For this reason, I felt even more certain that the circus print book my fiancee had brought home was created with a gloss UV coating and a satin UV coating rather than clear foil stamping. After all, the paper stock used throughout the booklet was coated.
  5. Another article I read, by a printer, noted the two best uses for gloss UV. The first is for highlighting imagery (like the gloss coating used on the front-cover booklet title and horse, as well as the silhouettes of acrobats on the back cover). The second is for creating the text or image itself, without any other artwork, since the glossy words can be read when the light hits the design (because of the contrast with the dull background).
  6. The article noted that such a UV coating is primarily added for its aesthetic properties and not for protection (as might be the goal of adding an overall flood varnish, aqueous coating, laminate, or UV coating).
  7. Gloss UV seems to be appropriate for a wider range of paper stocks than clear foil stamping: from lighter 100# text stock to thick card stocks.
  8. And UV coating seems to be safe for the environment, emitting no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and containing no solvents.

What You Can Learn

  1. You have a lot of options. In fact, you can even create similar printed products using different technologies (such as clear foil stamping and spot gloss UV coating).
  2. However, some of these techniques take longer than others (the time needed to make a metal die, for instance) and are therefore more expensive.
  3. If you like a particular effect, ask your commercial printing supplier or a paper merchant for printed samples. Then ask how they were created. There’s no better way to learn—or communicate your goals to your printer—than with a printed sample.

Custom Printing: Postponing a Job That’s in Progress

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

I can’t remember the last time I canceled or postponed a commercial printing job mid-flight, or at least right before the job went to press. It’s demoralizing, but depending on why it’s done and how it’s done, this doesn’t have to be either the end of the project or the end of the relationship with the printer.

The Back Story on the Print Job

PIE Blog readers may recognize the story of the fashionista and her color swatch book, akin to a PMS swatch book but for use in choosing clothes based on colors relevant to one’s complexion.

I had encouraged my client to buy an ongoing Creative Cloud license for InDesign. I had then created a template for her print book, and she had produced 22 different versions (master copies for her short-run job). Due to its run length, the project was to be printed on an HP Indigo digital press. And due to it’s short run length (it would be reprinted regularly as new clients bought copies), the job has been the poster child for “just in time” digital printing.

Well it crashed and burned this week due exclusively to a break up between the entrepreneur and her source of funding.

Personally, I think this is a short-term setback and not a permanent end to the job. (Granted, that’s easy for me to say.)

Future Directions for the Job

Under the circumstances, however, I have taken the following track:

  1. I alerted the printer today. The prior printer, who was going to do the job on a Kodak NexPress, had misquoted the project and had offered to either reprice the job (for a significantly higher price) or to back out of the process. The current printer had stepped up and had produced a single-page ganged-up test sheet including a handful of color swatches from the job. He had printed this test on the chosen paper stock and had UV coated the sample to show my client how a cover coating might affect the colors in the print book. Needless to say, both printers had invested a lot of time in the project over the course of a year.
  2. I asked the current printer to calculate how much the work done up until now would cost. I made it clear that my client planned to come back once she had found funding for her entrepreneurial efforts. I said I knew the printer’s time was valuable, and I wanted him to be adequately compensated. He is looking into this.
  3. I told the printer to expect full funding when my client came back. She would provide the entire cost with a check or credit card before starting the job. This demonstrated good will, respect, and an intent to postpone but not cancel the job.
  4. I asked the client to review the single-page test sheet very carefully. It would be the starting point for the new job once she had secured funding. I asked her to note on the test sheet the CMYK percentages of each color swatch, the target PMS for each swatch (if she chose to match them on the Indigo), and any comments she had concerning the color fidelity of each swatch. This reflected my conviction that the job would in fact continue in several months.
  5. I reassured my client. I told her that neither the commercial printing vendor nor I would abandon her due to this unfortunate experience. We both planned to continue the job in the near future.

The Take Away: What We Can Learn

  1. Sometimes things go awry. Cutting ties in a case like this would have been counterproductive. After all, my client had created 22 press-ready print book files in InDesign. She had shown good faith and an intent to proceed. I do not know exactly when the job will start up again. However, if I had cut ties with the client, or if the printer had cut ties with me, there would have been no chance to pursue the job—which could easily grow into an ongoing project with periodic reprints.
  2. Not asking the printer for a bill for services to-date would have shown a lack of respect for his time and effort. I might have gotten away without paying, but it would have damaged the relationship. Furthermore, when the job resurfaces, this printer would have had less inclination to work with me, or my client.
  3. Not asking my client to analyze the single-page test job and provide feedback—even at this point–would have been to miss an opportunity to plan how to proceed after she has secured funding. After all, the job (and her reactions to the sample file color swatches produced on the HP Indigo) is still fresh in her mind.
  4. In your own commercial printing work, a situation like this may come up—perhaps once or twice in a career. I encourage you to think before you react. Sometimes apparent failure just means that you need to change your direction a bit and then start again.

Custom Printing: Pairing Magazines with Virtual Reality

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

A friend of mine let me know this week that he had just bought the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated but that he had only bought it for the articles, not the pictures. He’s a former athletics coach.

When I learned that there were three (at least that I knew of) different covers of this particular issue, I asked my friend the coach if he had bought all three versions, or was one version (with one cover) enough for him to read and not look at the pictures.

Items of interest come in multiples, so I was not surprised to receive an article from another friend and associate noting the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality. It focused on the same magazine.

Apparently 500,000 newsstand copies of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated include a virtual reality viewer, a pop-up cardboard device that attaches to your smartphone. When you download an app, you can experience content beyond that in the swimsuit issue (“’intimate access’ with five featured models,” according to the article) in a fully immersive way.

I urge you to look up the article online. It is entitled “Quad/Graphics Enhances 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with Virtual Reality Viewer.” It was written by Elise Hacking Carr and published on February 23, 2016, on the Print+Promo website.

Why This Is Important

According to Carr’s Print+Promo article, the marriage of commercial printing and virtual reality is important because it extends the reach, creativity, and effectiveness of marketing. Carr notes that, “advertisers are able to brand and print four-color process on the unit’s [the virtual reality viewer’s] outer shell for increased brand visibility.” She also quotes Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics:

“Publishers are looking for new and innovative ways to connect more with their readership.

“The QVR Viewer allows them to provide enhanced digital experiences that complement and extend their brand, or advertisers’ brands, beyond traditional print or digital content.

“Compared to other paper viewers, the QVR Viewer is an economical way to reach readers and consumers with a fully branded gateway to digital content.”

My Take on the Technology

I learned the following from my interaction with the sports coach and from the article I received from my other friend:

  1. Unrelated to virtual reality, the concept of having multiple versions of a cover for a magazine shows how publications can be targeted to their readers. While this could be done before the advent of digital commercial printing (selective binding of the same publication using variations on the cover), it’s nevertheless much easier now with the new technology. After all, on a digital press you don’t have to just print a handful of different covers. You can print a different cover for each copy as well as different text/photos throughout. Mass personalization means advertisers can directly target small groups and even individuals with their advertising messages.
  2. Multi-channel marketing is powerful. If a potential client sees an advertising message on different platforms (email, signage, a periodical, and virtual reality, for instance), the marketing message will be exponentially strengthened.
  3. More and more, I’m seeing this concept put to use with increasing technical savvy (for instance, printing a poster with a near-field communication chip that ties into your smartphone). So the pairing of virtual reality glasses and a print magazine not only doesn’t surprise me. It intrigues me.
  4. Nothing sells like sex, so choosing the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated for the virtual reality viewer seems like a “no-brainer” to me.
  5. Paper folds, plastic doesn’t. So I am intrigued that Quad/Graphics was able to produce a foldable paper virtual reality device. Moreover, using an already existing base of smartphones in the marketplace and only providing the headset and lenses works on a financial level. Basically, the marketing prospect doesn’t have to buy anything. He/she only has to download an app and then use his/her existing phone to experience virtual reality.
  6. A paper structure for a virtual reality device provides ample space for a marketing message. It can also be printed flat and then assembled (much more easily than printing on a rigid, 3D molded plastic virtual reality headset). And it can be delivered to 500,000 readers far more easily and cheaply. So the designers of the product thought ahead to make the process easy for the printer as well as the user of the device.
  7. Hard-copy magazines reach an established reader base. Using print publications as a jumping off point into the virtual world is just good psychology and good business.

This is what happens when marketers take the time to understand their prospects’ interests, their custom printing suppliers’ capabilities, concepts of finance and cost analysis, the available cutting edge computer technology, and human psychology. More power to them.

Custom Printing: Small Business Printing Clients

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Let’s say you’re an individual looking to buy custom printing for a small but complex job. What do you look for in a printer?

The Back Story

I have been working with a client for more than a year to prepare her fashion color book for press and to find a suitable vendor. I have written many blog articles on its unique qualities. Paramount among these is the number of original color books (small swatch books, like PMS color guides but for fashion) and the short run-length for each of the originals.

My client just asked me directly whether she would have to proceed with the job if she and her partner didn’t like the proof.

While frustrating to hear, this comment actually gave me some insight. I thought about the job through the eyes of my client:

  1. First of all, the prior iteration of the job had been done overseas. My client had had little control over the process and did not like the result. The color was off, and my client found she had no recourse. She paid for the job, but she was not happy.
  2. My client is not a corporation. She is an entrepreneur. She is producing the job with a partner, and they are financing the job themselves with the hope and expectation of making more in selling the color books than they will have spent in producing them. The job budget is about $6,000. To a corporation, this would be a minimal expense, but to my client it is a huge amount of money. She needs the process to work. She needs the color books to be spectacular.
  3. Not everyone wants to establish credit. Smaller clients may want to pay by check or Visa up front. My client was pleased that I could arrange this with the printer she and I had chosen for this digital job. Knowing how payment would be done seemed to increase her level of comfort.
  4. Given the prior job’s having had major problems, my client needed to see exactly what she would be getting. Therefore, after choosing the press (an HP Indigo at a local printer), I arranged for the printer to produce a single-sheet test run on this specific equipment. The printer would take a ganged-up file (8.5” x 11” sheet containing multiple pages from the color book) and provide a single sheet test on the chosen paper stock with a UV coating for protection. This way my client would see the color fidelity (her files compared to the printed product). She would also see the paper thickness, texture, and weight, as well as the effect of the coating on the final printed colors.
  5. My client was new to InDesign. She couldn’t afford to hire a designer, so I encouraged her to buy a Creative Cloud subscription through Adobe for one application (InDesign). I helped her get up to speed on its capabilities and use. I also created a template for her to follow in building all 22 color-book master copies. Doing the art preparation herself saved my client multiple thousands of dollars, which to a two-person small business (as opposed to a corporation) might be the difference between creating or not creating this print book. I also ran both the template and the sample PDF of a handful of pages through the commercial printing vendor’s preflight department for approval and suggestions. I wanted to ensure my client’s success and also make sure she was not going off in a wrong direction (and wasting her time creating 22 master copies with potential errors).

In short, I helped my client learn the page composition software that would allow her to save money by creating the job files herself, and then I had the printer check everything and provide physical proofs of her file (showing paper, color, and coating) so she would have no surprises. After that, I suggested that she submit the first 100-page color book alone for a complete proof, with the understanding that any color fidelity problems could be corrected not only for this book but for all the others as well, before any further proofs of the remaining 21 books were done. (Keep in mind that most books would include many of the same colors from book to book.)

Tonight she emailed me, asking how to proceed. She also noted that she had shown the test sheet to her partner and financial backer, who had been very pleased with the initial sample.

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. In many cases, particularly in the case of a small business or individual, the commercial printing job in question has a lot riding on it. Financially. Emotionally. It’s your hard-earned cash, your hopes and dreams, and perhaps your reputation. Making sure it’s a stellar product, one that totally satisfies your expectations, is of paramount importance.
  2. Nothing helps instill confidence like seeing a sample, on the chosen paper, and then proofing the entire job in a way that will faithfully show the paper stock, the ink or toner colors, the images, everything that makes up the job.
  3. Discuss financial terms for a project early. Make sure you’re comfortable with them.
  4. It’s not about selling the job. It’s about satisfying your needs and expectations. If your custom printing supplier doesn’t demonstrate that your job is of prime importance, choose another vendor.

Commercial Printing: When Print Jobs Go South

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Sometimes things just seem to go South from the beginning.

A print brokering client of mine is producing a large textbook. But it really could be any project, from a magazine to a catalog to a brochure. Printers have a series of written or unwritten rules that allow for a seamless hand-off of accurate art files; smooth proofing; and a printing, finishing, and delivery process that drops the printed product at the client’s doorstep, warehouse, or fulfillment center on time.

When these rules aren’t followed, the entire process suffers, and overall costs can skyrocket.

Background of the Digital Print Job

My client’s job is a textbook. It’s almost 600 pages, case bound. Last year it took six weeks to print and bind conventionally. This year the client needs it in three weeks.

Therefore, I found a commercial printing vendor with digital printing capabilities and in-house perfect binding, and we negotiated a schedule.

These were some of the the ground rules that would allow for such a tight turn-around:

  1. Submission date met by customer.
  2. Art files press-ready and trouble-free.
  3. Proofs turned around within 24 hours of receipt.
  4. Not more than five corrected pages (to be provided by client and replaced by the printer).

If these were not met, the schedule would need to be renegotiated.

This particular project is a book. However, the importance of following these rules would pertain to any multiple-signature job, including a catalog, a smaller booklet, or a magazine. Smaller jobs would also not fare well, but the scope and complexity of multiple-signature custom printing work can lead to a catastrophe if these rules are not followed.

What Happened to My Client

First of all, the press run was to be 650 copies delivered all at once. Because the initial copy submission deadline could not be met, the job was broken into an initial 250-copy delivery (what was needed immediately to fulfill orders) and a follow-up delivery of the remaining 400 books (inventory for future sales).

So the first rule was broken, or at least bent. Printers consider file submission to have been completed if the job is uploaded in the morning. If the job is uploaded in the afternoon or evening, the production schedule starts on the next day. This can be problematic for multiple-signature commercial printing work on a tight schedule.

The art files were press ready and trouble free when they were uploaded to the custom printing vendor’s FTP site. However, the printer noticed some errors. Primarily these included a bar code on the dust jacket and case stamp that did not match the ISBN number in the book. In addition, the book pages needed to be reorganized (and blank pages added).

The printer created a new pagination for the project (for my client to approve), which changed the page count and therefore the width of the spine (and therefore required adjustment of the dust jacket art and case stamping art). Fortunately the printer could fix this (and could also adjust the bleeds in the dust jacket art file that had been forgotten).

So now that I review this process, the files really were not trouble free. Fortunately, the printer stepped up to identify these problems and even remedy most of them. Many commercial printing suppliers will not do this. Many will just request corrected files.

Needless to say, the proofs (hard-copy proofs, which take longer to turn around, since unlike virtual proofs these need to be delivered—both ways) went out late, albeit just by a day. Only 250 books were needed within the three-week period, but custom printing processes that should have happened earlier were starting to creep into the second week.

Now the Proofs

The proofs arrived on a holiday, so no one was on-site to proof the hard-copy pages. Fortunately the printer had sent the proof to my contact’s house. She had reviewed them and had found errors. Therefore, she chose to send them on to the editors in the actual business location for receipt the next morning.

So we lost another day. The proof was to be turned around in 48 hours instead of 24 (see ground rule #3 above).

When I heard back from my client, she told me the editorial staff had found errors in eight sections of the book, plus the front matter. (See ground rule #4 above.) According to the printer, these author’s alterations might also require repaginating the book. If the repagination changed the length of the book, the case stamp art and dust jacket art would need to have their spine widths adjusted.

The printer had received multiple correction pages, which would need to be collated back into the book’s digital imposition and then rechecked for errors. This would take time and risk human error (mispositioned pages). So he asked for a complete, press-ready file from the client instead. Essentially, this meant starting over at almost the halfway point of the three-week schedule (which still included foil stamping the cover, case binding the books, and producing the dust jacket). Of course, reproofing the book would be necessary as well.

I asked if the schedule could be met. The printer said probably not. So I advised my client to work with the fulfillment house to make any necessary plans. The drop-dead date would be missed, and we needed to accept this and do damage control (i.e., come up with a reasonable Plan B).

What We Can Learn from this Case Study

  1. Many of the alterations were simply dates of the book, presumably in the running headers or footers. They were not substantive errors in content. So the first thing to learn is, “Proof early and often.”
  2. The next thing to remember is that when you have an impossibly tight deadline for the printer, you need to follow all of his rules to meet the delivery date. This is particularly true if the job requires extensive or elaborate finishing (like hot foil stamping, die-making, and case binding). The printer’s schedule is not arbitrary. It is actually in place to ensure that you get what you have been promised.
  3. Follow the printer’s preferred PDF creation steps (send a sample file for feedback—early—if you are unsure of how to do this). Also ask for a template for the cover and stamping die (if any) to ensure accurate spine width. When you have uploaded the files to the printer’s FTP site, alert him. Send him the name of the folder and files. Be proactive.
  4. Turn the proofs around immediately. This is a priority. Maybe you won’t catch any errors. But if you do, you’ll be thankful that you started early.
  5. Be in constant communication with the printer’s customer service representative. Be completely candid if anything goes wrong so any problems can be corrected.

Honor the schedule and the printer’s ground rules. They exist to ensure your satisfaction with the product, price, and timing of delivery.

Custom Printing: The Color Swatch Book Revisited

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

A print brokering client of mine is producing a color swatch book for fashion purposes. I have written about her color book before, and after a year of preparation, we’re almost ready for file submission.

The Specifications for the Project

As a recap, let me describe the job. It is a series of 22 print books, each containing over 100 pages. On the fronts of the pages are CMYK builds of colors to be matched in choosing clothing colors (and I assume make-up as well) based on one’s complexion. The pages will have rounded corners and will be joined in the bottom left with a metal screw-and-post assembly.

History of the Color Book Printings

In writing about this ongoing project, I don’t believe I’ve told you about the prior series of color books. They were printed overseas, and they did not meet my client’s expectations. It seems that proofing was incomplete, resulting in poorly printed colors that did not match my client’s intent.

Avoiding Past Problems

Throughout the process, I have therefore encouraged my client to break down the project into little steps, proofing often to ensure color fidelity. For instance, she is now reviewing a single-page document I asked her to create for the HP Indigo press. This single sheet includes a ganged-up selection of color swatch pages, a few text-only pages (describing the color choices), and a few cover images (logos, fashion photos, and such). All of the smaller print book pages were cobbled together on a larger sheet for this test (since printing one sheet costs less than printing many).

The goal of this process is multi-fold:

  1. I want my client to see the actual paper on which the job will be run, along with the UV cover coating that will protect all color swatches from fingerprint oil and abrasion. This coating may change the colors slightly, so my client needs to see this and decide whether it is acceptable (varnish would change the color slightly as well).
  2. Part of the reason for her seeing the paper that will be used will be to ensure that it is thick enough. I spoke with my client’s boyfriend, who had opened the delivery envelope prior to sending the sample on to my client. He said the single-sheet test page had been creased in transit. Even though the test page is much larger than the color swatch book pages (8.5” x 11” vs. approximately 1.5” x 2.5”) and therefore more susceptible to being bent, the paper choice for the print book pages may need to go up from 12pt. to 14pt. to ensure the book’s durability. After all, it is a design tool (like a PMS book) that needs to last. So my client’s boyfriend’s response that the single-page test sheet had been damaged was actually quite useful information.
  3. I want my client to see whether the HP Indigo will match her expectations for the CMYK color builds she applied to her color book pages. Fortunately, she had selected color builds based on their own hues and not on their resemblance to specific PMS colors (which in some cases might not be accurate).

Where to Go From Here

Tonight my client emailed me and asked how much the next step would cost: printing one copy of an entire color book (the first of 22 originals) as a proof.

This is a good question. The printer had provided a breakdown of the number of copies of each book my client could print for her total budget of approximately $5,200.00. Granted, a single proof of each of the 22 books is included in this price, but the payment schedule will be important to negotiate as well (even if all this testing is included in the price).

One of the printers I work with requires 110 percent of the total cost up front for those who choose to pay cash (instead of going through a credit check and securing a line of credit with the printer). The extra cost protects the printer against the liability of overage (extra print books produced during the book production process).

Another printer requires an up-front payment of 50 percent of the job, with final payment before shipping. Again, a credit check for securing a line of credit with the printer would be an alternative.

So my client’s question bears discussion with the printer. What I will probably do (as part of being a printing broker) is arrange “terms” with the printer (perhaps 50 percent up front and 50 percent prior to shipping, since my client would like to pay by Visa). Nevertheless, there will probably be a premium for using a credit card (often a 3.25 percent surcharge to cover Visa’s surcharge to the printer).

Whether this commercial printing vendor will agree to these terms (or will want to adjust them) will depend entirely on the printer’s policies and desire to work with me and my client. Every printer will be different.

The Benefit of the Single-Page Test and Full-Book Proof

By slowing down the process, creating a single-page test file, and then producing the full proof of the first book, my client will be able to do the following:

  1. See the paper, cover coating, and color accuracy of the upcoming 22 books.
  2. Catch any errors in the color choices early. Many of the colors will be common to multiple print books. Any errors caught in the first proof can be fixed in all master files before my client submits the remaining 21 books to the printer.
  3. Save money. The printer will do less work to ensure the accuracy of the project, so when the multiple copies of the final 22 books are running on press, there will be far more likelihood of their accuracy (and my client’s satisfaction) without any reprinting costs


Custom Printing: What Is an Infographic?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and based on my research, I think that’s because the brain can process images more quickly than text. Images, the brain processes all at once, while text enters awareness in a linear fashion.

The Challenge

An associate, client, and friend of mine from college (all the same person) who edits and designs print books for a number of US government organizations and NGOs (including the World Bank, EU, and UN), came to me with a project involving “infographics.” Having only a cursory knowledge of the subject from commercial printing trade journals, I decided to do some research.

One of the first things I found was that the subway map in Washington, DC, which I had considered immensely useful and easy to read for the last 40 years, was an infographic, as were many of the graphics I had seen, increasingly, in all number of magazines. The concept was “hot,” so my interest grew as I read more. I wanted to know why they were so popular.

What Is an Infographic?

In Wikipedia, which is where I often begin my research on a topic, I read that:

“Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.”

(Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes (2004). Public Relations Writing: Form and Style. p.236.
Mark Smiciklas (2012). The Power of Infographics: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect with Your Audience.
Heer, J., Bostock, M., & Ogievetskey, V. (2010). A tour through the visualization zoo. Communications of the ACM, 53(6), 59-67.
Card, Scott (2009). Information visualization. In A. Sears & J. A. Jacko (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction: Design Issues, Solutions, and Applications (pp. 510-543). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.)

The Wikipedia article goes on to discuss how vast amounts of information can be conveyed through these charts/images. They can help readers grasp trends, and visualize relationships among various elements and processes. Due to the structure of the charts, the reader can know immediately what information is the most important, see how it relates to other information, and come away with not only data but also insight into a process (i.e., knowledge).

So it wasn’t all about presenting vast amounts of information; rather the goal was to give the reader an intuitive, visually-processed epiphany. Ironically, the article did note that an incentive toward using more and more infographics was the decreasing attention span of readers and the easy availability of infographic-creation software. To that I would add the increasing speed of business and life and the need for an immediate transfer of vast amounts of information into the human brain. After all, what better way to do this than visually (since vision is our primary sense).

Back to My Client’s Job

So in this particular case, my client the designer hired me to help prepare infographics for a major government organization. She needed me to help her come up with ideas and images, which she would then use to draw the graphics for the print book.

Here’s how I prepared for our meetings:

  1. I read all the descriptions of charts and graphics the author had provided. There were 11 for this particular booklet. The author had drawn rudimentary boxes and arrows, but for the most part his charts were text on a page, without imagery and without a clear presentation of the relationships among elements within the graphics.
  2. I read some short articles by the author describing his thesis, as well as two chapters from his booklet. From these I could wrap my brain around four or five concepts (and a general theme) within his work. Almost everything in the samples I read pertained to these few concepts, albeit in minute detail.
  3. I reviewed several hundred images of infographics through Google Images, and I sent links to about twenty of these to my client. I chose infographics that visually demonstrated linkages, directions, causality, and such. Most of the charts and graphs (or “seeds” for these infographics) the author had provided could be tied to (a) processes over time, and (b) certain processes that were more efficient than other processes. Therefore, these were the kinds of infographics I looked for in Google Images. I wanted to give my friend the designer some starting points for her creativity.
  4. I noticed that all of the charts/graphs (infographic prototypes) that the author had given my friend the designer lacked any imagery. So I made a list of several icons and images I thought might pertain to his thesis. Again, my goal was just to spark the designer’s creativity. But I did want her to make the infographics “personal.” I thought they should include some humanizing element, and not just words, boxes, and arrows.
  5. I encouraged the designer to identify key words in the text of the charts and graphs. If she highlighted them in some way (all caps, increased size, reversed type when other type was surprinted, etc.), she could identify for the reader which concepts were most important. (I told her it was like buying a “pre-underlined textbook” at a thrift store. You could read only the highlighted type and still get the gist of the chapter—but faster than by reading the whole print book.)
  6. I encouraged her to add arrows and any other devices she could find to show relationships among ideas. In one case, for instance, she used a winding road with various icons and text to show progression of ideas and activities over a period of time (kind of like a board game).
  7. I suggested that she make sure the graphics contained white (reversed type), black (thickened rule lines around boxes as well as enlarged black type, and gray (color screens within the boxes). These could be used to group elements (and distinguish one idea from another) since they created visual contrast.
  8. Then she noted that she had purchased a series of graphic images provided specifically for the creation of infographics. Combining these with the samples I had sent her of other people’s infographic work, the designer developed her own series of 11 draft infographics, which we then batted back and forth: modifying, amplifying, adjusting, and simplifying as necessary.

Now we’ll see how the client responds.

What You Can Learn

You might want to take a similar approach to creating infographics. I’ll bet that sooner or later you’ll be faced with this task. It seems to be the new wave of graphic imagery.


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